2012: Why I Haven’t Posted All Year

I haven’t posted something new since last summer?  That is “Cra”. In 2011 I had a goal to post at least once a week.  That worked for about….  3 months.  Then 2012, I don’t know where it went – seems like it just started!  So what have I been up to?  I’ll summarize…

My web development shop is having a record-breaking 2012!  Awesome!  Check out some of the cool stuff we did in just the past 12 months:

  • http://www.modamily.com
  • http://www.healthcarejobmatch.com
  • http://www.tlcvision.com – redesign
  • http://www.lasik.com
  • http://www.autofrance.net
  • http://www.commdevices.com
  • http://www.newsy.com – redesign
  • http://www.qcad.com
  • http://www.maxifier.com
  • http://www.newmarketinginstitute.com
  • http://www.daddyscrubs.com
  • http://www.profileamerica.com
  • http://www.visionmarketing.com
  • http://www.daypost.com
  • And a few more….  (Sorry, if I left you out!  Yes, it has been that busy!  So busy I can’t even link to all of those right now!)

What a year!  Special thanks to our entire crew that made it possible.  I know 2013 will be just as successful given the awesome team we have assembled!

2012 brought about some life-changing travels for Me and the Mrs. as well… Granted, it was expensive from both a mileage and cash perspective, and time-consuming, but as always totally worth it!  This year we went from Amsterdam to Antigua to Rio to Buenos Aires to Galway to Stockholm to South Africa to London to Kauai.  Not all at once, mind you…  Add on some business travel throughout the US…  Whew.  I don’t believe we’ll have another year from a travel perspective like 2012.

And somehow, with all of this going on – my handicap went from 9.0 to 3.8.  Happy about that too.

And finally, I turned some attention this year back to our homestead!  After 7 years in this house  (yes – 7 years!) we are finally rehabbing the exterior with brand new siding and trim!  The guys are out there pounding around now.

So what are my lessons from 2012?  I have a few:

  • Just because its 70 degrees in March, doesn’t mean you should go get a convertible.  Though, it is a fun car most of the time, it is horribly impractical.
  • If you hire someone – always call the references.  Trust me.  Oh, and resumes are always bull**** – ever seen a bad one?
  • Fix your roof leaks before they get serious…
  • It’s okay to watch Soccer when the NHL is locked out.  Go Chelsea!
  • Never rent a moped!

Looking forward to 2013 – see you there!

 

Summertime!

I can’t believe it’s already summer.  In December, I made a resolution to blog EVERY week.  I did really good until April.  Thats about how long I did really good on my diet, too!

But of course, everything else got in the way and here we are, June 20th already…!  So here is a quick update about what I’ve been up to:

  • Trip to India: We did this back in April.  What a fascinating place.  I think this deserves a post on it’s own with some photos.  Maybe we’ll do this on the travel site I’ve been working on…  Stay tuned.
  • NPGroup’s new offices: We moved into a proper office and have been busy getting it up to speed.  I think we are really close.  I’ll post some pictures to the NPG Facebook profile.  If you don’t already like us, now is the time: http://www.facebook.com/npgroup
  • NPG’s Sprint in Spring: What a season!  We’ve turned out more interesting stuff this spring than probably all of 2010 combined.  Very proud of the stuff we’ve put out.
  • NPG’s REBranding: Stay tuned for a new NPG website and everything else.
  • Home improvements: Finally we got around to lingering projects that were on hold for a really long time.
  • Trip to Ireland: We avoided a 5-mile race we weren’t in shape for by cashing in some of my mile stash for a weekend in Ireland.  How refreshing!  I’m convinced, Galway is one of the best little cities in the world.  Great seafood, fresh air, cool temperatures, and an Audi rental = one hell of a Memorial Day weekend.

So what’s next?  I’ll be spending the summer on a variety of new projects I’ve been holding off on for quite some time.  Oh, and I think I discovered my golf swing issue.  That only took 15 years to figure out……..!  Till next time —

Ultimate Road Warrior Computer: 11″ Macbook Air Review

I have to say, with all of the hype surrounding the iPad, many people forgot that 2010 was also the year that Apple introduced the latest and greatest MacBook Air.  Now, I may be late to the game with this review, but having just picked up one, I can’t help but put up a quick review and my impressions.  BUT, instead of talking about what it does have, I’m going to focus on what it DOESN’T have, and why that… well, doesn’t even matter.

