Web/Tech

Sales Managers on the Road: Tweeting through Toronto

I spent the better part of a week recently at Microsoft's annual Worldwide Partner Conference; "WPC" in Microsoft-speak.  I thought I'd try summarizing the week by collecting up my tweets here.  Why? First, because I'm lazy.  Second, because, you know... social media and all that.  Plus, I feel a little sorry that Twitter is getting dumped on.  But mostly, I'm being lazy.  Or as they call it, "repurposing content."

This year's conference was held in Toronto, a city I visited many times during my days at BNR/Nortel, and during my time at SOMA Networks.  It's been about ten years since I was last in Toronto (ask me about the rooftop lounge at Hooters) so I was interested to see what was old and new.  

This probably happened the last time I flew to Toronto out of SFO:  I'm on a United Airlines flight, but it's operated by Air Canada.  Which means I've gone to the wrong terminal.  Grrr.

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Next stop:  the gate.  Since my days of holding duper premium elite gold extra-special status are long over, I'm waiting for my "zone" to board when I see a couple of passengers push forward to test whether the gate agents are checking which zone you're in.  Turns out, they are.

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On the plane now, ready to enter my usual sleep state that's brought on by flight attendant announcements.

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It turns out that this year's conference is sold out, for the first time ever.  That means I'm in Toronto with 15,999 of my closest friends.  And they all made hotel reservations before I did.  So I'm staying nowhere near downtown and all the events.  But, Toronto now has very nice subway service from the airport to downtown, so that will work.  And on my arrival at conference registration, there was this moose...

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Free, working, Wi-Fi on comfortable and quiet subway trains.  Take notice, CalTrain!

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I once had a goal, while working at Nortel, to stay in every Canadian Pacific hotel in the chain; they're all magnificent.  I stayed at the Royal York once, when Nortel had their big user association meeting in Toronto and when there was a big Marketing and Product Management pow-wow on what we needed to do next with Nortel's phone  system.  It was also at this time that Nortel announced quality problems in one part of the manufacturing business (the biggest part), which caused the stock to plummet in value.  I thought some of my colleagues, who had left most of their retirement savings in Nortel stock, were going to die right there outside the hotel.

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I remember riding in a taxi down to the Billy Bishop City of Toronto airport, on a flight to Ottawa (so much nicer than schlepping out to Pearson).  Once you got past the Skydome and the CN Tower, there wasn't much going on.  Now, that's completely different.  There's the Air Canada Center, the Rogers Convention Center and a ton of condo developments.

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On to the conference.  Microsoft and GE announce a partnership focused on "Internet of Things."  I just liked this quote.

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The moose I expected.  A Blue Jay wouldn't have surprised me.  But... woodpeckers?

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How times change.  Three years ago, Dropbox was seen as "consumer" and Box was for the enterprise.  Now...

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CGNET was nominated for a Microsoft partner award.  We didn't win, but we're already doing work with the guys that did win.  And they have a Tesla as a company car.   That's pretty cool.

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I was looking for a place to grab a bite when I ended up meeting some new Microsoft partners at another event.

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More "keynote" tweets, including an announcement that Facebook has adopted Office 365.  I was just around the corner, you guys could have called me!

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Back to the convention hall.  On the way they're handing out...

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"Digital Transformation" was one of the buzzwords of the conference, but there's some truth behind it.  Businesses are moving to digital infrastructures, and those that can't support that movement are dying off.

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Time now for a happy hour out on Lake Ontario.

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Here's a nice picture of the Toronto skyline.

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I've already told the story of how I didn't realize the celebrity athletes were real.  Until I saw Bill Walton.  Trust me, I'm standing next to him.

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The next day I had to stay in my hotel room to finish a report.  I had TV on for the background noise.  Listening to the Canadian version of Guy Fieri and his shtick was...

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See, Microsoft's cloud platform is called Azure, so naturally...

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A nice quote from the Women in Technology session.

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Last party, lots of food options.  I chose...

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I couldn't leave until I'd listened to Gwen Stefani.

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And I leave you with some Canadian humor.

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I've Changed My Terms of Service

I'm sure you've seen--or rather, skimmed past--the Terms of Service that govern services like Facebook, LinkedIn and the like.  Similar to End User License Agreements, these are the things you skim over so you can quickly click Accept and move on.

