Entries Tagged 'Personal' ↓
Mar 20th, 2010 | Atlanta, Marketing, Opinion, Personal, Social Media
I’ve been organzing meetups in the Atlanta area since January 2007. Over that time I’ve organized over 50 meetup events, they’ve typically achieved average ratings of 4.5 of 5 or better, they’ve typically had 50 or more people attend, I’ve helped at least five (5) other people launch their meetup groups, and the member list for my original meetup group has grown to having more members than all but one other business-focused meetup group in the Atlanta area. During that time I’ve learned a bit about what it takes to be a good meetup organizer.
Recently someone asked me yet again for advice on how to grow their meetup so I decided this time to blog about it. Let me give the caveat that this is what has worked for me and for my type of meetup but it might not be perfect for yours. My groups have been focused on web/startup/marketing/tech and so I don’t know what works best for a mom’s meetup, for a hiking group or a singles club. Still, people are people and I’m sure anyone organizing a meetup can find something of value here. Here they are, in no particular order (some I fail to do consistently though I know I should; sometimes life just gets in the way):
- New organizers always try "to get input from everyone." From experience I’ve found that to be a waste of time. Find two (2) other people and form a planning team. Map out 5-6 topics, possibly starting with a "101" meetup and build from there.
- Meet quarterly with your planning team to plan so you always have 3 events on the calendar, more if possible.
- Do listen to feedback, but don’t wait for feedback before moving forward. Most people just want to attend meetings, few actually are willing to contribute a significant effort on a consistent basis even if they say or think they will. If people promise to contribute expect they will not follow through until they have proven otherwise.
- As much as possible be the catalyst and facilitator, not the featured speaker at every meeting (people will get tired of you if you do.)
- Schedule 3 to 6 presenters for a monthly meetup (more than 6 works if it’s a workshop and they are there to provide expertise.) It gives multiple perspectives and it keeps you from having failed meetings from building anticipation for a meeting, having lots of people show up and then only to learn that your featured presenter’s "kid got sick" so they decided to cancel.
- Do your best to get people from outside the people who usually attend your meetings to present. There’s the old saw "Familiarity breeds Contempt" (i.e. "I don’t need to attend to hear them talk; I know them already and can talk to them whenever I want.") Bringing in outsiders also makes people aware of your group that might not normally seek it out or attend. If they have an influence base such as on Twitter they will promote your group because it promotes them.
- Only ever schedule a person to present to the group once per year. If you frequently schedule the same people to present your members will think "I’ve already seen them, I don’t need to see them again." That means be sure to get them to talk on the topic where they are the best sui have the most bang for the buck since a lot of people will jump at any chance to present and you really want to get them where they will shine.
- Post a meetup page for each meetup event that includes links about the people who will be presenting including their Twitter account and a short bio. I like to link to their LinkedIn page for consistency, and also link to their company. Be sure to include an evening agenda so people can see when it starts and when it ends. Here’s an example meetup page that has all these things.
- Set up a Twitter account and a Facebook fan page. Always tweet and post about your events in advance and to thank your presenters/participants afterwards.
- Set up a Twitter hashtag for your meetup group (i.e. @StartupAtlanta and #OnStage.) Give people a handout at each meetup with the account, the hashtag and all the presenter’s/participants Twitter accounts and ask your members to tweet about the event.
- Send out emails in advance of your meetups that are hand formatted to look different from the one’s send out automatically by meetup as people tend not to read those. Here’s an example notification email.
- Send an email out about the most recently meeting and reminding them about the next meeting and thank the people who participated/presented.
- For my groups I have focus mostly on featuring local people for our regular meetings but when nationally known people are presented I make them special events. Some organizers always try to get one national calibre "rock star" for their events, and that works for them. Pick what works for your group.
- Keep vendor influence to a minimum; keep it about the people attending.
- Run a meetup only if you really want to help people and/or build a solid community and not if you’ve just got the idea "Hey I can sell my services to this group." The latter can be a serendipitous result but it’s painfully clear to practically everyone who might attend that if your motivations are to sell them (almost) nobody will want to attend.
