Monday, May 24, 2010

Google Enterprise Blog: A week to celebrate Small Business

Monday, May 24, 2010 at 12:29 PM

This week we’re joining others throughout the country to celebrate National Small Business Week, declared by the President of the United States to recognize the impact of small businesses on America’s economic well-being.

We hear great stories every day about how Google Apps is helping small businesses compete and grow. So, to honor the millions of small businesses across America, we’re kicking off a week-long blog series to share their stories. We’ll highlight some of the outstanding entrepreneurs and small businesses that we’ve worked with over the past few years, how Google Apps has helped them grow, and examples of ways small businesses are using tools in the Google Apps suite.

To start, we’d like to share a story showcasing Stephen Culp, Founder and Chairman of Smart Furniture and CEO of Delegator. Read Stephen's post on the Official Google Blog to see how his business is using Google Apps – and stay tuned for more small business news throughout the week.

Posted by Michelle Lisowski, the Google Apps team

Google Apps Features Smart Furniture Founder
Hello Google Apps, hello real collaboration

5/12/2010 02:53:00 PM
This is the latest post in an ongoing series about Small Business and resources for entrepreneurs. Previous posts have covered how Google AdWords and Google Places can help business owners use technology to drive success. -Ed.

I’ve talked to a lot of small businesses that don’t have the budget or the resources to invest in and maintain technology. That’s why I love telling them about 
Google Apps — a suite of web-based office tools — and how it can help move their businesses forward.

I always find that it’s easier for small businesses to understand the benefits of Google Apps when one of our customers tells the story for us. So I’ve asked Stephen Culp, Founder and Chairman of Chattanooga, TN-based 
Smart Furniture and CEO of Delegator, to share his experiences with Google Apps, and how he took a company that started out in a Stanford professor’s garage and made it a success. (Sound familiar?) We’ll continue the conversation with Stephen and other Google Apps customers at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce America’s Small Business Summit next week in Washington, D.C.
As the founder of three companies, an attorney, Naval Reserve Officer and former Peace Corps volunteer, I’m a believer in an entrepreneurial approach to virtually everything. Smart Furniture, for example, started back in 1998 in a Stanford professor’s garage, with a new business model called “Design on Demand®” that allows furniture and interiors for homes and offices to be customized for you, and more importantly, by you, all on the web.

Smart Furniture began as a small and growing company with phenomenal people, but limited budget (and time) for technology, especially the wrong kind. We tried for years to scale efficiently without pouring money into the “standard” infrastructure to run our business. We considered the idea of Microsoft® Exchange, and while the idea was great, in practice it got a lot more complicated — and expensive.

Then, in 2008, we discovered Google Apps. We liked the general virtues of 
SaaSapplications that were inherent in Google Apps, and the fact that the applications improved over time without any effort from our team. Plus, the collaborative benefits were game-changing. Google Apps took that idea of efficient, company-wide collaboration and — unlike the alternatives — made it real.

In other words, for us, Google Apps does just what technology should. It frees up resources to focus on our actual business. It offers tools we didn’t have — or hadn’t integrated — before, including third-party apps from the 
Google Apps Marketplace. It replaces unnecessary layers of tech silliness with a simple, intuitive, integrated platform that actually serves us — our team and our goals.

Google Calendar alone increases our efficiency exponentially. Everyone can look at the same calendars, create new ones for events, projects or work groups, and share them, without having to master a byzantine instruction manual. Then there are the collaboration benefits. Before Google Apps, we’d constantly lose information as people changed roles or moved on to new projects. With Google Sites, we’ve eliminated the need for shared servers and their little air-conditioned server rooms, and replaced our entire intranet with one comfortably situated in the cloud. We use Google Sites to store company files and team members’ bios, and support our project groups. Meanwhile, Google Docs allows everyone to contribute to projects and idea creation — a key part of our company culture. We create documents to solicit feedback, track ideas, keep common agendas, take notes, prepare for meetings, manage inventory and even organize our company’s softball league. It’s part of almost everything we do.

Yes, our IT guys freaked out at first. Some thought that eliminating the maintenance of our previous system, a.k.a. Frankenstein, would make them no longer necessary. What they didn’t realize was how much better their jobs would get. Now they have the time to work on interesting projects — building, creating and innovating, rather than constantly rebuilding, patching and defragmenting. Our team is amazing, and we’re glad to have them back out of that air-conditioned server room.

At Smart Furniture, Google Apps helps build and support our culture, an important part of the secret sauce that has helped us succeed. Our culture keeps all of us working together, enjoying our days, not peering out the window wondering when we can clock out. As any company grows, it’s hard to maintain the sense of close collaboration that a small business has. Google Apps keeps us chatting (we all use chat in Gmail), collaborating, learning and growing together, as if we were still in the one-room office where we began — which was, incidentally, about the same size as the server room we were planning to build for Exchange.

In our experience, as a small business, the wrong technology can distract your team and drain resources, while the right technology can seamlessly support your goals. Both Smart Furniture and Delegator are on pace for greater than 100 percent growth in 2010. Customer satisfaction rates are at record levels, and we love where we work. For us, Google Apps is the right technology.

Stephen in the flagship Smart Furniture Studio

Friday, May 14, 2010

Rico's Week with the Generation Chair, Day Five

The seat cushion doesn’t get talked about very much, because of the Generation’s Main Big Deal, which is the back and arms being so innovative and awesome. I’d rather it not get left behind, though, because my rear end is feeling very comfy and has been so all week. I don’t ever feel like I’m sliding out of the chair when I lean back, the seat pan adjusts deep enough for me (I’m 6’1”), and it seems to breathe well even though it’s a cushion and not space-age like some other chairs. Let’s see, have I left out anything? Oh yeah, design. Other than mentioning that the arms look different, I haven’t really discussed the chair’s design features. When you look at it from the side, you notice that the back curves in towards the lumbar region, then back out again and seems to even curl over forwards at the top. That seems a bit unlike what you would expect in a chair, until you think about this chair’s purpose and construction. Each of the curves accentuates the back’s supportive ability, while still enabling it to flex and move just about any way you want it to. From the back, it looks awesome because of the way the back is made – colored rubber with holes in it, with a great profile and contrasting colored frame – I mean, you can see the pictures shot from the back. I think that, although the side profile looks a little goofy, the back is stunning enough to more than make up for it. So my conclusion is: because I prefer to sit still, I wouldn’t go for a Generation, but I love the way it looks. However, having moved around in it for a week, I would be able to honestly recommend it to my sister, who Can’t Ever Sit Still. She’d be very comfortable in this chair long-term.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rico's Week with the Generation Chair, Day Four

I’m sitting normally today, and by normally I mean facing forward. The only abnormal part of the way I’m sitting is that I’m sort of slouched sideways and leaning on my left elbow while I work. The Generation’s back being so flexible, I am able to feel supported and not strained even in that ergonomically incorrect position. Do I sound like an advocate for bad posture? I really hope not. I really believe in sitting well for the sake of my bad back, and do notice when I’m sitting wrongly. My back tells me. And then I have to tell my daughters that I can’t pick them up for a while. And my chiropractor tells me that I’m an idiot, and my wallet gets thinner. So I really do have incentive to sit correctly. Having sat in the Generation for almost a week, I can tell that it’s not noticeably harming me, and so my arbitrary verdict, based on not feeling pain or discomfort, is that it’s a good chair for people who normally have good posture but like to move around in their seats. Bear in mind that my back isn’t yours, nor are my sitting habits yours. That’d be boring, anyways – if we were all behavioral clones of each other …

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rico's Week with the Generation Chair, Day Three

Today, I attempted to do what I had never thought about doing before. I sat backwards in my office chair and leaned on the back. I can only imagine this being useful when sitting at someone else’s desk watching them work, or participating in something that does not require the use of typing or mousing actions. With that qualifier, it was comfy enough, but not as comfy as sitting backwards in a dining chair without arms. Because a task chair needs to have arms and a frame, which get in the way of your legs a little bit, the Generation wasn’t as great backwards as it is forwards or sideways. However, the part that really was neat was that the top of the seat back bent back and I was able to rest my arms on it while I was sitting backwards. I still prefer the quarter-turned or sideways positions, and can rest my arm on the flexible seat back in that position. This chair would be awesome for the type of person who can’t sit still in their chair, or is always sitting on their leg, or is up and down frequently, or needs to look at the ceiling a lot (like if you work in a cubicle and don’t have a view … the flexible back would save your neck a lot of pain from straining to see something beyond your cubicle walls).

Rico's Week with the Generation Chair, Day Two

Day Two Today, I was mildly surprised when I walked up to my desk and found the Generation chair still waiting behind it. I think I really like the color – it’s not so much of a shock as it was when it was sent over from our Studio in the first place. It’s true that Lemongrass isn’t really that color, but I’ve decided that it sounds neat, so what the heck. As I look at the arms of the chair, they seem aesthetically different than most chairs, and I think that’s because they were designed to not be in the way while still being there for your arms to rest on if you want them to be. This chair has the Height Adjustable arms, rather than the High Performance version. Having not used the High Performance arms, I’m not sure what the main difference is, but these have enough cushion, go up and down easily and lock into place just fine. While they move around a lot and feel loosely connected to the frame, they actually stay locked in place better than most of the performance task chairs I’ve sat in recently. One of my pet peeves is when I put the arm where I want it to be and it decides that it wants to move somewhere else when I lean on it. These feel like they were meant to be leaned on, both by my arm and (if I feel so inclined) by my back when I’m sitting sideways in my chair. That does bring me back to what I started talking about (regarding why the arms look aesthetically different than most chairs); they are designed to be out of my way when I’m sitting sideways with my legs under one arm and my back against another. They are successful at that job and do not infringe on my leg’s personal space, and while my arm-backrest isn’t super comfortable, it doesn’t cause me pain. I find that, rather than sit sideways, a more comfortable position is to turn about a quarter of the way around, counter-clockwise, and use both the back of the chair and the armrest for support. It’s actually surprisingly comfortable to sit like that while typing this.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rico's Week with the Generation Chair, Day One

In the realm of ergonomic task seating, the Aeron was first, a groundbreaking chair in both design and comfort. Following on its heels was a host of chairs that mimicked the design and couldn’t touch the comfort. But recently, with the Embody’s advent and the quality chairs produced by Steelcase and Humanscale, the discomfort of the consumer can be alleviated in any number of ways by any number of contenders. If you’re a fan of being able to sit in the best position possible for your body and for comfort, you have choices. But what if you don’t want to sit still, with your feet flat on the ground and your arms at a 90 degree angle, and your back straight? What if you move a lot, or need to use the same chair to task and to collaborate? What if you (gasp) like to sit crooked? This week I’m testing the Generation chair by Knoll, created with just such needs in mind. The one I’m sitting in has a Lemongrass colored seat and back and a polished aluminum base and frame. It’s the kind of color that would look horrible in my parents’ house and super cool in my friend’s condo. The basic adjustments of this chair are the levers built into each armrest for up and down movement, a paddle built into each side of the seat’s underside (left to adjust seat pan depth, right to adjust seat height), and a lever at the right rear of the seat to adjust degree of tilt. The tilt adjustment has three settings: Slacker Recline, Moderately Relaxed, and No Recline for You. The rubber back has a ton of flex to it, so each of those positions incorporates give, and stretching is easy and even encouraged by the back’s flexibility. Even though it doesn’t have any additional lumbar support, I don’t feel like the chair is lacking in that area as I sit in it. We’ll see how the week goes!