The Hot Iron

A journal on business, technology and occasional diversions by Mike Maddaloni


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Follow-up On Divvy Bikes And Helmets – Boston Debuts Helmet Vending Machine

About a month ago I wrote here on The Hot Iron about how Divvy, the extremely popular bike sharing program in Chicago, did not offer helmets. I also discussed several options for them to offer helmets to their riding customers, including people selling them to the idea of a helmet vending machine.

Little did I know such a helmet vending machine had been developed, and last week was introduced in Boston for its bike sharing program. HelmetHub is a vending machine which was born out of MIT, and offers to either sell or rent a helmet. The vending machines have a style similar to the bike rental stations in Boston and Chicago (which are run by the same company) and will fit in well with those stations.

You can read more about HelmetHub on their Web site and see pictures and options for the vending machines.

screenshot of HelmetHub Web site

It’s great to see such a service offered, and nice to know I was not the only one thinking along this line.

Would you buy a helmet from a vending machine? I welcome your thoughts in the comments of this post.

This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.

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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 11/20/13 at 10:01 PM
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Sunday, November 17, 2013

How I Took An Idea And Made It A Reality

image of The State of Their Web SiteWith all the ideas and events swirling through the Windy City during the recent Chicago Ideas Week, one of those thoughts was what I would like to share here, how I took an idea I had and made it a reality. Though this story took place a few years back, it is still very vivid in my mind.

My idea was to create a piece of marketing collateral for my Web consulting business. In this case, I could leave it would a prospect client, allow it to be downloaded from the Web and simply put it out there in printed format, the last 2 cases would be for anyone who wanted it. Depending on where the prospect was, it could server anywhere from a calling card, functional tool or a call to action to contact me.

Origin of the Idea

In my Web consulting business there were 2 categories for prospects – those who did not have a Web site and those who had one and were looking to possibly redesign and/or rebuild it. Where there were many common elements between the 2 for the sales process, when talking with someone who already had a Web site there was always a level of ambiguity to what exactly they needed or wanted to do and to what extent.

To try to streamline this process in a non-intimidating way, I thought of a form of checklist, where someone could read off the list to see if they had any or all of the items incorporated into their Web site, or at least to pose the questions in the event they didn’t know. In my mind’s eye I had a partial vision of the checklist. I saw it as paper-based, as likely someone would read a question from it then look on their Web site on their computer’s monitor for the answer. I wasn’t sure if there should be a score of some form or not. I was very sure I did not want it to be too technical and I did want it targeted to the business owner.

As for what would be in the checklist I had some ideas, but this was something I wanted to put time into over a period of time, then organize them into the checklist.

Like Rodney Dangerfield’s Joke Bag

The process of collecting the items for the checklist had me recalling a story I once heard about the late-great comedian Rodney Dangerfield. Before he got into comedy, he was a salesman and would write jokes on pieces of paper and put them into a duffle bag. When the bag was full, he had the material he would use on stage.

My approach was similar, yet different, as my duffle bag was digital – consisting of folders on my hard drive and in my email program. The ideas I captured varied from text files to links to other Web sites to email newsletters, where some of these items were direct ideas and others either categories or thoughts. I let this collection come together over a period time (exactly how long I do not remember). Then one day I decided to start the process to build the checklist.

Molding the Ideas into the Finished Product

As the collection process had elapsed some time and I didn’t remember everything I had put together, I decided I would go through them, one-by-one and begin curating a list. This was facilitated with the help of my whiteboard. As I read an item, I checked if it I already had it on the board, and if not I added it in some semblance of order. When all was done, this is what my whiteboard looked like:

photo of the whiteboard creative process

At first glance, it is a mess. But it was the first pass at the organization of the items and ideas. Needless to say it was worthy of a picture!

From here, I started typing up the ideas, and in some cases I would combine like or similar ones. As I typed them up, I erased them from the whiteboard. At the end of this process hundreds of files and emails were in a clean list, just as clean as the whiteboard now was.

The next step was to boil the list down to a manageable, 1-page list, with the top, most important items on it. This was done over several days, as I would look at the list for a while, then revisit it later with a fresh brain. In the end, I finalized a list of 34 items and broke them down into 3 categories – business, content and design. I also came up with some copy to describe the checklist to put on the reverse side of it. At this point I felt really good about the checklist. Well, except for the name of it.

(Queen’s) Landing on the Right Name

photo of Queen’s Landing

The original name I had for the check was, and get ready for it:

The Web Site Redesign Self-Assessment Checklist

Yes, it sucked. Here I spent all of this time and produced what I felt was a quality product, yet the name would surely be a turn-off, and in some cases scare off people. I decided to put the completed checklist aside as I needed some more quality time to get the name right.

On a Friday evening after work, I went for a walk along Lake Michigan. Armed with a good cigar, I just needed to clear my head after a busy week and stretch my legs. As I was strolling by Belmont Harbor, the topic of the checklist name came front in center in my head. I recall shaking said head and saying to myself, “why don’t I have a better title for this” and the gears in my head started to crank.

As I headed south along the lakefront path, I started decomposing the goal of the checklist. The thought process went something like, “it’s where your Web site is now… it’s a point in time… it’s the current state your Web site is in… wait, that’s it – it’s the State of your Web Site!”