- Pay it forward, focus on what’s good for the group and the community you envision building, not what’s you are hoping to get out of organizing
- Shake up the format. Have presentations, panel discussions, roundtables, workshops, etc. The topic should make the format obvious. For workshops, recruit lots of helpers. Don’t over worry about format, try a bunch of them, communication will happen ad-hoc (suggest Twitter or make a Google group), and let the topics you pick determine the level of competency. The more detailed your topic announcement the more likely you’ll get the right people.
- Don’t be afraid to ask anybody to present. I’ve never once been turned down except for people simply not being available at the given time.
- Look for ways to hold joint meetups with other groups that have cross-over. (Beg meetup on their forums to more easily enable shared meetups.) If possible take the lead in these joint meetups and get people to RSVP at your meetup group’s page (if possible, and at least until meetup enables shared events.) If you do these frequently you’ll all get lots of benefit and you’ll grow your group.
- Charge for meetings, $5 to $10, starting with your 3rd meeting (assuming you are gaining momentum.) If you don’t charge more than half of your RSVPs will be no-shows. If you charge, only between 10-30% will be no-shows.
- Be aware that many of the people who attend your meeting early on will start attending only sporatically as their lives evolve. That’s normal and don’t take it personally.
- Don’t try to do too many different groups. Unless you are able to make a living from organizing meetups, which is a potential but a really hard way to make a living, it’s really hard to do more than one well, two at the max. I’ve made that mistake and I’ve recently pared back to two with a potential to phase out of one of them in the near future assuming I can find the right people to take over.
- Find a good place to have meetings, not a restaurant unless its set up for meetings in a special room. This is the hardest part. Look for a local coworking space like Ignition Alley. A college or university may also be very open to hosting community meetings as Georgia Tech has been for some of my meetups.
- As for location, you’ll need to decide what works here. In Atlanta you’ll find a bulk of in-town people and a bulk of "up 400" people, and then everyone else is scattered. Pick one and let someone else do the other (you can’t please everyone, so don’t try.)
- Finally, set a consistent date, time, and location. Always have it there so people can get used to it, and if at all possible, never cancel a planned meetup or many people will loose faith in your ability and stop RSVPing for your events.
Well that’s about it for today. I’m sure I missed a few of my own "best practices" and I’m sure there are a ton of other’s I have yet to uncovered but these should get you started.
If anybody has other suggestions please give your best practices in the comments. Be sure to mention your group(s) and how long you’ve been organizing, and include links to their pages on Meetup.com.
Jun 13th, 2008 | Miscellaneous, Personal, Software, Web
It’s been a really long time since I last blogged, and it’s all because I got totally fed up with my old blog software and vowed never again to blog until I replaced it with WordPress. Well as you can guess getting around to replacing it took far longer than I planned, but now it is finally here! I’ve still have other non-blog related things that were housed at my domain I still need to fix such as this but now that the domain is switched over to WordPress I’ll have a bit more urgency to get those fixed. I look forward to rejoining to ranks of the blogging community.
What’s more, a lot has happened since I last blogged so I have lots of things to blog about in the coming weeks and months. Of course I have plenty of billable work that needs to get done so for all those of you who are waiting with baited breath for me to blog (LOL!), future blog posts won’t be coming as fast and furious as I’d like but at least with the new blog they can start to trickle out.
Dec 18th, 2006 | Personal
A little history about me. In March 1994 I launched Xtras, Inc. as VBxtras, Inc. VBxtras was a catalog/mail-order reseller of 3rd party components and tools for developers using Visual Basic versions 3.0 through 6.0. I later changed our brand’s name to "Xtras.Net" as an Internet reseller of 3rd party components and tools for .NET developers, especially VB.NET and C#. During the time I ran Xtras it was recognized in 1999 as #123 on the Inc 500 which is Inc. Magazine’s annual list of the 500 fastest-growing private companies in the USA. That is a recognition for which I am still very proud.
