Category Archives: Blog Posts

Musings and rants

VR Tuesday: A Great Way to Learn Nothing

I should clarify a few things.  I love VR Tuesdays.  I have been to all four meetups. It’s always time well spent.  Why the title then?  Good question.

What’s unique about this meetup, and why I like it so much, is nobody knows.  So many meetups have a person, who may or may not be a high-level operator, serving microwave reheated leftovers.  Thanks, but tell me something I don’t know.

VR Tuesdays are the exact opposite; nobody knows.

It is clear nobody knows how to make big money in VR/AR yet.  Well maybe someone does, but they are keeping it to themselves.  I can’t say that I blame them.

If I was given a nickel every time someone said, “It’s too early to tell” I’d probably have more profit than anyone in the AR/VR space right now.

Sivan Iram of Upload had probably the most interesting presentation so far.  He gave us the blueprint on becoming the next billionaire.  It can be boiled down to one sentence:  What behavior in VR is going to be equivalent to taking pictures of your food and posting it on Instagram?

In his presentation, all monetization strategies being used are variations of what is already in play.  I asked him if he’s seen anyone with a unique monetization strategy?  Nope.

What is the native monetization strategy for VR/AR that aligns value created with value captured?  Figure that out and you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

Here’s the formula for success in VR/AR:

VR/AR + New Behavior + Monetizing New Behavior = Billionaire

Is that a horn growing out of your forehead?

Get Traction and Skip the 75% that Get “Experience”

Harvard found that 75% of VC-backed companies that launched between 2004 – 2010 got “experience” rather than rich.

What do the companies do differently to “opt-out” of joining the 75% club?

They don’t think their customers are idiots.  That’s it.  Enjoy the rest of your week.

In all seriousness, why does almost everyone in Silicon Valley think that their customers are idiots?  Why does almost everyone in Silicon Valley think of marketing and distribution as the red-headed stepchild of their business?  You need traction, but can’t be bothered to get it.

Pop Quiz:  What is the only committee Steve Jobs ever chaired at Apple?

Answer: The Marketing Committee.  But, I guess you don’t want to be the next Apple (this might be ill-timed with iPhone sales in the dump, but the point remains).

You hear of businesses being “market-driving” or “market-driven”.   A quote your often hear spewed by “market-driving” companies comes from Henry Ford.

22ifi27daskedmycustomers0awhattheywanted2cthey27d0ahavesaidafasterhorse22-default

What a bunch of horse manure.  It hasn’t been confirmed that Henry said it.  Also, Henry didn’t exactly pioneer the leap from horses to cars (he was a fast follower), but let’s not let the facts get in the way.

Let’s pretend that he did say the quote, and he did invent the automobile.

Did they really want a faster horse, Henry?  Did you ask them why they wanted a faster horse?  Did you ask them if they liked the idea of something that does the same job as a horse, but you don’t have to feed it in the winter?

Couldn’t be troubled could you?  You had it all figured out.

Here’s the thing: even a blind squirrel finds a nut.

It’s similar to the idea presented in Fooled by Randomness.  In the case of money managers, it’s the idea that with so many people playing around in the market someone has to get lucky and hit it big. They are actually wearing clown shoes.

Things get interesting when you look at the folks who are the best-in-class for decades.  It starts to become very hard to explain away their success as luck.  Guess what you find when you look for commonalities between these people.  They have done their homework.  Whether it’s research on a company, correlations or patterns.

Big success “market-driving”  start-ups that only tell the market where to go are the money managers with the big red shoes.  With enough ideas out there someone has to have blindly picked the right one.  But those are the lucky ones.  What about the ones you don’t read about?

They stick their head in the mud and keeping “driving the market”.  They keep going until they are almost out of air (money).   When they come up for air (money) they are finally willing to ask questions:

Visionary:  “Mr. Market, what are you willing to pay for?”

Mr. Market (VC, Angels, and missed customers):  “Too late son.  You only have 6 months of cash in the bank.  You’re done.”

What can you do to prevent this while still being innovative?

It’s simple; split your resources evenly between distribution and product.   I said simple, not easy.

