Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Customer Satisfaction

Recently I purchased some minicards from moo.com, for use at Mocana and personal ones for my wife and I.  If you haven't checked these out, minicards are a great way to stand out - and cheap and easy to make.

The purpose of this post is to comment on the excellent job that Moo does on customer satisfaction - these guys get it.  They were polite, to the point, and didn't take a lot of my time.

A week after my order I received the following email:

Hello Phil Montgomery.

We've met before, I'm Little MOO, the piece of software that manages your order with 
moo.com. I hope you've now received - and are happy with - your most recent purchase with us. If it hasn't arrived yet please don't worry, you can check-up on your order here: http://www.moo.com/account

As you know, we like to think our customers are happy with the things they've made at MOO, and the best way to find out is to ask. If you have time, we'd love it if you could answer just 3 short questions about your most recent experience with us, it'll help us make things better for everyone:

Thank you for your help, Little MOO

PS You've received this email as a standard part of the MOO order process. If you'd rather I didn't ask for your feedback on future orders, you can take yourself off the list at the following url

Thanks, and sorry to bother you

What a great email - concise and humorous.  I was cautious about clicking to the survey, as most of them ask too much information and take too much time.  The last Marriott survey I did took screen after screen of information, so I abandoned it after about 4 screens.  This happens a lot - likely because every department adds a few questions, and before you know it, there are 40 questions and the survey takes 20 minutes to complete.

So here's the moo 3 questions, on the survey hosted by surveymonkey:


Absolutely perfect - very quickly they have an indication of customer satisfaction, and can follow up if there are issues.

Very nice, and something to copy

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dogs, Cows, and Kids

Everyone responsible for a product portfolio should read this blog entry from the Silicon Valley Product Group. I can't really add much advice to this excellent post - great solid advice.

One company that has really got this right is Citrix Systems - they have focused on four main products ("the four platinums"), reduced their investment on secondary products, and end-of-life non-performing products. They publish the best product lifecycle matrix I have seen at http://www.citrix.com/site/SS/supportThird.asp?slID=5107&tlID=5110 - very easy to understand.

This is especially important post acquisition - at Blue Coat we moved quicly to end-of-life Packeteer products that were not moving forward. Although there was revenue attached to these products, customers and partners generally reacted well to the plan that was presented to move forward (there will always be a few difficult customers). Everyone appreciated that Blue Coat was quick to create certainty and presented a transition plan for Packeteer customers using EOL products.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Creating Leverage

For any business to be really successful (and achieve "hockey stick" growth that is every business dream)  we need to create leverage. Leverage is the ability to put a small amount of input resulting in a much larger outcome.

Early in my career I founded a consulting firm, specialising in Novell NetWare and Lotus Notes consulting.  The business was very successful, and soon we were employing ten consultants - but I learned that even if they were all in contracts, there was only a finite amount of money the business could earn.  And if any of them were not busy earning money the profit was walking out the door.

I learnt a valuable lesson - you can't leverage people.  One person = revenue from one person.  You can attempt to maximize this by training, repeatable process etc, but fundamentally there is no leverage. So building a large consulting company takes a lot of people, and the accompanying overhead (and headaches).  The only way to create some leverage is how accountants are lawyers structure - create a "sweat shop" of low paid graduates, all beavering away in the hope of one day being a partner.

In the technology business we achieve leverage by selling the same product multiple times.  Yet this leverage can be destroyed through a focus on custom work or extensive customization. There is nothing wrong with doing these deals for short term revenue (at Netoria we did some great work for the Union Bank of Switzerland and McAfee that funded our expansion) but at some point you need to focus on repeatable products.

