Looking Back at 2009

The defining word for 2009 for me was "Change". Some are good, some are bad. Some are unexpected, some are carefully planned. It was an unusual year. Like most people, I was caught up in Obama mania a little. It was exciting. I frankly did not remember the last time I planned and went home to watch the presidential inauguration with my family. It was a moving ceremony. Changes were in the air. Uncertainty were in the air also.

My company, Imperial Consulting, inc., grew enough that it was clearly not going to survive without adding programming help. I am bias, but I believe I am great at spotting talent. I convinced Michelle to join Imperial around January, first as a part time consultant. It worked out extremely well. We cleared a few projects quickly. A positive change.

However, during the first quarter, I had to I had to abandon two of seemingly promising projects that I got involved in. It was painful to let go, but at the end it was the right thing to do. Around the same time, we ended up working on a few Non-Profit related websites for free. One of them was the website for The Mission Church of Boston . That turned out to be a great source of serendipity and excitement because it was the site of Ted Kennedy's Funeral. The website endured record traffic. You can read more about it here in this blog entry.

The other project that I sorta gave up on was the coworking space WorkBar Boston. I seeded the idea and help with the launch, but really did not contribute much beyond that. It requires too much time. It was fun and I really wish I could have time for it, but I just did not. Further more I ended up leasing a new office space, again close to home. The space is wonderful and having my office so close to home, with parking (because I can use my residence sticker to park on many spots on the street) really helps with productivity.

Imperial Consulting Moving to New Office from PK Shiu on Vimeo.

We also gotten a few unsolicited project requests this year. With almost no deliberate marketing that was very good. As I always, very honestly, tell our potential customers. We are not here to compete on price along. There are plenty of individuals offering to work for close to nothing, usually with the lack of experience to go with it. We expected lost some of these leads, but also won a few very good ones. Some of them are still in stealth development mode. We'll announce them as they get launched.

It started off as an attempt to just get my mind off work-work, I started attending more conferences and meetups in the area. Most are free or extremely low cost -- which seems to be the operative word for the industry at this point. They include Barcamp Boston, Podcamp Boston, JQuery conference , and an expensive but worthwhile An Event Apart Boston in June.

I also attended several parenting presentations by famous authors in their fields. Howeard Gardner on his book Five Minds for the Future, and Ashley Merryman the co-author of NurtureShock were very informative. Attending these events really helped in networking. It was hard to find the time but it was clearly worthwhile.

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Another thing new is we took a pure family vacation! We took a few trips a few years ago but there were reasons or excuses like attending weddings etc. This time, it was a pure "let's go some where to relax" type of vacation. To top it off, it was at a place that lacks all communication / connectivity. No internet, no phone. I got some reading done. And I realized how difficult it is to function without the internet. Something as simple as looking up an address for a museum is hard to do! Remember we had no phone either. Is the Internet a essential utility now? I think so. It is of course true that it is potentially a major distraction.

With the increase work load and administrative needs in the home front, I decided to try out a virtual assistant service. I picked a company that is entirely based in the U.S. They did some good work, like making basic appointments and posting ads on Craigslist. However, after two months in it is clear to my that, for myself, I needed someone physically in the office and in the area because some of the work required physical presences. For example, I had a lot of bills and documents to scan. Also there is no easy way for someone to access my quicken/quickbooks on my computer.

I eventually hire Renee, a high energy, extremely organized college senior to help me. It is working out well. This gave me higher hopes for college kids in this country, and undergraduate education in general.

During the year, in the cloud services really are becoming mainstream (for me). Dropbox becomes an essential part of my workflow. Started with a paid account, I ended up a paid customer towards the end of the year. It was unfortunate that I had to miss their founder's presentation at the MIT startup bootcamp because they were the last on the agenda.

Another one is Evernote. I started using them between my desktops for awhile. Their iPhone got better and better. I now keep my shopping list and random notes on it. An example scenerio: I called a venue to make a reservation, which requires me to present a reservation number at the door. I added it in evernote as a note on my Mac. When I get to the event, I just retrieve the note on the iPhone.

Oh, the year of the iPhone, again. I justified upgrading my iPhone 3G to the new 3GS by not spending money on a Flip or Flip equivalent. The video on the 3GS is actually usable. I sold my old iPhone 3G in one day for a reasonable amount also. The upgrade price is thus not too steep. Of course come 2010 will there be yet another upgrade? The added benefit of the 3GS is that I now have 32G of space, which I have not used up at all. The old 16G was hitting the limit.

A few Lessons Learnt, in no particular order:

No anyone can do this of course, but locating my office half a mile away from home really helps. I can pop in on weekends to do work if I have to. I can run home to take care of home tasks during the day if I have to. Being in one community for both work and home also gave me the added benefeast of feeling really belong in the neighborhood.

Quality help is hard but worth while to find. I always know this, I have always built very hiqh quality teams. This year again proven that point. With the new quality help I see 2010 to be an even better year in terms of growth.

Networking matters. It is hard to find the time, with work and family commitments. The result is worth it. While I get a lot of information flow via the blogs and twitter feeds, chatting with new people in person really is still key. Having a growing physical network can help grown the virtual social network.

Perspiration and Appetite for Risk

Finally, this post on 10 skills VC look for in before writing a check mentioned two things that summed up 2009, perspiration and appetite for risk. Those two skilled carried me for 2009. What will be ahead in 2010?