Personal Growth

20 years of Blaze...

The 1st of September marks a major milestone in my life.  It will mean that I have been running my company, Blaze Business Software Pty Ltd for 20 years now.  Two decades.  It seems almost unbelievable to me at times.

Back in September 1996, I had only been married for a month, I was about to turn 30, and I decided to start a software consultancy business out of my bedroom.  Thus began the rollercoaster, including getting an office in the Cullen Bay area of Darwin, growing the team to at one stage around 16 people, and then now coming full circle to just my wife and I working from a home office again in a 'lifestyle' business.

So many changes in the IT industry at that time.  When I started Blaze, the internet was just hitting mainstream here in Australia, and everything was still dial up.  We were one of the first offices to get an ISDN line into our office, and I clearly remember setting up a small Windows 98 server in the back which was running some sort of DOS mail daemon so that we could have individual email addresses for every employee.  Something that was so rare back then.

We were also one of the first companies locally to upgrade to Microsoft Exchange and implement ActiveSync.  I clearly remember proudly showing off how I could read and reply to emails on my Palm Pilot in real time to all my clients.  Nowadays that is just an expected thing, but back then I was pleased that we were pushing the envelope and being cutting edge.

Lots of nice memories, such as being the finalist in the Telstra Small Business Awards up here in 1998 I think.  Lots of other small awards and achievements.  But there were also some really tough times, and many days where I didn't know whether I wanted to close the doors forever and go raise sheep in the Italian mountains.

But through all that, I still wake up every day and look forward to doing the work I do.  I am always grateful to have met so many wonderful people through my business.  From clients (many of whom I still work with 20+ years later), to employees who have become close friends, to colleagues and competitors and everyone who has walked through the doors or called in the past 2 decades.  Thank You.

Proving that it is never too late to be a 'startup', this year I have embarked on a whole new reboot of the business, as we become a SaaS company providing subscription based business software.  Given that I will be turning 50 this year, I don't know if I will have the energy to keep on with the consulting and support role for many more years, and I am looking forward to setting up a passive income source from a modern, web based subscription platform.

Just another step in our long and interesting journey.  Hope to see you all along the way...

When your hard work becomes invisible

In my latest project, I have been working very hard on getting the UX right.  I want the interface of my web app to NOT fight the user every step of the way, and to make some semi-intelligent guesses as to what they want to do.  Wherever part of the interface looks clickable, I want the user to be able to click on it and get the result they expected.

That sort of precognition takes hard work - LOTS of hard work.  Just today I spent pretty much ALL day on one small piece of functionality, that at the end of the day, my users will probably never really notice.

Come to think of it, *I* pretty much don't notice it now that it is finished, but I know it is there, and it is making my movements through my web app a lot smoother and logical.  

Just this evening I was thinking about it, and I was a little sad that all my work was essentially invisible to the end user - after all, they only usually notice things when they DON'T work.

But I was reassured by something a wise man once told me - "Character is what you do when no one is watching".  I like to think that my app has good character.

Why do most people give up after one try? I blame Wile E. Coyote!

Most people of my generation grew up with Saturday morning cartoons on TV.  One of my favourites was always watching Wile E. Coyote endlessly chasing the Road Runner.

I don't know about you, but I was always rooting for the coyote, and straw polls among my peers seemed to show a similar sentiment.  We all craved for the day that Wile E would triumph and be rewarded with a road runner roast.  (Rumour has it that there was ONE secret episode in which he actually won, but furious Googling and Youtubing has yet to reveal this treasure.)

But even as a young impressionable kid, I was always vexed by two questions.

1. How did Wile E afford all that gear and equipment from Acme Inc. ??  He must have either had a large stash of money somewhere, or else a great line of credit with the company.

1b. And if he DID indeed have access to lots of cash, why didn't he just BUY himself a Kentucky Fried Roadrunner family dinner instead of trying to hunt one himself?  Perhaps he was just in it for the thrill of the chase?

2. Why did Wile E always give up after the first try?  I mean, he would invest a LOT of money and time in setting up the most elaborate traps, but as soon as one tiny thing made it all go wrong, he would give up and move onto the next idea, instead of retrying or improving his first idea.

 

I think it is this second factor that has become imbued in a lot of people in my generation.  I keep meeting peer entrepreneurs who tell me sorry tales of woe where they tried something the once, noticed that it didn't work, then dropped it like a hot potato to move on to the next thing.

Usually when I probe further and ask them if they tried to pivot their idea in some way or revisit it with some changes, I am met with an incredulous stare.  They almost always never considered trying again.

I blame Wile E.

In a lot of ways, Wile E. Coyote is much like a lot of funded startups these days:

  • A LOT of disposable cash, with a high burn rate
  • 'Fail fast' manifesto - pick and, dust off and try something new after every failure
  • Quick iteration from concept to execution, with bare minimum planning beforehand, or else planning as they go along
  • Single track focus on ONE end result, but with many paths to get there

Arguably some good traits in there, but there is always room for improvement.  I always wondered what would have happened if Wile E had grown intellectually and emotionally and perhaps explored the possibilities of:

  • Using guile to befriend and win the trust of the Roadrunner before capturing him
  • Had 'guaranteed performance' contracts drawn up with Acme Inc. that would have insured him against failure and allowed him to replace failed equipment at no extra cost
  • Used his money and influence to organise other coyotes in the area to work together to capture roadrunners

Perhaps the generation of entrepreneurs that grew up with those messages may be going things slightly differently nowadays?  

Well, at least MY Saturday mornings may have been a LOT more enjoyable had he done so.

I'm on a bus!

Today, I caught a public bus for the first time since I was in school - well over 30 years ago!  But I had to drop my car off for a service early this morning, and decided to walk into the city and catch a bus back home.  Purely on a whim.

I decided to look at the differences then and now, with the whole experience.

When I was younger, I don't think I EVER looked at a bus timetable.  I would just turn up at a bus stop, and unless it was a Sunday (the buses in my town don't run on Sundays), I would just wait until one turned up and hop on it.  I guess my concept of time was pretty elastic and I would not consider a 40 minute wait to be 'terrible' as compared to a 5 minute wait.  I would simply wait.

Nowadays, I realise that my concept of 'time' is sliced into distinct categories.  I looked at the bus timetable this morning and realised I would have a 20 minute wait for the next one.  That seem like an interminably long time to me, and I found myself making plans in my head about how I would optimise that wait time.  I could walk down the road and pop into a shop to get a drink...  then perhaps sit on a bench in the park across the road and write a little in my Field Notes book until it was departure time...  The plans were coming thick and fast.

I decided that No - I would simply sit and wait.  And do nothing.  I would steel myself against getting my iPhone out and whiling away the time.  I would just sit with no distractions.  (Actually, I ended up unintentionally eavesdropping on the loud conversation the lady sitting next to me was having on HER iPhone!).

While waiting and glancing at the information panels around the bus stop, I saw a notice advertising the bus services new app.  You could track where all the buses were, and see in real time where the bus you were waiting for was with it.  How cool.  So much information at your fingertips these days.  I was tempted to make a dive for my phone and download the app, but I successfully restrained myself.

Finally, my bus arrived.  I got on an enquired about the fare.  It was $3.  Exactly 10 times the fare I paid on my last bus trip 30 years ago as a kid, which was 30 cents.  I smiled inwardly at these salient coincidental facts.

Once seated, I noticed that the buses these days were far more comfortable that those of yore, and actually had working air conditioning that transformed the whole vehicle into an icebox.  Very nice in our usual warm weather.

I couldn't contain myself any longer, and reached for my phone.  This was where I was pleasantly surprised again to note that the buses now have free WiFi access on board.  Nice.  Just what the current 'always connected' generation would expect, and need.

I glanced around the bus as we travelled, and noticed that virtually all the passengers were older people, and that NONE of the other passengers seemed to be taking advantage of free WiFi or using their phones.  They were actually kicking back and looking out the windows. 

I decided to put away my phone and do the same.

Eventually, I reached my stop near home, and hopped off.  I walked the final few hundred metres to my house enjoying the mid morning warmth of the sun, and listening to Greek workmen in a building lot swearing at each other in 3 languages, and reflected at how great life was, in my very brief step back in time to a no technologically obsessed world.