Yeah, but what do I know?  Nothing.

What does Marc Andreessen know? Lots.

“The number one reason that we pass on entrepreneurs we’d otherwise like to back is they’re focusing on product to the exclusion of everything else.  Many entrepreneurs who build great products simply don’t have a good distribution strategy.  Even worse is when they insist that they don’t need one…”

This quote comes  from Traction by Weinberg and Mares.   It’s probably the best book on early marketing and distribution for tech-startups.  They have some great ideas on how to attack distribution challenges.

Some of the advice I find generically useful is the bullseye strategy.  Allocate a $1000 and a month or so to the three distribution channels that, based on your research and testing, are likely winners.  The winner of the three gets your focus.  Whip that horse until you reach the finish line.

According to Weinberg and Mares, “Traction trumps everything.”  But is traction a function of something other than just a marketing channel?  Read on.

They suggest four common reasons that you can build something people want, but all you get is “experience”:

1.  Build something they want, but you can’t make the dollars and cents add up.

2.  Not enough customers in that market.

3.  They want it, but it costs too much to get it to them.

4.  You got a widget, but about 10 other companies have the same widget.

Something Weinberg and Mares neglect (in their defense it’s not a topic that is about distribution channels) is how to not fall prey to bullet points 1, 2,3, and 4 (???) when going-to-market.

What is this magical potion?  Where are the unicorns (see what I did there) in this fairytale?

Well, it isn’t magic.  It is what LinkedIn did to find out how to make serious money, and what Optimizely did to get consistent triple-digit revenue growth.

It’s called having a monetization strategy before you launch your product.  Yeah, you read that right, before.  And if you’re not doing it, you’re the one who believes in magic potions and fairytales.

How do you do it?  Patience young grasshopper.

If You’re Not Hacking Marketing…You’re Doing It All Wrong

What’s your average sprint length for your Minimum Viable Promotion?  How much time and money should you be spending on your “Core” vs “Edges”?

You don’t know?  Either did I.  I do now.

Scott Brinker wrote a book called Hacking Marketing to catch us (marketers) up to the speed of software.  It’s the blueprint for the modern day Chief Marketing Officer or VP of Growth.  That said, it will benefit anyone working at a tech company who is on the demand side of the equation.

Hacking Marketing will bring your team up to the speed of innovation.  If you’re familiar with Eric Ries’ Lean Start-Up and Scrum software development practices, then congratulations, but let’s not get smug about it.

Scott takes ideas from software development and shows you how to adapt them to marketing.  His ideas are an evolution.

What’s the difference between increments and iteration?   How does it affect what I do as a marketer?  Scott has you covered.

Increments get your marketing to scale through new versions of something that worked earlier.  You can apply this idea to content.  A small blog post gets a lot of engagement.  You turn it into a series.  More response.  You turn it into an eBook that people are willing to exchange their email address for.  You now have access to their most intimate of places…their inbox.

Iteration is basically conversion rate optimization.  If we use the content example above it would be changing the headline.  Changing the call-to-action.  Changing the image.  You’re not changing the message or theme, you’re changing the way it is presented.

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Many successful people don’t agree with this idea.  They are wrong.  Luck comes from how many things you try.

It reminds me of a fraternity brother of mine.  He played the numbers game every night at the bar.  He was okay with “failing”.  And doing it publicly.  Funny thing is, that as we all sat in the corner making fun of him, he would eventually get lucky.  Quantity for the win.

Scott embraces this idea of quantity leading to luck.  This must be balanced.  Throwing too much “stuff” against the wall can lead to “Feature Shock” that Ramanujam and Tacke talk about in Monetizing Innovation.  It’s the context that is important.  Are you trying to make something that is for everyone?

“If we add this feature, and this one too, we can”…we know where this goes.

All sunshine and roses?  Nope.

I haven’t met Scott but hope to someday. I get the feeling that he is probably the smartest guy in the room.  He is operating way “up there”.  I like spending as much time “up there” as the next guy, but “up there” isn’t where results lie.

Hacking Marketing is a very high-level strategy and management book.  He doesn’t provide any examples of when or how he used an idea.  There is no “do this, it works.”  In his defense, he does say that this isn’t a workbook.

