Thursday, December 22, 2011

A shameless plug - OS-Cubed, and what we do

Just in case there are any questions: OS-Cubed, Inc. develops software, every kind and flavor of application as long as it's based on Microsoft technologies.  We prefer to adapt existing software to building it from scratch but we have the ability to build almost anything you can imagine.  We build content managed websites - large and small for big businesses and small businesses, everything from simple brochure sites, to ecommerce, to multinational b2b marketing systems. 
We also provide technical support for Microsoft (and increasingly Apple and Android) based office and industrial systems, including servers, sharepoint, exchange, etc. 

We provide consulting services to software development departments within large companies, helping them focus on strategic initiatives and building a well rounded team with an awesome culture - like we have. 

We provide cloud based email and services - both self hosted and Microsoft/Gmail.  We host Microsoft/MS-SQL based websites, host our own email and DNS, on our own servers using our own software.  We make the coolest stuff you can imagine, but aren't so proud that we won't work on your mundane Access database or web based report.  We are a great bunch of guys and gals that will work hard.  When the phone rings at the office a human being answers it.  We give you our cell numbers.  We have an online service system so that you can track every single ticket and project right down to the 15 minute increment - nothing hidden.

We need business.  We need projects.  We need referrals.  Please consider hiring us, or referring us to someone who will.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Are you a pig? Or a Chicken? One VCs view....

In this excellent article by Jeff at the "Seeing Both Sides" blog, he talks about what kinds of red flags will make a VC pass.  If you're developing software and looking for funding - here's an excellent list of things to watch out for.  I highly encourage you to read the entire article.
  • You should already have "started up" before you look for money.  VCs want to know you have skin in the game and are passionate about your product - so passionate you won't wait for them.
  • You should be entirely dedicated to your project before you approach a VC. They see you having a separate job while working on your wonderful idea as not enough dedication and passion - you must believe in what you're asking them to invest in.
  • Your team should be geophysically located together.  Working as a team is an important part of forming a good startup.  Even with todays awesome technology - nothing beats face to face.
  • They are looking for a hands-on CEO. If that's not you then you better be sure you already have one.  Saying you're going to hire a CEO or COO to run the business for you is a red flag for them.
  • You must be willing to exercise your own network to drive revenue, bring in sales etc.   If you won't even try to convince your friends you'll never convince them.
So to flip that over the "pig" entrepreneurs as Jeff calls them must truley dedicate their life to their vision, they must put themselves out there as being behind their idea, so that failure is a public event.  You must be poor.  Seriously.  VCs are looking for hungry enterepreneurs with family obligations and commitments who will work to make their company a success.  If you can just sit back and live high on the hog regardless of how your company does you won't have the proper motivation in their mind 0 the only exception is the "happy and scrappy" lot who just can't settle down - and prove it by being very hands on in venture number 2.  You must be obsessed with your company to the exclusion of all other outside interests other than your family and your health. 

Jeff goes on to state that VCs want not just a Pig in the drivers seat, but an entire team of pigs.  How's your pigsty?  Full of pigs or are there some chickens in there.  Are you one of them?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Why development isn't cheap....

As professional software developers with years of experience, our guys have become pretty good at estimating things.  You can't always be right, but if you have done a good job of choosing and limiting scope, and are developing in an agile environment estimating becomes more of an art and less of a science.  If you're in a business like ours, providing accurate estimates of how long something will take is key to success.  We want to build long term clients who will keep coming back for us for job after job - not one-shot projects where everyone leaves dissatisified.

The conundrum for a company like ours is though - we're too honest.  During the sales process we tell people how much it will really cost to do exactly what they want and the next thing you know they've moved on to others who promise to do it for less.  Do those "others" typically deliver it for less?  No.  We've followed up with some of these potential clients only to discover that they paid as much or more than we originally estimated, or ended up with a product that was less than what they wanted.  That's a sales process though that's doomed to failure - they've already spent more than they wanted to, exhausted their budget, and have soured on the whole "external development" concept.  "I told you so" may feel nice but it doesn't deliver successful products.

Now, with our ongoing clients we typically have an entirely different discussion.  Our clients tend to tell us up front - here is my budget, what can we do for that.  It's a different mindset - we KNOW we have more work than they can afford to do, but we want to get the best bang for the buck we have.

