Month: November 2013

Cyber Monday: Our Top 20 Favorite Sites Cure for the Black Friday Blues

It’s nearly upon us: Black Friday. A day that only Americans could devise.

We venture out in droves. Pushing, shoving, and trampling over one another to load up on sales merchandise. Exactly one day after giving thanks for having so much.

Bazinga slippers
My Bazinga! slippers… you can get some, too… read on…

Personally, I don’t do Black Friday. I can’t imagine why anyone does, especially since we can buy anything, anywhere online. From the comfort of home. In our Bazinga! slippers.

And they ship the stuff right to us… at home, in our Bazinga! slippers.

But it’s a big, tangled world wide web out there. So where on earth-dot-com do you start?

Relax! You’re in the right place. We’ve got you covered.

Where to Shop on Cyber Monday

To help you out, I surveyed everyone at SmartDraw and compiled a list of our Top 20 favorite online holiday shopping sites. These are off-the-beaten path places, so no Amazon or eBay or Harry & David here. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, they’re excellent places to shop… we just want to give you something a little different.

By the way, SmartDraw (and that includes all of us who work here) isn’t receiving compensation of any kind from any of these shops. We’re just providing the links for your enjoyment.

Let It Be1. Etsy

We’ll start not too far off the beaten path. This site was the one most frequently mentioned by SmartDrawers. We love the handmade and vintage items you’ll find here. From clothes to jewelry to a wall hanging of your favorite song lyric made of recycled license plates.

2. Just Give

Just Give is a nonprofit that lets you search and select from about 1.8 million charities. You can search by name, category or location—a nice option for supporting local causes. They also make it easy to give giving… you make the donation; the recipient of your gift chooses the charity.

3. Novica

Unique, hand-made art, jewelry, clothing, and décor. We like buying a one-of-a-kind item directly from the artisan. These are interesting items that won’t break the bank. We also love their mission statement: “Spread Happiness.”

Diane Kron Chocolates4. Diane Krön Chocolatier

Do you know someone who loves chocolate? I have just seven words: Dark chocolate balls filled with Scots whiskey (or vodka or tequila, if you prefer). Oh, my. You haven’t lived until you’ve bitten into one of these little pieces of heaven.

5. Goldie Blox

Of course, she’s a princess. But she’s also a girl with a brain. Help her tap into her awesomeness. Goldie Blox aims to “disrupt the pink aisle,” making toys that help girls develop math and science skills, but with girlish flair.

Vintage Nostalgia6. Vintage Nostalgia

For that hipster doofus on your list. Or someone who just digs groovy stuff from yesteryear. Everything cool, kitschy and glitchy all in one location. But you’ll need to order early since your items are shipping from Australia—unless you’re already Down Under, mate.

7. Fab

This is one of Miss E’s favorites. She’s gotten everything from knives to unique notebooks to fun accessories for her sweet little Pearl. They offer a lot of design-oriented goods, and sell them at 30-70% off retail. It’s one of those “flash sale” types of websites. We dig it.

8. Tonx

Coffee supplier and great marketplace for coffee gear. This is truly coffee of, by and for the people. Fresh beans delivered to your door every two weeks for 19 bucks. Trust us; for the coffee lover on your list, this stuff is very important.

The Grommet9. The Grommet

This place is awesome. They launch undiscovered products (“Grommets”) and help them succeed. What is a Grommet, you ask? Grommets aren’t just things. They’re products with a purpose invented by people with stories. You need to see this.

Tom Bihn10. Tom Bihn

The Josh P. family buys all their bags from here. We’re talking travel bags, laptop bags, backpacks. Stuff he, she, or they will really use. These things are seriously over-engineered, last forever, and are kid-vomit proof. ‘Nuff said.

11. Records by Mail

Q: Where can you find more than 2 million vinyl records in a single 8,000-square-foot warehouse? A: In the 503 (Portland, Oregon) is where. Craig Moerer and his staff ship rare (and not-so-rare) records to customers in over 70 countries, daddy-o.