To really understand lean practices in your business you need to read Lean Startup by Eric Ries.  Also when he talks about platforms he doesn’t add much.  Scott knows where he is light, and provides the resources to take a deeper dive.

I use post-it flags to mark “important” ideas in books.  I think I would’ve been better off marking the pages to skip in Scott’s book.  I enjoyed Hacking Marketing, and it left me with a better understanding on how to keep up with the speed of innovation.

Read it if you’re in a demand generation role at a tech company.

The Making of a (late) Capitalist

“What was that!?!?”, my friend yelled.

It was a clear, crisp September night in Alaska.  All the tourists had gone home.  All the kids had gone back to college.  All the people who lived from season-to-season were biding their time until the snow started falling “down south”.

We had a pallet fire down on the beach.  There was booze, mixed company, and a chance to see some northern lights .  The amount of stars that can be seen from the northern latitudes will blow your mind.  I’d like to say our motives were pure, but they rarely were.

What was that?  That was huge.  Big enough to stop conversation among the guys, and fast enough the ladies didn’t have a chance to scream.

We were a confident group of young men.  We climbed mountains.  We skied chutes.  We flew planes and helicopters.  We chased a brown bear through the streets howling like a pack of wild dogs.

Dumb, but fun.

We were lucky it was fast.  It was well over 600 lbs.  They say be careful what you ask for….you might corner it.

When I retired to my tent that night, I put my Dad’s .357 Magnum under my pillow.  Even falling asleep in Alaska can be an adventure.

I have come within 10 yards of a bear on more than one booze-fueled occasion.   Sorry mom.

It was a thrill, but when I look back on it, I was fueled by both liquid courage, and the Alaska Mountain Guide posse.  I joined Alaska Mountain Guides as a 26-year-old. These kids were still in college or just out. I was late to that party.  That lifestyle was cut short by vertigo.

At any given moment there was a chance I would get fall-to-the-floor dizzy.  That kind of rules out climbing mountains and being liable for people’s safety while skiing steep faces in Alaska.

I went back to school for biochemical engineering to prove that I was smart.  I didn’t finish and was late again.  The problem was the entrepreneurship classes I took, and physical chemistry class on the horizon.

The idea of teaching entrepreneurship at college is ironic at best.  The program director was a smart man, who I liked, but as far as I could tell, never actually an entrepreneur.  Never-the-less he was a savvy businessman and a good teacher.

One day during class we had a biotechnology entrepreneur give a presentation.  The whole reason (not really, but that’s another post) I had been studying biochemical engineering was because I wanted to become a biotech entrepreneur.

This guy’s track record was amazing.  I think he launched 5 biotechs.  3 were acquired, 1 bust, and 1 he took public.  I might be misremembering, but not by much.

At the end of his presentation, I told him about my plan and asked him the $1 Million question, “What advice do you have for me?”

“My honest advice is…don’t do it.”

What?  Did I just hear that correctly?

He went on to explain that the climate around the Food and Drug Administration approval process was slow, boring, and expensive.  He didn’t see anything changing for the better anytime soon.

Dejected I asked, “What would you do then?”

“Go tech”, he said.

I took his advice.  Not willing to start over in school I decided to focus on the area of business that I could provide the most value in the least amount of time.  Marketing and Sales.

I was 33 when I received that advice.  Late again.

It feels late because I’m surrounded by young folks in San Francisco who are at their first real job.  I have different priorities, so they think (know?) that I’m weird.  I say “no” to the extended Happy Hour that they go to every other night.  I try to keep work and play separate.

The one party I hope I’m not late to, being satisfied with what I’ve accomplished.

I’m after what, in the parlance of our time, is called f-you money.  I really am.

How much is f-you money?

I’ll refer you to Felix Dennis, and his poorly titled but amazing and honest book, How to Get Rich.  The table in his book gives you the amount of cash you need to join the “Lesser Rich”, “Comfortable Poor”,  and the “Filthy Rich”.  Which club do you want to be in?

How do you get to f-you money?

