Archive for October, 2011

The math of fifty million dollars
October 25, 2011

You. Yeah, you. Flow with me here.

You have a million dollar idea. Actually, what you have is a 100 million dollar idea. But you need a partner because that works better then going at it alone. So, you own half right now. Thus you have a gateway to 50 million. That is $50,000,000.

Repeating: $50,000,000.

But it is five years away. You will be under forty years old and you will have 50,000,000. But five years is 1830 days. Thats a long time.

It will take five years But after 1830 Days you would be able to spend 100,000$ a month every month for the rest of your life. And you would still die with more than the 50,000,000 you started with.

Re-read that.

Twice.

But It will take five years. 1830 days. Thats a long time, right? And you will have to do half the work, shoulder half the burden, handle half the responsibility, swallow half the risk while all along it feels like you are doing all the work, shouldering the whole burden, eating all the risk.

You will have to fire people who count on you to help them pay their bills.

You will have to say “no” a thousand times for every “yes”.

Fittingly you also hear “no” a thousand times for every “yes”.

You will bounce checks. Customers won’t pay on time. You will feel like you are a day away from going bust every day. Every. Day.

You will struggle and have no one to confide in except your partner.

It will be fun, but mostly it will be very very hard.

50,000,000 is a big number. Keep that in mind. Count to 500 while sitting there at your desk, bored from work. Count to 500 then imagine doing that another 100,000 times. Yeah, it’s a big number. Good for you. Congratulations. But you will have to earn it. And you will not love earning it. You will not like earning it. It will take years off your life to earn it.

So why are you doing this? I’ll tell you why: because 38 billion people have lived on this planet and fewer then .01% of them were able to change the world. And you owe it to yourself to find out if you are one of them.

But it will take five years. And you will work harder then you thought a person could ever work. You only think you work hard now. Try waking up knowing that you can’t pay your mortgage payment or feed your kids if you don’t close the sale TODAY. You have to Ask the bank for more time You have to tell your son that a cheese burger is out, pasta with butter is in. Yeah, now you understand. Sort of. Just wait.

You will miss important family events. You will be misunderstood and people will call you crazy and think you are deluded. People who work in cubicles will laugh at you. People who enjoy three day weekends will turn on you. People that think social security and a 401k matter anymore will scoff. Scoffing is childish. But they will do it anyway.

But in five years you will have fifty million dollars. So what do they know, right?

People hide behind “changing the world!” as their reason to embark on a big journey. But changing the world in business and making a filthy fortune ARE mutually inclusive. Change the world, make a fortune. They go hand in hand. Has anyone ever changed the world and ended up broke because of it outside of Jesus?

It will take five years. You will make $50,000,000. Thats 10,000,000 a year. Thats $33k a day. That is what you are earning every day that you bleed and sweat for this. $33,000 a day. But you cant have it for five years. Deal? Or no deal?

So i have given you the math. You have to solve the equation How much is your time worth? What is $50,000,000 worth? What is changing the world worth? Can you do it? What the f$&k are you waiting for?

A free startup idea – EMAIL DAILY DIGEST
October 19, 2011

I get a lot of email. Perhaps 200 messages in a day to my work email address and another 50 or so to my personal. No doubt many of you think that isn’t much compared to your own situation which only further highlights how ridiculous email overload is. So here is a Naked and Famous doing “Girls Like You” followed by a free business idea I’ll call “Email Daily Digest”.

– There are messages I want to receive. (Jokes, articles, purchase orders)

– There are messages I need to receive. (Bills, Work action items, etc.)

– There are messages I neither want nor need. (Spam).

– And there are messages that I might want or might need but that do not require any urgency whatsoever.

There is an opportunity in the final type of message on the list. Here’s why…

On most mornings I wake up to approximately 25 emails. These are emails that have been sent between the time I went to bed and the time I woke up so they are either critically urgent business emails (1 or 2), musings/articles/jokes from friends and family (2 or 3), or auto-emails from services I signed up for once upon a time. Site’s like Groupon and Woot and Living Social and OneKingsLane send out their daily offering email overnight. Yelp and Expedia and AMerican Airlines and LinkedIn send messages throughout the day.

These are messages I might be interested in. But one of the problems is that they reach me at odd times. If I wake up to a Groupon offer I like but I haven’t even gotten dressed and made coffee yet, then I am tasked with remembering to buy the offer later in the day when I reach my computer. If I get something from Yelp or Expedia – which is much more passive in selling me something – then I might not read it at all.

The problem is not the content of the messages but rather the context with which they reach me. I don’t care to learn what Yelpers think is the best steakhouse in Austin when it’s 11am on a Tuesday and I’m stuck in a meeting. I don’t have any need for Travelocity’s “Cancun Getaway!” promotion when it’s 9am on a Saturday and my daughter wants to have a tea party. While some might say, “just ignore the message until a more convenient time!” I would offer that most people who check their email on mobile devices (which is a rapidly growing segment of the population) check messages almost immediately as they come in and decide right then what to do with the message. If I’m at dinner and here my iPhone *ding* there is a good chance that I will check the messages within the hour. And there is a 100% chance that I will answer or delete the message right then.

So here is the idea:

Most email services allow users to tag or label messages. Most email services allow users to forward or filter messages as well. So all of the Groupon messages can be sent to a specific folder called “Daily Deals” already. Why not take this powerful feature a step forward and allow a user to not only filter the messages but also aggregate them and schedule their delivery. In other words, send me one email a day at a time I select that reads like a bullet-pointed list of all the messages I might want to see but rarely read.

I imagine getting a single email at 5:30pm (after my workday but when I’m still likely around a computer in case I need to respond or buy something). The subject line could be “Daily Email Digest for MM/DD/YYYY”. I’d open it and have a list like this…
____________________
TOTAL MESSAGES (10)
DEALS

    Groupon – 50% off Pizza at Mangia
    Living Social – $10 off a Car Wash at Genie Car Wash
    Woot – HP Pavilion Desktop for $320

Social and Groups

    Linked In – Austin Tech Group
    Linked In – Semiconductor Sales Group
    WorkFeeds – Technology News Group
    Yelp! – Austin’s Best Sushi!

Other

    American Airlines Supersaver rates this week
    Care.com – New message from Care.com
    Caring Bridge – Update

_________________

Make each line a link and if I click on it, it takes me to the message. Let me pick what time I get the message. Let the message send all the “stuff” I have it controlling from the previous 24 hours. The market opportunity is vast, and over time even more controls and notifications can be added. The charge would have to be nominal, but I imagine a thirty day free trial would show enough value for a person to pay $10/year for the service.

There are companies trying to completely redefine the email inbox. There are companies trying to solve email overload by making filtering and forwarding much easier and more efficient. But to my knowledge, no one is working on making DELIVERY more efficient.

So, there you go…

Self Expression in the echo chamber…
October 18, 2011

The last generation of big online tech companies empowered people to do offline things in the online world. SHop for books at Amazon, buy crap they didn’t need off of eBay, sell the crap they bought off eBay to someone quickly on Craigslist, finding a date on eHarmoChemiMatchO’Fish. It was actually the golden age of the internet, making people’s lives more efficient in a lot of respects.

The current generation of big online tech companies isn’t doing much offline-to-online. It’s really more about creating places where people can express themselves. And the winners are the ones that can make people feel like someone is actually paying attention to said self-expression. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Quora, TUmblr. They all live and die with the fact that users have something to say, something to convey, something they want to put out there for….SOMEONE….to hear.

Which is why I’m interested as to why none of these companies have found a deep and meaningful way to measure how much YOUR particular signal is cutting through, and to whom. For example, Twitter lets you know who is following you but to my knowledge there is no simple way to tell how many click-thrus a link-including Tweet gets. Nevermind seeing WHO clicked through to read whatever had been declared. Facebook has no meaningful way to measure it either unless you count people “liking” a post. That’s a mechanical requirement – a person clicking a button acknowledging the content. There is no way to know if your Aunt Lulu skimmed/read that you were heading to the library to study this morning. Quora is a little better as people can vote up (or down) content which shows a direct engagement. But not everyone who reads votes, and the voting exists in a binary state (up vote, down vote). Folks can comment on content on each of these sites just as they can on WordPress and in forums everywhere. In other words, the call to action is measured by the reactivity of the person reading the content. Til now that has been enough. Folks have been so glad to have a megaphone to speak through that they haven’t wondered about how much of their signal is cutting through the noise.

But the growing usefulness and ease of having a voice online means that people will continue to seek more advanced and complete forms of validation for what they write and what they say. It won’t be enough to know that 14 people liked the link you posted or that 45 people are following you on Twitter. It will be important to know that they are ENGAGED with what you are saying. It will matter to you that Uncle Leo read your views on the GOP debate and BY GOD HE THINKS YOU ARE CORRECT ABOUT THAT JOHN HUNTSMAN FELLOW! It will matter to you that your Tweet about how awesome Real Steal was caused three friends to go see it. People want this validation in the offline world every day through promotions and pats on the back and simple water-cooler conversations. It’s only about half developed on the internet.

Problem is that all of those people have the same need, like they are all in the same room where everyone is talking, trying to be heard while no one realizes that half of a conversation is listening.

I’m not sure what the answer is. Outside of microchips in the brain or laptops that have eye-tracking movements I’m sort of lost as to where this is all going. But it is most certainly headed that way – the appeal of the internet now is that it gives people a voice. At some point all of those folks busy talking are going to start asking if anyone is really listening.

A few words about pretty things
October 13, 2011

My ability to do anything creative has been utterly and completely shut down by my loathing of things that are ugly. It’s rather sad, but I’m unable to move forward on a number of cool ideas I have because I can’t stand the thought of creating them and having them be anything but gorgeous. First, a little history of how I got to this point…

When I was in elementary school I loved skateboarding and BMX biking. I loved Freestyle Magazine and Transworld Skateboarding. Both magazines featured full glossy pages, high resolution photos, and kept the advertising in its rightful place. I hated Thrasher magazine and BMX Plus. Both featured crummy paper quality, print errors, and advertisements all over the place. Freestyle and Transworld were like works of art every month while Thrasher and BMX Plus looked like a plate of Spaghetti’O’s tossed against the dirty pavement. I didn’t realize it then, but my discerning eye for good design was taking shape.

Later when I quit skating and biking and started playing guitar I favored Guitar for The Practicing Musician over Guitar World. The former had glossy pages and well written articles on everything from jazz music to the history of the blues while the latter seemed to feature the same Megadeth interview on newspaper print every month.

Pretty much as long as I can remember I’ve liked things that look good. But I haven’t liked them nearly as much as I hate things that look bad. I won’t use Yahoo because the design is so bad. I hate Facebook not for its ability to make the most boring and mundane things interesting but rather because the user interface is a disaster. I can’t stand the thought of buying an HP computer because the whole of it seems so lazy, as if the only thing guiding the design was a budget analysis of which hinges and screens and ports would be cheapest on the assembly line. I can’t handle going to the mall because so many of the stores are noise – noisy music, noisy clothes racks, noisy workers….as if overpowering my senses will lead me to buy something.

Conversely, I love Google and Twitter and Mercedes because they are designed well. There is nothing extraneous about them, every pixel and screw is essential to the mission. I like Starbucks not for the coffee but because the atmosphere is exactly what a 21st century coffee shop should be. I like to drink at places that have beers on tap and big wooden bars. I hate drinking wine but could stand in the wine aisle for hours looking at the labels.

So I find myself in a bad position. With the knowledge that I will never be a master drawer, I do not draw at all. With the knowledge that I would never be a master guitar player, I do not play at all. ANd with the knowledge that the beautiful thing in my head is likely to be an abomination on the screen, I can not release any software. I’m paralyzed by the fear that what I work on, what I create will be so ugly upon appearance that I’d rather not create it at all.

I’ve read more books and blogs about “getting started!” and “walk before you run!” and “design isn’t as important as having a working prototype!” that I truly should have no hangups about simply putting something to paper and knowing that its okay for me to use an eraser to fix the parts I don’t like. No, I can’t do that. Steve Jobs was asked if he thought the people who designed the PC Jr. didn’t have pride in their work. His response was “If they had, they wouldn’t have designed the PC Jr.”

That’s a bit like how I feel. Better to have nothing created then to create something ugly.

Apple and Tomatos
October 10, 2011

I hate tomatoes with the fire of a thousand burning suns. I like hot sauce and ketchup and spaghetti, but fresh tomatoes of any sort make me want to jab a spork in to my eyeball. For the purposes of the coming story, it important to know that I prefer fireants, poison ivy, and the flu to tomatoes.

