Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Promotional Widgets, Part 2

In the first installment, I gave an overview of our sign-up promotion. As promised, I will now describe how it was implemented. For those who are interested, here are the steps:
  1. When a user signs up at Truth Rally, a PHP script assigns him or her* a unique promo code and includes it in the confirmation email for later use.

  2. A user who wishes to participate then goes to the promote page, and enters that promo code when selecting a widget.

  3. The user then copies and pastes the generated widget code onto his or her web site or blog.

  4. When a visitor clicks on that widget, he or she is directed to the sign-up page with a link that includes a variable with the user's promo code. (Mouse over the example widget near the top of the right-hand column, and check the link in your browser's status bar.)

  5. When the sign-up page is loaded, the promo code and the referring site are saved in a cookie on the visitor's computer so that this information can be retrieved if and when the visitor actually signs up. The cookie has an expiration date one week hence.

  6. If the visitor signs up, the information is retrieved from the cookie and reported to Truth Rally so that the original user receives credit for the referral. The cookie is deleted immediately after use; if not used within a week, the cookie expires and is automatically deleted.

By using URL variables and cookies, we can ensure that users get credit for their referrals, even if someone doesn't sign up immediately upon arriving at our web site. For example, they might explore the site first to learn more about it; or they might bookmark it and sign up at a later time. In either case, they could return to the sign-up page with a link that lacks the promo code. I want to thank a friend of mine who suggested the use of cookies.

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*As I've written before, I love the English language. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have shortcomings: As illustrated above, it lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun. Up until thirty or forty years ago, he and its inflections filled this role. Now, we are left using he or she, or pluralizing the antecedent, which can be awkward, in order to avoid the situation and simply use they. Many people use they and its inflections with singular antecedents, but this is technically incorrect and is not nearly as common in formal writing as it is in speech. There are also the non-words he/she and s/he, which I refuse to use. Finally, there is the often confusing, albeit increasingly popular, use of the pronoun she to refer to an antecedent that could be either masculine or feminine—which is even less correct and, in my opinion, more sexist than using he for this purpose. Meh. To each his own. Oops. To each his or her own.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Truth Tunes Update 2

The fallout of the Warner-YouTube rift continues: This time they took down my Linkin Park tune, "Runaway." I replaced it today with a fan video of the same song. For those unfamiliar with its lyrics, the chorus features these lines:
I wanna know the truth
Instead of wondering why
I wanna know the answers
No more lies

That sounds like it could be the rallying cry (no pun intended) of Truth Rally. Cool stuff.

Update: Strike two. I put up yet another version today (Wednesday, December 31, 2008).

Go Daddy Hosting

I optimistically upgraded our shared hosting service to Go Daddy's new Unlimited+ Plan, which offers unlimited disk storage, data transfer, web sites, and MySQL databases. It also includes a $50 Microsoft adCenter credit and a $25 Google AdWords credit. Originally, we were going to use Go Daddy's free hosting, which is included with each domain purchase, to set up ancillary web sites for our other domains; however, it will now be more convenient to set up all of them on this one new plan.

We paid for one year (5% discount) and used coupon code gdbb85720 (20% discount off a $75 order) for a total savings of 24% off the normal price.* We also purchased two new domains: one for $1.99, which came with our non-domain purchase; and the other for $0.99, which was purchased through a TLD-specific sale.** Go Daddy always has great discounts available, so you should search for their coupon codes before making any purchases through them.

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*The total savings is not 25% because the discounts are applied serially (i.e., the 20% discount is applied after the 5% discount). For those who would like a mathematical explanation: 5% + (20% x (100% – 5%)) = 24%.

**These prices do not include the annual $0.20 ICANN fee.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Social Networks, Part 1

Our marketing strategy for Truth Rally includes the use of online social networks, which provide a low- or no-cost means of communicating with large groups of people through word-of-mouth advertising. Each social network is a nexus of self-selecting communities that are built around common interests and are interconnected with links, such as friendships or business connections. They provide the infrastructure to reach targeted groups with little effort. The first social network we joined was Technorati, a blog network.

For our first marketing campaign, we planned on using Sprouts, which are Flash widgets that can be propagated from user to user; however, we found them to be insufficient for our needs and thus developed our own image-based widgets. Our next step is to tap into existing social networks with a bookmarking widget from AddThis. All of the posts on this blog now feature one of their widgets above the byline so that readers can easily link any post to their favorite social network, such as Delicious, Digg, Facebook, MySpace, Yahoo Buzz, and three dozen others. Once we have results pages available on Truth Rally, those will be adorned with AddThis widgets as well. They also provide free analytics so you can track how many times the widget is used to link to each of the accessible social networks.

I am happy with the widget provided by AddThis, but I was surprised that they don't provide specific installation instructions for blogging platforms. This is a very common use, and they are not a new company. Also, the JavaScript code they supplied doesn't actually work as advertised, at least not on Blogger. Fortunately, I was one simple Google search away from the solution: This blog provided properly working code, as well as instructions for where to place it in a Blogger template (see update below).

Update: I noticed that the AddThis widget wasn't reporting any bookmark activity, so my first suspicion was that the aforementioned "properly working code" wasn't working as properly as I thought. I returned to AddThis, regenerated the button code, and found that the Blogger-specific code does, in fact, work correctly. The problem is that if you click on the customization link, which I did originally, the Blogger-specific code doesn't carry over to the customization page. Thus, I ended up customizing the wrong code, which explains why it didn't work. I hereby retract my initial criticism of AddThis, and instead offer this suggestion: Transfer any generated platform-specific code to the customization page, or make it clear that this does not occur.

Friday, December 26, 2008

SEO, Part 4

Now that the interim site for Truth Rally is complete, I created a site map for it. This is not the typical site map with which most web users are familiar. Rather, it is an XML file meant to help search engines comprehensively crawl a site. The format of such a site map is based on the sitemap protocol, and can be created with a sitemap tool or manually if the site is small, as is the case for us currently. The four largest search engines, which comprise roughly 95% of all search queries, use this information if it is available.

After Google began crawling our site, I noticed that it was indexing only one page: the teaser page, which is relatively content-rich. That doesn't mean that it crawled only one page, but perhaps it did not find the content of the other pages worthy of indexing. For example, the primary content of the site's main page is a Flash widget, which web robots currently make no effort to interpret. By specifying in the site map that this page is of higher relative importance than the other listed pages, perhaps it will begin indexing it.

For those interested, here is our site map. I omitted those pages that are not intended to be landing pages, such as the thank-you page that is delivered after signing up for the site. In addition to listing the site's URLs and their relative importance, a site map can also specify the date of last modification. This attribute can reduce server bandwith by directing web robots to crawl only those pages that have changed since their last visit. The final attribute is the change frequency, which can be used to suggest how often a particular page's content is likely to be modified.

After uploading the site map to our server, I submitted it to Google Webmaster Tools, which then verified it. It will probably take at least a few days to determine if the site map makes any difference on how our site is indexed. I will post an update here once I know.

