Wow, where did July go? So much to talk about… Today was a big day in many respects- I purchased a mac after ten years without one, we hired our first full-time employee and we can now announce publicly what we’ve been working on the past few weeks: presenting Jamstack.
The Jamstack Appliance
If you’ve followed the Grid7 blog (or the lack thereof) you will notice that the site hasn’t been updated much and still shows us as working on the structured blogging initiative. While both Kimbro and I still have huge faith in the value of that effort, we made a heading change about three weeks ago and dissolved the Grid7 Labs group and abandoned what we were building with RawJobs in favor of pursuing what we feel is a bigger opportunity. There was a business to be had there eventually but the path to revenue was too long and dependent on structured blogging being embraced by the community – it’s about a year or two ahead of its time at this point. We learned a lot from running the G7 pilot program though and the co-op is still the ultimate goal someday. I think even with all the Sundays our participants gave up to be involved, nobody has come away feeling slighted- everyone seemed to express the same thing: that they had fun in the pilot and learned a lot working together. Something did emerge from that stew of Sunday whiteboard sessions though and that is the one idea that kept tugging at us as being something we really wanted for ourselves: the Jamstack appliance.
We had been referring to this concept as “BloqBox” and though the product name may still change, the mission is immutable:
Remove the pain associated with running complex software within a small business by offering “on-site software as a service.”
And by the way, naming a company is hard. We actually bought a scrabble board earlier this week because we were hitting a roadblock brainstorming on the whiteboard.
The elevator pitch is this: currently, if you’re a small business owner and need to run say a customer relationship management (CRM) system, you have one of two options:
- Install either commercial or opensource software on your own hardware inside your organization and commit to supporting it yourself or hire someone else to do it.
- Use a hosted solution external to your company and let them support it
Under #1 you buy a program like Goldmine or Saleslogix or you download something like SugarCRM with all its prerequisites and set it up. Either way you’re running it locally using your own hardware and if you’re going the open source route, you had better know how to configure a web server, php and mysql in order to get things working. And this says nothing of the upgrades, backups, monitoring, etc. that you need to figure out how to handle. If you’re a small business owner you just want to run your business and not be distracted with these headaches.
Under option #2 you’ve got hosted solutions like Salesforce.com that take away some of the headache of running these apps but introduce other problems. For instance what happens when Salesforce has a major outage like they had around Christmas last year and you have your entire sales team suddenly sitting on their hands with no ability to make calls? Or what if your internet connection goes down at your company? Or what if another Choicepoint-like security breach occurs at the hosting provider and your customer data is compromised? Or what if there’s a lawsuit and sensitive data hosted on a 3rd-party server can be subpoenaed sans search warrant? Or what if… you get the picture.
There is an opportunity for a middle-ground here of melding the benefits of software as a service (SAS) with traditional software that is deployed on-site. You order a CRM system already pre-configured on small form factor hardware and it shows up in a box and just works when you light it up. Literally, you plug it into ethernet, press the power button and as easily as a printer pops up for the computers on a network, your CRM application becomes available and all the maintenance, updates and backups are just handled behind the scenes. No installation. No maintenance. Now THAT’s hot.
This is precisely what we’ve developed with Jamstack- a prototype carrying SugarCRM as a demo application pre-bundled in this fashion so it just works as soon as you plug it in: painless deployment allowing you to be productive within ten minutes of razor-blading open the package when it arrives. We’re not prepared to discuss the internals of the technology at this time but know that we can ship an entire network in a single box and using “plug-n-play-like” technology have it become discoverable as soon as you plug it in. And what’s better is that as your company grows it’s trivial for us to port these apps to bigger and better hardware, relegating the database to it’s own machine for instance and scaling a fully redundant, fault-tolerant cluster of web servers to serve the application. Basically, as a consumer of this service, you pay very little to get up and running, and yet sacrafice nothing in terms of future growth having a cleary migration path to scale the application to handle greater load.
Needless to say, we’re extremely excited about the potential here. Think of all the companies like 37signals, Salesforce or even Google that have these great hosted applications and a loyal following that would love to use them but currently cannot due to the above privacy and connectivity concerns. These issues that are show-stoppers now evaporate once you can run the apps on-site. Sure there will be engineering hurdles to clear with regards to deploying into a network of unknown configuration or managing updates to applications we don’t control, but these are all logistics and welcomed challenges because they make the product that much more defensible once we solve them. We’re also seeing others independently arrive at this same idea – Jotspot recently announced its intentions to deploy its hosted software in this fashion and we’ve had two companies who heard through the grapevine what we’ve developed and have already approached us to find out when they can buy it (ie. there’s validation for our thinking on this path).
