Category Archives: Entreprenuer

Dealing with customers

Written Contract

Written Contract

Dealing with customers is always a hard topic. This blog post will not summarise some of my experience before working for my current company. Communication with customers require both art and discipline to make sure that nothing could possibly go wrong. Here is a quick list of errors I have been making throughout my working life. :

Not thinking through each of the small details the customers may want to add later.

For example, if the customers want his websites to work on mobile device, it would be wrong to assume that he meant iPhone. 

- Don’t have a specific, fixed requirement document.

It could go wrong if both sides did not agree on a specific set of requirement before the project starts. I think I may need to understand more about Agile development

- Agree on a verbal basic: this is one of the hard lesson that I learnt when working outsourcing. Everything needs to be at least written and agreed on the email and not just chat or voice call.

Not thinking through small details

This is what is hard with software estimation when all the devils are in the details. When customers say they want their app to work on iphone, they really think of all iphone versions, and they probably assume that it works on android as well unless you tell them. It is good to be clear upfront and think through all cases.

Another example is that customer do not understand how important security is, and they just want it to work. But while they are testing, they may find the security issue and blame us all for bad practice of coding and testing.

Don’t have a specific, fixed requirement document.

Customers may want us to change the graphics 2 to 3 times and that are lots of back and froth emails and demonstration with the client. It will also extend the deadline of the project as we may need to wait for them most of the time.

Agree on a verbal basic

Everything should be at least in a written form. This was the key lesson I learnt during the early days of doing business. Everything needs to be agreed again over email. Even if you trust someone, or have a good memory, it is important to remind both of us what we said. It could be as simple as the client wanted to change the graphics and then later on, they completely forgot. It would be troublesome if clients wanted to change the requirement, then to extend deadline and the budget but they regretted it later. A written document would be helpful, or at least an email. I am not a lawyer but I found this book (22 Legal Mistakes you don’t need to make) helpful for new people.

When you write something down and let the other side read through it once, you can confirm that both sides share the same idea and clear all the miscommunication. This proves to be effective when you work on project requirement.

What is your tip? Please share it in the comment.

 

Why not join with a startup idea?

Idea vs Execution

Idea vs Execution

Just found a brillian post, says all I need to say for most of my friends or people. And a good advice to people, please think through and not so disappointed if some developer does not want to go with your idea. The #1 item is the most important thing, imo:

  • Ideas are easy, execution is hard.
  • People approaching developers often dramatically underestimate the amount of development work, or the complexity of it.
  • Proposing a revenue share means the developer has to take as much risk as the idea guy (for very low pay, given the point above), and trust that the business will receive the right amount of marketing/sales follow-through.
  • There’s an opportunity cost to working on someone else’s idea instead of for paying clients.
  • The idea being proposed is often very unrealistic (and the developer, having worked on a number of such ideas, can tell).
  • Developers have their own ideas to work in anyway.

Communication problems between distanced members

Misunderstanding

Lacking communication….

If money is your startup’s problem, you should open a branch to outsource some development work into cheaper countries, like Vietnam. Then, you would exchange 1 problem with another, probably harder than you thought.

Communication: this is a key. Effective, efficient, going into the right way. In startups, there are much less time for documentation. Things have to go really fast, features after features, products after products. It is much better for startups to go fast, try with different ideas until they get it correctly. And when they get the idea correctly, it is time to execute, as fast as possible to get the products into the market. Distance difference is a main barrier for communication, talking over Skype feels very different from talking face-to-face. Another barrier is time difference.

The time difference between Vietnam and America is huge, 10-15 hours time difference. When the Vietnamese developer wakes up, their colleague sleep, and vice versa. I have seen some approaches to this problem: scheduling out some fixed time in the day or week, to meet, or someone has to sacrifice. The first one is not normally working for startup when lots of communication needs to happen. The second one will not last for long.

Steve Jobs: What I feel about him

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

I finished this book quite a time ago, but I didn’t feel to fully understand and let all the information and knowledge penetrates into my mind. There are conflicts, there are debates, there are loves and hates from everybody. It is so easy for people to judge emotionally and I didn’t think that I understand everything to start writing it out.

There are many lessons inside this book, and each single person takes his own belief from the book. I have my own lessons, hope that it is not emotionally biased and spend time thinking through it for a while.

