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[P]
How to fail at business without really trying

By Wondertoad in Internet
Thu Apr 26, 2001 at 06:45:53 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

The dot-com crunch? The contracting economy? The spiraling tech sector? Or just simple incompetence at running a company? What follows is a summary of the short life and times of my small web development business, which lived roughly from November 1999 to February 2001. I hope that this post-mortem is entertaining, but I submit it here because I think it sheds some light on life, the net and how it got that way. The following is true; the names and URLs have been withheld.


February 2000.

Me: Your site will cost $80,000.
Dot-com client: Fine. Do you want the last $20,000 in stock?
Me: We believe in you but... no, we only deal in cash.
Dot-com client: Ok, no problem. Here's the first check.
Me (thinking): (It seems to be easy to sell quality web development. Maybe it's time to expand!)

April 2000.

Me: Welcome to the company! I'm so glad we finally get this chance to work together. I know I have to overpay you a bit, but you're brilliant and I believe in us and I think it'll all work out great!
Brilliant new employee: I'm glad to be here! By the way, did you see the news this afternoon? Something about NASDAQ melting down...

July 2000.

Dot-com client: This design is awful.
Me: Well, you asked for Ebay-style primary colors, and then you asked for them muted, and then you asked for them brighter, and then you said you didn't like bright. The design firm had to re-do many graphics several times and this ate over half your design budget.
Dot-com client: Still, although we gave the orders to make those changes, knowing they would take a ton of time and go well over budget, and had our secretary deal with the design firm and treat them horribly, YOU were the one that brought in the design firm after I couldn't find one. So I hold you responsible.
Me (thinking): That's fine, as long as your final check clears.

August 2000.

Client: We'll need a full e-commerce system to sell all of our stuff, hooked into our back end, along with hooks into the front page; and we'll have to sell wildly varied items with no item numbers and a database of items developed by someone else and we don't know anything about merchant accounts.
Me: OK, It will cost about $15,000.
Client: What!? But a friend of mine did the e-commerce page for the Folk Festival in three days!

October 2000.

Salesperson: I called all 15 of our current leads and nobody wants any work.
Me: Ouch. Well we're out of money, so I have to lay you off.
Salesperson: You have just given me a lifetime of pain.
Me: I will accept any and all blame if it makes you feel better.

October 2000 the next day.

Client: You fired my salesperson and she is a friend of mine. I'm royally pissed, on her behalf. I'm going to try to use any flimsy excuse to scuttle the project.
Me: Just to let you know, your friend hasn't gotten her commission, and won't until the project is completed and paid for in full.
Client: I didn't say we wouldn't finish it and pay for it.

November 2000.

Brilliant employee: What should we do this week? Complete this $5000 site, or develop this proposal for this $100,000 site where there are 30 competitors for the job?
Me: If we don't bring in $5000 by the end of this month, we have to close.
Employee: Decision made.

November 2000.

Me: Here's the proposal for your custom e-commerce plan. At $30,000 it's exactly what you wanted, and that even includes re-designing parts of your site to make it work with our back-end code.
Long-time client: We love you, you've done so much for us over the last year and saved our ass and went above and beyond. But my boss made a secret deal with ATX when they wired his house, so we are going to use them to do our e-commerce and redesign. They'll also take over the hosting when our contract is up. Sorry.

December 2000.

Me: We're proposing you spend at least $6000 to make this site effective. It's important for your site to be highly usable yet good-looking and effective, because you're architects.
Potential client: We thought it would cost $3000. We thought you could just throw up a bunch of photos with a header. We don't really care if it looks bad. We'll get back to you.

January 2001.

Caller: Hi, I'm with ATX. I'll just take a moment of your time. I'm calling because I saw your web site and you guys are in the tech council just like us, and you seem really up and coming, maybe you'd want to be strategic partners. We can do your hosting and offer you cheap long distance service.
Me (stunned): Um, do potential strategic partners steal each others clients?
Caller: Don't you want to be a strategic partner?
Me: (click)

February 2001.

Me: You said that they would use us if the all six sites came in under $60,000 total. At first, we didn't even think it was possible, but we've managed to structure the project so that it would work at that rate, as long as you deliver all the content in electronic form. It's going to be a huge challenge, but we're really looking forward to it. I'll fax the proposal over for your final signature.
Potential client: Oh. Well it's changed, as of this morning they want to do it for under $10,000.
Me: OK, we'll just use the proposal to wipe our butts.

February 2001.

Me: I'm sorry, but we're out of money and leads and I'm in over $100,000 of personal debt. We have to close.
Team (collectively): Fuck.

March 2001.

Me: Acquaintance Ruthie, I would have charged about $2000 for a simple site like this with my business, but good news... now that it's just me working in my basement, I could do your site for $500.
Ruthie: That's way too much, don't you realize we have no money?

March 2001.

Me: Hi, I saw your posting looking for hourly web development. I'm a highly experienced developer with 16 years of IT experience, including 5 years of web development, and I'm accomplished in major scripting languages, database design and integration, and Unix and Linux system administration. I really need some income, so I'd be happy to do some development for you at $50/hour.
Job poster: There's no way I can afford that.

April 2001.

Me: I'm glad I could finally complete your site. You know, you got an awful lot for $20,000. It was a much more complex project than we thought when we started last October. It took twice that in person-hours.
Client: Well, that's OK, we underpay some vendors like you, but then we overpay other vendors, so for us it all works out in the end.
Me: (the sound of head slamming against wall)

Note: to see the calibre of work being referenced by the above, the now-defunct company site is still up at catalystinternet.com, along with a portfolio.

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Display: Sort:
How to fail at business without really trying | 82 comments (82 topical, editorial, 1 hidden)
Egads... (2.90 / 11) (#1)
by RareHeintz on Thu Apr 26, 2001 at 03:58:02 PM EST

A hilarious and gut-wrenching post, and the site samples were great. Thanks a bunch for sharing.

OK,
- B
--
http://www.bradheintz.com/ - updated kind of daily

Things don't change... (3.60 / 10) (#2)
by ucblockhead on Thu Apr 26, 2001 at 04:05:13 PM EST

Ok, I know this won't make you feel any better, but I was a coder for a pre-dotcom startup in the late eighties that went almost exactly like that...

Left me $26,000 in debt as being an idiot, I was living off my credit card because I showing "loyalty" by taking IOU's for paychecks.


-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup

I hear you (4.18 / 16) (#3)
by kostya on Thu Apr 26, 2001 at 04:22:20 PM EST

I did software contracting for dotcoms. It was great work and I got to work on some cool stuff. But the worst was watching clients run themselves into the ground.

Granted, as a disloyal, mercenary bastard, I always made sure they paid me first--work ceased when checks did not come in on time. But at a real level, I enjoyed working with these people and tried to help them:

Client: We want to co-locate on the Eastern and Western Seaboards. We think we need $3 million in hardware for each site because we can't ever afford to be down. Oh yeah, and we think we need Oracle Parallel server for the database.

Me: Uh, what's your current traffic?

Client: 30k page impressions a day.

Me: And what number do you want to be handle?

