tag:r38y.com,2013:/posts Randy Schmidt 2016-10-30T21:23:47Z Randy Schmidt tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/1103695 2016-10-30T21:23:47Z 2016-10-30T21:23:47Z Buenos Aires Recap, First 24 Hours in Santiago

So far first 24 hours have been way smoother than when in Buenos Aires. I didn't lose any credit cards, climbed up to Castillo Hidalgo which had an amazing view, and I found a great restaurant for dinner. I also think it went smoother because instead of going from for the most part only ever in the US to a country and city that was basically the complete opposite. I had to get used to the culture, money, language, etc. Now I have a month’s experience and it’s much smoother. 

I spent much of my nights and weekends in Buenos Aires hanging out with someone from Spain, Alberto. Aside, I referred to him as “The Spaniard” when talking about him with friends and coworkers :DD. I assumed that just because he spoke the language he knew everything but he didn’t. Yes, he spoke Spanish, but the Spanish in South America is way different and he had a hard time understanding them. Also, he went through the same cultural differences I did. So I assumed he’d have a 100% leg up on me but he only had a 20%. 

I like Santiago, the neighborhood and the Airbnb is nice, but I get the impression the neighborhood is very different than the rest of Santiago. I almost wish I was in a more "authentic" neighborhood instead of this very rich one. I like the neighborhood in that it feels very similar to "home" but I kind of like being out of my comfort zone to learn and grow and I'm not in this neighborhood. It’s nice knowing what to do when going to a bar which was kind of confusing in Buenos Aires. 

In Buenos Aires it seemed like the people were pretty mixed ethnically so I didn’t stick out but in Santiago I stand out like a sore thumb. Maybe because Buenos Aires is on the east coast facing towards Europe and Santiago is on the other side of the Andes and was kind of isolated? 

Let's talk about the Airbnb. It's very nice and the hosts are friendly, but I think I hate it. The hosts are an older couple that only work 1-2 days a week and I think they are lonely so they talk way too much. I can't enter or leave the house without a 15 minute monologue about 20 different countries and how well they speak English. Every time I've asked a question I've regretted it. This is only the first 24 hours and I'm here for 28 days. I'm not looking forward to sitting in the house working for eight hours a day with them wandering around bored. To be honest, I went from my favorite Airbnb to what I think is going to be my worst Airbnb ever. 

Choosing how long to stay in an Airbnb is going to be tough. I really wish I wasn't in this one for 28 days so maybe two weeks in each is good. However I didn't really warm up to people in Buenos Aires for two weeks and then I loved the Airbnb and wanted to stay longer. If I had only stayed there two weeks I would have never had as much fun as I did. I had so much fun I thought about staying a few more weeks but decided in the end that paying for two Airbnbs in two different countries at the same time wasn’t practical. It wouldn’t have been a hardship so maybe I should have. 

The people I met in Buenos Aires made me really want to learn Spanish so I’m going to try to find a tutor or something in Santiago to get better. I really hated not knowing what people were saying at dinner without having to lean on Google Translate a lot of the time. 

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/1095211 2016-10-01T22:20:19Z 2016-10-01T22:20:19Z Day One Traveling the World

Holy crap the first day was scary. The flights were smooth but when I got to Buenos Aires I forgot my debit card at an ATM, left my bag of carefully curated adapters and backup chargers at home, and my cell service, which was supposed to work in Buenos Aires, didn't work. Those things were carefully planned out ahead of time and they still went south. I was kind of panic-y but by the end, it's all good. 

I configured my Amex card to give me cash at ATMs (not cheap, but it works) and once I found an ATM that spoke English, I got cash. I had put a United States outlet to Argentina outlet adapter in my backpack so I had that, I didn't think it would work with a three prong plug but turns out, it does. I still don't have cell service but I stopped caring for the most part. I had saved maps offline in Google Maps. That combined with stilling having a GPS signal meant I could still get where I needed easily. You can't search for places or get directions without a data connection but you can look at the map and figure it out. 

Being able to charge my laptop was probably one of the most important things to figure out by Monday. I couldn't do what I'm doing without a super flexible job but to have that super flexible job, I need to be able to work and that means I need my laptop and wifi. And I do. 

I can eat, I can work, I have a safe place to sleep, I have a clean place to shower and poop. I'm pretty happy. The only thing I'm a little worried about is feeling isolated because the language and culture barrier is bigger than I thought it was going to be. 

Today was more interesting than the last few months combined back "home".

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/723913 2014-08-06T16:10:41Z 2014-08-06T16:10:41Z iSepta End of Life

Almost six and a half years ago Chris Conley, Jason Tremblay and I launched iSepta to make looking up the regional rail schedules in Philadelphia easier on your phone. Chris has done an AMAZING job of maintaining and extending it the last few years but we are all ready to move on. So yesterday I shut it down. It's been a lot of fun!

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/678179 2014-04-16T15:40:19Z 2014-04-16T15:40:19Z Origion of BRBots.brb

I often use phrases like "driving.bbs" for "be back soon" or "lunch.bbe" for "be back eventually". people have wondered where that come from so I thought I would explain it.

Back when I was a structural engineer (2005-2007) one of my jobs was to do the grunt work on three concrete towers near Old City Philadelphia. We worked on them in parallel because they were pretty close to identical except the various heights. I would have to analyze all three in a program we had which took a couple hours each. Pretty quickly I started running them on other people's computers when they they were out of the office so they could be analyzed in parallel. Each building would be analyzed for ~20 load cases which were for the most part independent of each other. Some examples would be wind from one direction, wind from another direction, earthquake, etc. 

Soon after I left to work for myself I thought it would be awesome if I could have easily dispatched each load case to other computers in the office that weren't being used very heavily. For example, the secretaries or people out of the office. I was calling them BRBots because the bots would say they were ready for work, I would tell them what to do, and they would come back for more when they were done. The file extension for the jobs was going to be "brb" so a job file might be named "load_case_1.brb". 

This whole idea never made it out of my head but the file extensions live on. 

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/677451 2014-04-14T22:05:21Z 2014-04-15T22:02:17Z Picking a Random Winning Entry When Entries Have a Weight

Assuming we have three entries for a drawing:

  • entry 1 has a weight of 3
  • entry 2 has a weight of 5
  • entry 3 has a weight of 2

We want to pick a random winning entry that takes into account the weights. This query will do that. 

How do entries get "weights"? Someone enters a drawing which results in an entry being created with a weight of 1. Later that day they are rewarded 5 bonus entries which just translates into us bumping their entry's weight to 6. 

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/677449 2014-04-14T22:00:07Z 2014-04-14T22:05:36Z Copying a Postgres Database

I often have to test things on a pretty large database that takes forever to import. Today I learned you can just copy it so you don't have to reimport!