 

 

Autocratic, it is so necessary in the success of the company. People may believe that Steve Jobs was fired due to his wrong approach of management or people favored a salesman too much more than the product guy. I think it was mainly an organization politics problem, Steve Jobs was right but he did not get enough power and networks to back him up. I believe in his autocratic, as much as I believe in Mark Zuckerberg’s autocratic system. Forecasting an uncertain future is too hard to convince everybody to follow the leader. It is wasting both time and efforts. It was a quite shock for me while reading this article. I agree with the Jeff Bezos’s style of management in this article: https://plus.google.com/112678702228711889851/posts/eVeouesvaVX

Steve Jobs is not a genius, sorry for any of his fans. I don’t underestimate his talents and efforts but no success comes overnight. He was in a hard time after leaving Apple, building NeXT and then Pixar Animation Studios. There were up and downs in his life but he chose to stick into his core value and keep moving forward with innovative ideas. He has a great mind to recognize the great ideas, a great mind on how to make a product perfect. People may say that many ideas are not original by him. If they look deeper into the product development process, there are 2 things people must understand: the possession feeling and a great care of details. I love the ways Steve Jobs take an idea as if it is his own, as if it is his baby. That’s how passion and great care for the products are made from. If the product manager doesn’t have the feeling of the product as his own. Steve Jobs took this possession to a great level, and ignores the original owner as a whole.

The last great thing that I learn from Steve Jobs is details matter, a lot. I learnt from my own product development, from writing my own book. Details matter, a lot. People may not care about how great most of your works are, but they quickly recognize your mistakes. It is part of how people’s psychology works, they would assume you need to produce a great product so the great parts are normal. And negative emotion has a bigger impact than positive emotion.

 

How Information Technology changes global supply chain?

The outsourcing trends started with manufacturing in 1990s and then this trend happened to software industry. This trend helped the software industry grow really fast, creates a lot of entrepreneurs that can only have a small fund to invest. Through freelancers and outsourcing websites, small entrepreneurs can cut cost and outsource parts of their projects to China, Vietnam or India to get their work done with almost the same quality.

 

And now, this trend has been back to manufacturing industry, where small companies and entrepreneurs can outsource the works of manufacturing to China. Do you have a good idea? No problem, you outsource to China to produce some amount of the products, as small as hundred or thousand products for a tiny cost. There is no need to have a factory and the inventory. You only need them when you have the customer orders.
This new trend will bring more innovation from anybody within the U.S., as long as you have a good idea.
Easier to access the workers
In the past, to get your idea implemented, you need to have at least hundreds of thousands dollar initially. It is also much more risky when you have to order at least tens of thousands of products so that the factory can start manufacturing your products. Lots of people fail when they do not have enough money to start or they could not sell all of their products.

Now, things have changed. Based on sites like alibaba.com, U.S. entrepreneurs could get access to a pool of talented manufacturers. These manufacturers accept to work on anything, ranging from a small contract of 100$ to 10,000$ and they could deliver your products quickly. This lowers down the barriers of entry for new entrepreneur and creates more chances for people to step in.

Alibaba business-to-business model has been a huge success, with around 500 companies do their business in alibaba.com. The revenue of the company has grown from 48 million USD in 2004 to 183 million USD in 2006 and it still keeps growing up. The platform of Alibaba allows U.S. companies to hire any Chinese manufacturer they need for a tiny cost. An instant translation service will help both of them communicate with each other accurately.

Lowering down the cost
This not just helps the entrepreneurs but also the small and medium enterprises as well. This lowers down the cost as well as the risks for any companies to invest into their new ideas.

Bdier, a graduate student at M.I.T Media Labs, quitted her job to become a new-age manufacturer. She designed a protocol for making electronic components into Lego-like bricks that could be used by anybody. She then gave the protocol design to the Chinese manufacturer to make it for her.

There are more case studies that people can work on their garage has a good design and then send it to a Chinese manufacturer to make the actual product. This could save these entrepreneurs a lot of money and they can finally create what they love.

Easier to sell and do marketing
Due to the nature of the Internet, it is now easy for a good product or idea to spread out. Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and Youtube now help companies to do viral marketing with a very small cost. People observed the success of many small companies that have cool products and do not need to spend much money on marketing.

Google, Alibaba, and then Dropbox has been successful in the same way. They make good products and then give it out for the world to try it. Then people will tell their friends, and the product grows by word-of-mouth.

