Saturday, February 1, 2014

New Home, New Desk (Another DIY Standing IKEA Desk)

My wife and I just moved to Seattle. There was a long road trip involved, complete with a stop at Disneyland with the family for the holidays.

We arrived in Seattle on Dec. 31st and found a place to live on New Years Day. Maybe it's because we're from NYC that we were so overwhelmed by the fact that we could rent a whole house (for less than our NYC apt) that we took the first nice thing we saw but we were very excited to find a lovely craftsman to move into.

So. Much. Space.

Now, I needed a new desk. I've been hearing so much about the benefits of standing desks that I thought I could probably make my own. I didn't want to pay over $1400 for one and I wanted to make sure it was built to my exact ergonomic and spacial needs.

For the record I'm 5'11 and I needed a desk that was 43" tall to the keyboard surface. Check out this ergonomics diagram:



I found a few DIY standing desks online but I didn't love them. Too big. Too small. None just right.

Then I saw this in the comments of a Lifehacker.com article:
(See the comment by Benjamin W. Neidenthal)




So this is what I went with for inspiration. Thanks Benjamin (wherever you are)!

I made a few modifications and with the exception of a few bolts I only used the stuff I got from IKEA.

Here we go...

The IKEA Parts:

Lack TV Stand - $49.99 (link)
Expedit Bookshelf - $69.99 (link)
Expedit Desk Extension thing - $50.00 (link)
Lack Shelf - $14.99 (link)

Other Parts:
2 4.5" X 3/8" bolts (with nuts)

Tools/supplies:
Power drill with drill bits
Wood glue

Step 1:

Build the TV Stand without the legs (save those for later)

Step 2:

Build the shelving unit.

Step 3:

Place the TV stand on top of the shelving unit (which should be on its side).

I centered the TV stand to the shelving unit leaving an over hang in front and in back. I did this for 2 reasons: one is that I thought it looked more stable and two this gave me a nice bit of TV stand to secure the Desk Extension to later.

Step 4:

Bolt the TV stand to the bookshelf. There might be a better way of doing this but I wanted to do this as cheaply as possible.

Drill the holes** (carefully) and place the bolts. The 4.5" bolts will give you plenty of leeway here since the thickness of the stacked units is about 4". I placed the bolts in the center of the bottom of the TV stand with one to the right and one to the left.

**note: If you already put the top of the TV stand on, it's easy to pop it off to drill the holes and place the bolts. It will pop right back on.

At this point the surface of the desk will be about 41" high. I needed 43" give or take so this was perfect for me.

Step 5:

Take the Lack Shelf and attach the legs of the TV stand to it to give you a nice monitor shelf. This raised my monitor just enough to meet the height requirements illustrated above.

I attached the legs by creating holes similar to the holes needed for the little wooden pegs, inserting the pegs and then I used wood glue to attach it all together. I did not attach this piece to the desk as I felt like I might want to move it around when needed.

The desk so far:



Step 6:

Now the trickiest part of the whole build.

I wanted to have a place to sit if needed and I have a lot of desk clutter that I need surface area for so I thought I could just throw on the Expedit Desk and be done.... not so easy.

When the Expedit shelving unit is on it's side the Desk won't line up the way it's meant to so I had to do some tweaking and by tweaking I mean drilling holes and bolting the thing to the bottom of the TV stand unit. I used the left over bolts from the TV stand legs and it worked beautifully but you'll have to use something to raise the desk up as it's not tall enough to match the height (even with the height adjustment screws attached).

Here's the final desk built for less than $200:




If anyone has any tips or tricks to improve this I'd love to hear them.

Oh and by the way.... we're loving it here in Seattle!


Monday, September 16, 2013

3 Take-Away Branding Tips from Breaking Bad

Note: If you don't watch the show or aren't caught up I don't recommend reading this post due to possible spoilers and fan-boy nonsense. Yes, I am a Breaking Bad fan-boy.


Breaking Bad has some great marketing going on in its fictitious little world. I'm a little late with this post but the branding and marketing tips that were present in last week's episode To'hajiilee were fantastic and worthy of a call out... even if it is a week late.

It actually looks like this blog beat me to the punch with this post idea. Read their take here:
http://www.chiefmarketer.com/promotional-marketing/3-important-branding-lessons-from-breaking-bad-10092013 

On to my take...


The Blue Meth

"It's our brand" insists Lydia as she pushes for higher quality and customer satisfaction. She knows that she may even be able to push through a lesser quality if they can maintain the look that Walt created because that is what the customers are expecting.

