Friday, December 17, 2010

How to learn about giving through the actions of a 5-year-old

It didn't start out as charity. 

It started out as a 5-year-old girl who wanted a present for Christmas many weeks in advance of the holiday. 

The deal we made with her was that she was to save up the money herself for an American Girl Doll (I believe she may actually have been told that Santa doesn't bring American Girl Dolls, but that's not relevant to the story).  So for about 5 months our daughter saved up her money to purchase an American Girl Doll -- she saved her allowance, she did extra chores for extra allowance, and she even tried to get creative with the change from purchases that she made with our money.  A few weeks ago she had saved up $97.00, only $3.00 short of the approximate $100.00 that it takes to get one of the dolls with tax.

Before she got so close to her goal, I had been listening to some Anthony Robbins tapes.  I'll paraphrase one of his keys to wealth and happiness with the following 3 points:
  1. Give with no expectation of receiving anything in return; do it because it feels good.
  2. Give when its hardest for you to do so -- when it's hardest is the best time to give.
  3. Give away a percentage (10% is what he recommends) of your money to reset your brain that there is actually enough.
I shared this recording with my wife and then we chatted about it further on a ski lift.  At some point we we got to talking about how close my daughter was to her savings goal and that's when I put them together: how cool would it be if we could get my daughter to take her nearly $100.00 and, instead of buying the doll for herself, use the money to purchase the doll for someone else?  And not just anyone else, but perhaps a little girl that was unfortunately having to spend the holidays in the Denver Children's Hospital (note that we already do some charity with the Ronald McDonald House at the Denver Children's Hospital already as a family, so this wasn't too much of an out-of the-blue benefactor).

In thinking through it a little more, we decided that we needed a little bit more of a carrot for our daughter, so I proposed that we match her nearly-$100.00 with $100.00 of our own money (in cash, of course) for her to buy a second doll, but that she had to also give that doll to someone in the hospital.  Remember that as you get older, it's easier to follow Robbins' advice, but for a 5-year-old that has saved for many months, the prospect of giving up all that hard-earned money was likely to be a bit of a challenge.

So, armed with the plan, we took our daughter out to lunch and near the conclusion of her cheeseburger, we simply threw out the idea of her buying a doll for a girl in the hospital with her money.  Her initial reaction was that she wanted to use her money to buy herself a doll at Christmas and then she would save to buy another doll for a girl in the hospital -- a pretty remarkable response from someone so young, if you think about it.  We spent some more time explaining to her about how there will people in need and that it wouldn't be any fun to be in the hospital at Christmas.  Then we threw the offer of the matching funds out there and pointed out that because Santa was paying extra attention this time of year, she could score some major "nice list" points.  After weighing that internally, the 5-year-old got pretty excited -- she was on-board.

Due to the nature of the timing of everything, my wife took my daughter to the American Girl store to pick out the 2 dolls.  While there, our daughter took the opportunity to inform the manager of what she was doing -- apparently the manager almost cried.

Following that, my wife posted the following on her Facebook account:
I am so proud of my 5 year old kiddo. She saved up all year to buy an American Girl doll....and when she finally had the $100...she decided to buy the doll and donate it to Children's Hospital of Denver. We matched her donation so next week we will deliver two American Girl dolls to the hospital and hopefully give them directly to two little girls. I'm speechless that I have raised such a cool kid.
And following that, others that wanted to participate started leaving messages.  I started telling the story to people as well ... and they started handing me cash wanting to participate.  So, at this point -- we're at 7 dolls and counting (not including the $100.00 that was provided by someone for a gift for a boy).

We've been in touch with the Children's Hospital and our daughter will be delivering everything during the middle part of next week, so that the families of the kids that will receive them will have them in-hand prior to the holidays.

Thanks to everyone for your generosity and willingness to participate in not only the worthy spirit of giving with no expectation of anything in return, but also in teaching our daughter an important lesson.

PS -- if you find yourself inspired to participate in giving something to someone, I certainly hope that you do.  If you find yourself particularly inspired to participate with us, and that certainly wasn't the point of this post, just shoot me an e-mail (I'm easy to find) and I'll let you know how you can participate with us.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

10 things to help your fear of public speaking

I remember the worst presentation that I ever made.  It was in front of a group of General Managers from both division of our company along with the entire senior executive groups of both companies, and some other people thrown in there for good measure, just to make the room completely full.  The room was funky shaped in that it was at an almost perfect equilateral "L" shape, with people sitting down both sides of the "L" and the presenter, microphones, projectors, screens, etc. at the point where the 2 pieces of the "L" came together.

What's funny is that I had been asked to give a brief presentation on a topic that I knew very well: how our side of the business was making such great numbers in food and beverage.  I knew the topic well because I was the head of the national initiatives that were driving the numbers -- such a slam dunk, I didn't really even think about it; big mistake.  When my turn finally came, my presentation was lame, it was actually downright embarrassing.  I was sweating and shaking and even tried to get away with not using the mic.  Instead of covering off on the great things that we were doing, I offered 3 minutes of lame verbal presentation with no props, no slides, no nothing -- big mistake on my part and I know I came across as incapable; certainly not the guy that was actually producing the results.

After that horrible presentation, I resolved to never, ever be unprepared and also to never allow myself to get that intimidated in a presentation ever again.  I went and bought books, I was lucky enough to see some great presentations live, I scoured the internet for presentation secrets.

If you're looking for the silver bullet here, you're not going to get it, but I will tell you what helped a lot.

First: you've got to get out and do it; practice, like with anything else, is what makes you better at the presentation.  I'm sure you've heard it before, but not practicing public speaking means that you won't be any good at it at all when you finally need to do it.  You don't have to go from nothing to groups of hundreds or thousands, just use every possible opportunity to get out there and do it, even if it's only for 5 minutes.

