Archive for the ‘The Garage Entrepreneur’ Category

You Call It Network, I Call It Schmooze

Saturday, April 1st, 1995

(First published in the CAD++ Newsletter in early 1995)

In my many years of being an entrepreneur, I find one area of my business repeatedly being the most important – Schmoozing. I’m not sure where that word originated, but it  does seem like it’s a blend of “Smooching” and “Oozing”, which is what Schmoozing looks and feels like if done by an insincere, shallow person. In the last few years, however “schmoozing” has fallen out of vogue, and been replaced by the more politically correct “networking” (but that’s just too 90’s for me).

So, why’s schmoozing important? Simply said, it’s not what you know, but who you know. Case in point: Several acquaintances of mine have been trying to get funding for a new graphics chip they wanted to develop and sell, but for some reason could never get the financing they desired. Then, they stumbled across Mister X, a former President of a major computer peripherals company. He took a liking to the technology, talked to a few friends, and Poof!, the company had its financing (several million dollars worth), and Mister X became President of the new company. The product these guys wanted to develop was the same before and after, but it took the magic of knowing someone (who knew someone else) to seal the deal.

Schmoozing Basics
First, in order to schmooze successfully, you need to be an extrovert. In other words, you can’t be afraid of starting a conversation with a complete stranger. Of course, it helps to be in a place where there are people who it makes sense to schmooze with, and who won’t be horribly offended by your striking up a conversation with them.

That brings us to Schmooze requirement number two – go to places and events where there are good people to schmooze with. You need to determine what type of schmoozing you’re looking for, of course, such as customers, fellow entrepreneurs, financiers, etc. For each type of target schmoozee, there’s bound to be a place to schmooze with them.

In my case, for example, my biggest potential customers are companies that make graphics hardware. So, if I wanted to meet new customers, I would go to conferences, trade shows, or parties where I’d be most likely to bump into such people. It’s always possible to schmooze by phone instead, but that makes it more like cold-calling on a sales call,  something neither party necessarily appreciates. Face to face schmoozing is far more personal, and generally provides much better results.

Schmoozing is not limited to just customers and people that you want to give you money. Schmoozing is an art form involving making contacts and maintaining them. The “you  scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” applies liberally to schmoozing, as people you schmooze with need to derive some benefit from schmoozing with you. Your stellar  personality will only take you so far.

In event, never schmooze insincerely. Sincerity, honesty, and honor are all traits that others tend to appreciate, and unless you’re a really good actor, you’ll not get away with  insincerity, dishonesty, and dishonorable actions during or after schmoozing.

Schmoozing With Peers
Your peers, and even your competitors, are great people to schmooze with. Peers can help you out when you encounter problems that they have already hit and resolved, and you might be able to do the same for them. Again, in my case, I’m the co-chair of the New Hampshire Software Presidents’ Forum, a roundtable of CEOs and COOs of regional software companies. We meet once a month, over dinner, to discuss various aspects of running a software company, what sort of problems we’re having, how we’ve solved other problems that had cropped up, and just generally helping one another out. None of us are even remotely close to competing with one another, and many of the  participating companies don’t even target the same user markets – some are PC, some UNIX, some military, etc. But all of us have some level of experience and are willing to share that experience, in exchange for getting help when we need it. Groups similar to this one exist all over the nation, and if there’s not an appropriate group in your area, start one. It’s a great way to schmooze.

Schmoozing With Competitors
With competitors, or even better, with the customers of competitors, you can glean inside information that might not be available through any other source. Granted, you may have to reveal some information yourself, but it’s a fun game, seeing who can verbally (and socially) out-strategize the other. With some competitors, it’s real easy. For example, one particular set of competitors we have are really uptight. When I have a drink with them after a show or something, I remain sincere and honest. They, on the other hand think I’m trying to snooker them and as a result, get themselves all tied up in knots trying to figure out what I really mean, and in the process let slip some things that might not otherwise come out. Either way, schmoozing with your competitors is always better than snubbing them. Who knows, someday you may end up working together on something.

What Every Schmoozer Should Carry
Business cards – never leave home or office without them. Part of the ritual of schmoozing is the transfer of business cards. In addition to containing vital business information, the business card is very symbolic, as it contains an implied invitation to call the giver of the card for a follow-up. People who claim they don’t have any cards with them are  either not born schmoozers, or don’t want you to contact them, or both. Your business card should contain all your necessary contact information, including company name,  company tag line (i.e. what does your company do?), your name (preferably the way you want to be addressed instead of that formal name with middle initial that only your  mother addresses you by), your title, address, phone number, FAX number, and e-mail address. Some people put more detailed information about their company’s services on the back of their card so that the card can act as both a brochure and a contact medium.

