blogitto ergo sum

September 4, 2017

#228 – Yes-man teams deliver mediocre products

carpenter-fig13_012

Conflict, disagreement, argument – all are considered negative.

Consensus, agreement, alignment – such positive words, or are they?

Product managers’ success, more than any other management position I’m aware of, depends on leadership without org chart support.  A good product team is aligned, in sync, engaged.  Unified around a goal, a product, a vision.

A product team is, by definition and design, professionally diverse – its cross-functional nature guarantees it. Yet, it is­­ expected to work together as a well-oiled machine, collaborating to delight users who are not in the room, but who will be happily pay the bill; collaborating with the neighboring product teams to ensure the company’s overall success.

What makes a good, kickass product team?  Sharing a goal, mission, vision is crucial, of course.  But as a cynic you might clarify that it is what defines the team; it doesn’t make it rock.  Being a safe, trust-based group that allows mistakes as part of learning and growth, expecting accountability – now this sounds more like it.  Having clear and comfortable group norms is critical.  Google did as thorough research on this as possible.  Group norms, btw, are defined as “the traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules that govern how we function when we gather…Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their influence is often profound. Team members may behave in certain ways as individuals — they may chafe against authority or prefer working independently — but when they gather, the group’s norms typically override individual proclivities and encourage deference to the team.”  [SOURCE]

Some norms are more critical than others. I’ve led and participated in culturally diverse, geo-distributed teams that spanned multiple time zones; my best – most successful – teams were the teams in which we’ve created a safe and respectful space, while,

  • Supporting freedom of thought and speech
  • Encouraging curiosity, questions, and even arguments
  • Expecting thinking differently, pitching creative ideas
  • Welcoming criticism, speaking truth to power, peers, and everyone else

In my experience, these teams are most likely to end with convergence to agreement on the best path[1] to successful exaction and delivery.  And, as important, these teams are best equipped to deal with development hiccups and surprises.

Thing is, in most settings, conflict is deemed negative, disagreements get pushed to “let’s

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take it offline” land, and presenting an unpopular opinion is feared to come with a cost; CLM anyone?  Some companies, including some Silicon Valley-based ones, have “do as I say; your opinion matters not” norms.  Interestingly enough, quite a few of these companies buy innovation more often than have it developed in-house, and the reason, IMHO, is more than the need-for-speed or time-to-market.  Killing the discussion kills most of the innovation.

Which is why, in an interview discussing my vision and beliefs about product management, I said “Yes-Man teams deliver mediocre products.” The interviewer was taken aback, immediately asking for an explanation.  “When a team agrees with the senior in the room, isn’t comfortable challenging proposals, doesn’t question the reason and motivation for a decision, doesn’t feel empowered to offer different approaches, but acts as a rubber stamp while pretending to agree after giving it some thought – well, it shows.  And not in a good way.  This applies to more than just new features. Developing a great SLA that ensures not only meeting customer’s RFP and KPIs, but also doing it in a way that manages its cost, maximizes margins, and provides a delighting CX experience, cannot be dictated by the RFP terms alone [even if that’s what Sales insists on].  The Support Manager, the Engineering Lead, development team, QA; each holds critical information – the robustness & frequency of upgrades/updates, weaknesses in the solution, workarounds that are required, best practices… A PM or an Account Exec, rock star as she or he may be, may be aware of any of any or all of these, but lack the intimate know-how to build it into the SLA.  A team that agrees without judgment, without questioning, without challenging and counter suggestions may agree to a losing proposal.

“But how do you do it?  How do you make it so,” she wanted to know. “You demonstrate it in everything you do.  You make sure you are approachable.  You act it.” Needs examples, I thought.  “It starts when I hire -when I interview candidates.  I make a point of challenging their ability to speak up, to accept the invitation to share opinions and argue for them.”  Unable to hide my smile, I added, “when I’m not sure, I go as far as role play.  Being brilliant, great at what you do isn’t good enough if you aren’t comfortable sharing your wisdom.”

“It’s all about being accessible, making sure everyone knows that you are willing and happy to change your mind, OK with changing your initial proposal… and do it in every meeting, corridor chat, over lunch…”

“How about a quick story to illustrate it?” I offered.