First, a bit about why I even bought one.  I decided to go for the 11″ instead of the 13″ because it was for a sole purpose: travel.  Weighing in at 2.3 lbs, this is the ultimate road warrior computer.  Perfect for all of the essential tasks, the MBA does everything the iPad doesn’t.  2 USB ports, an actual OS, the ability to run your typical programs.  What’s not to like?

Well, if you are picky, there are a few drawbacks.  Yet, the drawbacks don’t seem to matter all that much:

No SD Card Slot: This is probably my biggest complaint.  If you are on the road, you’ll want to probably download photos, and of course SD is the most popular storage device on the market today.  Not a worry though, because most devices use the same USB cable, so you can just sync up that way.  Or, get a cheap card reader.

Slower Processor: I have to admit, with the speed of the SSD drive (no moving parts!), I haven’t noticed this at all.  Excel starts in about 3 seconds.  Literally.  I increased the RAM from the factory 2GB to 4GB and now I’m running Word, Excel, Photoshop, Safari, Chrome and even Coda – all at the same time.  And its operating fine.

Small SSD Storage: The max size is 128GB.  At first this alarmed me…  But after installing all of the “essentials”, I have about 45GB free.  That means on my next trip, there is room to sync up my Flip camera or store some photos and there shouldn’t be any worries.  So how much space do you need?  This isn’t a primary machine – so iTunes can be on your primary.  And if you have a mobile music player, who cares?

Screen Size: I will tell you right now, this DOESN’T matter.  The resolution is great and I actually like it better than my 15″ MacBook Pro.

Battery Life: People are complaining about the battery life but so far I haven’t had an issue with it.  Of course, over time it will get worse, but I’m getting 4 hours per charge and thats really pretty good for something this size.

My Recommendation

For most professional users, the MBA is going to be a secondary machine.  Some extremely lightweight (pardon the pun) users may be able to get away with this as a primary device.  Let me just say this very clearly… This is NOT a “NetBook”.  It definitely has enough power to bang out day to day tasks for most people.  And as a travel device, it’s ideal.  I’ve even read somewhere that the TSA doesn’t require it taken out of your bag at security checkpoints.  How nice!

In the week since I’ve gotten it, I’ve used it almost exclusively as opposed to my MacBook Pro.  That’s saying a lot as I had 4 projects under deadline this week.  So if you are considering getting one but have some doubts, I assure you that you won’t be disappointed with this machine.  What seems like disappointments are actually very carefully considered and in the end, not so important after all.

Career Secret #2: About Those High Paying Jobs

Continuing on my last post, which focused mainly on skills and monetizing them, this post contains another secret of career success that many people don’t think of:  the era of high-paying jobs where people tell you what to do is over.

I’m inspired to write this post heavily by Seth Godin’s Linchpin. In this book, Godin explains that today’s economy is dependent on ideas and original contributions.  If you aren’t contributing original concepts, then you are an easily replaceable piece of the puzzle, a gear in the machinery of your company that can be switched off for another gear rather quickly.

And isn’t this true of today’s job market?  Isn’t there truly this dividing line between the jobs that are great and high paying, and those that are dead-ends and mostly repetitive?

I actually have a theory about this entire concept.  Over and over today, you hear about the lack of manufacturing jobs in the United States.  Those jobs were shipped overseas in the 70s and 80s because the realization was that overseas workers are more cost efficient and you could save tons of money by manufacturing elsewhere.  As time went on, the sons and daughters of the manufacturing workers of those decades did their time in college and came out doing new tasks on computers and other technological innovations.  Programming, bookkeeping, etc.  These jobs became the new “factory” workers – doing repetitive IT tasks.  After all, whats the difference between today’s IT administrator and yesterdays factory manager anyway?

Then, enter the internet: suddenly the outsourcing of these jobs is easy because communications is so efficient.  Why hire a programmer for $120,000 here when you can hire one in India for $30,000 – and know that the person there may have an even better work ethic?

So what is my point?  Over time, we have consistently found ways to outsource and ship overseas the repetitive tasks, the jobs in which people are simply delegated work.  The jobs that have stayed are ones where creativity and original thinking is required.  This means that today’s employees can’t get away with half of what yesterday’s employees could.  You have to take your work home with you, and you have to make it part of your life in order to be successful.

