How the right question found $12,000 in 10 minutes

The $12,000 10-minute ROI plan

I walked into the building, announced myself to the receptionist.  She disappeared into the back. I was there to meet my customer who owns a great business: About 20 employees, really great at what they do.  Fun, creative people who are also really serious about being the best at what they do and always trying to find better ways of doing it.  My kind of people. A few minutes later a very intense-looking business owner came out. It looked like he wasn't having the best day.

"James, I'm so sorry- we canceled the meeting but there was a communication mixup.  No one ever called to tell you."

"Well, we can reschedule." I had paid a visit in person because I hadn't seen him in a couple of months. "Or I can quickly work through the very brief version of our agenda."

He responded, "I feel badly about the reschedule.  I can give you 15 minutes, but it has to be 15 minutes or less."

"Let's make it 10," I replied.

The 10 minute meeting worth $12,000

We walked into one of the conference rooms. I pulled out my iPhone and started a 10 minute timer.  He had already wiped off one of the glass white boards for me.

I proceeded to draw as I talked, walking him through the thread.  I knew that he and his partner were looking ahead to the future, and that, like all business owners, they were prepared to change to adapt and thrive in a changing marketplace.  This could mean several things, months or even years from now: Possibly moving.  Growing or shrinking depending on which roles become better suited for outsourcing. Technology changes everything.  I was there to give him a little surprise:

"You're paying X for Internet right now, and Y for your phones.  The technology's changed dramatically.  We can get up to 10X more bandwidth at 30% of what we're currently paying."

There was, of course, a "gotcha".  I addressed it up front: A 1% chance of an Internet outage, but we can purchase a failover system for $60/month, and the failover system will work 24/7/365.

The bottom line is a net expense reduction of $1,000 per month, or $12,000 per year.

My customer looked pretty happy.  The meeting ended on a positive and actionable note.

The trouble with techs

The most important question here is: Why was he paying $12,000 per year more than he needed to?  Over five years they spent $60,000 that otherwise could have been in his bank account.

The reason is very simple: Almost all small business owners have access to techs, but they either have never met or don't have easy access to a tech resource who can ask the right questions at the right level.  I knew a lot of other kids in high school and college that were really smart.  Chess team smart.  They could solve math problems in a snap. But ask them to figure out what problem to solve, and that's where things break down. Most of them couldn't relate to either the subject matter of a situation where it wasn't clear what variables to even start with.  What is it we want to do? Who do we want to do it for?  How do we want them to feel?  These questions aren't A + B = C formulaic.

At some point someone was sitting in front of my customer and asking "what problem do you want me to solve?".  The customer probably said "We need fast (A) and reliable Internet (B)."  And the tech went off looking (C).  Square peg, square hole.  The tech comes back with the one option that has the availability the customer wants with the speed the customer needs, and it costs him.  Dearly.

Screw A + B = C.  Tell me what's important to you.  Let me write the equation that asks the right questions.  Then we can solve it together.

The Smartest Customers

When I met my customer the first time, he said "I'm not looking for someone to answer my questions.  I'm looking for someone who can help me figure out what the right questions are. On top of that I want smart, responsive and professional."

This compares to the questions I get every week. One just came into my inbox this week: "We're looking for someone who can take us from Exchange to Office 365, and can help us figure it out." I never judge a customer, but when I learned that they were half Mac-based, I would bet (and I would win) that they've never had someone who took the time to understand their business at a business level, then relate what's possible with technology to it.  

Office 365 costs about 3X as much as Google Apps, has a very poor track record for availability (meaning it goes down a lot) and lacks 90% of the features I want a business owner to have access to that can give them back hundreds of hours per year.  That said, I know some Windows-based law firms where it makes sense because of their specific workflow. Or because they're all using Microsoft-build phones and tablets.

If there's a great reason to move to Office 365, then moving to Office 365 it is. But was Office 365 (C) in the A + B equation?  Over 15 years, I've seen thousands of proposals from IT vendors (often referred to as MSPs) and what they pitch is exactly that, the A + B = C formula.  Which, done enough times, you're putting far more than $12,000 into someone else's pocket for no good reason.

If you really want to win big, tell me what you want to accomplish. More hours back to your employees so they can produce more?  More time back to you for work/life balance?  Freedom to travel and keep in touch with the office? Now those are fun problems to solve.

The Concierge Effect

Have a question?  Do you wonder if there's an alternative way of doing something that could be better for you? I serve a select group of very special customers who can call me anytime, anywhere, as part of my Personal Tech Concierge program.

Sometimes I receive a call like the one that triggered the 10-minute meeting. Other times it's a business owner and their spouse, standing inside an Apple Store asking if what they're being told by the salesperson will really work in their home.  My job, even if the call is 5 minutes, is to save my customer the dozens or hundreds of hours - and sometimes thousands of dollars) that will be wasted if something goes awry or if there are secondary unknown consequences.