Client: Uh ... a bunch.

Me: You realize that you only need a 1/10th of the hardware you are proposing and only need one location, right? If you drop these 5 things from the front page you could increase your load exponentially.

Client: No! Those are strategic!

Me: The spinning head is strategic?

Sigh. In the meantime, I got to work with Solaris boxen with 14 processors a piece. Fun and impressive, but the company is still dead :-(

Meanwhile, the mercenary moves on to other people with money ...



----
Veritas otium parit. --Terence
You didn't know? (3.80 / 10) (#5)
by kaemaril on Thu Apr 26, 2001 at 04:25:32 PM EST

What, nobody told you about the mission-critical nature of a spinning head? ;)


Why, yes, I am being sarcastic. Why do you ask?


[ Parent ]
missed some client types (4.25 / 12) (#4)
by Arkady on Thu Apr 26, 2001 at 04:25:28 PM EST

First, I want to say "Damn! You had a harsh experience.". The bubble did massive damage to the whole consulting industry. The only reason the company I make a living through survived it is that we're 100% worker-owned, so we don't have to pay the individuals involved until the company gets paid. It does mean that several of us have day-jobs as well now, though.

The two types of client we've had big trouble with that you didn't mention are the ones that burn up their investment too fast to actually pay you at all and the one's that threaten to sue you when they realize they can't (or just dont want to) pay you. Fortunately, we've only had one of the latter, and only one of the former on a development contract (though we lost more network admin gigs to bankruptcy).

It's been a tough time to be independant. My sincerest condolances.

-robin

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.


Don't forget the 'can we do some of it' clients! (3.50 / 6) (#6)
by RocketJeff on Thu Apr 26, 2001 at 05:02:25 PM EST

I make several presentations to potential clients where they were shocked at how much it would cost to do their site (it was usually the mediocre business guys with a really lame idea).

Almost invariably they'd ask 'if we bought a copy of FrontPage(tm), could we do some of the work ourselves and save some money?' Obviously our salespeople wern't finding the flush-with-cash .com's...

[ Parent ]
The correct answer (3.75 / 4) (#11)
by coffee17 on Thu Apr 26, 2001 at 07:24:42 PM EST

"If you buy frontpage and try to do some work, we would charge you extra. I'm saying "would" because with the insult you've just given me, I'm going to walk away and post to fuckedcompany that you're running low on cash."

[ Parent ]
Agreed, but... (3.00 / 2) (#24)
by RocketJeff on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 09:25:24 AM EST

I fully agree with your proposed response and would have loved to be able to use something similar, but I wasn't the lead for the project. As soon as we got out of the meeting I told him that we should run away as fast as we could since this was just the first sign that they'd try to pinch every penny they gave us.

Luckily for us, they found a really cheap contractor so I never had to deal with them again.

[ Parent ]
That sounds familiar (4.40 / 5) (#28)
by jayfoo2 on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 10:03:04 AM EST

As a consultant for a systems integrator we do a lot of heavy lifting IT work, making websites work with ERP packages and all that jazz. We spend a lot of time going out on sales calls where we go thru our stuff and the potential client says thats great, what will it cost.

At this point we toss out a 6 or 7 figure number becuase the client is asking us to provide real-time geographic location your order in it's railcar 24x7, consignment ordering where the system doesn't bill you until you tap the railcar, and real-time credit approval via a COBOL based system (among lots of other things).

At which point the client goes, but this other firm said they could make us a website for 50K.

At which point I remind myself it's not appropriate to jump across the table and kill them.

[ Parent ]
My throwaway experience (4.40 / 5) (#31)
by Holloway on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 10:49:01 AM EST

I worked for a dot com in New Zealand (don't laugh! There were dot coms in New Zealand. They were just paid fewer coconuts, that's all).

The manager was a large fellow who - as money ran out - began threatening employees (to give them motivation other than money). I received many physical threats to continue working - it wasn't pleasant. I got the police involved but they couldn't (...be bothered to find evidence because they didn't think it was serious) ...prove that it was him. When I hadn't been paid for weeks I took a dictaphone to meetings and recorded conversations so I had proof he owed me money. A few weeks later I received more threatening emails and an anonymous letter saying I had "better watch my back". He was a shaky wanker who did scare me. I have moved town since (not because of him - though it was a benefit) and I hope he doesn't attempt to find me.

So I'm still owed several thousand from him but I have no interest in that. I took some time off and did a few small webdesign/programming jobs since but for the most part have been unemployed for the better part of a year. I want work but there's nothing available in the area I live.

The remaining staff didn't have the knowledge to install or maintain the site I created and the current site is a WYSIWYG frontpage job. - a bad frozen one at that, and I hear the business has fallen over. Good riddance. They didn't pay staff and the manager didn't have a decent business plan from day 1. He was a business-man who wasted his money on flaky business courses and motivational sayings, he didn't have much common-sense.

ps. If you'd like a laugh compare my original design (the picture in the middle wasn't my choice) to what's now there.


== Human's wear pants, if they don't wear pants they stand out in a crowd. But if a monkey didn't wear pants it would be anonymous

[ Parent ]

Hah! (4.00 / 2) (#61)
by FunkyChild on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 09:00:28 AM EST

In the 'current page', I love the link down the very bottom:

<i>The Maori arts website has been optimised for Internet 4</i>

I thought they were only up to Internet 2? And also, the link is to www.mi<b>rc</b>osoft.com :P


-- Today is the tomorrow that you worried about yesterday. And now, you know why.
[ Parent ]
Proposals are tricky... (4.00 / 1) (#63)
by flimflam on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 06:26:36 PM EST

We usually try to anticipate that kind of behavior and structure the proposal in such a way that if they knock off what we expect them to it still pays for us to do the project.

And we also try to make them understand that them doing some of the design in FrontPage definitely will not be in their best interest.

-- I am always optimistic, but frankly there is no hope. --Hosni Mubarek
[ Parent ]
Bad clients (4.14 / 7) (#7)
by ucblockhead on Thu Apr 26, 2001 at 05:14:56 PM EST

A fun one I had:

I was writing some software for a very small company on an hourly rate. Things were going quite well, software-wise, but there was about a month of work left. I got a call one morning telling me "not to come in any more". (I was working on site.)

A few weeks later, I got a letter informing me that I was "expected to support the product" and that I would "not be paid for support or bugfixes". This, for an unfinished program. Basically, they expected me to finish the damn thing for free!


-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Join the ranks! (4.00 / 12) (#8)
by cable on Thu Apr 26, 2001 at 05:50:01 PM EST

Almost the same thing happened to me, except my partner had a heart attack, and we didn't charge that much for services. Just a two person company, grass roots, etc. We also were in the hardware business, selling custom built systems. Double ouch! Those $400 Internet rebates hit us hard. $0 System sales in 2001, can you say out of business? Hardware sales aren't that profitable, especially when wholesellers charge you almost what the parts cost in retail because you are a small shop.

*Sigh* I tried. But that is life, I guess? At least I am still living, I had a friend who killed himself in 1999 over stuff like that.

