Monday, April 25, 2011

Crappy little services companies

Verilab is eleven years old (plus or minus a few weeks). Happy Birthday To Us.

The three of us started the whole shebang at the top of one of the slopes at Heavenly in Tahoe, in March/April 2000. It was just as NASDAQ began its (first) bubble-bursting dive. The timing is so close I've wondered occasionally if we were the pin that did the bursting.

And from day one I have had a single, simple, consistent vision for our services company. It is, *I* think anyway, exactly what a company vision should be: an "artist's impression" of where you want to go. It's meant to inspire. It's meant to help others to, well, to envision of course. And it's meant to have some poetry to it, some music, some pomp and circumstance; even a soup├žon of pretentiousness. Not for vision, the day to day practicality of "goals" and "objectives". Even the longer term aspirations of "mission" are still too mundane. Vision should uplift, and challenge, and maybe scare. And if it makes the onlookers a tad worried at the sanity of the visionary, all the better.

Perhaps most important of all, the vision should invoke the Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor Effect. It should make you go "Ar Ar ARRR!".


It should convey the message -- no, the feeling -- that what we're doing is worth doing; a good fight to be fought; a race worth running, an Alamo worth defending; a K2 worth climbing or dying trying. A man's game[1]!

My vision for Verilab is to build:

"The McKinsey of VLSI"

Now I've learned over the years that my particular choice of white shoe firm sometimes poses a problem in high tech geekdom since half the people the analogy is intended to speak to have never even heard of McKinsey & Co! (And of course the recent allegations concerning Rajat Gupta haven't helped.) But I stick with my choice.

The analogy with McKinsey tugs at several heart strings, but front and centre is that the craft of professional services is not simply one to which failed product startup wannabes go to die (or pay their mortgages). It's a reminder that the list of "professional services organizations" includes such illustrious members as: the Institute For Advanced Study and The Academy, the Bolshoi and the Vienna Philharmonic, and even the British SAS and the US Navy SEALs.

But if you want something a little more down to earth, here's a recent good article (thanks JL) on why crappy little services companies aren't always so crappy or so little.

[1] Over the years, some of our best engineers have been women.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

That Pesky Gregorian Calendar

I've hired a new Director of Operations and Finance, to allow me to unload the myriad of day to day operational management tasks and let me focus more on our strategic growth. We're still very much in hand-over stage though, so there are lots of wee bits and pieces that make sense for me to finish off. One is the small matter of our credit card statement date.

We run largely paperless, mainly because we're so distributed internationally. A combination of Fujitsu ScanSnap scanners and DropBox and an increasingly honed scanning/naming/filing process makes everything smooth and efficient. Receipts for purchases made on our company credit cards is an example. We've finally converged on the following process.

Each time a purchase is made, paper receipts scanned, and soft receipts are printed to PDF (I'm also experimenting with the iPhone JotNot app as a way of being able to do the scan at the point of purchase). Each receipt is then filed in a DropBox folder that is shared with finance. There is a folder per month -- something like this (simplified for this post):

<path to DropBox>/credit-card/disbursements/<YYYY>-<MM>/

and the file is named something like this:

<date>_<amount>_<vendor>.pdf

where:

<date> takes the form YYYY-MM-DD
<amount> takes the form NNNNNN.NN where the part to the left of the decimal is always 6 characters, leading digits being replaced by the "-" character to pad. For example:

2011-04-05_---450.00_expedia.pdf
2010-12-23_--1245.56_toysrus.pdf

The result is that in every monthly folder you get a nice list of receipts, where the dates and amounts all line up. It makes for quick and easy statement reconciliation at the end of each month.

The problem is, one of our credit card companies does not, and now I am told cannot, provide calendar month statements. So there are always going to be receipts at the start of the month and the end of the month that for reconciliation purposes (which is the primary purpose) are in the wrong folder.

As far as I'm aware, they are the only one of our umpteen financial institutions, across four countries and two continents that cannot provide calendar-month statements. Sigh.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Trying to cancel MozyPro - part 5 of 6

They got back to me with an email to confirm my account has been closed. I'm calling this 5 of 6 though because I'm waiting until the next billing date to make sure no money comes off my credit card.

Trying to cancel MozyPro - part 4 of 6

Second email sent to my "Account Manager" asking that she confirm my account is now cancelled.

Trying to cancel MozyPro - part 3 of 6

Well it's now Tuesday and I've not yet heard nothing back from the "please close my account" email I sent to my Mozy "Account Manager" sent on Saturday. Also, I forgot to mention, when I sent her the email, I Cc'ed "support@mozy.com". That Cc resulted in the following bounce message from invalidsupportrequest@mozy.com:

> You have emailed an unmonitored mailbox. For technical assistance with a
>
> Mozy product, please visit our Support Portal.
>
>      United States: http://mozy.com/support
>      France: http://mozy.fr/support
>      Germany: http://mozy.de/support
>      Ireland: http://mozy.ie/support
>      United Kingdom: http://mozy.co.uk/support
>
> All other countries may access the Mozy Support Portal in English at
> http://mozy.com/support
>
> Thank you,
> Mozy

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Trying to cancel MozyPro - part 2 of 6

OK, had a quick conversation with the support guy. He located my account from my email address and had to inform me that, "This is the kind of account that I cannot cancel here. It has to be done by a sales representative and unfortunately they're not here at the weekend."

I mentioned that I had already mailed someone (the person who had called me recently) and requested cancellation. When I asked if that would be sufficient he said it would. So let's wait until next week and we'll see.

Just before he answered the call and I began documenting stuff on this blog, I had found something official-looking about canceling MozyPro (as opposed to the personal Mozy). It's here and the crucial part is this:
To permanently close the account, you must open a case with support...
It then goes on to explain how to open such a case. But that therefore appears to contradict the reassurance I just got from the phone guy about how my email to the sales gal would be sufficient.

And then, this just in. I just received an email from Mozy Support telling me that "Your recent Support case #00220118 regarding "Cancel account" has been closed....". Now call me Mr Picky but if that's referring to my phone call then it's not remotely closed.

The email also requested, "Because we value your feedback, I would like to invite you to take our short Customer Satisfaction Survey...". Hmm. I wonder how that's going to go for them.

More as I hear it.

Trying to cancel MozyPro - part 1 of 6

We've been using MozPro for backups for a few years ago. But in fact we haven't actually made use of it, so I've decided to cancel and stop paying the $70-odd a month. Apparently this is easier said than done.

First I logon to our account and look for the usual suspects, "My Account", "Billing" and so on. But none of those have the desired button or link to "Cancel My Account".

Next, I go to their help system and try searching there. I search for "delete account" and "cancel account", but nothing useful appears.

OK, so it's already vaguely worrying, but let's check Google. I search for the same kinds of things but while I don't turn up anything actually telling me how to cancel, I find several posts on forums describing the very problem I'm having. For example here, and here. Now in fact I do find a couple of items describing a method for closing the account. For example here. The problem is, those instructions don't seem to apply to my account. They talk about selecting something called "My Profile" but no such thing exists on my account. Then I realize that those are instructions for Mozy, and not explicitly for MozyPro. Apparently there's a difference. Or something.

Then I realize, hang on, if I'm MozyPro then I'm paying and in which case surely there must be some kind of superior support line I could call. I did receive some recent emails from an account manager "checking on our needs" so maybe there's something there. Sure enough, I find a 24x7 support line and a support code I can use.

So, I'm on that line now. Have been for ... <checking>...13:57 minutes. Ah, someone has just answered!