Public schools are such a hodgepodge of policies and special interests, they’re one of the worst…

I see a lot of fellow parents putting time and effort into providing their kids the opportunity to participate in sports, especially club…

Public schools are such a hodgepodge of policies and special interests, they’re one of the worst…

I see a lot of fellow parents putting time and effort into providing their kids the opportunity to participate in sports, especially club…

Public schools are such a hodgepodge of policies and special interests, they’re one of the worst places to look for proper development of children.

I see a lot of fellow parents putting time and effort into providing their kids the opportunity to participate in sports, especially club sports with no connection to the public school system.

In club sports kids learn the real meaning of goals, hard work, competition, commitment. It’s all about results, and being offended doesn’t produce results.

The biggest thing is to take action on starting your own business.

She started making lip scrubs then making small movies about them on instagram. With the idea of selling them. I found out because she…

The biggest thing is to take action on starting your own business.

She started making lip scrubs then making small movies about them on instagram. With the idea of selling them. I found out because she…

The biggest thing is to take action on starting your own business. I learned something new about this from my 11 year old a few weeks ago.

She started making lip scrubs then making small movies about them on instagram. With the idea of selling them. I found out because she needed help mailing a package of homemade lip scrub to a customer in Kansas.

She had made a product, advertised it, gotten the other girl to send her cash in the mail, and was sending the product out to fulfill the order.

And yes, her business is still growing!

Develop Opportunities with an Integrated Marketing Campaign

Develop Opportunities with an Integrated Marketing Campaign


Develop Opportunities with an Integrated Marketing Campaign

When looking to sell more to existing customers and prospects, one of the most cost effective ways to do this is through what I call an integrated marketing campaign. It uses video, blog posts, emails, phone calls, webinar, followup, and cash to generate opportunities for the sales team in an integrated fashion. I used it very effectively at my company to generate good size sales opportunities, and you can too.

Video

First off, we have to start by generating some content. I like to do that by making a short 5 to 15 minute video where I explain something that’s new and interesting to our customers and prospect base. I usually just stand in front of a whiteboard and explain the new and exciting things that are customer can do and how it can help their business.

After recording and editing that video, we upload it to YouTube.

Blog Post

That video is then used by our marketing team to generate additional follow up content. First off we create a blog post that has the YouTube video embedded in it, some key information on why it’s beneficial to the customer, and some links to specific information where they can go to find out more.

We also schedule a webinar where they can get more in-depth information on the topic, and have a chance to win some kind of prize that has a value of about $25. I like to keep it at that level because anybody, even in the public sector, can get a $25 gift.

We schedule the event about four weeks out because it takes that much time to run the rest of the campaign. The event is posted on our website under the events section of news. It has a registration link to our marketing automation systems where we can register the people that are going to be attending so we can track the signups. I like to do the event as a WebEx because we can then record the content while providing a good experience to the people that are attending.

Email

So from the original video that I recorded, I can create 5 interesting emails. They have to have catchy subject lines, provide a little bit of information on how the topic can help the customer, and have some links to further information. Each email also has to contain information about the webinar event that we’re going to have as well as describe the $25 price that they get or attending and listening to the webinar. It can be as simple as an Amazon gift card which anybody would be happy to have.

Then we use our marketing automation system which is a fancy email system. We send the emails out to our customers and prospects over the next two weeks. Everything is building up to the webinar event.

Phone Calls

Furthermore, we provide the same information to the sales reps. The sales reps then call out to their existing customer and prospect base, tell them about the webinar, and also provide information about the new item in question and how that can help our customers operate their business better.

The sales people like having something specific to call out on, and by scheduling the webinar on this topic it shows the customers that we are expert in that area, and it’s always nice to be able to offer people the opportunity to win a small prize. Getting the prize is not difficult either, because everyone who attends the webinar gets it.

We also send out the information emails to the vendor whose product were promoted. Many vendor sales reps then forward these emails for the webinar out to their customer base as well which can extend the amount of people that we get registered for these webinars.

Webinar

By the time that the webinar comes around we usually have 40 and 60 people registered for it. That’s a lot more than most people have in our industry get for these webinars. We ask the salespeople to call out to the people who registered for the webinar to remind them that it’s going to be happening. We also send a reminder email the morning of the webinar so people don’t forget.

When we hold the webinar, usually about one third to one half of the people who register actually attend. That’s good turnout.

Followup

The follow up after the webinar is really important. We do this by sending emails to the customers that attended the webinar and copying their sales person. In that email we provide details on how they’re going to get their prize in about two weeks.

Cash

If the prospect is close, the salesperson will ask if they can take the prize out to them sooner than the two week timeframe. Because by this time we have built up a series of expectation and delivery actions, the prospect is more likely to say yes to a meeting. A meeting will give us the ability to talk with the prospect about the webinar topic as well as lots of other topics as well, usually giving us lots of sales opportunities.

No-Shows

The people who registered for the webinar but didn’t attend are also good prospects, and a third level of prospect are the ones who clicked on the invitations but didn’t register.

Because the webinar gets recorded we are then able to post that to our YouTube page and provide a link to the webinar in the event page on our website.

Ongoing Benefits

There’s multiple benefits that we get from this integrated marketing campaign:

  • We show our prospects and customers that we are experts in the specific area that we discussed
  • We have ongoing content on our website that gains us search rankings for the topic in question
  • We get lots of specific prospects
  • We give the sales people something to call out on to set appointments which is a lot easier than just ask them to call out and set up appointments without something to offer.