Business cards also have another incredibly useful purpose – note pads. If someone at a show asks me to send them something (information, a t-shirt, whatever), I first ask them for a card (even if I already have their card from a previous run-in) and then jot down what I need to do for them on the back of their card. In the lingo, this is also referred to as a “tickler”, as it tickles your memory to do something, but in this case everything you’d need to fulfill the request is right there. I frequently sort such requests on business cards, and then hand the various stacks to people at my company to take care of. The moral is to always leave a little bit of blank space on your business cards, and don’t make the back a color that can’t be legibly written on (in case you’re into two-tone cards).

In addition to business cards, you may want to carry around a small, compact brochure of your business services, which provides the recipient with a quick overview of how you might be useful to them. Again, some people just make their business card fold over to accomplish this, and avoid having to carry large brochures around. Either way, make sure that you create a lasting, positive impression on the people you schmooze with, as well as giving them a way to back in touch with you if they need to do so.

Never Lose That Name
While collecting business cards is a fun hobby, the purpose of schmoozing is not to see who can collect the most business cards (I’ve got about 12,000 in my collection), but to be able to put those contact to use. That means that you have to be able to access all the information quickly. Fortunately, seeing as we’re all in the computer business, we have access to database software. Use it. A well set-up database is worth many times its weight in gold – it can become your company’s biggest asset, but you have to keep it up to date. I consider my database so valuable that I don’t even let anyone else modify it in any way. Only I get to add, change, or remove names from it. After every show, I enter all the data from the business cards I collected into my database. If the person on the card already exists in my database, I update their information if necessary. If someone at the show told me that someone in my database no longer works for their company, or has moved on to another one, I make those changes as well.

To further keep my database up to date, I also make sure that any large mailings I make to a group of people in my database includes the phrase “Forward and Address Correction Requested” near the mailing label. This tells the U.S. Post Offices (and many others) to forward the mail to the proper address, and notify me of the change in address if the person has moved. Note that the post office does charge around 35 cents a piece for this service. I should also point out that this doesn’t always work, especially at large companies where the post office doesn’t know a person is no longer employed there.

My database has the following basic fields: Last Name, First Name, Title, Company, Street Address (2 lines), City, State, Zip, Country, Home Phone, 2 Business Phone numbers, a FAX number, Internet E-mail address, Comment field, a whole bunch of True/False fields to help me categorize people as press, close friends, members of a given organization, etc., and a date of last change. My personal database currently has about 3700 active names and addresses, by the way.

All those fields are important for being able to quickly retrieve information, especially the last name and company fields. The comment field is vital for putting notes in about a person. I use the comment field to record my impressions of a person, as well as more info about their company and them, including the names of spouses and children, birthdays, whatever. This is a valuable field, because it helps me figure out who someone is when they call me for the first time in 3 years, and I don’t remember who they are, or if I need to prepare for a meeting with several people, and don’t necessarily recall all the basic information I should.

Remember, the sweetest sound anyone hears is the sound of their own name being spoken by someone else. The next sweetest sound is that of someone who knows and remembers something about them. I can usually recall, with very good accuracy (and no referencing of my database) when I first or last met someone, and under what conditions. I sometimes have a harder time remembering their full name, but there are all sorts of easy ways around, including being honest and saying that while you remember meeting, you just can’t bring their name to mind at the moment. I’ve yet to meet anyone who was offended by my not remembering everything about them.

Degrees of Separation
All the schmoozing I’ve described so far has been first-person schmoozing – you talking with someone else. But, never forget that the greatest power in schmoozing is knowing someone who knows someone else (who in turn might know someone else, and so on). Use this to your advantage, just as others will take advantage of your contacts. For example, if I needed to speak with the president of a major software or hardware company regarding something reasonably important, I now know enough people to be able to pull that off. But I also know not to abuse such contacts frivolously, as it reflects poorly on both my judgement, and the judgement of my contacts for having permitted me to waste the time of a person who doesn’t have enough to go around. The current theory is that no more than four people are needed to make contact between you and anyone else in the world. In my experience, that has definitely proven true.

In conclusion, here are my 10 rules of schmoozing, most of which have been covered above:

  1. Be ready to strike up a conversation with anyone.
  2. Go to places where schmoozing makes sense for your goals.
  3. Schmoozing works only if it’s a reciprocal arrangement.
  4. Be friendly, sincere, honest, and honorable.
  5. Don’t be afraid to schmooze with competitors.
  6. Always carry spare business cards and a pen.
  7. Keep meticulous records of who you’ve schmoozed with.
  8. Don’t burn your bridges.
  9. Make yourself accessible to those you’ve schmoozed with.
  10. Always go to after-show parties and events.

