The story of FastCustomer

July 18, 2011

Inspired by Chris Yeh’s storytelling post here.  Here’s how I would tell our story, as it relates to raising funds.

Once upon a time…. the people waited on hold.
And every day…. they cursed their fate and gnashed their teeth, waiting a release from this needless burden.
Until one day…. a company was born. A shining star relegating needless hassles to the trash heap of history. And lo!  Their technology was Goode.
And because of that…. whenever the peoples needed help, they simply clicketh.  And it happeneth.
Until Finally…. The evil that is Holde was no more upon the land.
Ever since that day…. the people raised FastCustomer upon their shoulders and carried it all about the land, for they feared not the Holde. They praised the early investors for their courage and vision, and sang songs about them into the evenings.
And the moral is…. funding the dreamers who wield technology to remove burdens from the world is a most worthy endeavor.

How would you write up your story?

Rental Hacks: How to find a place in a tough market

June 29, 2011

We’re moving from Washington DC to Flagstaff AZ, and needed to rent a place while we figured out what we might buy.

The rentals tend to be aimed at students, but the huge student population (1/3 of the town’s people are students) pushes prices up and quality down. There’s nothing we’d like to rent.

We had an idea, and it worked, so I’m writing it up here in case it’s useful to someone.

We looked at houses that were for SALE, wrote them nice letters in the mail (11 letters sent, only to houses we liked) and asked them if they’d rent to us.

11 sent
4 letters bounced
7 got read
3 replies
2 nos
1 yes.

YES!

So now we’re in a great house, at a reasonable price. A few advantages to this approach:

* no competition from other renters
* not dealing with professional rental agencies
* opens up a totally new market for places to rent
* houses for sale are usually in good shape
* houses for sale have extensive pictures, unlike rentals

One tip: This works best with houses that are for sale where the house is empty. Otherwise, you’re dealing with a very unpredictable timeline – they can’t move out until they find a new house.

How to become a more patient person in just 5 months

November 8, 2009

Evgenya was observing in Chile for a couple weeks, and I had the kids.

One night Reuben woke up crying. I tried the usual stuff and nothing worked; he was alternating between crying and screaming (we later realized he was having night terrors), and after a couple hours I lost it and yelled at him. In the morning he woke up early, and I was so tired and frustrated I punched a door frame.

Dammit.

I didn’t particularly like myself at that moment. This wasn’t the father I wanted to be and I decided to become a more patient person.

A few months later I ran across a technique that many people had used successfully to stop complaining. Presumably, the less you complain and the more you focus on the things going right in your life, the happier you are.

Ok, I’ll buy that.

I wondered if the idea would work for patience. It seemed like it would work for anything you wanted to stop doing.

The concept was simple; you wear a wristband and switch it to the other wrist when you slip up. That’s it. No beating yourself up, no drama. It’s not a punishment, it’s an attention mechanism — you’re making yourself AWARE of your behavior, and surprise surprise, your brain can take it from there.

I still had a bunch of rubber wristbands I had made for a conference, so getting started was easy enough.

At first I found myself switching wrists a lot, sometimes multiple times in one day. Slowly it stretched out for longer periods of time and after 5 months I hit my goal; 21 days straight. (In theory that’s when you’ve got your new behavior reasonably locked-in.)

Results:

I hoped to get better at not losing my cool (which happened) but what I didn’t expect was that I’d simply become a more patient person. My nature changed. I’m calmer inside. Same external stimulus, different internal reaction.

I’m thinking about what I want to do next with the wristband. I like the idea of going through life, slowly mastering various aspects of my personality. There’s no shortage of “opportunity” either. I would love to someone who never judges others, never complains, never doubts himself, doesn’t make unwarranted assumptions, and isn’t afraid.

Let’s roll.

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Walmart Karma

September 25, 2009

We went camping a few weeks ago, and realized the kids could play on the deck of the cabin if we had a child’s gate. We needed one for our deck at home as well, so why not buy it now?

There was a Walmart nearby, so I headed there with a friend and we started comparing gates. I chose a nice wooden gate and put it in the cart, but later changed my mind and swapped it out for a plastic one, since it would be living outside.

As we were checking out, I noticed a plastic bag of screws. It must have fallen out of the wooden gate when it was in the cart. I could have run back and put it back in the gate, but I didn’t. I told the clerk what had happened, and asked if she could make sure it got back there. I even told her “it’s important, it would suck if someone bought the gate and took it home without the screws.”

