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Archive for March, 2010

On ‘Finding your Brand Essence’

March 27th, 2010 No comments

Seth Godin is a very prolific blogger. There is a lot of wisdom in his writing, I’ve had quite a few ‘aha’ moments when I can snatch a bit of time from my busy schedule to dash through a few lines that catch my fancy (and his articles are usually not too long, which is nice).

Of course, as with all nuggets of wisdom, the real art is in knowing when that particular nugget applies to your situation. I just read his last article, and absolutely loved it. Read it on this blog at Finding Your Brand Essence.

If you go a bit deeper into what he is saying, you get the message that you should always have a strategy. This is important, because when you have strategy, it means not only that you have a doctrine, vision, and a set of values to guide you to success (or a glorious attempt trying at least), but that you also know where not to go, which battles not to fight, and which doors to close on your way.

Nicely done Seth.

PageViews is an useful proxy variable for venture value

March 16th, 2010 No comments

BlogWhyz is finally out of the labs, and into the real world. I have been catching up on activities that I’d neglected in this period. On thing I did was to view the stats on my blog (which I’d not been keeping track of for a few months).

This has been one of my personal best months. The excitement around the launch of BlogWhyz probably led more people to want to know about the product. I’m on the verge of changing the model of the business (again .. I know … groan!).

The number of visits to my site has reached a record level this month. The highest ever so far. I suppose that means that my ‘stocks’ are on the rise (employing a bit of old Victorian English). It’s some sort of affirmation that I am heading down the right path, in a scenario where so little is manifest or evident.

Getting the product out to the light of day was an incredible rush, and I am happy that my friends shared my joy at this event.

Now, the goal is to get to monetization, and to set this venture up as a sustainable business.

I’m talking to a couple of potential customers, a few potential partners, and am actively seeking investment. However, I really need very modest amounts to get this product running for the year to reach my goal of 100K users by December 31st. I am seriously weighing the three options of IRAP funding, vs angel investment, vs. getting a consulting gig to pay the bills.

Ideally, I would like the product to be out of beta by 1st April as well.

Keep an eye on this space to know more :-) .. and thank you for the good wishes my good friends.

Using your own stuff… Blogwhyz to the rescue

March 14th, 2010 No comments

It seemed a bit strange to me today, but I actually started using my product for my own research purposes.

One strategy I am considering very seriously moving forward is getting some funding. Well, in order to get funding, you need two things (1) have a good pitch (2) know where to look. The pitch is not a problem really, as the products that Whyz Technologies is marketing is VERY useful both to individuals as well as to organizations. It automates difficult and dreary tasks.

Additionally, my venture is going to be at break-even in a few months on advertising revenue alone. However, VC funding in Canada is not as well developed as the US, although angels here are truly angels, with quite an interest in seeing local successes that they can support and cheerlead. I have been impressed in my interactions with them.

Well, there are a number of blogs that deal with startup here in Ottawa (as well as Montreal and Toronto). I started indexing them today, and will have a list of VCs and angels to approach tomorrow. Just saved myself a few days of work.. how’s that?

Think fast! Catch!

March 14th, 2010 1 comment

When I contrast my experience at putting together Whyz Technologies, with the work I did as an employee at different firms, one thing stands out clearly. I had to make many many decisions with insufficient information; it feels at times like the ‘blind-fighting’ you saw in ninja movies in the 80s. You don’t where the enemy is (i.e. the goal is uncertain), you don’t really know where you really stand (in terms of the market’s existence and your location in it) and the sands of time are running out.

I’ve had to make major decisions about the firm’s name, the target customers, the business model, the architecture of the solution, the marketing strategy etc. Over a hundred decisions in a few months, any one of which could kill this fragile startup. May of these were around things that I knew next to nothing about (like corporation structures and tax strategies) or which could be potentially very costly and drawn out (like the three patents I am preparing to file for).

