PracticeFlow—Practice Manager for Accountants

PracticeFlow is a Software-as-a-Service platform built for accountants in the UK which lets them manage hundreds of deadlines across all of their clients and the services they offer. Launched in May 2014 it is helping accountants who are starting to feel growing pains to take control of their work, delegate effectively and get the number of missed deadlines right down to zero, permanently.

Here’s a quote from a happy customer:

We were finding that an increasing amount of our time was spent checking client’s submission deadlines – time that could be better used helping clients or developing new leads.

We estimate that for each corporate client we have, there are over 20 deadlines that we need to manage such as Accounts, Corporation Tax, VAT, PAYE and self assessment tax returns filings. We envisage that this will only increase as time goes by.

Practiceflow offers us a practical, efficient and cost-effective way to manage those deadlines.

We recognise that a missed deadline can result in a lost client and so the peace of mind that Practiceflow provides is invaluable.

As is often the case with game-changing technology, I now wonder how we coped before we started using Practice flow.

A large proportion of our clients are “tech-aware” themselves and we strive to provide a service that meets their demands and way of working. Practiceflow helps us achieve this.

One added benefit of using PracticeFlow is that it has actually aided our team briefings, as the whole team is now more aware of everyone else’s workload and helps avoid people working in isolation.

As all accountants are essentially suffering from the same issues – shortage of time, risk of missing clients’ deadlines, sharing knowledge amongst team members – I have no hesitation in recommending PracticeFlow to other accountancy firms.

—James Richardson, Metric Accountants

Beginning Core Data with RubyMotion

Book-Cover

“RubyMotion makes iOS app development rapid and more enjoyable. When it comes to data persistence though, working out how to make use of Core Data is far from straightforward. In this book we explore how to get started with Core Data, building a production ready app from scratch, ready for the app store and beyond.”

I think interest in RubyMotion is going to steadily increase, both in the English-speaking world but also in Japan, where Ruby-based technologies tend to do very well. In a sense, RubyMotion has the potential to do for iOS/OSX development what Ruby on Rails did for web development. They aren’t directly comparable technologies but they have a similar effect, namely to make a particular kind of development both quicker and more enjoyable at the same time.

Core Data is Apple’s de facto framework for storing data on both iOS and OSX. It is powerful, flexible, and scales down well to use on smaller devices like iPhones. Unfortunately it has a steeper learning curve than many parts of iOS development; in RubyMotion there is also the additional problem that the majority of documentation out there pertains to using Xcode’s visual tools to model your data—it isn’t clear how to achieve this in RubyMotion, which is why I started writing this book.

Tsunami Volunteer Registration System

In 2011 I had the opportunity to work with a volunteer group out in Tohoku Japan that were, at the time, working 7 days a week clearing tonnes of tsunami mud from houses and other work to prepare them for being rebuilt. It was common to have up to 30+ people in the house at any one time, with groups and individuals arriving and leaving on a daily basis. This created a huge amount of admin work, both in responding to queries from potential volunteers and in tracking how many people would be available to work each day.

Eager to put my skills to good use I built a bilingual volunteer registration system that cut down on enquiries by making it clear which days still had spaces for new volunteers and performed automatically all of the calculations necessary both for the day-to-day running of the group and also for funding applications, as the system also doubles up as a project-based work reporting tool which.

If you know of any charity groups which might benefit from help reducing their admin burden please feel free to put them in touch with me.

Benkyo.co Spaced Repetition System (SRS)

In 2008 and 2009 I used spaced repetition to study for my AS and A2 Japanese exams, getting 100% and 96% on each respectively, largely thanks to the efficient memorisation of Japanese characters I was able to do with the assistance of this kind of flashcard software. I used Anki which basically free (and open source) and for both aspects I am very grateful to the software’s author Damien Elmes.

Given the success I had I have recommended Anki and another simpler SRS called Mnemosyne to friends and family who are also studying languages, but no one has yet taken to using the software regularly. I’m keen to find out why this is, to break down whatever barriers exist and see if I can create a vocabulary memorisation platform that basically anyone can use, not just those who are particularly technical, motivated or interested in optimising their learning processes.

This year (2013) I built and released Benkyo.co (from the Japanese word 勉強 which means to study). You can sign up for an account for free to try it out; paid premium features will be coming later this year.

iiKanji Japanese Learning System

iiKanji is a system for learning how to read Japanese that follows the quickest path to fluency by introducing the readings of the characters in a strict order based on analysis of millions of real Japanese texts. This system, designed by Tao Romera Martinez is the first system to optimise on the frequency of character readings rather than just the appearance of the characters themselves. As each character can have anything from 1-10+ readings this results in a significantly faster path to fluency compared to other approaches.

iiKanji is open now for public beta, for more information please visit the site.

Q2.io Life Tracker

I wanted a system that would help me track all the things I should do that are important (to me) but only become urgent and apparent when it’s too late. If you don’t exercise regularly then over the course of a few years nothing bad may come of it but fast forward 20 years and you might be wishing your 50-year-old self had been a bit more proactive about it. Same goes for writing to distant relatives, keeping in touch with friends old and new, taking time out to disconnect from fast-paced modern life, and so on.

In Q2 you enter the things you want to do and roughly how often you want to do them, e.g. “spend an hour studying a new mathematical topic every 7 days”. Once you have entered these various activities you will probably no longer be able to track them all in your head. Building them into habits in your life will help immensely, but building habits is hard and takes considerable time. Until these important things become second nature, Q2 helps you see at a glance what you could do today that is productive and important to you.

