The amazing adventures of Doug Hughes

Posts tagged ‘work’

ProjectSpark! #1:

I just announced that I’m starting what I’m calling ProjectSpark!  As a quick summary, ProjectSpark! is my attempt to publicly describe business ideas I’ve come up with that I think have merit.  My intent is to collect feedback on the idea and, if I’m lucky, to try to build a team of partners with complementary skills to work together to bring the idea to market and to share in its guidance, ownership, and profits. Without further ado, here is my first ProjectSpark! idea:

What the heck is, you may ask? And why the heck is there a period in the middle of the word horse?  Well, the answers are forthcoming, I promise.  But first, some backstory…

I am pretty much addicted to NPR’s Planet Money podcast.  I discovered it recently and have been working my way through last year’s shows. Today I listened to episode #265: Groupon! Monty Python! Price Discrimination! which “aired” Apr 09, 2011.  In this podcast the Planet Money team explains how Groupon is just a recent way that people apply the economic principal of price discrimination.

What is price discrimination? This is essentially what happens when a seller sells the same thing for different prices to different people.  Historically, people have price discriminated through haggling.  Perhaps you are selling a trinket on the street that I think is attractive.  I might make you an offer, you counter offer, and I counter-counter offer.  This goes on for a while until we find a price that I’m willing to pay that you are willing to sell for.  The final price may be higher or lower than what any other customer may pay.

However, in today’s fast paced mass consumption society, this just isn’t practical any more.  Harris Teeter can’t bargain with every customer over the price of every product in their shopping cart.  However, this price inflexibility naturally causes some people who might otherwise buy something to not buy it.  For example, if Harris Teeter makes $1.00 profit from every box of frozen pizzas it sells, it might be able to afford to knock $0.50 off the price via a coupon.  This may encourage someone who otherwise would not pay full price to buy the product.  IE: The price is different for different people.

Groupon was 2011’s darling of price differentiation.  Or at least it was for a while.  It certainly took it’s lumps last year too.  The concept behind Groupon is essentially the same as any other coupon or discount offer.  Namely, consumers hope to get a discounted price and sellers hope to get increased awareness, increased traffic, increased sales, and, if they’re lucky, sell some add-ons to go with the deal.  For example, a glass of beer to go with a discounted meal sold to someone who hadn’t heard of the establishment before a Groupon email.

Groupon is only one of several hundred companies offering similar deal-a-day offers. LivingSocial is another well known example.  In fact, there are so many of these companies that they’ve been dubbed the Daily Deal industry and there are even conferences tending to this industry’s every need.

Now, at last, to explain what is! is a Daily Deal website turned on its head.  Rather than a seller offering a given product at some discount to a certain number of people, a group of people offer to buy a product from any seller for a specified price.

To elaborate, what if I wanted to buy, say, a Nikon D3100 14.2MP Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR & 55-200mm f/4-5.6G IF-ED AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lenses.  Let’s also assume that the market price of approximately $700 was too rich for me.  What if I wanted to pay, say, $600 max for it?  Maybe there is a retailer out there who would entertain that offer, especially if enough people bought into it?  That’s where comes in!

As a buyer, I would be able to go to and find this product (or list it if it’s not already there).  I can then set a price I will pay for this product along with a date that my offer is good through.  For example, I could say that I’m willing to pay $600 for a Nikon D3100 and that my offer is good for, say, two weeks.  I then put a certain amount of money down on this offer as a potentially refundable deposit.  I’m thinking 10% of the offer.  The buyer has now backed up their word with cold hard cash.

Now, this buyer goes off and promotes the heck out of their offer via Facebook, Twitter, and any other way they want. The goal is to get as many potential buyers to make their own offer.  So, let’s say I post to Facebook that I’m making this offer and a few other people see this, they can join in on the offer.  These people can make their own variations on the offer as well.  For example, maybe one of my friends is only willing to pay $550, but is willing to wait a month instead of two weeks.  Perhaps another friend is willing to pay $650.  The point being that for any given product any potential buyer can set their own offer price and how long they are willing to wait to make a deal.