Update: Hey, it worked. The results are even in the order I specified. Voilà!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Truth Tunes Update

It was only a question of time: The first Truth Tune video is "no longer available." Ever since I heard the news over the weekend, I knew Warner Music Group was going to take away my supply of Depeche Mode videos, including "Policy of Truth." Warner and YouTube were unable to reach a new licensing deal, so all of the label's music is now vanishing from the most popular video-sharing site. This means that I'll have to subsist on YouTube's large collection of bootlegged videos until a new deal is struck. The general quality of these videos is inferior to the official versions, but they are adequate for the time being.

I was unable to find a good live version of the song, so I settled for an extended mix, whose melodic repetition unfortunately verges on hypnotic; however, it was the only version I found that has good sound quality. I also added some vintage Depeche with "Lie to Me" from their 1984 album Some Great Reward. This song deals with truth or a lack thereof ("Truth is a word that's lost its meaning"), so I think it makes a good addition. Check out the seventh track by clicking the left arrow on the YouTube widget in the right-hand column.

By the way, did anyone catch the Depeche Mode reference in the first sentence of this post? The answer is here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Promotional Widgets, Part 1

I've been busy the past few days putting together a promotional sign-up program, which will allow those who sign up to earn an additional bonus for attracting others to Truth Rally. Users simply place a widget on their web site or blog, and earn a bonus for each person who signs up and participates in our beta test. I put one of the widgets in the right-hand column of this blog, just under the Technorati widget.

Originally, I had planned on using little Sprouts (i.e., small Flash widgets, not the Jolly Green Giant's diminutive sidekick) as the promotional widgets; however, as far as I can determine, it is impossible to publish a widget that has a customizable link, which is necessary to credit users for their successful referrals. Also, I found that obtaining the referring site from the browser doesn't work on Internet Explorer: It reports the URL of the Flash player! Sprouts do provide tracking information, but not at the level that would allow me to discern actual conversions.

Next, I decided to just use a link with an image: a 1/5 scale of our site's logo banner. I read about a technique for changing a link's image into another image when the mouse hovers over it, so I used that approach. The mouse-over image implores the user to "Sign Up Now." Try it out. For lack of a better drawing program, I used MS Paint for the mouse-over image, and the results are predictably bad—especially in comparison to the primary image, which was produced with Xara XtremePro. Unfortunately, my XtremePro free trial expired last month. I'll check with my co-founder, Mike, and see if he can produce a higher-quality image.

In Part 2, I will present the behind-the-scenes magic that makes everything work.

Update: Mike made new mouse-over images, which look much better. I uploaded them today (Friday, January 2, 2009) to our server. Check them out at the promote page by moving the cursor over the widgets.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

AdSense for Feeds

I was looking at the various statistics provided by Google Webmaster Tools, and I noticed that this blog already has a number of subscribers to its web feed. This is a good sign, but it does mean that these users probably don't visit the actual blog, which means that they are deprived of seeing all of the informative (and revenue-producing) ads that are displayed here. We are planning on providing a web feed for Truth Rally to deliver the site's latest results, so this ad deprivation will be a problem because we hope to generate revenue from that site.

That's where AdSense for feeds comes in. Google acquired web-syndication site FeedBurner, and now offers an integrated product for publishing and advertising. So I "burned" a new web feed that features ads, and have redirected all current subscriptions to that new feed. Any new subscribers can directly use the new feed, which is now available at the top of the right-hand column, above the Technorati link. This will give me an opportunity to test and refine this advertising approach in preparation for Truth Rally's forthcoming feed. I welcome all subscribers to offer their feedback in the comments section.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Inappropriate Content

This is slightly awkward. There is an ad that is frequently appearing on Truth Rally that, er, isn't quite in keeping with the image we hope to present. At first I thought I might be overreacting. But after a friend of mine had an even stronger—and completely unsolicited—reaction to the ad, I knew what had to be done. I'm not going to name the company, because I assume that they run a legitimate business. But that ad has got to go. Luckily, there is a simple solution.

Google AdSense allows you to block ads based on their display URL or destination URL. The Competitive Ad Filter, which can be found under the AdSense Setup tab, allows you to specify those advertisers whose ads you'd like to prevent from displaying on your web site. As the name conveys, this seems to have been intended to enable companies to block ads from their competitors; however, it seems a legitimate use to filter ads a company deems inappropriate for any other reason as well.

You simply enter the URLs you want to block, and click the Save button. The URLs can be as broad (e.g., example.com) or specific (e.g., www.example.com/page) as you choose. They state that the filters take effect in a few hours. I'll check back later today to see if it works.

Update: The ad appears to have been removed from the rotation. Sweet!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Flash Widget Update

After viewing the Flash widget on our landing page, my co-founder was concerned about its readability, or lack thereof. Today I enlarged the widget and increased the font size of the teasers. I also darkened the background to improve the contrast with the foreground text. Because I changed the size of the widget, I had to reinstall the embed code after publication. If anyone else had installed the previous version, they would have had to reinstall the new version as well to get the latest content; therefore, resizing is something you want to do early or not at all.

I looked at the object and embed tag parameters for the Flash widget, and one is named allowFullScreen. It is set equal to true, but clicking on the object doesn't put the widget into full-screen mode. I did a little research, and there were some interactions with the parameter wmode in earlier versions of Flash, but those have supposedly been fixed. I tested different values of wmode anyway, but it made no difference. It is possible, however, to get a full-window version of the widget by browsing to the actual Flash source file; I added a link to it for those who prefer to sit in the front row.

Finally, for those who don't have Flash installed on their browsers, I added an alternative page featuring all of the widget's teasers in standard HTML text.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

SEO, Part 3

After launching the interim site at Truth Rally, I submitted it to the three top search engines: Google, Yahoo, and MSN Live. According to Hitwise, these search engines combined for nearly 94% of all search volume in October, the most recent month for which results are available. It can take several weeks before the search engines begin crawling a site, so it's a good idea to submit it as early as possible.

Next, I signed up for a Google Webmaster Tools account, and registered our site and this blog. I verified ownership of each by placing supplied meta elements into them to prove that I have write privileges. Upon verification, I was able to access various statistics and diagnostics, which can help troubleshoot any problems that Google's robot has crawling our site. They also provide tools to analyze and generate the file robots.txt, which suggests to visiting robots those files and directories on a site that should or shouldn't be crawled. I used their generator to quickly create a version for Truth Rally. I also added their 404 widget to our page-not-found destination to improve user experience.

Entity Classification Approved

I received a notice from the Internal Revenue Service today informing us that our entity classification has been approved. This notice is in response to Form 8832, on which we requested tax treatment as a C corporation. Six weeks ago, at the time we filed, I reviewed the different tax classifications available to an LLC. Please consult a CPA to determine which classification is best for your company.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Templates

The new web template is up at Truth Rally, and not a minute too soon. My patience was beginning to wear thin with all of the CSS quirks and browser-compatibility issues I encountered. Granted, most of them were my own fault for making the presentation too complicated. So, I finally took the Gordian Knot approach, and excised the tempermental parts of the code with a single stroke. To my pleasant surprise, the simpler design actually looks better—but still only adequate.