I don’t know yet.  I’m guessing it’s by saying no…..a lot.

I managed to say no to a rather attractive co-worker in her mid-twenties.

She had a boyfriend when I asked her out a few months prior.  Now, she was asking me to stick around Happy Hour.  She was in the middle of a rough patch in her relationship.  I had a feeling she was trying to make someone else jealous, so I leaned down and whispered in her ear, “I can say no to anything….including a woman as attractive as you.  It wasn’t going to be worth it.

There are some parties I will never be late to.

Make Every Decision Easy…Even Who to Marry

How do you turn life’s great questions into easy decisions?

A clear strategy.

I’ve changed a lot of my thinking on business and relationships due to my study of strategy.

A lot of business strategy and finding the right person is centered around commonalities.  These companies all did X, Y, and Z.  Look at their growth.  She likes Star Wars, and drinking beer (Jim Jefferies anyone)?  When are we getting married?

That’s not what a good strategy or relationship are built on.  The question to ask is:

What are you willing to give up?

It’s much easier to find positive traits of said market or prospective mate, if, in fact, that’s what you’re trying to find.

I’m pretty much done staying out and getting drunk at the bar.  Don’t get me wrong I love dive bars.  I’ve spent more time in dive bars than most people should, and even fewer will admit to.

So when we meet for a cup of coffee, she’ll ask if I like to drink.  Yes, I do.  I like it for an hour or so.  Then it’s time to go do something else.

The question is are you willing to give up drinking all night to hang out with me?  If not, great.  Let’s see if we can find each other a sweet job or introduce us to someone else.

The question is are you willing to give up the fandangle portion of the market because the customer acquisition cost will be too high?

I love strategy.  It might come from the fact that I like learning and thinking…but executing?  See my previous post about Fearing Execution.

I heard Seth Godin describe strategy consultants.  It basically came down to this:  You pay them so you can name drop to justify a decision.

“McKinsey said we could…”

Most of the time it was a foregone conclusion.

Ask 10 people the difference between strategy and tactics and you’re likely to get 10 different answers.

I like the one Bob Bloom gives in his book The Inside Advantage, “A strategy says how you intend to achieve your goal; a tactic is the way you intend to implement your strategy.”

In the recent UFC 202 rematch of McGregor vs Diaz, McGregor’s strategy was to get Diaz off-balance and leaning back.  The tactic was leg kicks to Diaz’s front leg.  It worked….barely.

Blitzmetrics uses the Sierpinski triangle as a blueprint for business and personal development.

One of these triangles within a triangle is Business Strategy.  Each corner (starting at the top and moving clockwise) is labeled:  Goals, Content, Targeting.  Together they make up Business Strategy.

I like the idea because it’s practical, especially for something called a strategy.  Goals influence the content you create, which influence who you target.

You can’t win the game if you lack any of these.

If we revisit the Bloom definition we see that this clearly explains “how” we are going to reach our goal; by using targeting and content.  Practical?  Check.

I like to think of strategy as the minimum amount of how that must be present to achieve your goal.

What are you willing to give up so that your decisions in business and relationships are easier?

 

7 Things I Learned while Leading Skiing Expeditions

There is only one way to become a leader, and it isn’t taught at Harvard Business School or Wharton.

Before we go any further let me say that I am one of those people who try to talk people out of going to school.  That is unless it’s on the school’s dime.

You only become a leader by saying yes to an uncertain situation.

Being a leader involves only one thing.

napoleon bonaparte leader  quote

 

That’s it.  A leader doesn’t put people in a position to succeed.  That’s managing.  A leader does this:

 

I led ski expeditions into the most glaciated region in the world outside the polar circles.  The expeditions were 24 days long.  The weather in Southeast (that’s how Alaskans refer to the panhandle) is notoriously fickle.  It made it tough for helicopters or planes to fly.   This meant that if or when things go south, you’ll probably be on your own.

I’m not being dramatic when I say I made life and death decisions on a regular basis.

Here’s the list:

1.  It’s Okay to be Afraid – I can’t tell you how many times before a big climb or ski I wouldn’t sleep.  I was scared.  Could I get us to the top?  Could I mitigate the risk?    It’s healthy to be afraid when doing things that have real consequences.

