A successful entrepreneur shares her thoughts on business success and failure.

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I finally jumped on the HDTV bandwagon.

I had previously stated that one of my goals for 2007 was to get a new TV. It was definitely time for an upgrade from my old 27″ CRT, but I didn’t want to get into a lot of debt to do so.

Then the Bears got into the Super Bowl. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I’d decided that if the Bears got into the Super Bowl, I’d go to the Super Bowl. I’m a third-generation Bears fan and grew up being teased mercilessly by my peers at a time when the Cowboys were the team to beat. When I realized during the playoffs that the Bears had a strong chance, I started looking into Super Bowl tickets. Of course, they were ridiculously expensive…about $3000 for a pair at the time. I decided I had better uses for $3000.

I gave myself a salary increase as of 1/1/2007. My salary is still not up to where I want it to be, but I have about $760 more a month after taxes now. That, combined with the decreased rent from having a housemate, made me figure I was safe going into a bit of debt for a couple months (I had some stockpiled money, so it wasn’t $3000 in debt) in order to get a HDTV, a new couch, and host a Super Bowl party.

I got a new couch that I really like. It’s brown microfiber — very comfy! Then, last weekend, I decided it was all or nothing, and shopped around for a plasma TV. I’ve wanted a plasma TV ever since years ago when I saw one of the very first Pioneer Elite plasmas in a store (playing Lord of the Rings) and realized there was no other TV with a comparable picture. Plasmas then, of course, ranged into the 5 figures for a 50″. So I waited…and waited…and waited. My stated goal was to buy when a 42″ hit $2000 or less. That happened a couple years ago, but due to the low salary I was paying myself and the high rent costs I had, I couldn’t afford anything. — rent was then 55% of my take-home income. With my current salary and housemate, rent is now running 28.5% of my monthly take-home pay — a dramatic difference. My goal is to get that number to the government-recommended 18.5% of take-home pay through further salary increases and dividend payments from Simpli.

Back to HDTV. I did my research and consulted AVSForum.com extensively. Besides the fabled Pioneer Elite, which was out of my price range, the recommended HDTV seemed to be Panasonic. I visited Costco and Best Buy to do more research. Costco had a coupon that brought the 42″ plasma down to $1300+tax. That seemed like the best deal I was going to get.

Until I searched “panasonic plasma” on craigslist. Seems a lot of people were moving and had to sell their plasma TVs. The going price for a Panasonic 50″ plasma was about $1500. I measured my TV shelf and a 50″ would fit perfectly! I emailed several sellers and found one selling a Panasonic 50″ plasma for $1400. This is the same TV that Best Buy is selling right now for $1999. I asked Seth if he wanted to drive up to Livermore with me to pick it up, since his car would actually fit it. We did so, and now I have a beautiful new TV for a much cheaper price than I would have paid in a store! The only downside is that I only get the remainder of the warranty, and it may be difficult to actually utilize the warranty since I wasn’t the original purchaser — but hopefully I’ll never have to use it. I haven’t had any problems so far with the TV.

I soon figured out that the TV wasn’t the only thing I would have to upgrade. My ancient Sony first-generation DirecTiVo would have to go, too. It only supported 4:3, and the compression the TiVo used, which wasn’t noticeable on my old 27″ CRT, was painfully obvious on the plasma. Back to AVSForum (and TiVo Community as well) to do more research. It quickly became clear that I had two options: 1) Stick with DirecTV and pick up their own PVR, or 2) switch to cable and pick up a Series3 TiVo. My loyalty to TiVo is stronger than my loyalty to DirecTV, so I made a switch I never thought I’d make: I switched to Comcast. I negotiated with them for a better deal since I would get digital cable and high speed Internet from the same provider. Reading the forums later, I realized others were getting better deals, but I negotiated the Digital Silver package, HBO, and high-speed Internet (which was bumped from my current 4Mbit to 6Mbit) for $100/month including tax for the first 12 months. It saves me about $23/month from the Comcast and DirecTV package I had before, and in a year I can call and negotiate again.