Luckily, this template is temporary, as it will be replaced when the new CMS-driven site is launched. Content-management systems offer tightly integrated templates of professional quality, so the site's appearance will improve significantly. If anyone is interested in the template I used, you can find it here. It is bare-bones, but it achieves its goal of flexibility, browser-compatibility, and SEO concerns. The look you achieve with this template depends on your artistry and effort. I was clearly lacking at least one of these.

Update: I upgraded to an improved version of the aforementioned template because the new CSS code obviates any need for special-case browser support. It also is vastly simpler, and thus much easier to maintain. Thanks, Matt.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sign Up Is Up

It took slightly longer than expected, but the sign-up page is now up. After wasting some time with the email scripts supplied by Go Daddy, I turned to a good friend, who sent me an email script he uses on one of his sites. There's no point in reinventing the wheel: Start with code that you know works, and adapt it to your individual needs. I had to learn a small amount of PHP and JavaScript to modify these files, which was straightforward because of my programming background. If you have experience with C or a related language, you'll probably find PHP and JavaScript easy to learn.

I also spent a while working on a nice email confirmation for those who sign up. Quality counts, and professional-looking communications are important in establishing and maintaining credibility as a business. And speaking of quality, the next step is a web template to spruce up the eyesore that is currently our site.

Friday, December 12, 2008

AdSense Blues

In the hopes of improving this blog's anemic Google AdSense income, I followed the lead of a friend who converted his AdSense ads to a blue theme—based on the recommendation of his friend, who reported substantially better conversion rates with such a color scheme. I have to admit that my ads definitely command more attention now. Whether that equates to better results will become apparent over the coming weeks.

Since inception, the ads on this blog have earned a paltry $1.37 over a seven-week period, which works out to less than three cents per day. It was never my intention to generate income with this blog, but that figure is embarrassingly low. Now you know why I've got the AdSense blues.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Flash Widget

As I recently mentioned, I selected a Flash widget for our pre-launch landing page. I used an online WYSIWYG tool called Sprout Builder to create my first Sprout, an embeddable widget that can be as simple or complex as one desires. Sprout Builder is easy to use, but also offers a collection of demonstration videos available for those who would like some instruction. The process is simple: After building and previewing the widget, you publish it, which allows you to embed it automatically on a variety of platforms or anywhere you can insert embed code. Any subsequent edits to the widget can be republished, which automatically updates all copies of that widget on the web.

The widget features a sharing mechanism, which allows anyone to embed the widget on their own site, blog, or social-networking page. This allows viewers of your widget to propagate it across the web, a form of viral marketing. Analytics reports are generated at Sprout Builder, so you can track the widget's installations and views. I am using a standard account, so all of this is free. Very cool.

Currently, the widget's sign-up button directs you to a non-existent web page, but I hope to have something up very soon. I was so impressed with this technology that I wanted to report on it right away, even at the possible expense of annoying a few users who try to sign up via the widget in the next day or two. I hope they forgive my impulsiveness. For a peek at the widget, go to Truth Rally.

It is also possible to add music or video to a Sprout. Though I am personally not a fan of ads that have an audio component, I am considering adding some low-volume, thematic music to see if that improves the experience. I might also make some smaller versions with simplified teasers, which would be easier for others to embed and spread.

By the way, for those of you who noticed the resemblance of the sign-up button to the metaphorical red pill, I want you to know that it was unintentional—or at least subconscious. Nevertheless, it is fortuitously fitting.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

SEO, Part 2

SEO concerns have led us to change course with our development environment. Originally, I chose Google Web Toolkit (GWT) to design the bulk of the web site, but in retrospect this was a naïve choice. GWT has many strengths, and I highly recommend it as an AJAX platform for web applications; however, our site is based primarily on content, which means SEO issues take precedence over the responsive user interface and asynchronous updates that can be achieved with GWT.

Currently, we are evaluating content management systems (CMS) on which to base our development. These frameworks not only address our content and SEO concerns, but also offer a wide range of other useful features that will save us months of development time. Also, we might be able to integrate some of our GWT components into a CMS. But even if we cannot, my experience with GWT has helped shape ultimately how Truth Rally will work. Stay tuned for future installments.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Reader Firsts

This blog received its first follower last month, and its first commenter yesterday. If you look at the linked profiles, you'll notice that the former lives in Malaysia and the latter lives in Turkey. How cool is that? Though I've worked as an engineer since the 1980s, I still marvel at technology's reach and immediacy. I would like to recognize and thank my international readers.

Contrarily, I am underwhelmed by my fellow citizens' lack of participation, especially considering that the vast majority of my readers are here in the United States. Without Google Analytics, I wouldn't even know I had any American readers, other than those whom I know personally. I suppose most of you prefer to lurk, which is fine. But if you get involved, this blog could offer more to readers. Feel free to ask questions, offer criticism, give advice, provide additional information, or contribute any other useful feedback.

By the way, there is one more first to go: first linker. (Hint: Click on a post's title, and you'll find Create a Link below the comment section.) I'll post an update here to credit whoever accomplishes this feat. C'mon, America! U—S—A! U—S—A!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Don't Reinvent the Wheel

When developing a product, it's important not to waste time and resources reinventing the wheel. The product's designer should leverage as much existing work as is cost-effective, obtaining proper permission through payment or other arrangement. Despite my protestations, I saw this common-sense rule violated repeatedly by a previous employer, which accounted in part for their eventual failure.

I am currently working on a pre-launch landing page for Truth Rally. Its main purpose will be to promote the site and allow interested visitors to sign up for an invitation to become a charter member, a distinction that will offer certain benefits. The site will require the membership to reach critical mass before it can launch, so starting the sign-up period now while we finish development makes sense.

The three basic components I need are a web template, a Flash widget, and an email script. I've already selected the Flash widget, and am now staring at the search results for freely available web templates—over 14 million of them. As my eyes glaze over while reviewing the plethora of choices, I think I can now relate to the typical Eastern Bloc defector who stood agape, unable to decide, when first encountering an American supermarket's cereal aisle. If I don't decide quickly, it might end up having been quicker to reinvent the wheel.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Joining the Technorati

Today I claimed my blog at Technorati, a blog community and search site. This means that I set up a user profile, and associated this blog with that profile. Technorati purportedly gives blogs more exposure and provides claimed blogs with several benefits. They also allow users to follow a set of favorite blogs, and provide a widget, which I have placed at the top of the right-hand column, that allows users to easily add a blog to their list of favorites. In addition, Technorati provides original research, guidelines, and help forums among their abundant blog resources.

Technorati ranks blogs by authority, their term for the number of blogs that have linked to a blog in the last six months, rather than an estimate of readership based on page views or a similar metric. This approach has drawn some criticism, but I see no problem with it given the measurement's transparency. Currently, this blog is ranked 4,704,864 as it has no authority yet, which apparently means it is tied for last with the bottom 96 percent of the roughly 113 million blogs that Technorati crawls. This suggests that one link would propel a blog into the top four percent! If I get a link, I'll post an update here.

