Marlon, please don't take anything I said personally bud - it wasn't
directed at you or anyone specifically. I've always said that you are a
great guy, you give a ton of great, practical, free advice. That's nothing
short of inspiring. We all have to share and give more back to your industry
than what we take in order to help it grow along with our business. I get
frustrated when I read things that run counter to this thinking though and
that prozac 'n jack cocktail just isn't enough.;-)

So the jab was at the concept of not going to shows because someone knows
everything, there's nothing left to learn and ironically the money is so
tight that a free hall pass is the only thing that's mildly justifiable.

If anything, that's the best reason to go to any show, join a newsgroup or
association: help everyone else around you learn (competitor or not). The
world and the industry are a better place even if our competitors are more
intelligent, professional and successful. The worst competitors are ignorant
spectrum hogs and fools who come to town, sign everyone up by undercutting
you and then flame out after delivering poor, unreliable services. That's
bad for them, you, me and most importantly the WISP industry and our image
as a whole. Same can be said for Associations and the zillions of trade
shows in our industry, so it's important for these things to exist and keep
driving to raise the bar. We can't make everyone smart, ethical and
professional, but we can have a positive impact and strive to create/raise
the standards for everyone. 

I can (all too painfully well) understand the financial strains in the early
phase of any business. We're a 4 person company that operates entirely on
cash flow. I go through the same justification process for events, travel or
any other expense. Every business needs to consider the long and short term
interests and balance those things. I'm not advocating that every spare dime
should be spent attending trade shows or joining every association out there

I said this to John when I sent the suggestions for WISPA's event/media
partnership policy: small doesn't have to equal unprofitable - that's the
distinction we all need to make. Ideally we'd all figure out how to run
efficient, pocket sized, easy-to-manage businesses that are insanely
profitable and valuable regardless of their size. So let's get over the fact
that we're small and figure out how to help each other become the profitable
and professional businesses (large or small) that we all can and should be.
Otherwise we should go fire up that tractor or dusty resume again.  

There's no reason why everyone has to remain permanently locked in
"fledgling" mode. There are ways to break that cycle that we've got to help
each other find or we'll need much more than this lightweight prozac stuff.
I want to see us all break out of that cycle sooner than later and identify
the paths that others can take to flourish as an industry. This is, as
Michael Gerber says "working ON your business rather than IN it". Largely,
we've got an industry of "technicians-turned-entrepreneur" that are
overwhelmed with working IN our businesses. That's not a business, it's a
job and if you are like me, the boss is a total PITA. 

This isn't about making my shows a fit for WISPA or promoting my conference
over someone else's. They all help in one way or another and have their
place for each person's specific needs. VoIP could be a total waste of time
for your market, but huge for people in other market conditions - doesn't
make it good or bad, but we've got to help each other make those major
distinctions rather than simultaneously lumbering through the process in our
own vacuums.

Newsgroups, Associations, Trade Shows, Magazines, Radio Shows,
whatever...they are all part of getting there, no matter which ones you are
involved with. Imho, the key (which was the rambling point I was trying to
make in the last message) is to be part of the industry and avoid
lowballing, freeloading and using everyone around you - it's bad for the
industry and our image. To contribute and support these things that are part
of your industry and extract value only AFTER you've contributed an equal or
greater amount is the idea. That is the only way we can all succeed. If
anything Marlon, you are a perfect example of someone who does just that -
so if you haven't heard it lately, THANK YOU!

So who here is going step up and help Marlon master his customer acquisition
costs? Anyone?

-----Original Message-----
Behalf Of Marlon K. Schafer (509) 982-2181
Sent: Tuesday, August 16, 2005 11:31 AM
Subject: Re: [WISPA] VOIP

Hiya Jon,

Glad to see you are finally off of that Prozac stuff!  grin

I'll step (not too far) out on a limb and assume you are talking about
*this* know it all as one of those you are obviously tired of.

Let me see if I can address your points one at a time.  More below....

