In defense of sanity after the Boston Marathon Bombings

I don’t generally like to get in to politics. I’m a tech geek. But this is my personal website, click next if you don’t want to read this one. I, for one, need to vent. For historical reference of anyone reading this in the future: less than 3 days ago, make-shift bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Continue reading “In defense of sanity after the Boston Marathon Bombings”

Your Internet Business isn't about Computers

This has been an interesting week. Several articles and interviews that I have stumbled upon seemed to have collided in my brain. I sat down and watched a 2010 interview with Gary Vaynerchuck. He’s the founder of Wine Library, but he’s used the lessons he has learned starting his own business to travel around the country advising business that have been much longer established than his own. Vaynerchuck has the kind of personality that people should fear. He represents an undercurrent that is changing the way the world does business. In the interview, one of the interviewers, Tom Merritt, mentions writing a letter to Bazooka Joe as a child. The first day he received the response, he was so proud to see it… shortly thereafter, he realized it was a form letter response, and the magic wore off. I had the opposite experience growing up, writing a letter to video game giant Nintendo and actually receiving a response back from the staff that specifically addressed my questions. This was nearly twenty years ago, but that kind of behavior is exactly what Vaynerchuck is advising companies to do.

Gary Vee understands how to build a brand. As an example of this, in the interview, he describes using the Brisk Iced Tea Twitter account to debate the best rapper of all time. It has nothing to do with plugging your brand. It has everything to do with treating your customers like people – not dollar signs. The twitter account for @XboxSupport does the same thing – they are good at joking around with and discussing hot topics with their community members. Interact with your demographic, talk with them. He talked about having his own employees call and thank their customers without having to “drop the other shoe” and try to sell them something. The world has changed and the person-to-person business is as important as it was five hundred years ago, when you worked face-to-face reputations to uphold.

It is important to balance that, however. Everybody has an opinion, and you can’t always take them to heart. You also can’t ignore every comment – some complaints may be legitimate, they may have to do with things you haven’t considered. “Trolling” on the internet is a term that fascinates me. I have no facts to back it up, but my theory is that it began with the verb usage of the word, like trolling a pond or lake. You’re putting something out there as a sort of bait and trying to see what you can drag up. They did this because it got laughs – having an anonymous persona allowed you to say things you might not otherwise say. Mob-Mentality sets in and before you know it you have groups of “Trolls” roaming the internet. As you can see, the word later evolved a noun, where a person exhibiting this behavior was a “troll” – like the kind that live under bridges in fairy tales. And no matter how many times you’re told not to feed the trolls, you shouldn’t ignore them completely. Eventually, you may even be able to win the trolls over.

“Every person you look at you can see the universe in their eyes, if you’re really looking” said George Carlin. He was talking about how he loved individuals, but not groups of people. It’s easy to dislike people, but it’s fascinating to become absorbed by one. I’ve always thought, as a bit of an introvert, that I hate people. But he’s right, I don’t. I’m fascinated by them – forcing yourself to have one on one interactions, even in a crowded room, is key. Their unique story, their perspective, their experiences, and personality. Whatever makes them unique. The world has detached from that idea. It’s not about a person, or even groups of people.

Too many business owners see themselves as the operators of a gigantic money-making machine where the employees and the cogs are replaceable entities that allow them to make more money. Rather than using the human touch to keep someone happy, they simply try to extract the maximum potential yield from that particular cog, eject it, and replace it with another cog. People have meetings, and emails, and discussions about resolving a problem, but what happens less and less is genuine interaction and concern with finding the right solution for the right company. That doesn’t always mean maximizing profits right now, it means grooming a long term relationship with your client.

How a process called "Dog-fooding" inspires me everyday!

I’m a huge fan of a process known as “Dogfooding.” I wanted to share it with you.

This is by no means a new concept. It began to take flight with the 1970’s Alpo Dog Food commercials, featuring the founder of Alpo doing a commercial in which he showed that he fed his own dog with his own product. It is reminiscent of the Hair Club for Men (“I’m not only the president, I’m a client!”). The legends say that in 1988 a corporate email went out to Microsoft employees saying that Microsoft, as a company, needed to start “eating [their] own dog food.” Meaning, they needed to start using their own products more. If they wouldn’t use their own products, how could they expect to sell them?

I’ve always been fascinated by this phrase. I love it. If you make something, you should love it so much that you want to use it. You should trust it enough to make your business run on it. Microsoft creates their own platforms, and uses them. Occasionally they get busted using a Linux web server somewhere, or they get a little good will by contributing to Linux development, but all in all, they build their own tools, and use them. Typically they use those tools to build newer tools! If you work for Ford, you should probably drive a Ford car!

If there is something out there that you would rather use than your own product, how can you make your product better? Before there was Microsoft Word, there was Microsoft Works. Before that, one of the biggest names, for the longest time, was IBM’s Lotus Notes. Lotus Notes was one of the best word processors and really defined what all future word processors would be and how they would look and behave. Microsoft knew they had to take cues from IBM, and make their product better.

I like to constantly think about if I were my own customer, would I like this? “This” being any number of scenarios, of course. I remember a few years ago, I was attending a wedding. Prior to the ceremony, a few of my former co-workers and I from a job I had once held got together for a few drinks. We chatted, and talked about where we were working at the time of the wedding – many of us had moved on to newer jobs, and have of course moved since. He asked me about a service the company I was employed at was offering, and I told him the features I liked and some of the things I didn’t like about the product – he then asked if we used it internally? “No,” I responded, “it doesn’t give us the flexibility we need.”

He shook his head and replied, “you’ve got to eat your own dog food.” I nodded, but I surprised myself with a response I had never even considered: “not everyone needs the flexibility.” And there it was. I, a firm believer in dog-fooding, realized that while it is good in theory, it cannot be implemented in practice. But was that it? Did I just destroy the preached-practice of eating your own dog food?

Although I agree a company should be so invested in their own products and services that they should be willing to use them, it is important to remember the scale of your product or service’s target audience. If your product is designed for a small company, but you’re a large corporation, you’re probably going to need something bigger to suit your needs. I would bet that the people who started companies like TurboTax are probably intelligent and knowledgeable CPA who probably don’t use the TurboTax software to file their own taxes. But that should be their fuel to keep developing and improving! Maybe you aren’t your own target audience for your current product. But your next product could revolutionize your industry!

When it comes to software development, your work is never done. If you think that what you have is great the way it is, then you should be proud of what you have – but you should think about ways you can make the next big leap. When it comes to owning and running a business, no matter what it is, you should always find that drive to continue making the experience better for your client, make a higher profit, or even make your business the kind of place talent wants to work. Yes, they are broad statements, but your mind doesn’t always need to be dreaming up new ideas, just improving on old ones. Even if it’s a banana stand.