Update: I got my first link today (Thursday, December 18, 2008), and the rank has vaulted over two million spots to 2,548,036. Truthfully, though, it has moved up one spot into a two-million-way tie for second to last.

Monday, December 1, 2008

My Pledge

As I embark upon my third month chronicling the day-to-day activities of Truth Rally, I pledge to actively post as long as I am running this company. Why do I make this promise? Because the blogger attrition rate appears to be rather high, and I would like you to know that you can count on regular updates to this blog.

As I survey the blogosphere, I see a vast wasteland of blogs that were initially quite active, but were then abandoned as the novelty wore off or the lack of feedback became too discouraging. According to this blog statistics site, 60% to 80% of blogs are inactive within a month.

I posted 42 times in the first two months, but am not deterred by the dearth of feedback. This unpromoted blog's inchoate audience will take time to develop, and I am patient enough to soldier on. Also, I disabled anonymous commenting, and perhaps this has dissuaded some readers from offering feedback. Why have I disabled it? Because anonymity breeds incivility, the most pervasive problem on the Internet. Besides, if one cannot stand behind one's words, then I have little interest in reading them anyway.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Whoa, Daddy!

I received an email today from Go Daddy informing me that the free SSL certificate included with our hosting plan automatically renewed for one year at a cost of $29.99. I received notifications earlier in the month that the SSL certificate needed to be renewed, but nothing stated that it would automatically renew. Apparently, Go Daddy's SSL certificates renew one month ahead of expiration, and their default setting is automatic renewal.

Since we aren't currently using the SSL certificate—and probably won't for several months—I called Go Daddy's billing department to cancel the renewal. The representative with whom I spoke quickly canceled it and refunded the $29.99 to my credit card. The entire phone call, including menu navigation, took only three minutes. I also received separate verification emails for the cancellation and the refund within one minute of the call's conclusion. Bravo!

I understand that automatic renewal is ostensibly meant to protect our domain registrations and prevent interruptions in service at our web sites; however, I prefer to renew manually so that I can apply the most advantageous coupon codes for maximum savings.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Backstory, Part 3

In part 2, I left off at the time we were trying to think of a name for the company. But before discussing that, I am going to digress from the development timeline to drop a hint about one of the mechanisms of Truth Rally.

Twenty years earlier during my undergraduate days at UC San Diego, I took a course called Philosophy 10, Introduction to Logic, which was taught by renowned philosopher Patricia S. Churchland. Phil 10 covered the basics: formal logic notation and translation; truth tables for statements and arguments; inference, indirect, and conditional proofs; and identification and classification of fallacious arguments. I am a critical thinker by nature, but this course expanded and organized my critical-thinking skills, which have served me well ever since. I've often wondered what the world would be like if everyone were trained in logic.

The next quarter, Dr. Churchland offered me a position as a teaching assistant. I was excited by the opportunity, but regrettably had to decline because of my course load, research project, and work obligations. Since her class, I've felt a tug in the direction of philosophy, but the demands of computer science prevented me from indulging further. Luckily, what I learned in that one class has always stuck with me—probably because it has been constantly reinforced by the daily fusillade of fallacies from politicians and journalists, bloggers and their commenters, and a host of other culprits.

In Truth Rally, at last, my career will include the teaching of logic, a missed opportunity that has finally come full circle.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Truth Tunes

I recently opened a YouTube account to host any videos we produce for Truth Rally, such as how-to videos that help members maximize their site experience. Our YouTube channel is here.

One of the features offered by YouTube is playlists. I added the two songs that were previously posted on this site to a playlist, whose associated embedded player (see right) has replaced the previous widgets. I will add other cool "truth tunes" to the playlist as I find them. Suggestions are always welcome.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Favicon Fun

A favicon is a small icon that appears in the address bar of most browsers when visiting properly equipped web sites (e.g., Blogger displays their familiar white-on-orange logo). The name is an abbreviation of "favorites icon," where favorites refers to the bookmark mechanism in Internet Explorer, the browser that originated the feature.

While designing a logo, I generated the following similarly themed image for use as a favicon. Notice how the spray paint goes inside the carved-out area of the "T" and is realistically lighted. Thanks again to Xara!

Truth Rally Favicon

There are two methods for adding a favicon to a web site. I tried the preferred approach, which worked fine on Firefox but not on Internet Explorer. So I settled for the "wrong" approach, which works fine on both. This involves generating a file called favicon.ico, and placing it in the web site's root directory. I'd rather use the preferred approach, so I will probably give IE another chance to work through its emotional problems.

Despite the level of detail in my favicon image, it is surprisingly readable when rendered as a 16x16 icon. However, adding contrast to the letter "T" would definitely help. Take a peek at Truth Rally.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Trademark Basics

A trademark is a name, word, phrase, symbol, image, design, or slogan—or combination thereof—that identifies and distinguishes the source of a product or service from that of others. In the case of a service, the specific term service mark is also used. A trademark can be registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for a fee of $325 (if filed electronically). Registration is not necessary to establish rights in a trademark, provided the mark is used properly; however, registration does offer some legal advantages.

Registered trademarks are followed by ®; unregistered trademarks, by ™; and unregistered service marks, by SM. The two unregistered mark indicators formally alert the public to a claim of rights, but are not necessary to establish those rights.

At this point, we are forgoing the registration process to conserve capital. Current trademark candidates include our company name and logo. A company name, when used as a noun, is considered a trade name; however, when it is used as an adjective, it is considered a trademark. For example: Truth Rally was founded last month; they employ the Truth Rally™ method to distinguish fact from fiction.

For those who wish to explore trademarks further, I recommend the following:

For those who are ready to get started, go to the USPTO trademark start page or to a trademark preparation service, such as LegalZoom.

Friday, November 21, 2008

SEO, Part 1

This is the first installment in a series of discussions on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the process of optimizing a web site's interaction with search engines in order to maximize the quality and quantity of visitors. SEO considerations affect a web site's basic structure, and thus should be included from the beginning of the design process. Google recently published a Starter Guide, which provides helpful information for SEO novices like me. If you'd prefer to hire an SEO firm, here is a useful article.

I applied Google's good practices concerning images to this blog. In particular, I followed their advice on brief, yet descriptive, file names and alt text. For example, in the post on logo design, the file name of the logo image is truth-rally-logo.png and the alt text is "Truth Rally Logo." It is apparently better to use hyphens to separate keywords in the file name, as underscores are not typically viewed as separators by search engines. Because I originally used an inconsistent nomenclature for image file names, I renamed the previously posted images and re-uploaded them.

Since the structure of this blog site is not controlled by the user, I doubt there are many other SEO techniques that can be applied to it. However, I have noticed that the title given to a post at first publication is converted into the name of the file containing that post; furthermore, subsequent changes to the title do not alter the file name. Therefore, a user could fill the title with search-friendly keywords, publish the post, and then publish a more reasonable title to mask the ploy. This would artificially insert keywords into the post's URL, thus giving it a possible search-engine advantage. I do not recommend this, however, because of its seeming underhandedness. Though it isn't technically a black hat SEO technique, it falls short, in my opinion, of white hat practices.

