Starting a New Chapter in Life…

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.

RSS: No Apparent Advantage for a Tech Community Newsletter

I’m blogging today about an email conversation I had with the publisher of "TechLinks", an Atlanta-based email newsletter that, according to their website, "supports the fast pace of change within the Georgia technology community."   I’m going to relay the conversation and then ask your opinion: “Do you think RSS has benefit for TechLinks?“

Basically the TechLinks email goes out daily on business days. On Monday it provides a list of meetings and events, and the rest of the week it lists press releases from Georgia technology companies (click here to see an example.)  I’m subscribed to TechLinks because it occasionally has something important to me, but usually it doesn’t. Each day when TechLinks arrives in my inbox, I get this pained feeling of "do I really want to spend 5 minute of my attention to actually read this thing?"  It doesn’t help it is two to three pages long.  Usually I just delete it, but feel guilty because "maybe I missed something?" 

Since Scoble turned me onto blogging last month, I’ve notice lots of ways RSS, if used, could improve my everyday computing.  After returning from VSLive last month and swimming through my email inbox I had one of those epiphanies.  There were at least five daily issues of TechLinks, and I thought "Damn, in RSS format I could read it a lot faster using SharpReader, it wouldn’t clog my inbox, and I’d stress about missing something. After all, TechLinks is perfect for RSS because it’s a bunch titles with links to the TechLinks website."

So I shot off an email to the founder and editor of TechLinks Mike Adkinson suggesting:

Why don’t you turn this into an RSS feed?

I also thought it would help Mike if he had not considering offering RSS for TechLinks.  To my email I got a one word reply:

Why?

I thought it a bit rude so my reply back to Mike was admittedly was a bit sarcastic:

Uh, maybe so you won’t be the last content provider who isn’t?

Or maybe one of these people can say it better than me:
http://www.wired.com/news/rss
http://www.infoworld.com/rss/rss_info.html
http://news.yahoo.com/rss
http://www.microsoft-watch.com/article2/0,1995,1097192,00.asp
http://www.slais.ubc.ca/dlee/550/rss/whyuseit.htm
http://www.oreillynet.com/rss/
http://www.webreference.com/authoring/languages/xml/rss/
http://www.greatwesternpublishing.org/rss/rss.html
http://www.xml.com/pub/a/2002/12/18/dive-into-xml.html
(Also see: http://www.microsoft-watch.com/article2/0,1995,933657,00.asp)

Or maybe so I can actually READ your newsletter and not just delete it (RSS is much easier to read using a RSS reader like SharpReader [http://www.sharpreader.com] instead of read email newsletter.)

I never got a response. 

Yesterday I got another TechLinks and thought "Hmm, let me send another email with those RSS links I posted on my blog today." Here was my email:

Here is more about RSS (and why you should offer this email as an RSS feed):

 

http://msdn.microsoft.com/msdnmag/issues/04/04/XMLFiles/
http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/tech/rssVersionHistory

To that I did get a reply, probably to keep me from bugging him again:

I asked one of our people to explore this idea and the resulting message back to me was that we did not find where it offers a business advantage for us in any way that we could determine. It does take some effort and for reaching the audience that we want to serve, there was no apparent advantage.

Thanks for your suggestion and maybe someday there will be some kind of ROI for using RSS but for now, it does not seem to do anything for us.

I was floored!  This is the same TechLinks whose printed version received the Georgia Technology Leadership Award for Technology Public Service in October 2000. That award was created by the Office of the Governor to recognize outstanding technology leaders who have made a positive impact on the advancement of technology in Georgia. This doesn’t add up!

Other technology publications have already seen enough business advantages to implement RSS feeds. I won’t list many because it’s late and I’m tired, but I’ll list a few important ones:

Wired
InfoWorld
CNet
eWeek
PcMag
Though not a tech publisher, even Amazon is getting in the game!

I was so shocked and frustrated by Mike’s reply I replied quickly and extremely sarcastically (I was probably way out of line and wish I had not been sarcastic):

Really?