Go forth and Schmooze!

The Press Release

Wednesday, February 1st, 1995

(First published in the CAD++ Newsletter in early 1995)

The best advertising for your business is basically free. Ask any established company if they’ve found that paid advertising outperforms good editorial coverage of their product and services, and you’ll find that they’ll either burst out laughing hysterically, or just give you a resounding NO!

That’s because readers of publications tend to have a lot more faith in the words of writers and editors than they do in advertising (even if that faith might occasionally be misplaced). Some PC editors/writers, like John Dvorak and Jerry Pournelle, have even achieved cult status. Readers respect writers who are vocal about their likes and dislikes of various products and features, and that respect carries over to virtually all other writers as well. All this means that if you can get a publication to write about your product or service, you’re almost guaranteed to get more reader interest than any ad you’d place would elicit.

So, the $64,000 question is: How do I get magazines to write about my company, product, or service?

The answer is simple – Press Releases.

However simple the answer is, though, writing a good press release is not easy. It requires insight, creativity, and something newsworthy.

Make It Newsworthy
Don’t bother sending out a release unless you really have something newsworthy. This means that you’ve released a new product, bought out your competitor, shipped a noteworthy update, or licensed some technology. It’s not newsworthy if you’ve hired an unknown person, nor if you have increased the size of your office space, or if you’re just trying to see your name in print. Editors have long memories, and if you get a reputation for wasting their time with trivial releases, they’ll ignore your real news.

Use Insight and Creativity
As with any presentation, it’s vital that you put yourself in the place of your audience, which in the case of a press release is a swarm of editors and writers, all of whom have  different backgrounds and levels of understanding of what you might be trying to tell them. As if that weren’t bad enough, all of these editors and writers also receive hundreds, if not thousands, of press releases a month, meaning that any single press release they receive is likely to be filed and never used unless they find it to be of immediate interest. This means you face two basic issues in trying to address your audience: limited time to grasp your presentation, and vastly variable understanding of what you’re presenting.

The first issue, that of getting the editor/writer to even look at your message is where a good part of creativity in press releases comes into play. The first step is to get the editor to open the envelope containing the press release (assuming you mail it – if you FAX it or e-mail it, that’s not an issue, but more on that later). Unless the editor is known to despise your company, make sure that your press release envelope has your company’s name on the outside, possibly a tag line indicating what your company does, and if  possible, a label or line of text that says something like “PRESS RELEASE ENCLOSED”. The reason all this is important is because you don’t want the editor to throw away your press release because they either think it’s a brochure or because they think it’s not something they care to look at. If you follow these rules and you’ve done a reasonable job  picking the right editor(s) at a publication to send the release to, there should be no problem getting the editor to open the envelope. However, some companies don’t like to  even leave this process to chance, and use all sorts of gimmicks to help increase their overall odds. In one particular case, a press release had a realistic, but simulated, bullet hole in it (it was something unrelated to the product – just a gimmick). Others are more to the point, and include free copies of software, t-shirts, Silly Putty, and countless other giveaways to help stimulate interest in the release.

Anyhow, assuming the editor has opened the envelope, you next need to stimulate the editor’s interest quickly so that he/she is encouraged to actually read the release, and in turn, use the information in it in a news piece, review, or some other fashion. Unless you’re Microsoft or IBM, your only shot at getting “ink”, as it’s called, is via the headline on the release. Writing good headlines is pure art. The headline needs to, in just a few words, convey the full value and importance of your news, without using ambiguous terms or jargon. If you can’t fit your killer headline in one line of large text, it’s okay to use a smaller sub-head to help add a little background. Here are some examples of bad and good headlines:


Widgets Inc. Makes An Announcement

This one makes an editor say, “so what” as he tosses it into the garbage. The headline should say what the announcement is, and why it’s newsworthy.

Frobo Ltd. Releases New Product

Another “so what” headline. You need to indicate what your product is and why it’s important. It’s not even necessary to name your product in the headline – just highlight its benefits.

Widgets Inc.’s WingBat Software Is Better

Better than what? What does WingBat Software do?

Frobo Ltd. Hires New Office Manager

This might get some play in your 10-page hometown newspaper, but it isn’t going to do much else.


3D Rendering Patent Awarded to Widgets Inc.

This headline implies that significant technology is now the property of Widgets Inc., inviting the reader to find out the details of what’s covered by the patent.

