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Office suites (Word, Excel, Apple, Google) in 2016: Power-user experience

Every week, I have to use six different Office Software Suites:

  1. At school: Microsoft Office 2013
  2. At university: Microsoft Office 365
  3. At work: OpenOffice
  4. At home: LibreOffice
  5. Everywhere: Apple Keynote
  6. Everywhere: Google Docs

As an expert computer user (former SysAdmin), I’m often asked for help by people with non-computing backgrounds. When they see how many different suites I’m using, they’re … surprised, to say the least. Here’s a quick snapshot of what and why.

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LFG: I’m looking for CTO/TechDirector/Head of Mobile/Consulting roles in CA, TX, London, and Asia

TL;DR: experienced CEO/CTO/TechDirector with long background in programming, sales, and business management (Corporate, iPhone/Android, Games, Education) looking for strategic roles in USA, UK, and Asia.

After a year-out to do a post-graduate degree in Education, I’m looking for something new and exciting to do next. My primary goal is to boost a company or team rapidly and show significant outcomes – increased revenue or other KPI’s – either through Consulting or full/part-time senior leadership.

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Self deception of the Startup Founder: Paralysed decisions

This week I’m paralysed on some of my simplest decisions while happily making complex decisions quickly, and being incisive and highly effective on others. This problem occasionally crops up in my work and personal life, and it frustrates the hell out of me; I’m going to write about it here, see if it helps me find a new way forwards. Hopefully this may also help others who’ve experienced a similar problem in their own lives.

entrepreneurship marketing and PR startup advice

Your Pricing Models dictate your business success

Many businesses underestimate the power of a clever Pricing Model. I’m selling a new product at the moment (we’re helping schools teach children to program), so pricing models occupy a lot of my head right now.

Startups are so unsure of what model to use that they often say “anything, so long as we get sales”. They usually focus on simplicity (with a “new” product, a complex pricing model can tip people over the edge and make them “give up” on buying).

Which is fine, but a cunning pricing model can work wonders.

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What’s wrong with Cloud Computing?


Screen Shot 2013-07-19 at 11.01.58

(blocking me from doing any work – I need that spreadsheet, and thanks to Cloud, it’s impossible. Any other system – source / revision control, local files, file servers, etc – would have a quick, easy way for me to get at it. It’s only Cloud that fails … opaquely :( )

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Kickstarter projects – visualized (2013)

In the past, I’ve found Thomas’s Kickstarter analysis for game-projects very useful. Today I found something that complements them: an excellent visualization of Kickstarter projects.

It takes a little thought to understand how to use it, so here’s some ultra-quick example analysis…

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WordPress: inline “signup email” drop into post or sidebar

My blog posts are info-rich and spam-poor. Most of the “enter your email address” plugins are designed for spam – covered in bling, in-your-face animations, background music, all sorts of crap.

There’s nothing out there, so I made one, using a GPL’d existing project. Feel free to use this yourself.

note: this is an image, not a form!
Screen Shot 2013-06-13 at 13.48.14

games industry startup advice web 2.0

Amazon and the high-value of a low-margin business model…

Some good observations on tech business strategy here

Low-margin can still mean high-value-business:

“Most people just look at a company’s margins and judge the quality of the business model based on that, but the cash flow characteristics of the business can make one company a far more valuable company than another with the exact same operating margin. Amazon could have had a margin of zero and still made money.”

Preventing the number-1 biggest threat to a mainstream company (disruption):

“Study disruption in most businesses and it almost always comes from the low end. Some competitor grabs a foothold on the bottom rung of the ladder and pulls itself upstream. But if you’re already sitting on that lowest rung as the incumbent, it’s tough for a disruptor to cling to anything to gain traction.”