------------------
Only you, can help prevent Neb Rage!
me too! (3.33 / 9) (#9)
by eries on Thu Apr 26, 2001 at 06:01:07 PM EST


oddly enough, I had a very similar experience - and my startup was called Catalyst Recruiting (!)

At least I managed to get our software platform GPL'ed before it was too late.
Promoting open-source OO code reuse on the web: the Enzyme open-source project

A warning to us all... (4.30 / 13) (#10)
by deefer on Thu Apr 26, 2001 at 07:15:37 PM EST

Congrats to Wondertoad for posting this. Concise, well written, and with a message for us all.

Wondertoad, I hope that you're OK and can afford to eat and all that...

Then again, you've been *out there* doing it... I'm sure other K5 posters have thought, during the dotcom madness, "and I can make a dotcom out of that"... The difference is, some of us will look back and think "what if?" whereas you can look back and say "I did". Not much help right now, but think about it again in a few years time - better to have done something and regretted it, than sat about wondering...

Good luck, anyway. By the look of your portfolio, there'll always be work for you.


Strong data typing is for weak minds.



Thanks (3.50 / 2) (#12)
by Wondertoad on Thu Apr 26, 2001 at 10:21:03 PM EST

I'm fine, you're a good person to inquire. Thanks for the thought.


[ Parent ]
I'm just wondering (2.00 / 5) (#13)
by labradore on Thu Apr 26, 2001 at 10:55:24 PM EST

What was the price of that site? I don't have any idea how web designs are sold or priced but my uninformed wild-ass-guess is that it was worth $5-10K? 20 to 30 man-days at $40 per man hour, plus or minus hosting fees?

How do you decide how much you charge? (3.00 / 8) (#14)
by Tachys on Thu Apr 26, 2001 at 11:24:56 PM EST

I like to know when doing this kind of work how do you decide how much you charge?

Any number of ways (5.00 / 7) (#16)
by Wondertoad on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 12:22:03 AM EST

You can determine your BASE hourly rate by simply dividing overhead by people-hours. That's the break-even rate, the one you don't want to charge. Also, you assume that, ideally, your people will be 65% "utilized". Partly because they take days off and holidays and sick days, partly because nobody is 100% productive, and partly because it's hard to sell so much that there is guaranteed to be no downtime between projects.

Then you take that base rate and build a profit into the rate.

If all projects could be "T&E" - paid by time and expenses - you're done. But most of my clients (we went after small and medium-sized businesses) wanted a fixed price for a project, allowing for some wiggle room but not much. So then you have to estimate hours. And that's pretty much impossible, but you can get close once you get good at it.

But even then, you have to allow for wiggle room. If a client has a very well-defined job, you might be willing to take it at a lower rate because you know it can't spiral out of control.




[ Parent ]
Okay, well.. (2.54 / 11) (#15)
by infinitesin on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 12:05:08 AM EST

I'm an asshole, but on the front, it doesn't seem like your design isn't all the strong. But hey, I dont know jack about backend stuff, so I'm sure you're far more available for a job than me. But I can definitely sympathize with having clients that don't know what they want - they refuse to grant creative control and when they do, nothing the designer does is correct.

I hate the whole industry anymore. Every client has this ridiculous idea about what a website should look like, and its incredibly difficult to do what a client wants when what they want looks like shit.

Anyway, you should be happy that the general weeding out is occuring, and the weakest are crumbling. In about two years, when only the ones with the strongest talent are surviving, you should have no problem finding a job with them. It's the people with no education who are going to be screwed.

Client: I didn't say we wouldn't finish it and pay for it.

Oh, if I had a nickel for every time I've had a freelance client who refused to pay me..
--
"Just wait until tomorrow..I guess that's what they all say..just before they fall apart.."

Well...The Portfolio isn't that Hot... (3.25 / 24) (#17)
by BootyCall on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 12:36:50 AM EST

I enjoyed the article, but I left not exactly sure what the author blamed his failures on. His employees? Market conditions? Those mean old nasty clients?

After looking at the website, I knew exactly why he failed: he offered a mediocre product at premium prices.

Just look at the portfolio. Practically every site (except the monochromatic ones) has a clashing color scheme . The graphics for each site are at best amateurish, at worst ugly. For example, look at the nearly illegible navigation graphics Kristian's website. Or the weird eel-like logo thing on the Enamel List site. Or the "I just got fireworks and want to practice on your site" graphics for Kimball's page.

Most distressing to me, however, is the fact that nearly every image is a gif. Even most techies know that gifs are for graphics with hard lines; jpgs are for photographs and gradients. Virtually every bloody image is a gif, resulting in huge file sizes and reducing potentially vibrant images to 256 colors of mud. While this isn't a graphic design problem, it is a web design problem, and an amateurish mistake at that, which makes me wonder what other web issues weren't understood.

No, I'm not posting this as a flame. As I said, I found the article entertaining. My point is this:

It's easy for startup owners to blame others for their failures when they don't get the quick buck they were expecting. It happens all the time. But the truth is, most companies fail because of bad leadership--leadership which is bad because it focuses on profits to the neglect of a quality product.

Sometimes an idea for a business is flawed from the start and at other times the idea may be good but you just didn't have the talent to achieve it. This is normal. But the trick is to catch on before you make the mistake, and to understand it after you've failed.

A webdesign company has to provide a product that others see and want for themselves. Catalyst did not. Who's fault was that?

----
Love the dolphins, she said. Write by waste.

Not really the issue... (4.28 / 7) (#20)
by rusty on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 03:09:57 AM EST

Whatever the reasons (and maybe you're right in your design analysis) this article captured a really common experience of doing any kind of technology contract work for non-techie clients.

I don't think the article was really trying to lay the blame anywhere. Mostly just portraying what it's like. And that is what it's like.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

That's OK (4.88 / 9) (#27)
by Wondertoad on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 09:59:30 AM EST

I'm very good at accepting blame, and believe me, I know exactly what quantity of blame goes to each part of the downfall. (I was there!)

One problem with a small web development company is that your portfolio is a compromise between what you'd like to showcase and what you can showcase. The client can screw up your site by demanding changes that don't necessarily make sense. The client can alter the site and break it after launch. The site can wind up being a design abomination yet represent the only site you have in a sector you are trying to sell.

But one thing that our portfolio does represent is that, for every site except one, the client was very pleased. In two of the cases that you specifically mentioned, the client overwhelmed us with praise. Since design is subjective, I will accept your criticism but can't accept the client's.

The only other approach is to build sites that are highly useable but bland in design. That would be subjectively acceptable to a larger number of people, and if we were building sites for the portfolio and not for the clients - and not for myself either - that's what I'd do.

As for the GIFs, that's just untrue. Please show me one graphic on any of those sites that is a GIF that should be a JPG.