References

-Why the Chinese web portal is giving up its stockmarket listing, So Long, For Now, The Economist, viewed on March 6, 2012 <http://www.economist.com/node/21548253>

- Secret of Alibaba’s success is team work, sense of mission, Monster and Critics, –Business News, viewed on March 04, 2012

<http://news.monstersandcritics.com/business/news/article_1371368.php/Secret_of_Alibaba_s_success_is_team_work_sense_of_mission>

- Giridharadas, N, 2011, The Kitchen-Table Industrialists, The New York Times, viewed on March 3, 2012

My 1st lesson – Altitude

Second Prize Medal

Second Prize Medal

The picture is the medal that I got for the Second Prize in Ho Chi Minh city Mathematics Olympiad. It has always been in my desk since that time. Not because it is the greatest thing I have ever done. It is there to remind me of one of the biggest failure in my life. It is there to remind me what I did and felt when I was in 11th grade.

 

 

 

 

My feet were off the ground
The second highest winner in the Southern Mathematics Olympiad turned out to be a bad motivation for me. It killed my love with maths. It made me feel that I am too special. It made me overestimate myself. I believed that I couldn’t fail. That was a big mistake.

I didn’t prepare well enough and didn’t try hard enough on the next city contest. The result is: I couldn’t step into the next round. My friends and family wouldn’t know what happened. But I knew what was wrong. I put myself off the ground!

This failure led to the next big failure.
Depression

Now, imagine that everybody is looking at you; the next second, nobody gives you a shit. That was what happened to me. I felt totally useless and lose my orientation. I did not know what to do next, if I should continue studying maths or focusing on other subjects to pass the university entrance exam. I did not know what to do when losing all the attentions people gave to me. I was thirsty for that fame.

This made me lost my focus, forgot what was good for me, what I would like to do. It cost me 4 months living in jeaulous feeling with winner guys before I could realize what was meaningful to me. It was maths! Not the prize, but maths! I felt good that I recognized it early enough to be back on the right track and focus on what I love.

Both of them gave me a difficult time, and always kept reminding me of what is my true value, what I should aim for.

The purpose of this post is to try to remind me of what happened in the past. I know that people are talking a lot about me right now, but keeping my feet on the ground, being focused on my long term goal was the highest priority work.

Me in RMIT and Vietnamese Newspaper

You can read the Vietnamese version here



Many software engineers and IT professionals dream of developing a ‘killer App’ for popular products like the iPhone, which will make them rich. Other people dream of one day having a book published.


Not many achieve either – and even fewer do so in their early 20s. But Vo Duy Khang (formerly student 3184092), an alumnus of RMIT Vietnam’s Bachelor of Information Technology program, has hit the jackpot with success in both of these areas – and now has the makings of a successful business spanning both Vietnam and Australia.


Khang graduated from RMIT Vietnam in November 2010 and travelled to Adelaide, Australia, where he is now completing a Master of Information Technology with Carnegie Mellon University, under a full scholarship.


With the benefit of the scholarship, Khang has been freed up to apply his own financial resources fully to get a small business off the ground while he also continues his studies.


His hard work and talent have been recognised by US publisher Apress, which has just decided to publish a book by Khang on how to build better iPhone applications. Khang’s book, Pro iOS Apps Performance Optimization, fills a need in the market for more practical guidance in this booming area of consumer technology.


Khang’s creativity and expertise has also been applied to a new business start-up in this field which already has five people on staff in Australia. Khang has been visiting Vietnam in the past month seeking further talent from Vietnam to join his operation.


Almost all his development team to date are RMIT students or graduates.


“They speak English well, and they all have a good understanding of what is needed,” Khang says.


According to Khang, the basis of a good user experience of any iPhone or iPad App is good performance. There is enormous potential in helping social networking applications such as Facebook to provide a better user experience by moving data in a quicker and smarter way over the net.


Apress has been impressed by his thinking in this area, as shown on his own website and as shared amongst the online community overseas.


One of Khang’s mentors has been Barend Scholtus, Academic Services Manager for the Bachelor of IT program, and the two continue to discuss shared interests regularly.


“We hope – in fact we are pretty sure – that Khang’s learning experiences at RMIT Vietnam have made contributions to his achievements to date, and we hope the best is yet to come.”



 





Khang (sitting) sharing knowledge with friends in Barcamp 2011


 


Khang’s book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Apps-Performance-Optimization-Professional-Apress/dp/1430237171/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1321662306&sr=8-1


Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/vodkhang
Contact info: Phone +61 478146872 
Email: vodkhang@gmail.com


 

2nd professional year

 

Success is moving from failure to failure

Success is moving from failure to failure

So, today is the end day of my second year of professional working. As normal, I take a look back my career and see how it is going, what has happened over the last year and if it is going well with my old plan here.

 

What did I do?

I planned to learn more and work more in the technology, gain skills in Artificial Intelligence, Web and Mobile development. Almost all of them fail. All reasons started from this CMU scholarship admission that brought me back to Australia.