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591654 2013-07-30T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Dead Man’s Snitch: SOLD!

Dead Man’s Snitch has been acquired! By Collective Idea! 

A little over a year ago a client had a problem for which we couldn’t find a good solution, so I made Dead Man’s Snitch. Dead Man’s Snitch is a service that will let you know if some periodic task stops working. Like a dead man’s switch. I have been running it ever since and it continued to slowly grow. Collective Idea have been interested in it from the beginning and are a development shop full of good developers and sysadmins. I think they will do a great job running and growing it. Read what they have to say about the acquisition.

So, why did I sell it after only a year? There are a few reasons but the main one is student loans. My student loans have been really bothering me lately because it is a loan that is not backed by an asset. I’ve been paying $421/month ever since I graduated from Drexel in 2005 and would continue to pay that going forward. I couldn’t sell them if I wanted to simplify my expenses. So I took Collective Idea’s interest in Dead Man’s Snitch and leveraged it to pay off my student loans in full.

Wait, did I just pay off my student loans?!

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591655 2013-07-12T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Thoughts on Shipping a Product (as a developer)

On Thursday July 11th I gave a talk to the Philly Startup Hackers about some of the things I’ve learned as I shipped products as well as things they should consider when trying to ship a product. 

Slides with notes: http://cl.r38y.com/QELZ

Keynote: http://cl.r38y.com/QETV (better b/c of gifs and video)

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591656 2013-03-05T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Our Loss is Your Gain

Update 8/1/2013: We have officially shut it down.

Lose It or Lose It is a website that helps people stick to their goals to lose weight. They sign up for a 10-week plan, give us some money, and will lose weight or lose that money depending on whether they make their goals. It has helped people lose nearly 3000 lb with a 62% success rate. 

Not only does it help people lose weight, it also makes money. It keeps around 21% of all money that goes through the system. 

John and I have run Lose It or Lose It for over three years but we’re ready to move on to the next project. We would really like it to live on and continue to help people so we are looking to sell it. 

Originally we were looking to sell it for $150,000 but the interested buyers were not able to go through with the sale. We were about to shut it down but we want to see it live on, so we have dropped it to the no BS price. 

Here’s a price we think is fair: $30,000. Any cash in the LIOLI bank account at the time of sale would be added to the sale price.

Lose It or Lose It generates about $10,000 of revenue each year. So the $30,000 price is equal to three years of net revenue.

What does this $30,000 get you?

  • A modern, well-tested Rails app built with Postgres, Rails 3.2.x, Ruby 1.9.3 and 1800 passing tests (no legacy code to deal with)
  • The LLC
  • A finished but unreleased iOS app to help people weigh in
  • All the services used by the website (hosting account, email accounts, Paypal account, bank account, etc)

We think an ideal buyer would be someone interested in helping people lose weight and continuing to grow the business. They would also be a web developer or someone with access to a web developer to help them make changes as needed.

Are you interested in acquiring this site and continuing to grow it as a business? Do you know someone that may be interested? Please email me (Randy) at me@r38y.com

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591657 2012-12-11T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Why Does Family Tech Support Leave Most Tech Folks Feeling Anxious?

As someone who works in tech, one of the only universal truths is that when a family member asks us to help them with their personal computer, it will fill us with anxiety. Hell, we even made a Nerd Merit Badge about it. You don’t really see this in other fields and so we end up feeling pretty guilty about not being helpful. Don’t get me wrong, we want to be helpful, but in any other task besides helping with their computer. 

I’ve been trying to figure this out for quite some time and I finally think I’ve figured part of it out. 

  1. They don’t actually understand what we do. Many of us use a single computer as a tool to help us build or run other things. We don’t set up personal computers for other people or help them with their personal computing problems. They just know that we do “computer stuff" and in their world, computers are the things on their desk. In reality, they probably use a computer just as much as we do. 
  2. They don’t have a mental model of what it is their computer is actually doing (even at a high level)
  3. We aren’t confident we can make them happy in the end (it seems like almost no civilian is happy with their computer). At best things will just be a little less horrible. 
  4. Learned helplessness, maybe taught by the IT department where they work. They don’t think they can understand it so they don’t try. They just memorize steps you tell them and don’t know what to do when they don’t work. They also tend to zone out when you try to explain at a high level how things work. They need to take ownership in what they need to know and learn it. 

As a way of expanding on “they don’t actually understand what we do", I want to give an example comparing what I do with another field where I have some experience. 

Say you are a carpenter and one of your relatives needs to install a door and asks you to help them. You are a carpenter and installing doors is part of what you do. Since most people understand the purpose of a door and whether or not you installed it successfully, you are confident you can indeed install the door and leave them happy with what you did. You install the door, they see that the door does indeed open, close, lock and keeps the weather out. You both call it a success and they happily use the door for the next ten years. They can see and feel and understand this thing you just did for them. 

Now take me and what I do. I am a web developer who can help you build a custom web application to run your business. I use a single computer (mine), a Mac, to do my job. A family member comes up to me saying their Windows laptop takes forever to boot and they can’t do anything on it anymore. There is no real known quantity of success in this situation except maybe they’ll be able to do stuff again? Helping consumers with their computers is not what I do. The only real difference between me and them is I have GRIT and know how to use Google. I can’t help them. I don’t even know where to send them for help. But it will probably end up with them not believing I can’t help them. 

So, since I really want to be helpful to my family and make them happy, here is what I can and can’t do:

  1. I can and am happy to help you build a custom web-based tool to help you do something you couldn’t previously do. This is what I do for a living.
  2. I can and am happy to help you set up your home network (mostly)
  3. I can and am happy to help you move furniture bodily or with my truck
  4. I can and am happy to help you install drywall and trim out a room
  5. I can and am happy to act as unskilled labor for pretty much anything else you need help on
  6. I can maybe help you with your Mac-based consumer issues and questions. I’m a Mac “power user" but I don’t know everything there is to know about how consumers use their computers. It’s probably best to start with the hands-on help at the Apple store since they are experienced at helping consumers do consumer things with their new computers. I truly believe that using a Mac as your personal computer will lead to an overall increase in your happiness when it comes to personal computing. It doesn’t mean you will have zero problems, but your overall happiness will be lifted. 
  7. I can’t really help you with your Windows computer problems. I haven’t used Windows as a tool in over seven years and have no idea where to start. I also have decided that Macs make me happier and you should listen to my advice to use them ;)

How can I help?

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591658 2012-08-17T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Soft Launch of Dead Man’s Snitch

Update 8/1/2013: Dead Man's Snitch has been sold to Collective Idea. Hurrah!

