Meet Process PA – Support that is always available. Simple, quick, compliant running of your P&C or P&F.

This post first appeared on Microsoft BizSpark Australia interviewed by Esther Mosad.

Guest post by Matthew Rowan, CEO and founder of Process PA

1. Why are you building this startup? What does it do?

I am building this startup because there needs to be an easier way for volunteer organisations to manage documents, governance and their volunteer workforces tasks. Currently there is no online platform dedicated to the specific needs of organisations like School P&C’s.

I’ve been a P&C (Parent & Citizens Association) secretary myself for the last 2 years. When I started in the role I had very little hand over and no  training. I was so frustrated with the situation and amount of paper work required as a volunteer I began asking around other P&Cs  to see if anyone had some shortcuts or systems to do things easier.

I documented those results on a blog, Executive Matters, that I created. As I talked to more P&C volunteers I found many were very efficient and effective in their duties, but using a process of their own. Handing that over, as the members inevitably change, the process would break down, and things which you are legally liable for weren’t being done. As the Treasurer of an association, you have some guidance with accounting software, like MYOB or Xero. But as the Secretary I could not find any systems to guide you through your duties and responsibilities so I decided I would build it. I give a quick overview of the features on the web site at processpa.com. I found the problem wasn’t unique to P&Cs but applies to not-for-profits, sporting and community clubs, body corporates and any incorporated association.

2. What does a product marketing team need to understand from engineering about how to sell the product?

Currently I have no product marketing team, I am a technical startup founder who is wearing many hats – including marketing and sales. I also work with an advisory board who are skilled in marketing and sales, so at the moment I am being guided by them. In the long term with my dream team (including marketing) they will need to know the full functionality of the system and what it is capable of for the customer. I plan to always run a very multi-talented team, so everyone will have a key understanding of the product and its capabilities for the user.

3. What impact or legacy do you hope to make in the market and in the business world?

There are millions of volunteers every day spending time on paper work to be compliant and have their liability limited. Those are very important functions. Using this software will allow them to do it in a fraction of the time. Freeing those volunteer hours to be used elsewhere has the potential to make a huge impact on the lives of many.

4. What advice do you have for anyone wanting to start a business in your country?

Get involved in the communities that you have around you. There are many. For years I have been going to meetups held at places like the Microsoft Innovation Centre and River City Labs. Building those connections is invaluable and fun!

5. How do you work with investors, or do you currently use any outside money at all?

With the River City Labs Accelerator program there is a small investment. to get started.  I have self-funded the startup so far and hope to be able to fund future growth through customer acquisition until I need a bigger boost.  At that point I’d be keen to look at external investment depending on our needs. Reaching out to investors with an interest in our industry would be beneficial, but not essential.

6. Why would an entrepreneur turn to Microsoft for help in building scale, a team, or using software?

I’ve been working professionally in Microsoft stack for more than 10 years. The tooling is the best around and with BizSpark it is all free for 3 years. My product and web site I have both running on Azure under the monthly credit given. Removing this cost is so helpful while working from a very small budget. The contact-ability and help of people at every level in Microsoft is amazing. From the local Australian group giving support and connections to the having Skype conversations with the technical guys in Seattle. Microsoft is such an open organization even to small business like mine!

2 Questions with Matthew Rowan of Process PA (River City Labs Accelerator Class #1)

Interviewed by Josh Anthony @joshantho originally posted on the River City Labs blog.

1. What is one thing you have learned from the River City Labs Accelerator that you could share with the rest of the#startupQLD ecosystem?

You can do more than you think, sooner than you think. This is something I already knew in theory. But within the accelerator having that practiced has been pretty crazy. The practice outweighs the theory, you can do more and sooner. Having someone, or many, keeping you accountability to specific targets, really helps you achieve them. The targets do need be achievable but a stretch.

2. What are some tips for making it work as a solo founder?

There are a few things which I keep in front of mind to help me overcome the solo founder setbacks. When applying these make sure you have a good support network. Family, friends, advisors and customers who will tell you the truth. Just because you are a solo founder does not mean you are alone or isolated.

Firstly, W.I.N. (What’s Important Now). There is no time to be wasted on things that don’t matter now. This does need to be balanced with immediate impact and longer vision. Even investments that will be a benefit in the future, at some point, become the most important thing to do now. You need a clear vision of where you are heading and where you are. There are rewards now and there are investments that are important now. Constantly ask yourself, is this the most important thing I could be doing now?

Secondly, F.O.C.U.S. (Follow One Course Until Success). You can be spread so thin that you work yourself over many area’s and you have 70% progress on 10 things. If you’re in that situation you actually have 0% progress on a W.I.N. Working these two principles together make sure you F.O.C.U.S on a W.I.N. so you complete tasks that make a difference.

Thirdly, Don’t Let Perfect Get In The Way Of Good. This one is hard to balance. What is good? That is something you need to work out on every task. Keeping an eye on the Pareto 80/20 rule helps greatly for this when diminishing returns kicks in. You need to be clear on the returns you’re expecting. If you are measuring the wrong thing you might be putting out bad things, rather than good. However remember, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you have launched too late”, Reid Hoffman, Founder LinkedIn.

There are benefits for being a solo founder though. Being just one, I have consistency, flexibility and can be decisive quickly. However if you want to make a big impact you can’t do it on your own. You need to be building systems that you will be able to delegate control to as you grow your team. This is required to scale otherwise your one-man-show won’t be showing for long.

Matthew Rowan is the founder of Process PA, a simple, quick, compliant way of running of your P&C, P&F or association. Matthew is a founder in Class #1 of the River City Labs Accelerator.