NOTE: I wrote this blog post because I want a URL I can reference in the future whenever I want to mention Xtras and provide some background about it but without constantly repeating myself! I may also update this post from time to time if I realize I need to add and/or clarify something about what I wrote.
Aug 25th, 2006 | Miscellaneous, Personal
Aug 20th, 2006 | Miscellaneous, Personal
Those of you who follow my blog are aware it has been a long time since I’ve last posted. Some of you already know what has been going on in my life, but most of you don’t. For those of you who do not as well as the rest of you it’s time for me to fill you in.
But let me start with some background. Back in 1994 I founded Xtras, Inc. (then as VBxtras, Inc.) and I proceeded to grow it like mad. Then in 1999 Inc. Magazine honored us with their award for fast growth, placing us as #123 out of 500 on their Inc 500 list. It was a wild ride and I loved almost every minute of it!
Probably the best part were the people who honored me by working for Xtras during that period. I’m going to name a just few of them; the ones who contributed something so critical that Xtras would possibly have never succeeded had each of them not been involved (I’ve linked to their website or blog if I was able to find one):
Without each and every one of them, Xtras would never have reached the levels of success that it did. They helped me fulfill a dream; I thank them so muchl. But there were also many other fabulous people who worked for Xtras from 1994 on, and I value every last one of them too. So if you dear reader are any one of them, please accept my thanks and forgive me for not mentioning you personally; you were very much appreciated.
In addition, there are also many fabulous vendors/catalog advertisers that Xtras dealt with during the VB3/4/6 heyday (1994..1998) when there was so much energy surrounding the Visual Basic industry. There was an almost all-for-one-and-one-for-all kind of feeling in the industry during those early days, which unfortunately does not exist in the Microsoft add-on vendor community now. To find something similar, sadly you have to go to the Web 2.0/Ruby on Rails crowd to get the same vibe.
Back then it was the people that made it so great, back before everyone started guarding their vested interests, back when it was Sheridan Software and Crystal Reports, not Infragistics and Business Objects, for example. Back when we were all about building an industry together. So I’m going to name the names of the people I remember, but there’s a good chance I’ll screw up and forget somebody because there were so many more people involved back then. So here goes, with links to their current blog if I could find one, including their company at the time (and the company it became if applicable), with links to whatever companies still exists. In no particular order, of course. And anyone that’s forgotten, I apologize in advance:
Anyway, about the same time Xtras’ growth spurt peaked (around 1998/99; Xtras having been underfunded, I might add), the dotcoms boomed and, as I’m sure everyone remembers, VCs threw far too much money at companies without business models, none of them having being Xtras. This led to Xtras’ stasis; our inability to grow Xtras’ business and for the next six, we just operated pretty much doing the same thing over and over, day in and day out. Of course I wanted us to try new things, but we someone never managed to have the resources, and/or I could never manage to rally the troups.
So in May 2006, I left Xtras. I left to decompress and to clear my head. After a little over twelve (12) years of running Xtras I made a deal with one of my shareholders to buy my stake in the business and now Bill Kaylor has taken my place as president of Xtras. I wish them luck, but at this point I have no involvement and absolutely no financial interest left in Xtras. Of those twelve years, the first five (5) were some of the best years of my life, and last seven (7) were some of the worst. Be that as it may, plenty of fodder for future "lessons learned" blog posts. Although I have been working a little since May, I’ve mostly been catching up on things I neglected for so long, including renewing old friendships and cultivating new ones.
But now that I’ve had a short breather, I’m ready to leverage both my 19 years of business and marketing experience and my 21 years of technical/developer experience to pursue exciting new ideas and to once again work with the bright, enthusiastic and highly motivated people that make work so much fun. But you might ask why leaving Xtras will allow me that?