Comcast came out to install, but they didn’t install correctly. I’ll spare you the details, but it took 4 phone calls and some Googling to figure out the problem. After the 4th phone call, everything finally started working. That was about 2AM yesterday. So I’ve had HD for almost 24 hours now, and…um…it rocks!

Most of my friends don’t even have TVs. A lot of them pile on my couch to watch shows like Boston Legal every week. I’ve always been one of the more TV-obsessed of my friend circle. It’s weird…most of my friends will watch grainy videos on YouTube for hours and then not be interested enough in “TV” to buy their own TV. I’ve never had too much hangup or pretense about my TV watching. I have a TiVo (and now I have a really nice Series3 TiVo!) so I watch whenever I want. I watch a fair amount of TV, but never feel pressure to watch it…it’s just something I do for fun.

Before this week, I could count on one finger the number of 16:9 HDTVs people I know personally owned: 1, and that HDTV belongs to my parents. Now I have one and I just have to shake my head at all these so-called geeks who have crappy TVs or no TV. HDTV is awesome!!!! Not only are most of the primetime shows in HD, but there are some really neat HD-only channels. For instance, right now I’m watching M:HD, which is just music videos in HD. The music videos are cool, and better yet, there aren’t any annoying VJ’s, and they play a great selection. (The Eagles live was one of the most recent videos they played.) The only commercials are for Mitsubishi HDTVs. HBO has a HD channel, and there are a couple other HD channels that just play old TV shows or movies in HD. Yesterday, one channel ran about 12 hours back-to-back of “The X-Files” in HD. Most of the popular sports are broadcast in HD.

I just don’t think that most of the population is aware of how many shows there are in HD. I sure wasn’t — I thought most shows were still being run in 4:3. It looks like most current primetime shows are taped in HD and then downconverted to 4:3. Even two of our local news stations are running the local nightly news in HD. Better yet, the switch to digital TV means networks can cram more stuff down the same size pipe. The local PBS station, for instance, has converted itself into 4 PBS stations (none HD, it appears, but all digital), which each play various PBS content at any given time. Two local networks have added on 24×7 weather channels in their digital lineup. This is way cool.

The Series3 TiVo gets my thumbs-up, too. It finally has an integrated Ethernet port (what took you so long, TiVo?!) Since my router is upstairs, I bought a Logitech Play Link off of woot.com and plugged one end into the TiVo and one end into the router upstairs. Voila, instant wireless! (It’s not very fast, but it doesn’t need to be.) The front of the TiVo shows what show you’re recording right now, which is nice. The remote is well-designed, but oddly appears to be missing the “List” button, which I used frequently on my old TiVo to go right to the list of recorded programs. (Without the List button, you have to Tivo-button->Select, which is not terrible, but I miss the List button.) The Guide is much faster (FINALLY!) and adding a Season Pass is much faster. Finally, with a 250GB hard drive instead of my old TiVo’s 30GB hard drive, it can record a lot more programs.

I’m very happy with my purchase, even though it means I’ll be paying it down for a couple months. No biggie… soon it’ll all be paid off. In the meantime, I’m preparing for 20-30 people to show up on Sunday for an awesome Super Bowl party! Woo!

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Screw Froogle…here's something better.

Like many of you, I use Froogle to search for prices. Unfortunately, this means Google has made a ton of money from me. I knew about this, and had previously made a habit of just searching through Froogle and then going to the website I wanted directly instead of “clicking through” on Froogle. But that’s a pain in the butt, and doesn’t really help me that much.

Enter Jellyfish. Like Froogle, they take a cut every time you buy from online retailers. Unlike Froogle, instead of buying Googlers more free food, you get the cash (well, they split it with you, but it’s still better than pumping up GOOG a few more cents.) They have the same set of retailers Froogle does, including Staples.com, Buy.com, Barnes & Noble, and other places you already shop. With every purchase you make through Jellyfish, you get cash back. Combined with already-good free shipping offers through most retailers, this is an excellent way to save a lot of money this holiday season and not have to deal with ridiculous lines and lack of parking at malls and brick-and-mortar stores.