The other side of is for sellers.  Sellers can watch for offers on products which they sell.  For example, a camera dealer may see that 1000 people have made offers for the Nikon D310.  500 of those are offering $600 or more.  They may then decide to accept all offers over $600.

To be clear, sellers would be able to choose a minimum price on offers that they’ll accept.  So those buyers who offered too low of a price would miss out on the opportunity and those who offered too high wouldn’t necessarily get as good of a deal as they could have.  However, the seller makes a large number of sales for the optimal price for each individual customer.  Furthermore, they can avoid making sales where they would otherwise loose money.  They can also wait for a certain number of offers above their cutoff threshold before they close the deal, assuming no other sellers close the deal first. would, of course, take a percentage of these sales for this service. I’m thinking that would simply keep the 10% deposit that the buyer made and that the buyers would pay the seller directly.  This avoids potential Third Party Payment Processing problems that have plagued other businesses I’ve tried to start.

Those people whose offers were not accepted could elect to raise their offer and/or hold out for a future seller who will meet their price.  If a buyer’s offer is not accepted within the time frame they specified they would get a refund of all of their money, less a small fee.  I’m thinking 10% of the deposit.  So, if I offer $600 for the Nikon D3100, I have to pony 10%, $60, up front.  Now say my specified time period passes without my offer being accepted, I would get back $54 and would keep $6 (10% of the deposit).  Ideally would also have been collecting interest on the $60 while we held onto it for the buyer.  This provides an incentive for the buyer to make the best offer they’re willing to accept.  If they make a ridiculous offer they won’t get what they want and they’ll loose a small amount of money off of it.  Again, they’ve got skin in the game.

So, what happens if the buyer doesn’t follow through on their commitment to buy at the price they offered when a seller agrees?  This is entirely possible and may actually the best possible outcome for the seller.  Why?  Because the seller get the buyers deposit and don’t have to deliver any product!

And now to explain where the name comes from.  Firstly, to me at least, the name invokes a mental image of a noble steed working for his master.  This horse could conceivably be the mascot and animated spokesperson of this business.

Secondly, the industry’s somewhat derogatory term for people who clip coupons and make use of daily deal sites like Groupon and LivingSocial is “Coupon Whore”.  IE: Someone who will do anything for a coupon.  My thinking is, why is this a bad thing?  Consumers should wear this title with pride!  And, as luck would have it, Sweden’s top level domain name is “.se”.  I’ve recently been enamored with domain names that make use of the TLD as part of the name.  I submit to you some of my recent domain purchases:,,, and now

I think is a unique name that stands out, clearly says what it is and what it’s for, and it is memorable.

And so now, dear reader, I turn this idea over to you. Please comment below and tell me what you think of this idea.  Is it a good idea or a crappy one?  What would make it better?  Also, do you want to be a part of the team that builds and owns this idea?  Do you want to invest in this idea to get it going?  Do you know someone who might be interested that I (or any other hypothetical team members) should talk to?  Basically, I request humbly that you brain dump in the comment area below.

Thanks for reading and look forward to your feedback!

Introducing: ProjectSpark!

My major goal in life is to get rich – or at least make a comfortable living – by starting up new businesses.  I’ve talked about this a bit in the past.  In fact, I famously (to me) blogged about how I was looking for someone to invest in me on the Alagad blog.  For a while, I was tweeting a new business idea every day via @dougsIdeas.

I really enjoy taking an idea from concept to reality.  However, the problem is that I’m just one person.  There’s only so much I can do in a day.  Furthermore, I’m not skilled at every little thing that any project may require. I’m not a designer (I submit as evidence).  I’m not a copy writer (but I play one on TV).  I’m not a user experience guru.  I’m not an information architect.  I’m not a mechanical or electrical engineer.  My ideas cross a many boundaries and there’s only so much I can personally do.

My other problem is that I lack contacts, or at least the knowledge of how to leverage the contacts I do have in my network.  I don’t have a rich uncle who will be an angel for every little idea I have.  I don’t have money to pay people to do things that I may not do well.

Most successful projects and businesses don’t come about from the lone efforts of a single person.  It takes a village, so to speak.  (I volunteer to be the village idiot!)  So, I’ve decided that perhaps I can build a team of like minded people.  What if a programmer (me), an MBA, a designer, a writer, a social media expert, a sales specialist, and an angel all came to work together? Why does it have to be just one of each? Why not more? What if they all worked together really well and enjoyed the experience, while remaining focused on the ultimate goal?

So, here’s my concept:  I’ll start detailing what I think are unique and compelling business ideas here on this blog as often as I can. Maybe one a week? Maybe more or less often, time will tell.  I’m thinking I could add a poll to the post to gauge general interest in the idea.  Perhaps readers who think an idea is good, who think they can help out, and who want to own part of the business can offer to join a team to build the idea.

The idea would be to build a team to create the business.  Anyhow who participates would get a reasonably large share of the company.  Ideally, if four people work together, they’d each get 25% of the company, assuming they all put in roughly proportional effort.  The group would share in creating the company, running the company, and reaping any benefits and profits that may bring.

Obviously there are a lot of details that are completely undefined at this point.  For example, what happens if someone joins the team but doesn’t deliver or under delivers?  How are potential team members filtered for quality and fit?  How should compensation be handled? How about failure?  And what happens if no one ever wants to join any team?

For now I’m going to ignore that last question and let my optimism cary me.  I can’t be the only person who wants to work with a great team to accomplish something awesome. If I put these ideas out there, maybe these people will find me.  And, failing that, maybe this will lead to a future job as a Conceptual Idea Guy™ for some lucky company. Who knows?

I currently invision that participants would all be putting in sweat equity and paying for things we need however we can.  So, for example, I’d put in hours and throw in money as I can and I’d hope others would too.  The goal, of course, would be to generate income for either a big ultimate pay off or, at least, a steady stream of income. Once one project gets its sea legs we could put a management team in place and act as directors.  Profits could potentially be reinvested in whatever the next project would be.

In the end, I’m hoping to build a close-knit team of entrepreneurs with complementary skills and who work together well and thrive in a startup environment.  Perhaps this is a pipe dream, but it can’t hurt to try!

And so, with that, I hereby commence what I shall now call ProjectSpark! Interested? Comment below or end me an email at

Clawing My Way Out of The Metaphorical Grave

When I started my blog I was at a low point.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m afflicted with ADD and depression.  And, I have seasonal depression on top of it all. I don’t remember my SAD being so bad the last few years, but this year has been murder.

Perhaps this is because over the summer I felt pretty good and decided that perhaps I didn’t need to be on meds any more.  I had been taking a cocktail of Dextroamphetamine, Zoloft and Wellbutrin.  Oddly, I felt fine.  So, clearly I didn’t need that stuff any more and tapered off it.

I felt fine for the next few months, though looking back on it now I can see that I wasn’t doing well at all.  My ADD, which I had only discovered the year, before came back with a vengeance (not that it ever really went away).  I pretty much did as little work (that I was supposed to be doing) as possible.  I spent much of my time working on various side projects and sleeping in the middle of the day.  Don’t get me wrong, I still got things done for clients, but it was as infrequently as possible.  In fact, I hired a contractor to do much of my billable work for me.

The side projects I’ve worked on are actually pretty cool, but I haven’t finished any of them yet.  I’ve followed my traditional pattern where I start something, get it pretty far, and then drop it when it gets tedious or I get another brilliant idea that just can’t wait.

So, here I am, not really making money and not really getting any of my personal projects done – certainly not to a point where I could make money off of them. As you can imagine, this is rather stressful and depressing.  Any logical and reasonable person would, perhaps, redouble efforts to do billable work and/or maybe buckle down and get one of these side projects to a point where they could start making money.

I. Just. Couldn’t. Do. It.

And then winter came in and smacked me upside the head.

I was at a real low point a few weeks ago.  Laying in bed, curled up in a fetal position, nearly in tears.  It’s really hard to explain this to people not afflicted with depression.  There’s just a weight hanging on your soul.  It’s hard to move.  It’s hard to think.  It’s almost hard to breath.  And you can’t stop it.

