I Participated In A Hackathon

My friend Anthony and I participated in a hackathon. We didn’t win, but we certainly did not lose. Let me elaborate. First and foremost I want to thank the folks at Valleyhackathon.com for having us at the event. It was a great experience.

 

What is a Hackathon? 

There are several formats of this type of competitions, but the dominant characteristic is that they involve technology. What do we hack, the Pentagon? No, not at all. It’s not like that. To participate in a hackathon you have to come up with a project/idea and complete it within the deadline. Some hackathons are 72 hours, some are 48 hours, but the one we participated on was 24 hours. In this instance, the entry required that you had a project that involved writing software and our team could have up to four members. We could have a hardware component in our project, but a significant software portion was required. Once the clock started ticking and we had 24 hours to finish a working product.

 

What was the product idea? 

It was Anthony who originally came up with the idea and we thought it was would be a perfect fit for the hackathon. Our goal was to create a web application that would allow people to know a bit more about what is going on in their towns. Local businesses would be able to register on the application, share the name of their business address and a short description of the services or products they offer. On the other hand, end-users could also register and choose the businesses they would like to receive notifications from. Notifications would be a way for businesses to let town folks know about a promotion or a new upcoming event. Registered businesses could schedule their announcements to be sent out to all subscribers at any specific time. We knew that this was not a novelty. I’m pretty sure that there are similar services out there, but we thought our grassroots approach would set as apart.

 

Why did we not win? 

We bit more than we could chew. For one, we underestimated the amount of work required to complete two portals, one for the businesses and another for the end users. The second factor was that we did not stick to what we knew best. We set out to try a new code library that we were not completely proficient on. The hackathon started on a Friday roughly around 6:30 PM and it ended the following day at 6:30 PM. On Saturday around noon, I began to realize there was no way we were going to be able to finish the project by 6:30 PM. I had slept only 30 minutes since the competition had started and my thoughts we were getting blurred. Long story short, we did not have a project to present by the time judging came around.

 

Why did we not lose?

Even though we did not place in the event we were able to reconnect with fellow “hackers” from previous and events and met new faces. We were exposed to what other programmers are doing here in the Central Valley. Don’t get me wrong, it would have been nice to walk away with a prize, but the experience of being there was all worth it. I’m really looking forward to next year’s hackathon.

In A Stormy Weather (Productive Environment)

productivity rain window

Productive Environment

We have gotten in moments where we are being productive at work and all of a sudden…!Boom! rain comes pouring down. It makes us stop for a moment and appreciate the pleasant sound of rain. The reason I bring up rain and productivity is because at work we tend to create a work environment that feels calming and pleasant. And I wanted to share my work environment. Usually at work in order to work in a peace-minded environment, there is always background being played. The beat of a song tends to keep me in a momentum while developing applications, such as Cloud Time Cards.

Positive Energy

Having a good energy within in your organizations makes it welcoming for any type of idea to be shared. It usually takes one person to start this trend within an organization and it just spreads like wildfire.

Inspiration

Take a moment to talk and listen to your co-workers about life inspirations. This usually happens on a Monday morning when everybody has a thing or two shares about their weekend with an emphasize on how they could have improved their weekend a little better.

Real Plant

What do you mean a real plant? Yes, a real plant place in your office space. I have one on my desk to the right of me. At first, I thought it was just a nice gift from my parents, they felt like they haven’t seen me for while so they sent over a plant. Over the course of the weeks at work, I found myself taking care of the plant (in a good way). It gave me a consistent responsibility to give it water and care. Co-workers would come by and compliment the plant on how nice it looks. This plant has given me the environment of peace and tranquility while working on projects.

In Closure

Find ways that you create a pleasant environment space for yourself and co-workers. It doesn’t have to be a dozen plant place throughout the office. Look into ways you create by listening in to your peers at work.

If you have any suggestions about this topic, please share your thoughts below. Thanks!

Looking for free images?(Unsplash)

by Massimo Mancini

A website that you will love!