Well I've decided to change my terms of service, at least when it comes to LinkedIn networking.  More accurately, I've decided to revert to something closer to my original terms.

When I started on LinkedIn, I took seriously their advice to "only connect with people you know."  I even remember an email exchange with a (somewhat distant) co-worker who wanted to make sure he really new me before he accepted my connection request.

This advice from LinkedIn was in contrast to the "LION" (LinkedIn Open Networker) approach, which was much more promiscuous about connecting.  Their argument was that you never know who you're going to want to know or be able to help.  OK, that's a valid point.

Maybe a year ago, things at LinkedIn seemed to change, in two important ways

  • LinkedIn made it much easier (a one-click experience) to request a connection.  Click the button and someone receives your connection request, with a stock "I'd like to connect with you on LinkedIn" message.
  • LinkedIn seems to have changed its stance on curating connection requests.  It seemed (and seems now) that anyone who's a member of a group with me can send me a connection request.  There doesn't seem to be any more of the LinkedIn "show me you know this person" hurdles to jump over.

In a fit of pique, I decided to go ahead and accept these connection requests.  Hey, if LinkedIn was going to make it that easy, then I was going to oblige them.  Often I would notice that the requester would show up on my "who's viewed your profile" list, making me realize they were mass-mailing these connection requests and really weren't even aware that they'd sent me a request.  So for a while I would write to them, explain that I wasn't sure if they intended to connect but I was happy to accept.  Sometimes people would write back and say that, indeed, they wanted to connect.  And I've built some good relationships out of these kinds of blind-date connections.

More and more, however, things have been getting a bit spammy.

  • Susan sends me a connection request
  • I accept
  • Susan sends me a message, pitching me on her/her company's services (lead generation and outsourced software development being the leading examples)
  • I explain that I'm not in the market for these services (something they could have surmised had they bothered to check), but hey, good luck with it
  • Susan never contacts me again

After a while, people like Susan (and their associates) show up in my news feed, and I have to work to remember:  is this someone I have a professional relationship with?  As with other social forces, the noise starts to overcome the signal (what?)

So as of today, I've started purging my connection lists of people that seemed to want to treat networking like a one-night-stand.  And I'm turning back people that have no connection to me, and haven't included a personal note with their connection request.

I've had some great conversations with people I didn't previously know, so I'm certainly still open to requests from out of the blue.  But if it looks like you're just following the LinkedIn Path of Least Resistance, and it looks like you want to sell first and help later, then I can say "it's not you--it's me."

As in, "I have this strange desire to know first and sell later.  So find a way to connect with me, show me that your interest is more than transactional, and we'll talk."


Product Managers on the Road, Islamabad Edition

Off to Islamabad, Pakistan, to lead an implementation of Office 365 for the country office of one of our NGO customers. Herewith, some random notes, observations and musings.

  • Got properly adjusted to Islamabad time by having three meetings and one fitness workout in the 12 hours before my flight. I'm at the airport feeling like I've been up all night because I have been up all night. That's one way to adjust to the 12 hour time zone difference.
  • Ready to use the "Clear" card I've received so I can skip past the security line, but the TSA agent tells me that line isn't operating. I'm pretty sure she just doesn't know how it works. At any rate, TSA Pre means I get to go right through security. Pretty sweet.
  • Lunch at Cat Cora restaurant. Who is this executive chef imposter?