Second: understand the psychology of it.  There are lots of books out there that deal with this, but no one sums it up better than Seth Godin in Linchpin: "It turns out the three biological factors that drive job performance and innovation are social intelligence, fear response, and perception.  Public speaking brings all three together.  Public speaking also triggers huge fear responses.  We're surrounded by strangers or people of power, all of whom might harm us.  Attention is focused on us, and attention (according to our biology) equals danger.  Last, and more subtly, speaking involves perception.  It exposes how we see things, both the thing we are talking about and the response of the people in the room.  Exposing that perception is frightening.  In a contest between the rational desire to spread an idea by giving a speech and the biological phobia against it, biology has an unfair advantage."  Once you know all this and acknowledge it, you can confront it and move on (or not).  As Godin later points out: "Anxiety is needless and imaginary.  It's fear about fear, fear that means nothing."  What you "fear" about public speaking is the fear of everything listed above.  As I ask others that I coach through this stuff: "What's the worst that's going to happen?  They'll laugh at you or walk out -- who cares?"

Third: talk about stuff your passionate about.  This is really simple.  If you don't present and talk about things you feel strongly about, feel passionate about, you'll fail.  I don't care how well you speak, there's a genuine (detectable) difference between just speaking at people and truly trying to get the message across about something your passionate about.  As Tom Peters says, "People can smell emotional commitment (or lack thereof) from a mile away."

Fourth: set the room.  Don't ever let some conversion guy, tech guy, event planner, etc. to set the room so you're not comfortable with it -- show up early and be ready to get dirty moving stuff around.  Try to plan ahead and tell whomever is setting the room what you want (and then expect them to not do it quite right and that you'll need to adjust it).

Fifth: develop some rules for your PowerPoint presentations.  If you're going to use them, adopt a formula and stick with it.  I like Guy Kawasaki's 10/20/30 rule of PowerPoint (with some variations) and Seth Godin's Really Bad PowerPoint, but I can tell you that I don't have a presentation that violates the rule of text smaller than 20 point text and that the majority of my slides are pictures/graphics/video and no text at all.  Spend money on stock photography and graphics, and make sure you buy the correct license to use in your presentation.  Either make your presentation look good by buying the graphics you need or stay home -- no one wants to see stupid built-in clipart from Microsoft.  Sorry to bum you out, but it's the way it is.

Sixth: get used to the damn microphone.  Get used to holding one, get used to walking around with one, get used to getting one attached to your lapel, and, if you're speeching a lot, go buy your own mic that can go in the wireless transmitter (the Samson SE50 is a place to start).  By the way, if you're wireless, make sure you have 2 sets of spare batteries for the wireless mic or belt pack.  Why 2?  Because the mean failure rate jumps to 99.99% when you're presenting in front of a group and you can add more 9's to the left of the decimal the larger the group is.

Seventh: you're going to lose your train of thought.  Get used to it and learn how to work through it.  Or don't an fail.  The natural reaction when you lose your train of thought is to go off on some tangent that makes no sense, but still causes words to come out of your mouth.  Stop it!  Figure out a method.  I pick a person close to me, point at them, and say: "Shit!  I lost my train of thought!  What was I about to say?"  They have no idea, but it jars my brain enough to get me back on track (or jars the audience enough that I don't have to).

Eighth: get audience interaction.  For the love of god, people glaze over after five minutes.  If they're not interacting with you, it's a lost cause. Unless you're talking for less than five minutes, in which case you might be ok, but you're probably better by getting them involved.

Ninth: dress the part.  I hate wearing coats.  I wear them during presentations ... usually with jeans.  Why?  It sets your frame of mind, it sets a tone with audience.  Plus, if you're sweating your ass off, it ensures that the audience sees no wet pits (others won't tell you why they wear coats, I'm happy too -- wet pits suck, cover them with a jacket).

Tenth: there's a wealth of videos of great presenters available for free on the internet.  Think what you want about Tony Robbins, but the guy knows his shit when it comes to presenting -- check out the TED video where he recovers from Al Gore shaking his train of thought.  Check out a bunch of the TED videos -- hell, I post one almost every day on my Twitter feed; if you don't like the content, pay attention to the quality of the presentation.

I hope you do great.

Send me a link to video.

(picture from kevin_cease)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

20 minutes a day

I'm guessing you have it.

If you don't have it I'm guessing you can find it.

The TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) conference is held annually and costs $6,000.00 per year -- even if you can afford that, you still have to apply for membership, so coming up with the money is not a guarantee of entry.  One of the defining characteristics of TED is the amazing speakers that they have; each speaker is limited in presentation time to about 18 minutes.

Although I could fill an entire blog post about TED and what they do and the spin-off conferences and everything else, here's what's important: all of these great presentations by amazing people are videotaped and made available free of charge on the TED site.

How better could you spend 20 minutes of your day in expanding your range, becoming a little smarter, and or learning something you had no idea about before?

I've been tweeting (you can follow me by clicking here) videos that I enjoy for the last several days and the response has been overwhelming; bear in mind that these are just videos/presentations I've enjoyed enough to share.

For those looking to get caught up, here are some of my  recent top picks:
Trust me -- find 20 minutes a day.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The next big ancillary revenue source in broadband

They'll be charging you to prioritize particular types of traffic.

Already have the standard $50 package from Comcast? If you're a gamer, pay an extra $15 per month and they'll prioritize that traffic for you.

Trust me, it's coming -- just selling raw speed isn't enough incremental revenue.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

GleaSkins for the iPhone 4

If you're like me, putting a bulky case on your iPhone 4 is the last thing that you want to do, but you probably still are looking for a little protection for the back of it (perhaps something to give it a little less slickness) and maybe even something to cover the antenna area to deal with those antenna issues.

Although I've got some other similar products on order, GelaSkins were the first 3M-based skins that I received -- the 3M material uses a web matrix to prevent bubbles and is repositionable; if you've ever tried to put on a screen protector only to have it not line up or get filled with air bubbles, this is the opposite of that experience.