So, last Friday night I drove over to Taco Bueno (fast food tex mex) for some “dinner”. It had been a long week and I was looking forward to the weekend. I was pretty burnt out reading all of the various odes to Steve Jobs during the week, mostly because they pretty much all said the same thing. I had resolved myself to not entering the conversation because I figured the three people who read this blog were likely burnt out as well. But while I was at Taco Bueno, a few things occurred to me about Jobs and Apple and how they fit in to the bigger context of business and customer satisfaction. I decided I would share them here.

I pulled in to Taco Bueno and had a predictable fast food experience. I ordered a combo of tacos and a quesadilla with no tomatoes. I confirmed with the girl taking the order, no tomatoes. The screen said “No Tomatoes.” The Receipt said “No tomatoes.” And of course there were tomatoes on the tacos. As my dad would say, “it’s a fast food place at 10pm on a Friday….what do you expect?” My opinion is that it shouldn’t be that hard to NOT put tomatoes on the taco as was requested.

Even further, considering the costs of food and the margins in the food business, I would think that management should be pushing employees to not put anything on the taco/sandwich/burger that the customer doesn’t want. Tomatoes aren’t cheap. Imagine that a Burger King product has a nickel’s worth of tomato slices on it. Imagine 100,000 orders per day around the world ask for “no tomatoes.” That’s five grand. Over the course of the year that’s 1.825 MILLION DOLLARS (!!!) wasted on tomatoes.

Anyway, as I sat in the drive thru lane picking the tomatoes off of my tacos and tossing them out the window I had a bit of a revelation about the appeal not only of Apple’s products but also of the way they do business. I have an iPhone, iPad and a Mac and I adore them. They look cool and the cool kids have Macs and people look longingly at my white iPhone when I’m in Starbucks and I’m a gadget snob….but the reason I like APple products is because they never have “tomatoes.” In other words, when use my Macbook or my iPhone or my iPad, I get exactly what I asked for and exactly what I expected. There is nothing extra and unknown there to excite me just as there is nothing I hoped for that is missing. I know what I’m getting every time I interact with the device.

A lot is made in the business world of “exceeding expectations.” Seth Godin says that the “extra thing we do is what makes people remark about your company…the extra thing makes your company remarkable.” There are mantras about “underpromising and overdelivering.” There are edicts about doing something unexpected for the customer that makes you stick out. In my view, Apple didn’t do anything like that. Instead of focusing on doing something extra or unexpected, the folks in Cupertino went out of their way to make sure their products delivered exactly what was expected every time. Having flash on the iPad would have been “unexpected” and led to great joy. But it didn’t matter because the functionality that was promised worked so well. Having a 4G iPhone would have been “unexpected” but that too didn’t matter because the phone worked great anyway. I love my iPhone because I don’t have to pull the battery twice a day when the OS is hung up. I love my MacBook because OSX makes installing programs a breeze and allows me to have multiple workspaces open at once and does 100 other things VERY WELL, EVERY TIME. Neither device does everything I want it to do. But it does everything APple promised me it would do and it does it very well, every time.

As to the idea of adding something extra, why not make the “something extra” part of what you do anyway? Does Dell really need to throw in a free laptop case to make you feel good about buying a laptop from them? Why not just make the laptop awesome in the first place. Does Overnight Prints really need to offer me sports memorabilia as a “bonus” when I’ve purchased enough business cards? Why not spend those resources making sure my order ships on time instead? Having excellent customer service like Zappos isn’t “extra”, it’s the very pillar of their business. Apple is able to sell products that people love at high prices without having in to throw in something extra. The person buying the product knows what they are getting and – by virtue of their purchase – they have declared “this is enough.”

The reason you give someone something “extra” is because you worry that what you agreed upon earlier isn’t good enough or special enough. Its a hedge against the customer’s possible disappointment. Instead of wasting resources on doing something extra, why not focus on doing what is expected correctly? WHy not focus on keeping tomatoes off of my tacos when I ask? Why not focus on meeting expectations in a way that your customer says “I can count on that company EVERY TIME.” You shouldn’t have to toss in something unexpected to get your customer’s attention. Apple doesn’t have to, why should you?