TL;DR I’m soft-launching a service called Dead Man’s Snitch that will notify you if your periodic tasks (backups, notifications, calculations, etc) don’t check in with the service. You can sign up for free but if you upgrade before the real launch, you’ll save $10/month for life. 

Around a month ago one of my clients had a little scare when one of their db instances (one of many) started acting up. They quickly went to check on the backups and noticed that they had stopped running about a week before. Luckily, we didn’t need to restore from a backup, but it was a little scary. Having to restore from a backup sucks, having to restore from an OLD backup really sucks. 

I decided it was time to fix this problem in the simplest way possible. Today I am soft-launching Dead Man’s Snitch. Using the example above, you just tweak your periodic task a little bit to check in with Dead Man’s Snitchwhenever it finishes running by hitting a special URL we give you. If your process fails to check in during your chosen interval (hour, day, week or month), we’ll send you an email. That’s it. I like to think of it as a way to make your periodic jobs PROVE they are running. 

The design isn’t done and all the features I want it to have aren’t there yet, but I feel like it has 90% of the value it will ever have and is useful as-is. Also, things like this kind of need to simmer for a bit to make sure they behave as expected. I’ve had several people using it for the last month and I have ironed out many of the kinks, but I’m sure there are others. 

You can sign up and use one switch for free. If you want more than one switch you’ll have to upgrade to Pro which gets you unlimited switches. If you upgrade to Pro before the official launch, you’ll lock in a price of $19/month for life. When I relaunch in September with the new design, Pro will go up to $29/month.

So, if you are a web developer or a sysadmin, git it a try? Check out the FAQfor some answers to common questions and follow @DeadMansSnitch for updates.

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591660 2012-07-18T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Americans Are Bad at Math, Fair Share Explained

Update: FWIW, I don’t care at all which direction things go. I’m not rich but I’m not poor. I pay about $35k/year in taxes and would love to pay $13.3k, but that will never happen. I just can’t stand the weird math people do. 

First of all, I pretty much couldn’t care less about this issue but I think people don’t understand the math, so I feel obligated to explain. The only reason I’m talking about this at all is because Adam Carolla talks about this quite a bit on his podcast and the bad math was frustrating me. All these numbers are made up and extreme on purpose in order to illustrate the point. 

Let me explain the current situation. You often hear that the rich are not paying their fair share of taxes. What they are referring to is someone making $1 million/year may have an effective tax rate of 12% (pay $120k/year in taxes) while someone who makes $30k year may have an effective tax rate of 34% (pay $10.2k/year in taxes). They say that the person making $1 million/year needs to have an effective tax rate of 34% (pay $340k/year in taxes) in order to pay their “fair share".

OK, now, let us agree on a different but related situation. Say five people of varying income levels go out to lunch and all order the exact same thing. The bill for all five comes out to $55. I think everybody can agree that in order for each person to pay their fair share, each person would have to pay $55 / 5 = $11. Everybody with me?

Let us expand this example to the US. The bill to run the US (roads, fire and police departments, jails, etc) may be $2 trillion/year. There are roughly 300 million people in the US, however, only some of them (exclude children, the elderly, disabled, etc) are in the position to pay the bill, let’s call it 150 million people. So if everybody is to pay their fair share, they would have to pay $2 trillion / 150 million, or $13.3k/year in taxes. Still with me?

If everybody’s fair share was $13.3k/year, that would result in an effective tax rate of 44% for the person making $30k/year and an effective tax rate of 0.0013% for the person making $1 million/year. Using these assumptions, the person making $1 million/year and paying $120k/year in taxes is paying WAY more than their fair share of $13.3k. Have I lost anyone? 

I think it is pretty clear that the person making $30k/year can’t afford to pay $13.3k/year in taxes and the person making $1 million/year can afford to pay way more. 

They should say it how it is, they want the rich to pay more than their fair share so most people can pay less than their fair share. Own up to it. Saying the rich aren’t paying their fair share is good at riling people up but isn’t accurate. 

OK, now I can go back to not giving a shit about this particular topic. Cheers.

Update/aside: Let’s apply the % of income fair share model to paying for lunch. Some would pay $20 while others paid $6, all because their incomes are different. That is kind of bizarre. 

Update: Some would say that the rich and the non-rich use different amounts of the government. I would assume the rich use less, but let’s assume they use more. Do they use 10x more? 

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591661 2012-07-17T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Paying for Podcasts; A Proposal

I am a dedicated listener of two podcasting networks: 5by5* and Ace Broadcasting**. Over the last week two hosts on 5by5, John Siracusa of Hypercritical and Marco Arment of Build and Analyze, have talked about various ways people are making money on their content. One was Penny Arcade using Kickstarter to raise money so they can remove advertisements from their site for one year. Another one that caught my attention was The Brooks Review which is switching to a "You pay me. I write" model instead of advertisers. In general I am HUGE fan of paying money and receiving something in return.

The conversation lead to podcasting and charging on a per-podcast basis and whether or not that would be feasible. Both of these networks have a dedicated audience who would love to help make them more awesome in exchange for a few perks. So yes, I think it would be feasible. 

Current Business Model

Both of these networks make their money from sponsors who receive several live reads during the shows as well as listener donations. I really don’t mind the live reads as they are often targeted at the audience and can be helpful. I’ve thought about donating to these networks but I can never bring myself to give them a chunk of money without receiving something (directly) in return. However, I would be into paying for every episode of my favorite shows as they are published. Let me explain.

How it Could Work

Interested listeners would visit the membership site and sign up. Once they sign up, they can subscribe to any of the podcasts they want. As podcasts are published, a line item (for however much the per-episode cost is, maybe $1) is added to an invoice for members subscribed to the podcast. When the first of the month comes, the member’s credit card is charged for all of the podcasts published while they were subscribed. 

Let me use me and 5by5 as an example. I listen to four podcasts on their network and all of them come out once a week. This would come out to me paying 5by5 $208/year ($4/week * 52 weeks). I’m not sure how many listeners they have but this could lead to a fairly large chunk of money. 

One question that may come up is whether or not the shows should still contain live reads. I think they should. Members and non-members get the same show and members receive perks elsewhere. In general I having a “remove advertisements by becoming a member" feature is bad for business because it is admitting that getting rid of advertisements is a goal.

Perks for Members

Members would receive a customized feed of the shows they are subscribed to and possibly free, inexpensive, or exclusive SWAG (did I mention we make swag ;). Randy has paid for 150 episodes? Send him a free t-shirt!

5by5 has some other properties including a chatroom where listeners can talk to each other during the show as well as the “showbot" where listeners can submit and vote on show titles. Maybe members in these systems have some indicator that they are a member or maybe are able to do certain things non-members can’t do, like vote on titles or maybe their votes count more ;)

The Money Shot (Josh?)

