Is HelloFax Still a Top Priority?

I was creating a comparison of eFax and HelloFax last week, but noticed that HelloFax hasn’t added a new feature since 2013 and every press release since that time has been about sister company HelloSign. This leads to the question, “Is HelloFax a Priority for Joseph Walla and his team?”

HelloSign is in the esignatures industry, which is a growing industry rather than the fax industry, which is obviously in decline. The company uses the same technology that HelloFax used to add esignatures to faxes- it just applies them to any digital document for transmission via email or other methods. Also, esignatures are seen as more valuable than online fax services, therefore companies charge more for those services. Given all these advantages, it’s pretty easy to see why HelloSign is getting more attention.

A couple of things that seem to support the claim that HelloFax isn’t getting much love from the company these days are the blog and the “new features” page. If you click on the blog link on HelloFax, you’re taking to HelloSign’s blog (although it’s hard to tell you’ve left the site, because the styling is identical).  The biggest problem wit this is that if you click on any of the navigational links on this page, they take you to HelloSign pages rather than HelloFax. Further, all the blog posts are about esignatures not online faxing. Additionally, the “new features” page makes it look like things have been updated in the last few months, but it’s deceiving. The dates shown here must correspond to something other than actual posts. For example, the “Completed” new feature request for “Allow users to edit and sign documents in landscape orientation,” states that it was “updated” on 3/19/2015, but if you click the link, you can see that the admin noted that this feature was completed on 8/29/2013. Looks like clever time stamping is being used rather than actual product development.

If posted the eFax vs HelloFax article here, if you want to see the results of this work.

Lean Test Process

I’m working on a new business right now, and after doing the standard opportunity analysis (SWOT, 5 Forces, market analysis, talk to customers, create a pro forma, etc), the next thing to do is a lean test. Here are the services I used to prepare for the lean test:

  • Pick a name
  • Register the Domain (GoDaddy)
  • Set up Email (Google At Work)
  • Get a Phone Number (Phone.com)
  • Build my Website, which for this business is the product that I will be testing
    • SiteGround for hosting- auto-install WordPress
    • GitHub for my code repository
    • Google Forms (using the Google At Work account) to create custom signup forms
    • Email Marketing tool (MailChimp- paid account to access autoresponders)
    • Zapier to Connect Google Forms to MailChimp

Copy & Sync Live WordPress Site To GitHub

Background

All I wanted to do was setup a new WordPress site, host the code with GitHub, and use a code editor to make edits to the WordPress template. In the world of building websites, this has to be incredibly common. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any instructions online that outlined how to do this. I also reached out to my hosting provider, and they weren’t able to help me either (even though we went back and forth about 10 times). I eventually just figured it out, which lead to much rejoicing. Afterward, I decided to write down the steps I had taken to accomplish this task, so I wouldn’t forget in the future. During this process, I realized why I was having so much trouble- the words that are used to describe everything that you do related to servers and hosting are absolutely RIDICULOUS!

SSH, https clone, git, push & pull (not with your hands), commit, stage, remote repository, IDE

You need to know what all of those things are and what they mean in order to even ask a question about server admin. You’ll also need to know commands like “git push origin master” and “ssh add.” The whole thing is just absurd.

Anyway, for anyone that is interested, here are my notes of how I finally accomplished the task (at least this is my best recollection of the process):

Getting WordPress site on Github using a Mac with Terminal- Notes

  • Setup hosting account
  • Setup GitHub account
  • Setup SSH
    • Go to SSH/Shell Panel on cPanel to create the SSH pair
      • Generate a new SSH pair
      • Store password that you add when creating the SSH pair (you’ll need this to login to SSH)
      • Enter the IP address of the Mac for “allowed IP address” (you can add additional IP addresses to the SSH pair, if the IP address changes)
    • Follow these instructions to login to the site using SSH for Siteground: http://kb.siteground.com/How_to_log_in_to_my_shared_account_via_SSH_in_Mac_OS/
      • The port number will likely be different with other hosting companies
    • Once you are logged in using SSH, you will be able to access files and run commands on the server via Terminal
  • Add the code from the hosting account to the GitHub repository
    • Create a new GitHub repository and don’t add the ReadMe txt file (leave the new repository empty)
    • Notice the “https clone URL” (not the SSH URL or subversion checkout URL) from the GitHub repository to your Mac clipboard (you’ll need it in a minute). You can find the URL on pretty much any page of the repository. It’s called the “https clone URL” and it looks like this: https://github.com/[account]/[repository]
    • Login to your server through Terminal using SSH (this is how to do it with SiteGround- the port number will likely be different for other hosting companies: http://kb.siteground.com/how_to_log_in_to_my_shared_account_via_ssh_in_mac_os/
    • Once you have logged into your server, navigate to the public_html folder (you might type something like this: “cd public_folder” to get there).
    • Type
      git init
      

      to initialize the public_folder for git

    • Type
      git add .
      

