Founder at i5Co. and creator of Cardstack. Software engineer, digital marketing analyst and sometimes designer. @bentremblay

Making things right

Product or service, sometimes things don’t go as expected.

Maybe you’ve taken too long to deliver, delivered over budget or made a mistake that cost your client a significant sum of money.

Maybe your product didn’t meet expectations or was lost or damaged during shipping.

Maybe a weird bug prevented some of your customers to use your software for a few hours or worst, a few days.

No matter how wrong things go, you always get a chance to make things right and it’s that moment that will define how customers perceive you as an individual, company or product.

It’s funny how when people complain about a product or service, they’ll often complain about the lack of empathy they felt or how horribly they were treated by customer service more than about the problem itself.

I take great pride in the fact that we have very close to 0% return on Cardstack orders. That doesn’t mean it’s always been a smooth ride and that we didn’t face any issues, but just that we decided to make things right when we faced problems. This often meant forgetting about the short-term loss and focusing on the long-term benefits of having happy customers.

I think I prefer to receive praises on the service than on the product — A great service experience gives your customers a great story to tell.

And that’s not just the case for products, I’ve faced similar situations on the consulting side and there’s always a chance to fix things with a well-intentioned client. Every single time it happened, it made the relationship with the client stronger.

Taking a hit once in a while doesn’t mean you’re losing the game, just that you’re playing to win it.

Goodbye capsules, hello Super-Automatic.


Working mainly from home has its perks, but skipping the commute mean you probably don’t stop by your favourite coffee shop on a daily basis and that you brew most of your coffee at home.

This can become quite a challenge when you’ve come to appreciate a good cup of coffee. I tried many different options over the years — regular drip coffee, french press, manual espresso machine and capsules — but only with limited satisfaction.

I’m the only one drinking coffee at home, which means I buy in small quantity and grind beans myself to keep maximum freshness. I also keep the machine in my office as it’s more convenient, but it has become an issue as you have to get rid of excess ground coffee and clean the machine. Suddenly you start thinking about how having a kitchen in the office would make life easier!

The logical first option when you setup your home office is regular drip coffee. It’s possible to get a good cup from fresh ground coffee, but you soon miss the taste of espresso and you’re left with very few options outside of the traditional coffee. Forget the cappuccino or the Americano.

The same goes for the french press. It makes really great coffee, but it’s not espresso. Plus, drip or french press coffee requires multiple visits to the kitchen to get rid of excess ground coffee and clean the whole thing. It’s no different with a manual espresso machine.

Not quite coffe-at-the-push-of-a-button yet.

So what do you do when you realize you’re a lazy person? You buy a capsule coffee machine, right? Coffee stays fresh for a long time, capsules can be bought in small quantity, makes coffee at the push of a button and very limited cleaning is required. Perfect.

What a great business model.

Having tasted various Keurig and Tassimo coffees, I don’t think it’s particularly good coffee. Convenient and easy, yes. Good coffee, not so much. The best is by far Nespresso and that’s why I’ve used a Pixie for some time. There’s a great variety of coffees to choose from and they all taste very good.

And then you realize how much capsules you throw in the garbage every month and wonder why the environment has to pay for your laziness. Plus it’s no secret that it’s way more expensive per cup than grinding your own beans.

That’s why I ended up with a Super-Automatic. I picked the Delonghi ECAM23210 for its simplicity, compact size, overall quality and number of features for the price. It’s of course way more expensive than a drip coffee machine or most capsule machines, but it’s quite an impressive machine.

It’s very low maintenance, almost no cleaning, takes about a minute to warm up, automatically grinds coffee and brew very quickly too. It can make regular coffee, espresso or your favourite specialty coffee and it’s great to be able to pick and test different kind of beans. It’s the best of both world and provides the best ratio of convenience vs. quality vs. flexibility.

Life’s too short to have bad coffee.

Before Cardstack was Cardstack

I love prototypes. They’re unpolished, very imperfect, incomplete products and yet they’re fascinating. When looking at a product, it’s hard to image it was once just an idea and that this idea went through many, many iterations.

A final product is often the result of over a thousand small but important decisions and prototypes are snapshots of those decisive moments. They offer rare insights as to how product designers work, what kind of decisions they have to make and how they’re testing their ideas.

I was browsing some photos recently and came across these early prototypes of Cardstack so I thought I’d share them.

IMG_1818_1024 IMG_1822_1024

And of course the final product:


Judging past decisions based on today’s facts

While it’s good to regularly reconsider and rethink the way things are done, judging decisions from the past based on the knowledge we have today is far too easy, far too common and quite useless.

“Why is it this way? It doesn’t make sense!”
“It’s ridiculous, why was this built like this?”
“I wouldn’t have done it this way!”

Decisions are usually made based on a few assumptions and sometimes a few predictions about what the future may be. And as their name suggest, assumptions and predictions often turn out being wrong. Things simply change and today’s context is very different from what it was months or years ago.

So the easy reaction is to take what we now know — but didn’t at the time — and keep complaining about how horrible of a decision it was.

It’s easy because it doesn’t actually solve the problem and doesn’t involve any work. We’re not fixing anything, just continuously pointing out how obviously bad something is. It doesn’t help anybody and all that energy spent complaining is just lost.

A more useful approach is to think about how it can be fixed or improved and move forward.

The voices killing simplicity

Bill can’t find the document he’s looking for on the Intranet. Clearly it isn’t visible enough, so let’s add it to the home page for everyone to find it.

Someone told us he couldn’t find the contact button on the site. Let’s make the button bigger, change its color and add an additional link to the sidebar.

We don’t generate enough sales of that product. Let’s add a banner everywhere on the site promoting it.

Can you believe that feature was left out from the app? It has to be squeezed in the next release.

It’s OK to listen to these voices, but the danger is to think that because one of them is louder, it necessarily deserves more attention. Or that it’s even a statistically significant representation of the silent majority.

While some projects fail at simplicity right from the start, most really fail at keeping it simple. Keeping as in remaining simple over time, way after the project has launched.

Can innovation be claimed?

“This is our latest innovation”
“We’re innovating once again”
“Innovation is at the heart of everything we do”

This probably sounds familiar.

We hear and read those everywhere. Almost up to a certain point where it becomes meaningless — so overused, that we don’t pay much attention anymore.

That’s why real innovative companies don’t even talk about innovation. They know the word is much more powerful when coming from the mouth of clients, partners or press.

Innovation is not just building new and shiny things. That would be easy — we can all imagine things that have never been done before. And most of the time, they’ve never been done for very good reasons. Innovation is the result of not just the new and shiny, but also the effective and useful.

And effective and useful, ultimately, can only be judged by others. Some sort of external validation. Then, only if truly new, effective and useful beyond what currently exists can it be considered as innovative.

Innovation is something earned, much like winning an award. It’s the result of great work being recognized by others.

In defense of long emails

Write short emails — preferably a few sentences maximum with clear expectations. People get hundreds of emails everyday and in an ADD world, nobody reads anymore. Apparently.

At least that’s what you’re being told.

Time. Man, is time precious. Who has time to read your 3 paragraphs email? 3 pa-ra-gra-phs. Can you just get straight to the point? Is there really anything these days that can’t be summarized in one sentence?

Let’s waste half of our week in meetings, but screw you, long email writer. Nobody has time for your emails.

I know, you took the time to fully structure your thoughts, every word is carefully chosen and it’s really all I need, but you know what? That’s too much for me to handle. It almost feels like you care.

Care, that’s it. I guess that’s why I don’t mind long emails.

A long, unstructured email is just garbage, as it often reflect a rushed message without a clear line of thought. But a well structured email with a clear line of thought, send more my way anytime.

Not everything can be summarized in a sentence or two. And even when people think they can summarize in a sentence, they miss a whole lot. You just get black and white messages, while the value is often in the grey zone.

