Goodbye, Bon voyage, Do widzenia, שלום!

I resigned from Coupons.com.

It was very hard to do. I had a comfortable 6 figure job at Coupons.com leading the International Engineering team. My core responsibility was to make sure the International business is supported and everyone is happy there. The company I built (Couponstar Ltd) got acquired by Coupons.com and that is how I ended up in Silicon Valley. I was fortunate enough to experience a lot of change there and rub shoulders with many smart folks from Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, MySpace etc… I also got to run internally Python & Django classes (“Snake Wrangling for Couponians” as I called it) and build out the International products in that stack. It was a fun journey and maybe too comfortable.

And then I quit.

Why I quit

Mainly for 2 reasons:

  • The Silicon Valley Entrepreneurial bug and
  • Large company syndrome of being cubed – I will leave this point for another post.

Moving on is about change

… but not the way you may initially imagine it.

Change works best from within and the environment. Just like when I moved from Sydney (Australia) to Silicon Valley (USA). This was a major environmental change. It also changed the network of people around me.

“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with” ~ Jim Rohn

So moving on from the comfort of a job changes:

  • Your environment and
  • Your professional & personal network.

Change is not comfortable because it goes against the automatic programming known as the habit. But it becomes comfortable after a while and then your back into auto pilot mode.. again habit. To understand this and how to modify habits check out The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

Change is difficult but you adjust and move to auto pilot. Just like when you first learnt to drive a car. It was tough but now you don’t even bother to pay attention to it. That part of you is in auto pilot mode. It’s a gift we humans all have. Just need to embrace it.

So lets say you have made a decision to move on from being an employee to an entrepreneur. After a while you will never want to go back to being an employee not because it may be more financially beneficial but because your mind no longer associates with that environment, network and habit of being a cog inside a machine.

This is why children of entrepreneurs end up being entrepreneurs because they too have grown up in that sort of mindset and moving to being an employee (the norm for most) just doesn’t comply. It doesn’t feel right. However coming from an employee’s mindset moving to an entrepreneur feels scary because you have yet not embraced the new way of living. You have a choice to embrace it and wait for the change to become a part of you or fall back into your old patterns. You choose.

This is how I roll ~ gtdfaster.com
This is how I roll ~ gtdfaster.com

Before, I was just another cog in the comfort machine. Now I will be rubbing shoulders with fellow entrepreneurs and business folks. Have full visibility across the whole business, full technology accountability and be responsible for making major impact and disrupting the medical space. Knowing that the technology we build and scale internationally is saving lives. I think I will enjoy the new journey ahead as the CTO of Medlert Inc.

If you are ever in SF ping me and drop in for the famous Samovar tea brewing & a cuppa! Medlert is located in 4 Embarcadero, San Francisco.

Samovar tea gets brewed here - drop by for a cuppa you wont forget!
Samovar tea gets brewed here – drop by for a cuppa you wont forget!

The awesome team I worked with at Coupons.com

Finally thank you to the team I got to work with at Coupons.com. And all those that attended Snake Wrangling for Couponians classes and my tech talks.

My International Engineering team (left to right): Keyvan, Dilip, Steve, Me, JP and Oleg.
Technical Operations team helping us out on the International front (left to Right): Dilip, Matt, Russell, Manny, Me, Jennifer & Rich

~ Ernest

Couponstar – my lessons building an international company

Couponstar Ltd, formerly Cashstar International and later Coupons.com Ltd (post acquisition in late 2011) was a journey I will never forget. A journey which changed me. From being a corporate guy to an international entrepreneur. The 5 years building Couponstar Ltd from ground up were boisterous, convivial and challenging. It is also what took me on a journey to Silicon Valley and ignited this blog.

The journey

It all started back in Sydney, Australia, on January 2004. Having been made redundant from AMP Pty Ltd (the best thing that ever happened to me) I joined Cashstar (as it was formerly known) to work with Jared K (a 2 man team) in changing the retail world using coupons.

Early days

We were in the market providing coupon and media solutions to the gaming and entertainment industry in Australia. We licensed Coupons, Inc. technology outside North America and set out to “couponize” the rest of the world with our high-tech customized solutions which were aimed to drive online traffic into bricks and mortar stores.

Couponstar, as it was formerly called. Now Coupons.com
Couponstar, as it was formerly called. Now Coupons.com Ltd

Below is a picture of the early days (vintage 2004) when it was only me and Jared. We drove 800km in my car from Sydney to Melbourne to attend ADMA (Australian Direct Marketing Association) trade show. Airfares in Australia back then were expensive.. ahh the memories of those early days. I (a software engineer) also got to learn some sales techniques from Jared and via the experience of marketing to customers at ADMA.

From left: Me (Ernest) and Jared Keen (founder of Couponstar Ltd)
From left: Me (Ernest) and Jared Keen (founder of Couponstar Ltd)

The tall blurry banner in the picture above was something we did ourself in-house to lure by passes getting hooked on trying to read it properly. Then Jared and I would swoop in.

On top of sales & marketing I also got involved in every aspect of strategic, operational, technical & engineering tasks while we grew the business. Jared & I even folded print & mail envelopes on the floor of our rented space. Hey it had to be done!

Early pivot

With time we grew to a small lean team of 6 in the Sydney office. After a lot of sweat, we also realised early on that Australia just wasnt the right market for what we were doing. Australia (even today) is slow to adopt new disruptive technology.

So we decided to pivot and opened an office in London under Couponstar Ltd. We realized that Europe had more potential since the market was far greater than Australia and the concept of coupons (vouchers) was partially engraved into the culture for over a century.

Our determination, forward movements and the never say die attitudes sparked Coupons.com’s interest and they invested in us. This helped with the UK & ultimately European expansion. Bonus!

Acceleration

Fast forward to the end of 2008 and Jared and I were in discussions to work out what is the best way forward for the business. Working across multiple continents  Australia, USA and Europe was very taxing on us and we knew there were better alternatives. I proposed I come to Silicon Valley and run the international engineering team from Coupons.com and Jared would go to London to focus on the European market from there. It made perfect business sense. And it was also already on Jared’s mind. Bang! Let’s do this.

So I set off on my journey to Silicon Valley in March 2009 and Jared to London. The International business flourished and expanded fast and in late 2011 I got my exit. Couponstar was 100% acquired by Coupons.com. Ultimately giving Coupons.com an International presence.

Below is what the UK office looks like today, 2012. Nicely staffed team of smart folks.

Couponstar UK office in 2012
Couponstar UK office in 2012

Top 6 lessons

In August 2012 I decided to move on to a new venture and start my own business in Silicon Valley. I am a co-founder / CTO (hello again) of Medlert Inc. We combine industry expertise with innovative technology to deliver critical information to your family, doctor/s and emergency response units to save your life in an emergency. Powered by leading edge secure and encrypted technology to save lives fast.

Yes it’s a totally different shift from saving people money to saving lives.

But before I end this, here are the top 6 lessons from Couponstar days (in no particular order):

  • Customer is no#1. It is alot harder to get a new customer then look after your current one. Your current customers took alot of hard work to bring on board – look after them! I’m sure you have heard to “always under promise and over deliver.”. We always over delivered and made sure the customer was happy and if not asked how we could improve.
  • Business intelligence (data) is super important. Collect collect collect and Analyse analyse analyse so you can understand pain points, what isn’t working and what is. This allows you to create action points to correct what isn’t working so that the customer can see the value in your solution and feel confident about their decision. We used a host of client and server side analytics along with feedback forms throughout our service to collect this data. We also found that trends can be a great indicator of something having gone wrong so being able to correct it early is key. Without data, this would not be possible.
  • Fire fast. The worst is having an unproductive employee dragging not only you but also your team. The rest of the team is very well away of others who are unproductive and this has the potential to rub off on them. So fire fast! Have a chat with the under performer to find out what is going on and should it repeat give them a formal warning and if it repeats again – fire. Your competitors aren’t going to stop while you sort out your internal mess. Act fast.
  • Never run a data center in-house. This point might not be relevant in today’s times since the boom of cloud computing but still requires mentioning. If data center management is not in your specialty or it takes too much red tape to set up in-house forget it. Leave it to the pros and let them manage it. Believe me, you will sleep better at night, scaling will be a thing of the past and your bills will be much lower.
  • Automate everything you can. If you find yourself repeating something too many times. Automate it. From data capture to reports. Spend some time automating it so you can move on and focus on stuff that really matters. Like growing the business, customer base, technology stability etc… Automation is not putting people out of a job, automation it is running lean and mean and most of all FASTER!
  • Working inter-geographically is not for everyone. We all heard of outsourcing and teams working in different regions of the world – some with success and some without. Work out whether this is a good direction for your business to be pursuing, what are the pros and cons and the unforseen. We worked on GMT, EST and PST time zones – round the clock. It was a drain on people and their productivity. Unless the teams are loosely coupled it may not be worth doing this. This is just one of the reasons we decided to shut the Sydney office and move overseas. Has it worked? To some extent yet. But then you have other issues to deal with 😉

So there you have it. I got involved in helping grow a business past those critical startup years into an international company. Along the way sold to the company we partnered with and landed myself in a country where I had to start from fresh (building credit history, new home, new friends, new location, new experiences). Change is scary and also rewarding. I hope this post inspires at least 1 person to make a difference not only to their life but also the life of the people they will touch through their company.

~ Ernest

Save money using coupons

Americans love coupons. Coupons are sexy. Coupons save you money.

It has always been an American Sunday paper tradition to clip coupons out for the week ahead. With the maturity of technology this landscape evolved and now most coupons are located online as the newspaper industry declines. So before you head out to shop in Silicon Valley, visit one of the following coupon sites to grab a bargain and save more of your money using coupons.

You might have already noticed that in the header navigation (above) of this site (The Road to Silicon Valley) I have already hooked up a “Save money” section to provide you with quick access to FREE at home printable grocery coupons and internet coupon codes. Those are powered by the no.1 coupon provider in America, Coupons.com. Keep on reading below to learn more about the best options to save money.

Coupons

A coupon is a ticket or document that can be exchanged for a financial discount or rebate when purchasing a product. Customarily, coupons are issued by manufacturers of consumer packaged goods or by retailers, to be used in retail stores as a part of sales promotions. Basically printing a coupon is like printing money without any commitment to purchase required (unlike group buying below which is the opposite).

Top 2 sites in the USA for printable coupons are:

  • Coupons.com – Top 50 U.S. web property and No. 1 in the Coupons/Rewards category*—as well as Grocery iQ® and Coupons.com mobile applications for iPhone® devices and the Android™ operating system. Coupons.com Free GroceryIQ mobile application is superb and does all the hardwork for you by connecting coupons and your SafeWay loyalty card program to your shopping list. It couldn’t get easier to plan your shopping and load coupons!
  • Coupon Mom – Stephanie Nelson is The Savings Mom™ on ABC News’ Good Morning America, where she has been a regular contributor since 2004. Her Good Morning America segments have taught viewers how to save in many areas, including travel, clothing, restaurants, groceries, gifts, theme parks, gardening and entertainment.

Group buying

Group buying works that if a certain number of people sign up for the offer, then the deal becomes available to all; if the predetermined minimum is not met, no one gets the deal that day. Basically you have to “purchase” the deal in order to save X amount eg. buy for $10 and get $20 worth of goods. So there is a level of commitment required. Unlike coupons where no purchase commitment is required.

Top 2 sites in the USA which allow you to participate in group daily deals are:

  • Groupon – the big boy in group buying. No doubt you would have heard of them. Easy to use and always great products & services to buy. I’m a regular user of their simple, easy to use and efficient service.
  • Living Social – this is a Groupon competitor. Not as popular as Groupon but they do feature some good deals. The beauty of using these 2 sites is if a limited (1 per purchase) deal appears on Groupon you can go to Living Social and purchase it here too.

Coupon codes

Also known as internet coupons since you need to be making an online purchase to take advantage of these – think godaddy codes. Internet coupons typically provide for reduced cost or free shipping, a specific dollar or percentage discount, or some other offer to encourage consumers to purchase specific products or to purchase from specific retailers. Nearly every online retailer or website has a place within its shopping cart or checkout process for promo codes or coupon codes. Use the sites below to get your discount codes when making any online purchase.

Top 2 sites in the USA which allow you to get internet coupon codes are:

  • RetailMeNot – offers discount coupons for more than 65,000 stores around the world. They have been around for a long time and always provide quality active coupon codes.
  • Coupons.com – a one-stop shop provider for printable grocery coupons, local coupon, coupon codes and daily deals. Don’t forget to sign up to their free newsletter so you never miss a great deal.

Other specials to watch out for

Finally, regularly visit your favorite store’s website. They will always feature one-off limited time discounts especially around holidays. Any holiday in the USA is a good reason for these companies to lure you into their store via a great deal – some even up to 50% off during Thanksgiving festive season. I find subscribing to their newsletter always keeps me in the loop.

Best deals can be found during the following times of the year:

  1. Black Friday (3rd Friday of November) – the day after Thanksgiving (3rd Thursday of November).
  2. Christmas sales (before and after 25th of December).
  3. Half year sales and other random public holidays. Get to know American public holidays.

So next time you plan on shopping don’t forget to check the above websites and save anywhere from 10-30% on your shopping bill. While your there, sign up to their newsletters / daily alerts so you never miss that deal. The money saved from this simple habit can be used for your education, your start-up or directed toward a number of other investment vehicles.

Here’s to happy savings!

~ Ernest

Links mentioned in this post

  • Coupons – Coupons, Grocery Coupons, Printable Coupons, Restaurant Coupons, Coupon Codes
  • CouponMom – Cut your grocery bill in half!
  • Groupon – local daily deals
  • LivingSocial – local daily deals
  • RetailMeNot – Coupon codes and discounts for 65000 online stores!