I have taken their calls walking through the busy streets of Osaka, and while sitting on the beach in Southern California.  I've taken their calls while at a birthday party and in the middle of the night.  I take those calls when they happen because that's when it's important.  It's more than the 80/20 rule, it's the 99/1 rule.  That five minute call can make a 99% difference in my customer's life or business.  I take their calls because I love it. They're my favorite customers, passionate about their lives and businesses, and they know I'm passionate about serving them.

Are you looking for this kind of service for yourself, or your family, or your business?  If you are, connect with me and let me know how I can help you. I'm @jamescoleman on twitter, and you can reach out to me using the form at the bottom of the page here.

P.S. if this blog post was interesting, would you share it with your friends and colleagues?  You can use the share buttons on the page to automatically and easily share it!  And leave me a comment- even a question if you'd like, below!

P.S.S. I still have a few seats left for the first Switcher University class - which is 100% free and forever free. I'll be showing how to safely free up space on an iPhone, including where to look and what tools to use that almost no one knows about (and Apple can't talk about). If you register now you can take it anytime- even months or years from now.  Just register quick while it's still free.

Really, Apple? Are you serious?

A few months ago I came home on a Friday, just like tonight.  Only I was stressed beyond belief at 5:15PM.  I had sent three emails, one at 9:00AM PST, the other at 11:12AM PST and the final one at 2:00PM PST.  I had found out by calling the people I had emailed that they hadn't received my emails. 

My computer is a MacBook Pro 13" Retina.  I usually run the latest software, in this case it was 10.10.something.  And I was using Apple's Mail app (in applications, go to Mail).  My company uses Google Apps for work, which is basically corporate gmail without ads, without any creepy spying, and is ridiculously secure and reliable. I get about one problem with send/receive every 2-3 years, compared to my customers with Office 365 who don't know it, but their email is down about 6X per week (yes, I have access to the logs and can see it).  

So when I went into my sent folder on the Mac and saw the three emails stuck there, I was at first shocked.  I turned off my WiFi and turned it back on again.  Three times.  Everyone remember all the WiFi problems with Macs?  It didn't do any good.  I restarted. Made sure I could load a web page and then tried launching Mail again.  No good.  The three messages were stuck.

I went into and logged in with my TechRoom email address.  I checked the sent messages. Nothing. The three messages weren't there.  They never made it to the cloud server. They were still on my Mac.  Now I was mad.  Bruce Banner mad.

The problem is, I know too much. I'm trained on the 7 layers.  I know the ports that Google uses. I know the servers that Google resolves to.  I know the DNS servers that are reliable.  I control my home and office networks with Meraki. Nothing escapes me.  There's no reason in the world that I should be having this problem.

I called Google Enterprise support out of pure desperation.  Did you know that it's impossible to get someone from Apple on the line on a Friday night at 8:00PM PST, but that Google Enterprise support is 24/7/365 around the world, and you don't need to wait for a representative?  I ended up speaking with someone who patiently listened to me explain what I just wrote above.  She patiently listened to me whimper and whine about how this can't be happening, with everything configured correctly.

When I was done, she explained to me that, officially, Google has no statement regarding Apple Mail. That said, she explained that the correct settings work sometimes with Apple Mail, and other times they dont.


I explained to her that I was confused, and I asked her to clarify. She said that they have noticed at Google across many other cases that, when using Mail (Apple's application) that sometimes the correct settings work, and other times they don't, and that this is a reproducible issue that they have not been able to resolve.


I was silent. After a moment or two (or longer) she asked if I was still there.  I said yes, and that I needed a moment to think about this.

What she had just told me, in the most objective way possible, was that, scientifically speaking, the correct settings for email send and receive worked "sometimes" on Apple applications, and "sometimes" didn't.  This was reproducible, meaning you can do this on many other computers and get the same irregular results.  Use any other application: Chrome (native gmail), Thunderbird, even Outlook (eww). No problems.

Mail simply doesn't work for Gmail.


I've disregarded the last four updates that applied to my computer that affected Mail.  That's because that night I decided no matter how long-standing my habit was with Mail that I was giving it up.

I have since moved to Chrome.  I love Chrome. It's vastly superior. I run circles around Mail users- no matter how cool they think their workflows are, I have the power of back-end servers doing extremely powerful things for me. I can use Chrome offline, and I have a preview pane on the right.  And I have about 1000 plugins available due to labs that Apple can't even scrape the surface of. I had to move to Chrome for my own sanity that night, and to ensure I could remain productive.  I'm going to lose customers if my communication breaks down, and that's what Apple Mail was did. Dead line.

Tonight, six months later, I saw the most recent update that Apple posted that hit my MacBook Pro. I saw three updates, and it made me mad.  1) They still haven't made Mail a decent email program, 2) I own two GoPros, and it upsets me that I can't import from it reliably without a software update and 3) why can't Windows Media files play on a Mac?

