It’s official – CA noncompete agreements are unlawful

Business by on August 10, 2008 at 7:09 am

Non-competes have long been unenforceable in CA, but all doubts have been wiped away in a recent ruling by the State Supreme Court.

The unanimous ruling states that:

An employer cannot by contract restrain a former employee from engaging in his or her profession, trade or business

Good coverage at SFGate & Slashdot.

I’d obviously like to see other states follow suit, but I’m not aware of any progress being made towards that end.

If you use gmail, you must change this setting (force https)

Business by on August 7, 2008 at 5:36 pm

Gmail recently introduced a feature that allows you to force the browser to use https every time you connect to gmail. I used to use the Better Gmail plugin to accomplish this, but frankly the account level mechanism is far superior.

Email has rapidly become the master account for tons of services. I’d argue that a compromised inbox is worse than a compromised mailbox.

The security weaknesses in wireless connections are well established as are those in simple wireline connections. If you use gmail as anything other than a trash account, you should absolutely make this change.

Of course, this feature isn’t available on second-class Google-Apps accounts.

AdWords Promotional Codes (Yahoo and MSN also)

Business by on July 15, 2008 at 10:38 am

All three major PPC companies (Google, Yahoo & MSN) distribute promotional codes for new accounts. Of course, these codes can’t be found on coupon sites - their distribution is tightly controlled.

However, it is easy to find the promotional codes. There seem to be two primary sources:

  • Outsourced SEMs. Google gives its AdWords professionals coupons that they can distribute to new accounts. I think these typically are around $50. I think you need to give account access to the SEM provider for this to be valid.
  • Hosting Companies. I still maintain a 1and1 hosting account and they provide $100 worth of coupons ($50 MSN, $25 each Yahoo and Google). I have the 1and1 Home package which costs $5 /month. I’ve seen forum posts that GoDaddy provides coupons as I expect do most other major hosting companies.

I’m pretty sure that you need to have a new (<14 day) account to qualify for the various coupons.

Where else have you found the promotional codes?

My Google Apps Mail sucks also

Business by on July 1, 2008 at 7:52 pm

Om recently stirred the pot with his post on the problems that they’ve been having with Gmail / Google Apps.

At BrandVerity, we’ve noticed several of the problems that he highlighted, but always assumed that it couldn’t be Google. In particular, I’m seeing:

  • Spam Handling. I also think that Google Apps spam handling does a poorer job than regular gmail. I don’t have hard data to back this up, but I rarely get spam into my gmail account and regularly get spam in the Google Apps email accounts.
  • Trouble loading the inbox. The blue loading bar would literally run from 0 to 100% 10 to 20 times before the inbox would appear. I was running FF RC3 at the time and the problem seems gone now so that could have been the issue.

I am not happy about those two, but they frankly aren’t critical. These next two are critical.

  • Email sent is not being delivered. We use Google’s Apps Email as a dev/test SMTP server. Some mail simply never gets delivered. And it is isn’t consistent. Sometimes the emails get through, sometimes they don’t. And yes, we’re way below account limits. We obviously do not use this for production, but it is annoying nonetheless.
  • Email is not being received. None of our transaction notifications from Authorize.Net get delivered to the inbox or spam folder. It is possible that other senders create similar problems.

In both cases, the problems seem to stem from automated systems that send from or send to google apps email accounts.

I’m getting pretty fed up dealing with the issues though and don’t really have any sense if a near-term solution is pending.

The Worst Reference Check Ever

Business by on June 27, 2008 at 6:46 am

Although I haven’t written on reference checks yet, I feel that they are an essential part of the hiring process. They should always be conducted by the hiring manager, and should rarely follow a script.

When conducted well, they provide an unmatched opportunity to learn about the candidate in ways that you simply cannot in an interview.

Some companies have HR do the reference checks. These conversations rarely provide insight about the candidate. I’ve always had better conversations with the hiring manager, and have always felt that the HR personnel were simply checking boxes.

The worst possible way to do a ref check is over email. The email exchange below was with an HR rep from a well-known Valley startup. If this exchange is indicative of how they are hiring, I’m pretty frightened of their long-term prospects.

Hi David, I’m the recruiter for XXXXX and we are considering XXXX for a role on our XXXX team. He gave me your contact details as someone who could share some insights in terms of his past performance. Would you mind commenting on the below?

I really appreciate your help

Candidate Name: XXXXX
Position considered for:

Reference Name: David Naffziger

Professional relationship to candidate:

Dates worked together and where?

Please briefly describe his/her role?

How would you rate the candidate’s overall performance?

What were his/her strengths or greatest achievement?

What were areas for growth/improvement?

How did he/she get along with team members?

Describe his/her communication skills written/verbal?

Would you choose to work with him/her again?


I initially presumed that they wanted to talk on the phone, but after a quick exchange I learned that they did in fact want me to write an email recommendation.

A seasoned reference would never say anything negative in email because it could expose him and his company to a lawsuit. You’ll only ever get positive comments in an email reference.

My response:

I’ve worked with XXX for XXX years and recommend XXX wholeheartedly and without reservation. I’ve never done an email reference and I’d prefer not to fill it out via email.