Marketing Development Fund Money from Vendors

This is actually a very cost effective marketing campaign to run. The most expensive part is the $25 handouts. If we get 50 people that register it cost us about $1,250 for the handouts. In many cases we can work with a vendor who will provide that money for the event. And over time as we provide specific documentation of the effectiveness of this campaign, and the opportunities and sales that they lead to, the vendors are even more eager to have integrated marketing campaigns run for their products.

Competitors and Non-Prospects

Obviously we that the attendee list and we don’t just give the $25 prize to anybody who signs up. We have had some of our competitors sign up, and other people just sign up that saw the invitation that had no ability to purchase any of our products or services so we made sure to follow up with them separately.

Another issue that we have run not run into yet is getting more attendees than the budget provides for. We could, I suppose, put in the fine print that the limit is 100 prizes and it is only for people who are valid prospective customers of our products and services, but we have not run into that issue yet.

Trade Shows

And although this is structured for webinars, we have actually shifted all our marketing efforts to the integrated marketing campaign model. This works just as well when we are going to attend a trade show. We use the video, emailing, and calling structure for contacting prospects and letting him know that we’re going to be at the trade show and demonstrating a specific technology. For anybody that shows up at our booth and shows us a copy of the marketing email that we sent them we give them a $10 Amazon gift card.

Marketing Automation Emails

One of the most important things to make this work is having a good email prospects and customer list. It’s very helpful to have a marketing automation system that has an accurate database of contacts with the metadata of their interest, vertical market, and specific role so that we don’t always blast all invitations to everybody.

A Little Background on Priority Queue

I started a business in just about the most unsound way possible. I made a bunch of errors. One year after my wife and I had our first…

A Little Background on Priority Queue

I started a business in just about the most unsound way possible. I made a bunch of errors. One year after my wife and I had our first…

A Little Background on Priority Queue

I started a business in just about the most unsound way possible. I made a bunch of errors. One year after my wife and I had our first child, I quit my comfortable, well-paying job, moved to a state where I knew no one, and tried selling to customers who had no interest in talking to me. For two straight years my business partners and I lost money. My business partners were my wife and her younger brother; we all lived together in our house to save money, and got by with as little as possible.

Promising Business Plan

Our business plan was very promising, as it was developed around my recent experience.

In 2001, I was working for Cisco Systems, designing and selling LAN and WAN upgrades, and evangelizing the fledgling technology of IP Telephony, as it was known then. My customers were everyone in Wyoming; there are about 500,000 people in the entire state. In addition to the great people I got to know, the engine that drives the economy in that state is the mining industry. I didn’t sell anything to the mining companies, but to the public sector. K-12 schools, higher education, counties, and cities were my customers; they all had good budgets.

The business plan was to move to a relatively small town in the southeast, and sell networking gear and services to public sector organizations and commercial businesses, just like I had done in Wyoming. We had some success here and there, enough to keep us limping along. I am always grateful to the customers that took a chance on doing business with us. Unfortunately, we were just not profitable.

Lessons Learned Early

The business plan was failing. There are many reasons for that, and we did recover, but some of the lessons learned in that first year are worth remembering.

  • If you are making good money at a good company, have a family, yet are bored at work — stay bored! Sock the money away into savings for a few years to give you a good cushion to do something risky like start a business.
  • If you are going to start a business, do it in one of the time-honored ways. One way is to work for a business just like you want to start, learn the ins and outs, then quit and start a competing company in either the same business or a new adjacency. Another way is to start the business on the side and grow it while continuing to work your day job. Keep getting that day job paycheck until you get fired for spending all your time on your successful new company.
  • Start a business with the at least the three skills of sales, finance, and technical. This is one of the things we did right.
  • Become very good at very few things. Have a very narrow focus, and become the best within your chosen market. It took us years to learn how to say no to things outside our area of focus. Once we learned that, everything started to go well.
  • Get as much credit as fast as possible. For the first few years we bought all inventory on the $120k in credit cards that I was able to get just by accepting the free offers that kept getting sent to me while I worked for the big company. After a year or so we were able to get a line of credit using personal guarantees with a local pro-business bank.
  • Payroll is the biggest expense. Only add people when you absolutely have to.
  • It is easier to get young, green salespeople and train them. More experienced salespeople won’t work for a startup without some significant incentive, like bundles of cash or equity.
  • Fund the company’s growth with debt, not equity. And don’t give equity to employees. Most people only care about a paycheck and commissions or bonuses. If you start granting equity to early employees it can spiral into a mess. Keep ownership closely held.

Unfortunately, after two years, we were stuck. There was not enough business to keep us going. When calling on public sector businesses, being able to sell to customers without them having to go out to bid is like money in the bank. We still were not on the state contract purchasing vehicle in Alabama. I had failed to plan for that, and it was killing us.

Make a Choice, Gather Information, Adjust Quickly

We were either going to have to shut the company down and get jobs, keep the company doing what it was doing and drive it into bankruptcy, or change our situation. We chose to move the business to Atlanta, and essentially restarted it, with one big difference.

When we moved the business to Atlanta we had value. A company’s value is in its employees, customer relationships, vendor relationships, and institutional memory. That memory should be codified into processes and procedures based on the many painful lessons learned the hard way. That is why franchises and MLM businesses can be so successful — there is already a proven methodology. We had a two year head start and had taken all the lessons we learned to heart.

Success!