Does Apple need some money to buy a few devices to test their software with before they ship it?

Switcher University - Learn and get more out of your Mac, Apple devices, or any tech

I'm incredibly pleased to announce Switcher University! For over 20 years, the best and most satisfying part of my work has been teaching people how to do new, cool and useful things with their technology. And now technology allows me to create online courses that you can take anywhere, anytime, at your own pace, and keep going back to anytime you want to review.

I'm offering my first free course right now on Switcher University.  If you register now you'll get permanent access to the course content and special updates and really good stuff from me that I typically charge hundreds of dollars for - but completely free for the first 100 who register.  I love sharing how-tos that give you back more time, and make your life more fun!  And as a thanks to everyone who's been so supportive of Switcher University, I've posted a fun how-to at the bottom of this blog post on how to sign any document on your Mac without a pen, printer or scanner.  It's way cool and even won me major hubby points numerous times.

What's most special about Switcher University is that I'm going to teach more than just how-tos with technology, I'm going to teach how to learn new technology.  I remember for years my father, a classical guitarist, telling me "I can't possibly become an expert at this..." as he was struggling with how to use Finale, a music transcription application, on the Mac.  A lot hinged on his getting proficient with Finale: Warner Brothers had asked him to author "Star Wars for Classical Guitar", and if that book was successful, several other book opportunities would come his way.

So I wrote down how to do things.  I explained why.  We took the time to talk about how and why things work a certain way on a Mac, and not just what steps to do.  Within weeks he was calling me up screaming in delight, asking me to come over (remote access was pretty weak back in the day... but I'd want to come over anyway... he was dad!). He'd show me what he did, and then he'd show me new things he learned how to do himself.  He smiled ear-to-ear and told me how liberating it felt to learn how to learn.  I remember smiling and telling him he "had graduated", and we both laughed together.

My father told me years ago that the reason for going to college or a university was primarily to learn how to think.  Years later, I gave a lecture at the University of California at Irvine, to students in the top 1% who were getting ready to graduate.  I was asked by the Dean of Students to help them understand how I went from a B.A. degree in Japanese Language and Literature to running an IT company. These students shared with me how frustrated they were: They had nearly finished four or five years in a world-class university, and most of them didn't want to get a job "doing what they had studied" or "doing what their parents wanted them to do".  

I remember my father telling me it didn't matter what I studied.  Don't get me wrong- for some technical jobs (brain surgeon) you have to study to prepare. But my father's point was: Learn what you love - in my case it's communication - and learning how to understand a foreign language, a foreign culture and way of thinking - helped me enter and become successful in the tech industry - helping be a "translator" of tech to business owners, entrepreneurs, executives and other people who care to learn what they need to know.  

I used the white board to share with the students my process for learning, from deciding what will give me the impact and results I want, to my process for picking the 20% of information that will give me an 80% impact in the shortest period of time, to getting comfortable with making mistakes so I can practice, practice more, and practice more.  Do it enough - and learn to do it well even if you're slower at first, and later you'll be able to do it like you're born to do it.

Then I walked into an Apple Store several months ago and noticed something. It had always been all around me but I hadn't noticed it before. Customers in the store are dying to learn new information.  And what's being taught?  What steps to do.  It made sense to me: The largest tech company on the face of the planet is teaching the same way they've trained techs - including me: Steps and process flows. Which is why I have the hardest time finding techs who can think and get to what a customer wants, not just what the customer is asking for.

Apple's success is largely because they created an awesome game-changing phone and its ecosystem of apps and features.  One would think that everyone using an iPhone would be using a Mac by now.  But that's not the case, and switching - moving from a Windows PC to a Mac - is happening slowly.  Way too slowly.  

I believe it's because of one fact: A product company (Apple) is exactly that: A product company.  Teaching is a service, not a product. Teaching requires going beyond the product.  At Switcher University, I'm going to provide courses for Windows users how to make their Apple devices work and sync better, how to use all sorts of Apple technologies on their PCs, like iCloud and iTunes Match. I'm going to provide courses on how to use other technologies - like Google, Nest, Office 365, Meraki and more, with a Mac, Apple devices and even with Windows PCs.  

And what I teach at Switcher University will be based on more than any company or its products, it will be based on you, your wishes, your desires and your interests. If there's one thing I've built as a personal reputation, it's a passion for service. At Switcher University, I'm going to have the ultimate opportunity to work with each and every student who registers for any class - free or otherwise - so I can help them succeed.  Like how I felt when my dad told me that his life had changed when he became in control of his technology, helping you will be the most satisfying part of what I do. 

