Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Most Important Class I Ever Took

Last week my CEO asked me to take his place and present at an investor conference. This was an excellent opportunity for me to stand in front of a large and influential audience and pitch my company to them. In the audience were senior investment bankers, venture capitalists, CEOs and, of course, my own company's board of directors members. It was one of those high stakes moments where you get a great deal of exposure and you have the chance to make an impression, good or bad, on many people who can influence the direction of your career.

I nailed it.

And... this take me back to the most important class I ever took: public speaking.

I was born and raised in Israel, where I also served in the military for 3 years. In my third year I served as an Air Force instructor, and to earn that privilege I had to pass a teaching class. This short, three week course, changed my life. For three weeks I was taught how to stand in front of an audience and communicate a message. I spoke, and my instructors and fellow students pointedly critiqued my performance. The first few times were unnerving. The stress of standing in front of an audience, some of which were instructed to intentionally throw off my pace, was something that I never had to face before. However, after three weeks of trial by fire, I mastered the techniques and my confidence and performance were much improved.

Almost twenty years later, I still use these same techniques. Speak slowly. Make eye contact. Move around. Modulate your voice. Use your hands for emphasis. Tell a story. Connect with the audience.

Public speaking is a skill in which very few of us receive formal training, but which is truly indispensable for one's career. While I didn't know it at the time, that three week teaching class continues to do wonders for my career decades later.

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Just "Upgraded" to Quicken "Premier" 2010

I just upgraded my Quicken 2007 to the 2010 version of the software. I didn't have much choice - Intuit makes you buy a new copy of the software every three years if you want to use the automatic online update for your accounts. Given that this is the most important reason to use Quicken in the first place, there's not much choice but to acquiesce. So, I took the $70 hit and bought the software on Amazon, and today when my old version of the software refused to update my accounts, I made the switch.

The upgrade went smoothly and quickly. No problems of any sort. Of course, Intuit made me register the new software as a condition to using online account updates. I hope they enjoy contacting me in Azerbaijan... Of course, Intuit just feels free to use my computer desktop as its private garbage can and dumped three additional useless icons / advertisements on it, without asking me, including an ad for a credit card and a "free credit report". Assho***.

The software itself includes some cosmetic changes compared to my 2007 version, but they are really minor, and definitely not worth paying the upgrade price. There are, however, a number of annoying bugs that I suffered from in the 2007 version and that seem to have been fixed. For one, Quicken now downloads information directly from our Citibank accounts. Previously I had to do that manually, after logging into the online account myself. Second, the 2007 version suffered from a really obnoxious bug in which whatever changes I made to a graph were not saved and had to be made again and again every time I opened a report. The problem seems to have gone away [late breaking news: this bug still seems to be there, in a different and more annoying form. Idiots!]

Wouldn't it be nice if Intuit showed some innovation with this product? How about letting the user REALLY customize views (colors, graph sizes, positions etc.); how about if they let you pick what types of charts you'd like to see? Is there any particular reason why spending charts always appear as a pie chart? Why can't I choose a different look? Why can't I drag charts to reposition them and resize them on the screen - just like you can do with virtually any online customized page? How about time ranges? Why can't I choose my own preferred time period to chart? For example, when looking at my expenses, I would prefer to look at a 13 month time period which would allow me to compare the current month to the same month a year ago.

This entire platform is old and tired. Worse, Intuit doesn't even pretend to give a damn about its customers any more. It sells us the same piece of junk year after year, relying on the power of its monopoly in the space to get us all to buy its sub-par product. We need an Apple or a Google to get into the game and make things actually work! We need some real competition in this space.

All in all, Quicken is a pretty crappy product - and I should know, I have been using it since 2002. Unfortunately, it's also the only one out there and having all my financial information in one central file is valuable to me. It would be nice if there were some better products out there, but unfortunately this is all I've got.

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