Amazon experience

We went down to a physical retail store to buy stuff for the home the other day. Right then, I realized how much we missed the Amazon experience. We missed two aspects in particular.

1. Reviews. I felt lost as I looked at products in the aisle. Were these the ones that came highly recommended? On what basis were they on the aisle?

2. Unlimited selection. We were looking for a specific product we’d seen online. But, it was “out of stock.” Out of stock? What is that? 🙂

Three reflections –

First, reviews and unlimited selection make the Amazon experience vastly much superior to most physical retail stores. I could immediately see a future application for augmented reality. I would imagine us wearing AR glasses to see reviews superposed on top off products in physical retail stores. We’d be able to instantly compare attributes and prices across retailers as well. Pushing this further, I’d imagine retailers would already know what I intend to buy by having their staff wear AR glasses of their own. After all, I was probably logged into their website when I was searching. They’d be able to help me as soon as they saw me walk in.

Second, hybrid approaches often tend to be powerful. Maybe retailers could do better with having computers onsite that would help us browse their online inventory. At least, they could convert our intent to a sale by helping us make a purchase and have it delivered to our homes rather than have us go back and order it on Amazon. On the other hand, Amazon retail stores would be very helpful. They could just have all their best selling merchandise in one place.

Finally, it is impossible to roll technology back. Such experiences repeatedly underline how naive discussions around bringing jobs back to “x country” are. The Amazon experience is better for customers with far lesser people employed per dollar of revenue. Even the folks who are employed in their warehouses are slowly being replaced by robots with a few human supervisors. Technology innovation is going to keep moving forward.

It is up to us to keep pace with it.

OMTM for German publishers

OMTM stands for “one metric that matters.” Understanding the OMTM for a business is incredibly helpful in analyzing the impact of an initiative.

A collection of German publishers came together recently to create a pooled data set to help improve their ad targeting capabilities to be able to better compete against Facebook and Google. The CEO of the new platform had this to say – “Nobody is suffering more than publishers and sales houses in Germany, because they don’t have enough data, and their data silos will never be able to aggregate enough to come even close to Google and Facebook,” said Daniel Neuhaus, CEO of Emetriq. “Even now we’re pooling it; we’re still nowhere near but we’re getting closer in quality and quantity of data.”

He definitely deserves points for honesty. While I think this initiative makes 100% sense, I doubt it’ll do much to move the needle. And, it is easy to understand why when you understand “OMTM.” The OMTM for advertising is audience attention. The more time the audience spends on a platform, the better the advertising potential. The amount of time users spend on Facebook and its properties is only increasing. Couple this engagement with the increase in the number of daily active users on these properties and you begin to see why Facebook is being touted the killer of journalist business models. Google, on the other hand, benefits from being the perfect spot for direct ads as these depend on intent. If a user is searching for car dealerships in their town, it is likely they’re shopping for a car. In both these cases, the key is audience attention. Data helps. But, it is just the by product of a good product.

So, what should publishers do to really compete? Get better. Provide better, sticky content that will drive German consumers to their websites and have them stay longer. They need the sort of content that will encourage their audience to by-pass Google and Facebook and show up directly. Do that and the pooled data set will pay dividends. Else, it will just be a case of too little, too late.

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Reflecting on my use of devices and media

Seth Godin got me thinking about my use of devices thanks to his post on “paying the smartphone tax.” As this is the perfect time of year for reflection, I began taking notes about my device use on a flight. I am glad I did it – I think this is the first time I reflected on my device use behavior as it is just something that has unconsciously evolved over time.

devices

In the short term, it led to an immediate reorganization of apps on my phone to maximize positive energy and minimize activities that reduce energy. The other effect is simply increased awareness. I’m not sure what changes this increased awareness and thought will drive. Only time will tell.

Rather than give you just the highlights, I thought I’d share my unedited version below. Sorry if it feels long and all over the place – it was a stream of thought. As always, I hope it helps.