We used that value in the new location. Within six years we had grown the company from two people to 40, while maintaining profitability and becoming debt-free. With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to say that we should have started the business in January of 2002 in Atlanta instead of the small town. That may be the case…or it could be that the crucible of self-imposed hardship we endured for the first two years helped us to craft a business model that worked.

It is possible to start a business and succeed. People do it every day. Every time I see a new business opening I cheer for the entrepreneur that is taking a chance with his or her hard-earned savings, and pray that they either know or can develop a formula for success that works. I think about all the hard work they are going to have, the late nights, the development of strategy and tactics to succeed against their competition, and I do not envy them. Instead I drive home and play with my kids while it is still light outside and enjoy the family life I missed for those years while we were building the company from nothing into something.

Writing from Experience

I created Priority Queue because I keep thinking about business development, growth, and optimization, and needed a place to discuss and elaborate on these ideas.

As a US Navy submarine officer, I had many opportunities to learn and practice leadership, management, motivation, and engineering. The price for sloppy practices and system failure when operating a few hundred feet underwater in a steel tube powered by an operating nuclear plant while carrying 25,000 pounds of high explosive was high, so it was a good place to learn enduring lessons.

My Background

Founder and CTO of Adcap Network Systems, IT Solution Provider in Atlanta, Georgia.

  • Started Adcap in 2002, grew to $52 million in revenue, sold in 2015 to Strategic Products and Services.
  • 60 person organization
  • Adcap was a Cisco Partner, an Information Technology Solution provider.

Company Recognition

  • Elite Business in the category of Small Business “Best of the Best.” of The Best and Brightest Companies to Work For™ — 2014 and 2015
  • Atlanta Journal Constitution Top Workplaces in 2014
  • Inc 5000 America’s Fastest Growing Companies List in 2014
  • Cisco Gold, Master, and Direct Partner
  • Cisco 11 State South Area Partner of the Year 2013
  • Cisco 11 State South Area Collaboration Partner of the Year 2014
  • Cisco South Area Break Away Partner of the Year 2010

Non-Stop Wifi Access with IoT and Blockchain Technology

Wouldn’t you like to have wifi access all the time, wherever you go? I sure would.

Non-Stop Wifi Access with IoT and Blockchain Technology

Wouldn’t you like to have wifi access all the time, wherever you go? I sure would.

Non-Stop Wifi Access with IoT and Blockchain Technology

Wouldn’t you like to have wifi access all the time, wherever you go? I sure would.

Snowcrash is one of the best SF books ever created. 25 years ago Neal Stephenson described Avatars and daemons interacting in the Virtual Reality Metaverse with mobile systems using lasers to paint user’s retinas to get them totally immersed in the action.

As amazing as that idea was back in the early 90’s, I keep coming back to something else that was almost taken for granted in the story.

Everywhere Hiro Protagonist, the “Last of the Freelance Hackers” and “Greatest Sword Fighter in the World,” went, his computer found and connected to local high bandwidth wireless network connectivity. That’s real science fiction right there!

Unfortunately, today getting connected to WIFI involves a tedious process of finding an SSID, getting a WPA2 code, accepting a splash page, being subject to bandwidth and port blocking limitations, and the overall friction of dealing with people. Of course 4G works well in many places, but it’s not fiber in the ground fast, and it’s expensive.

TradeWireless — I just made this up, maybe someone will develop it

So here’s an idea that uses automated machine activity (sometimes called Internet of Things) and Blockchain. Call this system TradeWireless. It’s purpose would be to get you on any WIFI network available without any manual intervention.

Components are TradeWireless WIFI routers (nodes), TradeWireless applications on mobile devices (clients), and a new blockchain implementation called TradeWirelessCoin to manage it all. The TradeWireless client application would have a nice interface to set access policy. Policy could include specifications on maximum price per minute, bandwidth, available ports, security, etc.. It would also have override and priority features.

If I needed to conduct a high quality video conference for a big deal, I could set my TradeWireless client application stops to the max, kind of like Uber surge pricing, and get things done. If I wanted my daughter to have internet access on her iPod, I could set a restrictive, secure, and cheap policy and send her on her way.

Anyone could buy a TradeWireless node and plug it into their own network. They’d set policy on how they would provide internet to TradeWireless customers in the router setup panel. TradeWireless clients would be able to cruise around and get connected wherever they were automatically as long as the TradeWireless node they were using matched up with their client policy.

If the node operator charged too much, or was too restrictive, the client wouldn’t connect. There could also be multiple levels of policy and pricing, and the client minimum policy would be matched up with the corresponding node policy.

Just like there are small business owners setting up ATM’s in every available spot, there would be new small business owners setting up TradeWireless nodes wherever there was no network access. At some point there would be blanket coverage, with competition bringing down the price of TradeWireless access.

All transactions would be done in TradeWirelessCoin, a new cryptocurrency built on top of Ethereum or Bitcoin for just this purpose. There would be an easy way to buy TradeWirelessCoin with your credit card. Most people would be buyers, some would be sellers, there would be TradeWirelessCoin speculators, it would have a whole cryptocurrency ecosystem.

The business that develops this TradeWireless Intellectual Property could make money licensing the technology to people that would make the client apps and WIFI router nodes. They could use some of this money to pay for developers to keep the TradeWireless project moving forward. There’s no reason for them to build the hardware — it could be licensed by companies like Netgear who already make consumer wireless routers.