I stopped where I was, at a place along the lake called Queen’s Landing and called my office line and left myself a voicemail message on the name so I wouldn’t forget my inspiration. When I got back from my walk I edited the Word document with the name and then registered the domain name for it.

The State of the State Then and Now

Upon completing the checklist I setup a download page for it and promoted it here on The Hot Iron and elsewhere. I printed copies of it to give people in person and to bring to events as a leave-behind. Although the list never was mentioned on the cover of the Wall Street Journal, it would get a handful of downloads each week and I got good feedback on it from prospect clients and current clients as well.

Now almost 3 years after I created the checklist, it needs to be updated a bit, which would come probably after a new brainstorming session on it. That being said, there are many core concepts on the checklist that are still very relevant today as-is.

See for yourself – download a copy of The State of Your Web Site here right now!

Ideas, Visited

Ideas are just that, intangible thoughts. Without any action, they will remain in that state, floating out there. I know, as The Hot Iron is full of ideas I have had over the years. Where I have acted on many of ideas over the years, I am very proud of the creative process I have just shared here.

Your thoughts – and ideas – on the checklist and the process which led to it are welcome in the comments.

This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.

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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 11/17/13 at 10:46 PM
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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Divvy Bike Sharing In Chicago Needs To Offer Helmets

Chicago is all about bicycles. From casual riders along Lake Michigan to people taking their bikes to work every day to everyone in between, there are bikes all over the streets and trails in the Windy City. This intensity has been raised in the past few months since the Divvy bike sharing program has started.

photo of a Divvy bike station in Chicago

Take a look at this picture and see if you can see – or not see – what I don’t see. This gave me my idea. With additional inspiration from a recent safety video contest that Divvy ran, as well as the upcoming Chicago Ideas Week, I’d like to share and detail my idea for the Divvy program.

First What is Divvy?

Divvy is a service owned by the City of Chicago and run by a commercial third-party company that offers similar services in other cities. The idea of bike sharing is for taking short bike trips around the city, where you rent a bike from one bike station location, as pictured above, and return it to another. The keyword is “short” as you have 30 minutes to go from one bike station to another. You can pay US$7 per day to use a bike for unlimited 30 minute trips, or you can also buy an annual pass to use the service daily.

The bikes themselves are also custom designed, 1-speed bikes with lights powered by pedaling and more rugged than a standard personal bike. The front wheel locks to the station until it is rented. The seat is adjustable and there is a front rack for carrying items. All bikes have fenders covering both tires to keep you drier in the rain, and are light blue, matching the color in the Chicago flag (with the exception of the one red bike).

Divvy Bikes Are (Almost) Everywhere

Since their rollout, barely a block goes by without the sight of a Divvy bike in motion. Though the intended market for the service is city residents, tourists have been renting them as well. The tourist element may not have been anticipated as there have always been options to rent bikes, carriers and even get helmets from the rental shop. For as bike friendly as Chicago is, bikes are often playing a dangerous game with cars for the same street real estate throughout the city. Where marked bike lanes and even some with dividers exist, they are not everywhere, and many say not as much as are needed.

As you may have guessed by now, there is one thing missing from the Divvy bike program – bike helmets.

Divvy just rents bikes, it is up to the rider to get their own helmet, as is stated in the user agreement on their Web site. However, there are not many retail locations in the city where you can buy helmets. With the launch of a social media video safety campaign the lack of a helmet offering represents a huge missed opportunity.

What Would Have Been My Entry In The Divvy Safety Contest

This would have been my submission for the Divvy safety video contest, a 6-second video I created with Vine. Had I gotten to this earlier, I would have submitted it, but alas I missed the deadline. It’s embedded below, or follow this link to view my Divvy bike helmet video on Vine’s Web site.

Some Realities Of Helmets

Before I get into details on the offering of helmets, a little setup first. There is no law in Chicago or Illinois mandating the wearing of bike helmets, and I am not advocating one. Personally when I ride a bike, I always wear a helmet, especially as I once flipped my bike and I was glad I was wearing one! As one who believes in helmets, coupled with the Divvy user agreement stating you should wear one, there is an economic opportunity being missed by not offering them, not to mention the potential safety issues with tourists who may not know where they are going meandering the streets of Chicago.

If you look at the above photo and video again, you will see the Divvy bike stations are designed to dispense bikes, and not helmets, which poses its first challenge. Another challenge comes with the various sizes of helmets needed, as a helmet should fit snug on your head to be effective. Finally, if you are going to reuse a helmet it should be disinfected (think bowling shoes!) or each person would get a new, unused helmet.

Challenges as they may be, I see a couple of approaches to handling – or plain out selling – helmets, both in the short term and long term for the Divvy program.

People-Powered Sales

You don’t have to go far in Chicago without someone trying to sell you something. From the legitimate sales of newspapers and the Streetwise magazine (which I had a previous idea on, but I digress) to people hawking water, self-made CDs or pure panhandling. Why not have people sell helmets direct to riders as select Divvy stations?

