Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
At the recent 2005 Web 2.0 conference, John Heileman had a discussion with Vinod Khosla of Sun and Kleiner Perkins fame to get his perspective on Web 2.0. There were quite a few summaries (audio here) of the conversation but they all missed a brief passing reference to Mark Leslie (a rare CEO of a tech company that shepherded a company from $0 revenue to well over $1B during his Veritas stint – there’s probably fewer than 10 tech CEOs in history that sat in the CEO seat for that period of growth). Khosla knows Mark well and is undoubtedly applying a blend of his insights into so-called Web 2.0 dynamic with the principles that Leslie is espousing.
His quote was “My friend Mark Leslie, founder of Veritas Software, says that the more money you give a company to start with, the less likely it is to be successful. The more money the founders have, the more confident they get about their business plan, the less they experiment.” He goes on, “The right way to build a company is to experiment in lots of small ways, so that you have plenty of room to make mistakes and change strategies.” Mark has been working with Charles Holloway (one of the foremost academics in the field of entrepreneurial studies who has sat in the Kleiner Perkins endowed chair at Stanford for several years) over the last couple years on what they’ve referred to as the Enterprise Sales Learning Curve (ESLC). You can review an early draft of his whitepaper and a presentation he gave at an Altus Alliance CEO briefing. You should expect to see his paper published in the 1st half of 2006 – reading the draft will give you the essence and it has been very well received.
We have been fortunate to work with Mark as we’ve developed a practice around the ESLC and he has tremendous insights into selling into the enterprise which is something he had great success with while leading Veritas. One of the fundamental tenets of Leslie’s paper is that the risk in startups has shifted from primarily a technology to a go-to-market risk due to the fact that development tools have improved so dramatically. As anyone knows that’s been trying to sell into businesses know, the go-to-market approaches that work have shifted quite a bit over the years. Since Leslie’s paper focused primarily on traditional selling methods to enterprises, I thought it would be useful to analyze what may need to change in this new world (some are calling it Web 2.0 dynamic). [Note: Traditional enterprise selling will still apply in plenty of situations. The point of this is that in many cases there may be a better or complementary approach.] Leslie makes the point that having too much money and not experimenting enough can be inhibitors to a company’s growth. Fortunately, many of the approaches that are applicable in this new environment lend themselves to not spending inordinate amounts of money as well as choosing tactics that lend themselves to lots of experimentation. For example, when I ran marketing teams selling enterprise software in the 90’s, we’d lock and load on a campaign several months ahead of time that might include tradeshows, print advertising, a seminar series and a media tour. Once we fixed our plan, there was relatively little that changed during that particular campaign as we’d already made our commitments to tradeshows, media spending, etc. (most lessons learned were applied in the following year). In today’s environment, it’s much more feasible to be nimble with Internet-based marketing that might include advertising, webinars, and influencer outreach so that you can achieve the experimentation that Leslie and Khosla espouse. In that spirit of experimentation, we are putting into practice several of the practices outlined in the right hand column below.
The following table is a comparison of some of the traditional vs. “Web 2.0” sales & marketing approaches with some links to useful resources to execute upon this approach:
Product marketing: Focus groups
Awareness generation: Print advertising, direct mail
Internet media advertising (search, email, blogs, etc.)
Awareness generation: Media tours, Press releases
Demand generation: Tradeshows, Seminars
Direct sales to Business/I.T. Decision Makers
End run traditional buying processes to get consumer/end user adoption first building internal credibility and grassroots support
Hire high-powered direct sales force
Tightly integrate a telesales team with web leads to qualify (and close) leads
Target Fortune 500 as first customer
Most of items in the “traditional” column were difficult for a startup to pull off due to the resource requirement. The good news is that most the items in the Web 2.0 column are feasible for smaller enterprises as aptly described by Seth Godin in his “Small is the new big” post.
Additional insights that are complementary to this thinking are also worth looking at.
- Adam Bosworth’s presentation (launches a presentation window with audio) on Intelligent Reaction vs. traditional method of product development.
- Greg Gianforte book called: "Bootstrapping Your Business: Start and Grow a Successful Company With Almost No Money" that he summarizes here.
- VC blogs by Fred Wilson, Brad Feld, Jeff Clavier, Ed Sim (coincidentally, he just had a related post) and Bill Burnham that have many useful insights for entrepreneurs.
- Blogs focused on the topic of Corporate Blogging (and more) from Steve Rubel, Shel Israel and Robert Scoble
- Michael Arrington does a nice job of keeping up to date on new Web 2.0 offerings
- See my blogroll for others -- http://www.bloglines.com/public/chasedave
- Other bloggers who’ve commented on the Enterprise Sales Learning Curve include Ross Mayfield,Steve Rucinski, David Cowan, Torsten Jacobi, Damon Darlin, Ken Dyck, Pelle Braendgaard, Dave Bayless, Venky Ganesan, and Tim Oren.