Right off the bat when I opened the GelaSkins envelope, I was impressed with the clean and minimal packaging -- the GelaSkins kit for the iPhone 4 includes a cover for the full back with a cut-out for the camera, a cover for the left side with cut-outs for the mute button and volume buttons that extends to just shy of the mic, a cover for the right side with no cut-out for the SIM slot that extends to just shy of the speaker, a cover for the top black portion on the front with cut-outs for the camera and speaker, and a cover for the bottom black portion on the front with a cut-out for the navigation button. Applying the material was surprisingly easy and it is extremely forgiving: if you get off on the alignment, simply peel up the edge and don't worry about bubbles or loss of adhesion.

Initially I installed all of the cover pieces and even downloaded the matching wallpaper for the front -- GelaSkins sells artist-designed covers and has matching wallpapers that can be downloaded to give a consistent graphic appearance when the screen is turned on (I actually downloaded the GelaSkins iOS app). Upon using the phone with the front covers, I found that I didn't really like them, so I took them off and switched back to my original wallpaper.

I will admit that I haven't stress-tested the covers on the back and sides yet, but the small bit of cover over the antenna does seem to make some amount of difference on antenna performance. I'm not sure if it helps, but once I had the covers where I wanted, I left my phone alone in its overnight cradle to let the adhesive cure a little bit (note that the covers are designed to be removed at any time with no residue, so "cure" may not be the most correct term).

Note that although there are others out there offering similar products made from similar materials, GelaSkins does some to offer by far the coolest designs for skins.

More to follow after I've used it and let it bang around in my pocket for a couple of weeks.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The part of the job you love

Do you remember why you started doing what you do? Aside from those that absolutely do what they do because of the money, chances are good that you at least started doing what you do because there was something about it that you loved. So here comes the second important question: when's the last time you did the part that you loved?

I hope it hasn't been too long.

My job is in entertainment -- I turned towards this full-time after graduating college and haven't looked back. What I love is being at the events, working with fans directly, getting into the middle of things, so I do. Interestingly, people other than my team members notice -- I recently had a conversation with a concert tour security guy that told me he knew our company had to be good because I was out on the ground with our staff . . . this was before the event even started and we hadn't worked with him before.

Some people find it weird: "How come you're out here doing this?" is a question that I frequently receive. I do it because I love doing it; if I stop loving it, I will likely stop doing it. That simple, that clean, that easy.

I worry a lot about people that don't like their jobs, the people that complain about "cases on the Moooondays", about reaching the hump day, those that watch the clock every day until it swings around to shift end, those that feel like they've been released from jail every Friday. There was a reason (usually other than money) that enticed you into the job to begin with, the part of it that you loved -- I would challenge you to go find that again and start spending your time doing that instead of focusing on all the stuff you don't love . . . or I challenge you to leave and go do what you love.

Is what you're doing worth doing? Is what you're doing what you love?

If it's not, how hard would it be for you to stop?

PS -- if you don't want to just believe me, Seth Godin's got a post with similar ideas.

PPS -- for those of you that find it hard to believe that anyone can actually pull off working and doing what they love, I submit to you this video from just a few weeks ago where you can find me in the barricade just stage left of center. You can also find me dead center of the camera in this video.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The office

I remember when I worked for a large company and we were trying to come up with ways to maximize EBITDA -- my idea was to not renew our office lease; $90,000.00 direct to the bottom line by not really doing anything except not coming in to work. The idea, of course, was meet with resistance by a bunch of people, including people working in the office and people at the corporate office. What was interesting, of course, was that everyone already had laptops on their desk, all of the files were stored on servers in the corporate office, everyone had VPN access, and we had installed a very expensive phone system with IP and soft-phones; in short, we were totally set up to not be in the office, except no one wanted to be without the office.

Offices used to be where all the "stuff" was -- the computers, the servers, the phone system, the only way to check e-mail . . . that is no longer the case (do you remember when IT finally "turned on" Outlook Web Access) and it hasn't been for a while. It used to be that the only way the "watercooler conversation" happened was actually at the watercooler in the office, but now, of course, those conversations (and those that would likely never have occurred at the watercooler) take place on Facebook and instant messaging, faster and more dynamically and without having to get up from your chair.

Interestingly I compose this post from the patio of a place down the street that has wifi . . . because the power to our office complex is completely out and the power company is optimistic on the fact that it will be turned back on "at some point today". In the context of this post:
  • Our e-mail and groupware services are through Google Apps -- wifi on the patio is as good as ehternet and wireless in the office.
  • Our users store their files locally because they are constantly backed up and version-controlled when machines are idle for 10 minutes by Mozy Pro -- the file server is not a concern.
  • The telephone/internet provider that we use allows us to software-forward the main office line to a cellular phone or other number if needed -- taken care of via a web portal.
  • Most of our employees use their cell phones as their primary business phones anyway -- no disruption with the phone system being down.
  • Our website is hosted with BlueHost.
  • Our workforce management software is hosted and delivered via thin client.
  • Our payroll system is hosted and delivered via thin client.
  • We use Basecamp for a number of collaboration projects, but could easily scale it to a bunch of others -- Basecamp is hosted an accessible from anywhere.
  • The only thing that we cannot reliably access is our accounting software, which is the only item that we continue to host on our server as opposed to in the cloud -- maybe I need to re-evaluate this.
Seth Godin has a more detailed and general post about offices that's worth reading: link. In his post, Godin describes the linchpin to the death of the office simply being the "place to go" -- this is by far the easiest piece. If you are a client service organization, and your client has a facility, go work there and meet there -- hopefully your client(s) like you and would be happy to see you and your team more often. Panera's had free wifi for as long as I've been going there; some of them even have cool lobby areas outside the store. Starbucks has free wifi starting in July; think of the coffee fees as your utilities (you'll probably get better productivity with everyone all cranked up on caffeine anyway). Invest in 3G/4G wireless cards -- 10 employees x $60 per month = $600 (how much is your rent and phone service monthly now? for that matter, how much is your T1 per month) and pick a cool place or places. Find a few places that are smart enough to offer wifi (see my post about this here) as part of their value proposition -- maybe negotiate a deal to be able to "put it on your tab" because everyone wants to feel like a regular somewhere and be able to say that to impress clients, employees, and prospective clients. Let your employees actually work from home sometimes -- you don't need to see them face-to-face to measure productivity; some of them will take advantage or freak out, but they're not the ones you want long-term anyway.

