Funnelcake Submitted to Apple

Limulus-Systems-IconGood news – our Funnelcake app has been submitted to Apple for review! As you know if you’ve followed this blog, it’s been a long road to get to this point, so it’s very exciting to think that we might soon have an app in the Store. It’s anybody’s guess how long it will take to be reviewed by Apple, so we’ll cross our fingers and hope it’s released quickly.

Of course, releasing the app to the App Store is only the beginning. There will be a lot to do once the app is available – these things don’t sell themselves! We have many ideas for how to proceed, but the marketing plan begins with announcements of the app submission to Apple. We’ll do the announcements on the Funnelcake Facebook and Google+ pages, on Tumblr, on Twitter, Pinterest… You get the idea.

Keep tuned in – the fun is just beginning!

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A New Beginning

Limulus-Systems-IconYou, the readers of this blog (both of you!), have come to know these pages as the story of my travails in starting a new business. I’ve presented the ups and downs of startup life from the first glimmers of a crazy idea for an iPhone app, to the days when I was learning programming so that I could create my DIY project, on through a variety of app ideas as I was testing out to see what idea would stick. I’ve shared most everything that has happened, in the hopes that my story would be useful to other entrepreneurs who were experiencing the same frustrations and triumphs. In addition, it was my hope that this blog would generate some initial enthusiasm for my project ahead of the official release; perhaps create some anticipation of what was to come.

In both of those goals, I have failed. Or rather, while my approach has been useful to friends and family who want to know what the heck I do with my time, this blog has not gained the traction that I would like. My readers, while loyal, are not numerous. I don’t get many viewers in a typical week, and the comments I get are from either familiar voices or people trying to sell me snake oil. It’s clear that I am not reaching my intended target audience.

In and of itself, my failure to attract readers is not the end of the world. I’ve enjoyed writing these posts and I’m glad to keep people informed of my doings. The writing has been good practice and has helped keep me sane by forcing me to think outside myself. However, I fear that I have not gotten far enough outside myself. My blog is too personal, too inwardly focussed, to attract a more general readership. Of course friends are interested in my story, because they already know me, and while I’m glad to write for them, I would like a larger readership.

I think part of the problem with my blog as it currently stands is that there is not enough utility for the average reader. A blogger needs to give people something they need to keep them coming back on a regular basis. The story of my startup, while vaguely interesting, is not something most readers need – it is apparently not sufficiently informative, enlightening, or entertaining to hold their interest. That’s OK, my feelings aren’t hurt, it just means that I should try something different.

So what would other people be interested in? How do I get people fired up about what we are doing? What type of blog can I write that will be exciting to other people and at the same time support our efforts to promote Funnelcake? That’s what I have been pondering lately. I don’t yet have a firm idea of what I will do, but ideally the new and improved blog should:

  • promote Funnelcake;
  • support Funnelcake users;
  • provide useful information promoting mobile phone photography in general;
  • continue to chronicle the making of Funnelcake.

Whether I will continue this blog or start a whole new one remains to be seen, but either way there are some changes coming. What would you like to see? What sort of information surrounding Funnelcake and mobile phone photography in general would be useful to you? Let me know.

Posted in Planning, Progress | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Me And the Boys

Limulus-Systems-IconRecently I’ve been participating in Sprint planning with the guys at my Funnelcake development team, Project Ricochet. The Sprint planning meetings are weekly video conferences in which we go over the list of tasks that need to be accomplished to develop Funnelcake further. We prioritize tasks and assign the tasks to the participants to be done that week as a way of managing the complex job of software development. I’m glad to be included in the conferences, not because I can contribute much to the details of software development, but we often end up making decisions about the functioning of the app, and it’s important to be able to participate in that.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

What I want to talk about is a revelation of sorts that I had during Sprint planning; namely, that the Funnelcake development team is all guys. Half of our partnership, Limulus Systems LLC, consists of myself and Tom Norton, Creative Director Extraordinaire, while the other half, the programming team, consists of Project Ricochet. Project Ricochet, reflecting much of the tech world, is also all men.

It was certainly not intentional to have only men working on Funnelcake. I would prefer to have women involved in Funnelcake development, as they are likely users of the app and would provide a valuable perspective on the app and how it might be used. In fact my initial app idea of digital scrapbooking would have been used almost exclusively by women, so I have all along supposed that I would require a female perspective on my app. That being the case, how did we get this way?

My excuse is a sort of go-with-what-you-know-and-trust laziness. When I formed Limulus Systems, I needed graphic design help to carry my project forward, partly for creating advertising and partly because my original app idea was the design-heavy digital scrapbooking app. In addition, I needed another person just to bounce ideas off, to make sure that I wasn’t coming up with some crazy unachievable plan. Somebody sensible who is also good with graphic design? As it turned out, I had the right person immediately within reach, my brother-in-law Tom Norton, who is everything I wanted in a partner – but he’s a guy. I decided not to hold that against him and thus a great partnership was born.

Could I have found that female design partner if I had put my mind to it? Of course, but it would have taken a lot longer, first to find such a person, and second to build up the trust that already existed between Tom and I. Tom was perfect for the partnership and was immediately at hand, so why would I look further?

Much the same dynamic existed between Limulus Systems and Project Ricochet when it came time to think of taking on a partner. We had been working together for a few months and found each other to be reliable and committed to the successful launch of our app. Why should I have gone looking for another partner when I had a great partner right in front of me? Project Ricochet was everything I needed in a development partner – except they were all guys. Once again, I decided not to hold that against them.

It’s not as if women have been completely absent from the process. It was a female web designer that pointed me towards Project Ricochet in the first place, and we’ve conducted many one-on-one concept testing sessions with women, in addition to doing some beta testing with women as participants. The information we’ve gleaned from them has been invaluable in coming up with our current version of the app, but somehow it’s not the same as having women on staff during development. What would the app look like with a woman on the team?

It’s not as if there is a lot of male-specific behavior going on in our meetings that might turn off a female partner. We don’t spend our time spitting, cussing, and drinking rotgut whiskey, and I like to think that our partnership would be a friendly and supportive place for a woman to work. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to test that assumption, however. I can’t do much at this point to change the current gender bias in our partnership, but you can be sure that when the time comes to expand our little group, adding women to the team will definitely be a priority.

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Anybody Wanna Trade(mark)?

Limulus-Systems-IconOne aspect of protecting your intellectual property is making sure that nobody can copy your work and claim it for your own. The main ways of doing that is via patents, copyright, and trademarks. Patents will protect your inventions, copyright covers your creative work, but what about your brand? What covers your good name, developed through hard work and good will towards your customers (or clients or whatever)? Or your cleverly-thought-out logo, developed at no little time and expense? For that, you need to be trademarked.

So when the partners decided that we need to protect the Funnelcake name, that meant trademarking it. I naturally volunteered to take care of the problem. I know what you’re thinking – what in his past career would lead him to think he knows anything about trademarks? The correct answer, of course, is Nothing. That’s right, I don’t know a thing about trademarks.

Truth is, I was ready to barge into filing for a trademark without doing any research. I mean, how hard can it be? You just go to the USPTO (that’s the US Patent and Trademark Office to you), fill out a form and send it in, done. That was until I found this on the USPTO website,

“Filing a trademark application at the USPTO starts a legal proceeding. Most applicants hire an attorney who specializes in trademark matters to represent them in the application process and provide legal advice. While a USPTO trademark examining attorney will try to help you through the process even if you do not hire a lawyer, no USPTO attorney may give you legal advice.”

Hmm…most applicants hire a lawyer? Do they know something that I don’t? I’d better do a little research before I blunder into a big mistake. As I said, I don’t know much about this stuff.

I don’t know much about trademarks, but I do know how to find the answers I need, and so I picked up the Nolo Press book, Trademarks: Legal Care for Your Business and Product Name, by Stephen Elias and Richard Stim. After going through the book it turns out that, yes, while the basic process of filing for a trademark is as simple as filling out an online form and being charged $275 for the privilege, the background information you need is a bit tricky to figure out the first time around. It definitely matters how you do it because you (a) don’t want to waste money on your non-refundable application fee, and (b) certainly don’t want to infringe on somebody else’s trademark, with all the waste of time and money that would involve.

The most time-consuming task in filing a trademark application is the search process for previous trademarks, performed on the USPTO website. You ideally want to make sure that there are no other companies in your business space using your name. For Funnelcake, it was no surprise to find that there were several food purveyors using the word “Funnelcake” in their name, including the Funnelcake King, whose business model was apparently helping other people set up their own funnelcake operations. Despite the fact that some companies were using the exact same name as us, it shouldn’t prevent us using the name. We operate in a different business space as those companies and we wouldn’t be infringing on their trademark. The closest competitor I could find for our name was FunnelCloud, a web design company (they have a cool little tornado for a logo).

In addition to doing a search, you have to pick the proper “product code” from the myriad of possible products that can be made, and as you might imagine, that ranges very widely, from edible funnelcake to plastic funnels to mobile software applications like Funnelcake. Even in the software realm, there are a lot of possible codes to pick from, and woe be unto him who picks the wrong one and gets their trademark rejected as a result.

The galling part is that after all this research and effort, it may still be the case that your trademark will not be allowed (and good-bye to your $275, thanks for nothing!) You can’t know until the examiner looks it over and approves it, and the process can take twelve to eighteen months. I rather suspect that ours will be allowed, as I couldn’t find any close competitors, but you never know…. The USPTO website also makes a point of telling you that the applicant must check in with them periodically in case additional information is required – the USPTO does not inform you of the progress of your application (so what am I getting for my $275?), you have to check on progress yourself.

In any case, the application is done, and I’ve learned something new about an important business practice. At some point, we’ll trademark the Funnelcake logos, the color, the jingle, and the official scent, and I’ll know how.

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Vacation 2014

Almost ready for Demolition Derby action, Addison County Field Days Vermont 2014.

Almost ready for Demolition Derby action, Addison County Field Days Vermont 2014.

It’s vacation time for Limulus Systems – in Vermont for a couple of weeks, as usual. Keep reading for more exciting news in the future!

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Christmas in July

Limulus-Systems-IconEverybody loves a holiday, and everybody loves getting something for free. That’s why Christmas and birthdays are so popular. Unfortunately, Christmas is a long way off and birthdays don’t come often enough. Here at Limulus Systems, we hope to alleviate this problem by proclaiming Christmas in July for our readers. Yes, it’s time to give something away to everyone who takes time to read this blog. So get out your holly and mistletoe, mix up a batch of eggnog, sit back and enjoy the season!

As always, the question of what to give is a tough one. In the past, I have given the gift of software, with mixed results, the low point being the organizer application doo, which closed its’ doors and shut down their service soon after I mentioned it. Coincidence? I’m not sure. To be on the safe side however, I am going with something different this year. Knowing your refined taste, it has to be something with a certain panache, something beyond the ordinary. It also has to be consistent with the season of Christmas. But what? Exotic pets? Expensive sports cars? Those all come with burdens for the recipient and don’t fully express the uniqueness that is you.

No, to me the only gift that fully expresses the Spirit of Christmas is a bunch of creepy stories about unspeakable horrors haunting a small town in the desert. Ring in the season with roving packs of ferocious feral dogs! In other words, I give you the series of podcasts known as “Welcome to Nightvale”. Described as a cross between a “Prairie Home Companion” monologue and a Stephen King story, these podcasts are wonderfully low-budget and should satisfy even the most discriminating listener. Available on iTunes, you can settle in and enjoy stories of the dark hooded figures in the dog park as you sip your eggnog, waiting for Santa to come…or is it something else coming down the chimney? Whoops, maybe you shouldn’t have listened to that episode alone in the dark! Well, lock the doors, latch the windows, turn on all the lights, and enjoy them if you can.

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The Funnelcake Media Channel Is Live

Limulus-Systems-IconOur Funnelcake media push is up and running! I posted some introductory paragraphs to our Funnelcake pages on Facebook and Google+, and likewise posted to our Tumblr blog. Throw in a couple of tweets from @FunnelcakeApp and some screenshot images on Pinterest, and you have the beginnings of a social media presence. The posts on Facebook, Google+, and Tumblr are all based on the same article, so if they sound similar, well, they are.

I realize that it’s only a humble start, but you have to begin somewhere. For now, I am not going to worry excessively about the efficacy of our social media. It’s enough that we are on the web in case someone comes looking for us. In the long run, however, social media platforms have to serve our larger goals.

More than just getting the word out about Funnelcake, we want social media to increase user engagement, lower the cost of new user acquisition, grow our user base, and add to our bottom line. To do that, our social media will have to offer real value to the recipient so that they stay involved. In a world with a lot of distractions, it’s not enough any more to put the word out and assume that people will flock to your product. You have to capture people’s attention in a way that is engaging for the user (and cost-effective for us). Our social media has to be interesting and useful, personable and fun.

Being interesting, useful, personable, and fun will take some creativity on our part. I hope we’reĀ up to it.

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Funnelcake Media Plan: Next Steps

Limulus-Systems-IconAs Funnelcake development continues and we approach a general release, it comes time to begin our social media push. Nobody is following us yet, which is OK for now, but we still need to post a few things so that we have a presence on the web. We won’t look very professional if people come looking for us on the web and all they find is a bunch of empty pages.

What to post? I envision a series of progress reports on the app, images of our re-design, teasers about the release, descriptions of the app, company news, maybe profiles of the team, that sort of thing. That will give some sense of anticipation in the run-up to the app release.

To start, our web posts will be mostly news about Funnelcake, though in the long run, we will need to use social media for more than just news. Using social media as a news outlet is fine, but news alone is insufficient reason for people to “Follow”, “Like”, or otherwise share our information. We have to give people more motivation than that. To encourage following us, we will need to include value for the follower – maybe social media-only coupons? Invitations to join premium status? “Like” us on Facebook to receive something? I’m not sure yet, as it will depend on how people use the app and what they value most from it.

Our initial tasks are:

  • Post app design images in Pinterest;
  • Ditto for Instagram;
  • Come up with initial Tumblr blog posts;
  • Fill out Facebook/Google+/LinkedIn pages with company information;
  • Start to populate Twitter feed;
  • Make sure the look of all pages is correct;
  • Create a favicon for the website;
  • Come up with a media list to promote Funnelcake (app review sites, etc.);
  • Make sure the look of the website is consistent with the app;
  • Create a blog page for our website.

This is just the beginning, and while there’s more we could do, this list will be enough to keep us busy for a while. Is there anything big that we’re missing? Any other social media sites you would use to search for Funnelcake? Any important tasks I haven’t included? Let me know.

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Mysteries of the Modern World

Limulus-Systems-Icon-200x200Sometime I just have to vent. I normally reserve this blog to chronicle the progress of Limulus Systems, but on occasion other topics take over my consciousness and refuse to let go. These topics are generally the Mysteries of the Modern World, too big for any one person to hold in their head, and so must be shared. Reader, prepare yourself for what must follow.

In this case, my mystery surrounds a Microsoft Xbox gaming console, and its’ baffling and unpredictable behavior. What, you thought my mystery was going to be some philosophical conundrum? Hah! Philosophy is for hacks, there’s no mystery there. If you want mystery, attend to your modern appliances.

The Xbox in question was a Christmas present for my son, who wants to be an avid video gamer. I say “wants to be” because unfortunate things like school, homework, and his parents prevent him from being the professional gamer he aspires to. In any case, he got the Xbox and it worked for a while, long enough to become part of his weekly routine. Racing games, battle games, it was all good. Oh, happy day when that Xbox worked!

But one dark day it happened – the Xbox failed to deliver! Not only that, it failed in a somewhat mysterious fashion. What happened was this: my son began his nightly gaming session with his beloved Xbox, settling in for an evening of defeating his sworn online enemies, the Red Team. The Xbox went on as normal, the monitor flashed bright, and the “On” light on the wireless controller glowed. The onscreen user menus came up on the screen and my offspring prepared to maneuver his way through the menus – only to find that nothing worked. And when I say nothing, I mean really nothing. The screen reacted as if there were no controllers in the room.

Simple, you say – it’s the batteries in the wireless controller! Well, we thought of that, but the rechargeable batteries had been plugged in all day and the charge indicator said full charge, so that wasn’t it. But fail not! We had a second wireless controller charged and ready to go. We’ll go ahead and play with that one, losing only a little play time. Unfortunately, the second controller did not work either.

Then it must be the console gone bad! That would, of course, be a reasonable conclusion. The odds of two controllers going bad at the exact same time would seem to be pretty small compared to the odds of one faulty console, so I proceeded online to find a way to return the cursed thing to Microsoft. I won’t go into the details of how long it took me to find the online help, and how it took an hour in a chat window sorting the whole thing out, but the upshot of it was that they refused to take the console back before we ran more tests. They suggested we find a friend with a working Xbox and test the controllers and console against their equipment.

Great idea, except that we don’t know anyone with an Xbox. That left us searching around for stores that had a working model on the shelves for demonstration purposes. We didn’t find one. We did however, find a sympathetic GameStop employee who said we could bring the unit in and test it with some used controllers they had around. Surely that would definitively prove that our console was bad.

I dutifully disconnected the many wires of the Xbox and brought it to GameStop, where they kindly let me set the unit up with their monitor. Ah, that fateful day! The GameStop employee produced their controller and, lo and behold, the console worked properly! It was apparently our controllers after all! A mystery solved! Except that I’m a person who likes to dot my i’s and cross my t’s, you know? I had brought both our controllers from home and figured, what the hell, I’ll double-check our result by trying out the apparently dead controllers. But to my surprise, both of our controllers worked properly too!

Now here was a mystery. The Xbox did not work at home, but the entire unit was fine when we took all the parts to the store to test it. I thanked the employee, feeling foolish for having wasted her time, took the Xbox home and set it up. I told my son how foolish we had been and how the unit was working fine and that he could play any time he wanted. And he did play – for about two minutes, until it stopped working again, in exactly the same manner as before.

What do I do next? I don’t know whether to take it in or not, risking embarrassment once again. It’s been about a week and intermittent checks during the week have revealed that it still doesn’t work. This morning, I was about to disconnect it again, and take it to (a different) GameStop, but I figured, what the heck, I’ll do a final check before I go. I turned everything on, and contrary to expectations, the console worked properly! Miracle of miracles! How long it will last I don’t know.

I’m not sure what to do now. Do I take it in somewhere for repairs or pray that it keeps working? If I wanted to return the damn thing, what would I tell the person at Microsoft? This mystery is going to require some pondering.

Posted in Rants | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

New And Improved

Limulus-Systems-Icon“Enough about the trials and tribulations of being an entrepreneur! What’s up with the Funnelcake app?” That’s the feedback I’ve been getting recently about this blog. “What’s the next step for Funnelcake?”

Truth is, I haven’t talked specifics of the Funnelcake app in a few weeks because there hasn’t been a lot to report. After testing version 1.0 in front of potential users, we went back to the drawing board to make a bunch of corrections, improvements, and enhancements based on users’ comments, and all that programming is taking time. It takes longer than I would like, but then, I want everything done yesterday.

One thing I can talk about, or better yet show you, are drafts of the app re-design. Version 1.0 was functional, but not as pretty as it might have been, so a little design love was in order. Here is the re-designed view for the sign-in screen:

FunnelCake-App-Layout-2

It’s simple and straightforward, but pretty attractive, don’t you think? I’m pleased with it. Here’s an example of the screen that displays nearby funnels:

FunnelCake-App-Layout-4

Again, it’s simple and easy on the eye, elegant and functional. Testing will determine how well people take to the re-design. My main worry is whether people will be able to easily figure out what each button does, but if there are problems, it’s a fairly small matter to alter icons and buttons as needed to make it clearer. The re-design will go a long way towards making the app look professional enough to begin actively promoting it. That’s when the fun really begins!

Posted in Progress | Tagged , | 2 Comments