Monthly Archives: February 2009

How *NOT* to demo a product: Bezos’ Kindle 2 Demo on Jon Stewart

I can *totally see* his marketing people pitching Amazon Founder & CEO on the brilliance of the idea.  Pitch the Kindle 2 on Jon Stewart.  The audience demographic is spot on – smart, relatively wealthier 18-34 year old males.  The show oozes cool.  Jon Stewart’s funny and well-read.  And Jeff Bezos is an articulate, engaging fellow.   And—best of all—the Kindle ROCKS—what a product, it’s awesome.   What a perfect way to take the Kindle 2 beyond its early adopter roots into the early majority. 

What could possibly go wrong???  Well, it turns out quite a lot. 

Words can barely do all this justice, so I’ve embedded it in an articel below. 

The key issues that I saw were:

  • There was no interesting content on the Kindle for Jeff to show Jon.  Jon picked up the reader and all he saw were those ‘screensaver’ photos of authors that the Kindle scrolls through. 
  • Jeff had very weak messages on the Kindle’s benefits.  The key benefit Jeff promoted was that the Kindle let you ‘read one handed.’  WTF?  WTFF?
  • Jeff jumped the shark or whatever you call it when he said this was unlike other interviews he’d done.  This was the kiss of death, the coup de grace, the creme de la creme, when Jeff remarked (nicely, mind you) that this wasn’t like other interviews.  This was the silent but deadly!  Jon Stewart’s interview was straight-forward for Jon—what is this thing?  why is it good?  and I’ll make of you if your answers suck!!!  Jeff didn’t have a fawning press hack asking him about the future, just basic, Product Manager 101 questions.  To say this was unlike other interviews, having watched it, is nuts.

Ok, so what would I do differently.  Pretty simple:

  • Have an interesting demo, get an “Ooooooh/Aaaaaah” out of the audience.  Oprah may love your thing, but Stewart’s never seen it.  If you’re going to show someone for the first time in front of an audience, then actually demo the damn thing so that people can be wowed and give you some ooooh factor.  Then Jon Stewart can’t quite rag on you so bad.  Cripes with a Kindle, you have to figure some folks in the audience love the dang thing and would hoot for it even with a crappy demo—make that a part of the thing.  I’m still shocked that Bezos didn’t demo the thing.
  • Speak about the benefits your product provides as if you were a human being.  The Kindle is such an awesome product, even with all its shortcomings.  Saying it’s benefit is that you can read one-handed is almost criminal.  B- entries would include: say you travel a lot and you like to read.  Now instead of carrying along a set of books, you just carry this.  IMagine you’re someone who likes to read 6 books at any one period of time, alternating between them.  Customers tell us its great to have one device to switch between them, not look all around the house for the book they want right now.  Finally, for the future, imagine you go to college and you have 440 pounds worth of books, imagine what this might someday be able to do for you—we’re working on it. 
  • NEVER say on camera that this is unlike any other interview you’ve ever done, unless it’s for your child’s elementary school newsletter.  This showed me that Bezos hadn’t prepared, or his marketing people hadn’t build a set of talking points, whatever.  The net was it was clear that this was off script.  It made Jeff look like a tourist in the land of Stewart.  This is unfortunate, as I really really like what Amazon is doing.  I’m a happy Kindle customer.  Good cautionary tale.

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Response to: “So, You Want to Be an Entrepreneur –”

Kelly Spors’ at the Wall Street Journal recycles the ‘Questions to Ask Before You Become an Entrepreneur’ article that one can find every few months in the pages of Inc., Fortune, the WSJ and so on.   It’s here: So, You Want to Be an Entrepreneur –  (Update May 6, 2009, today ReadWriteweb’s Bernard Lunn posts an article hereUpdate on May 7, 2009, Bernard had another article, which I had further thoughts on here. )

Spors offers 10 questions—things like “are you a self-starter?”, “are you comfortable making decisions no the fly with no playbook?”—as a way to get started in this assessment.

This approach, these questions, are very cookie-cutter—they don’t get at the interesting and most fundamental questions that someone needs to ask him/herself.  As an entrepreneur who’s lived through this shift, I think I’ve got some useful perspective.

