Quarterly plan insights

We spent a couple of hours yesterday working out our plans for the next quarter for the Rise Vision team. Something we do every quarter. Which goes something like this.

  • What's our goals? Confirm them, make sure we are all on the same page and that nothing has changed. They still make sense.
  • Where are we at compared to the goal? We get real honest about this. Can be a bit depressing but we need to know exactly where we are at without the rose colored glasses viewpoint. As our favorite saying goes "reality sucks" followed by "it's an acquired taste".
  • The difference between our goal and reality is a discrepancy. We make sure every discrepancy is identified and someone owns resolving it. It is up to them to elaborate how they are going to do that, who they need, resources, etc. and by when it will be done.
  • We then repeat the above, confirm goal, check reality, make sure the discrepancy resolution is accounted for and we repeat till our plan for the quarter is solid. Usually takes a day or 2 of back and forth between everyone but at the end we all know what has to be done and we can count on each other to make it happen.

Just for the record, our goals are pretty simple:

Number 1 priority. Deliver a display platform for resellers to create awesome solutions for their clients.

Number 2 priority. Make it the lowest priced solution possible - we are still not there yet, but working hard at it and we do this by keeping our costs below the industry norm through:

  • Using what we call a no touch self serve model - we aren't completely there yet, but like I said, this is the goal
  • Running a virtual organization - we run a cloud based company and only get together once a week for those that live in Toronto and we Skype in the rest - yes we walk the talk, we really do believe in and use web services for everything. A year ago we had 20+ servers running. We're now down to 6 and moving everything to Google as fast as we can so that we get down to none. My experience with moving to Google Apps Premiere for our company has been amazing. I can't recommend it enough. The gains made from moving to an online, instantly collaborative environment, far exceed the loss of functionality that Google docs doesn't have versus traditional desktop solutions and I think Gmail beats the desktop on all counts.
  • Using internet marketing rather than traditional tradeshows, direct sales calls, etc. It's a heck of allot cheaper and we think it works better.
  • And, recognizing that we can't build everything that everyone wants, we just don't have the resources to do it, so we have to create a platform that everyone else can use to do just that. How? By making our next solution an open sourced application, that uses a non-proprietary format for presentations - HTML!, with lots of integration API's, and support for Google Gadgets -which means that anyone can easily create a gadget to incorporate any data they please into our presentation.

Couple of things came out of this review which struck me as important and that I want to share.

First, we are 2 months behind with our alpha release of our new digital signage platform. We are now targeting May and we should be out in beta within a few months after that. This is the part that sucks. Moving to the Google App Engine world although exciting hasn't been without it's challenges and we have had a few surprises along the way and many learning "opportunities" for our small band of merry developers.

Second, we're still having trouble understanding where we're going. Today, the Rise Display Network is an application for digital signage for our resellers to resell to their end users. Tomorrow it won't be an application that requires constantly balancing the needs of many resellers with many divergent points of view for their niche markets. Instead it will be a platform first and foremost, that provides our resellers with the tools to extend what it does to create highly personalized digital signage solutions for the niches they target. If they want to do that.  We're moving from developing an application to developing a platform. And yes, this is part of the reason why we're late unfortunately.

And thirdly, and this one requires an introduction. I personally think the world is sick of slick. We have all had too much experience with it and we are tired of things that look amazing but have no substance. And, I think we are much smarter than we used to be and it is allot harder to pull the wool over our eyes and fool us with glitz. However, there are those that think we need to put effort into making a slick user interface that looks amazing because that is what sells, and then there are those of us (yes, I am in this camp), that want that effort put into creating functional substance, a better platform, with a good functional user interface, but not at the expense of spending so much time and money on glitz that there isn't any substance behind it. After a few rounds slick UI is on hold until substance is complete.