Compete By Creating a Better Experience

July 11, 2014

A few years ago one of our competitors completed a successful IPO, effectively dissolving the anchor of “financial lack” that companies like Cogent Road wrestle with daily. Competing against a public company’s deep-pockets requires courage and dedication. It also requires that the smaller company fully understand its singular competitive advantage, in order to pump all its creative energy into it.

Customers spend money with your company for one reason – to achieve the “experience” you’ve promised to provide. We may speak of features and benefits, but these are akin to the planets orbiting around the central sun of a “promised experience”.  To compete successfully, public company or not, your business must be able to deliver an experience that prospective customers prefer over other options. If your solution creates a more valuable experience, customers will direct their currency into your company. As long as you focus on creating new ways to increase this experience, more and more currency will flow your way.

Cogent Road creates enterprise software that helps our clients more easily attract customers and currency into their businesses. We focus on creating solutions that produce “scalable-growth” while removing “friction” from their operational processes. Since we currently operate in the mortgage banking space, our software must be an engine that attracts borrowers more easily, processes loans more quickly and ensures compliance with increasingly complex federal regulations. We want our clients’ businesses to experience “growth”, therefore our software must be the engine that drives this evolution.

Once you’ve identified the experience you wish to create, the second step is to identify the competitive advantage you will use to deliver it. What unique skills and abilities do you possess within the combined intellect of your company? As I have mentioned in other blogs, a company is never a product or solution, it is the aggregate of your employee’s capabilities. Therefore, in what way can you focus your employee’s potential to create a laser-sharpened advantage in the market? And how will this advantage create an experience more highly valued than that of your competition?

A good example is the way Apple focused on creating an experience of elegance – through the competitive advantage of design superiority. Like beautifully wrapped presents, every Apple product, icon, retail store and even its advertisements, provided its customers with an experience of elegant design. Apple used design to create harmony between hardware and software in ways that significantly enhanced our experience with digital music and mobile phones. Apple’s strategy created market superiority and hundreds of billions of dollars in economic value. What I admired most about Steve Jobs was the way he was able to align an entire company of talented people, in a multitude of disciplines, into a singular focus on design excellence. Apple attracted huge volumes of currency because its customers desired the experience offered through its elegantly designed solutions.

How then can Cogent Road create software that promises customers the experience of scalable business growth? We do this by focusing on our singular competitive advantage; we try to get better and better at increasing the economic value of “data-transit”. Our software is designed to convert data from “source” into “economic value” as quickly as possible. The better we do this, the more economic value we create for our customers. The greater the economic value, the greater the “growth” in our client’s businesses.

The bottom line is this; when you focus on enhancing your customer’s experience, your customers will happily support your business.

And whether IPO or start-up, happy customers are always the best source of funding.


Our Kind of Toys

June 20, 2014

Back in September of 2011 all of San Diego county experienced a power outage that lasted almost 12 hours. While we were all happy to know that our datacenter backup power worked as expected, our office wasn’t as fortunate. The length of the outage quickly burned through our office back-up generator and quickly cut us off from clients. It was a situation that made us rethink the idea of continual power to the office itself, not just the data center.

We were able to solve the problem with a diesel powered generator that can run for nearly 15 hours. Fuel fill-ups can keep us going through an Armageddon.

We are just getting it hooked up and will be simulating a full power outage to test our failover capabilities. Check out our new toy below.

20140620_141240     20140620_141321


Roohmz Enterprise in a Soft-Launch

May 9, 2014

I am happy to announce, that after many years, Roohmz Enterprise as a complete, end-to-end loan production and knowledge management exchange has entered a “soft-launch” with less than a handful of lenders. The Roohmz “soft-launch” is a “closed” launch so that we can focus on these clients and ensure that everything happens smoothly. In fact, we are not even demonstrating the software to any other prospective lender right now. Overkill? Maybe – but rolling out such a big, complex application is new for us, and quite frankly we may not be very good at it at first. The entire company is focused on these few, new customers involved in the soft launch of Roohmz Enterprise.

For the past two years we have been thinking of how Cogent Road would bridge the gap between building the digital realities of our enterprise systems – and the “physical” realities required to integrate our software into the client’s work experience. This is no small chasm as the expertise needed for one doesn’t overlap much with the other. In short, we are adept software engineers, but complete novices regarding deep client engagement. Consequently, we needed to conceive, create and execute a client implementation strategy.

We started by creating a team we call “Blue Sky”. In addition to Alan and myself, this team consists of our COO, quality control manager, vp of corporate messaging, vp of account leadership and our director of education. This team is focused on creating the system we now call “Streamlining”, in which a client learns not only how Roohmz Enterprise operates, but most importantly how its operation improves individual job performance.

We’ve modeled the Streamlining process after our flow-based, software development model. Consider that true enterprise software is never completed. If properly architected, an enterprise application should grow continually as new solutions are uncovered through the use of the software itself. Otherwise, the software will eventually die.

To create a definable system that accommodates perpetual growth means you have to incorporate the concepts of “growth” into its development. We do this by building our software in “sprints”. A sprint is a short period of time, say two weeks, in which we begin coding what we believe to be most impactful at the beginning of the sprint. While engineers code out the objective, others work to define the next sprint based on the vision of the application as a whole. Thus, each sprint gives us the opportunity to reflect, prioritize and execute that which is most impactful. String a bunch of sprints together – and you have a perpetually growing, impactful software application.

We are taking the same approach with Roohmz Streamlining. We communicate to the client what we hope to accomplish for a week long sprint, and then interact during the sprint to ensure all is going smoothly. As the sprint progresses, the Blue Sky team assesses the most impactful strategies needed for the next sprint. In this way we hope to leverage our current software development expertise to smoothly integrate clients into our Roohmz platform.

Can we do it? Yes. Will it go smoothly? Probably not, because we have only now begun the experience.

But we do have a plan, strategy and system in place to get to “smooth” as fast as possible.

 

 

 


The Symphony of Harmony

May 4, 2014

During the integration process with a vendor we were asked to define our competitive advantage. I’ve been thinking about the question this weekend and wanted to share a few ideas here.

In a sentence, Cogent Road’s competitive advantage is our software’s ability to increase the economic value of our client’s data.

We are “road-workers” in the literal sense in that our business is building data highways, so to speak. We create the networks through which data travel – and we tighten up these roadways so that there are as few slow spots as possible.

This may not mean much to our clients initially because data exist only as a probability. Unless you are a theoretical physicist, or maybe a gambler, its hard to get excited about probabilities. Until you realize that in order to build software that transits data efficiently, you must first build a “transit-system” that can expand to accomodate all probabilities. To set off down this path, we focus our software development perspective on the ever-expanding principals of harmony created within the finite musical scale.

There are 12 notes in music – each a frequency of specific “steps” from the other. These steps create the framework of the musical staff – a solid, immutable structure. Yet, that regularly spaced, rigid and inflexible staff of 12 notes, creates a  never-ending  progression of beautiful, free-flowing symphonies. Out of a finite structure of 12 – streams the infinite. This is the kind of idea you can spend a lot of time discussing, and still not fully understand how it can be.

Ok, maybe I tend toward the dramatic a bit in these blogs – but the point is that music reveals that a simple, very easily understood structure can be built to accommodate all future possibilities.

We hope that our growing understanding of expandable data transit systems will result in great software. And ultimately, we hope it plays like a beautiful symphony of harmony for all clients and industry partners.


April 26, 2014

I just got off the phone with Alan, my partner. We took back to back vacations – which (except for a joint client fly-by in the middle) we haven’t seen or spoke with each other in two weeks.

When I hung up the phone I realized how much I had missed him. There are a lot of projects flying around the company right now – and in these times, Alan is a good guy to have beside you.

Our joint perspective on life and business, garnered over a decade working with each other, allows the creation of incredible software architectures. Our software intersects with business processes in order to enhance those processess for all that participate in the system. You could say we like to dream up ways data movement can prosper our clients. This is easy for us because we continually think in data movement.

And because our jobs are to create software.

I am glad to do the work with you, Alan.

 


Good Software Needs No Promotion

April 21, 2014

The past several months have been a whirlwind. A cyclone actually, with all of us caught up and tossed through the air like ragdolls at amazing speeds. There were times when it was difficult to even follow a thought through to its end.

Since my last post on December 24th Cogent Road has:

  1. Moved into our new, larger and much cooler tech-forward office,
  2. Landed our very first, appropriately sized lender on Roohmz Enterprise,
  3. Identified a very competent financial whiz to help us navigate cash-flow challenges,
  4. Started work on our Quantum Database,
  5. Applied for our first patent surrounding our artificial intelligence engine,
  6. Implemented a new quality control process for Cogent Road’s digital services,
  7. and added both a VP of Account Leadership and a VP of Corporate Messaging.

And we’ve done all this without any investment capital.

My partner and I funded Cogent Road by building the Funding Suite credit platform in 2007. Clients use Funding Suite to order credit reports, tax transcripts, flood certificates and associated services. The software succeeds because we built it to transit (arrange and move) data in ways that add economic value to our clients. We build software this way because we know that customers will naturally use the system that provides the greatest economic value. Other companies may perceive that offering a lower price would achieve economic value over a competing, more expensive system. And, this is partially correct. Yet, it is much more important to build systems that transit data in ways that CREATE NEW VALUE out of existing data.

Ways to create value in software come from the different ways the software arranges data – be it for analysis, reporting or decision making. If our system does a better job in this area – our software creates greater value for the customer because it removes friction in their operational processes. Businesses with the least “digital” friction make more money  – in the same way that an object moving with less friction covers more ground with the same energy. Never forget, good software optimizes data transit in ways that increase “economic value” while minimizing operational friction.

Funding Suite grows organically as people use it. We do not have sales people, we do not attend tradeshows and we do not market. Instead we focus on supporting current clients and solving problems through better data arrangement. Think of it this way – if your software is going to help you it must first understand HOW to help you – and then learn how to it better. It is therefore our belief that companies will seek out our software because it improves their business performance.

Our latest application, Roohmz Enterprise, goes further because it can be taught to understand and enforce a client’s unique business process. We follow the quantum tenants of “string theory” in which our architectural design must be able to adapt to ALL possible situations from its present architectural foundation. Sounds impossible until you discover that quantum law serves as a faithful blue print. Therefore we use the concepts of “entanglement”, “fractal imaging”, and even our new synaptic database structure to create a software platform that can be easily understood today – yet can grow significantly more powerful over time. Roohmz is therefore able to be continually improved based on what we learn through its use.

One last note. One of the most important precepts of quantum theory is that sustainable systems must be supportive of those that participate in the system. For example, a black hole can not exist unless the information that disappears into the black hole remains in tact. Otherwise, the black hole would be “destructive”, catastrophically sucking the entire universe into its “nothingness”. Roohmz is a PROSPEROUS SYSTEM – and purposely designed to prosper ALL those who participate with it as either a data provider, client or client’s client.

I find it unlikely that I will ever need promote this fact – other than the way I have done it here.


The End of the Road for AVAIL

December 24, 2013

If I had to confess my biggest weakness it would be this: I am often unable to tell when I am being foolish.

Ask just about anyone I work with closely and each will confirm frantic phone calls from me desperately looking for perspective. I often need to ground my ideas in the understanding of at least one other person – otherwise new ideas I believe to be smart, might actually be quite foolish. Best not to bet the farm on foolishness.

Awareness of my weakness started early this year when I began a long, unsuccessful wrestling match with the mortgage industry in an effort to save a software application we created for our clients called AVAIL. Without getting into details, a business entity critical to our business threatened to destroy us (literally) if we did not stop offering that solution. What this entity didn’t realize is that AVAIL created new jobs for clients and significantly more business for all of us. And AVAIL helped many thousands of people buy homes.

After many hours of conversations and writing responses to cease and desist letters, I gave up. And several weeks ago I sent a personal e-mail to all clients announcing that we are officially pulling the plug on AVAIL December 31, 2013.

Yet, what happened during the experience caused me to SEE something I had not noticed before. I recognized that Cogent Road was not in control of our own destiny. Even though I created a solution that simply repackaged existing systems into something far more valuable, another company had the power to overrule me in my own business. AVAIL actually revealed a huge and potentially fatal flaw in our business model.

Then I received an e-mail that changed my life.  Todd Worthington, our Director of Client Services walked into my office and said something I will never forget. He told me one of the credit bureaus sent him a short, terse e-mail requiring us to immediately shut off credit to one of our largest clients, an FDIC insured deposit bank. We had received no prior communication about this client. Yet, the e-mail told us to shut them down. Now.

I immediately got involved and with Todd’s help, got everyone back on the same page. But I was very badly shaken by the experience – not just for Cogent Road, but the fact that the bank (our client!) would have been significantly damaged as well.  I realized that Cogent Road needed a new business model if I ever hoped to exist in a future without another “email of death” springing up in my inbox. I spent the next months holed up in my office working on it. I looked at the problems in the mortgage industry – and realized many of my struggles were also experienced by others in the mortgage supply chain to some degree. I let my mind wander, free from the limitations of our current resources, and thought of ways in which our software could bring cohesion and integrity to our industry.

I tackled the industry from the perspective that Cogent Road would design the software platform used by the entire industry. I followed the flow of data and business logic through every source, from the sale of the physical property to the sale of the property’s income stream. As I created the software in my mind, I simply watched as the business model formed around it: a coordinated solution of existing players taking on new digitally-based roles. It involved a new software strategy and an improved business model for mortgage banking, one designed to create prosperity rather than foreclosures.

In the end I created a short powerpoint – and a twenty-two page “screenplay”.

And to my horror, on October 21st, 2013 when I presented it to the senior partners of our corporate law firm – they laughed. Literally.

Cogent Road’s new business model is designed for a digital economy. Therefore, if one’s understanding is grounded in analog business methods, my ideas seem foolish. And, as evidenced by my many frantic phone calls, even I often wonder.

Yet, in the digital economy it is the software that creates the business model. And though it is not yet what it will become, the software exists.


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