I’m going to provide what I think are the top few issues to consider.

How viscerally important is making meaning through creating this company to you?  I start by asking this question as entrepreneurship is a *HUGE* step into the unknown, To apply a paraphrase of Donald Rumsfeld, there are a big set of known unknowns (will you succeed?  can you and your family handle the stress of risk?  etc.) and there’s an equally or even larger set of unknown unknowns.  You can only know so much about what you are getting into; as a result, you had better have a pretty visceral need to go do this in order to take the step.  This isn’t about making more money, controlling your schedule, or whatever—the odds are stacked against you on all fronts there.  It had better be about you not being able to go to your deathbed without having gone for it.  I think its basically that stark.  I also think that even with this desire, it can still be a hugely difficult decision.

How persistent are you?  Persistence is not just about ‘don’t give up’ or ‘don’t take no for an answer.’ Its’ about staying positive, staying calm, staying on task.  My model for persistence is Dustin Hoffman’s Stanley Motss from Wag the Dog, and his standard answer to any crisis: “THIS is not a problem.”

His is a great model for anyone to hold onto as they go forth.   Nothing phases him, nothing can phase you.

Can you handle rejection?  This is related to persistence, but is so important that I think its useful to state twice.  Keeping persistence is of course vital, but hand in hand, you will need to be able to handle a lot of good, smart, well-meaning people telling you “NO” they won’t buy your product, they won’t invest, give you a loan, whatever.  This stinks.  You need a way to stay not only focused but optimistic in the face of this.

The late Proferssor Randy Pausch, author of the Last Lecture, has a great quote here:

The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.

For me, there are very specific things I do, almost like a checklist whenever I hear a firm “NO”.  These help minimize downtime I may have from the pain of rejection and keep me focused on the go forward.

How important and eager are you to learn new things—things you’ve never done before? This probably sounds the easiest to answer—”sure I want to learn new things!”  Maybe it is, but a word of caution.  Embarking as an entrepreneur means you’ll get pulled in new directions, stretched in new ways.  If you scare or frustrate easily at having to learn how to handle some totally different way of operating—if wearing all kinds of different hats (many none too glamorous), then this will be difficult.  You had better hunger for new adventures, new skills, disciplines and so on.  If you are someone who’s relatively happy with what you know and finds developing new taxing, then entrepreneurship will be a drag.

Now all that said, I’ve been an entrepreneur now for 18 months.  It has had moments of sheer terror.  It’s also had amazingly gratifying moments, with the opportunity (I hope)of more to come.   As one would expect, it’s far more volatile than my prior work at Microsoft.  At the end of the day, as much as I enjoyed Microsoft and think it remains an awesome company, the entrepreneurial route is one that’s been a great fit for me.  I’m passionate about what we’re building.  I’m learning and having fun.  And if we do our jobs well, we’ll have a great impact on our customers and our community.


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Do the ad campaign first

Seth Godin discusses an interesting question today on his blog: “Which comes first, the product or the marketing?”

He argues that marketing (broadly defined) should come before the product.  In other words, define marketing by Peter Drucker’s standard of “creating a customer,” and then and only then build the product.

This is hard to argue with–of course, you need to know who your customer is and what their pain points are before you go off burning time and money building a product for them.

Sure thing, makes total sense.

I would go a step further though.  I suggest that a team start with the marketing (as Seth advocates), with the explicit goal of being able to create the ad campaign that would exist when the product was in market.

Now, I know many people think Big Media / Old Marketing advertising is dead (see Seth Godin’s Meatball Sundae, e.g.).  And it may well be that you are designing a product that will never have a TV ad run for it.

I don’t really care about what ads you end up running, instead, I’m advocating that you sketch out the ads you would run if you were going to run them.  Here’s why: the marketing task of building an advertisement forces you to develop several key elements of your marketing thinking.  For example, advertising forces you to develop (and stick to) a single main idea for what it is that your product is all about.  BUilding an ad requires you to articulate what are the truly compelling benefits? And, finally, an ad forces you to communicate those benefits or your positioning in a cogent, concrete, and brief way.

