Archive for the ‘Business’ Category
I’m always reading a lot, soaking in new information and trying to refine how I think about building, based upon what others are sharing about their experiences. Here’s some my recent favorite stuff:
- The most difficult CEO skill: Managing your own psychology: yup, Ben Horowitz is great at saying it exactly the right way. “I didn’t quit,” the answer of great CEOs who made it through.
- From GigaOm: Steve Blank on How Startups Can Take Advantage of The Bubble. I love how he starts out the video by saying that he thinks that entrepreneurs, at their heart, are artists. Resonates with me, for sure.
- Mark Suster and Bill Gross talk about product development, strategy and many other things. Great stuff here for people who want to solve lots of problems and make progress on a regular basis.
Also, some music to enjoy:
- Tracks from Death Cab for Cutie’s forthcoming (and appropriately titled) album, “Codes and Keys”
If I asked you what motivates you, would you answer:
This video would say that you should:
Some interesting articles of late related to entrepreneurship and work in the digital age:
- Douglas Rushkoff shares why he left his publisher and went with a small company and is focused on digital book sales. Especially interesting are the details about the various people involved in the book publishing process and how many of them are focused on sales & marketing as opposed to actual editing and better book creation.
- This 17 year old entrepreneur (!!!) compiled a massive list of 256 articles for tech entrepreneurs. I don’t think I’ll make it through all of this, but it’s a great resource and kudos to him for doing such a comprehensive job
- An interesting piece on Business Insider from a former investment banker (like myself) who talks about why Wall Street banks can be great training grounds
- Marketing in the Digital Age continues to push marketing professionals to become more tech savvy. This piece in Ad Age does a good job of suggesting that there’s a formal executive level role necessary in many organizations: the Chief Marketing Technologist.
- Mobile usability is a tough nut to crack. Here are 7 interesting presentations that help you think about the problems.
- Productivity tips for people who work from anywhere. Related – compartmentalize and get more done.
- I’ve often said that if I end up having a large team involved in something, I’m going to institutionalize nap time. Why? Because it’s not natural for humans to be awake the entirety of the work day and that forcing consistent productivity typically backfires, with people giving less than full attention and cognitive capability throughout the day. HBR picks this up and has a great article on “Why Companies Should Insist that Employees Take Naps”
Have a favorite from the above? Let me know in the comments – I’ll share more like it, I come across things like this all of the time.
Hilarious video of what happens when a brand really dominates a consumer’s brain.
I liked Simon Sinek’s talk at TEDx Puget Sound about starting with “Why” in order to inspire the right actions. Some of his analogies are bit off (I really dislike the trend of using companies that are successful at the moment to prove whatever point you’re making), but it’s an engaging talk and a good way of thinking about decision-making dynamics.
This excellent piece from the Atlantic about Wal-Mart’s efforts in the local agriculture space was eye-opening. I hadn’t realized that Wal-Mart was doing so much to support local produce and to modify some of their sourcing behaviors. If Wal-Mart can continue down this path, they’re going to be a huge driver of farming behavior, while shifting consumer behavior in a meaningful way.
Let’s investigate that for a minute.Two important attributes of the American food ecosystem are that:
- Price drives a lot of consumer behavior
- Availability and convenience are also key components to consumer decision-making (they increase price in other ways, essentially)
Now, if you add to that a very basic understanding of Wal-Mart:
- It controls >20% of the American grocery business
- Wal-Mart has always been a price-focused company
you come to an obvious conclusion: Wal-Mart has a major impact on food consumption in the U.S.
I’m hopeful that Wal-Mart’s progress to date is just the beginning. It sounds like they’re already at a place where they’re competitive with Whole Foods in their ability to provide great ingredients (the cook-off in the Wal-Mart piece is an excellent experiment), so they’ve got my curiosity piqued. Over the past several years, I would say that they’ve really been approaching their business as leaders, rather than followers. From the adoption of RFID to major pushes to offer lower impact and environmentally-friendly products, their business has a different “tone” to it now than I can ever remember. As my friend Mark puts it, “they’re hitting the sweet spot of doing good for the planet, for people, and their profits”. A formidable combination, to be sure. As an investor, I think I have to say that $WMT is a buy here for the long-term, at $53.66
Finally got around to watching this excellent Charlie Rose interview of Marc Andreessen from February and I highly recommend taking the time to watch it yourself. Shut off your TV and take in some thoughtful discussion about:
- Facebook/Twitter/Ning/LinkedIn and what it means to be socially connected in today’s digital environment
- Why Andy Grove and Jeff Bezos are alike
- Why Marc praises Bill Gates, rather than badmouthing him
- What it means for newspapers that they continue to get 90% of their revenues from print (hint, it’s a big obstacle)
Marc’s a very smart guy who’s been part of much of the Internet’s development and evolution. If you’re at all involved in online business and innovation, I highly recommend the 54 minutes.
