A Story from My Company

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Since the community has apparently become somewhat of a replacement for WordPress, I’d like to add my own, entirely irrelevant, blog entry.

Back in 1983, when I started my current software company (my second), we focused on doing what much of the community viewed as impossible.  About five years along, we were working on a cutting-edge piece of enabling software (software that other companies use to build their products).  Now, to be clear: This project we were doing wasn’t the Manhattan Project or landing a man on the moon.  But it was still pretty innovative, very difficult, and terribly complicated.

The project was progressing, but it was way behind.  We delivered features late, and what we did deliver often was neither particular well documented nor always correct.

We had a particular client whose staff was constantly complaining and sending rude bug reports to our team.  Their management sent our management rude emails.  The VP at this client had been trying to call me for two weeks, and I had succeeded in ducking his calls.  Finally, later on a Thursday afternoon, I was in my office and I made the mistake of answering my phone.  It was the angry VP.  He proceeded to read me the riot act: Dates, bugs, how many millions of dollars of sales were on the line for his company, how we gave dates, promised functionality, etc.  He was yelling.  I got angry and started yelling back.  Instead of answering any of his questions, I told him “From this moment forward, if you or anyone at your company sends us one more, single, tiny, complaint... I’m going to walk in to my Finance Manager’s office, cut you a check for whatever you’ve paid us, and you can write this software yourself.”   That was the gist of what I said.  In actuality, I used the f-word several times. They had paid us in excess of $100K, which at the time was a significant amount of money for us.

In truth, this was one of my proudest moments as an entrepreneur. The client was out of line and getting worse.  I knew that the abuse had to stop, for my sanity and for the sanity of my dev team.  And I knew if I worked for any company other than one I founded, I would have been fired on the spot for talking to a client this way.

But... You know what?  The client’s complaining stopped.  Immediately.  He even stopped yelling on the phone.  He apologized, in fact.  Because he knew his company really wanted our software, there was no way they could write it themselves, and if we "fired them" as a client they'd be out of luck.

Know what else?  That company has been one of our best and most loyal clients from that day to this.  Just last week, almost 20 years later, we signed a major product licensing agreement with them.

And that concludes today’s blog post.

I swear this is a 100% true story.  I will fully understand if the mods lock or delete this post for being off topic.

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Peter K1PGV, Elmer

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Posted 4 years ago

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Stu Phillips - K6TU, Elmer

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You are not OT at all.

You rightly called the guy out and you were right to tell him he was about to get fired as a customer. 

I have a lot of experiences with companies and with customer support.  Sometimes the customer passes the point of acceptable behavior and they have to be told so.

About a year ago, there was one particularly angry individual on this community who wouldn't quit griping.  He didn't say anything new, he just kept ranting and ranting - railing abuse like so many continue to do over 1.4.

I emailed him privately and offered to buy his radio from him at what he had paid for it.

He blustered and the net of it was he shut up and to the best of my knowledge, still has his radio.

Your action was 100% on target.

Stu K6TU
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The complaining is what killed the open BETA back in the day when PowerSDR was being perfected. 
Thanks for you story and the happy ending.
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Gerald - K5SDR, Employee

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Bret, you are correct.
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KY6LA - Howard, Elmer

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Similar experiences starting in 1963. We were convinced that we could do a better job controlling traffic lights using a computer than a policeman on the point. The chief of police said that "No Robot can do a better job than a human Policeman".

On our own dime, we wired up 5 intersections, invented computerized traffic control (I still own those patents) and made headlines fixing the worst traffic jam in the city. We won a no bid contract to computerize the rest of the city intersections. We had done it before for 5 intersections in a few weeks...so 600 would be easy...NOT

All sorts of unknowns bit us in the butt. We missed EVERY deadline, since no one had ever invented a 600 intersections traffic control system before, we had to invent everything from loop detectors to count cars, to vaults to house the light controls on the streets to the math, algorithms and software to control it all and a million other tiny details that no one had ever thought of before or even understood that it could be a problem.

After about 18 months of totally missing deadlines, our relationship with our client was toxic to say the least. They stopped paying our bills, We mortgaged our houses to make payroll and persisted on course fighting bug after bug after bug. Surprise, surprise, we actually got it done. We got paid. Repaid our mortgages. Computerized traffic control is such a world standard today that no one knows about its shaky beginnings. Replicating it is actually pretty easy to do and easy to meet a deadline BECAUSE We, the inventors, found all the major unknowns and solved them.

I have about a dozen similar startup experiences inventing never been done before technologies over my 50+ year career. It is almost impossible to meet any deadline when you are inventing something new because of all the unknowns that bite you in the butt and could not be anticipated before you started. That said, a lot of what we worked on worked in the end and we got paid well enough to be able to fund the next new thing's development

The issue with people who have never invented something entirely new before is that they do not understand that there may be unknowns that crop up and have to be solved. They assume that since you may have worked on something similar before you would magically have a solution that would take no time to happen and that you could meet any deadline.

Basically I chalk up the whiners and deadline demanders to just being people who are totally ignorant of the process of inventing new things and of being incapable of doing it themselves. They are like the blind...who it's impossible to explain the color red or green. I actually sort of feel sorry for them as they are missing out on some of the beauty of life.

Gerald. I for one appreciate how hard it is to get it right

NOLI ILLIGITIMUS CARBORUNDUM... Don't let the bastards grind you down.
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Gerald - K5SDR, Employee

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Howard, from your story you know exactly what it is like on our end.  Thank you, thank you.
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Peter K1PGV, Elmer

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Great story, Howard.  Right on the money.
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Steve W6SDM

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Deadline:  A commitment made for the sole purpose of giving someone something to complain about when you miss it.
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Burt Fisher

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Cute, try that on the I.R.S. 

I wonder how a company would feel if their customer said they would pay on Oct 31 and on Jan 31, no money? Of course 1.4 is free so one ought not kick a gift horse in the mouth.

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Ken - NM9P, Elmer

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The difference is that most of the time the "deadlines" were always stated, or at least understood by most of us as "we HOPE to release it in January,  "We PLAN to release it in October."  "Our GOAL is for a release in the third Quarter of 2014." etc.  I never interpreted ANY of these as a hard deadline (like tax day) or as a firm promise, only the fluid time schedules of a company pushing innovative software development.

In fact, this increasing complexity was probably one major thing behind the move away from annual software release fees and shifting to Major Upgrade Version fees.  I am sure that many people, even those who were so hacked off at that paradigm shift, are glad that they haven't spent all of their year's fee waiting for the company to perfect what promises to be a major shift in software capabilities.  And we will get another one in v.1.5 for FREE before the shift to 2.0 brings us our first paid upgrade.  I would have already been halfway through my second year of paid annual updates on the old system!

I have no gripes here!

Ken - NM9P
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Bob Craig, K8RC

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Huzzah! Thanks for speaking up!

It is my own experience that a good number of our fellow amateurs have no real appreciation for the amount of time and effort required to produce software. I wrote one of the first software logging packages for Windows (3.0!) in the early 90s. I actually was scolded by one ham for charging $30 when, as he so helpfully pointed out, you could buy an entire box of 10 floppy disks for less than $10.

To the Flex Folks, thanks for what you've already done to give me a cutting-edge radio.

Bob, K8RC