Levi Figueira

t(h)inker(er)

Obsessive-Compulsive Procrastinators

I see a constant flurry of articles, (web) apps and overall chatter on how to manage your information intake. You can read/watch/listen later, filter/sort/index, and, obviously, share everything with anyone . The speed at which these attempts come to light tells me that “information management and consumption” is a real issue!

I’m going to make this one short and simple: if you think that procrastination and obsessive-compulsion are the way you’ll get out of that loop, then be my guest and use any or all of the solutions out there. I’ll save you some trouble though: none will work! The only solution to our problem with excessive consumption is actually quite straight-forward…

Consume less.

The Flexibility Paradox

I’m afraid of schedules. I am! I’m afraid of the specificity of scheduling something and how it may interfere with something that could potencially come up. Ya, I know: ridiculous! The more I think about it, the more I realize that this fear is not of scheduling but of disappointment.

Everyone knows me as the flexible guy… I’m relaxed and can adjust and make decisions on the fly with little (apparent) effort. I don’t mind pressure and I don’t mind making the call on mostly anything. For that reason, I’ve always seemingly reserved myself for these “eventualities”: I’m ready should anything come up. The problem is scheduling is the only way to get things done in a progressive form. And it’s not like I just waste my time doing nothing; I’m actually always quite busy. But I’m busy with things that, while interesting and productive, are not relevant or significant.

The fact is that though I’m opinionated, decisive and dogmatic, I am just as afraid of rejection and of disappointment as everyone else. The paradox is that that fear has led me to disappoint plenty of people (and myself) by either not comitting or not delivering something done over a period of time. I would spend all my time either over-analyzing or getting myself ready for anything, only to fail at getting something done.

I want to read more; I want to write more; I want to ship more; I want to learn more… I could add more things to that list: travel, relax, visit my family, spend time with my wife, enjoy life… The reality is the former won’t be doable and the latter won’t be attainable unless I schedule my time in order to do and fulfill them. Even if it means losing my flexibility, I have to stop being afraid of saying no to whatever and just get. something. done.

[queue Inception soundtrack]

Is Microsoft Metro Undesigned?

I recently tweeted a couple of thoughts from my experience with Windows 8. Though I’ve been a Mac fan since the early 90s–particularly when I started working with music/production software (e.g. Pro Tools)–I only bought my first Mac in 2008. Before then, and since I started playing with computers in 1991-92, I always lived in a Microsoft world (first MS-DOS and then Windows) with quite a few incursions into the Linux world since 1998. I was involved professionally in Windows/Linux sysadmin for quite a few years and, As such, I understand and know a LOT about the Microsoft ecosystem. For those reasons, I simply take labels of “fanboyism” regarding my love for Apple products as your typical Internet “trolling”.

Windows 8

I’m not going to get into a full review of Windows 8. There are plenty of those online and you can test it for yourself. What I’m writing about is the Metro experience that Microsoft is bringing to the desktop now. When I first saw the Metro UI a few months ago, my first reaction was: “WOW! Huge improvement and unexpected coming from Redmond!”. My second thoughts were mostly concerning “flat colored boxes”, “no depth” and “lack of contrast”. Those thoughts were based on screenshots, videos and brief contact at computers stores. I believed Microsoft was breaking with the old and that was a good thing but upon further reading, I found that, while the architecture is changing, it wasn’t as dramatically as I had initially hoped. Fast forward to a few days ago, I installed Windows 8 Consumer Preview on my Macbook Pro (MBP4,1), via Bootcamp. I had Windows 7 installed on it but it was giving me some weird issues/crashes with the Java VM which was keeping me from “working” on my hobby. I then proceeded to spend a few hours learning and using the system and interface, and my initial (first and second) thoughts have been confirmed: Metro is not UI design, it’s lack thereof.

Undesign

Design is about making choices and Metro makes none. Of course excessive skeuomorphism is bad but it is design because it makes a statement and presents no choice. What Microsoft shows in “balls” to make changes it’s lacking in making choices. The lack of depth and uniqueness of the Metro interface reminds me of design work when empty of inspiration and avoiding a carbon copy from another design: flat geometric objects with simple colors. You may criticise Apple’s, at times excessive, skeuomorphism or even Google’s “engineered look”, but those are choices. With Metro, Microsoft is undesigning the UI because they’re seemingly out of ideas and refusing to make choices. They’re trying so hard to emulate Apple’s success that they’re forgetting that it comes not from Apple’s famed minimalism (skeuomorphism is almost the exact opposite) but from Apple’s passion for simplicity! That simplicity comes from the ability to make hard choices, breaking with the old and–key factor–communicating it well. Microsoft is missing the point and trying to emulate everything else about Apple. Simplicity is about choosing carefully what to leave out and making what’s left in as clear and defined as possible. Apple simplifies features but enriches the interface. Microsoft is enriching the features and simplifying the interface. The resulting product of Microsoft’s approach is one with a definitely clean interface (huuuge improvement) but one that fails to strike any emotional connection, is hard to navigate and lacks any sort of clear visual distinction between features/applications.

Good luck

I really hope Microsoft pulls through. They don’t need better designers, but I somehow feel none of them have any decision power. A designer with no decision power is not only a frustrated designer but also a fundamentally worthless one. Microsoft needs designers with the ability and power to make hard decisions and create emotional experiences, not just functional ones. They have to change a lot about their corporate culture. I can only wish them (and, ultimately all of us) good luck!

Against the Minimum Viable Product

I’m sick and tired of the complete lack of understanding of what a Minimum Viable Product (MVP henceforth) is by a lot of startups and enterpreneus. First, I think most of them never really understood what an MVP really is (a quick Google search can prove elucidative). Second, posts like this on “startup blogs” are like cancer: they focus on the technical plan as being what MVP is all about. They convey the idea that if you build it using some fancy technical buzzwords (e.g. Node.js, NoSQL, Heroku, SaaS, etc…) you got it. They couldn’t be more wrong: an MVP is a product strategy not a business one.

Another fundamental mistake is believing that the “holy” MVP will teach you what your users/market want thus shaping your product into inevitable success. To quote someone we would all recognize as Knowing What The Hell He’s Talking About™ 1, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” If what you show them, minimum as it may be, fails to strike an emotional connection, you’ve failed to impress. When you fail to impress, you won’t get valuable feedback and feedback is the critical component of an MVP strategy. Good feedback comes from users who believe in your product, not 1000 beta testers who signed up to feel special about themselves. Valuable feedback can’t be disconnected from care for the product. Building a product based on feedback from users who don’t care is like going to your doctor for an opinion on your car purchase: uninterested, disconnected, potencially worthless. When was the last time you’ve seen Apple put out what many people consider an MVP? Even on their software products, their initial presentation is designed to strike the “I want that!” emotion.

A truly valuable MVP strategy is one who aims to delivers a clear, emotional connection at every release cycle. Sure you learn from your users but if you focus on what they tell you to build a product, you’ll become a amorphous mass of pixels and bytes. The key to a successful MVP strategy involves stripping the function to its core but dazzling in its form. The form includes the design, user experience but also the, often forgotten, communication. An MVP strategy is not about throwing 200 features at your early adopters expecting them to tell you what sticks, what doesn’t and what’s missing. That’s just doing products the lazy (expensive!) way 2. An MVP strategy is more about communication than it is about functionality: communicate your product clearly if you want clear feedback.

I can’t talk about MVP without talking about early adopters. A very common misconception about early adopters it to think they’re likely to embrace change. No human being embraces change until proven useful/better. I would say most early adopters are open minded but are usually driven by finding new ways to do the same things. If you’re product is disruptive, you can’t rely on their opinions for defining your product: you should teach them first. Early adopters are normally not that excited about a new thing past the original infatuation of a “new shiny thing” unless they can see its value over time. As such, their feedback will be determined by their current definition of how to do something. The “early adopter phase” is crucial for your product but not for shaping it: it’s your opportunity to test your communication, delivery and clarity. You’ll want to make sure they “get it” no matter how different you’re trying to do things.

As a conclusion, I’ll quote that Wikipedia article on MVP (emphasis mine):

The MVP differs from the conventional market testing strategy of investing time and money early to implement a product before testing it in the market. The MVP is intended to ensure that the market wants the product before a large time and monetary investment is made. The MVP differs from the open source methodology of release early, release often that listens to users, letting them define the features and future of the product. The MVP starts with a product vision, which is maintained throughout the product life cycle, although is adapted based on the explicit and implicit (indirect measures) feedback from potential future customers of the product.

Touché!

  1. Steve Jobs, to the Business Week (25 May 1998)
  2. No wonder so many startups raise millions before even delivering a product in any way, shape or form… They’re usually expecting the users to tell them what to do and thus need the talent to execute. Not sure I’ve ever seen that strategy work…

A Tale of Priorities

I just read Benjamin Pollack’s latest article and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve read countless articles about the different profiles and motivations behind doers and managers and Benjamin hits it home in the way he portrays both sides. If you haven’t read the article, I urge you to do so now before continuing.

Team leads are different. Your job, should you accept it, is to become what I’ve lovingly dubbed Shit Umbrella. Your goal is to find all of the peripheral stuff involved in getting the product out the door—important stuff, such as making sure the delivery schedule for the new servers makes sense for when you want to ship the product that needs them, or taking customer calls at 11 PM on a Sunday because their account quit working and they want to know why they should keep paying you, or figuring out when doing features the sales and support teams want makes financial sense—and then coming back and presenting a focused direction to all the developers so that they can get the features written without worrying about how they actually ship. You switch from doing the building yourself to enabling others to build stuff on your behalf.

This is exactly what I found out to be my biggest problem; I’m wired to be a “Shit Umbrella”: I’m passionate about enabling other people to do a great job. I’m wired to find better solutions for the team, for being the human interface between mad customers and skilled developers, between clueless CEOs and creative designers. I love driving the vision from the top down, working “in the trenches” but with a focus on making sure the “trenches” are as functional as they can be. I’ll research and setup servers, email systems; I’ll program, sketch and brainstorm with designers, discuss and curate ideas with managers, drive home the vision; I’ll not have a fixed schedule, take calls at 11pm on a Sunday; I’ll bring the water and supplies down to the “trenches” and make sure every “soldier” is focused and perfectly capable to perform his/her task to the best of their abilities. That’s what motivates me. That’s what can consume my days without feeling like “work”.

The problem is that the flip side of Benjamin’s argument is also true: you don’t get to become a “Shit Umbrella” unless you’ve been a coder yourself. Trust me: I’ve tried. I can code and I can reason pretty darn well with other programmers. I understand programming and I love thinking through issues with other programmers, hacking things, find the most creative and effective solutions for the weirdest problems. I love sitting with designers, pitching a few sketches, letting them go crazy on what they do well and come back later and help them hone things down. I’m creative and full of ideas. I love thinking of ways to automate deployments and setups; streamlining a team’s workflow to the right balance between efficiency and engagement. But the reality is I’m no amazing programmer or designer. Reasoning, suggesting, researching and directing are very different skills from doing actual code or actual design. I’m tired of having to be a copy+paste coder or designer because I know what I want done but am not qualified to get it done myself. I can’t work alone either: I need a team around me that I can maximize and build great things. So why can’t I get to that position without first becoming an amazing coder/designer, and why should an amazing coder/designer be put in a place where they are less effective in the overall goal of building great products?

So, why can’t I do what I’m wired for and good at: a “Shit Umbrella”? Is this me just being presumptuous? Am I alone on this?

Job Offer (Reversed)

This was not something easy to write. It was even harder to publish. It’s very personal and disarming but I believe in honesty and transparency with everyone, starting with myself. I hope I’m not coming across as conceited or arrogant, though I can be both at times. I encourage you to try this exercise. It might show you who you are, helping you get past who you think you are or who you’re expected to be.

Anyone who calls themselves a leader is frowned upon, as if leadership was some sort of medal you get when you’ve proven yourself. That’s responsibility. Leadership is a drive that is way bigger than yourself. It compels you, it motivates you. You can’t and shouldn’t stop it.

A few years ago (2008), I underwent SIMA training. I not only got my MAP1 (which you can see the outline section of mine here) but also went through their training for becoming a SIMA coach. I never completed the upper levels of training but absolutely loved what I did. That MAP gave me a very clear picture (and names) as to what motivates me. While the MAP helped me understand who I am, the training gave me the a framework that helps me see other people for who they are, what motivates them and where their strengths and weaknesses may lie.

Getting my MAP was incredibly useful. More so because everyone I work with right now understands it, most have done it too and so we can work better together, knowing each other’s strenghts and weaknesses. But that was only the beggining.

One thing I’ve learned about myself in the last couple of months is that I am what I’ll call a “supporting leader”. What that means is that I’m driven by leadership and speerheading an idea (mine or anyone’s, as long as I believe in it) but I’m only motivated to work in creating a supportive and productive environment for those actually working on the product. That particularity has always put me in a bad spot: I love leading the product and vision but I’ve always been a horrible employee (sorry bosses). That conflict has keept me from ever getting into leadership positions.

I’m not very motivated to work on the product after the idea phase. Instead, I’ll work my butt off to make things as easy and pleasant as possible for those actually building it. I enjoy being part of the development process though. I’m fairly technically proficcient, enought to be able to sit with a developer and/or designer, discussing solutions for our problems. Being involved in the process that deeply allows me to shape the vision with the input of the experts that are doing the actual design/code. I just simply can’t lose the 30,000 foot perspective… That kills me! One of the stages of development where I tend to get deep into the actual code/design is when polishing and/or refactoring come into play. I do also enjoy working directly with the development teams post-launch, bridging support and development, leading the way to a better product.

Here’s a few examples of things I love and am naturally motivated to do:

  • Creating a product concept around an idea
  • Kickstarting an idea
  • Passing the vision to others
  • Thinking of ways to monetize it from the get-go
  • Looking for the best people that can help create a great product
  • Hiring people smarter than me (or trying to)
  • Researching and finding the (best) tools for the job
  • Setting up a working/development environment (inc. tools, servers, etc)
  • Coordinating and motivating the team
  • Being part of the design & development process (a.k.a. leading from within)
  • Translating “business talk” into “development talk”
  • Researching, suggesting and debating technology (current and potential) with the team
  • Envisioning design ideas, both UI and UX, workflows, etc and working with a design team to achieve them
  • Relaxed and good-natured leadership but driven by product quality and success
  • Face-to-face interaction with the team
  • Use of technology to bring team members closer together
  • Talking about the product to potential users
  • Presenting innovation to peers
  • Debugging (technology-related or not)
  • Simplifying and removing distractions, both around the team and in the product
  • Working on projects involving anything related to gaming (more than gaming itself)
  • Products that make someone’s life better, with emotional gravity
  • Writing, writing, writing… :)

And here a few examples of things I really don’t like or, at least, procrastinate to no end:

  • Selling my own product (a.k.a. salesman)
  • Low level programming work (a.k.a. actually programming)
  • Working alone
  • Defining individual tasks
  • Micro-managing
  • Accounting
  • Charging people money for my work
  • Start building anything from scratch by myself
  • Enforced working schedules
  • Publishing anything that is not quality

As you can see, I’m in a tough spot. I’m the antithesis of one who would “climb up the ladder”. I love working hard and accomplishing a lot. In all honesty, what I hate is the concept of business ladder. I actually think most managers should be paid less than the experts building the product. I rather manage people smarter than me at they do and who love their jobs, than having to constantly question what they’re doing, while they expect to move up the ladder.

As you can see, I most likely don’t fit most companies’ job offers’ descriptions. However, I’m always ready to listen for new and exciting opportunities.

Having said that, I have a couple of ideas I believe the right people could help turn into successful and profitable products/businesses. If you’re in a position to invest or you’re interested in working together, please let me know and I’d love to sit down with or call you. The ideas range from full-blown web applications to simple iOS apps. The only requirements I have is that you let me drive the idea (I’m fairly open to discussions and suggestions, obviously) and that you value a good friendship, not just a business relationship. The way I see it, I rather make friends in the process of making a product than making mere business partners because I think the final product will reflect that in, if nowhere else, its longevity and sustainability.

So, let’s talk. :)

  1. MAP stands for “Motivated Abilities Pattern”, which is a product from SIMA International (which itself stands for “System for Identifying Motivated Abilities”). The way a SIMA MAP is done is by having you write 10 or more stories, from childhood and adolescence preferably, of things that you felt good accomplishing. Not things which you’ve received praised for necessarily, but things you truly enjoyed doing. Those stories are than analyzed by a SIMA coach, who then prepares a phone interview with you, where you’ll go over some highlights and patterns they saw. That interview is recorded and a SIMA Biographer gets it along with your original stories. SIMA possesses a huge glossary of terms and concepts (which you only have access to via their training) and, using keywords from that glossary, the Biographer builds your MAP. You then receive your MAP, which contains the basic outline and a condensed glossary of the terms used in it. Another interview can happen afterwards, where you can review the MAP with the Biographer that prepared it. You can then proceed with training to help you identify your strenghts and the “dark side of your MAP”, things you probably dislike about yourself or that cause conflict with others, which are consequences of your *positive* motivated abilities.

Thought Different

We’ve all been hearing a lot of talk about a “different Apple”. In case you didn’t hear about it, a lot of news channels are trying to paint a picture where, sans Steve Jobs, Apple has no one else to say “no” to bad ideas. Consider the following quote from the Crazy Ones poster, part of the Think Different campaign fifteen years ago:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Apple might not fit that description anymore but that doesn’t mean something’s wrong or bad! The truth is, the world is a better place because of Apple’s success. Apple’s success means they moved past that ethos and established themselves as the new standard or norm. Again, that’s not a bad thing. Apple’s baton needs to be carried forward by some new, small, probably currently struggling company, the kind that is trying to make some part of this world better, making its dent in the Universe.

As companies grow, they have to move past their small goals and mindset. Staying there can be detrimental for the growth and success of the company. If you truly believe you have better products/ideas, you’ll want everyone to use which means, you simply can’t reject success! At the same time, the problems that a company with 100 or 10,000 customers faces are radically different from the problems of a company with several million of them. Not changing anything would kill you and, potentially, minimize the impact in the market (or Universe). “With great power comes great responsibility” comes to mind here. As you grow and control more information, user data, etc, the more careful you have to be, making “information control” a big issue.

Just think about it: if “Think Different” is to be successful, it is bound to limit itself in time. The success of the different thinking will inevitably lead to leading market position which means you are no longer different: you are the norm.

I’m glad Apple is successful. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again: my life is better because of Apple and that’s true for anyone using Apple products. But stop talking about how Apple is different as if that’s big news. I’m glad their different from who they were 10 years ago. I can’t wait for the next “Apple”, a company that will make many lives better by thinking different from what’s established which, in this case, probably means thinking differently from what Apple is currently doing.

Pi** People Off

There’s a great quote from Linus Torvalds who, when replying to someone who emailed him asking why Git was written in C vs C++ he went ahead and explained why technically but added: ”Quite frankly, even if the choice of C were to do nothing but keep the C++ programmers out, that in itself would be a huge reason to use C.” [1] Later, in that same email, he adds: ”I’ve come to the conclusion that any programmer that would prefer the project to be in C++ over C is likely a programmer that I really would prefer to piss off, so that he doesn’t come and screw up any project I’m involved with.

I don’t know about you but that helped me realize why I tend to be so adamant about the language I prefer to use on my startup or on any side-projects. It’s about a certain mentality and programmer profile more than it is about the language itself. Honestly, I’m no expert in any language but if there’s one thing I do well is observe, spot patterns and profile people. I rather choose a language that attracts developers of a certain profile. More importantly, I rather choose a language that attracts the right kind of developer.

Code can be rewritten. Yes, it’s work which means it’s money but, I rather spend time rethinking and rewriting code with the right kind of team and mentality than having a bunch of experts that can’t work together and can’t see past their personal choices.

Rewriting code is hard but the only thing harder is rewiring people. Choose your language to achieve that initially. Piss the wrong type of people off first; worry about the best language later. You’d be surprised by how often you may never have to.

Quality vs Time

One thing I’ve noticed comes with caring for quality is OCD. Sure, there are lots of people who don’t care for quality that are also OCD about lots of things but, in my case, it usually comes with caring about something more than I probably should.

My Instapaper feed has probably 5000+ items. There’s no good way to tell because Marco blessed us with the absence of badges and notifications. God bless you, Marco! My Instapaper has turned into a dump of all the cool stuff I either started reading or was “told” to read (aka “someone I respect posted it on Twitter”). The problem is: I don’t have time for that. I don’t have time to read all the books I buy, all the articles I save on Instapaper, watch all the screencasts and listen to all the podcasts. I simply don’t.

One thing I know I’m not alone in is fooling myself into thinking I like–no–love something! That includes playing a game, learning a new skill, reading a certain article/book, etc. I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that 1) I don’t have enough hours in the day and 2) if I really wanted to do those things, I’d drop other things I care less about.

A lot folks I respect or am friends with, fool themselves into thinking they love something they want to love. Wait: who am I kidding? I’m talking about me here… I want to learn this and that, I want to research this and that, I want to read this and that. Do you see a trend there? My true love is in learning something new, is in researching some interesting, is in reading anything! The people I follow and respect are currently defining what I target and I’m missing the point… I may be very far from what I truly love but, sometimes, I’m satisfied because I love the processes: learning, researching, reading, etc, but I might be headed in the overall wrong direction.

I don’t know about you but, I need to focus on doing what I love. In some ways, that might be dropping things I currently think I love and focusing on my priorities. Do you feel the same? Here’s my suggestion:

  1. Take a breather
  2. Set your priorities (e.g. wife, family, God, work, hobbies, etc…)
  3. Determine the time you will spend with each priority based on its priority “rank”.
  4. If something is taking more time than it should or maybe not enough of your time and attention, adjust accordingly.
  5. Think about the future (e.g. 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 5 years)… Where do you want to be? Where would you like to be? Where are you headed?
  6. Rinse & Repeat

These are simple questions but don’t let their appearance fool you. Stop fooling youself instead: do more of what you love and less of what you’ve set yourself up to.

Back to the Instapaper backlog and my OCD: instead of trying to read every article there, I shouldn’t be afraid to skim and delete if it doesn’t catch my interest. This is true for everything else… Quality is important in everything you do, but don’t waste your time putting “lipstick on a pig” and truly invest (not spend) your time in bettering yourself as a person and, should you be fortunate, make your dent in the world.

Time doesn’t multiply itself. If you need more time but still care about quality, simply do less but do it better.

Why You Should Always Hire an A-Team

A few months ago, I decided to create give a name/face to a community around a group of friends who love gaming, particularly Minecraft. Krafters was born1. I shopped around for a server that would meet the required specs which, for Minecraft, is not easy. Minecraft is built in Java and very resource-hungry. On top of that, we’re running Bukkit with a few plugins and multiple worlds. We also wanted to run some other gameservers (e.g. Counter-Strike Source) which, while a lot less resource hungry, still takes up a bit of RAM. Bottom-line: I was looking at 4GB (RAM) server.

While researching for a 4GB server, I went to my personal preference: Media Temple. I’ve been incredibly happy with them since I first moved there in 2008. At that time, I got a (gs) which had some performance issues. I decided to upgrade to their (dv) service and they were incredibly helpful and even offered me a discount because of the reason I was moving was related to some performance on their other product. Since then, I’ve moved over to a (ve) and I couldn’t be happier. They’re definitely an A-Team when it comes to hosting. But a 4GB (ve) with them would set us back $250/month which, for a group of 6-10 friends, with no contracts and relying solely on donations is a bit out of reach. I needed something cheaper.

Wrong Promo, Worked With Me

During my research, the FBI seized a few of Instapapers servers at DigitalOne. During that time, Marco tweeted how the only reason he had rented those non-critical servers were their extremely low RAM/cost ratio.

Since our gaming community was everything but crucial, I thought “what the heck” and got ourselves a 4GB VPS for $59/month and, for the past 7 months, I’ve had no major complaints. The server is hosted on the East Coast and, while most of us are from Central Iowa (Ames), we get decent enough latency (sub-30ms) while playing Counter-Strike: Source (where latency is more critical than in Minecraft). Good enough, I guess.

Unexpected Downtime

Fast forward to two days ago and I get an email from DigitalOne saying my VPS had been restarted because they “detected instability of several host servers”. I thought nothing of it and proceeded with my day job as I were. Late last night, I tried to SSH in to make some updates to the Minecraft server and got nothing but timeouts. Tried pinging: nothing. Re-checked DigitalOne’s control panel, saw they have 2 IP addresses listed in different places on my profile and tried pinging both: nothing. I put in an emergency support request at 1:17am (my time, 8:17am their time–Switzerland) and wait. Around 3am I give up and go to bed. When I wake up, I noticed I had a reply sent at about 3:15am (2h after my emergency request) asking me for my root password. Wait: WHAT? Why the HECK would I give you my root password which I may or may not use in other servers, which I don’t even log into directly to?? And why would you ask for that over a ticket system that sends email notifications, meaning my root password would travel in plain text over the wire so that you can check what’s up with my server that YOU rebooted without previous warning or advance notifications so that YOU can check for the OS networking stack (that’s what they told me in a reply to my awestruck respose)?

After I asked them those questions exactly, I get a reply (6 hours later) saying they had managed to reset my password by ____ (the support agent linked to what it looked like an admin FAQ, that I couldn’t see because it was restricted to admins). Apparently the issue was with the VMware Tools that a OS update I had run had uninstalled. Now, I’ve done OS upgrades in other VPS and never had such issue which makes me wonder what the heck are they running there… :S

PS: The sudden restart of the server caused corruption on some Minecraft map files. I restored from backup but that’s unnaceptable.

Support, not Features

This is simply unnaceptable for a company that we pay money to. I don’t care about the price/cost/etc. This is simply a matter of professionalism and service. I don’t want a fancy control panel. I don’t want “ultra-fast high-end SSD disk access”. I don’t even want 24-hour phone support. I’m okay with paying less and getting less. That’s why I chose DigitalOne. But what sets amaterus, pseudo-scamming you (by promising “professional services” when they don’t know how to be professional) and an A-Team apart is the quality of their service. It’s the feeling that, no matter how little you pay, you’re treated as a valuable customer. Doesn’t matter if you’re a “big account” or a user on a free plan. Doesn’t matter if you’re a celebrity or a John Doe. The mark of an A-Team is care, professionalism and attention to detail. Things will go wrong and break, inevitably, but your customers will stick with you through thick-and-thin if you care for them and are honest about your shortcomings. Media Temple’s (gs) is not the greatest hosting service in the world. We know it and they know it. But whenever I had issues with it, I was taken care of regardless of how much I was paying them for it. This is also true for other services and companies I pay money to.

If you’re in the business of getting paid for a service you provice (and you should!), never treat customers differently based on their plan price. At the end of the day, 10,000 customers paying you $10 is better than 10 customers paying you $1,000… That means hiring A-Team employees and creating the right environment where they can help keep your service in check.

What now?

I don’t know if I’ll be able to find an alternative to DigitalOne that we can afford. But I’ll be looking… Do you know of any good/affordable alternatives? Get in touch by pinging me on Twitter or Hacker News.

  1. If you’re interested in joining, get in touch (Twitter or email). We’d love to have you join us! :)