Blogging Personal SmallBiz

Professional Darwinism

One problem people of my personality type have is this love of starting things and an inability to finish them. Start new projects, blogs, businesses… anything.

I am very guilty of this, as a quick google will confirm. But recently there have been a lot of upheavels in my life and this has brought this character ‘trait’ (read: flaw) into sharp focus. It is kind of like an illness where you see every moment as having a wide blank canvas before it, enticing you to spill some paint on it. But, in truth you have about 50 canvases behind you, in various states of completion. Life is NOT a blank canvas. It is a single painting, that you can rework. Even DaVinci overpainted – started with something then covered it up, creating something new. But, the point is he was always aware of what went before.

Sometimes I think the easiest thing to do is just start something new. It’s exciting. I am a serial business-starter. (I hesitate to call myself an entrepreneur). But, whereas I do believe that a failed business can teach you almost as much as a successful one, sometimes you have to say enough is enough!

Recently I met a young guy who was driving me from the airport to my mother’s house (a very long drive indeed). He is in his mid 20s. I asked him how he got to be driving this bus and he told me of the path his career had taken. And I was impressed. He had done something that few people do in any field – created a nice evolution. He went from part time with one company, to school runs, to permanent bus driver for an institution and now he was waiting to hear if he would get into the city bus line, with all the stability that offered.

I meet a lot of people, especially in the software business, who don’t do evolution as well as this bus driver. They don’t build on their skills. They don’t move from company to company, increasing their responsibility and pay. (I believe staying at one company too long is death to your upward mobility). This evolution is something I used to do well, but recently have stagnated. This 25 year old bus driver has inspired me to look at that again and see where I can go and what I can do.

Now, you may well ask what is the difference? Aren’t you just finding another justification to start a new business or something else new? No, not really. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with starting a new business. The point is to start something that builds on your knowledge, skills, experiences. Don’t start a bakery, then fail at that and start a day care centre. Take what you learned at the bakery and apply that to something slightly different. It is about evolution!, not one great leap.

So, what does all this mean? I am going to sit down, try to get an overview of my professional evolution, connect the dots and see where that line points. Throw in a handful of dreams and off I will go!

See you soon.


Very Handy Site for the Cross Time-Zone Worker!

I was looking today to figure out how to schedule work time for California (Toygaroo) while I am in Kyoto (Japan).

I stumbled across this site. There are probably others like it, but this is the one I found.

TravelMath lets you pick two places (very nice that you can just enter airport codes) and it will tell you not just the time difference – and the current time in the two places – but it also has a nice little chart about what work hours overlap! And what would be good times to schedule business calls between the two. Nice!

I’ve put two links into my brower’s toolbar

LAX to KIX (Los Angeles to Japan)


FRA to KIX (Frankfurt to Japan)

Very handy! Nice work TravelMath!

SmallBiz Toygaroo

Toygaroo in TechCrunch – and growing up

TechCrunch did a nice article about Toygaroo and the Shark Tank appearance… and the resulting investment from Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary. It looks like the company and the site are starting to get some traction and we are still getting some great traffic – even after the ridiculous original spike from being on the show the numbers are still very good!

For us as a company of course this is a learning experience. We’ve gone from 5 people with an idea to having some serious investment. That means firming up how we work internally – assigning more concrete roles, etc. Being several thousand miles away shelters me somewhat from the storm, but even here in FilmAmora central things are having to change!

The hardest part is actually that time difference. Like most things it has pros and cons! One of the big ‘pros’ is that I can work on the site in the morning my time and release a new version while it is still around 4am over there! The con of course is that I am having to check email and respond and be involved up until at least midnight (and the wife is getting tired of it!).

But, until such time as it is financially viable to move closer (and personally desirable… if THAT ever happens) things are how they are!

Next month I am off to Japan for a while – which is then going to mean I am many hours out in the other direction. I’m not really wanting to spend my time in Japan huddled over my computer (wearing a Radiation suit, if things keep on going as they have been!) – but you have to do what you have to do.

Of course, Toygaroo are not my only obligation. The juggling is also a component of figuring this whole thing out.

SmallBiz Toygaroo

The word is out about Toygaroo and Shark Tank!

So, now that the show has aired, and most people have watched it either live or via DVR, we can start talking about it!

If you want some details on what transpired you can read: this article.

Basically, we took $200k from Kevin O’Leary and Mark Cuban in exchange for 40% of the company. These two bring some good things to the party – O’Leary ostensibly (I will let you Google it to see what I qualify the statement) has some good contacts in the toy industry and Cuban brings some good internet scaling and content delivery chops.

Only time will tell just how this whole arrangement works out but of course we are excited about the prospect of what the future might bring!

Toygaroo is America’s biggest, best and perhaps only quality toy rental company. Right now we only service the continental US (even though I am a Canadian living in Spain! Go figure). Plans range from around $30/month on up, depending on how many toys you want and for how long.

Under the hood Toygaroo runs on Ruby on Rails and utilizes a version of the software we developed for I am on board as CTO.

Since the airing of the show – 2 days ago – we’ve had over 100,000 page views and a whack of signups. In other words – it pays to be on TV!

SmallBiz Toygaroo

The immediate aftermath of a Shark Tank appearance

Last night my company, Toygaroo, was on Shark Tank (America’s version of Dragon’s Den). Our segment was around 8 minutes long.

Let me say that we hadn’t really done any advertising before and our pageviews, pre-sharktank, were pretty close to 0, once you factor out employees and testing.

