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Converting Content-Audience Fit to Product Traction

Posted by Bob Warfield on December 18, 2012

tractor-pullJason Lempkin has a new post out about gaining traction after your product ships.  He says it’s hard, much harder than building the 1.0 product which was already hard, and he makes some concrete suggestions on how to go about gaining traction:

–  Finish hiring your core team.  Presumably you’ve left the sales and marketing until post-1.0?

–  Get attention for your app:  “Whatever you can possible do.  Go to every conference.  Speak at any possible event you can, no matter how small.  Win every award. Try to get every blog to write about you.  Reach out to anyone and everyone in your space.  Be respectful, but totally, utterly, shameless here.  Do whatever you can possibly think of here.”

–  Hit the pavement and get early customers and partners

–  Lavish attention on every single customer and lead

–  Plan your next release carefully–it may be your last

Wow, put that way, the job seems really tough!

After reading the account, I do have memories of startups that had to solve the traction problem through brute force and shoe leather.  They were painful and very scary.

The thing is, success is about being prepared (with a healthy dose of luck, though chance does favor the prepared mind).  As I tell my kids, “It doesn’t matter how smart you are, if the other guy already did the homework and knows the answer while you’re still trying to figure it out, he looks smarter.”

So it is with achieving product traction.  This is why I wrote my earlier post about achieving what I call “Content-Audience Fit” to tell Founders it has to be their first priority, even ahead of building a product.  Possibly even ahead of knowing what product you will build.  I say this for two reasons.  First, if you don’t know your audience, you can’t build a great product anyway.  While you might think you know your audience, how can you be sure until you have Content-Audience Fit?

If you have Content-Audience Fit, the following things are true:

1.  There is a reasonably large audience that is steadily growing and is consuming your content.  They care about what you have to say in the market you’re interested in.  They are subscribing to your mailing list, following you on Twitter, liking you on Facebook, or whatever other Social Medium works for your market.  Consequently you know what Social means to your market.

2.  You are part of the Conversation taking place on the web for your chosen market.  You are posting in their online communities.  You’re on the blogs of the key influencers (you do know who they all are, don’t you?) commenting.

3.  You are so familiar with the commercial players in the market that you’ve helped the Market Audience understand some of them better.  You’re commenting on their blogs too.  That establishes you as an agnostic authority in the market.

4.  Because of your participation in all the right conversations, and because of the quality of the content you’re producing, Key Influencers will recognize your name.  You are beginning to get folks asking you unsolicited questions as a recognized Expert.

There is a not-so-subtle difference between this Content-Audience fit and “Get attention for your app”.  It’s because you’re getting attention for your content.  You’re establishing yourself as an expert, not a guy shilling your products and company.  Because your content is very high quality and it’s being given away freely, you’re invoking the principle of reciprocity, which is a powerful force when marketing and selling.  You’re laying the groundwork to present your selling proposition from a position of strength, after your prospects have already decided you’re the expert.

Imagine being able to validate your product vision, and eventually early versions of the product with that kind of Audience insight.  It’s invaluable.  It should be a requirement.  Yet so many companies build the product first and consult the Audience afterward.

Second, you need a strategy to make this business of gaining Product Traction easier.  I love the definition that strategy is what you do to make winning easier.  If you ever needed a strategy, it is when you launch your 1.0 product!

So how do we convert Content-Audience Fit to Product Traction?

Back up.  Let’s get the timing right first.  You don’t want to start trying to achieve Content-Audience fit after you’ve built Product 1.0.  That’s way too late.  Here’s a mini-case study:

I took Helpstream, a Social CRM startup, from being invisible to having a successful blog that had achieved Content-Audience fit in about six months.  At the end of the six months, the key influencers knew who we were and were starting to write about us.  For example, Paul Greenberg, the “Godfather of CRM”, wrote a short passage that perfectly signals good Content-Audience fit:

A few weeks ago, I had a discussion with fellow Enterprise Irregular Bob Warfield, who is the EVP of Products for a company called Helpstream. I have to admit, when I saw Bob’s rather cogent commentaries on the Enterprise Irregulars site, I became curious as to what he did and what the Helpstream company dealio was. I asked him and we set up a demo and a conversation between me, Bob, and Anthony Nemelka, the President and CEO of Helpstream and a long time industry veteran.

That second sentence telegraphs where we’re going and why Content-Audience fit is so critical to a product launch.  Because of my “cogent commentaries”, Paul asked us for a demo.  Imagine Content that is so good, the key influencers are coming to you, rather than you going to them hat in hand trying to get a meeting.  I would budget a minimum of 6 months and perhaps as long as 12 months to achieve your Content-Audience fit.  Sounds like you need to get started at the same time you start the Product, right?

This is an insight that is missing from many startups.  In fact, many want to do a stealth launch and keep everything secretive.  Feel free to keep your product aspirations a secret, but you’re nuts if you’re not belting out super high quality content for your audience from Day 1.  That means as you sit around the table with your fellow Founders, and you ask the question, “Who is spearheading our drive for Content-Audience Fit and who is writing all that content?”, there had better be a good answer.  That marketing guy you partnered with who has never actually done a blog, he has just simply hired people who did blogs?  We might be past the evolution in how marketing is done for that to be a good idea.  First question I ask any marketing candidate at any level is, “Show me your blog?”  If the response is, “Huh?”, the interview is not going to go well.  It’s no different than asking any question about marketing deliverables.  Would you hire someone who had never had any contact with advertising of any kind?  Content marketing is so critical to small companies, how can it be an afterthought?

As an aside, I recently came across a bootstrap business called, The Wirecutter.  The Founder achieved Content-Audience fit before they ever started this little company by writing for Gizmodo, Wired, GadgetLab, and MaximumPC.  How about grabbing one of the big name bloggers in your space as a co-Founder?  How about at least as an advisor to help you get to Content-Audience Fit?  Have them brutally critique your content until you get it right.

BTW, people like Paul Greenberg have extremely high standards.  There is a reason they get nicknames like the “Godfather of CRM”.  They are trusted and they didn’t get there by being dummies or shills.  If your content doesn’t have something really meaningful to say, you’ll get nowhere with this strategy.  But if you get the meeting because your PR firm pounded hard enough on doors, and then in the meeting you still have nothing to say, you’re going nowhere anyway.  So:

It is critically important to do the work of achieving Content Audience Fit!

That’s it.  Full Stop.  End of Sermon.  Don’t.Mess.It.Up!!!

Okay, now imagine you’ve got that fit, as defined by the 1,2,3,4 list above.  Let’s use it to produce traction.  This is done in the following ways:

The Audience that’s ready to Jump Now is ready.  Invite them in.

There are always those influencers who get an edge by working harder to learn than the others.  Always those prospects who are ready to buy now and want the new new thing.  If you have achieved Content-Audience Fit, all you need do is announce the availability of a product and any of these people in your audience will be likely to check in.  Start with  your Beta Test.  You can keep it as controlled as you like, but put the announcement out through your content channel and be sure to communicate at least your value proposition well enough so people will want to jump in.  If you don’t have a big enough audience yet that having 5% of them answer your invitation, you don’t have Content-Audience Fit.

