Category Archives: Business Tools

Launch of Toolray, Inc.


I’m pleased to announce the launch of Toolray, Inc., my new software as a Service (SaaS) start-up.

Why Toolray? It’s a riff on the idea of shining a light on tools. Because work gets much easier with the right tools.

The company is in the very early stages; right now I’m speaking with people about frustrations they face in their day-to-day work. It’s an exciting way to launch because I get to do one of my favorite things—brainstorming to help solve problems.

Over the years, I’ve discovered this is both a talent of mine and something I really enjoy. In fact, when I’m in a conversation, trying to iron out a knotty problem and the ideas are flying, I am fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus. This is of course the flow state, which is always a great place to be.

I also think this is the right approach to build a company. By focusing on real problems people are actually facing, I expect to uncover a real market need, which is an important component of success.

In the short-term though, before building anything, I’m having as many conversations as I can about challenging problems. So, if you’re struggling with some issue in your business, or even if you just feel like you could be doing better, let’s find a time to talk.

Sometimes of course, the biggest challenges are those we’ve lived with for so long that we don’t even see them anymore. So, if you’d like to talk about your business and workflow just to see what shakes out, let’s do it.

Using Excel to Combine Data from Different Sources

eBook cover image: How to Combine Data from Different Sources Using ExcelI’m happy to announce the publication of my new eBook, “How to Combine Data from Different Sources Using Excel.”

This tutorial covers one of my favorite functions in Excel, VLOOKUP. I have found over the years that a strong understanding of this command enabled me to work with data much more effectively. Now, when doing analysis, I’m not limited to just information from a single source because I use Excel to pull in and integrate data from other sources. I love this because I can look at more factors and answer more questions.

I felt there would be some value in putting out a tutorial that focused on the business process rather than just the software commands. Many of the tutorials currently available for Excel are fairly technical in the way they approach the material. This can make it hard to understand how or especially why you might use a particular command.

Instead of digging right into the technical details, “How to Combine Data from Different Sources Using Excel” presents one straightforward example from start to finish. Of course, it fully covers all the parameters of the commands referenced along the way, but this approach puts the technical information in context, making it is easier to understand.

There are also a number of sections devoted to trouble-shooting, which will enable most readers to get up and running quickly.

This project is being released exclusive to Kindle through the Amazon KDP Select publishing platform. If data analysis is your kind of thing, check it out and please leave a review on Amazon as well.

Unlocking the Secrets of the World’s Most Powerful Tool

ExcelOK, I’ll admit it: I’m a business geek.

It started at an early age.

Growing up the son of a marketing-exec father and CPA mom, I heard a lot of business talk around the dinner table. I didn’t understand much of it, but it all seeped in anyway. A few years down the road, in Accounting 101, the teacher introduced accounts receivables and payables. While the rest of the class fought off sleep, my reaction was intensely emotional–“So that’s what they were talking about!

Today my passion centers around the creative elements of business–building cool products and marketing them well, assembling great teams, forging a distinctive culture. But I love the numbers too. Because they tell the unvarnished truth about what’s really happening–out there, where the rubber meets the road. They reveal … is the sales campaign working? Is the new product finding traction? Are we achieving? or failing?

So in contemplating ideas for building passive income, I’m drawn to the idea of writing about Excel. Of helping people harness it’s extreme potential.

I have worked in Excel for years and I am continually amazed at it’s depth, it’s breadth. It might well be the most powerful tool the world has ever seen. I’m open to feedback on this, but I can’t think of any other tool, software or physical, that has had such an impact on the world we live in today.

Can you?

So while I consider myself more Excel admirer than expert, I know that’s a great place to start. I get excited at the idea of digging in and learning more about this amazing tool.

For years, I’ve had a “philosophy of Excel” that has served me well: spending 30 minutes once to learn how to save five minutes over-and-over is time well spent.

So in contemplating product ideas, I plan to focus on a new angle. Not just a how-to approach, but a why approach. Maybe even a little, “finding love, happiness and personal fulfillment with Excel.”

Is that promising too much? I guess we’ll find out.

Tips for Using Excel to Communicate

MS Excel spreadsheet showing 3-Year Projections for Newco

Without a doubt, Microsoft Excel is a powerful tool for performing calculations. But it’s more than that. Once you share your work, it also becomes a tool for communicating. Unfortunately though, many people who are quite adept at calculating in Excel utterly fail to present their work clearly so others can understand it. This is a shame because when used well, there’s no better way to convey data, calculations, or business projections than with a powerfully-prepared spreadsheet.

Here are a few guidelines that will drastically improve how your work is received.

Every Spreadsheet Needs a Title

Nothing says “I’m a sloppy amateur” quite like passing out a spreadsheet with no title on it. Why? The title defines the context for the entire presentation. It tells the reader what they are looking at.

Without a title, rows and columns of data mean nothing. Is your chart a table of low and high tides? Train times? Girl scout cookie sales? Inmate counts in Folsom Prison? Who knows … it’s a mystery.

Use Descriptive Captions to Define Columns and Rows

Just like your document needs a title, so do your rows and columns. As obvious as this might sound, I see spreadsheets every day without these simple but important labels. Another frustrating variation that fails to communicate are labels that are abbreviated beyond all recognition.

It is easy to forget that the person reading your document, doesn’t know the content like you do. These headers and descriptions are the key to helping your readers understand what they are looking at. Don’t leave them out.

Keep Related Data in a Single Row

A key concept in spreadsheet design is to display data in batches, where a row represents a single group of related content. For example, if you are tracking variables about different NBA players, you’d list each player’s name on the far left, and then list each bit of data in a single cell moving across the right. You’d use your column headers to identify each bit of data. So for example, you might list the name, height, weight, position, games played, field goals, field goal percentage, etc.

You wouldn’t want to display data for a single player split onto two lines. There are some situations where you might have to do this for space considerations, but generally, it’s best to avoid this.

Tag Variations by Adding Columns, Rather than by Separating the Data Unnecessarily

Lets say you run two accounts receivable reports. One for accounts that have an ongoing relationship (i.e., “open” customers) and another for accounts no longer placing new orders (i.e., “closed” customers). Should you display this data in two reports or one? My vote it to combine all the data into a single report, but then add a column labeled, “Account Status.” You could then indicate either, “open” or “closed,” depending on which original report the specific account entry originated. The value is that the data can be displayed in one consolidated report, rather than in two.

Life is a Highway

When it comes to improving your communications skills, whether via Excel or in any other format, recognize that there is a process. You won’t get there overnight. But if you are attentive to the issue, if you strive to improve and importantly, observe how your presentations are received, you will get there.