Check out Switcher University here.  And check and register for any of our courses here.  When you register for any course, even a free one, you'll get my updates with some fun how-tos, like the one I posted this morning on how to sign any document on a Mac without a pen, printer or scanner (one of my favorite time-savers!):

How to Get Rid OF Duplicate Photos and Files (and 2 Great Apps)

The process of cleaning up or getting rid of duplicates is called deduplication. Over the years, our iPhones and Macs have changed in a few ways that make our hard drives fill up with duplicates.  This makes deduplication a really important skill to understand and master.  In this post I'll show you the two most powerful tools I've found that help automate deduplication, and I'll share how to keep your photos, videos and documents safe while you do it.


Read More


I felt pretty much the same when my MacBook Pro failed last month.  So I know how our customers feel.

How does it really feel when your computer fails in the middle of a critical business project? (or when preparing for a wedding, barmitzvah, wake, or anything of critical, time-sensitive importance)

This morning one of my key customers way out in beautiful Austin, Texas emailed and reported that her relatively new Lenovo Yoga notebook was experiencing significant signs of failure.  The CEO of her company, out here in California, was copied on the message. That's one way a customer labels a service request URGENT without actually writing URGENT.

The CEO's reply-all:


I know how he feels.  My MacBook Pro 13" Retina stopped working last month and had to be mailed out to Apple.  Fortunately, we have a process that results in near-zero downtime for the customer.

The following is how we handle this kind of situation to keep everyone happy, despite hardware failures. The bottom line: 1) The customer needs her computer and can't be without it 2) The traditional repair model that requires being without a computer for any period of time doesn't work for customers with business critical uptime requirements.

The immediate response to our customer (even before receiving the email from the CEO) was as follows:

We will call you immediately this morning to perform a screen-sharing session to see if there is a possibility of an effective "quick fix".  While unlikely, let's follow the TechRoom process to make sure we get you the best results as quickly as possible.
If there is no quick fix, we should get a replacement notebook for you immediately.  Lenovo only permits mail-in repairs, and Lenovo quotes a standard 5-7 business turnaround time.  With a replacement, here's the process we'll go through, with the CEO's approval on the equipment:
  1. Immediately order a replacement computer (via Amazon- I'll send the link for Amazon Prime same-day or overnight shipping) and drop-ship to TechRoom Newport Beach
  2. We'll configure the replacement with all of your settings (I have these largely captured in our dossier/specification for you from the last switch)
  3. We'll ship you the new computer overnight to your home office (or your location at the time)
  4. With both machines set up on your desk and on your network, we'll remote in and facilitate data transfer (we estimate this should take about 2-3 hours)
  5. Once data transfer's complete, we'll walk you through the new computer and go through the checklist of everything - printers, bluetooth devices, Box sync, etc.  
  6. Once you bless the new unit and full functional, there will be a return airbill ready to adhere on the box to ship the old unit back to TechRoom so we can scrub the dat for security and then facilitate warranty
Let me know if you have any questions, concerns, or any other feedback.  I think this makes the most sense given the symptom that sounds largely hardware.
We will contact you between 9-10AM PST this morning to coordinate a quick call/remote access session wherever you're at to start the process.

One of the extra steps we take for our TechRoom Concierge customers is maintaining an up-to-date dossier that includes both a company checklist, as well as a user-specific checklist.  For example, we use Sophos Endpoint exclusively at that customer site, and I also know that my user doesn't like Outlook- she's a Google Chrome user (like yours truly).

It takes a response like the above, followed by competent execution and a few brain cells applied to creative adjustments when things deviate from the expected, to instill confidence in the user and to get the CEO back to a zen-like state.

Stop Your Smartphone from Making You (and Your Family) Sick

My MacBook and my secret weapon against real germs and viruses: TechSpray and a microfiber cloth.

My MacBook and my secret weapon against real germs and viruses: TechSpray and a microfiber cloth.

Want to kill the viruses that software can’t? I’ll let you in on a little tech secret that will help make your computer and devices feel and look better, and you and your family will be healthier at the same time.

This post applies to moms, dads, entrepreneurs, business managers, and just about everyone I know. Because no one likes getting sick. A few years ago I discovered one simple action that takes under 2 minutes that can cut down the number of times you get sick with a nasty cold by over 50%.  Do it at home, and at the office, and you’ll be healthier and happier.

There are nasty viruses and germs everywhere.  When you have a newborn baby like I do, you get reminded of this rather dramatically by your pediatrician.  Did you know that a newborn under 90-days with a fever is practically a ticket to the emergency room, and possibly worse, even a spinal tap? Want to know what’s more scary? Just do a quick Fermi estimation of the number of people that touched that banana at Trader Joe’s before you did.  Start at the banana farm and work your way forward.  That’s a lot of fingers. And I’ll bet they probably don’t keep antibacterial baby wipes in their bag and use them all the time.

