|Jack Ganssle's Blog
This is Jack's outlet for thoughts about designing and programming embedded systems. It's a complement to my bi-weekly newsletter The Embedded Muse. Contact me at email@example.com. I'm an old-timer engineer who still finds the field endlessly fascinating (bio).
For novel ideas about building embedded systems (both hardware and firmware), join the 30,000+ engineers who subscribe to The Embedded Muse, a free biweekly newsletter. The Muse has no hype and no vendor PR. Click here to subscribe.
A Retrospective on 2018
January 1, 2019
I get a lot of email from engineers who either have a business they wish to grow, or those who are interested in starting a company. Mostly these folks seem like very smart individuals with strong technical skills. Some are also great at business. But many have little experience with running a business, and they are often surprised at my suggestions. These come from having started and run three tech businesses, one ISP, and having served on the boards of various operations.
I recommend they read The E-Myth, by Michael Gerber. The first half's central message: take time to work on the business, instead of in it. In other words, yes, do the work you need to do (building products, consulting or whatever). But spend time figuring out better ways to run the company: how to be more efficient, how to deliver more value, etc.
And then there's the hard message: the technical parts of a company are often not the hard ones. What's tough is finding customers. Getting your message out and heard. Marketing. Sales. Build a better mousetrap and you can be sure no one will beat a path to your door. Build a better mousetrap, sure, but build the path to your door as well.
I want to share some data that could be useful to prospective entrepreneurs. Bear in mind that The Ganssle Group is just my wife and myself, and we don't work too hard at drumming up business as I'm as busy as I care to be. I try hard to take an hour or two each afternoon to read (engineering books, biography, science, history, etc.), and nearly always knock off by 4:00. Cocktail hour is sacrosanct, getting time in the workshop is a priority, and at age 65 getting down time is more important than ever.
At the end of every month we collect various statistics about aspects of our operation, and then, at the end of the year, we do an annual summary. This helps us understand ways to optimize and improve our operations. I have data going back 22 years to when I first started The Ganssle Group.
In 2018 the Ganssle.com web site averaged a bit over 169,000 page views per month, though the average for the last three months is 192,407. These are honest page views; that number does not include images and dozens of other associated files that get downloaded. Including these other files, we average about a million hits/month; that number pops into my email in-box the first day of each month but I don't log it as it isn't important.
In addition to the 169,000 page views we get about 35,000 requests that result in a page-not-found response. Nearly all of these are attacks on the site. It's common to see a request to a nasty php file, for instance. Of the 3300 files that comprise Ganssle.com, none are executables of any sort and there is no database that could be hacked.
My goal is to have a deep site that provides lots of valuable content for engineers. As of 12-31-18 we have 1362 pages (.htm, .html, and .pdf) indexed by Google.
Links are important. Google reports we have 18,564 external links into Ganssle.com, and 109,896 internal links. I think these numbers illustrate a painful point about marketing: those links are the result of 22 years - 22 - of the website's existence and of our efforts.
I can't stand slow sites. Google reports our average latency is 71 ms. Credit the folks at Lexiconn.com for their fast server farm that hosts Ganssle.com. They're good people to work with, too. They're not the cheapest ISP, but the extra dough is worth if for their fantastic up time and fast page servings.
My biweekly Embedded Muse e-newsletter goes to, as of this writing, 28,282 people. ("Biweekly" is a terrible word as it can mean twice a week or every two weeks. The Muse goes on the first and third Monday of each month).
In 2018 we added, on average, 72 Embedded Muse subscribers per month. That number might seem surprisingly low till one looks closer at the data. We add about 250 NEW subscribers each month, but the bounce policy is aggressive, so we remove almost 200 from the list in the same period. What I can't figure out is that only 19% of people who go to the signup page do enter their email address. I guess the moral is that lurkers will lurk, but conversion is tough.
According to https://www.getresponse.com/resources/reports/email-marketing-benchmarks.html and other sources, only 24% of e-newsletter subscribers actually open the newsletter email; for lists the size of the Embedded Muse that drops to 17%. I guess we're lucky as the Muse averages a 58% open rate. Pro Internet marketers I've talked to just refuse to believe this number, but them's the facts.
Oh, then there's consistency. Woody Allen said that 95% of everything is just showing up, and that is so true for running a business. Going to start a newsletter or a blog? Most fail. Those New Years resolutions to post weekly or monthly quickly fade away. If you're going to do something, do it. If that is making X sales calls/week or so many newsletters per month, create a metric that holds you accountable. There are only a few embedded people who do well at this; one young up-and-coming embedded pundit is Jacob Beningo whose consistency is very impressive.