The plain fact is a reseller like Xtras has a high number of customer transactions, is capital intensive, runs on low margins, and is held in pretty low esteme within the industry. In the early days we published a printed catalog which was the guide for the industry, but the Internet and Google replaced the need for that, so we devolving into being "just a reseller." After many years of metaphorically banging my head against the wall I realized it was virtual impossible for me to devote the time, find the funding, and/or gain interest from the people needed to form the loosely-coupled business relationships.that work so well to pursue the incredible Web 2.0 opportunities that are presenting themselves today. So it was better for me to just leave Xtras in other’s hands and start anew.
In what areas do I want to focus? I want to improve the world! I want to make things and life better, faster, cheaper, easier! Heck, if I could devote my life to world peace with 100% certainty, I would do that! I have several projects in mind, some are for profit and some I have absolutely no profit motive whatsoever. For the latter I want to be a catalyst just to see them happen as I believe my doing so will improve some aspect of an industry or of life in general, depending on the project. And for almost all of these projects I want to work collaboratively with partners, anywhere from a loose open-source collaboration to jointly-owned companies. And I will be able to be far more open and share my ideas on my blog unlike the past five-plus (5+) years as I won’t have the constraints on me that I was under while president, CEO, and fiduciary of Xtras.
So I am idealistic, but I am also pragmatic. This time I want to make sure my ventures are cumulatively far more profitable than Xtras was during my tenure. I’m not twelve years more experienced, and hopefully twelve years wiser. I want to accomplish my idealistic goals, not just dream about them. But I’ve learned the world does follow "The Golden Rule," just not the one they taught about in Sunday school. I’ve learned it is far better to be the one holding the gold otherwise you get stuck following someone else’s rules. :-)
For those of you who are interested, stay tuned to my RSS feed. I’ll be posting more about my upcoming adventures shortly.
Jun 22nd, 2005 | Personal
Okay, so you may have noticed that my prior blog post was a really, really long time ago. Why? Well….
We hosted my blog on a server here in the office. I made the mistake of not mirroring the hard drive on that server. My net admin made the mistake of thinking that server wasn’t important enough to back up. Hard disk crashed. You get the picture….
So I paid $1500 to recover the data (that server had other websites on it too), and my blog sat there on CD until just earlier today when I thought I really should resurrect it.
Why didn’t I do it sooner? Well, I kept thinking I would get around to implemented .TEXT and move to it, but every time I tried I couldn’t get the d@mn thing to work. I’m a developer, not a net admin who understands security contexts (I don’t.)
Then today, I spent over 1/2 the day trying to get it dasBlog to allow me to post, even upgrading to the newest version. What was the problem? "NETWORK SERVICE" hadn’t been given rights on the directory. Grrrrrrr!
So there. That’s why it’s been down so long.
Hopefully it won’t happen again. :-)
Sep 30th, 2004 | Personal
I just finished blogging about my mini-vacation weekend riding motorcycles in the north Georgia mountains with my father, but I decided to split it in to because this was logically seperate.
After we left Suches, Georgia on Sunday around 1pm, we traveled south to Dahlonega, Georgia to meet Kathleen Dollard who had scheduled to have lunch with me after she arrived in the Atlanta airport. Luck would have it that she wanted to go hiking in Clayton, Georgia for a short time as she had spent time there when she was younger, and you can get to Clayton by driving in the direction of Dahlonega from Atlanta. After that, she was headed to South Carolina for a consulting gig.
Whenever I’ve seen Kathleen in the past it has always been at conferences where she was speaking, and I have typically been running a trade show booth which meant we were both always stressed.
On Sunday when my dad and I met up with Kathleen, I wasn’t stressed at all (I had just had an awesome weekend) and she didn’t appear to be either. We had a great long lunch, discussing things that interested all three of us, and I got to know here even better.
Kathleen is a great and brilliant lady, and I am honored to count her as a friend. If you don’t already follow her blog, consider subscribing.
Sep 30th, 2004 | Personal
I don’t blog too much about my personal life but this weekend was too great to stay silent.
My dad is an avid motorcyclist. At 65, he still rides one of his several motorcycles whenever it’s not raining. Though he has a newer one, his favorite is his 1989 Honda NT650 Hawk, a V-twin.