These little buggers- flu virus, headcolds, and more, can be sitting on your keyboard and right on top of your iPhone.  Eradicate them the safe way with TechSpray. It's my favorite tech-health tool.

These little buggers- flu virus, headcolds, and more, can be sitting on your keyboard and right on top of your iPhone.  Eradicate them the safe way with TechSpray. It's my favorite tech-health tool.

I’ll share with you why I prefer the Japanese ritual of bowing over shaking hands. I’m currently in Orange County in Southern California. The buildings I frequent to visit customers are the towers in Fashion Island, the Irvine Spectrum Center and even those near South Coast Plaza. On almost any visit to the restrooms, I can see people exiting, walking  right past the sinks to wherever they're headed. I also see people cough on keyboards. Then I see them use their keyboards. It’s none of my business where they were, what they were doing and whether or not they washed their hands. But I’d say it’s a safe bet that someone skipped the sinks and soap. 

Years ago at TechRoom one of my techs introduced me to a neat product: TechSpray. I used it for years, cleaning the exterior, keyboard and display of my MacBook Pros and even my iPhone before jetting out to see a customer.  As much as I’m careful to wash and dry my hands before sitting down to do some extensive writing, I always manage to get the keyboard just a little shiny from the natural oils on my hands. That, together with everything else in life, leaves a lot of little blemishes, spots, etc.  As silly as it sounds, you can tell whether or not someone carries a handkerchief by the dry splatter on their display. Tech Spray does the trick at making your Mac or PC or smartphone look and even feel like new. It’s safe on electronics and so far, the safest cleaner I’ve ever used on my computers and other devices.  Note: Like anything else, read the manufacturer’s cleaning requirements, if provided. Even then, I always test a small spot first to make sure the cleaning agent is safe for the plastic or glass I’m cleaning. So far over the past several years, I’ve never had a problem with TechSpray.

So when I had my techs start using TechSpray as a mandatory cleaning step, I noticed something interesting: Less sick time.   I keep track of my employees sick days, how often they call out and what days they call out. It’s good proactive HR when you’re running a small business. With no other major change, I measured a 25% reduction in sick time over two years, just from cleaning your keyboard once per week. I can’t exactly take credit for this discovery.  My wife ritualistically wiped down everything from the table to the silverware when we first started eating out with our first son. She’s just killing germs.

Add up 2 less sick day per year times ten people and that’s almost three weeks of time. For me, just having a reduced chance of bringing a nasty bug back home that could infect the family is worth it.  A sick baby, sick wife or sick son is no fun for anyone (including daddy).

In addition to this being a staple at my office, I now keep TechSpray handy for all of our TechRoom service visits to any of our accounts. I recommend keeping 1-2 quart bottles and a few dozen microfiber cloths at the office along with all your office supplies.  Educate your employees about using TechSpray on their computers. At TechRoom, we do a microfiber laundry run about one every 2-3 months. 

I also use the following supplies at home and on the road:

Of course, I keep all of this locked up and out of reach from the kiddos of course.

In an age of devices that we’re constantly touching, sharing and showing off, TechSpray is one of my mainstays for health, right along with my morning ritual, my daily supplements (I use Athletic Greens), good diet and exercise. TechSpray is an essential for everyone.


The Right Way, and the Oh-So-Wrong Way, to Switch to a New iPhone

iPhone in your pocket? Don't get in that hot tub! But if you do, we'll show you how to switch to a new one the right way.

iPhone in your pocket? Don't get in that hot tub! But if you do, we'll show you how to switch to a new one the right way.

There’s a right way to switch to a new iPhone.  It takes a few minutes of your time, and saves you several, maybe dozens of hours of time.

Done wrong, you’ll be stressed, waste dozens of hours of your time, and possibly lose precious memories or important information.

The unfortunate reality is that most people do it wrong. In fact, I’ve been to over 50 Apple Stores in the US and abroad, and even several Verizon Wireless stores, and for some reason even though everyone seems to know how to switch the right way, not only did I never once hear a customer being told how to do it the right way, I almost never hear it being talked about at the Genius Bar or on the sales floor. 

So I’m going to show you the ultimate time-saver that can help you switch to a new iPhone seamlessly. Get the solution and the full story at Switcher Genius

(Click to jump to Switcher Genius) 

Make sure to sign up for Switcher Genius updates and get the entire video guide to switching iPhones.

Six Signs You've Been Suckered by Your IT

Snake oil, anyone? It's fixed-fee. Discounted. And guaranteed to make you ignore the pain.

Snake oil, anyone? It's fixed-fee. Discounted. And guaranteed to make you ignore the pain.