What does a product need to achieve rapid (hockey stick) growth?
  • Solve a problem for a segment of customers - it's better to make 20% of the market really happy, than 80% feel ambivalent. You can expand later into adjacent segments and markets. Don't make the problem too large in scope - focus on a small known problem can be extremely effective ("don't try to boil the ocean").
  • Focus on a small number of products and services.  Novell, VMWare, Citrix and others got to $1bn on the strength of a single product. I've also seen startups that have between 10 and 20 products - this is far too many (how can a business communicate 20 products?).  Collapse multiple products into larger bundles, or discard products that are not creating revenue. Sales analysis will tell you quickly what products customers care about.
  • Create clear communication about what your product/solution/service does - if you can't explain in a few minutes what your product does, how will customers or channel partners understand? Can a customer go to your web site, and understand your product(s) in a few minutes?  Use Google Analytics and understand your bounce rate to get some measurement on whether customers drill deeper into the site - If I cannot comprehend what the company/product/solution does I immediately leave the site.  For an example of a very good web site, with clarity around products and the problems they solve, take a look at http://www.37signals.com/ - for something on the opposite side, check out the list at http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/.
  • Have a leverageable distribution model - this may be selling directly via the web or a traditional 2-tier channel model. Creating leverage is extremely difficult if you need to add direct salespeople to increase sales. A direct sales force is an important part of the overall mix, but have them focused on the top customers, and create another channel for the transactional business.
  • Share revenue with your channel partners.  Give them a reason to sell your products, and make them feel like an extension of your company.
  • Create a recurring revenue stream.  Before you try to get new customers, ensure that existing customers are paying their maintenance renewals - this is easy money that accumulates as your customer base grows.  If your renewal rate is not around 80%, then you have a customer retention problem.
Of course there are many other ideas to help create or increase leverage, but a focus on the basics above will ensure a solid foundation for growth.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Internet of Things

I recently joined Mocana Corporation  as VP of Products, and the biggest drivers for my decision was their vision around the "Internet of Things".  I spent many weeks interviewing with the CEO (Adrian Turner) and key executives - after doing a lot of research and thinking became quite excited.

The Internet of things (IOT) is based on the trend of all devices becoming smart and communicating freely.  Think about the possibilities in all aspects of life - the home, workplace, manufacturing, medical, military, etc.  Right now I have over 14 wi fi enabled devices at home, but no way to coordinate them or set policy - and if you include non-IP devices there are about another 30 more at home (phones, cars, water sprinkler system, appliances etc).  

Imagine if I could network these devices, and connect them to other information sources.  I could configure an Internet based weather service to communicate with my sprinkler system, and turn off if rain is expected.  My airconditioning could turn on automatically based upon a GPS read of my distance from home (check out my GPS location with the gadget on the right side of the blog).  

Think about every device or article having an electronic id, so it can be tracked anywhere on the face of the earth - theft could become a thing of the past.

Think about a medical provider being able to securely monitor a patients health across the Internet - and give them advice about diet, exercise etc. Or call an ambulance if their implanted pacemarker detects a heart attack.

The opportunities are endless.

Open Standard are critical to the IOT - we live in a world where proprietary standards are no longer accepted, and companies cannot expect to make money by long term customer lock-in. One of the most important standards for the IOT is the broad use of Internet Protocol (IP) communications. IP is the backbone that enables universal device communication.

To enable these open standards, 27 companies founded the IP for Smart Objects (IPSO) organization.  The IPSO Alliance is an open, informal and thought-leading association of like-minded organizations and individuals that promote the value of using the Internet Protocol for the networking of Smart Objects.  Mocana is a key member of this organization.

The IPSO Alliance will perform interoperability tests, document the use of new IP-based technologies, conduct marketing activities and serve as an information repository for users seeking to understand the role of IP in networks of physical objects. Its role will complement the work of entities such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) or the ISA which develop and ratify technical standards in the Internet community. 

Work such as the IPSO will help device manufacturers understand the need to IP enable their devices, and even or silicon vendors to add IP capabilities to products.  For hobbyists, take a look at the ardiuno microcontroller - itself open source (yes, open source HARDWARE) - a very cheap and easy way to IP enable almost any device.

