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How I Got My First Customer

I started my first web development business back in 1998, and like most new ventures, I didn’t start with any customers. I was in college at the time when I started, so my first few websites resulted in free food from the snackbar and some free flyers printed by the campus copy shop. But I wasn’t making any money yet.

The next time I was home at the end of that semester, I knew that if I wanted to make this thing work, that I needed to get paid. So I created a little one page document that outlined what I did, put together a small portfolio of those horrible looking sites I had basically done for free (including one I did as a class project and another I did for a professor) and I started driving around my hometown. I had no idea what I wanted to say and no idea what type of “customer” I was looking for. And for reference, back in 1998, websites were not top of mind for your average small business.

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Going Serverless

Design patterns and server architecture change over time as technology changes. Advancements in cloud computing has created unprecedented opportunities for organizations large and small to leverage shared resources to create faster, more reliable application stacks. This allows organizations to better serve their customers with highly-available services tailored to the needs of narrower customer segments. With this new level of flexibility and power, organizations must choose how best to utilize these resources to maximize their efforts and provide the iteration capacity to adapt quickly in rapidly changing markets.

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Here’s Why Message Centers are Crucial for Mobile Engagement

Mobile messaging, especially tied to proximity, has become a very popular and effective means of engaging with consumers. The proliferation of smartphones and how users are embracing mobile commerce (see recent studies that support this) has created the perfect storm for marketers. You can now message your customers through various strategies, but given the ephemeral nature of push notifications, your customers could easily miss important messages. Strategies that employ more persistent messaging such as email and SMS have shown varying degrees of success, but those utilizing “message centers” have been the most effective by far. In this post, we’ll discuss the effectiveness of using in-app message centers and how ShopAdvisor has utilized this strategy to double mobile messaging open rates.

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Mobile Proximity Messaging Best Practices

The success of any mobile proximity campaign is highly dependent on user engagement. Messaging that doesn’t motivate a user to take action is a wasted impression and will effect your results negatively. ShopAdvisor has run several national proximity campaigns as well as many more smaller, regional ones. In this post, we will outline some messaging best practices and share some interesting metrics from ShopAdvisor client campaigns.

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An Introduction to Serverless Architecture

I’ve been building web applications for nearly 20 years, and the most difficult problem has always been scaling the architecture to support heavy load. With the advent of cloud computing with services like Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform, the cost of scaling has been dramatically reduced, but the same underlying problems of scaling still exist. When dealing with data, you still need to build complex methods of efficiently accessing records. These are challenges fit for cloud engineers, but not for your average group of developers. Several months ago Amazon Web Services released two new services. These services create a new paradigm that not only make it easier to create scalable applications in the cloud, but essentially eliminates any server maintenance. It has been coined, Serverless Architecture, and it could be the future of cloud computing.

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Thoughts on Building a Development Team

A few months ago I was promoted to Chief Technology Officer at ShopAdvisor. With that title change came a lot of new responsibilities, but it also came with several new opportunities. We’ve been working hard over the last several years to find the right market fit for our technology. After our recent successes with Elle Magazine and proximity programs for retailers, we’ve found ourselves needing to round out our engineering team with some new hires. I knew this would be an uphill battle here in the Northeast, given the current job market, but it was an exciting challenge to take on.

We followed the standard playbook. We put together the job descriptions (and then added some marketing flair), posted them in a few places, and reached out to some agencies. We also bought access into a resume search engines, just to give it a whirl. We got the standard influx of resumes that one would expect. Lots of highly qualified candidates, but sponsorship was a challenge that a small company like ours didn’t want to take on. We got several resumes of not-so-qualified candidates as well. We also started getting A LOT of calls from agencies that we never engaged with. There were some good resumes that we saw; there were even some great ones.

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The One TO DO List Hack that will Maximize your Productivity

Most of the time when we look at our TO DO lists we get overwhelmed. It doesn’t matter what software we use: Asana, Trello, Todist, etc., your lists just keep getting longer, making them harder and harder to stay on top of. There are hundreds (probably thousands) of techniques out there that help us break down our lists and organize them. We can categorize them into projects. We can mark them as “someday”  or “later” and hide them from our view. We can assign priorities, give them context, and schedule them to reappear later. But ultimately, our ability to stay productive comes down to the actionability of the tasks themselves.

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What Did I Do the Other Day? A Productivity Journal Experiment.

I often find myself trying to figure out what I did the other day. When I was a bit younger, it was easier to think back a few days and remember what I worked on, where I went, what I had to eat, who I spoke to, and so on. However, now (that I’m older), I find my job requires me to jump around so much that all the days seem to blend together. Tasks on my TODO list remain incomplete and I find myself incapable of remembering what I did a yesterday or the day before, never mind three or four weeks ago.

I’ve kept journals in the past. In fact, when I was building Lifeables I used to keep a running journal (using MaxJournal) that I would update periodically during the day. That was very handy for looking back to remind myself why I did something a specific way or for noting ideas as I had them. I kept that journal going for months and it was an incredibly valuable tool. The problem was that it had a very definitive scope, and I only updated it with things that had to do with Lifeables development. At one point I tried to expand it to include general Lifeables business related topics (fundraising, product meetings, etc.), but since I kept them in a separate journal, I almost never remembered to add entries to it.

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Why “Against the Wind” by Bob Seger is a Perfect Analogy of my Life as an Entrepreneur

I’ve been an “entrepreneur” for a very long time. If you want to count shoveling snow for dollars when I was a kid, or my brief stint trying to start a baseball card shop with my cousin when I was 11, then I’ve been doing this for well over 25 years. By the time I was a sophomore in college, I had already experimented with everything from Amway to selling computers using classified ads. I even tried investing in a psychic hotline, so yeah, I’ve tried quite a bit. It wasn’t until I started my first web design business from my college dorm room that I really found my passion.

Since then I’ve been involved in more web projects and products than I can remember. I’ve owned and bootstrapped a web development firm with several employees, raised seed and venture money for web startups, built products that have succeeded and products that have failed. The other day I found myself telling someone my “entrepreneurial” life story. I went through all of my successes, challenges, and failures. It was both exhilarating and depressing at the same time.

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How To: Install phpMyAdmin on Amazon Linux

I’ve been managing a few small MySQL databases lately that often need record updates but certainly don’t warrant building a separate management interface. The easiest way to accomplish this (assuming you don’t have complicated joins and relationships) is to install phpMyAdmin, a robust, web-based admin utility for MySQL that is built in php. In my case, I’m running these mostly on Amazon Linux instances, so after a little poking around, it turns out the installation is just 3 simple steps.

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