I believe so much in this model that I am willing to work on building membership systems with 5by5 or Ace Broadcasting on a revenue-share model. I’ll build it for “free" in exchange for a certain percentage of all revenue. I’m a experienced web developer*** who has launched a project or two (Lose It or Lose It). I’m capable and willing. 

Interested? Email me@r38y.com or give me a call at 267-334-6833.

* 5by5 shows I listen to: Build and AnalyzeHypercriticalThe Ihnatko Almanac and Back to Work (all once a week)

** Ace Broadcasting shows I listen to: The Adam Carolla ShowAce on the HouseCarCast, and Alison Rosen is Your New Best Friend (The Adam Carolla Show is five times a week, the rest are once a week)

*** More specifically, I use a technology called Ruby on Rails. I know 5by5 is all about Rails, so it could be a great fit!

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591662 2012-05-19T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Dossi on the iPad

Here is Dossí on the iPad… it’s AWEsome. Eventually I’m going to need a real designer :).

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591663 2012-04-26T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Thank You Darice for Fixing My Shoulder

TL;DR Darice has really really helped my shoulder when others could not. I highly recommend her if you are having chronic pain issues. She goes exceedingly well with CrossFit :)

Last May or June I started to have A LOT of trouble with my left shoulder to the point where I had trouble lifting my arm over my shoulder. I went to my primary care doctor and he gave me a shot of cortisone… which did nothing. Next I tried going to a local orthopedic who ordered an MRI and when the results came back, he didn’t have much to say. He sent me to physical therapy, but they just kind of looked at me and didn’t know how to help me even though I was really in a lot of pain. 

In August 2011 I started doing CrossFit in spite of my shoulder really bothering me. I was tired of waiting and not getting any answers so I pushed through it. The gym I go to, CrossFit KOP, has a relationship with an Active Release Therapist so I decided to go there for a while. I went 2-3 times a week for 3-4 weeks but it wasn’t getting any better. At this point my shoulder problem was getting a bit expensive since the AR therapist didn’t accept my insurance. I decided to stop going.

All through this Darice was commenting on Facebook that she thought she could help me but I was hesitant because I thought “If the doctors can’t help, how can she?" and I had already spent a lot of money on my shoulder already. 

Well, eventually I went and after one time my shoulder felt about 45% better and after two more visits was about 90% better. We’ve somewhat determined that my shoulder issues are related to my previously broken (and still bent out of shape) collarbone and may never be 100%, but it is way better!

I am SUPER thankful for what Darice has done. My CrossFit experience became way more enjoyable and I continue to go to her every two weeks to help keep my body working well even though it really doesn’t want to. 

I am so confident in her abilities that if you are unsure whether you should go, I am willing to pay for your first visit and you pay me back only if you think it was worth it. I bet I’ll get my money back :)

You can get more information on her Facebook page, emailing her at dariceripley@restoremassage.net, or calling her at 215-858-6959. 

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591664 2012-04-24T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z In Which I Hurt My Knee at Crossfit

Last week I missed a max box jump attempt (how high can you jump) and landed funny on my leg that is attached to the knee that has issues. I got an MRI today and decided to crack open the cd they gave me and this is what I found. 

At one point I had a video of my knee, not sure what happened to it. 

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591665 2012-04-02T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Three Months In

At the end of last year I wrote about how I was going to reduce my 2012 client work by one day per week per quarter. This was an attempt to get myself to finally make the switch from client work to product creation.

I’m supposed to drop to three days of client work a week today, so I thought I would fill you in on how the past three months have gone. Not everything has been according to plan.

First, we launched Lose It or Lose It “Feats”, which is another way to browse all the weigh-ins on the site. I wanted a new way to look at all the data on the site, and this addition does it swimmingly. The only downside is that we need to find a way to link to it from the main site.

Second, we finally launched the “Keep It Off” part of Lose It or Lose It. This has been around unofficially for quite a while but it was never before visible to the public. Now it is.

Third, I’ve worked on yet another project that I think can have both personal and wide-ranging appeal. It’s called Dossí (as in dossier, formerly called memoi). Dossí is a personal relationship manager. It acts like a customer relationship manager, but it focuses on personal – not business – relationships. I have a desktop browser version that I am using on a daily basis. This version only needs a few more features before I can start work on the mobile version.

I completed all of this because I took one day a week to work exclusively on my own products. I would say that most things have gone pretty well, but I’m still concerned about this whole plan. There are a couple of elements that made things a little more stressful than I thought they were going to be. For example, I saw the “company savings” plateau, then start to drop, and that’s the first time I watched that happen. It made me nervous, which makes me realize that I am more risk-averse than I had thought. Also, the first quarter happened to be tax season, and I faced a steep tax bill. This has totally scared me back into client work and I haven’t taken one day off the past few weeks.

This backtracking saddens me, but I think I am going to abandon the schedule I laid out at the end of last year. I just think it is too stressful to tackle alone. The better way (for me) would be to take 3–4 weeks off at a time to work on my products, so that I have a better sense about fixed costs. This approach worked really well when I launched Lose It or Lose It in late 2009. I had the site designed, and, when it was finished, I took three consecutive weeks off from client work, banged out the first version, and launched it.

Another option could be to sell Lose It or Lose It and use the money to pay myself as I work on Dossí. This is somewhat enticing because I’ve used Lose It or Lose It to lose a lot of weight and craft a healthier lifestyle, but I am almost ready to move on.

All in all, it has been a good experience. I got a lot done and it pushed me past being comfortable. Now I just have to try taking a month off and see how that goes.

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591666 2012-03-26T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z New Lose It or Lose It Plan Chooser

I’ve been working on updating Lose It or Lose It to allow people to sign up for zero lb/week, or “Keep It Off". I just finished updating the sign up form at Finish Weekend and launched it. Check it out!

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591667 2012-03-04T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Girl Scout Cookies + Barcamp Philly

Last year I bought three cases of Girl Scout Cookies to see if I could store them and then sell them for more money later, when they were no longer available. Turns out, I like talking about ideas like this more than I like executing them, so the cases just sat under my desk for months. I eventually donated them all to Barcamp Philly (in Lose It or Lose It’s name) this past October.

However, this setback doesn’t stop me from wanting to think about how someone could make more money off of Girl Scout Cookies. These cookies are often highly in demand (many people even think of them as CRACK), and they are sold by adorable little girls. It’s a pretty impressive system that is already lucrative, but think there are ways to make it earn even more money.

One pricing model I’ve been thinking about is a subscription plan. As it stands now, Girl Scout Cookies cost $3.50/box. That’s already pretty expensive, but those kids are natural salespeople and the cookies are freaking delicious, so families are more than happy to pay up. So, what if some industrious Girl Scout said that she would deliver cookies every month, year-round, for $5 per box, per month? That Girl Scout would make an additional $1.50/box, which is more than 40% more than she would normally make, and it’s all profit. If she set up auto-billing, that little scout will be rolling in the delicious delicious dough.

The downside to the subscription plan are having to store the cookies under lock and key to keep the parents from going on a Thin Mint Binge™.

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591668 2012-02-01T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Puppet or Person?

Twitter has users that either represent people (for example, @r38y) and users that represent something other than real people (for example,@LoseItorLoseIt). For a project I’m working on, I need to know whether a Twitter account is a person or something other than a person. 

I’m thinking about creating a little app and API where people can link their Twitter account and help decide if someone they follow is a person or a puppet. If you query the API with a Twitter user id we’ll return their person score based on what people have decided. What do you think?

I will stab you if you register (domain) names associated with this ;). 
Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591669 2012-01-31T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Alternative CrossFit Pricing Scheme

You could say that I have a small obsession with pricing schemes and using them in a way that affects people’s behavior (see Lose It or Lose It). I like exploring situations in which pricing schemes can have a big impact, and one such situation that caught my eye recently was CrossFit registration. I thoroughly enjoy being a CrossFitter and have noticed a small hiccup in the way their system works. People do not always sign up for their classes ahead of time, and class size tends to be between ten and thirty people. With only one coach, these larger classes can be tough, and the optimal class size is around fifteen to twenty people per coach. It’s hard to predict class size because people tend to skip signing up ahead of time, and I think a new pricing scheme could change that.

Before I propose my new pricing scheme, let me explain the current price structure. First, there are drop-in fees for non members. These are $20 per class. After that, there is a 10-class punch-card for $150. That comes out to $15 per class. Then there is a 2x a week for $115 per month program, which, if there are four weeks in a month, comes out to $14.38 per class. After that, there is 3x a week for $125 per month, which comes out to $10.42 per class. At the very top is unlimited classes for $155 per month, which if you do the goal attendance pattern of three on, one off, comes out to $6.74 per class. So, any one class can cost from $6.74 to $20, depending on the level of engagement.

OK, back to getting people to sign up for classes ahead of time. You need to provide an incentive for thinking ahead, but how do you do that when people are pretty much allowed to come to any class they want? You could turn people away if they don’t sign up ahead of time, but that could be construed as punishment and might make people angry. You could remind people about the class by pinging them with a rundown of the anticipated Workout of the Day, then letting them register by replying to the notice. Or you could reward people for signing up early. All these solutions are interesting, but I think they could be made more effective.

What if you charged the first person to RSVP only $1 for that class? You would then charge $5 for the fifth, $10 for the tenth, etc. The charges would reach the highest current price ($20) at the 20th person, which would also create a class with the ideal number of students. With twenty people in a class, the gym would make $210 per class with twenty people. On average, that is $10.50 per person, which is right around the middle of all of the various prices, as they currently exist. Members could fund accounts, and then money would be taken out of those accounts when they sign up for the class.

That is the simplest version. A little  more complex version would include membership levels with a set MAXIMUM price per class. For instance, I could sign up as a member and pay $10/month simply for the ability to never pay more than $12 a class, even if I am the 20th person to sign up.

A kicker would be that once people sign up, they are charged for the class and can’t cancel. This way, someone can’t go through and buy all the spots at $1 and then never show up.

Long story short, there are a lot of ways to use a pricing scheme to affect the behavior of your customers. I’m not sure a CrossFit gym would necessarily want to rearrange their pricing scheme right this very moment, but this formula could be an appealing long-term plan. Since CrossFit is all about changing the way you think about fitness, maybe its time to change the way you think about pricing too.

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591670 2012-01-18T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Box Jumps

This is one of my favorite videos for two reasons: (actually, the real one went away at some point)
  1. You can see that his head doesn’t really move vertically that much. He could probably get his head/feet that high without running. 
  2. The running helps him get his body over his feet once he hooks them on the edge of the box, it doesn’t really help him jump higher. 

If you are working on box jumps, you can get a lot higher by concentrating on tucking your feet under you. If you are trying to jump higher than say… the middle of your body, some horizontal movement will help get your body back over your feet once your feet land. 

I’m nowhere near an expert, but watching that video and trying those things has made it so this fat boy can get onto a 38" box with a standing box jump. 

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591671 2011-12-27T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Giving Myself a Kick in the BUTT in 2012

Update 8/1/2013: I failed miserably, but I'm trying other things. 

Four and a half years ago, I quit a job that I didn’t like and was forced to hustle a little bit in order to make a living. While that busy phase mostly went smoothly, it still posed an interesting challenge that kept me on my toes. Now I’m getting lazy again. I never wanted to do client work for a living, but here I am, four and half years later, doing client work for a living.

Over the years, I’ve created some of my own sites/projects, but none of them have been big enough to take up all of my time. This is entirely my fault, since I’ve gotten too comfortable with client work and don’t feel the same need to hustle as I once did.

Earlier this year, I tried taking one day a week to work on my own, but, after a few months, I fell back to doing client work at least five days a week.

I’ve decided that I need a kick in the butt, so, using the same concept that prompted me to create Lose It or Lose It (where you lose the weight or lose your money… publicly), I am making my goals public. I want to make 2012 the year that I wean myself off of client work and focus my time on my own projects and ideas.

The hard part of this process has been trying to figure out how to handle ending things with my clients, because I really do like working with them. They are some of my best friends and we have worked on some awesome projects together. I’ve decided that the way to gradually move out of that sphere is to cut out one day of client work per week per quarter. Then the clients will have time to find other developers, and I will have time to train those developers before I finish with the client work.


Without further adieu, here is the schedule I am going to keep in 2012:

  • 4 days/week ➞ Until Friday March 30, 2012
  • 3 days/week ➞ Starting Monday, April 2, 2012
  • 2 days/week ➞ Starting Monday July 2, 2012
  • 1 day/week ➞ Starting Monday, October 1, 2012
  • 0 days/week ➞ Starting Monday, January 1, 2013

As I transition out of client work, I will need to really ramp up my own projects so that I can make enough money to maintain our standard of living once I finish client work. While I do have a small war chest in my consulting company, I don’t want to dip into those savings if I can help it.


I keep mentioning my own projects but I haven’t actually discussed what they entail. Allow me to elaborate…

I started Lose It or Lose It in late 2009 with John Young, who also partners with me for our Nerd Merit Badges project. It has huge potential, since it actually works AND it makes money. However, it has kind of languished lately. I hope to promote it on a grander scale soon, as well as create a sister site called “Back on My Scale." This one would be free, and the only goal would be to weigh in every day. If you weigh in, $___.__ will go to Back on My Feet, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering homeless people through running. If you fail to weigh in, the site posts to Facebook, saying that you don’t care about Back on My Feet and didn’t give them money that day.