Situations Where IoT and Blockchain technology work together

That’s just one idea for how the Internet of Things and Blockchain can be used to solve problems that people would be willing to pay money for. There’s lots of others. Just look for situations where:

  1. People are being inconvenienced but it is not worth the expense to manually provide access or priority. The TradeWireless project is an example of that.
  2. Simultaneous negotiation is required between hundreds of automated systems. For example, if we have self-driving automobiles and someone needs to get somewhere in a hurry, they could punch the priority button on their car, and allocate money to get there as fast as possible. If I was late to close a big deal, I’d pay lots of money to all the other cars to get them to move out of the way and give me green lights all the way to my destination.

I like Neal Stephenson’s book Diamond Age even better than Snowcrash. But not just because of the ideas of cryptocurrency and nanotechnology that he builds the story around. What I would really like is the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer — now that would change the world.

Bitcoin mining at home with the Antminer S7

Bitcoin mining at home with the Antminer S7


Bitcoin mining at home with the Antminer S7

It was easy to order the Bitcoin miner. I just went to the Bitmain website and ordered it. I paid for it in Bitcoin, because a few weeks earlier I had signed up on Coinbase, converted a little money to Bitcoin, and had some ready to go. Getting it running was a little tougher…

I almost ordered a power supply from Bitmain for the miner also, but noticed it was for 220VAC, which I don’t have handy at my house. I thought the power part would be easy. It wasn’t really, and it took some searching to figure out a safe solution that would work.

If you want to use more than one Bitcoin miner, you need to put them in a datacenter, or some other industrial location that can provide the right amount of power and cooling. It’s about 1200 Watts at 220–240 VAC per miner. That gets you about 5000 Gigahash/second, which in early 2016 should enable you to earn about 1 Bitcoin per month as part of a mining pool.

I figure in the winter the power is going to cost me about $50/month, and in the summer about $100/month. Our power company here in the Atlanta area has different rates for the seasons. I thought I would be able to run the miner in the basement, but the noise from the fans has forced it to be placed in the garage.

The most common recommended way to power these boxes off 120VAC is using old server power supplies. There are old HP server power supplies available for about $50 each, and they can each supply up to 1000 Watts at 12 VDC. Dealing with this much power, I didn’t want to just solder some wires to the outputs and short the on/off jumper, so I found what I thought was going to be an ideal solution, a Gigampz breakout board. Unfortunately they were out of stock. And the eBay sellers that said they had them didn’t ship them…it took a few weeks to figure that one out.

So I had this bitcoin miner sitting unused for almost a month! Fortunately I found another breakout board supplier, Centrix power. I had already ordered the 12 PCI-E power cables on eBay, so I had them ready. If you want to get the whole power kit fully assembled, including the power supplies, just get it here. You can also find just the parts you need on their website. This is what it looked like when I connected them.

power1 x1280

I connected the PCI-E power cables to the Centrix power boards, plugged them into the power supplies, and plugged the powers supplies into AC power. Success! the green LED came on and the power supply cooling fans started spinning. I connected 6 PCI-E cables to one power supply and 4 to the other, because the Antminer S7 is very specific about power variations. 2 of the boards would get powered from one of the power supplies, with the third board and controller getting powered by the other.

power2 x1280

Next I put them on an old piece of plywood, connected up the Antminer S7, plugged one power supply into a wall outlet, and the other power supply into a wall outlet fed by a different circuit breaker. I did not want to plug both into one, pull 10 amps on one circuit, and pop the breaker. Or worse yet, have it overheat something and pop later while I was not there.

I connected the Ethernet port on the S7 directly to the network switch, and powered the system on. It waited for a minute while the controller board booted, then cranked the system fans to max power. Wow it was loud!

running square

There is some kind of app to find out the IP address of the Antminer, but I just looked on the DHCP server of my router and found it. Opening up the control page by typing the IP address directly into the browser, I had access. Thing were looking good. Now to start mining.

I went to the Antpool website, set up a username for the S7, and configured the AntMiner to do stratum mining, which seems like a decent way of going about things. After about 10 minutes or so I could see my Antminer registered to the Antpool, so I let it run for a while. It was mining at a little over 0.001 Bitcoin per hour. With really rough calculations, that seems like it should scale up to 1 Bitcoin per 1000 hours. If I ran it non-stop, that’s about 9–10 Bitcoins per year.

bitcoin miner status v2

Everyone in the house was complaining about the noise, so I dug up an old Wifi to ethernet gaming client designed for standalone operation and got it working again. I moved everything out to the garage, ran an extension cord for one of the power supplies so I did not overload the house electric circuits, and started everything up again. Success!

Now that I had one of them running, I started thinking about running a second one somehow. And since I have been buying some stuff on Ebay and Amazon from other sellers lately, I thought maybe someone might have bought an Antminer S7 then decided to sell it. And I was correct. There are people selling new and slightly used Antminer S7’s on Amazon..

With really rough calculations…if I can mine about one Bitcoin a month and sell it for $350, and pay $50–100 for power, that leaves maybe $250 in profit. Considering an Antminer S7 and power supply costs $1700, that is about a six month payback. After that it is $250 per Antminer per month profit. Of course, the Bitcoin halving happens next summer. I don’t know how that is going to affect things either.

So this ended up being a typical experiment. Get an idea, try it out, make mistakes, and find out it could have been done much better. But that’s also what always happens. Unless you try it out, you’ll never learn. Maybe I’ll end up selling my Antminer S7 on Amazon after the experiment is over. At least there is a market for it!