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  • I can tell that everyone in my family is nervous about me going to Pakistan. It probably didn't help to watch an entire season of Homeland before I left.  As Pakistan goes, Islamabad is about the safest place I could be going. Most of the violence is in the southern part of Pakistan, in Karachi and Balochistan. Even so, I understand the difference between "relatively safe" and safe.
  • Brian calls. He's greased things for me with the State Department in Islamabad. Nice to have powerful friends.
  • Prepared for my trip by reading CIA Factbook on Pakistan. Main issue is low GDP growth. Also poverty and illiteracy.
  • My American Airlines flight to Chicago is delayed for an hour, then for six hours. There goes my connection… Now I'm f*d. Because I have checked bags (and people get hinky when bags fly without their owners these days) the best choice American can offer involves arriving one day late, after spending 20 hours window shopping in Doha airport.
  • Thankfully, my virtual travel agent and airline expert Brian calls to tell me there's an Emirates flight leaving in an hour if I can get on it. I call the travel agent and, after a bit of work, get re-booked. Now, to find my luggage.
  • In the Emirates line. I think this is what the American Airlines baggage agents were referring to when they talked about "lunch hour": the group in front of me is a family with about ten bags each.
  • Emirates has this rule that your carry-on can't weigh more than 15 pounds. And they make a big deal about saying they'll gate-check your bag if it's overweight. From what I could see, that rule is not being enforced.
  • 15 hours in a middle seat. Thank God there are free drinks on this flight. The hardest part about this flight? Sitting still. My iPhone is out of battery power (after all those phone calls rearranging travel) and I've put my laptop in the overhead bin, so I can at least stretch my legs out under the seat in front of me.
  • Pre-flight announcements in Arabic—that's a first.
  • Fake starry skies on the cabin ceiling--nice touch Emirates (or Boeing).
  • Surprising, and refreshingly helpful, reaction to the woman behind me feeling ill. They arranged for a medical person to see her when we landed.
  • The Dubai airport is like a Las Vegas hotel or a shopping mall. Marble floors, bright lights, indoor garden, boutique shops and food courts. And prayer rooms. Don't think they have those in Vegas.

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Yes, those are real trees... inside the airport terminal

  • Watching as people board flights for Riyadh, Bangalore, Delhi, Dhaka, Doha, Tehran… definitely at a crossroads point for the Middle East and Asia.
  • I wish I could have taken a picture of that woman in the burka walking through the terminal with her carry-on bag on her head.
  • My introduction to Pakistani culture starts with the flight to Islamabad--a Boeing 777 that's full. I expected that on the flight to Dubai, but not to Islamabad. The gate agent announces that the gate is open for boarding, and everyone--everyone--rushes to the gate. The agent keeps saying "business only" (which sounds like "B-C only" or "bees knees only") but it has no effect on the crowd. Eventually some security guard shows up and restores a bit of order to the line. I am going to have to get used to having people crowd around me. There's a very different sense of "personal space" here, meaning "there's no personal space here."
  • The culture lesson continues as we board the aircraft. People are trying to sit in whatever seat seems most desirable, slowing down the whole process. The flight attendants are constantly telling people to go sit in their assigned seat. At least they're stricter about enforcing the 15-pound overhead luggage rule.
  • Arrival in Islamabad. At once strange and wonderful, as I had expected. Islamabad has a layer of… what? Can't tell if it's smog, fog or a combination. The result is that the sunlight is filtered, which adds to the feeling that everything is a kind of tan-white color.

 

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Islamabad, from the Capital Monument. They say that's "fog."  I have my doubts

 

  • We exit the aircraft in Islamabad, using the older style portable stairways that put you onto the tarmac. They load us onto buses; another opportunity to experience crowding. The sign for Benazir Bhutto Airport—block letters that look like they're perched on a wall—and the age of the terminal reminds me of a typical '60's James Bond film.
  • Once in the terminal I have to pull out my laptop so I can look up the street address of the office I'm visiting. I need this to fill out the immigration forms. As a result, I'm literally the last person in line for immigration. There are several immigration queues (my favorite: "ladies and children") with the Pakistani's again ignoring the signs and jumping to whatever queue seems the smallest. I'm sticking with the (sole) queue for "foreigners and diplomats," wanting to avoid any incident, when the guard waves me over to one of the shorter lines. God takes care of fools.
  • Next up is baggage claim. Now each of those passengers that were ahead of me going through immigration is crowded around the baggage belt, with the baggage carts three-deep behind them. It takes me about 10 yards from when I spot my bags until I'm able to dive into the line to grab them. And customs/baggage check? No more than a glance by some official as I walk past.
  • It's the ride from the airport to the guest house that really tells me I'm not in Kansas anymore. Some of the scenes:
    • Women riding side-saddle on the back of Honda motorcycles (the basic form of taxi here)
    • Beggars at the window when we stop for a red light
    • Horns honking the instant the light turns green
    • The trucks and passenger vans decorated in all sorts of bright colors and jewels
    • Five guys riding on the roof of a passenger van
    • The police security checkpoints designed to reduce the flow of cars to one car per lane, so police can decide if anyone needs to be detained for further questioning
    • People playing cricket in a dirt field
    • As in India, drivers using their horns to say "I'm here" to anyone ahead of them changing lanes
    • Armed soldiers in front of sensitive locations
    • Barbed wire, and lots of it
  • It turns out that I have just enough time to get from the airport to the guest house, unpack and take a shower before I'm headed to the customer's office for meetings with local staff. Feels like my Nortel trips to Paris and London, where we'd go from the airport straight to an all-day meeting. I'm OK with not doing that anymore.
  • Apparently there's no extra charge for the next-door rooster that wakes me every morning.