Is this scary stuff? Maybe. But why are you scared?

Perhaps more importantly: how much higher could your salary be if the company didn't have to pay rent and utilities and monthly charges at the office? How much would you save on your commute? How much more productive could you be if your face-time with your co-workers was finite every week?

Still scared?

PS -- I haven't been successful practicing what I'm preaching here . . . yet.

PPS -- In the picture she's not passed out on the keyboard, she's just hiding from the camera. But when's the last time your office looked like that?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

iPhone 4 purchasing today

A few tips and tricks for ordering your iPhone today based on my experience if you're an existing AT&T customer:
  • If you're an existing AT&T customer, try using ATT's site instead of Apple's.
  • Go to the AT&T store if the online is not working for you. If there is a long line, ask to manually fill out an upgrade form (they have them), let them make a copy of your credit card and driver license, and have them fax you confirmation once they've entered it into the system.
  • Try accessing the AT&T site via your iPhone's Safari browser (don't use the AT&T iPhone app, but actually access it using Safari). I don't know if this is just coincidental, but when it wasn't working on my computer, it worked on my iPhone.
  • Don't call the AT&T store -- they can't and won't take your order over the phone.
  • Don't call the Apple Store -- they can't and won't take your order over the phone.
  • White iPhone 4s are not available for pre-order from any outlet at this point.
  • According to everything on all of the sites and in the store, your order should ship in time to arrive on June 24 -- be sure to use a shipping address where someone can receive the package or be sure to put a signature waiver out for the delivery guy.
Good luck!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Digital kid

My daughter started using an iPod Touch just short of age three -- somewhere a bit past two and a half. We didn't have to restrict the internet because she didn't really know how to spell and didn't care about the browser working -- just being able to type and click icons and have it play songs and videos was enough. Of course, this is unfathomable to people that grew up not watching television until they were ten or in their teens; people that maybe had a single house phone growing up.

At nearly 5 years old she's now on to the most current version of the iPod Touch. Although she hasn't done it herself (though she probably could if I let her play around with it), she's selected the music that's on it (based on recognition of the covers in coverflow, not necessarily the names of the bands/songs) and she's selected the videos that are on it (movies and television shows, including every episode of Phineas and Ferb with the commercials edited out). Through the App Store she has selected several games that she enjoys playing and she's got some amount of understanding about how YouTube works; interestingly the Notepad is one of her favorite applications right now as she loves to practice her spelling.

Even though she hasn't specifically complained about the lack of voice functionality, she refers to the iPod as her "phone" (just like the iPhones that both of us have). One of her favorite things, if she gets her hands on one of our phones (believe me, navigating the password locks for her is not a problem) is to use the camera -- clearly this is going to be an issue if the next generation has a camera and she sees it in the Apple Store. There are some apps that she seems to want, but thankfully, although she's able to get all the way through the purchase process on the App Store, she's yet to learn that password, so we haven't yet seen any massive App Store bills.

There's an interesting dynamic in discipline that goes along with the digital kid: the removal of apps and/or audio/video content can be powerful sticks or carrots. Given the fact that all of the apps and content are backed up in iTunes, digital discipline is easy to execute and even easier to reverse as appropriate.

It's hard to imagine that she'll be telling the "when I was kid when only had iPod Touches with wifi" conversation with her kids, but she probably will. And in that vein, here goes a few of my "when I was your age" for her:
  • One phone in the house -- didn't get my own line until I was 13. Now we don't even have a home phone; when you need to talk to someone you either do it via video iChat or use one of our cellphones. Chances are good that you'll have your own cellular voice device at a pretty young age.
  • Apple II was the computer that I grew up with; I got a Mac when I was 11 or 12 and the processor in that Mac is less powerful that the one in your iPod Touch. You currently have access to more raw computing power in our house than they use in the space shuttle.
  • Until college, the most sophisticated device on my belt was a pager and it didn't have a keyboard. The phone device that you know how to use has the same functionality as my pager and it's considered an extremely minor feature at the bottom of the list behind a million others.
  • Once I got my own phone line at age 13, I got a modem and was able to dial in to the internet at 14.4kbps to a local university that gave out free dial-in accounts; Mosaic and Netscape browser (the visual web) didn't come out until I was 15. You have access to the visual internet, streaming audio, streaming video, and all of it comes to the house where it's available wirelessly at a connection speed of 5mbps to the internet and 100mbps on our internal network.
  • I had thousands of CDs (they look just live DVDs) and eventually got a player that allowed me to load multiple CDs at the same time. The music collection at our house is over 30,000 tracks and you can load a ton of them on your iPod, listen to them in any room of the house, and there's nearly unlimited storage for more.
As Seth Godin said in his recent post: "I saw a two-year old kid (in diapers, in a stroller), using an iPod Touch today. Not just looking at it, but browsing menus and interacting. This is a revolution, guys."

Sooner or later I'll be lame and behind the times and not understand what new technology she's into. For now I'm happy to be able to write about it.

PS -- the first thing she said when she saw my iPad: "Is that for me?"

An opportuntiy for car transporters

It seems like I've noticed a lot more car transporters on the road these days -- you know the ones I'm talking about: double-decker, open sided trailers being towed by a big rig. I've never really understood how it is that these companies can minimize damage to the cars and vehicles that they are carrying when they are exposed to weather and road damage; new cars have some plastic wrappings over what must be the most commonly damaged areas, but I have to imagine there is an expense to dealers for transportation rehab.

Although I don't live in an area that has dock space or boat storage yards, I am well aware of the practice of shrink-wrapping boats for transportation and storage during the winter. Chances are good that you've seen boats in storage this way if you live in a cold weather coastal city or that you've even seen boats at dealerships with full or partial wraps to protect them while on the boat lot (I'm actually not sure if it's called a lot when it's not a car lot, but I'm sure you get the picture).

