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Category: conference

Brianna Wu, Nine ways to start helping and stop hurting women in tech

By , October 6, 2014 8:42 pm

Business of Software Conference 2014

In September I travelled to Boston, MA in the USA for the 2014 Business of Software Conference. As conferences go I think Business of Software is quite simply the best software conference in the world. The speakers are carefully selected by the organisers – they don’t just throw them together and hope for the best. It’s single track, which means everyone has the same shared experience. So no awkward “oh I didn’t go to that talk, I was in the talk about snail protogenesis protocols” moments. And the speakers – well they are human beings – approachable, no ego, no attitude. There are no sponsor-advertis-talks, and no panels. Fantastic! There are sponsors, it’s very low key what they do. It’s a great conference. And worth every penny you spend attending.

Each year I’ve attended there are usually some speakers that don’t do much for me, some which are useful and a few that change and/or challenge what you thought you knew about a particular topic. Last year Greg Bauges spoke about Depression and people felt able to talk about the untalkable subject for the first time. Great and inspired topic choice.

This year the conference did it again. This time with Brianna Wu’s talk about Women in Technology and the issues women face day to day working in the technology world. Brianna works at Giant Spacekat, producers of Revolution 60. Giant Spacekat is a mostly female game dev team. They work with Unreal.

Brianna gave a passionate, in some places angry, talk. Often pausing as she tried to come to grips with the right way to communicate some of the issues she wanted to talk about. Despite the nature of the some of the subject matter there is also humour in the delivery (which I’m sorry, doesn’t come over in this writeup).

I was going to try write up the main points of the talk but given the nature of the talk I’ve been reluctant to try to condense some of this material for fear of materially, if unintentionally changing the intent. As such it’s not a straight transcript, but it’s also not super condensed. Some of this is straight quotes, others paraphrased and some bits skipped because they rely on graphics for context. Unfortunately I didn’t take photos of the many slides Bri used in her talk. A such some of this transcript misses data only displayed but not described by Bri in her talk. You’ll need to watch the video when it’s realised to grok those details.

In a few days time the Business of Software Conference will be making a video and full transcript of the talk available. When that happens I’ll include a link to the talk here.

Talk

“I’d rather be talking about anything else. Entrepreneurship. The exploding role of women in game dev. We women have same aspirations as you. We want to build cool stuff, start companies, work with tech, etc. No different. So why do we have to be here today talking about this? The sad reality is these issues make or break our careers.”

“How many gamers in the audience? How many of you have been following Zoe Quinn and #gamergate? How many people know what I’m talking about? Pornography spam, hate mentions, 1000s of times, bank account hacks, restraining orders over gamergate. Bubble of anger over women in gamergate. Losing women over fear of being the next target of angry mob: Samantha Allen, Jan Frank, Matty Brice. This isn’t superfluous stuff, this is about careers, it’s very important. So that’s why I’m going to be talking about this today.”

Bri then briefly lists a few women in tech issues

Overview

“These are things that women know (ask any woman here and they’ll confirm it). But apparently most of the rest of you don’t know this stuff.”

  • “Myth: Women in tech need to grow thicker skins.”
  • “Truth: Women in tech receive a lot more scrutiny than men. So for any given issue there are more hurdles to cleared to be accepted.”

#1 Nina

Bri has to scrub this story. Too raw to turn into words.

#2 Nicole Tanner, IGN

  • “Myth: Women get special treatment in the industry (‘our looks get us ahead, our feminine wiles’).”
  • “Reality: Celebrated journalist. Starts podcast that is really successful. Gets on a discussion panel at PAX East. but if you examine the comments they are only about the women’s physical appearance, not about their ability, etc. These are women at the top of their field and the only comments are about their appearance.”

#3 Elise

“Good looking woman in her 20s. Game writer for a major studio. Guy become sexually obsessed. Writes a fan fic. about her. Graphic, pornographic about her. She is reading it having to deal with it and it starts infecting the rest of her life. She goes to game dev events and wonder if the person she is talking to is the person writing all this stuff about her. Causes her to start distancing herself from everyone else. This has a long lasting effect on her personally.”

#4 Bri’s own story

“One of the things about game dev is that we’re constantly told ‘if you don’t like women being represented in video games, as bimbos, as the eye-candy, the girlfriend, the reward, just go make your own game’. That’s exactly what I did! The amount of blowback, harassment, anger, threats, people calling me, garbage I get is crippling. I’m just trying to do the same thing that every single male in this room is trying to do today. Build a career, build cool stuff, make a product I believe in, give my team jobs, build a company and to do that I have deal with an avalanche of BS on a daily basis. It’s exhausting to have to deal with.”

What guys tend to do

“Guys tend to think that talking about the subject of the latest women in tech issue is simple. But if you’re a woman it’s not – it’s personal. If I’m standing up here to get this taped to go up on the internet, talking about the harassment I get – or the people that write me, or spam me pornography, or I had one person that wrote a spambot that did nothing but spam my phone… it’s personal. It’s not easy to talk about.”

“So even if you don’t get what women are dealing with, but a woman expresses a personal opinion, countering that with logical arguments why it isn’t so – that isn’t fun, it’s basically invalidating that woman’s experience”. (which if you think about it is crazy, she really did experience that). “When you’re starting a conversation and basically saying ‘I’d like to not get beaten up so much in my job’ and you’re coming up to me and saying ‘Yeah, well I kinda agree with that, but have you considered this other stuff…?’ it takes a toll on me. It sends me a message that you don’t consider me a person. And what you maybe don’t realise what you are doing is when you have a conversation like that you are dismissing my experiences.”

What guys could do better

“Don’t argue with us. Don’t say ‘That’s a great point, but…’. Just show basic humanity that you would to anyone talking about something difficult they went through.”

“If you had a friend getting a divorce would you really say ‘you know that’s a really good point but did you really try your best to make it work with her?’. If you had a friend giving up a child for adoption would you say ‘I support you no matter what.’ or would you start lecturing her? Amazingly this is what happens to women all the time when we voice our opinions. We are constantly told our perception of reality is wrong. It’s amazing.”

“Even if you disagree with the woman factually on what we should do these issues in tech about diversity just know that her own emotion about that is true. Speaking to that emotion is basic human respect.”

“Would you tell a black person, or a gay person their perception is wrong? No. What amazes me is how freely people feel able to do this to women. It happens to us all the time. The best explanation I can come up for it is I think there is an unconscious bias that men have that is inculcated into them very early on and that everything they say has value and that woman needs their input to kind of make up her own mind about things. I think you see this everywhere in our culture. It’s simply not true.”

“When you respect our points of view, when you let us talk, when you let us be emotionally accurate and honest about what we are feeling. Respecting that is respecting us.”

“If we are having a conversation about promoting women or promoting women or talking about more diversity and instantly some guy jumps into the conversation ‘yeah, no we must hire the best person for the job, it must be this, it must be that, how is it going to affect me if more women get a job, is it going to be fair to me?’, it’s not respectful. This view is the status quo, it doesn’t need to be so over represented as it is in the discussion.”

Ring Theory

“This is good for any issue, not just women in tech issues. It’s called The Ring Theory. In this theory I would be in the centre of the circle, the aggrieved person being spammed, harassed etc. The next layer out would be people affected by this, say my Husband and friends. The next circle out would be my team, etc. As long as you follow this formula you’re never going to say the wrong thing.”

Creche

“I don’t have kids. I had no idea about women in tech with children. A few years ago my cofounder came to me and told me she was pregnant. The result of this is I’ve had my eyes opened to the problems in this area and the solutions to this. This is a huge subject you could do a whole talk on. Generally speaking networking in tech is setup for men, by men. Asking a woman with a child to go to a bar at 9pm on a weekday for a networking event isn’t going to work out so well for them. Networking events in general are not very structured to help women with children. My cofounder having a child gave us a much deeper perspective on this whole issue.”

Diversity

When you need help you turn to your friends and peers in your network. For men these are probably men and for women these are probably women. One of the problems is that guys are not so well networked with women that are engineers or entrepreneurs etc. How to fix? You have to make a deliberate effort to network with women. It takes conscious effort.

Double Standards

“I think that another thing that guys don’t understand is the double standards that women are held to. For instance my company, Giant Spacekat… there is this drastic change in the market, adult women now play more games than teenage boys. For a company like Giant Spacekat that produces games with strong female characters this is a huge opportunity. But one of the big problems that happens is guys see our game and pop it into the mental box of ‘girls game, that’s that company of chix over there’. We’re mentally put in another category. So when I go to talk to bigger players, Sony, Microsoft.. we are discounted in some way. And because of that we face a lot of intertia that guys don’t. It’s a barrier to entry. There’s these structural barriers to keep us out that guys don’t really think about.”

“It’s not that you’re a bad person or that you’re an outright sexist. It’s just these systems – you don’t realise you’re doing it. So if there is one thing I’d ask you to take from today is if you could raise your conciousness about it.”

#niceguy

“One thing that has never happened when I give one of these talks is that I’ve never had someone come up to me afterwards and say ‘I’m part of the problem’. It’s always these other guys. Always someone else doing this stuff. Everyone is awesome, they support women, they really would stop those other people. It doesn’t work like that. I promise you, there are people in this audience today, with all respect they are part of the problem in ways they don’t realise. And as best as I can tell with guys, you put this label on yourself as being a nice person, it’s very painful mentally, psychologically there are mental blocks to admitting there is room for improvement, you’re a nice person. What this does, labelling yourself as a nice person, it stops you from taking any criticism, changing any behaviour. This is a huge barrier women face. What we need from guys it to put away just a little bit of that defensiveness.”

“We can’t change anything if no one thinks they are part of the problem.”

“We all agree that sexism is part of the industry. We all agree that women face barriers. But how can we all agree that this is all here but that no one is a part of it? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“We all have a part to play in making this better. I have a part to play. I try to keep an open mind to other people’s experiences in this industry. We’re talking about women but there are more women in tech than there are black people. There are all kinds of concious biases that keep people out of this area.”

Bri shares an anecdote about a black engineer being left out of tweets streams, so he created a new account with a picture of a cat rather than his face and now he gets more credibility. That’s a real problem.

“We all have a part to play at getting better at understanding the problems other groups face whether they are parents, black people, etc. You’re an entrepreneur, you should know there is no shame in making mistakes. They are inevitable. The problem is not learning from mistakes.”

Death by a thousand cuts

“People think of sexism in tech as like Mad Men, two guys in an office drinking bourbon talking about how ‘Chix can’t code’. That’s not the way it is. But if it were this simple we could solve that. It’s a much more insidious, darker problem than that. A recent New York Times article referred to women leaving tech as death by a thousand cuts. Women do leave the industry at rates 3 times higher than men do. Sexism in tech is not some horrible moment in Mad Men, it’s constantly being told that your opinion about your own life is wrong, it’s being told “you are included, if you get more inclusivity it will affect me”, it’s these little things all day long. If you want to see what I deal with look at my mentions stream on twitter after this. I have a lot of awesome support from a lot of people, but I get harassment non-stop. Every single one of those things is a cut. And I think that what guys may not realise in this field is that in tech very often feels like you are a child again and the boys are in the club house with a big sign up saying ‘nobody else is welcome’. It’s very much what it feels like. It’s like all these little things in the culture that like, push you away.”