DemoCAD Bugs Can Now Be Fixed with Frobo Ltd.’s
New Software

This headline is gripping to anyone who writes about the leading DemoCAD package because it implies DemoCAD has bugs, and that Widgets Inc. has the solution. Anyone reading this headline is going to want to know what those bugs are, and how your software can do what the originators of DemoCAD can’t, and will therefore read the rest of your release.

So, in summary, the key elements of a good headline are:

  1. Show an immediate value or benefit of the subject of the announcement.
  2. Ride the coattails of a well-known company or product.
  3. Tempt the reader into reading more of the press release by releasing a tantalizing tidbit.
  4. Don’t be arrogant enough to assume that just because you or your company have made an announcement, everyone will flock to read the release even if you have a lousy headline.
  5. Keep it simple and informative.
  6. Distinguish the headline from the body of the release using a larger point size, and bolding it.

The Meat Of The Release
Once you have a good headline, you should be able to ensure that you’ll get the reader to continue reading at least some of the rest of the release.

Your next challenge is writing the body of the press release. What makes it challenging is that you have to make sure your press release doesn’t insult the more knowledgeable members of the press, and at the same time, you can’t make it so technical that you alienate the less informed press. The best way to handle this is what’s known as the “inverse triangle”, which is how the best news articles in newspapers and magazines are written. The inverse triangle represents the breadth of useful and vital information presented in the article (or in this case, the release) as you continue to read through it. With an inverted triangle approach, all the important information is at the top of the release, as you continue reading, the remainder becomes less important and pertinent. Using an inverted triangle is especially appropriate for news items because it allows readers to read the headline, and then as far into the article as they feel they need to get the information without having to read the whole thing.

Your press release can address both sophisticated readers and mildly ignorant ones via the inverse triangle. You put the core of your information, in the first, and possibly second, paragraphs, put a supporting quote in your third paragraph, and wrap it up in the fourth with background information pertinent to the announcement. You may have heard that there are rules about double spacing the press releasing and making sure it’s not too long. The double spacing is no longer a real requirement in this age of computers (the extra space used to be for editors to write notes between the lines – no computer publication editor I know does this anymore). The length issue is a real one. Outside of bringing on boredom, a long press release is a waste of paper, and in these environmentally conscious times, that’s a big no-no. Limit your release to 1 sheet of paper, double sided (single sided is even better), using 12-point type.

Your first paragraph should start with the date of the announcement (which can be at some point in the future, since many magazines have 2-3 month lead times) and a city of origination of the announcement. I frequently see releases with no date on them, which makes me wonder if this is old news worth worrying about. A date helps determine if the announcement is timely, whereas a lack of a date raises suspicions. The first paragraph also should provide a greater view of the news than the headline did. An example:

ANYTOWN, CA – February 1, 1995 – Widgets Inc. today announced that it had successfully acquired its largest competitor, Frobo Ltd., which makes Widgets Inc.  the single largest manufacturer of DemoCAD add-on software in the world. This move will permit Widgets Inc. to start offering products which combine Frobo’s award winning TattooVision add-on for DemoCAD with its own AggieCAD farming software add-on. The new combined product will be called BrandAVision, allowing cattle farmers worldwide, for the first time ever, to use DemoCAD to brand their cattle using portable penplotters.

The second paragraph should help explain why the news in the first paragraph was so important. What are the alternatives to what was announced? Why is the new announcement more beneficial? Are there any technical terms that need better explanation?

The third paragraph generally includes a very powerful quote by an industry figure, partner, well known user, or at least the company president, about why this announcement is so monumental.

The fourth paragraph wraps up all the loose ends.

The best way to know that you’ve written an understandable, powerful press release is by having people who understand your market marginally read the press release, and if they get excited, you’ve probably done a good job. This will help make sure that you haven’t written a hard to understand, overly technical, boring press release that is full of gaps.

Offering Contact
No matter how informative and exciting you make your release, it’s likely that some editor will read it and have questions. So, always make sure to put contact information in your release. There are two types of contact information to include. The first is the editorial contact. Traditionally, this goes in the upper right hand corner of the front page of the release, as in:

Company Letterhead


E-Mail address

Contact: Fred Smith
Your Company, Inc.
Phone Number


The second contact point is the one that the editor will use in his or her article to inform readers how to get hold of your company. This contact information is contained in the last paragraph (ideally the 5th paragraph) of your press release. This paragraph is normally called the press release boilerplate (or as one friend in Canada called it, the “Motherhood Statement”). The boilerplate provides a tag line for your company, information on where your company is located, and how to contact your company. Here’s my company’s boilerplate, as an example of a real-life boilerplate statement:

Panacea Inc. is the world’s leading provider of commercial and OEM display drivers and software-only accelerators for graphics-intensive applications. Panacea specializes in PC-based software for graphics processors and graphics boards. Corporate headquarters are located at 24 Orchard View Drive, Londonderry, New Hampshire 03053, U.S.A. Phone: (800) 729-7420 or (603) 437-5022. FAX: (603) 434-2461. Panacea’s sales department can also be reached as via the Internet.