Give the Early Adopters an Amazing Deal and Make Them Heroes

You don’t need revenue yet, you need credibility.  You put out the call to action, and the right people have self-selected by coming forward.  They like you or else they wouldn’t have come forward.  They’re active in the online world or else they’d have no idea you existed.  They’re raising their hands to tell you they care.  Make it easy for them to feel like that was the best decision they ever made.  Focus your spotlight of attention entirely on them.  Save your bandwidth so you can give them completely unreasonable amounts of it.  Make them heroes and they will make you a star.

You need to charge them a little bit or it isn’t a real transaction.  Give them the best deal you will ever offer in your corporate history and make sure they know that in the nicest possible way.  Give them attention and services that will never be available to others in even a year’s time.  Plug every member of your team into the success of these early customers.

When that fire has caught, you can ask them for a favor.  You can ask them to help you get the word out.  At the very least, you need them to be a willing and able reference.  Next step up, you need them to be a case study.  Grand Prize:  you need them to be a source of referrals.  Try to discreetly make sure when you sign them up that they’ll be able to do some of this, at least serve as references.  You can’t ask for that favor up front, but you can find out if they’ve ever been involved with early software, done references, yada, yada.

Earn the Right to Raise Your Price and Sell Bigger Deals

The company I mentioned earlier, Helpstream, had nearly every marketing automation company as customers for our Customer Service Social CRM product.  I remember calling each of these CEO’s, who were all entrepreneurs like myself, and asking them what Helpstream could and should do going forward.  Phil Fernandez, CEO of Marketo, shocked me by telling me, “Bob, I don’t know if I should be saying this, but you should raise your prices.”  Even more shocking was that Phil wasn’t the only one to tell me that.  So we did, after carefully making sure to grandfather existing customers with appropriate agreements so that they were taken care of.  There was virtually no pushback whatsoever, and it helped the business tremendously.

What had happened is we had earned the right to raise our prices by delivering on our promises and raising our credibility.

The ability to price higher comes most from credibility.  Sure, you might have the world’s greatest product, but nobody knows that if you don’t have the credibility.  Can you see where having good Content-Audience Fit is the first step on the credibility journey?  Beyond that first step, it is your conduit for telling your customer’s stories and continuing to build that credibility.

The next step is being able to tell your Early Adopter’s stories.  In terms of closing business, there is nothing like being able to have a prospect talk to a customer that gushes about your product.  At Callidus Software we used to invite prospects to our User Conferences precisely to maximize the exposure to that kind of sentiment.

Startups are enaged in earning the right to raise prices and to sell bigger deals throughout their history.  Successfully getting your first 5-10 reference accounts is just the first rung on that ladder.  Each company you sell to would like to know that they’re not the largest deal you’ve ever sold.  Raising the size of your largest deal earns you the right to sell even larger deals.  Accumulating this asset of referencibility is your primary deal closing accelerant until you’re large enough to point to being the market leader or perhaps to being a public company.  Gordon Moore’s Chasm Crossing can largely be seen as the process of establishing the credibility needed before those who are not Early Adopters will buy.

All along your journey, your Content continues to establish your company’s expertise in its chosen field.  You never walk away from that–you just keep building on it.  If your references are your Sales Accelerant, your successful Content is your lead generation accelerant.  Establish your web properties as the go-to spots to learn about what your customers care about.  All the best marketing startups like Hubspot, SEOMoz, Marketo, and Eloqua are working this way.  Maybe that’s a clue for the non-marketing startups that this is how marketing is done these days?

Lead With Content for Competitive Skirmishes and Insights

Competitors are great for startups.  If you’re the only one in a market, you have to undertake to grow that market all by yourself.  With competition, the cost is shared and the market can grow much more quickly.  In addition, picking a fight is a sure way to add passion to your content and help drive more traffic.  You can’t agree with everybody, but you need to agree with the position your key audience want you to stake out.

Take advantage of that with your Content strategy.  See which conversations your competition are dominating and wade into those conversations with your own viewpoint.  That viewpoint has to carry substance, but when it does, if you win the audience’s hearts and minds who are watching the conversation, they will come your way.  You can’t win them all, but this is where you start stacking up the different value propositions.  This is where you carve up the market into micro-niches that are looking at things each a little differently.  Here’s where you find out which micro-niches matter, and which ones are dead ends best left to the competition.

Passive sonar gained by just passively consuming the content from your space is great, but so much more can be learned through active pinging of the landscape.  See how they respond to your messaging, analysis, and insights.

Conclusion

There’s a lot of work required to achieve traction.  But, if you subscribe to my Content-Audience Fit idea, you’ll begin that work Day 1 at your company.  When you’re ready to enter Beta Test, you’ll have a lot more going for you than your sales guy’s contact lists and willingness to burn through shoe leather.  You’ll have an audience that wants to come to you, embrace your product, and help you spread the word.  FWIW, Helpstream wasn’t my first or last experience with Content-Marketing Fit.  My bootstrap company, CNCCookbook, thrives on the notion today.

Posted in bootstrapping, business, Marketing, saas, strategy, venture | 4 Comments »

Gaining the Wisdom of Crowds in a Bootstrapped SaaS Company

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 19, 2012

Beta Survey FormWhen you’re bootstrapping a small company, sometimes it’s hard to do the things larger organizations take for granted, like making sure you’re listening well enough to your customers.  On the other hand, you can take advantage of your nimble nature and the availability of some great technology to do some things that even a lot of larger organizations don’t manage to pull off.  At CNCCookbook, my small Manufacturing Software company, I’ve had to think long and hard about how to register the wisdom of my Crowds to make sure the company is on the right track with its products.  Lest you think small companies with fewer employees than you can count on one hand don’t have Crowds to learn from, CNCCookbook gets over 1 million visitors to its site every year and we’ve had over 15,000 machinists use the software to date.  We count some of the world’s largest manufacturers on our Customer List as well.  In short, there’s plenty of Wisdom to be had from our Crowds, it’s a matter of finding the right ways to capture it and put it to use.

Having come from a Social CRM background at Helpstream, the value of harnessing the Wisdom was not lost on me.  It was something that had worked well for me throughout my career and something I very much wanted to do well with at CNCCookbook.  Here is a brief history of how I went about it and which tools, techniques, and technologies were put to work to do so.

Phase 1:  Forums and Web Analytics

Right from the very start I deployed a set of User Forums which I called the “G-Wizard User Club” (CNCCookbook is our company and web site, G-Wizard is the software brand that labels our products).  Much as I miss the sophisticated capabilities we had at Helpstream (they haven’t been rivaled by any product since), I had to make do with what was available and what fit my budget.  I knew I wanted a SaaS-based service.  However easy it might be for me to install and administer phpBB or some other Open Source bulletin board, it would be one more thing for me to do.  As the sole person working in the company at this time, I made the decision to focus as much of my time as possible on things that were uniquely differentiated for our company.  Deploying phpBB wouldn’t even come close, so I went with an alternative that was both a SaaS service and ad-supported called ProBoards.