And … an idea I’d considered more seriously back when I started in iOS development. This was the perfect way to disrupt agencies (tough and unpleasant though it was):

“Not having to sweat a constant onslaught of new competitors is really underrated. You can allocate your best employees to explore new lines of business, you can count on a consistent flow of cash from your more mature product or service lines, and you can focus your management team on offense. I”

agile games industry marketing startup advice web 2.0

How middleware (and open source) downloads ought to work – Unity3D

While upgrading Unity, I noticed the current download page is a great example of how it SHOULD be done:

Unity 4 has some … issues … with backwards compatibility – but at least they made the “need an older version?” link prominent. And how many old versions can you download?


(it goes on right back to unity 3.0)

Old versions? Who cares!

Well, that backwards compatibility thing is a *****. If you work on a project with other people, and they’re using Unity 3.5 … you SHOULD NOT (must not?) use Unity 4 (there be Dragons).

But it’s fine; Unity makes it trivial for anyone joining such a project to get exactly the version they need.

Some games middleware *cough*Hansoft*cough* companies declare that everyone must use the latest version, even if it is buggy and breaks existing projects. Or if it requires staff retraining. You must retrain EVERYONE! NOW!

(Hansoft has probably changed by now – maybe unfair to single them out. But for a long time they only allowed you to download the “latest” version, and actively deleted everything else. As soon as a new version existed, BOOM! Everything else got wiped. A happy customer I was not)


So, here we have a piece of middleware, with a download page:

  • Lives at an obvious, permanent URL:
  • Makes it very easy to find the download link (many open-source projects: shame on you)
  • Uncluttered webpage, and makes it easy to understand which download you want ( shame on you)
  • Every version has its release notes right there, for you to click on! (Apple (every product), and Firefox: shame on you)
  • Every version has BOTH the windows AND the mac downloads (computers today are cheaper than they’ve ever been. Many people have a laptop thats Mac, and desktop that’s Windows, or vice versa. You can’t assume that the browser they’re using dictates the desktop they’ll be working from)

Designing a website to look simple is certainly a difficult and non-trivial task.

But in the case of a download page – where almost everyone has the same needs, and there are many examples to copy (plagiarise) from – it doesn’t take much. More projects (and companies) should at least try to do this.

programming startup advice

The cost of interrupting someone … analysed

“Based on a analysis of 10,000 programming sessions recorded from 86 programmers using Eclipse and Visual Studio and a survey of 414 programmers (Parnin:10), we found:

  • A programmer takes between 10-15 minutes to start editing code after resuming work from an interruption.
  • When interrupted during an edit of a method, only 10% of times did a programmer resume work in less than a minute.
  • A programmer is likely to get just one uninterrupted 2-hour session in a day

We also looked at some of the ways programmers coped with interruption:

  • Most sessions programmers navigated to several locations to rebuild context before resuming an edit.
  • Programmers insert intentional compile errors to force a “roadblock” reminder.
  • A source diff is seen as a last resort way to recover state but can be cumbersome to review

The full article – – includes graphs, analysis techniques, suggested tools / features that help to fix the problems, etc. Good reading.

Also some good comments, for instance:

The less-quoted benefit of Pair Programming

“I was surprised to discover whenI first started pair programming 13 years ago, how one person ia a pair can hold the context while the other person in the pair gets interrupted. We could get back to work in seconds.”

The less-quoted benefit of TDD

“I was also surprised by test-driven development, how it helps keep track of where you are. Here are some of the factors I’ve noticed:
* The test tell you how far you have gone.
* Your test list serves as a reminder of where you need to still get to.
* The focus on small steps meas at any instance there are fewer balls in the air.”

iphone startup advice web 2.0

Rise and fall of Microsoft’s hegemony over Apple

Building and Dismantling the Windows Advantage – a great article, telling the story in a mix of words and graphs.

“The consequences are dire for Microsoft. The wiping out of any platform advantage around Windows will render it vulnerable to direct competition. This is not something it had to worry about before. Windows will have to compete not only for users, but for developer talent, investment by enterprises and the implicit goodwill it has had for more than a decade.”

