Posts in Ramblings

Virginia Property Tax Ridiculousness, What Similar Issues Do You Have?

My company is registered here in Virginia, which happens to be a “Personal Property Tax State”.  What that means to me is that where normally people are used to paying property tax on their homes every year (as they live in that property), I also have to pay property tax on vehicles as well as my business assets…every year.  This is the one thing I absolutely hate about being in Virginia, though I’m sure each state has their pros and cons, which I’d love for you tell me about in the comments.  Let me explain each tax so you have a clear understanding of what I deal with and pay.

Vehicle Property Tax

Don’t get this confused with sales tax…because you have to pay that too.  With sales tax, you buy a car, you pay sales tax one time, and that’s that.  Virginia also charges a yearly property tax of 4.2% (May be different based on your county) (billed twice a year) which is based on the NADA value of your car as of January 1st (so you are paying the full assessed value, even in December a year later).  It’s like paying sales tax on your car every year!  There is a little bit of relief though, especially for those with cars valued under $20,000.  For my county they offer 58% relief up to the first $20,000 of value.  So if you own a $10,000 car, your property tax due is $420 minus 58% = $176.40.  Anything over $20,000 owes the full tax amount after the initial relief up to $20,000.  So if you have a BMW for example worth $40,000…here’s the breakdown:

BMW Value: $40,000
Tax On Initial $20,000: $840
Tax After 58% Relief: $352.80
Tax On $20,000 leftover: $840

This means you will be paying $1,192.80 on top of the sales tax you already paid just to have that car.  Tack on the cost of gas and insurance, it gets quite expensive to drive a nice car.  That’s no chump change, and definitely keeps me from wanting to buy any new cars.  Keep in mind, you have to pay this EVERY YEAR…so the value may go down to $36,000 in the second year, and you’ll pay a bit less than the original $1,192.80.

Also note that any vehicle that is used for over 50% business, is not eligible for the relief and must pay the full 4.2% every year.

Business Tangible Personal Property Tax

I just found out about this one a week ago, which is really frustrating, not only because of the money, but because of the effort required to do file this.   You are required to have an asset list that you provide to the state every year of the following:

  • Property owned by the business
  • Property owned personally and used in the business on a full or part-time basis
  • Property received as a gift
  • Property that is leased or rented
  • Property that is fully depreciated or expensed for federal tax purposes

This means you need to have an asset list (and pay property taxes every year) on everything from the computers to the printers to the furniture, etc, etc.  You have to pay 4.2% of the assessed value EVERY YEAR.  There is a breakdown depending on age to figure out the assessed value:

  • 1 year old = 50% of the original cost
  • 2 years old = 40% of the original cost
  • 3 years old = 30% of the original cost
  • 4 years old = 20% of the original cost
  • 5 years and older = 10% of the original cost

To give you an example, say you own a video editing company and you have to buy a $5,000 computer.  On top of the sales tax you may have already paid, you will also pay $105 the first year in property tax (4.2% of half the original cost).  You will pay $84 the second year, $63 the third year, $42 the fourth year, and $21 every year after that, even 10 years later when it’s probably worth nothing.  This is just one computer.  Now add up all your equipment, furniture, etc, etc and see how quickly that can add up.  It’s like they don’t want you to make money.  Not to mention the hassle of having to create, maintain, and submit this asset list.  How do you know what the cutoff is?  Do I include all my pencils?

In Conclusion

There may be other property taxes that are charged, but these are the two that I am aware of.  What do you think about these taxes and how does it compare to your state?

Reassessing The Priorities of a Successful Business

Note: Forgive me for rambling a bit, I typically like to jot down what I’m thinking :)

I have always striven to create some sort of multi-million dollar brand through one of the businesses I have started.  Now that I’m working for myself full-time, I’ve had the opportunity to sort of re-asses what my actual goals really are.