Yesterday we had 70,000 page views. All of those were within an hour of each showing (east coast and west coast). I’m putting in a screenshot of our analytics because it is so dramatic.

Thankfully our servers survived fine, and our Ruby on Rails app suffered no issues!

For all of you on upcoming episodes… you’ve been warned!

SmallBiz Toygaroo

My company Toygaroo on Shark Tank premiere.

My new company is Toygaroo. Toygaroo is an innovation in the toy business. It is a rental company – similar to let’s say something like NetFlix – where you can rent toys instead of buying them. It was started by some great people out in California and I was brought on as CTO, bringing along the great platform that we have been running FilmAmora on for 3 years.

We’ve had a big break in that we are going to be featured on the official season premiere of Shark Tank. Shark Tank is the American version of Dragon’s Den (why it had its name changed I have no idea). Anyway, the show airs tonight, March 25th, at 8pm on ABC.

Once the show is over I can start blogging more about the company and its future! Exciting Stuff!


Rich Schefren & Strategic Profits… not Strategic Customer Relations!

In my last post I commented on how I wanted to take the Rich Schefren course about Strategic Entrepreneurship (a term which, by the way, is the title of another business textbook from several years ago, so I find it a bit hard to see how Rich can claim he was ‘the only one thinking such things’… but I digress.

Rich’s course is about $3000. But, according to his testimonials, it is money well spent. And I will say that his lengthy introduction videos did actually contain things that I found interesting. I was legitimately interested in taking this course! But I sent the email asking about experience in non-English markets. I sent that email 3 times!

Today I received this:

Dear Phil
Strategic Profits and the Abraham Group would greatly appreciate
your feedback.  Our records indicate that you recently contacted
our support team.
You are invited to participate in an online survey about your recent
experience with our team.

That’s very nice of them. Except, of course, that no one ever answered my emails or questions I submitted through their support forum! My suggestion to Strategic Profits is that they first check that they have done any customer support before asking for feedback on it.

Oh, and the email was sent from: Brian Johnson , so obviously they don’t want me to answer!

For a company and a man who claim to be teaching you how to have a great business and to serve the customer, this is a rather painful failing!

Blogging SmallBiz

How not to sell – Earth to Rich Schefren!

Recently I watched the incredibly long, 2-part, sales pitch from Rich Schefren over at Strategic Profits. Supposedly Rich is a ‘guru’s guru’ (when it comes to internet marketing I guess, not as in a spiritual guru).

So, I made it through the pitch and I have to say there were some things I found interesting. Perhaps even interesting enough for me to join Rich’s personalized training program and see what it could do to enhance’s sales and profits.

But I had some questions. Principally, had Rich (or his ‘team’) ever dealt with a non-English language focused business. 90% of our customers are Spanish (not surprising, being based in Spain!) and obviously our marketing had to be in Spanish and had to tackle a Spanish approach. Despite what you may have heard, marketing in a different language and country is not just a matter of translating your materials.

So it seemed a valid question.

Now, like almost all of these internet marketing people, getting ahold of them is almost impossible. They want you to buy their product, not waste their time with pre-sales questions. Rich’s company, Strategic Profits, has a support website where you can fill out tickets. So I did. Many days ago. I can log in and look at the ticket progress (none). There is no email address. No way to reach them!

In ‘traditional’ business we focus on getting the customer (and keeping them happy once you have them). I have noticed this trend in online marketing to ‘here’s what we have, like it and buy it or go away’. To them it seems to be all about the sizzle, building anticipation and urgency. That is why they are all in the internet marketing space, and what they sell are courses about internet marketing. It is an incestuous business, creating more people to market competing products.

Or at least that is how it looks from out here.

But the tools are not without merit. And I think that they can be applied to a ‘real’ business… But if you have no interest in answering questions in order to get my money, how interested will you be in answering questions once you’ve got it!

Blogging SmallBiz

The value of things

One of my pet peeves is when I get emails from ‘Internet Marketing Gurus’ who claim that when I buy their course I will get all these ‘bonuses’ at greatly reduced prices.

Here are some recent ones:

Bonus #1: 1 Ticket To “GURU Traffic School”: VALUE: $2,500

Bonus #2: 1 Ticket To Any Live Event In 2010: VALUE: $5,000

You get the idea.


These courses are worth what people will pay for them. So – if you are giving them away for free, they are worth nothing. If you are selling something for $97 then it is worth, oh, I don’t know… $97? Not $2000 and we get 95% off.

And what is even more annoying that people doing this is people believing it! We have arrived at the point where pretty much we cannot believe anything that comes through our email – thanks in large part to idiots who make offers like this.

If you have read other articles by me you know I hate the whole ‘make a million online’ movement. It is – to be blunt – bullshit. Anyone who has done it could probably have made a million anywhere. They had a great business idea and spent thousands of hours perfecting it and their presentation. They did not buy a domain name, set up a wordpress blog, outsource to an article writer and collect a 7 figure sum.

I would challenge any of these gurus to prove

  1. they have in fact ever made the money they claim. A tax return would be nice proof!
  2. that any money can be made doing anything except selling the idea of easy money to desperate people
  3. that anyone who has bought their product went from zero to hero directly because of it

Anyway, rant over.

Welcome to my blog where I will never sell you anything… though if you live in Spain you might want to sign up for – the best way to rent movies in Spain!

Setting Up SmallBiz

Great article

The Japan Times today is running a good article – not just about setting up a business in Japan, but about starting and running a business anywhere as an expat.


Mobile game startup boss set own bar from ‘The Japan Times’