It’s very likely that your first press releases will still be a little awkward, but have no fear, with time you should be able to produce something every editor will want to read. One way to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t is to read other companies’ press releases and see what you like and don’t like (i.e. put yourself in the shoes of an editor). However, unless you’re an editor, you won’t generally receive other companies’ press releases. So, for some examples, look in the Business Wire section of CompuServe, as well as the ACAD Forum (look in the uploads for files ending in “.RLS”). This will help give you an idea of what other companies do to promote themselves to the editorial community.

Making Contact & Measuring Success
The best press release in the world won’t get you any publicity if it doesn’t get in the hands of editors and writers. The simplest method of obtaining the names of editors is to go through all the magazines you read that pertain to your market, look for the masthead (usually near the front of the publication, or near the editorial page(s)). The masthead  contains the list of all the editorial staff of the magazine. Don’t limit your press releases to just a single member of the staff either. It’s always important to include the news  editor and the managing editor or editor in chief. While the latter two may never actually read the release themselves, their assistants very well might, and if they think it’s of  interest, they’ll pass it on to the correct department at the publication. If you feel uncomfortable mailing lots of the same release to many people at a publication, just call them  and ask who the best person to send your releases to might be (I believe it’s better to send too many than too little press releases to a publication – after all, the only cost is a stamp and the cost of the paper – a mere pittance in exchange for a shot at an article).

If you don’t read a lot of magazines, you may want to talk to your peers or customers and find out what they read, and maybe even having them provide you with back issues so  you can look at the mastheads. That’s an excellent way of building your press mailing list.

Some editors prefer FAXes or E-Mail press releases, but I wouldn’t just go and use that form of contact without first clearing it with the editor. Finally, if you’re targeting the  general PC market, you can get costly but worthwhile subscriptions to a couple of different services that actually track editors and publications. One of these is Press Access of   Cambridge, MA. They charge as much as a couple of thousand dollars for their databases, but that’s a very worthwhile investment. You get complete editorial biographies, and  since there’s a lot of changeover in the editorial community, they provide a valuable service in helping update you when editors move to other publications.

Measuring Success
After all this, it’s still possible, and even likely, that most magazines won’t publish any information on your announcement. As an example, my company is pretty well known,  but even when we send out a press release to 600 different editors (about 300 different publications), we still generally only get anywhere from 1 to 5 mentions (usually on the  lower side), if we get a mention at all. However, that shouldn’t cause you despair – if you frequently make interesting announcements and send them to the presses, you will  sooner or later get noticed as a company that makes news. Keep in mind that even one editorial mention will easily pay for a mailing or three, and these things have a way of gaining momentum as well, all for a lot less than traditional print advertising.

Release XIII

Thursday, September 1st, 1994

(First published in the CAD++ Newsletter in late 1994)

As you may have gathered by now, this issue of CAD++ has a distinct AutoCAD Release 13 flavor, and, in keeping with that theme, this month’s column will give you a view at what opportunities and pitfalls this latest AutoCAD release will offer.

The first hurdle this latest AutoCAD release has to leap over is the fact that it is numbered 13. Triskadecaphobes (those afraid of the number 13) are unlikely to upgrade. After all, with a version number like that, it’s likely that some nasty thing will happen to what ever system you install it on, never mind the type of bugs a 13th release might hide, just waiting to spring out at the least opportune moment.

Before I get into some of the details of supporting Release 13 with your products, it’s important to explain the core reason Autodesk does what it does. As a publicly held company, Autodesk’s Board of Directors – the group that sets Autodesk’s goals and direction – bows to a greater power, namely Autodesk’s stockholders. The directors have a fiduciary responsibility to the stockholders, which translates to making decisions that will benefit the stockholders. More simply put, if Autodesk can make its stock price increase, the stockholders remain happy. As of this writing, Autodesk’s stock is at an all-time high (it’s at $67/share), which implies that investment community is quite happy with all of Autodesk’s recent actions. That’s something to keep in mind as you read the rest of this column.

Changes in the Dealer Channel
A few weeks ago, Autodesk delivered a major ultimatum to existing U.S. AutoCAD dealers: “In order to sell Release 13, you must sign a new dealer agreement.” That in itself would not be a major deal, except for the fact that the new agreement significantly changed the way dealers have to do business when selling AutoCAD.