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Google’s Strengths & Weaknesses in 2012

In the past, I’ve had terrible advice from brilliant people. The best way to avoid that is to be careful to research the brilliant person and tailor your questions to avoid their weaknesses.

Tomorrow I’ll be meeting a bunch of people at Google London’s open day. I started by writing down a list of known strengths/weaknesses based on my knowledge and experience of the company and the people. Earlier this year I had some in depth meetings with Facebook, which gave me a fresh perspective on the similarities and differences. I think the list itself is interesting – modulo: it’s only my personal impressions:

google strengths

[comments in brackets to clarify some non-obvious points for anyone reading this]

  • innovating on the Web
  • bringing native tech to Web and making it as good as native
  • software development
  • worlds biggest/most popular search engine
  • …? focus on curation ?… [Page ranking etc is subtle curation]
  • tech brand associated with “quality”
  • massive scale advertising
  • algorithms for automating heuristic tasks (imperfect, vague domains)
  • enormous scale data manipulation
  • throwing hardware at impossible problems to make them possible [Street View]

google weaknesses

  • community [in general, but also specifically: Google Groups]
  • consumer marketing [many Googlers have said “we don’t need to; the brand is enough”]
  • building products that people want, rather than products Google staff enjoy [Wave, Buzz, Google Voice]
  • understanding consumers [Android]
games design startup advice

MakieWorld raises $1.4m funding for digital-to-physical toys

“We’re making toys using game data and 3D printing,” explains Alice Taylor, Makielab co-founder and CEO. “We call ourselves a smart toy company, and for us that means there’s a digital side to it by default.”

The company slogan is “the action doll you design”, and here’s the concept in a nutshell: you hit the Makie website and create your own avatar, choosing from a range of shapes, sizes, features and outfits — the kind of thing that’s recognizable from all kinds of MMOs, virtual worlds and kids’ games. But then comes the magic: press a button and you get your digital figure turned into the real thing, produced as a one-off in bone-white plastic using cutting edge manufacturing techniques.


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Great explanation of “disruption” – and why investors dislike startups that meet expectations

“Disruption” used to be mentioned frequently as the thing that every company wanted to be (urged on by investors).

But what is it, really? I’ve met lots of people who believe it’s “a fancy word for ‘innovation'” – but if that’s all, it would be pretty pointless and vapid.

This post from 2011 gives a great explanation based on simple concrete ideas. It explains why disruption is interesting to companies and managers.

What about investors?

It’s a great explanation, although it’s mostly from the perspective of business owners / management. Why do investors – especially startup / VC investors – care about disruption?

The key here is Des’s paragraph about share price:

“Microsoft’s share price hasn’t moved. This is because they are precisely predictable. Their shareholders have gotten exactly what they paid for, and not a penny more.”

A share price that doesn’t move *still provides profit to shareholders* (in the form of annual dividend). In fact, it often provides rather a nice sum of money – just like the rental income from owning property).

…but: Angel/VC investors make the bulk of their profit from changes in the share-price, not from dividends. Two reasons:

  1. Startups usually choose NOT to pay dividends – the money is reinvested into the company instead, to try and grow even bigger, even faster (pour gasoline on the fire of your success, make it burn faster!)
  2. The returns from dividends are – like rent on property – a small fraction of the investment. The returns from the share-price changing are – like betting on a horse-race – a substantial multiple of the investment

If you run your startup perfectly …

If you do everything you said you would do …

If nothing goes wrong …

… your investors may class you a failure. And they’d be right to do so. They didn’t invest for the dividends, they invested for the “surprise me” factor.

(which should, perhaps, give you pause for thought: if they’re “right” to pan you for achieving your aims … are/were you “right” to take their investment?)

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New startup, aiming for acquisition by Facebook

Please email me (adam at if you have skills / interest in the following:

  1. Mass market (i.e. everyone + their mom) telling stories
  2. javascript frameworks for complex visual 2D stuff (e.g. iGoogle, Netvibes, etc)
  3. Visual manipulation of large 2D images on mobile (especially iPhone)

NB: we have no funding yet, just an idea. This is a scatter-gun first approach – if things go well, there will be another call for people in 2-4 months time.