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I'm pretty sure this tells you where to face when you're praying in the direction of Mecca

  • I'm beginning to wonder why I so enthusiastically said, "I love spicy food!" at lunch, when I eat something that freezes my vocal chords for about 20 seconds.
  • Hearing the call to prayers for the first time as it broadcasts from the local mosque and echoes across the city is an experience. And I have to admire the devotion of Muslims as they take the time for prayers. I have enough trouble getting to church on time once a week, much less multiple times daily.
  • First text message on my local mobile phone? An announcement about the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan leader, by a US drone the day before scheduled peace talks with the Pakistan government. Yeah, that should complicate things.
  • A visit Saturday to the Capital museum. Interesting spin on history: the exhibits basically say, "India was decaying, but then we took over and now it's flowering". Plus lots of stuff about benefits of Islam. Still, it's interesting to realize that Pakistan has only existed as a country since 1947.

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Capital Monument, Islamabad. Kind of a lotus flower design

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Detail of bas-relief on one of the lotus petals, highlighting people and events in Pakistan's history

 

  • It seems that all the police checkpoints have an advertising deal with Wazir Fabrics. Way to monetize, police force!
  • At Daman-e-Koh Park. High enough to be above the "fog". The sight of women in burkas is surprisingly normal. Yes, there are men with monkeys on a leash. And yes, that was a monkey I saw running across the parking lot.

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View of Islamabad from Daman-e-Koh park

  • Lunch at Jahangir Balti and BBQ. Slightly awkward moment when we suggest to our guide that we invite the driver to have lunch with us. They're fascinated that I know and like some many kinds of Indian food. Our guide excuses himself for afternoon prayers.
  • Actually posted on the lunch menu: "Smoking, photography, pets, arms, ammunition and eatables from outside are not allowed."
  • Shopping trip cut short by request from customer's Chief of Security to return to our hotel and stay inside, as a result of the Taliban killing and fears of a reprisal.
  • Let's see. There's cricket, soccer, and a tennis match. Oh, and 10-year old World Wrestling Federation.
  • My wake up text message: "is it advised to avoid Centaurus (a large mall) and Kohsar Market. It is also advised to be extra vigilant while visiting markets, parks and public places." You don't have to tell me twice.
  • And just to hit the trifecta, there's going to be a solar eclipse today. I'm sure the population will take that in stride. Or not.
  • Hierarchy is a big deal here.
  • My kingdom for a vegetable.
  • As we sit working in the customer's basement conference room I'm invited to share lunch by one of the employees. Lunch consists of oranges, persimmons ("chaponese [Japanese] fruit") and pomegranate seeds. We compare notes on farmer's markets, local food and family vs. factory farming.
  • Migration team "thank you" dinner at Saidpur Village. A reconstruction of a village from times past, set up as a tourist attraction. I can tell it's a tourist spot because the guy I saw Saturday at Daman-e-Koh with the balloon target shooting game is here. Favorite dinner menu item among the team? Hamburgers.
  • New culinary experiences:
    • Mix tea, made by boiling tea in milk (apparently condensed milk)
    • Pakistani food for breakfast every morning. One day there were labels to indicate what the food was, but most days you just lifted the lid on the warming tray and took your chances.
    • Mutton karahi, a spicy stew made from hacked-up pieces of mutton. You could also get a chicken version. I couldn't help but think the mutton had a slightly slimy feel to it. Still, it was quite good.
    • Lahore fish, fish fillets fried in a spiced flour coating.
  • So the Taliban have selected another hard-line radical as their new leader, someone nicknamed "Mullah Radio." And, naturally, they swear off any peace talks with the Pakistan government. This should end well.
  • Headed to the airport for our 3:30 AM flight to Dubai. The place is chaos. Driver tells us that everyone is returning from the Haj, which means there are 5,000 relatives waiting outside the terminal to pick up someone. I get a few I-hate-Americans looks.
  • My traveling companion, David, and I stand gawking in the terminal, trying to figure out which way to the departure area. Two Emirates baggage handlers show up, grab our bags, and instruct us to follow them. They proceed to plow through the crowd, cut to the front of the baggage screening line, throw the existing bags off of the conveyer belt and insert our bags. Next, they push their way to the ticket counter and get us checked into our flight. I tip the guy $10, figuring it's money well-spent. His reply? "What about for my partner?" I'm tempted to suggest he share the $10 but decide this is not the time to cheap out. Best $10—no, make that $20—I've ever spent.
  • Another tip: for $10 each we get to stay in a sort of "Red Carpet Club" and wait for our flight. For the price of admission we get all the water, tea and juice we can drink. Oh, and free Wi-Fi. In keeping with the Wi-Fi network security practices we observed all week, the Wi-Fi password—naturally—is 123456789.
  • David, former Marine, spots the defense contractors in the VIP Lounge.  Two of them can stay, but the one that looks like he carries the weapons is asked to leave. Ohhh-K!