I said those words.

Two days later, I returned the plastic gate (not wide enough) and got a nice wide wooden model instead.

Yep.

No screws.

Who’s guarding your inbox? Getting more done with email filters

March 26, 2009

Who is guarding your email?

Have you ever been hard at work, noticed that someone sent you a message on Facebook and headed over to check it out?  If you’re like me, you might reply, surf around a bit and next thing you know it’s lunchtime.  And there’s a little voice in your head saying, “crap. I just wasted an hour!”.

With your phone, it’s easier to turn off your ringer than hear phone calls, see who they’re from and ignore them.  Good email filters are like turning off your phone.  They can be strong for you when you would be weak.  Email filters are bodyguards for your attention.

Important, urgent or actionable email should land in your inbox.  For everything else there are just 2 possibilities:

Put ‘em somewhere else (archive, put it in folders, whatever works for you.)

  • Receipts: Amazon, Paypal, Netflix, etc.  Filter by subject or from address
  • Social Media notifications.  Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.  “Bob is following you” or “Bob replied to your message”…
  • Email discussion lists that aren’t a Top-Priority.  Check ‘em out later.
  • Vacation auto-responders from other folks.  Filter: (”we will reply” OR “has been received” OR “your inquiry” OR “will contact you” OR “will reply to you” OR “auto response” OR “for your interest” OR “for your message” OR “your enquiry” OR “out of office”)

Delete ‘em

  • If you have friends who forward you “funnies” (that you don’t want) but also real email (you do want), create a filter for email FROM them that ALSO includes another recipient on their list.
  • Mail from old accounts, services or organizations (eg. schools, old jobs, professional orgs) you don’t want to hear from. Some services offer a one-click unsubscribe, but others force you to log in, or contact them. In that case just add a filter and move on.  Examples: (sales@dnforum.com OR marketplace-messages@amazon.com OR news@email.aircanada.com OR specials@ OR @futureshop.com OR DeltaAirLines@delta.com OR noreply@vbulletin.com)
  • Emails in other languages.  I don’t know anyone who would email me in Japanese, for example.  Filter: (秘 OR 密 OR 基 OR 地 OR を OR 作)

Other tips & tricks:

  • If you want to see email from your contacts before looking at new mail, some email clients will let you filter based on whether or not the sender is in your address book.  Tip from Leo Notenboom, Taming Email
  • If you’re worried you’ll miss an important message when you’re working or away from email, check out Jared Goralnick’s service AwayFind.
  • Gmail users can create unlimited addresses with this format, for easier filtering and tracking how companies use your address:  you+othertext@gmail.com

Any favorite email tips or tricks to add?

Moving to a Standing Desk

March 12, 2009

First post in a long time.   Feels good.

Every once in awhile I hear about someone switching to a standing desk. I was curious and did a little research.  Most people rave about the experience, mentioning more energy, creativity and less lower-back pain because our bodies aren’t designed to sit for 8 hours in one place.  Humans are built to move.

I’m always up for a work-environment experiment so I decided to give it a whirl.  I’m typing this standing up right now, and so far it’s great.  I’m moving more, stretching more, and … well I’m dancing more too.  Who said work has to be boring right?

If you want to give it a shot there are many options depending on your space constraints and your budget.

  • Buy a standing or adjustable-height desk from a manufacturer.  This Amazon search will get you started.
  • Add shelves to a wall, and stand in front of the wall and work on the shelves.
  • Lay a flat surface (eg. door) across two supports.  This is what I went for.  While I’m trying out the idea, I wanted something inexpensive and expansive; I can now walk around to a different side of the desk and have a whole new work area, something I didn’t have with my little dedicated-use computer desk.

My setup:

2x Stanley FatMax Telescopic Sawhorse $35 each (make sure you buy TWO, they’re not sold in pairs)

1x solid, flat, unfinished heavy 32″ door from Home Depot.  $55

That’s it!

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Welcome to the crew, Ryan!

May 9, 2008

We’re thrilled to announce that Ryan Ozawa is joining the Wondermill crew.

He’ll be keeping the community updated as we roll out new features, getting feedback on what people want to see next and wearing the product evangelist hat as well.

About Ryan: Ryan grew up in Hawaii where he picked up a B.A. in journalism before jumping into the local tech scene. Along with experiments in lifecasting he produces and co-hosts the hugely successful LOST podcast “The Transmission” with his lovely wife Jen, with whom he has also produced (and continues to co-host) three wonderful children.