I do think it ironic that the people involved with the Atlanta newsletter labeled "TechLinks" aren’t able to recognize the most significant trend and groundswell since Mozilla combined http+html to create the web. Especially since it is so relevant to your business.

Oh well, to each his own.  Thanks for the reply.

If you are interested, here are two more articles:

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.04/start.html?pg=7
http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/81/blog.html

To which I got this reply:

I appreciated your initial suggestion but I object to the conclusion you reached. I did not say we did not think it was popular. I did not say that it was not good.  I did not say that we thought it insignificant.

I only said that at this time, we do not find a return for our business that warrants an investment of any resources.

You should try harder to understand the difference between our messages before making judgments.

I have no further interest in this conversation.

Okay….  Realizing it would only piss him off more if I continued, but also realizing my frustration created a need for me to apologize and to clarify my thoughts, I replied with:

Acknowledged.

But let me I apologize for my assertion as I did not intend to insult.

I really did not mean to say I thought you were unable to recognize the general trend, though that is what I stated. I was just so very surprised by your belief it was irrelevant to your current business I stumbled over my words.

That’s the end of it (thus far.)

Why would I blog about this? Blogging about an email could be viewed as a breach of implied trust, which normally I wouldn’t do. However, this was not a personal dialog but unsolicited suggestions from someone Mike Adkinson did not know. I’m sure Mike as a professional writer knows not to send something in email he wouldn’t want to see as a front page headline for, say, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In that context, I thought it fair game.

I didn’t intend this to ridicule Mike Adkinson’s business or technology acumen. I’m sure he’s busy running TechLinks and just hasn’t had time to realize how relevant is RSS. Similarly there have been many times I now wish someone had slapped me and made me pay attention. A former Xtras employee Glen Gordon had to almost literally scream at me to get me to pay attention to this new thing called a "Browser" and "The Web!" (Glen is now a .NET evangelist for Microsoft.)

Further, I didn’t intend this as a critique of Mike’s email responses. I’m sure I would be horrified if I only knew the number of times a customer has viewed one of my email replies as rude or frustrating. In this information overloaded world, we all do it. "Let he who is innocent cast the first stone."

Instead I wanted to ask: “Do you agree with my assertion that RSS is completely relevant to TechLinks? If so, maybe you would email Mike Adkinson [[email protected]] to let him know why implementing RSS would be valuable to him, especially if he could be somewhat an early adopter?  And you could let him know how simple RSS is to implement. I’m sure he won’t be as harsh with you as he was with me.

If he does implement RSS, he’ll thank us all down the road; I’m sure of it.  And if he does it will reduce my email clutter by just a tiny bit more. :-)

Scoble’s Corporate Blogger Manifesto

Another item for my favorite’s list is Robert Scoble’s Corporate Weblog Manifesto.

Welcome to the real world

Hello all. Today I am embarking on what might well become the most time fascinating yet consuming project on my life. Writing a blog.  It started many moons ago when Greg Silvano of CodeHound told me “You have to get a blog! You have far too many things to say to the world not to publish them online.“  Of course that can be easily translated into “You have far too much hot air to expel; why not help reduce global warming and type it instead, eh?

I grabbed some books on the subject and started reading up on it (I admit it, I’m much more of a paper person than most.  But that will be a subject for a future blog.)  Sounds like a plan, so I wrote the content for my first blog, and looked about for how to publish it.  As we run our own servers, I have a predilection for self hosting so I decided to write my own.  There the project sat.  For a long time.  Ahem. Later I came across .Text so tried to install it, but got nowhere fast.  Too many errors I just couldn’t get past, so I gave up on it until I had the time.

Then today, I spoke to Robert Scoble the ever upbeat and affable and self proclaimed Microsoft Geek Blogger, also known as the guy that long ago ran the VBITS conference content for Fawcette and scheduled the annual ad-hoc geek bus trip to somewhere in Northern California either before of after VBITS (I knew him when…) Anywho, Robert tells me about reading 1300 blogs a day, and I think “my god, how does one ever get anything else done?“  He also shames me into realizing I should have taken the extra effort to start my blog a long time ago.  So with his recommendation to try dasBlog, here I am. Wish me well!