Purpose of the mobile
1. Take care of myself – (Music, Headspace, Fitbit, Audible, Weathercaster, Envelopes)
2. People – Connect with and record memories with framily (FaceTime, photos, Whatsapp, iMessage, email)
3. Find/do stuff on the go (chrome, google maps, uber, Amex bill, AT&T, etc. )
4. Learn by healthy consumption of content (Economist Espresso, news over email)
5. Create content when possible
6. Enable occasional bouts of catching up on social (LinkedIn notifications, Facebook notifications)

Stuff that reduces my energy
1. A long feed reading list
2. Checking email when I can’t clear it
3. Checking social notifications to get to social inbox zero
4. Switching across various social apps
5. Meaningless messages on messaging apps

Guiding Principles
1. Use phone in accordance to values aside from on-the-go stuff – to take care of myself, to connect with framily, to learn and to have impact by prioritizing content creation over consumption
2. Engage when I want to and not because the option is available. If it isn’t a HELL YEAH, it’s a no
3. Set notifications based on priority – calls – keep phone on silent through work day, texts – keep vibrations and sound, whatsapp – no sounds or vibrations but allow badge icons (mute groups that annoy) and no notifications on all others – email, messenger, etc.
(Align home screen to priorities)

Other good phone habits
· Switch off background refresh
· Keep minimal number of apps open

Purpose of the iPad
1. Myself – Kindle, Music, Tabs
2. Framily – FaceTime
3. Media – Netflix, iTunes videos

iPad use – Overall, aligned and good. 🙂

Movies and tv shows
· Watch on Netflix
· Buy on iTunes

Purpose
· Relax! Especially when at home

General principles
· Avoid purchase unless you’re absolutely sure you will want to watch from time to time
· TV shows better value for money than movies
· Never ever feel pressurized to watch a movie/TV show. They’re great to pass time but don’t matter much in the big scheme of things. 🙂
· Treat nature documentaries as educational 🙂

Music use
· Purchase and Listening: iTunes
· Discovery: Typically framily. Occasionally Shazam, iTunes Radio, Songza

General principle – have hardly ever regretted a music purchase. Great return for $0.99/$1.29

Books
· Audible – non fiction books only
· Kindle – fiction, fun, memory books 🙂 and non fiction when unavailable on audible or when easier to read as a textbook
· Hardback – when note taking is necessary. Typically for dense topics / hard to follow books

General principle – never question a book buy. However, make sure you’re thinking about whether the format is right for that particular book.

Laptop –  organize, study/work, think, email

Stuff that reduces my energy
· Frequent checking of social media
· Using email to procrastinate

Productivity notes / choices
· Maintain inbox zero, social zero – use inbox/social as means to make serendipitous connections and help where possible
· Avoid phone/skype calls where possible (especially for random reach outs) – request email correspondence instead. Use email correspondences to create scalable content where possible.

Social rules of engagement
· Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter – use is pretty healthy. Largely for blog sharing and connection with limited/no time on feeds. Buffer for sharing interesting content across networks
· Clean up LinkedIn contact list as necessary. General rule – only accept LinkedIn invites from people you know – unless there’s a clear message in the invite. Facebook invites can be more random as long as there are mutual friends. Revisit if there is trouble.

Rating people

Peeple, an app that allows you to rate other people (“Yelp for Humans”), received a lot of press attention yesterday. As the app hasn’t launched yet, it is unclear if the app will take off. If the attention it has received is anything to go by, it is sure to see some initial demand.

It shouldn’t be surprising to see an app of this nature. After all, nearly every organization or system we interact with is rated on the Tripadvisors and Yelps of the world. The risk is that this could end up being an app that facilitates a lot of abuse. So, I’m curious to see how the founders build this product.

That said, the more pertinent point is that apps like this will only further increase the “chatter.” Thanks to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, we’re all, every once a while, both media outlets and news-worthy personalities. Things we do can receive a lot of attention. So much so that we can spend more time surveying the attention we (and others) get than actually building something worthwhile.

The chatter is unquestionably distracting and counter productive. It is impossible to focus on creation if all we do is listen for feedback. So, repeatedly asking ourselves the questions – “what are you working to build?” and “what is the next step to make progress?” – has become more important than ever before.

Chatter

Every societal disruption, by definition, changes the nature of the era. Thanks to social media and the internet, one of the defining characteristics of this age is the sheer amount of chatter.

Every little thing we do produces a lot of noise. A piece of news that used to be local is now global. That’s because publishing space is infinite and everything is connected. That, however, is just an amplification of what used to exist.

The biggest change is that we are all journalists and we are all news worthy. Thanks to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the like, our entire extended network knows of major life events and achievements. And, given the sudden increase in the number of newsworthy people (i.e. us), “news feeds” are thriving.

All of this is from the point of view of the consumer. As producers, however, what has changed is that little actions can create a lot of chatter. And, very little of this chatter really adds value.

Every once in a while, I find it helpful to stop and ask myself – what are you working to build? How much progress have you made?

It helps separate the signal from the noise.

My Facebook News Feed and me

A close friend and I were discussing distractions. The top distraction on her list was the Facebook feed. I thought I’d share my relationship with my Facebook News Feed.

Starting 1 April 2013, I just stopped looking at it.

There’s an increasing movement of people who debunk Facebook and say it adds no value. I am not one of them. Facebook has truly lived its mission to connect the world in my eyes. The engagement on the website is off the charts – 1 Billion people log in everyday. That is impressive. I think of the news feed as an addictive drug that people can’t seem to get enough of. Whether it is good or bad depends entirely on you.

When I asked myself how Facebook adds to my life, I found it to add value in 3 ways –
1. Serendipitous connections – There are SO many past neighbors and friends who I’m connected to via Facebook. I don’t know what’s happening in their lives. But, every once a while, I send or receive serendipitous messages. And, I find tremendous value in that.
2. The ALearningaDay page and shares – I share this blog’s post every day on the Facebook page and on my own profile. It is a simple action that has helped build engagement as that is where a lot of the interested audience sits.
3. Groups – this has been incredibly useful in graduate school.

My experience with the Facebook feed from 2 years ago was that it was only, at best, having a negative impact. This is probably less about the feed and more about me. In particular, there were 2 things that were going wrong –
1. If I ever liked a photo or update, I was inundated with notifications about others who did. I didn’t like that. I generally check notifications, respond to email and friend requests. So, the noise wasn’t helping.
2. I am given to competitiveness and envy. This is in my nature and I found that the news feed fed my demons. 🙂 I had worked very hard over the preceding years to stop focusing on others and just focus on competing against myself. At that point, I felt I was getting to that happy place and my Facebook feed seemed to derail that progress when I spent time on it. I used to get sucked into checking out what others were doing. All of this was wasted happiness and time.

So, I made a simple switch. I changed the bookmark on my browser to redirect to my own profile page as that is what I accessed to share this blog’s links.

URL

The app makes it tougher because I need to go to my notifications as soon as I click on it. I occasionally see a feed item or two. I almost never engage. It does mean missing out on congratulating many a friend about some achievement or big life event. But, I figure that if I only learn about people that matter via Facebook, there is something wrong. So, it is a trade off I’m comfortable with.

The aspiring product person within admires the engagement and sheer magnetism of that feed.

But, I’ve learnt that its not for me.

The B2C2B era and its implications for us

Tom Tunguz had a great post introducing B2C2B (business-to-consumer-to-business) companies. The image below explains the idea –

B2C2BThe best way to understand this is to see what happened with the iPhone. In the 80s and 90s, all B2B productivity applications needed to be approved by 1 central corporate gatekeeper – the head of IT. IBM’s initial success in making Windows the corporate standard was attributed to that all powerful line – “No one ever got fired for buying an IBM.” This was a time when computing was necessarily expensive.

Over time, however, thanks to advances in technology and the Moore’s law, personal computing became inexpensive. So, consumers were soon able to crunch spreadsheets and store data at home. By the mid 2000s, enterprise apps weren’t better than consumer apps. In fact, in many cases, they were worse.

The iPhone flipped the old model of B2B sales completely. The product was so good that consumers who fell in love with it began badgering their IT departments to allow them to plug into the official network (that had become easier too). And, soon, the iPhone became a corporate standard across leading companies without Apple having to negotiate with any IT department. The iPhone as just the beginning – we’ve seen this across the board with companies who’ve had tremendous success with B2C2B.

There are a few interesting implications of this shift –
1. Every consumer facing enterprise productivity company in the future will need to grasp this concept and design applications that appeal to customers. The only companies that can escape this effect, for now, are companies that work on the back end.

2. That said, Amazon Web Services, AWS, is a prime (apt word when referring to Amazon) example of the B2C2B phenomenon and a role model for companies working on back end infrastructure. A cornerstone of AWS’ success has been customer love. It has made the lives of startups and entrepreneurs so much better. And, it has been rewarded with more trust as these startups and entrepreneurs have become successful. It, in turn, has proved itself worthy of that trust by providing the back end for companies such as Netflix and Dropbox.

3. Speaking of Dropbox, Dropbox’s move to Enterprise was inevitable. There’s a lot of money to be made selling to companies. And, Dropbox’s success was definitely an illustration of the B2C2B idea. Users loved Dropbox and found ways to use it within their teams at work. Over time, it made sense for corporate IT to embrace Dropbox. However, it is in that step that Dropbox had a few teething troubles. Corporate IT managers wanted more admin and security controls. This, in turn, underscores the challenges with B2C2B. Previously, you could just build products that kept corporate IT managers happy. Now, they have to feel in control AND the users have to love it, too.

4. Companies like Uber are experiencing this effect, too. Uber is already expensed more than taxi cabs. How long before companies strike enterprise level deals with Uber without Uber having to go seek them out?

5. For every positive story, there are companies that have experienced the pain caused by this shift. Microsoft Exchange is a prime example. Too many Exchange users complained about their unhappiness with having to manually archive their Microsoft email every 2 months because space limits on Exchange were outdated. So, there’s been a continuous shift to Gmail. Again, users love it. Companies follow.

6. Speaking of Microsoft, I wouldn’t extrapolate Microsoft Exchange’s troubles to Office. Despite advances made by all Office competitors, including Google Docs, Microsoft Excel and OneNote are still outstanding. And, PowerPoint does its job. (Word, however, is a travesty – can someone fix that?) It is great that Microsoft is proactively figuring out how to make using Office easier in the cloud. They are still the leaders here and the lead is theirs to lose.

7. As cool as “B2C2B” sounds, this isn’t a new world shift. Investment banks and management consulting firms have pursued this strategy for a very long time. There’s a reason that the Goldman’s and McKinsey’s of the world have “client first” written all over their walls. User satisfaction has led to company adoption in all of professional services. Aside from the fact that treating people well is simply the right thing to do, for professional service firms, treating people well is source of competitive advantage. Most of these alumni become future clients.

That said, there is a crucial point of difference. In the case of the internet, aside from the fact that network effects are more powerful (professional services have network effects, too), marginal cost is zero.

8. Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are probably the 4 most influential B2C2B companies of the internet era. Their success is built on the same blueprint – build products that users engage on and customers (advertisers in all cases and others like recruiters in the case of LinkedIn) will follow. It makes sense that media was among the first industries to feel the power of the B2C2B shift. The first sign of customer love is their attention. Companies that do well to capture attention will continue to drive the online advertising market size upward. And, this, in turn, illustrates why valuations for consumer internet companies are off the roof. They are, after all, no longer “consumer” internet companies.

9. That, in turn, is why Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram could be among the best tech acquisition deals ever. Photos and messaging dominate attention in the mobile era. While Whatsapp has a few global competitors, Instagram helps Facebook dominate the world of photos. That’s incredible value of 1 billion dollars.

10. In “How Google Works” by Jonathan Rosenberg and Eric Schmidt, Jonathan and Eric share examples of many decisions Google made that resulted in a loss of revenue for Google but were still executes as they agreed it would be great for the user. I think those examples don’t share the complete picture. Sure, it might have lost revenue in the short run. But, in the long run, B2C2B dictates that the user’s love is far more important for long term revenue. So, keeping the user first isn’t a competitive advantage, it is a competitive necessity.

11. We are in an era where “customer is king” is, for the first time in history, very close to being true. We have more B2C2B companies than ever before and more will be created in the coming decade. Thus, it follows that the B2C2B companies will likely experience most success under leadership that cares about. Now, it isn’t just about what the product can do. It, truly is, about how the product makes the user feel.

12. I’ll finish up with a provocative point. There was a rush of people flocking towards entrepreneurship in the last decade as everyone seemed to be vying to be the next Facebook. For the many who were working for large corporations shipping products to nameless and faceless organizations, building products for human beings they could see, touch and feel felt really empowering. We are social animals after all. And, we want our work to count. Change enough people’s lives and you will change the world, after all. This has resulted in a chain reaction of schools and politicians emphasizing the importance of entrepreneurship. All of this is good. With the advent of B2C2B, however, I would assert that a few of those assumptions will, and should, be challenged. While the gains of creating a startup that goes on to become the next Facebook are, indeed, outsized, I would argue that there are more opportunities than ever before to touch the lives of real customers. That’s what the B2C2B era has done for us.

What makes this all interesting is that the rules of engagement in this era are shifting really quickly. This is why “preferred qualifications” list in technology jobs read like a description for superwomen/men. Entrepreneurship and innovation are mentioned as required traits too often in too many job descriptions. It shouldn’t be surprising, though. With all these shifts, being able to learn, empathize with customers and build products and services that resonate are more important than ever before. And, that’s why I believe schools need to spend time on discussions around “being entrepreneurial” vs. “being an entrepreneur.” We don’t need more companies. We need better companies.

B2C2B, to me, is among the most profound shifts we’ve seen in the past few years. What makes this all incredibly exciting is that this is all just the beginning…