Monday, December 26, 2005
Google has enough Monday morning quarterbacks as it is so I’ll leave the business advice to others (for now). I bring two perspectives for my advice to Googlers on their life outside of Google.
- I was fortunate to work at Microsoft during a similar period of time that Google is experiencing right now – tremendous revenue growth, explosive stock, round-the-clock work ethic and tremendous influence over the technology industry. As Mark Twain said “History may not repeat itself, but it rhymes”. Both companies have also been very effective at making it very, very easy to stay at work as long as possible. Microsoft pioneered some of these approaches but Google has taken them to a new level.
- I was unfortunate to have had 6 friends/co-workers die at a young age (in their 20’s & 30’s) during my tenure at Microsoft. This puts work into perspective very quickly especially having seen the full continuum of people dying without regret to those who died with the clichéd deathbed regret of wishing they’d spent more time with their family and friends. The person on the latter end of the continuum was a Microsoft senior executive. He was a rare combination of a highly successful MSFT exec, close friend of Steve and Bill and also a great person that everyone I met who came in contact with loved to be around. While all of these situations were very sad, his was the saddest and most impactful for me personally when it came to how I looked at work.
So as Googlers (and for that matter just about anyone working in the high-tech industry) reflect on 2005 and plan for 2006, I’ll share a few words of wisdom that have worked well for me…
- Get a life. Eventually you’ll regret not having any identity outside of Google but even before then, it’s good to talk to “real” people who don’t live and breathe the industry. Not only does it make you a more interesting person, it is easy to fall into the trap of designing everything for fellow employees that don’t reflect the rest of the world. “Offline” experiences can often be inspiration for something executed online so turn off your computer and get out there.
- Establish a strategy of selling your GOOG stock on a regular basis. It’s essentially dollar cost averaging in reverse. It’s hard to do when it seems like the stock can only climb. The way I looked at it at the time was I saw how IBM was in the most dominant position in the industry at one time and had much more lock-in and dominance than Microsoft ever had yet it’s stock eventually came back down to earth. When that coming back down to earth happens is tough to predict. This regular selling process gave me a dispassionate approach to the stock as it often performed at odds with what I was seeing internally. I took some money off the table yet had plenty of MSFT to continue to ride it up if it went that direction. A related point was finding someone like Brian Vowinkel who has been a trusted financial advisor working within a firm where their interests are aligned with mine (somewhat unusual for many so-called “financial experts”). GOOG obviously won’t always go up and these approaches served me very well.
- Don’t let others define what success is for you. It can and should be different for everyone yet it’s easy in a strong culture to adopt others’ view of success. Living life without regret was the biggest takeaway when the 1st of my 6 friends died. She was the youngest of the bunch yet she truly died without regret doing more in 26 years than most do in a lifetime. One facet of my personal definition of success was disconnecting what I did professionally from where I lived physically. To that point, my career decisions were based largely on moving up the corporate ladder which I’d had good success at being one of the youngest Product Unit Managers in the company. From that point forward, I made some career decisions that were head-scratchers for some people as they didn’t know my gameplan. I didn’t care and it ultimately served me well. I’m living in the mountains yet am as engaged as I’ve been with the tech community as always (thanks Internet!).
- Work late only if that’s your “in the zone” time. I had an earlier post sharing my Uncle Bill’s words of wisdom upon his retirement as a Consumer Package Goods executive #6 on his list was “It is not important that you come in early and work late. The important thing is WHY?” Mark Lucovsky is an ex-Microsoftie now at Google that seems to think that working at 3 or 4am is some measure of success/passion. I disagree. Whether you are a developer, athlete or business person, there are times when you are “in the zone”. When you look back at the past year, there are usually 3-5 things you did exceptionally well when you were “in the zone” and those were the things that really made a difference. For me, those usually take place between 5 and 8am. I’m sure 3 or 4am is that time for others but I doubt that’s the case for most people. Don’t be a lemming and get caught up in the machismo of showing how late you can work. It’s results at whatever time that matter.
- Learn to throw a change-up and knuckleball. In baseball, many young pitchers get into the major leagues with a killer fastball. Likewise, younger tech workers often try a similar approach where they just “throw” with as much energy as possible. Brute force can work for awhile. Unfortunately, like in baseball, they will usually flame-out or burnout. Learning some finesse is the key to a long, successful career in baseball or tech. I saw lots of carnage at Microsoft where some of these former “fastballers” ran out of gas and became worthless to their team and to society.
- Read up on Emotional Intelligence. IQ matters but so does the notion of “EQ”. Lack of EQ led to many of the challenges people at Microsoft had (not to mention the company as a whole).
