Been Gone a Long Time…

Wow, I think this is the longest stretch of non-writing that I have done in my history of blogging. Nothing in particular drove my absence, just been busy with work and family.

A lot of my time the last few months has been spent on a website redesign project, which I took over last December. This was a pretty complex undertaking, combining new messaging, visuals, information map, and a new content management system (Adobe CQ). It was a hell of a project and to borrow a line from the movie The Money Pit:

“There were a couple of times when I didn’t think we’d ever be able to put this baby back up.”

We did, it launched last week and you can check it out at

I’ve also been continuing to build out a top notch marketing org while also working with our sales organization on improving the manner by which we are supporting them move business through the funnel. This is probably the most challenging part of what I am doing right now, if for no other reason than our market is evolving at a fast rate and what is required of direct sales teams is changing as a result.

Summer is in full swing but this year there is no slow down to focus on the more pleasurable pursuits of the season, but it’s still a good summer nonetheless.

Retooling Marketing in a B2B Company

Ping coporate logo 2014Ping Identity has gone through a top to bottom transformation in marketing over the last year. A successful organization that fed impressive growth, reaching growth and revenue records year over year, the marketing organization relied on a proven B2B outbound marketing model that precisely measured lead capture rates.

My interest for the last decade has been in inbound marketing models that rely on content to drive business opportunity. More significantly, I follow the advice of many friends who I would call contemporaries in B2B marketing, like Steve Mann at Lexis-Nexis and Chris Selland at HP-Vertica, who align their marketing demand gen efforts to account-based scoring… opportunities instead of leads.

When you combine inbound marketing with account-based scoring, you get a very potent combination of predictable opportunity funnel that also benefits from lower customer acquisition costs. The latter is essential for on-demand subscription models where customer acquisition costs (CAC) has to be recovered in a short upfront time period, and the former increases the volume of business funnel to work through, again essential in any business that has a wide range of pricing options, from free to enterprise license agreements.

When I took over the team in the 4th quarter of last year I made a couple of quick changes, most significantly breaking up the demand gen team into distinctive task teams focused on net new customers, base expansion, and retention outcomes. The demand center teams would respond to product & solution marketing, as well as partner marketing to drive campaigns, content, events, and interactive (SEO/SEM) for the specific outcome being targeted. We roll this up with a range of sales and marketing operations activities to drive opportunities, which are companies who buy our stuff as opposed to discrete contacts at companies.

I am fortunate to have a data scientist on my team, a PhD in statistics no less, who also has a keen ability to aggregate data from many different sources, from Salesforce to Splunk. We know from this data that there are tipping points that occur in the opportunity (account) scoring that should and do cause additional sales activity. I won’t share the specifics here because they represent hard won intelligence that is a form of IP for us, but I also believe that much of this is actually not easily transferred to another company like us. In other words, each company needs to learn the unique attributes and dynamics of their sales and marketing model rather than simply copying what another company is doing.

Underlying all of our marketing strategy is the notion that we, as a business, have grown in size to the point that we are beyond the point that generalists, high bandwidth people who can do a lot of things well, will serve our growth. We have made a number of changes in the team composition in order to achieve a high degree of specialization in each function… I want the best people at each position in the team. The equation is simple, we use people and systems to feed a data model that we constantly iterate to explain and then predict our performance. 

I saw this fascinating video of a Ferrari F1 pit stop that reminded me of what we are striving to achieve. Each pit crew member has a job and there is no confusion about who is doing what. Notice how the crew members responsible for removing the front wheels know exactly where to place their hands in order to capture the approaching race car… this is the level of specialization that we are building.

Mozilla’s Diversity Problem

lynch mobThe lynch mob mentality that put Mozilla’s CEO out of a job has been well covered and while shameful at every level, I didn’t expect to comment on how badly Mozilla stumbled on this… but here I am.

What really got under my skin is the self-righteous indignation expressed by those calling for Eich’s ouster. The guy paid a price no one should have to pay for exercising the right we all carry to express our views in the form of political speech, yet that is impossible when it comes to gay marriage because to have any view other than one of support for gay marriage is equivocated to being homophobic. Are these same forces suggesting that the 7 million people in CA that voted for Prop 8 should also be run out of their jobs and publicly shamed? If so, the case against campaign finance reform has been conclusively made.