My jaw dropped and I almost choked on my drink when my friend told me why he kept his IT vendor around. “I don’t like them,” he said. “But their contract says…”

I can admit it freely now.  For most of my life I’ve been a patsy, or just plain naive. When I started my business, I needed help in a lot of basic areas where I didn’t want to hire a full-timer, or simply couldn’t afford one: Accounting, bookkeeping, legal, human resources. Like any entrepreneur, I just want to know that if a problem comes up, I have the right go-to person that will handle it, fast and expertly. I also want that person to check in with me from time to time and tell me things I don’t know but want or need to know.  That’s how I measure success of my service providers.

Things didn’t go too well. A controller recommended to me lied about her credentials. A lawyer I liked kept sending me documents riddled with typos. Annual documents didn’t get filed when they were supposed to, costing me hundreds of dollars. I paid way too much money for inept hires recruited by my HR person (did she actually know what I do?). I think my MBA just made things worse.  Instead of getting straight to the real issue, I hyper-analyzed what was going on. I would get on a call with one of these service providers, and actually try to help them by asking them about how they do doing things.

Screwed up?  Totally.  Should I care how a service provider to me does their work?  Absolutely not.

Fast forward 15 years. I’ve learned some lessons and also un-learned a lot of the academic nonsense that I picked up in business school. What I expect of any service provider I trust with my business is fast response, expert performance, and that they keep me informed proactively of what I have no idea to ask about. I have a lot of things to stay on top of, and they help me stay on top of each area I’m not an expert in. All the bozos and clowns are gone. My part-time long-term CFO and legal counsel are second to none, and I have a network of advisors that I’ve hand-picked who are better than me, teach me, mentor me, and help me stay ahead in the game of business.

Which is why I almost choked on the lime in my drink when my friend told me why he was keeping his IT people around, despite hating their guts. My friend is a pretty savvy entrepreneur, so I asked him some questions to understand this apparent relationship mismatch. What I wanted to know was, why do you stay with a provider you hate?

The answers I heard and the experiences shared with me told me that almost every entrepreneur experiences what I went through with my vendors 15 years ago, but much worse with IT.  Tech is the ultimate fog.  It’s goofy-complex, we’re ridiculously dependent on it, and at some point we need to place our trust in an IT person rather than do it ourself.  

The big irony of my learning here is that I didn’t realize just how bad it is for other entrepreneurs, because I never had to give up tech to someone else. Tech is what I do. On one hand, tech is way worse than law, accounting or HR. Getting advice on what corporate entity type is way easier to understand in most cases than figuring out what kind of IT system components are really best for the business. And the potential loss of money and time is so much greater if an IT system is screwed up.

So I’ve lined up the top six red flags that could mean you’re allowing yourself to be a sucker, or that your IT has you pegged as a sucker:

Sucker Warning #1: You keep them around because you like them.

Some of the absolute worst techs I’ve ever worked with were hired into “IT Manager” jobs by employers who liked their personalities. If they had asked me for a review of the tech, I would have told them that they were heading into a disaster. It always takes about 1-2 years for someone to figure out that just because you like the tech (or tech company) doesn’t mean it’s a fit.  Figure it out before it’s too late. 

Sucker Warning #2: Hope. 

When you keep a service provider around because you’re worried it’s going to be harder to find a new one, don’t.  You’re asking for trouble.  If you hope the provider will get better, you’re just delaying the inevitable. And if you’re not happy with them you’d be better off with no service while you find another provider.

Sucker warning #3: You don’t like them.

Again, it’s easy to procrastinate getting rid of someone because you’re worried about how hard it’s going to be to find someone decent and, hopefully better. I had this belief for years until I realized it’s a big market, and that you’ll find the exact service you want when you first define on paper exactly the kind of service you expect.

Sucker warning #4: They’re service vampires.

I hear this again and again, most recently from one of my neighbors who has a service provider that doesn’t actually do anything, cashes their monthly check, then charges them extras for responding to breakdowns.  Providers like this are sucking a business dry if they’re not advising the entrepreneur on things that can be done to prevent problems. It’s one thing to respond to an issue that you’ve already proposed a solution for that’s pending a decision, it’s another to sit back and wait for things to break.  The latter is as noble and the green scum that grows on the side of an aquarium.

Sucker warning #5: Service is random.

When a service provider doesn’t have a mission, or when the employees don’t know the mission, or don’t care about the mission, it’s pretty obvious.  Service is random. And the odds of getting a good guy (or gal) is about one in ten.  When you catch yourself wanting that one person, because on the inside you know you don’t trust anyone else, that’s a problem.

Sucker warning #6: They’re incompetent.

I talked with a business owner today who told me she went back to the same company three times, for the same service to migrate her PC to her Mac, including migrating her email from Outlook to Mac Mail, getting QuickBooks Pro running virtually, etc.  Each time she went to the company they told her they couldn’t get it working.  Three weeks later, with her patience gone and hundreds of dollar into service, she demanded a resolution, only to be told that they don’t have the capability she was looking for: Equal competence with both Mac and PC.  That provider wasted three weeks of her life. 