And that, there, is the secret to high paying jobs: they are almost always going to be granted to those that contribute original ideas that matter to their organization.  So what if you feel you aren’t achieving career success or climbing the ladder as you think you should?  Maybe you should ask yourself some questions:

Q: Am I being given repetitive tasks and/or have I been doing the same things for more than a year?
Q: If the above is true, can I contribute new thinking to make the process more efficient?
Q: Are people around me getting promoted faster and/or more often?
Q: Do people come to me to ask about my thoughts and ideas or am I the last to know when things are happening?
Q: How easily can I be replaced with someone else?

If you can work through those questions, then you can definitely get a grasp on where you are now and arrange for a plan to make it better.  How about an example?

Lets say you are an editor.  You work a stock photo company and your job is to edit photos and enter them into the product database.  There are 5 guys doing this just like you.  Ever day, same thing, day in and day out…  You notice that this is repetitive, you are getting nowhere quickly and you can’t get out of your parents’ basement.  Now is the time to step up!  You see, chances are, at your organization, no one knows the image ingestion system better than you do.  I’d be willing to bet, if you had to, you could report 5 things that would make your job easier, quicker and save the company money.  If so, then get to it, and start being heard.  This is an emotional and intellectual contribution.

Or maybe, you are a business analyst.  You spend all day analyzing Excel spreadsheets.  Its tedious and boring.  Can you think of just a few methods to make this operation more efficient or more reliable?  If so, start working with your boss and management to get these changes implemented.

The possibilities go on and on, and the point here is two-fold: first, you will be building a reputation as someone who thinks about the big picture and not just someone who is myopic about their job and career standing.  The people who are interested in contributing are those who are remembered at promotion time.  Secondly, your new reputation will make you fall lower on the list of “expendable” people at your organization.

In conclusion, if you feel your career is stuck, or you just can’t get to the next level of earning, management, or whatever you are looking to accomplish, consider what you are contributing and take that contribution to the next level.  Because the big bucks aren’t reserved for people who just do what they are told.  At least, not anymore.

The #1 Secret to Career Success

Students, job-hunters, those searching for career bliss…  all hear me…  I’m about to share the #1 secret to career success.  Are you ready?

Learn a skill that doesn’t require other people’s equipment.

(Quoted because it’s my original quote)  Its just that simple!  Now, what do I mean?  Quite simply, the true path to success and freedom is to learn a skillset that doesn’t require someone else’s equipment.  Today’s computer industry is a great example.  You can literally buy a $300 notebook computer and learn to make a website that could eventually be worth millions of dollars.  Or you could at least learn how to code in various computer languages and monetize your time.  Or learn to be a master at Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.  Or become a graphic designer.  It’s all on the table, and you don’t require anyone else’s equipment to do it!

Now, what do I mean by “other people’s equipment?”  Well, lets say you are a crane operator.  You are the safest operator in the area and the most efficient worker.  You know the operation of the X2000 Super Crane better than anyone.  In fact, you recently won an award for being so knowledgable.  Only problem is, the crane costs just shy of $1 million!  So even if you are a genius at operating this device, which is definitely a skill, you are stuck because most likely you can’t afford to buy one and even if you did, one isn’t enough to justify an entire operation.

So the secret is to learn a skill where the start-up equipment cost is low and the demand for services is high.  This is why outsourcing is so huge right now – a person living in india with any level of internet access can get that cheap notebook computer, become so skilled and perform a job for 1/10th the cost of a local resource in the USA.  And over there, he’s living a good life.  Not bad!

So what are some examples of professions where this is possible?  In order of start-up investment:

  • Anything computers: programming, design, virtual assistance, etc.
  • Writing & blogging
  • Travel & E-Concierge Services
  • Accounting & Bookkeeping
  • Repair: Appliance, etc.
  • Local Services: Handyman, construction, landscaping, electrician, plumbing
  • Video & Photographic services
  • Mechanic
  • Real estate
  • Legal / Lawyers in private practice
  • Doctor in private practice: dentist, GP (High schooling & equipment costs but you can take loans to start it)

Now, sure, not everyone wants to do these jobs.  But look carefully – are the people you know in these types of jobs where they are independent more or less happy and enjoying higher levels of freedom then people who are forced to work for someone else, sometimes doing the same exact tasks?  And who has diversified their income better?

I quickly learned this lesson when I was in college.  I was a broadcasting major, which was fun, but I quickly realized that I was learning a skill-set that would put me in a position to almost always find employment with a company capable of providing the proper equipment.  It was fun to be an audio operator or a technical director but in reality it was a highly competitive industry where you’d always be reliant on someone else to provide work.  And even worse, a 10-year career can be sullied by one on-air screwup.  Ouch!  Maybe that’s why most of those jobs are unionized.