Actually, that’s wrong.  You can manage depression, but it requires you to do something.  And then to not stop doing it.  For example, (real) exercise is a great way to improve depression.  Eating better will help too.  Vitamin D and getting outside in the sun can make huge differences as well.  Let’s face it, anytime we successfully make changes to better our health, we feel better.  But you have to keep doing it.  And even those without depression will attest that making these types of positive changes in your like, and keeping them going, is nye on impossible.  And failure just adds to feelings of worthlessness and apathy.

I spent the last couple months trying like hell to make some of these changes.  I stopped eating intentionally sweet food and lost 20+ pounds from that alone.  I also built a desk for my treadmill where I can walk and work.  (I’m typing this blog entry on it right now!) I find I can often walk for 90 minutes and get work done at the same time.  These things helped to a degree, but it wasn’t enough to pull me out of the depression.

And then I hit my low.  I was feeling so worthless that I would often fantasize of dying.  I would imagine getting cancer and wasting away.  Or getting run over by a bus.  Or, well, just getting so damned low that I just shut down and fell over dead.  Psychologists call these passive suicidal thoughts.  I wouldn’t have jumped in front of the proverbial bus, but I might not have jumped out of the way.

Additionally, I had been hiding the true depths of how I was feeling from my wonderful, loving, wife.  But she knew. I suppose it’s simular to what Paul Simon sang in his song, Graceland:

And she said losing love [depression]
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

I decided at that moment I really, really, had to get back on my meds.  My wife happens to take Zoloft as well and so I started using some of her pills while I waited for an appointment with my psychiatrist.  I also took my last few remaining Dextroamphetamine pills.  I started walking and working on the treadmill every single day (except yesterday when I was doing some heavy lifting work outside).

So now I’m on Zoloft and Ritalin and a couple of weeks have passed. I feel human again.  I feel like I have a big part of my brain back that had been missing in action for quite a while. And, I have a little bit of perspective on what I did to myself over the last half year.  It’s not perfect, but I swear to myself that I’m never again going to let myself get the way I was just a couple of weeks ago.

If You Are Not Doing What You Love, You Are Wasting Your Time

I woke up this morning to see this lovely inspirational quote in my twitter feed:

If you are not doing what you love, you are wasting your time.
– Billy Joel

Don’t you just love quotes like this?  The implication, of course, is that you can always do what you want to be doing.  While I believe this is essentially true, it’s just not that easy.  There’s this pesky thing called “life” which has a tendency to get in the way.  And one also needs to account for self doubt and more practical roadblocks like money and time.

Over the last few days I’ve written about how I want to switch up my life somehow.  Essentially, I want to make a new job for myself as serial entrepreneur.  I am always having ideas for businesses and some of them actually seem good.  Even better, some of them are doable by me. I love developing these ideas and making something out of them.

My question for myself is, if I love doing this stuff so much, why don’t I just freakin’ do it?! My wife would argue that I do.  I spend way too much time in my office working on my idea du jure.  Why don’t I ever feel like I accomplish anything?

I have a particular pattern I follow when it comes to this.  I suspect I may not be the only one who has this pattern.

My Workflow

Basically, something happens while I’m working to make me have second thoughts about whether I should be doing this work or not.  Someone might have a negative opinion that hits a nerve.  Maybe there’s work that I don’t want to do.  For example, pretty much anything not-technical.

Once you run into something you don’t want to (or can’t) deal with, love begins to fade.  That may well be one of the most cynical things I’ve ever written, but there’s truth to it.

So, what can I do about this?  Are all my various ideas and projects doomed to failure, half done?  I sure as hell hope not!

I have to remind myself that it took me about seven years to figure out how to make Alagad, my consulting business, into something worth talking about.  I spent years flailing around more or less randomly until something actually worked.

My wife has a story she likes to tell that probably came from Dr. Phil or someone simular.  There was a man who was lamenting falling out of love with his wife.  He used to love her, but he just didn’t have the feeling any more, though he wanted to.  What did Dr. Phil (or whoever) say to this man?  He reminded him that love isn’t just a noun, it’s a verb.  Love isn’t just a thing you feel, it’s a thing you do.