At any rate, we’ll publish more on Jamstack as it unfolds via our blogs but for now we’re going full-speed with engineering and business development at work making this stuff real. It will be great now that we have Ben on-board full-time. We have our eyes on two other potential hires for engineers and will probably be looking to pick up a recent college grad who can “sell ice to eskimoes” as we near closer to the time of having a shippable product. We’ll also be looking to bring someone in at a relatively high level who has stong experience setting up and managing a VAR network.
Mexico Property Snafu
So where did the money come from to launch this company? Well I promised I would blog the process of buying property in Mexico for better or worse and it came to worse- the deal fell through 2wks ago. We had signed docs, checks and all our ducks in a row for the legal stuff and at the last minute the land owner decided he wanted to try and bump the price $20k above what we had agreed to in the contract. Of the five buyers at the table, two of them caved and paid it. Benny and I walked. This was essentially extortion on the developer’s part and, granted, he will have no trouble getting that higher price because the property is worth it, for us to accept that move from him would set the wrong precedent and would be us sliently condoning his behavior. This type of corruption only perpetuates when people accept it. I don’t believe this is typical for deals in Mexico- I really think we just got a bad apple as a developer on this one and I plan to try again someday but for now, adios to the Playa property.
Ironically, I received that phonecall minutes before I went on for a local Tech Radio show where they were asking me about what Grid7 was up to. These funds that I had allocated to buying that property suddenly became available right as we were doing some heavy soul-searching to figure out what we should do with our lives post-pilot and how we could possibly fund this idea for the Jamstack. The moons were too much in alignment and in spite of the statistics on tech startups and the risk involved, it came down to a matter of “are we really serious about this?” I decided that this is the time to throw it all on the line and “make our run at the title.” Two weeks later, we have an employee and a prototype for our appliance and we’re runnin’ and gunnin’ on getting our alpha program together. We’re signed up to attend the Techcrunch party in Menlo Park on Aug 18th (#84 – bling bling) and the Churchill Startup panel the day before. We’ll be brushing elbows with the people who have launched all these other successful startups and whose blogs we read regularly- very exciting.
100th monkey phenomenon with Grid7
There’s a perplexing phenomena in science that suggests that collective consciousness is real and once a particular behavior passes a critical adoption threshold it suddenly manifests independently in different locations all at once. These guys have developed an eerily-similar idea to Grid7 right down to the individual projects they are pursuing within their “grid.” They seem to have decoupled project idea submission from its development in that the person with the idea need not be the project driver as we had conceived it. But other than that it’s nearly the identical model we had for the co-op only they nailed the design and story-telling of what they’re doing. We wish them luck with it but unless there’s something we’re missing, they should hit the same realization we did in running the numbers on how many projects it will take to break even under that model. The adwords idea is interesting but none of the others listed are homeruns or even particularly viable. I’m following their blog now and I would love to be proven wrong since I’m still passionate about the developer co-op and the Wisdom of Crowds concept. Will be interesting to watch…
The Mac Switch
Sounds like the latest McDonald’s entree right? The big news for me is that I just placed my order for a new PowerMac ending a 10yr hiatus from the Macintosh (I got the 13″ white 2gHz, 100gb HD model and i’m dropping in 2gb of RAM). I’m excited to get back to it – it kicked ass in ’96 and it kicks even more ass today. The Parallels virtualization technology seems to finally be where it needs to be and if all goes well, I should be able to use my Acronis backup software to restore my laptop’s harddrive to a virtual instance of windows running under parallels. This should give me access to any legacy windows apps I still rely upon but allow me to spend most of my time working in MacOS – I’m giddy. The only things I will miss are my Google Desktop search and my Verizon EVDO card. Hopefully the develop each for the Mac soon – I’ve heard spotlight does something similar to GDS and I have to imagine someone is developing a USB or Firewire interface for the PCMCIA verizon card (if not a completely new card altogether).
I just completed a 2day seminar on basic Quickbooks training and it was very good. I had run Lights Out using Quickbooks a few years back and ended up switching over to MS Money mostly because the business wasn’t that complicated and Quickbooks was. I could never figure out how to get the banking integration working and I HATED entering receipts and having the bank recs never balance right. MS Money was considerably easier to work with and pulled my statements automatically from my bank so I just had to scan through and reconcile against the monthly paper statement and not waste time doing data entry for individual transactions.
With what we’re doing now on Jamstack, we’ll have inventory and payroll and MS Money just doesn’t cut it. I have no interest in the Peachtree learning curve- from my experience that was even more complicated than Quickbooks. The 2day training course that ended today hit all the basics and unearthed a couple advanced gems like class tracking, the excel integration for running “what-if scenarios” and exposing the multi-user feature over VPN with our accountant.