The setup for selling helmets can be simple – wheeled duffle bags full of varying sized helmets, mobile devices with Square-like credit card swiping done by a person wearing a Divvy shirt. If sales of helmets are brisk, inventory can be replenished by the already on-the-road Divvy vans which are restocking bikes at certain stations.

Innovation For The Long Term

You may have seen vending machines selling electronics or other items at airports, train stations and even rest stops on highways. There is even an “ATM” in Chicago that vends cupcakes!

photo of Sprinkles Cupcake ATM in Chicago

Why not a vending machine selling helmets, integrated into each Divvy bike station?

As Divvy bikes and the stations were engineered for their use, so would the bike helmets and the vending machine. I envision a unique helmet designed so a large quantity of them can be stored in a vending machine. The helmets may also be designed to be adjustable so that fewer sizes are needed? I don’t know the answer to how this would work, but I bet there is an engineer who could figure it out. The vending machine itself would be designed to not take up much space and integrate with the current purchasing function of the station.

Beyond The Helmet

As the typical cost of buying a helmet is more than the cost of a daily rental of a Divvy bike, marketing and sponsorship opportunities could decrease the cost of helmets. Would Nike or Groupon or PNC Bank pay money to put their logo on what is in essence a traveling billboard around the streets of Chicago?

And while they’re at it, where are the ads on the bikes themselves? It would certainly contribute to what is in essence a taxpayer-funded program.

Take My Idea Please!

Though Divvy is still a few months old, it has great popularity and exposure. My idea isn’t the only one out there for the service – this story is on an app created by a Chicago resident for logging miles, but was taken down as it violated the Divvy terms of service. Of course if Divvy made available – or even sold – data or the capacity to access it via an API, then there could be even more innovation and potential revenue.

As I myself am in no position or have the time to act on this idea, go ahead and take it and run with it. All I ask in return is a pat on the back and maybe the first helmet off the assembly line.

I also welcome your feedback – and ideas – in the comments of this post.

This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.

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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 10/13/13 at 08:28 PM
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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Why Bloomberg BusinessWeek Article Missed Point Of Patriots Hernandez Jersey Exchange Program

A couple of weekends ago the NFL’s New England Patriots held a jersey swap, where owners of the team’s number 81 jersey for tight end Aaron Hernandez could swap the jersey at the team’s pro shop for a similarly styled jersey for another player. This event was held in reaction to the arrest of Hernandez for the murder of Odin Lloyd, a friend of Hernandez and a semi-pro football player in the Boston area. I won’t recap the entire story here, which has transcended typical sports news channels, but if you are unfamiliar with it you can start reading about it here at USA Today. The graphic below was taken from the Patriots Web site.

banner from on jersey exchange

This unprecedented event garnered many headlines in itself, including this one from Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which questioned and challenged the swap event. Where wonder over such an offer to fans is not unsurprising, this story by Kyle Stock missed the main points for why the team may have made such a move, and to a reader who was unfamiliar with the team, story or the league itself, it would give them an incomplete story. After reading it I was compelled to write this post.

Let Me Be Completely Transparent

Allow me to provide my background and interest in writing this, which I believe provides greater context to this story. First and foremost, I am a Patriots fan, and as someone who grew up in Massachusetts I have followed the team since I was a kid. I am also a 19-year season ticket holder of the team, which goes beyond the current ownership of the team by Robert Kraft. My fandom also extends online to the Web site that myself and a friend have run since the mid 1990’s (though it has lagged the last several years, but I digress). All of this said, I have no special insight or relationship to the team. I have met Kraft before, but I don’t even have a picture to capture that moment.

Beyond my interest in the success of the team, I am looking at this jersey swap story from the standpoint of a business owner, and someone who has followed not only the team on the field but the off-field activities of the team, from their then record-setting sale price 20 years ago to the new stadium and retail and entertainment complex that surrounds it south of Boston, and all that went into taking this losing team to 3 Super Bowl championships in a decade.

I have tapped into both of these points of view in the writing of this post.

A Little Pre-Reading

Before you read on I encourage you to read the article from Bloomberg BusinessWeek and this is a link to a PDF capture of the story in the event the article link does not work. I also encourage you to read this article from the Patriots own Web site about the sale – this is a link to the page and this is a link to a PDF capture of it. As well, this is the terms of the jersey swapped, with both a link to the Patriots site and a copy of it here at The Hot Iron.

Let’s begin!

(Re)building A (Patriot) Nation

In the third paragraph of the story a comment is made to the jersey swap having “been lauded by much of Patriot Nation as ‘classy.’” The quote of classy came from a comment posted on the Patriots article page by a reader, but the more important mention is of “Patriot Nation.” Where this may have been written by the author as a tongue-in-cheek reference to Patriots fans, it certainly should not be dismissed as it encompasses all of the reasons for why this jersey swap happened.

Prior to Kraft’s purchase of the team, even despite an appearance in Super Bowl XX, the Pats would rarely sell-out a game and were a regarded lower than the other Boston sports teams. People wouldn’t openly brag about being a fan, let alone a season ticket holder. The efforts made by Kraft and his team both on and off the field were the rebirth of the team, making them the competitor they are today and elevating the team’s value to second among all NFL teams at over $1.5 billion dollars according to Forbes magazine. Fans of the team are proud to call themselves a member of Patriot Nation, whether they are from the US or internationally.

