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November 30, 2005

Kauffman Foundation article on angels

Bill Payne called me up a few months ago and asked me to write an article for the Kauffman Foundation website on attracting angel investments.  My answer was that "I just got lucky" but since he WAS one of my angel investors, and I admire the Kauffman Foundation so, I wrote an article for their Pitching Angels section of their new eVenturing website.  Check out what other, more experienced entrepreneurs have to say about it if you are curious about raising angel money.

November 30, 2005 in Entrepreneurship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 26, 2005

Speech Enabled Crank Phone


I’ve been meaning to write this story for a couple of months. Mostly because I’m so grateful to Ben Watson for restoring my phone. This phone was an antique when my parents had it. It hung on the wall in our kitchen for as long as I remember when I was growing up. I mentioned to Ben’s daughter Angela, who works at Gold Systems, that I had the phone and was thinking about hanging it in my office. Angela also grew up with these phones as her dad restores them. She “volunteered” him to make my phone work again and he graciously agreed to give it life again.

A week later it was back and hanging on my wall. I think it might be the one and only speech-recognition-enabled crank style phone in the world. We hooked it up to our PBX so that when you pick up the receiver, the phone automatically connects to our V-Dialer product. You can then say the name of anyone at Gold Systems and be connected to them without annoying touch-tone menus. We haven’t programmed V-Dialer to understand “Hello Central” or “Mr. Watson--come here--I want to see you.”, but we could.

This week I was playing with the phone to see how many technologies I could span with it. This phone doesn’t represent the very first phone, but it goes back almost to the beginning of telephony history. Now it is connected to a modern PBX and speech recognition. If I pick up the receiver and say “Herb Morreale”, the call is routed to Herb’s desk phone where it forwards via VoIP to his Skype phone running on his laptop. If I pick up and say “Terry Gold on his mobile phone”, V-Dialer routes the call to my cell phone. If I don’t answer, the call then forwards to my laptop via Vonage and then from there to a network voice mail server via VoIP. A few seconds later, the voice mail shows up in my Outlook email inbox on my laptop. If I knew someone with a satellite phone, I think we could touch all of the existing telephone technologies with this great old wooden wall phone.

All of this is possible because Ben gets a kick out of making old things new again. (You should see his T-Bird and Model-T hot rod!) Thanks Ben. I’m really enjoying my “new” telephone!

November 26, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 23, 2005

Empty your inbox

This week I talked to two people who admitted that their email inboxes were overflowing and that their voice mail had stopped taking messages because they had hit their limit. Maybe it is the season as everyone is trying to finish out the year, but a lot of people just have trouble managing their emails and tasks.

Over the years I've worked on a system that keeps my task list and email under control, most of the time.

To get your email and task list under control, you probably have to first admit that it is out of control.  Symptoms are:

  • More than a dozen emails in the inbox.
  • Email folders with names like Urgent, Today, To Read, Hot, etc.
  • Your inbox contains several very important emails, but to find them, when you think of them, you look at all the stuff that isn’t important or urgent.
  • You are saving voice mails so that when you have time you can go back and deal with them.

I often see inboxes that have hundreds of read and unread emails.  You are probably thinking that the only way to get to twelve, much less to zero, would be to just delete everything and start over.  (I just checked, my inbox has five emails in it.  It’s not that I don’t get a lot of emails either.  These came in during the last twenty minutes and today is a light email day since it is the day before Thanksgiving)

Symptoms of an out-of-control task list are:

  • You aren’t sure what a task list is
  • You can’t find your task list
  • You have multiple task lists and your monitor is growing yellow sticky notes
  • People have learned to remind you of what you need to do, or you find yourself saying to people “Remind me that I have to . . .”

I have to admit that I am by nature not very organized, and I don’t always follow my system, so on occasion I accidentally let something fall through the cracks.  But without my system, I would have a lot more stress in my life, I would more often than not be working on unimportant tasks and I certainly wouldn’t get as much done as I do now.

Here are the basics.  If there is interest, I’ll write more about how it works.

Use one task list.  I keep mine with me all the time, so I use the one that is built into Outlook and I keep it sync’d with my PocketPC.  Most of the time I’m dealing with the version on my Pocket PC.  I almost never write to-dos down on sticky notes or on the back of business cards.  If I do, I transfer it to my task list as soon as possible.  This is very important.  Multiple lists are error prone and cause stress, because if your brain is not convinced that you are handling everything it will constantly interrupt you for reassurance that you aren’t forgetting something.  If my brain comes up with something that I should do, I put it on the task list.  (When I first committed to this system, my task list had hundreds of items on it, but trust me, it is for the best.)

Follow the age-old advice of “touch it once.”  Before email, people were overwhelmed by paper mail, memos and little pink message slips.  Try to avoid cycling back through the email in your inbox over and over again.  When I sit down to read email in the morning, for every email, I will:

  • Read it and delete it
  • Read it, reply or forward it and delete it (maybe file it)
  • Read it and file it for future reference
  • Or if I just can’t or won’t deal with it right then, I read it and then drag it onto my task list.

In Outlook, you can drag an email over to the task list icon and it will create a new task with the body of the email in the notes.  During the day I do sometimes quickly read an email and leave it in my inbox, but I try not to, and I ALWAYS start every day with an empty inbox. No matter what, I take the time to clean it out first thing in the morning.  At the end of the session, which usually only lasts a few minutes because I’m not starting with hundreds of emails, I have an empty inbox and a task list with a few more items on it.  I also try to end the evening with an empty inbox and a completed task list of the day’s tasks.

By using the task list in Outlook, I easily prioritize and categorize everything that I need to do.  When I can look at a priority sorted, categorized list, it is much easier to decide what is important and what to work on next.  If I’m not going to work on a task today, I defer it to tomorrow so that I don’t have to think about everything that I need to do in the future.  It isn’t productive and it distracts from today’s tasks.

Trust me, you can reduce stress, get more done in less time and amaze your friends with your empty inbox. If there is interest, leave a comment and I’ll write more about how I categorize because it is a big part of the system.  You too can have an empty inbox.

November 23, 2005 in Entrepreneurship | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 21, 2005

Hello again

It has been a very busy quarter!  I used to say that people could tell how busy I was by how badly I needed a haircut, but now I guess my blog is a better indicator.  I have quite a few topics that I will write about over upcoming holiday, including:

  • My one piece of advice for entrepreneurs (I'm not sure what it is yet, but a reader asked the question and I'm determined to answer it soon!)
  • Time management for entrepreneurs.  What to do when there is too much to do.  My friend and co-founder Jim Fudge used to say "get used to it" and that isn't bad advice, but there is more that can be done to make the endless emails, phone calls and meeting requests more manageable.
  • New technology that is really interesting - the new Video iPod, personal SANs, EVDO
  • My new speech-enabled crank-style wall phone.  (Thanks Ben!)
  • How web services is (and isn't) changing everything.  For an example of how it IS, check out Amazon.com's latest brainstorm - the Mechanical Turk.  This has huge potential and implications for the world economy I think.  I can't wait to explore this a little more.  In case you missed it, Amazon.com replaced AT&T on the S&P 500 index Friday.  The world is changing.

That's it for now.  My break is over and I need to get back to work!


November 21, 2005 in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack