Archive of ‘Business’ category

Match your strategy with your business situation

After many suggestions from colleagues and friends, I finally got a chance to read The First 90 Days some time ago, a book about making significant impact in the first 90 days of a new role.  In the book, there’s a section dedicated to the the progression of business situations (of company, org, or product).  This is called the StaRS Model.  Depending on the business situation, your strategy will be different – either learning more or doing more and either offense or defense.

For sustaining success and realignment situations, you will need to spend more time on learning especially about the organizational culture as you are working with people who are (or believe they are) currently successful.  For turnaround and start-up situations, you will need to make early calls sooner than later otherwise the situation can get significantly worse and not recoverable.

Offensive planning is about identifying new markets, products, and technologies to enter.  Defensive planning is about defending existing market share position and extending existing products.  For start-up situations, you need to get something going (offense-go!).  For turnarounds, it’s about focusing on the strengths of the organization (offense-go!).  For realignment, you will need to make slight corrections to move the business in the right direction (defense-block that shot!).  For sustaining success, you need to protect the money maker (defense-block that shot!).

If you like the content of this posting, I highly recommend you check out The First 90 Days.  Enjoy!

 

 

GigaOM Mobilize 2012: Square and Starbucks

I was going through some of my draft postings and ran into this one about Square from GigaOM Mobilize 2012 conference.  The talk is not fresh in my mind, so I’ll piece together what I can remember, but thank goodness I documented some good notes.

The then COO of Square, Keith Rabois, did a one-on-on interview on stage and talked about the landscape of mobile payments and Square’s latest customer win with Starbucks.

At the time, Square had 400 employees and an unconfirmed evaluation of $3.25B when they raised $200M (date not sure).  From a COO perspective, Keith said that people keep him up all night.  He wants to be sure that everyone is aligned (strategically) at the company.  Square is “building a vertically integrated a payment system” that can scale for every person and treat every person as a VIP.  Back in late 2012, 35M total Americans have paid with Square.

The conversation then moved onto Starbucks which I found more interesting since PayPal could have very well been the mobile payment partner instead of Square.  From the first meeting with Starbucks to close, it was over a period of 8 weeks.  I believe someone knew someone which is why the deal closed so fast.

Keith said (at the time) the #1 search in Square was for coffee.  He also commented that about 40M Americans shop in Starbucks every month with about 75% of these transactions being anonymous (I’m assuming not with Starbucks card, not with credit card, paid in cash).

He claimed that by having Starbucks forge a relationship with Square, Square can help Starbucks know the identities of their customers and help Starbucks treat all of their customers like a VIP.  Hmm, I wonder if this is the case today.  Last I heard, some Starbucks employees don’t even know what Square is and don’t know how to process Square payments.  Where’s my VIP treatment Starbucks?!

In terms of mobile payments, Keith is a believer that ”NFC is going nowhere in the United States” and that the technology isn’t any good, it has no value proposition.

Keith did make one comment that made me chuckle a bit:

Moderator: “You have 400 people, but PayPal has 6K in customer service alone…”

Keith: “They obviously need it!”

Sophia’s suggested reading list

Lately,I’ve been recommending books that I’ve read or about to read (backlog).  I’ve ratted off the list so many times that I decided to document once and share often.  Many of these books are considered one of the best product management, management, or business books of all time.  Enjoy!

5 tips for emerging women leaders

It’s been awhile since I’ve been out and about in the Valley.  Last Saturday, I attended Santa Clara University’s Women in Business Conference at eBay’s north campus, aka PayPal.  I’m a bit of hard person to please when it comes to talks.  I get bored easily if the talk is too high-level, abstract with no takeaways.  That Saturday morning, it was far the opposite.  The keynote speaker Shellye Archambeau, CEO of MetricStream, gave a great talk on how to leverage your strengths as a woman leader and then some.  It was a very educational and entertaining talk.