At this point it's likely you can see where I'm going with this: be the only auto transport company that shrink wraps the vehicles that it transports just like you shrink-wrap a boat. I don't have any idea what the cost of the shrink-wrap materials and time is, but I would be willing to bet that you could charge some sort of premium; perhaps it's low enough that you can charge the same price and make that your differentiating sales tactic. The one time I had a vehicle I already owned transported, it was on the bottom of a double-decker and something from the car above it dripped on it and chewed up the paint; it's possible that the shrink-wrap could have prevented this.

Just an idea -- free of charge from me to you.

I hope somebody implements it.

Car transporter image from sittered; wrapped boat image from Gemma Grace

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hollow scooping -- business lessons from ice cream

I was buying my daughter a single scoop of ice cream at an ice cream shop the other day and I had to tell the lady scooping the ice cream not to "hollow scoop". For those of you that do not know what hollow scooping is, it involves creating a nearly perfectly round ball of ice cream with a hollow space in the middle -- effectively you wind up with a very beautiful scoop that lack a good portion of the substance it would have had it been a compacted scoop.

When I was growing up, there were basically 2 choices for ice cream: Thrifty ice cream at $0.25 per scoop or the higher-end Baskin Robbins or Double Rainbow at around $1.50-$2.00 per scoop. Thrifty used a funky scoop that was cylinder-shaped and nearly always guaranteed that you would get less than a full scoop and it was put into a flimsy cup or a really cheap cone that resembled wet cardboard as soon as the ice cream started to melt; usually there were only 3 or 4 flavors available -- it was cheap ice cream, but it was $0.25 and you knew what you were getting for what you spent. Baskin Robbins and Double Rainbow, on the other hand, had numerous flavors to choose from (at least 31) and the scoops were put into nice cups with lids or you had a choice of cones that tended to not turn to mush in your hand. The promise from Baskin Robbins and Double Rainbow was that you were getting a better product, more choices, and a better experience -- hollow scooping killed it.

It's hard to believe, but I remember the first time I was told about hollow scooping. I was pretty young and my cousins had taken me to a Baskin Robbins by their house -- they wanted me to try bubble gum ice cream with real gumballs in it (strange what you remember, right?). When the guy was scooping the ice cream, my cousin yelled across the counter to him and told him not to hollow scoop; the guy was a friend of my cousin from high school and they knew each other. Curious, I of course asked about, and the guy behind the counter proceeded to make the most beautifully round ball of ice cream that I had ever seen that was easily twice as big as any scoop I had every been given. He handed the cup across the counter to me, handed me a spoon, and told me to dig in, so I pushed the spoon into . . . nothing. There was a space at least the size of a tennis ball inside the scoop and the whole thing collapsed in on itself when I applied pressure. At the time, I was convinced this was the coolest thing ever and used to tell other people behind the counter not to hollow scoop my ice cream while growing up.

There's a not-so-new style of ice cream now that involves using a cold stone -- they can't hollow scoop because they have to mix up the chunk of ice cream that they pull out for you with the toppings that you want in front of you on that, well, cold stone. There's full transparency in the process and an even higher premium in the price.

So let's look at it:
  • Thrifty -- low cost, low experience proposition, low expectations
  • Cold stone ice cream -- high cost, high experience proposition, high transparency
  • Baskin Robins, Double Rainbow -- relative high cost, high experience proposition, hollow scooping
People don't like doing business with hollow scoopers and they're unfortunately common -- it feels dirty, like a trick has been played on you. Once you've been burned by a hollow scooper, you're likely to go for the known, lower cost and lower value option or the higher cost and higher transparency option.

PS -- if you serve ice cream, I hope you learned a lot from this article and I hope that nothing that you learned had to do with hollow scooping techniques.

PPS -- if you don't serve ice cream and you've been hollow scooping with your goods or services, I hope you stop TODAY because it's never been easier for your customers to cry foul and they have big megaphones, or at least just start charging the $0.25 that it's worth.

Photo lifted from Sweet Strain

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Why the iPad will eventually make Amazon a software company

I wrote yesterday that the iPad is the best Kindle yet -- you sent me some e-mails about that, so let me expand.

The iPad runs a Kindle application that is easily as functional as my Kindle 2 though not quite as fancy as the iBook app. However, the iPad features a backlit, easy-to-read IPS screen that seems at least as easy on the eyes as electronic ink and requires not external lighting source. In addition, the color qualities of the IPS screen make the browsing experience much better -- looking a book covers in grayscale electronic ink seems prehistoric when compared to the full color of the iPad screen.

Although I elected to purchase the iPad without the 3G, the Whispernet over wifi flies -- there is no wifi option for the Kindle, so you are stuck with Sprint coverage and Sprint speed if you want data connection to your Kindle. The 3G version of the iPad works worldwide and, although there is a worldwide Kindle version available, those of us that purchased the original Kindle 2 are limited to using it within the United States. I will say, however, that it was nice to be able to pop on to the Kindle 3G and purchase a book in an airplane (before they closed the door, of course) if I happened to run out of books on a trip -- wifi only will cause me to have to make sure that I download what I need over the airport wifi before I board (or start flying an airline that has in-flight wifi).

One of the major differences between the Kindle 2 and the iPad is the physical size and I have to admit that I have not yet tried using the iPad in all of the places where I use my Kindle 2. The Kindle 2 is very much the size of a regular hardback book (much thinner, of course), while the iPad is more towards the magazine side of things. However, I did have the chance to compare the iPad to the Kindle DX and it seems equally as manageable from a size perspective -- of course, the iPad has no need for the fixed keyboard that the DX has, so the iPad feels like it has more screen real estate.

On to the title of my post: I honestly believe that Amazon should/will become a software purveyor instead of a hardware purveyor. At the time that Amazon wanted to push the e-book market hard, there simply was a vacuum as it related to hardware/readers, so they created one -- the hardware drove the core business sales, which were the books. Since releasing the Kindle 2, Amazon has churned out Kindle reader software for Windows, OS X, the iPhone/iPod Touch, and BlackBerry, effectively dissociating the Kindle branding from the hardware and associating with e-book consumption via multiple hardware platforms.

