Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Created New Blog

I'm not sure what I'm going to blog about, but if you're curious go here: http://michaelsica.blogspot.com

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ataraxis Software & Pudding, R.I.P.

I started this blog in May 2005. I created the Ataraxis Software, LLC company around September 2005. I kicked around a few ideas (Project Management app, Requirements Management app) and technologies (OpenLaszlo, Java, RealBasic), finally settling on an idea centered around, "electronic review and approval", and the Ruby on Rails platform. On June 8th, 2007 I was able to release 1.0 of Pudding.

A lot happened in those 2 years.

I got married, bought a house, got promoted to management at my day job, bought another house, sold the first house, and went through most of my wife's pregnancy (my daught was born about a month after Pudding launched on 07/07/07). These are not exactly activies you can "phone-in", if you know what I mean.

Trying to balance the day job, life, and building a product was insane. Most people in the software industry will tell you that taking 2 years to develop a web product is just blame dumb. And they're right. The lapse in time allowed a much more feature-full competitor to build, release, and grass-roots market their product. When I first saw ConceptShare I knew my opportunity to be the first and only product in this space was lost, and ConceptShare's drawing tool was a giant leap over what Pudding would be offering. (Before I saw ConceptShare I actually debated with commenters on this blog over it was a good idea to allow your clients to draw on your comps. ConceptShare is doing it, and they seem to be doing well!)

I knew I needed more help. I recruited a couple of friends to work on Pudding with me. There was a few discussions about what we were going to do, and a bit of code written. Unfortunately, I think they both lost interest. So I was back to just me.

Early last year I was ready to shut Pudding down. I was just completely burned out and I knew I couldn't keep up with the competition. They were working full time. They were a team of (I think) 3. I was still working a full time job during the day, and hacking away on Pudding at night and on the weekends. Before I threw in the towel, a buddy of mine offered to join the company. I accepted and we set the course to build an amazing Pudding 2.0. This kept me going for months. My partner was writing a bunch of code, and we were really headed down the right path.

Unfortunately, life once again got in the way. My partner hasn't been able to spend time on Pudding since about March or April.

This caused me to de-scope the 2.0 plans into a 1.5. Around June of this year I was about 95% of the way toward having a release ready. Unfortunately, around the same time I became very unhappy at my day job (well, I was always kind of unhappy at that place of employment). I started aggressively looking for a new job, and I found a fantastic position with Disney's Interactive Media Group, supporting the Walt Disney Resorts & Parks Online division. The down side of this transition was that the first 6 months on the job had me working on getting a gigantic project out the door, and man was it exhausting.

I've essentially done nothing with Pudding for the past 6 months, and I've decided that I need to stop lieing to myself. I'm just not going to be able to build a competitive product "in my spare time". I know it has happened for some people, and I commend these people for their accomplishments, but I've literally proven that I can't.

Not to mention, ConceptShare isn't the only source of competition these days. Recent entries in the market are Getsignoff and proofHQ.

I've had various subscribers to Pudding over the last year, just never enough to cover all my costs. My biggest thanks goes out to one client, Mr. John Lanza. He was incredibly patient with Pudding. He'd report bugs and provided a ton of feedback on the application. He was even nice enough to give me some quotes for my marketing site.

"I’m so glad I found Pudding. Pudding provides a cost-effective, super-simple solution to a sometimes complex problem – getting feedback and approval from clients. It’s VERY easy to get up-and-running with Pudding and the service is INCREDIBLE. I can’t stress this enough – the SERVICE IS TERRIFIC! I made a suggestion to change how text was displayed and the site was changed within a day."

-John Lanza of Snigglezoo Entertainment

"I really like the website and I think it is a very efficient way to communicate about changes and approvals for different products. I like the fit to screen/real size option and the comments section. Overall I really think the website is an effective way to communicate. ... I love the site!"

-Jaclyn Marcella, a client of Snigglezoo Entertainment

AtaraxisSoftware.com, ProjectPudding.com, and the main Pudding application at AtaraxisPudding.com should all be going offline soon. (Maybe by time you read this blog post.) I canceled all my clients subscriptions and informed them of this about 2 weeks ago.

I've learned an incredible amount over the last 3 years. I read a million articles and books on entrepreneurship, running a business, managing software and marketing. I became a better programmer and UI designer. I've been able to funnel all of these learnings back into my day job, which I attribute to my continued upward climb in my career.