“I was playing a really good game this weekend. And what we found after playing it some time and getting emotionally involved in some of the characters is that the game would reward you with some lingerie. And what that sends to women playing the game is “you’re not supposed to be here”. It’s assumed that the player is male. This is told to you all the time in this industry.”

“A friend of mine works at Harmonix” (may not be correct spelling), “and she was sitting in on an interview and the team lead, someone who thinks they are very for women kept on using the male pronoun all the time. My friend call him on it and he still wouldn’t back away from it. That’s just another small thing that says you’re not welcome here.”

Bri shows a slide from WWDC illustrating another problem.

Mansplaining

“One of the things is that when we start talking about this I get mansplained to all the freaking time about this stuff. Example: I was at a party this year. Apple had just announced their Metal API. This is something as an Unreal expert I am extremely qualified to talk about. So I had written an article about Apple’s Metal API which basically bypasses the OpenGL layer to do things like particle effects much more efficiently. So I had written this very technical article. I’m sitting there at a party with someone and we having this chat about Metal and this guy starts explaining to me all this stuff about Metal and literally as I am doing this he is quoting the article I have written at me at this party. I call him on it, trying to stop him talking over me. And there’s this awkward bit where he stops, looks at me then keeps on going. It’s a funny story but it’s demoralising when this happens to you all the time. As a woman who leads an entire software engineering team on this it’s often assumed I don’t understand this stuff and it’s very frustrating.”

Change

“Right now we’re on a precipice. We’re about to start seeing big change. More women, more black people, more gay people, more minorities. It’s happening in US startup culture. It’s going to get very different from here. As best as I can tell, and this is my theory about this, I gave a talk at MIT a while back and a friend of mine told me what the reaction after the talk was afterwards. And there was this really introverted MIT engineer was there, he was talking about how scared he was the culture would change. He enjoyed his beers at the bar and was scared that more women would destroy what he liked about the culture. What that guy didn’t understand is the absence of his privilege, the absence of him not having an all male group to hang out with, the absence of his comfort was not oppression, that is equality. It is going to change in ways that make men in this industry have to be more inclusive. But that’s just making it more equal for everyone. That is not oppressing you.”

“I wonder all the time how many guys would last in this industry if they had my job. I had a meeting with a high level person at a company I can’t name a while back and it came up that I was going to be giving this talk and he, literally, someone at a major copmany, starts laughing at the fact that I speak out on Women in Tech issues. That really hurt me. It made me wonder how many guys would last in this field if they had to deal with this all the time.”

“The truth is that tech has been built for men by men from the beginning. This is what my inbox looks like. Shows image of an email with very insulting abusive language of the worst kind you can imagine (Possibly toned down for the conference.) This is a day of the week people. How many of you would truly be able to stay in this field if you had stuff like this hitting you every day? Do you know how demoralising that is? ”

“It is to your benefit to raise your conciousness on these issues. It is to your benefit to get a wider perspective. In 2014 it’s no longer cool to be a homophobe, for instance. If you have a real problem with gay people, that’s going to hurt your career. It’s going to make people not want to work with you. Tech is changing right now. There will be more women here. There will be more inclusivity. It is to your benefit to raise your conciousness on this and get with the times.”

Peer Pressure

“I used to work with a guy and on the day I’d been threatened with rape and my team had been threatened with rape we had this discussion and he said ‘who do I need to beat up?’ and I said that the best course of action was to add his voice to mine. Speak out, say this isn’t cool. He laughed and said that I don’t think I’m any louder than you are. I understand that some of men just want to bow out of this issue and not touch it, it doesn’t personally affect you, but if you have daughters it may make you feel distantly connected, but the truth is if I speak out on this stuff people just disregard me as ‘that angry feminist’. But if guys talk to other guys about this you have a power that I don’t, you are a peer. You are taken more seriously. ”

Martin Luther King preferred outright racists to the “moderate white man” because with a racist you know what you are dealing with. But the moderate white man was happy to accept a slow simmering injustice rather than justice. “I’m telling you right now that the biggest challenge women face is we need guys that are decent people that understand this stuff affects all of us to stand up and help us. Because if you just bow out and say ‘this is not my problem, this doesn’t affect me, I don’t want to get involved, this is going to get anger sent at me’, it’s just perpetuating all this stuff.”

“We run into this all the time. It just makes me crazy, because if you talk about this stuff then you very often get men who come and paternalisticly, they feel like they are in charge of this. It’s so lukewarm. It really hurts.”

Internet Comments

“We’re going through #gamergate right now. So Anita Sarkeesian does a talk at X0X0 this weekend. She’s basically saying the most radical thing you can do to support women in game is to simply believe us when we talk about our experiences. And the response is people not getting it and going after her in the Verge article. This is going on all the time. So the bonus thing you can do to stop hurting and start helping is simply don’t feel like a noble warrior on the other side of the keyboard putting down the women talking on this. And don’t do it online. Every conversation you have on this gets hijacked really quickly.”

Question and Answer

Bri’s talk concluded with 15 minutes of question and answer.

#1 (Peldi, Balsamiq). Should conferences have a code of conduct?

Bri: It’s not important to me. If something happened here I’d go talk to Mark. But many women do feel strongly about it. Just having it and pasting it on the website would get more women at your conference. That’s a better outcome.

#2 (Jonathan, Axosoft). What is gamergate? Could you talk about gamer culture?

Bri: Long story short there is a developer called Zoe Quinn and an ex boyfriend of hers got very jilted at her and created a website with the sole purpose of discrediting and attacking her. What you have is this blowback from this. Gamers feel their identity is under attack. But the reality is that they are attacking and harassing women until they leave the industry. The underlying thing is that as women play more games and women like slightly different games than men do, you have this portion of the gaming market that sets their entire identity as being gamers and they feel like that’s being taken away and they are very defensive about it.

#3 (Speaker is a black man, didn’t provide his name). Thank you for your talk. What I found amazing about your talk is literally every point you mentioned applies to being black. When I talked about that twitter experiment I did it’s amazing at least 10 people told me it had nothing to do with your being black or whatever. People sending me direct messages asking me what’s wrong with me. People sending me emails, people sending me the same type of emails you were showing except with the word nigger, etc, I get pretty much the equivalent of that. So thanks for giving this talk.

Bri: Yes, it’s the same playbook. It is frequently the same people. It’s the same structural issues that black people face in this field. I think we can say it’s at least double digit women in this field but we can’t say that of black people. It’s hard for women, but it’s harder for black people. To get your foot in the door of this tech culture. This is a systematic thing that affects absolutely everyone.

#4 (Austin Dimmer, Effective Computing). Where is you dividing line between the nice understanding guy and making a difference?

Bri: I would suggest that just asking this question means you are not part of the problem. The Supreme Court quote about pornography: “You know it when you see it”. If you are thinking actively about what you need to do to change things you are probably cool. If you’re “I’m perfectly OK, I know what I’m doing, thanks” you’re probably not. That to me is where the line would be.

#5 (Mark). Hi, two daughters. My wife is a physician. She was staying in a residency in Boston. Someone was looking at pornography. She spoke out about it. Everyone else shrugged it off. Now we’re in San Francisco. That “bro” attitude doesn’t exist in SF. Is there another industry with a pattern we can look to to move forward?

Bri: From what I’ve seen of the industry my husband works in I’d say Hard Science is almost half women, half men. It seems me that in that industry women are taken seriously. I don’t have a better example.

#6 (Jo, from Australia). It was Madeleine Albright who said “there is a special place in hell for women how don’t look after other women”. Could you comment on your experience in tech, women against other women?

Bri: I’d love to. This is a difficult issue to tackle. Just because you have a vagina does not mean you are an ally to women. It’s very socially rewarding to be like “oh I’m not like those other women, I’m not gonna cause a problem, just go do your boys thing, and talk about women in graphic detail, I don’t care I’m just one of the guys.”. That is so unbelievably rewarded socially. So it’s very understandable that you have women in this field that disdain this and don’t look out for other women. One of the biggest sexists I know is actually a woman in my field. She’s older, she has literal disdain for other women in the field. Her approach is “I’ve got mine, you’re not getting yours. I’m gonna kind of protect this”.

We’re very programmed to go after each other. If you look at the war between stay at home moms and moms that work it feels that we’re culturally programmed to go after each other. Parents and non-parents, I think we go after each other for these scraps of the pie.

I have a few specific policies that I do because I really believe in supporting other women in this field.

i) Unless its crazily egregious I do not talk smack about other women publically in my field. If I have a problem with them I take it privately. I don’t want to tear another women down in public.

ii) I look to network and introduce other women to opportunities whereever I can. I just started a podcast called isometric on 5×5. Last week we did this thing on how diversity is a literal market demand and how it’s good for you. Our show has exploded. It’s super popular.

#7 (Greg, Bendiworks). One suggestion I have is follow more women on twitter.

Bri: If you listen to different voices you are going to be more informed. You may change your opinion.

#8 (Amy, Techsmith). I’d like to give some examples of things that don’t help. It the subtle thing. It’s being in a meeting and making a valid point and watching it be dismissed. But just speaking up and reinforcing our point is supporting us. That’s what we need more of. Even more infuriating if made the point, it got dismissed then a guy makes the point an it’s accepted.

Bri: I agree. Raise you hand if you’re a woman and had that happen to you. (Lots of hands go up).

Conclusion

A great talk. Made people think. We need more talks like this.

You may be thinking to yourself “I’ve never witnessed such awful behaviour to women, or blacks… is this really happening?”. I’m in the same place. I’ve never witnessed such behaviour. Wonderful. That’s a sample size of one. It’s meaningless. It’s effectively an opinion formed by your own experience. That doesn’t mean it isn’t happening elsewhere.

When we hear of world events (competitions, elections, wars…) we don’t react with “I’ve never seen that, that isn’t happening” do we? I know people that I’ve met in this industry that are affected by these issues. It’s very much real. And that hurts me a great deal. The fact that Kathy Sierra, a top of the tree expert in her domain can’t be a part of the community on twitter is, well, words fail me.

The people that discriminate, harass, troll etc. They aren’t just ruining that one person’s life, they aren’t just damaging that one person’s career, they aren’t just damaging that one person’s family, they damage the entire community because that person, their knowledge, their input is lost to the community, to the industry. That feeds out into lack of input on real world projects, commercial and non-profit. And ultimately retards the progress of our world.

I care about this stuff. It matters. And it should matter to you to. Just because you haven’t witnessed it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

Or, of course, you can pass and say this isn’t happening. Know this, if you do that you are wilfully ignorant.

(Kathy has posted an article today about trolling and harassment which you can find on twitter. I’m not linking to it here as the post won’t be up for long and is not linked to from her own blog. You can find it using #seriouspony).

Suggestion

Follow some women devs on twitter.

Not all women post a lot. Some don’t want the aggravation it may bring. But some women do post a lot. Follow them. You don’t have to interact if you don’t want to. Just pay attention to what they tweet. Quite often it’s a precis of what’s happening to them right now. You’ll be shocked and appalled by it. And that will educate you. Then come back and re-read this. You’ll have a deeper appreciation of the problem. I’ve learned more about the problems transexuals face by following a friend on twitter than any other method. This applies to any topic you want to know about – follow people involved in that topic.

I’m not going to tell you who to follow, but if you want some suggestions, take a look at myself (@softwareverify) and Mark Littlewood (@marklittlewood) on twitter and see who we follow. Mark follows many more people than I do. Both of us follow some outstanding women.

Further Reading

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The Curve. A talk by Nicholas Lovell at the Business Leaders Network

By , December 11, 2013 5:44 pm

On 22nd November Nicholas Lovell TheCurveBookgave a talk at the Business Leaders Network meeting held at the premises of Taylor Wessing, London. The talk was preceded by lunch and networking. After the talk there was more networking, a few nibbles and some wine. As usual Mark Littlewood and the wonderful team at BLN hosted a great event. Taylor Wessing’s building provides wonderful views over London and for a change it was the middle of the day so I could see it all (rather than witness London lit up in the evening).

Nicholas Lovell used to be an investment banker. But for the past 10 years he has been studying businesses that work by giving stuff away. He has also released a book, called The Curve which describes how you can make a business around giving stuff away for free. Not all of your stuff. But some of it. It has to have value to the person using it. So you are not giving away rubbish. It must have value of some sort. What value is determined by who your customers are and what they are doing with it.

I recorded the talk. Here are my notes from the talk.

Precursor

Some people think they have a right to be paid for their work. Nicholas disagrees. You have to earn the right to be paid for your work. By this he means your work needs to be good enough to be worth paying for in a world where (in many arenas) the produce the customer is consuming is provided for free (think apps on mobile phones).

Candy Crush

225 million people played Candy Crush in the last 30 days. candy-crush
Its phenomenally successful. It’s free. 70% of people that have completed all 450 levels haven’t spent a penny to do so. It’s very popular, consistently in the most gross revenue and most played apps in the app store. It’s compelling evidence that you can make money from free.

Another example: Clash of Clans. It’s a free game but you can purchase items in game. Apparently there are people spending up to $10,000 on a single game.

Of the top grossing 30 applications on the app-store 25 of them are free. 20 games are free, five other apps are not free. Of the top 30, 22 are games, 20 of the games are free. Because something is free that does not mean you can’t make any money.

How?

So how do you make money by giving stuff away for free?

The starting point is you need to flip your thinking. When people who are stuck in the product mindset the first thing they say is “oh dear on the web people expect to get stuff for free” and the reason they expect to get stuff for free is because it’s so easy to share stuff for free on the web. If we look at the app-store there are no hosting costs, no billing costs, no download bandwidth costs (Apple suck this up) if you list your app for free then it costs you nothing per extra user/customer to service that customer (not quite true, but marginal cost tends to zero) and as a result the price of apps fell from $10 to $5 to $1 to in many cases free.

That’s the bad news. You can’t make money that way.

The good news is that this enables you to engage in 1 to 1 relationships with many people for very little cost.

This wasn’t possible before. So you can turn this pricing disadvantage into a cost advantage for communicating with your customers. Sometimes this is actual conversations but more often it’s data about what your customers are doing. Using data to understand your customers.

So when you flip your thinking you get a curve like this:

CurveRevenueMarketing

This curve demonstrates that where the price is low or free there are many people that may be interested in what you have. As the price increases there are less people that will be willing to pay. But also note at the extreme left of the graph there are a few people that will pay incredible amounts for what you offer. We can split the graph into two – shown by the grey line. Below the line there is a marketing opportunity. Above the line there is an opportunity for the business to generate income.

Before the web and mass connectivity there was no way to identify who was interested in what you did and who was not. Everyone was offered the same produce at the same price. £12 for a CD for example. But now you can provide music to download for free (to try to entice people to listen who are not hard core fans) but also offer special limited edition CD packs and other promotional material to dedicated fans for much higher prices. Nine Inch Nails is a classic example of this (they ditched their record company years ago).

The people that are not willing to spend money are a marketing opportunity.

The people that are willing to spend money are a revenue opportunity.

What you need to do is work out how to take advantage of these two things rather than think “oh this is so unfair I have to give all my work away”.

How to use this

  • Find an audience.
  • Use technology to figure out what they like.
  • Talk to the audience.
  • You need to earn the right to talk to your audience.
  • You have to enable super-fans.

Easiest way to find an audience is with a free product. You can do it with a paid product. It’s just harder to do. Helps if you have a massive marketing budget if you are going with a paid product.

This applies for digital content and for real world physical content.

Freeloaders

Looking at the curve you can see there are some people that will never value what you produce enough to pay for it. That doesn’t mean these people are not valuable to you. There are at least four different ways these people can provide value.

  • Advertising and lead generation. This is a numbers game. You need a volume of customers using your product to make money from showing them adverts or using them for lead generation.
  • Word of mouth. Free users are powerful word of mouth influencers. This doesn’t just mean talking, it may mean shares, likes, retweets, etc. These will attract other customers, some of whom may become paying customers.
  • Potential converts. At present the marketing cost of acquiring one free customer is $3. Yes, it costs money to get free users. Ouch! This is a function of many competing claims for a given person’s limited attention span. Given that it costs money to get a free customer, a freeloader, it’s a good idea not to kick them out. Don’t say “Pay up or piss off”!
  • Gawkers. These people are important. Things we value: How stuff makes us feel, How stuff reflects on who we are as a person, How other people see us as a person. For example Ferrari could make quieter cars, but that is self defeating because people who own Ferraris want everyone else to know they own a Ferrari. Part of owning a Ferrari is making other people’s heads turn. You buy products for many reasons. One of those reasons is social context. Social context isn’t necessarily about showing off, but it can be. Social context is in the physical world but also in the digital world. Things created in the digital world can have as much (emotional and financial) value as those in the physical world.

Technology

What types of technology might you use understand what your customers value?

What do your customers value? You can ask them but they generally don’t know or they will lie to you (conciously or unconciously). Or you can observe them to figure out what it is that they really value.

You can run A/B tests to see which idea people are interested in. Some people think this is amoral because you may be advertising two products neither of which exist and only one of which will be built.

The job of the technology is to enable you to talk to your customers again. Various methods shown below. New methods will be invented in the future. Your job is to identify and use these methods as appropriate.

  • Facebook.
  • Email.
  • Slideshare.
  • YouTube.
  • PInterest.
  • Tumblr.
  • Twitter.
  • Snapchat.
  • Instagram.
  • Video.
  • Content marketing only works as an enabler for the above. Must have a Call To Action. Content marketing is great but it’s the wrong thing to use service an army of freeloaders.

Super Fans

Super fans are the people that really like your product. They are the people that will consume not only the free version but also pay for all the additional goodies and offers that you have. There are people playing some of the free games on the net that are spending up to $10,000 in a game. OK these people are not commonly occurring but they do enable a different way of pricing.

Think of it as in the past everyone paid $10 for a CD. Now most people pay nothing or very little. But a few people value the music on the CD so highly they’ll pay $100 or $1000 or more for it. The income is the same but the distribution is very different.

One of they important things to understand is that if you game your customer by using psychological tricks (that some people advocate using on the web) and the next day the customer regrets their purchase. Then in that case you have not built a relationship with that customer. You’ve just burned it. These people will not be advocates for your product or company. They won’t tell their friends how great you are – maybe the opposite. So be careful. Do your marketing sensibly. Do not game or take advantage of your customers or force their hand. Offer great value and make the choice theirs.

Kickstarter

This section is to show the viability of different tiers. Kickstarter data is freely available. Kickstarter are transparent with their data so it’s a good place to start for data to demonstrate this.

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform. Campaigns allow many levels of reward from a few dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. Some campaigns have completely outstripped their intended target. Others fail. It’s worth taking a look around Kickstarter and Indiegogo to see what type of projects get funded (and which are in your industry). (Personal note. I’ve backed projects on both Kickstarter and Indiegogo).

Tim Schafer. Double Fine Adventure project. Funding goal $400,000. Raised $3,336,371 in 30 days from 87142 people. How did he do this? Well first he is well known for his previous adventure game work and has a lot of fans. People choosing to back this project on kickstarter could spend between $15 and $10,000 and receive different reward levels. Four people opted for the $10,000 option (sold out) and 47946 people opted for the $15 level and many other people opted for the levels between. Some statistics:

  • On average people spent $38.29. This doesn’t tell you much.
  • Split the prices by pricing tier. $15 entry price. More than half the customers paid this price.
  • 24,000 people purchase the $30 (2nd) tier.
  • 12,000 people purchase at the $100 (4th) tier which was pretty good value (lots of goodies on this tier – see kickstarter page linked above).

But if you break the tiers down by revenue you get a different picture. The $100 (4th) tier with 12,000 people provides 33% of the revenue. The $15 tier (half the customers) is only 20% of the revenue. This demonstrates the viability of tiers. If everyone paid $15 the total revenue would have been 40% of the total with variable pricing and variable rewards.
People that spent $1000 or more are 0.1% of the audience, but 6% of the revenue. People that spent $250 or more are 1% of the audience, but 15% of the revenue. People that spent $100 or more are 15% of the audience, but 50% of the revenue.

This pattern is repeated again and again in successful kickstarters.

Physical Goods

Not only is it possible to promote and sell digital goods using free stuff it’s also possible to do this with real tangible physical goods. The type of things that gravity affects – they thump onto the floor when you drop them.

It’s also possible to copy physical products using 3D printers. This is coming. People will make models of the thing they desire but cannot afford (or which they cannot obtain in the precise shade of obsidian blue) and then print them on their 3D printer. This will be causal piracy. Often not too precise, but good enough. This is because they love your product not because they are cheapskates.

If we return to physical goods it would be useful to have an example. One such example is King Arthur Flour, Vermont, USA. They have grown from the 5th largest miller of flour in the USA to the 2nd largest. They used a Curve strategy to do this.

TheCurveKingArthurFlour

The curve starts at the free end (right) and moves to the paid end (left). Here is how it works:

  • YouTube videos showing you how to basic tasks such as measure a cup of flour. If your measure a cup of flour the wrong way you get 20% too much flour. So clearly useful for some people.
  • Website full of How Tos and Tips.
  • Free telephone helpline.
  • Sell flour in shops.
  • Sell Recipe books.
  • Sell Rolling Pins (twice as much as a recipe book).
  • Courses in how to make the perfect choux pastry at their headquarters in Vermont. It’s a $400 to $500 per day course. After which of course the happy customer then waxes lyrical to their friends about how fantastic King Arthur Flour company is. Word of Mouth! These super fans are paying to be turned into marketing bombs.

Bjork

But TheCurveBjorkthis doesn’t always work.

The popstar Bjork had a kickstarter which failed. She had an album biophilia which was a success. She then tried to crowd fund an app called biophilia, porting it from iOS to Android. She asked for $375,000 to fund the port. Seems like a lot of money for a port and also porting from iOS to Android is kind of backwards because iOS people are used to paying for expensive things and Android customers are not necessarily. She had 2.6 million likes on Facebook, 800,000 twitter followers. After 10 days she had only raised $15,000 dollars and the campaign never reached it’s target.

So she had better starting numbers than Tim Shafer but dismal performance compare to him.