And we never got to the point where we could or should buy Fireworks. :)



[ Parent ]
the great GIF hunt. (2.00 / 3) (#41)
by delmoi on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 07:24:07 PM EST

this one Should probably be a Jpg. And this should proably be text.
--
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
Ah yes, GoL... (3.50 / 2) (#43)
by Wondertoad on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 08:49:50 PM EST

Generations on Line is a special case. It wasn't designed by us at all and they can't pay anything for re-dos to their "corporate" site. They've put all their dough into the site for the elderly. It's totally a non-profit venture, trying to build something for the elderly so as to close the digital divide. A pretty cool idea.

I had forgotten about that one. You're right, they should be JPGs, and the text should be text. But in context, it makes sense, doesn't it? We did a pretty cool redesign of the site for the elderly, but it's subscription-only right now, so the piece where 99% of our work is can't be part of the portfolio.

And now you know... the REST of the story


[ Parent ]
Well, it dosn't bother me (3.00 / 1) (#49)
by delmoi on Sat Apr 28, 2001 at 03:04:32 PM EST

I've got all the bandwidht I could ever want :).

Anyway, I thought your design was pretty good over all, better then most of the 'design' shops I've seen around.
--
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
6 of one, half dozen of the other (4.00 / 1) (#44)
by dr k on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 10:58:15 PM EST

I don't see any compelling reason why your example should be a jpg. It is a mix of graphics and tinted photos. I did a quick test, the file sizes are almost equal for a high quality jpg versus the current gif (41k), so then you'd judge it on quality, and you'd choose the gif. A medium quality jpg is smaller (25k), but degrades the graphics.

You you save 5-10k by slicing the image and using adaptive palettes. Heck you could probably save 5k by running the gif through ImageReady if it hasn't been already. Oh, if I had a nickel for every wasted kilobyte...
Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

That one (4.00 / 2) (#45)
by fluffy grue on Sat Apr 28, 2001 at 12:51:49 AM EST

Since when do JPEGs support transparency?
--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Uh (1.00 / 1) (#48)
by delmoi on Sat Apr 28, 2001 at 03:01:09 PM EST

They were using a plain white background...
--
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
Okay (none / 0) (#51)
by fluffy grue on Sat Apr 28, 2001 at 05:51:25 PM EST

Of course, I hadn't looked at the site, so I'd have had no way of knowing, but what if they wanted to have a silly watermark in the background or something?

Granted, I'm not exactly condoning the use of transparent GIFs either, but there ARE a lot of legitimate uses for them, and that's still a sore spot with PNG in most browsers.
--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Clients, can't live with em, can't live without em (none / 0) (#81)
by Barny on Sun May 13, 2001 at 03:39:05 PM EST

I know exactly how you feel there, having had a client tell me the site looked "too professional", and to make the text on the front page "really big and use shorter words". Still that made the whole thing a lot easier for me, but the site is gonna be nowhere near as much of a showcase as I would have liked to make it.

Still I suppose I am lucky cos I don't have any debts, and I am still getting paid for web design on occasions.

--
Barnaby Mannerings | http://www.wasd.co.uk
-- Barnaby Mannerings (http://r1g.org)
[ Parent ]
Design is subjective, coding isn't. (3.66 / 3) (#39)
by Data on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 05:21:35 PM EST

As I indicated, you might not like the design, but usually a design is a combination of client and designer working together to find a happy medium of what they like. A designer throws several different looks at a client and they throw back what they want and don't want.

Some clients are more forceful than others about what they want to do and sometimes will compromise a design.

Coding is not really as subjective, and if the person coding this had used Fireworks to make that one page you could tell. The HTML looks very good from my point of view on his pages and they don't use any of the stupid Macromedia Javascript functions that you see on any page made with Dreamweaver. Anytime you see MMpreloadimages or other functions in the code with MM in them coming from a "pro" design house, run for your life.

-Data
www.cantgetworse.com

[ Parent ]
Give Him A Break (4.25 / 16) (#18)
by lucas on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 01:31:24 AM EST

I wasn't going to post anything, but after I read some of these mean-spirited comments...

People, the guy is writing this as a sort of humorous statement to his efforts. He's $100K in *personal* debt and has probably been through hell and back. I don't see that he's *blaming* anyone, but, people, that is how it was in this industry... the attitude/environmental changes going on behind the scenes. If you're a Perl Monkey, for instance, you never got to see what was going on.

It's not fun to run a small business in today's environment against large corporations which can do it faster, cheaper, and more efficiently. Period. In this person's case, it's really not fun when the larger corporations beat the hell out of you because people call you "mediocre" in comparison to high-dollar web installations by big-name houses.

bad timing (3.66 / 9) (#19)
by dr k on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 03:04:54 AM EST

I can empathize with the situations the author has been in... but I don't know enough of the whole story to sympathize with the author. There is definitely a timing factor involved with this story, to wit:

In 1999, the business of "building" web sites was very good. You couldn't throw a rock without hitting a "portal" client.

In 2000, web business was stable or declining, depending on the kind of clients you were working with.

Now if your business model was built on 1999 expectations, you got screwed along with a lot of other companies. So the question is, did you have a stupid business model, or are you just unlucky?

One big killer of web shops is the attitude they have towards their clients. Usually two things happen: if a client has money, and the shop wants some of it, then they'll proabably agree to do whatever the client wants, even if it is poison. Next, the shop will treat those clients like they are total idiots - "yeah, a web portal for eunuchs sounds like a great business idea!"

So what happens? If you're lucky, work gets done, the client pays up, and the site is up for about 2 months before the client goes under. And there would be nothing wrong with that, except that having a moderately successful and actually extant site is a much better way to find clients than trying to ambush another stupid client. Because that plan - find stupid clients and insult them - isn't a very good business model.

Granted, I'm projecting a lot of my own experience onto this situation, but if you really got ambushed by poison clients that many times, I hope you learned something.

The bit about losing a client to a secret deal with ATX is very sad, and very familiar.
Destroy all trusted users!

You are hired as a web designer. (2.33 / 3) (#21)
by Tezcatlipoca on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 03:42:19 AM EST

Thus if somebody decides to make a site portal for eunuchs that is non of your business as long as you get paid. Your responsibility is to offer the best design in terms of speed, ease of use, security,etc.etc. sticking to the budget you have (and as a self respecting contractor you accepted, agreed upon or even requested yourself).

Might is right
Freedom? Which freedom?
[ Parent ]
thus? (4.20 / 5) (#22)
by dr k on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 06:06:04 AM EST

If I'm a contractor and I'm hired as a designer/programmer/&c, then I do the best I can for what I've signed on to do. But if I'm in the business to make money for my services, I should keep my business safe from bad investments. Thus, something that looks like a bad idea also looks like a bad investment, so I shouldn't take that client in the first place. And this, in fact, even applies when I am only a contractor - if I refuse to turn down a bad client knowing they will ruin my business, I deserve what I get.
Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]
Is this the reason ... (4.25 / 4) (#40)
by Sairon on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 05:49:27 PM EST

that this whole "dot-bomb" thing has happened? I'm not a web developer. I develop apps and databases. I've met with clients and drawn up requirements, etc for the web developers. I don't talk about what it's going to look like, etc. I ask them questions like, "How does this fit into your business plan?" If you aren't thinking about your client's business and pocketbook, you aren't thinking about your client. Businesses that don't care about their customers "don't care" themselves out of existance.

