5 Reasons Why You Should Admire Comcast

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(This post originally appeared on Forbes)

It’s very fashionable to hate Comcast CMCSA -0.26% nowadays. The recent viral audio of their overzealous rep trying anything to keep a customer from disconnecting. The numerous surveys that consistently rate the company as one of the worst for customer service. The tens of thousands of frustrated tweets and forum posts you can easily find online just by Googling. Comcast is hated by supporters of net neutrality, ridiculed for its bad service and parodied on late night TV shows.

I get it. And it’s deserved.

But like the wars in the Middle East and trade disputes in South Asia, there are two sides to every story. I’m not an employee of Comcast, and other than being a customer I have no other financial relationship with them. I’m not a corporate shill. I’m the owner of a small technology company. I recognize Comcast’s shortcomings. But as a guy running a tech company I also have to admit something: I admire Comcast. And you should too. For a few good reasons. Read More…

How Would You Handle These 7 Situations? Would You Pass the ‘Diaper Test’?

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

Running a business oftentimes means dealing with controversial situations and making decisions. Are you making the right ones? Let’s see.

Situation 1: You are working on a large project for a customer. After the project is done you send your invoice for the hours incurred. The customer questions some of the time spent. You know that all of the time spent was legitimate and reasonable. But the customer is being a jerk and wants you to remove some of the hours.

It’s not significant. But it’s annoying. You know you’re right. Some business owners would just cave in and eat the time. Others would never let a jerky customer get the better of them and would fight. What would you do?

Situation 2: An employee borrows $500 from your company. You don’t charge her interest. Six months later she abruptly quits after receiving her paycheck. She still owes you the $500, plus interest. You know where she lives. You’re definitely never going to give her a future reference. But what about the money? Some would pursue the debt because, hey, a debt’s a debt. Do you pursue?
Read More…

How To Defeat Showrooming

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(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

Oh God, I’m so ashamed of myself. I just showroomed.

I couldn’t help it. I’ve been looking for a new laptop. I had a few ideas. I went into a local computer store and asked questions. I went to two big box retailers and tested out a few models. And then when I narrowed it down…I succumbed to temptation. I went back home and bought the laptop online because it was a few dollars cheaper. I feel so, so dirty. And sadly this is not the first time I’ve done this despicable act.

Well, maybe it’s not so despicable. Look, we all showroom, don’t we? Admit it. It’s not a nice thing to do to a brick and mortar retailer. But money is money and value is value. And, like many consumers, showrooming is a very legitimate shopping strategy. For the past few years retailers have struggled against this trend. A Gallup poll as recent as last November found that brick-and-mortar stores may be losing nearly one customer in 10 to showrooming. Some larger retailers have fallen into financial problems because of the practice. And new technologies, like Amazon’s recently released Fire Phone, encourages this buying trend.

So what’s a retailer, big or small, to do? How can they fight back? Some are trying “reverse showrooming” where they encourage buyers to evaluate products on line and then come into the stores to pick them up, rather than wait for a delivery. Others are reducing prices. A few retailers are cutting back on retail space altogether. These tactics have some impact. But of all the retailers I’ve seen, there is one that I think has an answer to the problem. It’s Sam’s Club. Read More…

Why The Layoffs At Microsoft Are Bad News For Salesforce.com

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(This post originally appeared on Forbes)

Last week Microsoft laid off 18,000 employees, representing about 14% of its workforce. Microsoft has never had a layoff this big in its history. The move makes a big statement about the company’s future. And Salesforce.com should be worried.

Salesforce.com? Why would the leading provider of cloud based CRM (Customer Relationship Management) applications and services be worried that Microsoft laid off 18,000 people? What does one have to do with the other? And didn’t these two companies just enter into a recent partnership deal?

Yes they did. Not four months after being named CEO, Satya Nadella forged one of his very first partnership deals with none other than Salesforce.com. What an interesting choice. Also interesting is the details of this “partnership.” According to the press release, Salesforce.com’s products will now be better integrated with and enabled on future versions of Windows, Office and SharePoint as well as on OneDrive and just about any device available, mobile or stationary.

My company sells Dynamics CRM. We also provide Salesforce.com consulting services. Both are great products.  But Salesforce.com is more popular. And they have always positioned themselves as an alternative to Microsoft technologies.  But now, with this agreement, Salesforce.com becomes more and more like Dynamics CRM. On the face of things, this seems like a validation of Salesforce.com – the big, giant software company forging a new relationship with the smaller, CRM upstart. But in reality, Microsoft has now taken away most of the differentiating features between Salesforce.com and its own Dynamics CRM offering, making the two services interchangeable in many ways.

Why would Nadella do this? Read More…

Philly, You’re No Houston

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(This post originally appeared on The Philly Post)

Why is Houston doing so well? In an interesting Wall Street Journal piece earlier this week, two urban planning experts say that Houston’s “pro-growth policies have produced an urban powerhouse — and a blueprint for metropolitan revival.” The writers say:

[T]he city’s low cost of living and high rate of job growth have made Houston and its surrounding metro region attractive to young families. According to Pitney Bowes, Houston will enjoy the highest growth in new households of any major city between 2014 and 2017. A recent U.S. Council of Mayors study predicted that the American urban order will become increasingly Texan, with Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth both growing larger than Chicago by 2050.

But really? Is Houston that good? Better than Philly? For the most part, no. But for one big part: yes.

 

As recently as 2010 Philadelphia has had the fifth largest metro area in the U.S. and has consistently been in the top five since 1700. Houston currently has the eighth largest metro area and entered into the top 10 around 2000. Projections are that Texas cities like Houston and Dallas will surpass Philadelphia in the next 10 to 20 years. People are sticking around in this area for the most part, but more are definitely flocking to Houston.

Is it their booming economy? Partly so. The U.S. energy industry has one of the fastest growing sectors in the country and Houston (along with other Texas cities and areas along the Marcellus Shale region) has benefited. Philadelphia’s economy has effectively stayed pace with the U.S., sharing similar GDP and unemployment figures over the past decade. But Philadelphia has some big, profitable industries — namely healthcare and higher education. It has large companies like Comcast, Campbell’s Soup, Vanguard, SAP, Toll Brothers and GlaxoSmithKline anchoring the region. Its startup and tech scene have been growing. There is lots of potential here.

Is it Houston’s location? In Texas, you’ve got miles of land and lots of open space. There are biking trails, botanical gardens, and room to run on the bayou. Galveston Bay is only an hour away from the city and there are plenty of lakes and national parks for fishing, hunting, and hiking. Same here, right? We’ve got the shore, the mountains, the rivers, the national parks. Not only that, but we’re a car drive away from D.C., New York and a list of historical landmarks and national monuments for the history lover. Plus we enjoy the pleasures (and the challenges) of all four seasons. So you can easily argue that Houston’s location is no better than ours.

How about property values? People tell me that housing is cheap in Houston and it is cheaper than Philly. The average price of a house there is $187,000 vs. $256,000 here. But travel a commutable distance West or South and you’ll find home prices here dropping significantly. It’s actually cheaper to rent in Philly ($1,494 on average vs. $1,598 in Houston) and prices are going down as more rental units are going up. Incomes in Philadelphia are 10 percent higher ($77,000 vs $67,000 for a family). Given these numbers, you can argue that the cost of living in Philadelphia isn’t that much different than Houston.

Houston has worse traffic problems than Philadelphia and two of its neighborhoodsare called “the most dangerous” in the U.S. The city faces the same kinds of union/pension driven budget issues that we do (but not on the same potentially catastrophic scale). The Astros and Phillies have nearly identically lousy records. So why? Why is Houston such a “success” story? What is the real reason for the city’s growth and popularity?

Here’s why: Its taxes and bureaucracy.

If you’re making $50,000 a year and are unfortunate enough to live in Philly then you have the second highest tax burden of anyone in the country with almost 18 percent of your money going to the government. If you are in Houston, you are at No. 33 and paying only 9 percent. You pay no city or state income tax. Your sales tax is higher, but not by a lot.

Not only that, but if you want to start up a business or even run an existing company in Houston you deal with the government much less. “The city and its unincorporated areas have no formal zoning, so land use is flexible and can readily meet demand,” according to the Wall Street Journal piece. “Getting building permits is simple and quick, with no arbitrary approval boards making development an interminable process. Neighborhoods can protect themselves with voluntary, opt-in deed restrictions or minimum lot sizes.” Philadelphia is saddled with a creaky, bureaucratic, bloated and oftentimes corrupt government (although to Mayor Nutter’s credit, the corruption has been much less so. But let’s agree that there’s still a long way to go). The city’s burdens — both from tax and paperwork standpoints — are oppressive to most running, or trying to run, a business here. Don’t believe me? See what Paul Steinke, the manager of the beloved Reading Terminal Market had to say last year.

And that’s why. People move to places where there are jobs. There are jobs in Houston mainly because it’s a better place to run a business. It’s a better place to run a business because there are less taxes and bureaucracy. Philadelphia has all the ingredients to be a good place for business too. But we’re just not as good as Houston.

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