- Live by Kimo’s rules. These aren’t especially work/tech oriented but there are plenty of good life tips.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Is anyone else getting more and more pop-ups sneaking through your pop-up blocker? I mainly use Firefox and I’m getting pop-ups from companies (vermin, actually) like zedo and cassale. Know of any Firefox plug-ins that does a better job of blocking pop-ups? I’ve used some of the big 3’s toolbars that supposedly block pop-ups and still am getting pop-ups where I didn’t before.
25hoursaday focuses on building a company to sell to GYM (aka Google, Yahoo, Microsoft). While I think it’s better to focus on building a company to sell your product to customers (and the exit will take care of itself later), it’s not a bad idea to consider what the big guys will think of how you’ve built your company. His advice:
If you are building a Web startup with the intention of flipping it to one of the majors, only three things matter; technology/IP, users and the quality of your technical team. Repeatedly ask yourself: Would Microsoft want our users? Would Google want our technology? Would Yahoo! want our people? It's as simple as that.
Given that Microsoft isn’t perceived as sexy to work for as Yahoo and Google, I’d emphasize the people aspect with Microsoft. If you have a strong/small team, it almost doesn’t matter what the technology they are working on (i.e., it could be duplicative of something in development internally). This is particularly true in the Bay Area where competition to hire is fierce.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Bill Snow did a good job of capturing the issues in this post. Here are a few highlights:
- In the pantheon of entrepreneurial mistakes, the NDA is right up there with the infamous line, “these projections are conservative.” Simply put, if you hope to raise money from VCs, you increase your chances of success by eschewing the NDA request. Most (if not all) VCs will not sign the darn things.
- An entrepreneur who asks a VC to sign an NDA is unwittingly exposing himself as a rank amateur. Simply uttering the phrase “will you sign an NDA” is a virtual death sentence. VCs know there is usually an inverse relationship between the voracity of the NDA request and the strength of the deal.
- If your plan is based on an idea so tenuous that merely hearing what you do (or plan to do) will cause grievous harm to your plan, you don’t have a plan. You have a pipe dream.
Friday, November 25, 2005
The combination of being super busy with client work while getting ready for a Kauain vacation was enough to keep my plate full but we (Altus Alliance) have been evaluating whether there's an evolution of our model that further addresses the apparent gap between typical angel funding and institutional funding. Though VCs sometimes get demonized, there are plenty of situations where their funding/value-add are the right mix but there are also plenty of situations where there isn't a fit for any number of reasons. The most common is the growing minimum size investment that most VCs have to put to work. Paul Graham outlines this in his "VC Squeeze" post along with other useful observations about the challenges VCs face. The short version is that most VC funds these days need to be at least $100M since their investors ("limited partners") don't want to invest less than $10M and don't want to own more than 10% of a fund. Given that VCs don't have unlimited resources, they can't do 50-400 $250k-2M investments or they'll be stretched way too thin. The resulting issue is that many companies don't need the size of investment that VCs want to make - particularly the kind highlighted at the Web 2.0 conference and discussed in the VC panel.
We believe that there is a new model that can address this gap/opportunity as a result of a budding alliance we have to a complementary firm that has done much of the heavy lifting to getting this innovative approach to this point. Since I buy into the notion that the Entrepreneur is our Customer, we're now at the point in the process where the concept is baked enough to get some feedback from entrepreneurs. We're reasonably confident of the receptivity that investors in this model and follow-on investors (if required) will have. It's all moot if it doesn't make sense from the entrepreneurs' standpoint. If you are an entrepreneur who'd be willing to provide us feedback, I'd love to chat with you and find out whether this thing has legs or not. If it does, I'll share more of the details on this blog. [My contact/email is posted on my blog]
For those of you interested in knowing more about Kauai, here's my quick take...
- My first trip to Kauai. Having visited all the other big Hawaiian islands, I'd say Kauai is my favorite. If you read the profile on my blog, you know I'm an active guy so sitting on the beach isn't my idea of fun and though I enjoy the game, I don't consider golf to be exercise since it's free of adrenaline rushes and/or doesn't make my lungs burn. If/when I have limitless time, golf will come back into my mix but it takes too dang long for the payback at this point in my life.
- In a word, it's beautiful. I've been fortunate to have visited 30+ countries on 5 continents and would say that Kauai has some of the most beautiful terrain I've seen anywhere.
- The rain factor is overblown (note: I subscribe to the belief that there's no such thing as bad weather just bad clothes so take my comments in that spirit). There's virtually always some part of the island (and it's not that big) that is dry if that's what you are looking for.
- Bring your hiking shoes. We were constrained by little kids and no one to look after them so our hiking was limited. We got a small taste and will come back for more when the kids are a bit older.
This relates to an earlier post of mine on how PR (not Ads) build brands. Wasting money on ads would be in my Top 10 list of how startups waste precious cash.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
If I was in my old role of championing interactive advertising (e.g., on the board of the IAB, Chairman of the CMO council, etc.), I would encourage every online sales organization to have their sales people hand deliver the book to key decision makers at major brands and agencies. There aren't many better tools to shake up their thinking than this book.