(509) 982-2181                                   Equipment sales
(408) 907-6910 (Vonage)                    Consulting services
42846865 (icq)                                    And I run my own wisp! (net meeting)

I've cut out all the voip stuff.  I don't believe people (as a group) are
going to make money at it.  There's wayyyyyy too much competition.  And
heck, the trend out here is already turning out to be the elimination of
standard phone lines!  Everyone has at least one cell phone.  Who needs the
typical telco with it's attitude and cords.

I think you did hit the nail on the head for where money will be with voip
though.  QoS.  We don't block or hurt voip.  But if you want it to get
special treatment for your voip line(s), that's an extra $5 per month.

I think voip will do about as much for the $$$$ side of this industry as
Hotspots did.  Nothing.  The publicity has been great and there certainly
has been a symbiotic growth of the wisp market as people learned what this
wireless stuff is about though.

> Watch out...uh...uh....uh...<rant>
> Apparently everything you need to learn about QoS, deploying VoIP, 
> reselling options and the gear can all be found, touched and tested in 
> newsgroups online for free.

Not entirely true, but surprisingly close today.

> You can also save a lot of time by asking the know-it-alls that don't 
> attend events anymore. They are by far the best to ask because there's 
> nothing left for them to learn or teach other people about the same 
> old rusty technology that never, ever changes in any environment.

I think that has two sides.  First, this "know-it-all" is busy keeping a
network of 6000 square miles running.  Putting my money where my mouth is,
so to speak.  We're up to 225 wireless subs, 50 firber to the home subs and
down to 350ish dial-up subs by the way.  We take care of all of that with
1.75 people and a couple of good server consultants who work as needed.

I'm not at shows for two and only two reasons.  Our cahsflow is amazing and
certainly good.  It's NOT making up for the customer aquisition costs
though.  I still (barely) break even.

This is not as bad of a thing as it sounds though.  We peaked out at about
600 dial-up subs (in an area that everyone originally said was impossible to
service).  My gross customer base has stayed pretty much the same overall
for the last year or two but that's a major victory for a traditional isp
these days.  Our profitability per customer is way up (200% or so).  If we
could just stop adding new customers we'd be in an entirely different
finantial possition.

It's strange, we went from 4 to 6 new wireless subs per month to 3 to 5 per
WEEK over night.  And we've been at nearly that pace for about 18 months
now.  We're averaging a bit less than that but only because I can't keep my
shelves stocked.  It takes time (about 30 to 45 days) for the money to roll
over.  We loose $50 to $100 per subscirber with every install.  That is
gross costs, gas, labor, screws, wire, car etc.  Not just the cost of a
radio and antenna.  I was about to add a fuel surcharge but the radios have
come down so I won't be doing that.  And my losses are now closer to $50 or
less per sub.

I can hear it now, my banker keeps saying it too.  "If you are growing that
fast, raise your prices."  I've got a LOT of competition on a per customer
basis.  DSL, Cable, Fiber, WISPs or all of the above in almost all coverage
zones.  To me, this is about getting as many wireless customers as possible
before the bottom falls totally out of the broadband market.  Broadband is,
after all, just internet.  We'll see broadband follow the same path as
dialup.  Actually, in most areas I know of, it's already happening.

> Besides,
> their WISP and VoIP businesses have become way too massive and 
> profitable to take time away to show others how they did it or give 
> back to the industry w/o being paid.

see above.  *I* don't have the spare funds OR the time to go to any shows
that I don't get paid to be at.  Don't get me wrong here, the shows are
IMPORTANT.  Critically so.  There is much to learn, and more importantly,
people to meet.  Much info is avialable for fee today.  But it still takes
eyeball to eyeball time to create relationships.  And that means going to

> Don't lose hope though, just be patient with your requests, you'll get 
> an emailed response at some point and I'm sure you'll have everything 
> you could possibly require to build end-to-end QoS into that VoIPwork 
> in no time - and for FREE to boot!

Kinda.  No one that I know REALLY knows what he's talking about gives his
best tricks out on any lists.  Heck, I've given out more than enough into
personally to make someone a good business if they'll just follow the
advice.  But I don't give it all out unless I'm on stage telling all for a
job, or the other guy is one of my consulting or sales customers.

I care about the industry and I understand that the bigger it gets the
bigger my company will be able to get.  The two feed off of each other.  I
also understand that as the industry grows bigger we get more power in
congress and with regulators.

But I'm also a businessman.  I have a family to feed.  And training my
competitors doesn't help with that.

> If that weren't the case, I might point you toward a one of those 
> zillions of pointless, overpriced convention options in the 
> oversaturated event segment. Ya know the kind where people who are 
> really good at stuff teach other people how to do stuff better. Those 
> places where people who want to help each other build a huge, 
> profitable and powerful industry and get together to try and avoid 
> operating in a small, powerless vacuum for hobbyists. The kind of 
> place where a know-it-all sits in a room and has his mind blown by 
> what the guy across the room is doing, makes that peering agreement or 
> bumps into someone that would love to help fund their expansion into 
> the next town.

Grin.  You are right.  Most shows are overpriced.  Not because of what they
cost, but because of what they teach.

Too many shows are focused on a narrow market segment but advertize to
everyone.  We could get into the differences between the WCA, WispCON,
ISPcon, WiNOG etc.  But I'll not.

I've not been to the WiNOG event, but over all I've suggested the ISPcon
event to my customers (especially the new ones) for a couple of years now. 
It's a good show with good speakers (even though I've not been one lately

I also think that too many shows are too interested in impressing us with
flashy venues.  I'd rather stay at a Quality Inn than a Marriott these days.

The rooms are just as big, they are often newer and the costs are small
fraction (counting meals etc.).

> Of course, who'd want to invest a whole $300-$500 in growing their 
> business,
> that's serious crazy talk for any company to consider spending. No REAL
> entrepreneur ever found a way to grow by investing in their business, 
> their
> staff, their industry, their infrastructure, spending time with their 
> peers
> or by uncovering new ways to expand beyond just pure unlicensed RF
> connections. Besides, with all those annoying sales engineers trying to 
> buy
> you dinner, that would get old real fast...Don't try to sell me stuff that
> might help me grow or improve the service, I just want you to underwrite
> most of the costs for me to learn things, have some free food & drinks and
> go away. Can you just spend the time to bring every kind of gear for me to
> see and NOT try to convince me to purchase it? Sheesh, the nerve of some
> people. How could they possibly try to operate a remotely profitable 
> supply,
> service or manufacturing business when no other industry has ever done 
> that.

The problem is, it's not $500.  That's just the show.  Now we've got to get 
there (almost all flights for me to get anywhere are $200 to $400).  Gotta 
stay there ($150 to $250 per night).  Gotta eat ($50 to $150 per day for 
feed and refreshments).  There's airport parking ($25 to $50 per trip for 
me).  More labor back home to help cover the time that I'm gone.  And the 
list goes on and on.

My last trip to DC for the Software Defined Forum ended up costing right 
around $1500.  And I didn't even get to stay for the actual show, just the 
show before the show, so that doesn't count the cost of the show.

So lets say that it's going to average $1000 to $1500 per show that people 
go to.  In real dollars.  I can build a new repeater site for $2500.

I've got a waiting list over 20 people deep right now, we've had people 
waiting for us for weeks.  I'm getting calls from all over the place, people

begging for service.

Where would you put your money?  Take care of what you DO have and what you 
DO know, or go learn new stuff that might, or might not be all that helpful?

There are great plusses either way.

> The best thing for every WISP do is be as cheap as you possibly can on 
> every
> aspect of your business. Particularly for any successful outside capital
> investment or exit strategy to work, the network has to be pure homebrew.
> Stay home and away from other people, don't pay to join and support
> associations for your industry unless it's entirely via email for free.
> Avoid investing in anything and everything you can't hack together 
> yourself
> with duct tape, warez, homebrew bridges and radio shack amps. RF 
> engineering
> and running an insanely profitable, carrier-grade WISP can both be 
> mastered
> and continuously improved via email for free.

Show me any carrier-grade wisps that are actually profitable.  They love to 
talk about all the money they are making and how fast they are growing.  But

the reality is usually that they are still running in the red, even years 

We've all seen some pretty amazing flameouts.  Darwin Network still comes 
right to mind.  Or one of the nations largest WISPs in Texas, they are huge 
and building a high end network.  But the manager told me that they couldn't

grow at all without a constant influx of funds from the grain Co-op that 
owns them.  This was when they were nearly 1000 subs strong!

Carrier grade sounds fine on paper.  It would even be fine out in the real 
world IF we were competing for t-1 circuits.  We're not (mostly), we're 
competing for $25 to $35 best effort DSL circuits.  And, unlike DSL and 
cable, we don't have USF funds or monopoly protection to fund out 

The amazing part of all of this though, most wisps DO make money.  Some make

a LOT of money.  Heck, even I'd be doing right nicely if I hadn't come into 
the business with so much credit card debt.  We paid $5k in interest just on

credit cards last year.  That's hard for a small company to come out from 

> The only real challenge is bootstrapping and doing all this yourself while
> growing the rest of the business with an extensive, profitable service
> portfolio - ya know, that stuff beyond the connection (like VoIP) that 
> might
> make you (more) profitable and keep customers around/happy with your
> service.

Show me anyone that's actually making money of voip.  I'm sure there's a 
couple of them, but I've yet to hear from one.  Unless they are getting usf 
funds as well, and few wisps fall into that category.  More like a clec or 
ilec that also sells wireless.  I've done some consulting for a few of them 
and they tend to do very well and make pretty good money as wisps.  It's 
funny though, many of the smaller ilecs seem to be using wireless to extend 
their copper plant out further and faster.

> Even more important than making your own equipment or running a
> single-product/purpose business is committing to running your business
> without a single bean counter, marketing and sales staffer or an install
> crew to get in the way. Besides, those people would just create overhead 
> for
> the business and increase the email cluequeue backlog thread for the
> know-it-alls.

I agree with the homebrew hardware thing.  Time is too important for most of

us.  There isn't THAT much difference between today's WISP grade product and

something you'd build yourself.

> So let's review:
> 1) be cheap, cheap, cheap - no matter what it is, just be cheap and haggle
> incessantly. If it costs money, it must be bad or some terrible, greedy
> company is trying to operate a profitable business (or a successful,
> substantially effective association) by creating it and offering it up for
> anything other than free.

Sh*t flows uphill here Jon.  My customers pit me against my competitors.  If

I'm not competitive I loose the customer.  I loose the costomer and it's 
back to driving tractor for me.

> 2) learn everything in newsgroups for free, meatspace is for losers. 
> There's
> only one way to learn everything there is to know about operating an
> incredibly successful and profitable WISP: free newsgroups with none of 
> that
> nasty advertising support

hehehehe  meatspace or meetspace?  Could be the same thing I guess, 
depending on which side of the booth table one is standing on :-).

The level of support available for free is indeed amazing.

I said above and I'll say it again though.  Meeting people eyeball to 
eyeball is also important.  Our business is very much one of relationships.

> 3) build or reverse-engineer everything yourself with the cheapest 
> possible
> components. If you really have to buy any gear, buy one so you can spend
> time tearing it apart, understand how it works and reverse-engineer your 
> own
> version of it

Pick on that all you want, but Japan has made it pretty big by doing that. 
And now it's being done by China.

It's not a bad thing when someone is just getting started and has more time 
than money.  After a while the natural progression is that people run out of

time and start looking for faster and easier ways to do things.

Try to remember, this is still very much a fledgeling industry.

> 4) if it just works, that doesn't matter - at any cost. Remember, you can
> always build a cheaper version of it yourself

Sometimes that is true.  Remember what the end game is.  Get the customer 
what he wants at a rate he's willing to pay.

> 5) run everything yourself in-house, never outsource, don't even think 
> about
> staffing up unless the wife and kids will do it for free and don't need to
> be trained or learn anything outside of what's available in the newsgroups

I don't outsource certain things.  I have others build my servers and my 
routers.  But WE handle tech support, billing etc.  Nothing that directly 
effects the customers gets entrusted to anyone else.  Again, it's a 
relationship to us.

> 6) stay home if at all possible unless you have to climb something to fix 
> or
> install equipment. Knocking on doors for new business is just like 
> attending
> a Chamber of Commerce meeting, meeting with a congressman or going to a
> trade show.

I'll take that as the tongue in cheek I know you meant it as.  All wisps 
should be as active in the community as time allows.  Relationships sell 

> 7) by all means, never, ever go to a silly trade show or conference and 
> try
> to help someone else or even worse, lower yourself to learning from them 
> in
> person. Paying someone for that would be the absolute worst thing in the
> world and could easily ruin your business overnight.

yeah, yeah, yeah.  Personally, I like trade shows.  I always learn a lot 
(even back when I'd have 5 or so hours of speaking to do at wispcon) at 
shows.  And I finally get to meet my peers and online friends.

> </rantbufferoverflow>
> Ooops, sorry Brian - I hope the first part of this message was somewhat
> helpful and perhaps that latter was humorous at worst. Must be Monday or 
> the
> over-caffeinated (disclosure:greedy trade show operator) here read a
> different thread while responding to ya.

I've heard that Saint John's Wort helps with depression.  I've been thinking

of trying some here, I have some hard to deal with customers and could 
sometimes use a boost in attitude around them!  I'll let you know if it 
seems to help.  grin

> Go ahead Scriv, you can boot me now - I probably deserve it.

Time to read "How to win friends and influence people" again Jon.  hehehehe

You're raised some very good points here.  But I think you've made a bit of 
a mistake.  I think you should have pointed out the problems as you see them

(which you did) AND asked us how your shows could overcome some of those 
problems.  If this group isn't coming to your shows in the numbers you'd 
like to see, how about some advice from this group?

On a side note.  I can see how you'd be offended/bothered/pissed off by the 
leaway that the board has given Charles for his show.  I'd like to remind 
you that I personally BEGGED you to send us some ideas on how to work with 
the show owners.  Help us come up with a program for you guys.  Help us 
design it they way YOU guys need it.

Did you send anything?  Nope.  Did you call and offer any suggestions? 

Now, here you are slamming the one group that's actually owned and 
controlled by the industry.  Sure we're small.  We're just getting started. 
It'll take time for us to bring the big boys over from some of the other 
organizations, but it WILL happen.  Look at the wispa filings over the last,

what 24 to 18 months, whatever it's been.  We're seeing rules that line up 
nicely with what we've suggested.  WISPA is a success already.

We're not stupid people Jon.  Just small companies doing the impossible with

nothing.  Again.

> cheers

Likewise!  It's good to hear from you.  I just hope that we can find ways to

bridge what appears to be a pretty big gap here.  We do things that don't 
always make sense to those not in the industry.  Especially to those that 
are right on the other side and have a good view in.

I always try to listen to guys like you, Steve Stroh and a few (a very few 
at that) others.  YOU guys see things that I can't because I'm too close to 
it.  The forrest and the trees type stuff......  It amazes me sometimes that

you guys don't seem to understand that we too, see some things that you 
don't.  You may see more of the forrest, but we see every crack in the bark 
of the trees.  We see every weed, insect, rodent etc.

I've said it before and I'll say it again.  If you can go to ONE show per 
year, make it ispcon.  You'll learn things you didn't know you needed to 
know.  And Jon is a good guy who's heart is in the right spot.  He really 
does want to see as many of us make it as possible.  The thing that 
surprised me about ispcon was how diverse it was.  I like the targeted 
shows, but as more than a wireless guy I also need to know about a lot of 
other things too.


> jp
> -----Original Message-----
> Behalf Of Brian Rohrbacher
> Sent: Monday, August 15, 2005 9:54 AM
> To: WISPA General List
> Subject: [WISPA] VOIP
> I have a sub that says his VOIP goes to crap when I limit upload to 128k.
> Does VOIP need more than that?
> Brian
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