Business


Andrew has some great hints over on his blog about 7 questions to ask a co-founder.  It’s more of a list of preparatory steps and things to think about.  Having gone through this already, it’s very true.  Partnering in business is like partnering in marriage and you quickly become attached at the hip.  For me, it’s been a great experience, but you really need to evaluate who you are going to partner with before you start on any adventure.

Last night my brother called me, which I love, and we talked about the next version of Parallels for the Mac.  He was telling me that the next version will work with BootCamp for running a guest OS.  This means you can install Vista on a BootCamp partition and then use Parallels to access its applications via the Mac OS.  Pretty nifty.

He also brought up the fact that Macs are very over priced.  For the equivalent systems he can get a Dell for $800 whereas the same Mac would cost $3000.  Can anyone justify this?  I can’t make a business decision to go with a Mac if they cost more than 3 times that of an equivalent Dell.

I started this trip a little apprehensive, but several thousand miles into it and I’m excited again.  Most often I am blase about travel up until the plane lands.  I usually never care about travel or get excited by it until I actually arrive at my destination.  This time, I’m having breakfast, drinking some coffee (black), and practicing what I’ll do when I get there.  I feel back in my element and love the feeling.

I’m excited about the opportunities that exist for me and curious why I never felt this way before.  Sometimes it helps to be in the right place at the right time, but what about the other times when you are not?  I think you should stop doing things that do not excite you.  If something is not enabling your excitement or the excitement itself, you should cut it out.  If you feel in a rut and are watching others cruise by, ask yourself what you can do to change things.

The potential for innovation is all around us, but it takes someone who is searching to actually find it.  Being in California I am surrounded by the history of goal mining.  The era of the great gold rush is iconified in cities such as Auburn with great statues of people panning for treasure.  Donner Pass is a memorial to those who trekked across the US in search of that treasure and a new life.  These are the seekers and they are here today as well.

Today the seekers exist in the form of technology innovators.  Who would have thought that VoIP would make Skype a great guy for eBay?  Who would have guessed that short, online video would make YouTube a critical acquisition for Google?  And who would have guessed that thousands of other ideas would have failed?

It is the seekers and treasure hunters that amaze me.  They are not always seeking money, but the next big thing.  And often times the next big thing is just a small change to something we are currently doing today.  Think about all the great innovative ideas that affect our culture and society.  How many of them are technological innovations vs. usage innovations?  Many of the things we use such as social-networking, online photo galleries, online video, geo-tagging, and even AJAX are simple changes to the old usage of technology.

Not since the Calacanis pronouncement of Google’s “office suite” have I seen a solid analysis of Google’s future plans. This article really pushes the envelope of what Google could be doing in the future.

I enjoyed reading the lawyer’s client manifesto (original link).  Some of my favorites are listed below:

  •  Your case/matter is the most important thing happening to you right now. It is not the most important thing happening to your lawyer right now. It may not even be in his top ten.
  • You want to buy results, not time. Most lawyers sell time, not results. Make sure you both understand the difference before your first bill arrives. You will certainly understand the difference after.
  • Big firm lawyers are not more efficient. Or smarter. Or cheaper. They are certainly not cheaper.
  • Make sure your lawyer understands your business. If your lawyer doesn’t understand your business, find out if he’s going to learn about it on his time, or yours.

I’ve learned each of these lessons over the past year and am happy to have a good lawyer working with me.  Always ask for a referral from a friend with a good lawyer.  I did and am happy to this day.

The only addition I would make to the list is:

  • Lawyers charge by the hour and thus will explain an infinite amount of detail on any topic.  They need to pay off their law school bills where they were trained to research and talk for long amounts of time.  Limit them to just the information necessary to make a business decision.

I recently experienced the *worst* customer service ever from Alamo, the car rental company. My wife traveled to the rental location after having reserved the car on-line with her debit card. When she arrived they told her she could not pay for the car rental with the card she used to reserve it with.

According to Alamo “corporate policy, which has been the same for many years” they will only rent cars on a debit card to “out of town” renters who have a valid return ticket. WHAT?! This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard. They will allow you to rent the car, as a local renter, if you have a credit card.

So I called Alamo customer service at (800) GO-ALAMO (462-5266). They told me that it was for “security reasons”. When I told them this was a dumb answer (I said it in a nice and polite manner) they explained that, “out of town renters were more likely to return the car.” Here’s how the conversation went.

Me: Please explain why what “security reasons” there are for not renting to a local renter with a debit card but you will to an out of town person with a debit card.
Alamo: Well, someone with a return ticket will return the car vs. someone without one may decide that if they can’t pay or don’t have the funds just not to return the car.
Me: So, you the risk is that a local renter using a debit card will not return the car, but a foreign renter from another country will return the car because they have a return ticket?
Alamo: That is correct.

I can not believe that they think someone will actually “not return the car” if they are a local renter and using a debit card vs. a credit card. The customer service person did not understand how credit card transactions work and gave me the wrong answer. The correct answer, IMHO, is as follows.

When a car rental agency rents you a car they do not authorize the car for the full amount as they do not know what the final charge will be. For example, you may return the car without gas and they will need to charge you for refilling the tank. This means that they only authorize the card for a portion of the final bill, which is usually 50-80% of the total charge.

If someone is using a credit card the amount that was authorized will be removed from the available credit in anticipation that a settlement will happen and the car rental place will charge that amount. If the final charge is more than the available credit on the card the charge will still go through as most credit card offer some sort of overdraft protection (for a fee). This is very different on a debit card.

If a debit card has an available balance of $100 and the card is authorized for $90 but the final bill is $150 the car rental place will not be able to charge them as many debit cards are caped at the available balance in the person’s account. If the car rental agency cannot charge the customer they cannot accept the car! This means they need to keep charging the customer daily rental fees until the customer can pay the amount due to the rental agency, which increases daily.

This is a risk for accepting *any* debit card, not just for people who are traveling and have a return ticket. What they are really saying is that people who can afford to fly are affluent and have plenty of money to cover their travel related costs. This is easy to decide as most commercial air travel is done by business people. Alamo is discriminating against local, and in their eyes “poor”, travelers who they think will not be able to pay their bill. This has lawsuit written all over it. Re-read this paragraph again and think about it.

The problem is that the car rental company authorizes the card for a dollar amount much smaller than they knew they would charge the customer, during settlement. Since they know this, they can mitigate the risk by authorizing the card for a much higher amount such that they know will cover the final balance. So why don’t they do this? It is an inconvenience to the cardholder and in their mind something that will cause their affluent customers to become upset when they find out that a large authorization has allocated their funds. Instead, Alamo decides to hedge their bets and just deny local debit card use.

I checked the Alamo web site which states that *no* debit card of any type will be accepted for payment, which contradicts what the rental agency permits in practice and what I was told by the customer service representative:

Alamo does not accept debit cards at time of rental. Although a debit card may be accepted online, you will not be able to process your transaction at time of rental.

Here are the US and UK policies on use and acceptance of a debit card. The US policies:

When renting in the U.S., debit and check cards may only be used in conjunction with proof of a round trip travel ticket (airline, cruise ship or train) at time of rental.

For pick-ups in the United States, without proof of roundtrip ticket, debit or check cards are only accepted when returning the vehicle.

The UK policies are much more reasonable.

Debit cards can not be used as a deposit at the beginning of the rental, and can only be used for payment when returning the vehicle.

This shows that I am correct in that the problem resides between the authorization and settlement, and that car rental agencies still discriminate against locals.

‘Thought without borders’ is a phrase I came up with to represent the concept of controlled chaos. I was working with a colleague the other day who said, “I work best on the edge of chaos. My desk is full of papers and it stimulates ideas.”

The key here is that controlled chaos is only effective when the ‘chaos’ is buttressed against a ‘control’ that keeps it from slipping into anarchy or explosion. I work on a similar plane always fully committing myself to projects and juggling multiple things at once. I like to think up ideas and get projects started, but completing them takes a high amount of focus and energy.

My continued ability to toe the line between control and chaos is having someone who keeps me in check. Thought without borders is a way of thinking outside the box. Albert Einstein once asked, “What is the difference between genius and stupidity? Genius has limits.” Making sure you keep the chaos controlled and thought within check requires a balance in relationships.

Limitless possibilities can be commoditized only through guided direction.

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