JPM

[ Parent ]

You're right (4.60 / 5) (#33)
by Wondertoad on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 11:28:05 AM EST

It *is* all about timing, and I was late to the marketplace.

The problem with timing is that it's very easy to see how it works after the fact, not so easy while things are happening. The craps player who arrives at a hot table knows that hot tables make you rich, but probability says you can't know whether the table will remain hot.

The other problem you mention - drop-dead dumb ideas from dot-com companies - didn't really apply here. We only had one truly dot-com client, and they had a pretty good idea, and are still alive and even making some money.

Our idea was to sell specifically to small and medium-sized enterprises because those were the folks who needed it the most. That did mean we would be selling to clients who were unclear on a few concepts. But it also meant they were supposed to be immune to the net consulting downturn. And it should have been a space the net consultants were less interesting in mining. What I didn't realize was, I think, that the number of smaller firms really ramped up in 1999 and 2000. It's all speculation - you can never really know.

As far as picking your clients goes, there were two items that I didn't include. One was when this very bizarre lady called us and wanted to put her entire art collection online for sales purposes. She proceeded to tell us, for a half hour, the details of how she was suing her photographer for four times the cost of the job. We looked at the photographs. They were fine. Then when I moved something out of place on her desk, she had a hissy fit. When we told her that we'd optimize her site for search engines, she ranted that nobody would find us through search engines and "what is a search engine anyway?" Her main experience was with AOL and Ebay. As we drove back to the office we decided that she must have a very serious OCD problem. We wrote her a very nice thanks-but-no letter.

The other experience was when we did some advertising in a local paper and got "regular folks" calling us for work. One gentleman explained that he wanted a website to sell things he was regularly selling on street corners with card tables, which he described as "general merchandise". But his main work was in ticket scalping. We said no.

Clients, marketing, the economy... one big change in me, personally, between when this thing started and today is that I am humbled. I wasn't downright brash before, but now I know that even in cases where I may be relatively certain of how things work, or have special insight into a condition, I may in fact be way off base. I was certain that I had a winning scheme for how to succeed in a downturn. What I didn't realize is that by the time you recognize the downturn, it's too late to implement a "scheme". I was certain that I had a winning marketing plan. But executing takes time, and everything is three times as difficult as it appears, and by the time my approach was ready to actually go, it was out of date.


Folks on K5 who want to remain brash will blame the victim. All I can say is that you don't even know what you don't know.

[ Parent ]
Little pearls o' (hard won) wisdom (4.00 / 4) (#42)
by analog on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 08:35:46 PM EST

All I can say is that you don't even know what you don't know.

I wonder how many people reading this will realize that this is the most important sentence in this story...

[ Parent ]

I already knew that. ;-) (NT) (2.50 / 2) (#62)
by rusty on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 05:10:07 PM EST



____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
I think (3.50 / 8) (#23)
by ajduk on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 06:18:06 AM EST

The sites you designed look pretty good; I don't know what other people are going on about.

Problem with web design, I think, is that anyone can knock up a few pages with, say, frontpage, or even MS Word (shudder...), and then come to the conclusion that web design is easy and therefore cheap. So when money gets tight, they assume that you must be making a huge profit, and that you can take a cut in payment.



The reason all these businesses failed (2.50 / 16) (#25)
by Eric Jonson on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 09:28:14 AM EST

Heh, while I do feel kind of sorry for someone that has gotten themselves into this kind of situation, it has to be said that the entire dot-com phenomenon was doomed to fail from the start for what should have been an obvious reason.

Programmers should not be allowed anywhere near control of a company.

Sorry to all you coders out there, but over the last few years we've seen the most pie in the sky ideas presented as business plans by coders with their heads in the clouds and their arses doing the talking, and ideas with potential ruined by flagrant abuse of investors money and strategy decisions that a week of Economics 101 would have shown to be rediculous.

And so time and time again, these companies have folded. Why are people so suprised? If a company is selling something with about as much reality as pixie dust, then they're unlikely to receive anything in return more solid than pixie dust. And on the net, customer loyalty is an unknown concept. People go where prices are cheapest at that time. I've seen online shops run themselves into the ground doing endless special offers to keep customers, and losing money every time.

It was a fun time I'm sure for those involved in it without any of their money involved. But whether it's online or off, sound business practice wins over crackpot schemes every day of the week.

It's humanitarian to feed starving trolls (4.80 / 10) (#26)
by 0xdeadbeef on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 09:49:03 AM EST

Why do you blame programmers, when anyone in an executive position in any company bigger than a garage operation is not a programmer?

And if these pie-in-sky idealists they can convince investors to give them money, and convince MBAs to sell their product they invented, who do you blame? The programmer got his dream implemented, and a paycheck, and if lucky, cashed out his options before the bottom fell out.

If business people got suckered, they have no one to blame but themselves. Maybe they should have dirtied themselves by reading up on technology. But then again, a lot of them probably started that track in college, couldn't handle it, and majored in managemt instead.

[ Parent ]
Programmers in charge. (3.66 / 6) (#30)
by ucblockhead on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 10:40:57 AM EST

Well, I do know one programmer who never should have been allowed near the helm of his company.

Anyway, you are a bit misinformed. Very few dotcoms are run by programmers.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

C'mon now (3.60 / 5) (#34)
by greyrat on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 01:16:23 PM EST

Billy was not that much of a programmer. He got himself dirtied enough to know what was what and then he stuck with what he's good at: Sales & Marketing.
~ ~ ~
Did I actually read the article? No. No I didn't.
"Watch out for me nobbystyles, Gromit!"

[ Parent ]
rollercoasters and the economy (3.00 / 3) (#36)
by Epicurus on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 02:09:35 PM EST

the entire dot-com phenomenon was doomed to fail from the start

Can it really be said that it failed? Yes, many businesses have been failing recently, but the economy (what the 'dot-com phenomenon' really is a part of), hasn't failed, it's mearly headed downward. Look at history, the economy is just like a rollercoaster (or would a yo-yo be more correct?), it goes up, then it comes down, goes up, then down, up then down...and it's never stayed down, it's always ended up higher than it was X years ago.

[ Parent ]
Programmers' fault? Hardly. (4.83 / 6) (#38)
by morven on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 03:09:16 PM EST

Now that the dust is settling a bit, it's obvious to me that, all too often, it wasn't the programmers, the guys with the original ideas, that fucked it all up -- rather, the investors, the venture capitalists, the idiots with MBAs that they brought in to run things.

I'm sorry, but when a guy with an idea pitches that idea to venture capitalists, it's THEIR job to decide whether the idea has potential or not. They're the experienced businessmen, he's just some young engineer hotshot with an idea.

Also, when a startup takes on venture capital, it also takes on SUBSTANTIAL control of its operations by that venture capital company. They don't just hand you a signed check and say, "here! Have fun!". Often, they install a CEO *they* choose, and members of the board.

In most of these companies, all the money has been lost, not by jumped-up-to-CEOdom engineers, but by professional, MBA'd management.

