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Category: WWDC

Customer Service

There have been two instances of excellent customer service that I’ve experienced recently. The service offered in both instances was so good, that I decided to blog about them.

The first experience took place just before WWDC this year. Usually after a year of hammering on a laptop battery, I pick up a fresh battery before the conference, simply because it’s important that the laptop works all day while taking notes in the sessions. Usually I replace the battery with an Apple standard battery, but this year I decided to give a third party a shot. FastMac has a battery for the MacBook Pro that claims it will last longer than the Apple one, and it’s about $20-30 cheaper too. I ordered it and waited patiently for it to arrive.

After hearing nothing for about a week (and WWDC getting dangerously close), I decided to give them a call. The person I talked to was apologetic, stating that they ran out of stock just before my order was placed. Bummer. Fortunately, FastMac did have new Apple batteries in stock, and not only did they offer to switch my order, they added rush shipping to make sure it would arrive before the conference, and knocked the price down to $10 less than they were charging for their own battery. The unit arrived with a day or two to spare, and overall it was a great example of a company going the extra mile.

The second experience happened just a few days ago. I’m installing a new network here at the office, and part of that new network was a Cisco router. As usual, I ordered the new equipment from NewEgg. It arrived, and seemed to work okay out of the box, but for some reason I was unable to connect to the device using the ASDM or over the web configuration interface. I called up Cisco, and the tech I spoke with there spent an hour and a half on the phone with me trying to troubleshoot the issue. The nice thing was their use of WebEx to help troubleshoot, so they could share my Desktop here and work with the router themselves directly. In the end, it was determined that the router I received had a corrupted flash chip, because we were unable to write any new data to the flash disk.

I went through NewEgg’s online exchange interface, and it was looking like I needed to pay to ship the damaged router back to them (shipping of the replacement device was free). I was a bit put off by this. While I agree it wasn’t NewEgg’s fault I received a bum router, I also shouldn’t pay extra for something that wasn’t my fault either. When calling up NewEgg to ask an unrelated question, the representative I was speaking to noticed that I was charged shipping to return the damaged device. Not only did he refund the return shipping amount, but he also put through an order for the new device to ship before they received the damaged one. To top it all off, he upgraded the shipping on the replacement to next-day air for free.

In this last situation, both Cisco and NewEgg get major props for great service. The new router arrived and it’s worked perfectly from the get-go.

Catchup

Wow, I think this is the first time I’ve opened MarsEdit in months. Looks like my last post was back in February, so I figure an update here is long overdue. I don’t have any particular topic to talk about today, so this post will be a catchup of everything happening here in the past 3 months.

The biggest change has been a new consulting gig I picked up back in March. Clint posted on Twitter about a contract position for an iPhone developer on the Ars Technica Job Board. The kicker is that the job was to code a weather application. I had been curious about iPhone coding, but didn’t have time in my development schedule to fit another pet project. On the other hand, if I could learn iPhone development while getting paid, I could definitely shift some projects around. Being a weather app, this job matchup was too good to pass up; so I sent in my resume one morning back in March. That afternoon, the company got in touch with me for an interview, and the following week I flew out to their headquarters to get up to speed on the project.

The development cycle for this app was pretty quick. With the first deadline of a working demo only 3 weeks from the day I started, I really booked it and started pumping out code. My life was pretty much coding, from time I woke up until going to bed. A rough, but fairly good demo was completed, with 10k lines of code in those first 3 weeks. I had about a week off, which incidentally was the same week of my 30th birthday. It was great to take a little bit of time off, party with some friends, and enjoy life.

Then the second stage of the project kicked in, which needed to be completed in only 2 more weeks time. The second stage was definitely slower, so I was able to sleep a little bit more, and see Katrina from time to time. 🙂 The resulting stage 2 app was pretty polished. The company I’m working with has a few contacts at Apple, so they arranged to demo it in Cupertino. That was a couple of weeks ago and from what I heard, the demo went pretty well. All the work definitely paid off. You should be seeing this product hit the market some time this summer. I’ll definitely post more about this when the time comes.

Our Moke After all that work and Katrina’s semester coming to a close, we decided to take off on a vacation. We found a great deal on airfare and hotel down to Barbados, so we decided to jump on it. We spent last week on the south coast of the island soaking up the sun, learning the culture, having a blast driving around in our little moke (see photo), and just getting some good R&R. There’s not a ton of stuff to do on the island, but definitely enough to keep you occupied for a week or two. We toured one of the 14 Concorde jets in existence, visited some caves, walked a historical museum, snorkled with some sea turtles, and enjoyed some excellent food.