As SEO issues arise during development of Truth Rally, I will post future installments in this series to address them.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Logo Design

As I touched on earlier, Mike and I have been struggling to come up with a logo for our company. We started pitching concepts back and forth in January, but haven't really seen eye to eye on this subject. From the beginning, the only limitation I placed on the creative process is that the logo must not have any of those hackneyed arc-orbit-swoosh shapes. Mike has focused primarily on understated designs using stylistic fonts, while I have struggled to capture a visual metaphor for "truth" in my designs. Neither of us has produced a clear winner, but we have made some progress toward a final concept.

Last month, it finally occurred to me: carve the word "truth" in stone. Societies throughout history have carved their truths and wisdom in stone—on tablets, monuments, and important buildings. I searched for a method to achieve this effect, and found this tutorial. I downloaded a 30-day free trial of the software the author used, and came up with this juxtaposition of timeless truth carved on a wall and our modern determinative rally approach painted below it:

Truth Rally Logo
The software is from a company called Xara, and I definitely recommend XtremePro, the product I used. I modeled the word "rally" after some graffiti fonts I found online. I achieved the effect with their freehand brush tool using an airbrush set at various widths and spray densities. Did you notice the white border that has an overspray appearance? Thanks to all those who gave me feedback on this design and its predecessors.

Although this logo achieves many of our goals, it violates some basic design guidelines: It is not vector-based nor does it utilize easily reproducible colors. I've read that professional graphic artists typically use software such as Adobe Illustrator to meet these guidelines and produce quality logos. The price and learning curve of this software, however, make it more cost-effective to simply hire a logo design firm, which we might do in the future. If so, we have a satisfying concept from which to start.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Go Daddy

I registered our company's domains through Go Daddy because of their low prices and consistently good customer service. I have been a customer of theirs since early 2006, and have found their representatives to be pleasant, knowledgeable, and available whenever you need them.

I transferred my Go Daddy assets to Truth Rally LLC, and updated the WHOIS registrant and contact information to reflect this. I am now in the process of setting up preliminary web pages for each domain, which I will describe in more detail upon launch. For the primary domain, we purchased a shared hosting plan at a steep discount to get things started; for the others, we will be using the free hosting included with domain registration. I will report on my experiences. Stay tuned.

Initial Capitalization

Even though I am a grammarian*, this post has nothing to do with the orthographic transgressions of E. E. Cummings. When you start a company, you clearly need to capitalize (i.e., fund) it. Initial capital contributions are made by the members of an LLC to cover start-up costs, and are delineated in the Operating Agreement. Contributions can be in the form of cash or property, such as equipment or furniture. IRS Publication 535 describes how to account for start-up and organizational costs.

For our company, I funded it with enough cash to cover near-term expenses. Also, my pre-organizational expenses, such as LLC formation costs, mailbox fees, and domain registration fees, are also considered part of my initial capital contribution. Companies that have a physical presence will obviously have far greater cash needs, and may require some form of debt as well.

To my surprise, the initial capitalization of a company can have an influence on piercing the corporate veil. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a number of interesting articles on this topic, which you can read by starting here.

_______
*As I've intimated before, I thoroughly enjoy the English language and have endeavored to learn its correct usage. I have even done some professional editing, albeit for technical writers. Granted, these are not grammarian qualifications per se, but being regularly referred to as "the grammar gestapo" by appreciative, yet irked, colleagues surely is.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Google Alerts

I signed up for Google Alerts recently to keep tabs on the latest web pages, news articles, and blog posts that contain the search terms Truth Rally LLC, truth rally, or truthrally. If there are any new web pages (in the top 20 results) or any new blog posts or news articles (in the top 10 results) for any of these search terms, I am notified by daily email. Thus far, I have received alerts nearly every day, but only a few of the results have pertained to our company. Hopefully this will change once our website launches.

Google Alerts are simple to set up and manage, and are useful for keeping apprised of the latest developments concerning any particular subject. I recommend that every small business set up alerts for mentions of their company, their competitors, or any other relevant topics. There are also options for Google video and group searches, if applicable.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Backstory, Part 2

In the first installment, I described my motivation for creating Truth Rally. Now I'll offer a little background on its development timeline.

My first inkling of the concept came when I returned to San Diego nearly eight years ago: I called PacBell to establish landline service, and the number I was assigned just happened to spell "IT'S TRUE" (now our official company number). As odd as it might sound, I took it as a sign. I had been developing other concepts that dealt with trusted references for particular subjects, but this led me to expand the domain—to potentially anything. Why not go big? I started thinking up various frameworks that might accomplish this, but my busy work schedule relegated the project to the back burner.

About three years later, I came up with the basic framework for Truth Rally. I kicked the idea around for a few weeks, and did some initial development. I then pitched the concept to my eventual co-founder, Mike. He liked it! I have found that it is easier to flesh out ideas if you bounce them off someone. We had several conversations about how it would work, and Mike wrote up a brief summary.

And then nothing happened—for about two years. Mike and I were each busy with other projects, but for me it went beyond that. There was something about the model we developed that seemed arbitrary and artificial. And the more I thought about it, the less interested I became. I knew that without passion for the project, there would be no chance for a successful startup.

Then one day nearly three years ago, I had an epiphany: a unified model* for Truth Rally that eliminated the shortcomings of the original concept. I excitedly pitched the new model to Mike, but he seemed underwhelmed—perhaps because I was changing everything. But I was convinced it was a better approach, so I persisted. Mike's challenges forced me to improve various aspects, and he gradually warmed up to it.

With my passion renewed, I cranked out a lengthy functional specification, and sent it off to Mike. He was surprised at the level of detail. We went through a few revisions, but the improvements were coming to mind too quickly to keep it current. In fact, the most recent version is dated July 25, 2006. The document put the development on the right track, but after a while it seemed to be slowing us down. I'm not advocating this approach, but it has worked in this case.

With the project rolling again, the next step was coming up with a name. Stay tuned.

_______
*We are considering patenting the method, so we cannot publicly reveal any details yet.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Business Tax Certificate

Our business tax certificate from the city of San Diego arrived today, so everything is copacetic with our local government. I would like to remind all those contemplating starting a business to research all governmental requirements before forming a company so that adequate compliance time is available.

At the certificate's top, it reads: "Post in conspicuous place or keep on person." I'm not about to carry this in my wallet, and I can't think of a more conspicuous place to display it than here on this blog:


Truth Rally Tax Certificate
Besides the fact that our business address is a UPS Store mailbox, posting this certificate on the web seems uniquely appropriate for a website-only business. Perhaps this will start a trend.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Records & Books

Every LLC must keep certain records, as well as a set of books. The IRS offers two publications, which are a good place to start:

These publications review the essentials, and present different approaches for business accounting. California's FTB also has a recordkeeping page. For those who find this information overwhelming, a good accountant is probably the answer.

Yesterday, I spoke with a friend who consults for small businesses, and she recommended QuickBooks Pro 2009. I was leaning toward one of the QuickBooks products, but wasn't sure which would be best for our company. The list price for QuickBooks Pro 2009 is $199.95, but I've seen it as low as $131.99 at Amazon (using coupon code GDY69SDI, which I found at Hand Picked Deals).