The first major change is that AutoCAD dealers may only sell AutoCAD face-to-face (yes, you have to be close enough to touch, handshake, etc. – no phones, FedEx, or UPS permitted). Previously, AutoCAD dealers could sell AutoCAD over the phone, and ship it out to customers anywhere in the country, as long as they offered to support the product at the customers site (for a fee, if they were inclined to charge one). This previous arrangement created a lower price for AutoCAD because selling it mail order required less overhead on the dealer’s part. Also, it allowed educated AutoCAD users to deal with a dealer they wanted to work with instead of their local dealer (many customers on CompuServe have complained about their local dealers being rather inept). Note that this change is retroactive to pre-Release 13 versions of AutoCAD as well.

The second change is that Autodesk cut dealer margins on AutoCAD, which means that AutoCAD’s retail price and street price will be close to the same. One dealer I spoke to indicated that the price he has to pay Autodesk for Release 13 will be about the same as the price he used to charge customers for Release 12. That’s quite a difference if you figure that Release 12 street prices ran about $500 to $1000 below the retail price of $3750.

Why Did Autodesk Do This?
Simply said, to help keep their stock price up. Autodesk has been between a rock and a hard place of late. Their product value has been eroded by highly competitive dealers who’ve been selling AutoCAD at near cost in order to get customers in the proverbial door. Mail order sales of AutoCAD have helped decrease those prices. Smaller dealers  with less grandiose plans found it difficult to compete, and therefore, stay in business. Add to that rumors that Autodesk would itself help kill the dealer channel by selling  direct or using general distribution to sell AutoCAD, and you end up with a dealer channel that’s very nervous, and a few mega-dealers who, for the time being, account for a large part of Autodesk’s sales.

Autodesk had no real choice if they wanted to strengthen their dealer channel (which is technically a huge outside sales force). They had to tighten their grip on their dealers. The new agreement does just this – it helps remove some of the uncertainty that was demoralizing the dealer channel, it will increase the sales of smaller dealers who previously  couldn’t compete easily, and it pares down the power that the self-made mega-dealers had over Autodesk. Analysts like this type of move.

However, many customers will not benefit from the new dealer agreement, as they will now have to pay higher prices for the same product (in the case of Release 12), or a significantly higher price to get Release 13. Also, the more aggressive dealers who had invested in mail-order sales of AutoCAD will be quite resentful that Autodesk has changed the rules all of a sudden, and may look to move their customer base to other CAD packages.

Upgrade Resistance
If you read various PC trade journals, you’ll find that more and more editorials are suggesting that users don’t really need all the upgrades that the big software companies are  foisting off on them. After all, there are only so many features you can add to a word processor, spreadsheet, or CAD package before such features start bordering on the  useless or very specialized (and not applicable to the masses). I think Release 13 is guilty of some of those foibles as well, and based on comments made by AutoCAD users at  trade shows, user group meetings, and on CompuServe, some others seem to feel the same way.

If you add to the new bells and whistles in Release 13 that it will come with a higher price tag (more or less artificial based on the new dealer agreement), Release 13 starts looking like a less attractive upgrade to customers. It’s even worse when Autodesk tells those of us who are dedicated DOS users (because we want performance and better reliability) that they plan on converting everyone to Windows real soon.

We Don’t Do Windows
While most of us have Windows (and most AutoCAD users do too), Autodesk officials recently stated that only 10% of their installed user base was licensed to use AutoCAD  Release 12 for Windows, and I would be willing to bet that some notable percentage of those users still used their Release 12 DOS versions illegally instead of being quagmired under Windows.

These numbers are a painful reality for all the 3rd party AutoCAD developers who enthusiastically jumped on the Windows bandwagon at Autodesk’s urging a year or two ago.  The numbers mean that close to 90% of all licensed AutoCAD users use DOS versions of AutoCAD. Certainly helps define the market for developers,
doesn’t it?

Multiple Platform License
In my mind, probably the best thing, all things above considered, that Autodesk is offering as part of the Release 13 package is a multiple platform license that lets you run both  the DOS and Windows versions of Release 13 interchangeably. That’s something users have been asking for for nearly two years. One might assume that they didn’t want to  hold back upgrade sales for DOS users, especially since only a small percentage of AutoCAD users use it under Windows. Just a warning though – the pre-release versions of  Release 13 require gobs of disk space if you install everything, including all the versions, all the samples, and the multiple language dictionaries. By my count, well over 140MB of disk space.

Recommended System Configurations
As it was recently explained to me, for Release 13 users, Autodesk recommends at least a 486/50 system with a 150MB hard disk, SVGA, and 12MB (DOS) or 16MB (Windows) of  RAM. Add 4MB to the RAM requirements if you plan on doing solid modeling. For some users, this will require a sizable investment in upgrade hardware.

The Impact on Developers
I’m not going to cover the impact on dealers, as you’ve already committed yourself to the new contract, or are looking for other CAD products to sell to your customers in lieu  of AutoCAD.

I’m also not going to cover how Release 13 impacts end users beyond what I’ve already covered.

I will touch on the topic of AutoCAD consultants briefly – many of them are probably screwed by virtue of the new Autodesk dealer agreement, for a couple of reasons. The first  is that most consultants can’t qualify (or don’t want to) as AutoCAD dealers. The second reason is that by forcing customers to deal face-to-face with their dealers, the dealers are in the best position to sell consulting services to the customers, and independent AutoCAD consultants won’t even get a chance, unless they ally themselves with a dealer network.

Outside of those three categories, that pretty much leaves AutoCAD add-on developers. Based on everything I’ve already covered, here are some basic rules that all AutoCAD  3rd Party Developers should follow (or at least consider):

Rule #1: Don’t restrict how dealers can sell your product. Unless your dealers are in a hole without your product (they rarely are) you can’t excise this sort of leverage. And even if they are very dependent, any strong handedness will tend to build resentment against your products and your company. Build relationships – not ultimatums.

Rule #2: Do try to create standalone versions of your add-ons. With Release 13, the cost to a user to use your Release 13-based add-on will be about $3800 plus the cost of your product. If you do not require AutoCAD to run your product, your market potential increases significantly. If you need a drawing engine to run your product, a number are available at much less than AutoCAD’s entry price.

Rule #3: Don’t develop only for Windows, if you’re developing AutoCAD add-ons. DOS has by far the greater market share, and with the Release 13 multiple OS license, every Release 13 user is potentially a DOS user.

Rule #4: Don’t name your product with a “13” in the title.

Rule #5: Do make sure your add-ons work with Release 13. This means you shouldn’t cut yourself out of any potential sales and may mean some more development effort for you. Make sure to keep compatibility with Release 12, and possibly earlier versions if you already have that support. There’s still a large untapped market among current users for most any add-on.

Rule #6: Don’t scramble in a mad rush to make Release 13 specific versions of your software. If you do, you may suffer a lack of sales due to slow acceptance of the “c0” release  of an AutoCAD release or as a result of “Upgrade Resistance”. Using new API technology like Rx might be attractive, but take your time and do it right. Don’t rush. The market will still be there a year from now, and probably a lot more ready for your R13-specific product.

Rule #7: If you ever go public, keep in mind that your target audience will no longer be your customers. Instead, it’ll be your stockholders. Stockholders can make your nastiest customer look angelic when your stock price starts dropping.

While Autodesk may tout Release 13 as “the most significant release of AutoCAD yet”, it’s difficult to know if they mean that in terms of hard disk space requirements or technology.

Either way, armed with the seven rules I’ve posed above, you should be able to more safely tackle the next major release of AutoCAD without loosing your shirt.

Image Is Everything

Friday, July 1st, 1994

(First published in the CAD++ Newsletter in mid-1994)

You may recall a few issues ago, I harped on how people who used a single phone number for both voice and FAX numbers presented a poor image to potential customers. In this month’s column, I’d like to expand the concept of image, because image can be a small company’s biggest asset.

If you’re an engineer, discussing an “image” probably smacks of marketing drivel – the technology is the most important asset, right? Nope. Without the image, the technology has little value. You could have the best new product in the world, but if people can’t be convinced that they should pay attention to you, it’s likely that no one will find out how great your product really is.

What does an image do?
Before I go into what it takes to build an image that will benefit your business, it’s important to understand what an image accomplishes for you. Basically, an image is what gives both existing and future customers their impression as to the state of your business. This applies to initial impressions as well as the on-going impression people have of your business. A negative image will turn off customers, while a positive one can rally them to your offerings. A lack of any image whatsoever will result in no gain for you at all.

How to Gain a Negative Image
To be able to create a positive image for your company, it’s good to know what things turn people off, and therefore contribute to a negative image:

  • Arrogance. Unless your customers are from New York City, being arrogant will rarely gain you any business. Arrogance can be sensed via lack of patience with callers, belittling the knowledge or needs of potential customers, not being willing to compromise and take a customer’s needs into account, not being sensitive to your customers’ concerns, or just being plain rude.
  • One Man Shop. Unless you are a consultant selling your own time, if you give the impression that your company consists of one person, and you’re hard to reach in person, it conveys a lack of stability, and as a result, the customer will look for other options that are not as likely to let him or her down. For consultants, since they are selling themselves, this is not really an issue.
  • Shoddyness. If you are selling a product, and the product and accompanying materials look shoddy (poor photocopies, spelling mistakes, handwritten diskette labels, software crashes frequently or doesn’t work), you’ll get a reputation for releasing incomplete product. If you’re a consultant, similar points apply to the work you produce for a customer.
  • Inconsistency. This includes keeping wildly varying hours, having a different look and feel in all your promotional and packaging efforts, as well as being reliable one week and unreliable the next.
  • BS (Bovine Excrement). Never ever lie or make something up when you don’t know the answer.
  • Non-existence. If you do nothing to promote your offerings, you will do the one thing that’s almost worse than gaining a negative image, namely have no image and no recognition whatsoever.

The Positive Image Factors
Based on all the things I mentioned as contributing factors to a negative image, let’s take a look at positive image building factors.

  • Professionalism. This does not necessarily mean wearing a suit and tie. Instead it means that you treat your customers with courtesy, that your products and promotional materials aren’t shoddy feeling or looking, and that you are reasonably accessible to your customers.
  • Friendliness. Make sure to be willing to talk to your customers in such a way that they feel good about talking with you (again, avoid any signs of arrogance). If your customers have a problem, and you can help out, do so. Same goes if they have concerns about your products. If you just cannot accommodate their request, be apologetic instead of terse. Above all, listen to your customers – they’re a valuable resource. If you can establish a rapport with your customers, they’ll help you sell your products or services.
  • Stability. Make your customers feel comfortable about doing business with you. In your promotional materials, list the year the business was started – even if it’s only a year, it helps build the impression that you plan on being around for a while. Get separate FAX & voice phone lines (see my column a few months ago). Make your business seem large enough to handle your customers’ needs, even if you’re the only person in it. This can be done by taking credit cards, shipping via parcel carriers or overnight service, having professional looking brochures and order forms (not necessarily multi-color, but at least a colored paper and possibly colored ink – I’ll discuss printing in a future column), and a solid product. As part of stability, it’s also important to show focus. Don’t offer a zillion different products for different markets unless you can make sure each one gets lots of attention from the support perspective. Small companies generally can’t effectively do dozens of things at once, and even they somehow can, they create a confused image for customers, who don’t understand what the company really does.
  • Knowledge. In order to create a relationship built on mutual trust (which is a positive thing), it’s important to both be knowledgeable about what your product does, and how your customers work. However, if you don’t know something, or don’t understand something, again, don’t make it up. Be honest and admit you don’t know, but also offer to get the right information. Once you do, learn from it, because the same question is likely to come around again at some point.
  • Visibility. Get your company’s name out there – this is marketing (which I’ll also cover in an upcoming column). Write press releases, talk to magazine editors, write articles, talk to user’s groups, get on-line, etc. Make sure that when a problem comes up that your product could solve, that someone will immediately point to your product as the solution, even if they haven’t personally used the product. If you want some great ideas for doing this sort of stuff, let me recommend “Guerilla Marketing” by Jay Conrad Levinson. This inexpensive paperback book can be found in your local bookstore’s marketing or business section, and is chock full of invaluable marketing ideas and tips.

Now, I’ve mentioned the small company image issue several times as a negative, but seeming to be too big a company can cause other problems, because customers are used to getting lousy support from large companies. There’s a balance that needs to be struck – being large enough to appear stable, but small enough to care.

Some of the things you can do to strike that balance include establishing a recognizable company name – don’t use your own name. Using your own name for the business makes it appear small, and if you actually are successful with the business named after you, and sell it at some point down the road, you may loose all rights to use your name in any other business fashion, ever again. This has happened to several well-known individuals, including the Amos from Famous Amos cookies, the Moog who invented Moog Synthesizers, and countless others. When you choose a name, and you plan on doing business in other parts of the U.S. or world, you should also check to make sure your name does not infringe on someone else’s trademark.

There are several ways of checking for conflicting names (we use a company called Thompson & Thompson, which has offices nationwide). In any event, once you get a clear name, register it with your state government or town (which you register with depends on what state you’re in and what the relative laws of company creation are), and get a nice, memorable logo designed. A decent company name and logo will go a long way to helping you establish the image you want for your company.

The other image building factors I suggest above will further bolster your company’s image, and help make it more successful. It can be a lot of work  initially, but all the positive image building factors should ultimately become your way of business life, and your corporate philosophy.