Monthly Archives: August 2010

Task Management Software Mess

Posted by mitch on August 04, 2010
productivity, software

Last night, I was ranting on Twitter again.

This time it was about task management software. There’s several options out there, but everything I’ve looked at has fundamental flaws. I’ve settled on Remember the Milk for now, but I’m not thrilled with it.

Here’s what I want:

  • A clean UI that is fast and optimized for brain dumps of a large number of tasks. Smart tag management.
  • Mac-native application.
  • A web UI for when I don’t have my Mac handy.
  • Storage in the cloud and locally. I want to use it when the cloud is down, when my connection to the cloud is down, on the subway, etc.
  • I don’t want to bring my own cloud service. I want to buy a service that someone else runs.
  • Integrate with Google Apps: My calendar should show deadlines, the task system should have access to my address book, etc.
  • Good iPhone application with emphasis on new task capture and the ‘next’ to do list.
  • Nice to have — Outlook for Windows plug-in to sync tasks into Outlook’s to do. I use Outlook 25% of the time for Xobni.
  • Nice to have — Integration with BaseCamp. I don’t use the To Do stuff there much, but people assign me tasks in BaseCamp. It would be nice to see those in my To Do list (and be able to click to go to them in BaseCamp).
  • Nice to have — Integration with Salesforce. Again, tasks are created in Salesforce and I’d like to see those in my central view of the world (and be able to click to go to them in Salesforce).
  • Nice to have — Show today’s calendar item from Exchange / Google Apps. This is particularly important when planning what to do next and identifying how much time I have from now until my next commitment. I often flip back and forth between calendar and the to do list. Neither Outlook nor Google Apps get this view right.

Here’s what I’ve tried:

  • Things — I have bought Things for the Mac, iPad, and iPhone. However, after it trashed its database and tech support basically told me “I don’t care”, I haven’t been able to get back into it. Fundamentally, it is missing cloud sync, which makes it somewhat useless for someone who travels a lot. My corruption seemed to be related to syncing with the iPhone, which doesn’t inspire much confidence and so I would stop syncing with the iPhone. However, the Things UI is almost perfect. No one else seems to hold a candle to it.
  • OmniFocus — I tried it a few years ago when it came out, but it was riddled in complexity and not as smooth as Things. This might be fixed now. I would like to try it again, but Omni doesn’t offer a production cloud service yet. I generally like Omni products.
  • Remember the Milk — I like that I can use it from any computer. However, it’s tedious for dumping in a lot of tasks. Setting a new location on a task requires a manual step of creating a new lcoation. Why can’t I just type in my own locations and let it sort them out? The details for a task are presented on the right side of the window, rather than right next to the task, which leads to a lot of mousing around. In fact, the whole UI is about mousing around and a lot of clicking. For example, I have a task with some notes. When I click the task, it shows that I have 1 note, but I have to click again to see it. Just show me everything. I’d like something that I can control entirely from the keyboard. However, the iPhone app is quite decent based on a cursory examination. No Outlook integration.
  • Evernote — Not really a task management system, but I had heard of people using it as such. Great for what it does, not great for task management. But the cloud service, native apps, and sync model are all perfect.

I will keep plodding along with Remember the Milk for now, but I’d really like to see a Things-like UI for Remember the Milk, either as a sophisticated JavaScript UI or a Mac application. For busy professionals, task management is a huge tool and nothing seems to get it right. There’s a market hole here that someone needs to fill. Several people have asked, “so why don’t you write it?” I am very busy with another software company right now and one at a time is the maximum for me.

P.S. If you know of a solution that I missed that might work better for me, I’m all ears!

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“I’m Starting a Company, Any Advice?”

Posted by mitch on August 02, 2010
business, career

I get this question a lot. I wrote this down as my standard answer.

First, you need to be sure you are building a product people want. This means doing market research and talking to potential customers before you do anything else. It sounds obvious, but building something people want is the hardest part. When you’re evaluating whether or not people want what you’re building, you need to hear people say, “OK, when can I buy this? I need this right now.” Potential customers who say, “Yeah, that sounds like a great idea” are misleading–that kind of response means you haven’t gotten them to the mental finish line such that they want to buy. It is crucial to understand the difference between these two reactions.

If you are serious about starting a company to the point that you or your partners are quitting your jobs, you need to go ahead and legally form the company. You can “do it yourself” but I recommend finding a respected attorney familiar with the law of where you are starting your company. In particular, you should have employment contracts between all partners and the company, and you should have intellectual property assignment agreements between all contributors and the company.

Without these basic agreements in place, your company can suddenly be in a position of being (1) un-fundable by VCs or other capital sources, (2) un-acquirable, (3) sued by a partner who has dropped out or feels he has been wronged. And of course, without some non-compete agreements, a partner can leave and potentially take know-how of your business to start a competing company.

Do not depend on a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ of what will happen when someone leaves–even if everyone trusts everyone and everyone has known everyone else for many years. In every company I have ever started, someone has left before the first product was ready to go to market. In one case, that tanked the company and the remaining partners, including yours truly, lost many thousands of dollars.

Setting up a company and getting these agreements in place is relatively cheap, even with a high-end law firm in an expensive city. The cost is essentially zero compared to other start-up costs and it will save you serious stress and money down the road.

Hire an attorney who specifically deals with business. I would not hire a “front door attorney” who “practices whatever comes in the front door.” Ask for references from businesses that were once starting out like yours. Also, you will need a CPA to keep you in-line with the IRS and other government agencies. The CPA will cost you much less and, in some ways, be a far greater value. I wouldn’t start a business without either of these people on my “team”. I’ve done it the wrong way and the right way–and the right way is MUCH better and less stressful.

When you’re just starting out, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that what you’re doing isn’t going to be “big” or “maybe it’s not important enough” to be worth protecting. But if you have quit your job to do something, it must be big and important enough to justify taking some basic precautions such as these. Chances are living expenses while you build your product will dwarf the costs of protecting yourself–there’s just no reason not to.

Of course, if you’re building a company alone, you might not need much of the above–I am really referring to scenarios involving 2 or more people. If you’re going at it alone, you might still need protection from contractors you hire, though.

See also: Top Ten Legal Mistakes Made by Entrepreneurs. I also recommend this book which covers the above scenarios and many other issues.

Finally, this is not legal advice.

(This is from my office FAQ; it felt more appropriate here.)

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Why I’m Glad In-flight WiFi Costs Money

Posted by mitch on August 02, 2010

I fly a lot, about 120,000 miles a year right now. Many of those miles are on Virgin, which has Gogo In-flight Internet access and two 120 volt power outlets for every 3 seats in coach. This means I can do about 5 hours of work on a laptop on a cross country flight. When Gogo was free last holiday season (sponsored by Google for about 6 weeks), everyone was using the Internet on the flight and access slowed down significantly. There was heavy competition for power–the planes have a lot of juice, but not enough for 120 laptops. However, when it costs money, only those who really need or want to use the Internet are using it. Competition for power goes down, and the Internet speed is quite reasonable. For $10 or so, it’s worth it to me on longer flights.

If there’s anything that should be free, it’s checked bags. With the bags now costing money, people are bringing more bags into the cabin and running out of overhead space can cause delays. I was on a flight last Thursday where a woman had been forced to check her bag because the plane was out of room. Before we took off, she ran to the front (I was in 2F) and told the flight attendants her medicine was in the bag. We were delayed 20 minutes while the ground crew searched for her bag.

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