LegalZoom's standard LLC package includes a free download of Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2008, which I now see is offered as a free download directly from Microsoft at the given link. So much for that "benefit."

After evaluating the various offerings, we'll make a decision and post an update here.

Update: Since our bookkeeping needs are simple right now, we opted to use QuickBooks Simple Start Free Edition 2009. I installed the software today (Wednesday, November 12, 2008). When our accounting needs move beyond this product, we can purchase the Pro version and import our data.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Analytics Picks

I signed up for a Google Analytics account today, and installed the tracking code on this blog. I was using StatCounter's analytics code to track visitors, but their free version only saved 500 page views at a time, which we hope will be insufficient for Truth Rally. In contrast, the free service offered by Google Analytics tracks up to 5 million page views per month. I actually liked StatCounter's product, but we have to minimize costs. Plus, if we use Google AdWords for Truth Rally, it will be very convenient since AdWords and Analytics are integrated.

I'm testing the tracking code here in preparation for installing it on our main site prior to launch. Unfortunately, the analytics data doesn't update in real time like StatCounter. The documentation says that it can take up to 24 hours between updates, so I will post an update once I'm sure it is working.

Update: I checked this morning (Tuesday, November 11, 2008), and Google Analytics is working! They don't reveal IP addresses like StatCounter, but they do have a Map Overlay view that allows you to display down to the city level. According to Google, this is the superior approach.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Signature Armature

Whenever you sign your name while conducting official company business, it is crucial that you add ", Member" or your title (e.g., ", CEO") to indicate that you are acting on behalf of your LLC, and not in a personal capacity. In particular, this applies to contracts, but also applies to other documents in which the acting "person" is the LLC itself. Failure to do so could result in personal liability, which is exactly what the LLC is supposed to protect against. For more information on liability issues, refer to my earlier posts that discuss piercing the corporate veil.

Friday, November 7, 2008

WaMu Booboo Two

Today I received the first monthly statement for our Washington Mutual business account, and there was a small discrepancy. It seems they charged us $20 for that free box of checks. D'oh!

It was still before closing time, so I called up my local branch and spoke to the same senior representative that set up our account. She remembered me, and quickly reversed the charge. No fuss, no muss.

This was the second mistake WaMu has made since we opened our account, but that's okay because I don't expect perfection. However, I do expect a fast resolution to any problems, and they delivered both times. Good job, WaMu.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Statement of Information

In California, one of the ongoing obligations of an LLC is the Statement of Information, which must be filed with the Secretary of State. The initial filing must be made no later than 90 days after filing the Articles of Organization; subsequent filings are required to be made biennially, no later than the month in which the Articles of Organization were originally filed. This is one of the steps that the FTB representative mentioned.

LegalZoom is filing our initial Statement of Information, a service that is included with the standard LLC package we ordered. We should receive a copy of it from the Secretary of State within the next 45 days.

The statement, Form LLC-12, is simple to complete. It requests only basic information, such as the current business address, type of business, and contact information for the CEO, members, and the agent. Because we formed our LLC last month, our next Statement of Information will be due on October 31, 2010.

Update: We received the copy of our initial Statement of Information today (Friday, November 21, 2008). It was completed by LegalZoom on October 15, endorsed by the Secretary of State on October 23, and sent back to us via LegalZoom, our registered agent.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

LLC Tax

Every LLC that does business in, is organized in, or is registered in California is subject to an $800 annual tax. This is enforced by the Franchise Tax Board (FTB), California's version of the IRS. Payment is normally made in advance each April 15 using Form FTB 3522, but only if the LLC is taxed as a partnership (or sole proprietorship). In this case, refer to Publication FTB 3556 for LLC filing information. Important: The first payment is due on the 15th day of the fourth month (inclusive) from the LLC's filing date.

If the LLC is being taxed as a C corporation (like ours) or an S corporation, the relevant filing information can be found in Publication FTB 1063. Under California Corporation Tax Law (CTL), this annual tax is referred to as the minimum franchise tax, but the amount is the same. The payment is typically made in arrears each March 15, the corporate tax filing date, with either Form 100 (C-Corp) or Form 100S (S-Corp). Note: Newly formed corporations are not subject to the minimum franchise tax in their first taxable year.

I spoke with a very helpful representative in the business division of the FTB for 30 minutes today. She patiently answered my many questions, and reviewed the various steps we need to take as a new LLC, which I will write more about later. She also changed our contact address so that all FTB correspondence will go directly to our business address, instead of through our LLC agent (i.e., LegalZoom), which is the default.

Disclaimer Game

Thanks to the litigious mindset of far too many people, I need to take a moment and spend some quality CYA time. In other words, it's time to post a formal disclaimer. Those in possession of common sense may safely skip the remainder of this post.

In case anyone was confused, I am not licensed by any governing body to dispense professional advice on business, legal, accountancy, or tax matters; or any other issues dealing with the operation of a company. Capiche? As I've posted earlier, I am a business owner who is writing—in his official capacity as CEO—about his experiences.

I've added a disclaimer, which was inspired by several other disclaimers I found at similar types of blogs. If you decide to copy my disclaimer for your own site, you do so at your own risk because—drum roll, please—I am not an attorney.

On a related note: For our web site, we will also need to draft a Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. Stay tuned for more details.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Eternal Light

With the help of a fellow NHL fan that I contacted via YouTube, I was able to identify an amazing piece of music. It is called "Lux Æterna" and was composed by Clint Mansell for the soundtrack of the 2000 film Requiem for a Dream. Because of its popularity, it has been used repeatedly since then in TV shows, film trailers, advertisements, video games, and a particularly helpful Canadian's hockey videos.

You might be asking, What does this have to do with Truth Rally? Okay, I'm up for a challenge. Granted, it is not manifestly relevant like Policy of Truth, but there is at least a tenuous connection:

We've been working on ideas for our company's logo for several months, and our biggest challenge has been coming up with a visual metaphor for truth. One idea we tossed around was light (of truth), which we found difficult to capture in an original way, and thus abandoned. Nevertheless, the music's title is Latin for "Eternal Light." Q.E.D.

If you are not familiar with this music and have 6½ minutes to spare, I recommend that you give it a listen. It takes about 25 seconds to get going, but you'll be glad you waited. Turn up the volume, sit back, close your eyes, and thank me later.

By now, you can tell this post is nothing more than a flimsy pretext for sharing music I enjoy and introducing the topic of logo design—which I am currently taking a break from, but will soon be discussing in some detail.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tax Classification

A limited liability company (LLC) can elect to be taxed as one of the following business entities:

Each choice has advantages and disadvantages, and the personal tax situations of the members can bear on the decision. Here are two sites that have good overviews of the differences. If you have any questions about the different methods of taxation, it is worth consulting a CPA to get expert advice. The good news is that the tax classification can be changed—provided certain time restrictions are met—if you find that it would be advantageous to do so. If no election is made, the LLC will be considered a partnership (or sole proprietorship) for tax purposes.