My top 5 take aways:

  1. Ending your opinions with questions may make you sound not confident.  Action: Don’t end with questions unless you really want other opinions.
  2. Being collaborative could make you look indecisive.  Action: Set decision criteria and timelines for when decision will be made.
  3. Not enough self-promotion.  Action: If someone asks how you are doing, talk about recent achievements like “oh I’m great because the team just hit this milestone…”.  Take opportunities to promote in everyday conversations.
  4. Using “I feel…”, nobody cares how you feel.  Action: People care about what you know.
  5. Don’t formally ask people to be your mentors because it requires time and commitment.  Action:  Just adopt mentors informally and don’t tell them.  What they don’t know can’t hurt them.

One thing that I’d like to add is to say no to meaningless (or not as meaningful) tasks.  I don’t know how many times I’ve seen women be asked to organize team events or lead up some random task force while others are constantly are passed over or say no.  I’m all for being a team player, but not at the expense of my valuable time and maybe my work reputation (Who wants to be known as the potluck queen?).  If you keep saying yes, then you’ll keep getting asked.  Say no already!  It’s okay.

10 ideas to make meetings more efficient

Do you need ideas to make your meetings more efficient?  Here are some ideas that I’ve collected along the way.  I do not claim that they are my ideas and I have not tried all of them.  Have fun!

  1. Conduct meeting without tables and chairs aka standing up – studies show meeting times will be cut in half!
  2. Money jar for late comers or no-shows – make it hurt (financially) to be late or miss a meeting, use that money to buy the team beer or donate to charity
  3. Take a moment of silence after a major decision – reflect on decision, give time for last minute objections, let the commitment sink in really good
  4. Put a clock on the wall – meetings should begin and definitely end on time
  5. Assign a note taker – the meeting chair needs to run the meeting while someone else takes notes, hard to do both
  6. Divide up a large block of meeting time (with same people) into smaller chunks – helps guide the agenda and keeps the meeting going
  7. Enforce a “no meeting” time period or day – seriously, there needs to be time to do work, come on people!
  8. Provide food – attendance will be good, also many will pay more attention (while eating) instead of typing on their laptops
  9. Clarify participant roles in invite – sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s not, provide some context, maybe it’ll help form the agenda easier
  10. Bonus: If the meeting requires 6+ people or more than an hour, the CEO is notified – one company did this, the theory is that a meeting of that size or time length should really damn important, I wonder if the company is still around, does anyone know?

Latest Square on the block

If you haven’t heard about the startup Square, you are in luck.  I’m going to give you the latest on them.  Keith Rabois, COO of Square, joined 14 months ago when there were 14 employees and no users.  At Mobilize, he talked about how a small, white, square pluggable hardware piece is making its dent in the payment space.

About 26M US businesses do not accept credit cards today.  In order to process credit cards, you need to pass a credit card check yourself (e.g., FICO score) and provide your last year’s business sales.  For a person just starting out, this is an instant fail on two accounts.  Then steps in Square.

Today, 750,000 merchants accept Square, just 10% of companies who accept credit cards.  Before Square,  50-60% of users would not be able to accept credit cards.  Of those who apply for Square, 93% are accepted and can accept payments in less than 3 minutes.  What about the FICO score and sales requirement?  Square uses automated and manual analytics to observe unusual transactions for fraud protection.

When asked about NFC and other payment options?  Rabois said, “We don’t worry about what other people are doing”.  He doesn’t think that NFC will resonate with mainstream America.  He further adds that Google is interested in NFC to track spending habits which is better ROI for ad spenders which includes top 100 retailers.

Square will be having two major releases in October – one for Square, one for Card Case.  Then in December, they will have some things to say, but on the hush hush.

Rabois puts it plainly, “Square is Paypal for the real world”.

Mobile, will you marry me? Get engaged!

On 9/26 Monday and 9/27 Tuesday, GigaOM held its Mobilize conference in San Francisco.  Over the next couple of posts, I will talk about the trends that were discussed during the conference.

Unless you live under a rock, it’s hard to ignore that mobile advertising is exploding.  According to Smaato, mobile advertising is a $11.4-$20B market in 2011 alone.  At Mobilize, AT&T Interactive, Kiip, Pontiflex, and Appsfire grabbed the stage to talk about this hot topic.

The current landscape of mobile advertising is still evolving.  One panelist said it took about a year ago for ad networks to target ads based on location, previously it was just based on clicks.   Imagine the days before Groupon and LivingSocial.  Pontiflex and Kiip say about 48-60% of mobile ads are clicked on accident.  Some app developers are gaming the system by putting ads right next to frequently pressed buttons (e.g., pause button).   This implies about 50% of your mobile ad budget is wasted.  A big challenge is that the definition of engagement has a wider range of possibilities than web advertising.  Is engagement a call to the store?  Entering the store (offline/online)?  Measure on size of (offline/online) purchase?  Use of a coupon?  If Google Wallet catches on, Google will be able to track ads all the way down to the point of purchase in a brick and mortar store.

One company Kiip focuses on achievements as a cost of engagement.  For example, when a player completes a level, they will show a mobile ad at that very moment.  For a BestBuy campaign (assuming because it was described as a yellow large electronics retailer), Kiip got a 15% conversion.  They believe that people will want to “engage” when they are in a happy moment.  In fact, they are working with experts in cognitive and happiness to improve their service.  Appsfire is at the promotion level.  AT&T Interactive is doing search advertising.

Mobile advertising can be helpful and it’s not all bad and intrusive.  An example coming from web advertising, when Google took off its ads off of the websites, people complained because the ads were useful.  Pontiflex says when it comes to mobile advertising, there are three major groups involved in order to make mobile advertising a success – ad networks, app developers, and users.  You can’t ignore any of these groups.  Appsfire says you have to trust app developers to know where to place the ad and give them flexibility.  Most importantly, you have to let users figure out how they want to engage with you.  For example, 1 in 5 do not want mobile coupons.

Tips for app developers, you need critical mass with make money with ads.  If you have local mass, it’s even better because a lot of mobile ads are local.  It helps to have your app translated to other languages too.

Mobile strategy to not be ignored

On 9/26 Monday and 9/27 Tuesday, GigaOM held its Mobilize conference in San Francisco.  Over the next couple of posts, I will talk about the trends that were discussed during the conference.

One hot topic was mobile development strategy mainly around designing for better adoption and technology choices.  The people speaking on the topic were from SalesForce.com, Verizon, MeLLmo, and Rhomobile.

Companies need to create a completely different team focused on mobile development and not use the existing web development team.  The differences between web and mobile development are big enough that one panelist said you will fail if you use the web team.  Another panelist urged companies to rethink all of their development processes and products from the ground up, especially to be based on simplicity like mobile apps.  Do.com (part of SalesForce.com) designed for the tablet then made the web look like it.

When designing a mobile app, companies should think about the end user (whether customers or employees) as people have lower tolerances for bad mobile apps.  At Verizon, they create storyboards about the end user experience and then develop apps from there.  At SalesForce.com, they put a lot of emphasis on personas and develop workflows.  Features such as disconnected/offline capabilities, refreshing part of the app (not the whole app), and a lot of drag and drop (for tablet apps) make for a good experience.

The verdict is still out about native vs HTML5 as the panel was mixed on their recommendation.  Some are hedging their bets like SalesForce.com who is building native and HTML5 apps.  Another panelist says you can go native but leverage HTML5 (like a iOS webUI view).  Using webUI is not the same as native in my opinion although it is an easy way to say to go “native”.  The big supporters of HTML5 said that a native interface can be mimicked with HTML5.  One disagreed saying not all of the great native interfaces are available.  The big advantage with HTML5 is that it is not locked into any mobile OS and you can design once and make it available for all mobile devices.  I agree with the theoretical strategy, but the HTML5 app will be restrained to the limits of the mobile browser, still in its infant stage.