Growing up with a father that loved motorcycles, I naturally gravitated towards them, and as a teenager I actually raced motocross for several years. And I have fonder memories of racing and all that went with it than of almost anything else in my past.
But with college and then starting a business I let motorcycles slip away for over 15 years. Then in early 2001 with some massive business uncertainties causing great distraction for me, my father talked me into attending the 2001 Atlanta bike show. There I fell in love with a KTM Duke, which I never purchased because it was too expensive, but I did soon get a Suzuki SV650. I kept the SV650 for a little over a year, then I sold to pay off debt to improve credit scores for a condo mortgage. The following January I went to the 2003 Atlanta bike show to see the new Suzuki SV1000. There instead I fell in love with an Italian; the Aprilia RSV Tuono 1000cc V-twin, which I purchased the next month:
What’s the Tuono like and why did I buy it? For those of you who know bikes, no need to explain. For those of you who don’t, you wouldn’t understand anyway. :-)
Back to my dad’s Honda Hawk: the Hawk is a bit of a "cult" bike, so much so there is (at least) one major Honda Hawk website, several mailing lists for Hawk "Listers," and they have rallies many times a year at different locations across the USA. For the past three years I’ve attended the Fall Eastern Hawk Rally with my dad which has been held at the T.W.O. Campground in Suches, Georgia which is located in the North Georgia mountains. This year’s Fall Eastern Hawk rally ran from Thursday September 23 through Sunday September 26.
The prior two years I had many worries related to my business, and though I went, I was far too keyed up, did not really get to know many people, and did not have the best time. I left late and returned early. Still, I went to spend time with my father. This year was different. I left with my father on Thursday at noon, and that evening we went for a short ride. The next two days we rode what those who attended the rally yet traveled from as far away as Maine and Wisconsin said are "the best motorcycle roads in the country" (meaning the roads in the Georgia/Tennessee/North Carolina triangle.)
The next two days my dad and I went on different rides; I with the faster group and he with the more laid back group. The leader of my group for both days was a road racer, but he is also very smooth and level headed. During those two days, what I learned from him improved my street riding skills immensely!
Did I break any speeding laws? Mums the word…
On Sunday we had breakfast, packed up, and said our goodbyes after the group photo:
As we drove south towards Atlanta, we pondered the question as to why we each enjoyed riding motorcycles. Other than the obvious; shared enjoyment of a common activity, his reason was he enjoyed getting away; it didn’t matter where he was going, just that he was riding.
My reason was very different. When I raced motocross, I did so because I wanted to prove to myself I could accomplish something that was very difficult for me; to win the race. Though I got many 2nd through 5th place trophies over those years, I rarely won. Typically it was because I knew at least one of my competitors could beat me. At every prior race, I had been keenly aware of myself and my limitations. However, on this particular morning after practice my father asked how I thought I would do; I told him that I could beat everyone in my class, and I believed it.
A motocross race is comprised of two "heats" per class where class is usually engine size and skill level (i.e. 125cc A, B, and C; 205cc A, B, and C, etc.) The trophy winner is the one with the lower score. Ties are broken by the better scorer in the second heat. Thus a 3rd and a 1st would loose to a 1st and a 2nd, and a 1st and a 3rd would loose to a 3rd and a 1st.
My first heat on this day had my leaving the starting line 3rd. I slowly passed 2nd, and then 1st, and then I proceeded to add many bike lengths to my lead. I came in 1st that heat.
My second heat someone next to me on the start lost control and almost knocked me over. I entered the first corner with more than 20 racers ahead of me. That point forward until I crossed the finish line was lost to me; immediate after the race I didn’t remember a bit of it. My father had to tell me about that heat after it was over. He said I passed two or three bikes in a corner up until the checkered flag fell, and I was one bike length behind the leader; I came in 2nd that heat. Unfortunately because I started so badly, I didn’t win that heat.
But the winner of the second heat came in third the first heat. That gave me the win; I got the 1st place trophy. I had, for the first time in my life won a motocross race. And it was also the first time in my life I had been "in the zone."