Back in Dubai, headed to SFO. Welcome to the middle seat. 15 hours of opera, old Disney movies, Dubai tourist videos, and Bruce Springsteen's entire music collection. None of that matters—I'm on my way home.

   


Microsoft Pushes Office Web Apps Forward

Microsoft recently announced that it is accelerating its development on Office Web Apps.  In the past, Microsoft's strategy for offering Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) functionality through a browser seemed to be "just do the minimum."  Now, Microsoft appears to have embraced the idea that offering Office functionality through a web browser--any web browser--actually expands its available market opportunity.

Not only is Microsoft expanding the feature set for Office Web Apps (such as support for document co-authoring in Word Web App), it is planning support for Android as well.  Having already expanded support for iOS, this means Microsoft is targeting all relevant device platforms, not just Windows.

As I said in a recent talk on this subject, Microsoft's "web first" strategy underscores its "no Plan B" strategy when it comes to making Office, Exchange and other services available as cloud-based services.


Burn the Ships

Did you see the recent news?  Adobe has announced that the latest version of its hugely popular Creative Suite software will be the last one available as installed software.  From now on, Creative Suite will only be available as a SaaS (Software as a Service) offering.

This is big news, really big news.  I’ve been party to a number of discussions over the years that centered on how to move forward with the “next generation” product or service without killing the “current generation” service.  There was always a lot of hand-wringing, a certain amount of denial, and a lack of certainty about how to achieve two goals at once:  make the new service a big success while keeping the current service around.  This is the essence of Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma, which I’ve written about in the past.

I recall in reading a history of Mexico that Cortes, upon landing with his troops, ordered his ships burned.  (This was apparently not an unusual act for the time.)  His reasoning was that if the troops knew there was no possibility of escape, no way to turn back when things got tough, that they would have more motivation to fight when needed.  If you narrow the options down to “find a way to survive” and “die” it makes the decision easier.

That’s what I thought about when I read the news about Adobe.  In essence they are saying, “We are going to make this work, or die trying.”  You have to admire the commitment needed to make that statement.  I hope they succeed.  They’ve already taken the hardest step.


Don’t Blame Your Salespeople

I read yesterday that Oracle blamed its latest quarterly earnings miss on a "lack of urgency" by the sales force.

Anytime you blame the sales force for missing revenue or earnings targets it's usually a bad sign. But in this case, Oracle's CFO may be right… although not in the way she meant.

Oracle's cloud-based revenues, which it had forecast to increase by three percent year on year, instead fell by two percent. Oops. To be fair, Oracle was affected more by its declining hardware sales, but it was the cloud-based revenue performance that caught my attention. I recently attended some Microsoft Office 365 partner events and I got to hear from partners struggling to adapt to a subscription revenue model. That experience made me think of one explanation for Oracle's situation.

What I heard from partners at these Office 365 events was that they were accustomed to making a good deal of the revenues in any deal from the sale of software licenses. Now, with the subscription model (and given the current structure where Microsoft has a direct billing relationship with the customer), these partners are seeing a big chunk of up-front revenue disappear, to be replaced by much smaller commission payments, spread out over time. It was clear to me that these partners recognized that their business model had to change to adapt to market acceptance of cloud-based services. But they were trying to understand how they would replace the revenue they were losing from up-front software license sales.

