Yes, software really is a mission

I quoted what I believe is a great blog post below by Michael Stanton. It relates to our company as well because we work primarily with non-profit organizations. Business or NPO, you work with a company online and it’s a relationship and not a transaction. You share a vision, or it won’t work. Period.

Does your RFP ask what their vision is? What their mission is? Or just for a copy of their financial statements?

Yes, software really is a mission. For our company I call our overarching beliefs and values our vision statement. The reason I look forward to work versus showing up early but only for a paycheck and jetting out the door at 5:51 is the vision. You can’t sustain 15 years for the money. Here is our vision statement:

“To Connect and Organize the World’s People. Do Good.”

When reading the article below replace the word “mission” with “vision” and it is a fair test on if you should do business with us.

If you don’t share that vision, then it won’t work. It just won’t. Sure we will make you money because we are really good at the whole marketing thing after years of study (15 years old, 30+ employees, 400+ clients, there is a reason agencies are constantly trying to steal our people and buy our company! Curious why I say no? Because I don’t believe in THEIR vision. I did the 9 to 5 thing at companies I didn’t believe in. It was hellish.)

Call it a vision. Or a mission. Whichever, yet THAT is why you should or should not do business with a company. Because I promise you as our CEO that the vision drives Tendenci 100%. And we don’t hold much back from the Tendenci open source for non-profits either. Here is the full quote from the article:

Software as a Service is no longer an accurate description of the paradigm of innovation, of the relationship between customer and service provider. We need a more accurate term.

Software as a Mission.

Software can move so fast that customers are not only not buying a static product anymore, they are also not subscribing to a defined service, they are now believers in a mission and hanging on for the ride. And the ride is fast enough to be a bullet train, but can also be a roller coaster. Companies that seem promising can suddenly get acquired, or go down in flames from premature scaling. They can get a strong competitor coming out of left field.

The question is no longer “Do you like the product?” As much as: “Do you believe in the company? Do you believe in their direction? Do you believe in the team?”

And if you bet on the wrong horse, it’s not as big of a deal as it used to be. You just take your credit card to the next one doing the thing you wanted doing. No big deal. The cost of implementation is usually just people hooking up their identities and choosing a password, at most uploading a spreadsheet.

By the way, this also means you won’t just have one vendor for what your communities or teams need. You’ll likely have several, and functionality will overlap. We’re going to have to be Zen about that.

So, let me ask you this question: think about your vendors. Picture them. Do you believe in the company? Do you believe in their mission, their direction, their team? Believing is so important because great teams can ship software really quickly, and what you have next year will not be what you have this year. Believing is important because small teams of people can now produce software that millions of people use. (At one point there were almost 2 Million Twitter users for every Twitter employee, same goes for Instagram.)

(excerpt from )

And I’d like to highlight one part again. Because oddly enough it applies in both directions. We have a sales incentive program that does not discern between clients who share our values and those that don’t. You can look back at every deal that unwound and it is either communication or a lack of aligned values. In the next paragraph, repeated from above, i have replaced the word “vendors” with the word “clients” and changed the audience to our employees, outsourcers, vendor partners and to the extended tribe. To (slightly) misquote Mr. Stanton again:

So, let me ask you this question: think about your vendors. Picture them. Do you believe in the company? Do you believe in their mission, their direction, their team?

While it is a common saying for us to “get to “no” fast if we aren’t a good fit.” I think the same goes for prospects. IBM was the biggest so the saying in the 80s was “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM hardware” even though it cost a premium. Yet that also wasn’t the key to great success. Dell seemed invincible. And right now the only PC company I see that I think “cares” about what I do, that I believe every employee shares the vision with, is Apple. And Steve isn’t there anymore. Yet the vision remains.

Purchase the proprietary market leader for your NPO if you are there for the paycheck and not the vision. And while the message might be self serving given Tendenci was started by our company, it is worth noting that the White House is now powered by Drupal. They believe that the company that powers Drupal, and that Dries himself, believes in the importance of open government from top to bottom. I believe it too. It really is software as a mission as

a user is a user is a user – database design fundamentals for marketers and programmers

Even in the mainframe days we had the golden rule that every user, person, student, teacher, whatever, on the system had a record in one (1) location.

