Top of Mind Networks

46 Minutes…

February 12, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Never seems to fail that whenever a SureFire mailing goes out that there is a response of the impending application kind and aren’t those the best?

At 6:45 AM I received my notice and sample of the Neighborhood Home Activity Report email going out to my DB, at 7:31 AM, the following email arrived:

 

So of course my first action was to respond to the client and the next thing I did – now at 7:52AM was to make this post. As I was writing this, the client responded saying that she would like to set up a time to go over the details next week.

As more and more responsibilities are handed to us and the work required to close loans increases, I appreciate more and more that staying in touch with my past clients is regularly happening whether I’m being pro-active about it or not.

It’s also hard to make the time to reach out to those that make this possible but I was compelled to do so today. So, thanks to all of you at Top of Mind, SureFire is the best!

Giving Back To An Industry–Mortgage Revolution in New York

September 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Despite the industry news, bad press and other negative talking points, there are many in the mortgage industry giving back.

Mortgage Revolution is about leaders teaching leaders. Mortgage originators who are in the field ever day helping clients training other originators what is working in today’s market.

Some of the past speakers have been

Mortgage Revolution is committed to putting on the industry’s finest sharing and teaching experiences for originators while donating all proceeds to charity.  The event in New York will be the final event of the year and should be the catalyst for any originator truly committed to their industry.

The organizers and founders listed below have been the inspiration for these events.

Media Partners:

If you are in the business and feel this is truly your career of choice, Mortgage Revolution is one event you can’t afford to miss.

If you are searching for a home, home loan or just simply reading this and are shopping, ask if YOUR Loan Officer is traveling to New York for the industries greatest teaching, learning and sharing experience.  I look forward to seeing you in Tarrytown.

FHA Madness

August 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The FHA recently proposed reducing the UFMIP while increasing the annual premium that is paid monthly. Their stated intention is to bolster their insurance reserve fund. Um, not so fast….

Before even running the numbers, cutting the upfront MIP which is arguably when they need the money the most, wouldn’t seem to make sense. So when in doubt, I always fire up a new spreadsheet. Not surprisingly, my suspicions were confirmed. Want to see exactly how bad it could get? Here’s a very short video to demonstrate  how it works out.

If you’d like a copy of the spreadsheet shown in the video for your own use or to engage your clients and partners, you can download it here.

So which is it?  Is the FHA just saying one thing and doing another? Don’t they have accountants that work there? Are they purposefully trying to seal their fate?

Or, for you conspiracy theorists, was this all a well concocted plan to run up the stock prices of the regular PMI companies (check the recent price action)? When you boil it all down, that’s about the only beneficial thing for at least somebody that’s coming out of this…..

My guess is that this is just another well intentioned but very poorly thought out plan by yet another government agency that fails to seek advice from those that are perhaps in the best position to offer it. If this bothers you, please check out www.immaag.com  This is run by Bill Kidwell. Bill is an esteemed broker from CO and is leading the fight against this and other proposals which are only harming the public and making it more difficult and expensive for all involved.

In the meantime, if you have any FHA/fence sitters waiting for things to get better, use the spreadsheet to show them how much more expensive their payment will be or how much less house they’re going to be able to afford once the MI costs go up.

This Moment Ends the Most Traumatic and Scariest Five Hours of My Life

July 2, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

This is probably not the most appropriate forum for the experience I’m about to share with you, but I need to write this while everything is fresh in my mind.  I hope that it helps you if the same situation ever happens to you and your family.

I was on a conference call with Rene Rodriguez and David Childers this afternoon when I received a call on my cell phone.  The incoming caller ID showed my home phone number.  So I muted Rene and Childers and answered the phone assuming it was my wife.  The voice on the other end of the phone asked me in a masked voice if I knew if my family was safe.

Hello?

“Do you know if your family is safe?”

Who is this?

“Do you know if your family is safe?”

Okay, now I’m freaking out.  I hang up both the cell and office lines and run into David Orsini’s office and tell him what is going on.  We both jump in David’s car and speed like crazy toward my condo – about a 5 minute drive.  Meanwhile I’m on the phone with 911 telling them what had just happened.  Along the way, we pass a policeman who we flag down and who follows us back to my condo.  While I was on the phone with 911, David called my wife Abby who was at work and safe.  Abby immediately called our daughter’s day camp and determined that she was also safe.  So – the dreaded and unimaginable had been averted – thank you God.

Me, David and the policeman got to my condo and looked around – everything looked as we left it when Abby and I had left for work this morning.  Now here is the complicating factor – the condo we’ve been renting was just listed for sale.  The only request we’ve made of the listing agent was that she give us 24 hours notice before a showing.  Wouldn’t you know it, around 10:30am the listing agent received a request to show our place from another agent.  Reluctantly, my wife accommodated the request even though we hadn’t anticipated today’s showing and hadn’t locked up access to our valuables or tidied up.

This showing was supposed to be at 1pm.  The dreaded phone call I received happened at 3:38pm.  Could the person have visited our condo, run to Home Depot, and made a duplicate key?  There is a lot more to this story than you probably want or need to know… but after researching this all night here’s what I’m pretty sure happened…

There is such a thing as “Caller ID Spoofing”.  Apparently, anyone in the world can make a phone call using a simple application and make it look like they are calling from any number they choose.  And yes, if you have an iPhone, there’s an app for that too.  In this case, someone had both my mobile and home phone numbers – ironically I don’t even know my home phone number by heart… it just shows up on my cell phone as Mark Green (H).  Very few people have my home phone number – and I almost never even answer the home phone… which made it all the more scary.

I am not sure, but I think Caller ID Spoofing is illegal in some instances and not in others.  Here are a few things I wanted to get across to you by sharing this story:

1)  I thought to myself, how did someone get my home number AND my cell phone.  It wasn’t too difficult to figure out, unfortunately.  I googled my home phone number and my name and home address came up instantly.  How effed up is that?  I am sure my mobile phone is out there on the Internet too.

a)  Your action item:  Google your phone number using the following format xxx-xxx-xxxx.  Hopefully your number is not listed, but if is, click on the link that says “Phonebook results for xxx-xxx-xxxx.  Below your listing, you should see a link that says “Request to have your name removed from this list”.  Click that and fill out their form.  Google says that you showed up on their site because you have a listed number.  So the next step after that is to make your phone number unlisted with your phone company.

2)  Obviously, if you get a mysterious phone call from a Caller ID you recognize, I hope my experience helps you think clearly.  There are all kinds of nasty ways this Caller ID Spoofing can be used.  Someone can do what they did to me, obviously, but they can also call you from the same phone number as the local branch of your bank and begin asking you personal questions about your account.  Someone can do the same thing during the mortgage process to provide a phony Proof of Employment.  Nasty stuff.

3)  Never, ever, ever take anything you love for granted.  For just a few minutes, I lived the nightmare every human being dreads.  But I know that some good has already come out of it… and more good will continue to come out of it.  I’ve always tried to keep proper perspective and understand how lucky… and truly blessed… I am.  The past five hours, I hope, will help me remember to always cherish and appreciate the things it would be easy to take for granted.  I have a great wife.  A great kid.  Loving parents and siblings.  A great job.  Fantastic friends.  And a life I wouldn’t trade with anybody in the world.

Top of Mind Networks Geeked Out Development update 5/21

May 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Readers, many of you know David Orsini as one of the three owners of the company and the original developer of our surefire 1.0 system.  Because no one actually knows this system better than David, part of our restructuring last week was designed to free up some of David’s time so that he can extend the current surefire 1.0 system to provide the 2.0 capabilities we’ve been talking about for so long. 

Our original thought last year (seems like a lifetime ago) was to free up Davids time by getting him out of development by rewriting his current system.  Unfortunately, that turned out to be a colossal monster of an undertaking and started to have no end in sight.  As that decision started to make less and less sense, we finally decided to stop the madness and rethink our whole strategy.  So now we’ve freed up David in other ways so he can do more development work and ”extend” his current system to get the new functionality we need.  Sounds like a no-brainer, right?  Well, most things do in hindsight.  But anyway, no use crying over that spilled milk. 