With a constant 15 mph trade wind, the surf on Barbados was better than any other Caribbean island I’ve visited. Furthermore, our hotel room opened up onto the beach, so I was able to walk about 50 feet from our patio and paddle out to bodyboard. Needless to say, several surf sessions took place that week.

With summer finally finding it’s way to central Michigan, the mountain biking season has now begun. Bodyboard being a fairly difficult activity in Michigan, mountain biking has become my main form of exercise. For the past 10 years, I’ve been riding a Trek hardtail. I’ve put over 3000 miles on it, and the gears are almost completely shot. So I was posed with a decision of either spending a couple hundred bucks on a new set of cogs, bearings, and a chain, or breaking down and purchasing a whole new bike.

I had been looking at getting a full suspension bike for the past few years, so I started visiting bike shops around here to ride some different models. I had hit every bike shop in a 30 mile radius, without any luck. Finally, while we were down in Lansing for the day, I checked a few bike shops down there and found my new ride. Of course the bike shop didn’t have the right frame size, so I had to order it.

New Bike

A week later, it arrived, and I picked it up the day after we got back from Barbados. So far, I love it. It’s a Trek Fuel EX 5.5 complete with disc brakes, 3-5 inches of adjustable travel in front, and 5 inches of travel in back. Clipless pedals were not included so I swapped mine out from the old bike. I also added a seat pack (with tools to fix a flat and a few other necessities) and installed a new speedometer. My previous bike was so old, that even with the full suspension upgrade and a much beefier frame, this bike is lighter than my last. This weekend will be the first time I take it on the trail…definitely looking forward to it.

Looking toward the summer, I’ll be headed out to WWDC in San Francisco next month. A lot of good parties are starting to fall into place, so it should be a fun week. After that, we’re heading over to camp in Yosemite for a few days before coming home and spending the rest of the summer here working.

Indie Marketing @ Macworld

Macworld Expo San Francisco is one of the largest, if not the largest, Mac user event of the year. For an indie Mac developer, if there is one conference (other than WWDC) that should be attended, this is it. So why haven’t I attended in previous years? I asked myself that same question last year after hearing about all the indie get-togethers and bar nights.

The Good Ol’ Days

The last time I attended Macworld Expo was back in 2001, just after I graduated from UCSB and before starting a job in Tucson, AZ. A lot has changed in my career in these past 7 years. For one, 7 years ago I hadn’t yet developed any software for the Mac platform. Though I was an avid Mac user, at that time I was programming mostly for Unix, and occasionally on Windows (against my will).

But that was years ago…I started programming for Mac OS X in 2002, so the question remains, why haven’t I been attending Macworld? I think it may have something to do with the conditions of which I have attended Macworld in the past. You see, the first year I attended Macworld Expo was back in 1990. The Mac IIfx was the big new machine at the time, and with the costs of such a machine nearing $10,000, only a few companies had that kind of hardware at their booth. Mac IIcx and IIci’s were more common, as was the Mac Portable—which was new at the time. I attended Macworld every year after that until 1997, when it didn’t make sense to take time off from classes at UCSB to do so. To me, attending the expo was a fun event; almost like going to an amusement park. Yeah…I was most definitely a Mac geek.

Perspective

The thing is, I never saw Macworld as a business event…it was strictly for fun. And now that I’m living in Michigan, it didn’t make sense to spend the money to attend a “fun” event. It wasn’t until I started talking to other developers who had attended the conference that I realized just how much I was missing by not attending.

Will I have a booth? No. How about one of those ADC developer kiosks? Nope. Why not? Well, this year I just want to re-learn the ropes of the conference. Paul Kafasis has written a nice series of articles on exhibiting at Macworld, but it’s been such a long time, I really want to get a recent perspective on what the conference is like before plunking down $10k to become an exhibitor. So this year, Gaucho Software will be at Macworld as a Quasi-Exhibitor.

What does this mean? Well, it means that I’ll have a lot of similar materials as a company exhibiting would, except for the actual 10×10 foot real-estate on the show floor. First, I designed a different Seasonality t-shirt for each day on the show floor and had Zazzle print them up. Second, I designed a flyer and ordered 1000 copies from SharpDots. Finally, I put in an order through PensXpress for 200 Seasonality pens to give away at the show. Let me elaborate a bit to explain my reasoning for each of these…

1. T-Shirts

I started designing and ordering the first Gaucho Software T-Shirts about 18 months ago for WWDC 2006. Thanks to outfits like Zazzle and CafePress, it’s now easy to print a custom design on a t-shirt of pretty much any color and style. At the time, I just threw the words Gaucho Software across the front and a big logo across the back. It was beneficial to wear at developer conferences like WWDC and C4, because it would give people a better idea of who I was before actually meeting them. Did it increase sales? No…but that’s okay, it was cool to have the shirts all the same.