Jellyfish also has their “Smack of the Day”, which gives you the opportunity to get first-run items at discount prices. Basically, it’s a reverse auction. You agree to buy the item for the full price from one of their retailers, and the amount of cash back you get increases every minute until they sell out of items. The Smacks start at 10AM PST/1PM EST every day. Apparently this Friday they’re doing “Smack Friday” and they’ll put up a new product every two hours. That is also worth checking out. I’ve already earned $54 of cash back by using Jellyfish. Screw you, Froogle!

I also use Woot.com to get good deals on discontinued or overstock items. Woot is an interesting site — they only sell one item per day, and the item goes up at 10PM PST/1AM EST and lasts until it sells out. Occasionally they will do a “Woot-Off”, where they sell 1 product continuously until it sells out, then put up another product… I got several Christmas gifts on the last (48-hour-long) Woot-Off.

Disclaimer: The Jellyfish links above put me (slashchick@gmail.com) as your referrer. I don’t put ads on this blog and have never made a dime off of it, and I think Jellyfish is neat. Woot doesn’t do referrals, but I also think it is neat, so I threw it in there as well. I ask that you keep the referral there if you enjoy reading my blog; it doesn’t change your amount of cash back, but it gives me a little something to buy Christmas gifts with. Go buy your Christmas gifts on Jellyfish too, and you can have a little something for yourself as well. Thanks!

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Significant recent changes in my life

I’ve been pretty remiss lately with both blog updates and actually having a life outside of work. It seems they go hand in hand — whenever I’m too busy working, I don’t blog as often and I tend to not be able to keep up with friendships. There’s a lot going on at work, most of it good, and a lot of it significant, but I feel that requires a separate blog entry, and more accurately, a separate blog. More on that later this week, or perhaps next if I get totally swamped again.

But on to my personal life. Though there isn’t much of it to speak of, I do have a couple things that are interesting. The most interesting thing that happened recently was that I got a housemate. I haven’t had a housemate in 3 years or so, and haven’t had a female housemate (which my new housemate is) in 5 years or so…so why the change?

Well, for one, I needed some extra money to pay back some debt I have from major dental problems and some ongoing health issues. The ongoing health issues are mostly back- and wrist-related, and a chiropractor and a lot of ice packs are helping immensely, but chiropractors don’t come cheap. Unfortunately, a couple weeks ago I threw my lower back totally out of alignment and I have not really been the same since. Just when I started to feel like myself again, I helped my new housemate move in (yesterday) and now I’m limping around again. That’s just no good. Even though the chiro sessions are reasonably priced, I do sessions 1-2x a week right now (until I can get everything straightened out) and that’s just not helping my pocketbook.

So money was the first and foremost issue that made me seek out a housemate. If I don’t accumulate any new debt, and don’t use any of my current Simpli salary to pay off any more of my personal debt, with just the housemate monthly income, I’ll be debt-free in 12 months. That would be a tremendous achievement for me.

But it’s more than that. You see, my kitties were lonely. When I came home at night from work (and lately, it’s been come-home-sleep-wake-up-shower-go-to-work-come-home-sleep…), my kitty girls would just yowl plaintively at my bedroom door, begging me to love on them for just a few minutes. Of course, it’s rare that I even have a few minutes at home. I tried to make as much time for them as I could, but they were so sad. I saw it in their eyes. Therefore, a housemate who liked kitty girls also solved that problem.

Finally, I was getting kind of lonely in those weird night ways. You know, when you hear something that goes THONK in the middle of the night (and with two nocturnal kitty girls in the house, there are a lot of THONKs!) and you just hope that it’s not someone coming to rob you. Fortunately, that has never been the case for me… but it still makes me feel better to know someone else is here.