I believe we have a post regarding information on how to obtain free photos. But, I just can’t stop bragging about a particular online service that truly lets you download free pictures! I have shared this information with my friends and family since I first laid eyes on this site. The site is called Unsplash – “Free (do whatever you want) high-resolution photos” website. Many of the photos on this blog come from their website. This site has truly saved us time when searching for images to display for our online material.

This is a great resource for any online developer/marketer needing fresh photos to display on their site. If you are running an online e-commerce site and looking to make your homepage visually appealing, why not try a photo from Unsplash?

Why and how are they free?

“All photos published on Unsplash are licensed under Creative Commons Zero which means you can copy, modify, distribute and use the photos for free, including commercial purposes, without asking permission from or providing attribution to the photographer or Unsplash.” – https://unsplash.com/license

If you are someone that is constantly struggling to find eye-catching photos, check out the website. Make sure to give credit to the photographer if you ever intend in using their photos.

If you have experienced in using the site. Please share by leaving a comment below.

2017 New Year Resolution (Again)

New Year

Resolution – the act of resolving or determining upon an action, a course of action, method, procedure, etc.

We are on a yearly minded cycle, meaning once we get close to the end of the year we begin to reflect on the past and start to develop resolutions for the future. Meanwhile, your present state continues the usual routine (habit).

Why do we look for a resolution? What is a resolution going to do in return? Have your heard this phrase before “It’s not what you do, it’s why you do it?”. Before you jump ship onto your resolution, I recommend you look closely at why you need to resolve a current habit or situation. Look into understanding its core reason.

Depending on the resolution it can be an instant gratification, like cleaning out your personal email inbox from junk/promotion mail. And bam! Instant gratification! But, if you are deciding to lose weight and expecting major results in a two-week turnaround, forget about it. If you read the first sentence of this blog post. Resolution is a procedure oriented process, take small steps into resolving your situation (but, be consistent).

Buying! If you think by just buying a product or service it’s going to magically resolve your situation, forget it too! We expect things to work right out of the box. Take the time to learn exactly what the product or service will do for you. Don’t just pull the trigger because you see others with it and you need that as well. Again, learn exactly what your needs are.

Whatever you decide to change or improve. Take the time to find its core purpose, put meaning into your course of action.

If you have suggestions about to execute a new year resolution. Please leave a comment below.

Have you heard of Drip Campaigns?

 

Drip Campaigns is an automation system that allows you to send out email content at exactly the day you set it to release. This tool is great for sending out emails in the right moment of sale cycles. You ever wonder how other businesses send you the right email at the right time of the day? That is because over the course of the period they have collected data, consumer behavior, from their customers in when they are more likely to check their emails. No, it does not mean they hacked your email account, trust me.

How to apply to any business

Wondering how you can apply it to your business? This method in how you send out mass emails can be applied to in type of business. First, you should think how to collect emails for example, are they signing to a service, buying a product, subscribing to an eNotification, or giving away some sort free information. Forever you are collecting emails, just make sure you have that set up first. Next, what type of emails do you want to send out to your subscribers? For instance, educational information, how-to tips, or promotional coupons that let your customer know about a sweet deal! However you do it, just look into setting up an email timeline to disburse various types of emails, let say, through the course of at least a month. So your drip campaign can automatically send out two emails a week, giving you the ability to check if your strategy is working.

Look it up online

Remember, this post is just to make you aware of an awesome email tool for your business. There are many video tutorials that show how to get the most out of Drip Campaigns. If you have some sort of email service that takes care of your email blasts, like MailChimp or Constant Contact, check if they offer Drip services. Just by searching online you will find a vast amount of information on Drip Campaigns.

If you have experienced in using tools like Drip. Please share by leaving a comment below.

What is SaaS?

If you are not up to date on all the modern acronyms then you might not know what SaaS means, what it does nor what it means for you as small business owner. SaaS or Software as a service is a relatively new concept and it could potentially save your business a lot of money.