It was a huge chance, a chance that I had been dreaming for. It was not just the excellent environment of CMU, it was not just the reputation of this university, it was a chance for my own business. Coming back to a good market, having chance to work with smart people and starting inside a uni was a good chance.

 

 

So, I spent my time here studying finance, economics and entrepreneurship. I also spent most of time building up and trying different things, from outsourcing, writing book to product development. Lots of lessons, lots of new things and lots of failures as well. I again, grew up much faster than I ever did, just as the first time I went oversea to Melbourne. A lot of pains, but also a lot of gains.

What did I learn?

Well, I learnt something more about finance, economics and accounting. That helped me to solid my money management skills a little bit. It is better not to be fooled by those financial and business guys :) ). I learnt from both the theory inside CMU and both from the work. And I sometimes had to pay more for the real life to learn.

I also learnt about sales, marketing and investment for both Android and iPhone apps. Go over 2 markets, learn different techniques, become a salesman and a customer support sometimes, all are painful when all look like a new job for a geek.

Management is also something I learnt more from real life than some boring courses in CMU. Painful and stressful sometimes, but I got lessons out of it, adjust more for the real life and moving forward.

Working deeper in some iphone and android project. I also gained and solid my iPhone skills after writing the book about it. Starting to learn android development. That’s all for my technical skills this year.

What will I do for this coming up year?

I now look for more chances to grow rather than just outsourcing and earning money. I am now working on a new and innovative project called Hearie (that I will write about it soon). I still need to figure out a good market for it but I still love doing it and it is moving ahead. That’s good.

A good fact is: failure always hurt, sometimes it damn hurts, but I learnt from it well.

High Risk – High Return

The best way to predict the future is to create it

The best way to predict the future is to create it

People always say about how passion can make you successful, and there are plenty of books around that topic. So for now, I will just look at the problem by some limited financial perspective: High Risk, High Return. Well, all financial guys know this theory, huh? So, I just try to see what I did and achieved in these terms.

Since I was in high school, I started thinking about what would motivate me, what would make me feel good when I did something. I preferred taking risks to get a really good outcome rather than staying and following a safe path since my high school. Until some recent days, I recognized that this is the only way for me to get an excellent outcome in a short time. High Risk means High Return.

 

The Safe Zone

There is not much fun and passion if I just stay in my safe zone. Everybody does that, there is a safe way for you to go. And most of the time, I feel bored with going that safe way. Passion is important, but I feel that if I don’t go further and take some risks doing what I love, I don’t love it enough. Is it so much fun if you always know how the future works?

Passion will always give you to the edge of the safe zone, you can understand and see further than other people. Now, the thing is that you need to step out of that safe zone and take risks. If you are really passionate about something, do you want to see it become a huge success. If yes, make it! make the future!

The best way to predict the future is to create it.

Since the beginning of my career, I started asking myself “What to learn next in the IT career?” and how I can predict the future of this IT industry. And then, the more I move forward into the career, the more I know that the best way to predict the future is to create it. That’s why I get more involved in what I love and believe, joining open source community, try some start-up and cutting edge technologies.

No surprising, one of the most risky situation in IT is to try to invent some new product. People may or may not adopt your product, you may not find any users. And nobody may believe in your idea except yourself.

Google and Social Network

This was my paper that I submitted to Google for the Associated Product Management job a while ago and it becomes really out of date, after they release Google+. I just publish it here for record. Some of them are implemented by Google already. And I am still not sure if they would go over all of these.

Improve Google +1 and Social Network

Google is now losing the social networking battle to Facebook’s hands. That is undeniable. Although Google try his best to improve and create many social platforms and integrate many social ideas, Google still fails. Look! Google Wave, it disappears after couple of months, Google Buzz, nobody hears about it in the media world now. And what happens to the next Google approach, Google +1.

I keep asking myself what Google + 1 is actually trying to do, is it a better search or a better social network or anything else. At the current state, here is what I see about Google + 1.

  • It is actually not a bookmark or read it later service like the way Delicious works.
  • It is not about sharing when one user likes the page, none of his friends may know.
  • It is not creating any connections or interactions between users.
  • Does it bring more benefits to Google rather than to users with the machine learning algorithms?

I don’t think that in the general strategy, Google integrates +1 button for the machine learning algorithm. It already keeps track of what users click, what users see and what users behave when they do search. The +1 button may help a little bit over the algorithms but not much. So, I believe that Google does this for social networking efforts and to beat Facebook and Twitter.