      to add the files for and stages them for commit

    • Type
      git commit -m 'First commit'
      
                    commits the files in the public_folder and prepares them to be pushed to the repository
    • Go to the GitHub repository that you created and copy the “https clone URL”
      • This is the “remote repository URL”
    • Now, back in Terminal, add this “remote repository URL” using the following commands:
    • git remote add origin remote repository URL
      # Sets the new remote
      git remote -v
      # Verifies the new remote URL
      
    • Push the files to the repository
    • git push origin master
      
Much of these instructions came from this article about create GitHub repository with an existing project https://help.github.com/articles/adding-an-existing-project-to-github-using-the-command-line/
  • These instructions are typically talking about adding files from your local project, but I’ve just swapped to add files from the server to the repository
To access and or modify files on your local computer, you can either install GitHub desktop and use the “Clone in Desktop” button that you’ll find in the GitHub repository (on the website) or install an IDE (like Eclipse, WebStorm, PHPStorm or IntelliJ IDEA and add using the Git (often found under the VCS menu or under File/ Add New Project from Version Control- you’ll once again need the “https clone URL” to connect the IDE to GitHub.
In order to push changes from GitHub desktop or the IDE, you’ll need to both commit the changes that you make and push them to GitHub. Then you’ll need to use Terminal to connect via SSH to your server and type the command “git pull origin master” then enter your GitHub username and your GitHub password. The changes will then appear on the server.

Ooma Office

Ooma Office is an interesting product to me. Their target market is businesses with 1-5 employees (maybe 1-20, if you assume that the other 15 will be happy with virtual extensions) that don’t anticipate growing beyond that number. They also make buying a little more painful, because you have to pay for Ooma Office’s equipment that has to live “on-premise,” and there is no free trial. They definitely have low monthly fees for the five users, but it seems odd to charge the same per user fee for virtual extensions that they do for physical ones.

The craziest thing, however, is that if the customer grows beyond 5 users (or 20 if you include the 15 virtual extensions), they have to find a new carrier. These larger accounts are where Ooma’s competition makes most of their money. It’s not much more difficult to service a 50 seat account than a 5 seat account, and they have few incremental costs to serve the additional users. Just seems Ooma is really bottom-feeding here and not giving themselves any upside.

Weird.

Spiffed up the Site… Plus some VoIP Updates.

I’ve been playing around with photography lately, so I decided to include a few artsy ranch pictures to make the site look better. I’ve also been working on my CSS skills, so I’ll be doing some other things to improve the design. Hope it improves the reading experience.

On the VoIP front, you can now compare bottom line pricing of business voip services Nextiva, RingCentral, Jive and Phone.com using business-voip.choosewhat.com. VoIP services, like their telecom brethren, include a bunch of taxes and fees for their services that aren’t included in the prices they advertise. This tool allows prospective buyers to view their total costs from these companies based on the number of users, extensions and their state. Also, RingCentral and Nextiva offer different pricing plans and tiers of service, so you can view and compare all of those options as well.

RingCentral just released a new, entry level VoIP offering that is much less expensive, but can only be used for plans with 1-5 users and only includes 500 minutes (presumably per user). They seem to be testing this offering, so it isn’t always available. So if you’re interested and see it online, you should probably go ahead and sign up.

Going Paperless

When I last moved offices and realized how many boxes of paper file records I had, I decided it was time to go paperless. Paper records are like an anchor that make it very difficult to work remotely or move and have very real storage costs associated: both space and file cabinets.

The first thing I did was purchase a high quality document scanner. I purchased the Fujitsu ScanSnap, but Neat also offers a very high quality product. Most people would be happy with either. I initially hoped I would use this to scan new documents as well as old archive documents, but I soon realized this was unrealistic. Scanning new mail and documents as they arrive is quite easy, but catching up on old files is tedious and consumes more time than I have available.  So, for about 1 year, I was no longer expanding my paper storage files, but I wasn’t shrinking them either.

In order to accomplish this final step, I contacted a few document scanning firms in my area to get quotes. These companies prepare the documents, scan them and label them (according to their folder names) for you. It was actually more affordable than I thought. I was able to scan the entire backlog of files (about 10 boxes) for around $2,000. I had to spend a good deal of time going through the paper files to make sure the folders were labeled appropriately, but other than that, the whole process was relatively painless.

With the broad availability of these services, I sincerely hope that more businesses will begin to shift to paperless record keeping. It eliminates tremendous time and financial weight to have these documents in the cloud and/or on your drive rather than in huge file cabinets and document warehouses.