So how does this apply to Oracle?

First, understand that sales people are not stupid. And the best ones would never be characterized as having a "lack of urgency". So what gives? It may be a simple matter of economics.

You're an Oracle sales rep. Which would you rather sell to your customer?

  • $50,000 worth of software, where the customer pays up front
  • A three-year subscription for a service for 100 users, at $20 per user per month

In the first scenario, you make $50,000 towards your revenue goal for the quarter. And (depending on your commission rate) you make a nice sum over your base salary. In the second scenario, your up-front commission is much lower and (depending on how compensation is set up for selling cloud-based services) your contribution to quarterly revenue goals might be much lower. There's a saying that "salespeople are coin-operated," which I always took to mean that they well understand their marginal revenues and costs and act accordingly.

So it wouldn't be a surprise to find that Oracle reps are favoring on-premise vs. cloud-based applications in their selling efforts. This just illustrates Clayton Christensen's thesis in The Innovator's Dilemma, that it can be very hard to make the shift from one disruptive technology to the next one. Oracle no doubt understands that it has to change its business model. Understanding what's needed and executing, however, are two different things.

So maybe Oracle's sales reps don't lack a sense of urgency. Maybe they just understand math.


Out With the Old

I realize that most people don't get sentimental about telephones; I'm just a little weird that way.

M2616

This little gem, a Meridian M2616 phone, has been my companion at CGNET for the last year or so.  And the Nortel Meridian 1 Option 61 it's connected to is one that I helped CGNET pick out way back when.  They needed a system that could handle more than a dozen Primary Rate Interface connections, to support a voice-over-frame-relay service they were offering.  And since I was the guy in charge of PRI at Nortel, I had a vested interest in seeing this baby work.

Good times, yes.  But all that talk of "multimedia convergence" from back then has caught up with CGNET.  In today's lingo, it's "Unified Communications."  

And so we've installed our Microsoft Lync 2013 system, which provides for instant messaging, "presence," and audio and video calling.  So my phone, pictured above, is being retired in favor of a Jabra headset and Lync software client:

Lync client

 

The sentimental part of me hates to see the Meridian gear retire.  But I have to admit, I love the new Lync capability.  For instance, I was just on the phone with a business partner and was getting ready to say, "I'll have our tech lead call you."  That would have delayed getting the information he needed to get something set up for me, something I wanted to start Monday morning.  Instead, I checked my Lync client, saw that our tech lead was available, and clicked a button to conference him into the call.  We had our discussion, and everyone has what they need to keep our project going.  I love it!

I can already foresee the death of that phrase, "I'll try to transfer you now but in case I lose you..."


When Hizzoner Tweets

Have you heard of Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey? You should check him out.

I "met" Cory online after the last Stanford bowl game.  The Stanford kicker shanked a couple of field goal attempts that would have otherwise won the game for Stanford, and what followed was an outpouring of "hang in there, kid" responses via various social media. Cory, a former Stanford football player, was one of the respondents. We traded a few comments after that, and at one point I said something like, "It's not about what you did at Stanford, it's about what you've done since Stanford." Ever since, we've been connected at the Twitter hip.

So Cory's something of a Twitter personality (what's the Twitterverse word for that?). He's also received some press as a kind of up-and-coming Obama protégé. Maybe; I don't really know about that stuff. What fascinates me, though, is the way that Cory uses Twitter to connect with his constituents and maintain a human "face" for Newark government. With the unfortunate devastation of New Jersey by Hurricane/Tropical Storm/Superstorm/it-was-big-as-hell/ Sandy, Cory's been amazing to observe. Here's a clip from a recent Twitter stream.

What do you see here?