I spent more and more time (or lonely, geeky nights) teaching myself how the internet worked by actually building out sites with the purpose of making money.  I didn’t make much money but I learned a lot.  Ever since my first job I was always looking for freelance work or working on projects on the side.  I was able to do that because the internet is the biggest and best vehicle for self-success ever invented!

I want to say that again because its so damned important:

The internet is the biggest and best vehicle for self-success ever invented!

Of course there are jobs that are skill-based that are great jobs and probably worth doing if you really have a passion for it.  How about being a pilot?  Not a lot of people can provide their own 777-200 to rent to passengers.  So if you want to fly a plane or operate a train or clean windows on a skyscraper – more power to you.  But you have to sacrifice some control over your career path.  Ask the thousands of furloughed pilots after 9/11 what they think about that.

Speaking of pilots and broadcasting employees…  Can you think of something common with both of those careers?  Lots of broken hearts.  Why?  Because the amount of people who want to work in TV or on airlines is so large, people are interchangeable.  Thats why your pilot flying that Embraer Regional Jet you are packed into like a sardine makes less money per year than the guy who picked up your trash yesterday.  Oh, and the garbage guy probably didn’t commute from 2,000 miles away to get to work after pulling a shift at a coffee house as a barista.  Why deal with this crap?  Because there are tons of people waiting in the wings (pardon the pun!) to take their job.  Sometimes these people even donate their time to work FOR FREE as interns to prepare themselves for years of future under employment!  70 people out of 7,000 are chosen for the NBC Page program to earn a whooping $10/hr and no promise of future employment.   Yikes!

So what if you are stuck in a job where you are reliant on other peoples stuff?  Build a skill set that is related but outside the scope of what you do.  If you are a camera operator at the Today Show and want other work, then get out there and build a videography business on the side.  Or if you are a beat reporter, try to write your own blog and see if you can get some traction.  The possibilities are endless.

Refinancing Disaster: Why the Mortgage System is Totally F*****D

I’m sitting here looking over my most recent house appraisal.  It’s down 15% from what we paid about 6 years ago.  Because of this, I can’t refinance my loan.  The real pisser here is that the appraisal is down because there simply aren’t any comparable sales in my town – I truly suspect if I put my house on the market today we would get what we paid.  This would suck because we put tons of money back into the place.  But, I’m confident it would sell for the same amount.

The comparables they did find are in many cases not even close to our house in terms of size.  Our house is 3,300 square feet and the nearest comparable is 2400.  The rest are all under 2,000.  In order to complete the appraisal, they do some bogus math to figure out what the difference would be between the comparable and your property and basically guess on a “proper” valuation.  But in reality that math would never happen in the market.  And even worse, the comparables they do pick are typically selling for way undervalue because the smart (or patient) people are holding onto their houses waiting for a market rebound.  Does this sound like a scam?

Now for some outrage…  Enter a tenant we had last year.  She came to us needing an apartment because she was losing her house.  She was coming off of a divorce and bankruptcy, and it was a risk taking her, but we did because, after all, people can have strings of bad luck.

About 8 months into her lease, she came to us and wanted out.  She found a way to keep her house via a government program.  Now, while I’m happy she got what she wanted and kept her house, this got me to thinking about how screwed the people are who play by the rules.  I don’t think she paid her mortgage for over a year!  Yet, the Government and the banks worked with her to ensure she could get a better deal.

We pay our mortgage and we’re never late.  Our credit scores are excellent and income is well above the minimums.  Getting a loan is not an issue.  Yet we cannot close on a loan because the value of the property isn’t where it should be.  But again, those appraisals are based on bogus comparable sales and a system that is flawed.

So where is the government to help out those of us doing what we need to do?  Isn’t this just an example of simple stimulus that directly would affect the economy?  Think about it this way, right now we are paying a mortgage that is at a rate above the norm, meaning we are throwing money away paying a bank that is apparently not willing to in turn supply liquidity to other debtors.  So the money isn’t really entering the economy, its just being hoarded.

I suspect the recent advent of tax-deductible PMI was a step in the right direction…  After all, most people refinancing will now have to pay some PMI because the values of houses have dropped so much.  But still, this isn’t enough.  There are many people stuck in bad loans who would refinance, have the means to do so, and are low risk.  They just can’t get it done because the market is so crappy.

