Thoughts

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I write for me; not for you. // I'm not a huge fan of pontificating. Most of what I write here is to solidify a lesson-learned or to clarify my coalescing thoughts.
  • eCommerce Buy Buttons and True Social Commerce


    For many years, we’ve talked about the rise of ‘social commerce.’  People have predicted that our social networks would curate products for us and that the lines between content, community, and commerce would blur and eventually become unrecognizable.

    While on one hand that progression has marched along, on the other, it has not progressed in the ways that many of us (especially me) expected.  eCommerce sites have remained primarily commerce-focused.  And social networks have continued to focus on eye-catching content that people mostly read/watch/listen to.

    We’re finally turning a corner on this trend, and it’s because the social networks themselves are starting to push users in this direction.  This may end up being the natural form of social commerce that the market has been waiting for.

    The change is happening in the form of ‘Buy buttons’ that enable users to purchase products without ever leaving the network.  These buy buttons are proliferating throughout the social web, and fast.  Each of the major players has either launched or is testing them actively.

    Let’s take a quick look at what’s out there:

    Twitter – Already out in the wild. 

    TwitterBuyButton

    With the help of Stripe’s Relay, Twitter has launched Buy Now buttons that can be embedded directly within tweets.  This functionality uses Stripe’s payment technology to process the transaction and send orders to the retailer.  Twitter has not yet released any major numbers associated with the success or traction of these buttons.

    Pinterest – Buyable pins live and seemingly growing quickly.

    Buy_it_on_pinterest

    Pinterest first previewed that Buy Buttons were coming back in June of 2015.  They went live with the concept soon after, and announced that 60 million Buyable Pins were available by August of 2015.  Pinterest also stood up a page that outlines the buyable pin functionality.

    Instagram – Promising, but not yet live. 

    instagram_buy_button

    Instagram, being the go-to destination that it is for trending fashion and beauty, is well-positioned to launch a buy button.  Their blog post on the topic was a little more broadly-focused than the others, talking about ad-units that enabled direct action of multiple types (including signing up on a website or downloading an app.)

    Google – Announced, but not yet broadly available.

    Purchase on Google

    Given it’s position as the much of the world’s primary search destination, Google is perhaps the most interestingly positioned player in the whole bunch.  It recently announced Purchases on Google in a blog post that talked about other retailer-focused enhancements.  What’s interesting here is that Google is alluding to integration with Google wallet, where users may already be storing payment methods.

    Facebook – Announced and in testing.  

    Facebook_Buy_Button

    Facebook announced that it was testing buy buttons for the first time back in 2014.  Things were relatively quiet until an October 2015 blog post drove more clarity about its intent to power shopping on Facebook.  It appears as though the intent is enable shoppers to checkout without leaving Facebook.  Even more interesting is the addition of the shop section on Facebook Pages for businesses.


    These buy buttons can have a lot of implications on commerce, especially mobile commerce, in the next 2 years.  The biggest hurdle is going to be overcoming the differences in mental-modes that people have when browsing the web.

    Many of us are in a content consumption mode when browsing social media and looking for content.  Separately, we are in shopping mode when we are searching for specific products to buy.  Breaking down this mental barrier, and getting content consumers more used to the idea of ‘switching lanes’ from consuming content to buying is going to be a challenge.  With that said, it seems like only a matter of time before behavior is changed and users adapt.

    Stay tuned for more analysis on this topic in the weeks to come!

  • Performance Linked Incentives for Engineers


    A friend recently asked me about how I might define performance for web developers. It was an interesting question coming from one startup founder to another. He was concerned with how to present performance-based incentives to his developers when performance itself is so hard to measure for engineering work. I had a few thoughts to offer him and I wanted to share them here. 

    What is Performance?

    Engineering has a complex and difficult work flow – it happens on a maker’s schedule. Understanding this, it’s extremely difficult to determine a fair objective/set of criteria by which to measure someone. Lines of code are simply not going to cut it. So what does? Shipped stories? Defect counts? As far as I’m aware, none of these have worked.

