Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions
A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.

Busy busy busy

I'm trying to keep up with work, both the logistics/marketing/store display stuff, the follow-up from my trip, and some outside work I took on... I'll put up photos from the last days of my trip as soon as I can handle the distraction.

I can't avoid eating, though. Tonight I made a simple minestrone with turnips, zucchini, the usual soup base vegetables, cannelini, pasta and some finely chopped chanterelles. At the Ballard Market, chanterelles were under $5/pound. I dressed the minestrone with some quickly made basil pesto and a splash of roasted pumpkin seed oil. Yesterday's dinner was penne with eringii, shallots, broccoli and some cream and parmesan, done on a Japanese scale... 2 weeks of paying for minimally subsidized agriculture and expensive distribution networks has made me a little more restrained. But today I made enough minestrone for lunch for the next week, and a big chocolate sesame cake that I shouldn't finish by myself.

Lots of stuff to work on tomorrow... oh, and tonight.

The good news is my jetlag is in check so far... I woke up around 7 this morning with about 6 hours of sleep, and that's an improvement of waking up at 5am with 4 hours. Tonight I'll try to sleep before midnight.

E-commerce interim solution

Most of the expensive e-commerce framework packages that I've been investigating recently left me not very happy, but I don't want to lose any more potential orders by neglecting online ordering, and I don't think I'll have the problem licked anytime soon, since I'm still planning to go to San Francisco and Japan over the next few weeks.

There are a few adequate "happy medium" solutions, such as the systems that are offered by Yahoo and bCentral. With the amount of time I have available to invest, they offer just enough functionality to make me feel like it's worth the monthly service fee, giving me some time to implement something more suitable for my needs. Both Yahoo and bCentral are offering the service without a setup fee for now, so I decided to give bCentral a try. So, after all of my headaches, I have a temporary ordering solution for my dragon beard candy and I can probably use it for the ceramics too. The quick templates are a little ugly, but it'll work for now. Since there is a SSL solution already built in, I can accept credit cards, but I'll be doing manual processing for now.

I was wincing a lot when comparing the various off-the-shelf ecommerce frameworks because so many of them seem to have been written with a developer-centric mentality, more focused on what the developer thought was the most elegant implementation rather than on the most streamlined, comfortable user interaction experience. Most of them have clumsy methods for handling different shipping and billing addresses (which is also true for bCentral), and that's not very nice for someone who is selling a lot of items to the gift market.

Although I'm not absolutely thrilled with bCentral's solution, it's a lot less of a commitment at $24.95 a month than the $500-600 solutions that still only get me 80% done. At this rate, I've got 20 months to find or develop a better solution. My only concern is how customers will react to the distraction of being switched to another domain, but I think it won't affect most people. Also, to my knowledge, bCentral doesn't make it easy to handle orders to Canada. It treats the shipping costs as the same, which they are very much not. I think I have a workable solution for this, but it requires some user cooperation.

Anyway, I'll soon see if it makes it easier for people to order or not.

Unwarranted revelry

I've been enjoying myself perhaps a little too much recently, spending too much money and being too sociable. Saturday I met Amelia and Dirk and we stopped at Sambar, which remains one of my favorite little not-so-secret spots in Ballard. Sunday morning I went with Kazue and an out-of-town visitor of hers to the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery, and we stopped at Le Fournil for lunch on the way to Bumbershoot. We saw Quasi Nada after some fumbled attempts to find stages which had active performances, which was definitely a good find. Kazue and her friend headed off to Zinzanni and I later met up with Jennifer, who arrived as I was listening to the Crooked Fingers show, and we found ourselves snacking on Bumbershoot food just in time to watch Soulive, which had occasional guest vocals from Reggie Watts of Maktub fame and some cameos from a couple of east coast hip hop artists who ended their appearance with a few crowd-pleasing get-out-the-vote-and-get-Bush-out jabs. Later I met up with Kazue and her frend Yukiko again and we tried to make another stop at Sambar, but I didn't realize it was closed Sunday, so we ended up at the Chinese-apothecary themed Fu Kun Wu and each had a drink concocted with some potentially medicinal herbs. Even Monday, when I was running a demo at the Bellevue Uwajimaya, I skipped cooking and had a light meal at the I.D.'s Maekawa, and much later made a quick stop at Triple Door to say goodbye to Kazue's friend.