Wouldn’t a good “stimulus package” be if the government secured and insured the “difference in price” in cases such as this and allowed us to refinance?  After all, what would be the harm in insuring PART of a loan?  If they did do this, it would immediately have an effect of releasing cash into the economy via consumers and NOT via banks.  After all, chances are part of the money we’d save would be entering the economy via other means.  And if you meet certain criteria, I could see this program being a way better risk than the toxic assets the Feds bailed out 2 years ago.

Now, I hear my fellow conservative friends saying “Wait, Pete, you want the Feds to regulate something?”  NO, what I’m saying is that I suspect the flawed mortgage system is in the state it’s in because of over-regulation.  That’s right.  The Feds were so uptight after the 2008 crisis (which they should have been to some extent), so they tightened the mortgage industry to such an level of crazy that the day to day business of loaning money against real estate is a mess.  Ask any mortgage broker – none of them would get into this business today.  The application form is now about 50 pages long!

Back to my main point…  Isn’t it sickening, that the people who made the worst decisions and got loans that were totally bogus, then stopped paying them, are being offered a helping hand when those who play by the rules are hung out to dry?  Something here stinks, folks.

In the end, this is my third appraisal.  I started about a year ago.  The first appraisal was lower than our purchase price, by about 4%, but I decided to make up the difference in cash and refinance anyway.  The day before closing, the bank that was servicing the loan (I believe Chase or BofA) called it off.  They did a last minute “computer” analysis and decided that the comps weren’t there to justify the appraisal.  Only they included foreclosed, distressed properties and “guessed” that our house had lost over 20% of its value!

On try #2, the appraiser came and didn’t even submit the appraisal because it was lower than the first time.  Enter the current appraisal, which is about the same amount.  Only this time, I’m getting smart, and appealing to the tax authorities.  If my value is down 15%, then my taxes need to go that way too.  When that process is completed, maybe I’ll blog about it.

Finally…  Here is the greatest frustration of all: I have a multi-family property.  So there is another way to appraise it – at the value of the rental income.  If I do simple math, I can find that our purchase price is right on target for a break-even rental property.  The first appraisal we had indicated the same rents we get today and appraised us actually 2% higher than purchase price.  Now, the latest appraisal has the same rent and shows us down 15%.  Same math, folks.  Something here really stinks.

And in the end the income model doesn’t matter anyway.  Unfortunately, the comparables are the only metrics allowed.

Dealing with a similar situation?  Let me know in the comments!

Avoid Economic Meltdown: Diversifying Your Income

I was watching 60 Minutes tonight (not the night this post will appear) and saw a segment about homeless children.  Basically, there is an ongoing problem where kids are suffering with their parents and losing their homes.  They are then moving into motels or even living in cars while still attending public schools.  It’s a troubling and tragic problem.  They spoke a bit about the parents, who all lost their jobs as a side effect of the ongoing bad economy, and in most cases both parents ended up with zero income and no savings.

This got me thinking…  Everyone talks about diversifying your investments, but no one ever speaks about diversifying your income.  Which got me thinking even further – what is safer – being an entrepreneur or working a single job, for someone else (or some soulless corporation)?  My contention, which should be no surprise, is that clearly working independently is the safer and more diversified approach to income.

As a business owner, I make an extra effort to never be overly invested in any one project.  It wouldn’t be smart to do so.  You don’t see many doctors with only one patient.  And you don’t see many mechanics who work on only one car.  Both of these are service-oriented, skill-based careers which allow for diversification.  By following this strategy, I’m insuring against a sudden collapse of my business and complete loss of income.  All other problems you can handle but if income were to drop overnight, there would be serious problems.  (And lets not count on unemployment, please…)

Just to make it clear…  Not all businesses are completely adverse to the same catastrophic loss.  You can tell a well-run business from one that, umm, isn’t.  Like the thousands of people running one website where traffic is reliant on SEO.  You hear about them all the time, when the SEO algorithms change, complaining about a huge loss of income.  Seen a lot of video rental joints open around you lately?  Not diversified.

Now if running your own business is possibly safer, why aren’t more people doing it?  Other than the fact that its really a lifestyle choice and not just a *job*, I think most people don’t realize the security that it provides.  We all know that the educational system and the convention in America these days teach that you to go to school, get good grades, get a stable job and climb the corporate ladder.  But what happens if you fall off said “ladder?”  Job security means a lot less today than it ever did before.  Which is why there is a rise in freelance entrepreneurs, only not quite so much that it’s in the mainstream.

