Focus, failures, and sometimes the customer is NOT right.

March 19, 2010

“We began by responding only to customer demand with our specialized service which derailed our in-house product development. It’s an easy trap to fall in as the money early on is very good. However you will eventually need to invest in your own products and core strengths to build a truly unique and profitable business. We are now highly focused, but I wish we’d done it sooner”

Sam Hutchinson, and Josh Adler of Prefix Technologies

Since apparently it’s fashionable to mention previous business failures in blog posts, I thought I’d mention one of my prior failures here, and then tie it up with focus and customer service.

Prefix Technologies took over Creamer Media’s EngineeringNews, and MiningWeekly after my old IIS/ASP based CMS which served them well for 4 years was becoming simply unmaintainable and unscalable and I started the port to move over to a hybrid Linux/Apache/PHP and Microsoft SQL backend as part of the migration.

It was a trying migration. It worked, but I simply didn’t have enough time and energy to continue the final ports of database migration and then adding the additional features they required. Root cause:  Freeside was  a moonlight engagement for me because we didn’t have enough money as a startup to pay everyone (well, apparently everyone but me) — which meant lack of … yeah, you guessed it — focus.

What was even more trying was that my business partner at the time (Hello Robert Budai) screwed me over no end. For example, not paying the company’s taxes, whilst still happily paying himself.

Entrepreneurial Lessons:

  • Never let someone else take care of financial matters and focus purely on technical matters — stay involved.
  • Never trust someone else to have done something important (such as paying taxes) based on pure face value — always confirm for yourself.
  • Don’t try to start a new business by moonlighting — take the knock in salary, take the pain, but at least you will have focus.

All of the above was pretty much the death knell for Freeside’s original CMS, and the company. I was rather relieved that Prefix could take over Creamer Media. For me — it was time for new business, and a new focus. I resigned from my previous job, and bit the bullet with Neology.

I have to agree with Sam and Josh’s views strongly. FOCUS. Don’t deviate.

The thing is, that sometimes existing customers and prospective new ones will throw things at you that causes your eye to waiver from that ever so elusive thing called “focus”. Sometimes you have to say no, even when everyone around you will say “but they’re willing to pay good money”.

That might work in an environment where you’re selling widgets, but it does not work in a high-stress, creative environment where your employees are the single greatest asset your company has.

Sometimes the customer JUST ISN’T right, dammit!

Even when they want to pay you a lot of money. It could be that their demands will so detract from your core business and focus that it may be more damaging than useful to engage. (Yes,  regardless of the damn money).

Strategy, architecture, wellbeing and not compromising your core values  sometimes DO have to come first. (Yes,  regardless of the damn money).

Continually placating and accommodating unreasonable customer demands detract you from your focus, and strategy and will eventually end up costing you more than they’re bringing you. There is a balance to be had. The problem is that identifying this kind of customer, or situation is sometimes not easy.

I’ve started implementing a fairly basic rule which I use to gauge whether I’m entering into one of these situations. And it regards the damn money.

“If it remotely  starts feeling like I’m going to have to slut myself out just to get the business, it needs some reconsideration”.


Business | 1 comment
1 response to “Focus, failures, and sometimes the customer is NOT right.”
  1. Dieter says:

    Hi Roelf

    Great post, I agree with a whole lot of what you wrote. Thanks for sharing!

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 Cubanate, lost opportunities, and licensing models.

March 8, 2010

About 5 years ago I approached Marc Heal of Cubanate fame to “license” one of his tracks for an upcoming, free game in the spirit of Tribes 2, that I was involved in from a development perspective.

The game was called “Legends”, and was a community and fan driven spiritual successor to the Tribes series after Dynamix was closed down by Vivendi Universal games.

Legends, was based on the then Indie-sourced Tribes engine, redubbed Torque, and released by the ex-Dynamix team under the Garagegames banner.

Marc and I had some discussions around the licensing of his songs, but in the end, I couldn’t really offer him anything else than fame and possibly (mis)fortune for having his music embedded in a completely free game.

I’m glad to see that a few years later, his tracks Industry and Oxyacetylene were released as part of the Gran Turismo series of games.

Cubanate’s music simply has the attitude, and gusto for action games, and would be a perfect fit for any future action games. I’ve not heard of Marc, and Cubanate for many years, but I hope that he has found a niche in sound production and making some commercial money off his great musical talents.

In a (probably overinflated, self-gratuitous) way, I hope that I may have had some influence on making him considering the game and electronic media as a sales avenue for his music.

The sad part is that there is actually very little live, or otherwise staged footage of Cubanate left on the internet. I reckon if Cubanate had ridden the Web2.0 wave a little longer like bands such as Sister Machine Gun, and Nine Inch Nails, they could have continued their awesome industrial electronic hit career. Of course, one can never predict or understand the band’s internal politics and cannot question their personal decisions.

I saw Cubanate live. Once. In South Africa, in Hillbrow, in a derelict broken down building that absolutely suited the crass, industrial nature of Cubanate’s music. It was one of the most awesome experiences in my life.

Long live Cubanate, and one of my favourite tracks:

Other Cubanate tracks to “look” for, in order of priority:

Business, Music | 1 comment
1 response to “Cubanate, lost opportunities, and licensing models.”
  1. Be My Enemy says:

    Phil Barrys (the other half of Cubanate) current project…..

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 BrainBench, or how to simplify recruiting a bit

January 28, 2007

I’ve been a member since 2004, way back when they still mailed you a paper version of your certificates for free when you completed an assessment. (This was cool).

I’ve just recently taken one of their tests again, out of curiosity, and I have to say: They still “have it”. The questions are difficult, to the point yet not insane. They have a real nice balance. I will definitely be using their corporate service again, when I need to recruit.

I’ve found it to be an amazing bull-filter before. Plus, the free personality tests are interesting…

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 Tribes:Vengeance’s miserable failure

November 19, 2006

Sadly,  it turned out that Tribes:Vengeance really sucks. Vivendi cancelled the very FIRST patch for the game, with a couple of lame excuses.  Such as “we only sold 7800 copies in the first week”. It’s pretty straight forward guys.  Release a game that is broken, unfinished and no fun to play, and nobody is going to want to buy it. Simple economics. If you had at least bothered to fix it, you may have caught the “long tail” and benefited from the loyalty of the fanbase.

It’s a pity. Tribes was the best team-based Science Fiction game of the last two decades, and I’m going to seriously miss it. Every other game I look at that doesn’t have jetpacks simply gets a “poor groundhuggers” response from me. Perhaps community games like Renegades, or StarSiege:2845 will bring back some of the goodness that was Tribes, but it just simply isn’t going to happen in the next year or two.


I have however dabbled in some Tribes:Vengeance development, but only briefly.

My T:V Projects

VengeanceSpawn – infinite spawn-like tool for Tribes:Vengeance
VengeanceMaster – info about the Gamespy system used by the in-game  T:V matchmaking

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DataPro are one of the best ISP’s in South Africa, in my opinion. They really seem to  care about their staff and that is something I have to respect. Certainly keeps one motivated.

I’ve been hosting, and dealing with them for well over 4 years now, and I have never had anything but awesome service from them. Even when we were arranging a Europe — Britain game of Tribes2,  they  went to the trouble of reprioritizing their traffic, and assuring us the best ping times for .za vs .uk. They were even prepared to let us use their offices to reduce any possible latency.

They’re also the first people in South Africa that came out with an industrial grade UNCAPPED ADSL product, including a firewall, and 16 hours support per month.

All I can say, is that in my opinion DataPro will go a long way. Their MD Doug Reed  is approachable, knowledgeable and friendly, and their technical staff are comitted.

Plus, they have one of the most beautiful hosting facilities I’ve seen in my life. 😉

Rock on DataPro.

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