2.  Use Another Emotion to Replace Fear – You don’t conquer fear or any emotion for that matter.  You replace it.  Embrace this.  Out in the mountains, you can’t rely on music, movies or YouTube to pump you up.  Get creative.  In town I listen to 2pac’s, You Can’t C Me or Mel Gibson’s freedom speech from Braveheart.

3.  Risk = Likelihood X Consequences – The real trick to risk is controlling likelihood.  If the likelihood is almost 0 then it doesn’t matter what the consequences are.  If you’re doing something worth doing the consequences are likely high.

4.  Treat Your Second like he’s a First – It will pay off when the shit hits the fan.  Trust me.

5.  Plan – Some people that I trust are against planning. That’s dumb.   One time I had to get a woman out of the mountains and the weather was so bad that you couldn’t see 5 feet in front of your face.  I planned a route through 2 mountain passes using a compass and a map.  We later went to South America and learned to tango and ski.  But that’s another story.  Planning pays.

6.  Go Farther Than You Think You Should –  When navigating in a whiteout, or uncertain circumstances, your brain is working so fast that it feels like you should’ve gotten their already.  Before going set a boundary.  Add 20%.  That’s your new boundary.

This doesn’t apply to things like turn around times when climbing or pursuing goals that have already been done.  The uncertainty doesn’t come from the route, or the unknown, the uncertainty comes from your ability.   Very different.

7.  Bring Good Chocolate and Coffee –  It’s impossible to bring too much of either.  Make it a surprise.  When faced with a low point, a luxurious surprise goes a long way to keeping morale up.

8. (Bonus) Don’t Read about the Thing You’re Doing – When I first started leading these expeditions I used to bring books about other mountain climbers.  The circumstance would come up where I was stuck in my tent due to weather, reading about a climber who was stuck in his tent due to weather.  It was mildly amusing at first, then I started to feel like Jack in The Shining.

Fearing Execution

Is that such an unreasonable thing? That is, fearing execution.  And who wants to be an executioner anyway?

I’ve spent most of my life not executing.  It’s much easier over there.  The sun is always shining and water is warm.  The problem is that it’s never your sun that is heating the water, and it only feels that way cause your drunk.

My issue with execution is that it’s final.  I like, nay, irrationally  love having options.  This makes it rather hard to execute, now doesn’t it.

They say execution is everything.  I don’t necessarily believe that either.  I have some friends who are amazing at executing.  They also tend to repeat tasks or chase their tail because they executed a circle.   No thanks.

What works for me is the ‘death’s ground’ strategy from Sun-Tzu’s Art of War.  It is the only strategy that I’m aware of that forces execution.  It’s easy; give yourself no other way out.  Watch the magic happen.

I’ve implemented this strategy many times in the past few years.  I moved to Alaska with no job, contacts, house or prospects.  It worked out fantastically.

I recently pulled a similar maneuver by moving to San Francisco.  No job, contacts, house or prospects.  I camped the first days in a tent before I found a place.

Power of Broke
Power of Broke

This strategy isn’t for the faint of heart.  You have to be a minimalist and deal well with uncertainty.  Also it’s not a viable long term strategy.

The challenge I face is recreating the sense of urgency without having to hit the ctrl+alt+delete keys every time.  One of the best ways to do this is found in Robert Greene’s 33 Strategies of War  Go before you are ready, and you will find yourself motivated.

If I’m being honest, I don’t have the track record that I wish I had.  I haven’t executed at a level that I wish I had.  I haven’t failed as often as I wish I had.

But that’s all changing.

If you could only be known for one thing would it be strategy or execution?

The Coming DiSaaSter

Predictable Revenue

The holy grail. Hell, there’s even a best-selling book that carries it as its title.

This is what every investor, start-up founder, and Fortune 500 CEO is after.

I haven’t lived in San Francisco that long, but I have yet to meet one person who isn’t working, selling, or founding a SaaS business. That’s an exaggeration, but not by much.

The $202 Billion Question:

What happens when predictable becomes volatile? DiSaaSter.