It has worked reasonably well, and served its purpose.  I moderated membership and got a lot of mileage out of the boards.  They continue to be popular to this day, and we have not quite 2000 members there today.  To make sure every User was aware, I also instituted an in-app button to take open the browser and take them to the User’s Club.

You can see there’s more than just the User’s Club there on that Login Bar, but it started with just the User’s Club and grew to encompass a number of resources every User needs to be aware of.  While our app doesn’t run in a browser (it’s an Adobe AIR app as disconnected running is often important to our audience), it behaves in every other way like a browser-based SaaS app and we have embraced a lot of the design concepts for such apps, such as seamless access to the important parts of our web presence and incorporating that presence as a first class citizen of our navigation structure.

Another critical source of the Wisdom of Crowds is your Web Analytics.  We use Google Analytics, and there is a wealth of information to be gleaned.  For example, our User Guides are entirely online and we can see from the Web Analytics which parts of the product are more interesting than others just by watching the traffic patterns.  As we do each new release we write a blog post that discusses the new functionality in the release and again this provides a framework for using Web Analytics to understand what’s going on with the product.

In app access to Getting Started Resources, our Support Portal, and the User’s Club Forums…

Phase 2:  Blog Comments, Social, and Surveys on the Web Site

CNCCookbook started as a plain old web site and went for quite a while like that.  We had an area where articles were presented in a quasi-blog format, but it wasn’t really a blog.  It didn’t take long before we’d outgrown that format and it was time to add a real blog based on WordPress.  If I had it to do over again, I would recommend that every company simply start with WordPress and eschew the plain old web site phase.  It’s a fantastic content management system that has a rich ecosystem supporting it.  In keeping with my SaaS philosophy (why would I spend my scarce time maintaining a commodity like WordPress instead of focusing on what makes our company different?), we signed up with page.ly to host WordPress for us.  We spliced the blog into our plain old web site using DNS Made Easy, a SaaS DNS service that’s been excellent.

This transition marked a big step up for us in a whole lot of ways.  There were obvious SEO advantages that were very visible in the Google Analytics reports.  It became much easier to manage our content and we did a major upgrade to the site’s look and feel (it’s getting close to time to do another, I think).  Best of all, we now had comments on every post and could deploy a host of social widgets to help harvest as much feedback from our audience as possible.  One of the first things I did once WordPress was up and running was to go out and survey key sites to see what sorts of plugins they were using with WordPress.  My approach was to use a variation of a Blackjack card counting strategy I had perfected to decide my Social Widget strategy.  I’ll say more about the Blackjack in a future post, but suffice to say I analyzed the widgets used by a number of top marketing blogs on the theory that these people should know.  I went to companies that clearly had lots of experience with conversion and A/B testing like Unbounce.  I went to specific marketing gurus like Neil Patel’s Quick Sprout blog.  It was an excellent way to focus my efforts and populate the CNCCookbook blog with what I think are an excellent set of Social plug-ins to maximize engagement.

Having done that, I turned to Surveys.  While it was kind of an expensive luxury, I bought two different tools.  I wanted a survey tool that would be innocuous and unobtrusive.  I hate visiting a site and getting hammered with a full stop “please answer our survey” ten seconds after I get there.  At that point, I have formed no opinion but a negative one about the damned survey.  At the time, KissMetrics had an awesome tool called KissInsights that would slide up from the bottom of screen in a very low key way.  That tool is now sold by Qualaroo and works great.  It’s biggest issue, and the reason I don’t use it for all my surveys, is it is limited to simple surveys.  So, I also subscribed to SurveyMonkey.

I use the Qualaroo tool to derive a Net Promoter-style feedback score on the overall product (ours is very high) and I use the Survey Monkey to do more detailed surveys aimed at understand the details of my audience.  For example, I have done surveys of which CAM software they use or which CNC control is on their machines.  Not only is this invaluable data (sort of like surveying which PC, OS, or browser a PC software audience uses), but it makes great content to publish on the blog.  Some of my all-time best traffic articles are just the results of such surveys.  Apparently others also want to understand the Wisdom of Crowds.

Phase 3:  Ideation and CRM

For Phase 3, I wanted some Social and Conventional CRM.  It was time to get a Trouble Ticketing system going.  I chose a vendor called UserVoice for several reasons.  First, it comes with a very nice Ideation App.  Ideation gives my audience the ability to suggest new features and vote on them, like Dell’s Ideastorm.  This is an extremely powerful capability for a small organization to use to focus scarce development resources.  The results will often surprise you.  Ideation is one aspect of what we had at Helpstream, so it was nice to get some of that back.  Second, it’s SaaS.  And third, I got a great deal on it via AppSumo.  BTW, AppSumo has yielded several good deals for my bootstrap venture.  I’ll warn you in advance, they’re very spammy in their email and you really have to know what you’re looking at when you consider the products they push, but if you are patient about wading through some spam and have a clear idea what your business needs, you’ll find some great deals to keep the overhead down.

One of our products, G-Wizard Calculator, is much more mature than our later products because it has a 2 year head start on them.  While I still have a lot of ideas about where I want to take that product, it has a solid conceptual foundation.  What I mean by that is that it is ready to be steered to a much greater extent by customers.  Ideation tools are a great way to do this as they force customers to ration their votes.  On our site, they get to use 10 votes, and can vote no more than 3 votes on any given idea.  Submitting a new idea uses up a vote.  Once the votes are used, they have to wait until the fait of an idea is decided, they are either implemented or rejected, at which time they get the votes back, or they can redeploy the votes.  This scarcity of votes gives a clearer signal of what really matters to your tribe.  Any time I am preparing to do a new release of the Calculator, I always start with our Customer Support Portal and look over the Ideation results.

Phase 4:  In-app Feedback and ET Phone Home Telemetry

This brings me to our current stage of evolution–In-application Feedback and Telemetry.  In keeping with our theme of making the product behave like a web application, we added a Beta Survey popup such as you see above.  This has been a very useful way to monitor our progress from Beta to release-ready.  After spending 10 days focusing development entirely on issues raised in the Beta Survey, we’ve been able to move to 81% of respondents scoring the app during the last week as either “3 – I could use this” or “4 – GWE rocks!”  For the period older than 1 week, the score was only 47%.  Clearly, users were able to tell us what they needed that was missing from the app.  We intend to continue for a while longer until we see a point of diminishing returns and then we’ll declare the Beta done.

In addition to the Beta Survey, we also receive what I call, “ET Phone Home Telemetry.”  This is basic telemetry on which parts of the app are actually being used and how well they perform.  For example, the centerpiece of the application is a complex 3D graphics simulation that shows how the machine tool cutter will move as it executes the g-code program loaded into GW Editor.  We monitor and report back the longest runs so we can get an idea of how the system is performing and whether we need to do more work on performance.  We also track usage information like how many times the user has logged into the app.