Harry's12. Harry’s

He wants to look good. You want him to look good. So get him some Harry’s. It’s a win-win deal. Cheap blades, but still classy-looking and they kick the Schick out of those big brands that advertise during the football games.

13. Think Geek

You thought I was holding out on you with my tease about my Bazinga! slippers, right? What, do you think I’m crazy? I’m not crazy. My mother had me tested. But seriously, for the geeks on your list who just can’t get enough Big Bang and sci-fi, you need to get over to at warp speed.

Hard Graft14. Hard Graft

My man Josh says, “I purchased my wallet, key organizer, iPhone case, and iPad case from here. Love the design details, craftsmanship and materials.” You know what I love? Their site is so clean you can almost smell the leather. Mmmm!

15. Mr. Davis

I’m not an undershirt guy. Or, I should say I wasn’t an undershirt guy. That was before a friend introduced me to Mr. Davis. You won’t even know you’re wearing one of these bad boys. I’m sorry Michael Jordan, but your brand just won’t cut it any longer.

Cotton Bureau16. Cotton Bureau

Check out these sweet designs. Or submit your own—if it goes to press, you get paid. But Cotton Bureau does all the dirty work. Nice! I don’t wear t-shirts often, but when I do they come from Cotton Bureau.

17. Birchbox

My dilemma: I have girly people on my list. I don’t know how to buy girly things. Thank heaven for Birchbox. I sign up for a subscription, answer a few simple questions, and they send my special lady a custom sample set every month. Oh, and they have men’s stuff, too.

Perpetual Kid18. Perpetual Kid

This site is chock full of stuff you want, you just don’t know you want it yet. But log on and you’ll know you want “muffin top” muffin molds. Or a giant doughnut pool float. Because, really… who doesn’t want a giant doughnut pool float?

19. Ursa Major

Here’s the thing about guys. We like to be clean and healthy, but most of those big corporate outfits put toxins in their soap. Quit it! We want simple, natural stuff that gets us clean. Ursa Major gets that. It’s made in the US, natural, and works most excellently.

Eco Toys20. Eco Toys

While we’re on the topic of safe and non-toxic, let’s talk toys. Do you really know what that thing imported from China is made of? Are you willing to risk your child’s heath on it? Go Down Under and check out toys made from safe, natural, sustainable materials.

Be Safe When You Shop Online this Cyber Monday

Shopping online is perfectly safe, but you need to be smart and be careful about it. If something seems too good to be true… well, you know the rest. Here are some tips to remember this Cyber Monday.

Cyber Monday Safety TipsHappy shopping! Oh, and don’t forget to consider us, too (warning: shameless self-promotion!)—SmartDraw makes an excellent gift.

Please share your thoughts and any of your favorite online sites with us in the comments section below.

Thanksgiving Dinner Survival Guide Dinner Timeline and Turkey Cooking Tips Infographics

Thanksgiving dinner preparation
Thanksgiving dinner at the USO in Pensacola, circa 1944

I’m so thankful for Thanksgiving. It is, by far, my favorite holiday.

Fabulous food, family, friends, football… that’s almost all the great “F’s” right there.

And no shopping for gifts or cards to send! (Okay, I know a few people do send Thanksgiving Day cards. While I appreciate the effort, you people need professional help, in my opinion.)

It can be stressful to host a Thanksgiving dinner, though.

If you’re doing it, I empathize. I’ve hosted holiday dinner parties, too. (Yes, I’m a guy and yes, I have cooked many a Thanksgiving dinner—don’t judge me until you’ve sailed a mile in my gravy boat… or something like that.)

There’s enough stress in life. Thanksgiving should be a time to enjoy, not a time for more pressure.

So, to help relieve any stress you might be feeling, we’ve created “The Only Thanksgiving Day Infographic You’ll Ever Need.” (Technically two infographics, but who’s counting?) Here’s the first, a Thanksgiving Dinner timeline to help you plan around the most common serving time of 2pm:


You’ll need to adjust it to your serving time and time zone, but these two infographics should help answer a lot of questions when it comes to Thanksgiving Day dinner hosting:

How big a turkey should I buy? How do I make sure it’s not overcooked so I don’t have to listen to Aunt Martha tell me it’s too dry? When do I start the potatoes? When do I get to eat the potatoes?