The terms of the jersey swap stated the swap must be in person at the Patriots Pro Shop adjacent to the stadium in the complex called Patriots Place in Foxboro, MA. This move by the team was brilliant, as the pro shop is a gleaming, several thousand foot complex that sells everything from jerseys and hats to furniture with the Pats “flying Elvis” logo. Though I did not see any numbers on additional sales, it would not surprise of any numbers of how many people bought additional merchandise – at full price – when they swapped their Hernandez jersey. The article reference the sales of Tim Tebow jerseys, for the quarterback which recently signed with the team, but this was a pure outsider’s assumption as the top selling jerseys were for veteran players Vince Wilfork and Tom Brady, according the Boston Globe.

The timing of the jersey swap also couldn’t have been any better, as it followed the announcement of the new typeface to accompany the team’s logo. What a better way to move “old” merchandise, especially in the off-season in preparation for the new styles – and typeface – to stock the pro shop.

By The Numbers

The article then gets into justification for why this could be a bad move, first talking about how many players have been arrested – “almost 30” – and the average length of the career of an NFL player – 3.2 years. To begin with, you will never fins a jersey or t-shirt with the name and number of every player. Only the top starts of the team are ever prepared and sold. As of this writing, on the Patriots Pro Shop’s Web site you can get prepared jerseys for 20 players, of which a few are for players who are no longer on the team. Sure you can get a custom-made jersey for any player or number (or your own name) but you will pay a premium for one. If someone is going to the extent to custom order a jersey for a particular player, they really want that player’s jersey and most likely wouldn’t be looking to return it.

Arrests are not the only reason a player’s jersey would be taken off the shelf. Retirement, injuries, free-agency signings and trades come to mind. These actions don’t typically call for a recall of jersey, and in many cases if someone doesn’t want to wear a player’s jersey, they would just leave it in the back of their closet and buy a new one. Another option I have personally seen in the past is putting duct tape over the name over the player’s name.

When considering costs associated with the jersey swap, there is no mention made in the article of actual cost. Does a jersey that retails for US$100.00 cost that much? Half that? A quarter of that? Of course the cost is nowhere near the retail cost. I do not have specific number on the average actual cost of a jersey, but recalling the experience of my Aunt (full disclosure – also a Patriots fan!) who worked in the headquarters of a retail department store for many years, she said there is plenty of markup on all clothing, which allows for plenty of markdowns as well as profit.

Following the jersey swap, the Patriots reported that it cost them US$250,000.00. The report doesn’t include any actual costs, if they were included or not, nor what they will do with the jerseys they collected. I sincerely doubt the team will sell the jerseys on eBay, as the article insinuated, as Kraft did not make his billions by such petty means, plus such an action would completely negate the “classy” goodwill the team garnered from the swap. If you simply take the $250,000 and factor it into the “more than US$3Billion” NFL merchandise market, and it is not a “pricey” percentage. By factoring where that cost of $250,000 will be charged in the team’s accounting – in marketing, merchandise or somewhere else – and the actual loss is not as large as it may appear.

Decisions, Decisions

This is not the first time the Patriots have taken action due to a player’s reputation. In 1996, the Patriots drafted and then released Christian Peter after rape allegations were found out after he was drafted by the team. A controversial move, as well, but one which the ownership felt it had to do.

Over the years I have heard sports team owners say you don’t buy a team to make money. Granted most team owners have other income sources so we should not pity them, but it takes a large investment, time, and granted some luck for a team to payoff. This eventually happened for the Patriots.

At the end of the day, any decision made by a business comes at a cost and some with a benefit as well. In the short term, these costs can have a negative impact, but as long as the overall, longer-term impact is positive, then the business will not only survive but thrive. If it doesn’t, then someone else can take over the business and continue it. This is exactly what happened with the Patriots.

I welcome your thoughts on any of this – the original article in Bloomberg Businessweek, my analysis, the Hernandez case – please leave them in the comments to this post.

This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.

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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 07/31/13 at 10:10 PM
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Monday, June 24, 2013

Meeting People Is Believing In People In The Workforce

In this hyper-connected, telecommuting, Internet-enabled, outsourced, offshored, cloud, remote-working world, it is not uncommon to never meet people you work with. In some companies it has become almost the norm, and it is only rare exceptions where people see even a live video stream of someone, let alone meet them in the real world. For many people, this is ok.

As you may have guessed from the intonation of the previous paragraph, I am not one of those people. If anything, I make the extra effort to go out of my way to meet people whenever possible. It’s something I learned early on in my career, and it has worked not only to my advantage, but projects I have worked on over the years as well.

To Utah Or Bust

Back in the late 90’s I was consulting on what I would call the most unique, fun, learning and dynamic project of my career. Put it like this – I had over an hour’s drive each way to work and it never even phased me! Where I could write many posts on that project in itself, the project was my first end-to-end Web and service project, and eventually I was the manager of the entire technical environment.