Operating under the assumption that Apple will continue to drive the price of the iPad down as they release future versions (did $99 seem too cheap for an iPhone when it was first released?), it may become too costly for Amazon to compete with Apple, and the big question is whether they really want to. One strategy, probably an attractive one, would be for Amazon to release one more hardware revision of the Kindle as a bridge between the price of entry for the iPad and the current price of the Kindle. Ultimately, Amazon could focus on continually refining software and expanding the platforms that they use as conduits to sell books and magazines, and get out of the manufacturing business.

It is important to note that Amazon has an awful lot of software offerings already such as EC2 (elastic compute cloud, which allows you to use its servers to create virtual servers) and S3 (simple storage solution, which allows you to pay pennies on the GB to store files on its servers) -- you can find a full list here. For those of you that might question the software strategy, it is important to understand that software is already a part of the strategy, not something new; manufacturing/product design was the real departure.

Here's to hoping Apple continues to allow the Kindle app on the iPad.

Monday, April 05, 2010

(the inevitable) iPad Review

I received my iPad (though not my iPad case, which is still in delivery) on Saturday afternoon -- no standing in line with all the rest of the folks. As with most Apple products, it came 99% charged, making it somewhat usable directly out of the box, except that I had to connect it to my computer to complete the activation/registration process (i.e., you can't just turn it on, it gives you that little connect to iTunes graphic).

Once I had completed the registration, I configured it for manual sync, moved everything over and started get errors. Lots of errors. All of which were generated by the applications. Not good. Apple's online help suggested a number of things, including deleting the applications from the computer and re-downloading and deleting them from the iPad and downloading them over wifi -- didn't feel like doing either of those.

In order to start with the simplest solution first, I unplugged the iPad, plugged it back in, and wound up at the registration process again. I had thought that the whole thing got nuked, but all of the music I put on was still there and the applications just re-installed.

Once I had it up and running correctly, I was pretty impressed -- the screen is gorgeous, the speed over my wifi is quick, and the processor seems to render things quite quickly. First app I launched was the Kindle App because I wanted to know if I could lose a device and charger out of my bag -- Kindle displays beautifully on the iPad, works great, and allows me to access my sizable Amazon investment, which is great (so, someone downstream in the family is going to wind up with a new Kindle). After verifying the Kindle app, I played around with the music and must say that the speakers have decent sound and good volume range; I also played around with the microphone and it seems to work pretty well. As I tweeted about before, Sketchnotes is going to be (for now) my go-to note-taking application -- being able to take regular notes and scribble drawings and notes with my finger is perfect for me.

Let me also note that I have had this thing running since Saturday around 2PM MST with the wifi on and the battery's only at 90% -- battery endurance is pretty amazing and I hope that the next gen iPhone learns some battery lessons from its bigger sibling. Some have complained about the lack of a camera on the iPad, but I have to be honest that trying to take a picture with this thing would be like mounting a camera on an awkwardly-shaped dinner plate and trying to take a nice still photo; I would agree that it probably would have done well with a front-facing camera in the bezel for video conferencing, but that probably would have driven the cost up higher than the price points that would have wanted to sell at for generation 1.

The shape of the iPad is quite awkward to hold and I look forward to receiving the case. While the screen is much easier to read on (and backlit) than the Kindle 2, the Kindle 2 is much easier to hold in your hand -- my hope is that the case will fix that issue. It almost seems as though there should be a stylus that you can use for drawing on the screen because of the size of the screen real estate -- I went ahead and ordered a Pogo stylus just to see how it works with the iPad (seemed like it was overkill for an iPod Touch or iPhone screen).

One of the disappointing things about the applications on the iPad is that the ones that are not made for it (or have not been upgraded to use all the screen real estate) are not fun to use; the iPhone apps don't scale up very well in the 2X mode and are just awkward to use in the normal iPhone screen size in the middle of the iPad. One of the interesting experiences was deciding which apps I would actually use on the iPad vs. the apps that were really only useful on the iPhone -- when it came down to it, I did not install all of the apps that are on my iPhone on the iPad.

Overall I'm happy with the iPad and will be even happier when the case arrives.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The iPad wifi vs. the iPad 3G

Conversation I had with someone today:
Me: Have you ordered your iPad yet?

Him: No, I've read the reviews and they say I should hold out for the 3G version.

Me: Ok, but where are you going to use it where you don't have wifi?

Him: Hadn't really thought about it that way.

Me: Because the only thing you're paying the extra money for is the antenna and SIM receiver; it's not like the 3G version has a camera or some other cool feature.
Here's my opinion: $200ish for the 3G isn't worth it. You're not going to be able to upgrade the chipset via software when AT&T rolls out LTE to activate its 4G coverage. You can create a wifi hotspot with your phone to leverage the 3G/4G you're already paying for -- jailbreak your iPhone and use Mywi or use Proxoid on your Andriod phone. If you want to or are already paying for another data card, look into a Mifi 2200 from Verizon, a Mifi from Sprint, or even a PHS300 from Cradlepoint (just plug in your USB dongle from any provider and it autoconfigures and runs on batteries).

Just my opinion and something to think about.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The iPhone rumor cycle

Since the release of the first version, the iPhone rumor cycle has started every year in April. Current rumors for the next version that will likely be released in June with my comments:
  • Verizon version late 2010 -- maybe. I'm not sure that anyone is privy to whether or not AT&T has lost exclusivity except for Apple, Verizon, and AT&T; bear in mind that the iPad only runs in 3G on GSM (not Verizon), but that may just be a play to make it world-friendly. Ultimately if the iPhone does come out on Verizon, the folks that jump may be customers that AT&T ultimately does not want and it will be interesting to see if Verizon's network can handle the increased data volume.
  • Front-facing camera -- seems unlikely. I certainly haven't experienced tremendous speed increases in AT&T's 3G network that would lead me to believe that this would be a useful feature in a non-wifi environment, but maybe they'll only let video chat work over wifi.
  • Higher resolution screen -- probably so.
  • A4 (Apple) processor -- very likely.
  • Multi-tasking -- maybe. I'm guessing that if it happens, this is not going to be a free-for-all, but will have some sort of maximum number of concurrent applications that can run, priority for memory, etc. Bear in mind that we've gone through 3ish generations of the product without this happening and all of us seem to be able to function.
  • 802.11n support -- probably, but there may be some very real battery endurance concerns.
  • 4G network support -- maybe in the chipset, but I would be surprised to see it turned on for the initial release.
  • New graphics chip -- very likely.
  • New display -- very likely; not sure if it will be some sort of LED or IPS like the iPad.
  • User-removable battery -- fat chance, why would they change now?
  • Higher resolution camera and flash -- there doesn't seem to be a good reason not to have this, but none of the previous version have had a flash.
From a competition perspective, Apple is going to have to release a lot of the options above to compete with the specs of phones like the Nexus One, which is now available in a version that works on AT&T's network and is available fully unlocked.