Since I’m no Dr. Phil, I’m going to have to simply say that in my case I’m going to have to try to love what I’m working on, even if I run into self doubt, naysayers, or whatever.  From experience, I can say this is easier said than done.  I’ve always been a doubter.  Without evidence I am always skeptical.

The thing about patterns, especially behavior patterns such as the one I outlined above, is that they’re hard to break.  Those who have ever struggled with weight loss or addiction know what I mean.  To break a behavior pattern you have to do something different, which I’m trying to do.

Yesterday I announced a goal of mine publicly:

I will publish 12 KickStarter projects in the next 13 months, one a month, starting 30 days from now, until all 12 have failed or one has been funded successfully! I will have my first KickStarter proposal submitted by February 16th!

This publicly stated goal (any actually following through on it) is the first thing I’m trying to do to break my patterns.  I’m hoping that if I work publicly, talk about what I’m trying to do and the challenges I run into, that I’ll find a way to keep working and reach my goal.

I’d like to end this article by updating the Billy Joel quote above with a few edits of my own:

If you are only half doing what you love you are truly wasting your time.
– Doug Hughes

What are your experiences in this area?

Transition Point

Hi, I’m Doug Hughes.  This is a reboot of my personal blog at  I used to have another blog here a few years ago where I wrote about personal and technical topics.  This was back in a time when I was still getting my company, Alagad, off the ground and a lot of business and personal content was mingled together.

A while back I moved most of the content from onto the Alagad blog and simply pointed to  That was fine and dandy, but it is now time for me to reclaim my own personal space on the internet.

The reason I’m doing this is because I’m going through a bit of a mid-career crisis.  I haven’t really talked about this publicly before and, honestly, I’m not quite sure why I’m going to start now.  Perhaps it’s so I can talk through the challenges I’m having.  Maybe I can get useful feedback from those people who read this.  Maybe it’s a narcissistic ego thing.  I don’t really know.

The problem I’m having is this: I don’t really enjoy the work I’m doing (contract web programming) as much as I used to.  There, I’ve said it out loud!  The world knows!  That at least that’s off my back!

There was a time when Alagad and programming was all I could think of, but these days I’m really longing to do something else.  A while back I hired my father in law as a program manager for Alagad.  Over time he took over many of the tasks I didn’t want to do such as collections.  This continued until we decided he should formally be the CEO of Alagad.  So at this point my role in Alagad is as a technical leader and programmer.  This has enabled me to luxury of thinking about doing something other than just Alagad.

In fact, in late in 2011 I quietly handed my resume around to a few companies but I didn’t really find anything I liked (that also liked me).  My idea was that I would take an extended leave of absence from Alagad, get a developer-level job with a startup company that I found interesting and use that as an opportunity to meet new people and learn new things.  It didn’t really pan out.

For those who are familiar with Alagad, please know that Alagad itself isn’t going anywhere, even if I do.  It’s being operated by capable hands and works is done, as always, by Alagad’s excellent employees and contractors.  If I step away from the company nothing will change.

Also, over the last few years I’ve brainstormed business and product ideas on an almost daily basis.  For a while I was trying to tweet one new business idea a day at DougsIdeas, but that petered out after a while.  I didn’t really get much feedback or interest in what I was trying to do.  However, I think some of my ideas are actually pretty good!  I even started work on a few of them, but I haven’t yet had any success taking them to any meaningful completion.

To complicate matters, I’ve learned that I have Depression and Attention Deficit Disorder.  I’m trying to treat these, but they sure can make it harder to do what you want to.  This has been very hard to admit to myself – or to anyone else, really.  I feel like I should be able to pick myself up do something, but it’s not really that easy.

What this all boils down to is this:

There are lots of things I want to do with myself.  By this I mean there are lots of businesses I would like to start or jobs I’m interested in.  I’m a curious person.  However, I don’t have a ton of time or money to invest in these businesses.  And depression and ADD often stymie me.

So, on this new blog I’m going to start trying to think verbosely about some of these challenges, things that I want to do.  I’m going to try to strategize ways to do these things.  I’ll also talk about other more personal things as well like family, friends, etc.  I’m going try to lay it all out for the world to see.  I hope to get some good feedback and support.  We’ll see where it goes.

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