Before SaaS

Before this concept existed, software was already around and very useful for businesses. This was in the early to mid-2000’s. Internet connection speeds were not what they are now and the most viable way to distribute software was through a physical medium like CDs or DVDs. Let’s use one of the most prolific software packages Microsoft Office, as an example in a real-world scenario. If you owned a construction business in the 2000’s and you purchased the latest version of Office, Office 2000 in 2001 for your office staff to use. When the next version came out in 2002 you would have had to weigh the pros and cons to decide whether or not to upgrade to the new version. Then in 2003, when the next version came out you would have to have done the same, and then again in 2007 and again every other subsequent version. You get the point. Every version was a bunch of cash that had to be spent for your office staff to have the latest and greatest. Back in those days, legally, you only had two options (unless you were willing to take the risk of pirating software), which were skip a version or two of the product to save money or opt for the more expensive option and buy software every time a new version came out.

And there was SaaS

The significant improvements in internet connection speeds opened up another way for distributing software. By the late 2000’s and early 2010’s many software vendors had adopted the SaaS model. According to a Gartner Group estimate, in 2010 SaaS sales reached $10 billion. Now software vendors charge a monthly subscription and let you download the software and install it on your computer. Every so often software vendors check via the internet whether your subscription to the software still valid and if is not, they will prevent you from being able to use the software. When a new version of the software comes out guess what, no extra fee, usually software vendors let you download the new version and install it at no extra cost. This definitely changed the software market.

Conclusion

This is a win-win situation. Now, if you have a new employee coming into your organization you pay $8.25 for Microsoft Office per month instead of $229.99 upfront. If for whatever reason the new employee doesn’t work out you simply stop the subscription after a month of two and you only set your company back $16.50, not $230. This also helps the software vendor keep users on the up and up and minimize losses on revenue due to piracy losses. Don’t get me wrong, Microsoft is not the only vendor doing this Google is doing it, Adobe, Intuit (the makers of QuickBooks) and many others. If you are a small business trying to save money, SaaS might the way to go.

5 TED Talks for Small Business Owners

TED talks for small business owners

TED talks – you probably heard of this website and watch few of them or none. They share an array of topics that can leave you informed and inspired. But, today’s post topic is looking at these 5 videos if you are someone who owns or works at a small business should watch.

Here are the 5 Talks you should look into:

  1. How great leaders inspire action

“Simon Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership — starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?” His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers …” – TED Talks

  1. The way we think about work is broken

“What makes work satisfying? Apart from a paycheck, there are intangible values that, Barry Schwartz suggests, our current way of thinking about work simply ignores. It’s time to stop thinking of workers as cogs on a wheel.” – TED Talks

  1. The single biggest reason why startups succeed

“Bill Gross has founded a lot of startups, and incubated many others — and he got curious about why some succeeded and others failed. So he gathered data from hundreds of companies, his own and other people’s, and ranked each company on five key factors. He found one factor that stands out from the others — and surprised even him.” - TED Talks

  1. Two reasons companies fail — and how to avoid them

“Is it possible to run a company and reinvent it at the same time? For business strategist Knut Haanaes, the ability to innovate after becoming successful is the mark of a great organization. He shares insights on how to strike a balance between perfecting what we already know and exploring totally new ideas — and lays out how to avoid two major strategy traps.” – TED Talks

  1. How data will transform business

“What does the future of business look like? In an informative talk, Philip Evans gives a quick primer on two long-standing theories in strategy — and explains why he thinks they are essentially invalid.” - TED Talks

There you have it. Check out these five clips to get in the rhythm of learning new things from industry leaders. Yes, this post could have been called “9 TED Talks That Anyone Working in Small Business Should Watch” I believe one of these talks will be informative in your daily small business activities, and hopefully inspire you to keep seeking ways to improve your skills.

If you have a video that would benefit small business owners please share it with us.

Telecommuting and Co-Working Spaces

Technology has evolved so much in many areas that it has certainly has affected the way the workplace operates. The advent of the “cloud” allowed by broadband connections to the internet has generated an abundance of services and tools that are transforming the workplace as we know it. A couple of trends that stand out and are possible due to the cloud, are telecommuting and co-working spaces.