I realize people read these posts and think something like: “Well, it’s easy to do it if you have ______” or “I can’t do it” or “Stop being an obnoxious ______”.  Bottom line is, even if you are NOT diversified with your income, you can start to be.  Soon.

How to start?  Here are three quick and easy steps:

1) Save & Plan.  Develop a worst-case scenario disaster plan for if your single source of income were to disappear.  How long could you survive?  What would you do for funds?  What do you have saved and what can you do to quickly bounce back?  Most people say to plan to have 10 months of living expenses covered with cash.  If you don’t do #2 and #3 below, make it 18.

2) Develop a skill.  I’ll be writing another post about this topic next week.  But for now, develop a skill you can learn and market.  It can be anything.  If you are a teacher, do some continuing education on a subset or specialty.  That will open doors later to tutoring and give you that extra income stream.  If you are an accountant, get up to speed on the latest tax laws so you can be a tax preparer.  Everyone has something they can learn to do, and charge clients for later.

3) Network!  Grow your network of contacts as quickly as you can.  If you can, do it with people that work at outside companies.  Contacts inside your company won’t help you if you are laid off.  Either they’ll be laid off too, or you’ll find them useless because if you were already let go, then chances are you can’t find your way back in.

If you follow through with those steps, then you’ll not only have laid down solid worst-case plans, but also have built a professional network and created a source of side income.  Remember, luck is a by-product of good design.  Don’t fall victim to bad planning and/or complacency!

Are You Looking To Do Something Or Looking For Something To Do?

The absolute most irritating thing I’ve ever seen in business are those that are playing “businessman” instead of actually accomplishing anything.  I seriously cannot stand it when these folks present themselves.  And you know what….  They are in every organization.  I’m not sure what a term is for these people – time wasters, impostors, fakers.  I’m sure someday I’ll come up with something nifty to call them.  But for now, lets focus on how you can identify these trouble makers.  Having worked with them as equals, for them as employees and with them as an outside consultant, it seems to me that these are the specs (disclaimer for safety’s sake: right now I am not dealing with anyone remotely who fits the description, which is why I feel I can finally write about it!!!):

Preoccupation With Corporate BS

This one is easy to spot.  Excessive e-mails, memos, corporate politics.  Anything that involves talking about work or the business of work but doesn’t include actual, factual work.  People that are fakers are typically going to schedule tons of meetings, strategy sessions, and other time wasters to avoid actually doing something.  I was involved with a small company (< 15 people) where some people would send memos out to everyone even though they sat in the same space.  And they printed them!

Use of annoying buzzwords

When I started working away from the office, I lost track of the latest buzzwords.  Though, not being exposed to it helped me better identify the newest offenders.  The fake businessman is going to rely on terminology that they perceive will impress their peers.  Here are my current favorites and what they really mean:

  • “From my perspective” = “What I think is better than what YOU think”
  • “Core competency” = “The only thing I know how to do”
  • “Synergy” = “Finding another party to do the legwork”
  • “Plane Time” = “I’m going on a trip!”
  • “At the end of the day” = “When this project fails”
  • “It is what it is” = “I don’t care about the outcome”

And there are TONS more.  Submit your favorite in the comments area – we could have a ton of fun with it…!

Limited resume outside of current organization

I’m still not 100% sure if this is a constant factor but the people I’ve identified as fakers have typically been with the same company for a very long time.  This isn’t necessarily a problem on it’s own, but these people game the system, figure out how to impress the right people yet at the same time produce minimal results.  This is much harder to do when you are on a cycle of changing jobs every 3 or 4 years.

Always preoccupied with the latest tools to enhance productivity

These people are almost always preoccupied with tools, services, methodologies, etc., that help them do their job better.  Because spending so much time thinking about working is exhausting, they strive to streamline (There I go with buzzwords!) how they do those limited things they actually do so they can be even more efficient…  At doing nothing!

Limited actual *skills*

Oooo low blow!  But really, this is something to look out for.  The fakers almost never have actual skills.  They are good at arranging for people with skills to do something.  Don’t confuse this with an executive that has training and has advanced to management!  Notice, I said “arrange”.  Big difference.

Sometimes, these people manage to learn just enough about something to be dangerous, yet at the same time not well enough that it becomes their skillset.  Then they take that limited knowledge and abuse it to sound like they know what they are doing.  In a team setting, you’ll spot them from a mile away because they won’t be pulling their weight in actual productivity.

They Dress Great!