Why? Well if you examine her Tweet stream it’s clear she is not engaged with her fans. There is no two way communication. For her it’s effectively a broadcast medium and she doesn’t care what anyone has to say to her. So why should anyone care about what she is trying to start on kickstarter? Exactly. To illustrate the point here is snapshot of Bjork’s twitter stream as of 11 December 2013.

(Personal comment: Her management team do not appear to be very media savvy. Time for replacement. I note also that her twitter follower count has decreased by over 300,000).


Care

You need to care about the people on The Curve.

Love your Freeloaders.

Love your superfans.

Love everyone in between.

More information at The Curve Online.

Conclusion

After the talk there was a panel discussion but these don’t tend to turn into interesting essays and it’s impossible to track which speaker is saying what to attribute it to anyone so I’m not going to try.

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Ogilvy Lab Day

By , November 22, 2012 11:50 pm

Friday 26 October 2012 was Ogilvy Lab Day, held at Ravensbourne next to the O2 Arena, London, UK.

I apologise if any details are incorrect (please notify me) as I am writing these notes from my hand written notes on the day. I can’t always read my own writing!

Ogilvy Lab Day has been running for 10 years (I think) and this was the first time they have held the event outside of Ogilvy. Another first, they allowed members of the public to attend . You had to apply and if they thought you matched their criteria you could attend.

The audience was comprised of media creatives, advertising people, marketing people and another group which they referred to as “coders”. Thanks but I’ll keep my software engineer title. Coder implies I don’t think, just do as I’m told. The reality is if you want anyone any good, you want a creative person, a software engineer/developer. Whether the use of the word “coder” is ignorance or deliberate I don’t know. Based on continued reference to coders through the day by various speakers I think they see the creativity completely on the media/advertising/marketing side and software people as merely people to do their bidding. I hope that isn’t the case. Given the increasing reliance on interactive marketing having good software people is and will increasingly become a must, even in the advertising industry.

The day starts with an introduction about education, DMIC (Digital Media Innovation Consultancy) and the relationship with Ogilvy and the future of the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund). Ogilvy and Ravensbourne have had a relationship for the past several years, which has benefited both parties, with Ogilvy hiring some talented graduates from Ravensbourne.

The room contained 3 large screens. One large screen at the front and smaller screens at each side. The event was filmed. Video clips were interspersed with the talks. The title of the day was “Storytelling”. As such, the day covered various topics and contained stories from two women during the day.

More people attended than could fit in the main room. Apparently these people could watch from monitors in another room. Many extra people crammed into the room and stood around the edges or sat on the floor. An A4 ring bound white paper (40 pages) was available on each seat – “Making magic, using logic”. This file described some of Ogilvy’s methods for creating their work. I was lucky enough to get a chair and white paper.

A couple of animated clips of points from Rory Sutherland’s Wiki Man book were shown on the screens.

Branded Entertainment

This talk was given by Doug Scott and Cody Hogarth.

Ideas can come from anywhere.

They demonstrated several examples from the 60s, 70s and 80s. One such example was a Flintstones cartoon promoting Winston’s Cigarettes from the 1960s. How times change!

This is called Brand Equity.

Fast forward to 2010 and it’s all about co-created content. This is Collaboration Equity.


  • 77% of TV viewers watch with another device at the same time.

  • 40% of viewers watch and surf the web at the same time.

  • 68 million on mobile.

  • 248 million on tablets by 2015.

The “Fear of Missing Out” (FoME) is driving all this.

2011/2012 is the tipping point. Content must work on multiple platforms. An example given is Coca Cola’s “content 2020” program.

The speakers observe that “creative excellence is going to be superceded by content excellence” and that “VC funds are redirected from tech to content”. This is a $1.8 trillion market.

Types of program

Digital – downloadable or streamed, Broadcast – traditional TV broadcasting, Event – related to an event (for example the Olympics), Property – or related to a property of some sort.

Example: Make It Possible (I have note next to this indicating Coke 2020). Entertainment first, advert second. It’s not even a balance.

Example: Red Bull content for brands. Started by paying for the content to be shown on networks. Now the content is so high quality and there is a demand from the networks for extreme sporting content Red Bull can charge for their content. There is never an explicit advert for their product, but the branding is all over it. Red Bull’s work is produced by their own in-house media company, Red Bull Media House. Red Bull also release their work on a dedicated You Tube channel.

We were shown an excellent extreme snowboarding video promo which I later found on the Red Bull Media House website. It doesn’t appear to be available anymore, but this page contains videos of similar quality for other sports.

Example:Carling Lager. Carling Black label football campaign.

Example:Intel. The “vice magazine” creative project.

Example:Canon: “Project imagination”. This improved Canon’s marketshare.

Example:Mont Blanc watches. This was a compilation of 1 second videos to celebrate the beauty of a second.

Example:American Express. The Hidden Talent program. Sorry I couldn’t find any examples of this work.

The barrier for participants in these types of programs must be as low as possible and must be social and/or viral.

Branded Entertainment Assessment Model

Content strategy leads to brand wealth.

Story about IBM’s Watson computer which featured on the US TV show Jeopardy. By the end of this unusual appearance of a computer on a TV game show, the results were 21x revenue with 3x profit. An estimated $50m marketing value.

The talk now moves on to discuss BEAM, the Branded Entertainment Assessment Model, which is described in detail in the white paper.

A reference is made to mip.tv which can be seen at ogilvy.com/miptv

Case Study #1 Storytelling

This story is told by Pat Cadigan, a female American science fiction author. Pat’s story is hilarious and involves nearly dying from anaphylactic shock (twice), once from prescribed drugs and the second from a contraceptive vaginal sponge that failed to work properly.

Two quotes from this story stood out.

“Children are wonderful, where do all the mediocre adults come from?”

and

“Make a difference, don’t hate your life.”

Case Study #2, Ford and Channel 4

This case study is presented by Cody Hogarth and Rob Romsay.

The case study is about “The Endless Winter (A very British surf movie)”. The movie is about surfing in the UK and features two surfers spending a year (I think) travelling the UK in search of surf, travelling, sleeping and living in the Ford S-Max on the days they are away from their families surfing.

The Ford S-MAX is an SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle), not SUV and is aimed at people in their early 30s who have a family but are still active with sports. Surfing seemed an ideal vehicle for this, sorry I didn’t intend that pun. It’s a crowded market so they used content marketing to penetrate the market.

They created a website for The Endless Winter which garnered over a million views.

The aspriational product placement film was re-scripted to make it more like a “Channel 4” production. More graphics were added to the film to make it appeal more to non-surfers. This is known as surf-porn.

The film was 90 minutes in length. This was then edited into 3 films of 30 minutes so that it could be shown as a film or as three separate shows depending on the channel or time of day it was being shown.

2.7 million digital viewers.
14 million broadcast viewers.
167 million watches.

They also held 8 events (2 at beaches and 6 in cinemas).

The film won an award at a film festival.

The £3 million price was paid by Ford.

Case Study #3, Transmedia Skins

This case study talked about the TV series Skins and how different media were used in the creation of Skins and the overall strategy. Skins is not just a TV series.

The creation of Skins as well as involving the traditional TV script writers, actors, production crew etc, also involved a content design company, games and adverts.

The main problem is how to deal with multiple series of a TV show when sometimes the characters are different from series to series.

50% of views are not from broadcast TV. 4oD is also available as an app. Viewing also happens on iPad and XBox. Much of the viewing is time-shifted from the original broadcast time. Demographics are 16 to 34.

There are two timelines. The first timeline is the video/casting timeline. The second timeline is the offline timeline where they make the characters “live” using Facebook posts, tweets and interviews. This second timeline is independent of the video, although it has to be in sync and cannot reveal any spoilers for the video. To do this they hired extra staff to play the offline part of the characters and develop plot/storyline for the offline periods (between each series). They developed a custom software tool to do the job – a beats and stories tool.

Panel Discussion – The Virtuous Cirle of Transmedia Storytelling

The panel comprised Doug Scott (Ogilvy), Bruce Daisley (Twitter), Danielle Style (Tumblr), Ian Forrester (BBC R&D), Cait O’Riordan (BBC Olympics).

I only have rough notes for this.

BBC Olympics had:
57 million unique users
111 million streams of video
12 million video streams to mobile devices
Did not exceed BBC’s capacity planning despite the planning being guesswork (no baseline to work with – previous Olympics and Commonwealth games with less people having broadband, no reference point). All it all worked just fine! Result.

“Binders full of women” Obama campaign produces Romney misstep.

“Tidal wave of crap that comes at us”.

Tracking sentiment via social media during Olympics.

Viral is a dirty word

The speaker is Olivia Rzepczynski.

The talk starts with some examples of what constitute a hit. “overnight successes” to organised events to completely unplanned successes.

The Gangnam style hit by “PSY” is not an overnight hit. This is his 6th album.

Red Bull Stratos.
8 million view live.
60 million views.

490 million people viewed Charlie Bit My Finger. $500K earned by the family. Now pursuing a collaboration with Ragu.

Four percent of YouTube videos get over 100,000 views.
YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the world.

5 Step Plan

  1. Have a plan of action
  2. Creative in context
  3. Optimise first
  4. Distribute and promote
  5. Measure what matters

1) Have a plan

You need to identify a trigger event for your video. What will cause this to be interesting?

You need to account for different screen sizes. 20% of YouTube video is watched on mobile devices.

Define your “post-play” interaction (PPI). This is the conversion. Examples might be signing up, watching a movie, downloading a white paper, etc.

2) Creative in context

What is the job to be done? (Clay Christensen will love that :-))

Entertain Brand reappraisal
Inform Product acquisition
Support Make lives easier

Sources of video:

  • Pro
  • Pro-am
  • Archive
  • User generated
  • Sponsored

3) Optimize

Work out the script beforehand.
All dialogue, stunts etc.
Tags, metadata, etc.
Channel naming (video SEO – VSEO)

4) Distribute and Promote

Distribution channels:

  • Paid
  • Owned
  • Earned

You need to careful how you do this. This advert for Liquid Plumr went viral and even ended up on porn sites.

5) Measure what matters

Measure conversions as well as likes/plays

Case Study/Panel Discussion

There was a case study but nothing I felt worthy of noting, followed by a panel discussion for which I have no notes. Can’t have been that interesting 🙂

Story Telling – Incredible Edible

The next speaker was an amazing lady from Todmorden Incredible Edible. She told the incredible story of how Todmorden went from an ordinary slightly run down town to a place covered in vibrant planters, disused land turned into viable allotments, crime reduced. And all of this done by volunteers spending time tending to plant beds, replacing weeds and flowers with edible food.

The talk was wild, funny and informative. The speaker (I think may be Pam Warhurst) was mad, passionate and crazy (in a good way). Brilliant. Talk about audience engagement. A great speaker at any event and a superb inspiration for what can be achieved in a community.

Food, creating a revolution.
“If you eat, you’re in”.
Every egg matters.
Vegetable tourism.
Green Route Map.
The power of small actions.

Sexy Little Numbers

The next talk was by Dmitri Maex, co-author of the book Sexy Little Numbers.

The subtitle is “How to grow your business using data you already have”.

You can also use free data. Free data is available in product reviews. For example look on Amazon at any product then look at the product reviews for that product. For me, I always read the best AND the worst reviews and include those as data points along with everything else I already know about a product.

Data Visualization, referencing Ed Tufte (giant in this field, Google him).

Useful guidelines:
Graphical Integrity
Data Ink (amount of ink must correspond to size of data)
Chart junk (don’t add stuff to a graphic that is decoration, that has no value)
Tag Clouds
Story Telling

An example is soso limited and the creators project.

Apparently a talent crunch is coming. There are not enough people with good, relevant statistics training. As such getting good analytics in the future may be hard.

“Everyone has got a plan until they get punched in the face”, Mike Tyson.

Agility. OODA loop, created by man that designed the F16 fighter.

Sense -> Orient -> Create -> Intent -> Sense -> Orient ->…

Data is used in the basement, but not in the boardroom. This needs to change.

Random notes:
New Data
Automation
Double Hub blog (sorry, I couldn’t find this)
attentionwizard.com

At the end of the day Dmitri signed and gave away a large pile of his books. I haven’t yet had time to read Dmitri’s book. When I do I’ll write it up. It looks really interesting.

Rory Sutherland

Rory was the last speaker of the day. He had been unwell prior to the talk but decided he was well enough to attend. He was talking about behavioural economics.

People are influenced by:

Habituation What I do
Contagion What others do
Context When and where I do
Social pressure

Market research, problems.

Sunk cost bias. Innovators dilemma.

Things need to be consistent.

The framing of student loans in the UK.
If you call it a loan people feel like their is a nose around their neck for the rest of their life. This is wrong because you only pay the money back if your income exceeds a certain threshold and even then you pay it back as a small increase on your income tax. There is no penalty for late payment and no bank to foreclose on you. If you reframe the student loan as simply a small increase in your income tax until the money is repaid it is clear for any student from any background, wealthy or poor to see that they don’t have a noose around their neck and the offer is a good one.

Start with theories then use the data to validator or invalidate it.

Reference to Peter Drucker (he gets into so many talks!)

I have an MP3 of this talk, but at this time I don’t have permission to post it. When I do I’ll make the MP3 available. When I get more time I’ll provide detailed notes of Rory’s talk from the MP3.

As usual Rory’s talk was very funny and entertaining.

Conclusion

I’m very pleased I could attend Ogilvy Lab Day and delighted that I was allowed to attend. I’m not exactly a media type, whatever one of those is. I don’t use that term as an insult. It’s simply that I don’t know what jobs most of the other people in the room do. I guess most were marketing, sales, media creation (design, graphics, video, audio), etc. There were some software people there as well.

It was an interesting experience being there. At first I wondered why I had attended. I was watching these lovely videos (some of which I’ve managed to include here and others which I could not find to show you) and listening to these interesting talks about an industry I know nothing about. And I was thinking “this is great, really interesting, but why am I here? What can I learn? And can I help anyone else that is here”. Anyway as the day progressed the topics turned more towards things relevant to the software industry and I started to understand more of what is involved in the transmedia industry. I have a much better understanding and respect for the work these people do than I did before I arrived. It’s clear the people in this industry are there for the same reasons people enter the software industry. They enjoy it. They thrive on being creative and having a challenge.

It’s the same and it’s totally different. If that makes sense.

I really enjoyed it. It was a blast.

And I got to see the Millenium Dome, now christened the O2 Arena. Much smaller than I expected. I just don’t understand where the money went. A billion pounds (1.6 billion dollars) for that? You’ve got to be kidding.

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Herding cats with the BOS Big Band

By , October 2, 2012 11:07 am

Yesterday I had the honour to play with the Business of Software big band at the conference party in the Julep Bar, Boston, MA.

The band members are delegates at the conference. I think it’s fair to say that if you are a marketing monster, a sales superstar, a software geek or a data nerd you probably don’t have time or energy to also be a professional musician. So I’ll make a guess and assume that everyone else is, like me, an amateur musician, playing for fun and pleasure.

The true test of a band is when they are playing how many people stay in the room continuing to do what they were doing before? If you’re doing badly you interfere with their conversation and they leave. That didn’t happen. Result! The band passed the “radio listening” test.

On Sunday I attended the practice in the afternoon but had to leave early because I was too tired. I found out later they practised until 8pm (about 6 hours total). Respect.

The band played some rock tunes then asked me to play some folks tunes on my border bagpipes. I chose to play three traditional French folk dance tunes (a 3 time waltz, a 3/8 bourree and a Schottische) followed by a Mazurka that I composed. I was accompanied by Patrick Foley on violin and Alexander Yumashev. Patrick free formed around the tune I was playing adding whatever counter melody he thought fitted. Alex, well Alex is Mr FunkMeister. His bass playing added lots to our performance. The sound was rounded out by the very capable Mr Unknown Guitarist. I never did get his name.

In the UK I play these bagpipes to provide music for other people to do traditional French dancing. I also dance. I may play unaccompanied or with others playing Hurdy Gurdy, Melodeon, Accordion, Violin, Clarinet and so on. All unamplified. I travel a wide area to play in sessions where I like the musicians. I’ve never played with an amplified band before. Surprised how well it worked.

Playing tunes live is a strange thing. You can practice and practice and practice and then on the day some thought about something trivial gets in your head and you’re unsettled, nervous and tense and you just can’t play fluidly. You play badly. Other days you have this “I don’t care attitude” in your head and you’re relaxed and play awesomely. And other days it goes to plan. You can’t tell. Although I had volunteered for this I was a bit apprehensive about how things would pan out. If I could actually deliver the goods.

I am stunned at how relaxed I was. I only sway side to side when it all just works. And we’d never played before. The others hadn’t even heard the last tune before I started it. They did a great job making me sound better than I am.

So thank you guys for letting me play with you. Thank you Jeff Gibson for doing the hard work and herding all the cats into one place to make some music.

If anyone has any photos of this event please let me know.

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Business of Software 2011 – mind food

By , November 22, 2011 10:36 am

A few weeks ago in October I travelled to Boston, MA for the Business of Software conference. This is the number one conference to go to for folks aiming to create a software business to last the long term. This isn’t a place to come if you want to create a Facebook then flip it and walk away with millions. Nothing sustainable about flipping companies.

Twitter seemed to come into its own at and before the conference. People using phones, iPads, laptops to coordinate who they were eating with and when. #BoS2011 became unmanageable. Mark Littlewood’s advice to use Tweetdeck was well received.

Audience

Its a self selecting audience. They’re all very bright, self motivated. A lot of the people attending run their own businesses, from one man companies to some larger organisations like Red Gate who brought a good chunk of their staff with them. 30 people? 50 people? I don’t know. A lot – more than many people have on their entire staff. I spent Saturday evening with 5 Red Gate people and most of Sunday with some more Red Gate folk. It seems that Red Gate is being quite entrepreneurial with its staff – exposing them to conferences like this and training them for the future. It seems like a much more thoughtful vision for their future than most companies take.

Microsoft had some people in attendance too. The only Microsoftee I met was Patrick Foley, who was brave enough to give a Lightning talk. One attendee had travelled all the way from Romania, using three planes to get to Boston. He was probably one of the youngest attendees too. I spent a chunk of Tuesday evening chatting with him in The Whiskey Priest. Not sure I’d have been that keen to travel that far for a conference at age 25. Kudos.

The quality of the speakers was incredible. I thought Clayton Christensen would be the top draw (I’ve read most of his books, found them really interesting) but as it turned out I preferred the speakers on the second day – Rory Sutherland and Josh Linkner in particular. Most speakers manage to weave humour into their talks. I don’t know if this was planned, opportunist or just something you get good at.

Note taking

I typically record each speaker so that I can listen to them again. Unfortunately for me, although armed with loads of AA batteries when it came to record day two they all failed. So I couldn’t record what turned out to be my favourite talks. Next time, purchase the batteries when I get there, don’t rely on them being OK just because they’ve never been used.

Although at MicroConf I took copious notes, I took very few at Business of Software. I was just too wrapped up in what was being presented. When I look at my notes its in my typical unreadable “I should have been a doctor” handwriting, with a good chunk of the notes not about the talk being given but about ideas for improving the software process at Software Verification. Its as if being there was stimulating me to take action over what we will do in future. Part of me is pleased with this and part of me is frustrated I didn’t take more written notes.

The Business of Software goodie bag was unusual – full of stuff I will actually read. Books from some of the speakers. Their talks were interesting, so that bodes well for the books they wrote.

Business of Software Team

The team Mark Littlewood assembled were superb. They were always on hand to help. When I asked them for help with some nuts (I needed protein as the vegetarian food was all carbohydate and had no pulses etc) they to my amazement found some fruit and nuts for me. I expected them to tell me where I could find a shop. Later that evening two of them saw me collasped on a seat at The Whiskey Priest and came over. They wanted to walk me back to the hotel until I explained I’d be alright in about 20 minutes – when my blood sugar had become normal again after eating (I shouldn’t have had the beer so soon after eating with the noise of the Business of Software band – too much).

As well as the BoS team, the conference centre staff were helpful and courteous. Americans really understand service. So often I’ve had bad experiences in the UK.

Clayton Christensen

Clayton Christensen’s talk was pretty much a summary of his Innovator’s Dilemma book. Given that I’ve read his books I didn’t talk many notes. I think the standout items for me were:

  • The customer rarely buys what the company thinks it is selling him.
  • You should be focussing on “What is the job to be done (by the customer)?”.
  • Look to the bottom of the market, that is where the innovation will come.

The second point is really telling. Most companies create products they try to sell to customers. They don’t actually research what it is a potential customer is trying to do. Are you really trying to buy a car or just go from A to B conveniently? If its the latter a car may not be the best thing to sell them. On this point, in Cambridge, UK, there has been a rise in the number of people ditching their car and switching to electric bicycles. Job to be done is commuting around town. You don’t necessarily need a car for that.

This third point was illustrated nicely with the example of solar power. In the USA and Europe we have government grants creating solar power and wind farms. But that is trying replace the existing fossil fuel based systems with intermittent solar and wind power. But if you go to Africa and parts of Asia where there is an underserved market (people with little or no power supply) then an intermittent supply of solar and wind is more useful than no power supply. It is in these markets that new technologies to improve the intermittent power supply (with better battery technology for storage and better solar cell technology for improved generation, etc) can flourish. Eventually these technologies will get good enough to start competing in the more traditional markets for power in the Western economies. The key thing is that the economic drivers are in the underserved markets, not in the well served markets.

More Information: http://www.claytonchristensen.com/

Jason Cohen

Jason Cohen talked about Honesty and how companies misrepresent themselves to make themselves appear different from reality. A bit like a bird puffing up its chest to look more intimidating we write our about pages to appear different than we really are.

Jason argues that this is dishonest and misleading and that by being honest it is more profitable in the long run (and feels better). Jason also argues that by being candid about what you can and cannot do you also inform your customers better than the one-sided comparison charts (where every feature your software can do is listed and only your software gets a tick mark next to everything).

Jason sold his previous company and now runs a WP Engine. WP Engine is smaller than most of his competitors and as Jason admits, he isn’t the cheapest solution. However he believes that by being candid about your strengths and weaknesses your company size doesn’t have to be a weakness. You size means you need every customer, thus you must focus on them. Contrast this to the approach you get from Big Corp, where you are a faceless customer and often get treated like one.

I wrote two quotes during the talk:

  • “Truth in limitations earns believability advances”.
  • “Open source is free like a puppy is free”.

I had two todo items on my list at the end of this talk and a big note saying I must re-listen to this talk when I get home. It made an impression. Dave Collins from Software Promotions was so impressed he wrote a post about it then posted the before and after About pages so you could see the difference.

More information: http://blog.asmartbear.com/

Alex Osterwalder

Alex Osterwalder gave a talk on Business Model Generation. I had thought Alex’s talk would be boring. And talking to some people later on (in the UX class lead by Richard Muscat) it appeared some other attendees also thought that. How wrong we were. One of the books in the goodie bag was Alex’s book on Business Model Generation.

On the face of it the title “Business Model Generation” sound rather dry. Alex demonstrated how to use a simple business model canvas to enter simple facts and figures about your business then use those to create other information you could use to see if the business is viable. If not viable, change some parameters and see if the new model is viable. It was surprisingly simple and easy and by the end of the talk I got the impression people wanted more.

To demonstrate a business model Alex used the Nespresso coffee making machines as an example.

  • The machines are sold in retail outlets.
  • Most of the profit from sale of machines goes to the business partners.
  • Nespresso make their money from sales of the coffee pods by mail order, nespresso.com, call centers and from nespresso stores. These are all distribution channels owned and controlled by Nespresso.
  • This allows Nespresso to keep all the recurring margins.

This talk also introduced the audience to Stattys, a non-sticky note that uses static electricity to stick to things rather than glue. After Business of Software Paul Kenny resorted to some awful puns because he liked Stattys so much.

Later on I was in the UX workshop (where we redesigned Business of Software) and talking with other attendees I found that my subgroup in the workshop all wanted to be in the Business Model Generation workshop but all of us had excluded that workshop because we thought it would be boring. None of us held that opinion after Alex’s talk.

Alex also demonstrated his iPad application which is a software implementation of the business model canvas. Looks quite slick and certainly an easy way to create and explore different business concepts.

More information at http://alexosterwalder.com/

Dharmesh Shah

Dharmesh spoke about customer retention and how to measure it, and pricing.

4 Churn Types:

  • Customer. e.g. 5% 5 out of 100.
  • Revenue. e.g. 10% 20K out of 200K.
  • Discretionary. People cancel their account.
  • Involuntary. Billing failure causes cancellation.

At Hubspot they use the Custom Happiness Index 2.0. This predicts how well the customer uses the software.

Dharmesh argues against Freemium pricing as this is a sunk cost. Instead if you want to do Freemium but without the sunk cost you should do Cheapium which is where you charge the customer the cost of supporting them. You don’t make any profit with Cheapium, but you also don’t lose money with Cheapium and you may convert some Cheapium customers to paid customers.

You need humans to sell Complex Products, New Products and products where the price is somewhat high (which Dharmesh defines as greater than $100/month). The point of indifference for most customers is between $30/month and $40/month.

More Information: http://onstartups.com/

Jeff Laswon

Jeff Lawson gave a talk on “Saas Mating Calls” and value as perceived by the customer.

I don’t have many notes on this talk. The talk was somewhat ruined by a couple of people persistently talking behind me until I take no more and asked them to leave or shut up. I was so wound up by this point that I couldn’t really concentrate on Jeff’s talk. I found out later that many other folk had also been annoyed by these two people (perhaps they had not spent their own money to attend?).

So, sorry for no notes worth commenting on.

Tobias Lütke

The last talk of day one was by Tobias. Again, I don’t really have many notes. I think I was struggling with low blood sugar.

Tobias talked about the culture of your company. What sort of company do you want to build?

“Do not start a company to make money. Start a company to delight customers.”

Patrick McKenzie

Patrick McKenzie talked about sales funnels and A/B testing. He also revealed an engagement ring he was going to present to his girlfriend when he returned to Japan.

Sales Funnels:

  • Describe the Funnel.
  • Measure the Funnel.
  • Optimize the Funnel.
  • Profit!

Shorter funnels are better. Analyze your funnel. If you can find any un-needed steps in the sales funnel, remove them.

A/B Testing places:

  • Home Page
  • Landing Pages
  • Pricing Page
  • Shopping Cart

Test the following:

  • Headlines
  • Offers
  • Calls to Action
  • Prominent graphic elements
  • Important micro-copy – address customer objections.

    Example “Don’t worry, we won’t spam you” next to an email address field.

Patrick recommends doing the A/B testing yourself so that you have the test data, but if you don’t want to do that use Visual Website Optimizer (Note: Dharmesh also said Visual Website Optimizer is good when I talked to him about Hubspot – even though Hubspot now has Performable’s A/B testing suite). Be systematic about A/B tests. It works. He says it “prints money”.

Purchasing page
Change your purchase page to do purchasing only. Remove all un-necessary links from the purchasing page so there are no distractions. I suspect this advice is much more important for B2C websites than B2B websites.

First run experience
Collect first run experience statistics. How many people run your software once? How many people run it twice?

If you know the search terms for an evaluating customer find a way to provide customised startup help for that search time on the first run of the software.

Tour Mode
Find a way to provide an interactive tutorial to lead people through the steps to use your software effectively. This is called Tour Mode.

Telemetry
If you do gather telemetry from your desktop software be sure to ask the user’s permission to send that data back to your servers.

More Information: http://www.kalzumeus.com/

Laura Fitton

Laura talked about how your communication to your customers and potential customers should Be Useful.

Be Useful. Its not about you. http://inay.org

Laura advocates a sequence of actions you can use to be more useful.

  • Listen
  • Learn
  • Care
  • Serve
  • [repeat]

Laura’s presentation is on www.slideshare.net/pistachio.

Recommended book: Content Marketing for Startups by Dan Martell.

More information: hubspot.com/pistachio

Josh Linkner

Josh Linkner is VC. He didn’t talk about funding or finance. He gave an excellent talk on unleashing your creativity. His book Disciplined Dreaming was part of the Business of Software Goodie bag.

Josh started by giving a background to creativity and explaining that although most of us think we are not creative, creativity is 85% learned behaviour.

Blocks to creativity are fear. Fear of failing. Fear that the idea/design won’t be any good. I’ll also posit that for a few people, they are afraid the idea/design will succeed and they will have to follow through.

Be curious. Make a point of being curious. Ask Why? Why if? Why not?

“Fail more to win more.”

Do not criticise small mistakes.

Encourage experiments, tolerate failure.

Remarkably Different
Josh gave an example of an unusual and creatively inspired business – http://www.littlemissmatched.com/ – where you can only buy socks in odd numbers. The socks don’t match and you can’t buy pairs. It’s a roaring success. It’s remarkably different.

5 Whys
Josh recommends using the 5 Why’s technique. Ask “Why is this?” about the topic. Then repeat for the answer. Do this 5 times to get to different insights about what you are looking at. This technique is used in quality control, user experience design and other fields. You can use it creatively too.

Learned behaviour
Josh demonstrated learned behaviour by describing an experiment known as The Pike Syndrome where a carnivorous fish (A Pike) ignores the prey fish because it had earlier learned that it was unable to eat them. In the same way, although creative during childhood, many things during our adolescent years and adulthood teach us not to be creative. But you can learn to be creative.

Role Storming
Another technique Josh uses to encourage people to be creative is to “Role Storm”. This is where you take on the role of a particular person or character and approach the problem from their point of view. For example what would Business of Software be like if Darth Vader hosted it? What benefits and features would he be interested in? What sort of user experience would Darth Vader be expecting?

Captcha
Josh demonstrated an alternative form of captcha that relies on understanding a caption and then acting upon it with a simple game. The layout of the game changes on a regular basis as do the captions. This makes it almost impossible for a bot to defeat the captcha. The example given was “Drag 3 peppercorns and 2 mushrooms onto the middle pizza”. It’s an inspired bit of creativity by taking the original problem and re-framing it.

Suggestion
Take 5% of your time (2 hours) to be creative each week. You will be more productive.

I’ll be posting more on creativity as I compose tunes and people always ask me how I do that as it must be so hard and complex. Wrong! Its easy. Anyone can do it.

More information: http://joshlinkner.com/

Rory Sutherland

Rory Sutherland is Vice Chairman of Ogilvy, the advertising giant. Rory gave a talk about Praxeology, the study of human action. Rory talked about how creativity and rational thinking don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Rory was hilarious and the talk full of interesting nuggets.

I’m afraid my notes don’t do justice as I appear to have written short snippets to jog me into performing Google searches. As such I’ll list the phrases here and if any of them jog your mind or cause you to search then that is more use than me trying to frame them for you.

Creativity is policed by rationality but rationality is not policed by creativity. This can lead to very creative people being prevented from being creative but leave rational people to create things like the finance and banking meltdown that happened a few years ago and which we are still living through now.

Chunking
If you want people to finish a task, split the tasks into chunks. People are much more likely to complete all tasks if approached this way.

You want your customers to avoid disappointment or complete surprises.

Rory introduced Ludwig von Mises and the subject of Praxeology.

Do not distinguish between subjective and tangible value.

Availability
Signalling
Handicap
Hueristics and biases
Framing, comparison and content
Immediacy
Loss

Information asymmetry and commitment.

Satisficing vs Maximising.

Make choosing easier
Choice making is easier with 3 items than with 2 items. Put the best choice in the middle and create cheap, average, expensive choices. Most people will choose the middle one.

Framing
Framing is all about the context in which you see the offer. Every thing is relative.

Reduce web steps from three to two improves conversion by approx 40%.

Resolve discomfort and disquiet to improve sales.

Behaviours lead attitudes.

Book: Ash Murya.

Lightning talks

I didn’t take any notes on the Lighting talks.

The most memorable talk for me was Tyler Rooney’s talk about the failures he witnessed and experienced at Amazon. The most hilarious being someone nobbling the companywide internal DNS, which killed everything. Including killing the IP-based telephones so that nobody could contact anyone to tell them to fix the problem. Sometimes economies (like purchasing IP based phones) are not economies.

Justin Goeres won the Lightning talk competition, so I never did bump into him (we were going to go for a meal later) because he was invited to the Speaker’s Dinner. Would he pass that up for a meal with me? No… 🙂 We finally met up at breakfast the next morning.

Michael McDermott

The next talk was about being a design dictator at Fresh Books. I didn’t take any notes. I think I was struggling with low blood sugar.

Fresh Books is a good product. We use it.

John Nese interviewed by Peldi

The final talk of day 2 was John Nese, the owner of an independent Soda Pop store being interviewed by Peldi. The interview was prefaced with a video. John Nese was fantastic. The little guy going against Big Corp (in the form of Coke and Pepsi). He had passion to spare and a true depth of knowledge about the products he sells, strong opinions on stuff he doesn’t like (Energy drinks and stupid recycling laws).

After the talk everyone was talking about him. Strong resonance between what he had to say and how most people felt business should be done (rather than how it often is done).

Paul Kenny

Paul talks about how to close a sale. How not to leave the sale dangling and how to not ruin the close by closing in the wrong way. Closing is a soft skill and not something that you can deal with in terms of cold hard data.

How many people in the audience are founders? Lots of hands. Good. “You are a founder. Therefore you are a salesperson.”

“The result of a business is a satisfied customer.”

How not to do it: Alec Baldwin (always be closing).

Closing is asking for a commitment. Commit to what?

  • Concept
  • Action
  • Purchase

Asking avoids the decision making process. (can’t read my handwriting, I think it says “avoids”).

Mistakes:

  • Ask the wrong way at the wrong time. (push)
  • Fail to ask the right way at the right time.

People are pushy when the have only one way of asking.

Once you have asked for your commitment, shut up and wait for the answer.

David Cancel

David Cancel talks about A/B tests. David’s company Performable was acquired by Hubspot in late 2010/early 2011.

Failing is good. It is OK to fail. You learn by failing.

He recommends having a business dashboard so you can measure your company’s health.

All initiatives should show improvement.

Use the Net Promoter Score to measure satisfaction.

If using multi-variate tests, don’t bother if you are a small company.

David thinks 2% is average percentage conversion rate. (this is out of context).

Alexis Ohanian

Alexis Ohanian talked about different ways of making the world suck less.

I didn’t take any notes in particular except to remind me to give some of my time away to a local charity.

He also gave away an Apple MacBook. The two people that came up with winning entries both said they didn’t want or need the MacBook, so it was given away to a public school in Melrose, Boston and a local programmer has agreed to teach at a local class.

Workshops

I attended two workshops at Business of Software.

The first workshop was by Richard Muscat from RedGate. This was a user experience workshop where we created user empathy maps for one member of a group of 5 or 6 people. Our workshop had about 30 people so we divided into 5 or 6 teams and redesigned Business of Software conference. The feedback from this workshop was given to Mark and the BoS team.

The second workshop I attended was with Dirk Paessler on the topic of “what do people do to keep their business online”. I had hoped to attend Nemo Chou’s workshop but it was cancelled at the last minute. As such I chose Dirk’s because I thought it may be interesting even if not directly related to what I do. It turned out to be surprisingly interesting, if only because of the extraordinary lengths Dirk’s company has gone to ensure it remains online. I got quite a few business specific takeaways from this workshop.

Coming home

Krishna Kotecha, Patrick McKenzie, Corey Reid, Patrick Foley, Levi Kovacs, Tyler Rooney

After conference everyone had a chance to grab some food, possibly be interviewed by the roving cameraman. He got me. I don’t think I made a very good subject. I think you’re either good at this or not. When asked a question that required a thoughtful answer I should have paused and thought. But no. So a bit of a disaster on that front. I’m sure other people had better things to say to the camera than I did.

I milled around for a bit then a group of us headed off to a local restaurant for some pre-flight food. Mark Littlewood said he’d come and join us, but he took so long he met us on the way back to the hotel. Better luck next time Mark.

The photo shows (left to right) Krishna Kotecha, Patrick McKenzie, Corey Reid, Patrick Foley, Levi Kovacs, Tyler Rooney.

TODO List

My notes are littered with TODO items scrawled done as a speaker sparked something in me. On the plane home, reflecting on the conference, I found that every few minutes I’d have to write something down. In total I have about 4 pages of TODOs, 1 per line. Thats about 120 items to do or research. All directly from attending the conference. Not all of the TODO items were new to me at the conference, but the conference reinforced my pre-existing thoughts and coallesced them into an action point.

Conclusion

If I could summarise Business of Software into a few words, it would be “Incredible mind food, stuff to think about for a long time”.

Would I go again? Yes.
Am I glad its on the East Cost of America? Yes. 5 hours out is one thing. 8 hours out another altogether.

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Why you should go to conferences

By , August 25, 2011 10:12 am

Why should you go to a conference?

I’m sure there are many different answers to this question, but I’m posing this question in response to the first question Rob Walling asked me when I arrived at MicroConf. “What are you hoping to get from MicroConf?”. I was a bit blindsided by the question – I’d had 5 hours sleep after a long journey starting at 5AM in a timezone 8 hours different. I just didn’t have an answer. Which I guess left those in the group we were talking in a bit puzzled – its not the hardest question in the world.

I never used to go to conferences. I was full of the self-doubt and “I’m a fake, a fraud, I don’t know what I’m doing.” anxiety that it seems so many entrepreneurs have. I live in the middle of nowhere and despite Cambridge being 20 miles down the road with the famous university, Science Park, Innovation Centre etc I don’t know any of the folks there. So my view of my business was rather limited to my own perspective. And you really do need other people’s perspectives. I still haven’t got to many meetups in Cambridge – something to work on (its work that keeps me away from the meetups!).

European Software Conference

I’d ummm’d and arr’d about going to Business of Software twice and never quite done it. So having screwed up on going to BoS 2010 I thought what the hell I’ll go to the European Software Conference in Vienna in November. The worst that could happen would that I’d speak to no one and have a boring few days on the outskirts of Vienna. The ESWC website is horrible. Its living in the past, design wise – it doesn’t fill you with confidence. The conference is not particularly well attended. Some of the speakers are good (for example: Dave Collins of Software Promotions) and some less so. A mixed bag. But the good speakers were worth listening to. I hired one of them for a consulting gig a few months later.

However the socialising, meeting other software developers and business owners. That was great. It was also tiring – not uncommon for some people to still be in the bar at 2AM (on the last night it was about 4AM for some of us) talking about stuff. And all done sitting down, having a drink and a chat.

This experience was great – people were surprised at what I’d managed to acheive. Plenty of validation for what I’d been doing. And from the speakers I found interesting, some useful hints, tips and ideas.

This was completely different to the MicroConf meetup experience which was all standing up and which ended early (everyone had gone by 11:30PM). I think that may be a cultural thing. I can live with it ending early, but I hate the standing up chatting thing, sitting is so much nicer (and you drink less if you sit).

MicroConf

So Why did I go to MicroConf? Simple – if I got one good idea from any of the speakers or from any of the attendees that would be a good enough reason to go to MicroConf. Good ideas are hard to come by. People complain at the cost of books. Rubbish, books are cheap – a good book is filled to the brim with advice, some of which may be application to your situation and which may not know. How much would it cost to hire a consultant or expert to get the same advice? Exactly. So although my plane ticket to MicroConf cost more than the conference itself, I got a lot of interesting hints, tips, insights from MicroConf. And I came home a lot more focussed and more importantly interested in different things than before I went to MicroConf.

Business of Software

I haven’t been to the previous Business of Software conferences and each time afterward I’ve regretted it. I’m going this year. Its much more expensive than MicroConf. But if I get one good idea, or a change/improvement in focus/attitude then I’m sure it will have been worth the effort.

Conclusion

So next time you’re umming and arring about whether you should spend what seems like a lot of money travelling to another country, paying for the conference, the hotel and all the other costs, stop thinking about the expense and think about that possibilities for change as a result of attending.

That said, there is a limit. I would not attend the $10,000 a day marketing conferences. I can’t see that level of expenditure being recouped – I’m not in that business. After all, what you get is an intangible.

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MicroConf 2011 – Website teardowns and wrapup

By , August 22, 2011 12:00 pm

In this final article about MicroConf I’m going to cover the speakers at MicroConf that I haven’t written about – Todd Garland, Marcus McConnell and David Hauser.

David Hauser

David Hauser runs grasshopper.com. He was going to speak about generating buzz.

David arrived at MicroConf then had to leave before he could speak due to a personal emergency. I hope that things worked out well for him.

Todd Garland

Todd Garland is founder of BuySellAds.

Todd’s story is a rather unusual one. He grew BuySellAds from nothing to $1.5 million in 11 months, while at the same time holding down a 9-5 job at Hubspot, a rapidly growing inbound marketing company. Most people working somewhere like Hubspot probably would not look to jump ship, but that is ultimately the decision Todd had to make.

I didn’t record Todd’s speech. I can’t remember why. I have a few brief notes. The key points are:

  • Overcome fear by doing.
  • Automate everything.
  • Do not do one-off work for customers. It is better to discard such work as it keeps you focused on the business and keeps the product simpler to use and simpler to maintain.
  • Invest in customer happiness and good vibes.

Marcus McConnell

Todd Garland is founder of BV Software.

I didn’t record Marcus’s speech or take any notes during his speech. I think this was because it was about a shopping cart and I thought it wouldn’t be interesting. I was wrong. But I have no notes or recording to recall the interesting bits of the speech.

I apologise if this leaves you feeling empty handed, but my initial reason for recording was for personal use. It was only afterwards that I decided to write up my notes and audio.

Website Teardowns

Due to the space left in the programme by David Hauser being unable to speak at the conference Rob and Mike decided to have a couple of website teardown sessions where different speakers would provide feedback to anyone brave enough to put their website forward for critical analysis.

The first session was with Ramit Sethi, but Ramit has declined to let me post the MP3.

The second session was with Hiten Shah and Patrick McKenzie. The MP3 is linked below.

The following URLs were the subject of tear downs in the audio. Its probably a good idea to look at the website in question as you listen to the audio. Note that some of these websites may have changed appearance since the talk because the authors acted on the criticism provided by Hiten and Patrick.

00:00 pluggio.com A Twitter client.
06:46 passwordrn.com Password recovery software for registered nurses.
09:27 freelancefunnel.com Freelance recruitment software.
12:30 bridallive.com Bridal shop management software.
18:15 grazely.com Bookmark management software.
25:30 studguru.com Make men happy by keeping their woman happy.

Conclusion

I cross the Atlantic and the USA to go to MicroConf. No one else from Europe could be bothered. No one from Asia came except for Patrick McKenzie. I’m glad I made the effort. The people, the place, the information, its all good. Would I do it again? For sure. Will I attend in 2012? Almost certainly.

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MicroConf 2011 – Hiten Shah

By , August 19, 2011 12:00 pm

Hiten Shah is founder of Crazy Egg and founder of KissMetrics. This is the closest I could find to a blog: hitenshah.name

There is a lot in this talk, some of which I couldn’t accurately write down. You will get additional insight by listening to the audio.

Hiten starts by listing some key ideas he wants to talk about.

  • Make something people want. Create a product people want to buy. Seems obvious, but many people create a product people don’t want to buy.
  • Always test your ideas first. Don’t waste time building the wrong thing.
  • Nurture earlyvangelists. You’re looking for those crazy people that are really into what problem it is you are trying to solve. These people will be willing to try your rough ideas before they are polished products.

Backstory

Hiten started a consulting company ACS. They re-invested money from this into creating products. The most successful of these was Crazy Egg, a self funded software as a service company. KissMetrics is a venture funded business. As such Hiten has run companies on both sides of the funded/not funded equation.

Hiten had one venture where they wasted $25,000 in two months following a bad idea (a podcasting advertising network). They followed lots of ideas without testing the ideas or the price points. At the end of this their partner said “I was sincerely hoping we’d find some magic combination of events that would jumpstart us”. Wow! Hiten never wanted to be in this situation again.

They also built a social media search engine.

Survey.io

Also built survey.io. The idea is “People want feedback but they don’t know what questions to ask their customers.” They created a template that works for most businesses.

Customer Development

Hiten mentions Steve Blank‘s book Four Steps to the Epiphany and the core concepts behind customer development.

You need to start with a hypothesis you can test. An example could be that “product manager” has the problem “schedule management”.
Things they wanted to learn about their target market:

  • What are they doing now?
  • What other tools are they using?
  • Who else is involved with the company?
  • How frequent and severe is the pain they have with this task?
  • What else are they complaining about?

They did 24 in person interviews, about 15 minutes each asking questions with a paper prototype. They tested calls to action. Turned out to be people intensive. Interviewees often wanted developer feedback. They built lots of user tracking detail into the product to track all sorts of action and gather feedback. All combined with easy to understand reporting.

Crazy Egg

Crazy Egg was created by trying to satisfy the problems designers had with no knowing which parts of the web page people were interested in.

Collected lots of emails prior to launch. Spent $10,000 to do it.

Early Access, not Beta

From A/B testing research they determined the Early Access makes people feel special having access to the software compared to Beta which does not.

Test yourself, don’t rely on other’s results

Hiten gives the example of the 37 Signals Buy Button which 37 Signals tested and published the results for. Hiten thinks that most people use this button without testing it. His recommendation: “Don’t do that, you need to test what works in your situation”. I think he has a point.

Recommendations

  • A/B test each landing page.
  • A/B test video for each product if you have video.
  • You should have between 3 and 7 key metrics that you measure.

Tomorrow I’ll publish the final article on MicroConf 2011.

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MicroConf 2011 – Justin Vincent

By , August 18, 2011 12:00 pm

Justin Vincent is the creator of pluggio a tool for managing your twitter account. Justin blogs at justinvincent.com. Justin talks about his experience prior to pluggio and then how he created and grew pluggio.

I’m afraid the beginning of this talk is missing, mainly I think due to me being absent minded and forgetting to press record. Sorry! You only missed a little bit of preamble.

The Big Idea

For Justin’s first business idea, he planned the idea and thought over every deal. He didn’t write any code. He spent some time on this activity. Finally after chatting with some people he realised he wasn’t going to get anywhere. But he had nothing to show for all this time. He spent $60K of VC money doing this.

Conclusion? Just get on with it.

Nanoflirt

Nanoflirt mixes online dating with real world dating. Real world cards, write their profile number on the back and then hand it to someone they like. Research indicated a possibly good idea. Build the site. Then printed a million flirt cards. But when a stranger walks up to you and hands you a card the reaction is not what he expected.

This was a fail.

Knowledge

Got involved with a social media knowledge website, spent $250K in the same space as Wikipedia.

This was a fail.

mashapi

Mash API was a good idea to put together components to allow others to easily build websites with pre-built functionality. This was probably ahead of its time and the timing was important. VCs were not interested in ideas at the time they were trying to do Mash API. The VCs liked the team and the idea, but ideas were not on the menu for funding.

This was a fail.

Its hard

Doesn’t matter how good an idea is. Sometimes that isn’t enough.
Bootstrapping is hard.

Interviews

Started interviewing people with Jason Roberts. Interviews formed the techzing podcast. Learned a lot by interviewing people.

pluggio

Justin wanted to grow his twitter following. He found posting this every day was a pain. So he started by creating a simple RSS reader that could provide stories for him to feed into twitter. This grew from a simple idea into a product that was generating revenue in a few months.

Then he ignored pluggio for 9 months until a big argument with his wife. The result was that she persuaded him to re-focus on pluggio. Pluggio was generated revenue but he wasn’t interested in marketing it. After his refocus, revenue improved 3x immediately.

Customer research showed that his simple user interface was a bonus. People were using it in preference to the complex multi-screen twitter helpers.

Trial or Refund?

Pluggio used to offer a 30 day free trial. Used to get about 50% of people cancel and receive no revenue for that 30 days. When he switched to 60 day money back guarantee much fewer people cancel and he receives revenue for every day of the period.

Its an interesting tactic and based upon the idea that once people commit to something (they commit by completing the credit card payment form) they mentally then switch models to one that supports their decision. The main problem with this is that some people will be reluctant to commit to such a refund based trial.

Free Email Course

Pluggio provide a free email course (even if they do not signup) providing useful marketing information over a 5 day period.

Free plans pay!

35% free plans convert to paid accounts. This demonstrates that freemium can work, use the free account to demonstrate the value of the service.

The free version also has a nag screen that starts after 3 days and eventually gets more persistent over time.

Bootstrapping

To help Pluggio get off the ground Justin used the following techniques:

  • Used the techniques he had learned from the techzing interviews.
  • Found 1000 users using a signup page.
  • 100% free for all users for the first month so that he could watch what users did and determine who the top 5 users were.
  • Approached the top 5 users and asked them what functionality they wanted.
  • Get Satisfaction link on every page.
  • When Pluggio was first launched Justin was getting 10 emails per day asking how Pluggio worked. So he created video answers to each question. Each video is 1 minute long. This turned 10 question per day into 1 question per month.
  • All customer questions he uses to build relationships with customers.

Tomorrow I’ll post Hiten Shah’s talk.

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MicroConf 2011 – Noah Kagan

By , August 17, 2011 12:00 pm

Noah Kagan currently runs AppSumo. Prior AppSumo, Noah worked at Mint.com and Gambit. Noah blogs at http://okdork.com/

Noah starts his talk with an MP3 rap looping “buy something, buy something…”

He surveys the room for entreprenuers, developers, wannaprenuers, etc. Says he wants to change your life, gives brief bio of where he has been etc. Intel, Gambit, Mint, AppSumo.

His talk is in 3 parts: Improving yourself, being unique, improving your business.

As his talk progresses Noah gives out hot sauce for interesting insights from audience. Also gives out stickers with one having a special code on it for a prize from appsumo. Audience engagement is good.

I didn’t know a thing about Noah Kagan before this talk. He is high on energy and focused on things that most people probably are not. I really enojoyed his talk, although the handing out of Srircacha sauce got slightly out of hand at one point (not Noah’s fault).

Improving yourself

Email

Noah only answers email twice a day. Once at the start of the day and once at the end of the day. He does this to avoid wasting time by being in reactive mode always scanning and answering email.

Benefits: Lots of free time.
Downside: Hard to have fast moving discussion.

I can relate to this. I think this will work for you or not work for you depending upon your business. If we operated Software Verification this way customers would wait a long time for customer support – I don’t think it would work for us. But there is a good germ of an idea here. If you can’t just reduce it to twice a day, can you reduce it to once per hour, or once per two hours?

Typing

Don’t waste time typing, ensure you type efficiently.

If you type 30 emails day, 50 words/email how much time do you save? If you go from typing 50/wpm to 60/wpm that is a 20% improvement. Over a year you can save a day of typing. This is fine at these speeds but doesn’t work if you are already typing at 80..100/wpm, the % improvements are smaller (12.5% & 10%).

This topic generated quite a bit of discussion later. Not many folks agreed with it because they already typed reasonably quickly. Later on several of us had a chance to chat to Noah about this over a beer. He is really focused on people that haven’t learned how to type with this comment. In that context I agree. However I think its more important to think about what you are typing before you type it. Doesn’t matter how fantastic you are at typing if what you are typing is rubbish.

The point is not typing so much as “what things in your life can you improve to save you time? To give you more time?”

Examples of this:

  • Type efficiently
  • Better tools, don’t use gmail – reactive waterfall
  • Use chrome
  • Use a faster computer. If you are waiting for your computer you are wasting time. Speaking to many MacBook Air users it seems that SSDs are a major win.
  • Annoying people, filter them in gmail. Don’t delete, filter that way they are gone for good.
  • Annoying email, filter.

Don’t allow people to waste your time. Ensure you use your time effectively.

During this part of the talk, Noah upsets a member of the audience and handles it really well. The member of the audience had won one of the bottles of Sriracha sauce and Noah had passed it back to her. What Noah didn’t know was that she was upset with him for a graphic he had shown (which he had intended to be a joke) and she threw the bottle back at the stage. She didn’t throw it far enough and if landed on some guy’s MacBook, split open and covered his keyboard with sauce, then bounced up, just missed Noah and splattered the back of the hall with sauce. No idea what happened to the MacBook, I hope she helped the unfortunate recipient to clean/fix it. (I didn’t see this incident, I was watching the slideshow. I saw the end of it, but the MacBook part of it was related to me by someone else, so it may not be correct, if you know better, please let me know).

Exercise

Found out that the routine of exercises for the marathon was really effective at improving his life and how he thought. Make a routine for exercise.

Interestingly since Noah’s talk some studies into depression and brain function have been released and they confirm improved brain function is linked to exercise. I don’t have references to this, I heard this on a BBC Radio 4 program related to this. On a personal note I swim 1km several times a week. I often get solutions to problems while swimming.

Finance

Noah puts everything on credit cards. Never puts anything on debit cards.

Knowledge

Noah sets aside time time for reading every day. During this time he does nothing else. This is a good way to take a break from “normal” work and also to educate yourself.

Difference between remembering and forgetting? Writing things down. This is also particularly effective as writing things down forces the information to be internalised differently in your brain. So as well as having a permanent written record the information is also stored in your brain in a different form.

Being unique

Be unique. What makes you, you? Differentiate yourself.

Noah consumes information from a variety of sources and recommends that you do to.

Interestingly Noah does not rate HackerNews. He gets his information elsewhere.

Interesting / Boring

Shows a job posting (boring) then another job posting (interesting) for the same job. The boring one is the standard one. Which application would you prefer to receive? The safe, boring one, or the one taking a risk by being unique?

Noah gives some examples of other people being unique. How do you do extraordinary things? How do your surprise people? He then follows this with a story of how AppSumo messed up which ultimately improved how AppSumo behave today.

Customer for life

Noah thinks you should treat people as customers for life. How would you treat customers if you could never lose one of them? What changes would you have to make to meet this goal?

Noah uses followup.cc to automatically create followups and never miss an appointment again. For him its a real time saver and email management helper.

Improve your business

Create Rules and systems for improving your business.

Noah gives an example he uses at AppSumo, the Rule of three: Three deals per week. Make it happen. Simple.

  • Checkboxes for each stage in a deal. All have to be checked before it can go live.
  • Prevents foul ups.
  • Anything done more than once, automate it.

Time

Plan your time each day so that you spend parts of each day doing tasks you need to do. Sure you can function without a plan, but things will be forgotten or left on the side and before you know it they are not getting done.

Success: The percentage of people that will work with you again

Advisors

Find an advisor that is complementary to you. For Noah that person is Andrew Chen: Marketing guru, super advisor.

Commitment

If you really want to do something, do it. No excuses.

At about this time Noah notices a conference attendee has fallen asleep. So he plays a trick (gets the audience to make a lot of noise) and the sleeping attendee wakes up wondering what he has missed.

Data driven decisions

AppSumo use data to drive all decisions in their business. Get people that bring problems to also bring potential solutions. Empower your employees to make their own decisions and take initiative.

Build models and test the models and experiment with new models. Google spreadsheet models are quite useful.

To close, Noah talks about RewardLevel – an AppSumo idea that failed.

Summary

I enjoyed Noah’s talk and found it interesting.

  • Value your time better (faster computer, etc)
  • Stop working on the wrong idea with the wrong people, use your time effectively – right business with the right people.
  • Test, experiment, use data.
  • Type Faster (wrong! type more efficiently)
  • Slides appsumo.com/noahkagan

Tomorrow I’ll post Ramit Sethi’s talk at MicroConf.

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