Originally published at Block Operations.

Bitcoin mining at home with the AntMiner S7

Bitcoin mining at home with the AntMiner S7


Bitcoin mining at home with the AntMiner S7

It was easy to order the Bitcoin miner. I just went to the Bitmain website and ordered it. I paid for it in Bitcoin, because a few weeks earlier I had signed up on Coinbase, converted a little money to Bitcoin, and had some ready to go. Getting it running was a little tougher…

I almost ordered a power supply from Bitmain for the miner also, but noticed it was for 220VAC, which I don’t have handy at my house. I thought the power part would be easy. It wasn’t really, and it took some searching to figure out a safe solution that would work.

If you want to use more than one Bitcoin miner, you need to put them in a datacenter, or some other industrial location that can provide the right amount of power and cooling. It’s about 1200 Watts at 220–240 VAC per miner. That gets you about 5000 Gigahash/second, which in early 2016 should enable you to earn about 1 Bitcoin per month as part of a mining pool.

I figure in the winter the power is going to cost me about $50/month, and in the summer about $100/month. Our power company here in the Atlanta area has different rates for the seasons. I thought I would be able to run the miner in the basement, but the noise from the fans has forced it to be placed in the garage.

The most common recommended way to power these boxes off 120VAC is using old server power supplies. There are old HP server power supplies available for about $50 each, and they can each supply up to 1000 Watts at 12 VDC. Dealing with this much power, I didn’t want to just solder some wires to the outputs and short the on/off jumper, so I found what I thought was going to be an ideal solution, a Gigampz breakout board. Unfortunately they were out of stock. And the eBay sellers that said they had them didn’t ship them…it took a few weeks to figure that one out.

So I had this bitcoin miner sitting unused for almost a month! Fortunately I found another breakout board supplier, Centrix power. I had already ordered the 12 PCI-E power cables on eBay, so I had them ready. If you want to get the whole power kit fully assembled, including the power supplies, just get it here. You can also find just the parts you need on their website. This is what it looked like when I connected them.

power1 x1280

I connected the PCI-E power cables to the Centrix power boards, plugged them into the power supplies, and plugged the powers supplies into AC power. Success! the green LED came on and the power supply cooling fans started spinning. I connected 6 PCI-E cables to one power supply and 4 to the other, because the Antminer S7 is very specific about power variations. 2 of the boards would get powered from one of the power supplies, with the third board and controller getting powered by the other.

power2 x1280

Next I put them on an old piece of plywood, connected up the Antminer S7, plugged one power supply into a wall outlet, and the other power supply into a wall outlet fed by a different circuit breaker. I did not want to plug both into one, pull 10 amps on one circuit, and pop the breaker. Or worse yet, have it overheat something and pop later while I was not there.

I connected the Ethernet port on the S7 directly to the network switch, and powered the system on. It waited for a minute while the controller board booted, then cranked the system fans to max power. Wow it was loud!

running square

There is some kind of app to find out the IP address of the Antminer, but I just looked on the DHCP server of my router and found it. Opening up the control page by typing the IP address directly into the browser, I had access. Thing were looking good. Now to start mining.

I went to the Antpool website, set up a username for the S7, and configured the AntMiner to do stratum mining, which seems like a decent way of going about things. After about 10 minutes or so I could see my Antminer registered to the Antpool, so I let it run for a while. It was mining at a little over 0.001 Bitcoin per hour. With really rough calculations, that seems like it should scale up to 1 Bitcoin per 1000 hours. If I ran it non-stop, that’s about 9–10 Bitcoins per year.

bitcoin miner status v2

Everyone in the house was complaining about the noise, so I dug up an old Wifi to ethernet gaming client designed for standalone operation and got it working again. I moved everything out to the garage, ran an extension cord for one of the power supplies so I did not overload the house electric circuits, and started everything up again. Success!

Now that I had one of them running, I started thinking about running a second one somehow. And since I have been buying some stuff on Ebay and Amazon from other sellers lately, I thought maybe someone might have bought an Antminer S7 then decided to sell it. And I was correct. There are people selling new and slightly used Antminer S7’s on Amazon for less than list price.

Now how do they do that? Maybe they buy it at less than list price? Or maybe they just have lots of extra Bitcoin, and instead of selling it on Coinbase or someplace like that they use it to buy Antminers then sell them to other people, using the sale to convert Bitcoin to dollars. If Bitcoin sales are taxed, then this should allow them to avoid taxes. Anyway, it benefits me, so I’m not going to worry about it. What I am more concerned about is the power bill I am going to be getting next month.

With really rough calculations…if I can mine about one Bitcoin a month and sell it for $350, and pay $50–100 for power, that leaves maybe $250 in profit. Considering an Antminer S7 and power supply costs $1700, that is about a six month payback. After that it is $250 per Antminer per month profit. Of course, the Bitcoin halving happens next summer. I don’t know how that is going to affect things either.

So this ended up being a typical experiment. Get an idea, try it out, make mistakes, and find out it could have been done much better. But that’s also what always happens. Unless you try it out, you’ll never learn. Maybe I’ll end up selling my Antminer S7 on Amazon after the experiment is over. At least there is a market for it!

So You Want My Sales Team to Sell Your SaaS Product?

So You Want My Sales Team to Sell Your SaaS Product?


So You Want My Sales Team to Sell Your SaaS Product?