Is it safe to stuff the bird (or tell someone who’s getting on my nerves to stuff it)?

How do I time it so that I don’t have to try to pull everyone away from the big game at the two-minute warning? (I always plan my cooking and serving around the football schedule—but, I’m a guy.)

Is it too early for me to break into the celebratory wine? (No. The answer to this is always, no.)

Our second infographic is a tip sheet for cooking the perfect Thanksgiving turkey.


Please feel free to share these and take the stress off of someone else’s holiday. Oh, and if you have some tips you want to share, just leave them in the comment section below.

From all of us at SmartDraw, we wish you a safe, happy, delicious, and stress-free Thanksgiving holiday.

Strategic Planning is Just Like Baseball, Only Different“Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.”* Just like strategic planning, sort of.

I first used SmartDraw to create diagrams for the Little League Baseball team I managed in the 1990’s.  Having never played organized baseball, and possessing little to no natural athletic talent, my approach to coaching was to buy books about the subject and study them.  I discovered that the key to a successful Little League outcome as a coach involved finding unique methods to hold the attention of young players during a game. (In the interest of full disclosure, I also found that recruiting an assistant coach who knows what he’s doing is quite helpful, too.)Baseball Play

In baseball, each player has a responsibility to cover either a specific base or the ball itself. This depends upon what position they are playing and in what direction the batted ball travels.  I found it far more effective to teach nine-year-old boys base- and ball-coverage assignments with diagrams rather than coaching with words alone.  I could show kids, rather simply, the five or so primary directions a hit ball might travel using a visual, and why they might want to take their fingers out of their noses and move somewhere else on the field when that happened.

This was my hands-on introduction to the power of visual communication and how it could apply to many aspects of my personal and business life, such as strategic planning.

According to psychologist Jerome Bruner of New York University, as cited in “Syntactic Theory of Visual Communication,” studies show that people only remember 10% of what they hear and 20% of what they read, but about 80% of what they see and do.  My experience with our Little League team was consistent with that account.

VSP_whitepaperA few years ago I applied my experiences and wrote a white paper outlining the principals of using visual communication in business for the strategic planning process.

The principals of visual communication are timeless, whether you are writing a business plan, or trying to win a baseball tournament with a group of nine-year-olds.

By the way, we won our Little League championship that year!

*We think this quote is attributable to Yogi Berra. Although according to Yogi, “I never said most of the things I said.”

Twenty Years of SmartDraw turned 60 last month. It felt like a milestone. Even though I feel as young as ever, sixty-something sounds much older than fifty-something.

The last time I felt this shift was twenty years ago when I turned 40. At the time, I was making a very good living as a hired gun writing Windows and Mac applications for software publishers, including Microsoft. I worked at home. Life was good. But I had an itch: I wanted to sell a product of my own.

Twenty Years of SmartDraw
A timeline of Twenty Years of SmartDraw.

My 40th birthday was the shove I needed to get serious about it. Somehow 40 didn’t sound like a young guy with a limitless unknown future ahead of him. It sounded like a warning. So exactly twenty years ago, in November 1993, I started writing SmartDraw.

The Web did not exist yet. My plan was to distribute the program using the burgeoning online services of CompuServe and AOL. Users could download shareware (as it was called) for just the cost of the connection time. Payment to the author was an honor system: If a user liked your program they sent you the purchase price and you sent them a user guide and some backup diskettes. Sounds crazy but it worked. The beauty of this system was that I didn’t need capital to build a sales force and distribution and I could keep my day job.