For WWDC 2007, I designed a t-shirt highlighting Seasonality and I wore it on a day when there was an event at the SF Apple Store in the evening. Surprisingly enough, I found a nice little spike in sales during the day or two after wearing that shirt. Hey, if that one t-shirt helped sales, wearing a different Seasonality shirt each day of Macworld should help too…

2. Flyers

The decision to design a flyer to hand out at the show was easy, but going through the details of actually designing it was much more difficult. First, I had to choose a size. I decided to go with a half-sheet, or 8.5×5.5 inches. I chose this size because I didn’t want the flyer to get lost in the shuffle. I remember getting tens, even hundreds, of flyers every day I attended in previous years. A full page flyer would require a lot of content, and would be more difficult to hand out to people. Going with a size that is as wide as normal page but not as tall, will keep it from getting lost, but still make it easier to hand out.

The design was a bit tricky. I’m used to designing interfaces on-screen using the RGB colorspace. Designing for print is different. First, you have to deal with color limitation in the CMYK colorspace. Seasonality uses a lot of blues…which CMYK wreaked havoc upon. I had to choose a screenshot carefully to make sure it still looked good. Next, I had to deal with the print design being a fixed entity. Application (and to some extent, web) interfaces are dynamic. I needed to find a good way to portray information in a non-changing medium. Finally, I needed to make sure all the necessary information was on the flyer somewhere. I was pretty close to printing a design without any kind of URL to note where to purchase Seasonality. Incredible, yes… That would have made the flyers next to useless. I spent hours designing the flyer, and it took a second viewer only a few minutes to notice the lack of any kind of link. Moral of the story is, have someone check your work before shipping it off to print.

3. Pens

The pens I ordered was a last-minute idea that I think will be pretty cool. Macworld exhibitors usually give away some kind of trinket, and I thought it would be cool to do the same. Most trinkets aren’t often used after the conference ends, and I didn’t want to give someone a trinket they would just end up throwing out afterwards. A pen will hopefully remain useful for most attendees after the conference ends.

Another thing I didn’t want to do was skimp out, so I decided to go for a metal casing instead of plastic. Of course, some plastic pens are very nice, but you can’t tell that by looking at a picture on a website. I figured with a metal pen, it would at least have a decent weight and feel to it. At the same time, I didn’t want a pen that was too expensive either. There’s no way I would get enough sales to cover the costs of handing out pens at $10+ a piece. I ended up finding a nice metallic pen with laser engraving for $1 each at PensXpress. Their turn-around time was pretty quick, and I’m pleased with the results.

4. Profit?

After all this work, I’m not exactly sure what to expect at this point. Obviously, I hope I make enough in sales to pay for all of these materials and my trip costs, but it’s not so much the money I’m looking for here. What I would really like is increased mind-share. Thus far, all of my marketing has been directed towards Mac users who frequent news and download websites. There are certainly a lot of users who fit into this category, but what about users who don’t spend their free time online? I’m hoping to meet a lot of these other users at Macworld, and hopefully it will give me a chance to widen Seasonality’s audience.

If you’re planning to attend Macworld, be sure to look for the guy in the Seasonality shirt and stop to say hello… 🙂

What's WWDC??

End-users often ask me what exactly happens at WWDC, or any other development conference for that matter. The question can catch me off-guard. I’ll stumble around for a minute or two as I struggle trying to explain exactly what I get out of a conference like C4 or WWDC. Rob Griffiths from Macworld is attending WWDC this week, and wrote an article on MacCentral to explain just that…

The more immediate connection to Apple employees is certainly one of the biggest advantages of attending WWDC, and I have taken advantage of this a few times this week. However, if I had to choose one key reason to attend a developer conference like this, it would be to have the opportunity to connect and share ideas with other indie developers. Arguably the most innovative applications come from development shops with fewer than 5 developers. These are the applications on the leading edge. Being an indie developer gives us flexibility to choose the latest technologies, and WWDC is a great place to share ideas and talk about how we handle business, marketing, and customer support.

Last night, while listening to Ozomatli perform live at the WWDC San Francisco Bash, I had the pleasure of talking with Luis de la Rosa, Brian Cooke, Tom Harrington, and Lemont Washington about such topics. Other than Luis, I hadn’t spoken to any of these developers much, but it was great extending some connections and talking about Leopard technologies and their effects on our own applications.

Of course a big attraction of WWDC is learning the new APIs and improving our development skills, but that’s just part of the picture. Between the instructional sessions, access to Apple engineers, and sharing ideas with other developers, WWDC is an awesome developer conference. It’s definitely an event I wouldn’t want to miss.

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