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StackOverflow: “Communal” development at its best

Someone just wrote this comment on one of my StackOverflow answers:

Fundamentally, this question/answer pair is saying:

“Apple: one of your non-programming managers made a stupid mistake in one of your core tools, one used every day by hundreds of thousands of people; since you won’t fix it, here’s a (tricky) workaround that anyone can use”

Apple “doesn’t do” anything open, doesn’t do community support, or community development – you’re not even allowed to know if you’re the first person to report a bug, or the millionth.

But if they did, just imagine how much better their tools would be, and how much more productive the iOS developer community would be…

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Is Google’s mistaken belief in the power of Product killing them?

Steve Yegge’s Google Platforms Rant is not so much a rant as a sign of someone fighting an inappropriate culture. We saw stuff like this a lot at NCsoft when people were trying to turn around the $100 million clusterf*ck that created hundreds of redundancies all the way to director level.

It’s a great article, but a couple of the key points resonated with my own experience of Google UK’s hiring practices a couple of years ago. There was clearly a lot wrong with the internal culture, but as an outsider I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Here’s the crux of Steve’s post (but seriously – read the whole thing, it’s rich and meaty):

That one last thing that Google doesn’t do well is Platforms. We don’t understand platforms. We don’t “get” platforms. Some of you do, but you are the minority. This has become painfully clear to me over the past six years. I was kind of hoping that competitive pressure from Microsoft and Amazon and more recently Facebook would make us wake up collectively and start doing universal services. Not in some sort of ad-hoc, half-assed way, but in more or less the same way Amazon did it: all at once, for real, no cheating, and treating it as our top priority from now on.

But no. No, it’s like our tenth or eleventh priority. Or fifteenth, I don’t know. It’s pretty low. There are a few teams who treat the idea very seriously, but most teams either don’t think about it all, ever, or only a small percentage of them think about it in a very small way.

It’s a big stretch even to get most teams to offer a stubby service to get programmatic access to their data and computations. Most of them think they’re building products. And a stubby service is a pretty pathetic service. Go back and look at that partial list of learnings from Amazon, and tell me which ones Stubby gives you out of the box. As far as I’m concerned, it’s none of them. Stubby’s great, but it’s like parts when you need a car.

…and finally, reading that, it clicked for me what I saw that was so wrong:

Google has forgotten what a Product is

“It’s a big stretch even to get most teams to offer a stubby service to get programmatic access to their data and computations. Most of them think they’re building products.”

That pair of sentences, back to back, is the problem: people outside Google would put the word “except” in between. Googlers put the word “because” in between. Google’s cultural definition of Product has got lost and perverted somewhere along the way, and now looks and smells like the real thing but is – to the rest of the world – a fake. Except Google – internally – can’t see this.

Every Googler I talked to worshipped at the altar of Product-as-King; three quarters of them would then – even in the same sentence – admit that they hated Product, didn’t believe in it, and felt it was a waste of time — “get out of my face with your product BS, and let me write beautiful code in my Ivory Towers, and leave me alone”.

They were smart people; they never said this explicitly (although one came very close – and you could see the moment when he had the thought: “oh crap; if anyone else hears I said that…”, then backtracked very hastily) – instead they frequently said mutually conflicting things, and dressed them up in enough abstractions that you could pretend that they weren’t conflicting. They were very good at it – I could tell there was a crack, but I couldn’t work out where the fault-line lay.