Your IT system should never be dependent on the service provider, but instead, your vision as an entrepreneur for what’s possible should be made possible by a service provider’s competence.  What to run Mac and PC?  Then you need someone who knows both.  Belief systems abound, and single-vendor specialties, like Mac only and Windows only, are limiting and ultimately damaging to a business.

Question of the day: As an entrepreneur, have you found danger signs or warnings that something is out of whack with your IT?  What were they? Please share in the comments, and feel free to ask questions in the comments as well, and I’ll respond to every one.

How I Lost Four Hours Every Day with an Apple Watch


People who know me know that I'm obsessed with time. I changed my email address from jcoleman to jc just so I could stop spelling my last name to people younger than baby boomers, saving me about 14 hours per year of spelling my name (spelling my name 12 x per day times 30 seconds of distraction adds up quickly).  That's one of the tricks I use for small business email naming to help give a company's employees back hundreds of hours per year instantly.

Several events in my life, some shocking, some beautiful, opened my eyes to the sheer scarcity of time that all of us face but that few recognize. When you realize that your life can be calculated in minutes, and every one of those minutes can never be recaptured, you start thinking about what's worthy of those precious moments in life.

I just boxed up my Apple Watch, slapped the return label on it, and I have never been happier to send a device back to its maker. Let me explain why.

I recently wrote about my Apple Watch conundrum. I totally didn't care about the device during its launch because of the sheer effort I have made to control all things tech and not let them erode my attention and time each day. But I decided to order one to get familiar with it. I'm constantly asked by business owners and executives about the potential benefits of cutting edge technologies, so I always experiment on myself first.

When I received the watch, I was immediately disappointed. Steve Jobs would have gone bananas over this design. It's boring. Clunky. Absolutely not sexy in any way whatsoever.  I bought the space gray with black band, thinking that black is safest in casual or dress clothes. Put simply, it's not a flattering timepiece at all. I own about 20 watches spanning four decades, and each watch has a particular style to it.  The form factor of the Apple Watch is closest to the clunky LED timex my grandfather wore in the late 70s.

Despite this, I started wearing it to test the features.  I paired it with my phone. Like the latest Apple TV build that's criticized so much, there's so much that's unintuitive about the watch. The user interface is a mess, unlike the iPhone which is ruled by some basic tenets of simplicity. The first thing I noticed was a very Mac-like implementation of handoff between my iPhone and Apple Watch.  I'm in front of my MacBook often, and with Apple's handoff I receive text messages on my display- extremely useful for me because everything in my life is protected by two-factor authentication; I need text messages to log into web sites, etc. where I have protected or controlled information.  

I noticed text messages, email and even Line messages (big in Japan) coming through to my Apple Watch just fine when my iPhone was within range.  I use Meraki in my home and office, so my WiFi range and connection is incredible.  I could leave my iPhone on my home office desk and walk out into the cul-de-sac or anywhere around the house and get texts and other communications fine on the watch.

But the design was still bugging me. I found out the next morning that Apple had taken inventory of Apple Watches in their stores for the first time since launching the device. I decided to reserve a silver with white band to see if it looked any better.  My thinking was that if one's going to wear a technical device, maybe silver will look more appropriate given it's high-tech nature.  When I arrived at the store I was totally disappointed. Not just in that the silver and white watch looked ridiculous, like something only a teenage kid with zero fashion sense would want to wear, but the overall shopping experience at Apple was completely the opposite of what I had come to expect after all these years.  

The girl I was handed off to at the end of the customer baton relay starting at the front door had zero empathy.  I was looking at watches, a highly personal thing, and she was clearly disinterested in me, my interests, opinions or anything else for that matter. I had both my black Apple Watch and my Omega Seamaster with me, so I could compare the other watches and try to find a match that would work for me.  I asked to see the stainless steel Apple Watch that retails for $1000.  I decided well in advance I would never buy it. The technology in mobile is evolving so fast that any purchase today will be obsolete in a matter of months. But I wanted to see the stainless steel band, and experience the design that Jony Ive and team had invested so much energy and effort into these past few years.

When I picked up the stainless steel watch, the first thing I noticed was that it didn't feel substantial.  It felt weak. Trivial. Cheap even.  I have two Japanese watches, a Seiko and a Casio, both with stainless steel bands dramatically more fluid, much stronger and more beautifully polished. When I tried to close the latch I noticed that it wasn't an intuitive close.  This completely shocked me.  When I bought my Omega Seamaster in 1999 the first thing I noticed was that closing the band latch, including the built-in extension designed to extend the band around a wetsuit, was intuitive and simple.  I didn't read an instruction manual, I just did it.  The first time.  It was like muscle memory, without any prior practice.

