That’s What He Said

Brooks Bayne – Innovate, Iterate or Obliterate

Posted in Startups, Technology by wolfsbayne on August 27, 2008

It happens all the time. A business or a product fails, and we’re surprised by it. Still with us is the old-school holdover of your dad’s world and its view that the only viable product came from the innovators and the executive teams who groomed those innovators. Product development was king and customer development, if even discussed, was considered frivolous.

Recently, here in L.A., we had a very public example of the holdover giving us a wink. Andrew Warner, the creator of Mixergy, squeezed out a vid to publicly out his “failure” with Mixergy. I don’t know Andrew very well, but I do like his jackets. I don’t want to talk about Mixergy in the context of failure. My good friend and associate, Chris Gammill, danced with the ugly step-sister of failure here. I’d like to think that Andrew iterated and didn’t fail.

For this blog post, I’d like to draw attention to the balance between innovating and iterating. There will always be innovations. There will always beĀ  iterations of those innovations. In my experience, where the disconnect occurs with many companies, but especially the smaller ones, is the lack of understanding of what drives iteration. You have the innovation, the idea, and you release to the world. Then what? You have to develop the customer, not only your idea.

I worked with a founder in my last company, who thought all development resources should be spent innovating with every release cycle. The problem with this is that the customer never gets a product revision that meets their needs. As soon as a product is released, the customer needs to be engaged. Period. The customer profile that you’ll need to engage is the early adopter and the evangelist. I don’t know if Andrew engaged those two types of customers, but I do know that many people in the community, including me, had no idea that Andrew was developing Mixergy to be a competitor to Evite.

When we create a product or service we get so focused we “can’t see the forest for the trees”. Even large companies deal with this problem. My friends at Microsoft, for example, refer to the “Redmond bubble”.

My challenge with understanding customer development started back in 1997 when I was a new CEO brought in to replace one of those old-schoolers who couldn’t execute in a new space. I recall trying to get beyond the standard projections in a spreadsheet to a real world method of meeting those projections. With a startup, in a new space, trying to crystal ball what you’re gonna do in 12 months, not to mention 3-5 years out, is usually an exercise in futility. Through research and experience I found that customer development was a missing component.

Most companies can’t effectively engage the early adopters and evangelists. If that’s the case, how can they then expect to cross the “chasm” that exists between those early customer types and the mainstream market? And if they can do neither, what’s the point of the projections?

I’d like to see more new companies and entrepreneurs demonstrate that they know how to engage and communicate with the early adopter and evangelists. Without those early customers you don’t have a business. Based on my experience, I’m certain most advisors, directors and investors don’t understand that engaging early adopters and evangelists requires a different method of engagement than crossing into the mainstream customer. Don’t assume this is understood – it usually isn’t. Most attention in the early stages is on the innovation.

Innovation has to be supplemented. This means greater transparency, communication and consideration of your customers.

Good luck, entrepreneurs!

Connect with me on twitter (@wolfsbayne) or at my blog (www.brooksbayne.com).

Burninate,
Brooks Bayne

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Facebook, Are You Cindy McCain’s Pimp? Bang Who?

Posted in Politics, Social, Technology by wolfsbayne on July 7, 2008

You know the morning routine (order varies by day).

  1. Check email
  2. Check phone
  3. Check 15 social networking sites

Well, yesterday morning I was checking site number 2 of the 15 social networking sites as part of my current social graph activities. For me, site number 2 is Facebook. As I’m checking my friends’ activity steams, I noticed this little “gem” of an ad in Facebook’s lower left ad placeholder.

Bang Cindy?

Aw, how cute? Imagine if this had been Obama’s wife. Hmm…Bang Mrs. Obama…

This weekend, I tweeted about the difference in Obama and McCain’s number of supporters on Facebook not reflecting what current youth vote polls show. The polls show the youth vote is near tied even though McCain trails with 162,599 supporters on Facebook compared to Obama’s 1,113,905 supporters (still wonder how many of those are real ppl). In my tweet, I also poked fun at social media not delivering in the youth vote polls even though Barack has nearly 10 times the supporters on Facebook. Maybe, in some cases, this “social media thing” really is about substance and not just numbers.

One thing of which I’m certain is this – if the ad had used Michelle Obama rather than Cindy McCain as the object, you would have likely already heard about this by now. At least a few of the 1mil+ supporters of Obama on Facebook would’ve seen the ad and tipped off a firestorm of racially motivated noise all over the blogosphere. MSNBC woulda ran this as a breaking tech news story and it would still be on the newscasters’ teleprompters today – k, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. Today, still not even a blip about Cindy. I’m guessing I’m the one who will break this “news” and you probably won’t hear about it again, unless I know you personally and we talk about it the next time I see you.