But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and in this case, the client was closing their business unit I was working at and my project was sold to another company. That company had its own development and technical resources, and my job was to transition everything from knowledge to software to hardware to the new company. To add to the logistics, the new company was outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, where I and the project was south of Boston, over 2,000 miles away.

After the client manager informed me of the changes in the project he paused and asked me what was the first thing I needed to do for the move.

I said, “I need to book a flight to Utah.”

When the client manager pressed me for details, my response was straightforward and convincing. We needed to first ship the software and data to the new company, all over the Internet, and set it up on temporary servers. Then once done we’d literally pack and ship the servers to them, then move the data back onto the old servers. Not only had none of us – the current client, new company, or me – done something like this before, but it was 1997 and not many had done something like this period.

Therefore meeting the staff at the new company that would be on the receiving end of this was crucial. It was my job to ensure that the move went smoothly and we were up and running right away. I had to know what – and who – was on the other end and that they shared my commitment to the project, were capable of working on it, and if there were issues, they shared my dedication to resolving them.

Meeting and Believing

So I booked a flight from Boston to Salt Lake City and spent a week south of the city with the team. Following our initial meet and greet, we got down to business, including touring their facilities, reviewing the project plan and made some changes based on their feedback, and discussed the transition and longer term for the project, namely as I would not be a part of it any longer. We also had lunch together and a couple of dinners and got to know each other better, along with sharing stories of past tech projects. As my flight took off for my return trip to Boston, I felt very good and confident the project would be extremely successful.

When I returned to the client the following week, the client manager asked me how it went. I first showed him a list of everybody’s name, email address, and work, home, mobile and pager numbers. Needless to say he was pleased as I went into further details on the trip and overall plan.

In the end, the transition went off smoothly. We had a few issues, such as the data transfer taking longer than anticipated, but in the end everything was up and running over the course of a weekend. The following week there was an issue with one of the temporary servers on the other end, but I worked with their team and reported back the status to the client’s client to ensure everything was under control, and soon after I reported the good news we were back up and running.

Following the transition of the server environment came the transfer of the software development, and my role on the project came to an end. Where it was bittersweet for me, I was more concerned for the people who worked for the client who were losing their jobs. Another project for me was followed by a job change and onto even more adventures.

To this day I strive to meet the people I work with in person. What worked well in 1997 seems even more important sixteen years later.

This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.

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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 06/24/13 at 09:50 PM
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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

We All Have Our Place

As someone who has worked with computers for more than three-quarters of my life, I can say without boasting that I have a decent proficiency with them. Where I don’t know everything about every piece of hardware or software out there, I can usually get my way around with some analysis and troubleshooting.

photo of a keyboard

The longstanding line, “computers are supposed to make our loves easier” seems more like a fleeting goal for many people. Due to my technical experience, I am often held in a higher regard by those who are more tech novices, namely when something they may not understand or are having trouble with comes more naturally to me.

Don’t get me wrong – ego stroking every once in a while is a good thing! But in all reality it mostly isn’t warranted. Whenever I get a large abundance of praise or witness someone denigrate themselves over their lack of technical knowledge, I usually look at them and smile, then I explain to them the reason why I am smiling.

Why? We all have our place.

My skill and ability with computers overshadow things I can’t and mostly don’t want to do. I can’t iron a shirt without making it look worse than what I started with, I can’t lay tile, I can’t bake, I can’t ice skate, I can’t use a SLR or DSLR camera… and the list goes on. But do I care about these things I can’t do? No. Why? Because others can do them, do them well and I look to them for those tasks and services.

Untwisting Abilities

photo of a crashed car

Years ago I was at a friend’s business, an auto body shop. When I was there, he couldn’t figure out how to do something on his computer and asked for my help. I don’t recall exactly what the task was but I do recall figuring it out rather quickly. When I showed him what I did, he was flabbergasted and expressed how stupid he felt that he couldn’t have figured it out for himself.

Then it was my turn. I smiled and said something like, “dude, we all have our place. I know computers, and you know cars. You can take a twisted hunk of metal and turn it back into a Mercedes. So when you have a computer question you call me, and when I get into a car accident I call you.” He’s a smart guy and he agreed with my logic.

Place Holding

So the next time you feel frustrated over something you don’t know, think about what you do know and what your place is in helping others. Plus I have to admit – I get baffled with a lot of technology issues I run into and completely sympathize with you that many things are not more intuitive.

This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.

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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 05/15/13 at 03:32 PM
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Sunday, April 21, 2013

My Too Late StreetWise Idea To Save Time Out Chicago

The April 18 – 24, 2013 edition of Time Out Chicago, which unceremoniously arrived in my mailbox this past week, is apparently the last print issue of the weekly arts, food and entertainment magazine. As of this writing I haven’t heard it officially, only from other sources, including some of the majority of the staff who were just fired.

photo of the last issue of Time Out Chicago

For as much as I talk of how I get most all of my news and information online, Time Out Chicago was the sole exception. It was part events calendar, part coffee table book and not to mention part great bathroom reading material. Even if I wasn’t participating in the literally hundreds to thousands of events, shows or restaurants listed, it was a convenient, well-edited and attractive print publication.

And now it’s gone.