[ Parent ]
Now wait a minute... (4.50 / 2) (#58)
by rabbit on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 05:17:00 AM EST

I'm going to use the last .bomb I worked at as an example... versity.com (now owned by FC collegeclub.com)

When the "programmers" were in control, the company was managing costs and moving along nicely towards (eventual) profitability. No really. If our initial growth plan had been followed, it might have actually worked.

What happened was that the investors came in and decided to make an all or nothing play, so to speak. They insited that the company expand explosively which led to costs spiralling out of control before there was even a chance to make a profit. All of this to the extreme chagrin of the *programmers* involved, I might add. Of all the .bombs out there, we were one of the cheap ones. Our first year, with programmers in charge, we ran on 300k. The next year, with VCs in charge, we burned through a mil a month, totalling about 12 million before getting "bought" for stock, by cclub. We would have all been better off to just shut our doors, instead, what with collegeclub being run by a bunch of cokeheads. Cclub is, incidentally, currently in bankruptcy court because it owes something like 20 million to various people, myself included.

Who's the moron? Who shouldn't be allowed to run companies?

The fault lies not with the crazy ideas, but with the VCs that ignore the original business plans. Many business plans while founded on weird ideas, are otherwise sensible. It's when the VCs insist on complete idiocy, for example: that a company with 17 employees expand to over 2000 (granted most of them part time students) in less than a year that things get fscked up.

piffle.

--rabbit

-- I have desires that are not in accord with the status quo.
[ Parent ]
Programming != HTML || *script || SQL (5.00 / 2) (#67)
by TigerBaer on Tue May 01, 2001 at 11:56:38 PM EST

Please, for the sake of all in the Computer Science profession, be they students (me), professionals, or instructors & researchers, understand that there is a difference between programming and information technology.

The Internet "boom" was corrupted the second that people who did not know there arse from there elbow, or their private from their protected class, or even their context-free grammar from their regular expression, got mixed up in the business of preparing web pages.

This is not to say all "programmers" are innocent, but rather that those who had even the slightest understanding of computer science were predominantly smart enough to avoid pretentious business people, and stick to what they understand best.

Programmers do NOT worship web pirates.. i mean tycoons like Larry (the devil himself) Ellison. No, we admire and respect Dijkstra and Chomsky. We don't perpetuate Internet Trash, we know our limitations. We quest for knowledge, not idiot black "i am a hip nerd" glasses and ugly bubble shaped German automobiles.

Writing HTML does not qualify you as a programmer. Writing Php does not qualify you as a programmer. Writing SQL queries does not qualify you as a programmer.Writing an HTML or Php parser or SQL database qualifies you as a programmer

Ok Ok, I know alot of you are thinking "elitist whore" at the moment. Let me justify myself: I have been studying Computer Science for the last 3 years intensely. I have learned a great deal, but more importantly i know i have only scratched the surface of a realm that reaches as deep as mathematics itself. I do not relish the thought that a high schooler who figured out how to write some lines of Php can class his knowledge at the same level as mine (I am not saying you are of this type). Anyway, thats my rant....

[ Parent ]
You were correct about being elitist (3.66 / 3) (#68)
by johnmunsch on Wed May 02, 2001 at 10:46:05 AM EST

...and a foolish rant it is. Speaking as someone who graduated with his Comp Sci degree in 1987 and has been working as a professional programmer ever since I see all programming is a continuum.

Writing a complex piece of software doesn't qualify you as a programmer _if you do it badly_ and many many programmers churn out program after program, complex and simple alike, very badly. By contrast, a complex website implemented using PHP and HTML would qualify you as a programmer, should you do it well.

No, I don't lump someone who only knows HTML or PHP and who has no formal education in how to design software with someone who has written a good parser for both. But that's no different than differentiating between a photographer to takes my kid's baseball pictures and Ansel Adams. It is levels of skill. Both are photographers but both are not equally skilled.

Your view is little different from the Truman Capote quote about Kerouac, "That's not writing, it's typing." It is elitist and it is very very misguided. Perhaps you will learn that the first time you have to design and implement a large application using the web as the front end. Perhaps you'll only learn it the first time you're given an assignment that you dismiss as "beneath you" and you blow it completely because you underestimated it.

[ Parent ]

Clarify (3.50 / 2) (#70)
by TigerBaer on Wed May 02, 2001 at 03:30:38 PM EST

I agree with you that a good website that is well designed, like any other system, is something to admire. Perhaps I am not really talking about the programmer, but rather the ideal of the computer scientist, and what he/she would strive for. It is elitist, there is no Question about that. But this elitism seeks to preserve the boundary, highlight those who understand computer science and the fundamentals and theory behind it, from those like the other response before, who ask "What does Chomsky have to do with programming?".

[ Parent ]
Chomsky!? (none / 0) (#69)
by ucblockhead on Wed May 02, 2001 at 02:54:41 PM EST

What on earth does Chomsky have to do with programming!?
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Language Theory (4.00 / 1) (#71)
by TigerBaer on Wed May 02, 2001 at 03:33:20 PM EST

Chomsky, a linguistics professor, has contributed alot to language theory, more specifically -> how to make languages like C rather than typing in assembly the entire time.

Here is a link I found that explains some language theory, and covers some of Chomsky's contributions

[ Parent ]
Chomsky (3.00 / 2) (#72)
by ucblockhead on Wed May 02, 2001 at 03:40:43 PM EST

Yeah, I know who he is. He did a lot for linguistics, but his influence on computer science is peripheral at best.

specifically -> how to make languages like C rather than typing in assembly the entire time.
I suspect that'd come as news to Grace Hopper.


-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Chomsky (5.00 / 2) (#74)
by raiaken on Thu May 03, 2001 at 08:46:24 AM EST

Having met Chomsky recently, I'd have to say that you're completely incorrect in regards to his "peripheral" influence on CS. Especially in the field of AI, and natural language systems, he's contributed reams of work.

[ Parent ]
Stop and think (3.00 / 1) (#75)
by raiaken on Thu May 03, 2001 at 08:53:02 AM EST

I challenge you to count. Count how many successes have been driven by *management* and not *good ideas* and how many failures have been driven by management. People have posted examples, but I have what I think is a particularly good one: www.arsdigita.com Being an MIT Geek and having had Philip Greenspun as a prof, I'm a little partial, but this is a classic story of programmers being the salvation of a company whose new VC leadership thought they were smarter because they had MBA's and could reel off sentences containing no less than thirty meaningless internet buzzwords.

[ Parent ]
coders shouldn't run companies (3.00 / 1) (#78)
by fdown on Mon May 07, 2001 at 02:41:14 PM EST

Back in the 80s when I was young there was this chap William Gates 111, wrote some kind of Basic interpreter, of course his company Microsoft can't be makng money.

[ Parent ]
What's Next? (3.85 / 7) (#29)
by quam on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 10:16:14 AM EST

Out of curiousity, what are your, or others with similar experiences, plans for the future? The reason I ask is that many of us have been affected by economic changes and may consider other options such as: changing careers or obtaining a/another degree. Many of the options, however, may be unrealistic because of an absence of training in different industries. In many professions, though, there is an ability to switch career paths. For instance, a nurse may switch his/her career path to home health care, insurance, hospital adminstration or law. What type of careers might a web developer/designer switch to?

