Archive for December 2005

Aardvark'd DVDs Ship; Final P&L 01 Dec

Agckphbft. I didn't expect so many of you to order the DVD of the movie we made here, Aardvark'd: 12 Weeks with Geeks. I thought we'd get about 1000 orders. So far, we've received about 2600 orders, which went to 55 different countries, including Kazakhstan. We even sent a copy to someone in New Orleans.

Picture of DVDs ready to shipNow, anyone in their right mind would have found a fulfillment house to actually package and ship these damn things, but here at Fog Creek we seem to have developed a do-it-yourself kind of culture. That led to a three day packing and shipping ordeal to get the first batch out the door, which is finally over.

The way I justify this silly exercise in hard labor is that I can write it off as a learning experience! Here's what I learned:

  • Barcodes are the greatest thing since sliced bread. I didn't think we'd need a barcode because all we had to type was an eight digit order ID.  Lo and behold, typing an eight digit order ID three thousand times adds up. The three day ordeal would have been a two day ordeal if we had thought to put barcodes on the packing slip and had a scanner to read it.
  • It is amazing how much easier our life would have been if we had found a way to get the packing slip and the shipping label onto the same physical piece of paper. Otherwise you need to spend a remarkable amount of effort trying to keep your packing slips in the same sequence as your shipping labels. If they can both be printed on the same sheet somehow, the sequence stops mattering and everything you do is just that much easier. You can throw things on piles as you assemble the packages instead of carefully keeping things in sequence. You'll notice that a lot of shippers use special paper that is half peel-off-label, half plain paper for this exact reason.
  • The difference between desk/table height (intended for working sitting down) and counter height (intended for working standing up) makes a huge difference ergonomically. Three days of working with things at various heights while standing up taught me that lesson in a visceral way. Luckily our new office expansion was not completely set in stone so we were able to alter the design of the new mailroom shipping station to use counters instead of desks.
  • You can't send Global Priority Mail to Italy. Who knew?

So far we've shipped to just about everyone who ordered, except for the last 100 people who ordered the NTSC edition, because we flat ran out. More NTSC DVDs will arrive on December 14th and will go out quickly. We still have some PAL in stock, so those are now going out the same day.

In case you're wondering how much it really costs to produce a movie like this, here's the approximate breakdown.

Incremental Expenses (per unit)

$2.00 - DVD production and delivery
$5.00 - Royalty to filmmaker
$0.30 - Envelope for shipping
$2.52 - Postage (weighted average)
$0.20 - Other supplies for shipping (labels, paper for packing slips, toner, boxes, etc)
$1.00 - Shipping labor (estimate, since most labor came from Fog Creek employees on the payroll anyway).

Total per unit: $11.02. Since we're selling at $19.95 that's $8.93 gross profit.

Fixed Expenses:

$5,000 - Stipend paid to Boondoggle Films
$5,000 - expense reimbursement to Boondoggle Films
$925 - English-language subtitles
$3000 - Terabyte storage server used to hold footage while editing
$1000 - Graphic design of DVD cover and silkscreen
$200 - Damaged goods, accidental double shipments (due to lack of bar codes!), spoiled postage, etc.

Total: $15125. So we need to sell 1694 copies to break even. As of today, we've sold 2595, so we made a profit on the movie of about $8048.

There's one thing this doesn't account for: since we buy the DVDs in lots of 1000, at some point in the future we're going to have a bunch of DVDs that we just can't sell and we'll have to write those off. With 2 SKUs and batches of 1000 we'll waste an expected 500 units per SKU which is $2000, so deduct $2000 from the profit giving you a final figure of $6048.

Not bad! I was hoping to break even on the movie, and make a "profit" through more applications to our summer internship program from people who saw the movie and were inspired to work for Fog Creek.

Fog Creek Goes to ETech 07 Dec

We gave all the Fog Creek programmers a choice of which conference to attend this spring, from a long list of about 12 conferences, and all of them wanted to go to ETech. So that's where you'll find us next March. It was incredibly interesting last year -- most of the presentations, especially the ones that weren't given by the sponsors, were great, but the best part was interacting with the interesting attendees.

News 08 Dec

We have this big empty loft next door where we're about to start construction on another eleven offices. In the meantime it's serving as a temporary ping-pong room.

