Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New Adventures

It's been a while since my last posting. Most of my time since leaving HP has been spent on starting up a software business. The first product was released last week. Despite almost no advertising, the installed base has grown faster than I thought likely. People from 35 countries have downloaded it. It's gotten some good feedback and reviews. I'm pretty happy with the results so far. Version 1.1 just got released yesterday and I've started work on 1.2. I'm trying to build a good reputation with my installed base, so I'm quickly taking their feedback and incorporating it into revisions. Now, to be fair, you should know that I've been giving the product away. Rest assured, however, that there is a method to this madness.

I've enjoyed starting up a new business. Yes, it's been frustrating at times. Having to do nearly everything yourself can be a big challenge, but at the same time it forces you to learn about many different things. Learning how to write code for a platform that's new to you and is constantly in a state of flux can be extremely vexing. I wondered at times if I would ever finish. In some ways it's very similar to other situations I've been in. I now expect to feel perplexed and frustrated when attempting something new. When the frustration and confusion arrives I recognize it, which in turn diminishes it. For me, it's a sign of learning. I did have the sense to hire someone to build the web site and do the graphic design for the icons I needed, but by far I did most of the work. I think I'm over the hump now. It's slowly becoming easier.

As you might guess, a software business is pretty different from a bakery. All you really need for capital equipment is a computer. Other than a place to sit, a power outlet, and an internet connection you don't need much in the way of facilities either. Part of the attraction for me is that you can work from almost anywhere and at any time. Most of the cost is labor, which has mostly been free in my case. If you're willing to work for free and have the right skills (or are willing to invest the time to develop those skills) starting up a software business is pretty inexpensive. Like a bakery, however, you still need to provide good value and treat your customers well.

The strategy end has been fun too. My mantra for the software business has been "fail fast and cheap." I treated the first rev of the product like an experiment who's objective is to measure the size of the market. If the market turns out to not be there, well you didn't invest much so you're not out much. It would be like an engineering experiment which didn't give you the expected answer. The fact is you still learned something, and what you put into it is the price of that learning. If the market is there, that's when things get interesting. My next major objective is to monetize the market. I have several ideas which I'll be pursuing over the next few months. Hopefully at least one will work.

Besides the software start-up I've kept my finger in the bakery pie (no pun intended). It's maintained a strong sales growth rate, matching total 2009 sales in the first four months of 2010. We're wrapping up the transition of our accounts to a different bank, which was more difficult than it sounds. After a brief and well deserved hiatus Nina is back in the thick of it. We're looking for more employees with bakery experience. I'm really proud of my sister. It turns out she has a talent for employee and operations management (besides customer relations and artistic creativity). In these aspects I'd put her on par with many managers and supervisors I knew from HP (including myself). The size of the facilities keeps popping up as a problem. I may fly down for a week or two some time this summer to build a storage shed and to replace some of the refrigeration equipment. Longer term (maybe this fall) we'll need to put together a detailed expansion plan. The latest big order is for the grand opening of a new church (actually the same church we attended when I was growing up). They want a cake shaped like the new church to feed 1500 people.

Aside from the business stuff I've kept mountain biking with the boys and running with Ann. Ann and I went out to the coast for a weekend about a month ago. We hiked out to a remote waterfall, one of the most beautiful I've seen. The next day we wandered semi-aimlessly amongst the rocks on the shore, finding many odd looking critters in the tidal pools and rock faces. Unfortunately neither of us brought cameras. More recently I participated in Pole Pedal Paddle. This is a relay race. You start out downhill skiing on a mountain, then cross country ski, followed by a downhill road ride, a run, kayaking, and finally a sprint to the end. The event is held in Bend, located in Central Oregon. It was an opportunity to see Cliff, who lives near Bend. Cliff did the cross-country ski and the kayak legs. I did the downhill ski and the biking, while the NavUnit did the run and sprint. We lived up to our team name (Doing It Wrong) by breaking multiple rules, which almost resulted in our not being able to participate. The NavUnit would want me to make it clear that I was the team leader. The photo at the top is of me taking a test ride on the bike I used for the event. I was wearing a snowmobile helmet because the helmet I had brought with me apparently didn't have the proper safety certification. (One of the rules we ended up flaunting.) Thanks to the NavUnit for the photo. The next day we went rock climbing at Smith Rock before returning to Corvallis.

Tim and the NavUnit have most recently been trying to convince me to participate in an adventure race. They're targeting a race in Central Washington which will be held in late August. The web site's description sounds pretty brutal. 50-75 miles of mountain biking and 20-30 miles of trail running, both in high topography terrain on the east side of the Cascades. Then another 20-30 miles of paddling on a big lake. The exact distances, the sequence of the legs, and the course checkpoints will not be divulged until the start of the race. Each team is on it's own with regards to navigating through the backcountry and personal safety. GPSes are not allowed, and you have to carry everything you need (including food and water). You have up to 33 hours to finish the course.

I haven't committed to doing it, but I decided to start training. This past weekend I ran for about 4 1/2 hours in the hills and then mountain biked for 5 hours the next day. I felt better than I thought I would, so I'm going to keep it up. Meanwhile, I'm trying to talk the boys into something more pleasant, like an epic climb in the North Cascades. Or gouging out our eyeballs out with an ice pick.

That's it for now. Thanks for reading.

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