Now I promised in the title to talk about why development isn't cheap so let me give you a few anecdotes:
  • For one client we're working with who has an existing codebase that's been worked on with 3 different programmers in the past, we've spent over 20 hours just getting a replica of their production environment working for doing testing.  This cost has to be built into the project even though it doesn't directly result in a product improvement
  • For another client they want us to give them an estimate on changing a shopping cart.  But they don't have the source code for the compiled shopping cart module they're now using and can't understand why we can't just tell them how much a simple change will be.  We don't know because we can't see the code, or even tell exactly how the current shopping cart works.  Even if we had the code it would take at least 1/2 day just to digest the workflow and get the source code understandable - if the original programmer did a good job.
  • Each of my programmers needs ongoing training, certification updates and time to research new solutions, fix old problems.  None of that is typically directly billable to a client.
  • We need to pay for software and infrastructure for each programmer - test servers, source control systems, development licenses, backups, licenses, professional memberships - all paid for out of our pockets.
  • Our programmers are salaried workers with benefits - so every hour they are here - and all the hours on vacation, regardless of whether they bill that hour, is a cost to the company.
  • Our offices need power, lights, phone, mobile phone, fast internet service, etc.  Again - a cost that is built into the cost of our labor.
  • The company pays their unemployment, disability, federal taxes, a portion of their medical coverage, etc.  All these add to the burdened rate
  • Tech toys - you might think, why does that programmer need the latest iPhone?  Why do we have to have android, wp7, iphones and blackberries in our mobile phone stable?  Well the answer is - we have to test apps and mobile websites in these platforms to be sure they work.  All costly.
So the moral of the story is - if you're purchasing software development, consider all that you're buying.  Look at the level of experience and the satisfaction of the employees doing the work for you, and when you get several bids, remember - the lowest bid is frequently NOT the best deal when it comes to software development.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The entrepreneur's secret - reuse, recycle and repurpose

One of the key attributes of successful entrepreneurial software development is not reinventing the wheel.  If you have tools that let you do something close to your goals, adapt or reuse those tools before you build new ones.  If you want or need to later in the development cycle you can scrap the pre-made stuff and substitute in your own code or custom version.  One of the advantages of this is that you have already established a nice interface to the particular re-used software you used in the first place - with well defined entry points and an interface that makes sense.  This can be invaluable in helping you shortcut costs during that critical start-up phase where every development decision is a choice between having the best functionality and least cost.
For example, I had a client that wanted a Facebook application developed that would allow their users and public to leverage social media and get them signed up for a free public event they were running.  App development on another social platform can be a daunting and expensive task - but in this case the client already had a functional content managed brochure site, that had the sign up form for the event on a page.  All they wanted was for users to be able to fill it in without having to leave Facebook.

We looked at alternatives and realized that we could simply use a specially designed skin on their existing site and they could frame a subset of the site on Facebook - exposing Facebook designed pages for users to register on.  In the future we may even enhance this to allow users to fill in their contact info directly out of the Facebook profile when they log in - but for the moment we just needed a quick solution to the specific problem.

We implemented the skin change and developed the pages in 6 hours - on a platform we'd never developed for before.  The resulting pages look professional and well integrated into the Facebook platform, carry the branding from the original site forward, and even give the sponsors some exposure within the Facebook App.  So, as an entrepreneur - especially in software development - you need to ask yourself every day: Am I reinventing the wheel?  Can I leverage something I've already built to achieve my goal cheaper, faster or better?  Can I leverage the work of others to create a better user experience and a more rich interface to my application?

To see the full site:
To see the app page:
To see the EOTF event page:!/pages/Eyes-on-the-Future-Event/131647666907289?sk=app_5614204682

For more information about DotNetNuke:
For more information about OS-Cubed, Inc.:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Do you have a service buinsess...

If so I'd highly suggest reading this article on whether your business is all about making money or all about helping your client.  At OS-Cubed we're all about helping the client.  Of course we need to make money to keep the lights on, pay our bills and make a reasonable profit - but our main focus is on building great software and providing excellent support.  If your focus drifts more towards the money side and away from the client side - you may want to rethink your mission.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How Microsoft lost me to the Android

As a Verizon Wireless customer I've been waiting (not so patiently) for the Windows Phone 7 to come out for the Verizon network.  Various release dates have been bandied about since they announced WP7 almost a year and a half ago.  I've been suffering along the last couple of years with one of the old Windows Mobile phones with the 6.x release of Windows CE/Windows Mobile on it.  It crashed several times a day, and despite a "lipstick on a pig" makeover of the UI by HTC the phone sucked.  I told it so every day I owned it.