It calls to mind traders who sell options on stocks.  These options expire worthless 95% (debatable) of the time.  What happens the other 5%?  They lose their bankroll, house, and shirt.

Now I know the economics that drives an option writer to go broke aren’t the same as a SaaS business. But is it really?

It’s the lure of smooth cash flow. These ideas are not exactly what Nassim Taleb would call  Antifragile.

Not all SaaS businesses are going to go belly-up when volatility comes, but I do predict a particularly fast thinning of the crowd. Warren Buffet refers to these people as “swimming naked”. The tide is going to fall like someone pulled the plug on the bathtub drain.

So what?

So the point is that if you run, work, or are thinking of founding a SaaS business, maybe it’s time to start thinking about zigging while everyone else is zagging. The customer might only buy from you once, but you already have all your profit. It takes the average SaaS business 18 months to recoup the customer acquisition cost.

What is the customer going to think about maintaining your cash flow at the expense of his?

 

How to Avoid “Living in the Moment”

“High side!” I yelled.

My boss’s truck teetered over the edge of an embankment.

It was January in Montana, in the mountains.  It was -20 degrees that day on the ski hill.   Down below was a river that was half frozen.  Maybe this was when my vertigo first appeared?

It’s amazing what thoughts pass through your mind in a situation like this.

My first was that if we go into the drink I’ve got about 90 seconds to get out of the water.

Get your hand on the seatbelt buckle.

I wondered how swimming with ski boots was going to go?

Reliving this moment isn’t entirely unlike this scene from True Lies.

“Live in the moment”, is a piece of advice that you hear at weddings, graduations, and TED-type talks.

Good advice.  No one ever tells you how to do it.

Why is this?  How do they do it?  How do I know when I’m doing it?

95% of those people are just repeating what someone else “smart” said.

I know this because I repeat stuff that smart people have said all the time.  In this case, I have actually done it.

Here’s how to do it:

magicHappens

 

“Where the magic happens” is when you are living in the moment.

This moment can be designed or it can be forced upon you.  See my predicament above.

Ask yourself:  When was the last time I did something for the first time?  If the answer is greater than a week.  You’re avoiding living in the moment.

At first, you won’t realize your living in the moment until after the fact.  But, if you keep pushing yourself out of your comfort zone you’ll start to recognize the tell-tale signs before hand.  Anxiety. Excitement.  A feeling of pressure.

This isn’t a post about how to deal with these emotions.  Maybe next time.

The good news is that the “magic zone” is auto-regulated.

People thought I was crazy because I was a professional ski patroller, ski mountaineering guide, and helicopter ski guide.

They should’ve hung out with my friends.  They regularly did things that would make my head spin.

I needed them to keep pushing me into the “magic zone”.  I’d like to think that they were thinking the same thing about me, but who knows.

How do you start to do this?

Ask for a discount at Starbucks.  Chat up the stranger in line at the train station.  I haven’t done this one yet, but try selling someone a $5 bill for $1.  I hear it’s impossible to do.

Slowly raise the stakes.

Public speaking is my next “magic zone” target.  Or swing dancing.  I don’t know.

The point is that the comfort zone is always and forever acting like Mary Swanson from Dumb and Dumber.  This isn’t a knock on Mary, she looked good, but more a call to start noticing when people (especially beautiful women), events, and mysterious forces are limiting your time in the “magic zone”.

“High Side!”

Luckily everyone in the truck was either a professional river rat (whitewater guide) or had been on enough whitewater trips to know what it meant.

Everyone dove to the driver side to try and counter balance the truck.

The truck stopped teetering.

Slowly, starting with me because I was on the lowest corner hanging out over the edge, we climbed over each other to get out.

My boss was the last one in the truck.

I put all my weight into pulling down on the open driver’s side door to act as an anchor.  My friend grabbed my jacket to hold me.  The rest followed suit forming a line.

This moment had my full my attention.  This moment was real.  The moments that you are most alive, are the moments with real consequences.

My boss looked me in the eyes.

“If this thing starts moving…let go.”

As he shifted his weight, the truck started moving….

True story.