However, rather than dwell on the social commentary, which is what it is, or gay marriage, which is something I fall into the “indifferent” camp of neither supporting nor opposing (I just don’t really care), let’s focus on how badly Mozilla looks in all this. Organizations are often defined by crisis and in this case Mozilla demonstrated a failure of values by caving to a pitchfork wielding mob and in the process suppressing the ability for anyone at Mozilla to have an independent view that is not validated by kow-towing to the loudest voices at Mozilla.

I thought of two recent examples of companies that demonstrated their values in moments of backlash, Coca-Cola and Honey Maid, the graham cracker company. Coca-Cola faced a minor consumer backlash over an ad that ran in the Super Bowl featuring America the Beautiful being sung in different languages. Coke didn’t back down and regardless of where you stand on any of these issues you have to admire a company that is willing to put it’s values at a higher priority than revenue… however in this case they may have actually suffered more damage if they walked it back given their prominence in Latin America. Either way, good on them.

The more interesting example is Honey Maid graham crackers, which ran ads featuring multi-racial and same-sex couples. Like Coke, they faced a consumer backlash however rather than simply riding it out, Honey Maid doubled down and released a follow on piece. That took balls.

You may be tempted to say that Coke and Honey Maid had it easy because the issues they addressed are rising in prominence and acceptance. However, the only distinction I see between companies that express support for issues that are gaining in popularity and what Mozilla did is that Mozilla faced a test that everyone should care about, which is that when you go to work the way you conduct yourself in the workplace matters is what counts, and that your personal opinions should be respected and protected. They failed and it will take Mozilla years to recover from the stench of running a co-founder out of the organization for having the audacity to have a personal view that was not aligned with the Moral Majority that apparently runs the place. The message is clear, if your view is not in the Mozilla mainstream then shut up because the only opinions that count are not yours.

I expressed myself by uninstalling Firefox.

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Abandoning Wearables

A report is out today suggesting that up to 1/3 of wearable computing users are abandoning the devices.

That observation is strengthened by research from Endeavour Partners in the US, which found that one-third of American consumers who have owned a wearable product stopped using it within six months. What’s more, while one in 10 American adults own some form of activity tracker, half of them no longer use it.

We are still in the early phase of wearables and this data needs to be taken with that perspective, there is a lot of experimentation necessary to find the right mix of function, fashion, and utility. Samsung, in particular, has demonstrated a tendency to release devices that are intended to demonstrate a market opportunity while continuing to iterate the design to later maximize on it. This is something that should be encouraged.

My own experience with a Fitbix Flex fitness tracker is in line with the research covered above. I initially embraced the device and was diligent about interacting with it, then after about 3 months the silicone band broke and replacing it didn’t seem like a priority. I wasn’t getting a lot of utility out of the Fitbit, it does a couple of things (and the sleep function clearly doesn’t work well) and it just didn’t add anything to my life so putting it on the shelf was an easy decision. The other challenge is that it isn’t extensible, Fitbit hasn’t provided a third party market for apps that do anything more than what Fitbit provides itself… utility is a function of what the device itself does along with what third parties support.

xl_samsung-galaxy-gear-phoneThe Samsung Gear is a different example and having talked with people who have had it the issue that comes up is that the first gen device was a novelty more than anything else, and having something tethered to your smartphone is really only as good as the reliability of the connection. The Gear seems plagued with bluetooth connectivity problems that make it unreliable in this regard.

google-wearableThis is a fast evolving market and I am optimistic about where it is going, especially in light of recent announcements from Google and others that demonstrate devices that are significantly improved over previous generations. Curved displays, improved batteries, and richer development environments point to a better future for wearables.

The IAM Stack Refresh

Ping coporate logo 2014One of the reasons why I joined Ping Identity is that the identity market is undergoing a significant transformation as a result of changing user behaviors. The demands that mobility and APIs are putting on businesses, and how architectural limitations in traditional IAM stacks mean their relevance in the market will invariably decline. This is an exciting time to be in the security technology market and while I won’t claim that security is suddenly sexy, what I can say confidently is that customers are looking at identity as a strategic initiative for driving growth rather than something they need to cover the bases on for risk and compliance.


One particularly interesting opportunity for Ping is in the web access management (WAM) market, which has existed since the late 1990’s and features some very mature products. We are not suggesting companies turn off their WAM products and start over, and point-in-fact, the history of enterprise software is not rich with examples of things being turned off, at least not until the last device is turned off. What typically happens is that more modern products are implemented in parallel to extend legacy investments and eventually what happens is that the legacy products fade into the background and assume a maintenance orientation.

WAM solutions built on a 1.0 framework have declining utility in a world where the security perimeter is changing from firewalls to identity. If your approach to WAM is through a session token and a role-based authentication process, you are not well equipped for the environment that customers find themselves in today. It is with this backdrop that we launched PingAccess last year, but this product is just one piece of a broader strategy to deliver federated identity solutions for web, mobile and API usage that meets the needs of companies in customer, workforce and extended supply chain scenarios. Read more about PingAccess in David Gorton’s latest blog – ‘The WAM Identity Gateway That Can‘.

Mobility and device proliferation impose architectural limits on WAM 1.0 products… but rather than turn those things off, the better strategy is to implement Ping Federated Access Management to manage identity and sessions with standards rather than proprietary tokens.

By unlocking dependency on specific vendors, Ping Identity has the opportunity to lead a generation of ‘IAM refresh’ that will put stack vendors in a box that they cannot break out of with the existing architecture and product portfolio they bring to market today. The Ping Identity advantage of implementation flexibility and speed is coupled with a standards-based approach in a superior architecture and that has real value for companies looking at their mobile strategies and ecosystem enabled services driven by APIs.

CA, IBM, Oracle, et al are not standing still. They are adding mobility and API support into their product set, but the Ping Identity architectural advantages and our proof points for speed, cost and reliability are substantial. Another way to think of this is that if you evaluate products on the basis of who checks the most boxes, you will invariably end up buying the product with the most bloat, not the one that meets your needs today and tomorrow with speed, cost and deployment advantages.

Here are a few examples of how you should consider Ping Identity against stack vendors:

  • Support for mobile browsers and desktop as equal classes. We support user access to apps from any device.
  • REST API deployment model. We use next-gen standards that eliminate the need for a username and password for every app’s authentication and authorization.
  • Administrators have the option of building their own tools because we built the products on a modern API for the administration of the platform.
  • Self-service onboarding for apps. We eliminate the reliance on IT.
  • Federation everywhere. It’s where we came from and influences everything we do.
  • No proprietary tokens. We use standards and this increases integration options while reducing integration cost (friction).
  • No vendor lock-in. An example of this in action is how we use upgrades to deliver new features rather than require the upgrading of agents to maintain support availability.
  • Scope-based access control at authentication rather than role-based, an example of the architectural distinction.

We put together a solutions brief on web and API access management, if you are interested. I know this sounds spammy and anything labeled “solutions brief” is suspect on the basis of being labeled “solutions” however there’s a lot of good info in here and our marketing approach in 2014 is summed up as “be the best answer”.


Twitter’s Problems

Twitter is having a bad day.

Chart forTwitter, Inc. (TWTR)

They did put up some good numbers, indicating real progress on their revenue management, which is just another way of saying they are now a successful ad platform. Great, but that’s only as good as your ability to drive audience growth and engagement, and here Twitter is having a real challenge.

When I click on random profiles in Twitter I can see the problem in realtime, there is a significant clustering of people how follow low single digits and are followed by a fraction of that number. The utility of Twitter increases by multiples as personal network thresholds are crossed, but if that increase is driven by a blunt force trauma approach of following everyone you find then the quality goes inverse to the network size.

So problem #1 is how to get people ramped up to a level that they derive utility from Twitter without resorting to spamming your entire gmail address book or sucking your Facebook contact list into your new Twitter account.

Next is the format of Twitter’s message has been both blessing and curse, and the timeline has proven to be pretty resistant to alternate presentation formats (conversation view, sorting, etc.). The former has been a problem for Twitter from day 1 while the latter is kind of surprising.

Facebook, by contrast, offers a lot of depth in the personal profile that imbues it with a sense of destination. you go to people’s profile pages in Facebook because there are photos, apps, timeline, videos and more. not so in Twitter.

Problem #2, create more personalization while also providing a richer message format.

The third problem is a tough one, most people don’t have interesting things to share in a broadcast format. even broadcasters don’t have interesting things to say over Twitter. Trending topics is a great way to discover breaking news content but it is invariably limited by the network wide approach they use, I can’t say “give me trending for my zipcode, my commute, my school, my travel schedule.”. This is where Google is really on to something with Google Now, it is exclusively relevant to me.

Problem #3, create interesting moments for *me* through the network.

I like Twitter but admit that I use it primarily to share content through, I don’t provide much in the way of editorial content because Twitter doesn’t allow me to do that the way that Facebook and LinkedIn do, and both of those networks appeal to professional and personal networks uniquely while Twitter is somewhat stuck in the middle. Dick Costolo says they have to make it possible for people to “get it” in the first minute. that’s pretty hard to do in a service that has as an intrinsic requirement connecting with other people as a critical path to getting the feedback loop established. Tough problem, I wouldn’t want to have to solve it in the spotlight of being a public company. in a way Twitter is experiencing today what Facebook had to go through on the day of their IPO.

Celebrating Human Achievement

I love advertising, not the advertising business but the ability of good advertising to tell a story, tap into emotion, inspire us, motivate us, and create a sense of purpose is powerful. Sure, advertising is selling stuff and it would be easy to be cynical about it, but the art of advertising done well transcends commerce and touches us in a way that we often don’t even realize.

This ad celebrating the simple act of a grown man learning to read does all of the above.

The Decline and Rebirth of Retail

Jeff Jordan has an interesting post that looks at long terms trends in retail and more recent news, suggesting an acceleration that is itself a tipping point to the benefit of online. It’s hard to argue with the trends he is pointing out, however that is not the entire story, or at least the interesting one to me.

To look at physical retail and suggest that online will overtake it is not where the story ends. Physical retail won’t stand still, and much like other points in it’s history it will go through a transformation that results in a much different retail industry than we see today.

The next generation of retail likely looks like a hybrid business that brings the convenience of online with the merchandising aspects and physical customer experience of traditional retail together. Okay, that much is probably obvious but if we peel back the covers we could probably identify some interesting intersection points between the two retail models, starting with the distribution capability.

Traditional retail has a distribution model built for store fulfillment, and in parallel they have built distribution centers for online retail fulfillment. 3rd party logistics providers (3PLs) have gotten pretty efficient at template distribution models, scaled appropriately and completely turnkey, an efficiency that no doubt will continue and the result will be unburdening the retailer with significant capital costs if they chose to take this path.

Online retail is not without it’s own costs and discovery is increasing at a rate that will pinch online retailers on their bottom line. If you are Amazon you don’t worry about this, but for everyone else you have to focus a lot of effort on finding people who are not driving by your physical stores daily. Organic SEO is an art and for popular searches a vendor site will rarely display, and SEM is expensive for popular keywords. How else will you get traffic to your site to feed the funnel. a youtube video that takes off? I wouldn’t suggest you build your business model around that.

Jordan highlights a number of news items to support his thesis and while I take the intention they are provided in, I can’t help but highlight a few alternate theories. He writes “it’s getting hard to find a physical book, music or video store these days,” and while true this is easily attributed to the change in consumption habits instead of how people buy these products. I’m also not aware of where I can find a paper scroll store these days. The shift to digital content drives this disruption, not the retail model. how would you go to a physical retailer to get streaming content?

The apparel retailers Jordan highlights are suffering for reasons not associated with the shift to digital, namely the singular focus on a demographic group that has left them behind. Trends change and brands lose their luster, this is not new nor is it caused by online retail. In fact, I would argue that if any segment is insulated from being overtaken by online, it is apparel but the problem is that many physical apparel retailers still think of themselves as a retailer instead of a combined media and retail business. One online retailer that points to a future that could be embraced by physical retailers is the Net-a-Porter company, which for men is represented as the site. It’s a clever adaptation of storytelling and merchandising that should be embraced by physical retailers as a way of sustaining margins and managing an audience instead of just attracting customers with promotions.

I could go through each example Jordan uses and offer an alternate theory for their decline. Maybe in aggregate the trend Jordan highlights is supported by the examples but perhaps they are just complex individual cases of a business cycle playing out. Therefore, the question that we should be considering is the degree to which online retail is growing the entire retail industry, not just transferring business from physical to online.

Regardless of how much I am pro-online retail (300+ Amazon transactions alone last year, on any given day all of the major delivery services are stopping and depositing a small mountain of boxes. there are few things I won’t buy online), I can’t help but admit that physical retail has many appeals and with smart transformation could give online retail a run. Retailers will need to abandon many of the philosophical tenets that have sustained the industry for decades and unlike previous evolutions this is not going to be a crank of the wheel and a tuck here and there, physical retailers need full scale transformation to come out on the other end and only the healthy ones will have the strength to get through it.

UPDATE: McKinsey has a great article on the retail and they explore the ability for retailers to use multichannel strategies to turn stores from liabilities into competitive weapons.

Thinking Ahead to 2014

I always take predictions posts with a grain of salt because they reflect the aspirations of the author as much as a qualified and objective forecast of what will happen in year ahead. but to quote Bill Gates:

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.

In retrospect, it is evident we are in the midst of a profound technological shift that is rather predictably right on the traditional 10 year tech cycle, depending on when you start your calendar. Two rather enormous shifts have been completed and the consequences are profound, so much so that M&A isn’t going to be enough for legacy vendors to make the shift.

The two big curves that have matured are obvious, social technology and mobile. how we communicate with the world at a small level, who we maintain a relationship with, and the world at large via broadcast capability. This has obviously gone into overdrive with mobility introducing new behaviors into our social interactions given that a smartphone is inherently a communication device, and then how we multipurpose mobility into the greater spectrum on functional interactions we have on a day to day basis.

1) Mobile creates clash of user experiences.

When you are on a mobile device using cloud-based services there is something transformational in play, which is that not only are you bypassing many of the controls that dictate how you use apps but you are also using a network that is not under the control of your company.

The result of this is that device management becomes all important or a non-starter because how many employees are going to allow their company to control their personal smartphone or tablet over a wireless carrier’s network? Not many.

Having multiple user accounts in something like a cloud-based storage service creates UX complexity that providers are starting to address, such as Dropbox’s recent announcement bringing together personal and business accounts in one UX.

2) The NSA screws the tech industry.

We’re already starting to see the consequences of this, which is that while consumers may not care that the government is snooping around their stuff but companies really do pay attention to this. The ramifications to this are that companies selling stuff to business buyers are being hit with specific requirements about where data is stored, and if you are trying to sell in EMEA what this means is that a Safe Harbor statement is no longer adequate.

An open question that in unanswerable right now is the degree to which the infrastructure, service providers, and various data intermediaries serving b2b and b2c markets treat the government as a hostile actor. Hacking and data security threats were previously in the domain of criminal activities and espionage however more recently we have started to see major companies, such as Apple and Microsoft, say these threats are threats to be defended against “regardless of who’s behind them” and represent “persistent security threats”.

Silicon Valley can no longer turn a cheek and say “gee we didn’t know this was happening” when the industry built the very infrastructure that is now being used for large scale domestic spying, and in many cases taking taxpayer money in the background.

3) Big data takes a breather.

The fixation on big data will take a pause in 2014, thank God. The challenge isn’t the technology itself, which is pretty amazing in scope and impact over the long run. What will put the brakes on the hype cycle is simply that customers don’t know what to do with all the data that can be aggregated and analyzed by these technology tools.

For big data to realize the potential of the technology vision, companies need to evolve organizationally and from the standpoint of where their data comes from. big data with just your stuff is rarely big data.

There are a lot of really interesting data plays out there right now and with a few more turns of the crank we will be turnkey with data analytics capabilities that are only fantasy today, all in realtime and with incredible performance, but it’s going to be another 12-18 months in my opinion.

4) Economics will be a constant discussion for big enterprise companies.

The shift from perpetual to subscription and then to SaaS is going to give heartburn to a lot of CFOs at big enterprise software companies. Just last month Oracle’s earnings call focused attention on this subject and it’s not just the necessity to fund the bookings-to-revenue dynamic but also directly impacts sales team compensation and much more.

You really don’t appreciate the requirement that funding the shift to subscription is material until you are in the midst of doing it. There are a thousand details and all of them end up at your bottom line. We’ll hear more about this this from the big public companies in 2014.

5) A lot of technology stuff moves into the stack.

With more and more application services moving to the cloud the requirement to connect the functional componentry, not just the data, forces you to make some strategic decisions about how much of your infrastructure you will move to the cloud at the same time.

In my particular area of focus, identity, it can be expected that identity services for authentication and provisioning will move into hosted environments that are just part of the stack. This is not unlike what happened in the early days of networking when protocol adapters, namespace, and packet routing were in a company’s datacenter. As these technologies matured and the competitive market coalesced around standards, all this stuff moved into what is essentially a black box that you turned on and never thought much about, the same things is happening today with technologies that make cloud services interoperable.

We’ve moved from SDKs to APIs in the last decade and with it has come a level of standardization around the things that are required to deliver an application to an end user, it should therefore be expected that higher value functions like performance analytics, threat detection, identity, and much more will just become part of the toolkit that developers use to build new apps.

Empathy in Everyday Life

Last night I was leaving my office in Denver to head to the airport to come home. It was 7:10pm and my driver was waiting for me at the corner of 17th and Arapahoe. I patiently waited at the light and then stepped into the crosswalk. bam.

A car turning left hit me and the one thing I remember is “hey my bag is rolling across the street” followed by “holy shit I just got hit by a car”.

A couple of young women crossing the street ahead of me ran to help, picking up my stuff for me while I composed myself. The driver of the car rather predictably got out and said “gee I didn’t see you”. No broken bones, a little sore, but everything seemed to work so as I stood there on the sidewalk I dialed 911 and spoke to a very nice dispatcher who asked me a few questions and actually made me feel very calm.

After another call to 911 to find out where the police were, I told the guy to give me his info because it was cold out and I just wanted to go home. As I was doing that, at 7:25pm a police cruiser pulled up.

Here’s where things went off the rails and the I get to the point of today’s post.

Police officer Patrick Hayden (I only know this because I have his card, not because he introduced himself) got out of his cruiser all geared up and looking hard, and failed to display a minimal degree of empathy. No “can I help you” or “let me get you out off the sidewalk”. Instead, I got the clinical “are you hurt?” and “do you need a paramedic?”. Fine, I could live with that, in such a situation you should cover the essentials first.

However, Office Hayden then displayed a degree of irritation that I was making him file a report. I had to stand on the sidewalk with temperature in the teens for 30 minutes with varying degrees of stiffness and discomfort setting in while he sat in his cruiser and pecked away at his computer and talked on his cellphone. Actually, I would not have minded sitting the backseat of his car out of the cold, instead of standing.

In a perfunctory manner he gave me his business card with a number scribbled on the back, I assume this is the file number I should reference. At this point, I just wanted to get to the airport so I didn’t miss my flight, the last one of the day. I just made it, walked to the gate and right on to the plane.

I got hit by a car and I don’t think it is unreasonable to suggest I have full license to be upset in the moment. Office Hayden made a bad situation worse by not recognizing the second part of the “protect and serve” mission stenciled on his cruiser. I have interacted with police officers at many points in my life, from getting pulled over for speeding to local charity events, and the one characteristic that has multiplier value in law enforcement is empathy. Dealing with people in stressful situations, regardless of the circumstances, is infinitely better when the human element is empowered.

This made me think, not surprisingly, of customer experience and how the power and value of brands is improved when the human dimension is enabled. As an example, my flight was on Southwest and the gate agent saw me in some discomfort and helped me stow my bags and get situated. Just this morning, the car service I used called me to see how I was feeling (my driver saw the accident), which is another great example of empathy in action. By contrast, my opinion of the Denver Police Department is significantly worse as the result of one unfortunate situation when I really needed them to help me instead of just respond to my 911 call.