Like his presentations, Joseph is always entertaining, thought-provoking and chock-a-block full of ideas that can be put into practice. Joseph was on fire in this book. He even presents his 10-step plan for members of the 30-secondaholics anonymous.
Joseph has been popping up all over sharing his insights related to his book.
- ABC World News This Morning (Windows Media File)
- Newsweek audio clips here and here.
- iMedia video interview currently on their homepage
Sunday, November 06, 2005
Saturday, November 05, 2005
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Monday, October 31, 2005
Update to 2/05 post: Saul Hansell of the NY Times wrote an article over the weekend that is receiving a lot of reaction in the blogosphere. For example, John Battelle (author of Search). Perhaps these predictions will happen sooner than I expected.
Sunday, October 30, 2005
3 Stages of Truth
First, it is ridiculed
Second, it is violently opposed
Finally, it is accepted as self-evident
Friday, October 28, 2005
Let me give you a brief example of PR -- I know of a firm that develops an object-oriented open source database that is building its early success on PR. Among other techniques, they have hired an influential blogger in that space who has relationships with many in the open source world. His credibility and access is establishing the firm as a player with this pure "PR" approach.
I've pulled some excerpts from the website "The Fall of Advertising and the rise of PR" linked to above.
"It's the end of the era of advertising domination. Today, great brands are built with PR.
Using in-depth case histories of successful PR campaigns coupled with those of unsuccessful advertising campaigns, The Fall of Advertising provides valuable ideas for marketers—all the while demonstrating why:
- Advertising lacks credibility, the crucial ingredient in brand building, and how only PR can supply that credibility;
- The big bang approach advocated by advertising people should be abandoned in favor of a slow build-up by PR;
- Advertising should only be used to maintain brands once they have been established through publicity.
We’re beginning to see research that supports the superiority of PR over advertising to launch a brand. A new study of 91 new product launches shows highly successful products are more likely to use PR-related activities than less successful ones.
Commissioned by Schneider & Associates in collaboration with Boston University’s Communications Research Center and Susan Fournier, an associate professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, the study is believed to be the first of its kind. We learned that the role of PR, while underutilized, was extremely significant when leveraged,” said the study."
Monday, October 24, 2005
Sunday, October 23, 2005
On a more serious note, if you are a Microsoft watcher, keep an eye on Microsoft UK. My feeling was that they had the same smarts, work ethic and critical mass as the U.S. subsidiary/Redmond HQ but were relatively unfettered to do some innovative things that were increasingly getting bogged down by corporate bureaucracy in Redmond. Consequently, their successes often rolled back into Redmond often via UK team members moving to Redmond.
My Uncle Bill is one of the funnier people I know. He also happened to be a very successful Consumer Products executive usually playing the "new products" role. Upon his retirement, he shared a few of his words of wisdom...
- Honesty is not only the best policy; it is rare enough today to make you pleasantly conspicuous.
- The expedient thing and the right thing are seldom the same thing.
- The best way to get credit is to try to give it away.
- You cannot sink someone else’s end of the boat and still keep your own afloat.
- If you get a kick out of your job, others will get a kick out of working with you.
- It is not important that you come in early and work late. The important thing is WHY?
- No one should knock research that has ever been helped by a road map.
- Chicken Little acted before her research was complete. The competition ate her up.
- A New Products person who can’t take a lot of punches had better win in the first round.
- A man/woman of stature has no need of status.
- Never trust a person who is Dr. Jekyll to those above him and Mr./Ms. Hyde to those under him.
- You learn more from your defeats than from your victories.
- Few people are successful unless a lot of other people want them to be.
- Folks who think they must always speak the truth overlook another good choice...silence!
Saturday, October 22, 2005
"the greatest mistake we can make in life is to be continually fearing we will make one." -Victor Havel
During my time at Microsoft in the 1st half of the 90's, I used to joke that the reason we were having success was that we just made mistakes faster than anyone else (but tended not to repeat them). The other side of that coin was a willingness to take risks. I think those factors are the reasons why big companies that seemingly have all of the advantages often get beaten by smaller companies.
Sunday, October 16, 2005
- When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I remember getting many chuckles with Ian Morris (HouseValues CEO) back when we were working at Microsoft on online properties. We saw a steady stream of people come into the online arena from the Office team. Their answer for everything was "this is just like Office...". As evidenced by the number of former Office execs that flamed out outside of Office, they proved that it was rarely the case. While I'm all for learning from past experiences, they can cloud your judgment if you rely on them too heavily.
- The least common thing is common sense. I've observed this many times. In work settings, it's often someone who is brilliant in a particular discipline but has no street smarts/common sense.
- What's the definition of insanity? --> doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. I'm seeing this with many businesses using some traditional advertising vehicles that have little accountability. Whether it's a big brand or a local business, many just do the same as they did the year before and wonder why they aren't getting the kind of growth in their business that they'd like.