In terms of social networking, my biggest question for Google + 1 is: how on earth, does a user want to click the +1 button? Look at the Like button of Facebook, I think that button is so successful because everybody wants to share, wants to let people know that they like this page. This acts as a virtual award for them. “Look, friends! I have this page for many of you”. Google +1 needs something like this. The content is created by users and needs to provide to users real or virtual benefits.

In brief, here are some ways or problems I think Google has to do to improve +1:

  • Attract and give users awards for their efforts
  • Attract 3rd party providers to integrate +1 button into their website
  • Boost up Google Buzz and willing to cooperate with other services.
  • Identify the market niche in social networking that Google can come in.

Social - Attract and give users awards
The last time I tested the Google +1, I cannot see any of my friends +1, and only a few from strangers. Here is the problem. In social, we have 2 concepts of friends sourcing and crowdsourcing. However, the friends’ sourcing is always more important than the crowdsourcing. The recent time is also important to let sharing between friends happen. If some of a user’s friends like an article 3 years ago, it does not affect much the current decision of that user.

Look at Facebook and Twitter where timeline is important. It is about if users can see what their friends are doing, liking and working on recently. If we want to improve our Google +1, we have to customize the Google Page Rank algorithms in such a way that can take the time dimension into account. It is also really important that I can see my friends’ rate for page more often when I do search. This is hard because searching is sometimes more random than keep surfing around the timeline of Facebook or Twitter.

Integrate +1 button into their website/chrome/android

Now, if we assume that users are willing to click that button to help their friends. However, will they do it before or after viewing the content of the page? The answer will be after. There is no point for them to rate it good before they actually see the contents of the web page. And we should not expect them to press the “Back” button in the web browser to come back just to rate +1 for the web page they like.

So, we have to take advantage of our current network of effects into users. There are 2 ways, browser and the web page. Browser is actually inside our control and web is not.

Chrome is taking more and more market share in the browser market. This is a huge advantage for us. We can integrate our +1 button somewhere in the browser so that everytime user search and go to a page, they can press that +1 button. Ping! We got data. And we got data not just from searching, we got data from every users enter any web page, any link, any article. We conquer the web.

But not all users are using our Chrome, we have to help them to have a more convenient way to rate our page. Just like facebook, we need to help them to put +1 in websites, a +1 button for every articles and pages inside that web page. We may not beat Facebook in this area but we can use it along with Chrome. Facebook and Twitter do not have this advantage. This button will be a great marketing tool for all websites to have.

Social Network Integrations – Buzz, Orkut and more

There is no doubt that Google Buzz is losing, it is nowhere near a success and nobody talks about it anymore. Orkut is successful in India and Brazil but is losing its market share now (only 38% market share, June, 2010). However, it would be bad idea if we do not try our best to integrate our new +1 into these services. Anybody who login to Google Account and press +1 for the web page or search result will appear on their Buzz and Orkut social network.

This will be where the friends come from. However, that would not be enough. This will be always an egg and chicken problem for Google. Will Google have a big user base first to spread out the +1 button to the whole world? Or will the spread of the +1 button help Google to have a bigger user base? I would suggest Google to use integrate with Facebook. In other words, allow users to post data from +1 to Facebook. That would be a big deal when Facebook can control and can know what Google’s users do. But, we can do it only for a short amount of time, when we need to grow Buzz up to the same level of Facebook.
After all, what are wrong with all Google efforts to go into social network?

  • Google Wave was a success for me at the beginning but then some mistakes like private invitation makes it fail.
  • Aadvark was also good but it can not go up too much.
  • Youtube is an excellent video sharing service, but not much social there.
  • Google Buzz is a nice try to integrate with Gmail, to utilize the current user base, but will fail because it is the wrong market segment. It also serves nothing else a news feed like Twitter.
  • Orkut turns out to be successful in India but then get lost in the battle with Facebook.
  • Android, why Android here? Because we have a strong userbase that can turn out to be a big value for us if we can create a social network there.

What is my thinking is that if Google can integrate and connect all of these platforms that it has in hand to create more connections, it can have some big social network. Imaging that every of its users have an Android phone, connect, chat and share together through Buzz, watch videos, recommend and share to every friends through YouTube. Ask and answer questions in Aadvark in the idle time or while waiting for the bus. If it can do that, this would be huge. Look at Microsoft and Facebook, they tie into each other. Microsoft and Nokia are the same. Facebook will be present in all Microsoft devices and in all Nokia devices. Even though Microsoft does not have a strong market share in smartphone now, it will keep growing up with these things.

Google has to create a bigger ecosystem and +1 should be improved to become a nice fit into the whole picture.