Development along our 6/1 deadline is progressing and we see no current roadblocks.  And with that status update appropriately blogged, I’ll be handing over the release update/blog responsibilities to David.  Please be on the lookout for David’s updates on our development efforts.  I don’t know if he’ll be as wordy and lengthy and verbose as me, but I’m sure he’ll do his darned best.

Sherwood

Evite and the Power of a Captive Audience

May 18, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Evite is one of those services that almost everyone uses, but almost nobody takes full advantage of all of the various bells and whistles. Did you know that you can create a profile that everyone who is on the same invite list as you can see? It is very easy to create an account within Evite (I would do so for all of your email addresses, both personal and business). Then, any time that email address is on an invite list your profile will be displayed.

Now, on to the point. Who cares if you can have a profile on Evite, it is just one more account to manage right? That question kind of answers itself. Since there seemingly is little to no benefit to this functionality, very few people use it. Take a look at the image below. This was a recent invitation list I was on, with roughly 50 other people. Including me, there were 3 people with profiles.

So as someone who is invited to an event, I am always curious who else will be there. And as my eye scrolls down the list, it naturally goes to individuals with profiles first. So simply having that profile picture will immediately draw attention to you. OK, then what? All a user has to do is scroll their mouse over your picture/name and a popup with a profile preview will come up. This will not display your entire profile, and unfortunately you cannot even pick which fields are displayed. By default, in this window Evite will display your name, picture, birthday, gender, relationship status, favorite dinner spot, hometown, and what you would do if you found $1000. Of all of these fields, most of them have predetermined answers for you to pick from, only a few allow you to enter whatever you want. This is where you can get creative. So for your name, instead of David Orsini, it could be The Mortgage Guy (David Orsini). So here you instantly have one more billboard online, and one more small captive audience list to show what you do. Who knows, this could spark a conversation at the party about helping someone save money on their mortgage payment. After all, all the attendees now know what you do and what you look like.

Top of Mind Networks Geeked Out Development update 5/17

May 17, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Status:

Realistically, we’re another couple of weeks away from releasing suREFIre 2.0 enhancements.

Reason:

Last week we took a very long, very hard, and very painful look at what we were doing from a technology perspective and ultimately decided that our technology approach was no longer serving our business objectives, even should we be able to meet our 5/14 deadline.  Because of that, we decided to scrap our “re-engineer a new platform” approach in favor of simply building on the already working platform we have.  Said another way, the technology objectives we were driving towards since last year were no longer serving our business objectives and were actually starting to get in the way of progress.  On one hand, it was a very difficult decision; on the other hand, it was an easy one; nevertheless, at the end of the day, the technology objectives had to go. 

If I thought it wouldn’t bore you to death, I could write tirelessly for hours upon hours about all the lessons we learned and pitfalls we encountered in attempting to re-engineer our technology solution, but that wouldn’t be a blog, that would be a book; and a large one at that… J

Our Action Plan:

Ok, so all sentiments aside, what are we doing now and where are we going from here?  How do we re-wire our heads to make sure we don’t lose any more time?  How do we keep from setting long target dates for complex coding terrain and then make sure we can hit the dates we’ve set?

This is our moving forward plan.

  1. Build on the platform we have.  Simple enough.
  2. Re-alignment of development resources.  With a bit of resource and task sharing and reconfiguration, we now have the right people spending time in the right places so that we can accomplish what we need to do.
  3. Smaller feature releases.  We’ve broken down our entire desired feature set into much smaller, much more incremental components.  So instead of us targeting large feature releases like before, what you’re going to start seeing from us is very small, incremental feature enhancements/releases, built directly into the current interface that you already know and love.
  4. More realistic target dates.  Because we’re no longer trying to re-engineer the platform, everything we are doing is essentially going to be a feature enhancement or a feature fix.  It should be much easier for us to plan towards realistic dates without a big X factor somewhere that could pop up and delay things.  We’re going to set out initially with one date in June and fine tune the target dates more as we reconfigure ourselves.
  5. Continued communication.  Ideally, we want to be in a place where we are communicating on a more regular basis, both on roadbumps and delays, as well as feature releases, updates, and improvements.   This blog is part of that strategy, but we will be brainstorming on ways to keep our clients more informed moving forward.

So when is our next target date and what will be in it?

Keeping with the new idea of realistic target dates and incremental releases; our next release date is 6/1 and it will contain enhancements to the “contacts” area.  Currently, the site is geared and wired almost exclusively towards borrowers.  Over the next couple of weeks, we will be de-coupling many of the hard coded assumptions about contacts in the database.

Here is the short list:

Release 1 Enhancements planned:

  • Ability to add/edit/delete notes for a contact
  • Simplified data entry process for contacts without loans
  • Ability to store custom data for a contact
  • Ability to assign a referral source link for a contact
  • Ability to create a simple email template
  • Ability to send an email “blast” to your list of contacts using an email template

Target Date: 6/1/2010

Release 2 Enhancements planned:

  • Ability to create a static group of contacts
  • Ability to create a dynamic group of contacts
  • De-couple industry partners from organization (put them at client level)

Target Date: TBD

Release 3 Enhancements planned:

  • Smarter opportunities list with expirations and context sensitivity
  • Personal Calendar with Outlook Synchronization of Contacts, Calendar, and Tasks

Target Date: TBD

Release 4 Enhancements planned:

  • Ability to schedule and modify Email campaigns
  • Ability to schedule emails, postal correspondences, and phone calls for contacts

Target Date: TBD

That’s our short list of releases for now.  We will be able to fine tune the target dates for each planned release soon and provide a bit more guidance as we take the lessons from last year and apply them to this year.

Final Thoughts

We appreciate your patience with us.  Everyone here at Top of Mind Networks is greatly motivated to continue to bring as much value to our clients as we possibly can.  Ironically, we’re so enthusiastic about providing great value to our clients, we sometimes get in our own way.  That’s a really odd place to find yourself in when it happens; but nevertheless, we’re all taking the steps we feel are necessary to make sure we keep our eye on the ball and continue to provide great value and exceptional service.

Sincerely,

Sherwood

PS, next update in a couple of days.

Top of Mind Networks Geeked Out Development update 5/6

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

New Deadline:                 5/14

Code Complete:               70%

Momentum:                      Medium

Current Roadblocks:       none

Confidence Level:           85%

 What’s going well?

 The Javascript jungle has been mostly tamed… at least a bit (it just took me 6 days instead of 4).  I’ve successfully ported over all our code to external files so we can more easily debug any issues in Visual Studio (sweet).  This is a huge step forward.  If any of you have ever tried to debug 3000+ lines of inline javascript, you know what I’m talking about.  From a non-geek, practical perspective, it means I’m very likely NOT going to have to cut groups or campaigns, which I’m pretty thrilled about!  We DO still have to track down some email issues, but I’m reasonably optimistic about the whole area now. 

 There is also a reasonably good chance that we will be code complete on contacts and calendar by the end of day tomorrow.  Just depends on how many minutes of sleep we think we can afford.

 

Area Status Coded Details
Dashboard   0% Fluff, might cut
Call List Green 100% In testing
Calendar Green 95% Just need to add “client admin” views
Groups Green 100% In testing
Contacts Green 85% UI fixups
Campaigns Yellow 70% Javascript converted, UI fixups, etc. needs more fine tuning
Email Service Yellow 70% Debugging issues with the send service and SQL calls
Company Red 0%  
Account Red 0%  
Help   10% Help forms completed, but this area has a large vision attached to it

 What could be better?

 Well, I wasn’t particularly thrilled to be short one developer going into our “fast and furious” redo, but I’m really not thrilled it took me six days to straighten out the Javascript mess that was left behind.  I will likely be spending another couple of days on the groups/campaigns pages just to get them ship shape.  That doesn’t leave much time for Company, Account, or Help.    

 Final Thoughts

When we roll out again on 5/15, we will keep both sites up and running so that the switchover can be gradual and clients can learn the new system while having a safety net of the old available.  We absolutely want this to be a positive experience migrating to the new site, not a negative one.  We will continue to work on the new site to get things tight, easy to use, and really start to fill out the Help areas.  We will also completely rethink and reconfigure our feature release process.  One of the many key lessons I’ve learned is not to try and release tons of stuff at once.  We will be working on and releasing micro features on a regular basis instead of waiting a year to release a huge clunker.  It’s been a tough year and a tough release, but it’s also been a huge learning experience.  There are some things I know I want to go to the drawing board on, but we won’t be biting off huge feature sets like we did initially.  Small, containable releases, are definitely the way to go from now on.

Top of Mind Networks Geeked Out Development update 5/4

May 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

New Deadline:                 5/14

Code Complete:               60%

Momentum:                      Medium

Current Roadblocks:       Web of Intertangled Javascript

Confidence Level:           80%

 What’s going well?

 It’s been a couple of days since my last update because we’ve hit our first major roadblock (which I’ll discuss below).  The good news is that this roadblock is not related to call list or contacts pages, so the fast data access and quality assurance we are looking for when accessing contact data is not impacted.  That code is moving along well and is nearly done.  We had a few days delay since last week writing that code (scheduling issue not a technology issue), but we’re at 90% complete and should be 100% complete by end of day tomorrow.  The help area is not fleshed out, but I have created email help forms to at least assist people in identifying and sending in problems.  The help area will be an ever growing area and never really done.  The dashboard also falls into that category.  If we don’t get to it, we don’t get to it, but it’s not a critical piece of functionality at this point.

 

Area Status Coded Details
Dashboard   0% Fluff, might cut
Call List  green 100% In testing
Calendar  green 90% Almost done, working on integration, shared views
Groups  green 100% Conversion postponed, integration completed, In testing
Campaigns  red 40%  
Contacts  green 80% Working on all the detail pages
Email Service  yellow 60% Review complete, now testing
Company   0%  
Account   0%  
Help   10% Help forms completed, but this area has a large vision attached to it

 What could be better?

 I was hoping by the end of last week to have 60-75% of this work done.  While I think I’m there from a practical perspective, the problems we are having with porting over the Campaigns area makes the practical kind of a moot point because I consider Campaigns to be a critical part of our feature release. 

 Campaigns is essentially written as 5-10 large pages of functionality melted into only 1 page, with thousands of lines of javascript code tying it all together as one unit.  In retrospect, this turns out to be a terrible way to build a complex campaigns/template model.  It is too interrelated and complex to simply take apart like legos and rebuild and expect to have anything work right (which is basically what has happened).  I’ve spent basically a week trying to tease apart all this code and separate it into more easily digestible pages and while my initial tests seemed positive, I ran into some very hard to track down problems related to “cutting these strings apart”.  For the non-technical crowd, I’m kind of trying to get the eggs back from the omelet and it’s much more difficult than I anticipated.  It also looks like we introduced a few bugs right there towards our release date that we didn’t catch and now I need to troubleshoot those.

 The short story is I don’t feel like I have enough time to try and build a new solution, so I’m going to use the old one and just try to make it more “debugable” and fix the issues we have.  This, as I like to say, is still somewhat “non-trivial” as I didn’t write the original code.

 Now I’m just writing out loud, but depending on how much progress I can make in this area in the next 2-3 days, I “might” consider releasing our new CRMS without the Campaigns component until we can get it re-written.  Although not ideal (certainly not ideal for the company), there would be two main benefits. 

 1)      Primarily, the CRMS system is going to be used to enter new clients and borrowers, view opportunities,  etc. (same as the website is used today).  This will help clients get used to the new interface and comfortable with it before I throw Campaigns into the mix.  That could be a good thing. 

2)      Second, if I’ve learned anything over the last year it’s that trying to build and releasing a whole new toolset of widgets can actually cause more confusion and discord than releasing small, incremental improvements over time.  That would allow us to devote the appropriate amount of energy to each incremental release instead of throwing a whole pile of spaghetti at you and hoping you enjoy and appreciate every noodle.   

 Anyway, just thinking out loud.  My goal (obviously) is to get Campaigns completely solid in the next couple of days so we don’t have to go back to the drawing board on a rewrite.  I think what we have, once tweaked and fixed, is still good with a bit of training.  We’ll just have to see, we should know by my next update.

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