No, Tweets Aren’t Your Own

It’s fairly common practice to put a disclaimer in your personal profile on Twitter, Facebook, personal blog, etc. explaining that all of your opinions “are your own”. This is basically another way of saying “I wanted to publicly state that these opinons don’t reflect on my employer, and therefore I cannot and should be penalized at work for having these opinions”. I was a victim of falling under this assumption as well. After awhile I began to think about the ramifications of our public opinions on our professional lives.

Let’s set up an example to illustrate my point.

Example – Jim is in the marketing department of a large ad agency. He’s never been accused of badgering other employees for their ignorance in the office, but generally he gets frustrated from time to time because they don’t get work done on time for him. Most of his co-workers don’t know this because Jim is generally pretty good about not showing his frustration. After a bad playoff loss he bad mouths a member of his favorite professional basketball team’s lead player on twitter telling him “You’re the worst shooting guard in the league. I hope you die”.

Let’s take some perspective on this. Let’s say this person had an excellent resume. Would you hire this person? If he was your employee, would you fire this person?

When I’m hiring someone, a big factor in analyzing someone’s character traits is how they handle situations where problems occur. In this case, our friend ‘Jim’ has displayed two sets of characteristics both inside and outside of work. So, the question I would have in the back of my mind for Jim is – if the pressure is on, is Jim going to blow up like he did with the professional basketball player?

Let’s take this a step further to the real root of the problem. Many employees of large (and small) businesses, who disagree with their employers actions, tend to use the public domain as a soapbox for venting their frustrations of their employers decisions, whether deliberately or subtly. This is largely due to the fact that there is no medium or forum for said employees to express their frustrations within their work space.

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Contradictory to my sensationalized headline, tweets are in fact “your own”, but only in the sense that you are the one that created them. Hence why I put large quotations around “your own”. Once you have unleashed an opinion into the public domain, it becomes property of the public domain. This is powerful. Many people (including myself) have used the public domain as a means to bolster your status positively, but conversely it also means there can be equally negative consequence. Putting a disclaimer up doesn’t negate this.

What this is ultimately doing is forcing businesses to be much more transparent with their employees with strategies like the use of open-door policies and internal social networks. In other words, don’t piss of your employers, and don’t piss off your customers, and everyone will be happy.

Breaking Down the Online Publishing and Advertising Industry

One thing I pride myself on is my ability to break down business models. I tend to use the business model canvas as it’s a very simple, effective and concise way of articulating your business model. Quite possibly the most misunderstood business model in today’s web businesses is the advertising and publishing industry. The reason it’s so misunderstood is that because so many people consume it every day, they’re often mislead to believe they are the customer. However, as we all know, if you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer. As I’ve written before, I’ve always been challenged to decrease my time consuming and increase my time producing.

It’s first important to understand the cross section of the publishing and advertising industry. The cross-over is called distribution. The term distribution might be an awkward term for many people in the online word because it’s probably more commonly known as sales, but distribution is a little bit more than sales. It’s the whole process of how you’re going to get your product to your eventual users. Sales is just a function of that. The goal of both the advertiser and the publisher is the same – costumer acquisition. Customer acquisition for them is being able to go to another business and sell them user attention. In order to gain attention, they must offer an exchange. Usually there is an exchange between your time and theirs, through a medium called content. Once this exchange takes place – you read an article on their website – then they have now procured their product to be able to sell.

Most people assume that because you use Google’s search engine it means you are a customer. This is simply not true. You’re attention is a product that is being procured. Google’s procurement process is to give you something of value (discovery) in exchange for something you have time (attention). It then sells that attention to someone else.

To make this easier to understand, let’s compare it to a manufacturer’s business model, which is very easy for pretty much everyone to understand.  So, just as a semi-conductor gives something of value to it’s suppliers (money) in exchange for something they have (sand), so to is a publisher giving away something of value (their content and therefore time) in exchange for your time (and therefore attention). It then refines the sand and creates semi-conductors.

adprocess

 

Seth Godin has once said:

Attention is a bit like real estate, in that they’re not making any more of it. Unlike real estate, though, it keeps going up in value.

I love this quote. It speaks volume to how large the advertising industry is and can be. It also speaks to how much is at stake – your attention. I believe procuring our attention is the single most important aspect of today’s internet businesses. It’s also quite possibly the most difficult and potentially the most costly. Everything we do is based on a limited supply of it and therefore there will always be a constant battle to procure as much of it as possible.

Next time you are annoyed at an organization for the content they used to procure your attention, remember, it’s your attention. You get to choose what you do with it.

Weekly Podcast – Week 03 – Advice on Startup Advice

Week 3 for my weekly podcast just uploaded and I’m talking this week about giving and taking startup advice. Some highlights:

  • Everyone is giving startup advice, sometimes in exchanges for money, equity, advice, etc
  • Often non-commercial exchanges of value happen with advice
  • Finding people’s incentives (control, equity, cash) will help you qualify whether the advice is quality or not

[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/84407760" params="" width=" 100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]

Which is Scarier – That the Rest of the World isn’t like Silicon Valley or Vice Versa?

I’ve been a HN (HackerNews) junkie for almost 4 years now. I’ve been living and breathing topics like MVP, lean start-up, Node.js, git, etc and am a very active person in the community. I truly believe in the customer development process and keeping things agile. Sadly though, I’ve come to the realization that the rest of the world simply does not think this way. I don’t live in Silicon Valley, but I “study” it constantly; trying to find the pieces of the culture that make sense and those that don’t. My impression of the SV startup view on the world is:

  • Anyone who builds a startup must follow lean start-up rules
  • It has to disrupt some business that already exists
  • It has to have to some sort of social 
  • It has to be featured in TC at some point to be worth something
  • If there is no mobile component it’s probably not worth pursuing
  • Pivoting is inevitable, so just plan for that ahead of time
  • Design/UX/UI is everything
  • Business networking is all done socially
  • You have to blog (tweet, etc) in order to be seen
  • Your business model can be based on zero revenues but be based on an exit

The reality is that there are so many companies out there being built outside of SV that do not incorporate these principles. In fact, I’d argue that companies that are built with this mindset represent an extremely limited and small subset of the overal startup spectrum. (note – there’s obviously no way to quantify that) The reality is – there is no one single way to build a successful business. There is no handbook, cookbook, or formula. Are there ways to reduce your risk? Are there some techniques that work well? Sure, but nothing in business is purely anecdotal.

SV start-up culture has an engineering mindset based on the belief that new business can be engineered, which I simply don’t believe to be true. More importantly I believe SV startup culture has actually created a larger culture (that includes myself) of people who hate to plan. For good reason, plans are usually thrown out in the first 5 minutes after reading them. But it doesn’t mean that plans aren’t important. My theory is that since the dot-com era, we are following a tolerance of failure curve inversely proportional to our adherence to plans. So, we’re do for a planning era when this 2.0 bubble bursts.

tolerancecurve

The problem I see is that the very few companies who do follow this pattern, only picked the pattern because they saw their idols successful at doing it. But just because these very few companies do become successful it doesn’t mean that everyone can build companies based on the same principles. For example: Twitter CEO, Evan Williams, is quoted for having said

“User experience is everything. It always has been, but it’s still undervalued and under-invested in.”

Point is – just because it worked for one company (and probably a handful of other ones) doesn’t mean it will work for every startup. So, while this advice is certainly good, it’s up to you to determine if it’s applicable to your business (web based or not).

Let’s take for example a company I used to work for: SAP. Most young people have never heard of SAP. Yet it does roughly $20bil in revenue and is probably used by at least one company that you interact with on a daily basis (including Apple!). It also has offices in Palo Alto, so it’s technically in SV. But you’re talking about an ecosystem of people who believe that a whole IT project has to be blueprinted several months (if not years) ahead of the actual build. SV startup culture says “screw it, let’s just build it”.

At the end of the day the important thing to remember is that companies like IBM, SAP, Twitter, SalesForce, AirBnB, Google, etc – all internet related businesses – have built successful business based on different priorities and principles. Just because IBM built and continue to grow their company in one way and Apple did it another way, the reality is that they all have proved one thing – they can create businesses and grow them.

Here’s my prediction for the future – we’ll continue to pretend like we can engineer successful businesses and continue failing at doing that. But it’s worth a shot right?

You Have One Job – Eliminate my Fear

If there is one thing I’ve learned about business, it’s this. Getting someone to do something for you is all about eliminating their fears. Naturally we are risk averse animals. Which means we are constantly analyzing our situation to make sure we do not fail.

The reality is, a majority of the world is based on the crystal ball business – meaning you pay me in order to expect something to happen in the future. In some cases this is 1 hour, in others this is 10 years. The longer the time frame, the more fear is associated with it. 

fearcurve

Currently with my new startup – Compete Hub – I have the following stakeholders and associated fears:

My team – The three of us (myself, Philip, and Alexei) are all not being paid for our work. There is a lot of uncertainty around paying bills, eating, etc. So I’m constantly reminding them (and myself!) that the idea is good and the money will come eventually. More importantly I asked constantly what things are important to everyone in order to ensure that they are comfortable. It’s also why we launched www.ignitelab.net in the interim and I’m spending countless hours trying win our team some business. (ps – guys if you’re reading this and I’m not doing a good job, let me know!)

My potential investors – I’m currently pitching the business to angel investors to get seed money to keep the team happy for the first year so they can focus on what’s best for the business. Investors are very fearful people, and they have a right to be. For angel investors, their fears can be a multitude of various things. For example, what will my wife think if I put $10k into a friend’s startup?  How will I pay for my mortgage? What if the startup fails in the first year?

My customers and users – The people who will use Compete Hub are also very fearful people. The biggest question when dealing with startups is knowing: Will you exist n years from now? Many startups will reduce these fears by putting up a page (like this) that explains that they do have funding to keep them alive for years. Which means if I’m going to invest my time to use your service as a client, I want to know you won’t disappear tomorrow. Also, it’s the reason the ideal landing page is set to reduce fears by showing what problem your solving and more importantly how it solved someone else’s problem (the testimonial!).

Fear is above and beyond the most motivating factor in business. So if you’re trying to move and motivate someone else – be it, an investor, a business partner, or a potential client – focus and understand what they value first and then eliminate the fears associated, second.