General


I have always found that clutter is bad - in personal life as well as in business. But it seems to be our nature to amass but never whittle away; our instinct to hoard but not let go. But as Henri Matisse wrote, “Instinct must be thwarted just as one prunes the branches of a tree so that it will grow better.”

This lesson of pruning is one I am retaught every few months in business. For instance, for entrepreneural ventures such as those I’m involved in, cash is king and year-on-year revenue growth is a badge of victory we wear proudly. We work hard to win clients and work hard to negotiate deals. The instinct, then, is to keep all clients all the time. We tell ourselves that we’ll fire a particularly bad client as soon as we replace that revenue. Oftentimes, we never do. That client lingers on like a bad marriage or else it’s us that we find fired! During the whole ordeal, no one is happy.

Happiness, and indeed organizational success, as measured across a broad spectrum of indicators (such as revenue, profitability, work culture, and job satisfaction) seems to come from proper pruning in anticipation of future success. In business, this means that I must be vigilant in discerning the true value of money. Not all dollars are the same; not all money is healthy.

At the most basic level, a bad client may sap employee morale or exhaust a lot of company resources. Overhead factored into profitability properly, you may be better off flipping hamburgers! Similarly, a bad client may be bringing in $20,000/month but, like golden handcuffs, limits you from perhaps launching a new product or taking time to reorganize your enterprise - the opportunity cost of which could well be above the $20,000/month mark.

Rob Bell, in his popular Nooma series, speaks of a child that walks around the beach picking up shards of once-beautiful seashells. With his hands full, he suddenly spots a large starfish on a rock. His parents notice and excitedly tell him to pick it up. Dismayed, the child looks at the starfish then looks down at his full hands. “I can’t!” he cries, “My hands are full.” Too often we give up the glorious for the mundane.

The maxim in business really is: prune everything; prune annually.

It has been a very busy 2008 indeed at MDCall - a healthcare communication technology company I own. In addition to our flagship physician contact management system (fancy for automated medical answering service), we just launched MDNotify - a web and phone-based notification system that integrates with a practice management system and automatically sends out notification calls. The types of outbound calls come in various forms. Most practices tend to need it for appointment reminder calls. Other uses include lab results notification, pre-operative information collection, medication reminders, and other types of courtesy calling.

So far however, appointment reminder calls have tended to be the winner sales pitch. It makes sense. With practices averaging 7% no-show rates from what we’ve seen, $70/visit revenue at the lower end, and 30 appointments per doctor per day, even a percentage drop in no-shows for a three-doctor practice means a revenue recapture of $15,000 a year. MDNotify’s service-based model which requires no upfront capital expenditure, no technology to manage, free integration with an in-house practice management system, and low per-appointment delivery fees means that a strong return on investment proposition is evident from the very first month.

I look forward to tracking the success of the software on this blog in the future! In the meantime, however, the work has been excruciating but thrilling - purchasing servers, designing a stable and redundant infrastructure, negotiating service contracts with telecom service providers, and signing up clients. What fun!

You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Silly star

I really feel like that bit about a dancing star is rather silly. At least, when I was faced with the chaos of leaving home without my all-important laptop and cell phone last Tuesday and cut off from the option of driving back by a solid ribbon of traffic across the nine miles of the I-90 east thruway, I didn’t feel much like a dancing star. It was more like being rubbed down with a wet towel of panic. As you subconsciously try to control the dismay and irritation at sweat ruining your white shirt collar, you try to frantically recall your appointments that were in Outlook, wonder how you’ll communicate throughout the day, how you’ll find the phone numbers for people to call, and, more importantly, how you’ll pass the time between appointments without any work to do.

By the time I got to my office, I had calmed down sufficiently to take stock of the situation. Maybe not everything was sunk. Let’s see, first things first:

1. I utilize MDCall - a product of my company (shameless plug, but true) that specializes in emergency physician contact management. Through MDCall, I can manage where my calls are routed. By logging online, I switched all emergency calls that come into our toll-free number for me to my office phone instead of my cell. So that was done. Services similar to MDCall include Gotvmail.com, a terrific resource to give to business associates so that by calling one number, they can reach you where you want to be reached - cell, home, office, or the hotel where you are staying at.

2. So that was done. Next, e-mail. With a spare laptop laying around in the office, I quickly logged into my hosted web-based email account through Gmail for Business. Now, before you think I’m a cheap business owner with no regard for professional image, let me state that Gmail for Business is not like personal Gmail or other free email services like Hotmail. It’s a full-powered email service that beats having your email through most hosted services anytime. Here’s why:

  • Gmail can be associated with your domain name. So, your emails do not go out as akash@gmail.com but rather akash@lance-tech.com. This is because you are pointing your domain MX records to gmail just like you would point them to your web host.
  • Gmail plays really well with Outlook. You can use Outlook to manage your emails. What’s more, any email that is sent or received now is not only in Outlook but also archived on Gmail.
  • Any email you send by logging into Gmail via the web gets copied over to your Outlook next time you Send/Receive. This means that your emails in Outlook and Gmail are always in sync.
  • Gmail search is fantastic! Searching for “jeff cell san diego” in Outlook took a full 6 minutes. In Gmail - 2 seconds. So now, whenever I want to search for something in my email, I log into Gmail via the web.
  • Gmail servers guarantee 99.9% uptime. So do most web hosts. But I tend to trust Google more on this one.
  • Gmail provides you with 10GB of space for EACH corporate email account.
  • You can access Gmail via a mobile device like you cell phone. I love it when I’m twiddling my thumbs in a restaurant while waiting for someone.

3. So, I have calls forwarded and I have email up. Next is making phone calls. That, of course, is easy - I do have an office phone, believe it or not. But I also use Skype to make calls to any phone in the world using my PC. Since my laptop was not around, I simply installed the Skype client on the temporary laptop, logged into Skype, and was ready to make calls. This would be especially handy when I would stop over later at a Starbucks between meetings.

4. Finally, what of my schedule? Nicely enough, my Gmail for Business account also comes with Google Calendar. Any events I create in Outlook, I automatically send over to Google Calendar. No big worries. I was going to make every meeting and appear on top of my game! 

5. With phone, email, calendaring, and call forwarding, my communication platform was almost back to normal. The only item missing - instant messaging. My team, which includes my partner in Colorado and other consultants, lives and dies by communicating via instant messaging - for those small things that picking up the phone just isn’t worth. I communicate via AOL IM and Yahoo Messenger. What a chore to have to install both software pieces on a temp laptop. Rather, in my browser, I fired up Meebo.com. All I needed to do was type in my respective AOL and Yahoo login credentials and click on Sign In. I was ready to chat.

Of no significant relevance this particular chaotic day but still bearing mention: My office uses Send2Fax to receive and send faxes. Faxes for me come directly into my email as a PDF. And I can send faxes directly from my computer without having to print them out and walking over to a silly machine. And I save important documents to our internally-written web-based document management system. Alternatives include Zoho Writer or Google Docs.

So there I was. Completely functional. Happy as could be. But still not too sure about the chaos and dancing star bit… 

If there’s anyone out there that has productivity tools that bear mentioning, comment to this post!