How exactly will Back on My Scale make money for Lose It or Lose It? We’re not sure yet, but hopefully it will be an effective gateway to Lose It or Lose It. We’re hoping that this program will help us reach more people and eventually funnel some of them into Lose It or Lose It.

A few years ago, John and I started Nerd Merit Badges, which are merit badges that you earn for nerdy achievements like rubber ducking a problem or committing to an open source project. John has really turned this site into a money-maker, and I’ll continue to work to help him with it.

I have several other projects that I think could really take off but aren’t quite there yet. One of those projects is VIPbox, which is basically a paid contact form. I think that there is value in making it easy to get a message to a VIP, since right now it can be a challenge. Basically, the VIPbox owners would pick charities and set a price per message, then allow people to contact them through their VIPbox, which requires those people to make a donation to the charity of the VIP’s choice before they can send the message. By taking that action, the VIPs are saying “if you pay this money to a good cause, I agree to read your message within seven days." VIPbox would make money by taking a percentage (10% or less) of everything that goes through the site. For example, if Oprah set her VIPbox price $10k/message, she’ll be sending over $9k to a charity of her choice just by taking the time to read a short message.

Another project (code-named Memoi) is what I call a PRM, or Personal Relationship Manager. It is a lot like a CRM (Customer Relationship Manager, a type of program that helps your company keep track of all the information about your clients), but it’s focused on personal relationships for an individual rather than a company. It’s kind of like an address book on steroids. My goal is to charge a flat $5/month for it. I think that price is low enough that an individual will pay it, but high enough to still make money for the site.

I am making all of this public so that you will follow-up with me when you see me and help keep me accountable. I’ll also be writing a status blog post every quarter to review how things are going. Wish me luck!

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591672 2011-12-22T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Tools I Use to Run a Business on the Internet (for Free or Cheap)

In part one, I went over the essentials for looking professional on the internet. In this post, I want to help people who are new to the business world learn about some services that exist to make life easier. The best part? Most of these services are available for little to no cost.


At this point, I bill most of my work by the hour and use Freckle for time tracking. Freckle is beautiful and makes me happy whenever I use it. It has a great system for creating invoices based on the hours you work, and it can also handle one-off expenses. 

I used a different service called Harvest for YEARS and was very happy with it. In fact, I stopped using it only because Freckle was released and my friends had built it. Harvest tends to be a little more expensive than Freckle but it is very good and may even be better for tracking time in large businesses. 

If your business does very little billing by the hour, I know many people love Freshbooks for creating and managing invoices. I haven’t used it much myself but I hear good things about it. 

I use Quickbooks for my consulting business because that is what I used when I started the business and I haven’t switched away from it. However, my business partner, John, and I decided to use LessAccounting when we started Lose It or Lose It because it was easier for both of us to enter, access, and view the information we needed.

Selling Stuff with Shopify

John and I also have a site called Nerd Merit Badges, where people can buy embroidered badges that represent their feats of nerdom. In order to do this, we needed an online store. We started with simple Paypal/Amazon buttons but quickly switched to using Shopify. Shopify does their own hosting (no need to mess with servers or anything) and pretty much let you customize the site as much as you want. They work with a ton of payment processors, which means that all you have to do is choose one and use it. 

Shopify works for 90% of what people need and is WAY cheaper than building a custom store.

Managing Clients with Highrise (AKA People Love When You Remember Stuff)

For many businesses, knowing and remembering information about your customers is critical. This is where Customer Relationship Management(CRM) software comes in. Basically, it’s a central repository of everything your company knows about your customers. This way, anybody in the company can jump in and help a customer.

There are several ways to start using a CRM. One is to install some software on your own server, but who wants to do that? Another option is Salesforce, which is infinetly configurable but can be quite expensive. A nice option isHighrise, which meets almost everyone’s needs and is much cheaper than the other options.

On a side note, I think this kind of software is good even if you are the only person using it. People LOVE it when you remember stuff. Use this to add everybody’s birthdays and you’ll never forget them again!

Project Management with Basecamp

I don’t do a ton of project management, but when I do, I use Basecamp. Project management is all about communication, and that is pretty much what Basecamp facilitates. There are messages (kinda like general email), milestones, to-dos, time tracking, etc. I pretty much only use the messages and sometimes todos, but that’s because I only ever manage small projects.

In the end, all that really matters is getting an accurate record of what was communicated. What is nice about Basecamp is that you can interact with it via email almost exclusively, but it tracks who said what when. This means that things don’t get buried in an email somewhere and I often tell my clients that “if it isn’t in Basecamp, it didn’t happen." I’ve found that really disorganized people HATE Basecamp :P

Customer Support with Charm

To be 100% honest, I haven’t really ever needed a customer support tool. That’s because most of my projects are pretty small, so we just use email. However, customer support tools can be useful resources in certain circumstances, so let’s take a look at a few options.

Charm is made by the folks that created Freckle (the beautiful time tracking software I mentioned above) and so I am confident that they will do as great a job with Charm.

Another customer support tool that I’ve seen used a lot is Zendesk. I have never used them from the company-side, but I have used them from the customer-side. I’ve filed many a ticket with Zendesk and it has pretty much worked as expected.

Intranet or Knowledge Base

Back when I was a structural engineer, I realized that we would be well-served by compiling everyone’s knowledge about various aspects of our jobs in one convenient location. This project had mixed success because the people at the top thought that all knowledge should come from the top, and I disagreed. However, the idea was sound, and has led me to put my faith in a knowledge base.

Harnessing the knowledge of the company at large is an great option. Even if your business consists solely of you, having a central repository where you can easily keep notes about how your business works is invaluable. If you have employees, it’s even more valuable because they can learn from what you already know and be more efficient.

There are several ways that you can compile and share your knowledge. You can install some kind of wiki software on your servers… but who wants to do that? Instead, you can sign up for a hosted wiki like PBwiki, which will let you edit pages of text. If you want something more structured, I would suggest trying out Backpack. It has the concept of pages, but guides you into certain kinds of content like text, lists, files, etc.

Collecting Data with Wufoo

If you have any online presence at all, you will come across a situation when you need to collect information from your customers or users. You could pay a developer to come up with some one-off solution, but that can be expensive and may not match your expectations. The data you need to collect could be anything from a contact form on your website to registration for an event and paying its fees.

