Good wishes have been coming in this morning from customers around the world in light of Flex receiving Infocomm’s 2012 Rental and Staging Award for Best Rental Management Software. I’d like to thank everyone for their kind words and everyone who voted for us. I know a lot of people can be cynical about these awards, but it’s hard for us to be cynical this morning.
This award may represent a lot of things to different people, but whatever it may represent, it comes as a much needed boost for us. Flex as a product is not yet where we would like it to be, but getting it to this point took the hard work and sacrifice of a lot of people and years of commitment, over a decade for me if you count Shoptick and shoptick.com.
I think the picture from the ceremony of our CEO, Chris Stein, receiving the award in Las Vegas yesterday says a lot.
Chris looks happy and proud here, but he also looks exhausted, and it’s not hard to understand why: This guy works harder than anyone I’ve ever met and I’m a software engineer, in a profession known for its workaholics and “software widows”. It’s his dogged determination and focus on the product and user’s point of view that took Shoptick’s dozen or so customers to 160+ customers in a dozen countries. Though Chris and I don’t always agree, he’s the linchpin that holds us together, he picks up the managerial slack when I’m stuck in the code, and I consider him an invaluable partner, the piece that was missing during the Shoptick days.
People who work with such dedication and passion aren’t in it for the money. I think that’s what makes working for Flex such a great experience for me. Not only do I get work on a product I created and believe in, but I get to work in a company culture that focuses on the right things, not just how to extract more money from the customer with the least amount of effort.
And though Chris’s determination and limitless energy set the example for all of us, the whole team at Flex makes a big contribution every day.
Suman, from his home in Calcutta, never ceases to amaze me with his endurance and productivity. Whenever I set the bar a little higher, he always reaches it, forcing me to push the bar even higher next time. He recently left E-Force Global to join Flex full time and he’s continuing to do great work on our new labor and pricing tier system.
Roger’s initiative and hard work allowed us to integrate with QuickBooks and QuickBooks Online in a flexible, meaningful way. It would have been very easy for our QuickBooks integration to be just complete enough to justify the bullet point on our feature list, but Roger worked with our customers to make it as useful as it can be. Roger’s also put in countless hours designing and maintaining reports, which can be a dreary and thankless task.
And though Courtney’s new to the team, she’s quickly become the company’s conscience, keeping us honest, and helping us avoid the temptation to just push to production without thorough testing. Though there are always surprises and room for improvement, I personally think Courtney’s dedication to her job has made a noticeable difference in the stability and quality of new software updates.
And I want to acknowledge Devon for his work supporting our customers. He’s had to do it under less than ideal circumstances, subject to ongoing legal threats and harassment from his former employer. He’s been put in a tough position and has handled it with poise and professionalism. His trial by fire has made him a loyal and valuable collaborator, and a passionate advocate for the customer in our design and planning process.
The Future of Flex
An occasion like this always puts one in mind of the future. I’ve often said that we still have a lot of work left to make Flex the product we want it to be and it always seems like new feature development never moves quite as fast as we or our customers would like. Yet we do have some big things coming just over the horizon.
We’re almost done with Phase 1 of a major enhancement intended to add more powerful labor planning features to Flex. Chris has the latest development build with him at Infocomm this week, and in this unreleased version you’ll be able to see our approach to labor and tiered pricing, with a powerful tier based model that takes into account complex after hours, overtime and other labor rules without forcing users to remember all the complexity. Our design approach for labor pricing also enables tier based pricing for anything in Flex, including rentals and retail items. This can be leveraged to provide bulk pricing or have different rental tiers without relying on multipliers.
The next phase will greatly expand how labor is scheduled, including new first-in-industry tools for booking freelancers and ensuring that labor requirements are covered without conflicts.
Another key enhancement that’s been on our radar for some time is providing asynchronous scan processing for use cases where doing everything in real time is unnecessary – like returns. We’ll be working on several methods of making the scan process more efficient for high throughput customers. We’ll also be introducing methods for supporting in-the-field transfers between shows and bulk scan options intended to support rapid turnarounds.
We’ve laid some groundwork and built much of the preliminary architecture needed to support multi-session event planning – for equipment and on-site labor. More work on this is planned for the coming year.
Building a Better Cloud
One of the challenges we face is how to make Flex more fault tolerant as the customer count grows without adding cost and increasing our prices. We’ll be working on a number of major architectural enhancements designed to take better advantage of the cloud platform, a project we’ve taken to calling high-availability Flex or the TruCLOUD. This project is intended to make Flex more fault tolerant without increasing our operating costs. It will include multiple load balanced server instances, out of process report generation (for more consistent performance), and dynamic scaling for peak usage periods.
The can that always seems to get kicked down the road around here is mobile development. Part of the reason for this is that customers have never really stressed it as a priority, but that’s changing. We’ve done some proofs of concept and will likely roll out iPhone and possibly Android applications over the next 12 months, particularly in support of field transfers and our new labor module.
A Very Good Year
It’s been a great 2012 so far at Flex and we’re looking forward to what happens next. As is often the case, our goals may outstrip our resources, but we’ll do our best. Thanks again to everyone for supporting Flex. We’ll keep working hard to earn your continued support.