Schedule

Maker’s schedule v/s Manager’s schedule

At 13 Llama Studio, we are a young and energetic team who works on multiple ideas at the same time. We are makers … people who tinker with code, libraries and see if we can put all of them together and create a beautiful kaleidoscope of an experience for our audience.

The Maker’s schedule

Designing, Development and any activity which involves creation for that matter is a thoroughly rewarding experience. However, it also puts you in a state of trance … a trance wherein you do not want to be disturbed. Not because you want to be rude and unresponsive, but because when you are in that state, you literally are building a castle in the sky.

This castle can quickly come tumbling down like a pack of cards if you were to be disturbed. This scene from the movie Social Network sums up how I feel when I get disturbed when I am wired in.

The maker’s schedule is not full of deadlines, it’s full of possibilities and experiments. The maker is someone who explores multiple options, plays with different things and creates something truly remarkable.

We do encourage makers, however, as a services firm, we do have deadlines. Which is why some of us have to shift modes from Makers to Managers.

The Manager’s schedule

In a year’s time we take on 20 or more challenging projects and deliver them (mostly on time and under budget :)). This requires constant updates with the business team, setting up meetings and achieving deadlines. This is where makers need to become managers and start actively managing the creation process.

At times it becomes really difficult to make this shift. A manager lives by the hour and generally has multiple tasks setup in a day. If an hour gets wasted, the other hours in the day can make up for that wastage. A maker on the other hand has few tasks in a day, but needs longer chunks in the day without being disturbed.

The shift

A lot of the work that we do is done in the wee hours of the night. This is not because we are suffering from insomnia or we love burning the midnight oil. This is because it is during these hours when we are not disturbed. It’s these hours (and the early mornings) that I try and schedule my most difficult tasks.

People who have worked in start-ups would agree with me when I say that most of the day is usually spent in discussing with the rest of the team as to what they have to do. This is the shift. The manager works during the day, the maker works during the night. It does wreck havoc with personal life, which is why most makers end up hiring managers as they grow.

The purpose of setting 13 Llama Studio was to have a team of makers ship awesome products. As an organization which is slightly older than a year, we are becoming more discerning with the people we want to work with (both employees and customers). However as we grow and scale up, we are going to require full time makers and full time managers.

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apps

Rise of the App Economy

As a technical architect and a start-up enthusiast, part of my work is consulting organizations on how to go about implementing and monetizing their ideas. The past decade’s experience of working in this field, as well as having successfully built the product and development teams of two start-ups (which secured VC fundings) ensures that a lot of people are willing to share their ideas so that I can advise them on the implementation.

Each year has its set of trends. These trends become apparent when people read about them in TechCrunch / Mashable and then integrate them somehow in their plans. In 2014, Kleiner Perkins’ analyst, Mary Meeker announced that the Education and Healthcare industries are the ones to watch out for. A lot of individuals started thinking and re-shaping their ideas along those lines. Similarly, since 2013, the famous analyst has been saying that mobile Apps are going to dominate the way consumers are going to engage with the brand.

I am seeing more start-ups gravitate towards this concept every year. Everybody who has a product, wants to also have their apps in the app stores (both Apple’s and Google’s). Back in 2000, when the DotCom Boom was apparent, everybody wanted to have their own site. Currently, we are definitely seeing the App Boom, where not only do entrepreneurs want to have their apps, but also individual celebrities are launching their own apps.

App Development can be a costly affair, with native apps costing as high as 2000 to 3000 USD to develop for the most basic apps. Add multiple platforms (iOS, Android, Win8) to the mix and the development costs surge.

This is where app template marketplaces like this website help tremendously. The core functionality is already in place, what has to be created is the creatives and voila, a custom app is read! Not only is this approach a faster method, but also it is extremely profitable. With the app economy maturing, we are seeing retail consumers using their handheld devices more than television sets!

This means that the media consumption is changing, thus an app is slowly eating away at TV’s timeshare. With tablets growing at 80% Year on Year, I’d say that both mobiles and tablets are here to stay, and with them a horde of enterpreneurs, developers and investors who would be happily launching multiple apps!

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Rackspace: The Case of Core Values

In the last days of September 2014, Rackspace customers were faced with multiple issues regarding service uptime, security concerns and network outages. The worst hit were the ones who were using Rackspace’s Chicago datacenter.

I happened to be one of those customers. This is my story.

Rackspace: A beacon of hope for all things hosting

Let me begin by saying that I love Rackspace. I salute the kind of service they provide, I appreciate the pricing that they charge. I even admire some of their key people.

I always hold Rackspace above the other mortal hosting firms … why .. well because they are fanatical about their support. So much so that it’s part of the core values at Rackspace.

This singular point is why I hold them above the others.

In India, where anyone with a global ip decides to have their own hosting and start providing this as a service, the quality of hosting is a major issue. A lot of the times, as a techie I have found to my own chagrin that the inhouse team of the hosting provider is completely clueless about hosting, networking and security.  Add to it the prohibitive costs that these providers charge … that puts them not only at par with Amazon or Rackspace, but also at times much higher than them.