-- U.S. Patent 5443036 concerns a device for encouraging a cat to exercise by chasing a light spot.
Switching away from web development/design (4.00 / 2) (#37)
by Wondertoad on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 02:20:06 PM EST

Tough question.

My designer became a useability guru for a big company. That's a great switch because her main concern is useability and almost all the same issues apply.

My gut feeling is that web development is still going on, just moving. A lot of custom programming is replaced by intranets and extranets. And there will still be web development as new technologies come into place. (It's just that March First and Viant and such can't get $300/hour for it.)

But one of my pet peeves is that companies don't hire people, they hire buzzwords. A competent developer, sysadmin, etc. can learn a new system or language quickly and become productive fast. But in the IT world, at least outside Calif., you're hired based whatever you did last. (Disclaimer: I didn't hire that way, and you see the result.)


[ Parent ]
How to fail at buisness without really trying! (3.50 / 6) (#32)
by steveaustin on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 11:18:18 AM EST

I really feel it for you, as I read alot of the comments I realize that alot of or k5er's have seen some of the same madness that you have experienced. But I will offer you this, I feel that a good sales person would have been in order for your company. Someone who understands the architectural constraints of the programmer but is able to bring it to a bottom line at the end of the day, for the client. If this was done then the client would have had a realistic idea of what they can do with there money and what can be done technically with the site. I find techies are not good sale people because they believe that there clients are stupid. Forget the hey I am a tech God routine because I can do something you can't stuff. Now I may get some responses of what people thing about what am saying but I have seen it time and time again, when it comes to programmers and techies in general. In a world were man is trying to have seamless communications with computers still 20% of the work does not get done due to lack of communication between the humans. This we still have not mastered. In this story I can garantee that both the programmers and the clients understood certain key elements differently. My proposal of a kind of a "middleman" would have at least for the most part but the client and the web development company on equal ground. Now I know this does not always work so please, this is not a end all fix so save the comments.....thanks.
---- seymor was going to tear into it like bag of frozen peas, unfortunately it was a sack of potato's a factor he wasn't prepared for.
Repeating history... (4.16 / 6) (#35)
by heelix on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 01:25:56 PM EST

This hits really close to home for me. I have been fortunate enough to find another home after the last company went dot.compost - but all I lost was a boatload of worthless stock options. I learned my lesson about working for IOU's and "when the client pays", and taking compensation in "non-cash" forms in the early 90's when I was a BioChemist.

I worked long hours as part of a research lab / startup. Money was largely non-salary, but rather other things... you know, profit sharing, bonuses, something link options. The technology was fantastic, hacking pathways in a wonderfully complex system, living on a frontier if you will. Funding died with the Gulf War and NIH grants were not enough to keep things going. I worked for almost six months without a check - always, you will get paid when xx grant comes in - surprisingly, the ship never came in and I spent the next several years pounding down the bills from living off credit cards.

There is a risk / reward issue. After eating a lot of Raman noodles, I switched gears from the lab, to bioinformatics, to pure widget coding in some random field today. Yes, I took a larger salary rather than more options, but how do you say - safe, not sexy...



Not yet. (1.80 / 5) (#47)
by zencode on Sat Apr 28, 2001 at 12:52:16 PM EST

Oh, cry me a river. You didn't even make FuckedCompany.com. Just kidding.

But all snide, mean-spirited comments aside, I really feel for you. What's great about the story aspect of this post is that it's not a strech to see this happening. My roommate's sister is a haflway decent designer and from what I hear she's seriously fucked and out of work. Hope you catch the upside of the inevitable dotbomb rebound.

my .02
zencode

http://www.iactivist.org/jason/

You know... (3.28 / 7) (#53)
by slaytanic killer on Sat Apr 28, 2001 at 09:54:21 PM EST

Despite the posts here which assume certain odd things about your success or failure because of various business decisions... or gif sizes... You are only a failure if you have never produced anything in your life to be proud of, or worth sharing. This whole "internet money bubble" never meant anything; at its very base it was about a bunch of children who scrabbled around because it seemed so pure, just to get money. With these clients of yours, most of them did not have a bone of vision in their grasping bodies, and your business was built on a foundation of them.

But something large and invisible did come along and affect many peoples' lives. And it left, leaving them to ask what the meaning of it was. The message was to grow up. Those who still survive knew what they wanted from riding the beast. The slaughtered ones were just riding coattails.

Now, you older folk want to make sure you get out of the way of us younger ones. Our mistakes will make yours look like child's play, and you do not want to get caught up in them.

Get out of your way? (3.50 / 2) (#79)
by softweyr on Mon May 07, 2001 at 03:08:34 PM EST

What, you're tired of us changing your diapers? When one of you 20-something pukes actually manages to accomplish something, I'll be impressed. No, designing a web site is not an accomplishment, it's a triviality. Come back when you've developed a protocol, designed a service that actually helps somebody, or maybe even built a house or a car or something somebody somewhere really needs.
Where am I, and what am I doing in this handbaskeet?
[ Parent ]
Portfolio not that great (1.28 / 7) (#54)
by NullSpaceKid on Sat Apr 28, 2001 at 11:08:23 PM EST

The http://www.winwomen.org/ site would have loaded better if you had used a background color in addition to the background image, as the graphics look terrible coming in over a while page.

On http://www.kimballcomm.com/services/, surprised you used 2 dashes instead of an em dash.

Trivial perhaps, but maybe the difference between just a nice design and a professional polishing.

Sorry I'm not impressed.

re -- Portfolio [not that] great (2.00 / 1) (#64)
by psyclone on Mon Apr 30, 2001 at 09:30:30 PM EST

hmm.. appears to be a single dash to me. unfortunately, I prefer the double-dash (--) as it's easier to copy and paste as plain text into my xterm editor.

where's that link again to *your* professional sites?


[ Parent ]
re -- Portfolio [not that] great (3.00 / 1) (#77)
by NullSpaceKid on Thu May 03, 2001 at 11:30:09 PM EST

My portfolio isn't posted because I've elected to use a pseudonym for my participation on kuro5hin. In any case I have no design talent and so work with design studios; 'polishing' is a big part of what I do. Make of that what you will. The errors I found in less than 2 minutes and if I felt I needed to impress you than I could easily have found a dozen more. My thinking is, ideally, you'll never notice how good a site is, as a site w/o such errors just flows easily. Any error, no matter how trivial, implies the site isn't as professional as it could be, and lessens trust. Thanks for reading...

[ Parent ]
Portfolios and credibility (none / 0) (#82)
by trez on Wed May 16, 2001 at 11:53:04 AM EST

While there's something to be said for a "polished" appearance on anything, that "polish" is not necessarily the thing that's going to keep the business running. Seems to me (by my experience/intuition, YMMV) that the majority of the population is not likely to go looking for the substitution of a double dash for an em dash if the page flows well, is readable, and offers ready access to the information they need.

