2006 July 28 by Josh
If Net Neutrality didn't do enough to get you squirming HR5319 AKA Deleting Online Predators Act AKA DOPA should serve as proof that Congress should no longer be allowed to vote on any laws governing the internet. In case you missed the news, DOPA basically will require all public schools and libraries to block access to social networking sites and chat rooms. Of course, MySpace will be banned, but the list of other sites potentially blocked from open public access could grow very long.
Sites to be blocked will be judged by five criteria: 1) offered by a commercial entity 2) has online profiles 3) has journal or blogging features 4) elicits personal information and 5) enables communication among users.
Technically, they should ban IconBuffet, because you know, people over 18 might be swapping icons with people under 18. Threadless certainly fits the requirements. For that matter, any blog with comments might fit the requirements. I don't know how they plan on enforcing this.
I can hear the collective air being sucked out of every high school in the nation right now. We're going to ban cell phones and text-messaging next, right?
All said and done, I'm simply shocked that not only was DOPA passed last night, but it passed with a 410 to 15 vote. Now the resolution will go on to the Senate.
I'm all about cracking down on online predators. This is not the solution. Parents need to be parents. Teachers need to be teachers. And Congress needs to stop regulating stuff it knows very little about. And please don't even get me started about video game taxes. There. I'm done. I feel marginally better now. Check DOPA Watch for the latest news.
2006 July 20 by Josh
So you've made the jump. You're a freelance designer or developer, and a while back you left your steady day job to go it on your own. You repainted the second bedroom in your apartment, bought some furniture from IKEA, and after a year or three things are going well. You work in your shorts, raid the fridge in the afternoon, and stop occasionally to play some XBOX. You have talent, dedication, and clients. Life is good.
You're living the dream.
This success leads to more success. You're traveling, speaking, working for better clients. And this is when you look up and realize, "Oh crap. I'm really busy. Busier than I have ever been in my entire business life."
Sound familiar? I was in this place once. Not too long ago, actually. I left my job almost six years ago to start what became Firewheel. In my mind, I really believed that I would truly be happy freelancing it my entire life so long as I could pay the bills, make a comfortable living, and provide for my family.
I never had any intentions of growing the company or hiring anybody. To be honest, I'm a bit of an idealist, and when you work with someone else, compromise is involved. I didn't like that idea much.
However, after two years of freelancing I was feeling the pressure. I turned down far more work than I even bothered to quote. There were times my schedule was easily booked out six months in advance. While this was all great, it was also a bit frustrating. There were very profitable jobs I had to turn down simply because I didn't have the pipe to take on the work.
After much thought, deliberation, and prayer I made the decision to hire our first employee, John Marstall. And we've never looked back. Today Firewheel has seven salaried employees. It's pretty crazy in retrospect. But hiring the first was by-far the biggest deal. Percentage-wise, that first employee is doubling the size of your company. It's the most important hire you'll ever make. And you need to nail it.
So, thinking about making the jump from freelancing to gosh-to-honest company of people? There are a few suggestions I have for you, starting with this: Hiring an employee is not for the faint of heart. It will change your business forever. And it will potentially change the life of the person you hire as well. Don't make this jump unless you're willing to put your butt on the line for the person you're hiring. Because when clients don't pay on time, your employee gets paid before you do. Remember that.
With that sober reminder out of the way, here are some other small bits of wisdom for you.
Before making a hire, make sure your business structure is set up. Whether it's a corporation or LLC or whatever, take care of this. This separates your personal finances from your business, and is something you should do even if you're freelancing on your own. You definitely need to do this if you're hiring somebody. S-Corporations and LLCs are IMHO the best way to go in the States due to the tax benefits. Talk to your accountant and/or legal counsel on this one to get their take. You do have an accountant and legal counsel, right?
Brush up your bookkeeping and business skills. While I do recommend you have an accountant, I do not recommend unplugging yourself from your business finances. There's a somewhat accurate stigma that creative types aren't good business folks. While this may have an element of truth to it, the solution is not to hire a business guy to offload those responsibilities to. The solution is to become the business person yourself. If you enjoy the creative side, but have no desire to become enthralled with nuts and bolts of the business side of your (hello) business, then you have no business hiring an employee. Advisors and counsel are good. Checking your brain at the door is not.