  • Cory is repeatedly delivering the message, "we're doing all we can for you." I've often had to explain to support engineers that it's not enough to work on the problem, you have to let people know that you're working on it. And so all these municipal departments, which are working their butts off to restore power and the like, could be excused if they said, "we don't have time to acknowledge you, we're trying to fix things!" But Cory takes the time. He doesn't over-promise or blame others. He just repeats his message: "we're working on it."
  • Cory's telling you what he (and the rest of the city's employees) is/are doing. He's not bragging. He's not creating the Twitter equivalent of a photo-opp. He's just stating the facts: we have to get power to these seniors or we'll have to move them.
  • Cory answers every tweet, and treats every tweeter with respect. Someone says he's favoring one part of the city over another? He respectfully disagrees. Someone mockingly says he needs food because he's running out of hot pockets to eat? Cory suggests he's big enough to solve that problem himself. Someone needs encouragement? Cory offers it. Someone asks why Cory's house has power when theirs (down the street) doesn't? Cory offers his home. And he seems to mean it.
  • Cory seems to create his own tweets. Follow a few CEO's or other people in positions of authority, and you can quickly figure out who has handed the Twitter account over to some communications director. Maybe Cory has as well, but it sure doesn't sound like it.

I'm not sure why Cory first decided to use Twitter, but whatever the reason I can tell you that it's done a lot to build his brand. What is your perception of Cory in reading through these tweets?

  • He's someone who cares about me.
  • He's responsive to my needs.
  • He's working hard to marshal the resources needed to resolve this emergency.

Regardless of your politics, isn't that the kind of person you'd like to have representing you?

What This Means for Managers

One aspect of leadership is being—and being seen as—out in front; of the market, the technology, the problem, etc. And Twitter certainly helps communicate that position.  Billy Crystal once said, "a writer writes, always."  I've adapted that saying as "as a leader leads, always."

But there is a danger here, especially if you're a manager responsible for a large organization. The danger is that this kind of transparency and over-communication can make you look like a superhero, as though you're personally responsible for the actions of your entire organization.

Setting yourself up as the face of your organization is great. But you want to make sure you're not seen as being the entire organization. The people in your organization may feel that you're enhancing your brand at their expense. They may feel like they're redundant or disempowered to take action. At its extreme, being perceived as the one (and only) person in your organization that can get stuff done can cause the rest of your team to sink into a passive "I just do what I'm told" attitude—not what you want from them.

So the key is to find the right balance: get out front and lead when appropriate, and step back and let others take the lead when that feels like the right thing to do.

Cory's a bright guy, and I'm sure he understands this. We can learn a lot by observing the way he's embraced Twitter and social media. We can also learn by watching him walk that line between speaking for City of Newark employees and allowing them do get credit for the work they do.  Have a look at what Cory is doing with Twitter and ask yourself: "how could I apply this to communicating with my employees? partners? customers?


Will Change Define You?

What is the Emerging Character of Today's Silicon Valley?

I happened upon some posts recently that share a common theme—the current reinvention of Silicon Valley. Change is nothing new in these parts—it's what defines the place. And while it's easy to bemoan the changes that are occurring (and conversely, to celebrate what's new as if it was invented for the first time) that kind of discussion is pointless. The discussion that does have merit is represented by these posts. You could title them collectively as "Is this what we want to become?"

The first post is by Steve Blank, one of my heroes. He writes that social media is crowding out all other sectors for venture capital investment, because its (potential) returns are so large and realized so quickly. He notes that other investment sectors, such as clean-tech and life sciences, are being passed over in favor of "Web 2.0" (even that term seems dated now) startups such as Facebook, Google, Zynga and others. 30 years ago, a venture capital firm would invest multiple millions of dollars in a semiconductor company and not expect to see a return for ten years or more.  Today, a VC invests a few hundred thousand dollars (at early stages) in a social media startup and might see a payoff in two or three years.

The second post, by William Davidow (another hero) notes the culture change occurring, as the CEO's setting the values for Silicon Valley shift from the likes of William Hewlett and David Packard to Mark Zuckerberg, Marc Pincus, and Larry Page. Where Hewlett and Packard built a business focused on pristine customer service, the new breed of CEO's are building businesses based on the exploitation of customers (more specifically, their data). It wouldn't be fair to imply that these current CEO's don't care about customer service. It's just that their businesses operate (to varying degrees) with a "free" model that focuses on attracting users and mining their data, with the paying customers being the companies that buy targeted advertising on these sites.

And, as if experiencing the zeitgeist, Vinod Khosla also joined the discussion, exhorting today's entrepreneurs to focus on building lasting value vs. "flipping" their startups.

Do This...