Amateur racing is a community, and though you compete, you gain respect for the others and everyone I knew came up to congratulate me on what a great race I had run. Unlike any other time in my youth when I would have killed to be the center of attention, that day I didn’t need to be. I appreciated they acknowledged me, but it didn’t matter because I was completely at peace with myself. I had won the race, and I had done it with many odds against me given the lousy 2nd heat start.
That was also the first, and (by the way) the last, "perfect" day I have ever had.
So back the question: "Why do I enjoy riding motorcycles?" I ride because I want to get back in the zone. Last weekend in the mountain, after two full days of learning while riding behind a very good rider, I rode State Route 180 at full clip. I was riding at my edge and high on adrenaline, but I never felt out of control. I felt like I was back in the zone.
Well, I wasn’t completely in the zone, but I did get close. It was an awesome weekend.
Jun 12th, 2004 | Personal
Those of you who have paid any attention have noticed that it has been some time since my last post. Ahem. Saturday May 22nd around the time of my last post my left ankle started hurting. For no reason (except I rode my motorcycle that day, but I swear I didn’t do anything that hurt it.)
The next day I had trouble walking but I made my way to the airport destined for San Diego TechEd anyway.On Monday I had meetings all day, but by the end of the day I could barely walk. It took me literally an hour and a half to go from the meeting area by registration to my parked car (I just kept thinking: I don’t need a wheel chair!) Tuesday I couldn’t walk, and stayed in the hotel. The same was true for most of Wednesday, except I did make it out at the end of the day and to a CVC/CodeProject party.
Needless to say, TechEd was for me almost a complete waste! And no, I didn’t get any video footage, I just wasn’t up for it. :-(
Thursday morning I hobbled back to the airport for home, and then spent my Memorial day weekend housebound for lack of ability to move. Yeech. I guess I could have worked (or blogged) during that time, but the pain was just too annoying. Tuesday I was finally able to see my orthepedic, and learned I tore cartlidge in my ankle! Funny (sad?) thing is, the same happened to my knee two years ago, for no (discernable) reason! The only thing at the time I could figure was I had just turned 39. This time I guess it was I just turned 41. Jeesh.
So the last week after Memorial day was a blur as I tried to get caught up, and as I tried to prepare for going to .NET DevCon in Las Vegas, which I did Monday through Wednesday (I was only at the show on Tuesday, flying the other days.) NET DevCon was run parallel with a Lotus Notes and a WebSphere conference and wasn’t a well attended .NET show, but I had a long talk with John and Jeanie Banfield of Advisor after the show and there’s a chance based on their plans they can grow it into a really great show over time. (BTW, I’ve known John & Jeanie for over 15 years; back when I wrote for their now defunct Clipper Advisor magazine; and I think they are both really great people.)
Anyway, I’m finally back in town with no immediate travel plans meaning I can probably start blogging again, and my ankle is much better though I can tell it still is not completely well. The doc has me on meds, and I’ll see him in a month.
May 21st, 2004 | Personal
This past March my company Xtras, Inc. had its ten (10) year birthday. We’ve come to a crossroads of sorts and I thought it would be a good time to document those past ten years, and provide a glimpse of our future. I’ll do my best to describe things as I remember them, but I’ll leave out details that are too complicated or that I’m contractually obligated not to disclose.
I’m a developer, always have been, and always will be. Prior to Xtras for almost ten years I taught developers to program in a tool called Clipper which was a dBase compiler running on DOS. When Clipper training started dying, I became interested in Visual Basic but realized I couldn’t replicate my training business so instead I founded VBxtras which was based on a simple idea: To create a "complete reference guide" catalog of components and tools for Visual Basic developers (I later changed the company name to Xtras.) As a developer trainer I always liked to provide my students with information about 3rd party tools, so this was a natural segue.
I started VBxtras with no capital besides my AMEX card, and was lucky enough to hire a great team (with the exception of the finance area) and we grew like a weed in the shadow of our public company competitor. We filled the vacuum of demand for VBX and later OCX components for Visual Basic that our competitor ignored, and became the "best friend" for both developers and vendors. Unfortunately we also took on a lot of debt while we grew.
