Saturday, March 24, 2007

Bug Fix or Feature Upgrade ?

I run a software company. Prior to that, I worked as a software engineer. Throughout my life as a software professional, I had always felt that it is the obligation of the company that produced the software to fix any bugs that prevent it from behaving the way it supposed to. Totally free of charge. That is what we called, Bug Fix.

On the other hand, software is often upgraded to provide new and better features. For example, Microsoft upgraded MS Office from 95 to 97, and then to 2000, and so on. Since the upgraded version has more features, it’s only right that the customers have to pay for them. If the customer feels that he doesn’t need the new features, he can choose not to upgrade the software and it will not affect the performance of the current one. That is what we called feature upgrade, which is different from bug fix.

The reason why I am talking about the difference between bug fix and feature upgrade here, is because of a sight that I had seen which hovers around my mind for quite a while. I lived in an old flat which does not have a lift that service every floor. One fine day, after my morning run, I saw an old man climbing down the stairs with his crutches. Slowly, step by step, he finally reached the ground floor. A feat that most of us could do easily, but probably a daily challenge for the old man.

I started to ponder, if we have a lift that service every floor, it would actually do a lot of good to people like the old man that I had seen. People who are old, sick or handicapped. People who have difficulties in climbing up and down the stairs. To these people, lift upgrading is not a luxury, but a neccessity.

And that brings me to further think about whether lift upgrading should be considered as a feature upgrade, or a bug fix. Flats are built for Singaporeans to have a home of their own. Singaporeans, including the old, sick and handicapped. And the basic functionalities that one should expect from a home, is not only the four walls and a roof, but also its accessibility.

If any people who lived in a flat has difficulty in stepping out of his house because of the inherent design of the flat, I would view it as a bug that prevents the product (flat) from behaving the way it supposed to. A bug which the company has the obligation to fix, free of charge.

So, lift upgrading is actually different from other fanciful upgrading carrots like playgrounds, sheltered pathways, additional storeroom or tennis courts. The latter are, what I called, features upgrade. They provide new features for your house and neighbourhood. If you opt for them, it is natural that you need to pay. But the former (lift upgrading), should not be lumped together as features upgrade. It should be seen as a bug that needs to be fixed, ASAP.

And I understand that, there are quite a handful of flats throughout the island that need such a bug fixed. But yet, we are required to pay for this bug to be fixed. Worse still, even if people are willing to pay, they may not get the bug fixed just because they lived in certain parts of the island.

Politics is dirty. And I know that. In politics, dangling carrots is one of the lethal weapons to win the battle. But we are talking about real people with real problems here. They are Singaporeans. They are humans. They are one of us. You may have win the battle. But are you prepared to lose the hearts?


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

How’s your typical day like?

A friend CY recently posed this question to me. He was interested to know, since I had ventured out for two years, how is a typical day of an entrepreneur like?

I wanted to give a straightforward answer, but found that it wasn’t that straightforward. I had worked in MNC and GLC as software engineer before I ventured out. My typical day in MNC is something like this: Every morning at about 9am, I arrived at the R&D centre of the company. I went to my desk, switched on my PC, checked my email and then open my compiler to start coding. Other than occasional pantry visits and some very rare meetings, the most part of my time in the MNC was spent in front of the PC doing programming stuffs. Seemed boring to some, but actually I quite enjoyed my job there.

My typical day in GLC was a bit more exciting. Other than doing software design and development work, I was also involved in other miscellaneous stuffs like training other engineers, doing some feasibility studies, attending stupid meetings with clueless superiors and customers, lots of documentation, etc. And sometimes I would need to go to customer site to do some integration testing. But overall, I would say 80% of my time in the GLC was still doing technical stuffs like software design and development.

However, being an entrepreneur is quite different. I had to take on different roles at different times due to the scarcity of resources. When I am doing software design and development, I am a software architect cum programmer all-in-one. When I am doing research on new technologies, I am an R&D scientist and Chief Technology Officer. When I am devising the marketing strategy for my products, I am a marketing director. When I meet up with advertiser, I am a marketing executive. When I discuss ad-hoc projects with other companies’ decision makers, I am the CEO. When I do sales demo, I am the sales manager.

So there is actually no typical day for me as an entrepreneur. Normally, I would pre-plan my work-load for the week, and then plan my daily schedule. So my role for the day would depend on how my schedule is like. When I am not doing sales or meeting any customers, I would normally bring my laptop to some public places with air-con and internet access, and do my work there. If my work that day requires multiple PCs or devices like printer / scanner, then I would probably stayed at home. Of course, when I feel that I need to take a break, I would do so and probably do some light stuffs or spend my day walking around or reading some books in a bookshop.

Some of my friends are quite envy of this kind of life-style. Some even thought that I should be rather free, since my products are already developed and all I have to do is to sell them. Sometimes I wonder, do I look so free to them or do I make entrepreneurship looks so simple to them?

So, how’s your typical day like?


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Learn how to piss off your Customers

Last month, I received a mail from my ISP (Internet Service Provider), inviting me to recontract my broadband account. Since the monthly subscription would be lower, I decided to recontract for another 12 months.

According to the mail, I need to go to their website to perform the necessary procedure. So I logged on to the site, indicated my choices, submitted all required information, and clicked the button to submit. That’s the beginning of my nightmare.