Hire the best person you possibly can, regardless of location. If you limit yourself to hiring only people in your geographic region, you are limiting your talent base to pull from. Given the landscape of the web, there is no reason why this cannot be a reality for your design business. If they happen to be local, great. If not, don't sweat it. You're better off trading location for talent any day. Also, on that note, you get what you pay for. Talent is not necessarily cheap. But if you're going to hire, do it right and bill appropriately for it. Firewheel has workers in Texas, Missouri, Alabama, and Kansas (and yet we're so cultured, you wonder... I know).
Don't require them to relocate either. While I'm more than thrilled to have our workers here in our home office, I don't require it. On the flipside, having everyone in the same space allows you to combine some expenses. We cover all of the equipment expenses of those working in our home office, while we only cover some of the equipment expenses for those working remotely. Obviously, it would get expensive to pay for everyone's utilities and such. Our remote workers pick up some of those costs on their own, and that allows them to live where they'd like to live.
I should note that all of us are married here except Keegan. Most of us have children (my first is arriving in six weeks!). This puts a spin on the "work from home" concept. But this is probably best left for another discussion. I only bring it up here for context.
Do some contract work with the person before hiring them. We didn't do this with all of our hires, but we certainly did it with some. If there's a question about how working with this or that person is going to go down, do a trial run or two first. This will help you both feel each other out.
After you hire, be prepared to lay you own desires on the ground for your employee. Like I said earlier, they get paid first. You're responsible for their livelihood and well-being. That may also extend to their family as well, should they have one. Don't expect your hours works per week to go down because you hired someone. While you can both share the workload now, there's also more overhead to consider. It'll take some time to adjust. Expect to work harder than ever initially.
So what about the benefits? Well for starters, if you do it right, it's a lot of fun. You work becomes a team effort. You can take on more work, share responsibilities, multiply your talents, learn from each other, do better work, and ideally make more money. This is why you hire the best talent you can. A company's body of work is an average of it's employee's talents. With a small company, one person can drag you down. Hire well, and you'll reap the benefits. Hire cheap, and you'll reap a headache.
With some planning, foresight, and hard work, making your first hire could be the best thing you ever do for your business. For Firewheel, it was a catalyst that brought us to where we are today. I'd like to think that with seven people, we're done growing for a while. Of course, I thought I was content in my spare bedroom four years ago too.
2006 July 13 by Josh
Friends of Firewheel know we've been down on Sony as of late. We even printed some t-shirts. But it wasn't always this way. I used to be a huge Sony fan. I believed their consumer electronics were bar-none the best. Their design was superior, and their products were quality.
Then somewhere along the way Sony fell off the track. Or perhaps they just started sniffing their own crap too much. Sony's problems go far beyond the Rootkit hoo-hah. Sony's downfall will be (er, is) their delusional mindset that people love them because the are Sony. While Sony enjoyed this success for much of the past 20 years, this is no longer true.
My admiration for Sony centered around a couple key product lines: The Walkman was the music player of choice. Sony used to make the best TVs out there (Trinitron used to be a big deal). And the Playstation and PS2 ushered Sony to new heights as an entertainment powerhouse. Walkmans, TVs, and Playstations. My guess is that most consumers out there equate Sony with these same products.
Unfortunately (for Sony), they seem to have bought into the idea that because these products were once great, that they WILL BE great into infinium. This is a deadly mindset for a company, and Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Ken Kutaragi is the blind champion of this mindset.
The iPod took the music player title from Sony some time ago, and Samsung (along with TI's DLP technology) is beating the pants off of Sony's TVs. It won't be long for the Playstation now. Upon hearing Krazy Ken's pronouncement that they're going to hoc the PS3 for $600+, I sold my PS2 and all my games, and promptly reinvested into an XBOX 360. No thank you, Ken.
And a few days ago, I took my last vestige of Sony, my PSP—bought a little over a year ago, and traded it straight up for a new Nintendo DS lite. I couldn't be happier. The DS is better in almost every way, has much better games, and is less expensive in the long run.
I know the Playstation platform will continue to have its fans. Sony won't die. Some folks still like to write code in COBOL too. But Sony's days at the top of consumer entertainment and electronics are numbered (if not already over). Will somebody please let Ken know?
I've now weeded Sony from my life. I wonder how many others are doing the same.