For those reasons, I am a big believer in doing the work to build the ad campaign first, based on the marketing work that goes into it.

A great example of this, is the MacBook Air.  Here’s an excerpt from a Steve Jobs interview on the MacBook Air and it’s development:

We decided a few years ago to build the world’s thinnest notebook. And so, it started in the design phase, figuring out how small we could make things,” Jobs told CNBCs Jim Goldman. “And we probably built 100 models to get to this. So the first step was just holding a model in your hand and saying, ‘if we could make this real, we would all just lust after this.’ And, we did! So its been about two years of work to make this…

It’s [takes] precision machined aluminum to get it this light and this thin.”

Now look at the ad.  I would be willing to bet a lot of money that execs at Apple had the vision of an ad with a beautiful Apple Laptop sliding out of an inter-office envelope very, very early in the design phase.

It clearly articulates to the marketing and engineering teams what the vision of the product is all about.  And when it comes time to launch the thing, you know exactly what your single big idea is all about, you know how to communicate it cogently etc.

Now the counter to this is to do “the marketing first” and then build the product, and the heck with the ads.  This is ok, but it has risk.  Notably, if the product teams start making compromises along the way, if there’s feature creep, etc., then you start losing site of precisely what the single main idea of the product is.  The product limps across the finish line with nothing distinct, nothing unique, and the marketing guys then get out the lipstick and start doing  pig dressing.  This happens all the time, not because people are stupid or incompetent, but because there was never a flag stuck quite deeply enough in the ground at the beginning to state what the product was and who it really was for.

Having lived through that a few times, without naming the specific products, I’ll tell you that nothing is worse as a marketer to have a product that lacks a single main idea or cogent set of benefits.  No one’s happy–the engineers think you suck as a marketer.  The partners think you’ve built a crumby product.  And you have nothing to do but stand fast and just pitch, pitch, pitch.

Force your team to do the ads first.  Having them early will help everyone stay synched on what the core benefits are that you’re building.  And if the team can’t agree on the benefits to customers that you’re trying to build at the outset, well, that should be a pretty good indicator that the team doesn’t know what its trying to do.

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New FriendFeed Search bring FF a lot of promise

FriendFeed launched a new advanced search capability today, reported on here.   I think it opens up the promise of FriendFeed to expand into something far more impactful and useful than it already was.

To date, I’ll confess that I’ve not been a heavy user of FF.  It was awesome in terms of its sheer conversational (and other) data that would go through there.  But in terms of usability, it seemed like people could get really, really drawn into threads and discussions that went way past their usefulness.  A bit like those email threads that just won’t die.  Prominent tech bloggers were getting sucked into the FriendFeed vortex, and interventions were being publicly advocated.

Yep, as someone who needs to stay productive, I had to stay away from FriendFeed.

Now along comes the Advanced Search, and now, all these conversations become something that I can go and pull stuff out of.  I can choose to be part of the whitewater rapids of conversations flowing through FriendFeed, or I can drop my search in and fish out whatever I want.  I’m more of a fisher, and this feature’s great.  Obviously a ton of different scenarios could be useful as Marshall’s article mentions.  But this feels to me like FF could become a pretty strong platform where vertical searches on all sorts of stuff becomes important.

I’d watched FF from a distance, admiring it and thinking that it was pretty ingenious.  Now I’d say I’m pretty excited about their prospects indeed. 


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Six Ways to Use Facebook to Look for Job

My recent post questioning whether Facebook was taking out LinkedIn generated many comments.  This morning, I saw that Guy Kawasaki had put together “Ten Ways to Use LinkedIn to Find a Job.”  As a relatively heavy user of both services, and as someone who sees a lot of value in using Facebook for things business oriented, I wanted to put forth my own ideas on 6 ways to use Facebook to help in building your career and resume.

Before I do that, I’m going to build on my prior post comparing Facebook to LinkedIn.  To me, the key difference is the active nature of conversations that Facebook drives.  I’m connecting with and updating people I know, people who have some shared interest with me.  Yes, this is more inherently “non-work” related, but it is far more engaging and conversational.  LinkedIn, more and more, has become for me like a souped up CV/resume service.  My profile is out there, but it’s not like I got there everyday to update friends and colleagues on what I’m doing.  The activeness of Facebook is something I find a big difference versus LinkedIn.

This difference makes an impact on job hunting strategies.  Using Facebook to connect and engage with friends and acquaintances can and should be a legitimate route to pursuing a job.  This is not to say don’t use LinkedIn–certainly one should use all tools at their disposal.  I’m merely arguing that Facebook is a viable, important tool in career building, if you want/need it. 

With that, here are my six ways to use Facebook to look for a job.  Parroting Guy Kawasaki’s advice, if you know someone who’s looking for a job, forward them these tips along with an invitation to connect on Facebook (if they’re not there already).  Before trying these tips, make sure you’ve filled out your profile and added at least twenty friends.

  1. Let people know you’re looking.  No stigma here, let people know you’re looking.  I’ve seen friends mention via status updates that they’re looking, meeting with recruiters, whatever.  Depending on how well I know them, I can wish them luck, suggest a friend, whatever.   A no brainer way to let people know. 
  2. Engage thoughtfully in conversations on topics that interest you.  With the recent election, many people have used FBK to engage in conversations on politics, the bailout, etc.  Engaging on current event topics gives you an opportunity to connect with new people and build credibility with existing acquaintances.  One good tip can be to connect Google Reader to FBK.  When you see an article you like in Goog Reader or that you think others might enjoy, then you can “Share” the article via Goog Reader and it posts to Fbk.  A good way to build conversations on topics you find interesting. 
  3. Find topical groups that interest you and join them.  Microsoft recently announced layoffs.  In the short-time since this announcement, support groups on Facebook have sprung up.  One, Help Microsoft Friends Find a Job, already has over 900 members comprised of recent casualties in the lay-offs, employed ex-MSFT alums working at different companies, as well as current MSFTies.   These types of networks open up new relationship possibilities and new routes for job seeking.  If you don’t find a group that fits your needs, create one.
  4. Start a blog.  I loathe writing those three words “Start a Blog,” as I fear it has become such vapid advice for anything.  Wanna cure cancer?  Start a blog!  Wanna make cash?  Start a blog.  Want a job? Start a blog.  Etc.  That said, I think blogs can become useful tools for anyone to document thoughts and ideas that are important to them.  Write about anything that you find important or interesting–I’d not write about your job hunting, unless there’s something interesting in that to cover.  What’s good about writing in general and blogging in particular is that writing can both teach you more about yourself, but give you access to untold people who might read your stuff, find you interesting and connect.  Obviously, you can connect your blog postings to Facebook, and if those postings have any relevance, then pushing them into your network of friends at FBK can be a good way to amplify your voice.  As silly as I think the advice sounds, I’d suggest having and writing a blog if you’re job-hunting. 
  5. Get background on particular companies through friends.  FBK is nowhere near as good as LinkedIn on mapping out who knows whom at which company.  LinkedIn is much better at the “who do I know at FOO-tronics?”  Still, Facebook has an increasing number of companies and employees of companies available through it, which you can use to find out more of the skinny at a specific company.
  6. Always be building your network.  This is another piece of advice that I kind of cringe to write, as it sounds pat.  The problem is that most people when they hear the words “consummate networker” or “schmoozing” think of some shmarmy guy who hands out dozens of business cards every day and says “hey, yeah, let’s do lunch!”  This is fake and surface and superficial networking, and it’s not what I mean.  Honorable people remember favors.  Smart, hard working people who get stuff done, want to know more people who are smart, hard working and who get stuff done.  You want to both do favors and be smart, hard working and a gets stuff done person.  Building networks of people like that, becoming someone they trust as smart and helpful is something you need to be doing.  That to me is networking–if you’re paying it forward, then in my experience, this is does come back to help you in the end.  If you network with those ideas in mind, then your network will expand fruitfully.  I’ve lived in Silicon Valley for just over a year now, and I’m surprised at how many people either don’t spend time networking, or who do but are far more schmarmy at it than I think they should be. 

Good luck, and any feedback or other tips are welcome. 


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