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Playing With Fire

I’ve had the Kindle Fire for a few days now and here are my impressions:

  1. The software layer that Amazon built on top of Android is smart and efficient. Not only does the interface hide the icon laden desktop that default Android features, but it serves the higher function goal of nicely integrating Amazon services and the various stores (e.g. apps, books, video).
  2. Battery life isn’t as good as I expected but my expectations were pretty high based on my previous Kindle experience. In retrospect, getting 7-8 hours with the screen lit and wifi on isn’t anything to shrug about, turning wifi off and backlighting down, which is ideal for book reading and game playing, drives battery life back up to Kindle expectations.
  3. Apps are aplenty. The limited device capabilities, e.g. no GPS, means some applications are handicapped but all things considered the fact that they launched with a rich market of applications is a big positive.
  4. The form factor is surprisingly comfortable. The rubberized back coating gives you a firm handhold and the device is pretty solid in terms of heft. I was also pleased to discover how comfortable this device is to type on, in portrait and landscape mode.
  5. Display is good enough for a range of activities from reading to watching videos. Bright and crisp.
  6. Performance is speedy and it’s worth pointing out that this is increasingly one of the attributes that you only pay attention to when it is deficient.
  7. The Silk web browser got a lot of attention when this device was announced. I really don’t get what the distinction between this and Chrome is. It works fine, I just don’t understand, based on my usage, why I am supposed to care about this as a unique feature.
  8. Wifi only is a plus for me, I use this mostly at home but when I am truly mobile I can use the tethering capability through my mobile phone. I explicitly don’t want a tablet that has integrated 3/4G with the additional monthly pricing plan attached to it.
  9. No camera… don’t care. Maybe some day I’ll do video VoIP but at this point in my life I can honestly say this has not been something that excites me. Take pictures? Why would I do that with a tablet?
  10. Complaints… yes, the power button is on the bottom and I have repeatedly hit it accidentally. The power button should be on the top of the device, like the iPad.

I have been using this tablet for just a couple of days but based on what I have seen thus far Amazon has a winner just in time for Christmas.

Integrity

I was pondering the situation at Penn State this morning on my drive in to the office. Putting aside the physical crimes that are alleged, not because these are not important – indeed they are ultimately the most critical aspect – but because what I am interested in this morning is the notion of integrity on an organization as a result of individual actions.

Like Penn State, Lehman Brothers and Enron were some of the most recognizable names on a resume that any person in the respective industry could feature. Today, these names are the punchline of a joke and individuals who carry them are likely to face additional scrutiny as a result of the organizational failures that captured the public’s attention.

Organizational failures are ultimately a series of individual failures and if you search Google you will find an endless stream of articles about how failure is a consequence of flawed learning and inability to adapt to changing conditions.

However, in these cases that simply doesn’t ring true, the epic organizational failures I have highlighted are a consequence of organizational success; definitely in the case of Lehman and Enron, and when the book is written on Penn State it will probably highlight how a very successful athletic program (college athletics is a business, not an endeavor) resulted in the individuals achieving a level of status that insulated them from scrutiny.

Is success so seductive that it causes otherwise reasonable people to put aside moral questions that may endanger continued success? Sadly, it appears that for too many people this is the case so the question I will leave you with is how, in your company, do you institutionalize integrity in decision making and subject the most successful among your team to a level of scrutiny that assures the entire organization is not imperiled by their actions?

More on this topic (What's this?)
Fund Withdrawals Top Lehman as $75B Pulled
Here comes Lehman 2.0
Read more on Lehman Brothers at Wikinvest

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Get Satisfaction Wins CRM Idol!

I will apologize in advance for the length of this post… there is a lot to write about the journey.

Back in April I read on Paul Greenberg’s ZDNet column that he was organizing a competition called CRM Idol for companies in the social CRM market space. He had pulled together an impressive roster of judges who evaluate and score 40 companies in the U.S. and 20 companies from outside the U.S.

The criteria for inclusion was pretty straightforward, you had to secure a demo slot when the call for companies was announced, only companies under $10m in annual revenue qualified and customer references had to be provided. Check, check and check… Get Satisfaction met all the initial criteria.

Profile information had to be provided so that the CRMIdol website could be fitted out, and the judges called on customer references to verify their authenticity, and I assumed to gather additional information.

Keep in mind that we had just come out of a fundraising cycle so I had a pretty tight pitch deck put together and had a nice demo featuring our customer communities. I estimated that we would easily qualify for inclusion and could make it through the initial round, which narrowed the field to 13 companies (I love the number 13, a lot of really good stuff at Get Satisfaction has featured this number, including the Friday the 13th that we closed on our A round).

I did the pitch with Brent Leary, Denis Pombriant, and Jesus Hoyos and it played out just like a VC meeting. Our lead presales guy did the demo and we answered questions. All in all I thought we did well.

When the semi-finalists were announced I was pleased to see that my calculations were correct and we had qualified as well as made it to the semi-final round. In reviewing the list of semi-finalists it was clear that we had some work cut out for us in order to proceed… Paul and company had assembled a really impressive roster of semi-finalists.

Next up was a one-on-one interview with Brent Leary. I appreciated this because Brent focuses on SMB market segments and is someone I had read for a while but not had the chance to meet. The interview with Brent was the highlight of the competitive process for me, we covered a wide range of topics that ran the gamut of market perspective to the culture of the company we were building.

Then the finalists were announced and I was super excited to see that we had made it. At this point I was declaring victory because when I started the process I had a modest goal, make it to the semi-final round and just hope we could stretch into the finalists. Now we were 4 and the competition was daunting, including Assistly, Crowdfactory and Stone Cobra. Start sweating and wait for the final round instructions…

With a mere 3 weeks to deliver we were tasked with submitting a video that would be voted on in popular vote fashion, the results of which would be ½ of a final score with the other ½ coming from the cumulative judges vote. Did I say 3 WEEKS?

Fortunately, creative content has always been a strong suit for our team so we set about writing a script that would highlight the “buttoned up but untucked” nature of our brand, entertaining for the popular vote while dealing with the serious side of why you or anyone else should care about what we were doing.

Then Assistly got acquired by Salesforce and I was really happy that Paul had declared that the finalists could not spend more than $10k on the video. However I still had a problem, with Salesforce’s formidable market presence the Assistly team could deliver a really strong popular vote which meant I would have to over-deliver on the judges ballot in order to come out on top. This was not going to be easy, Assistly has a good product and a brand that is a lot like ours… however we did have a weapon in our arsenal that none of the other companies could match, we have a robot.

The thing to remember about online video is that most of the viewers will click away in the first 45 seconds and if the video is more than 3 minutes in length they typically won’t even stick around that long. Our charter was no more than 10 minutes in length but there was no way I was going to subject anyone to that much video so we went with a sub 3 minute video and decided to feature our loveable mascot JarGon in the first segment.

We had another decision to make about the video and that was how we would feature customer examples and if we would do it in their own words. I felt it was important to have our CEO, Wendy Lea, and one of our founders, Thor Muller, featured in the video to emphasize our ownership of the content rather than deferring to customers. It was a risky move because conventional wisdom is that telling your story through your customers is generally a winning strategy.

Our video producer shot the video on a Friday and spent the next week editing it to a draft cut, which then went through 2 more iterations before submitting it on the due date with time to spare.

When the finalists videos came out I instantly second guessed my decision to not use customers… several of the videos had some compelling customer interview segments that I could not help but be envious of. Well it was too late to hand wring over it, you dance with whom you brought and that is all there is to it.

Our promotional campaign was pretty simple, every couple of days we would push out in social channels a “hey please watch our video and vote for us” message and I worked my influencer channel, which was tricky because many of them are also CRM Idol judges and I did not want to appear unseemly so in the end influencers ended up not being very influential for us because we exercised a high degree of self-restraint. I was happy with our video and felt that it strongly portrayed what we believe in as a company. Nuff said.

On Monday the winners were announced and I will be really honest and tell you I was shocked to see we had won. I did not enter us into this event with the preconceived notion that we would be here today basking in the honor of having won it all. The other companies were that good and I am glad that I don’t have to compete against most of them.

In the EMEA category a company I was not familiar with, BPMOnline was crowned the winner and that underscores why this competition was important and we are grateful to Paul for organizing it. The social fill-in-the-blank market is incredibly noisy and just getting attention is a challenge, much less mindshare.

CRM Idol put a spotlight on companies that we otherwise would not read much about, not because they don’t deserve ink but because they, like us, are small companies that have limited means to do the traditional activities that bring attention to products and solutions. Traditional analyst firms have an annual revenue threshold for inclusion in formal research, like Gartner’s Magic Quadrant. What this means is that sub-$10m annual revenue companies won’t get included in the analyst research that is important for gaining mindshare in the market, and what Paul did was provide theatre that companies like us could take advantage of.

Paul used his considerable influence in the market and a long list of relationships to bring together people who could evaluate these companies on their merits. The competitive process was rigorous and we are better off for having gone through it.

It’s been a good couple of weeks, we won CRM Idol and just last week one of our original customers, Intuit’s Mint group, won a prestigious Groundswell Award from Forrester Research for their work on social support.

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Bank of America Retreats, Tail Fully Tucked

Bank of America made it official today by shelving plans to charge a $5 debit card fee to their customers (which I am, gladly, not one of).

Their statement is a great example of how business “jargon” replacing honest and authentic speech only serves to alienate customers who have developed a sophisticated internal bullshit meter. Here’s what BofA said:

“In response to customer feedback and the changing competitive marketplace, Bank of America no longer intends to implement a debit usage fee.

“We have listened to our customers very closely over the last few weeks and recognize their concern with our proposed debit usage fee,” said David Darnell, co-chief operating officer. “Our customers’ voices are most important to us. As a result, we are not currently charging the fee and will not be moving forward with any additional plans to do so.”"

Let’s break it down and rewrite the statement in a more honest voice.

They Said: “In response to customer feedback”

What They Mean: “In response to our increasingly angry customers”

They Said: “and the changing competitive marketplace,”

What They Mean: “We were isolated when other banks didn’t announce the same fee structure, and worse, started competing with us on the basis of not having a debit card fee.”

They Said: “Bank of America no longer intends to implement a debit usage fee.”

What They Mean: “It was a dumb idea, in retrospect.”

They Said: “We have listened to our customers very closely over the last few weeks and recognize their concern with our proposed debit usage fee,”

What They Mean: “Our customers were very angry and it was only getting worse.”

They Said: “Our customers’ voices are most important to us.”

What They Mean: “When we can’t get the rest of the industry to pile on and risk our competitive position, we have to react.”

They Said: “As a result, we are not currently charging the fee and will not be moving forward with any additional plans to do so.”

What They Mean: “It was a dumb idea and someone should be fired for getting us into this mess but we’re not going to hold our executive accountable for the debacle”

Here’s the problem with BofA’s handling of this mess, an adult in the room should have stepped in when CEO Moynihan firmly planted his foot in his mouth about the “right to make a profit”. First of all, he doesn’t have a right to make a profit, he has to earn that by serving his customers and achieving a competitive position on that basis rather than being too big to fail. I’m always amazed when really smart executives says things that only make them sound like complete idiots.

The banking industry likes to think their customers are stupid, that we don’t realize they make money off the transaction fees that merchants pay when we use a credit or debit card. Acknowledging that you think your customers are stupid is never a good strategy and the debit card fee plan ranks right up there with New Coke and Qwikster in the pantheon of dumb business ideas.

Here’s how they should have written the statement they put out today, which would not only make them sound more authentic but also would be more honest.

Our customers have overwhelmingly let us know how angry they are at us for our proposed debit card fee, and our competitors have responded not by adopting a similar fee structure making us uncompetitive as a result.

We have listened and recognize that this plan was not putting our customers first so we’re going to abandon the idea before we make the bigger mistake of actually implementing it. We apologize to our customers for our statements in recent weeks and hope that we can earn goodwill back by focusing on providing competitive services that are fairly priced in the weeks, months, and years ahead.