Google’s illusions of Product

As Steve puts it later on:

Google+ is a prime example of our complete failure to understand platforms from the very highest levels of executive leadership (hi Larry, Sergey, Eric, Vic, howdy howdy) down to the very lowest leaf workers (hey yo). We all don’t get it. The Golden Rule of platforms is that you Eat Your Own Dogfood. The Google+ platform is a pathetic afterthought. We had no API at all at launch, and last I checked, we had one measly API call. One of the team members marched in and told me about it when they launched, and I asked: “So is it the Stalker API?” She got all glum and said “Yeah.” I mean, I was joking, but no… the only API call we offer is to get someone’s stream. So I guess the joke was on me.

Product. Platform. Since when have those been mutually exclusive? Not in this Millennium, I believe…

And even when Google gets over their hatred of Platform, even with something as simple as the pixels that their apps put on screen, they’ve jumped the shark:

You know how people are always saying Google is arrogant? I’m a Googler, so I get as irritated as you do when people say that. We’re not arrogant, by and large.

But when we take the stance that we know how to design the perfect product for everyone, and believe you me, I hear that a lot, then we’re being fools. You can attribute it to arrogance, or naivete, or whatever — it doesn’t matter in the end, because it’s foolishness. There IS no perfect product for everyone.

And so we wind up with a browser that doesn’t let you set the default font size. Talk about an affront to Accessibility. I mean, as I get older I’m actually going blind. For real. I’ve been nearsighted all my life, and once you hit 40 years old you stop being able to see things up close. So font selection becomes this life-or-death thing: it can lock you out of the product completely. But the Chrome team is flat-out arrogant here: they want to build a zero-configuration product, and they’re quite brazen about it, and Fuck You if you’re blind or deaf or whatever. Hit Ctrl-+ on every single page visit for the rest of your life.

It’s not just them. It’s everyone.

Any genuine Product person would run screaming from that situation – there’s nothing salvageable. It’s like someone coming to you with their design for a chocolate teapot: “Once you’ve had your tea, you can have a tasty chocolate treat too!”, leaving you wondering: where do I even start with trying to explain to this person what they’re missing?

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The FAILtrepreneur?

Here’s a new term: The FAILtrepreneur


def: someone who tries to be an Entrepreneur, and takes advantage of lots of things intended to “help” them be a success, but somehow finds each “help” pushes them further and further into mediocrity and the failure of their business. Then they go work for a management consultancy; they have great stories to tell about their jolly jaunty time playing at being an Entrepreneur

What “business-people”, consultants, politicians etc tend to think Entrepeneurs need

Time and again, these people think they’re “helping”. They never stop to think about what their assumptions say about themselves – and how little they say about Entrepreneurs.

Typically, they believe that startup-founders-to-be need:

  1. An office – “rent is too expensive for poor people!”
  2. Tax breaks – “my biggest financial worry each year is my personal tax bill. And it would be the same if I started a new company. I’d get taxed on my £500k profits straight away, after taking all that risk! That’s why I don’t do it. Other people must feel the same!”
  3. Income guarantees – “startups are risky – you can spend years running a startup, and not be able to contribute to your mortgage and your pension. No-one would dare skimp their Mortgage and Pension!”
  4. Opportunity – “I always feel I could have done more in this world, if only I’d been running my own company. Look at how successful I’ve been, working for others – and imagine what I’d have achieved with my intelligence/contacts/business skills if I’d been running the show!”
  5. Contacts – “I hate it when startups talk to me, they’re useless to my career, and they’re so likely to fail they’ll probably make me look bad when they blow all our money. I would never trust them / sign a deal with them. So it must be really hard for them to talk to / meet other companies, potential partners and investors!”
  6. Confidence – “To be honest, I’m terrified of starting a company – God! it must be so awful! – if it fails, it’ll all be my fault, and everyone will finally realise what a talentless hack I am!”

What DOESN’T an Entrepreneur want?

The last thing that Entrepreneurs need – the very last thing – is to be given handouts or to be patronized.

Being an Entrepreneur is *all about* starting from an inferior position and not just out-doing everyone else, but positively eclipsing them.

The idea that they need “a leg up” or “handouts” is laughable – all it does is re-enforce the qualities and expectations that the Entrepreneur needs to avoid.