    However, if you kick the measure of performance up one level-of-altitude to overall business performance, another problem comes into play. Engineers don’t always have a direct connection to driving business value. They are charged with delivering whatever is on the product backlog in a way that is elegant, stable, and secure. Ideally, they also deliver it quickly. But whose fault is it when the backlog is less than actionable or badly organized?

    So why does performance pay at all? And, when it does, who should reap the benefits?

    This is an even harder question, and the answer varies from business to business. The core goal behind offering performance-based incentives is to ensure the business keeps working, and maybe even winning. This makes sense. And it probably makes the most sense to provide these incentives to people who are actually making the business win (i.e. managers and other strategic roles).

    The flipside is that everyone, in theory, should be incentivized to make the business win. Let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario in which this is the case:

    Step 1: Engineer looks at backlog. He realizes that the first three ideas suck.

    Step 2: Engineer pushes back because he want the business to win.

    Step 3: Product Manager reconsiders one of the ideas in the backlog.

    Even in this scenario there are potential flaws: would the incentives actually motivate the engineer over the hump of inaction? Are incentives enough or does it take a particular archetype to motivate themselves through these extra steps? (I know engineers who will push back on tasks they don’t like, even if they’re paid $1/hr.)

    What about equity?

    Startups, in theory, have a built-in incentive for all employees (or most, depending on where you are): equity. If the business sells for millions, each person will get their piece.

    But is that potential enough to rule out incentive pay? Probably not. In my experience, human beings are remarkably impatient. Most non-founders don’t think on the time horizon required to care about this outcome. Furthermore, even if the engineer does have the long con in mind, the average person needs small incentives to hold them over. (Imagine any video game. You don’t go from level one to sixty in one jump. You need all the levels in between to feel like you’re progressing.)

    So what do you do?

    I think it depends a lot on the type and scale of the business. In most creative product-focused startups, I would argue against non-stock incentive-based pay that is specific to tech goals such as lines of code, uptime, etc.

    However, I DO think that operating businesses (with real revenue) can benefit from goals that everyone can get behind (i.e. a quarterly revenue or profit goal). The case for a shared bonus pool here is reasonable, and I would argue net-positive. I like P2P systems combined with management-driven allocations. So your peers and your managers decide what slice of the total bonus pool you receive.

    The key here, however, is that it’s a BONUS. It’s NOT an excuse to pay someone less than they deserve.

    N.B. I didn’t use the term “market rate” above. I think that market rate is a faulty concept in startup land. Startups have been systematically over-funded in a way that makes bootstrapped startups totally unfit to compete. So what the market can bear doesn’t matter. What matters is how passionate someone is about the opportunity and what they are willing to work for. Generally, equity levels the playing field here.

    One final footnote: Decent bonus schemes act as a nice deferred comp plan for very early stage companies. Let’s say a new engineer wants $10,000 in annual salary, but you can only afford $7,000. You can offer that engineer $7,000 with a $3,000 bonus if the company reaches $X in revenue. This way, if you can afford it, you’ll pay it and the engineer is in a better position to bet on the company.

    In short, there is some room in an early stage company for a “company-wide performance” bonus pool. But goals have to be well-defined enough for everyone to know what they are marching towards (i.e. post-product market fit). An attempt to create a bonus system before such a time seems like putting the cart before the horse. Chances are your business won’t even work – so why create complex incentive programs?

     

     

  • Mobile eCommerce: Old, but still intriguing, news [Part Two]


    Before I begin, I want to give a quick shout out to Clay Allsop at Propeller for pointing out that there are companies out there helping retailers and shop owners differentiate their mobile and web platforms. I’m excited to see the cool implementations that may result.