These commentators share a common theme—build your company to last, build it to change the world—because they come from a shared history and experience with "the Valley." Their sentiments are more (much more) than mere nostalgia for the Valley as they once knew it. They've given voice to feelings people like me have had as we've witnessed the emergence of these new style startups, requiring us to reinvent ourselves to remain relevant and valuable to today's startup community.

And Not That

These writers, and those of us who have been here since the 1990's, remember the "dot bomb" era of the late 1990's/early 2000's.  At that time you had companies with no proven business model being valued and sold at incredible prices. It was a common joke that you could drive up your company's market capitalization by simply adding a leading "e" or "i" or a trailing ".com" to the company name.  I remember taking calls from Internet companies trying to sell me advertising: the callers had no knowledge of what my company was about and couldn't tell me why I needed their advertising. I also remember interviewing a new college graduate for a Business Development role. He had no experience, but was confident that he could command an $80K starting salary. Such were the times.

Bubble? Or No Bubble?

Department of Obscure References

And so those (especially in the media) who witnessed this implosion as it happened now play the parlor game of "Bubble? Or No Bubble?" as they observe the multi-billion dollar valuation of companies like Box, Dropbox, Groupon and others. One difference with today's hot startups is that these companies tend to have an identified and validated business model. They often aren't cash flow positive as yet, but are trending in the right direction. The "Bubble!" crowd wrings their hands and wags a finger at today's startup CEO's: "Just wait! You'll get your just reward!" The "No Bubble!" crowd smoothes their hoodies and says "Wait! This time it's different!" The audience voting falls along the lines of who thinks they will profit from or get crushed by any such bubble.

The discussion of economic implications has largely been theoretical. That changed with the recent news regarding Zynga's secondary stock offering and subsequent earnings dive. To torture a phrase, there may not have been any fire here, but there sure is a lot of smoke.

What Really Matters

But I'm not so interested in the "Bubble? Or No Bubble?" discussion. These are the questions that are worth asking.

  1. How can a startup leverage the knowledge and experience of a Silicon Valley veteran?
  2. How can such a veteran embrace new ways of thinking and working?

Let's take the first question. I was talking about this over coffee recently with a colleague and former manager. He's younger than me, but still would be seen as outside the age demographic for today's startup founders.  His perspective was that today's company founders are running so fast, they haven't figured out what they don't yet know. A few will learn without doing lasting damage to their companies. Some will realize that this is the point where they need to bring in some experienced help. And others… let's just say it won't be pretty. Remember, some of the "dot bomb" disasters were failures of execution (WebVan) as much as failed business models.

My advice to today's startup community would be this.

  • Figure out—quickly—what it is that you don't know, but need to know. Then discover who does have that knowledge, and ask for their help. If your software company finds itself manufacturing devices to run the software, realize that you're now faced with manufacturing and supply chain questions… and you'll get to market faster by engaging with someone who's already solved those problems.
  • Remember that humility is a survival strategy. Your success so far is as much about luck as it has been about your idea and the execution of that idea. Acknowledging that fact will make it easier to ask the "what do I need to know?" question.

Regarding the second question, what does it take for a Valley veteran to succeed in today's startup environment?

  • It's likely that those who could use your knowledge and skills aren't fully aware of their need. So while it might be obvious to you, it's not to those who would hire and pay you. I recall the moment that I realized I had knowledge of how hardware, software and firmware combined to form a "system" and that was exactly the knowledge needed to solve the logistics and design problems faced by our startup. I had to explain the problem to the founders before I could go on to solve it.
  • Humility is valuable here as well. Don't expect the respect of others on the basis of your experience or knowledge. It's all about what you do with that experience and knowledge that will earn you respect. I knew all about setting up 3rd-party interoperability programs, but that's not what mattered. Acting on that knowledge to set up an interoperability program and show people how it helped us move more quickly with fewer Engineering resources required for the task--that's what mattered.

I've been quite deliberate in embracing new ways of working (hello, Agile!), new technologies (too many to mention) and most importantly new methods of decision-making (ask me about split tests). I've been careful not to start sentences with "Back in my day…" But I've also been amazed when I realized that some of what I thought "everyone" knew was not nearly so widely known. Ask me about regulatory testing, hardware/software lineups, feature prioritization or user interface design.

So if it feels like a brave new world, maybe that's because it is… again.  You can question what values today's startups are embracing. Or you can go out and show them what values will be needed to succeed.  Which choice will you make?