You don’t have the luxury of waiting for all the info, and like the Jedi knights, have to use the force and trust your instinct… and like the mythical Jedi, the decision you make will results in high-stakes outcomes that will be evident shortly :-)

Agile Development

March 11th, 2010 No comments

I’ll admit it up front. During my undergrad (which was many many years ago), I was taught the waterfall model. Indeed, there was some mention made of other paths, such as rapid application development (RAD) and joint application development (JAD), but there was always the implication that those models were used by individuals who smoked their vegetables rather than eating them.

There are so many mature components available nowadays that unless you’re developing air traffic control software or logic for the Mars mission, you’d be irresponsible to NOT go agile!

What I love about Agile is:

  • At the end of each sprint, you have production ready code. If you can manage that, work is a joy, as nothing stresses me out more than half-finished tasks!
  • You usually know what to do next, even if you can’t see the complete path to the end of the project. Dead reckoning worked for sailors who did not have the luxury of compasses and maps, and we have the luxury of not betting our lives on our priorities and decisions!
  • The solution takes shape almost by itself. It perfectly fits the thesis of Al-Khawazmi, who states as when you take a big problem and break it into smaller pieces, and you solve all the smaller pieces, the big problem is automatically solved! Ancient philosophies with modern utilities. This theory is the basis of the algorithm and also contemporary map-reduce

I am satisfied customer. Three sprints from beginning to end, and I have a product on-line. What better proof do I need?

– Shahzad

How BlogWhyz Differs from RSS Aggregators and Blog Search Engines

March 9th, 2010 No comments

I’ve been having a discussion with a very sharp local entrepreneur about using the BlogWhyz toolchain to help them with their content aggregation and classification model. The conversation took off today, mainly because I could finally concentrate on getting back to people (as I’d been effectively off-line while pushing out the BlogWhyz Beta for the past seven days).

The question that came up early in the discussion was ‘how is BlogWhyz different from all the RSS aggregators that exist out there”. The second question was “why do you not index the entire blogosphere”. Very good questions. I should chide myself for not making these more clear in the online documentation.

To answer these questions, we need to compare BlogWhyz to two different services, (1) RSS aggregators and (2) blogosphere search engines. Let’s start by defining both, and by giving examples of them:

RSS Aggregators
RSS aggregators essentially work off the Really Simple Syndication (RSS) procol published by blogs, media sites, bug tracking software etc. RSS feeds can be identified by the big orange logo you see either on the site, or in the FireFox toolbar or bookmark menu when you’re on an RSS-enabled site; this blog has an RSS feeds as well (two if you count the comments feed).

RSS essentially allows you to have a structured view into the last few articles posted on that site, with the title, author, publication date, url and typically a description of the article.

RSS aggregators take multiple RSS feeds and combine them into a single pipe. They can be either web based, or in the form of an application. A directory of RSS Aggregators is available on Yahoo.

Blogosphere Search Engines
These are specialized search engines that claim to only index blogs and return results based on keywords that are given. Good examples are available (once again) on Yahoo.

They operate as advertised, and do return results, but I’ve never found the results to be particularly actionable, as there was never any connection to me. Blogs are personal, and connected to people, and I feel a disconnect reading a total stranger’s blog (unless I am working on an impersonal task, like finding a war-story describing how a feature in an API can be operationalized).

How BlogWhyz is Different
The problem with RSS aggregators is that they only have the latest information. You really can’t go back into the history of the service. So, if you want to manually read everything new that shows up, and have the time and personal bandwidth for this, RSS aggregators may be what you are looking for. Most people don’t have the time and bandwidth required.

BlogWhyz sends you the new articles matching the topics you are interested in straight to your email, requiring you to interact with one less piece of software. Also, our search service allows you to ‘turn the clock back’ and find all the older articles (which may contain the information you are seeking).

Additionally, the problem nowadays is not that of coverage (which is easy; add more blogs and info sources!), but rather that of too much information. Excessive information overload is not only caustic for your work, but detrimental to your health. Our service protects you from being overloaded by only sending you the info you asked for.