    Quick Recap

    I left you on Wednesday with some thoughts about what I think this year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday numbers mean for the future of mobile commerce. In particular, I touched on the importance of not looking at phones and tablets as smaller versions of the web as well as what the growth of showrooming and webrooming means for the relationship between Brick and Mortar and eCommerce (for more general insight into the future of B&M vs. eCommerce as I see it, check out this post).

    Today, I want to move away from the businesses themselves and look to the consumer. How does consumer behavior change when using phones vs. tablets vs. computers?

    Measuring Mobile Behaviors

    Ok, I’ll get to the consumer, but first, I want to talk about how we measure behaviors. My first question in thinking about all this is “Where’s the proof?” Everyone talks about how important it is to have a good mobile site, and the numbers certainly show an increase in mobile sales as well as traffic, but WHO is downloading your app? Is anyone actually acquiring NEW customers via the mobile channel, or are web customers simply adding a new channel/migrating over? So far, I don’t know that we have any way to measure this consistently, but it would be a useful statistic to have. Particularly since it would provide interesting commentary on the significance of mobile commerce as a tool to strengthen either CLV or CPA. (I have some strong opinions and probing questions on where these two are going to end up in the equation of success, stay-tuned for a post on this one).

    Consumer Mobile Behaviors

    So not surprisingly, people have already thought about this. They’ve considered who their customers are and how they shop. Case in point:

    Courtesy of visioncritical.com

    Courtesy of visioncritical.com

    But this infographic doesn’t answer nearly all the questions I have about how consumers interact with the mobile platforms available to them. And, to the best of my knowledge, no one has yet (if you’ve seen/heard/read otherwise let me know @adilwali). So here’s what I want to know:

    Are mobile shoppers browsing or searching for specific products? I want to know if consumers are passing time on their phones exploring what’s out there or just buying things they already need. Moreover, if consumers are browsing, are they then going back to their computers to actually buy? (This goes back to my question of CLV vs. CPA). According to an article by socialmarketingforum.net, one of the key barriers to mCommerce success is security concerns. Consumers aren’t convinced that transactions on their phones are as secure as on their computers. I expect this will change as digital wallets become more prevalent and a stronger resource for internet retailers.

    How much more interrupted is the shopping experience? I want to know if orders placed on mobile devices are generally larger or smaller than orders placed on computers. IBM average sales numbers put tablets about equal with computers and smartphones just below in terms of amounts spent. How does this break down for product quantities? Which brings me to my next question: if viewing real-estate matters, how do you know that the size of the screen isn’t a key contributing factor to lower AOVs (average order values)? The numbers this year show that while sales have gone up, AOVs have gone down – how much does this have to do with the rise in mobile shopping for the holiday season? The same socialmarketingforum article cited above also mentions that even though consumers like the convenience of mobile shopping, they prefer the resolution and size advantages of viewing products on a desktop. It’s harder to judge an object the smaller it is. The real question here may be about merchandising versus experience. Do different numbers reflect the different experiences of mobile vs. desktop shopping? Or should retailers be merchandising their products differently across different platforms?

    Finally, while visioncritical.com has broken down four shopping archetypes, who are they missing? How do the different archetypes interact with mCommerce. If the mom is usually looking for coupons, what’s the college-aged female looking for? How can retailers adapt their mobile platforms to best meet each archetypes needs?

    To sum this all up, I’ll leave you with some more numbers. mCommerce is going to keep growing and companies need to start gathering the data that will allow them to maximize their mobile potential.

    Courtesy of culturelabel.com by way of mashable.com.

    Courtesy of culturelabel.com by way of mashable.com.

  • Mobile eCommerce: Old, but still intriguing, news [Part One]


    In the wake of this year’s Black Friday/Cyber Monday stats, I want to talk about mobile commerce: the truths, the questions, and the abundant opportunities. I’ll be honest, the importance of mobile commerce isn’t escaping anyone playing the eCommerce game. In fact, it may be the most agreed upon movement out there — consumers spend a lot of time on their phones so eCommerce apps need to be available to them. And there are tons of stats to support the growth of mobile, particularly after the past four days.

    Courtesy of teach.ceoblognation.com

    Courtesy of teach.ceoblognation.com

    Some background stats

    According to IBM, Black Friday mobile traffic increased 34%  over 2012 to make up 39.7% of all online traffic and mobile sales constituted 21.8% of online sales. Cyber Monday was also strong in mobile, showing 31.7% of all online traffic and 17% of sales. The breakdown of smartphones to tablets was interesting too:

    “Smartphones drove 24.9 percent of all online traffic on Black Friday compared to tablets at 14.2 percent, making it the browsing device of choice. Tablets drove 14.4 percent of all online sales, double that of smartphones, which accounted for 7.2 percent of all online sales. Tablet users also averaged 15 percent more per order than smartphone users, spending on average $132.75 versus $115.63 for smartphone users.”

    Compared to Cyber Monday:

    “Smartphones drove 19.7 percent of all online traffic compared to tablets at 11.5 percent, making it the browsing device of choice. When it comes to making the sale, tablets drove 11.7 percent of all online sales, more than double that of smartphones, which accounted for 5.5 percent. On average, tablet users spent $126.30 per order compared to smartphone users who spent $106.49.” (Read the full Black Friday and Cyber Monday reports).

    The Big Question

    So what does this all mean? We know phones and tablets are important in the future of eCommerce, but what should companies actually be doing about it?

    Differentiating Web from Mobile

    Tinder screenshot

    Despite universal acknowledgement that mobile apps are increasingly important for eCommerce companies, those apps continue to be viewed as just paired-down versions of web apps. They’re not. Thinking about tablets and smartphones as smaller versions of desktops is a dangerous game: Best Buy and Sony Style both failed to adapt their sites to tablet users and lost out on Cyber Monday (Mobile Commerce Daily has a good article about this). On the other hand, dating site Tinder is crushing it in the mobile sphere by creating an app that is NATIVELY mobile. Users swipe though potential matches instead of clicking or scrolling.

    But what about eCommerce sites? Some retailers are certainly catching on. Both REI and Nine West have created mobile apps that are meant for use in store. They recognize that shoppers want to be able to compare products in real time. The REI app has a product scan option where shoppers can scan the bar code of any product in store to see details and customer reviews. Nine West now provides in-store ipads with an app from which shoppers can browse, see details and reviews, and then order online, all while still being able to try on the item in-store.

    Mobile apps offer incredible opportunities for marketing and personalization. Cache is doing this right. They’ve adapted their push notification system to respond to shoppers habits. If a shopper generally browses certain parts of the site, they get notifications about specific items that they may have viewed. And, like REI, the Cache app also offers in-store bar code scanning.

    There is so much opportunity inherent to mobile shopping; retailers need to remember that having a mobile app does not mean having a responsive web page.

    Showrooming vs. Webrooming

    Brick and Mortar isn’t disappearing anytime soon. But the growth of mobile shopping means that eCommerce and B&M don’t need to be in constant competition. If showrooming and webrooming are growing trends, mobile apps and in-store tablet implementations could help companies create harmony between the two. eCommerce companies should be looking to build better cross-channel experiences as Nine West is doing. Moreover, companies should think about offering incentives to customers browsing online — if the customer webrooms on his phone, why not offer him a promo when he walks into the store? Promotions could work across channels, providing incentives for shoppers to be interacting with retailers on multiple channels, thereby increasing exposure.

    Coming up in Mobile eCommerce, Part Two:

    Mobile Behaviors and a few questions to turn things on their head.

  • The New World of eCommerce: An Increasingly Competitive Landscape


    To begin, I’d like to say, “I’m back!”  I’m committed to being a better, more frequent, blogger.  Instead of simply stating publicly that I’m going to try harder (which I’ve done before…and failed), I intend to simply prove it.  Stay tuned and see if I’m telling the truth.

    My newest company is focused on scaling global technology teams for high-growth companies.  Many of our earliest customers are eCommerce companies.  (This is not purely coincidence: I was a Founder at ModCloth, an investor in Touch of Modern, and an advisor to Blank Label.)  So I’ve done a lot of thinking lately about the future of eCommerce.  My goal is to share the fruits of my research and analysis with you.  With that thought in mind, this post is intended to get you up-to-speed. This is the stuff I already know, and much of it may not be new to you. Moving forward, I intend to dive deeper into the nitty gritty.

    Before I jump into things, if you are totally new to eCommerce (or just want to have a little more background) I suggest that you check out this report from the National Retail Federation. It provides a brief history of eCommerce as well as an overview of the eCommerce landscape in 2012 and 2013.

    Groupn Collage

     eCommerce is getting very competitive.  Fast.

    This post is about the big picture. eCommerce has evolved a lot over the past seven years. Online retailers are reaching more people around the world (see the recent Wall Street Journal article on Russia’s emerging eCommerce market) through more channels. With more points of access to retailers, more retailers, and more product choice, consumers are gaining power at an unprecedented rate. And with more consumers with more personal choice, retailers have to compete more than ever to win that consumer’s custom. In order to compete, retailers have to up their game, and they’ve been doing so in a myriad of ways.

    Trend #1: Flash Sales and Deep Discounts It’s not the newest trick in the book, but sites offering flash sales and deep discounts are still making headway in the eCommerce world. One point of success for these companies is that they require the consumer to sign up before he or she can see any of the offers. This allows sites like GrouponTouchofModern, and Zulily to better track and identify their users. Whether you’ve visited once, twice, or fifteen times, they can customize their marketing to your apparent interest level.

    Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 12.31.55 PM

    Other sites like One Kings Lane and Wayfair (see here an interesting article on Wayfair’s approach to indecisive consumers) may not require you to sign in, but they publish their discounts on the page (see image) and on sites like One Kings Lane, sales only last for a certain amount of time, encouraging consumers to buy quickly or lose out on the deal.

    Threadflip Comments

    Trend #2: ReCommerce Deals don’t only come in the form of sales. Companies like thredUP and Threadflip are bringing second-hand retail to the internet. Nor does it only apply to clothing. Gazelle is a site where consumers can selltheir used electronics.  Offering verification services for used items brings the whole second-hand marketplace online. It also allows shoppers and sellers to directly communicate with each other about things like size and availability.

    Trend #3: Social Shopping Although the social shopping trend hasn’t seen too much implementation amongst individual retailers, it may not be far off in the future. If friends share what they buy with each other through channels like Pinterest, Facebook, and Wanelo how long will it take before major online retailers implement their own social shopping platforms? A slightly different form of social shopping, Yardsale incorporates both secondhand and social elements. A mobile-only app, it makes your local garage sale  available right on your phone.

    Trend #4: Subscription Commerce In contrast, a trend that has taken off amongst online retailers and consumers is the subscription model. Companies like Birchbox, ShoeDazzle, BlueApron, and Fancy are all using it, to lesser and greater success. The appeal of the model for the retailer is that it solves the problem of CLV (customer lifetime value). For the consumer, boxes provide a sense of personalization, and for boxes like those from Fancy (who predetermines the content of each box along some basic themes), they also provide a solution to the paradox of choice. For a lot more insight andsome interesting reviews of the many subscription box options out there, check out My Subscription Addiction. You can get an even better of idea of who’s doing it well and who’s just making it work.

    Box Collage

    Trend #5: Digital to Brick In a world of pure-play vs. multi-channel, many eCommerce companies have opted for the online (and mobile) route in order to keep down the costs behind traditional brick and mortar retail. But one company has found a way to do both – and to both the company and the customer’s benefit. Bonobos, originally an internet-only retailer has begun opening “guideshops.” Recognizing a desire in their customers to try before they buy, customers can nowgoto designated guideshops to try out clothes and then place an order online and in-store. The orderis delivered to their home. Glasses brand Warby Parker has also begun opening stores that offer in-store optometrist appointments and a carefully curated selection of books with which to test your newfound eyeware. Fashion jewelry site BaubleBar offers in-store visits by appointment only with perks including styling sessions, a free tote bag and other small delights.

    Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 12.35.35 PM

    Trend #6: The convergence of content and commerce An interesting partnership is emerging between Flipboard and online retailers. Flipboard now offers clickable catalogs for retailers like eBay, Banana Republic, Modcloth and more. And they’re creating a platform not only for retailers, but for users too. For more information, check out this article.

    Trend #7: Vertical Integration Finally, one of the most interesting trends emerging-and it’s significant to note that this is the only non-user-facing trend I’ll discuss here-is the movement towards vertical integration. This is a trend focused on creating a sustainable competitive advantage, not simply generating sales. For this reason, although I’ve mentioned it here, I want to come back to this trend in more depth. So keep your eyes open for a post on vertical integration and how it fits into the future of eCommerce.

    So how do you compete? I don’t know yet.

    Alright, so now you’ve got an idea of some of the developments and innovations I’ve taken note of in the world of eCommerce. It’s a tough world out there, but the little guys are finding some pretty good ways to fight back. (For other interesting trends, check out this article) But what does all this mean for the future of eCommerce? First, and perhaps most significantly, consumers are winning. They get more choice overall: products, costs, brands. But having this as our number one takeaway raises questions about loyalty, marketing technique, and sustainability. In particular, the following questions come to mind:

    1. If the consumer has so much power of choice, what does the future of CLV and loyalty look like?

    2. If loyalty is becoming ever more unattainable, how important is CPA? Is it possible to attract consumers and drive purchase behavior without some kind of gimmick?

    3. This gives rise to my next question: should retailers really try to differentiate based on existing customer loyalty vs. new customer acquisition?

    4. And if gimmicks are the best way to attract consumers, what’s the half-life of user-facing innovations on the web? How long is the window for gimmicks open and what are the benefits of being a fast follower?

    To be honest, I don’t have the answers for these questions just yet. But I promise I’ll get back to you soon with some more insight.

  • Gigs: the new hope for twentysomethings


    I read an interesting article today in the WSJ that talked about the growth in unemployment rate among today’s recent college grads. Nothing super-surprising here.

    However, I was impressed to find that the President of the New York Fed, William Dudley, sees just how impactful gigs are to the future-of-work. “More twentysomethings today work “gig to gig” as freelancers or on short-term contracts”, he said.

    I wonder if this is an evolution. My experience as a hiring manager, particularly with new grads, has been that ‘trying before you buy’ is best. Maybe others have seen the light?

  • Missionaries and Mercenaries


    John Doerr, the prolific investment partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) who backed Google, Amazon, Intuit, and Twitter, popularized the terminology around ‘Missionary’ and ‘Mercenary’ entrepreneurs.  He described the stark differences between these two types of entrepreneurs in a 2000 interview using some powerful language:

    Mercenaries are driven by paranoia; missionaries are driven by passion. Mercenaries think opportunistically; missionaries think strategically. Mercenaries go for the sprint; missionaries go for the marathon. Mercenaries focus on their competitors and financial statements; missionaries focus on their customers and value statements. Mercenaries are bosses of wolf packs; missionaries are mentors or coaches of teams. Mercenaries worry about entitlements; missionaries are obsessed with making a contribution. Mercenaries are motivated by the lust for making money; missionaries, while recognizing the importance of money, are fundamentally driven by the desire to make meaning.

    Despite this being originally inked in the year 2000, I hadn’t read anything about it until recently.  And I have to admit that my first response was negative.

    As a serial entrepreneur, I find it hard to believe that all of us are either wholly ‘missionaries’ or ‘mercenaries.’  I mean, if you start a company once in your life, I might buy the argument that you are a missionary.  I might even buy the idea that you are, in fact, starting a movement and not a company.  In all likelihood, though, I’ll call bullshit.

    I don’t think it’s realistic for us to believe that entrepreneurs and organization builders are not opportunistic.  And it is not fair for us to characterize some entrepreneurs as shortsighted capitalists and others as long-view makers of meaning.  That’s especially true if the winners are the ones who were makers of meaning and the losers just happened be the greedy fools.

    The reality of the human condition is a lot more complex and a lot harder to codify.  This bifurcated oversimplification of the world is just a convenient way for winners to write history.  It’s way too convenient and black-and-white to be an accurate portrayal of reality.  Having met and interacted with hundreds of entrepreneurs in my career, I feel like most of us exhibit characteristics of both missionaries and mercenaries as they are described by Doerr.

    Many of us are excited by untapped opportunity.  We could just as easily reframe that as saying, “Many of us are excited by exploiting an opportunity that others haven’t seen or exploited yet.”  Is that about a movement or creating meaning?  Not necessarily.  It may simply start out as capitalizing on a disruptive change in technology.  Or it might start out as solving a business problem you’ve had in the past.

    Turning that solution into a business definitely takes strength-of-will, however.  This is where you start to see a lot of missionary instincts kick-in.  We begin to weave a narrative around why we chose to start this business.  We figure out how to build what we are doing into a movement.  We work to inspire rather than just convince people that what we are doing is going to be a market success.

    The dirty-little-secret in all of this:  being driven by meaning is just good business.  People want to join movements, not companies.  If you are a jerk with an uninspired mission, it’s a lot harder to win.

    In the end, I would argue that some of us back into the meaning behind what we are doing after we find an opportunity we really like.  I think that’s OK.  Let’s just be honest with ourselves about how we got there.

     

  • #SXSWi — How to get users addicted to your content


    I love addiction; perhaps because I have a very addictive personality.  As such, I was drawn to the talk here at South by Southwest by @taraattrulia about engineering addiction.  She’s going pretty fast, so I will.

    • Starting out with the definition of addiction.  Addiction does not have to be negative.  You want people to have a positive association with the addictive experience; not something they are ashamed of.
    • Recommends the book Lovemarks by Kevin Roberts.
    • Need to get into the ‘core mix’ of sites for a customer.  The path: reach–> trial–> stick.  The big goal: get the STICK!

    Three strategies to get to stick:

    • Don’t just publish information; fuel people’s aspirations.  People crave change; they want to be better than they are today.
      • Real-time helps people get more drawn into an experience
    • Market your manifesto.  Focus on lifestyles and values; you’ll find people who are already in your orbit.
      • You can engage people who are not directly aligned with your business.  They may just believe in the same stuff.
      • Lululemon example: their manifesto is about life; not black yoga pants (their core market?)
      • Secret (brand of deodorant): manifesto about bullying.
    • Double-down on content experiences.  Create unique content experiences that draw people in.
      • Lululemon yoga mobs (not sure what the better name is for this.. but they have thousands of people getting together to do yoga in public places.)
      • UGC call to action.  Trunk Club and Kiwi Crate –> users are posting their own content to facebook.

    My reflections on the talk are as follows:  I think it was heartfelt and interesting, but I failed to see any real connections to addiction.  The talk description mentioned stuff like neuroscience; but I the content was not specific or in-depth enough to make me feel like I really learned something deep.  Cool pillars, though.

  • #SXSWi — Hardcore vs. Casual games and gamers


    I’m in an interesting talk at South by Southwest Interactive (2012) put on by Jack Buser and Scott Rohde (from PlayStation).

    I figure it makes sense to write a few live thoughts as I’m listening since it’s turning into a pretty lively discussion. This may be the only way that I’ll be able to keep up with the rapid-fire conversation.

    Some interesting threads of conversation that I’m hearing so far:

    • (Hard)core games — these games seem to be well characterized by having a high-degree of ‘gaming literacy’ in order to enjoy the experience.  They are also often characterized by some significant learning-curve, complex interactions, and a high degree of engagement.
    • Casual games — these games typically don’t require high gaming literacy to play.  Players can simply ‘walk up’ and get started playing, figuring out the game mechanics quickly.  Also, these games are often characterized by short play sessions.
    • The need for play is a fundamental part of humanity.  In ancient societies, games were a big part of life.  Even before the complex systems that enable ‘virtual worlds’ that exist today, people had this fundamental need for play.  Why?
    • There are some people that gravitate toward social games over solo games.  Does the classic introvert vs. extrovert personality archetype apply?

    Another interesting thread of conversation is about ‘social games’ (mostly built on facebook).  The core question: are they really social?  Hrm.  My answer: not really.  The games have a viral acquisition model.  But these people are not really playing together.  Their worlds don’t intertwine any more than the game requires them to ask eachother for help to get more resources and points.

    (A mild critique: the way these slides are written is such that we keep debating the semantics of what these game types are.  But that’s less important to me, and less interesting in general.  What’s really interesting is the ‘WHY.’  Why are people different kind of gamers?  What makes them tick?  Which one segment is growing faster?)

    It seem that a proposed answer to bridging the gap between core and casual: free-to-play.  Casual gamers can jump in for free.  Hardcore gamers can get ‘more out of the experience’ by paying for extras.  Interesting.

    What hasn’t been addressed yet that really has me thinking: what makes a gamer more of a ‘core gamer’ vs. a ‘casual gamer?’  What is it inside of us that makes some people get DEEP into a gaming experience as compared to others who get bored after a couple minutes of a gaming experience?  Is it socialized behavior (Nature)?  Or is it just born-in personality traits (Nurture)?

    The big question I’m left with; which segment is winning?  There has been remarkable growth in the casual gaming world (particularly in mobile).  The big thing I’m wrestling with is: what does that mean?  Are casual games going to take over, or will they be the gateway drug that eventually creates more hardcore gamers worldwide?

     

  • How hunger factors into success


    I was enjoying dinner recently with an investor friend of mine and we got to talking about the importance of hunger when building a team. It seemed to make sense to both of us that you want to find people who are hungry – who really want to do something good. It seems only too logical that the more someone wants something, the harder they’re willing to work to make it happen.

    Being smart, having skills and the right kind of experience, are the fundamentals, sure. They’re the price of admission. But beyond that – or maybe even more important than that – is hunger.

    I had a few glasses of wine, so I was ready to start making contentious statements.  I said: “If I were an investor, I would invest based on hunger alone. I think it is the single most important factor to consider when building a team.” I left it that – for the moment.

    Not so fast.  My friend’s comeback was:  “yes, hunger’s really important, but you have to balance it with egos.  If egos get too big they get in the way.”  Touché.  Maybe not with just one person, but if you’re talking about a team, the clash of egos can be destructive to the point where you get bounced off the path to success.

    So, in essence, we’re talking about aggregate hunger level compared to aggregate ego level.

    The hunger quotient

    So I got to thinking – couldn’t this be represented mathematically, as a code snippet or maybe a combination of the two? Something to represent the idea that when the cumulative sum of hunger is greater than the cumulative sum of egos, great things happen.

    Here’s what it might look like.

    Where:
    h=hunger level of an individual
    e=an individual’s ego
    ps=probability for success:

    if sum(h1…hn) > sum (e1…en)
    #ps = promising; start focusing on building a great business
    call greatness_building_methods
    else
    #ps = doubtful; start arguing about stupid shit
    call self_descruct_methods

    In a chart, maybe it would look something like an aggregate demand curve does in economics:

    How Hunger Affects Success

    The 'Hunger Quotient'

    The takeaway

    Yes, hunger is very important for startup and team success. But when you start putting 4, 5, 6 or 7 hungry people together, their cumulative egos can cause real problems and derail the likelihood for success.  So when you’re building a team, consider this: aggregate hunger must be greater than aggregate ego.