How to Use Professional Reviews

This is essentially a Part II to my previous post on using reviews to make buying decisions. The previous post covered using Consumer Reviews; this one will focus on Professional Reviews.

Professional Review Analysis System

  • First, on what kind of website is the professional review located? If the site is focused on the industry in which the product is located, it has a much better chance of being on target.
  • Has the reviewer posted reviews on products that compete with the product being reviewed? If so, take a look at some of those reviews to see, to help understand the perspective of the reviewer- this also helps to see what kind of personal bias is involved.
  • How much of the information in the review is supported by facts versus unsupported opinion. All reviewers have some personal bias- they are people too. But, this should be counterbalanced by considerable data driven analysis that is supported by evidence that you can read.
  • Does the reviewer have any negatives about the product? If the review doesn’t have any negatives, look around to see if that reviewer ever puts criticisms in their reviews. If not, they are probably just promoting products rather than actually reviewing them.

How to Use Consumer Reviews

Having been in the review business for nearly 8 years and a user of reviews for as long as they’ve been available, I have developed what I consider to be a pretty strong system for utilizing reviews for my own business decisions. Actually, I have two different systems: one for professional reviews and one for consumer reviews. Below is my system for using Consumer Reviews.

Consumer Review Analysis System

  • If a product has less than 5 reviews, they are only valuable if they are all 1 star or 5 star reviews. This is too small of a sample set to be truly meaningful, but if they are consistent, there might be something valuable to learn. Because there are so few reviews, you can be certain that these are NOT purchased reviews. Not many businesses would go through the trouble for 3 reviews.
  • Online consumer reviews are naturally negatively biased by nature. If you see 1,000 reviews and 95% 5-star for a product, you can be certain they are incentivized or flat out paid for. That doesn’t mean the product is bad, it just means that you can’t trust the positive reviews. Read the negative reviews to see, if they have any consistent complaints and if those issues are important to you.
  • Read the most recent reviews, because typically the bulk of the incentivized reviews will come in chunks and the odds of you reading the reviews just after these were purchased are fairly low.
  • When reading negative reviews, look for price bias. Some people will give something a negative review for being expensive, even if they knew the price beforehand. If you’re looking at a nice restaurant or an expensive piece of electronics, you already know it’s going to be expensive. If you’re comfortable spending the money, don’t be fooled by people who went out of their budget and now regret their decision. On the other hand, if you’re looking for quality, and you discover that all the positive reviews are based on a low price, you may not be as happy with your experience as the deal hounds.
  • Try to find multiple sources: For services businesses, Yelp is a good place to start for most businesses, but check Google Reviews, TripAdvisor, or other industry specific review sites to see if they agree. For products, Amazon is a great resource, but once again, people are going to focus the hardest on gaming those reviews. Check other sites like Walmart, Best Buy or other industry sites depending on the product site.

FaxNGo

I’ve been waiting to review FaxNGo for a week now, and I’m a bit concerned about their technology. When I tried to sign up, the first step is to enter your location to be assigned a local fax number. This is pretty standard. Unfortunately, FaxNGo seems to have a problem with their system. I am located in Austin, TX, but when I put in that location, the system assigned me a local number from Austin, MN.

I reported this bug to the FaxNGo people, but they still haven’t fixed it.

Another potential problem lies with the system’s inability to release an email address that has started the signup process, but not completed it. I can remember at least a dozen times I’ve started signing up for something online, but been interrupted during the process and been forced to complete the signup later. On FaxNGo, once you’ve entered your email address, you can’t ever use it again- even if you didn’t actually finish creating the account. This might happen to someone, who, for example, wasn’t being assigned the correct area code on their phone number and wanted to get the issue addressed before starting a free trial.

Hopefully they’ll get these problems resolved soon. The product looks promising, but these glitches aren’t the best first signs.

Ooma

Ooma is the “It” service in VoIP technology, and the recent CES 2015 announcement that the service now integrates with Nest will likely prolong their grip on the title. Ooma differentiates itself from most VoIP services, buy offering a “free” basic phone service, that only costs the user local fees and taxes to use. Ooma Telo (which enables this basic level of service) has an MSRP of $129.99 and includes free nationwide calling, voicemail, caller-ID, 911 calling and an online call log.

The company also offers a Premier service for $9.99 per month that includes free calling to Canada, three-way conferencing, call waiting, call forwarding, Google Voice extensions and a myriad of other features. Ooma also has a business offering that starts at $19.99 and can expand up to 5 phone extensions and 15 virtual extensions. This service works with traditional phones (rather than special IP phones), and incorporates business features like a virtual receptionist, conference calling and extension dialing.

Looks pretty simple, and I’m looking forward to trying it out!

Thoughts and News from a VoIP Industry Expert