I find myself laying in bed at 2am in the morning with my mind racing about the day, ideas for the future, how I’m going to do what’s on the task list, etc.  Part of these big dreams I think has to do with the fact that a lot of content and stories of entrepreneurs that I tend to read about are big picture companies.  What I mean by that are companies that make products or offer services which meet a huge audience.  Intel makes chips for all PC’s and Mac’s, Google makes products that everybody uses, Foot Locker sells shoes that everybody wears, etc.  These are big picture companies that have the real potential to bring in millions, or even billion of dollars.

Then I look at my core business, a very niche luxury store that deals specifically with carbon fiber products…a material which the majority of the people never heard of or have no idea what it is.  When I’m dreaming of making my business successful, I think about being able to live the lavish lifestyle…but in reality, is that a true way to define success?

I find myself constantly comparing my life to how it was when I was working full-time for another company.  To be blunt, I’m making roughly the same amount of money right now, but I’m working wayyyy more.  Not only that, I have the constant stress of this never-ending to do list…forms to fill out, reconciling monthly, tax estimates quarterly, business license yearly, blah, blah, blah.  There are a million things to do, and I find myself always thinking and worrying about getting them done.  In comparison, at a full-time job, my day ends at 5pm, and typically doesn’t get thought about until I arrive the next morning.  The time in-between is “free-time”.  Now I feel like I lose a lot of that free-time because I’ve always got business on my mind…I’ve got to be able to make sure to afford the next month’s mortgage payment.

On the upside though, my schedule is much more flexible.  If I want to wake up a little later (although I find myself waking up earlier), I can.  If I want to take a week vacation, I can (although I’ll have ridiculous amounts of work to do when I get back, and that will of course be on my mind during vacation).  I work at home, which is great, but eventually (hopefully) I’ll grow out of my home office (which has grown to about a 2.5 room home office) and need to have a commercial space.

So I find myself always asking myself if this is all worth it?  The great thing about owning a business is the fact that the sky is the limit.  I have a much greater chance of making a lot more money with my business than I would working for another company, but that comes at a cost…and is that cost worth it?  To be honest, I haven’t fully decided yet.  The big thing for me is I generally like the work I’m doing on my own much better, but being the sole employee is a bit overwhelming.  I have to play many many roles, and you can’t just know everything or do everything better than anybody else.  Getting that first employee and being able to pass off responsibility will probably be one of the single most life changing parts of my career as an entrepreneur.

I will say that it’s extremely tough to get to the point where I feel like it’s worth it.  If I was able to do the same amount of work and double the amount of money, I would feel a lot more comfortable saying it is.  Apples to apples comparison, the freedom of knowing a paycheck is coming every two weeks, knowing that my health is taken care of, and having some sanity back/burden off my shoulders…it’s tough to say the business route is the way to go.  I honestly don’t think most people would be able to do it and stick to it.

This post was just more of a way for me to get some thoughts off of my chest.  I’m calling out to other business owners and entrepreneurs out there to post your experiences in the comments.  Do you find it worth it?  Have you gotten to the point monetarily that you’ve surpassed your goals?  If so, do you have any advice?  Did it happen over time with slow growth, or was there one moment that changed everything?

How My Personal, Work, and iPhone Calendar Is Over The Air Synced

I recently bit the bullet and picked up an iPhone.  For the longest time I held back from doing it, not because I didn’t love the iPhone, but because I despised the AT&T network (I was on Verizon).  After some bad experiences with Verizon, I decided to give AT&T and the iPhone a try.  Now that I’ve had the phone for about a month, I absolutely love it!  I haven’t really had any problems with the AT&T network, but I also live in a pretty populated area.

One of the most powerful things I’ve managed to do with the phone is sync my personal Outlook, work Outlook (different computer), and iPhone calendar so that they are push updated automatically over the air.  This way if anything changes either at home, at work, or on the go, all of my calendars are synced up appropriately.  I’d like to share how I did this.

Just to clarify how I have everything setup before the sync, I have one computer at home running Outlook that has my personal calendar.  I also have another computer at the office running Outlook that has my work calendar.  I also have a Google Calendar (gcal) calendar that is blank, but has a personal and work calendar on it (not populated with anything).  Just recently, Google announced being able to push your Google Calendar to your iPhone.  Push essentially is an over the air update, so if something changes on one end, it will “push” that data to the synced device automatically, with no need for a manual sync.

Knowing this information, we know that we can get push updates from Google, so ultimately the goal is to obviously get our separate Outlook calendar data from Outlook to Google Calendar…but how do we do that?  This is done using two free tools, Funambol Outlook Sync Client and ScheduleWorld.  Funambol is a plug-in for Outlook which will sync your appropriate data to ScheduleWorld.  We’ll then use ScheduleWorld to connect to Google Calendar and push each calendar to the correct calendar.

First, sign up for an account on ScheduleWorld.  Then install the Funambol Outlook sync client to each Outlook machine and in your options, set it to only sync over the calendar information.  For the server information you’ll want to use http://sync.scheduleworld.com/funambol/ds as the location, and then your ScheduleWorld username and password.

You should now be able to sync each calendar into ScheduleWorld.  It’s not exactly that simple though, you’ll need to change some settings in ScheduleWorld, so go ahead and login. You’ll want to go to the calendar page, and create two calendars, one for personal, and another for work.  Then head to the settings page, under the Calendars section you should see both of your calendars.  Go in and change any settings to make it the way you want.  You’ll notice a “Google” tab.  Head over there, put in your Google username and password, and click find calendars.  It should find your personal and work calendar on gcal.  If you’re in the settings for your personal calendar, select personal as the Google Calendar…and of course do the same for work.  Then click sync, and make sure it works.  You’ll want to checkmark the AutoSync option, and go ahead and do two-way sync (this way if you change something on either place, it will update everywhere).  Save those settings, and then do the same for your other calendar.

In ScheduleWorld, you should see two devices under “SyncML Devices”.  I changed those names so I can better identify which is which.  This is where you’ll tell which Outlook calendar to sync to the appropriate calendar in ScheduleWorld…which will then update it over to Google Calendar.

Now on your iPhone, if you follow the steps from the Google Sync page, you should be all set.  If you update your calendar from anywhere, it should update Outlook/ScheduleWorld/Google Calendar/iPhone all over the air pushed to your phone.

Now that I think about it, if there’s a way to bypass ScheduleWorld, and just have Funambol update Google Calendar, that should also work…if anybody knows how to do this, post a comment.

How Flickr/Yahoo Could Use A Lesson In Customer Service

Recently, I jumped on the Flickr bandwagon, and signed up for a pro account.  $24.95 a year, and it offers you unlimited photo and video upload, plus all of the great community benefits of being a part of Flickr.  It’s a great service, with a great community, at a great price.  I was using my Flickr account for my personal/business use, I setup the name under dpitMedia (which is my parent company).  I created a few collections of sets that made sense for each site I had.

The collection for Carbon Fiber Gear had a bunch of stuff in it, including the pictures of products we sell that I had personally taken.  In the descriptions to each product I would just put that it was available on my site, and I linked to it.  I’ve seen this done a million times on Flickr, find any company that posts pictures of their products, and they’ll more than likely have a link to their site…or bloggers, that have a link to their blog.

So I probably had around 1,000 pictures in my account, and out of that, maybe 50 or less were pictures of the products that I took with a link in the description.  One day I login to my account, and it won’t work.  I try to access my photostream, and it just says “dpit Media is no longer active on Flickr”.  I had no idea, why, so I tried to contact Flickr to find out what happened.  I sent a message on the contact form to find out what happened (Flickr doesn’t have a phone number listed anywhere, so I was forced to e-mail).  This was the response I got:

Hello,

Thank you for contacting Flickr Customer Care.

Flickr account “dpit Media” was deleted by Flickr staff for violating our Terms of Service and Community Guidelines.

www.flickr.com/guidelines.gne

Flickr reserves the right to terminate your account without warning at any time.

Regards,
Do

That’s it.  There was nothing about what had actually been done, no information on if I was going to get refunded, etc.  I went through the Flickr guidelines link Do sent, and could only find one thing that could potentially be the reason why my account was terminated:

Don’t use Flickr for commercial purposes.
Flickr is for personal use only. If we find you selling products, services, or yourself through your photostream, we will terminate your account. Any other commercial use of Flickr, Flickr technologies (including APIs, FlickrMail, etc), or Flickr accounts must be approved by Flickr. For more information on leveraging Flickr APIs, please see our Services page. If you have other open questions about commercial usage of Flickr, please feel free to contact us.

Some of the pictures I had could have been borderline selling a product, because I posted a link to where you can actually get the product…but I don’t know if that’s what they really mean by that term.  If I post a picture of a Nissan Maxima, and then put a link to Nissan’s product page, am I violating the terms?   I could easily find 10 examples without trying that would technically break that term…but is it enough, or even what they mean, to actually terminate an account?  I would think they are just protecting themselves against obvious spammers, not somebody who very obviously is not spamming.

So I sent an e-mail back:

Hi Do,

I’m assuming it was terminated due to using it for commercial purposes…as I had some sets in one of the collections that were linking to the product that it was a picture of.

I apologize, and must have overlooked that clause in the terms when signing up. I wish that Flickr had at least sent a warning (even though I understand you reserve the right to terminate the account at any time), I would have simply removed the link to the product in those pictures. Out of maybe the 1,000 or pictures I had, I would say that 50 of them were like that.

Is there anything I can do to have my account reinstated? Now that I understand this term, it will surely not be broken on my end again. I had just upgraded to a pro account, I really loved being a part of the Flickr community, and I’d hate to lose that over a small overlooking on my end. I had been promoting my pictures from my own personal blog, and had no intention of violating any terms.

Let me know if there is anything that can be done. At the very least, am I getting a prorated refund of what I paid? I would much prefer to be able to continue to be a part of the Flickr community, and will not violate any of the terms going forward, it was an honest mistake on my part.

Thanks,
Dave

It has now been 48 hours, and I have yet to get a response from “Do”.  At the very least I have a right to understand why my account was terminated right?  I never got a warning from Flickr saying “hey, you’re violating our terms on some of your pictures, you’ll need to fix this or we’ll have to delete your account”.  Nope, they just deleted the account.  That doesn’t seem like a very good way to retain customers, or provide good customer relations/service.  Last I heard in the market news, Yahoo wasn’t exactly in the position to just throw money away.

Last week, my credit card bill came in, and the charge for setting up Flickr had a toll free phone number next to it (866-562-7228 for those that want it).  I gave it a call, and it actually goes to what I guess is Yahoo paid services billing support.  I get somebody on the line and explain my situation.  The guy basically tells me that there is no notes on my account to show why it was deleted, but that once it’s deleted, it’s gone forever (makes sense from a privacy perspective…sucks for me though).  If I wanted to know why it was terminated, I’d have to e-mail back (which I did, and have yet to get a response).  He was also able to give me a refund (100%).  He recommended I find out why I got terminated, and setup a new account, and don’t do whatever I did wrong again.

So I setup a new account (find me here, and friend me!), and started to setup all the pictures again.  It’s not going to be as much as I had before, but it’s a work in progress.  Really sucks from my part because I spent a lot of time getting everything right, tagging hundreds of pictures, adding descriptions, etc.  Yahoo/Flickr, please make sure and tell me if I’m doing some sort of minor break of your terms, and give me an opportunity to resolve it before just going out and deleting it.  If Flickr wasn’t so awesome, you’d have lost me a customer…but because your service is so good, you have another chance.

Anybody else have similar stories?  Doesn’t necessarily have to be Flickr.

Installed RaceDeck Flooring In My Garage…Love It!

One of things has always been to have a killer garage…and that always starts off with cool floors in my opinion. I recently bought a new house (I’ll have some sort of tour post in the future sometime), and it’s now giving me an opportunity to build my dream garage. Stage 1 of course is flooring.

While I was at SEMA back in November, I stopped at one of the booths for RaceDeck, a company that manufacturers garage floor tiles.  They had a great show special, and the final cost would end up being a lot less than if I were to order it myself…so even though I wasn’t necessarily ready to buy, they lured me in.  I’m glad I did.  Installation was a breeze, and the floor looks amazing!  Once the garage is all painted and lighted up, it will look that much better.  Here’s a little picture timeline of the install:

Here’s all the tiles ready to be installed:

Installing RaceDeck floor in my garage

Move all your stuff to one side:

Installing RaceDeck floor in my garage

Here we can see I’m getting started:

Installing RaceDeck floor in my garage

Then I realized I should probably start from the corner:

Installing RaceDeck floor in my garage

It’s growing!

Installing RaceDeck floor in my garage

The most time consuming part was definitely the checkered area, but still not too bad:

Installing RaceDeck floor in my garage

Repeat on the other side, and then done!

Installing RaceDeck floor in my garage

Of course here’s a pic with my baby in it:

Installing RaceDeck floor in my garage

You can order the floor through RaceDeck, as well as design what you want…they have a pretty good designer on their website that will tell you exactly how many tiles of each color you’ll need to order to match your design.  By the way, if you’re thinking that RaceDeck paid me to write this, or I benefit in any way, I am not/don’t.  Just providing a good testimonial for an awesome product and a company that gave me good service.

The MacBook Wheel Revolutionizes The Keyboard

If you think Apple successfully revolutionized music and the cell phone, you haven’t seen anything yet. Check out the new MacBook wheel:

For those that don’t know, the Onion News Network is fake news. Also, if you have yet to see the iRaq, this is worth seeing:

How Can I Add A Third Monitor To My PC?

Hopefully some of you out there reading this are techies and can suggest a solution for me.  I’m putting a 37″ LCD in my office, and I’d like to optionally be able extend my desktop onto it.  The problem is that I am already running two monitors using both DVI ports on my Foxconn 512MB GeForce 7950GT video card.  So there are two solutions, one being better than the other that I’d like to figure out the best and most cost effective way to figure out.

1) This is the most optimal solution.  I’d like to add a third monitor and be able to extend my desktop onto it.

2) If I can’t do the above, or it’s not cost effective, I wouldn’t mind just having a copy of the 2nd monitor on the 3rd screen.  So whatever is showing up on my 2nd monitor, is also identically showing up on the 3rd.

I’m assuming the way to do this is to get another video card in order to obtain another output.  If so, does it have to be the same card (I can run them in SLI mode)?  Or can I pick something cheap up?  If it has to be the same card, I’m worried about power consumption and heat.  I have an Shuttle XPC case, which is a small-form factor case.  It’s extremely tiny, and not sure if it can handle the heat or power of a 2nd powerful video card.  Here’s my specs that you may need:

Any thoughts?  Post your comments below.

I Lost $335…PayPal Needs To Fix This For Future Issues

I want to start this post off by saying that I am wrong, the issue of not having myself protected is my fault.  What I do want to state though is that PayPal should make this issue that I had more apparent to its customers that receive payments for a product valued over $250.

On July 31st ActiveTuning received an order for an RGB2+ for $325 shipped.  This is not a product that we normally stock (we state this on the product page, and also state that it will take about a week before it’s shipped to the customer), so once an order arrives, we place an order with our supplier, who then ships it to us, and we ship it to the customer.  We shipped a few days later, within PayPal’s 7 day terms.

Almost 3 months later, on November 28th, I received a notice that the funds were on hold due to a chargeback.  PayPal asked for the tracking #, in which I gave to them right that day.  The tracking # confirmed delivery of the unit to the customer.  Two weeks later on December 12th, I receive an e-mail from PayPal stating that the funds cannot be returned, the customer won the chargeback settlement, sorry….and I’m responsible for the $10 chargeback fee.  From my perspective as the business I did everything correct.  I received an order and I shipped as soon as possible.  I used USPS Priority Mail, as PayPal heavily promotes and integrates into their service.  This was not fair to me.

