Archive for Random Rants

“Microsoft” Phone Call Scam

Ireland has been hit this week by a series of scammers who call unsuspecting people to inform them that their computer or app has a problem, they ask you to visit websites which may disable your antivirus by containing viruses. Please be aware this is not Microsoft and Microsoft never call customers if there is a problem with your computer, especially one you didn’t know you had. If you we’re dupped into give your laser or credit card details, cancel the cards immediately and notify the issuing bank.

At the moment the scam is using the business name CISTRON, but no doubt soon after this post is published they will start using a different name.

The real Mircosoft released this description of the manner in which it describes the rough layout of the calls, based on thousands of complaints.

” * A cold caller, claiming to be a representative of Microsoft, one of its brands or a third party contracted by Microsoft, tells the victim they are checking into a computer problem, infection or virus that has been detected by Microsoft.
* They tell the victim they can help and direct them to a website that then allows the scammers to take remote control of the computer.
* The cold caller will then spend some time on the computer trying to demonstrate where the ‘problems’ are and in the process convinces the victim to pay a fee for a service that will fix the computer.

As with any cold call scam the best proceedure is to hang up the phone and pay absolutely no attention.

Doing Less with more

So for the last two months i’ve been traveling in Asia and India, as always I find traveling gives a unique opportunity to get ideas and perspective.

One of the big take-aways from this trip is that when needs become musts there is a tendency to do less with more. It’s got me thinking that maybe the role of an entrepreneur is to self discipline and limit resources with the specific intent of gaining the maximize ROI in terms of operational efficient.

Gary Chang is a great example of how limited resources mixed with smarts can be an awesome combination, transferring his 330 square feet apartment – into a 24 room luxury pad!!

Another example of this is Jugaad in India. In the rural communities you see many home made vehicles called Jugaad, these are self made vehicles which run on a pump meant for agricultural use. A family can rely on the engine for their transport, then use the same engine for lighting in their house if needed and when the waters come to pump water around their farm our out of their house if there is a flood.

So the question is do you have facilitates or assets that could be used beyond their current state? Could a night club on Dublins expensive Stephens Green be easily transform into a clothing shop during the day when its not being used, simply by applying some of Garys principles from the video?? Think of the synergy and imagine how much value could be created that at the moment we are just ignoring.

It’s just the way things are done are here…

“It’s just the way things are done in our industry”, it’s an easy justification to almost any non-productive practice. Be it why banks need to close their doors before their key target market (the 9 – 5 employed) can utilize their services or why Lawyers operate a burn them out mentality with the not so occasional overnight shift, when it would be more productive to have twice the number of lawyers working half as often (and you’d probably attract all the best ones if you did).

Sometimes the stupidest reasons for businesses start-ups to do anything is the exact reason they do it. “I can’t understand why my competitors do it this way so I’d better go ahead and copy them or I’ll look like I just don’t get it”.

Its also why insurance companies let you fill in big long forms online to get a quote only to deliver you to a page saying they can’t make an online quotation. But you should try their phone support (although it’s not open right now), but hey their computer intranet might have some super secret information not available to the website or they might just waste another 10 minutes of your life…

These examples are so common place we start to not even notice them anymore but it always makes me think of the classic Henry Ford Quote: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Sometimes we just need to change the rules of the game altogether.

Christmas FM

So Christmas is here and for me this means one thing. Christmas FM is back on air!! Since being a teenager I was in love with the world of Radio and although I no longer and involved full time in the industry, every Christmas for the last three years I fall back in love with it.

Christmas Music

This year we are broadcasting in 5 regions in Ireland a huge increase as our first year was just in Dublin and the second in only Cork and Dublin. This year we broadcast on the following frequencies:

Dublin – 89.9 | Limerick -105.5 | Cork -106.7 | Galway -89.5 | South East -103.8

We also had the No1 downloaded I-phone App on itunes in Ireland within 2 days of launching it.

Christmas FM is a social enterprise. A business set up to run a temporary radio station for 1 month a year, with all the proceeds going to charity and run by volunteers. There are three simple aims:

1. Make as much money as possible for our chosen charity each year and help raise awareness for the work they do – This year our Charity Partner is Barnardos.
2. Spread a bit of Christmas joy to everyone who wants to tune in.
3. Have a lot of fun with all the volunteers who help make the station happen.

Last year Christmas FM won awards for “PR Excellence for a Non Profit” from the PRCA.

For me it’s a great way to leverage charitable donations, so we raise money for the stations operation costs via the Christmas FM online store and put money forward to cover the operation costs. Then the station itself builds a huge listenership who text message in to have requests and everytime they text €1 goes to the charity directly. Also by raising awareness for the charity (Barnardos’s) good work, our listeners give generously to their cause and we have street teams to raise cash in all the major cities.

People love the radio station, feel under no obligation to give to the charity if they don’t want to. And yet we often get people who find the station from all corners of the world, listen online and then want to give back to a cause that brought them a small piece of Christmas happiness.

Christmas Music

Merchant Bankers – The Elite of Criminal Organisations

It’s been well documented in the media lately how banks are causing many business to go bust and generally making SME life hell, the there’s a group of ninja bankers that seem to have almost invisibly slided by without barely any notice hidden behind confusing legal documents and the assumption that “thats just how it works” and leaving bodies of dead SME’s in their wake..

Yesterday the latest start up in my portfolio of businesses which sells Satellite Dishes was suddenly struck with a potentially fatal illness, someone had been sucking the life juice from her for several days and unfortunately like many diseases in was in an a very problematic stage before we noticed anything. The Merchant bankers, Elavon, had decided they would keep all the money from the sales. Thats right they just decided, no warning hell they didnt even tell us after they did it. It was kept a secret from us. As it happens I am in weekly contact with our rep there regarding our next start up, but no apparently them stealing money from us wasn’t worth a mention. Seriously they didn’t notify us in anyway at all, they just helped themselves to an increasingly sizable chunk of money.

Now having been screwed by AIB Merchants several years in the past who tried their own little version of the kiss of death by asking us to spend €20k+ to fly in an onsite PCI auditors to Ireland and later asking me to send them the meaning of PCI DSS as they didn’t really know what it meant. I had already spent sleepless nights reading the rules of the financial regulator (when that doens’t put you to sleep you know things are bad!) so this morning I was straight on the the financial ombudsman.

The problem is that like myself most SME owners don’t have time to learn off every aspect of law and standards as to do so would take tens of thousands of years. Therefore we assume that the bankers decisions are probably correct and it rarely occurs to us that they could be making up the rules as we go.

Another great example from boards.ie of a business whos Merchant bankers recently tried to force in early grave. A merchants decided they’d decrease their “risk” by taking €100,000 from an SME in the form of a “deposit” to continue doing business with them. This sort of money to many SME’s means closure there is not other alternative. Apparently they took the money without permission and gave the alternative that the business could get the money back by closing their account – IE cutting off their income stream, so suicide or be killed your call!

At the moment getting a new merchant account has never been more difficult. Even with my track record for successful launches I found it difficult so one can image how nearly impossible it would be for a first time Entrepreneur starting out on a shoe string budget to gain the ability to get paid for their business. Grounds under which applicants will be refused a merchant account would be things like using a residential address for registering their company or being involved in any aspect of an industry such as the lucrative wedding industry. It’s ok for our government officials to have a home office but if you want to try and start your own business god forbid you can’t afford rent for an office – even if you don’t need one! By this logic I would never have been granted my first merchant account, nor would Richard Branson for that matter.

This needs to stop, governments need to assign a specific overseer of this cloak and dagger section of the banking industry and give businesses in Ireland a fighting chance. If they want Irish businesses to export – Let them sell to our neighbors up north in the format they want – debit card, don’t insist businesses open an office in the UK there before we can compete for sales on an equal footing!!! In this day of e-commerce and high tech business that they are apparently supporting how about helping the SME sector which is where the real bulk of the export potential clearly is! It’s the small fixes would have the biggest impact!

I find it so Ironic that there really is no real competition in the merchant banking industry but their close partner companies Card Processors Such as Worldnet TPS and Realex are one of the most innovative sectors with the best customer service available.

Preliminary Tax – A Noose on New businesses

A great example of how messed up our country is at the moment can be summed up with one term Preliminary Tax. The double taxing of new businesses to stunt their growth.

hanging-manSome idiot in government during the boom years decided to increase the tax take they’d ask companies to pay next years taxes in advance and somehow the country awash with money let it slide by into law, after all banks would easily loan you the funds to pay off the burden, especially in the first year if you turned a decent profit. But what does this really mean for start up businesses in today’s economy? Well even extremely viable businesses can’t get credit from the banks, hell new businesses can’t even get bloody over drafts without jumping through hoops of flames. We just spent the next generations rainy day fund on, new businesses are being asked to pay TWO YEARS TAX in their first year of business, effectively stunting their chance of rapid growth.

The government needs to get behind new business and with SME’s accounting for the most of the potential jobs that will eventually get the country out of this recession, it’s farcical that their first years profits – the ones which are the most likely to be reinvested in the business, which in turn creates the jobs so desperately needed are being sucked up by the government. Ironically then simply passed back to unemployed pool, who would have had a job if the SME’s we’re allowed to grow and compete on the same playing field as a business who has been trading for several years. Talk about biting the hand before it feeds you. This seriously needs to be re-addressed in the current financial climate.

*Preliminary tax must be paid in its first accounting period for all new businesses that earn more than €200,00.

Simplifying the Irish Legal System to Fix The Economy

One thing that can’t be denied during the economic boom is that Ireland has become a litigious society. The below talk from Philip Howard on Ted really got me thinking that with Ireland as a country being so badly in debt surely one of the big area’s for savings would be in the legal and court system. Ofcourse brave would be the politician who decided to make cut backs in an area of litigation, however it could be done with amazing results. If you took the one principle from Philips talk: Judge not on disputes but on the effect on society.

Take some fairly simply examples, the effect on the over all tax take on making people spend time in courts / legal work:

1. Speeding / Other fines lost in the post etc – A mandatory court appearance?? Please in today’s web 2.0 work, a self financing website / app could automate these procedures for those that don’t want to argue against the charge. And really do you need the cop on duty present in the court, the guy may be as responsible for the fine as having parked the automated camera trap van.

2. Anyone that spends a day in court will be aware that there is a guard for each case in court in case a judge asks a question… why does this need to be physically present? Surely Video conferencing or prerecorded statements and prerecorded answers to the most likely asked questions by the judge would eliminate the wait around wastage, which is unbelievably costly. I don’t think anyone could reasonably argue that all those guards are needed in the court room, I don’t believe they enjoy being there and I don’t think the cost of their time when you consider the small relative fines handed out in the median in circuit and district courts. At the very least people accused should always have a change to enter a plea or accept a fine / sentence without showing up if they have no intent to dispute the facts as laid out. The opportunity cost has become too high.

3. I love Philips idea of “Case dismissed, without predigest or refiling” rules; there’s nothing worse than people using refillings to stall or elongate the processes.

The Law should be their to protect us, but it should be common sense that we use to guide us, Not fear of the law. Somewhere along the line we’ve lost sight of the end goal. To have societal rules that help us get along in life not to have a negative net impact.

This isn’t a politically motivated post, it’s a post of common sense brought on by Philips Howards speech.

Some Businesses Shouldn’t Use Twitter & Facebook

Social Media has become a buzz word in board rooms across the country, county enterprise boards are including in their news letters why everyone should be on twitter and it’s seen as the thing to do… even if you have no idea how to use them.

So stupid courses on how and why to use twitter have popped up (If you’re considering taking any course that in itself is a red flag to run the other way!), the random cafes i’ll visit and interiors designers i’ll never end up engaging with decide to add me to try increase their reach. They think the more followers they have the better… in essence its becoming like those business networks I hate so much everyone’s there to sell instead of collaborate.

This really came to a forefront today when a business replied to a job offer I sent through twitter saying they we’re new and didn’t read my message until now, two months later. I had assumed that since I reached out with two mediums they were uninterested. Instead by posting regularly to twitter but not reading their time-line or messages they looked unprofessional and ultimately lost money. If they were not on twitter, I would have used the phone instead.

Now obviously I’m a big fan of social Media, but like giving any sales presentation it’s better not to do it at all then to do it wrong. I do a huge amount of business via my small network on Twitter, I’ve hired services, consultants, bought products and even hired staff. But there is not short cut to relationships and for every post I make I read about 500 posts by other people.

So remember although it might seem like a great idea now, if you decide you don’t have time to continue checking the twitter account after a few months / years, you probably will end up worse off than if you never started out. In the same way as you might think it’s cute for all of two seconds for a stranger to gift a child a puppy without asking the parents first.

So what to do? Start a personal Twitter Account and be upfront that you work for your company, offer to help and join in the conversation. That way when people approach you they approach a person… because people is what twitter is about, not brands.

Pulling on a Bandage called The Recession

In my opinion the second half of the recession kicked off today. After a brief rally in confidence on the day the banks get bailed out by the Government (they need €22 billion to cover losses on property!), Quinn Direct and Quinn Health Care were appointed a administrator on the back of an application from the Financial regulator. Basically public confidence went down as fast as the bank shares did today.

With prices in property still being held up by the hope that they could ride out the down turn and banks increasing their charges to normal people on stupid things like current account fee’s to circumvent the income from not issuing enough new loans, things are looking grim. Think of it like after pulling on a bandage called the recession since 2008, today they finally just ripped the last bit of bandage in one fast pull and although there will be more stinging in the coming weeks and months. It’ll soon be done with and things can finally return to normality.

So whats does this mean to Joe Public?

Well a few people have been heard that they wouldn’t be receiving their wages on time from businesses who are struggling to meet payroll, other SME owners are telling horrendous stories about selling family treasures to meet payroll things look fairly bleak for some businesses of yesteryear success. Business like all living creatures die naturally or get eaten, if they didn’t the appreciation of living wouldn’t be matter so much and people would expect rather than enjoy or earn success.

But there was always going to be a rally before the final drop, this is fairly standard graphing on stock market trends. People see the light and run for it, others pull back with rational and take some of the capital off the table and catch out the short term gamble investors.

Its unfortunate but things are going to get a lot worse in the coming 6 months, many businesses will close, more jobs will be lost, I hate to say it but increases of suicides from people who’s personal measurement of worth was measured in Euros and cents, but not sense. While all this is happening however the buds from the flowers that never had the opportunity to take control of their destiny and launch a business will begin to emerge and with it once again an age of adding value in exchange for reasonable compensation.

Zatori.ie Site Launch

This weekend i finally got around the putting up some content and working on the design for Zatori website. It was something that’s sat on the to do list, but had never been touched. Really do people ever get to the Important but not urgent sections of a to do list… Anyway i made it a priority this weekend and so far here’s the first draft.

Zatori Website Screen Grab

Zatori Website Screen Grab

Having got some great feedback on twitter we will be lightening the theme a bit, as several people i really respect thought it was too dark – something i liked, but hey majority rule on this occasion. If any readers have any thoughts or feedback on the site i’d love to hear it.

The other interesting thing we’ve done is laid our cards on the table and spelt out what two new businesses i’d be launching in 2010. I don’t thing we’ve let the cat out of the bag, but if anyone’s interested in what industries i’m looking to shake up, visit the Zatori site.