The outage

As a result, I almost always promote Rackspace as the go to hosting provider for all of the people I work with. What this means is that I am referring their services not because I am an affiliate (no I am not), but because I truly believe in them and their ability to deliver great uptimes. However, this belief stands shattered.

In the last days of September, there was a massive outage (almost lasting 2 days) with all Rackspace servers. Whereas, 13 Llama’s server did not face major issues and it was up and running most of the times, some of our main clients did!

My first reaction was that there might be an issue with the webserver settings. So I promptly logged into the server and lo, I could not even reach the server much less tweak apache settings. Clearly, this was a network issue due to some problem. I tried catching the chat executive on Rackspace’s site. The chappie tried his best, however after 20 minutes it was clear that he had absolutely no idea what the problem was … or that he was not willing to acknowledge that there was a problem with the datacenter’s network.

I raised a ticket, after a couple of hours of waiting, there was an update and the support team acknowledged the network issue. They also suggested a fix, however that fix was not working.

Things get ugly

After trying different approaches, the support executive say that I will have to upgrade my membership and purchase a managed services slab so that the person can take a look at my server. I would have done this had there been any issue with the server. However, I had not made any changes to the server due to which this outage would have been caused.

This is where I start losing patience.

  1. I am being kept in the dark of the actual problem at hand
  2. The server changes / outage was due to some security upgrade that they are doing, and due to this I have to pay them more to solve a problem that they have created
  3. My client’s website is still down

I give up on Rackspace support and try solving this on my own.

Simple Solution

In the end, what came to my rescue is the cloud!

I made a back-up image of the server in question and spun a new server with the same configuration and that image. Within 10 minutes, a new server was up and running. I updated the nameserver records and that’s that.

The problem was solved for me. Rackspace, however had major problems.

The Apology

I was angry at Rackspace’s support. However, this heartfelt apology from Taylor Rhodes drove me to reply to his email … inspite of knowing that most likely this email was sent as a mass email (an excerpt is below).

Those of you who are longtime Rackspace customers know that we have a strong record of open, timely communication with you. We reach out to you whenever there’s an issue.  We answer the phone whenever you call. We do everything we can to find a solution.  This past weekend, our engineers worked tirelessly with customers and partners to remediate the Xen vulnerability.

Such an email warrants a reply!

The catharsis

When an organization of the caliber of Rackspace (there is no denying their ability and scale) mucks-up, that is when I question things. Here’s an excerpt of the email that I replied to the mass email (I was not expecting a reply).

I don’t want to complain about my individual problems. I am sure your team has had thousands of those. I just want to point out to you that one of the core values with which I look up towards Rackspace was “Fanatical Support”. I believe that you have failed at maintaining this core value.

Within a week, I received a personal reply from Taylor Rhodes and it was addressed by one of the management members in his APAC team. This is great response.

What is broken may not be fixed

However …

What I wanted addressed was not my server issue. I sorted that out myself, thank you.

What I wanted addressed is how does a large organization manage to adhere to its core values? In India, I see a lot of large firms (even the Fortune 500 ones) who tout high values, however, how many of them manage to uphold them when engaging with their customers?

With regards to this, I was looking at Rackspace in high esteem … they had (until now) managed to be awesome in support. What changed then … yes, the crisis they were facing was a lot, and their support team would have been facing several angry customers. I grant them that. There is no elegant solution to this.

However, how do you intrinsify a core value? At what point in time do you do a reality check and say …

Hey, are our core values being upheld?

That’s a difficult question to answer. Personally, if you ask me, I have yet to brainstorm the core values of my even own organization!! However, the real question that I would ask myself or anyone who has put out their core values is … to what extent are you going to go to uphold those?

Would 1 customer complaining out of 200,000 be neglected (as it’s an extremely negligible sample size)? Or would the 200,000 complaining customers be a big enough number to take necessary action.

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The difference between a Good vendor and a Great vendor

9 months into this business, here’s a gem of a lesson that I have learnt. It’s good to have vendor’s guilt (you need to be clued in on Amit’s blog for this term, he is going to has shed more light on this – Vendor’s Guilt). It keeps you on the edge, it makes you deliver on time. However, it’s great to learn how to control this feeling and not get overwhelmed by the same. On a more personal note –

One of the primary reasons for starting a services firm was to beat the run of the mill service providers that I see in the Indian IT Services market. Service providers need to be value adding rather than extracting value from the organization.

Being steered by this value, the focus has always been on adding value. Getting recognition and paid for providing this value is the differentiation between a good and a great vendor.

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A month without Ad Block

As a person who literally lives off the internet, one of the first things I do when I get a new machine is install Chromium or Chrome and then go and install the Ad Block Plus plug-in. Fortunately, I am well past Windows, so I do not have to go to the trouble of removing IE!