Once partially owned by Chicago resident and Morningstar founder Joe Mansueto, it was sold back to its parent company (which published editions in other cities) and it is apparently going solely online. They already have a Web site, though I have infrequently visited it. They also have an iPod app which apparently I could have bundled with my print subscription but when I attempted to do this the last time I renewed my subscription the customer service rep was not aware of this. Though it would have been nice to have it on my iPad, I had the print version, so why would I need another format?

My Idea Too-Late But Worth Mentioning

This idea hit me when I was in a doctor’s office waiting room, looking at the magazines fanned out on a table. Among them were a copy of Time Out Chicago and StreetWise, the latter being a periodical sold on the streets of Chicago by, as described by their Web site, people “…who are facing homelessness.” The magazine is part of a larger social services agency, and you can read more about StreetWise on their Web site. Where I don’t personally know much about the larger organization , I do see the people selling copies of them on the streets of Chicago. I’ll be honest I may have maybe bought 1 or 2 copies over the years, but then again I barely pickup free copies of other periodicals also available around the city.

So do you see my idea? Why not merge or mashup the 2 publications? The much smaller StreetWise would be included in the pages of Time Out Chicago, then the street sales force would sell the combined publication.

Could it have worked? It would have been worth a try! Rather than hearing someone hawking, “Streetwise…” we could have heard “Get Time Out Chicago, with the latest going on in Chicago…” Add to it Time Out logoed-gear to wear, and it would have added more to the sales pitch. The tourists alone would have bought out every issue.

But alas, it’s not to be. With the staff cuts already made, Time Out Chicago is going digital. I don’t know how much the quality will be effected, or even if their Web site has an RSS feed, but only time will tell.

Though it’s too late, I had to share this. What do you think, could it have worked? Are there other mashup opportunities out there that could be such a win-win? Other potentials for for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations to partner? Please share your ideas and thoughts in the comments to this post.

This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.

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Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 04/21/13 at 07:29 PM
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Friday, October 19, 2012

Technical People Need Management And Leadership Too

A recent article on the Kansas City Star’s Web site by Diane Stafford titled, “Why young achievers don’t stick around” caught my attention, in addition to the fact it was promoted in a weekly LinkedIn email. The topic of team building, motivating, mentoring and leading your team is one that means a lot to me. The article referenced a Harvard Business Review study and research on exit interviews, both of which talked about how young workers will only stay around a company as long as they have opportunities for growth, training and to receive mentorship. Otherwise, they will leave and go elsewhere.

When I read this, my reaction was, “duh!”

photo of train station entrance in Chicago

The same conclusions of these sources are something I have experienced numerous times in my own career in high technology – as an employee myself, as a manager and as a colleague of other managers who lament over the loss of people on their teams. After reading this, my own beliefs and philosophy in management and leadership were reaffirmed, and I am writing this to discuss this topic and observations I have made over my career.

You Hire A Person, Not Just Their Skillset

Allow me to repeat that, you hire a PERSON, not just their skillset. As obvious as this may seem to some, time and time again I see recruiters and hiring managers looking just at what skillset the person has and how immediate they can contribute to the company, team and bottom like. Of course this is important, however they often overlook the entire person – who they are, what types of experiences they have had in the past, what they do outside of work and what their goals and interests are. The individuals who overlook these important attributes often lack vision themselves, or the manager is more interested in their own goals rather than those of the team.

Many managers are looking to simply make their jobs easy for themselves, expecting their team to just “git ‘er dun” without any regard for their team’s wellbeing and growth. A perfect example of this is the job titles that are prevalent in many Web technology jobs, which include qualifiers like “rock star,” “guru,” and “ninja.” With labels like these employers are looking for the best, but are they also willing to give their best back to the employee, with a positive venue of personal and professional growth?

The True Cost Of Developing Your Team

When management looks at what it takes to give their employees what they need not only to succeed but to grow, they are always fixated on the dollar figure. Many companies have cut back on employee training and other growth opportunities with the justification that once the employee gets this benefit, they will just leave for a new job. Granted that can happen, but they may still leave if the opposite happens and they don’t get growth and mentorship in your company. Where you may have saved on training, conference and time taken for mentoring, you are now spending It on recruiting, recruiter fees and the time it takes to review, interview and vet the replacement employees. In many cases those costs are actually higher but not realized as such as they may be spread over several departments where staff development may only apply to the department they are in.

You Must Believe For It To Happen

In order for people who work for a company to get the growth and attention they crave, management must believe in it. Those managers who do are what I truly call leaders. Sure, some companies may say they do, but if it is not marked against a manager when his staff doesn’t get these opportunities, it truly it not a culture that believes its success is tied to the growth and success of its people.

Like Anything Growth And Mentorship Must Be Defined

In most businesses if it is not defined it will not happen. The same goes for developing your team. To whatever degree you want to do it, write it down, include it in the employee manual and promote the heck out if it. Even small teams can offer budgeted dollars for formal training classes or to attend seminars or conferences. This can include covering either the entry fees and/or the time off from the office. An added feature can be that this budget can be exceeded when the staff is presenting or speaking at such events, where they are a representative – and brand promoter – of your company.