So, a few months ago, I set out on the path to find a housemate. I dug through the craigslist housing wanted section for a few weeks, responding to a few posts that looked interesting. I also posted my own place under rooms/shared a few times. I got a couple responses, but no one I wanted to live with. Then, one night, I was digging through housing wanted and found a post that had a title beginning with “Geek girl…” Really? Another geek girl? Wow, this was great!

We met at my place and immediately hit it off. Turns out we both work at Market Post Tower (she for another company there as a datacenter tech.) We have similar interests, but have different life paths, which makes for interesting conversations. My landlord interviewed her (and I mean really grilled her, too; it was funny!) and approved, so L moved in yesterday. My place has 3 bedrooms — she took 1 bedroom that was formerly my home office and I moved the home office into the smaller 3rd bedroom.

Obviously she has been here only a day, so I can’t say how well it will work out long term, but so far I’m enjoying having found someone I can live with and still count as a friend, too. A bonus is that she is female, but tomboyish like me, so we can share “girly” stuff without having to feel all weird and cutesy about it. This is very cool. I am happy. And now I can go pay my chiropractor bill and pay off all that tooth stuff that cost me a fortune a few months ago. The kitties are grumpy, but they will get over it. ๐Ÿ™‚

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The TV studios just don't get it.

So, on a whim, I went over to YouTube today and searched for “Parker Lewis”. I don’t know if any of you remember the show Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, but it was one of my favorites growing up. My dad and I used to watch it every week. Not only that, but Parker and his friends were geeky (and funny geeky, not horribly-awkward-to-watch geeky like Screech on Saved By The Bell.) Lo and behold, someone had posted a partial episode of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose up there.

The TV studios just don’t get it. I would have happily watched this partial episode as a preview and paid $10 to see all the episodes right then and there. I would have a much happier night tonight reliving memories of my childhood by watching Parker Lewis than I would by watching any of the crap that’s on TV right now, and I would pay to do that. Hello, studios? Parker Lewis isn’t making you any money sitting on dusty reels in some studio basement in Hollywood. Having it easily accessible online for a small per-download fee would make you money.

My personal belief is that we’ll see a real push from the studios to make this happen in the next 5-10 years, and I do believe that in my lifetime there will be micropayments (probably tacked onto a cable bill) to view each episode of old TV shows right from your TV or computer, on demand. But I don’t know how far they’ll go. Sure, a lot of people will pay to see the “big” classics like Cheers or Seinfeld. But will little shows like Parker Lewis ever make it to these on-demand distribution channels? I’m here to say to the studios: You’ll make more money by exploring the “long tail” of cult-hit shows like Parker Lewis than you will by only distributing the biggest shows. But who knows if they’ll actually listen to me…

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ARE YOU REEEAADDDYYY? Erica ON STAGE TONIGHT!

Your opportunity to see me live on stage is tonight! I’ve been selected as a finalist in the Make Mine a $Million entrepreneurial competition. Hundreds of women from around the country applied for the Make Mine a Million award program, which recognizes women whose businesses have the potential (or, in my case, are very close) to reach the $1 million/year revenue mark. 30 finalists were selected, and I was one of them!!! I flew to New York City, and now I’m prepping to deliver a 3-minute pitch of my business on stage in front of 1200 live audience members and thousands more watching via webcast.

I’m going to be on stage at about 5:45PM EST. To see me live!!, please register over at SBTV.com (Small Business TV) now. You need to register before the event begins at 4PM EST/1PM PST in order to be able to vote on your favorite contestant (me, right? ๐Ÿ™‚ ) In fact, Small Business TV just interviewed me, so that may show up on their website soon as well. Go ahead and vote for me at 5:45PM EST/2:45PM PST. Mark your calendars! Learn about the other 29 excellent women business owners who are here showcasing their businesses as well. Oh, and Hillary Clinton and Suze Orman are going to show up. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Thank you for your love and support!

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After selling my online business at age 26 for over $1 million, I created this blog to help you grow your own business quickly.

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