Database unable to be recreated after delete with Entity Framework

Nice little gotcha when getting started with Entity Framework using the built-in ASP.NET MVC templates. Wanting to start from a fresh database using the MSSQLLocalDB there is a few little things to do that aren’t necessarily obvious:

1. Delete the mdb and ldf

Go to the App_Data directory and delete.

If the delete fails, make sure you stop IIS Express which is holding a handle to the files.
Stop IIS Express

If the delete still fails, make sure you have closed connections in the server explorer in Visual Studio.
Close Server Explorer Connection

Still failing to delete? Go to Task Manager and kill the SQL Server Windows NT [sqlservr.exe] process.
Kill the process

2. Run Update-Database from the Package Manager Console

Update-Database

Fails with “The EntityFramework package is not installed on project ‘####’.
Check the default project is set to the correct one which contains the Migrations folder. Mine keep defaulting back to the Tests project.

Fails with “Cannot attach the file *.mdf as database”.
I found the answer on StackOverflow. The default connections string contains the Initial Catalog property. Which is all good for a full SQL Database but not LocalDb. Removing that property and it is all good.

Summary

Entity Framework seems quite good with Code First Migrations. I find the documentation really hard to get up to speed if you are coming new to it. Much of the documentation seems to focus around the difference and pieces together what to use for the latest version wasn’t the simplest. There is a bunch of little things you need to be aware of and practice with Add-Migrations and making sure everything is upgradable properly. Persisting with it [pun intended] has been worthwhile so far…

Visual Studio Debugger Failing to inspect variables

Everything compiled fine and the app is running well. However when I attached the debugger to w3wp.exe and however over variables, no value was being shown. Ctrl-Alt-Q on one for Quick Watch revealed the problem.

error CS1704: An assembly with the same simple name ‘###’ has already been imported. Try removing one of the references (e.g. ###.dll) or sign them to enable side-by-side.

Error seems straight forward enough. Help points to fixing references as the error would suggest. This only just started happening. And not just me. So it must be a code change right? Looking through version history, everything looks innocent. I check the references and they are all fine. So I must have some messed up assemblies somewhere.

Rebuild.

Clean. Build.

Clean entire workspace. tfpt treeclean

Restart visual studio.

Rise & Repeat…

No avail. Both my git and TFVC workspaces have the same problem.

Reboot computer in case of cache.

Then I delete the Temporary ASP.NET Files for the web site in C:\Windows\Microsoft.NET\Framework64\v4.0.30319\Temporary ASP.NET Files.

Bingo! Some change must have caused a duplicate to be place in there somehow. Not the best resolution, but as least I can inspect the code with the debugger again.

Office Lens is amazing, if you’re not using it, you probably should

I have been using Office Lens for a while now. Every time I have a use for it I am blown away at how good it is. This tool works well in real life and not just the demo scenarios shown on product pages.

Office Lens trims, enhances and makes pictures of whiteboards and docs readable, and saves them to OneNote. You can use Office Lens to convert images to PDF, Word and PowerPoint files too.   Office Lens is like having a scanner in your pocket. Like magic, it will digitalize notes on whiteboards or blackboards. Always find important documents or business cards. Sketch your ideas and snap a picture for later. Don’t lose receipts or stray sticky notes again!  You can convert your pictures to PDF files with selectable text, in addition to Word and PowerPoint files, and save them to OneDrive.

I was at a training day on the weekend. Here is the shot I got with the Lumia 930:

Office Lens_20150509_151432

Here is the slide captured by Office Lens:

Office Lens_20150509_151432_processed

Here is one of my boys’ drawings never to be lost:

Office Lens_20150314_124344

Office Lens_20150314_124344_processed

You can include up to 10 photo’s within the one document. I use it for receipts, business cards, kids drawings, white board sketches and notes, handouts from school. It is then uploaded to OneNote (now completely free), which is what I use for all and any note taking. As a hoarder by nature, having a digitalization path so quickly to get rid of the clutter is fantastic.

Get it from the Windows Phone Store for Windows Phone, iTunes for iOS or sign up for the Preview for Android.

git tfs pull command exited with error code: 128

Argh!! Another very unhelpful error message:

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What am I supposed to do with that? Today I found out what. Run the command again with –d for debug.

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And there is the message that should be have been with the error code:

fatal: Unable to create ‘C:/Code/Main/.git\tfs\default\index.lock’: File exists. If no other git process is currently running, this probably means a git process crashed in this repository earlier. Make sure no other git process is running and remove the file manually to continue.

I can work with that. There were no other git processes running, but the file .git\tfs\default\index.lock did exist. Deleting that we get further, this time with a very helpful error message:

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Run the command: git tfs cleanup-workspaces

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Looks good. Run the pull again and we are back in business.

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Index Windows.edb size out of control

I don’t know if it is the files I have on my computer, but each of my machines’ index file size occasionally just goes out of control. This covered KB 2838018 The Windows.edb file grows very large in Windows 8 or Windows Server 2012. Unfortunately however even after the hotfix is installed, as seen below, 66 GB for the index on a 439 GB drive seems very much like the symptom described.

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The instructions in the KB cover how to rebuild the index. I find just stopping the indexing services, deleting the file and restarting the services a quicker space recovering resolution. Note that your search everywhere in Windows, even applications from the start menu, won’t work for a little while.

Finding space to free and finding this rogue file is very easy with Space Sniffer, it is the best disk space visualization since Space Monger 1.4. Be sure however to run it as Administrator, otherwise those system files will not be shown.

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The file is located at C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Search\Data\Applications\Windows. After a rebuild it is a more reasonable 1.8 GB.

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