I like to use Wufoo for these kinds of jobs, which is really saying a lot, since I can custom-write a program for my own use. With Wufoo, you can build forms with drag-and-drop ease. It will also let you configure who gets notified of what and how. You can embed the form in your own site or have Wufoo host it on its own page for you.

One example of how we used Wufoo with great success was when we wanted to give out Lose It or Lose It t-shirts to our users. We created a form that collected their usernames, addresses, and sizes, then, once the t-shirts were made, we used the dashboard to keep track of who had yet to receive a shirt.

Sharing Files with Dropbox

Dropbox is a service that, at it’s most basic, just syncs a folder between computers. You can also access the files via their website or mobile devices.

Where Dropbox really shines is sharing and editing of files with your teammates. Previously you had to email them around and make sure only one person edited it at a time or you had to be on the same network and put the file on a server. With Dropbox, you can share a folder with another Dropbox user and everytime you save it, it will get pushed to their website and downloaded to the other user.

User-centered Task Management with Flow

This is the last thing on the list but it is by no means the least important. I LOVE Flow. LOVE IT. It is probably one of the best-made web services out there and they even have an awesome iPhone app.

So what’s so special about a todo app? Well, the reason I love it (besides the fact that it is beautiful and almost flawless) is because it is user-centered, not business-centered. I use it to track work AND personal things I need to do. Everything revolves around lists and tasks. I share some lists with my wife and others with my business partner.

With Flow, everything I need to do is in one place. So how do I make this work with clients? Well, a lot of the time, items in my own lists point to items in my client’s ticketing or task management systems. This way, I don’t have to look at three different programs every morning to figure out what I need to get done that day.

To put things in perspective, I spend all my working days in two apps — email and Flow. I would be lost without them.


So, that was a lot of information. What I wanted to get across is that there are a lot of free or inexpensive services out there that can make you look more professional and help you save time. What’s nice programs with low monthly costs is that you only pay for what you need and you don’t have any large, up-front expenses. The downside to these kinds of things is you are at the whim of the service owner, which makes it easier for them to change things on you. In my experience, however, monthly charges are usually the way to go. Plus, the companies I recommended in this post are rock-solid.

Keep in mind, if you are using the free version of something, you probably will get less help. If you feel like you will require a little more hand-holding, be kind and pay for at least the lowest level of service.

If you have any questions at all, feel free to email me and ask. I’m happy to help. :)

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591673 2011-12-16T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Why I am Not a Fan of this Time of the Year

I wish I could skip this time of year entirely. It often fills me with anxiety and, up until recently, I wasn’t quite sure why. The stress would just build and build, which left me with what appeared to be a pretty bad attitude. Unfortunately, that was mostly because I hadn’t figured out how to communicate better. I have recently identified the underlying cause of that sneaky, underlying anxiety: gifts. 

I think people feel obligated to come up with gifts for each other at this time of year in order to communicate the idea that “I love you and am thinking of you." A sense of obligation is never a great place to start in terms of gift-giving, and it can add stress to an otherwise thoughtful gesture. Plus, how sure are you that the sentiment is being properly communicated by your gift? Of course, there is also the fear, which can come in many forms. For example, many people worry that someone will give them a present when they themselves have nothing to offer that person in return. This fear can lead to frantic brainstorming sessions that involve trying to think of something to get for everyone. And of course, it leads to yet another fear: what if the recipients don’t like what is offered? 

The idea that a gift I give will sit around, unwanted, on a shelf for a few years is not a pleasant one. You see, I grew up in a fairly cluttered house. That means that being surrounded by things that have little value to me often stresses me out. The last thing I want to do is spread that stress around to other people.

I really enjoy giving things to people at any time of the year, as long as what spurs the purchase of the gift is that I think of something I know they will really want or could use. It’s when the fears, obligations, and anxieties get in the way that I want to skip this season entirely.

Happy Holidays.

Side note on gifts for children: Children expect to get gifts at this time of the year and are generally overjoyed by the simple act of opening up a present. Thus, their behavior and expectations don’t stress me out, and I find giving them gifts during the holidays to be nothing other than a joy. While I may skip gifts for other people during the holidays in favor of a later, more thoughtful present, I make sure to always wrap something up for the kids in my life.

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591674 2011-12-06T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Some People Care A LOT About Rebasing

I don’t know much about Len Smith, but one thing I DO know is he is passionate about rebasing over merging. So passionate that he gave me the finger when I told him I tend to merge instead of rebase. These stickers were inspired by his reaction. I commissioned Michele Melcher to do this illustration and got the stickers made at Stickermule. I couldn’t be happier with the results. 

Want one of these bad boys for yourself? Just send a self-addressed stamped envelope to:

Randy Schmidt
16 W. Gay St
West Chester, PA 19380

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591678 2011-12-04T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Abacuses and Ranger Beads

One trend I’ve been noticing at the CrossFit box I belong to is whenever we have to do an AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible) or a fixed number of rounds, people are scrambling for ways to keep track. One way they use is they write the number with a pen on a little scrap of paper. The other method is to use the chalk to mark the floor or something near them.

One day I was thinking it would be a lot more satisfying to slam a bead on an abacus and thought about making the barbells themselves an abacus. However, we aren’t always using barbells. John found these awesome single-row abacus’ so I bought some for the gym. 

My next attempt is going to be something like “Ranger Beads" since I think those will be more practical. Stay tuned!

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591676 2011-12-04T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z CopyPasteCharacter

Everybody should know about this website. If you ever needed to get at a special character quickly, you should bookmark this. 

These are especially dangerous if you own Text Expander and set up some shortcuts for common symbols. For example, “sskull" results in ☠ for me. 

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591679 2011-12-03T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z PSA: Time to Install Winter Wipers!

The only thing more delightful than new wiper blades is new winter wiper blades! Yes, they exist! If you live in the northeast, December 1 is a good time (maybe setup a recurring task in Flow? If you sign up, let me invite you so I get free months ;)  to buy yourself a new set of winter wipers and install them for the next 4-5 months. 

What’s different about winter wipers you may ask? First of all, the rubber is slightly softer which makes them work better when the temperature drops and rubber tends to stiffen up. Secondly, the innards are wrapped with rubber to keep ice and snow from building up in the springs. This will keep you from having to stop your car every quarter mile to knock the ice off. Win. 

Don’t skimp either and use the ones from last year. Wipers sit in the sun all day long so they tend to degrade over time. Buy yourself some fresh ones!

The downside to winter wipers is they are heavy and they can wear out your wiper motors faster. So while your at it, set up a recurring task to get new non-winter wipers in March or April. The weather will start to warm up and you’ll want to get rid of the heavy, soft ones you used in the winter. 

You’re welcome. 