The searches are also carried out on the blogs that YOU have nominated, thus ensuring that there is a personal connection to use, either because you know the blogger, respect their work and words, are in the same industry or the same geographical location. What constitutes a relevant blog is based on what you consider to be relevant; no one is forcing unsolicited information on you.

Thus, the BlogWhyz service is not competing with RSS Aggregators or Blogosphere search engines. Instead, we are competing with your live bookmarks on Firefox, IE, Safari, Chrome or Opera. This is because we solve the social media information management problem that you face, rather than Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public.

It’s almost like having an electronic secretary for a few dollars a month, who reads through your bookmarks and tells you what is valuable. The BlogWhyz ‘secretary’ can also look up older articles for you on demand.

Flexible Workflow and Architecture
Additionally, we have a very appealing offering to organizations that need this technology, but in a different form.

When you deal with Whyz Technologies, you are not dealing with Google or Yahoo. We have complete control over the crawling, monitoring, data cleaning, deduplication, analysis and presentation workflow, and are happy to customize it to better fit your need. We’ll change our code, and extend it to meet your needs, on a pretty decent budget too.

Try making Google or Yahoo do that, and I bet that you will not get very far.

Our only limitation is that we are a small firm, and can only deal with so many clients at a time, and if we give you a commitment, that means that we will not be available to help other organizations out, and then.. they may feel like they are dealing with Yahoo or Google! Can’t fault the big brothers on that count I guess!

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Available for Consulting/Full Time Work

March 9th, 2010 No comments

The 10 months project that I have been working on is now complete. It’s been a very fascinating experience.

I started out consulting and delivered four very challenging R&D projects for CSA until the end of October. Then, I trained my guns on product development, as I had this itch to develop a ‘masterpiece’ which could use my talents. I’ve built a very sophisticated search and alerting engine which can help you consume your social media in a much more efficient way.

It took me three months to go through around a dozen business models before I finally arrived at the SaaS model that I adopted for BlogWhyz (start Nov – Jan end). I benefited greatly from the LeadToWin programme, my interactions with OCE, OCRI, the Ottawa Chambers of Commerce and GED Quebec. I’ve also built new relationships with amazing professionals in both academia and industry during this time.

In comparison, the actual development of the system took 22 days. The UI polish (creation of icons etc) took two weeks and I believe the beta will take two weeks to get through. There is no substitute for involving users in the loop… and I can fix things 40 times faster than larger firms with their involved processes. I actually don’t need to do any more coding, as I now have some incredibly talented associate who can help out.

This has been an amazing learning experience; who gets the chance to work in every aspect of a business nowadays? I consider myself to be quite fortunate.

In these 10 months, I have filled quite a few roles. I have been a consultant, researcher, client side and server side web developer, business development professional, marketing manager, copywriter, contracts admin (including a 60+ page proposal submitted to DFAIT via MERX!), university alliance manager, database administrator, database developer, graphics designer, usability and human factors specialist, CFO, Bookkeeper, and CEO/President/General Manager. Oh and of course, filing clerk and janitor (you have to deal with you own trash.. important function).

It’s been incredibly fun, and I’ve become a much better professional. Walking away from a 6 figure job at the end of May ’09 was quite foolhardy of me, but I just had to scratch this itch!

Now that the technology platform has been completed, and I have established the processes and partnership to move this startup the rest of the way, I find myself with loads of time on my hand. I am looking for a consultancy or full-time position.

You guys know of my skills, and if you want a smart, dedicated, passionate, hard-working, ‘failure is not an option’ person on your shuttle to Mars, I am on the market.

I am really looking forward to being a part of a team again, and working on a different set of problems. Contact me at shahzad@whyztech.com if you know of any opportunities, or give me a call on my cell at 613.263.8009.

Feel free to call me if you want to discuss anything which comes to your mind.

Thank you my friends.

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