I get calls from SaaS companies all the time offering to “partner” with us. I already know their pitch. They have a great solution that customers are clamoring to buy, and if I just sign up with them my sales force will have additional solutions to offer to our customers and we will all make more money. It’s such a transparently one-sided pitch I usually don’t even listen to it anymore. 

Although once in a while, for some especially promising technology, I will have a conversation. Here’s how it usually goes:

I’ll say, “Does your idea of partnering mean that my salespeople sell your stuff?” 
The answer is invariably yes.

I’ll continue, “So you want me to ask my salespeople and technical delivery people to go to the customers that we have developed trust with over the years by providing solutions that help them in their business, and have them buy your service?” Of course.

I’ll ask, “What are you offering in the way of compensation to have access to our trusted customer base?” The answer is usually a commission on the order of 1–3 months worth of billings.

I’ll further query, “And what do you pay if my customer renews for another year?” The answer is usually nothing, because by then it’s the SaaS provider’s customer. Although sometimes it’s a pittance. Rarely is it the same as the first year’s commission.

“OK, that’s too bad. Are there implementation and support services that my company could provide to assist in improving profitability in working with your organization?” is a followup question I’ll ask. Usually the answer is for the first couple of deals the SaaS provider will do the scoping, implementation, and support, then after that, if our technical service people attend training, shadow the vendor, pass certification tests, and stay loyal to my company and don’t go work for the SaaS vendor, then I can expect to see services revenue from future engagements.

Hoping to salvage something from the conversation and knowing that I might have missed something, I will usually ask, “Do you have deals in my georgraphic area that you can bring me that we can work together so I don’t have to just invest time and effort that could otherwise be used in selling and implementing the products and services that I have built my business on already?” Of course there are no opportunities. That’s why they are looking for channel partners.

So, if you can address those objections in the creating of your SaaS channel program, you might have a winner of a program. If I was creating a partner program for a SaaS vendor, here’s some of the things I would put in place:

Registration program. If the partner finds a deal and communicates it to the vendor, then they work to close the deal together, the partner will have the ability to make 30–40% margin on resales, or 20–30% commission, for the life of the contract. If the partner books an order without a registration, these values are cut in half. Do this by controlling standard and registered discount off list price. Enforce it mercilessly.

Partner development program. Fund the salary of a junior salesperson for two years that is solely focused on selling the SaaS vendor’s products. Provide good training to that person so they know what they are doing. When the other salespeople at the partner see the success the junior salesperson is having, they will start selling the product.

Limit channel conflict. Limit the number of resellers in a given geographic area. You will have the most success with small or mid-size partners, and these guys are regional. Commit to them that you will not be signing up big nationals that will low-ball quotes, and you will limit the amount of partners in a given area, even as you grow and are successful.

Bring the partners opportunities and don’t sell anything direct. Hopefully the SaaS vendor gets leads from all the marketing and free trials that are being done. Pass these to partners while they are still fresh.

Follow up and stay connected with the partner to make sure things are going well. Realize that it takes 6–18 months to develop opportunities. It is going to take a solid 2 years of work and commitment to develop a partner to where your product matters enough to them to keep selling it.

Hopefully your product is good enough and profitable enough to support a channel partner program like this. It probably isn’t, but you should think about using some of your capital for channel partner development, because that’s what it is going to take.

Secrets for Buying Your Next Big Project from an IT Solution Provider

Secrets for Buying Your Next Big Project from an IT Solution Provider


Secrets for Buying Your Next Big Project from an IT Solution Provider

NASPA Front Cover featuring Rolf Versluis x300

So you have a big IT project coming up next year that can make a big difference to your company’s operations as well as your career. What can you do to make sure it goes right?

Having been on the IT Solution Provider side of the business for many years, I have seen many different organizations go through many different project implementations. Here’s my recommendations for getting the most out of your vendors at the best price. And you’ll get a successful project and an ongoing system you can be proud of.

First off, just like Stephen Covey says in his book the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, begin with the end goal in mind. At the end of the process you want to have a successful system implementation that brings value to your organization. During the process, which can go from 3 months to 2 years, there may be some changes to your preconceived plans. As long as the end goal is achieved, changes are OK. Technology improves rapidly, and one of the best ways to find out what is new and what works is from your local IT Solution Providers.

This article can also be downloaded at NASPA, it starts on page 17.

Develop a Budget

Start talking to solution providers before you create your budget. It sucks to find out that the improvements you are planning on getting done just are not economically feasible and you have to delay until next year’s budget. IT Solution Providers are happy to talk to customers well in advance of the project start. It is very straightforward for a solution provider to put together a budgetary, high level proposal for a project because they do it all the time. With this document in hand, you should be able to get close to the right budget amount.

Getting new budget money is certainly tough. IT Solutions Providers, however, are used to identifying existing budget allocations that can be redirected to your project. After all, they have worked with hundreds if not thousands of customers in similar situations, and can get very creative. It’s much easier to get approval for a project if you can find a way to fund a portion of it through hard or soft dollar cost savings. Solutions providers are masters at doing this, and usually don’t even exaggerate much!

Before going down the path of engaging a solutions provider to help you work up a budgetary number, you may want to consider how to get a commitment to good service at a good price. This is where the manufacturer and solution provider relationship comes in. My recommendation is to not fixate on one manufacturer too early, because if you do, you will give up a whole bunch of bargaining leverage.

Be Open to Working with a New Manufacturer and Solution Provider

Most IT Solution Providers focus their time, energy, and effort on implementing products from only a few manufacturers. By doing this they to get very good at designing, installing, and supporting those vendor’s systems. They work closely with the vendor’s salespeople and engineers, know how to get the best pricing, and know who to call if something starts to go sideways.