When it comes to mentoring, it should be stated what and how the company looks out for its staff, and what defined meetings or metrics are in place. The challenge here is that not all managers may have it in them to be mentors. In that case, training for mentors can be implemented or mentors from outside the firm who have a vested interest in it (e.g. investors, board members) can be assigned to staff. What better way can there be to ensure of the company’s success than working with its people at all levels?

Strive For Action Not Perfection

If your company doesn’t have a growth or mentorship program or you are a new business, then just start one. Define, review it and refine it with 360 degree feedback from those on the giving and receiving end of the program.

Career Growth and mentorship have always been things I have strived for as a manager. As a small business of 1 person I admit I have not always been the best boss to my 1 employee – me. But if you are to grow, you need to consider the time and cost investment in your people along with everything else you do to bring the on-board your firm.

Agree? Not agree? Not sure? I welcome your comments and questions.

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This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni, Founder and President of Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC.

Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 10/19/12 at 03:14 PM
BusinessTechnologyThriveWeb Development • (1) CommentsPermalink

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Why All Professionals Must Accept Credit Cards

photo of credit card logos on retail store in ChicagoWhere you’ll rarely find a retail merchant who doesn’t accept credit cards, you’ll find plenty of professionals – from painters to physicians – who do not. Whenever I ask one why they don’t, whatever reason they give me is almost predictable to me, especially as I am a small business person who didn’t always accept credit cards. Despite this, I look back on my decision to do so as a wise one. Rather than counter common reasons, I’ll present it by benefits, as well as how to decide how to accept them.

Credit – AND Debit Cards

Today most all debit cards are branded with a credit card company logo, so automatically when you accept credit cards, you are able to accept debit cards too. This is not only good to know as some people only have a debit card rather than a credit card, but also for the various “sources” of debit cards, including:

  • Flexible Spending and Health Savings Accounts – Most FSA or HAS accounts provide their insured customers with a debit card, and not checks, so the only other way to draw from the account is to pay in cash or check, then submit a claim for reimbursement. As a result, patients would prefer to pay by debit card and not have to front the money and wait for it to be reimbursed to them.
  • Unemployment Benefits – Some states, including Illinois, pay unemployment benefits by addingto the balance of a debit card rather than sending a check. Thus, this may be the best – of not only – way for someone to pay you.
  • Gift Cards – Just because it was given as a gift it doesn’t mean it has to be spent that way.
  • PayPal – You can draw on your PayPal account balance by debit card to a merchant or even at an ATM, and many people choose this rather than transferring the funds to their bank account.

Credit Card Fees Vs. Getting Paid Sooner

The fees, the fees! Yes, credit card processing involves fees, where depositing a check usually doesn’t. The best argument I can give in justifying the fees is getting paid sooner when someone pays with a credit card than with cash or a check. Why? In order to pay by cash or check you need to have the money on hand (not considering overdraft protection on your account or just overdrawing your account) where a credit card, providing they have credit available, someone will let you process it right away or sooner than the terms you have offered them. If there is any delay, it may be to wait until after a billing cycle closes so the charge appears on a statement in 2 months as compared to the next one.

My personal experience with my Web consulting business has shown me that clients who pay by credit card typically pay me in HALF the time of my terms with them, which are net 30. Some of them have asked me to pay them when I generate the invoice. For me, that’s huge!

Credit Card Fees Vs. Not Getting Paid At All

Earlier I mentioned I didn’t always accept credit cards. The catalyst for me was when I presented a proposal to an existing client for a new Web site project. They said they didn’t want to proceed right away as they did not have the cash on hand, but if they could charge it they could. I wanted the project to happen and I also realized that at some point I would have to accept credit cards, and there’s no time like the present! By the end of the day I was setup to process cards and ran theirs, and the project began the very next day.

The Magic Numbers For Determining Credit Card Fees

There are many ways to process credit cards, and I will get to that next. Before you inquire you need to know 2 key inputs to how credit card fees are calculated – the number of transactions per month and the average transaction dollar amount.

Any processor that can provide customized rate plans will use these values to determine what they will charge. As you can guess, the higher these numbers are the less your fees may be. Where you may be able to accurately calculate these values, others may not, especially if you have never processed credit cards before. If not, you can survey your customers to see if they’d prefer to pay you by credit card. If you still have no idea – no worries, as that can help narrow the choices for you initially.

Choosing A Credit Card Processor

Below is a list of some credit card processors and is not meant to be an exhaustive list. In addition to these, talk to colleagues or other business owners for ideas on who they may use.

  • PayPal – The pioneer in person-to-person is ideal for business as well, especially if you don’t know your transaction volume, or if you do and it is sporadic. PayPal charges per transaction only and has no monthly fees, though the per transaction fee may be higher than others. PayPal offers Web online payments as well as a smartphone card reader.
  • Square – The newcomer introduced the smartphone card reader and now others are adding it to their feature set like PayPal and Groupon. Square offers per transaction as well as flat monthly fees. Soon you will be able to buy a Square at Starbucks stores.
  • QuickBooks - Intuit’s QuickBooks and QuickBooks Online integrates credit card processing right into their software and Web site functionality. This reduces extra steps – and vendors – and provides a 1-stop shopping with a quick turnaround on setup. Their fees may be higher than what you can get from a bank, and they do charge a monthly fee even if there are no charges for a month.
  • Your Bank - The bank where you do your business banking may go the extra mile to keep credit card processing under the same roof as your bank accounts. They can provide custom rates by volume and can waive setup fees. They will charge a monthly fee but it could vary by volume. I’d suggest looking into all options first and presenting all of this to your bank to see if they can match or beat it.