I was at a Halloween party last year and there was a guy dressed as Walt's alter-ego Heisenberg and as recognizable as that outfit was, it was the baggy with 'blue meth' hard candy that really sold the costume. With that little detail there wasn't any doubt as to who he was. The genius here is that it isn't even a real product and we all know it so well.

The blue color Lydia is referring to is absolutely their brand.


Saul Goodman and The Car Wash

There are two very memorable slogans from Breaking Bad that are both mentioned in this episode. The first is "Have an A1 Day!" which is from the Car Wash cover business that Skyler runs with/for Walt. When Walt Jr. forgets she reminds him that saying the slogan reinforces their brand. Again this about maintaining consistency even if the slogan or branding isn't all that great....



...which is where A1A unfortunately fails in my book because their already weak slogan is different than their even weaker marketing message "You've tried the rest, now try the best." Ugh. Could you be any more cliche? I have a huge problem with any marketing message that claims that some product is 'the best'. You're immediately challenging the customer to find reasons that you're product isn't the best. Not a good move in my opinion.

Be truthful, be consistent. Be like Saul, he's not trying to be anything he's not.

Tips and Take-Aways

#1. Maintain brand consistency and deliver to your customer's expectations. It's what your customers know. There are plenty of history lessons to look at where companies changed their brand drastically (ahem, Coke) and they paid a price. It is worth it to push on this.... even against a group of violent skinheads!

#2. Once you finally nail that great slogan, logo or even colors that work for you then be consistent and use them whenever possible. Respect your choices. Even if they aren't that great in the grand scheme of things they will become the identity of your brand and your customers will come to expect that. Remember how changing their famous logo worked out for Tropicana?

#3. Have a clear value proposition. What are you selling? Saul is selling himself as a sleazy lawyer and it works. His slogan is also a call to action and he uses it over and over. He even stays on brand when he says to Walt Jr. "Don't drink and drive but if you do, you better call me". A1A Car Wash has some clear branding issues but at least you know that you're probably going to come out with a clean car when things are all said and done and the hero product, the blue meth makes the subtle promise that it's not quite like anything else on the market. Deliver on your promises and you'll build loyalty.

Until next time...



Friday, August 16, 2013

What to do About Gmail Tabs?


Google introduced tabs into Gmail last month and for the past week I have been receiving emails from various companies instructing me on how to move their emails from the dreaded 'Promotions' tab to the more favored 'Primary' tab. As a result I keep getting asked: "Should we do this too?"

I'm never one to jump on any bandwagon. Especially one that seems so easy to jump on. I want metrics first... are our open rates actually declining? (Spoilers: They haven't)

But... for the sake of argument lets assume that they have. How should we go about addressing this?

My problem with these instructional emails is that they are bringing attention to a problem that the user doesn't have. The user (I'm making assumptions but go with me) has a nice newly organized email box with everything neatly tucked away into easily understandable tabs. If they don't like it, they can remove the tabs. Either way, it's a non-issue from a user perspective. They are most likely benefiting from this change.

Now along comes a brand that the user has at some point given their email address to and they're sending an unsolicited email that basically says "You may never see our emails! We're very important! Please put us with your other important emails!".

There are a few possible outcomes I see here...

  1. You've reminded the user that you exist and in the process you have given them a really easy way (and possibly good reason) to unsubscribe.
  2. You've annoyed a long time customer (the most likely type to find your email in the 'Promotions' tab) and have essentially begged them to be placed into their inbox challenging them to think about how valuable your emails are to them.
  3. No one sees your email because you were right all along and the 'Promotions' tab is a wasteland of unread newsletters from which there is no hope of escape.
I could be wrong here and I would love to see some success metrics on campaigns like this but I think there is a much better way to get your point across.

I propose a more subtle approach. I like the idea of coming at it from a place of education. "If you want this, then do this." instead of "Please do this! We're too awesome!".

This CopyBlogger article has some great ideas along this line and I wanted to add a few of my own.

You could place a well positioned message in your Welcome Email (thanks again CopyBlogger) or on the 'Thank You' screen just after someone with a Gmail account signs up. Maybe there's a paragraph attached to your existing newsletter or maybe it's a pop-up on your site when a subscriber with a Gmail address logs on.

You could even instruct users on how to go back to the tab-less interface!

I'm of the mind that if your email content is good enough and if your subscribers are engaged enough then they should have no problem finding your emails. Maybe it's even easier for them now. I have heard more than one person proclaim their love for the tabbed interface.

I welcome the change and the challenge it presents. As a user I love the clutter-less inbox but I would love to hear some other thoughts on this. Is there something that has worked?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

It Has Been a While...

True to the name of my blog I just haven't found the time to blog since last year. It's not that I haven't had the ideas. It's not that I have lacked the desire. I have just been on a roller coaster ride since last summer.

We (as in the team at TheaterMania.com) went into the fall of 2012 with a secret mission to launch a new product that I couldn't blog or talk about (and I still can't) but you can take my word that we did an awesome job with the prototype. More on that later this year.

That brings us to January 2013 when TheaterMania.com acquired the UK based theater website WhatsOnStage.com and we went right into relaunching their site on the same code base as TM.

Our first step was to turn the TheaterMania code base into a platform of sorts. That included the fully custom CMS and all of the front end code. We had to take into consideration that even though the sites were both in English there were certain words (like Theater) that had to be spelled and displayed correctly. We also have a lot of geolocation going on that was very US based. That would all have to change.

To make a long story short by May of 2013 we were in private beta on the new website, having rebuilt it on our new platform and we were on schedule to launch in early June.

Two private site launch parties and 4 international flights later and we were live with the new site on June 4th, 2013! It was the calmest launch I have ever experienced. Nothing broke and nothing went wrong. It was live and stable and there was much sleep to be had. Granted we had done this before with very much the same code base but still... so many things could have gone wrong. The teams on both sides of the world were happy.

Over the coming weeks fans and users gave us great feedback and praised the new design and layout (well, mostly praised) and we went into doing a massive update on the custom CMS which brings us to now. We're about to roll out the both content management systems tomorrow. The internal one will be very much in ALPHA as we start testing and the public listings management application will be in public BETA.

I'm very excited for these products to hit and I can't wait to start making updates and releasing new features and maybe, just maybe I'll blog some more in the process.

Keep an eye out tomorrow afternoon at http://theatermania.com/industry for an all new listings submission experience!


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Can't Buy Music On Your iPhone?

I had just bought a new iPhone 4S and like a lot of iPhone users I upgraded it to iOS6 and something really strange happened. My battery to die at an alarming rate even if the phone was locked and 'sleeping'. I researched post after post and tried everything I could and something I did eventually worked - my battery was back to normal. Now, I have no real clue which of the 20 things I tried actually worked (that's for another post) but I did notice a very strange side effect: I could no longer purchase music from the iTunes store on my phone.

I could buy Apps but not songs. The prices were all grey'd out. It was clear to me that some setting I had messed with had caused this to happen. Enjoying my newly restored battery life I wasn't really in a hurry to undo any of those settings. Have you noticed the title of this blog? Yeah. So I suffered a bit completely unable to buy that new track that I must have right now ... gah!

Thank god for Spotify.

A few weeks went by and damn it - I needed some new music so I went to the Google. Nothing. Well, nothing that was really relevant to my issue. Then, as I was poking around the iTunes store I realized that I could buy explicit music and thought that was really strange and I suddenly remembered a setting in the Restrictions that specifically enabled Explicit Music and that I had turned that on at some point.

So rather unscientifically I just disabled all restrictions and BAM! I could buy all the music again (and I did... I bought all the music).



I had initially enabled restrictions to disable Safari because one poster on the Apple forums suggested it could be hogging up battery power. Since I've disabled restrictions I've found that disabling Safari was not the culprit for the sudden battery suicide so that's good. Welcome back Safari and welcome back music.

For the record, I now prefer the Chrome app for iPhone web browsing.

Hope this helps anyone having the same problem.



Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Little Inspiration via Ira Glass


I heard this quote for the first time last night and much like Ira, I wish someone had said this to me 15 years ago. Oh, the countless projects I gave up on just because I felt like they weren't good enough. I'm happy that I've mostly passed that hurdle today. Today, this quote is a good reminder to just DO.

"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through."
― Ira Glass, on Storytelling

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Who is your first customer, and why?

This blog post from a friend of mine got me thinking about this question:

Who is your FIRST customer and why?

Great question. One that for me immediately puts any project in perspective. Full disclosure: my friend is actually my boss and he said this to me in person regarding something we're working on and it was the perfect place to focus my energy.

I think big. Very big and then back up and focus on the details. That works for me in many ways but as a product manager any product is about the customer and that first one is the most important.

Here I was, creating personas, detailing out feature lists and conducting surveys and getting a bit overwhelmed when I just really need to start by focusing on this one person.

Who where they? What is this one persona and what is their story?

That first person has the potential to be your biggest ally in the market. Making your project rock for them is only going to help.

I'm always curious about how others approach personas. Feel free to leave any tips in the comments.