Who wants to start an online business?

Recently, I took an online course on starting an online business by Penelope Trunk.

Here are the reasons I loved her content:
– a very specific topic: it’s not about startups, not about non-profits, non about million-dollar businesses. It is about a side (some call it lifestyle) online business, that can potentially supplement or even become your main source of income
– she walks the walk: she started a few successful businesses herself
– she is a woman, who has a huge career AND is raising kids. This is a key factor for me: I want to hear from a woman with kids, because I am one, too. (as much as I love Ramit’s stuff)
– she uses personality type analysis in her courses. Everyone has unique strengths, and it is just so much easier to use something YOU are naturally good at for building a business.
– she’s honest and fun. Read her blog to get honest insights on womens issues, educational system, keeping together a marriage and career advice. Watch her videos to see how fun she is. She’s the real deal to me.

Here’s a quick example from Penelope’s summary email:

In short, you can divide people in four categories:

NT’s like to live in the world of ideas and will like systems.

F’s care about people, and feelings, and things that matter in the world.

SJ’s like details as opposed to big strategies

SP’s and NTP’s will thrive with smaller projects instead of long, drawn out projects.

I’m an ISTJ, and here are tips for people like me:

SJ’s are very systems driven. They’re not interested in ideas because you can’t quantify an idea. They want a system to push people through so they can see progress immediately. SJ’s should focus on online businesses and tasks that rely on systems based thinking.

ESTJ’s and ISTJ’s

The ESTJ is going to be a rock star at testing online businesses. No one will be able to launch and test faster than the ESTJ. They’re great with a to-do list, so they should write a list of every business type and just start going down the list and executing. Once they find one that feels right, they should go with that.

The ISTJ isn’t as adventurous in what they want to implement, because they want to know everything they’re doing is right. They will research until they’re sure their idea will work. That’s fine. They should wait for their idea.

That last one is so true. I just can’t dive into something until I know it is a right idea and it will work!

A couple of years ago, my friend Ohn and I had our side online business: an online store for womens clothing, jewelry and accessories. Ohn did a fantastic job running and promoting it, and she had fun with it (she’s an ESTP). I, on the other hand, enjoyed building out the site, coding up the template and anything related building stuff around the website. We since closed down the store, because stores with inventory in a crowded space are really tough to run (lesson learned). It was a great learning experience, and a testament to our friendship – we are still best friends (and sometimes reminisce about days when we had this fun project and did photoshoots modeling our clothes). So if you are doing a business with a partner, pick someone with skills that are complimentary to yours.

Question to all of my friends: do you have ideas for a business? I’d love to hear more, share the learnings from this online course, and potentially form a partnership – let me know!

Build vs Buy: Appcelerator Cloud API Case Study

A lot of times a project at hand has some components that can either be built from scratch, or a ready-to-use solution can be bought from a 3rd-party vendor. For example, there’s lots of ways to build a blog or a CMS, but most likely you will just use one of the many solutions already available on the market (such as WordPress).

One of the projects I have at work has a star rating component, and we had a vendor in mind – Poll Daddy (interestingly enough owned by Automattic – the creators of WordPress). It’s a super quick and easy JavaScript-based solution, that allows users to give a rating from 1 to 5 stars. It costs about $900/year for unlimited ratings, and requires virtually no development effort (aside from copying&pasting the script code).

Then, someone suggested we user a “cheaper” option – a rating component built on top of Appcelerator cloud services. Usage of the API is apparently free for up to a certain call volume (and who doesn’t like free?). I’m not opposed to using a better solution, so I decided to look deeper into this platform and what it offers.

Here’s essentially what it is: Appcelerator Cloud Services provides a back-end infrastructure mostly targeted towards mobile apps that use its Titanium development platform. The API provides a layer of methods and services that allows developers to build apps without worrying about server-side infrastructure. There are pre-built components that can allow for faster development, one of the components is Ratings and Reviews.

However, it’s not a plug-and-play deal. In order to achieve the star ratings functionality that we need, there are multiple implementation steps and gotchas:

  • We would need to create a list of products we want to be rated as Custom Object type in the API
  • To submit reviews we’ll have to know which product they apply to, so we’d have to map Custom Objects to products, probably performing a “GET” call to fetch Custom Object data and map it to products
  • We’d need to create a mechanism to prevent duplicate submissions (session or cookie or IP-based). Appcelerator asks for a user_id value to be specified whenever a rating is submitted, so it means we would have to create and work with a User object as well
  • Submitting a rating requires the user to be logged in – another API call
  • It also turns out that PUT and DELETE API methods trigger an XHR error from 3rd-party domains. This is resolvable by adding headers (Access-Control-Allow-Origin per CORS specifications), but will require additional settings adjustment on the server-side
  • And finally, any custom development will need to be thoroughly QA’d – which adds effort and time

I’m sure the Appcelerator cloud API is a great solution for certain cases, but for a super-simple component in my scenario it is much quicker and easier to go with a pre-built solution that satisfies all of my requirements.

Funny enough, we had another “build vs buy” discussion at lunch with Mike today, and thought that 80/20 rule can be applied to this problem: if spending 20% of the effort yields you 80% of result, that’s what you should go for.

Curious to hear about other build vs buy examples, so leave your notes in the comments!

PyCon 2015 tutorials at home

Last week, due to awesomeness of the internet, I learned that PyCon 2015 conference is happening in April in Montreal. This got me super excited, even though I don’t quite get to use Python as much as I’d love to. The conference seems to be organized so well, in the beautiful city of Montreal, with amazing workshop options, hotel share options, AND on-site childcare!

So there I am, excited and trying to plan how I can swing it, looking up flights (bonus post for you on saving over 50% on flights) and emailing this girl about sharing a hotel room… Then bummer! Not only the conference was sold out, but also most of the workshops! (I was only hoping to attend tutorial days) But to re-phrase that old saying: if you can’t go to a conference, let a conference come to you!

I made a list of the workshops I would take if I could go, and started looking online for authors and their past presentations. Luckily, all of them had prep materials and some even had videos!

Here is the list focused on machine learning and data analysis for all of you, fellow curious Python lovers. Thank you so much to speakers for sharing these amazing study materials.

  1. Machine learning with Python, basics

    Hands-on data analysis with Python by Sarah Guido
    Description
    Python is quickly becoming the go-to language for data analysis. However, it can be difficult to figure out which tools are good to use. In this workshop, we’ll work through in-depth examples of tools for data wrangling, machine learning, and data visualization. I’ll show you how to work through a data analysis workflow, and how to deal with different kinds of data.

  2. Hadoop with Python (video) by Donald Miner
    Description
    In this tutorial, students will learn how to use Python with Apache Hadoop to store, process, and analyze incredibly large data sets. Hadoop has become the standard in distributed data processing, but has mostly required Java in the past. Today, there are a numerous open source projects that support Hadoop in Python and this tutorial will show students how to use them.

  3. Learning Pandas by Brandon Rhodes
    Description
    The typical Pandas user learns one dataframe method at a time, slowly scraping features together through trial and error until they can solve the task in front of them. In this tutorial you will re-learn how to think about dataframes from the ground up, and discover how to select intelligently from their abilities to solve your data processing problems through direct and deliberately-chosen steps.

  4. Bayesian statistics made simple (video) by Allen Downey
    Description
    An introduction to Bayesian statistics using Python. Bayesian statistics are usually presented mathematically, but many of the ideas are easier to understand computationally. People who know Python can get started quickly and use Bayesian analysis to solve real problems. This tutorial is based on material and case studies from Think Bayes (O’Reilly Media).

  5. Building a recommendation engine with Python (video) by Diego Maniloff, Christian Fricke, Zach Howard
    Description
    In this tutorial we’ll set ourselves the goal of building a minimal recommendation engine, and in the process learn about Python’s excellent Pydata and related projects and tools: NumPy, pandas, and the IPython Notebook.

This post begs a follow-up on takeaways from each class. To be continued…

How to save on flight tickets with Skiplagged, real example

A lot of you heard of Skiplagged, the site that saves you money on air tickets, created by this awesome guy, who is not backing down from the United lawsuit and continues to help people find cheap flight options.

I decided to give it a try, when my search for a R/T flight from New York to Montreal jumped to $475 (from $350 a day before). Because who is paying that for a 2-day trip, when you can get that same direct flight for half the price!

What does Skiplagged do?

  • It takes your destination airport, and searches for flights where that airport would be a stop-over. The 2nd leg of the trip would be somewhere else.
  • You, obviously, won’t need to take the 2nd leg. As long as you don’t check your luggage, you get off the plane and walk away.
  • And this way the trip is cheaper, because of some shady airline pricing tricks they play on consumers. Skiplagged to the rescue!
  • So here is my example (today tickets even more expensive, as we get closer to the travel date):

    New York (LGA) to Montreal (YUL), non stop flight: $607 round trip if you search on Orbitz, Kayak, Google flights, etc. OUCH!

    Go to Skiplagged, and type in your search. And WOW! $236, that’s savings of 61%, ladies and gents!

    You can’t book those flights directly on Skiplagged site, but just do another search on any site, knowing what your “new destination” would be, and book away.

    If someone tells me that it’s not a genius travel idea, I don’t know what is. Thank you Aktarer for this awesome service!

    Book recommendations: March 2015

    Millionaire Fast Lane

    Verdict: must read. If this was easy, then majority of people who bought this book would be millionaires. However, one bit to take away from the book: “time is your most valuable resource”. I’m planning a summary post on this one.

    The girls guide to hunting and fishing by Melissa Banks
    Excellent read. Short stories beautifully describing life of a woman from adolescence to death.

    The Fortune Cookie Principle by Bernadette Jiwa
    Mostly case studies on brilliant marketing. Worth a read, but if you’re in marketing already, you know most of them.

    The Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
    OK, everyone is reading this book right now. I finished it a couple of months ago, and actually went ahead, got rid of all old clothing, and learned to fold things and stack them on the side. It feels incredible to be able to see all the things you love to wear, displayed neatly in your drawer. Recommend!

    The Humans, by Matt Haig
    I was so happy when I found this book, it’s in my favorite category of well-written humorous fiction that is not chick-lit.

    The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
    Another witty, funny work of fiction. Loved it, and even Bill Gates recommends it! So definitely get it and read it :)

    15 minute DIY welcome banner

    Here’s how you can make a quick “Welcome Home” banner for your favorite person, who’s coming back from the airport in less than an hour.

    Supplies needed:
    – MTA subway map (available for free at any subway kiosk)
    – Black Sharpie
    – Scotch tape (or glue, but I find tape way quicker and easier)
    – String, about 1.5 – 2 meters long
    – Pencil (or pen, crayon, anything), scissors

    Step 1.

    The MTA map is folded trifold, which is perfect. Open up the map until you have 3 folds, and draw zig zag lines from top to bottom, so you have triangular flag shapes

    Step 2.

    Cut the map into triangular flags

    Step 3.

    Use Sharpie to write “Welcome Home” letters, or any other message you want


    Step 4.

    Fold top of flags about an inch, so you can put the string in that fold. Wrap around the string and tape it (or glue it)

    Step 5.

    Repeat so all flags are stringed together. Tip: since you’ll be taping on the back of the flags, you’ll want to string them in reverse order. So for “welcome home” you’ll want to start with the last E in the word “home” (e-m-o-h e-m-o-c-l-e-w)


    Bonus tip: I had some extra space so I added the name (and who doesn’t love hearing/seeing their name!), and an exclamation point at the end.

    Tada! All done! Hang this pretty sucker up high somewhere, and pat yourself on the back on the quick, but impressive job well done!

    Birthday gift idea: How to travel around the globe without leaving New York

    It was Sean’s birthday time of the year again, and of course, a few weeks prior to his birthday I started to think about a perfect gift for him. We both love to travel, and we both much prefer experiences, spending time with each other and friends/family, and doing fun stuff instead of getting things.

    Last year we went on a weekend trip to Providence and Newport, RI, that was a lot of fun and just a perfect celebration getaway, including romantic gondola ride, amazing dinner, visiting mansions and seeing a show at a tiny theater. This year I was thinking if it’s possible to figure out something fun like that, but at the same time different enough, and exciting enough. For some good logistical reasons, we can’t really travel far away from home these days. So all the fun had to happen here, in NYC… and that’s how I got the idea of creating an around the world adventure here at home!

    I picked a few European countries that we’d love to visit in the near future, and decided to make a little suitcase, plane tickets and a passport with clues and fun facts about those countries. Sean would open up a package, find tickets and solve clues, then we would go and visit cafes, restaurants and places that represent our countries and pretend that we are actually visiting them!

    What you’ll need:

    • list of countries/places you want to feature, with clues, fun facts, anything fun you can think of. Google is your good friend for this.
    • research on places you want to go, like cafes and restaurants. Find out their locations and opening hours, so you can plan and make reservations if needed.
    • themed paper goods: I found a perfect selection of a printable paper suitcase, customizable airplane tickets and a matching ticket jacket on Etsy. They send the files to you, and you just print and assemble them! Very easy. I’d suggest printing them on thicker/glossier paper for a nice finish (I stole, ahem, borrowed some from my office).
    • passport: I made one myself in Photoshop. The the pages took a bit of time to design, but I think it came out nicely (although the resolution was not that good and could be done better) and it was a lot of fun to create.

    • postcard: optional, but I think it just tied together the theme so nicely. I found this super cute traveling bear postcard on Etsy, and the designer Shanna was really kind to even personalize it for me with a European stamp and country flags on the suitecase. I totally loved the postcard when I got it!
    • country-themed little gifts: optional, I wanted to have them as souveniers that you would bring from real travels. So for Sean I got a bottle of beer from each country (Whole Foods on Houston St. in NYC has a great selection), and vintage posters from Etsy. Some other ideas: luggage tags with country flags, candy/chocolate from different countries, pins, etc.
    • and finally, a bit of time, good spirit and thirst for adventure!

    Places we visited in NYC:

    We are lucky to be living in New York, where virtually any culture in the world can be found within the city limits. But if you live in other cities, you can probably still find some unique ethnic restaurants, or even create your own adventure by just picking fun places to visit, such as museums or parks or cafes, and thinking of a theme to tie them together into a story.

    As you can probably guess, the whole “traveling around the globe” day was a lot of fun! We had the most beautiful weather, perfect for walking around and exploring, and having only 3 countries to focus on made it easy and manageable. All the places we visited were great, and we had the best time (I loved watching Sean figuring out clues and seeing that he liked the food we tried and places we went). Now we just can’t wait to travel for realz!