Maybe this is just because I dress so poorly!  But on average the people I’ve met who fit this billing always dress well.  Or at least how they think the character they conjured up should dress.

They are frazzled and act busy

George Costanza did this on Seinfeld.  He pretended he was totally overloaded, and everyone believed it.  The fakers are always busy, always overbooked, and always telling you about it.

So the bottom line is – beware and take steps to AVOID these people.  You’ll be better off!  And if you can’t, fight them with your talent and knowledge and you’ll win, every time!


Why Start-Up Stock Options (Mostly) Suck

I work/have worked with a variety of companies that sometimes compensate me via equity.  I accept it when I feel taking on the risk is worthwhile and see some level of value to the project.  Equity for work is all fine and good, but unfortunately the tax laws are setup in a way to almost discourage this.  Simply put, stock options suck unless you know what you are doing.  I’ve had great stock-option relationships and poor relationships (If you are reading this and I have options in your company, thanks and this doesn’t apply to you!). What I’m relaying below is information that I learned the hard way.  Send thankful donations directly to me – this post will save you a ton of money and frustration!

So, you are either a consultant or a recent hire, and you’ve been offered stock options…  What should you beware of?

1) These are OPTIONS.  Not actual shares!

So many people seem to forget this.  When you are granted options, it means you will eventually be able to BUY shares in the company at a set price.  Nothing is being given to you.  So lets say you are granted 10,000 shares at $1.00 per share.  You will have to spend $10,000 to “exercise” those options.  That is of course, if they are “vested”.

2) Vesting will take a long time.

Most companies I’ve heard of have a 4 year vesting schedule.  25% after a 1 year “cliff” and then on a monthly basis after that.  This means, if they fire you 364 days after hire, you have no rights to the options.  If you leave after exactly a year, you have a right to exercise 25% of what you were given.  Be careful to read the fine print about what happens if your company is sold or changes control!  In fact, read it all because it gets pretty detailed.

3) The taxes suck!

Two scenarios…  First, using the above option, lets assume your company gets sold for $2.00 per share.  You exercise your shares for $1.00 netting a good $10,000 profit.  Only, even if you worked at the company for four years, you only “held” the shares for a limited amount of time, so you are paying tax at your normal income.  It’s not a long term capital gain!  Your take just went from $10,000 to a number much less appealing, depending on your tax bracket.

Scenario two: you realize maybe your shares will be worth something someday, so you “exercise” them early.  Lets say that you exercise $10,000 worth of shares.  Lets also assume that the latest valuation of your company is $3.00 per share (this can be a private company)….  In the case of Non-Qualified Stock Options (the most common you’ll see), the IRS will tell you that you received value in that appreciation.  So you will spend $10,000 to exercise and then pay tax on the $20,000.  Even though you may not be able to actually sell those shares on the open market!   Now, sure, there are Incentive Stock Options that make it possible to avoid this issue – but most companies will not offer them.  Why?  Because with NQSO’s, they get a deduction when you exercise.  With ISO’s, they do not.  How nice of them!

4) Dilution

Lets say you are working with a start-up, and they offer you options.  Then, a year later, eager for funds, they accept some venture capital dollars. This “strategic” partnership is going to really help them accomplish their long term plans, after all.  Those dollars and shares have to come from somewhere, so the board releases more shares to the total pool.  You’ve just been diluted.  To explain in simple terms – If there were 1,000,000 shares in circulation before and you had 10,000, you had 1% of the company.  Now they just took on another X dollars in desperation and suddenly there are 2,000,000 shares floating around.  You are now worth .5% of the company.  Hopefully, the value of the company increased thus making your same 10,000 shares worth more.  But maybe not…

The takeaway?  If you have dreams of becoming rich with stock options, think again.  It probably won’t happen.

With that harsh reality, here are some steps to take which will help you as you negotiate:

1) Ask questions!

  • What is the exercise price?
  • What is the vesting schedule?
  • Is it an ISO or NQSO?
  • How many shares are currently out there (after all, you want to know what your piece of the pie is)?

2) If you are working with a start-up in a large capacity BEFORE they incorporate, become a founder.  When a company is founded, the shares are worth almost nothing.  This is the time to get involved – get a flat percentage of the company and take steps to protect yourself against massive dilution.  If you remember nothing else from this post, remember that only those at the founder level really make out in an acquisition.  Agree in advance what your percentage will be and again, take steps to protect against dilution.  Anyone who saw “The Social Network” will remember dilution at work – what a menace!