I feel really weird about letting Ataraxis Software go. I had such a burning desire to start a software company, build an amazing product, and grow them both over time. That desire is still in there somewhere, but I think I'm going to take a few years off and focus on family, my day job, and my Xbox 360. :)

The next time I try building a product, I'm going to seek funding, quit my day job, and build it full time. I know funding has a bad rap, but it's better than just working a regular job-type-job, right?

Well, I guess it's time to say good-bye.

Thanks to everyone who has commented on this blog over the years, tried and paid for Pudding, and entertained the idea of joining Ataraxis Software. An extra special thanks to my wife Amy for putting up with this dream of mine for so long - I love you honey!

I'll probably do 1 more post on this blog before I leave it to collect dust (if it doesn't have enough dust on it already). I want to show everyone what Pudding 1.5 was going to look like. I think it was turning out to be a pretty slick app and I just want to show it off.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Giant Robot Games Wiki

I started a little hobby. I love Giant Robot Games, well the good ones anyway. So I started a Wiki with mindtouch.com in an attempt to list every Giant Robot Game ever.


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Updated Pudding's Marketing Site With Quotes and FAQ

I just uploaded a slightly new version of ProjectPudding.com, Pudding's marketing site. The home is a little different, I've added a FAQ section to the Support page, and I've added a gray "band" across the top of each page.

I'm still working on the next release of Pudding, so when that goes out I'll (obviously) be updating the demo video, but I'll also be putting up some screen shots for those potential customers who don't want to watch a video.

Thanks to John Lanza and Jaclyn Marcella for writing in with their flattering comments about Pudding. It's really great to hear any and all feedback. John has been nice enough to give me plenty of hard criticisms regarding Pudding :). It's only going to make the product better for everyone!


Monday, June 30, 2008

Recommended Books 2008

This is my place holder post for all the books that I will read and recommend this year.

If you're a manager, this is a must-read. Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams. The first 1/3 of this book inspired this blog post.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Happy Pudding Users

I'm going to be updating Pudding's marketing site, ProjectPudding.com, with some very nice comments from some happy Pudding users.

Here is one from John Lanza of Snigglezoo Entertainment.
"I’m so glad I found Pudding. Pudding provides a cost-effective, super-simple solution to a sometimes complex problem – getting feedback and approval from clients. It’s VERY easy to get up-and-running with Pudding and the service is INCREDIBLE. I can’t stress this enough – the SERVICE IS TERRIFIC! I made a suggestion to change how text was displayed and the site was changed within a day."
And another one from one of their clients, Jaclyn Marcella.
"I really like the website and I think it is a very efficient way to communicate about changes and approvals for different products. I like the fit to screen/real size option and the comments section. Overall I really think the website is an effective way to communicate. ... I love the site!"
John's been great about giving me feedback regarding Pudding. I can't wait until my users get their hands on my next release. It's not going to be the gigantic one I was hoping to deliver, but it has several very nice enhancements that will make the Pudding experience even better!

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Web Performance

Thanks to Craftymind for benchmarking the various browser technologies. The performance of Flash is common topic between me and a designer-friend. Adobe really needs to step up the performance of the Flash player on the Mac. Mac's are selling like hotcakes, and us Mac-lovers are going to start shying away from Flash applications if they don't perform well.

Let's hope for the best!

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Enlightened workplaces

I (finally) started reading Peopleware. I'm about 1/3 through it and I have to say it's kind of depressing. Depressing from the standpoint that our planet was given this information in the late 80's and this is where we are as a people. Don't get me wrong.... There are pockets of greatness (a few listed below), but it's the exception, rather than the norm.

I've read a lot of blog posts on the interwebs about how our society is STILL stuck in the Industrial Revolution mindset. From the education we receive as children to the structure of our work environments to how (most) managers view and treat their employees.

If you think your job's "ok", or isn't that bad, take a look at the following links to see just how bad we've got it. (I'm sure those of you that hate your job don't need that nudge. ;) )

The Enlighted
ROWE - Results Only Work Environement - "Inside Best Buy's radical reshaping of the workplace."