However, as with the first generation of connecting IP devices, there are massive concerns around management and security. Look at the security problems in the IT industry, and magnify the issues by the exponential size of the IOT.  Most vendors are not too concerned about security and management at the moment, but all that will change as the size of networks increases, and exploits start to occur.

Think of the device manufacturers, they know how to build devices, but have no experience in connecting them to the Internet.  There is a massive opportunity to help these companies create the secure "glue" to enable the IOT.  

This is what I'll be focusing on moving forward.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Art of Product Management

I recently completed reading "The Art of Product Management" by Rich Mironov, and can highly recommend picking up a copy 

Unlike other books that take a more academically theoretical approach, Rich's book is based on solid experience and proven success. As someone who has managed many products and Product Management teams, I wish I had found this book earlier, and it will now be mandatory for my teams. And as well as product managers this book is ideal for executives in all areas - sales, engineering and marketing to get their heads around what makes a product successful. 

I like the way this book is organized as a collection of thoughts, rather than a lengthy tome that needs to be read carefully in order to gain any benefit. You can open this book to almost any chapter and get great advice and thoughts - on topics from pricing, to sales, packaging, and politics. The use of multiple analogies makes the concepts and lessons easier to understand. 

Successful Product Management is not well understood, and Rich has made a great contribution to really defining what is important.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Meeting Hell

How many of us need to endure an almost endless procession of pointless meetings? Tools like email and calendaring were meant to make us more productive, but now seem like a ball and chain, holding back innovation and deep thinking

One of the biggest issues is unproductive meetings, and the biggest culprit being email.  We've all sat in the conference room, bored by the speaker, and started doing email. Pretty soon everyone in the room is doing email or using their PC/Blackberry for surfing the web.

Have you been on the other side?  Presenting important material, only to look at the audience typing away on their notebooks or Blackberry? Frustrating eh? All of a sudden you say something interesting to one of the attendees and they stop, look up, and rewind the conversation.  Or after the meeting you get a call from someone mad that they weren't aware of a decision (or course they were in the meeting but not focusing).

The facts here are most people think that they can multi-task, listen to the meeting and do email - but they can't. In a study by Eric Horvitz and the University of Illinois, a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, like writing reports or computer code, after responding to incoming e-mail or instant messages. They often strayed off to reply to other messages or browse news, sports or entertainment web sites.

These findings are similar to those of David E. Meyer, a cognitive scientist and director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan. “Multitasking is going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes,” said Meyer. “Disruptions and interruptions are a bad deal from the standpoint of our ability to process information.”

Meyer identifies three types of multitaskers. Some people do it out of desperation, for example talking on the phone while reviewing papers. They view it as the only way to be competitive. Others multitask impulsively without even realizing they do it. They will stop mid-sentence to do a quick check of their e-mail or listen to voice mail. Hop scotching from one task to another; they don’t realize how their behavior leads to their lack of accomplishment.

The third group multitasks with pride. “Many people delusionally believe they’re good at this...” he says. “The problem is that we only have one brain and it doesn’t work that way. In reality, nobody can effectively do more than one remotely complicated thing at a time.

By allowing email distraction in meetings we're contributing to the massive email overload - how many less emails would there be if people didn't email in meetings? And by allowing attendees to work on something else in the meeting, we are increasing the number of meetings required to get a message across or make a decision - a vicious cycle.

There is an answer - ban email/Blackberrys/IM/notebooks.  When the meeting starts ask everyone to close their notebooks or leave the meeting.  At one offsite we had a second room just for people who needed to go and work on something else.  The message was - if you are in the room then participate in the meeting, and if you want to go and do email then leave. This wasn't nasty - everyone knew that there was no problem if they ducked out, but the meeting would continue without them.

This often is not a popular move (you'll get many dirty looks), but over time everyone will start to see some productive effects:
  • less email
  • less meetings
  • shorter meetings
  • smaller groups in meetings
  • better decisions 
  • better communication
Remember that the aim of meetings is to communicate as a group, and doing email is completely an individual activity. Take control, ban notebooks, and make your meetings instantly more productive.