The Apple Watch was not like that experience.  I had to think about it.  I didn't like it. It felt awkward, and it felt cheap.  But I knew that Apple was charging a $600 premium for just the band and the sapphire crystal glass on the watch.  The girl at the Apple Store validated that indeed those two features were the only features that justified the $600 premium.  When I asked about keeping the band and moving it to the next Apple Watch when Apple changes their technology in 6-12 months, she replied, "Apple hasn't said anything about that, we know nothing."  I was silent. She looked at me with impatience.  I noticed that most of the kids on the floor had the same look working with their customers.  Their jobs just changed from helping people with computers to helping people with jewelry.  It's a dramatically different job now.

As much of a fan boy I am of Apple products, I had never in my life been more convicted at that time that I had zero interest in any of the watches from a design perspective.  So I thanked the girl, who grunted an acknowledgement of sorts, and left the store to get on with my day.  I decided to try the black Apple Watch for a few more days.

Then yesterday something happened. I spent a few hours at the pool with my son, followed by a few hours at my office followed by a few hours at my home office.  During the day I received the same amount of text messages I normally receive, about 99% of which do not need an immediate response. In fact, most of the texts I receive are in lieu of email and could be responded to later that day or even tomorrow.  No one I know has the expectation of a response, if they did, they would call me instead.

The haptic touch system kept tapping my wrist.  I would be writing an email and... TAP TAP TAP... I stopped and looked at my watch. Realizing it wasn't important I tried getting back to the email I was writing that was, and had to stop and reclock my thinking.  What was I writing and where was my train of thought?  Then again TAP TAP TAP... another message interrupted me. 

This continued throughout the day.  By 8PM I was sitting with my wife, reflecting over the day, and I realized I could not for the life of me recall what I had accomplished.  This is unusual, because I usually journal every day, and I always tend to get done what I set out to do.  But my conscious mind was fried.  I couldn't remember anything.  The watch had interrupted me every few minutes throughout the entire day.

I took it off and put it on the counter.  I had an immediate sense of relief.  The irony is that I had bought the watch thinking that the reminders with Omnifocus would be helpful in keeping me on track.  Instead I found that the watch was the greatest distraction with the most potential for absolute destruction of personal productivity of anything I had ever encountered.  I added up the number of times I was distracted and multiplied it by the number of minutes I had to refocus on any given matter at hand. By my most conservative estimate I lost four hours of my day. Over a year, that's 1460 distracted, wasted hours. That's almost an entire work year.

This is simply a push vs. pull issue.  I turn off all notifications on my phone on all apps. No banners, beeps or chirps.  My phone calls and text messages are the only things that chirp, and I learn to ignore them except for when I want to check them.  The watch is a completely different animal.  It's on your wrist.  While I could learn to ignore it, or tune it down, what would be the point?  At that point I have my phone, and a very expensive toy on my wrist that I wouldn't use.

Tonight I was listening to an episode of the Random Show with Kevin Rose and Tim Ferriss, and I was pleasantly surprised to realize I'm not alone in hating tech. It's getting downright ridiculous. Kevin and Tim reflected on how sheerly stupid it is to have a device on your body tell you things, like "Stand up" or "Your heart rate is elevated" when you're working out.

Many folks believe Apple will continue to refine the device and will ultimately create something every special.  I question whether or not we really need to go there. Right now, in my humble opinion, Apple has created a device that is distracting, incomplete, ugly and downright destructive to productivity. But the door to wearable tech has been opened in the marketplace, and so the players will play.  I really like my iPhone 6 Plus, and I seriously love my MacBook Pro Retina 13". Both devices are best in class, and no other tech compares.  The watch was a real disappointment to me, but I'm probably not the target audience, or the watch hasn't advanced sufficiently yet.

My Apple Watch is going back to Apple tomorrow. I can't see anyone truly enjoying the device other than some of my geek friends, and the brand loyalists who will pay premium prices for any device Apple produces, even if the device will ultimately be disposed of.

The camera that flies itself

The LILY drone, a self-piloting photo and video drone that can follow you around.  Check out my detailed post here at Family Photo Care, or go straight to the LILY site here.

The LILY drone, a self-piloting photo and video drone that can follow you around.  Check out my detailed post here at Family Photo Care, or go straight to the LILY site here.

Ok, as soon as I saw this I realized we're not that far away from a lightsaber training droid (read = drone). #happyjames

I have oodles of fun with my four-year-old boy with my Parrot Drone out in front of our house. Since I bought the wifi extender it's been almost silly getting up to several hundred feet and looking down at myself in HD.

A friend just turned me on to the LILY, a self-flying, selfie-taking, HD-video and 12MP camera enabled drone that also happens to be waterproof.  I just wrote about it and posted a cool video over at the Family Photo Care blog.

My mind has been running nonstop with the possibilities. I'm certain it's going to get very out of hand very quickly.  I just pre-ordered mine while it's still at the $499 price-point (it's going up as high as $999 after June 15).