I immediately called PayPal, and after looking into it, they directed me to the third bullet of section 11.7 of their twenty five page user agreement.  Under the definiteion of “proof of delivery” it states the following:

Signature Confirmation for transactions that total $ 250 USD or more (see Foreign Currency Equivalents below).

While I did get delivery confirmation on the package, I did not get signature confirmation.  Since I did not get this, I automatically lose the chargeback case.  Yes, this is in the 25 page user agreement, but sorry PayPal, I can’t memorize or read every single thing.  This is a pretty important aspect of seller protection in my opinion, especially on higher priced items (anything over $250).  Would it be that difficult to “promote” this term/clause a little better to protect their own customers (the sellers that generate a huge amount of sales in which they make money through transaction fees and monthly service agreements)?  A simple obvious note when receiving a payment over $250 for a good that says “hey, don’t forget to add signature confirmation so you don’t get fucked when your customer scams on you”.

That is all.

Opportunity Knocking. Take Matters In Your Own Hands.

So I login to my gmail account today and I see an e-mail from a girl I used to date:

Hey, just in case you weren’t aware, wanted to give you a heads up, especially if you tend to by gift cards for the holidays. The following are involved in, planning to file Bankruptcy, or closing a significant number of stores:

Circuit City (filed Chapter 11)
Ann Taylor- 117 stores nationwide closing
Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug ,and Catherine’s to close 150 stores nationwide
Eddie Bauer to close stores 27 stores and more after January
Cache will close all stores
Talbots closing down specialty stores
J. Jill closing all stores (owned by Talbots)
Pacific Sunwear (also owned by Talbots)
GAP closing 85 stores
Footlocker closing 140 stores more to close after January
Wickes Furniture closing down
Levitz closing down remaining stores
Bombay closing remaining stores
Zales closing down 82 stores and 105 after January
Whitehall closing all stores
Piercing Pagoda closing all stores
Disney closing 98 stores and will close more after January.
Home Depot closing 15 stores 1 in NJ ( New Brunswick )
Macys to close 9 stores after January
Linens and Things closing all stores
Movie Galley Closing all stores
Pep Boys Closing 33 stores
Sprint/Nextel closing 133 stores
JC Penney closing a number of stores after January
Ethan Allen closing down 12 stores.
Wilson Leather closing down all stores
Sharper Image closing down all stores
K B Toys closing 356 stores
Dillard’s to close some stores

I knew about a lot of these stores, but there were many new ones. The economy is really going through some crazy times right now. There is a possibility of the domestic automotive manufacturers filing for bankruptcy. The world is folding as we know it right?? Wrong.

Right now is sort of a the strongest survive scenario. The fact is, we as consumers will still continue to purchase products, we will still wear clothes, we will still buy people presents, and we will still drive cars.

Think about GM as one example. GM owns a ton of auto brands; Chevy, GMC, Cadillac, Hummer, Pointac, Buick, Saturn, and Saab. Just imagine how many vehicles per year are manufactured sold from the conglomerate of all these brands?? I don’t have exact figures, but I’m sure it’s well into the millions. If GM went under, that’s a huge void of vehicles that were at least partially sold…that are now not. While becoming a new car manufacture may not be the easiest thing in the world, somebody is going to take a lot of that business…and that ain’t no chump change. The strong will survive.

Now take a look at any of the other stores above, and I can bet it’s the same scenario. Who knows why some of these stores are folding…some expanded too fast, some didn’t do enough marketing, some expanded in the wrong areas…you get my point. Just because they failed, doesn’t mean you will to. What this new economy teaches us to do is to not be extravagant on how we spend. Run a company lean, and learn from past mistakes.

Now is a great opportunity to get into business…if you can survive the time while things are bleak…for what goes down must come up.

Just my 2 cents.

The Girls Of SEMA 2008

The SEMA show is not only about the cars, there are also tons of hot girls modeling at many of the companies booths. No need for much more explanation, thanks to Alex for taking a bunch of the pictures: