Technology and App Review: IFTTT

Do you remember when you were a kid?  That feeling you got when you walked into the candy store?  Or the toy store?

I remember when I enlisted in the Marine Corps.  I owned a 1994 Honda Accord.  It was a great car.  I knew it would be a couple of years before I would see it again so I sold it.  I also sold my Takamine (it’s an acoustic guitar).  It was beautiful.  When I arrived at the language school in Monterey, CA, I had no car and no guitar.  I did have a wad of cash, though.

My entire life I’d wanted a Taylor guitar (I have a 1959 Gibson J45 with a J200 neck now – awesome!).  Like it was yesterday, I remember what it felt like to walk in that music store on Alvarado St. knowing that I was leaving with a Taylor.

I’m being a bit hyperbolic, but I am just about that excited with my new discovery.  Let me introduce you to IFTTT!

IFTTT:  If This Then That

The idea of this website is to allow users to create if-then automated tasks between multiple social media platforms.  If This happens Then That happens.  Got it?  Let me give you a popular example:

  • If Facebook profile picture changes, then update Twitter profile picture.
  • If you are tagged in a photo on Facebook, then it will be sent to Dropbox

Can you see the possibilities?  The Grovo Blog calls it “programming for dummies.”

Vocabulary

  • Channels – channels are the building blocks of IFTTT and are the social media platforms themselves – like Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, Evernote, Dropbox, etc.  They currently support 53 “channels.”
  • Triggers – triggers are the ‘This’ in the ‘If This Then That’ formula.  It is what must happen first.
  • Action – action is the ‘That’ in the ‘If This Then That’ formula.  It is the effect in the cause and effect relationship.
  • Recipe – the recipe is the connection that is made when you put the above together.  Here is a screenshot from the IFTTT website.

How to Get Started

The user experience of IFTTT can’t be much better.  It is clean and simple – super easy.  Follow the steps below to get started.  Then get to simplifying your lives!

  1. Create an account – Create a username, enter your email, then your password twice.  About as easy as it gets.
  2. Link Your Channels – Frankly, I was really surprised at how easy this was.  I use 22 of the 53 channels, and I had them all linked in under 5 minutes.  The only one I had problems with was WordPress.  You must enter your URL without “http://” or “www.”  So for me, it was just “bobarron.com.”
  3. Create Recipes Use Other People’s Recipes – OK – you can create your own, but why bother?  According to IFTTT’s blog, over 1,000,000 recipes have been created as of April 30, 2012.  There’s no telling how many there are now.
  4. Search for Your Favorite ‘Channels’ – Since IFTTT is a social site, you can see other people’s recipes.  That is great, but with over a million, a search function is crucial.  The search auto-populates and is super fast – like a Google search.  As I love Evernote, I did a quick search to find that there are 3,999 recipes.  Kid in a candy store!

A Few Notes

I want to highlight a couple other points.  At the end of Sept ’12, Twitter shut down IFTTT’s ability to use Twitter as a trigger. Again, a trigger is the ‘if then’ part of the formula.  Twitter can still be the ‘then that’ part.  Essentially, you can not use IFTTT to auto-respond for you every time someone follows you or retweets you.  As I don’t particularly like the canned thank you ‘DM’ (direct message), not a biggie for me.

Google+ is not a channel.  I’m not sure why that is, but there are workarounds using other channels like Hootsuite.

Verdict

I’m excited.  I think there are some great efficiencies to be had here – especially with Evernote and Dropbox.  I plan on exploring more of this in the coming weeks.  I also think that as IFTTT gains a broader base of users, the recipes will expand as well.  I easily see many posts in the future along the lines of “Best 10 IFTTT recipes for Evernote.”

I’d like to hear from you!  Had you heard of IFTTT before?  If so, what are some of your favorite recipes?

The 5 Steps to a Paperless Office

In Monday’s post – The Difference Between a Commercial Real Estate Broker and a Drug Dealer – I shared the story of how I was able to drive by a Dollar General Store in the middle of Kentucky and get the owner on the phone before leaving town.

The key to pulling that off was having a paperless office.  All my data is in the cloud.  All my data is accessible to me anywhere my iPhone has a signal.  I can access it on the fly.  It means I can jump on opportunities with lightning speed.  And speed kills.

In today’s post, I am going to share with you what you need to achieve the paperless office, and the steps to take to get there.

What You Need

The first thing you need is at least two monitors.  Think this through with me.  When you are using paper, you lay the paper on your desk, refer to it, and use your computer.  To go paperless, all the paper is in digital form.  Therefore, one monitor is to “lay the paper on your desk” and the other is for working.  I personally use 3 monitors.  I had 4 for a while, and it was overkill.

The second thing you need is a scanner.  The one that I have is a Fujitsu Scansnap S1510 (affiliate link).  I highly recommend it.  It is ridiculously easy to use – one big shiny blue button.  I scans directly into the file you choose.  No emailing to yourself, downloading, and saving to a file.  It also scans super fast and gets the front and backs of pages at once.  It scans in color and b/w, and is durable.  It is also very small so it doesn’t clutter your fabulously clean and paperless desk!

Let’s be honest – if converting your paper files is not quick and easy, you won’t do it.  Having the right scanner makes the tedious conversion process so much easier.

The third thing you need is a Dropbox account.  See my review of Dropbox for more information.

Steps to the Paperless Office

Now that you know what you need, here are the simple steps to achieving the bliss of the paperless office:

Step 1:  Set Up Dropbox – If you don’t have a Dropbox account yet – click here and sign up.  It is simple and free.  There are other apps like Box.net, and others as well.  Dropbox is the category leader and what I use.  Download Dropbox on all your computers.  Then download the Dropbox App on your phone, iPad, and everything else.  Your data will sync seamlessly between them all, and you can access from anywhere on the fly.  Genius!

Step 2:  Design Your Cloud-Based Filing System – This step is hugely important.  Before you start scanning in all your old files, map out your digital file system.  Mine looks like this:

Note a couple of things.  Put these main category files in order of how often they will be used.  Then number them.  This makes the filing and finding process so much easier.  The next level of the SVN folder looks like this:

Same deal here.  Put them in order of most used and number them.  You are essentially making an organizational file tree.  This exercise alone will give you great clarity regarding your business.  When you open the ‘1 – Listings’ file, you see this:

Open the ‘Current Listings’ file and you get all my current listings:

Your tour behind the curtain ends here.  The key to converting your listing files from paper to digital is simple.  Duplicate the sections in the paper file into the digital file.

Step 3:  Scan In All Your Paper/Files – This is tedious and takes some weeks.  I could take longer depending on how far back you decide to go.  Pick a date.  I chose the beginning of my career – Nov. 2, 2004.  Before that, I have stored paper files.  After that, it is scanned.

This is a job for an assistant or a temp.  Do Not Do This Yourself.  You will get lost in nostalgia, and it will take forever.

Step 4:  Commit – Once you get everything scanned in, commit to yourself and to your office to remain paperless.  It is efficient.  It is green. I only print files when I have a client requiring a copy.  When you execute a new listing agreement, scan it in and give the original to your new client.  Receive an offer via email?  Save it directly to the appropriate file.  Commit!  You don’t need to print anything.  It is all on your phone!

Step 5 – Back everything up, and then do it again!  I back my top 5 main category files up daily.  Everything gets backed up weekly in 3 place:  my machine, an external hard-drive, and an off-site data center.  And they back it up again daily.  If you aren’t willing to be religious about backing up your data, then don’t go this route.

So what is preventing you from going paperless?  This is a big transition to consider.  What are the pros and cons as you see it?  Let me hear your thoughts.

The Difference Between a CRE Broker and a Drug Dealer

If you have read some of my other posts, you may know that I was an Arabic Linguist in the Marine Corps.  One of the huge differences between English and the Arabic language is that Arabic is completely contextual.  Words don’t have meaning outside of context.  Said another way, the context gives meaning to the words.

Here’s what I mean.  To say that I am a Commercial Real Estate Broker I would literally say:  “I am a broker in the buying and selling of real estate.”  The problem is that the word for real estate is also the word for illegal drugs.  So, if you don’t know me or have any context to give you a clue, you would not know if I’m saying that I’m a CRE broker or a drug dealer.  Context is everything.

So here is a story for you to give context.  This post will spawn others as I unpack this story.  My purpose in this post is to show how systems, the proper team, and technology work together.  I want to demonstrate what is possible.

The Story

A few months ago, I was riding with my dad heading to a meeting in central Kentucky.  We drove through a small town called Perryville where I saw a Dollar General Store.

Dollar stores are a core part of our business.  Seeing this store gave me the idea to cold-call the owner.  I opened the Dropbox app on my iPhone 4S and accessed my Kentucky Dollar Store database.  Finding the owner, I looked him up in my mobile cloud-based CRM solution, ClientLook.

I recognized the name for the Perryville store as a man who was a former college coach in my town.  That gave me the common ground I needed to connect with him.

I was fortunate to get him on the phone.  By the time we had driven through that small town, I knew that he owned three Dollar General Stores - not just one.  I also knew that he was in a partnership, that he would like to simplify his life, and that he was likely a seller.

He agreed to send me the leases so that I could do proposals on his properties for his partnership.  He had one of his staff email me the leases.  I forwarded them to my assistant.  This all happened in 30 minutes, from a car in the middle of Central Kentucky, using just my iPhone.

The next day, my assistant used the leases to build proposals through BuildOut.  She is able to quickly take raw materials and take a proposal to 80% completion.  I then did the financial analysis, approved the comps, set a value, and pressed ‘print.’  Though I have a paperless office, I do print and bind property proposals.  The quality is so high on these packages that I know property owners will not throw them away.

The next week, I was in the man’s office – one hour from my office – presenting proposals on his properties.  Because we’d done our homework building a database of properties, had systems in place to be lightning fast, and used technology that made us mobile, we were able to instantly take advantage of an opportunity.

Over the coming weeks, I will take you behind the curtain of our business and unpack how we build databases, what systems we have in place, and what technologies we use.  This post, however, was all about context.  Never confuse the broker for the drug dealer!

UPDATE:  Post 2 in this series can be found here:  The 5 Steps to a Paperless Office
UPDATE:  Post 3 in this series can be found here:  The Benefits of a Virtual Office
Parting thoughts:  do you use a database in your business?  What systems do you have in place?  What technologies do you use?  Share a story from your business that will provide context for this conversation.  Engage!

Commercial Real Estate Technology and App Review: Dropbox

I have achieved mobile status and have a paperless, virtual Commercial Real Estate office.  I will be reviewing and sharing with you the technologies and apps that make this possible.

Dropbox

Dropbox is my first review for one reason only:  I love it!

I was in an airport a couple of months ago.  I received a call from a client that needed a copy of their lease ASAP.  I was able to access their lease from our files through Dropbox on my phone.  I emailed it to my client from my phone walking from the gate to the plane.  It took less than 30 seconds, and I was a hero to my client.  That is the power of Dropbox.  It makes you more efficient and more valuable.  To start using Dropbox – click here.

4 Uses of Dropbox

1.  Dropbox acts like the “my documents” on a PC or ‘finder’ on a Mac.  The files are actually on your computer.  This is key so that when you are on your laptop or desktop, you don’t need an internet connection to access or work on your files.

2.  Dropbox syncs up with other computers, smartphones, tablets, etc.  I have Dropbox on my PC, my Macbook Air, my iPhone 4S, and my iPad2.  When a document is created, edited, or changed in any way on one of these machines, it is synced with all the others.  That is the magic of the cloud.  When I have my virtual assistant draft a lease, she saves it to Dropbox for my review.  Any changes that I make are synced, and she has instant access.  This makes Dropbox great for collaborations.  It is also a great way to never have to go back to the office (if you have one!) for a file again.

3.  Dropbox allows you to share folders with anyone you would like to invite.  Simply send them an email invite, and that person has access to the folder.  It is that simple.  My entire paperless office is on Dropbox.  My assistant has access to pretty much everything.  Any advisors working with me have access to just what they need.  It is a beautiful thing.  This is how I collaborate with all of my coaching clients.  Drafts of their prospecting letters and marketing materials are all in their shared dropbox folders.

4.  Dropbox is accessible from anywhere with an internet connection.  I shared with you that a file syncs up with any machine/smart-phone/tablet.  If you happen to not have one of these devices on you, then you can get to all your files by logging on to www.dropbox.com.  My wife likes to joke that if I have forgotten my phone then I’ve forgotten my pants as well, but it can happen!  (The phone – not the pants).

A Word of Caution

Dropbox has some limitations.  I had a conversation with a friend recently who is in the Information Security business.  His comment on Dropbox was that it was not the most secure platform in the world.  I asked him if I should be worried, and he said no.  There is a trade-off between security and usability.

Another limitation is the user has little functionality when sharing folders.  Maybe I want to invite someone to a folder, but I don’t want them to be able to edit, change, or delete.  The ability to limit users is not there.  If you invite someone to a folder, be aware that they have free reigns on those documents.

Conclusion

Despite the caution, Dropbox is an invaluable part of my business.  It allows me to be mobile and efficient.  It makes me more valuable to my clients.  It allows me to easily collaborate with my virtual team.  It is easy.  And it is free (to a point)!  It can be all these things to you as well!

I know many of you are already using Dropbox.  What ways do you use it?  How has it simplified your life?  What are some of the benefits that I failed to mention?  Join the conversation!