All the panelists seem to be on the same page that leveraging the native features of the phone/tablet are important for the user experience.  One panelist said that you can’t have a high performing app unless you go native.  This statement is correct as of today, but companies like Google are pushing for improved mobile browser standards.  The debate continues…

One tablet, phone for work and play

On 9/26 Monday and 9/27 Tuesday, GigaOM held its Mobilize conference in San Francisco.  Over the next couple of posts, I will talk about the trends that were discussed during the conference.

One of the hot topics was the disruption of tablets and personal smart phones in the workplace.

Tablets and personal smart phones are making their way into the business space whether the company encourages it or not.  This uncontrollable trend is consumerization, devices becoming popular in the consumer space then moving into the business space.  One panelist observed that more people today are carrying just iPhones (both work and personal) than 6 months ago when they were carrying both Blackberrys (work) and iPhones (personal).  The surge of tablets in the workspace is a push to get more business-oriented, customer-facing employees to be more efficient and mobile.  At Salesforce.com, all sales people carry iPads, no one carries a PC.

With the convergence of personal and work devices into one device, companies like VMWare and Cisco are looking to figure out how to separate (e.g., expense, secure) corporate data from personal data.  Cisco believes that security should be built into the fabric of the network (e.g., containers).  The end point (e.g., devices) can change all the time.  They say that a MacAfee or Symantec solution is not enough.  VMWare is looking at ways to virtualize corporate phone images to personal phones starting with the Android platform, working with LG and Samsung and others.  They are even looking at virtualizing two sim cards so that you have two different numbers on one smart phone.  Imagine getting a ring tone that is different based on whether it is a personal or business contact.

Companies are realizing that they can’t stop people from using their personal devices.  They are embracing the idea of people using personal devices for work and play.

GigaOM Mobilize is an event to not be missed next year as it is full of who’s who in the mobile space.

The untold story of Posterous

Sachin Agarwal on left

There are a lot of blogging sites out there – WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, and then there’s Posterous.  Sachin Agarwal, founder of Posterous, told a story which seemed to be a collection of happenstances.  At a talk last Friday, Agrawal talked publicly for the first time since Posterous spaces launched.  He started by saying that he will be talking about things that he hadn’t shared before.

Agarwal describes himself as a backend engineer guy with no frontend and web programming experience and not a product guy.  So how does a former Apple Final Cut Pro developer start a blogging website?  Now comes the problem and the solution.

He wanted to easily upload photos to his blog via email.  So he developed the function just for him to use.  Eventually, his friends and family liked the function and it caught on.  This led to him getting into Y Combinator and then launching at TechCrunch.

People were calling Posterous blogging by email or easy blogging.

The 3 main innovations that made Posterous unique:

  1. The ability to email one email address to post to your Posterous site.  This came about because he didn’t know how to set up an email server.  Unlike other blogging sites, you did not have to send emails to an obscure email address like 123abc@WordPress.com.
  2. It’s very easy to set up a new Posterous account.   He didn’t want (or maybe didn’t know how) to create a registration page.  If a sender email address is not recognizable by Posterous, then it will assume it’s a new account and create a new Posterous account.
  3. When you post to Posterous, it’s easy to post to other social accounts.  No story here.

Posterous had two main products – sites and groups.  It started to confuse people especially new users.  Also, over time, Posterous team started to notice a lot of people creating private blogs and add contributors.  The idea for spaces came from this.  It is a way to simulate how people share privately through email, but with Posterous hosting the site and archiving the data.  Unlike Google+ and Facebook, Posterous sharing is symmetrical, everyone in the posterous space can share with one another equally not just sharing by fanning out to contacts (asymmetric).  Tip: Monitor how your users interact with your product.  There may be an opportunity to capitalize on unforeseen patterns.

Posterous had a lot of design debt and they were faced with keep the old or go with the new.  For every new feature, a button would appear.  Existing customers were happy with this approach, but new users didn’t feel the same way.  Tip: Top talent do not want to work with outdated technologies (e.g., older versions because of technical debt) and confusing code.  Tip: Technical debt will make your website slow “like Friendster”.

In a bold move, Posterous decided to scrap everything and start from scratch.  This decision was mainly driven by the technical debt that they had accumulated over time.  For 6-8 months, they  spent time building a new Posterous focused on mobile, email, and controlled sharing.  Nothing was sacred, any feature can go if it didn’t make sense.  The entire company can participate in the redesign.  Tip: The whole company / team must be onboard for such a dramatic change to be successful.

The strategy was to redesign the mobile site first.  The goal was to complete one screen a day for 30 days (total 30 screens).  Someone would make the screen and send out for immediate feedback.  At Posterous, the mobile and web developers are on separate teams.  It just so happened that while the mobile team redesigned the mobile site, the web team built the backend APIs.  Agrawal said it was an accident in terms of efficient resource allocations.  After the APIs were completed, then the web team worked on the website leveraging much of the mobile redesign work.  Agrawal believes that the mobile and web sites should look and act the same.  Tip: Consider developing the mobile site first before the website so that you focus on simplicity and performance.

During the process, Posterous spent a bit of time getting user feedback.  To get users, they posted ads in Craigslist, vetted out candidates using Wufoo forms, and compensated them afterwards.  Twenty-four hours after a user session, they would whiteboard a new design and get a working prototype 3 days later.  They saw trends pretty quickly with just 3 users.  One thing that Agrawal wished that they had done was bring in more existing users for feedback.  Tip: Don’t alienate your existing user base who made your company.  Well the only exception to the rule is if you are going after a bigger, different market and abandoning the existing user base.

When they finally rolled out the new “spaces” Posterous site, it had already been running internally and for select users publicly.  It was just a matter of turning on the switch for everyone.  Tip: Many companies do the best practice of testing company-wide internally before launching publicly.  Employees get the benefit of learning the new product and the company gets user testing by different types of users.

I admired Agrawal for being candid about the things that led up to Posterous and then to spaces.  I got the feeling that they were unsure about many of their decisions, but took the risk to see where it would take them.  Good job!

Other tidbits:

  • Agrawal said that ”Y combinator is awesome”, it’s good for people who don’t know the business side of starting a business.
  • VCs/Angels want to either see you get a certain number of users by a certain time or a particular revenue number by a certain time.  It’s not always about the money, it can be about user growth too.
  • Posterous uses Mixpanel and Rackspace.

From ZURBsoapbox website:

A Bit About Posterous
The concept of Posterous was decidedly simple: email is the gateway for sharing any content online (be it text, photos, or videos). Instead of logging into Facebook or WordPress to post photos, videos or writing your thoughts down you simply email post@posterous.com and Posterous figures out the best format for the content and publishes a blog post for you automatically with the content you emailed.

In the summer of 2008 Sachin Agarwal received $15,000 from YCombinator and launched the first version on TechCrunch shortly after.
Posterous has taken off since then. The service currently has 35M+ pageviews a month from 15M+ unique visitors to the site. They have a consistent traffic growth of 20%-30% every month. They have also raised a $4.4M round from Trinity, Redpoint Ventures as well as one of our upcoming speakers Ron Conway.

Posterous has yet to turn a profit. The revenue idea which Sachin has talked about is a premium plan they can sell to big businesses using the service. Posterous has also been facing tough competition from Tumblr a very similar service.

A Bit About Sachin
Sachin has been named by Inc magazine as 30 under 30. He has worked on designing Final Cut Pro at Apple for 6 years before getting an idea for a service to make it easier to share pictures, videos and stories with others. Since then he has grown Posterous to 35M+ pageviews a month.

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