Shipping Atoms 14 Dec

How to Ship Anything, in which we cut the amount of labor it takes to ship orders from 3 minutes to 35 seconds.

How to Ship Anything

Behold, the Copilot Beer Pong Table 14 Dec

Behold the Copilot Beer Pong Table

Shipping Update 14 Dec

We discovered that 2 people working in tandem can ship an order every 12 seconds using the new system. So the actual labor costs are down to 24 seconds per order, in a process which requires literacy and two hands but little else. That gives us a throughput of 2400 orders per day before we have to build a parallel workstation... should last a while.

In an article called In Defense of Not-Invented-Here Syndrome, written in 2001, I said, “[I]f you've ever had to outsource a critical business function, you realize that outsourcing is hell. Without direct control over customer service, you're going to get nightmarishly bad customer service -- the kind people write about in their weblogs when they tried to get someone, anyone, from some phone company to do even the most basic thing. If you outsource fulfillment, and your fulfillment partner has a different idea about what constitutes prompt delivery, your customers are not going to be happy, and there's nothing you can do about it, because it took 3 months to find a fulfillment partner in the first place, and in fact, you won't even know that your customers are unhappy, because they can't talk to you, because you've set up an outsourced customer service center with the explicit aim of not listening to your own customers.”

Interesting Links 14 Dec

I can't figure out who's writing it, but Enplaned, a blog about commercial aviation, is one of the best blogs I've come across in a long time, full of insightful, in-depth articles about the airline industry.

RedditReddit is a website with a cute alien mascot, featuring user-submitted and user-rated links. If you've already seen the Aardvark'd movie you saw the developers of reddit, Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian.

TWiTI've subscribed and unsubscribed to a lot of Podcasts trying to keep entertained on the subway, and the bottom line is that there are only two I can tolerate on a regular basis: TWiT and VentureVoice. TWiT made me understand why Leo Laporte was so beloved on Tech TV, and John C. Dvorak will charm your socks off in his role as the cuddly curmudgeon, channeling Jerry Pournelle. VentureVoice gets great interviewees on topics close to my heart and does them with great journalistic values and high production quality... don't miss the episodes on launching VideoEgg at Demo (#14 and #15).

I had to stop listening to the Gilmore Gang because the sound quality made it inaudible on the streets of New York. (Do they listen to their podcasts after they record them?) I had to stop listening to Adam Curry because all he does is talk about was how great podcasts are. Show us, Adam, don't tell us. Adam Curry is one of the best DJs in the world, but his show is 10% great DJing, 60% crappy drivel about podcasting, and 30% late-night-infomercial-quality promos for podcasts about garden slugs, followed by Adam talking for 20 minutes about how great it is that there are podcasts about garden slugs. I unsubscribed, and spent the next two hours listening to Jason Robert Brown's hilarious and uplifting I Could Be In Love With Someone Like You again and again and again.

Saporasaki 28 Dec

Joel on Software - In JapaneseThe Japanese version of Joel on Software (the book) is out! I want to thank Yasushi Aoki who translated it and Ohmsha, the publisher.

So far, the book is available in English, Italian, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese. I'm certain the Japanese translation will be excellent because Yasushi-san worked closely with me on many small points of translation and worked very hard to correctly translate all those weird cultural references and inside jokes I always put in my articles. The quality of the physical book is much nicer than the English original (why do they have such nice paper in Japan?)

One of my dad's books on educational linguistics was translated to Japanese when I was a kid. I got a primer on Japanese and deciphered the cover, and was thrilled that our name in Japanese is usually pronounced sa-po-ra-sa-ki, which sounds like a cross between an alcoholic drink and a rad motorcycle.

UPDATE Paul Jensen emails: "As a student of linguistics and Japanese, I feel I should point out that your last name in Japanese is actually su-po-ru-su-ki. In Japanese, /u/ is generally silent following /s/, so your name would come out as [sporuski], which is pretty close to how it's pronounced in English."

The Perils of JavaSchools 29 Dec

“A sure sign of my descent into senility is bitchin’ and moanin’ about ‘kids these days,’ and how they won’t or can’t do anything hard any more.”

The Perils of JavaSchools

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