Having said that, I thought, it would be interesting to see the world from the eyes of a non-power user and see the internet with it’s full glory … yes without an Ad Blocker!

How to Get Ad Blockers

For those of you who are new to this term – Ad Blockers, these are small plug-ins within your browser that stop Ads from displaying on any of the sites you visit. Those elements are not rendered at all! I strongly recommend Ad Block for this purpose.

Just follow the simple instructions on the link provided, and voila! No Ads … you can thank me later .. the web will be a different place for you. But enough of that, this is about seeing those Ads.

A World with Ads

As someone who runs Ads on his blog, I still do not bother to see Ads .. why? Because a lot of these Ads are poorly made … very few Ads these days are awesome enough to catch your eye or even better make you click! Why do we require Ads? Well to pay for all this cost of content creation of course!

Mainstream Media does it all the time! Why cannot the Internet follow suit? Put up Ads, write content, generate traffic … the simplest formula in the series of crazy get rich schemes :-)

What Prompted me to do this?

Sheer curiosity of checking how the Media agencies of the world are creating Ads was one. Some of the clients I was working with wanted to run Ads and I wanted to see how the Ads are going with the design of the site was another.

The third reason was the most important. I believe that users (yes, that’s you and me!) develop a certain immunity towards unpleasant experiences over time. Ads are generally ignored .. users learn to ignore them as time goes by, click through rates (CTRs) drop … that’s why it’s so important to keep changing your creatives!

The month starts!

I did this experiment in the month of February and ran it through till the middle of March. A little over 40 days. What did I observe? Well there are beautiful ads (naah, not Cilory ;-)), and the blockers are removing a bit more of the mark-up. Quite a lot of times an otherwise empty page suddenly looks fuller due to these display ads.

For e.g the Facebook layout looks marginally better with Ads. However, with Ads such as these, I’d still start running the blocker.

Ads on Facebook
I do not see how this creative is adding to building a list of leads!

Social Media networks were fine, the worst places I experienced without an Ad Blocker were surprisingly not Pr0n sites, but gaming sites! The sheer amount of wtf-ery in Ads that I saw on gaming sites was outstanding.

What took the cake was an Ad by Gurudas Kamat on my own blog asking for support in elections. Ughhh … one quick shift to Adsense and I blocked the entire category out. That Ad shook me :-) … I prompty turned out the Ad Blocker.

Conclusion

Before I experienced the internet without an Ad Blocker, I was happily running multiple Ads on my own site. After those 40 days, I trimmed down the number of Ads (I believe there are two simple Ads in the sidebar and thats that).

Setting up advertising to bear the cost of content creation is good, but if it is destroying the user experience (HBR are you listening?), is a no-no.

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money.jpg

Information markets in Third World Economies

One of the great things that attracts investor capital is the ability of third world countries to show double digit growth. This story of almost all developing nations mean a scope for investments for other organizations present world-wide. Various countries have different economic policies, such as the open policy by China to attract huge FDI, and the partially open economy by India which invites FDI but limits the amount which can be withdrawn.

Why is this story selling for the past 5 or so years?

The answer is simple. Third World nations represent an inefficient market. A place where the buyers and sellers do not have access to complete information about the transaction. Since there is hardly any organized sector in such markets, there is virtually no analysis done on the varied types of transactions. This absence of information creates an inefficiency in the market … the simple act of saving each and every market transaction and making it available to the public creates the huge value of wealth maximization for both the buyer and the seller.

Wealth Creation by Information Symmetry

Imagine a scenario where a seller wants to sell a book for five dollars, it’s slightly used but the book is not easily available in the market. But the seller does not know that … the seller implicitly assigns a value of 5 dollars and expects the same amount in return. Now if a buyer who values the book a lot more than that were to find about the book, then he will finish the transaction at five dollars (even if he were ready to pay more). So what just happened back there? A book was exchanged for a lesser amount than what it would have fetched. Had the seller known that it could have fetched more (if he had access to that information), then the seller would have generated more wealth by selling at a higher price.

Take a look at this scene from Pretty Woman, had Julia Roberts known that Richard Gere was willing to pay 4000 USD for the week, then she would not have settled on 3000 USD in the first place! This is the power of Information Symmetry!

Information Markets

So in developing countries such as Brazil, Tanzania and India, the one sure shot formula for wealth creation is by creating an information market and making it available to the general public. We can also refer to information markets as Free online Classifieds, a site where people can post information about their buying and selling requirements.

We wanted to sell our six year old car and used a similar service to get the highest price for a used car. Access to such an information market not only ensured that we got the highest bidder, but also reduced the transaction hassles for us.

Conclusion

Any information market (such as an online classified) brings the buyer and the seller on the same platform and ensures that the seller gets a higher price and the buyer gets a chance to purchase the same price at a lower cost.

An information market is hugely successful wherever the market is fragmented and does not have any organized player.

An information market also increases the reach of local organizations.

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