Expect the rumors to continue to build with supposedly leaked specifications, leaked parts pictures, etc. As usual, none of us will know for sure until Jobs makes the announcement touting the new features. One important item of note is that the landscape is much more hypercompetitive with AT&T and all of the other carriers on track to continue to pump out Android-based phones that will attempt to heavily compete in the space.

On the plus side of things, if you don't need whatever the fancy new features wind up being, you'll likely be able to get a 3G or 3Gs for next to nothing once the 4G starts being sold.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Reimagining the whiteboard

I started my professional career consulting, so I've always used whiteboards -- I don't develop software or primarily consult, but I've found that they are very useful in thought and idea development.

Unfortunately most whiteboards are expensive and heavy and have to be hung. Luckily there are people out there that are reimagining the whiteboard and the premise behind it, which are making them more accessible, cheaper, bigger, and scalable.

My favorite "portable whiteboard" consists of giant easel pad sticky notes like these from 3M. I like these because you can fold them up and take them away with you at the end of a session and the adhesive backing is strong enough to keep them up for multi-day sessions if you are using the same room. Of course, they're not really a whiteboard because you cant erase anything from them (unless you use one of those stupid novelty pencils).

If you want to turn a wall in a room or an entire room into a whiteboard, there is now paint that will let you do so, which is called IdeaPaint. Although I've yet to have a chance to actually use this stuff, it is supposed to create whiteboard surfaces with a single coat of paint, meaning that you can have as big or small a whiteboard as you want if you have a paintable surface. IdeaPaint is supposed to be more generally available this summer at places like Lowes and Home Depot; you can order it now in multiple colors to match your decor directly from the IdeaPaint site.

Another product that I just came across is called Whiteyboard (gotta love the name). As opposed to hard-installed, framed whiteboards, Whiteyboard sells a few different sizes of their frameless plastic boards that install using a non-damaging adhesive; their largest board, which is 4x6, weighs less than 2 pounds and costs $25. Think of Whiteyboard like a big sticker that you slap on the wall for an instant whiteboard surface and although it doesn't come in fashion colors like IdeaPaint, it goes right up with no special tools required.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Discount travel's missed opportunity

It's not the sites themselves -- for the most past Hotwire, Priceline, etc. do a good job. However, it seems like a memo has gone out to every rental car agency and hotel that sells discounted cars and rooms to these sites to treat people booking via these sites like second-class citizens, which creates enormous badwill. There's a big missed opportunity here.

Let me give you an example: the cheapest rental car I could find for a recent trip of the type I wanted was $98.00 per day, but the price on Hotwire for the same class of car was $28.00 per day. What did I give up for the $28.00? Well, I gave up the convenience of going directly to my car off the bus, potentially getting a nicer vehicle via a free upgrade, and that's about it. What did I get in return? A reminder from the check-in person not less than 3 times that I had rented via Hotwire, a warning that I would be charged $120 for the vehicle if I brought it back even 1 minute after the return time I punched into Hotwire when I rented it (tip: on Hotwire, make your return time the same time as your flight time to ensure this doesn't happen to you), 2 attempts to try and upgrade me to a "premium" vehicle, and a 5 minute lecture on why I should be accepting the insurance because, get this, Hotwire doesn't provide me any protection (I've never had a rental car company offer me any free protection in all of the years that I've been renting cars).

Here's another example: I rented a room from for $98.00 and on the website for the same hotel, rooms were going for $210.00. For this particular hotel chain I happen to have pretty high status, but the person at the desk unapologetically informed me that because I booked with, they would not recognize my status, I would not receive any points for the stay, and I would receive none of the amenities (normally consisting of a couple of bottles of water and a bag of pretzels) that I normally get in my room. The really interesting thing was that their computer system had obviously correlated between my reservation and my chain profile -- I know this because the aforementioned statements were made preemptively before I even asked.

The discount travel sites are not to blame for this behavior, the rental car companies and hotels are. After all, the rental car companies and hotels are the ones giving the inventory to the sites to sell -- goes back to that old saying: "If you don't want them to buy, then don't sell." Unfortunately, the rental car companies and hotel chains are not only allowing this behavior from their employees, but it really appears as though they are encouraging the behavior. However, the end result for someone like me is that when I go to choose a rental car company or hotel chain to affiliate myself with and/or give the majority of my business, I'm not going to choose one that treated me like a criminal for purchasing through a discount travel site.

Of course, the rental car companies and hotels could turn this around. They could view each person that walks in the door as a potential lifetime customer of the brand and treat them as well as a loyal purchaser. Instead of being upset or encouraging their employees to be upset about a customer not booking directly, they could decide not to care what the purchase vector was and simply treat the customer like a customer. One key portion of this to ensure that customers, especially recurring customers, are booking directly would be to give them access to the same rates as the discount travel sites and/or be willing to match the price on the discount travel site (note: the only chain that I've known that will do this is Starwood, but you have to call the 800 number and tell them the price that a discount site is quoting -- in most cases they will match or get very close to the same price).

Remember when loyal customers used to be the most rewarded for their business by receiving the best pricing and service? There needs to be a shift back to these practices.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The potential limitation of Verifone's PayWare Mobile

Verifone's PaywareMobile seems like a great idea. The first question that I had, of course, was whether it works on an iPod Touch. It doesn't. And there's a reason.