My co-founder and I reviewed the scenarios, and chose to have our LLC taxed as a C-Corp. To do this, we are filing IRS Form 8832, which allows us to make our entity classification election. LegalZoom completed the form for us, as we made the election during the order process. I signed it today, and mailed it off to Mike for his signature. The instructions state that we should be notified within 60 days as to whether our election was accepted. Stay tuned.

Update: Mike mailed the signed form this morning (Wednesday, November 5, 2008).

Update: We received approval today (Wednesday, December 17, 2008).

Friday, October 31, 2008

Written In the Stars?

I'm going to use the occasion of Halloween to detour into the realm of superstition. Let's see what my favorite pseudoscience, astrology, portends for Truth Rally. For the company's natal chart, I will use the date stamped on the Articles of Organization by the California Secretary of State (as opposed to the date of our organizational meeting, which marked the beginning of business activity).

Danke, Astrodienst, for allowing me to generate this free natal chart for Truth Rally (click to enlarge):


Truth Rally Natal Chart
There are many different types of chart analysis, but I will leave that to the experts. I do notice, however, that the Sun and the ascendent, which are the two most important signs, are in Libra. Qualities associated with Libra are fairness and impartiality, as signified by its zodiac symbol, the balance. This would seem to bode well for a company that intends to find the truth and have the credibility to be believed. Mercury, which represents communication and mentality, is also in Libra.

By the way, my co-founder, Mike, is a Libra. Perhaps the stars are aligning for Truth Rally.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Backstory, Part 1

Up to this point, I have made only two vague references to what Truth Rally is. That was intentional. Primarily, this is a journal that focuses on the business side of the startup process. My hope is that other entrepreneurs will find our experience informative and encouraging.

But some might be wondering, What is Truth Rally? Not to be coy, but to answer that question I will start by answering the question, Why is Truth Rally?

When I began closely following politics about twenty years ago, I found that the truth was often a casualty of the political process. I figured it was just an unfortunate part of the system: the price we pay to protect free speech. But over time, it seemed to be getting worse. Across the political spectrum, politicians, news anchors, academics, reporters, celebrities, and commentators were increasingly sacrificing the truth to further their own careers and ideologies.

This decline of our public dialogue steepened even further over the past decade, leading us to become a nation divided by opposing truths. Clearly, this reality is absurd, because there is such a thing as the truth. And until we the people know what the truth is, it will be nigh impossible for us to debate honestly and solve our nation's and the world's ills. That's where Truth Rally comes in.

Stay tuned for future installments.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Tax Club

I received a call yesterday from a representative of The Tax Club, a tax-preparation company that gets referrals from LegalZoom. When we ordered our LLC, I checked a box requesting to learn about their service. During our first conversation, we set up an appointment for this morning.

This morning I received a call from the same representative, and I am disappointed to report that my spidey sense was tingling throughout:
  • He called 31 minutes late. He also failed to acknowledge—much less apologize—for his tardiness. Punctuality is important when establishing a working relationship. And so are good manners.
  • He sounded like a salesman. He was unctuous and seemed only to feign interest in our company. His approach bordered on a hard sell. As it turns out, he is a salesman.
  • He waited 20 minutes to tell me the cost. The large upfront fee of $1497, which itself is another red flag, is probably the reason why. There are also monthly and annual fees totalling about $277 per year.
  • He asked for my credit card number. This is the mother of all red flags. If his company's service was as good as he says, he wouldn't need to hustle me.

After I got off the phone, I googled them and my suspicions were confirmed. I will probably never know the accuracy of these complaints (er, horror stories), because I will never do business with The Tax Club. I simply do not respond favorably to any of their sales techniques. One of the reasons I chose LegalZoom is that they let their products sell themselves.

If LegalZoom wants to keep their good reputation, they should investigate The Tax Club and the complaints lodged against them, and act accordingly. I will be contacting LegalZoom to report my experience.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

LegalZoom Delivers Again

I forgot to photocopy Form SS-4 before signing and returning my copy to LegalZoom. So I called their customer service, and spoke to a representative about getting a copy for my records. She was very helpful, and promptly emailed me an electronic version of the completed form. That's the kind of service I expect, but seldom receive.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Taxman Cometh

Every startup owner knows that his or her business has both federal and state tax obligations. But don't forget about business taxes at the municipal level. They are typically a smaller expense, but you might not be given as much time to comply before penalties are assessed. The city of San Diego is one such municipality. Luckily, I found out about it in time.

Anyone doing business in San Diego—including self-employed individuals and contractors—must file a business tax application within 15 days of starting business activity. Because our web site has yet to launch, we technically haven't started business activity. I spoke with a representative at the Business Tax Program, and she said that we are permitted to specify a future date; however, we don't know exactly when that activity will begin. Therefore, we decided to play it safe and just use the organizational date of our LLC.

San Diego's business tax includes a processing fee ($25), a zoning fee ($17), and the annual fee ($34) for a total of $76. A zoning fee for a mailbox at a UPS Store? As it turns out, little of the application applies to a web-site-only company. However, if you have a more-conventional business, then other licenses and permits might also be required. Check with your local government to find out.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

AdSense Adds Cents

We intend—initially, at least—to use Google AdSense on Truth Rally to help defray registration and hosting expenses. So I applied for an AdSense account in order to begin learning everything about the program. It makes sense—and cents (groan)—to start using it now so that we'll be ready for the launch of the actual web site. I definitely don't want to be futzing around at the last minute.

After my application was approved, I dove right in and found myself lost in a sea of instructions, agreements, policies, guidelines, tips, webinars, forums, demos, channels, formats, reports, etc. I must admit that the sheer volume of information is a tad overwhelming at first. To my surprise, though, it only took a few minutes to add three content-driven AdSense gadgets to this blog: two in the right-hand column and one at the bottom of the page. Thank you, Google, for making it so intuitive.

Update: Google, obviously aware of the immense amount of information regarding their AdSense program, sent me an email this morning (Sunday, October 26, 2008), which read in part:
As a new AdSense publisher, you've got a world of information to absorb.
They aren't kidding! If I were still a kid, my response would have been a three-word phrase starting with "No" and ending with "Sherlock."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Tax Seminar

A good friend of mine, who is also running his own company, invited me to attend a business tax seminar this afternoon. A CPA gave a 90-minute presentation, in which she reviewed the numerous tax advantages of running a home business. Unfortunately, she didn't discuss any issues dealing specifically with the operation of an LLC or corporation. Both my co-founder and I have run separate sole proprietorships for many years, so there wasn't much new material presented. I did ask a question that applies to our case, but quickly realized that we will need to hire a CPA to set up our bookkeeping* system and to complete our tax returns. Stay tuned.

_______
*This word and its variants are supposedly the only English words with three consecutive pairs of letters. Yes, it's true: I enjoy the English language.

Friday, October 24, 2008

WaMu Booboo

I received my Washington Mutual business debit card today. Since it can be used anywhere MasterCard is accepted, I can now easily make online purchases directly using my business account. As I wrote earlier, avoiding commingling of personal and business assets helps to prevent others from piercing the corporate veil.