That’s right, they should support Windows – for developers.
Update: While Apple has yet to offer Xcode on Windows, there have been lots of developments to really accelerate the process of application development. From meta app building technologies to incredibly sophisticated development studios, the game has changed and some of my assumptions below have been proven wrong. However, that’s why I’ve started building an iOS feedback system for app developers, with solutions on Mac OS X as well. The world is sprinting towards infinite consumer software and we’re helping developers stand out in the sea of apps .
What Apple is doing with its App Store and the iPhone OS revisions is creating the market for developers who create and sell mobile apps… on Apple’s platform of course. Learning from the PC battles, they’ve quite obviously focused on the idea that more apps = more ways to meet consumer needs and therefore, it should result in more revenue for Apple from their primary customers: Consumers.
Given that dynamic, it makes very little sense that only those with Apple machines (and yes, some folks on Unix/Linux..) can develop iPhone applications. Since the predominant operating system is Windows, doesn’t it make sense that you should support all of the developers who are on Windows? (I know, I know, since when does Apple make sense to anyone but themselves?)
In all of the blogs and reporting covering the lead-up to today’s announcement, I’ve been pretty shocked that this issue hasn’t been turned into a larger piece of the conversation. Apple’s addressable developer market is MUCH smaller than it could be. Ultimately, the other players in the market are all going to be competing for developers alongside Apple. Although Apple’s device and platform might be much better, if they’re not supporting Windows developers, they won’t be tapping into the largest pool of developers.
What’s really interesting about this glaring lack of Windows support is how easily we can draw parallels between this situation and previous Apple products and their associated growth. If we just pull up the unit sales charts for the iPod and for Mac computers over the past several years we can point to inflection points that coincided with providing support for Windows.
Here, take a look at the iPod sales chart:
On October 16, 2003, Apple announced the release of iTunes for Windows, which meant that Windows PC owners could now purchase and manage their iPods (http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2003/oct/16itms.html). I’ve highlighted that quarter above and while I won’t say it was the ONLY thing that led to a change in the iPod’s sales trajectory, it certainly would appear to have coincided with a new sales trend. Up until that point in time, the iPod was really just a blip on the MP3 market radar.
Next, let’s take a look at the sale of Mac Computers:
During the first week of April, 2006, Apple announced that it would release a piece of software it called “Bootcamp” on its Intel-powered computers. Bootcamp was meant to enable the use of Microsoft Windows on Macs, a pretty wild idea at the time. I decided to purchase some Apple stock, based on that announcement, hypothesizing that it would increase the addressable market for Apple computers and boost their sales. Taking a look at the absolute growth in units sold, that hypothesis has been proven out nicely ☺ (note, I no longer own that stock).
I want to be clear: I don’t think it’s fair to attribute either iPod or Mac sales growth solely to Windows-related accessibility. Instead, I’d like to suggest that being accessible via Windows is clearly beneficial and could prove to be transformative to Apple’s ultimate goal: iPhone and iPhone-related sales.
As an investor, an iPhone owner and someone who’s working on mobile app development, I look forward to the day when Apple looks at these realities and agrees with me .
Amazon has come a long way since its early days as “just” an online bookseller. Having been introduced to the company in its infancy (back when it was a plucky Seattle-area Internet business), I’ve followed the company fairly closely over the years and really come to admire it. Whether it was its early forays into personalization or the way it went about executing against its vision regardless of Wall Street’s fickle and unrealistic expectations, the company has convinced me that it has its head on straight and is building for the long run.
Given that I spent several years working on the advertising business of Yahoo!, it’s only natural that I would take some of that experience and apply it to my thoughts about Amazon. In doing so, I’ve developed a point of view on how Amazon could leave their mark on the online advertising space.
First things first, Amazon brings an existing set of strengths built on an understanding of the online customer that should shape any offering that comes from them. As I see it, that implies some core principles for Amazon advertising:
- Personalization matters: Look across the landscape of online companies and ask yourself this: does any company do it as well as Amazon? If you’re an Amazon customer, you get recommendations from them while surfing the site that are generally quite good. More impressive though, is the fact that the times when they choose to email me a recommendation, they’re often right. This leads to us a second, and related point.
- Be conservative with your recommendations: Many people see the advertising space as a question of ,“How do we get advertisers to buy against our inventory?” Amazon’s email recommendations come infrequently and, as a result, hold more weight in my inbox. I believe them to be conservative in choosing when to promote a product and if I’m right, it’s one of their great strengths. In approaching the advertising opportunity, they should be thinking about the question, “When are we justified in creating inventory and who gets to advertise against it?”