SmartDraw 1.0

It took me about eight months of spare time to write the first version of SmartDraw and another four to create the symbols, write the user guide, help system, installer and test it. (Note to future software entrepreneurs: There’s a lot more to shipping a product than writing the program itself!) I uploaded SmartDraw 1.0 to AOL and CompuServe in November 1994 and collected my first payment the very next day. (Thank you Mr. Jones, I still have your order form framed on my wall!)

My goal with SmartDraw was to create a MacDraw-like program for Windows 3.1 that was both elegant and easy to use. I had written lots of Mac software, including two graphic editors, and had recently been switching these to Windows for my publisher clients. Most of the drawing software for windows was (to my mind) awful at the time. In CorelDraw in 1993 you had to enter text into dialog instead of directly into the shape. Yuck!

I also wanted to aim the product at business users, because businesses were more likely to pay for shareware than consumers, so I added support for flowcharts and other business diagrams.

SmartDraw 1.0 was a simple drag-and-drop drawing program. It supported anchoring lines to shapes (used for flowcharts, etc.). It came with libraries of symbols for a variety of diagram types. It was very similar in functionality to the new crop of drawing apps for web browsers like Gliffy, Lovely Charts and many of the free drawing programs you can now find on the web.

The Web Arrives

SmartDraw 1994-2014
The first SmartDraw user interface (1994, at top) compared to today’s version.

By 1995, the web was born and spreading far and wide. It was clear that SmartDraw’s future was in distribution from a web site, rather than AOL.

I wrote the first web site using Microsoft Word. Within weeks most of our downloads came from our own web site.  At the time, SmartDraw was one of just a few products that were conceived with online distribution in mind. (I like to say “before it was cool….”) It was small and easy to download. Then the question became, “how do we get more sales?” Web marketing was born.

SmartDraw was a pioneer in almost every form of web marketing. Our techniques (and our website) have been widely copied and we’ve been very successful, with millions of downloads every year. Web marketing is fun. It’s a constantly changing landscape. The innovation never stops. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about the company.

SmartDraw Evolves

The product itself has developed enormously since 1.0. My goal in improving SmartDraw has always been to make it as easy as possible for an average person to quickly create diagrams that look like they were drawn by a professional. SmartDraw‘s automatic formatting of flowcharts, org charts and dozens of other diagrams is the culmination of that.

What’s Next?

Today SmartDraw remains an application that runs on the Windows desktop, but we all increasingly use multiple devices and we want one set of files available on all of them. Last year we added the ability of Windows SmartDraw to share files with your phone, tablet and web browser. The next step is fully functional SmartDraw on every device: Windows, Mac, IOS, Android, and any web browser, with full file compatibility across all platforms.

Did I mention that I am now programming in JavaScript?

Why I’m Not Buying Your Sales Presentation, Bob Simple Rules for a Sales Presentation That Won’t Suck

Bob has a thing to sell that I want (or need) to buy. Bob’s suit is clean and he smells good. Bob knows every sales trick in the book. But I’m not buying from Bob because his sales presentation… how do I put this mildly… well, it sucks.

Bob's sales presentation skills could use some updating.
Bob’s sales presentation skills could use some updating.

Here are seven… no, make it eight simple rules Bob needs to follow in order to move me to action with his sales presentation.

  1. Don’t suck.

Seriously, Bob! Do. Not. Suck. I can’t overstress this, which is why it’s Rule No. 1. The most important part of this rule is to be real. Be yourself, not some slick sales dude you think you need to be. If, at any time during your sales presentation you feel you’re losing me, refer to this rule. Being yourself… being real… never sucks.

2.    Don’t bore me.

Come on, Bob. Don’t start your sales presentation with a history of your company, a who’s who of who bought your thing or how long you’ve been selling it. I don’t care. That’s boring and boring sucks. You need to focus on the thing that interests me… (hint: that would be me). Tell me how your thing will make me richer, thinner, healthier, happier, or whatever. If you can do that, I’m all yours.

3.    Be original.

I’m not sure why so many sales people do the same boring, slick sales dude shtick. Don’t do that, Bob. Tell me something I don’t know about how the thing you’re selling will make my life better once I have it.

4.    Don’t talk down to me.

I get it, Bob. You know everything there is to know about the thing you’re selling, which is great. But I don’t care if you’re Einstein selling me relativity. Don’t make me feel dumb. I do that well enough on my own. I want you to help solve my problem and make me feel good about my decision. Making me feel stupid sucks. (See Rule No. 1.)

5.    Be interesting.

Turn your pitch into a story about how you and I and the thing you’re selling are going to team up to defeat our common opponent. Tell the story in a personal way that I can relate to.

6.    Use visual aids to bring your story to life.

Seriously, Bob. A PowerPoint with bullet points that you read to me? C’mon, Man! Rule No. 1 violation! You can do better. Stir my emotions. Good visuals are easy to make. Give me some relevant, but simple stats that give your story credibility. Make some cool charts or graphs or infographics. Whatever you do, don’t show me that bullet-point slideshow again or I might have to kick you in the shins on my way out the door.

7.    Don’t forget the call to action.

After getting me to this point in your sales presentation, Bob, don’t forgot the most important thing: a clear call to action. Make it easy for me to say “yes” and painless to complete the buying process.  

Final rule: Have fun.

I’m more likely to buy from someone who truly enjoys what they do and who makes the buying process enjoyable for both of us. Do these things, Bob, and you’ll never have to worry about violating Rule No. 1.

MLB World Series Titles by USA Region 2000 to Present Infographic the recent Boston Red Sox World Series championship win in Major League Baseball, it got me thinking: since the year 2000, which region of the USA has claimed the most Major League Baseball World Series Championships?

I researched the results, and realized that there have been a lot of repeat World Series champions as well. So, I created an infographic via SmartDraw (since I am artistically impaired) of what I discovered and wanted to share. I believe my east coast friends will delight with what it expresses. What do you think?

MLB WS Titles by Region 2000 - Present(2)

Lean Thinking in Fifty Shades of Gray

Is Lean thinking an all-or-nothing proposition, or are there acceptable shades of gray?

Lean thinking in 50 shades of grayThere seems to be a pretty hard-core group of Lean advocates out there who divide the application of Lean into two segments: “Good Lean” and “Bad Lean.” In this world view, things are black or white: Lean thinking is either practiced correctly or incorrectly. There are no shades of gray.

But is that true? I find it hard to comprehend. To me, the very nature of Lean methodology is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Lean thinking, like almost everything else, is ever-evolving.

At the core of Lean philosophy is the principle of continuous improvement. I can imagine that Darwin himself might say the Lean method emulates natural selection. Species either adapt, through continuous “improvement,” or they die.

But just as species don’t evolve in a single step, neither do organizations. So it seems unreasonable to expect that a company choosing to adopt Lean methods will go from “No Lean” to “Good Lean” in one fell swoop. Adapting to a Lean culture, and implementing all of the processes that would constitute “Good Lean,” should be allowed to evolve—even if it means slogging through a gray primordial abyss for awhile—right?

I would say yes, as long as everyone stays focused on the big picture—maximizing customer value while minimizing waste.

Here at SmartDraw we embrace Lean thinking, but admittedly operate in the gray area. Many of us wouldn’t know a Kaizen burst if we backed into one in our Corolla. But our particular shade of gray Lean is helping us improve in those big picture areas, just as exercise improves your health even if the technique isn’t perfect. For example, Lean thinking helped us to develop Automated Value Stream Maps—because we see no reason for taking eight steps to accomplish something that can be done in five. That’s taking a Lean approach to a Lean tool. Perhaps we accomplished it while practicing what purists might label “Bad Lean,” but the result was a good thing. It produced a better tool for our customers (most of whom, I’m sure, practice only the very best Lean).

Are there acceptable shades of gray within the journey from “No Lean” to Good Lean,” or is everything that falls within that area simply, “Bad Lean?” I contend that as long as the organization is committed to the highest principles of Lean—continuous improvement focused on the best possible customer experience—then this is “Good Lean.” It’s just performed in evolving shades of gray.