Randy Schmidt
tag:r38y.com,2013:Post/591680 2011-11-29T12:00:00Z 2013-10-08T17:27:53Z Essentials of Looking Professional on the Internet

Update 12/4/2011: Squarespace gave me the discount code “r38y" for 10% off (expires 6/1/2012). Once you are finished the 14 day trial and ready to pay, just enter that code. Thank you Squarespace!

More and more of my friends and family are starting their own businesses in the non-tech world. As they begin to set up their business, plans often screech to a halt when it is time to craft a professional image. Usually this happens because people don’t know where to start or because they are daunted by imagined complexity. In an effort to make the world a better place, I’m going to offer ways to bootstrap your web presence with a few essentials. Don’t worry, it is a fairly simple and inexpensive process. Here we go!

Do I need my own domain?

Yes. You need to find and register at least one domain name (yourcompany.com or somethingcool.net) for your website. The most important thing to remember is that the domain name should be easy to spell phonetically. At this point, missteps are common, so don’t worry too much about getting the name just right. After all, you can always add/change it later and forward everything from the first one to the new one.

So, should the domain name be YOUR name or the name of your business? This depends on your plans for the business. If you are starting a business that is 100% centered on YOU, using your name as a domain name is probably good. However, if you plan to grow the business past you, then it may make sense to use a company name. 

Now that you have an idea about what kind of domain name you want to use, you need to make sure that you can actually use it. This process involves checking the domain’s availability and registering it for your own use. You can check availability and register a domain name by going to a registrar and searching for that domain. I used to use GoDaddy, but I have been moving to DNSimple because the user interface is much clearer and there are fewer attempts at upselling.

It’s a little harder to get started with DNSimple because you need to create an account in order to do it. However, this extra step is absolutely worth the trouble. Go ahead and create an account and follow the instructions for adding a domain. The site will ask you if you want to register a new domain. Yes. That is what you want. Do not enable WHOIS Privacy Protection unless you are doing something seedy. If the domain is available, DNSimple will let you register it. If it is not available, the site will ask if you want to transfer the domain. Since you are setting up a domain for the first time, you can’t transfer it. Time to search for another one!

This is the most important thing about your domains, so pay attention.No matter what happens, make sure that YOU own and have exclusive access to the account where the domain is registered. If you give access to a third party for some aspect of your project, make sure you change the password once they are done. Under no circumstances should you allow another company or individual to “manage" your account for you. I’ve seen way too many people have problems with a company holding their domain hostage to keep them from leaving and finding another company. You’ve been warned!

Also, make sure you have a current credit card on file with the registrar as well as a fallback email address. You don’t want to lose your domain because your credit card expired or they couldn’t reach you.

Do I need a website? Isn’t that complicated and expensive?

Setting up a website for your business used to involve getting a shared hosting account, finding a designer to design a website for you, and hiring a developer to make the site work. However, for many people, especially as they start out, that process is overkill. You DO need a web presence, but there is no need to spend a lot of money. Your site simply needs to sidestep two common pitfalls: ugly design and confusing information access. Most people can get away with a single page that lists who they are, what they do, roughly where they are located (if they offer services in the real world), how to contact them, and maybe a picture of them or their building. 

Customers and clients only really care about the design of your website if it is ugly. If it is not ugly, then the design will fade into the background and they will be able to concentrate on what you can do for them. 

The other key aspect of setting up your own website is making sure that you can update the information yourself. Having to pay or wait for a third party to make these changes can be frustrating and costly. 

Thankfully, there are a few services out there that will let you set up a simple website and make changes yourself. These services offer a bunch of templates that will help keep your site from being unappealing and expensive. 

Some friends of mine recently launched a hosted version of Apostrophe, which will let you use their content management system (Apostrophe) without having to worry about hosting. To be honest, I haven’t used it yet and they are fairly new, but it looks promising. 

I recommend using Squarespace. I know quite a few people who have used them with great success, and yes, I am one of those people. Squarespace starts at $12/month, which is great because you don’t need to pay much money up-front. The default payment option is to pay for a year at a time, but I would recommend paying month-to-month instead. Who knows what your needs are going to be in a year? By paying month-to-month, you’ll have the most flexibility and can make changes quickly if you decide you are outgrowing what you have. 

If you want to customize your design, I would find a design on Squarespace that you like, and then contact the designer directly. This way, you know that you like the basic design and you can rest assured that the designer already knows how to work with Squarespace.

Why can’t I just use my Comcast email address?

The last part of looking professional on the internet is setting up email addresses with your new domain(s). I think The Oatmeal says it best. You don’t want to give out email addresses with Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, or AOL in them. At best, they don’t let you control your email, and at worst they make you look like an amateur. 

The way I suggest that everybody customize their email is with Google Apps for Your Domain (GAFYD going forward). Basically, you can use Gmail, Google Docs, and Google Calendar, but with your very own domain. In other words, your email address would be me@mydomain.com instead of myname@gmail.com. If you need ten email addresses or less, you don’t have to spend any money to set up GAFYD. If you need more than ten email addresses, the setup costs fifty dollars per year per account. I haven’t had to pay for GAFYD yet and I have many accounts set up already. 

You can also have multiple domain aliases. That way, if you change your domain going forward, you can add it to your account and still get email from all of your domains. 

To get started, head to their groups page and sign up. If you purchased your domain through DNSimple (as I suggested above), you can configure your domain to work with GAFYD in just a few clicks.


Mr. Goofus decided to quit his 9-5 office job and do what he loves — climbing and pruning trees. People started asking him for his email address so he gave them his current email address, goofus1289@comcast.net and set up a simple web page at http://hostgator.com/~goofus. Six months later, he decides to change from Comcast to Verizon FiOS and starts giving out his new email address, goofus1289@verizon.com. Uh oh, he’s lost control of his email and will no longer receive email from anybody he’s worked with in the past! Also, nobody is going to remember his website because it contains a tilde!

Ms Gallant is a masseuse who went out on her own six weeks ago because she was tired of dealing with her boss. She purchased galegallant.com for personal use and gallantmassage.com for her company. Her personal email address is me@galegallant.com and her business email address is gale@gallantmassage.com. She has set up a single-page website at gallantmassage.com using Squarespace that has a picture of her while she is working, her phone number, the types of massage she does, as well as where she typically works.

Really? That’s all I need to do?!

These are the essentials of setting up a new business and looking professional while you’re at it. If you are lucky, customers won’t think anything out of the ordinary because the details of the above fade away. People only really notice when something looks BAD. 

In part two, I am going to list some of the online services my friends or I use to run businesses. There are helpful tools out there that can simplify your life with just a little up-front investment. 

If you have any questions at all, feel free to email me and ask. I’m happy to help :)

Randy Schmidt