Last year, I had to create a web UI/flow for an early access product in no time.  The ad-hoc team included colleagues that sat next to me and haven’t previously collaborated with prior.  I wrote the stories, acceptance criteria, did agile as agile does.  When we walked the team through the vision and the problem we needed to solve, reviewing the stories, I made a point saying, “you have been working with some of these components longer than me.  You know the effort required to do this.  I want you to challenge the solution and the stories and I’d be delighted if you told me that there’s a simpler way to do it.” In our daily meetings, I saw progress and was very happy with the team’s commitment.  I kept asking them for more feedback and suggestions, and they listened. In one review, three days before the Sprint’s end meeting, one of the engineers mentioned that they added a reset command to one field.  Sometimes it’s too bad we are not allowed to kiss the guy who thinks ahead, sees a problem that I didn’t anticipate, solves it, and tells you about it after it done.

It’s not la la land; let’s be clear about it.  Adopting group norms that allow and expect team members to challenge and test each other comes with a price.  Product planning may take a bit longer, including revisiting a feature you thought was already a nailed down – done deal.  And yet, it’s a good price to pay.  People and product greatness come from open discussions, challenging assumptions, and true team alignment. This is what that drives and motivates a team!

team-300x179

[1] There’s a lot to say about the PM’s leadership, vision, and need to point the team/product in the right direction, but this is out of this post’s scope.

 

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February 14, 2016

#224 – Behavior-based interviewing is not the question

Filed under: business buz,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 18:39
Tags: , , , , ,

the-truth-about-behavioral-interviewing-01

Once upon a time, I came across this article by Liz Ryan, where she attacks, criticizes, and ridicules behavior-based interviewing.

One of her arguments goes like this: “Imagine you’re calling a plumber because your kid stuck his sock in the bathtub drain. Are you going to say to the plumber, “Tell me about a time when you had to get something out of a tub drain.”? [Extra period included in original post]

You’re not. If you did, the plumber would say “Look, buddy, you want me to come over or not?” It’s no different on a job interview.”

This is when you smile, feeling great about hating those questions you’ve been told to ask. I did, for a second.  Then I was not.  It is very different on a job interview.

A plumber is a problem solver, a service provider.  I want him to come, do his thing to meet my requirements,  the best he can, for the right price, leave no mess behind, and be gone.

An employee is someone I bring into my team; someone I depend on, someone I trust, and intend to work with for a long time.  We need to be aligned, in sync, share a vision, communicate a lot.  A good employee may often act on my behalf, executing a strategy we agree on.  Hmm, suddenly it’s so unlike a plumber.  I’d love to see Ms. Ryan’s reaction when the plumber takes initiative and decides it’s also a great time to replace the faucets.  according to his roadmap that is.  At work however, if I hired the right person for the job, I expect her to take initiatives, I trust her; no, I expect her to come up w
ith new ideas that promote our business, and are aligned with our long-term goals.

Do I need to spell out the cost of hiring a full-time employee?  Or worse, the cost of replacing an ill-fitting the-truth-about-behavioral-interviewing-03employee…

The cost of hiring a plumber is often as low as the time it takes to make a phone call, schedule a visit, negotiate price.  Done.  Well, not exactly.  Whether we use Yelp, Angie List, Facebook, Next Door, or call a friend, we ask questions very similar to the condemned behavior-based ones.  “Tell me about the plumber you called when you had to get something out of a tub drain.”  Usually you’d add, “Was he clean?  On time?  Was the problem resolved in one visit?  How much did he charge?”

Most plumbers, when asked, provide contact info of previous customers who’ll answer all these behavior-based questions. Same goes for the mechanic, hair designer, PCP, or the vet.  Like it or not, we judge many of our service providers by their past behavior, whether we get the answers directly from them or from others.

the-truth-about-behavioral-interviewing-02

A plumber with lots of negative reviews, is judged for his past behavior and performance.  By design, Yelp, Twitter and their likes provide “behavioral/performance-based assessment.”  LinkedIn enables its plumbers, and everyone else, to share only their best behavior and great performances.  As the world’s de facto professional platform, LinkedIn’s cyber-bullying potential could easily destroy a person’s career.  This is why, IMHO, we get to approve our colleagues’ reviews, and decide if we want to include them in our profiles.  This is a great source to find one’s better and best behavior patterns.  As for the not so great? This is, in a big way, where and when behavior/performance-based questions come to our help.

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The challenge recruiters often face is that an interview is as good as the interviewer.  Too often, hiring managers are not required or won’t take the time to develop a minimal level of interviewing skills.  Either they have it or not.  I’d say this is one key reasons companies develop rigid hiring processes and interview scripts.