Not every phone conversation is more efficient. I know, writing an email may take more time than just picking up the phone, but conversations don’t magically end up in a searchable transcript. I get that with email — a trace of a conversion, an idea, or some tasks. So we forget, and then we have to schedule another call or meeting about the same subject because we just forgot about half of the things we said. Of course, we’ll apologize for forgetting — “sorry, I have so much to remember that I seem to forget some details here and there”.

We have so much to remember because one sentence emails don’t say much. They’re not good at keeping traces. Email threads are incredibly good at that.

Our minds are too busy remembering every details of every conversations and meetings we had that it can’t focus on what matters — creating value through clear, creative thinking. Ideas need some quiet time, that’s how they grow. There’s no need to go over again why you get so many brilliant ideas in the shower, right?

When we share coherent, detailed messages, whether it’s through email or your favorite project management software, it frees our minds from having to remember useless details. It’s always there to be found later on.

Plus, try writing a detailed and clear-focused email. You’ll me amazed at how beneficial it is to clarify your thoughts on a subject. Writing is good for the mind.

No matter how global, it always starts local

Cardstack was never meant to be a local product. Not that there would never be local customers, but more in the sense that the target market is pretty wide. It’s small, lightweight and is easy to ship — perfect for an “Internet product”. Product and distribution was all thought with an international mindset.

But no matter how large the market is or how global the potential audience is, the initial market is often within your close circle of friends and contacts. Obvious, right? Well, this is something that was underestimated with Cardstack. Good products spread through word of mouth–especially for a fairly unknown brand that first need “social validation”–so reaching out first to your contacts make sense.

But of course there’s always the fear and anxiety of showing the world something new and being exposed to criticism. Is it good enough? Can it be refined? Is there really a market?

Overall, it’s probably why Cardstack was soft launched at first. After a few international orders, the market-fit was confirmed and only then did I feel ready to talk more openly about it. And then a flood of orders came in from friends, contacts, friends of friends and contacts of contacts. The global product was suddenly all local for a few days and it did put Cardstack on to a good start.

Wether it’s software or a physical product, consumer or business product, it’s easier to sell to people you know than to strangers. This makes any product a local product at first.

Getting back to engineering and writing code

I stopped actively coding a few years ago, right after I graduated in Computer Engineering. I had to do something else. It’s not so much that I didn’t enjoy coding, but I wasn’t in love with writing code for the sake of writing code. I loved the craft, but not as a job or as a service provider.

Probably much like an author loves his craft. It’s great as long as you get to pick what to write. You get to actually create. When somebody else tells you what you should write, the whole magic goes away. You’re just trading time for money and somebody else ends up putting his name on your work.

So I went on and explored a whole lot of other things and got paid to do it along the way. I actually built a business around those things. Marketing, SEO, UX, design, conversion optimisation and digital strategy just to name a few. I learned a whole lot. I tried, experimented, succeeded and sometime failed.

I basically learned business. Sales, marketing, branding, product development, customer lifecycle and product design. The whole thing.

I never totally lost touch with coding though. I always ensured to stay somewhat up to date. Almost like I wasn’t completely assuming the decision of going in a different direction. Or maybe because it has always been a differentiating factor among other people — in a digital marketing world, I actually understand technology and how things are built.

But a strange thing is happening now. I had to get back into more technical stuff recently and I actually enjoyed it. Again. It felt like the pressure of experimenting with other things was gone. Not that I’m done experimenting or that I’m out of curiosity, but there’s no more pressure. I learned what I wanted to learn, what pushed me out of engineering.

My perception has also changed. While I was seeing software engineering as a job or a service — and the same goes for these other things like marketing and design — I now see them as a way to achieve something. To create.

I feel like I’m being brought back to engineering but with a much broader perspective and different context.

A context in which technology is not a job, but a way to build and create. A different perspective in which technology is actually nothing without sales, marketing, design and a creative process. Technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Everything is somehow connecting.