Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Doing What You Feel is Right vs What the Customer Wants

Last week I was fortunate enough to demo Divvy Investments at the CED Tech Venture Conference in Raleigh.  Over 800 attendees.  Over 100 investors.  Over 100 companies in the demo room.  It was an amazing experience.  I received great exposure, feedback, and as an added bonus even some clients.  Thanks for everyone who stopped by the booth!

I was a little bit of a square peg for a round hole in the room because I wasn't actively seeking funding.  I am used to that though.  My entire company is sort of based on being the square peg.

I made the choice to not hold client funds.  This goes against what just about every financial advisor in the country does.  Sure I could make a lot more money by managing the investments myself in a custodial account and charging a percentage of assets managed, but that doesn't really help the DIY investor much.  I'm trying to help DIY investors make better decisions across the board (401k, IRA...) and spend less time/money on planning for retirement.  I'm not trying to convince DIY investors to hire a financial advisor or to not use one anymore.  I'm asking them to let me help guide them.

I also made the choice to not link to client financial accounts (banks, 401k, brokerage accounts...). This was something that I was asked about many times at the conference.  Many people suggested I should add it as a feature. I'm not going to add it.

I'm all about maximizing returns with the minimal amount of risk (there are many types of risk... that is a different story altogether).

Let's hypothetically say that you link all of your financial information to my site.  What if the site gets hacked?  Not good.  Now all of your financial information is available to the hacker.  You could become a bigger target to them now as well.

But wait, there's more.  Banks are insured by the FDIC.  Many banks have terms in their security policies stating that if you authorize a third party service to act on your behalf, and a breach occurs, it (the bank) is not liable for loss.  Many of the tools out there that make the connections between sites and financial institutions have legal terms to protect themselves from lawsuits.  This makes for a very bad day for the client.

Now let's look at how Divvy Investments is set up.  I don't hold funds.  What that means for my clients is that they can take the asset allocation model and apply it across all of their investment accounts (401k, ROTH...doesn't matter).  If you don't have access to the exact funds recommended you can either pick ones that are close or send a message to support and we'll help you figure it out.

I also don't ask clients to link their accounts to the site.  Getting hacked is unlikely, but not worth the risk to my clients.  A lot of people seem to want that feature but I don't feel like it is the right thing to do.  I may not get those people as clients and that's ok.

The customer is always right.  They just may not be the right fit for your product/service.  That is a very tough thing to grasp

Monday, September 14, 2015

Go LIVE- A Comedy of Errors

"The Comedy of Errors" is a play by Shakespeare with a focus on humor through slapstick and wild mishaps.  This play should be adapted for modern times at the scene of a startup going live.

My better half had a coffee mug from work about a year ago that read "Keep calm and go live."  I sort of got a kick out of the mug.  She works at a hospital with a bunch of smart people.  Surely the system they were implementing had been tested thoroughly.  What could possibly go wrong simply by going live?

Fast forward to last week.  We had tested six ways from Sunday.  Sure, there were a few minor tweaks to make.  There were some enhancements to add down the road.  But the site was functioning like a finely tuned machine.

YES!!!  This was it.  This was what I've been waiting for.  I felt pretty cool as I strutted around HQ Raleigh with an imaginary boombox on my shoulder blasting out "I'm walking on sunshine" (yep, I went old school on that one).

("What's a boombox, old man?" says the kid who learned how to program before he could walk and has started and exited from 7 startups at 13.  I start to explain and he looks confused.  Then as he walks off I say "Hey kid, catch!" and toss him a "Do You Divvy?" t-shirt just like Mean Joe Greene did in that old Coke commercial.)

Battle scarred and all, I'm going live!  Perfect timing too!  Later that evening, in about 5 hours, I would get to showcase the company to about 600 people as part of the Innovate Raleigh Innovatours event.

Here we go.  I read over my checklist.  Click off TEST MODE.  Check.  Change DNS (that's fancy speak for pointing to the real site instead of the test platform).  Oops.  I forgot to do that.  Once I do that I can tell the world.

Hmmmm.... how do I change DNS?  The developers are busy on a couple other projects right now.  It can't be that hard to do right?  I logged into godaddy where I registered the name.  More complicated than I thought but still doable.  Support sent me some very helpful info with step by step instructions... designed to be read by someone with a PhD in network engineering (not me by the way).  Hmmm.... let me check with the platform where the site is hosted.  More simple step by step instructions for Al Gore (he invented the internet and probably does this stuff in his sleep).

It only took me 2 hours to figure out the inner workings of DNS, 3 tops.  DNS changed.  BOOYAH! Score:  Nick 1.  Interwebs 0.  I couldn't wait to show everyone at the event in a couple of hours.


One thing I failed to realize in my 3 hour tour of DNS, was that it can take a couple of days for the changes to take (pointing to new site, forwarding the SSL security certificates,...).  And there are a few things the developers need to do on the backend to enable some sort of procedure call.


The developer is amazing and jumped through several hoops to get things working before the event (all the while creating new curse words in my honor I'm sure).  There is still a little bit of cleanup left but we are mostly back to functioning.

The event was a success.  I met lots of great people, received a ton of feedback, and even got some clients out of it.

I learn a lot each day as a solopreneur.  Sometimes I learn what to do.  Sometimes I learn what not to do.  I have to run now.  I have another event to prepare for.  I'm really excited to demo at the CED Tech Venture event tomorrow and Wednesday.  There are going to be about 800 people there.  I should probably go mess around with the code for a bit to make some enhancements before tomorrow....



Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Vendors vs Partners

Most businesses have to rely on others for something.  Few (if any) can do everything themselves.

The trick is finding the right people/companies to rely on.

There are a lot of good vendors out there that put out a quality product/service.  They will give you exactly what you ask for.  There is some value in that if you know everything already.  And ideally you don't want to just talk to someone trying to sell you bunch of stuff you don't need.

The real value is when you come across a vendor that goes the extra mile to understand your business.  This is where a real partnership can be formed.  As a solopreneur I need partners, not vendors.

As I mentioned earlier, a vendor may give you exactly what you want.  Whereas, a partner is not afraid to push back on you, dig their heels in, and tell you what you need.

For me, one example rings clear in my head today, Tizbi (  It is a software development company based out of Raleigh, NC.  I got to know some of their team in a prior life.  I liked what I saw and heard regarding how they took care of customers.  To say that I have relied heavily on them is an understatement.

It has been a long, winding road getting everything ready for launch day (which is happening very soon).  We would not be here without the dedication of the Tizbi team.  The COO and I have had some very frank conversations along the way about how to do various parts of the site functionality.  I like that he digs his heels in when I'm wrong about something.  I like the transparency.  I like that the whole team takes a consultative approach (COO, project manager, and developer).  Most of all I like that they put my customers and my business ahead of their own.  They truly have my back.  They are a partner, not a vendor.

As a solopreneur, I can't stress enough how important it is to find partners, not just vendors.  Many companies will talk about this, but few can pull it off.  Take the extra time it takes to find the right fit for your situation.  It will pay off ten fold in the long run.