Welcome Ryan!

What is Twitter?

April 23, 2008

Twitter is being being used mostly by early adopters right now but this idea’s time has come. I realized how powerful it was at SXSW, where @garyvee and a few friends decided to host a wine tasting party. They told people about it on Twitter, and minutes later 60 people were in the room tasting wine and having a great time. Instant party.

My friend @jimkukral was looking for PHP programmers. He asked for leads on Twitter and had 10 connections in as many minutes. Then there’s the guy who got out of an Egyptian jail with Twitter’s help.

So what is it? Twitter is something like a chatroom for the world, but where you only see messages from people you want to follow. It’s an ongoing dialog, where people post their thoughts, ideas, links, questions and others respond in kind.

Just like your telephone or email, Twitter is a platform, a blank slate. The only rule is you only get 140 characters for your message. Many posts are about the minutia of life, which can be interesting if it’s a close friend or it’s nearby geographically. Eg. “Thinking of trying the the new Greek deli on 4th street for lunch. Anyone been there?”

If you’ve connected Twitter to your cell phone you might receive that message by SMS and chime in with your opinion, or maybe find yourself eating Souvlaki 15 minutes later. Serendipity in 140 characters or less.

It’s useful too. Because it’s real-time and broadcast as opposed to 1:1,, you can ask your friends which movie to see while you’re standing in line.

Twitter is easy to misunderstand and dismiss, just as blogging was when it first appeared. Most people went through a phase of asking why anyone would publish (or read!) what happened at school or the office that day. The trick is not to mistake the average for the best. Just as with blogs, you only following/read what is interesting for you.

Getting Started:

1. Visit Twitter and choose a username that’s short and easy to remember. Personally I think a version of your real name is good since that’s easier for people to remember.

2. Connect with friends on Twitter by “following” them. You can also connect your phone to Twitter (beware text message charges) and get pinged when your close friends update.

3. Start playing around. After connecting with your friends on Twitter, you’ll discover new and interesting people through your friends’ conversations.

A few handy Twitter commands

d username blah blah  Send username a private message. Make sure you stay under 140 characters as the remainder may be posted publicly (a bug, whee)

on username  Start getting updates from this person.

off username  Stop getting updates from this person.

track foo  See when anyone says “foo” on Twitter. (Note that popular terms can be very high volume, and that tracked terms are only sent to your phone if you have one connected, they don’t appear in your normal feed.)

PS: Don’t be intimidated by a new medium. Have fun! I’m @dragushan if you want to say hello or have any questions.

On web counters and distraction

November 29, 2007

We’ve been without a web counter for a few days, (showing how many people are arriving at our site and where they’re coming from) and I figure my productivity has gone up by 10% or more.

It’s not that I was spending 10% of my day gazing at it, but checking it was the starting point for a change in direction. I would visit sites that linked to us, perhaps leave a comment or email them, and end up spending 1/2 hour before getting back to “work”. One could say that’s a part of work these days, and while that’s true to a degree, my time could be better spent elsewhere.

My day is already full of internal and external interruptions. They’re par for the course and I don’t resent them, but they do make it hard to get into thinking work (writing, long-term planning, etc) which are important but fragile tasks. They’re hard to get into and easy to fall out of when someone taps you on the shoulder. (Programming is also in this category which is why it’s important for companies to protect programmers from needless interruptions.)

Without a counter I’m trading off easy-and-fun work for hard-but-important work. The kid in me wants that damn counter back, but the adult in me is pleased with how much more I’m getting done. It is important to have a counter so you’re not flying blind, but I’m wondering if someone else should watch it, and ping me when something truly urgent/important/interesting happens.

Anyone with similar experiences? Ideas?

Trolls incoming!

November 2, 2007

trollz!

Today was stressful.

The number of people online at Ask500 climbed from around 60 up to 130, the highest we’ve had so far. Registrations were speeding up and then we found that some of the new users were posting nasty questions and comments.

Argh!

Evidently there are groups of people out there who get together, target a site, register en masse and stomp all over it. We caught it pretty quickly and spent the next few hours cleaning it up. We closed registration, created ways to find and deal with abusers, opened registration back up and got in touch with people who’d had problems signing up.

I guess fighting abuse is just one of those things everyone has to handle. As traffic scales up it becomes more common. I had hoped we’d get more time to happily implement new features before having to deal with it.

In any case, we have a few more tools now to deal with the next wave, whenever that arrives.


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