Telecommuting

There are many companies and industries for which a telecommuting workforce is not feasible, like in the construction industry, agriculture, among many others. On the other hand, there are many other industries that could benefit greatly by allowing employees to telecommute. There are several advantages to having your employees work from home, here are a few reasons:

  • It increases employee’s satisfaction because a gives them a little more flexibility and a lot of time if saved by avoiding the commute.
  • It will help your company retain your employees since there is a rising percentage of employees whom would consider looking for a new job to work closer to home and to avoid the commute.
  • Telecommuting increases productivity. Believe it or not, there are a lot more distractions in the workplace than at home. Since telecommuters save time on commuting, they tend to work longer hours than their office-bound counterparts.
  • Telecommuting saves employers money. Fewer employees in the office mean employers can lease smaller office buildings.
  • If your business is set up to accommodate telecommuting employees your will be able to dissolve the distance barrier when looking for talent. Your business will be able to hire new talent from virtually anywhere.
  • You will also be helping the environment by putting fewer vehicles on the roads. You will also be reducing traffic jams and potentially be lowering the rates of traffic accidents.

Not all the aspects of telecommuting are positive. If you want to learn more about the cons to telecommuting please look here.

hotdesk

Co-working Spaces

Co-working spaces are an option that telecommuters might see as advantageous when they don’t have a home office or a space they can work from home. Co-working spaces usually offer a hot desk (non-reservation-based) and amenities usually found in office spaces, internet connection, air-condition/heating, etc. These places have become more and more popular since 2005 and as of late have become quite affordable. Also, they are practically available in every city with a significant workforce. The reason I even mentioned co-working spaces on this post is because sometimes telecommuting goes hand in hand with each other.

What does all this have to do with my small business?

I wanted to share these two trends with you merely to raise awareness. I’m not trying to influence the way you run your business, but I do firmly believe that these trends will continue to rise in popularity and eventually might be concepts that you might be open to adopting in your small business.

Does your business have an Instagram?

Instagram for Business

If you haven’t noticed Instagram is becoming a critical piece of business branding. Your business identity is being looked up (and judged). Having a strong Instagram presence gives the younger generation of consumers a sense of trust and credibility.

Are you looking into creating an account, but do not know how it can help your business goals?

Start by looking at other businesses within the same market and see how they engage their users, both for inspiration and competitive intelligence.

Set your Instagram goals, which should reflect your business goals. Which could include the following:

  • Increase product sales
  • Increase traffic to your website
  • Increase brand awareness
  • Increase branded hashtag mentions

Decide exactly how you want to take the approach in reaching your business goals.

Establish a content calendar to keep a consistent pace in when to post and how often to post can keep you from bombarding your users. Usually, one to three posts per day should be a good.

Is all about visuals! Consider the visual style you want for your Instagram brand. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different visual styles and filters. Eventually, you will find what your followers engage to the most.

Hashtags

A popular technique used by brands is the branded hashtag. It does not mean using your business name as a hashtag. Rather, associating a clever hashtag that embodies your Instagram brand. This allows followers to connect your business when they share an experience with your business.

There are many sources out there giving compelling examples why businesses should be on Instagram. It doesn’t hurt having another channel in where existing or potential customers can engage with your business.

Check out our account to get an idea on how we connect with our users and the type of visuals we share with them.

Small Business – Adapting to Mobile Devices

Small Business via Mobile

Many businesses are depending on their mobile devices to effectively communicate with their employees and customers. The number of smart phone users in the United States is estimated above 200 million (statista.com).  Making a move in using your smart phone to effectively communicate with potential customers is an essential part in any small business practice.

Having the ability to access your business information through your mobile device gives you incredible advantages over having to physically show up to an office.

You could technically run your small business from your smart phone. But, the point here is how you can adapt smart phones with your employees and customers?

How easy would it be if your customers are given an access portal, or app to receive or send messages to your company? Better yet, rather than sending an email of a new product. Notify your customers by pushing a notification to their mobile devices. There is now flexibility in how you engage your customers or potential customers.

Adapting smart phones as a daily practice in communicating with employees can have its benefits. Many times employees are away from their desk. Keeping your team in sync with upcoming company information can help in how they execute their day-to-day tasks.

Looking in ways you can adapt smart phone devices into your small business can be rewarding. Finding exactly what you need at your finger tips can differentiate how your small business operates.