Translator’s Helper

“If you’re not embarrassed when you ship your first version, you waited too long.”
― Matt Mullenweg

Translator’s Helper is indeed a system which I felt embarrassed to release: its sole function is to allow you to paste in text and have it replace words for you. You set up your list of words, e.g. specialist medical or technical terms and it will replace those words for you, a bit like running ‘Find and replace’ in Word many times in a row.

I made it as part of my policy for giving any friend free development time for a problem they have. In this case it was a friend who was a translator of medical documents. After hearing about her work it was clear that remembering exact translations for the names of conditions and treatments, including using the right spelling for that client (American or British English, etc.) was difficult and worth doing something about it. In the space of about an hour I set up an area online where she could log in, create word lists and then use these lists to do automatic replacement of words for translation purposes.

She used this system for some time and entered some two hundred specialist terms so I assume it was somewhat useful though I didn’t advance it further and we didn’t talk about it much. In a way the most useful thing it did was to expose the real problem she was having which was quite unique and harder (though possible) to solve: she was required by her company to colour all translated words in blue, and submit a count of how many blue words the document contained. I then spent the next three hours working out how to do that, and this became the actually-useful solution that I provided to her. Over the course of a few months of doing this work, she used this system to count exactly 131,335 words in hundreds of documents. No friend of mine should need to sit and count blue words, that is for sure!

Since then (2011) I have mentioned the word-replacement system to other translators and some have shown interest; it’s incredibly simple but at the same time it’s a function that doesn’t seem to be readily available anywhere except in rather expensive proprietary translation software. As such I decided to release it as a publicly available system with an initial free trial. So far it has had a quick word search feature added at the request of one potential user, and I’m happy to hear about features that other translators would like it to have. I named it Translator’s Helper as I would be happy for it to grow beyond its current functionality and be a suite of simple tools that can either be used on-the-go or have functionality that simply doesn’t exist in other software.

Buddha’s Brain iPhone & iPad App

In 2010 after finishing my PhD in Computer Science I wanted to start a new side project, something fun. I was reading a book by Dr. Rick Hanson on the neuroscience behind meditation (a topic I was interested in at the time), the book contained a lot of short exercises and I thought creating an app which let you take these 50 or so exercises out with you could be useful and a simple enough place to start with iOS development.

The app was released in December 2011 and since then has sold around 6,000 copies. Developing this app taught me just how much work is contained in that last 10% of the process, something I’ll be writing about in more detail in future. A key element in this project was that the market came first: the book has sold very well, ranking highly on Amazon and the author is a leading figure in his field. This coupled with the relative hotness of the topic (Eastern spiritualism meets Western science) allowed for 2,000 sales in the first few weeks and a relatively steady trickle of sales since then.

In November 2012 I received an email from an ALS sufferer who told me that she couldn’t use the app as it didn’t support the landscape orientation (back then it was an iPhone-only app). In January 2013 I dedicated some time to making the app universal and to support landscape on the iPad. This update helped increase sales slightly and opened up an opportunity for it to be promoted.

At time of writing (September 2013) a new version with exclusive audio content has been released and a new version for iOS 7 is in the works.

Learn the Notes iPad App

A quick app to help you brush up your sight reading on the piano. Filled with exercises designed by a professional piano teacher, this app will help you increase the speed at which you can find the notes on the keyboard.

Websites for Music Composers

My father is a composer and was in need of a website where he could have a catalogue of his works, discography, biography, reviews and a means by which people can contact him. This is a very simple site, but what made it a challenge was that he needed to be able to update it himself, as a non-technical person. The site is backed by a system which allows him to update the content as he likes and have it be formatted correctly. I consider the project successful as he has been able to update the content without any assistance from me, and he has received some emails from people interested in his music.

I am happy to set up this kind of site for other composers; those interested can contact me here.

Embed-a-Comp

A competition manager system that lets you manage competitions that may be running on ~50 satellite websites. With winner’s details coming in daily from different sites, keeping on top of the admin is a significant challenge, one that Embed-a-Comp solves for you. To give you an idea of the size of the problem, if you have 5 competitions each being run on 50 websites, with 2 winners per site then you need to manage the sending and tracking of 5 x 50 x 2 = 500 winners’ details, and up to 500 packages!

The name comes from the fact that it was designed to let you create competitions and hand out embed code to sites so that they could embed it directly on their sites. This was only used once however as it turned out that non-embedded competitions were the real problem to solve and at time of writing prizes have been sent out to some 3,000 winners with huge time savings on the admin work normally required.

Hypeweaver

Hypeweaver is a complete PR campaign system that bundles a CRM with automated and tracked mail merges, campaign tracking and report production. It also integrates directly with Embed-a-Comp and has been in production use by a London-based PR firm since April 2012.

Total Fanhub

TotalFanhub is a site builder system for film labels and PRs that lets them set up websites for films quickly and easily, offering plenty of features such as:

  • Social Network integration.
  • Stills gallery.
  • Blog system.
  • Cinema listings manager.
  • Tracked links to vendors like Amazon and Play.
  • Integrates with Embed-a-Comp.
  • Automatic conversion of all graphical assets: upload the highest-quality versions you have once, use anywhere.
  • Automatic encoding of all video for both the web and tablets.
  • Detailed visitor stats.
  • Can scale to tens of thousands of visits a day.
  • Backed by a global content delivery network.
  • And much more…