Sure there might be descriptive data in another location. It might be a central table as simple as userid-username-password-role with a one to one relationship to a “role” table that then linked to the appropriate table for that role. Kung Fu Master versus Adjunct Professor. You get the idea. In Django this is the auth_users table with a relationship to the profiles table. But it is sooooo tempting to ignore the intention of the designers of Django, to break away from their DRY principles, and come up with a different system to reduce the number of records in auth_users. Despite lessons learned from Discus, the world’s largest Django application.

I followed that law, that a user is a user is a user, and wish I could credit it to the correct professor from my mainframe days on VAX using FORTRAN 4 and then FORTRAN 77. I was taught as early as the 80s that there was always one (1) place for humans (in a database at least). When Microsoft Access came out and everyone became an amateur DBA they suddenly created tables for “students” and “teachers” and “staff” which required duplication of data all over the place. It became so brittle that if another programmer worked on your file they had to know every field in every table. In other words – it was pathetic. I swore I would never do that again.

But I did forget. My fault. You can’t blame the young guns with two or three years of experience as they haven’t suffered the “mile in shoes over broken glass” of permissions for humans in disparate tables. Which might work, until you hire the next programmer and they go “what the F were you people thinking….?” This one is all on me.

One user. One record….. – so simple and yet so profound. It is the singularity in database design. No exceptions

That rule, “one user, one record” served Schipul.com and our clients well recurring revenue and a nice margin with true database integrity for over 10 years. We all made a profit. And the software? “It just worked.”

As a public post so I don’t do something this stupid again in the future, I am posting these two pages from the book Direct and Database Marketing by Graeme McCorkell. I used it with Tendenci 1,2,3,4.x+ and it served us well for 10 years. And then I forgot. Uuuuuugh. Double+plus+dumb points for me. And unfortunately this is hurting our clients through delays which is what really kills me.

One user. One record.

A user is a user is a user.

Here is to Tendenci 5.1 being pushed out in a few weeks. Major strides in the right direction. Back towards DRY and simplicity. Simplicity is best.

katie’s last day at schipul

[This post was written on December 16 and I never hit publish. I removed some of the mushy stuff. And as I have said many times “bad news fast” so let me say first that I regret the chaos of Katie’s last day. I’ll make it up to you Katie.]

Some people are just more difficult than others. And some people are REALLY more difficult than others.

Shut up. I’m not talking about myself.

I’m talking about Katie. Katie Laird. And I’m writing this on the last day she works for me. And that is sad for me as a person who will miss walking in to her office and rambling on about everything from Edward Bernays, to the latest Dan Keeney email that even we think is perhaps too full of candor, to our PR efforts to help April and the Silicon Valley office, or to discuss our latest ideas to save the cheerleader or at least save the world through Netsquared.

It is also a happy time for me because I love Katie in one of the 10,000 ways a person can love. And “love” isn’t a word I use without thought. Nope, this lady is unique. She is taking the next step in her mission and vision and I respect that. Even if I did manage to get us locked out on the 15th floor roof of our building on her last day because I wanted to say goodbye without 1000 interruptions that go with running a growing business.

Aaron hired Katie as a graphic artist ‘back in the day’. Kelly was our Communications Director at the time. Kelly was amazing of course, as she still is and I think she is even teaching the APR courses at PRSA Houston. When Kelly left, Katie proactively observed the (numerous) balls I was dropping and, well, I’m not even sure if she asked. She just did. She picked up the reins and was doing our PR in addition to her responsibilities as a designer. I’m not sure how it happened. That’s what happens with high performance individuals I have learned. Sometimes they run over you to achieve what is ultimately in your best interest as a leader and what is in the best interest of the company and the tribe. Katie did.

And Katie, or @happykatie as so many call her, did that. She just DID. I’m not even sure that I, as the CEO, had a vote in it. She is a force of nature.

Keep in mind this is a woman is a cupcake expert, a Nintendo gamer, a pilot (yes, like real airplanes), a Mom to an amazing little girl named Ella, a philanthropist who gives of her time and money to so many different causes. It’s kind of like shaking hands with a beautiful tornado. But not to worry, Katie is almost always in a great mood. (A desirable characteristic when it comes to tornados from Kansas.)