What does an Entrepreneur really need?

Resource; specifically: whatever resource they cannot manufacture for themselves, out of thin air.

Ultimately, a great Entrepreneur is someone who sees opportunities, leaps on them, knocks them to the ground, and exploits the heck out of them.

If they can do that, normally they can magic-up whatever else they need. But there’s often a couple of needs that prove slightly too overwhelming:

  1. Time – a lot of the time, an Entrepreneur misjudges an opportunity. Given time, they can usually bend it into a new opportunity – or adjust their own spending to fit the potential profit. Often, they run out of time before they finish that.
  2. Cash – “running out of cash before our profit comes in” is really the only thing that kills startups
  3. Staff – cash often kills startups because the first thing you lose is your staff. Everything else is negotiable (deadlines, suppliers, tax, creditors, etc) – but people need money to live, and you can’t negotiate with “hunger” or “I have to pay my rent”.

Everything else is fluff:

  1. Office space – have you ever heard of a startup that failed because “we didn’t have an office”? Of course not – that would be stunningly pathetic – like saying: “we failed because my pen ran out of ink, so I could never sign any more contracts. Ever.”
  2. Tax – to a startup founder, their concept of “success” is making so much money that they’ll be *proudly* paying $1 million / year in tax – and not sweating it. People who fail … never earn enough to pay tax in the first place (something many rich people forget is possible). In the end, it’s only the people in corporate jobs that worry about tax…
  3. Income guarantees – to say to a startup founder that they need something to offset lost income is to say: “I believe you will fail”. If you’re building a multi-million-dollar company of which you own – at minimum – 50% of the company, you really couldnt’ care less about “salary”. You’ll be a multi-millionaire just from your shares (and not a paper one: a real one. Because you’re one of the few people who will be legally able to sell them)
  4. Opportunity – what? Do you even know what “entrepreneur” means?
  5. Contacts – every (legal) business needs to sell something. Selling requires finding people and persuading them to give you money that is MORE than the cost of the thing you’re giving them. If you’re able to do that … how could “contacts” ever be a challenge for you? If you’re NOT able to do that … you are guaranteed to fail anyway
  6. Confidence – an Entrepreneur is confident almost by definition – you don’t become a fledling Entrepreneur until the day you leave behind your un-confidence. If you don’t have a vision, and self-belief, you haven’t even started yet.

Concrete suggestions for helping Entrepreneurs

1. Give salary guarantees to the employees, not the founders

2. Cash (but here be dragons: so many ways to do this badly, so few to do it well!)

(this would need a series of posts just to summarise the successes and failures to date – and I believe the professional investors of this world are doing a pretty good job already via the VC blogs, the Angel blogs, VentureHacks, etc)

3. Give cash to failed startups who can explain how they’re salvaging their failure

Professional investors won’t touch a small failed business with a bargepole (usually).

Not because there’s no profit there – there manifestly IS profit there – but because the potential upside has been given a glass ceiling, and they’re not interested in “small but steady profit”.

Fair enough; but that leaves a gulf where someone else could step in. If the businesses that failed are big enough, then professional investors are happy to be involved – the money becomes enough to excite them. It’s when they’re small that there’s a black hole.

startup advice

(Link) Sales technique for startups

Tips to Help you Think About Sales at Your Startup

We covered much ground. The video link is here and quick time-coded show notes at the end of the post in case you want to jump ahead to just one section. But the ground we covered was awesome for anybody wanting to know more about sales.

1. When & Whom should you hire?
2. How much to compensate them?
3. How do you get access to customers?
4. What is your sales process?
5. Telesales versus field sales?
6. What tools do you use?

entrepreneurship startup advice

Mike Monteiro | F*ck You. Pay Me

“Starting work without a contract is like a putting a condom on after finding out you got someone pregnant”

For this and other great pieces of advice on life as a services company, trying to get paid, watch this great talk from Mike Monteiro: