Code Corps is live(ish)

We have liftoff!

liftoff

Courtesy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bobfrankly

So, for the past month or two, I’ve been slaving away (or outsourcing work) to create the first Code Corps course: How to Build Your Own Website.

We’ve got great content, but we need people to start using (and importantly: testing) it. For a limited time, we’re giving away:

  • free course content
  • free hosting accounts
  • free domain names

This content alone is worth over $118. All that we ask now is that you share our story with people who might be interested in learning how to build their own website(s) or for you heading over and taking the course. Go to the website and sign up in under thirty seconds.

The aim is to open up education and create valuable online content. Code Corps can’t survive without users, so please help spread the word. We’re particularly interested in training people to create their own personal websites and sites for small businesses and charities, but anyone you might know of could help us immensely at this stage. We’re capping this round at fifty people, so get going ;-)

I’m planning on releasing courses on e-commerce, crowdfunding and online event ticketing in the next few months. Stay tuned.

 

Uber’s surge pricing

Uber has been getting some flack for their infamous “surge pricing” that’s been in effect for the past few months. I was warned about it the first time on New Year’s Eve and saw on the app rates as high as 7.5 times the regular rate. Lisa Chow did a story on NPR, other similar stories got published and the general mood is that it is an asshole move by a company that already makes heaps of money and just upsets riders (their very core customers, the ones they should keep happy).

I disagree.

uber-unavailable

Surge pricing isn’t new. A drink is more expensive outside of happy hour, airplane tickets are generally much more expensive closer to the time of the flight and you can snag day-old muffins for half their regular price.

Flexible pricing tries to adjust two things: the inefficiency of waste and the reliability (or predictability) of a service. An airplane with one hundred empty seats, after all, equals one hundred seats that technically just got wasted. An empty bar at 5pm isn’t good for the bar (be it the owner or the tip-dependent staff), muffins going uneaten and an empty fleet of taxis are all inefficient and wasteful.

A notable difference between the above examples and Uber’s surge pricing is that the happy hour at your favourite bar is generally known before you head over there (incentivising you to do so, perhaps). Uber’s surge pricing is only made known to you when you’re actually in need of their service (they recently added a feature to the app to notify you when surge pricing ends).

This leads me to the more important aspect of flexible pricing: the reliability or predictability of a service. Empty cars are inefficient, but not having any at your disposal is probably even worse.

Most people are annoyed at Uber because of their inability to know exactly, in advance, how much a trip using their service will cost. Or just the fact that they perceive a price hike to be unfair. This, to me, completely misses the point. Uber doesn’t market themselves as providing reliable prices (or even fair prices), but rather providing a reliable service. I find it far more important to have a service at my disposal for when I truly need it (in an emergency, say) rather than to have a service available at a constant flat rate. If I had a family crisis and really had to fly to Johannesburg within the next few hours, I’d probably be able to get a flight right away, albeit at a much higher price tag. In certain cases like that, the cost wouldn’t matter, but the reliability of having a service would. If I need to fly somewhere for a holiday, on the other hand, I’d probably forego the expensive immediate options and shop around until I got a deal I perceived to be (comparatively) fair.

The advantage that Uber has (over the industry, in general) is that they can adjust the prices in real-time (as the heartless forces of supply and demand then dictate).

In closing:

Service providers need to think if price (be it sky-high, rock-bottom or somewhere in-between) or service is their biggest priority and give that their utmost attention.

Post Script

  1. I opted to walk to my party on New Year’s Eve. Who the hell pays $45 to get to a house party a few blocks away?
  2. This post didn’t mention the topic of benefit to the drivers employed by Uber. They get to keep 80% of the proceeds of each trip, including during surge pricing. I’m purely looking at it from the consumer’s side (those complaining most), but not the drivers. I’m not sure if they’re actually benefiting in real terms, so I won’t comment on it. Investor Bill Gurley has a lot about that (and surge pricing in general) on his blog.
  3. This post didn’t mention the topic of class. The only people who take Uber when it is at 7.5 times the normal rate (or even the normal rate) are the super rich and those who really need it. There are far too many people who really need (various) reliable services –in South Africa and elsewhere– but will ultimately never have access to them. There’s a fine line that need to be walked with this type of thinking, where one can start justifying providing services exclusively to the rich. There needs to be a safety net in society to help those who truly need something, but can’t necessarily afford it. There can be luxury services, but public/alternative options need to be available (such as transport, education and healthcare) and good enough for those who need it (and might not otherwise be able to afford it).

Code Corps (dot org) is in beta!

So, I decided to start a charitable enterprise. The idea is to provide free coding and design lessons (both in person and online).

Ladies and gentlemen, I present: Code Corps.

code-corps

The financial aim is to make money (by providing valuable content and creations to businesses and charities) but the charitable aim is to invest 100% of the proceeds (and donations) back into the enterprise (and make a bigger impact by reaching more students).

We (ahem, I) had our first test run on building a website with WordPress last week and I’ve gotten a venue, somewhere between discounted and free, for our first few classes (a big thank you to the incubator space Bandwidth Barn).

Please sign up to stay up to date on our future classes (either in Cape Town or online). I can’t quite tell how excited I am about getting back into teaching and organising events (strictly spare time and after-hours, of course).

Crowdfunding in South Africa: rewards-based, charitable and equity

I like crowdfunding. It usually removes friction, barriers and middlemen and matches demand with (sometimes only perceived) supply. Crowdfunding, thus far, has mostly either been for products (you send us $99, we’ll send you a smartwatch) or for donations/social causes (let’s raise money for an animal shelter). These two (product crowdfunding and donation crowdfunding) have already disrupted things in a significant way, but I think that equity crowdfunding might even be more significant in the online landscape.

crowdfunding

First, back to the original two and more focused on the South African context:

Rewards-based crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is more popular –or rather, successful–  in the developed world, as it is quite dependent on mature internet markets and access to money (disposable income or GDP per capita). Every country has it’s own regulations (or lack thereof) and culture with regards to online sales and donations, making it difficult to make blanket predictions on potential international outcomes. In South Africa, for instance, payments need to be for goods or services rendered (as in, you need to sell something or provide a service and be able to provide an invoice/receipt for the transaction). If you just want to send money to someone (like a father sending money to a dependent), it is considered a remittance and these have to go through a party with a banking license. The reason, I suspect, is that the authorities want to prevent money laundering, but there are consequences to the poor sending payments across the border. But almost everywhere, people like receiving (even if they have to pay for it) and that’s in short what rewards-based crowdfunding is about.

For emphasis: the Reserve Bank of South Africa doesn’t allow you just send money to someone. This means you can’t just send money for a crowdfunding campaign, where the recipient doesn’t provide goods or services in exchange for the payment. There’s an enormously simple loophole in all of this: just provide something.

pebble-campaign

There are reasons aplenty to do this in any case, as people are far more inclined to reach for their credit card if they get something in return. Make the minimum donation a little higher and send out a nice card, a limited edition t-shirt, a bumper sticker anything that makes it more of a transaction and less of a case of “just sending money”. A simple, cynical rule of mine regarding altruism is that whenever someone considers doing something nice, they’re first and foremost asking the very human, very selfish question: “What’s in it for me?”. Do I get a save the rhino shopping bag to make my peers see how much I care? Do I get a tax-deductible certificate for my corporate donation? Do I get a warm fuzzy feeling when I get a thank-you card? Do I get to have my name in the acknowledgements section of the book I helped to back?

(Full disclosure: I make monthly donations, but I do so not because of altruism, but rather for that warm, fuzzy feeling of feeling like I’m doing something really nice.)

You’ll have to decide if you want an all-or-nothing campaign or not. With those campaigns, the backers get reimbursed if the goal amount isn’t met. This can prove to be tricky, since payment gateways/banks will charge a percentage of each payment made and if you have to reimburse backers for a campaign that fell short of a R100,000 goal, you’ll be out somewhere between R4000-R6000. Bigger platforms (Kickstarter, Indiegogo) put a “hold” or “auth” on a card, but don’t complete the payment until the project is backed. If it isn’t it just doesn’t process the payment (the same way an auth can be put on a rental car that you book, but not pay, in advance). If you don’t have an all-or-nothing campaign, you can still provide something to your backers.

Back to the rewards: some of the most successful campaigns on Kickstarter and Indiegogo are the ones that incentivise people to donate by giving them something in return. Amanda Palmer (of the Dresden Dolls) raised close to $1.2 million and some of the creative things you could get in exchange for your hard earned cash included a full night out partying with the band, dinners, photo shoots, invites to their house party and even writing something with a permanent marker on her naked body. Maybe a bit impractical (if you’re not a rock star), but the $10000 she earned for taking someone to dinner, makes for a pretty damn good return on investment.

Charitable crowdfunding

equality-indiegogo

The exception to the “goods and services” rule, outlined above, doesn’t apply to non-profit organisations. If you are a registered non-profit organisation (such as an NPO, Section 21 company, not-for-profit trust etc.) you can run a campaign for donations to be applied to a specific project of yours (or just fundraising in general). I’d say the rule of “What’s in it for me?” still applies. Give the backer something even if it isn’t a tangible product.

I predict a rise in the use of crowdfunding for churches, educational institutions and charities in general. Unfortunately, South Africa, doesn’t do a stellar job at charitable giving. This can be paired with the fact that, PPP adjusted, over 15 million earn less than $2 a day, that there isn’t a massive middle and high income class (in sheer number) left who can afford to make charitable online donations.

Enter equity crowdfunding

The idea is similar as for “traditional” crowdfunding. For a few (or few thousand) dollars, you get yourself a little stake in the company you’re backing, instead of the usual t-shirt, knick-knack or warm, fuzzy feeling. Early investment into startups was hereto primarily reserved for savvy (and wealthy) investors, depending on the country you live in.

Equity crowdfunding: US & UK

brewdogs

Regulation surrounding crowdfunded equity is evolving (where it formally exists) as backers, businesses and regulators get more used to the very idea of crowdfunding. Scottish beer brewery BrewDog raised £250,000 pounds with their awesome Equity for Punks project; giving the backers things like the novelty of saying they own a bit of a beer brand (which might be worth something, someday) to the more practical discounts on the grog. In the long run, a crowd of investors can financially gain in dividends, sale proceeds in case of a merger/acquisition or get listed on an exchange (converting mostly illiquid shares into something pegged to a cold, hard currency).

Things have been slower with equity crowdfunding in the US for many reasons. The SEC is loosening some of these investment restrictions, but these restrictions can often be hard to defend. Supporters say that individuals have every right to pick, purchase from and invest in companies as they please. Critics say that the banks argued with the same logic before the 2008 economic/housing collapse and that a lot of individuals –particularly those who lost almost everything– could have been protected if they were excluded from making risky investments by better drafted regulations.

As always, the answer lies somewhere in-between, and things like voting rights and complex legal decisions should probably not be made by the average investor. As with any investment, they should be made aware that they can lose everything (and that the vast majority of startups fail, without the net of being bought or getting listed).

We’ll probably see more successful equity campaigns, both here and abroad, complete with slick, shareable videos and predicted-returns brochures. We’ll eventually hear of early crowd-investors who made lots of money when the startup idea they backed made it big. We’ll also probably see a lot of these socially backed sites reach their evolutionary fate with crowd investors losing all their money. Watch this space.

Information on equity crowdfunding (and particular the legal restrictions/definitions around it) in South Africa is pretty hard to come by. I welcome comments by those who can contribute!

 

How to get rid of auto-recovery PSB files in Photoshop

I work with Photoshop all the time. This makes it particularly annoying when, for weeks on end, it kept auto-recovering an old PSB file I was working on, no matter how many times I closed (or saved) it.

The solution is actually quite simple and obvious:

Photoshop PSB file

Simply right click on the PSB file and select Reveal in Finder:

Right click PSB file

Now take that file (or if there’s more than one, all of them) and delete them. It should be fixed. Let me know if this worked for you!

So, Has Bitcoin Crashed Yet?

I made a cheeky little website a few weeks back to give a quick answer to all the bitcoin naysayers, who are all predicting an imminent crash. I present: So, Has Bitcoin Crashed Yet?

So, has Bitcoin crashed yet?

Well, has it?

Visit it at: http://www.sohasbitcoincrashedyet.com/

For what it’s worth, I’m a borderline-naysayer as I don’t think that Bitcoin is currently a viable, stable crypto-currency (and I’ve sold all the coins I purchased early in 2013). Bitcoin is currently used in the same way that stocks are, especially those that are heating up on a lot of hype and greedy palm smacking: it is purchased in fiat currency, held in the hopes of an increase in price and sold again, converting it back into a usable, fiat currency. For Bitcoin to be a currency, it needs to be used as a currency and not in the buy, hold, sell ways that we are seeing.

That said: you can probably make a quick buck, but if you’re worried of rumours about it coming crashing down in a crazy frenzy of selling, you’ll know where it stands.

How to make your phone number clickable on your website

Scenario:

I’m walking down the street, trying to get in touch with a recommended restaurant to see if they have space available.

Expected user experience:

Do a Google search for the number, find it, tap it, call them (and hopefully find a table). Search, find, tap call.

Why won't you listen to me?!

Why won’t you just do what I’m telling you to do?!

Actual user experience:

Using my smartphone, I did a Google search for their name, found their website and tapped through to their contact page. On their contact page I was however greeted with something frustrating like +27(0)12-123-1234. I tapped it, but it was just plain text, obviously nothing happened. So, I had to select the text and copy the number. Next, you close the browser, open the phone app go to the keypad area and paste the number (after finding out where to paste it). Since it had the annoying extra zero in brackets, it wouldn’t ring. Back to the phone app, and since I’m using an iPhone I couldn’t edit the annoyingly formatted number, so I had to first save it as a new contact, then edit the saved number it to remove the brackets/international dialing code and then calmly throw the phone under a moving bus and walk home.

Sure, I could have memorised the number, but an even better idea would be to make things easier for your visitors: make your phone number clickable (or “finger tappable”) for mobile devices by using a simple line of code.

So then, here’s how to make your number clickable:

Simply change the line on the page you’d like to change (you’ll have to switch to a plain text view if you’re using WordPress or something similar) from:

021 123 1234
to:
<a href="tel:+27-12-123-1234">021 123 1234</a>
or, if you really must, to:
<a href="tel:+27-12-123-1234">+27(0)21 123 1234</a>

That’s it. No more frustrated visitors. Go ahead and click on the first one. Heaps of nothing.

021 123 1234

Then try and click the new one, which will render as below. If you’re not using a mobile device, it will attempt to call the number using Skype or Google Voice (if you have those installed):

021 123 1234

You’re also helping your site with regards to SEO, as the <tel> attribute tells search engine crawlers that you’re listing a telephone number (and not just a random string of numbers). Same goes for the <address> attribute (among others).

This is actually part of a much longer checklist I’m working on for those in the hospitality industry with simple changes required to make sure that their websites don’t suck and leave their potential visitors frustrated. Expect basic things like:

  1.  how to show a menu (that doesn’t come in the form of a 24mb PDF document),
  2. driving/walking directions,
  3. listing contact numbers and importantly,
  4. how to do this not only for desktop, but for mobile visitors too.

But more on that in another post. Thanks for reading!

 

Procrastination and Plugins: Read it later with Readability and Pocket

“Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.”

- Don Marquis

Working for an online company — or just having a constant internet connection at the office, at home and on your mobile devices on the go — it gets really easy to be distracted by digital interruptions. The never-ending emails, the torrent of tweets (mostly linked to pages, some which might even be interesting!) and articles on favourite sites are generally a huge distraction to getting work done (at least during the most productive hours of the day). I’ve been tracking my productivity for some time now and managed to greatly clamp down on my entertainment and social networking (more importantly, improve my design, composition, business and utilities time-contribution).

The biggest time killer for me, I found, were long articles, from where I’d get sucked into down some you-might-also-be-interested-in-these-stories-wormhole. Enter Readability.

Readability

Readability turns almost any article into a beautifully, stripped down version of its ugly, former self. It cleans the clutter by getting rid of advertisements, sidebars and footers and puts the text in a very human-friendly layout: 1.5 line height,  Georgia font wrapped in a div 700px wide. Despite being a sans-serif kind of guy –for landing pages at least– there has been many tests to prove you read serif fonts faster.

Have a look at the articles below. A screen grab from a recent Economist article, complete with menus, tag clouds and more:

Economist before

From this…

To this, easy to read version:

Economist after

To this.

What makes Readability really useful is that you can send these stripped-down articles straight to your Kindle, Apple or Android device. Whenever you find an article that you’d like to read, simply click the browser extension and send it to your device (from where it will automatically download again). You could save it to be read later, but see the more elegant read-later solution, Pocket, further down.

Send to Kindle

 

For web pages and links that aren’t quite as snooty as long-form journalism (yes, I’m looking at you YouTube and Buzzfeed), there’s another great solution: Pocket.

Pocket

Pocket is also a browser plugin and saves your time-killers in a pretty list, which you can tag, categorise, filter, read, archive and delete in future (on whichever device you want). Simply hit the Pocket button whenever you get tempted by a video or article (which everyone will totally read), close the tab and go on with your work. It’s not easy, but I’ve seen it done.

Pocket - Queue

As a footnote, I should add that all procrastination isn’t necessarily bad. Despite costing the economy a fair chunk of change, some distractions can actually boost productivity and it is good to have some sort of buffer in preventing you from becoming too much of a Stephen Wolframesque machine. I’d like to end with another quote:

“You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.”
“What mood is that?”
“Last-minute panic.”

- Bill Watterson

Mr Price: Here’s how not to run email marketing

How not to run email marketing

I’ll preface this post by saying that this isn’t a stab at any of the people or companies mentioned in this case study, but rather a post that highlights some mistakes made by companies (big or small) and how to improve things.

I’ll also say that bad design (and development) of websites and emails drive me up the wall (I registered the domain yourwebsiteisshit.com and hope to turn it into a site where I can review sites and give them pointers to improve), so sorry if this sounds a little negative. I’ll try to keep it constructive.

The naysayers call email outdated and alleged that spam would kill it, that users will kill it or that the multitude of blogs and social channels out there will kill it. I’m still waiting to see what kills it. Email marketing is massive and doing well. It is one of the marketing avenues with the highest returns on investment, if implemented correctly. Unfortunately a lot of companies miss using one of the greatest tools at their disposal. Let’s look at a (really bad) example: Continue reading

There’s no such thing as free shipping

There’s this great shop down the street from me. Last Saturday I popped in on my way back from a late brunch with a friend and a particular jacket in the window caught my fancy. The price seemed good, but something stopped me from getting it: there was an extra 10% charge for a “shelf display fee”, not shown on the price tag, which I had to add to the total price! They explained that they’ve been having problems with shoplifting and that it costs them a lot of money to display items, so they started charging buyers for shelf space. I calmly put the jacket down, smiled at the shopkeeper and walked out.

Free shipping tag

OK, the story is obviously Continue reading