Democratic times for ideas

In literally the last 8 weeks or so I have been involved with starting a new business. It’s over at Onix Central but for the purposes of this post it really could be just about any business.

What I wanted to write a little about is essentially in the face of all the doom and gloom in our midst just what great times we live in. And how fantastic it is that we are surrounded by so much empowering (and often free) technology that enables us to do so much with (quite frankly) so little. Just how democratic this makes capitalism is (for me) something that I hope will never lose it’s shine.

I thought I would give a quick run through of some of the tools; applications and software that has enabled us to start a business from scratch; to develop our products; let people know about what we do; sell (although I use this term very advisedly – not sure anyone would call what we do ‘selling’ as such); communicate with both with our customers and between ourselves and deliver our products and services. Many of these tools will in fact be very familiar to almost any one reading this post.

So, a little about our setup. We run a software and publishing services business. Emma, my business partner is based in the Uk and I am based between the UK and Stockholm in Sweden. We have not met since we formed the business. Emma is on a PC and I am on Mac. I mention this as this again is one of the issues that in recent times has all but largely disappeared.

Without further ado and in no particular order:

1) Actually, I said in no particular order but number one with a bullet has to be Skype. Emma and I talk probably a good three or four times a day on Skype – for free. We also use this as our primary instant messenger client – largely because we have it open all the time anyway and also it tends on the whole to be the easiest and most reliable for sending small files between ourselves which is sometimes very helpful. It is also used to communicate with clients. And don’t forget all for free. Yes, I know we take it for granted but let’s repeat it and let it sink in for a moment – all for free. Free!Skype

As well as being a free VOIP application (with video) it is also a very useful and affordable IP telephone system. Our client base already in this very short term separated by in some cases many thousands of miles. So, Skype gives us the opportunity to have a number in each of our client’s countries that they can call for support or enquiries. A number that is local to them.

We can also call out to any phone (landline or mobile) anywhere in the world for flat affordable rates. Yesterday in the course of about 20 mins I rang someone on a cell phone in Singapore; made two calls to Oxford in the Uk and then a short call to Stockholm. All for the princely sum of about 35p! Contrast that with the traditional costs of the telecoms of even a couple of years or so ago. And, let’s leave aside cell/mobile roaming charges even today.

It makes communication in our business wherever we are and irrespective of the location of our clients – easy and affordable (if not, often, effectively free).

Dropbox2) To the real ‘in no particular part of our list’. Drop Box. This is free (for up to 2gb and then you can pay $99 a year to upgrade to 50gb). It essentially gives you space on the internet which mirrors folders on your hard disk. You can also have shared folders – so for example, Emma and I have a folder called Onix Central which is mirrored across all our machines with Drop Box installed. Oh and it doesn’t care if it is a Mac or a PC. For instance, I am mostly on a Mac laptop but use  Windows Vista also on that same machine and work often on a 24″ iMac (for the fantastic screen real estate). Emma is on a Windows XP desktop and has a laptop also.

So, when we are working on software; documents or just about anything we simply save to the Drop Box and whether we are 70 or a thousand miles apart it makes little difference. There are no limits on file sizes – if it is a text file of a few k or a database of 400 mb all can be shared.

Anyway, almost certainly there are other options out there but for us this one does exactly what it says on the tin and really helps with pretty much every aspect of what we do.


3) A few years ago (2001 or so) when I founded a software business you could of course trade emails with people and even the odd phone call. But, at some point when you wanted to demo your software or service you often had to get on a plane/train/bus/get in your car and go see people. It would generally eat your day and eat your money. But, you did it because it was quite simply a cost of doing business. And, if people wanted training then you had little option but also to get on a plane and physically go somewhere. And again all these attendant costs had to come out of somewhere.

Roll forward to 2009. And with gotomeeting you can demo to people; train people or just collaborate on a project all over the internet. Oh, and for less each month than the amount you would have dropped in the airport bar waiting for your plane. Again, sure they are many other options available but for us gotomeeting seems to do all the things we need.

youtube4) Youtube. Yes, I know I know in terms of quality and so on it is not great (although much better recently). But, so many of the other sites had a number of restrictions of one form or another that we ended up back here. What youtube does for use is enable us to share videos of demos of our software, post support tutorials, and of course get the myriad of free stuff that we provide to help publishers out to people in a way that just works. Oh, and is free. In time, we will probably develop our own solution but come on in 8 weeks – what do you want from us?

5) And lastly Google. When we very very first started and we needed an email address; to share documents; or just have a calendar Google did pretty much what we needed. We have since moved on and developed our own set of tools and of course have our own domain and so on. But, it was certainly helpful to start with. But, we do use one particular part of their service still every day and as we build our web presence it provides us with invaluable assistance in tweaking our content; tracking responses and just seeing who is interested in us and what we are about. Google Analytics – and again free.Google Analytics

Ok, well I could go and on. But, you get the idea. And hovering above all this of course is the internet without which none of this would be possible.

So, with the help of these tools what in these few weeks have we achieved? In that time we have:

  • Built a suite of products and service
  • Constructed and populated with content a website
  • Written manuals and how to guides for all our software
  • Produced buckets of videos to support our software
  • Written mountains of free content for publishers to do much more for themselves
  • Have 477 contacts within publishers with whom we have spoken/exchanged correspondence
  • 72 open publisher enquiries from 7 countries
  • 7 Actual customers
  • And booked 31 meetings so far for the upcoming London Book Fair

In conclusion, as well as hopefully highlighting some useful tools what I really wanted to drive at was that really anyone can do just what we did. That we live in times; with these tools and all these options (often for free) that you can just have an idea and create your own business. So, if the traditional barriers of capital are removed and the technical requirements are greatly diminished surely this means that the focus is on ideas and the products and services that flow from that creativity. Surely, how it should be?

Oh, and the best bit? You get to be your own boss and if you lose your job it really is nobodies fault but your own. In short, your fate really is in your own hands. So, just get on with it.


Filed under: Business, Onix Central, Technology

Some China stats for first thing

I am fascinated by China these days fills me with a mixture of opportunity; excitement and perhaps a little fear. Anyway, my friend Gary just texted me via Skype the following amazing set of forecasts:

McKinsey research suggests China’s urban population will expand from 572 million in 2005 to 926 million in 2025 and more than one billion by 2030. By 2025, China will have 219 cities with more than one million inhabitants, and 24 cities with more than five million people. Two of its cities, Shanghai and Beijing, will become ‘super cities’ by 2020, with populations of more than 20 million each. At current growth rates, fifteen other Chinese cities could also meet the 20 million mark.’

If you are interested in China and particularly in doing business there then you should go to his site (bizchina-update.com) where you will find news; commentary; insight together with perspective and stories you just won’t see anywhere else.

Filed under: Business, , , ,

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