If you’d like to gain a deeper understanding of XXX and why I feel he is a stellar prospect, I’m more than happy to talk on Monday.


I then received this choice bit back from HR:

That’s fine, I’ll let the hiring manager and XXX know that we will delay moving forward until then. Also I would be happy to copy your responses onto the the below which is what we are asked to include in a packet for our executive team. We have a similar system to Google where we review a number of candidates at once.

Kind regards


I think that was an attempt at a guilt trip.

The person that I was giving a reference for did get the offer and fortunately turned it down.

Asking for the Sale

brandverity,Business by on June 6, 2008 at 1:02 pm

Back in grammar school our class sold greeting cards as a fund raiser. I don’t remember why we had a fund raiser, but I do remember that if an individual sold enough greeting cards, they would get a Nintendo.

My parents didn’t exactly favor video games so I quickly realized that the only way I’d be playing Mario Brothers at home was to go get orders for greeting cards. After hitting up every adult I knew, I found myself with only enough orders for a small inflatable raft - about 70 shy of the Nintendo. So, I did the only thing I could think of - began knocking on doors.

I quickly figured out where to target my efforts. The rich neighborhoods weren’t the place to go: the houses were too far apart and people were rarely home. However, people that were retired were always home and they couldn’t resist buying Christmas cards from a grade schooler. I also learned that if I never asked them to purchase the cards, they would talk for hours and not buy any cards. Early on, I would walk away with a full stomach and a head full of wisdom, but I wasn’t any closer to the Nintendo.

Asking for the sale comes naturally to some people. Not me. But it is a skill that can be taught and learned. It can be practiced and over time it becomes more natural. It is a necessity for early-stage survival and can often be the sole obstacle to companies founded by purely technical teams that expect their products to sell themselves.

BrandVerity began asking our alpha customers for a sale this week. I’ve been very pleased with the response and find few things as invigorating as the reinforcement of our work that comes with a ‘yes’. There is no greater recognition of value creation than a customer’s willingness to pay.

But you’ll never know unless you ask.

SLAs and Tire Warranties

Business by on April 27, 2008 at 11:25 am

Both are nearly always useless, but are often used heavily in the marketing or sale of products and services. However, SLAs are frequently demanded by businesses. What gives?

But my tire has an 80,000 mile warranty
Read the fine print on your tire warranty. Here are a few snippets from Goodyear’s warranty:

Tires not eligible for replacement [greater than 2/32” of treadwear or 12 months] … will be replaced with a comparable Goodyear tire on a prorated basis. Replacement price will be calculated by dividing the tire’s retail price at the time of adjustment by the percentage of usable tread that has been worn off…You pay for mounting and balancing and any applicable taxes.

So, if your tire dies (due to normal wear and tear) at 70K miles in the middle of nowhere, you get a 8.75% discount on a new tire… if you can prove that you did all of the proper rotating, have your original invoice, etc. There is no compensation for you hassle or even the additional cost of having to put no tires on.

But my hosting SLA says I get 99.999% uptime
The crux of the reason why most SLAs are useless is that they have no teeth. Let’s look at Rackspace’s SLA (which guarantees 100% network uptime):

Upon experiencing downtime, Rackspace will credit the customer 5% of the monthly fee for each 30 minutes of downtime (up to 100% of customer’s monthly fee for the affected server).

If the Rackspace datacenter goes down again, and you lose a day (or more) of business, all you get back is 1 month of hosting fees. I expect that Rackspace’s outage (or 365 Main’s) cost ill-prepared customers way more than a single month of hosting fees.

And therein lies the problem with SLAs. No reasonable service provider is going to contractually put their business on the line for each customer (for large customers, the actual cost of a network outage can be huge). Their primary (and fully aligned) motivation is that if their service sucks, customers will go elsewhere.

EC2 and AppEngine don’t have SLAs
This meme echoes around the blogosphere from time-to-time. Companies are uncomfortable running on EC2 because EC2 has no SLA or or comment on AppEngine’s lack of SLA for that matter.

SLAs rarely make a service. Instead evaluate the service and their historic performance. Understand how they are prepared for outages. What happens to them if their service goes down? I’d contend that Amazon would face such a crisis of confidence that it would cripple their new offerings.

And do your own disaster planning.

The DMA is the root of all evil

Business by on April 25, 2008 at 11:58 am

Two reasons:

  1. Asking catalog mailers not to honor CatalogChoice unsubscribe requests. These mailers send out 19B (yes, Billion) catalogs a year. The DMA sent a letter to their members asking them to ‘just say no’ to unsubscribe request from useful parties such as the non-profit Catalog Choice.
  2. Getting off their frickin email list. Somehow I got subscribed to their email list. However, there isn’t just 1 list or 1 place to manage your subscriptions. So far, I’ve individually unsubscribed from 8 different lists, and I can’t find a single place to unsubscribe from them all. So far I’ve found DMA Information, DMA Seminars, DMA Products, Seminars, Conferences, Council Events, Council and Council Membership. Its aggressive spam-boxing for now.
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