A podcast interview with Jason Fried, CEO of 37Signals. Jason has a lot of inspiring thoughts on how to run a company and treat a workforce. Take a look at the "experiments" they are performing this year. (4 day work weeks!!! Something I've been thinking about forever. Ever notice how nothing gets done on Friday? And people who work really hard get burned out?)

In the podcast interview Jason mentions Ricardo Semler, which has turned both manufacturing and education on it's head. The work Ricardo Semler has done is also mentioned in this blog post by someone at 37Signals - the link includes a very short, and very interesting video interview with Ricardo.
"I see myself 5 years from now in a hospital with a tremendous cancer problem..."
-Ricardo Semler on the ridiculousness of 5 year-plans.
Here's Joel Spolsky, another "enlightened" CEO (of Fog Creek Software), on creating the perfect work environment for his employees. (Obviously inspired by Peopleware.)

Focus, Vision, and Direction
One thing that I'm "sensing" (spidey powers kicked in) from these organizations is that their leaders have a true vision and an understanding of what they NEED from their people. They don't cop-out on the whole "democratic workforce thing", but just saying "hey guys, do some stuff - i'm heading to the gulf course".

In the case of Best Buy, each employee has specific goals they need to reach or they face termination. I'm assuming these goals are more specific than the, "support the facilitation of growth in the synergy workforce assimilation of some stuff the marketing guys thinks is a good idea this hour," that most companies pass off as "goals".

Best Buy's stock growth. Don't forget, the little green arrows are stock splits.

Here is Best Buy vs. the Nasdaq, NYSE, Dow, and S&P 500. Not to shabby.

37Signals and Fog Creek are both product-based companies, and from what I can tell from following their company blogs, they set clear direction for what their business is building and focus around that product. They don't seem dumb-stuck on a particular idea or track, but they have a goal - build a simple CRM tool (Highrise) or build a simple service that allows for the remote control of another PC (Copilot). Both products actually changed direction during their creation based on internal feedback. (My point is the leaders have plotted the course, and everyone knows what the goal(s) are. Now everyone has to "make it happen".)

I don't know enough about Ricardo Semler's organization to comment (I barely know enough about the ones above either), but from what I can tell, his people know what the end result needs to be and they (the people) dictate how the work is done and innovate their way to it.

Blow your mind
You know what the crazy thing is about all this is? Think about the executives in your company. The people who are making the big bucks, are expected to bring in large business deals, determine the direction for the company, or come up with new products or services to grow the business.... Are any of them chained to a desk? Are any of them expected to (figuratively) punch a clock? If they find out about an event/conference that would grow them as an executive or benefit the company, do you think they have to beg and plead for approval to spend the money to attend? Are they treated like children? (save your 'they act like children' jokes - it's too easy :) ) Are they working in a cubicle?

Of course not... They're free to take over the world...

Why? Because the CEO/Owner/Board of Directors needs their executives to be effective, to grow the business, to improve things. Just being a warm body doesn't cut it.

So why don't all companies treat employees like executives? Why not treat them like the Talent they are?

You're giving them a paycheck, you're literally giving them money! Why not remove all boundaries for them so they can improve anything at any time?

Set goals. Reward amazing results. Remove anyone that turns into baggage.

Of course you need to build in a certain amount of tolerance for failure. If you don't fail from time to time, you're really not trying hard enough. IMO.

Hope & Dreams
If I can "hit it" with the next release of Pudding, and Ataraxis Software grows, I hope I can steer the ship as well as the people mentioned above.

I'd love to hear about any companies, large or small, that reminds you of one of the, "Enlightened workplaces", I mentioned above. Leave me a comment on this post or email me: michealsica at gmail dot com.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Our best are working on Eyeball Revenue

I'm so disappointed in the software development industry. 2 of our largest development companies, employing lots of smart developers, are basically just advertisement resellers.

I know MS is trying to grow their business in more areas than I have fingers and toes to count them on, but to see such a large focus on getting ad delivery deals is just a little disheartening.

I'm really glad the product I'm working on is the exchange-cash-for-delivering-value model. I find it more rewarding. I just can't wait to get this next version done!

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Monday, February 18, 2008

TallyHoh.com Launches, Social Feed Reader

Just passing on a little news. My friend Daniel Roop has just launched his social feed reader, TallyHoh. Daniel is a fellow Orlando-based Rails programmer. It's great to see this kind of work coming from another local Orlando developer.

Congrats on the launch Roop!