The dotcom years brought people with more money than sense who funded companies run by those whose main goal was to get rich off an IPO, and during 1999 through 2001 we were treading water as we tried to survive against well-capitalized competitors, both public and private. Millions of dollars were used to drive a wedge between us and our vendors with whom we once had only great relationships. I’m sure our competitor’s first priority is to make lots of money off developers for their shareholders, not necessarily to improve the lot of the developer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it is capitalism at its finest, but I believe developers deserve better.
That period of my life was especially excruciating not just because of the financial strain but also because I wasn’t building anything. My goals have always been to build things that can provide benefits for both me and lots of others. We built the complete reference guide of 3rd party tools for Visual Basic developers (VBxtras) and I know for a fact it helped hundreds of thousands of VB developers find the best tools available. Building things is what makes me happiest.
In 2002 we stumbled across something that actually made us extra profit which allowed us to pay towards our debt. We found Microsoft-centric developers were fascinated by the XBOX, and we could get them to buy a Microsoft MSDN Universal subscription if we bundled. It is difficult for a reseller to make a lot of profit margin when selling Microsoft products but since MSDN Universal costs $2000 or more we found we could make enough to pay for an XBOX plus keep a little for ourselves.
Also in 2002 we started working on an Xtras.Net printed catalog. However we found the world had changed in eight years. Vendors preferred online advertising to print advertising so most were unwilling to advertise in a printed catalog. Though we did produce an Xtras.Net issue #1 printed catalog, it was a huge disappointment to me.
For .NET, our Xtras.Net printed catalog was not a "complete reference guide" like the VBxtras catalog had been for VB3 as there were many .NET products not included in our catalog. Also I had questioned my own intuition and I had hired a marketing consultant to design the catalog instead of designing it in house and, quite frankly, many customers told me the Xtras.Net printed catalog didn’t have the soul found in the original VBxtras catalog. I decided if vendors and developers weren’t passionate about our catalog, I didn’t want to publish it (though we do plan to continue publishing it, albeit in a different form; more on that in future posts.)
So in 2002 and throughout 2003 we focused a lot of our attention on our MSDN+XBOX promotions because they generated the revenue we needed to cover overhead and pay off our painful debt. Sometimes my marketing manager promoted so heavily I cringed at how spammer-like we were becoming. But the MSDN+XBOX promotions allowed us to survive and, allowed us to pay off over half of our old debt. Still I hated that period because we were not on a mission, we were not building anything; we were just moving boxes.
Even though I was unable to pursue "construction" of anything new, different, and valuable for developers during 1999 through 2003, it didn’t keep me from dreaming. I had literally hundreds of ideas, most of them not worth remembering, but a few were really standouts. And a handful, if pursued, would significantly improve the lot of the .NET developer while giving my company a new mission and renewed vigor. Alas we were unable to pursue any of them during that period for financial reasons.
In late 2003 after getting our financial house in better order it became viable to pursue some of my dormant ideas. As we discussed them internally, they began to gel into a cohesive plan and strategy, and that strategy had a clear mission:
To Empower Serious .NET Developers
While that might sound a bit obtuse right now, you might recognize that phrase as the tagline for our The Xtras.Net Developer Network.
The launch of XDN in January 2004 was the first initiative launched that is part of Xtras’ future strategy. Today XDN is a membership program with two levels: Basic and Professional. XDN Basic membership is free and gives access to download demos from our websites; in the future XDN Basic will give access to a whole lot more. XDN Professional offers members (at least) one free commercial .NET developer component or tool per month, and three of our best sellers at ½ off our normal price.
In the future we will still operate our existing core business, but our vision extends way beyond what we are doing today.
So to wrap up the past ten years in a nutshell, we created an icon in the industry but they we went through hell, but came out the other side as survivor. As for our next ten years and beyond, I can say the following with almost 100% certainty, if you are a .NET developer and we are able to execute our strategy, you will be very glad we did.