Resellers who work with many different manufacturers usually position themselves as best-of-breed providers who evaluate many different vendors and put together a complete system using a mix of the optimal different available products. This can work, but in many cases that one solution provider is the only organization that is experienced in that specific combination of products. Furthermore, their lack of focus tends to limit their ability to put together a complete system at the best price with full manufacturer support.

As you line up your two to three different potential providers, evaluate different solutions provider/manufacturer combinations. This way you are able to engage the competitive energies of the different manufacturers against each other. Solutions provider’s profit margins are pretty thin compared to the original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s), so one of the ways you can get the best pricing is to get the OEM’s competing against each other through what they see as their proxies, the solution providers.

Conversely, if you start to work with three different IT Solutions Providers that all focus on the same OEM, I can guarantee you the end result will not be everything you desire. In that case, the OEM has no incentive to discount pricing much, and the solutions providers will do everything possible to differentiate on their capabilities. Unfortunately, the IT Solutions Providers will have to cut their profit margins to almost nothing to match their competitor’s price and win your business. And if you think they are going to give you their best effort when they have agreed to a contract with little profit…well, all I can say is stand by for change orders and price increases once the project starts.

Get Free Consulting

Once you have picked your IT Solutions provider and vendor candidates, what next? Put them to work! Describe your situation, what you are looking to do, tell them they have a fair shot at winning your business, and ask them for their best proposal. Tell them you would like to get their recommendations and justifications for three different scenarios:

  1. Minimum system that would work at the best price.
  2. Well endowed system with all the bells and whistles.
  3. Optimal system they would recommend to a company run by a good friend.

By doing this, you get to take advantage of all the education, training, and experience the solution provider account managers and design engineers have built up over the years. You’ll learn much more from them than if you read the latest articles in the trade magazines.

But what about consultants? Shouldn’t you engage one of them? You could, but be aware of what consultants are good at and what they are not. They do a great job staying on top of industry trends, seeing what different organizations are doing, and producing well-written deliverables. What consultants don’t do is design, install, support, and troubleshoot these systems on a daily basis. As a side note, that’s also the case for the engineers at OEM’s! The best source for a system design that will work and stand the test of time is from your local IT solution provider.

Local? Yes, local, if possible. The vast majority of IT Solutions providers are localized to a state or region. Very few are of national size, and the ones that are that big work with the organizations at the bigger end of the scale. Think of IT solution providers as analogous to builders, most of which operate on a local scale.

Evaluation Criteria to Get Results

What you want from an IT Solutions Provider is results. Results are delivered by people who take pride in their work and who are part of a team that values success and their local reputation. So in your evaluation, look for a few different things:

  1. They employ full time engineers locally who are experienced and certified in the OEM’s systems that you are potentially looking to deploy.
  2. Has reference customers of about the same size for whom they have done similar work. Technology changes rapidly, so you might not get an exact match, but make sure you get the names of the people they worked with, and call them to find out if they are happy and why.
  3. Provides a complete solution within their area of technology expertise. This includes:
  • Assessment of current system and recommendation for improvement.
  • Account manager who brings together the key people for you.
  • Design engineers with operational experience who will provide a good design and a solid scope of work.
  • Purchasing team who will source the products from authorized channels, will get them ordered correctly, and will get them delivered at the right time.
  • Project management team who will hold a kickoff, coordinate the disparate elements required for the project, and work to getting the project completed properly.
  • Deployment engineers who know their stuff and don’t have to constantly call back to the experienced guys back at the office.
  • Can provide ongoing support of the system after it is turned over to you.

What is Their Focus?

Make sure they are good at partnering with other providers who may be necessary for a complete solution. IT Solutions Providers tend to focus on being good at a few different areas, and as systems become more complex these areas may become even narrower. Companies usually specialize in a few of these different areas:

  1. Servers, storage, hypervisors, and operating systems
  2. Data networking
  3. Power and Cooling
  4. Cabling
  5. Data security
  6. Physical security
  7. Voice and video systems
  8. End user systems
  9. Applications
  10. Training for End Users and Administrators

If an IT Solution Provider tells you they can are good at everything, dig a little deeper and find out who would actually be doing the work. Ask for the names of the engineers. You want to find out what the provider is really good at, and what is not their core competency. Just as in everything else, details and the names of people are always important. And if they need to partner to put together a complete solution, be open to that and talk to the partners they bring in.

At this point you should have some solid proposals from a few different vendors. It takes up quite a bit of time to meet with them all, dig up the information they ask for, and allow them to come in and run assessments on your equipment. If, however, you are serious about giving all of them a chance at winning your business, you will get some really creative and detailed proposals with a few different options on price and capabilities.

In the evaluation of those proposals, have the design engineers go through and explain the pros and cons of their different designs. Tell them who their competitors are and ask them why they think the system they designed for you is better. Ask if you are going to have to change out this system in a few years. Ask them if the system has any single points of failure.

Price is Part of the Design

Since price should always be part of the design, ask them where they would cut if the budget was reduced by 20%. Ask where they would add if, theoretically, you could find additional budget.

Ask about support. As part of the proposal, have them price out 3 and 5 year support for the system separately. And not just manufacturer’s support, but also support from someone who knows their system inside and out. If you wanted to take a 3 week vacation and not get constant phone calls from the office, could they offer the level of support to make that happen?

Find out about different ways to pay for the system. Some manufacturer’s are awash in cash and have a financing arm that will offer all sorts of free money just for buying their products. Have your finance people talk to their finance people to get it figured out properly.

Regarding price, IT Solutions Providers get different pricing for every customer from the manufacturers. A few decades ago, providers who sold a lot of volume got better pricing, but that’s not the case at anymore. If a solutions provider acts as an effective part of the manufacturer’s team by promoting, selling, installing, and supporting their equipment they get good pricing. So if you disrupt that by going to the manufacturer and demanding that all of the OEM’s providers are on a level playing field regarding price, expect some or all of these things to happen:

  1. You probably won’t get the best price from anyone on the hardware.
  2. Services pricing will be higher than if you had not interfered because you just took away all the hardware profit from the solutions providers.
  3. The vendors and solutions providers won’t like you and won’t do their best for you.

That’s the way it is right now, and it works well for the manufacturers, solution providers, and customers. It’s better to work within the process than against it, because you will get the lowest price overall and the most commitment for a successful project.

Salespeople — Essential or Evil?

Now’s that you have your proposals and pricing is when it starts to get serious. Salespeople, if they are good, are going to be doing a few different things at this point:

  1. Trying to get you to agree that it is critical to have the features that only their solution has.
  2. Working to identify a time frame and next steps for a financial commitment from your company.
  3. Push their manufacturer’s to get even better pricing.
  4. Invite you and the other decision makers to a demo at their office or one of their customers.
  5. Identify and deploy every avenue of influence they have to get you to choose their solution.

At this step it’s best to be impartial and fair, because most of these IT Solutions Providers have been in the industry for a long time and know a lot of different people. Try to limit your time in this phase!

What Happens When You Go Silent Too Early

As soon as you start narrowing down your choices, you are going to want to negotiate the best price from the different vendors. Keep talking to all of them until you make the choice! From a sales representative’s point of view, when a customer goes silent, it means they have lost the opportunity and that the customer is negotiating with a competitor, who is just about to get a purchase order. At that point some salespeople might think that should derail those negotiations in whatever way possible. Be on the lookout for that.

After making the final selection, move to get a valid purchase order issued quickly. Make sure you have lined things up internally so the approval happens rapidly. That will serve as final notice to the solution providers who did not get your business that this cycle is complete. Of course, now the real work of making the project a success begins!

Hopefully during the sales process you met a few senior representatives of the IT Solutions Provider, maybe even the owner, and have all of their contact information just in case things start to go sideways and you have to escalate and make them aware of the problems with the project.

As the new systems are deployed, there will be problems. Usually no one knows the exact state of the systems that are currently in place. During the upgrade process, you will find out things that were unknown and will have to be ready to make adjustments. Accept it as part of the process and work with your provider to fix things and move on. If you have held back part of your budget for change orders that will definitely help. You could also have made sure in your negotiations with the solutions provider their commitment to a firm price no matter how much extra work is required.

Finish Strong

With the project just about done, there are just a few last hurdles to complete. Before the solutions provider’s deployment and project management team check out, make sure:

  1. You get a full operational demonstration of the system. You want to make sure everything works and they don’t have to come back and fix things.
  2. End user training has been completed to the appropriate level, and you have training materials for new hires in the next few years.
  3. The punch list of uncompleted items is mutually agreed upon in writing and a timeframe and person is identified for the completion. Get a specific person to agree on this and sign it.
  4. You have a copy of the As-Built documentation with license information, tables, diagrams, serial numbers, usernames, and passwords.
  5. Manufacturer support is activated and verified for everything that was installed.
  6. You know how to get support on this system when you need it.

That’s the high level overview of working with IT Solutions Providers when you have a new project to do. Follow this guide and you should have a successful implementation, leading to better operational capabilities for your organization and an outstanding demonstration of why you deserve a promotion, a raise, and at least five weeks of vacation per year. Good luck!

Immediately Reduce your Email Inbox by 50 Percent

Immediately Reduce your Email Inbox by 50 Percent


Immediately Reduce your Email Inbox by 50 Percent

LessDoingMoreLiving

I learned a productivity trick for my e-mail inbox the other day that is so amazing I just have to share it. When I implemented the change it immediately reduce the amount of actionable e-mail in my inbox by 50%.

I’ve had my e-mail address for many years and even though I have been diligently clicking on the unsubscribe link in various emails that I don’t want, I would still get lots of e-mail that I would have to look at and ignore.

Listening to a podcast by Tom Woods on productivity, he was interviewing a guest by the name of Ari Meisel, whose advice can be found at Less Doing. Ari’s recommendation was to optimize and then outsource things in your life so your time can be focused on the things you do best. As an example for optimization, Ari mentioned the email trick. He has a book also.

Ari’s point was that many of the emails that come to a person fall into the category of optional so you should set up a rule that puts these emails in an optional folder. When you review the optional folder you just scan for things like to put in there by mistake and you can deal with than that. You only need to do that review maybe once a day.

The tricky part is in how to do it. It is actually very simple. Create a folder in your email client called Optional. Then set up a rule that says anything with the words “unsubscribe” or “subscription” in it gets immediately moved to the optional folder. That’s it — nothing else. It just works.

UPDATE — In the week and I have been using and I’ve only had to make a couple of small modifications. One of them is I have the rule ignore emails that come from my family. Even if they forward things with the word “unsubscribe” in them I still need to reply to them. 🙂