3) If they are going to offer you stock options and you are going to discount your rate and or salary (not smart on the salary side!), remember that the value of options and the value of your services are not a 1:1 proposal.  Another example: if you are working at a rate of $100/hr, and you charge $50 in cash and $50 in stock equivalent, that stock equivalent can get you into a lot of trouble.  You can receive it and then pay taxes on it when you receive it.  Or you can get options and then pay later to exercise, then paying tax on the amount you earned – if it turned into anything.   A good compromise is to take options to buy instead of outright shares, but getting a premium on top of the $50.  So maybe $75 of options for every $50 of discount you gave.  After all, you are floating the company a loan – who wants to give away money for no interest?  And, if the company does sell, the added value you received will take some of the pain away from the most likely scenario – the exercising of the option and the instant sale to the buyer – resulting in taxable income at your normal rate.  Dont’ forget if you actually scored a big payday, your “normal rate” will of course go up as well.

4) Predict the future.  Contemplate if this company has a chance to go somewhere.  Find out who is on the board, who the founders are, what their backgrounds are, their track record.  Do research on them.  This is especially important to those who are working in a partnership capacity, but even employees can research this at the same time.  What is the potential of this to grow into such a huge enterprise that your shares actually become worth something?  If they are offering you the options in the first place then you have a right to know these things.

5) Believe in the company!  Don’t bother with options or risk or anything similar if you truly don’t believe something can be made of the company.  I will always work for partial equity if the project is worthwhile.  Even despite all of the crap above!

This isn’t meant to be a post that deters you from taking options if you are offered them.  But carefully consider their worth and don’t be distracted by the opportunity at massive riches down the line.  Again, chances are it won’t change your life if the options are bought and sold.  But it could be a nice little bonus if you do it right.

Don’t Have A Profile? Might As Well Not Exist, Either. It’s 2011!

I’m still shocked at how many people haven’t embraced social media.  Today, not being online is actually more suspicious than if you aren’t!  I was at an event recently and ran into an old acquaintance.  As he was leaving I said that he should “Facebook me.”  To that, another person said “Oh, he doesn’t do that”.

Really?  Apparently he “Works on a computer all day and has no time for that crap” when he gets home.  Amazing.

In 2011, it’s not a matter of IF you should be involved in social media…  It’s a matter of why you aren’t already there, and what that lack of a presence is costing you.  There are so many applications and uses of social media that at this point, if you don’t exist in the cyber world, people are going to wonder if you exist in real life.

Take my old pal for example.  I did some “Googling” and found… Nothing.  No Facebook , Twitter, Resume, anything.   There was a LinkedIn profile that had two connections but no other information.

Now lets say I’ve seen this resume come across my desk, with about 10 others.  We all know that resumes are total bullshit anyway (have you ever seen a bad one) – but this one is decent enough that I give it a second look and then do some online research.  Only I’ve found nothing about this stellar applicant.  But, luckily, “John Doe” also submitted a resume.  He’s got a Facebook profile, some tweets.  Oh, look, he also likes watching LOST, is an avid golfer and posts regular thoughts on industry news.  Who will I call?  After all, the other guy couldn’t be bothered to initiate a presence. Either he doesn’t care about networking, doesn’t care about what is happening all around him, or is just too lazy to do it.  Probably don’t want to hire that guy.

How easy it is to be in human resources these days!

Think this only affects your day job and career ambitions?  How about your personal life… What if I was single and looking for a date (I’m not – happily married but I hear this is happening….!)?  What do you think I’m going to do with the name of a blind date, or a “friend of a friend” I should meet?  You better bet I’m going to do a search.  Lets weed out the crazies before an awkward first encounter ensues.  Would anyone go out with someone who has zero exposure online?  Not even a Facebook profile they never check?

Even worse than the aforementioned offenders are the “paranoid” people who are afraid of putting anything online.  Obviously unaware of the security precautions the social networks allow, these people are convinced that the world in general is out there hunting them.  Once again, the cost of avoidance is going to be pretty steep.  And trust me, no one is out to get you!

Where else could this cause an issue?  How about:

  • Parents: Do you think college admissions people aren’t doing the same exact thing?
  • Doctors: Are your patients searching for you?
  • Service Providers: That’s a no brainer.
  • Tenants: I’m a landlord, I looked.
  • Politicians: No doubt.

So, if you are anti-social media, maybe its time you reevaluate your online presence and how it affects your offline reputation.  It’s probably a lot more important than you ever thought.