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.

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*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.

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*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).