I thought a great place to start would be with Dave Smith who has been in the industry 38 years and is relied on many throughout the industry for his thought leadership. He's quoted all over the place such as here and here.
We chatted about the early days of Rich Media (RM) when Intel was promoting it as a way to generate demand for faster processors back in '97 which is how he first became Aware of RM. The purveyors of RM were focused on site-side implementations (e.g., helping with shopping cart conversion, doing more interesting things on their websites than straight text, etc.) but were getting limited traction. He said companies would come in and show "interesting" stuff but there wasn't demand from creatives for this stuff. In his view, they had sales people out too early when they should have had people work on media research validating their tools as worth the premium (e.g., with click/view through rates 5-10x of traditional banner ads it wouldn't have been perceived as "expensive" when they understood how well they performed). Even today, he still feels the RM vendors are missing datapoints on most effective ad types, etc. that would help further accelerate its adoption. This continues through the Consideration phase where lots of time salespeople are out ahead of research that backs up the tool. In addition, they need to also create pull (help clients understand there's a need).
Lesson learned: While Dave was commenting on RM, the desire for Ad Effectiveness research spans virtually any technology area. While it can be very expensive from a small companies perspective, it's a classic case of you have to spend money to make money.
One of the key barriers during Trial was the RM tried to convince clients to trial but it was difficult to track because they hadn't coordinated with DoubleClick & Atlas (ad serving platforms) to figure out if it worked. From the agency and brand perspective, the byproduct was that there were hidden costs to execute that further exacerbated the "it's expensive and unproven" theme. Furthermore, there was a high degree of coordination required to get the Client, media and creative all had to be lined up together. In Smith's view, they are still not there yet.
Lesson learned: One of the key areas newly launched businesses usually underestimate is the Product Suitability which is a key element of the Sales Learning Curve. That is, what does the technology have to integrate with in the customer's ecosystem.
The driver for why more Purchasing started happening were results and buzz around results -- this was both an internal and external phenomena where generating internal buzz at clients or agencies was as important externally.
Lesson learned: Focus marketing efforts on PR. See my previous post on this topic.
Dave had some other nuggets worth sharing.
- He described the agency dynamic using Search as an example though it could be applied anywhere. He believes the search people have done it wrong by bypassing the agencies since agencies give them distribution (early Yahoo! recognized how they screwed up by missing big disti vehicle. One example of where Google is shooting themselves in the foot is that Google is setup where it's a new billing entity (transfer from client to agency for example) and thus drop client's positioning drops in ranking after a transition from a client-managed to an agency-managed search campaign.
- He also highlighted all the various decision-makers and influencers within an agency. The agency has media planners, account people, agency creatives, client (central media operation + product people) -- different story for each of those audiences. He gave the example of Carol Walker at Kraft (part of the centralized media buying team) who would say that it's OK to talk with product people but understand their products as well as the fact that their "budget" isn't purely media. It's critical that a seller also identify who can block within the aforementioned people. A blocking issue might be "we don't have creative resources to do that in your timeframe" or "I think those are like popups" and the buy is killed or delayed even though a bunch of other people were already bought in.
Saturday, October 15, 2005
- Solve the smallest possible problem (that is still big enough to matter) for the user and know exactly what problem you're trying to solve.
- Get a responsive and chatty audience using the product.
- Launch. Now. Tomorrow. Every day.
- Distribute. Distribute. Distribute. Don't force your users to play on your site in a walled garden. Let them take the service and use it wherever they want.
- Be mindnumbingly simple. Extra clicks are deadly.
- Don't waste any money on marketing. I don’t think I’d go this far but I’d get pretty darn close. Doing a few smart things with PR, for example, may cost some money.
I've observed this going one step further. That is, there are a number of examples where consumers and end users are adopting technologies before businesses and/or their own companies. Recent examples include instant messaging, peer to peer technologies, social networks and blogging. They've all started at a grassroots level before moving upstream. In most cases, new features have to be added to address organizational issues but they've already overcome the biggest obstacle -- end user adoption -- so the feature investment is well justified. In the early days, with consumers/end-users, the bar for bulletproof software is lower which is a plus while the young company is tight on resources. Over time, the bar will raise for a variety of reasons (req'ts of enterprise customers, scalability, competition, etc.) and the organization may require more funding/resources to scale. Tim Oren had a good post earlier in the year on two-stage companies that fit with this approach.
Update: Payscale is another example of a business that started at the end user or small business level before moving upstream. This article highlights what they've done.