The technology that makes the in-app telemetry and Beta Survey easy is something called “Mandrill” that is offered by the MailChimp people.  Rather than having to build back-end server infrastructure that loads all this data into some form of database using an API, the app simply emails it back to us with Mandrill.  The volumes are such that it is very straightforward to collate the information in Excel for analysis.  Building a full-on database application for a 2000 person Beta test would have been needless complexity and time taken away from our focus on doing what differentiates our software.  Mandrill is what MailChimp calls “transactional email”.  I take that to mean email generated by machines, rather than by people, and that’s exactly what we’re doing here.  MailChimp has a Freemium model, and at our level, Mandrill is essentially free.  Not only was it very easy to implement, but it doesn’t cost us anything.  For bootstrappers, that’s a hard combination to ignore.

Conclusion

Just because you’re bootstrapping and have minimal budget and resources is no reason to ignore the Wisdom of Crowds.  In fact, I’d argue that having the Wisdom of Crowds helps you to allocate your scarce resources where they will really matter.  Towards that end, what we do differently at CNCCookbook as bootstrappers is build as little software as possible.  We want to focus every line of code written on problems that you simply can’t get solutions for elsewhere.  Problems that are unique to our audience of CNC machinists.  The more of those problems we can solve, the more value we bring to our customers.  Everything else is just overhead.  Towards that end, we have relied heavily on SaaS, on the Amazon Cloud, and on our ingenuity to lash together the available off-the-shelf technologies to give us the ability to deliver an overall User Experience that is arguably better than almost everywhere I’ve ever worked.  This despite every where else having vastly more budget and resources at their disposal.

I’ll give one last plug to SaaS and the Wisdom of Crowds.  We do as much testing as possible, but again, as a bootstrapped organization, we don’t have large numbers of testers.  Our software quality is therefore a focus of three things.  First, unit testing is important.  Whenever complex new subsystems are added to the software, we make sure there are unit tests.  I personally believe in single stepping the debugger until I’ve seen all the lines of code executed and verified the intermediate results are good.  Unit Tests not only help tee up the execution of all the paths, they also ensure that down the road we can validate intermediate results as changes are made.  Second, we release often.  I don’t like to change too many things without doing a release.  This means that the amount of testing per release is relatively contained to new functionality and our scarce testing capabilities can be focused.

Lastly, we use what I call a “feathered” release methodology.  Each time we release, there is a 7 day cycle.  On each day, we expose an additional 1/7 of the user base to the availability of the release.  Customers that insist on having the latest and greatest can change a setting so they see every release immediately, but most stick to the default.  This ensures that if anything is too badly broken, we’ll hear about it before a very large fraction of the installed base is exposed to it.  In this way, we’re also using the Wisdom of Crowds to help safeguard the quality of our software, and it has worked extremely well to date.

So, whether you’re a bootstrapper or a big company, think about how you could take advantage of the Wisdom of Crowds.  Not only will it make a big difference for your software, but it’ll show your audience that you care and that they have a voice.

Posted in bootstrapping, business, customer service, saas, software development, strategy, user interface | 7 Comments »

Mobile First for SaaS? Desktop PC’s Dead? Nope.

Posted by Bob Warfield on October 15, 2012

laser keyboardJust reading another great Jason Lemkin post called, “Mobile First? The Desktop Still Has Three Good Years Left in It in SaaS“.  In it, Jason declares that he believes the Consumer Web mantra of “Mobile First”, but that SaaS still has three good years on the desktop.  He gives some very strong reasons why SaaS on the desktop isn’t dead yet:

–  SaaS is three years behind the Consumer Web.

–  SaaS is Enteprise, and therefore involves complexity Consumer Web doesn’t have to deal with.

–  Most SaaS users are still doing data entry.

The last one is the most important to me, and the one I believe will take a lot longer than 3 years to sort out.  We can tame complexity with better User Experience and smarter software.  A lot of Enterprise Complexity is self-inflicted gunshot wounds that could be avoided.  Workday is one company that took a look at first gen and decided they could do a lot better.  There’s still room after Workday for at least another generation that’s better than that at simplifying things.  That, all by itself, will take longer than 3 years.

But that pesky data entry issue is much harder to solve.  We’re seeing some nibbling around the edges at point-of-sale.  Seems like companies in that space, Square and the rest, are taking a good shot at making the data entry associated with making a retail sale very mobile friendly.  We also see it in the field.  Companies like UPS have had mobile devices for years that were essentially doing inventory tracking.  There are RFIDs, scan codes, and the like to automate tracking processes further.  That category has morphed into the Internet of Things in the current iteration of the Hype Cycle and brings active sensing to the game as well as passive identification and tracking.

Despite all that, anyone that spends even a little time in an Office is struck by a certain hardcore reality:  there are a lot of people working on computers at their desks.  Heck, forget visiting an Office, go to the local coffee hangout.  The people you see in these places  are typing as much as they’re using the mouse.  Take a closer look.  Are they relaxed, or are they squinting a little bit every so often and adjusting their glasses?  That’s telling you that even though they have a nice big keyboard and are able to use 10 fingers instead of 2 thumbs (sometimes my 10 are all thumbs, but I still type faster that way) and even though they have a decent sized screen instead of one the size of a deck of cards or less than an 81/2 by 11 sheet of paper, they are still doing work.  They do not have the luxury, for the most part, of being paid to simply lean back and consume information.  Even if their job does primarily involve consuming information, they will still have to add value to that information and communicate that value in some way.

Sales never were all that big on PC’s, but stroll through a marketing department.  Visit a design group working on new web designs.  Check out the SEO people, pouring over their spreadsheets.  See all those folks writing copy.  Can any of them get by very well on Mobile?  Do they even have a compelling need for Mobile, or is it a nice-to-have?  How about Finance and HR?  Can those guys even get a decent spreadsheet application on a mobile device?  Have you been in many interviews or performance reviews where a Mobile Device was doing the note taking?  I bring my iPad to interviews in Silicon Valley and I have yet to run into a counterpart that brought one.  That’s here in the Valley which is years beyond what happens most places on the Hype Cycle.  Software Development or any other kind of Engineering?  Fuhgeddaboutit.  We do start to see a greater preponderance of pads in weighty executive meetings at larger companies.  But let’s face it, these guys aren’t the future.  They’re the ones who not so many years ago declared the PC a non-starter because all the Cool Execs had people to type for them.

As for smaller, more nimble, more forward looking organizations, go visit a startup incubator some time.  I don’t mean a fund raising and entrepreneur-mentoring incubator.  I mean a real live physical space where startups are born.  It would be so much cheaper for a startup to buy each person a nice iPad, eschew the Office since we’re mobile after all, and cut everyone loose to go get things done.  Except, it wouldn’t be cheaper because they wouldn’t get anything done.  There is value in being connected while we’re mobile for the same reason that there is also great value in physical proximity–it enhances communication.  There is value in having essentially a general-purpose computer with us at all times, even in our pockets, for the same reason that there is value in having a particularly powerful machine at our disposal when we have to be as productive as possible–computers enhance our productivity.

Our industry loves to declare things “dead” as soon as the growth rate of another thing is higher than the first. 9 times out of 10, the old thing never really did die or even get particularly sick. It just hit a point of saturation and we were so busy chasing the hype cycle we forgot to check for the nuances.  Good old install-it-on-the-Home-Office-Server is still alive despite the best efforts of SaaS.  It’s not even clear it’s health is really all that ailing, though we could fairly say it is in it’s late 40’s and no longer in that vigorous under-30 year old age whose lucky denizens feel all but indestructable.  You couldn’t start a new on-premises Enterprise company in all likelihood, but the old ones plug right along.

Are we selling more mobile devices than Desktop PC’s?  Heck yeah!  Because they’re cheaper and because the PC industry quit giving us a reason to upgrade.  When the multicore crisis hit and computers quit getting radically faster every 18 months, what reason was left to upgrade?  Fashion.  Hello Apple, goodbye Dell.  If I’m going to have the same computer for four years, it had better be darned cool.  And meanwhile, I can satisfy my gadget fetish with Mobile goodies.  But, just as some VC’s have started to declare that mobile is HOT, HOT, HOTbecause for the first time there are so darned many devices out there ready to buy NOW, there sure are a lot of Desktop PC’s that are connected and waiting for the right must-have applications to be available.

If you want to see SaaS become a Mobile First industry, figure out a way to make Mobile SaaS more productive, not less productive than Desktop SaaS.  Because I’m not sure Fashion is going to work as well for SaaS as it did for Apple.  At least not without having Steve Jobs here to figure out how.

Posted in mobile, saas | 1 Comment »

SaaS Companies that Don’t Grow Pretty Quickly Have Something Bad Going On

Posted by Bob Warfield on October 11, 2012

Just read Jason Lemkin’s post on SaaS company growth.  He talks about two examples:

–  Workday, a $250M SaaS company growing at 90% a year

–  An unnamed smaller $40M SaaS company growing at 33% a year because, “growth is slowing, but we’re still doing great, because it’s all recurring revenue, and growing recurring revenue takes time.”

That bit about growing recurring revenue taking time, as if it is harder to grow recurring than big one-time license sales, is bunk.

Let’s do the math on two examples.  In the first, let’s assume a big one-time license sale company.  For the sake of simplicity, let’s say their average sale is (best Dr Evil impression):  ONE MILLION DOLLARS!

Further, let’s assume their marketing produces enough leads that they close 10 of these deals a year, and therefore have $10M a year in revenue.  Now they have to go on closing 10 deals a year, every year, just to stay flat.  No growth at all is implied in that scenario and that would be a very unhappy software company indeed.

Okay, now let’s consider the SaaS company, and let’s assume they’re in the same market.  So, they charge some fraction of the license company’s one million dollars.  Industry averages are anywhere from 2 1/2 to 4 years until the two breakeven.  Heck, let’s be bullish on things and make it 2 1/2 years.  Therefore they charge an annual subscription fee of $400K.

Now that’s less money, so presumably it’s an easier sale.  It certainly ought not be a harder sale.  And there should be all the normal advantages associated with SaaS.  Namely, it requires way less professional services to install it, the buyer doesn’t have a TCO that includes buying servers and paying more IT people to run them, yada, yada.

Let’s also stipulate our little SaaS company is running pretty near $10M a year in recurring revenue by selling 25 licenses a year.  Now here is where it gets interesting.  If we assume no churn, in other words, 100% renewals, we get the following over 5 years:

100%
Year New Licenses Sold Renewals Installed Base Revenue YOY Growth
1 25 0 25 10000000
2 25 25 50 20000000 100%
3 25 50 75 30000000 50%
4 25 75 100 40000000 33%
5 25 100 125 50000000 25%

Note that from the standpoint of conventional marketing and sales metrics, this company is flat.  If they didn’t have their renewals, they’d be in the same sad shape as our license company.  Instead, they are showing 100% growth after a year, and that declines slowly to 25% by the 5th year.

Folks, that is an amazing tail wind when you think about it.  If you’re going in front of a Board and shareholders to explain your numbers, wouldn’t you want to have a bunch of revenue from renewals automatically baked in every quarter?  I know I would.

So when I say, “SaaS companies that don’t grow pretty quickly have something bad going on,” we can now look at the definition of “bad”.

The first possibility, is that they haven’t seen any real growth in their lead funnel in a long time.  4 years to get to the 33% growth number Jason’s friend was quoting.  If you can’t figure out how to start growing again in 4 years, you’ll be just realizing the time to sell out was about 3 years back.  Bummer.

The next possibility is the lead funnel actual went away.  Here’s the same example where there are half as many new sales each year:

50% 100%
Year New Licenses Sold Renewals Installed Base Revenue YOY Growth
1 25 0 25 10000000
2 12.5 25 37.5 15000000 50%
3 6.25 37.5 43.75 17500000 17%
4 3.125 43.75 46.875 18750000 7%
5 1.5625 46.875 48.4375 19375000 3%

Interestingly, you still have time to react.  It isn’t until about year 3 that things turn really grim.  That’s a long time in the software business.  Did I mention I would rather face my Board and Shareholders as captain of a SaaS company than a perpetual license company?

Last possibility–there is something really wrong with your software, your customer experience, the competitive nature of your market, or even some paradigm shift that eliminates the need for your product that is causing renewal rates to tank.  If we cut that 100% pie-in-the-sky renewal rate to 50%, it turns out we get the same numbers we had when new leads got cut to 50%.  Again, you do have some time to react, but it is not a pretty thing.

Just for grins, let’s see what happens if you can grow your marketing lead funnel the way Old School Enterprise had to in order to get big.  Let’s say you double it every year:

200% 100%
Year New Licenses Sold Renewals Installed Base Revenue YOY Growth
1 25 0 25           10,000,000
2 50 25 75           30,000,000 200%
3 100 75 175           70,000,000 133%
4 200 175 375         150,000,000 114%
5 400 375 775         310,000,000 107%

Gee whiz, doesn’t that paint a nice picture?  And what did Jason start from?  Workday at $250M growing 90%?  Tracks the model pretty well.  I guess those Old School Enterprise guys running Workday know a thing or two about SaaS too, eh?

So keep an eye on your SaaS investments.  They have time to fix it if the growth rate slows–they’ll see it coming from the sales funnel.  And if they don’t manage to get it fixed before it manifests in the revenue, something very bad is probably happening there.

 

 

 

Posted in business, saas | Leave a Comment »

OMG: Skype Click to Call Breaks Excel so it can Only Paste Text?!??

Posted by Bob Warfield on March 24, 2012

This is an amazing bug that should be getting a lot more press.  I discovered it when I found that several Excel worksheets I regularly update were suddenly producing the wrong answers.  I went and looked and saw that instead of copying formulas when I cut and pasted, Excel was acting as if it was copying and pasting the text.  Essentially the formulas were lost.  When you think about all the things spreadsheets are used for, and how many of them are suddenly producing the wrong answers as a result of this problem, it’s scary.