- Your customers are your salespeople: Jeff Bezos said in an interview last year with Charlie Rose that, “The Internet is a word-of-mouth accelerator.” EXACTLY. Amazon Associates is perhaps the web’s most popular and acceptable affiliate marketing program. Amazon Web Services has grown up around enabling this activity in a very robust way, with a huge variety of endpoints that sell products for Amazon. There is huge power for the future of commercial communications (marketing, advertising, customer service etc.) in this model.
Given those principles and adding in my perspective that just copying existing ad models isn’t that interesting for Amazon, I believe that there are 2 initial areas where the company could focus its time:
- Open up the recommendations process to paying advertisers, particularly those in the media space
- Revamp the Amazon Associates program to more easily involve ALL of Amazon’s existing customers AND extend it to appeal to all digital consumers
In short, I believe that Amazon has an opportunity to really change Internet advertising by embracing the idea that personalization is a problem best solved en masse. Creating a marketplace around personalization, such that advertisers can influence it to make recommendations better and consumers can benefit from positive outcomes they’re already driving has the potential to change online commerce.
I’ll add some more detail to these ideas.
The first area of focus:
Open up the recommendations process to paying advertisers, particularly those in the media space.
As I mentioned above, Amazon is already routinely sending out product recommendations, notifications of forthcoming product releases and suggesting products I might like while surfing the site. To my knowledge, these recommendations are currently “pure”, generated algorithmically. I believe that with a very conservative approach to the opportunity, combined with a LOT of testing and the institution of robust feedback mechanisms (a customer should always be able to say NO and tell Amazon when it’s doing a bad job), Amazon could upgrade its accuracy by inviting advertisers to compete to show up in the recommendations.
An example of this: Say that you bought Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking a few weeks ago. Imagine that you had previously bought his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference as well. Now, normally, the recommendations engine at Amazon would most likely notify you in a few weeks that Gladwell has a new book coming out Outliers: The Story of Success.
This is a pretty good process and does a lot for the consumer, but there’s an opportunity to improve the consumer’s knowledge about an author they probably like a good bit while making some money for Amazon. You see, Malcolm Gladwell isn’t just an author, he’s a writer for the New Yorker as well. The New Yorker, being a for-profit publication, is interested in having more subscribers and readers of its content, so it stands to reason that if they could work with Amazon to reach loyal purchasers of Gladwell’s books, they would take advantage of that opportunity. Again, it would be really important for Amazon, in creating this opportunity, to be conservative in its application and highly focused on soliciting feedback from its customers about the recommendations, but done well, it should add a whole new (and welcome) dimension to the Amazon customer experience.
Remember, this is but one example of how this could be applied. It should be noted that you can think about this with regards to other forms of media rather easily (digital music, video and television make perfect sense). From a process perspective, Amazon could experiment with this concept, refine the technology and the user experience and then reap the eventual rewards that would accumulate as the feedback loop on the recommendations makes Amazon’s database much more intelligent than competing systems.
The second area of focus:
Revamp the Amazon Associates program to more easily involve ALL of Amazon’s existing customers AND then extend it to appeal to all digital consumers
In the last year, Amazon has introduced some enhancements to its Associates program that makes the process of sharing links and recommendations far more easy and powerful. However, the opportunity to expand this program to every single one of Amazon’s customers strikes me as a no-brainer that’s not being fulfilled. Right now, in order to be an Amazon Associate, you have to be aware of the program, navigate to its location on the site and go through a sign-up process that is relatively intimidating for the average customer. The goal should be to make every Amazon customer an Associate at the outset.
Every time a customer shares a product, they should be given a unique link that attributes any sales to their account, at the very least giving them future purchase credit. Instead of focusing massive amounts of attention on just the developers, as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and others are doing, Amazon has the opportunity to expand past the developers to the end consumer. Of course the company should be enabling the developers and the Amazon Web Services offerings are exceptional.
BUT, the opportunity to enable others is much more larger than just the development community:
In our emails, IMs, Twitters, Facebook messages, blog posts, comments and all other forms of digital communications, we are influencing others to take action and make purchases. Amazon’s Associates infrastructure could hold the key to really unlocking the value in these small moments of influence. In so doing, they stand a strong chance of mobilizing the world’s largest distributed sales force: the consumers. Implementing this idea certainly carries a great number of risks around fraud, spam and general abuse, but because Amazon has dealt with many of these issues already in releasing and maintaining their products, they have exceptional opportunity. This idea really deserves much more discussion on its own, but I think that you can ask yourself a few questions here to really think about Amazon’s opportunity here:
- Who else can successfully run the experiments in this arena that connect consumers and commercial action?
- Who else offers the infrastructure and support to developers that could quickly extend the compensation model for consumers to to other sites?
- Who else can work on this area without risking cannibalization of their existing lines of business?
This post has run pretty long already, so I’m going to draw it to a close so you all can digest. What I’d love to hear in the comments is how you react to these ideas and what you think needs to be fleshed out more for discussion. I’ve got a lot more to write about on this topic, so let’s get a discussion going.