Friday, October 14, 2005
I have no idea who “Kimo” is but these “rules” were written on the bottom of a cook table we had on our Colorado River rafting trip through the
1. Never judge a day by its weather
2. The best things in life aren’t things
3. Tell the truth, there’s less to remember
4. Speak softly and wear a loud shirt
5. Loosen up, the unaimed arrow rarely misses
6. He who dies with the most toys still dies
7. Age is relative, when you are over the hill you pick up speed
8. There are two ways to get rich. Make more or require less
9. What you look like doesn’t matter. Beauty is internal.
10. No rain, no rainbows.
Extravagance. I see less of this these days though I have seen penny wise, pound foolish activity.
Taciturnity. Rapid progress and constant adjustment in a new endeavor requires continuous communication of these changes.
Greed. Holding too tightly to the percentage of ownership figure doesn’t allow room for a company to attract the leadership, employees, and investors that will maximize shareholder value – including the founders’. In a chat my partners had with Mark Leslie (Veritas founder/CEO) he mentioned that when there's a success it's rare someone complains they had 2% rather than 10% and conversely by not bringing in the right resources (while holding onto equity) companies often are doomed to fail and 10% ownership of nothing is exactly that.
Arrogance. There is a fine line between a beneficial pride of confidence and a dangerous arrogant hubris.
Indecisiveness. The beauty of a startup is that there are endless possibilities. The difficulty is to concentrate on one opportunity, not every opportunity. David saved his best for last -- I couldn't agree more.
Sunday, October 02, 2005
Why have I been a skeptic? As some of you know, I started the healthcare vertical market for Microsoft back in the early-mid 90’s. After joining MSFT a couple years earlier to help get the company into the enterprise software business, I was asked to take on that role since I’d worked in Accenture’s healthcare practice so I was the only one around who knew anything about healthcare. The extent of the direction I was given was “go get healthcare apps written on top of Windows NT”. It was a fun/crazy time working with some great people like Bill Anderson, Bill Snyder, Dan Bourgoin, Karen Anderson, Graham Clark, and some other fun/interesting folks. While we had great success getting market leaders to port their apps to NT and getting startups to develop new applications on top of NT and BackOffice, it was frustrating to see the glacial pace that the market would adopt the new applications particularly if they were from a young company. I remember one of the first weeks I was in the new healthcare job I went to the biggest healthcare I.T. show – HIMSS. It was as though I’d stepped back a few years in time. Vendors were proud of their “Windows Application” because they had a blue bar at the top of a black/green 3270 terminal screen. At the time, even on the desktop Windows was on only 10% of the Intel desktops even though other vertical markets it was anywhere from a low of 35% to most being in the 50-70% range (this was 1993 and Windows 3.1 had been out for awhile and Windows 3.0 had been there for quite awhile). While I didn’t care about MSFT’s desktop business (my focus was on server software), it was an indication of what I was up against.
Why was healthcare so far behind the times? There are many factors but there are a few that bubbled to the top…
- While healthcare was on the cutting edge on medical technology, it was very risk averse on the information technology side of things. There was a great fear factor of failed I.T. projects and they often emphasized that these applications weren’t mission critical, they were life critical. Even though Windows NT was quite stable even in its v 1.0 (though it was called Windows NT 3.1), it had the bear the burden of its DOS-based cousin’s sins of instability.
- Healthcare typically only spent about 1-2% of its overall budget on I.T. whereas other industries were 5-9% due in part to the previous bulletpoint. One reason was they didn't feel I.T. could provide competitive advantage. For that matter, many hospitals didn't even think about competition as they were quasi-monopolies.
- Because healthcare had long operated as a cost-plus business heavily influenced by government reimbursement, there was little focus on efficiency and excellence on the business side. A byproduct was that most of the best/brightest minds in business/I.T. weren’t drawn to healthcare. This was further exacerbated by the fact that healthcare has been fragmented and there are very few Fortune 500 companies outside of health insurance which isn’t dealing with the clinical side of the business.
At the time Fred wrote this post, I had just begun digging back into the space starting to look at emerging opportunities -- so far, I've only come across one that looks interesting. Now I know that one of the places I’ll consider if I have a client that needs institutional funding in the healthcare/medical arena, Fred’s firm would be one that I’d consider.
It made me wonder if there isn't a role akin to an ombudsman that bigger software companies should have. In absence of having a clear process for handling non-standard questions or when someone gets stymied, should there be a safety net of having someone playing an ombudsman-like role? After exhausting my contacts at Microsoft, I thought of one person I don't even know -- Robert Scoble. From reading his blog over the last year+, he seems to play an ombudsman role as one of the hats he wears. Perhaps he should add to his list of nicknames by being called the "Scobudsman". I think this reinforces, yet again, one of the benefits of a company having a blog -- it gives people a way to connect to a human which is sometimes easier said than done. Undoubtedly, there's an Exchange blog but the blog searches I didn't find any that appeared to have a Microsoft team member associated with them. Perhaps I'll have a chance to chat with the Scobleizer at Web 2.0 this week and get his take on this.
The quote from one of the execs from the company that made the request captures the situation. I don't think this is unique to Microsoft though it may just be a problem of bigger companies.
