Putting 20Alpha.com On Pause While I Complete My MBA

I’ve been running the store 20Alpha.com on the side for the last few weeks. I learned a lot from the experience, but as I’m starting my MBA at Ivey in London, Ontario, I know I wont be able to dedicate the time that the website needs to provide a great service to my customers. For that reason, I’m putting the store on hold and no longer taking any orders. For those who are curious, here were my key take-aways:

1. It’s easy to sell, hard to profit.

It didn’t take long before I got my first sale, and I didn’t even have to spam my friend base on Facebook or Twitter. The profit margins were thin, and I imagine, unless you’re making your own clothing, it’s pretty hard to get a higher than 60% profit margin. For $20 shirts, that’s not much profit per sale.

2. One-time sales are hard

Having built my previous company with a SaaS (Software as a Service) pricing model, I can see the immediate disadvantages of running a one-time sale operation. Not only do clothing need-not regular replenishment, but they’re typically not purchased more than once in a long while. Add that to my point #1, and it’s a very big problem. Maybe there’s a market for subscription clothing? So you’d pay like $2.5/mo for 12 months for a year…. who knows…

3. Branding is Boss

All it took was thinking ‘outside of the box’ for the branding. Look at what other sites do and do it differently, how you think it should be. This allowed me to make a lasting brand pretty quickly.

4. Cater to your market. Nobody else.

I focused my marketing around the ‘Bro’ demographic that I believe is being underserved. This I feel was the reason people purchased from 20Alpha. People want to buy things from their friends (or ‘bros’ in my case).

5. You can test the waters with very little funding, however funding is needed to grow.

I didn’t invest any money into marketing, but it really limited my growth. It did validate my hypothesis  that there is a very unservered market however. Given a few thousand in financing, I believe I could have made some decent Facebook marketing and business development.

6. First customers are awesome.

My first customers were so responsive over email that I actually felt like we were becoming friends quickly through our convos. They gave me honest feedback and asked me questions about my products that shaped the store to be better for them, and as a result, better for me.   Hope this info helps anyone out there hoping to launch their own store!

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Stepping Down as CEO of Sweet Tooth

Sweet Tooth was my first company to make a significant impact in the world: used by 4,000 businesses across 15 different countries, rewarded millions of people, oversaw billions $$ in transactions, raised 2.3m in venture financing, built an all-star team and much more – all in less than 4 years. This made it an extremely difficult decision to step down as CEO of the company, but I believe it was the right one.

I will remain on the board of directors of the company and shareholder, and I will always be happy to connect to any merchants and partners any time to help. I will be spending my time in Toronto for the time being, but I’ll be in Waterloo every so often. None of my contact info has changed.

Sweet Tooth is Still Growing and Doing Well

The first thing you should know is that Sweet Tooth is still growing profitably. The #1 priority is still helping Sweet Tooth merchants succeed. Sweet Tooth will continue to grow and innovate, improve and adapt. Not much will change in the short term.

Sweet Tooth Logo

Why I Stepped Down

I love bringing in the energy, launching new products, helping people succeed and leading a team to the top. I’m a risk-taker, anyone who has worked with me will know that, but at this stage of growth Sweet Tooth needs someone who will carefully observe the fine details and build insightful conclusions out of the data over time. Mike is better suited to take over those responsibilities.

When I recruited Mike it was because I knew he was extremely intelligent, would/could learn any new skill in any field, he loved solving problems and was a fantastic leader. We were classmates and he was the first friend I made in the Engineering program I attended at UW. I’m glad I’ve been able to leave the company in the hands of someone so capable.

What’s Next for Me?

I’m still working with Sweet Tooth and I may continue doing so, but I recently launched websites for my two new projects: Coincart and Share To Give.

Coincart is an anonymous bitcoin eCommerce platform.

Coincart Logo

Share To Give is a social rewards app that helps merchants gain social referrals and sales by giving to charity. 

Share To Give logo

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or just want to chat! I can usually be found at the new Google office building at 111 Richmond St West in Toronto.

The quickest way to send someone bitcoins for the first time.

Alright, bitcoin has a lot to go in terms of ease of use before it will be used by anyone other than early adopters. The benefits are obvious, but I was a bit disappointed since the amount of PR this tech gets is way ahead of the tools and documentation that currently exist to help “non-nerds” send and receive bitcoins.

Luckily I am a nerd, and I like to blog. Here is the fastest way I could find to send bitcoins to another person (in Canada):

Bitcoin graphic (credit bitcoin-square.com)

How To Send Bitcoins To Someone Quickly

  1. Sign-up for Coinbase. Even though it kind of defeats the purpose to use a web service for bitcoin, trust me, this is way better than getting started with the Bitcoin QT that you would need to download and update.
  2. Copy your Bitcoin ID. It should be a long string of characters and numbers. You might find it in the My Account section of Coinbase. It should look something like this: 16PW58mQstaBdWFsdmaDLRT4j4QFD1168Q
  3. Familiarize yourself with the conversion rate. Check it out, XE.com even recognizes bitcoin now.
  4. Buy bitcoins at Tinkercoin. When it asks you for your bitcoin ID enter in the ID you got from Coinbase in step #2.
      Note 1: Tinkercoin is the fastest way I could find to buy bitcoins with a credit card so you don’t have to wait for your bank account to get validated. Their fees are well worth the convenience IMO.
      Note 2: Keep in mind you can only currently buy 1 bitcoin at a time and no fractions. One of the founders (Ross Robinson) said they’re going to be implementing that soon, so keep an eye out.
  5. Wait for the transaction to get validated. You should see the bitcoins reach your account in Coinbase almost instantly, but they need to get validated before you can use them. This generally takes an hour or so.
  6. Use Coinbase to send the bitcoins to your recipient. It should be pretty obvious how to do this in Coinbase if you have the recipient’s bitcoin ID.

The whole process takes about 2-3 hours the first time you do it and probably 1-2 hours the second time you do it. The biggest time sink is waiting for the sent bitcoins to be validated across the network. If it didn’t take so long to validate you could probably send bitcoins within 5 minutes every time after setting it all up.

Feel free to discuss your bitcoin challenges in the comments below or suggest more tools that make it easier to send/receive bitcoins!

Check if a website is running Magento Community or Enterprise Edition

To check if a website is running Magento the first thing you want to do is view the page source and search for “Varien”. If you find a match then the website is *probably* running Magento. If you do not match anything, next view the source of the JS files and look for “Varien”. Some websites merge their javascript files into one file, so that should be easy.

After you know if the website is running Magento, you can detect if a website is running Magento Enterprise Edition by hitting *website_base_url*/giftcard/customer in your browser. If you get a 404 Page Not Found error then that means they are NOT running MEE (Magento Enterprise Edition). If you get redirected to a login page that means they ARE most likely running MEE.

You can get browser extensions like Chrome Sniffer that will also tell you if they are running Magento, however the above method is great if you need to do it programmatically for some reason.

How to temporarily disable cache for Magento scripts

If you are running Magento scripts that are bootstrapped for reasons such as asynchronous processing, syncs, indexing, etc, then you’ll want to disable all Magento cache when Magento is loaded. This will avoid cases where old model data is being used, especially when you have two executions of the Magento script running at the same time.

To disable all Magento cache programmatically add the “global_ban_use_cache” option to your Mage::app initialization. Your Mage::app initialization would look like this:

Mage::app(‘admin’, ‘store’, array(‘global_ban_use_cache’=>true));

Any modules you have running that also use the native Magento cache system should also stop using cache when this flag is set.

Hope this helps some people!

Top 10 Programmer Responses When Software Doesn’t Work

Confused

I saw somebody post this sort of list so I thought I would choose my favorites from the other lists and add a few of my own favorite responses that I’ve heard.

When something doesn’t work, these are my favorite programmer responses:

10. “Maybe I forgot to push to master.”

9. “You must have corrupt data.”

8. “How is that even possible???”

7. “It works on my machine. Maybe there’s something wrong with your computer?”

6. “Somebody must have changed my code.”

5. “It’s never done that before.”

4. “It was working yesterday…”

3. “That’s weird…”

2. “Yeeeeeeaaaaaahhhhhhhhh…………sorry about that.” (at least this one is honest, haha)

1. “It works, but THAT part wasn’t tested thoroughly.”