In finally getting to someone at a Verifone reseller, I was able to determine that the PayWare mobile application, which takes the data from the swipe unit and transmits it to Verifone actually initiates a call using the voice network -- no GSM chip, no cellular call, so no iPod Touch. Supposedly Verifone is working on a newer version that should be available in the next 6-12 months that uses either cellular or wifi data.

Here's the pricing reality:
  • iPhone at $99-$700, depending on which one you choose and the level of subsidy.
  • iPhone data plan at $30 per month (required for activation).
  • iPhone voice plan (needed for the application to work) of at least $20 per month.
  • PayWare sleeve is free (with a 2-year agreement)
  • PayWare software is free (from the iTunes App Store)
  • $19 per month fee (what I was quoted) per sleeve
  • $0.25 per transaction (what I was quoted)
Consider this instead:
  • iPod Touch at $199 to $499, depending on the one you choose.
  • WiFi data is free (assuming that you already have the infrastructure or can hop on free WiFi somewhere)
  • Various credit card apps on the iTunes App Store -- $0.99
  • Transaction fees -- vary by provider, volume, type of card, and whether or not the card number is typed in or swiped in (1.8%-3.8%)
I'm very interested to see other products, such as the Mophie Marketplace, that allow swipe integration into existing applications that support authorization over the data network instead of initiating a cellular voice network authorization.

This is going to be a war that is unlikely to be won by Verifone if they don't divorce themselves from voice authorization. Furthermore, they're really going to lose if they can't get this working over WiFi because they totally leave out the iPod Touch (and the iPad).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Scorched earth

The policy of scorched earth is an old military tactic that essentially involves destroying anything left in your path that might be useful to the enemy. In the past this was most easily accomplished by burning everything behind your army as you moved forward, hence the "scorched" part of the term.

It always astounds me the companies and individuals employ scorched earth policy when dealing with people that have been fired/let go or being fired or let go respectively. Perhaps it's because I work in entertainment and it seems like such a shallow pool that all of us in entertainment play in: you never know when someone that you employ scorched earth against may be in a position to do harm or good to your career in the future. (my sense is that many industries are just as tightly knit as entertainment, but entertainment is the vast majority of my experience).

In my time I have seen companies ruthlessly enforce non-compete agreements that are so restrictive former employees could not continue to work in the industry; this for people that they laid off, didn't even terminate for cause. Further, I have seen companies initiate lawsuits against former employees (even laid off ones) for violations of non-competes, knowing that they would not win, but wishing to be punitive and cause the employees significant out-of-pocket dollars to defend against them. Note that a number of times I have seen these employees wind up in decision-making positions and either actively or passively ensure that they company that employed scorched earth against them was unable to do business with them or any of their colleagues that were willing to listen.

On the employee side, I have certainly encountered ex-employees that have not had nice things to say about companies or people at companies; pretty normal response and forgivable. However, I have also seen ex-employees that have actively engaged in attempting to overtly disrupt company business operations. In almost every overt case that I have seen, the ex-employee may have been able to cause some short-term pain to the company, but has never succeeded in the long term. Further, I have seen ex-employees employing these tactics blackballed in the industry because word gets around quite quickly about character when an ex-employee attempts to employ scorched earth.

Sure, you can believe that business is war and take some learnings from that, but I do not recommend scorched earth as any sort of sustainable, long-term strategy for businesses or businesspeople.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

When life gives you lemons

You can be like MacGyver and use them for battery acid.

You can make lemonade.

You should watch this video just in case you get a lemon delivery.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Book review: Linchpin by Seth Godin

FULL DISCLOSURE: I made a donation to the Acumen Fund to get an advance copy of this book.

FULLER DISCLOSURE: I would have donated twice as much to get it that much sooner because it's that powerful.

This is not a marketing book, though few of Seth's last books really felt that way.

This is a book about becoming indispensable, about becoming a linchpin. However, reading the book is not like reading the map; read the book and become a linchpin-in-training.

In thinking about it, especially because such a large portion of the book is dedicated to gifts, this books is really Godin's gift to anyone that is willing to read, to question themselves, to take the steps to become a linchpin-in-training. As I read through the book, constantly highlighting and dog earring pages, it became clear to me that Godin didn't have to share the information in the book -- he certainly didn't need to share everything in the book. Of course, had he left out any bit of information that he included, then he wouldn't have been practicing what he preached; he wouldn't have given away all of the knowledge that can help you succeed with no expectation of financial gain (sure, he'll make some money from the price of the book and maybe get some speaking engagements, but he could have provided so much less and still had the same outcomes, which makes the book itself a perfect example of the content of the book).

You might be surprised to hear that you'll learn a lot about yourself when reading this book, provided you can beat down the resistance that you may have to doing so. I'll admit that I raced through the book the first time I read it, underlining good quotes and points, but not really applying the knowledge to myself, not engaging the introspection that I should have. So I read it again. Because the resistance was to write a review quickly (which I could have) and not absorb and live the information -- I pushed against the resistance and did it the "hard" way, which ultimately was the more valuable way.

Ultimately this book is about helping you discover the artist that's already inside of you, to create art. As Godin defines it: "Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in the other." This books makes you think about all the ways you can become great at creating art; linchpins, ultimately are artists.

If you're looking for the map on how to do all this stuff, how to be an artist, then, as Godin says: "Here's the truth that you have to wrestle with: the reason that art (writing, engaging, leading, all of it) is valuable is precisely why I can't tell you how to do it. If there were a map, there'd be no art, because art is the act of navigating without a map."

Linchpin will be available on January 26 and presumably will be available in a Kindle version (it will likely show up on Amazon's Kindle site the day of the release).

PS -- my ship date for this review was the end of the day today (January 18): review shipped on time (even though it's not necessarily perfect, I'm done thrashing it).

PPS -- if during reading (or even before reading) you want to give up (or not start), look on page 101 of the hardcopy version; don't be at the confluence.