So, while it's nice to have a chance to nitpick a bit, in business there are other real considerations:

  • Is is a design issue (background image without background color makes text hard to read until image loads) or a content issue (em dash)? (Does it potentially impact the rest of the site?)
  • Is there time in the delivery schedule to do it?
  • Will it negatively impact work on other customers' projects to take the time to do it?
  • Is there a chance to clean it up after initial delivery?
  • etc.

Now it can be argued that in a well-planned project, all of this is balanced and figured out in advance, with some slack for unexpected changes, but the best-laid plans of mice and men... (You know the rest.) And all in all, I'm inclined to say that it's more than quality of work that killed this company. (Without naming names or even industries, I can think of a lot of companies that have flourished with a poor product, which from my non-designer point of view - remember that how it looks to the non-designers is BIG - the work I've seen is not.)



[ Parent ]
Oh brother... (2.50 / 2) (#65)
by johnmunsch on Tue May 01, 2001 at 11:06:03 PM EST

I signed up for an account on k5 just so I could reply to this goofy assed comment. No, the portfolio items don't look like something from a top end design firm but I can pretty much guess from the prices quoted above that they didn't charge like some super-pricey organization either.

They are good workmanlike sites and if the focus of the quality of a design for you is whether an em dash is used or not, you need a world class reality check.

[ Parent ]

Oh brother... (2.00 / 2) (#76)
by NullSpaceKid on Thu May 03, 2001 at 11:22:17 PM EST

Em em-dash and the other issue were discovered in 2 minutes. Sorry if this seems trivial (I said it might) but it was enough to convince me that the studio was not that great. I freely admit I'm anal about such things.

[ Parent ]
I can relate - but would I change anything (4.25 / 4) (#59)
by baptiste on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 12:01:36 PM EST

I can relate. Started my business in Dec 97 Quit a six figure job to do it full tiem in Dec 99 (I was miserable at my day job) year and a half later, I'm broke, had to take a job paying about 60% what I was making in 1999, and am in debt up to my nose. Looking back would I do it again - probably in a heartbeat. It wasn't that the business failed, I just wasn't able to grow it to meet the needs of my family. When our stock portfolio imploded, we lost our crutch to carry us over to profitability. Sure there are plenty of decisions we look back on and would have made differently. But in teh end it was a good experieince. I'm pissed I set my family finances back so far - but in teh end, my wife has been very supportive, we'll get through it and I'm ready to face the next challenge.
--
Top Substitutions For 'Under God' In The Pledge Of Allegiance
Second thoughts... (2.50 / 4) (#60)
by jdtux on Sun Apr 29, 2001 at 12:31:21 PM EST

I've been thinking about starting up my own web design company for awhile now. I'd say I'm at least at an intermediate level with PHP and MySQL(http://www.jdv.f2s.com/myforum -- all done by me). I'm only a teen, and all this stuff has been scaring the shit outta me. I mean, I'd really like a job somewhere in IT, and for now, web design has been pretty easy. I live on PEI, which is a small province in Canada. there are already a fair bit of web design companies around, but i think there are only 1, maybe two that offer PHP/MySQL, although most others have ColdFusion. So, should I bother? or should I start up a business for web design and network setup, putting computers together, etc. As far as I know, there aren't too many similar companies around. Any ideas, anyone?

My 0.02 (3.00 / 1) (#66)
by johnmunsch on Tue May 01, 2001 at 11:49:27 PM EST

Based on my experiences with clients I'm not sure that only knowing PHP and MySQL will get you enough business alone to live off of.

Depending upon the size of the client you will encounter a range of clients who want everything from a static page or set of pages describing a business (what we used to call a "web business card") to high end e-commerce sites and online applications.

At the low end they are really only interested in your web design skills and the price. They will host with you or wherever you want to put it as long as the price is low enough. They want a good looking cheap site.

At the high end you are going to encounter a lot of customers who aren't interested in what you want to use to build a site, they want to use systems that their engineers are familiar with and software from companies they are comfortable with. So Microsoft, Sun, Java, C++, VB, SQL Server, and Oracle show up a lot at the table, not PHP and MySQL. Note: I'm not running these down, I just never had a customer ask for either.

In the middle ground is the tricky area. You can get some sales from the fact that you are using software that the customer won't have to pay big licensing bucks for. With a customer who is really tight on budget, substituting Linux and MySQL can help the cost versus a Windows NT Server license plus SQL Server. Just make sure you can show off lots of examples of sites that are driven off of PHP and MySQL in order to increase the clients confidence in the technologies.

With all that said, I'd say stay far away from the field unless you can find a way to line up customers because sir, that's what it is all about. You can be the hottest damn web designer/programmer out there but unless you've got a steady stream of customers and a way to keep them from all coming at once and then nobody coming at all, you are screwed.

Find a damn good marketer/sales person and mate with him/her. Then maybe you will stand a chance.

One thing that helped us out was that we made a business deal early on to supply websites for the customers of a franchise outfit. Every time they signed up a new franchisee we were able to hawk our websites in a kind of package deal to them. That gave us a steady background of sales to keep going for a long time and in the end allowed us to close gracefully (i.e. stop taking new business and go find new jobs) rather than go down the tubes in chapter 7 or chapter 11 bankrupcy.

[ Parent ]

thanks (2.00 / 1) (#73)
by jdtux on Wed May 02, 2001 at 08:16:39 PM EST

thanks, that helps i guess..

I'm only 15 at the moment, so I guess I still have awhile before I have to really worry.

I'm planning on learning C/C++ eventually... maybe over the summer. I wanna do computer something or other, and I don't have any networking experience yet, or setting up firewalls, routers, etc.. although, my uncle works at the local uni's comp department, and they have one of everything(Digital Unix, Linux, NT, Oracle, win2k, etc etc), so hopefully I could get some experience in there.

And there's always TFM :)

Thanks again

[ Parent ]

Nothing to lose (none / 0) (#80)
by Barny on Sun May 13, 2001 at 02:43:30 PM EST

I currently design websites as a source of extra income (student loans, really aren't funny anymore) and I found that the cost to start my so-called company to do so was nothing, as I already own a PC.

I managed to "attach" myself to a marketing company who offer an all-in-one marketing solution, so basically everytime someone asks for their services, they try and sell web-design on my behalf.

If no-one ever wants a website designed again, I will still have profited from this venture.

Basically, what I'm probably trying (failing?) to say is "go for it!", if you can do a site, you can advertise your services, annd if you do that you might just get lucky, IMO thats the cool thing about the net.

Just my .02 (hey does this mean that my comment is worth more than everyone elses, cos I live in the UK and .02 is worth more than $.02????;)

--

Barnaby Mannerings | http://www.wasd.co.uk

(my homepage is being redesigned, but my hosting company are annoying me a lot at the mo, so no PHP on my own homapage yet, very unprofessional and bad I know, but nevermind)
-- Barnaby Mannerings (http://r1g.org)
[ Parent ]
How to fail at business without really trying | 82 comments (82 topical, 0 editorial, 1 hidden)
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