The fact that I'm able to plug so many spots visited over a two day timespan is probably a bad sign for my wallet, but I'll try not to wallow in regret.

On the business side, I need to head out to the San Francisco area is getting more urgent, so I think I'll head off later in the week or very early next week. I will hit a half dozen spots down there and do my best to get some initial orders. I had intended to meet up with my sales broker today, but when I arrived, I realized that Labor Day weekend extended through Tuesday for most of the showrooms down there, so I'm going to make better use of time this afternoon.

After wasting way too much time on web code for my yuzumura.com store, and I'm more inclined than ever to buy a partial solution so that I can get something up faster. I've lost a good four weeks trying to spin my own, and although I've got an almost usable solution, I just don't think I'll be able to afford the investment in time required for the harder work. I certainly predicted this as a possibility, but I guess my geeky stubbornness did me more harm than good. I've been writing code and simultaneously evaluating some off-the-shelf solutions that get me 99% of the way there and have hopefully been tested better. I remind myself again I shouldn't be wasting time on things that aren't going to be direct revenue drivers unless there's a bigger strategic purpose for doing so. Even when there is a big strategic purpose, the lost time isn't necessarily worth it at this stage.

Nonstopweek

Thursday I visited the Seattle Gift Center and met with one of the space leasing coordinators. The Seattle Gift Center is basically a wholesale market where a lot of regional buyers for retail shops come in search of the latest and greatest gift items. The leasing guy suggested I meet with one of the vendors who focuses on food products, but, since Monday and Tuesday are the normal days for showrooms to be open, nobody was there to talk to. I did run into a couple of other interesting people while I was there, but anyway, Monday or Tuesday I should go back and try to meet with one of the sales people there. I might be able to find someone to represent my candy there or I might learn something else useful.

I've been struggling with my work taking over my living space, so I've started to spend more time thinking about leasing some commercial space. Also I really think it would be helpful to show off my products in a space that shows them off to the best advantage. My revenue situation doesn't entirely suit doing this and it was something that I was planning to do in the more distant future, but I barely feel like I live at home right now and it's increasingly uncomfortable. Anyway, I took a look at various retail spaces, including two in the International District, one in the Convention Center downtown, and a few in the Wallingford and Fremont areas.

Part of the week I spent talking with some other small retailers, though these often weren't so much sales calls as harmless discussions and occasional market research. I learned about a few other places I should talk to, and I'll be exploiting some of that information this week. I spent a little time meeting with another Japanese newspaper and I think I'll be stepping up my publicity efforts a bit this week.

I spent some time most days, when I wasn't otherwise out and about, working on my web code, and I'm finally down to the last few work items to make it functional. I think I can nail it down in a couple of days and then I'll get ready to walk the Seattle Gift Show.

Saturday I woke up early in the morning and drove to Beaverton, Oregon, to do sampling at the Uwajimaya there. I think the audience there was a little less adventurous about even tasting the candy, but the sales conversion ratio seemed to be ok... pretty much in line with our Bellevue experience, maybe slightly better. My last sale was actually to a woman who was just fascinated by the video; I had already put away my samples, so she bought a single tube “just to try it.“ I wonder if there's something to be said for not giving samples away and focusing just on telling the product story...

Afterward, I chatted with some Hawaiian folks peddling kaki-gouri (shaved ice) out in front of Uwajimaya and relieved my dehydration with a guava shaved ice that had a little ice cream and coarse anko (sweet azuki bean paste) on the bottom. 

I drove around looking fruitlessly for parking in Portland's Chinatown in the early evening... some downtown events, including the Bite of Portland and some outdoor concerts in Chinatown made parking downtown pretty much out of the question, and I didn't have a specific enough agenda to justify paying for parking. I finally drove across the bridge to have dinner at a decent Mexican restaurant I tried to eat at a couple of trips ago, but had worse luck with seating at that time due to a recent favorable review. I had a nice tamale dish with a nice simple side vegetable dish.

Saturday was kind of an all-day work effort, so I barely moved this morning except to do a little housework. I made pancakes for breakfast and made a makeshift dorayaki intended for an afternoon snack... In the afternoon I made okonomiyaki for the second or third time this week, this time with kimchi and cheese. I ducked out to work on some of the web project at Vivace's in the afternoon, which I've done more than once this week... today I made a small dent, but the work on this step required more thought on UI than I expected so the progress was slower than I had hoped. I haven't done much exercise this week, so after a few hours away I came back to go jogging around Greenlake. I made a simple pasta dish with fresh green beans in a tomato cream sauce and chopped basil, adorned with good parmesan acquired from a new Wallingford specialty food shop started by an Amazon.com refugee.

I'm not sure how productive I was this week, but I rarely had a moment when I was able to slow down and relax... I was running all over...

A disaster, but thankfully not an embarrassment

Customs cleared a smaller shipment this afternoon, which contains only the small gift boxes of my dragon beard candy. These gift boxes contain 9 pieces of candy each, and the 18-piece boxes are still held up by the FDA.

It would have taken a miraculous feat of bureaucratic achievement for me to get my larger shipment, which contains sampling tubes, larger gift boxes, individual packages, the paper gift wrapping, the pretty shopping bags, or similar, until Monday or so.

My Hong Kong supplier just called me to find out if I got the shipment, and of course it hasn't quite cleared... She called FedEx to see if they could work another kind of miracle, but, alas, it wasn't possible.

Anyway, I have something to sell, so I won't have to go to the event empty-handed. I'll take requests for delivery by mail to anyone who wants bigger boxes... hopefully that will allow us to capture anyone who wants more...

I went through telephone training on how to use the phone authorization system for accepting credit cards. Now I'm all set... though a little lighter on inventory than I had hoped.

It's a disaster, but fortunately, I don't have to be completely embarrassed... Had nothing cleared by today, I would have walked into the show with pretty banners and no products. Now I can comfortably go to the festival without feeling stupid.

Working and even networking

Taking care of this gallery sale has occupied most of my time the last few days, but everything is almost finished, so I'll report more tomorrow.

I made an appointment to meet with another ex-Microsoftee whose background has a few other interesting parallels with mine; he moved on to create a consulting company, and he has hopped back and forth between the Seattle area and Japan for the last few years.

Yesterday I got in touch with Tony, my uncle, and talked shop a bit. He had been in L.A. recently doing some work on a department store catalog. I also talked to Eugene, the green tea importer, and he pointed me in the right direction at Uwajimaya, and we talked about a couple of other ideas. I called up another Tony, a serial entrepreneur who is half Japanese and half German I met at a Starbucks a couple of years ago, and after talking a bit we made some plans to meet up and catch up over food.

The convoluted schedule of the last couple of days has left me eating irregularly, not jogging at all, and covered with newsprint stains from sorting through hundreds of ceramics pieces, but it's been pretty energizing.

And so the hard work begins

This morning I sent off my final visitor, and my week of being a tour guide came to a close. It was a pleasant distraction and I am happy that I am able to take time to do this kind of thing without having to ask for permission from someone. Of course, it means I do have a lot of work to do now.

Actually I was able to accomplish a small amount of work over the last week as well. Yesterday I met with another guy who had been working as a small importer/exporter and has since moved on to build a marketing firm in Bellevue. He gave me the names of some distributors that may be useful for me.

Also I got a call from a tea importer that I met at FoodEx who is based in Bellevue. He had also been attending the Las Vegas tea show which was going on a week or so ago. He offered to introduce me to some buyers he works with, and we'll also have a little meeting at my favorite Japan-esque cake shop in Seattle next Wednesday.

I may need to make a little trip to the Bay Area later this month to meet with one of my suppliers, so I'm going to need to hunt for some cheap tickets.

Finally, it looks like my ceramics are set to ship now, so I should be able to get my hands on them soon and start building up my retail web site.

Today I need to do some revisions on some sales objectives that I have for one of the products I am working on and prepare for another conference call with that supplier. And I need to play handyman also... I should finally put together the shelving I bought at Ikea a week or so ago for my office.

Wind and rain blow me away

My work is almost finished at Microsoft, so I'm starting to feel some sense of accomplishment.

After work I decided to go jogging at Greenlake for a little bit. I wanted to run a single lap and walk another lap. Unfortunately, the weather turned after I started my walking lap... it became progressively windier and some rain came pouring down... I wasn't anticipating that, so my shorts and t-shirt were not the most comfortable attire for the job. I decided to jog as much of the second lap as I could handle, and I don't think I've done that kind of speed in a long time. The squall did die down after about ten minutes or so, so I was able to slow down again and not ruin my knee.

I guess I should get some gear suited for wet jogging... I won't have a gym membership for a while after I leave Microsoft...

Business partner?

I spent a few hours today talking to someone I met at the party last week who has a great marketing and business development background in Japan. I think she could be very useful doing sales, marketing, and some logistics stuff. Although there are some complications that I'll have to figure out, I think we will find a way of working together in my import/export company.

We both ordered quiche and coffee at Cafe Besalu for brunch, and later continued the conversation at Hiroki. Besalu makes excellent brioche and pastry, and I like going there on weekends to get brunch... It's just a bustling, tiny, intimate space with a good set of basics. They serve Lighthouse Coffee, Tall Grass Bakery bread, and their own homemade pastries and quiches. Hiroki, on Greenlake, is a bakery run by Hiroki Inoue, a Japanese guy whose signature cake is a "green tea tiramisu." He does a lot of other interesting sweets also, sometimes with a Japanese touch and sometimes with a more French style, though all with slightly American proportions. He seems to avoid overdoing the sugar, which I truly appreciate. This time I had an "Earl Grey" cheesecake and the woman I was meeting with ordered a Grand Marnier mousse cake. Good stuff.

The weather was pretty hot but I went jogging a couple of laps around Greenlake anyway. My endurance seems to be getting better these days... I'm trying to avoid re-injuring my left knee, though, so I'll mellow out on the distance for a few days.

The value of a good party

A friend of mine is having a housewarming party today, although she actually moved in to her place about 4 months ago. Earlier this week I had planned to bring some little dish to the party, so this morning I went over to Whole Foods in the Roosevelt area and picked up some maroumi sheep’s milk cheese from Greece, as well as some spinach, onions, and shallots, and a few other things. I made a thick béchamel sauce mixed with eggs, nutmeg, allspice, and the maroumi cheese, sort of like the topping you’d expect on moussaka. I lightly caramelized the onions and shallots, then briefly sautéed the spinach. I also made a simple yeast dough, fairly moist but with relatively low yeast content.

After that I put the spinach filling and the cooked béchamel sauce in low containers to cool in the refrigerator for a few hours.

I wanted to go to the pottery lab to do a little bit of glazing of some work from last quarter. As usual with things pottery, I didn’t quite finish everything I had hoped by the time I needed to leave. I set a couple of things aside and went back home to finish cooking…

Basically I just rolled out a dozen or so small discs of dough and filled them with a little bit of the spinach-onion mixture mixed with some egg, topped with the béchamel sauce, and I closed them up sort of like Chinese buns. I baked them on a stone in my oven until they were brown and smelled nice, and packed them up for the party.

Attending a party as the owner of a small business is a different experience than attending a party as an “engineer” at a tremendously large software company. Meeting someone at a party has, up until now, been a pleasant diversion, a mild form of entertainment. But as a small business owner, every new face is an opportunity… people with job descriptions or educations or backgrounds that were merely interesting in my old life suddenly seem like potential partners, customers, people I can learn something from, or people who can introduce me to someone that might be useful for developing my business. It’s also kind of an opportunity to refine the story of my work. Hopefully I avoided sounding like too much of a salesperson… anyway, my spinach and béchamel buns disappeared, and I met some interesting people, and I don’t think I annoyed anyone too much.

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