Just curious --- but shouldn't it be a straight forward process within Microsoft to find the MS-Exchange 2003 product manager who has responsibility for that product? I can easily find these guys in almost every company I work with, but for some reason, the same techniques and tactics that I have used elsewhere just don't get me anywhere in Microsoft. I cannot seem to find anybody who can help me identify this person and how I can just have a brief conversation with them. Very puzzling to me. Perhaps this is one other dimension of "Microsoft biosphere".
One of my partners (Dave Jones -- industry veteran who cut his teeth at IBM, got Oracle into the enterprise space in the late 80's and then played startup exec roles and served as Entrepreneur-in-Residence for a VC before starting Altus) has taken the lead in building an offering that would be high impact for our clients without breaking their finite banks. He's architected an Assessment project that helps startup businesses accelerate hitting their revenue inflection point . He just led another one that wrapped up recently. I'll let his clients do the honors on the impact of those "ESLC Assessment" projects. [I try to limit marketing puffery on this blog but it's nice to see one of my partners knock it out of the park]
"We had recently begun our go-to-market stage of growth and commissioned
Nosa Omoigui, CEO -- Nervana (startup in the “semantic search” space)
“Altus Alliance was asked to conduct an ELSC engagement with us to support our efforts to identify and improve key points of revenue leverage within our marketing, product and sales organizations, and to help us determine the merits of new market entry versus other potential uses of funds. The process results were insightful and actionable. They hit it out of the park”
Tim Bauman, COO -- SM&A (a $80mm public firm in SoCal)
Saturday, October 01, 2005
- Thou Shall Not Give a Strategic Investor a Right of First Refusal, Right of First Offer or a Protective Provision that Enables Them to Block a
- Thou Shall Write All Customer Contracts And Partnerships Such That They Can Be Transferred to An Acquirer And/Or That Such Contracts Can Be Terminated With Reasonable Notice.
- Thou Shall Not Enter A No-Shop Without Hammering Out All of the Key Terms and Conditions of a
- Thou Shall Not Allow A Buyer to Interview Employees Until At Least An LOI is Signed.
- Thou Shall Discuss Exit Expectations With Management and Board Members Prior to Funding and At Least Twice a Year After That.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
- A lot of existing companies refocused their energies on SOX particularly focused on establishing controls, segration of duties and ensuring proper security was in place. One of the notable companies was Virsa that is now a Kleiner Perkins and SAP Ventures funded company. They appear to be on a hockey stick growth pattern. A lot of the companies I observed had point or "band-aid" solutions but Virsa has a broader (though not all-encompassing) offering.
- It's not clear that companies have realized a lot of strategic business advantage in these "Wave 1" applications (i.e., apps focused on controls & security) though they've certainly incurred a lot of expense. There are two types of "Wave 1" apps...
- Business Process Management (and hence compliance) companies like OpenPages. Effectively a glorified PERT chart that tracks the "critical path" of non-compliance.
- ERP Compliance Management, like Virsa and LogicalApps. One problem with them is that they assume that the entire world is either SAP or Oracle and that all the data that is needed resides in these systems (this is especially true for any company using partnerships to sell their offering). Fundamental departures from real life.
- From the presentations given by keynoters and talking with senior partners from both big and regional audit firms, it became clearer to me that companies seeking an "exit" (i.e., IPO or acquisition) need to give more thought to SOX than they might have previously thought. In either exit scenario, a company that isn't SOX compliant is going to face obstacles when they try to exit (i.e., delaying or scuttling plans for the exit). The challenge is that when they most need to stay focused, preserve cash, etc. it is also the best time to set up SOX-compliant processes so they can avoid re-engineering processes later. Getting some strategic SOX/governance counsel early on is a good idea. It's the classic "pay now or pay later" scenario.
- The firedrill to get Wave 1 processes/applications in place appears to be winding down for most public companies. "Wave 2" processes/applications will focus more on financial reporting transparency that can demonstrate to the investment community that a company has a handle on how they handle issues such as revenue recognition. Whereas Wave 1 was largely focused on blocking fraud, Wave 2 will address situations where there is no intentional fraud but where Operational and Transactional streamlining is needed. This involves actually managing day in and day out transactions for financial reporting and analysis for companies with complex revenue models, like the ones who sell through distribution channels. In other words, streamline your business, get compliance for "free".
- Let me give you an exampe -- Take a company like Symantec. They have a variety of revenue streams ranging from 2 tier distribution into retail (e.g., Ingram is distributor and CompUSA is the retailer), relationships with consumers downloading bits of Symantec servers, enterprise customers, OEM deals, etc. In addition, they have monthly and annual recurring revenue streams. Figuring out how to accurately recognize revenue quickly becomes a nightmare of dozens of spreadsheets, various datafeeds from disparate partners, etc. Throw in properly paying spiffs & commissions, handling price protection and rights of return and you have a gnarly challenge on your hands that is people intensive. The vast majority of companies have some kind of band-aid solution in place that is both costing them a lot of human resource as well as delivering sub-optimal results (i.e., either takes too long and/or has questionable accuracy). Like Virsa, I think the companies that can develop a comprehensive system that makes sense of this will prosper. The system will be closer to a supplier relationship management solution as opposed to trying to connect various spreadsheets with bailing wire and bubblegum. It's one of the reasons I saw some private equity and VC firms in attendance at the conference. Entomo was one of the companies exhibiting at the conference -- they released a whitepaper at the conference that highlights these issues. Click here to get a copy. [Full disclosure: I have advised Entomo on their business] From a customer perspective, the good news is that there is a greater opportunity to realize strategic advantage in Wave 2 applications. For example, an automated solution will help a company reduce inventory, minimize gray market activities and enable them to report revenues on a more timely basis.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Diane and Maggie are two examples of resources in their offices in 34 international locations. They provide assistance in areas such as market research/validation and tapping their strong network of useful contacts and experts that entrepreneurs can draw upon. It was clear that their market savvy would be invaluable to an Irish entrepreneur trying to tap the U.S. market. My only disappointment in the meeting was that I couldn't convince them to open up a Sun Valley office :)
An example of the sort of thing they do is they have an upcoming Irish Technology Showcase where it's a forum to bring together influential potential buyers/partners from the U.S. over to Ireland to learn more about what is being worked on by Irish companies as well as sharing their directions so that Irish companies can respond accordingly. The event is going to be held in October.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
The Dalai Lama has been in Sun Valley for a few days. We felt like it might have been a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear a Nobel Peace Prize winner speak so we went and heard him speak with our daughter yesterday at the event focused on children. His talk was fairly short (see recap below) but the overall event was inspiring as they highlighted what various kids from around the state were doing to demonstrate the main focus of the visit – demonstrating compassion. One of the fun aspects of the event was they asked for kids to volunteer their own ideas of how to demonstrate compassion. As a proud dad I can say she had more poise than most of the high schoolers when speaking in front of 8,000 people. Here’s what she had to say -- "When people are mean, be nice back." I don't remember many people at Microsoft keeping those words in mind when I was there ;-}
The Dalai Lama started speaking in Tibetan (with a translator) but ended up doing most of his speech in English and only needed occasional help from his translator. He has quite a good sense of humor and has very unique, almost child-like mannerisms. One of the quotes from the official website of his visit is interesting to think about in the context of business (go to the website for more quotes). Perhaps that's what Sergey & Larry mean when they say "do no evil".
There are two types of competitive behavior. One is a sense of competition because you want to be at the top. You create obstacles and harm someone. That competition is negative. But there is a positive kind of competition which benefits the individual, the competitors, and the economy. Let your competitors also grow, without any sense of harming them.
The articles below recap the event if you are interested in more details.
- Recap of speech to the children
- Recap of the Dalai Lama's September 11th speech
- Go here for audio and images of the Dalai Lama's 9/11 speech (to be posted on September 13th)
- The Dalai Lama met with CEOs and federal legislators to discuss how to incorporate compassion into the world of business
One thing I heard a lot when we decided to move from Seattle to Sun Valley was "aren't you going to miss the cultural aspects of being in a city?" The funny thing is I've seen the Dalai Lama, countless symphonies with world-class musicians, jazz groups from all over the world, Olympic podium figure skaters doing their Turin 2006 Olympic programs in seats at a distance that would cost thousands at the Olympics not to mention seeing various Emmy/Oscar winning actors. That doesn't even include what I'm going to miss when I'm attending a Sarbanes-Oxley conference -- e.g., the Hemingway festival. The biggest difference is the hassle-factor in the city (traffic, parking, commute time, lines, etc.) in attending events -- we found it so much higher in Seattle that we weren't able to attend most of what was available.
Meanwhile, the impact on my work has been mostly positive. I'm busier than I've been in a number of years and certainly the most since I left Microsoft. One benefit of being away from a traditional office environment most of the time is I have nearly 2 hours back per day in commute time and I'm able to be super focused. How can you not be inspired when you look out your office window at this in the Fall and this in the Winter?
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Ed Sim recounts a board meeting where they uncovered and analyzed why the product development team was missing its deadlines. The conclusion was that sales wasn't properly trained and was selling what they didn't have.
I've discussed the Enterprise Sales Learning Curve (ESLC) before on this blog. When we are working with clients analyzing their Product, Sales and Marketing readiness to find points of leverage where they could improve their readiness levels, there are usually a few high sensitivity areas. Often the ramp rate of new sales people, which is a function of training, and the ability of the product management and development team to learn from one another are two of the highest sensitivity areas in scaling the ESLC. I provided an update on the simulation tool we developed based upon input from Mark Leslie that is very effective at showing this dynamic.