My goal is two Muses/month; for the last two years I've averaged 1.9. That is, in three of those 24 months I only wrote one Muse.
Every month we have a giveaway. 1700 people enter, on average. When the goodie is really good (like a bench scope) that will soar to 3500 or more. In December we offered an old broken down scope from the 1940s. I thought people would like such an old artifact, but only 485 entered!
I started a blog in August (uh, this very blog you're reading) which attracts 3400 readers each month, though that number is growing pretty fast.
How effective are alternatives like the trade press? In years past the answer was very; when I was writing for embedded.com it wasn't unusual to get over 100 emails per article. As an experiment I wrote ten articles for embedded.com and one for eeweb.com in the last year or so. The sum total for all eleven articles was six comments posted to the web sites and three emails. How many people followed the link in my bio at the end of each article to Ganssle.com? Three. I'd say the mainstream technical press is dying, but it's more a case of suicide, as they've been slashing staff and expenses for years.
So there you have it. As anyone who has attended my seminars know, I'm a numbers guy. Engineering without numbers isn't engineering; it's art. And marketing without numbers is simply futile.
Feel free to email me with comments.
Back to Jack's blog index page.
If you'd like to post a comment without logging in, click in the "Name" box under "Or sign up with Disqus" and click on "I'd rather post as a guest."
Recent blog postings:
- Definitions Part 2 - More fun definitions of embedded systems terms.
- Definitions - A list of (funny) definitions of embedded systems terms.
- On Meta-Politics - Where has thoughtful discourse gone?
- Millennials and Tools - It seems that many millennials are unable to fix anything.
- Crappy Tech Journalism - The trade press is suffering from so much cost-cutting that it does a poor job of educating engineers.
- Tech and Us - I worry that our technology is more than our human nature can manage.
- On Cataracts - Cataract surgery isn't as awful as it sounds.
- Can AI Replace Firmware - A thought: instead of writing code, is the future training AIs?
- Customer non-Support - How to tick off your customers in one easy lesson.
- Learn to Code in 3 Weeks! - Firmware is not simply about coding.
- We Shoot For The Moon - a new and interesting book about the Apollo moon program.
- On Expert Witness Work - Expert work is fascinating but can be quite the hassle.
- Married To The Team - Working in a team is a lot like marriage.
- Will We Ever Get Quantum Computers - Despite the hype, some feel quantum computing may never be practical.
- Apollo 11, The Movie - A review of a great new movie.
- Goto Considered Necessary - Edsger Dijkstra recants on his seminal paper
- GPS Will Fail - In April GPS will have its own Y2K problem. Unbelievable.
- LIDAR in Cars - Really? - Maybe there are better ideas.
- Why Did You Become an Engineer? - This is the best career ever.
- Software Process Improvement for Firmware - What goes on in an SPI audit?
- 50 Years of Ham Radio - 2019 marks 50 years of ham radio for me.
- Medical Device Lawsuits - They're on the rise, and firmware is part of the problem.
- A retrospective on 2018 - My marketing data for 2018, including web traffic and TEM information.
- Remembering Circuit Theory - Electronics is fun, and reviewing a textbook is pretty interesting.
- R vs D - Too many of us conflate research and development
- Engineer or Scientist? - Which are you? John Q. Public has a hard time telling the difference.
- A New, Low-Tech, Use for Computers - I never would have imagined this use for computers.
- NASA's Lost Software Engineering Lessons - Lessons learned, lessons lost.
- The Cost of Firmware - A Scary Story! - A hallowean story to terrify.
- A Review of First Man, the Movie - The book was great. The movie? Nope.
- A Review of The Overstory - One of the most remarkable novels I've read in a long time.
- What I Learned About Successful Consulting - Lessons learned about successful consulting.
- Low Power Mischief - Ultra-low power systems are trickier to design than most realize.
- Thoughts on Firmware Seminars - Better Firmware Faster resonates with a lot of people.
- On Evil - The Internet has brought the worst out in many.
- My Toothbrush has Modes - What! A lousy toothbrush has a UI?
- Review of SUNBURST and LUMINARY: An Apollo Memoir - A good book about the LM's code.
- Fun With Transmission Lines - Generating a step with no electronics.
- On N-Version Programming - Can we improve reliability through redundancy? Maybe not.
- On USB v. Bench Scopes - USB scopes are nice, but I'll stick with bench models.