Oh no, there’s some mysterious errors encountered which they (my ISP) deemed too confidential to reveal to a normal customer like me. The only ‘useful’ information in their error page is “Please call XXXX for assistance”.

Being a typical kiasu singaporean, I assumed I must have done something wrong during the recontract process. Nevermind, let’s repeat the process again, carefully. Oops, the same mysterious error came out.

Alright, being a well-trained engineer, maybe I should try to isolate the problem by changing the variables. I tried on different PC, used different web browser and used different internet connections. And I got the same mysterious error.

So, finally convinced that it wasn’t my fault, I called the number indicated on the error page for assistance.

“Welcome to Blah Blah Blah. For existing subscriber, please enter the phone number blah blah blah….For new customer, please blah blah blah…….”

I entered the phone number for my broadband account.

“For sales and product information, please press 1. For add-on services like email anti-spamming, virus scanning, blah blah blah, please press 2. For blah blah blah, please press 3. Blah Blah Blah…….For other enquires, please press 0.”

I pressed zero.

“Please wait for our operators to attend to you shortly.” Followed by some music.

So I wait.

“Sorry all our operators are currently engaged. Please wait blah blah blah…” Music started again.

I wait again.

“Sorry all our operators are currently engaged. Please wait blah blah blah…” Music started again.

I continue to wait.

“Sorry all our operators are currently engaged. Please wait blah blah blah…” Music started again.

I hanged up.

Getting fed up, I packed my stuffs and went to the nearest shop of my ISP. I told the person at the counter I wished to recontract my broadband account. To my horror, he told me that they don’t perform recontract here and asked me to use the internet instead.

Hey, I tried the internet and got some mysterious top secret error that nobody knows how to decipher. I called your hotline but apparently it is so hot that not a single operator is free to answer my query. Now I came down physically to your shop and you are telling me that you don’t do recontract here? The worse thing is, you asked me to try using the internet. Am I playing some merry-go-round here?

Finally, he led me to another counter and the staff there is so kind to take down my account particulars. He told me the particulars would be sent to the department handling recontract stuffs and I would receive a call from them for confirmation within 2 working days.

I waited for more than 7 working days.

Pissed off, I tried my luck using the internet approach, yet again. The error is more stubborn than me.

I called the number again for assistance. Alas, after some waiting, finally there’s some kind-hearted operator willing to answer my call. So I related my problems to the operator, and she yet again took down my particulars.

“I would pass your particulars to the people in-charge. They would call you back for the recontract.”

“So approximately when would they call me back ?”

“Around two working days.”

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Motivation of an entrepreneur

Seems like I haven’t been blogging for quite some time. Actually there are quite a few things going on my mind that I wanted to blog about, but somehow I just couldn’t get my engine started. Maybe I had been too busy with my company lately, or maybe due to the lack of motivation to blog.

Anyway, went for lunch with a few ex-colleagues the other day. One of them, Nk, had just resigned and so it was sort of a farewell lunch for him. I happened to be meeting my clients in the vicinity and so I just joined in. Most of them were quite surprised to see me, as afterall I had left my ex-company for almost two years and wasn’t in contact with most of them. And apparently, they didn’t know that I had set up my own company and looked quite amazed when I told them so.

So during the lunch, one of my ex-colleagues TL asked me what’s my main reason/motivation for striking out on my own. Is it for earning more money, or is it for self-satisfaction, or some other reasons?

I replied that it wasn’t for the money. In fact, if anyone wanted to become an entrepreneur just for the sake of earning more money, I would discourage him to do so.

Firstly, the failure rate of entrepreneurs are much higher than the success rate. And the consequences of failure are rather harsh – depletion of savings, debts, opportunity costs, and the perception of becoming a failure. I had seen far more failed cases than success ones.

Secondly, even if you are able to sustain your company for a few years, you will not necessarily be earning more than your previous job. Especially if you are in a professional or managerial position before you ventured out.

Thirdly, the amount of stress and uncertainties faced by an entrepreneur is beyond one’s imagination. Resources are scarce, especially when you did not secure any funding from venture capitalists. The fear of failure will accompany you throughout the first few years. And the further you go, the more you feared for failure, because it would be very difficult for you to turn back and become an employee again.

Fourthly, you would most probably need to put in a lot more hardwork than before. So to put it simply, it would be much more physically demanding than before. Sooner or later, you would start to ask yourself, is it worthwhile to endure all these physical and mental stress and yet not earning significantly more than your previous job?

So, if money is your only motivating factor, there is a very high chance that you would eventually quit. Even if you managed to sustain for a while, you will probably be feeling unhappy because the amount of stress and sacrifice overwhelm the amount of monetary benefits you may be getting. Because there is no passion. If you do not have enough passion in what you are doing, you can’t expect to go far. If you do not have dreams that you yearned to fullfil, you would eventually collapse.

I did not elaborate much during the lunch. I just said that it is for my passion and dreams. No amount of money can retain me two years ago, and no amount of money can make me turn back now.

My ex-colleagues, mostly in managerial or team leader roles, seemed to be quite envious of my “carefree” entrepreneur way of life. I do not have to report to any bosses, do not have to attend stupid meetings and wayang in front of top management, have more freedom than before and is able to dictate my company’s direction. All these are very attractive, especially to people in junior or middle management. But would any of them venture out? I don’t think so, because they had not yet overcome their fear.