My takeaway: I’m interested in learning the language of accounting in order to best communicate with our accountant but I have no desire to do data entry- that’s why you hire a bookkeeper. I’m far more interested in the finance side of things – the important ratios and what they mean, how to identify the profit centers in the business, and the reports that can extract empirical data from the business to enable informed financial choices. It’s key to be able to reward your most loyal customers, to kill an unprofitable product line or identify situations where leveraging credit makes sense. I’ll report back once I’ve worked more with Quickbooks in a live environment but I can recommend this in-person training for both Quickbooks veterans and first-timers as having valuable information. I ordered their Accounting Basics course on CD so we’ll see how that goes.
Musical writer’s block: finally shattered
So I haven’t recorded any new music in a long time. It was bumming me out a bit because I used to be prolific writing new songs about every other month. As with anything though, once you have some momentum in one area it seems to carry over into others. I just laid down my first new track in over year and though it’s stupidly simple 3chord riff recorded sloppily and not even in tune, it was great to get the creative juices flowing again. You can check it out here. The clip is one minute and was recorded on my Martin acoustic running direct into my laptop’s mic interface. It consists of seven layered guitar tracks with percussion done by slapping and muting the strings. This is basically the soundtrack I heard playing in my head as I debated gambling my home equity on the Jamstack idea. It’s this very anticipatory, peeking-over-a-cliff-before-you-dive sequence and what’s cool is if you put it on repeat it builds and tapers exactly back to the same point where it starts again.
Mindmapping the business plan
I’m tinkering with using Freemind to write our business plan. We looked at using a wiki to author the plan – we don’t want to be emailing word docs and though we can check them into Subversion and use the native track changes feature in Word, this is still cumbersome. Freemind looks promising and there appears to be a couple options for generating a pdf from it. Apparently it can be used as an interface to Tiddlywiki which is interesting. It would be nice to be able to go back and forth but even if it’s only a one-time export, it will make the initial organizaiton of things easier. As long as we’re talking wishlist software- I would love to see the makers of GCalSync make this stuff work on the Treo 650. Actually an over-the-air (OTA) sync solution for Zimbra and Treo would probably be the catalyst we need to move off using Gmail to running our own calendar/email in-house. Maybe we could set that up on a Jamstack box…
Movies, Books and Bands
The only thing I’ve had time to read this past month is the rest of the course materials from Fasttrac. Band-wise, I’m diggin’ Breaking Benjamin, the new Yellowcard and Rise Against right now. Movie-wise, if you’re an M. Night Shyamalan fan, check out The Buried Secrets of M. Night Shyamalan – don’t read about it. Just watch the movie- wear a diaper because you will soil yourself. I saw it the other night during one of our insane AZ monsoons and the door blew open and the lightning struck at tense moment in the film- I haven’t been scared by a movie in a long time but I had goosebumps during this film.
The Al Gore movie Inconvenient Truth is worth watching. He seems a heck of a lot cooler in this movie than I remember him being in the 2004 presidential election. It was confusing having read State of Fear by my favorite author, Michael Crichton and hearing him basically debunk global warming and then seeing the Gore movie. I’m 99% convinced at this point that Crichton who is usually dead-on, was either smoking some of the Andromeda Strain or just quoted a bunch of the wrong studies to support his permise. It seems the planet really does have some serious heating issues that need to be addressed. Of course I drive a big SUV so now I have a little cognitive dissonance of my own reading more about this. I’m not ready to give up the Tahoe for a Prius just yet but I’m definitely tuned in now to the warming stuff.
Whatever your political bias, you should really watch the Loose Change video and some of the rebuttals to it. I’m going to withold my opinion but say that given the zealousness of the current administration and their amnesiac tendency for forgetting that they are but one branch of a three-house system, it would not surprise me to learn that the allegations in this film are true. It is promising to see that a film like this can be made and challenge government again – for awhile there the scent of modern-day McCarthyism was getting strong.
Anyways, that’s July in AZ – 117deg last week- huuuaaa! At least my A/C is working – this time last year it was a different story . Looking at the calendar, today marks the one year anniversary of an unforgettable first kiss in the rain with an amazing girl. Unfortunately it’s also the 10mo anniversary of when she disappeared I never heard from her again. Crazy that nearly a year later I still find myself tossing that whole situation around in my head for some reason. I’m sure the startup madness will eclipse those thoughts eventually and from now until that liquidity event for Jamstack whatever that turns out to be, there’s not much time to think about other things. I just thought that the record would have stopped skipping by now… Anyways, I know I’m in startup mode again because instead of glancing at the clock and saying “crap – is it only 3pm?” I’m looking up now and saying “crap – is it already midnight??” We should have our venturecasts regularly now about twice a month on the Grid7 site as we talk with local entrepreneurs in AZ. Keep up with those and any Jamstack developments right here and if you know the next Zig Ziglar, tell him we’re hiring!