So, even if the larger numbers of political supporters on Facebook, or more generally, within the social graph, doesn’t translate to leveling the political playing field, it surely helps one with reputation management. More eyes always means more whistle-blowers.

Personally, for the record, Cindy McCain is cuter than Michelle Obama, but the ad was ridiculous and Facebook should police its ads better. So much for the theory of tuning out online ads as some ppl say we are conditioned to do now.

Signal Patterns’ Personality Patterns Service – Let’s Play 20 Questions, Or More

Posted in Science, Social, Technology by wolfsbayne on July 5, 2008
Lately, I’ve been researching things like personality traits/worldview and their effect on how we connect with one another. Mashable’s always pimping site invites so this morning I decided to check out a site called Signal Patterns. Signal Patterns claims to be “passionate about helping you learn more about yourself”. Signal has a couple different assessment services. One service is for personality and one is for music. Today I’m focusing on the Personality Patterns service which is also available as a Facebook application.

Personality Patterns take you through a battery of questions to arrive at conclusions about you. How many questions? When I finished the first question the status complete percentage showed 1%, when I finished the second question I noticed 2%, same with the third question – 3%. Can you determine a pattern here? That’s right…there were 100 questions in this personality assessment. I know there are reasons for the number of questions, but it’s not so bad when you consider an assessment like Myers-Briggs or Keirsey. I wonder how accessible a 100 question test is for use in the social space when most people want “instant”. If an examination of your personality would uncover that you have no patience, you’re likely never to find out with a lengthy battery, because you’ll quit before you finish. I think I just amused myself a bit…

After answering all the questions you’re presented with a nice little graph that shows you some “at a glance” insights. From my assessment:

The “More About You” selection produced the following:
Assertive

You behave in a confident and forceful manner, take charge of the situation, raise your hand in class, stand up for what you think is right, and lead others.

You are not interested in fading into the woodwork, leaving everything to fate, taking more time than necessary to accomplish a task, or avoiding confrontation.

Among those who have a high score on the “assertive” trait, many have jobs in which they are valued for their organizational skills as well as their talent for supervising others.

Innovative

You come up with a lot of ideas; if one doesn’t work out, there’s always another waiting in the wings. You often have interesting solutions to difficult problems. You’re practically a one-person brainstorming session.

You are less interested changing the world than in dealing with things as they are. Unlike those who spend all their time trying to solve problems, you prefer to zero in on things that work and
stick with them.

Creative

You are good at solving problems, coming up with original ideas, and seeing connections between things, connections that most other people miss.

You do not shun abstractions and concepts in favor of the concrete and tangible.

People with a high score on the “creative” trait often are employed in such fields as finance and scientific research, and enjoy avant garde and classical music as well as literary fiction and scholarly non-fiction.

Astute

You are a quick study. You generally don’t need to have things explained to you more than once. When presented with a problem, you will often have an instant understanding of where to look for the solution.

You do not take your sweet time when presented with a new task to complete or problem to solve. You don’t avoid assignments that require you to learn new skills.

Intellectual

You are thoughtful, rational, and comfortable in the world of ideas. People find you interesting to talk to. You’re the living embodiment of the saying “You learn something new every day.”

You do not avoid abstract conversation, experimenting with new ideas, or studying new things. It bores you to stick to the straight and narrow of what you already know.

In general, those with a high score on the “intellectual” trait are employed in such fields as teaching and research, and are enthusiastic about reading, foreign films, and classical music.

Accessible

You’re comfortable expressing yourself in words and actions, with no self-censorship. You believe that if someone doesn’t like what they see it’s not your problem, but theirs.

You don’t see the need to keep your thoughts to yourself, or to have a zone of privacy that encompasses only yourself and a small circle of friends and relatives.

A high score on the “accessible” trait suggests that you have a lot of friends, socialize often, and enjoy rap/hip-hop music.

Optimistic

You are a “glass half-full” kind of person, always on the lookout for the silver lining. Your happiness is contagious, which is why others like to be around you.

You do not feel that the world is an intrinsically depressing place; you are not the kind of “realist” who thinks that only fools find joy in life.

Competent

You strive to master everything you undertake. You tend to learn quickly and do not shy away from challenges.

You are not a “que sera sera” type of person, nor do you go easy on yourself when attempting to master a new skill or get a job done.

Empathetic

You are in touch with your own feelings, which helps put you in touch with the feelings of others.

You don’t buy the logic that your happiness comes ahead of everyone else’s because unless you’re happy you’re incapable of making anyone else happy.

Organized

You like to think a task through before you embark on it. If it’s the slightest bit complicated, you make a list (even if it’s only in your mind) and methodically work your way through it. When you have a goal in mind, you’re not satisfied until you reach it.

You are not one of those people who ignore the details, and you don’t understand how anyone can get anything accomplished without thoughtful planning ahead of time.

I’d love to see the negative corollary provided too – you know, the presentment that services like this won’t tell you outright. That would be a hoot! “Lazy, co-dependent, prone to compulsive behavior…”

Anyway, you can also get a stylish (bah) badge to embed on your own sites.

Personality Patterns is one of a handful of social personality assessments starting to surface. I’m banking on seeing more uptake of these services in the coming months and years. There’s an obvious benefit you can add to the social graph heading down this road. I’ll be blogging about behavior and recommendations and their effect on the social graph shortly.

I’ll take a look at Signal’s Music Personality service soon. For now, I’m gonna relax after celebrating these united States’ birthday due to copious BBQ and Jack Daniel’s.

Take the assessment and share your results in my FriendFeed Visualizations room.

“Are you not sure you don’t wish to cancel?” – The Problem With Offshore Development

Posted in Technology by wolfsbayne on June 3, 2008

Really? Is this a prompt or an easter egg riddle in this app?

I often share the story about the image above. This image is a replication of a dialog box within a software application that was developed by a team of Russian offshore developers. On this side of the pond, our internal team joked about this for weeks. Our foreign friends, initially embarrassed by the garble, came to find humor in the statement once the primary English speaking guy on their team explained it to his comrades. I always wondered what a user would’ve done if presented with this dialog box…

These days, offshore development is ubiquitous in our American development culture. However, there are still many companies that haven’t participated in the fun. Over the years, I’ve engaged several different outsourcing firms, ranging from the Orient thru Eastern Europe. The experiences were as varied as the firms’ locales. As the image above exhibits, sometimes foreign developers don’t understand the English language, and I’m talking about basics, not nuance, or context. Although, context does present problems once you get offshore devs who do understand basic Engrish (sorry, couldn’t resist).

When shopping for an offshore firm there are a few things to consider.

  • The strength of the offshore firm, financially
  • Does the company have a North American presence?
  • Verifiable references with known or trustworthy American companies
  • What’s the size of the firm/no. of employees?
  • Does the firm have experience with projects that are similar to yours? Platforms, software languages AND methodologies (RUP, Agile, etc).
  • Do the employees speak English? Can they read and respond in writing in English?

So, those are obvious questions, right? Here are the gotchas, geeks.

Initially, you’re likely going to be pitched by a salesperson for the firm, or “business development manager”. Don’t believe anything you hear unless it can be demonstrated to your satisfaction. Remember, you’re dealing with ppl who are from a different part of the planet and that means they likely don’t share your values. I don’t bring this up to encourage your inner xenophobe to fully awaken, only partially.

Many companies will likely try to sell you on a senior resource to manage the project. Some will try to insistnyet, ain\'t my vodka yo that the senior resource work with you onsite, at a higher rate, of course. This can eliminate some of the timezone issues since this person will usually work with the offshore team while you’re asleep AND work with you and your team while you’re awake, hopefully. If your budget allows, and the senior resource is an effective communicator, use him/her. The ticks and mannerisms of foreign developers are sometimes hard to get used to, but you just might learn something about the larger world in which we live without having to travel. For instance, you might learn that there’s zero lane discipline in India. I also found out everything I ever wanted to know about Vodka from my ruskie offshore friends.

What if you opt for nixing the onsite resource? That brings up a few things you’ll have to consider. Someone from your team will have to work when the offshore team is working, or you’ll have to convince the firm that if they want your business their team will have to shift their schedule to overlap with your team’s work hours. So, you might ask, “Why would anyone have to change their hours? Why not just email each other?”. I’m literally LOL writing this as I remember the 15 minute task that took 3 days due to the ineffectiveness of email in this scenario:

Offshore dev sends email to onsite team member asking a question, team member gets the email 8 hours later when he gets in to work. Team member responds and offshore dev gets email 8 hours later. Offshore dev still doesn’t understand so he sends a follow-up question, or as the Indians say, in this case, “he has a doubt” (another contextual thing that to them means “point of clarification” but, to us, a doubt means something negative)…

This back and forth took 3 days! Once I found out these inefficiencies were occurring so frequently, I convinced the offshore firm to have their devs overlap their work day with ours for at least 4 hours a day. After this schedule change, the development throughput increased sharply.

Always monitor the performance of the offshore firm, and if you’re not happy, voice your concerns to the business side of the house, not the individual offshore dev(s). This will nip the problem much quicker. Anytime someone up the ladder is aware of any trouble, the lower rung folks become, ahem, more “aware”.

As always, when making a decision to choose an offshore firm, caveat emptor. Happy offshoring!

DRM, Intellectual Property and Sharing – The Larger Issue

Posted in Entertainment, Intellectual Property, Music, Technology by wolfsbayne on October 16, 2007

Close your eyes and imagine a world without art, music, software, movies or any other material that is protected by a copyright. This mind’s-eye vision doesn’t appear too appealing to me.

According to Steve Jobs, Michael Arrington and a few others, DRM should go the way of the LP and VHS. I’m not against DRM if it’s not a barrier. However, Steve’s DRM doesn’t play with anyone else’s DRM. Would we be having this discussion if Apple worked with other entities, such as Microsoft, to make a DRM standard? Probably not. If my Zune/Zen/iPod/Mac/PC all were able to accept content from each other, then there’s no issue with DRM. I’m glad to see DRM free files finally being offered by online resouces like Amazon and others.

It’s interesting that there are people who want to dictate to the creators of Intellectual Property (IP) how to distribute that IP. If there’s no DRM, what keeps honest people honest? Car door locks are right behind glass. I posed a question to Mr. Arrington asking if it would be okay to take everything from Techcrunch and distribute it elsewhere without any regard to Techcrunch’s copyright. He said my argument was flawed. I see it differently.

Any IP is protected under the terms of those who control the rights of that IP – usually the creator, but in some cases, a licensor of rights. Techcrunch, Apple, and Ozzy Osbourne, for example, all have at least one thing in common; they are creators of IP. If I distribute articles or other content from Techcrunch that violate their copyright, it’s wrong. If I distribute iPod clones or MAC OS X without an agreement from Apple, it’s wrong. Likewise, if I download or “share” (read: distribute – since the courts view it that way) Ozzy’s music from or with an entity or network that disregards the protections that are accorded in the music world, it’s just as wrong.

If you listen to music at a club or restaurant, there’s a fee to paid to a body for that privilege. If you listen to radio, you get commercials, which pay for the station’s operation, and there’s also an accounting of “spins” that translates to money for the artist and writers of the songs. Similarly, with satellite radio, you pay a subscription that takes care of the same costs and payouts in much the same way traditional radio works.

Remember old-school socialism, communes, love-ins, etc.? Those were supposed to be great ideas that “visionaries” lauded back in the day and failed miserably. I see the argument that all IP should be free as boneheaded as these ideas. The reality in this world is that there are more takers than givers and those that are industrious usually get tired of the slackers who don’t pay, help, or contribute. I’ll talk about benefactors (sponsors) picking up the tab in a bit.

If a few artists decide to use record companies or not has no bearing on whether or not art (music in this case) should be free in all cases. That decision always lies with the copyright holder under the laws of the U.S. and is delineated in Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution to be under Congress’ purview.

Smart people realize that societies flourish when they have an environment that is conducive to the creation of IP – that’s the primary reason that sort of thing is covered in the Constitution. You may disagree with the duration of copyright protection, but at least it’s there.

Most P2P file distribution programs enable illegal file distribution and are the primary source of lost revenue with regard to digital IP. This isn’t conjecture, it’s fact. That’s why the courts keep smacking people on the hiney who get caught engaging in this behavior. I don’t think the P2P behavior is being curbed by fear of consequences though.

Regarding the “artists should only make money touring” argument, it’s not your decision to tell an artist that their copyright isn’t valid and that they should conform to your whims. Let’s not forget the filmmaker – how does he make money if people steal his movies? Does he go on tour? Nope, he’s just outta luck so that argument doesn’t help in the larger issue of IP.

Additionally, just because someone doesn’t like music prices doesn’t give them the right to distribute music illegally. Smoking more pot and engaging in its distribution doesn’t make that activity any more legal either.

One way to solve this problem is to legislate a use tax whereby all subscribers to every ISP are charged a monthly fee that allows them to consume much if not all of the IP they want. I started presenting this view back in the late 90’s. Finally, there is at least one company trying to do this in the private sector, Noank Media (they have a model they are proving in China first). Unless Congress gets involved, I don’t know that this approach will gain any traction here in the U.S. and with Congress involved that could potentially, and very likely, be a bad thing.

Another way to monetize in the current “I want everything free” climate, is for artists/IP creators to obtain sponsors, then the artist doesn’t have to sell their wares directly to the masses to eat and pay their bills. Sponsor pays artist, artist allows sponsor to use IP creator’s IP, likeness, etc. Sponsors and their brands get exposure along side the artist. Both the sponsor and the content creator will get their brands socialized in this way. This is probably the more likely scenario that will unfold as LiveNation is starting to work with music artists in a very similar capacity and they are paying huge sums of money to some of the top acts like Madonna, U2, Jay-Z, etc. to prove this model. As a content creator, getting your brand, identity and content socialized is a newer concept and one that I will be banking on with my next endeavor – more on that later.

The bottom line is this: if you want great art movies, software and music, we have to make sure the creators of that IP are getting the money they are entitled to. If that means paying them, or allowing sponsors to have access to audiences, then so be it. We need to have art and other great IP continuing to flow for us to thrive as a society.