I have given so many talks over the last 6 years where not only the slide deck, but the research behind the slide deck, was done by Katie. She can meet with me for 10 minutes, ask a few questions, and two days later I have a presentation deck that makes me look like a hero presenting to a national section of PRSA in New York. She is that good. That and Katie herself is an accomplished and sought after public speaker in her own right. Check out Katie’s slideshare here. I have no doubt her public speaking requests will continue and surpass mine in the near future. She rocks as a speaker.

And OK, I admit it. It doesn’t hurt that Katie is the founder of Houston Dr. Sketchy’s. Always a great excuse to spend a Sunday afternoon at AvantGarden drinking wine and photographing models and friends. (Unless she revokes my “archivist” privileges, I know I’ll get to see her and Adam, and sometimes Ella, at least once a month.)

There is great joy in seeing people like Katie grow. Visiting her in the hospital when Ella was born. Jumping on an airplane to San Francisco for a one day trip with little notice to find out about this TechSoup Netsquared thing. Taking photos on the roof to show off the latest hand crafted scarf she made. Trying different advertising and acknowledging what fails, and trying again, and celebrating what succeeds knowing it is bringing in leads that become clients. To not get her a band aid, but instead say “wait, let me take a photo” when she skinned her knee riding a plasma car down the top of the parking garage. To enjoy those experiences with a co-worker you have to care. And I do. I care very much and to care it becomes personal. And Katie is leaving after over six years. And that brings a sense of loss.

Did I mention she planned and ran SchipulCon 2011 this year? Without Katie we would not have seen Dries and Matt on the stage together. It was a team effort, but she was the team leader for the whole event. (and a shout out to David and Al for the idea and the vid of course.)

And then Katie had me roasted. Very funny. Very Katie.

I know I am missing a ton of Katie’s accomplishments. And memories she created. She has been the driving force for the Schipul and Tendenci brands for years. So much so that she rejected a blog post I wanted to put on the Schipul blog because it wasn’t “on message.” (Her rejection notice/email said something about “snarky” but I’m not sure what her point was #heh). In fact I’m posting this on my personal blog and linking to it because I know Katie wouldn’t think this blog post was “on message with the brand” either. She is a true brand steward. She cares about her work.

I’m proud of Katie in that she is following her passion and going after what, after much introspection, she feels is the best next step for her.

As a CEO, you always feel a bit like a failure when you lose a top performer. It means that you didn’t grow the company fast enough to keep them challenged. Or you didn’t increase profits enough to increase their compensation commensurate with their new skills, abilities, knowledge and mostly the RESULTS they produce for the company. And the next person who tells me “don’t take it personal” gets bonked on the head by Ded Bob from the RenFest because it means they have never walked a mile in the shoes of a company founder. I’m not sure I would even want to be a person who didn’t feel the human loss as well as the professional loss when a high performer leaves the company.

Make no mistake, this is a loss for Schipul Technologies Inc. And a huge gain for my friend Jay Steinfeld, the CEO of Blinds.com where Katie is going. Jay, you don’t just owe me a beer. No sir. This calls for something more like a bottle of Opus One. But I can’t fault your choice of talent. You have excellent taste indeed.

Take care of Katie for me please. She rocks.

14 years and a big year at that

This is a cross post. Please comment on the original post on the official Schipul Web Design Company Blog here.

September 1, 2011 is the 14th anniversary of starting the company. 14 years. Considering I was unable to hold a single job for more than 2 years before this (if you exclude teaching on and off at a gym in college) this is impressive for me to stay focused for 14 years. But my job has changed. Years ago I realized that the company had grown to the point that I, me personally, was no longer the one building web sites. Rather my job transformed into growing people. And I enjoy and try very hard to surround myself with brilliant, hard working people with positive attitudes. Turns out they make great employees and they challenge me to grow at the same time.

14 is kind of an awkward age. I think if you are married there isn’t even a recommended gift from de beers given it isn’t a multiple of 5. (Wait. Sheesh, I just looked it up. 14 years is traditionally ivory? What the heck? Do NOT send me any ivory people. Really. Elephants look better with their tusks IMHO.)

And this is my second blog post on blog.schipul.com. I have submitted other posts, but as I was reminded when I mentioned to Katie that I was writing this post, apparently “snark” isn’t appropriate on blog.schipul.com.  I must reserve that for my own blog or the Chron. Thus my previous posts were rejected by Katie for official publication. Hopefully this one makes the cut!

Back to the 14 year thing. Obviously I am incredibly grateful to my family and friends who helped me start the business. There truly is no such thing as a self-made-man, woman, entrepreneur, whatever. We ALL get a TON of help in both sweat equity, money, advice, support and every other type of help imaginable. Nobody can do it alone. The media likes to tell the story of a modern day Galt charging forward solo against the odds. It doesn’t work that way. It takes a network of support to start a business. And I had that network 14 years ago and I still have it now. And as I have said many times, the biggest supporter I have ever had is my wife Rachel. If Rachel had not gone back to work in 1997 when I quit my job the company wouldn’t exist at all.

In the early days, huge thanks to Paul Bieniawski, Scott Pederson and Javier Avellan as well. Starting a company is like moving apartments when you are young; everyone says they are your friend, but suddenly they are busy and can’t help on that particular Saturday. Rachel, Paul, Scott and Javier freed up the time to help me and were truly paid in pizza and beer (yes really). Our first server was built on the floor of Scott’s kitchen using left over alpha hardware and a case, motherboard and CPU purchased on Harwin. (Tip for future entrepreneurs – NEVER use “alpha” hardware. Uuuugh, that server was rough. But it got the job done.)

Employees – the team – the heart of the company. I appreciate Jennifer, Rodney, Aaron, Jenny, Katie, Eloy, Kerry, Lyndia and the entire team. We definitely would NOT be celebrating 14 years without all of them. And that’s not even listing some of our former employees who made huge contributions, helped the company move forward and then went on to follow their own path. Their impact was felt and moved the ship forward. And a special shout out to Ellen M, my very first employee, who is awesome despite having gone to t.u.

Clients – we are here to serve our clients and without clients we wouldn’t exist. Saying thank you to our clients, letting them know we understand we work for them, and that we appreciate them, can’t be repeated often enough. So if you are a client reading this - THANK YOU!

I have a lot of history of the company to write. Forgive me if I am missing something and I’ll try to get it all organized by the time we hit 15 years.

So if I didn’t write a blog post at year 10, if I didn’t write one at year 11, 12 or 13, why now? Because 2011 is different for us. We have not had a year this transformative in the company’s history since 2001 when we shut down network consulting services and started programming codebase (now called Tendenci.) In fact our theme this year is “Go Big or Go Home” which I borrowed from Aaron’s team goals. That Aaron is a wise man.

“Go Big or Go Home” is definitely not a typical theme for a conservative businessman running a company during a recession. But in 2011 we effectively “doubled down” as they say. Instead of running from a recession, we charged into it and reinvested while cutting costs and reinventing our products. Go big or go home in 2011 means this year we:

  1. Tendenci – Finished the rewrite of Tendenci version 5 on the Amazon server cloud. The rewrite started in January of 2009 and we had a few clients moved onto the new version in 2010. But only in 2011 has our dedicated team of programmers started to really build the recurring revenue and functionality to rival Tendenci 4. I can’t speak highly enough of the team. Writing software ALWAYS takes longer than you want and costs more. That has been the case for us with the rewrite of Tendenci. But it IS done and live on client sites like Discovery Green in and ThinkLA. We look forward to converting our other 400 clients to the latest version over the next few years.
  2.  SchipulCon 2011! – We had our first Tendenci user conference in 2007. We tried to do it again in 2008 but Hurricane Ike had other ideas and instead we cancelled and had a giant party. I know, a dot-com kind of thing to do, but if you remember the time after Ike we all needed a bit of healing and beer heals.  In 2009 we renamed it SchipulCon and had a great event at our long time client the Houston Zoo. Well, you guessed it, we are DOING IT AGAIN! Please check out our speakers and register for SchipulCon October 6,7, 2011 at client Norris Conference Center at CityCentre in Houston.
  3. Silicon Valley – we opened an office in Silicon Valley in March of this year led by April Kyle. We are learning to speak Californian and finding they aren’t so different from us! West coaster? Give us at call in the valley at 408-430-3137!
  4. Business Processes – kind of boring to talk about, but we have completely reengineered our internal processes from accounting procedures to better utilization of SugarCRM and switching time tracking and moving our email to the cloud. It hasn’t been completely smooth, but it is building a foundation for us to continue our growth unimpeded. Thank you to the team for moving with the cheese in 2011 as we grow! And it helps our clients by improving our efficiency which allows us to reinvest in YOU!
  5. Tendenci self-signup – by the end of 2011 smaller organizations will be able to self signup for a much lower cost Tendenci site for their organization. We have lowered our costs by moving into the cloud and we are passing those savings on to our clients to enable more and more small associations to take advantage of our technology at an affordable price. (Special shout-out to former employee Glenbot who has moved on to a VC backed firm. Without Glen’s contributions to Tendenci 5 over the last few years we wouldn’t be this close. Thanks Glen. I appreciate the beautiful code dude.)

And to our competitors who told our clients we had “stagnated” and had “stopped updating Tendenci,” … um…. ooops, meet T5 baby! Rockin the cloud for a bigger and better future. Two and a half years of serious double-down and rebuilding was hard to endure, but we are near the finish line to the ultimate benefit of our clients.

And the team has done all of that in the fourth year of a recession. Call us crazy, but we figured there would never be a good time to do any of these changes, so why not do them all at once? Why not Go Big or Go Home in 2011?! And we are doing it. And I couldn’t be more proud of our employees or more grateful to our clients and everyone who has helped us not only this year, but every year for the last 14 years.

Please join us for SchipulCon and get some brain candy. We are here to serve you. We are reinvesting to serve you better. And as always, we are appreciative of Houston and the community and friends that have supported us for so long. Thank you!

Ed

This is a cross post. Please comment on the original post on the official Schipul Web Design Company Blog here.

SchipulCon in two days – Oct 45, 16, 2009 at the Houston Zoo

What started in 2007 as the Tendenci User Conference, was canceled in 2008 due to a very unwelcome hurricane, has now morphed into SchipulCon 2009. Planned by @MagsMac, the conference has a great lineup of speakers including Deirdre Breakenridge, the author of PR 2.0.

The full SchipulCon 2009 Agenda is posted on the site. And registration is here.

And of course a HUGE thanks to our sponsors without which this would not be happening!

Southwest Airlines Porch Swing Desserts YouData
Bright Sky Press Coffeegroundz St. Arnold's Brewery
Mashable OneShot Tequila Web Entertainment Guide
Israeli Wine Kolache Factory 1560 The Game
C-47

John Sturtevant defines us – and that clarity of speech is scary

Sturtevantbeclear_1We have a client who runs www.JohnSturtevant.com where you can learn to write with clarity and purpose (I haven’t completed the course yet so forgive the current author).  John Sturtevant emphasizes the importance of BEING CLEAR

He is truly a dynamic speaker and even lets you thrown things at him in class.  I thought we had a good relationship going.  And then this email starts circulating the office.  I think I feel the love, but I am not quite sure.  So to quote John:

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Schipulize

v: To make to strict specifications in order to produce desired results. Example: "My business was going nowhere, until I had my website Schipulized. Now I’m getting more new customers than ever!"

Schipulite

n: An enthusiastic and prosperous person whose life is characterized by profound happiness, exceptional creativity, reassuring common sense, and a deep measure of morality. Example: "Sure, I used to think I was successful and happy, but now that I’m a Schipulite, I’ve found a true meaning in life – plus I’m getting filthy rich!"

Schipulosophy

n: A thorough investigation of the nature, causes, and principles of web-based reality, knowledge, technology, and values based on logical reasoning combined with empirical methods and wry skepticism of all accepted assumptions or beliefs, tempered by a system of admirable values. Example: "Some people shun true Schipulosophy for more pedantic approaches to web marketing – the wretched fools. "

Schipulology

n: The science of web-based life and of entities relying on the web for their subsistence, including their structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, and distribution. Includes Schipulotany and all its subdivisions. Example: "As soon as I heard the logic and rationale behind Schipulology, I threw all my Netelligent Design books in the Dumpster."

—————————–

Of course after reading this I must *immediately* point out that it was 8 years ago that I really couldn’t come up with a better name for the *company*  so that is the COMPANY name and what John is referring to above is the result of a COMPANY EFFORT.  It is most definitely NOT my individual efforts that produce results for our clients although I would like to think I am a positive force in that direction.

SturtevantbeclearunclearWhat John does, playfully, emphasize is that we take our ideas behind web marketing and search engine optimization seriously.  We actually do require employees to read the book Positioning for advancement and we train them on everything from collective action to marketing fundamentals.  So there is more to it than design or code or PPC campaigns.  We love this stuff.

Thanks for the kind words John.