Well last weekend the phone must have had enough because it jumped ship. I lost it somewhere in Washington DC on the Mall, and frankly didn't look very hard to find it.  Sent it a remote wipe signal and promptly abandoned it.  So now it was time for a new phone - I can't live without one.  And it has to be a smartphone.  And I use data ALL the time so it needs to be able to be used as a hotspot/tethered.  And it would be GREAT if it was 4g for speed.  This left one phone - the Thunderbolt - a sweet piece of hardware from HTC again, but this time the lipstick is on a sexy babe instead of on a pig.

So I bought the Thunderbolt, and burned an upgrade.  I promptly went out and bought all the accessories that we know we'll need (extended battery, second battery, protective case, holster, extra charger, etc).  None of these presumably will fit any future Windows Phone 7 phones so they are an additional sunk cost.  I now have 2 years to consider whether I even want the WP7 phone or not.
So how does this apply to entprepreneurs?  Well this is an entrepreneur blog so there had to be a point.  :) 

Microsoft has repeatedly bungled the marketing and sales of mobile devices.  They clung to the aging and impotent Windows Mobile/CE platform long after someone should have stuck a cross in it's grave.  They marketed a crippled version of the WP7 phone (the Kin) and then promptly proceeded to create the creepiest ad campaign ever that basically featured one teenager stalking another teenager.  They release WP7 on the same network that Apple already dominated in (as if they were expecting people to flock to a v1.0 Microsoft anything over a version 4.0 Apple piece of artwork).  And when they do release it the best testimonial they can come up with was "I edited a powerpoint in bed"....  I hope it was a porn powerpoint because that's all that particular user will be "getting" tonight.  They fumblingly semi-announce they're no longer making new Zune hardware effectively killing the non-phone version of the product that has been so successful for Apple.  They announce that the OS/Development platform that WP7 is based on will be going away, disincentivizing developers to build the critical applications required for platform success in Silverlight.

As a company Apple has regained the entrepreneurial spirit - and Microsoft has repeatedly demonstrated that they've lost it.  As an entrepreneur we want to be first to market, best to market and have a serious reputation for providing quality products quickly and within the proper marketing timeframe.  In the past couple of years Microsoft has repeatedly lost to Apple in this contest.  They need to start winning and so do you if you're not beating your competition to market with these capabilities.  What are you doing to be first to market, and to build products that are unique and powerful?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Knowledge Athletes begins to promote Kajour

OS-Cubed has been the principal developer for the product kajour by Knowledge AthletesKajour is a real-time collaborative education platform, extensible and designed entirely with Microsoft products, including IIS, ASP.NET, VB.NET, C#, fCK, DotNetNuke, Microsoft SQL Server, and other technologies.  Based on a unique and custom REST engine, designed entirely in .NET using modern AJAX, JQuery and XML/XSLT, the system is completely real time, including logged chat, auto save functionality, full embeddable editing, real time scoring and grading, and full student accountability.

Knowledge Athletes is the brainchild of Dave Miller, a successful educator and entrepreneur.

The beta for the product was developed over the course of the last couple of years using our entrepreneurial development techniques, including agile, scrum and a fully collaborative process.  Funding for the project was provided through private investment and several SBIR grants which assisted in the base research for product features and capabilities, and provided proof of educational effectiveness.
From a "non-technical" point of view the system allows teachers to create homework assignment for kids to work on in an environment that is "Facebook-like" either individually or in teacher-defined collaborative groups.  Kids love this, and seem to prefer to do homework in kajour over other platforms.  Since all content is logged, and private only to the class, students are able to be held accountable for their input.  This allows teachers to guide students in the use of social media in a controlled environment, as well as opening new avenues for collaborative learning.  Kids call it "Facebook for homework" and teachers call it a revelation - a view into how kids think about and process their homework assignments like no other tool that they have found so far.

The product is still in beta release, with a limited set of participants.  If you are an educator interested in actively participating in the Kajour Trial, check out their website at:, or click the button below.

Here is a video, developed by Mac Village Productions and Skeeter Harris, after the fold :)