Note no matter which way you can start, you can always change if your volume changes.

I’d welcome your feedback and comments on this, and even if you’re still not convinced to accept credit cards.

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This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni, Founder and President of Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC.

Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 10/04/12 at 12:56 PM
BusinessMobile TechnologyThrive • (1) CommentsPermalink

Friday, September 28, 2012

Samsung Berlin Blogger Blunder And How Nokia Gets It Right

A story that received little press, even tech circles, was how a blogger was flown to Berlin, Germany to attend and objectively cover the IFA 2012 conference by technology firm Samsung. When the blogger, Clinton Jeff, arrived there from his home in India, he was told instead he was to be a rep for Samsung and demo their technology to attendees of the conference. When he refused, Samsung threatened to strand him there and would not pay for his hotel or return flight. In the end, rival mobile technology firm Nokia paid for Jeff’s stay in the German capital and his return flight home, allowing him to cover it as he saw fit. This was first reported on The Next Web in this post.

photo of Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin

Where I personally don’t know Clinton Jeff, I do read his blog Unleash The Phones and follow him on Twitter, and I do know people who know him and he is well-respected in mobile tech circlers. So if he says this happened, I have to believe it. And from Samsung’s response it reinforces their blunder.

A part of the story that was barely touched on by the reports out there was how Nokia paid for his extended stay and flight home. Where some may say this was simply a smart PR move by a competitor, I agree it is. However this in line with how Nokia works with bloggers. How do I know this? Because about 2 years ago Nokia flew me to Berlin to attend a conference and cover it how I saw fit, and I had no logistics issues at all.

Nokia has a strong word-of-mouth social media marketing program called Nokia Connects, which back when I went to Berlin was called WOMWorld/Nokia. It is facilitated by Nokia and WOM agency 1000heads. The program loans new mobile devices to bloggers and others to evaluate and, if they choose, write about it. I say it this was as in all encounters with Nokia connects for over 4 years now, since I went to Nokia OpenLab, they have never even eluded slightly that I need to write something or what I should write.

If this concept is new to you, a thought going through your head may be – why? Why would a company spend money on an international flight, hotel, ground transportation food, admission to a conference for not just 1 person but 3 to cover an event without any expectation of the quality and quantity of what they write? That’s exactly the point! Granted the people they invite are people that will be writing something. But this is why Nokia’s word-of-mouth program is popular with bloggers and successful for the brand.

Diary From Berlin

To better explain, I’ll share more of the itinerary of the trip to Berlin in November 2010. I attended Microsoft TechEd, an international developers conference for those who work with Microsoft technology. Nokia was an exhibitor and had a keynote address on its collaboration with Microsoft for an Outlook/Exchange email client app on Nokia devices as well as other sync technology. Nokia invited me, Dennis Bournique and Craig Richards to cover the event. It was by no means an earth-shattering announcement, and we had no idea only a few months later Nokia would announce it was moving completely to the Microsoft Windows Phone ecosystem from its own known as Symbian. But Nokia wanted people to cover it, and we were invited.

We had a host in Rhiannon from 1000heads who coordinated travel logistics, getting around Berlin, making sure we were fed and access to Nokia staff. Never at any time were we asked to sign ANYTHING, never told or even hinted at what to do or any. In addition to the conference itself we attended a Nokia social and had a little time to see the city, and I gave a brief tour of the areas of Berlin I remembered from a vacation there a few years earlier. I’ll reiterate there was no expectation on what – and when – we wrote, and I did write a few posts including this one and this one and tweeted form the conference. And neither Nokia nor 1000heads ask me to write this – when I heard of what Samsung did, I recalled my time there and was compelled to write this on my own.

In one tech media account of the drama that Samsung put Clinton Jeff through it closed with, “basically, it's not a great idea to accept "free" trips or gifts from companies.” I disagree. First off, for decades journalists have been receiving free trips and all the trappings and still do. Of course buyer beware and know the reputation of the vendor and their consultants to determine it it’s right for you. If an invite comes to me from Nokia again, I will certainly accept it if it fits my schedule and interests.

When recalling this event I remembered a video I took of the Hotel Berlin Berlin where we stayed. I have uploaded it to my YouTube channel and share it with you below – or click here to see the video.

I welcome your thoughts and comments and discussion on this topic which may be foreign – no pun intended – to many people.

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This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni, Founder and President of Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC.

Posted by Mike Maddaloni on 09/28/12 at 01:35 PM
BloggingBusinessTechnologyMobile TechnologyStrategizeThrive • (2) CommentsPermalink

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The Hot Iron strives to present unique content and perspective on business, technology and other topics by Mike Maddaloni, a Web and business strategist based in Chicago.

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