WaMu did, however, apparently make a mistake: I should have received one debit card for me and one for my co-founder. Instead, both cards were issued in my name. I called customer service, but their small-business banking department was already closed. I'll have to call them tomorrow to straighten it out.

Update: I spoke with WaMu this morning (Saturday, October 25, 2008). They cancelled the duplicate debit card, but Mike will have to call in to get a debit card issued in his name.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

LegalZoom Survey

LegalZoom sent me an email that asked me to take a customer survey:

We're very interested in your feedback and we have created a survey for you to share your thoughts. We know your time is valuable so we've kept it brief.

They weren't kidding about it being "brief." The survey consisted of one question and an optional comment box. For the question, I gave them a 9 out of 10 on whether I would recommend them to people I know. (I rarely ever give out a perfect score.) In the comment box, I pointed them to this blog; if they're serious about customer feedback, they'll take the time to read it.

I have an additional observation about their customer service representatives: They are knowledgeable about and helpful with the order process; however, they are not able to answer most questions beyond that scope, nor are they able to offer anything approaching legal advice—which is fine. It's just important to keep that in mind when using their service. If you need legal advice, go to a lawyer; if you need legal forms, go to LegalZoom.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Policy of Truth

I was testing out some of Blogger's gadgets today, and ended up embeddeding the video of "Policy of Truth" by Depeche Mode. Why? It's a cool song with "Truth" in the title by one of my all-time favorite bands. Besides, it was a little quiet around here, and I thought readers might enjoy some music while they check out the blog.

Yes, I know that the song is actually warning against strict adherence to a policy of truth; however, it is speaking more about openness ("Hide what you have to hide") than honesty, and specifically about openness in personal relationships. Truth Rally, on the other hand, will be explicitly pursuing a policy of truth concerning issues in the public sphere.

If you like the music, check out Depeche Mode's official channel on YouTube.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bank Account

We opened a free business checking account today at Washington Mutual—a safe move considering they've been acquired by JPMorgan Chase. We were helped by their business relationship manager and a senior representative, who were pleased to find that we obtained our LLC through LegalZoom. They told us of some unfortunate individuals who used an attorney or other Internet service to form an LLC, and ended up with an inferior product that made it difficult to set up a business account. For us, though, everything went fine. They even threw in a free box of checks. Thanks, WaMu!

Organizational Meeting

My co-founder, Mike, and I conducted the organizational meeting for our LLC today. As the only owners, we were elected managing members. Mike was also elected Secretary; and I, Chairman and Treasurer. Mike then presented the Articles of Organization, Operating Agreement, specimen certificate of membership, company seal, and banking resolution, which were all approved and adopted. We signed and dated the Operating Agreement. Then, the membership certificates, which indicate ownership interests, were stamped and issued. As Secretary, Mike recorded the minutes of the meeting.

The meeting went smoothly, especially considering that it was our first. LegalZoom provided a sample organizational agenda, as well as a template for the minutes, which made it easy. The only thing not supplied was the banking resolution, which can be obtained through your bank of choice. Though it's not explicitly mentioned in LegalZoom's materials, meetings should follow rules of order.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Deluxe LLC Kit

Here are a few photographs of the deluxe LLC kit we received from LegalZoom. It includes customized membership certificates, a CD-ROM that contains forms essential for running an LLC, and a steel embosser with our company's official seal. For a complete list of all contents, click here.

LegalZoom LLC Kit
LegalZoom LLC Kit
LegalZoom LLC Kit

Friday, October 17, 2008

LegalZoom-Zoom

The deluxe LLC kit from LegalZoom arrived today—much sooner than I had originally anticipated. They state that the Standard (i.e., mid-level) package should arrive in 20 to 35 business days; however, ours arrived in only 10 business days (9, if you exclude Columbus Day). This quick delivery seems more like the priority rush service of 7 to 10 business days included with the high-end Express Gold package. Well done.

I made a cursory review of the kit, and everything appears to be in order, including correctly spelled names and addresses. I will post more on exactly what we received after I've had a chance to carefully review all of the materials.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

It's on Its Way

This evening LegalZoom sent me an email, which read:

Congratulations, we received your articles back from the Secretary of State and your final documents are now ready. Your order has been shipped and you will receive your package shortly. Please make sure to read the instructions in the final letter enclosed in your package.

They sent the package via FedEx, and have included a hyperlink to the tracking information. Let's see. It was last scanned in Sun Valley, California, and is scheduled for delivery tomorrow. Cool.

Business Address

Yesterday, I picked up the keys for our new business. Wow, that sounds important. Actually, it's just a mailbox at a UPS Store. Considering that our company has "Truth" in the name, it is especially important that I make this clear. I have no desire for anyone to believe that a mailbox is an office suite, a once popular trick used by frauds who specified their mailbox numbers as "Suite" numbers. Besides, doing so would violate the terms of the mailbox service agreement I signed, not to mention state and federal law.

So why then are we spending money on a mailbox? For the same reason we will be setting up a separate bank account for our company. In order to maintain the limited-liability protection of an LLC or corporation, it is important to observe all corporate formalities and not to commingle personal and business assets. Otherwise, a plaintiff could seek to collect debts or damages from the corporate principals (i.e., my co-founder and me) by piercing the corporate veil. Although this is typically only applicable when a corporation is used for an untoward purpose, we'd rather not take any chances.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Almost Finished

I checked our order status today at LegalZoom, and was surprised to find that they are already preparing our order for shipment:
Preparing your final documents Completed 10/14/2008
Preparing your order for shipment In Progress 10/15/2008
At this rate, the documents will be shipped this week, and we should receive them by next week. Excellent.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Employer ID Number

I received the following email from LegalZoom today:

You chose LegalZoom to obtain your tax identification number for LLC [sic]. Your tax identification number is: [redacted]

Attached to the email is a copy of IRS notice CP 575 B, which contains the assigned Employer Identification Number (EIN) and further instructions. This notice was sent in response to IRS Form SS-4, which was filed on our behalf by LegalZoom as part of their standard package. According to the EIN prefix we were assigned, they filed the SS-4 on the Internet.

Truth Rally LLC is now officially recognized (Woo-hoo!) by the IRS (D'oh!).

Monday, October 13, 2008

Officially Aproved?

This afternoon, I received an email from LegalZoom, which read:

Congratulations, we just received notification from the Secretary of State that your articles for Truth Rally LLC have been filed on 10/8/2008 7:00:00 AM. We are currently preparing the documents for your order. Once we receive the official filing documents from the Secretary of State, we will ship your order and notify you via email when your order ships.

I then checked our order's status on their website:

Congratulations - your LLC has been officially approved by the California Secretary of State. We are now preparing your final paperwork, which will be delivered to you shortly.

So has it actually been officially approved, as in state certification? Perhaps today's email is just lagging the status update on their web site. The Secretary of State observes Columbus Day, so the last day anything could've happened is last Friday. Out of curiosity, I called LegalZoom's customer service to find out. Unfortunately, the representative and I had a slight communication gap, and I still don't know the answer.

In any event, it seems like things are progressing faster than promised.