Worse, I have no recollection of even being asked whether I wanted to install Skype Click to Call, it just happened.  It’s a browser add-in that is visible in IE and completely invisible in Chrome.  At least I couldn’t find it listed as an add-on yet I had to close all my Chrome windows to be able to uninstall it.

Skype has always been pretty sleazy and spammy–I hate a program where you can’t shut it down once it starts up unless you use the Task Manager or reboot–but this is ridiculous.

Help get the word out to uninstall Skype Click to Call ASAP if you use Excel at all.  You will not be happy to discover your spreadsheets are wrong!

Posted in saas | 6 Comments »

Machine Art Mouse and PC Case, Anyone?

Posted by Bob Warfield on January 21, 2012

This article originally appeared on my CNCCookbook blog, but it was so cool I thought I’d share it here too…

Industrial Design always fascinates me. My Apple laptop is machined out of a chunk of aluminum and the work is beautiful. There is an indicator on the front that is a bar-shaped LED that peeks through the aluminum via holes that are so small the openings are invisible unless the LED is lit. My guess is they’re created by a laser as it is hard to imagine doing the volume Apple needs with twist drills. I was pleased to come across this pair of cool PC-related projects created by a partnership of Thermaltake, Level 10, and BMW Design.

What a slick design. The second entry, is more of a teaser. Here is their design for a mouse:

BMW Level 10 Mouse…

Hard to really get a sense of how this thing looks…

That’s another one to whet the Machine Art appetite!

Posted in saas | 2 Comments »

Google Ships Bad UI For Profit. Again.

Posted by Bob Warfield on January 6, 2012

Opened my gmail this morning and went about dealing with messages, got to one asking for a meeting so I took the cursor to top of screen where the Calendar menu lives and…

Wait.  There is no calendar menu there.  Instead I am greeted by a message “welcoming me to the new way to navigate in Google.”

Oh joy.  I am so excited after having enjoyed Google’s other UI changes recently.  The one where they destroyed the contrast in gmail, making it way less usable.  Or the one where they took out the ability to share in Google Reader to anywhere except Google+.

With this “new way to navigate”, instead of just clicking on “Calendar” at the top of screen, I get to rollover the Google logo, scan down and realize Calendar isn’t even on the list, hit “More” at the bottom, and then finally get to it.  Congratulations Google, you’ve now laid claim to several more seconds of my life each time I have to access my calendar without giving me back anything of value.

Is Google really this bad at UI design?  It’s tempting to just chalk it up to that, even satisfying, but unfortunately the reality is far more insidious.

Joe Brockmeier made clear the real answer in his RWWeb article, “2011: The Year the Free Ride Died.”  In it, he writes:

The combination of Google’s housecleaning spree, relentless Facebook redesigns and privacy gaffes, and popular services being bought, being ruined or just going dark, users should be getting the hint: The free ride is over and the bill is due.

Yeah, that’s right, it isn’t just Google, it’s any company that has gotten big by giving something away and now is big enough to have tremendous inertia, no effective competition, and enough network effects to make their users just sit there and take it.  The problem, as Brockmeier points out, is that you, dear user, are not really Google’s customer.  You are inventory that they sell to their real customers, the people that advertise on these “free” services.  As a result, if they have to choose between making you happy or making their real customers happy, they’re going to choose the real customers.

Google has enough inventory in terms of users and attention, that seemingly minor changes add up to big bucks.  Changes that would annoy you and I greatly, but that don’t actually cripple the services enough to make us change (if there even was a change available), are very lucrative for Google.  Take this change to gmail.  Looks to me like they pick up that line at the top that used to be a menu to use for advertising.  And they certainly reshuffled the menus to put ad-rich revenue sources ahead of things like the Calendar.  Forget usability, we’ve got money to make here people!

I was recently pondering writing a post about how Google should make strange bedfellows consider getting together.  In particular, the world has more or less become Apple and Microsoft against Google.  Yes, there are other wild cards out there like Facebook, but Apple and Microsoft are the ones most urgently at war with Google.  Trouble is, they’re at war with each other.

As I’ve often written, the markets support both cheapest and best as two different categories.  Google is the cheapest.  It doesn’t get much cheaper than an ad model where someone else pays for your “free” product.  And certainly Apple is focused on being best with the iOS devices and Macintosh.  Microsoft, I would argue, is in a position to pursue Best with Bing versus Google.  These two companies should tie up around Bing if nothing else.  Of course they’ll worry about phones.  Microsoft is years too late, but it still thinks it has a chance to enter yet another market and struggle while losing money.  Bad idea!  Take a page from Fighter Pilot OODA strategy–be willing to drop the phone stuff permanently in exchange for a strong alliance with Apple around Bing.

Either that, or quit trying to be both cheap and best.  Give up on cheap.  Google owns that.  Figure out how to do best and don’t look back.  Google is going to keep making it easier to see best as better than cheap as they continue to ship Bad UI for Profit.

The enemy of your enemy is your friend.

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Why Microsoft Needs a Fighter Pilot Instead of a Moist N’ Easy Snack Cake Salesman

Posted by Bob Warfield on December 29, 2011

Wondering where that crazy title and the photo came from?

First, check out Steve Ballmer’s early pre-Microsoft career.  He was the Product Manager for Proctor & Gamble’s Moist N’ Easy Snack Cakes.  No harm in that, in fact he apparently sat near Jeffrey Immelt, who would eventually rise to become one of GE’s celebrated CEO’s.  Okay, what about the fighter pilot thing?  That would be a reference to fighter pilot John Boyd (he looks sorta like Jimmy Wales dad if the right photo comes up on the Wikipedia ad), whose “OODA” strategy is what Microsoft is missing most these days.  I’ve written about Boyd a few times before, and this is perhaps my best article to date about Boyd and his “OODA” strategy.

My thoughts are motivated by a recent post from Microsoft GM of Windows Phones Charlie Kindel.   Kindel can’t understand why the Windows Phone hasn’t been more successful, because he feels it is superior to the alternatives, and particularly to Google’s Android.   He argues in his post that the Windows Phone isn’t more successful simply because Google has less friction in its dealings with the Carriers.  He says that App Developers are mostly irrelevant.  That statement alone leaves me in little doubt about how App Developers should feel about the platform, and it isn’t good.  That’s not all, he further goes on to say that End Users just do what they’re told by advertising and retail sales professionals.  Oh my, Charlie, are you sure you want to be on the record for that too?

Despite all that, he never really does say why the Windows Phone is a superior product, he just asserts that it’s true.  With GM’s like this, its no wonder Microsoft has a problem with their phone.  But the problem actually starts pretty far from one GM and his views, however misguided some like me may think they are.  MG Siegler’s Paris Lemon blog has it right in three words, “Way Too Late”, and this is the problem Microsoft has in general.  Scoble adds further clarity by pointing out that when people buy things, they want to make sure that what they’re buying doesn’t make them look stupid.  In this context, what that means is if they’re going to choose to deviate from the well traveled paths–buy an Android if you want Open/Cheaper or buy an iPhone if you want Best Product–there had better be a really obvious reason to choose to be different.  One they can point out to their friends and get some kudos back for.  It has to be a defensible decision.  Because people hate when their buying decisions make them look like idiots, especially for an obvious visible status symbol and piece of Tech Jewelry like a cellphone.

Markets move by punctuated equilibrium (call it a paradigm change if you prefer, but I like the evolution metaphor) followed by periods of slower innovation and consolidation.  The punctuated equilibrium happens when some massive innovation hits that makes the new product look like a whole new category, and not just an incremental improvement over some other.  Apple and Steve Jobs have made a huge business and a career out of punctuating our equilibriums.  Not long after punctuated equilibrium, the commoditizers show up.  Their job is to give you 80% of what the innovator did at a much lower price.  Let’s not confuse the commoditizers with fast followers.  The latter are more about perfecting an idea that got launched a little before the innovation was done and understood.  Facebook did an awesome job fast following MySpace.

What does all this have to do with OODA?

Let’s start by defining Boyd’s OODA strategy.   The acronym “OODA” stands for Observe Orient Decide and Act.  I’ve written about OODA in the past and enjoyed Boyd’s writings on the subject, which are excellent strategy musings.  Given that it is a strategy evolved for fighter pilot dogfighting, it should come as no surprise that it is primarily a competitive strategy.  The steps are as follows:

–  Observe what the competition is doing.

–  Orient that observation to the market: what does it mean?

–  Decide how you want to react to it.

–  Act on that Decision.

An “OODA Loop” is a complete cycle of gathering the information, deciding what it means, and acting on it.  It is your decision making cycle for change.  Companies alternate between that decision making and the execution needed to deliver the result.  Now here is the important trick:  if your company’s OODA decision loop time is faster than the competitor’s, you will force your competitor to constantly react to your moves and they will fall further and further behind.  Ideally you obsolete their work after they’ve spent as much as possible of the cost and not yet gotten much benefit for it.

Once upon a time, long ago, Microsoft was in a decent position, OODA-wise.  They would see something some competitor was doing, and copy that innovation quickly enough, and with the force of plenty of capital and moementum from their various monopoly businesses, that they had already absorbed the competitive advantage and taken it for their own before the competitor could complete another OODA-loop and develop a new competitive advantage.  For example, they sucked the juice right out of Apple’s Macintosh GUI quantum leap with Windows, and did it fast enough to blunt the Mac’s advance for years.

But, somewhere along the way, things changed and Microsoft didn’t.  The Tech World’s notion of a good OODA Loop got a lot shorter.   Agile techniques were introduced.  Lighter weight and more potent tools replaced the old monolithic C++ style tools.  Apps moved first onto the web and then into the Cloud.  Pretty soon we reached a world where major OODA innovation cycles started taking 1 year, then 6 months, then quarterly, and now monthly in some cases.  Meanwhile, Microsoft never retooled.  Their OODA innovation cycles never seem to get it done in a year, let alone a month.  It takes them a good 3 years to show up to battle, at which point the dog fighters have moved a long ways from the point where Microsoft had aimed.  The puck had come and gone, and they never were skating to where it would be.

This is not the end of the world if a company is an amazing innovator.  Apple doesn’t create the next amazing iOS device in a month either.  But when your business model is to copy and commoditize the innovations of others, it’s tough to be 3 years late to the party, especially for hardware.  With that much lead time you’re no longer delivering a fresh idea at a great price and the incumbent also has the advantage for hardware of having built up a potent supply chain so their own cost basis is lower.

Fundamentally, Microsoft has to learn how to be far more Agile because it lives in an Agile world.  There have been glimmerings back in the Gates days, for example galvanizing the company during the browser wars, but it has been a long time since the Redmondians have been able to turn the ship so swiftly.  If those days are truly behind it, it’s going to be a struggle just to hold onto what they already have in hand, let alone grow.  They must either get much more Agile or much better at Kinect-style innovation (i.e. equivalent innovation much more frequently).

We can look at these different styles versus decision loop speed something like this:

Google and Microsoft are largely commoditizers.  They bring other people’s innovations to the market more cheaply, sometimes by copying, sometimes by acquisition.  They probably don’t like to look at it that way, but it is largely what they’re doing.  The exception is Google’s search business, which they can argue they innovate in, and of course there will be exceptions for MSFT too.  But the important insight is that Google seems to be more Agile, perhaps because of their web upbringing.  They can turn that crank faster and get inside the OODA loop of others.  The Innovators are dropping the dinosaur killers into the pond.  If they are secretive and hide their innovation until it is ready, as Apple does, and if the innovation is truly a revolutionary dinosaur killer and not just a little bit of evolution, they can afford to be pretty slow delivering these innovations.

But, both Commoditizers and Innovators are subject to the OODA loop.  If the market’s reaction to what the players are doing, and the market is driven by the player’s actions, is faster than your OODA decision cycle, you lose.  Right now, Microsoft is flanked by Apple and Google whichever way it tries to go.

Posted in saas | 10 Comments »

The Golden Era of Tech Blogging is Over? Hogwash!

Posted by Bob Warfield on December 28, 2011

If you wait long enough, some topic will come along to reignite your muse and you’ll find you just have to write a blog post.   It’s been a little while since I wrote about my Kindle Fire ups and downs.  I’m still very happy with the little Fire, and was recently surprised to discover that overall, video quality on the Fire seems better than it is on my iPad with Netflix.  This seems to be an artifact of how much compression gets used by Netflix, since I can see the video I’m watching go in and out of fine detail focus.  But that is not why we are here!

Jeremiah Owyang has written a blog post, promptly Techmemed, that says the Golden Era of Tech Blogging has ended.  It’s fundamental underpinnings seem to revolve as much around whether anyone can make money at is as whether the practice of Tech Blogging is done.  He supports his thesis with these 4 arguments:

1.  Corporate Acquisitions Stymie Innovation.  The argument is that a big corps acquire feisty Tech Blogs, they squeeze the life out of them, killing innovation.  Dude, have you been through a “liquidity event”?  They all squeeze the life out of the acquiree.  I can’t remember a single acquisition I have gone through where the tech survives today, although most of them the tech would be useful today.  Most of the time acquisitions fail to generate net positive shareholder value.  Rarely is the talent kept aboard, and rarer still does the talent continue to appear as, um, talented.  Does that mean any acquisition is a sure sign the game is up in whatever space?  Nope.  It means the talent gets to go do it again, quite possibly in an adjacent space since they know how the rules work there.  Are all these bloggers jumping out of these tech blog acquisitions abandoning blogging to join enterprise software or some such?  Nope.

2.  Tech blogs are experiencing major talent turnover.  This is a minor rehash of #1, so not clear why it stands on its own.  As the lawyers say, “asked and answered.”

3.  The audience needs have changed, they want: faster, smaller, and social.  No kidding?  And we know this, how?  People deal with the competition for their attention in a lot of ways.  Some decide the best idea is to switch to media where an “information quantum” is a lot smaller, Twitter being the extreme.  Some, perhaps best personified by great bloggers like Seth Godin, deal with it by upping the quality of the feeds they will spend time on.  What’s really clear is that a lot of the Social side are trying to design their products to lock up attention space just the way the old retailers liked to lock up shelf space.  But my attention is not a shelf, and I am not getting enough of value to participate in that game.  Hence, while we know that Google+, for example is growing, we have no idea what the real engagement there is doing.  In cases where we can see engagement, like Twitter, it ain’t great.  I wonder whether Owyang will recommend to his corporate clientelle that they drop blogging and focus on all this social.  It would be interesting if he did, but I think it would be a mistake both for Owyang and the Corporations to follow that advice.

Looking at the issue of how to deal with all the noise, I want to reiterate there are two types of folks.  Some thrive on the choas.  The more they can get, the better.  Scoble is one such, and I am not surprised at his quote that “…when I write something on Twitter,Facebook, Quora, or Google+ I get immediate feedback. I get thousands of views very quickly and get distribution through things like Google’s Currents or Flipboard readers. Blogging seems to have struggled in some of these areas.”  Scoble is just chasing eyeballs and traffic.  But is that what you’re chasing.

I met with Owyang to pitch him on a company once.  He’s definitely from the Scoble ADD crowd.  He barely had time to hear what we were talking about or to ask questions he was so busy with Twitter during the meeting.

4.  As space matures, business models solidify – giving room for new disrupters.  That’s a really odd way of relating what the body of the text goes on to say, which is that there are now enough bloggers in the world producing good enough content that the quick first mover flash in the pan can no longer scoop up vast amounts of traffic with little effort and then cash out.  So what?  The flash in the pan stuff shows up in every segment and unless you want to make your living chasing flashes in the pan instead of delivering real value, it isn’t cause for concern.  Flash chasers are fundamentally looking for the next latent Ponzi scheme.  When it gets harder to find one the focus sharpens on quality and everyone wins.  That’s a far cry from deciding the era is over.

Sarah Lacy has a few choice words on Owyang’s post as well, and disagrees equally as much with his conclusion.

Pundits and consultants are paid to tell us something we didn’t know, and the successful ones will manage to do that.  Just because it’s different doesn’t make it right or wrong.  Decide for yourself.

Posted in saas | 2 Comments »

Kindle Fire: WiFi Problems Fixed, Cool Device!

Posted by Bob Warfield on December 2, 2011

I wanted to follow up on my unhappy post about Kindle Fire.  When I first got the device, I couldn’t do anything with it because I couldn’t connect to WiFi.

As a quick aside, having had side-by-side 3G and WiFi on my iPad, I really like having the 3G and frequently turn WiFi off.  I have found it is a real hassle connecting to Hot Spots compared to the ease of 3G.

The good news is I was able to get my Kindle Fire to connect.  I did a ton of research on the web, tried to get help from Amazon Tech Support, but basically got nowhere.  Despite hearing many accounts of people with a similar problem, there were also tons of people out there having no problem at all.  Ever the optimist (Engineers always are), I gambled that maybe the problem wasn’t so much my Kindle but perhaps it was my router.  Now granted, every other wireless device in Da House connected to that router just fine, but it was really old, and it was really easy to bop over to Staples and pick up a new router.  For the record, the router I dumped was a Belkin N1.  I planned to buy another just like it, but discovered once I got to Staples that it seemed like the router world had undergone a makeover.  Okay, so I bought a sleek Cisco router for $79.  I plugged it in, and voila, the Kindle Fire immediately started working.  I will probably try to configure that Belkin to be another access point as I can’t quite get WiFi everywhere in the house, so I will get some value beyond just getting the Kindle Fire to work.

Folks who have older routers may want to consider replacing them.

Many are saying the OS update to 6.1 fixed their problem, but they had to side load that with a cable.  I didn’t try that because I didn’t have a mini connector USB cable on hand.  The first thing my Kindle Fire did was to download that update and it all went very fast.

Well, so how good is the Kindle Fire?  Here are my thoughts:

First thing is, I would not want to trade it for my iPad, which is what a lot of people are saying.  I would say that the difference between a laptop for casual things and an iPad is about the same as the difference between an iPad and a Kindle Fire.  In other words, iPad is a more powerful, flexible device.  But, for what it does, Kindle Fire is really cool.  I also like the UX on the Kindle Fire.  It makes it an extremely intuitive appliance for content consumption.  It is even further from the laptop in terms of being a general-purpose computing device (I don’t hold with all these silly linkbaiters claiming PC’s are dead), but that’s fine if you want a great content consumption appliance.

Some are saying the Kindle Fire has lousy or no Industrial Design, but I disagree.  The physical hardware is about as cool as it can be while keeping the price down.  I do wish they had splurged on the hardware switches the iPad has to lock the display orientation or to change volume, but really it isn’t that big a deal.  The software UX, where it doesn’t especially cost more to do a good job looks great.  There are a lot of little touches that make it nice.  As Ars Technica says, “Love, love, love the lock screen photos.”  Good review over there, BTW.

I’ve been using the two interchangeably for web browsing, Kindle book reading, and Movie/TV watching.  Having Amazon’s content available as a first class part of the Kindle Fire UX, and particularly having all the free stuff that comes with Amazon Prime is just bloody awesome.  It feels like a great value and it is great fun to use.  It’s biggest advantage over iPad is all the free video movies and TV episodes.  Streaming that stuff is easy and it rocks.  I’ve been watching old episodes of Star Trek, the X-Files, and 24, you know, the usual Geek stuff.  The little 7″ screen is 1024×768, and when it is sitting on your chest 6″ in front of your nose it looks awesome.  I started noticing some detail in some of these episodes I’m familiar with that I’d never noticed.  Sweet!

In terms of reading things, the display is crisp and readable, but I much prefer the iPad.  It’s bigger, the fonts are a little bigger, and it just seems a better vehicle for me to consume email, read blogs, or read a Kindle Book.  Given a choice between no tablet or a Kindle Fire, the Kindle Fire is an awesome experience for reading, its just not an iPad.

The Kindle Fire form factor is interesting.  It’s about the biggest thing I could comfortably hold in my hand.  I could see a lot of things being very convenient that way.

Last point, my wife has staked a claim on the Kindle Fire and made it clear that I need to get done “reviewing it” and pass it along to her.  She’s got a 2nd gen Kindle Reader she loves, and she sees this as her upgrade.  I think she’s right, BTW.  She also loves the video (and watches a lot more TV than me, so ought to have it), and she has already confirmed and likes the fact that it fits conveniently in her purse, which was never a possibility for the iPad.

All I can say is that when the Kindle Fire leaves me shortly, I am really going to be wishing my iPad had better video support!

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