“Tell me about a decision you made that was wrong, and how you managed it?”   Silence;  long ensuing silence.  This is one of my favorites, both as the interviewer or the interviewee.  It is a great opportunity to learn about a person’s style.  if you did anything of substance, released a product, dealt with a challenging customer or partner, produced an event, drove change… if you did, then there was a mistake, something you could have done better, faster, more efficient, an opportunity… must be.   Once upon a time, in a different everything, a candidate’s answer sealed the decision.  After rewording the question three times, and listening to the nothingness in the room, it no longer mattered how well he answered all other questions, or how impressive he was on the phone interview, or even that he was recommended by a friend.   Would you want someone that cannot even entertain the idea that he may be wrong join your team?

“Can you share your experience dealing with a naysayer in your team?  What did you do?” We know such people exist.  How one manages such situation says a lot about a personal style.  Product managers rarely manage the people that make the product.  One’s leadership isn’t and cannot be the result of authority or rank.  It requires an ability to communicate with multiple people, in multiple roles, with very different personalities, and build with each the rapport, trust, and respect required.  So, how did you deal with naysayers in the past?

Unlike Ms. Ryan, Lou Adler‘s criticism of the ability of past behavior to predict future performance is more serious, calling out that one’s [past] success in doing X, wasn’t only dependent on one’s ability, skills, persona, but also on circumstances.  In his post PAST BEHAVIOR DOESN’T PREDICT FUTURE PERFORMANCE, Adler points out circumstances that may contribute to the success or a failure of one’s behavior in achieving the desired results.  He recommends performance-based hiring.  And of course he is right.  Circumstances are critical factors in one’s success.  More important though is the distinction between behavior-based to performance-based.  Calling it out, Adler helped me realize that we often say one, while meaning the other.  Thank you.

giphy

However, no interview can be all behavior performance-based.  A good interview should be a mix of checking facts & history [validate the resume], chemistry, trust, style & rapport [AKA a great or a bad culture fit], subject matter expertise, values.

And let’s not forget, a big part of a job interview is sales and marketing effort.  While the interviewee is pitching himself, her ability to deliver, being a good fit, the interviewer sells the position, the company, the team, the challenge, and opportunity.  Encouraging the candidate to ask as many questions as possible.  These questions in themselves  tell a lot priorities, values, and past experience [read: “traumas”].  Or…

  • I: “This was my last question. Thank you.  Now it’s all about you.  Do you have any question?”
  • Candidate I: “When do I get a promotion?  What does it take to get promoted?”
  • I: “This is a new role.   It’ll take a minimum 18-24 months for one to get to that point.  What would you consider a promotion? What position would you consider a promotion?”
  • Candidate I: “Join that other team doing that [very different] role.”
  • I: “So you are interested in the position we are discussing as a transition, a bridge to another [very different] role?”
  • Candidate I: “Yes.” A pause. [I imagine him replaying his last sentences in his head.  “I guess I’m not the right person for this [current] position.”
  • The voice in my head: “You think?!”

homer

 

August 9, 2013

#213 – Crystal. Not clear.

Filed under: business buz,mmmmmmarketing — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 20:49
Tags: ,

You may have not heard the story of how my habit of keeping a spare headlight in the glove compartment saved me from an expensive ticket, yet it did.  Thank you dad, for instilling [some] good driving habits in me.

Maybe that’s a good time to confess that for years I was tracking mileage/gas ratio, ensuring the engine performs as it should.

So no ticket, thank you very much dear spare headlight bulb.Weeks later, I made it back to the neighborhood’s O’Reilly Auto Parts store. I had the used pack of the bulb-that-saved-me with me, so it was easy to ask for a “one like this please.”  When Crystal went to the shelves behind the counter and not to the store space where I remembered the bulbs had been before, I didn’t think much of it.  When the bulb was of a different brand than the one I was holding, it got my attention.  When the price was higher than I remembered I was not happy.

“I’m sorry, I thought the bulb was cheaper.”

“Oh, you mean you want the same brand?’

“Well, I want the same price.”

Without a word, Crystal got from behind the counter, walked to the store space and picked an identical bulb.

I wasn’t done yet.  “Last time you had some sort of promotion.  I think it was ‘buy two at half price’ or something.  Do you know if you have a promotion on these now?”

“We never have promotion on these.”  [Sure.]

Interesting.

I pay.

oreilly-01

Ready to leave, I am not upset, just disappointed.  True, it’s been probably eight months since I visited the store.  The Hyundai is a truly low maintenance car, so I have no reason to frequent O’Reilly.  To say something or not… hey, I’m going to say it.

“You know, you are not helping your business by pushing the more expensive product to a customer,” is all I say, pleasantly.

She says nothing.

I look at her shirt.  “Your name is Crystal, right?”

Still nothing.

I walk out.

Difference before tax: $1.96

Damage to Brand: Not priceless, but a function of how many of you will read and share.

Damage to Crystal: Looking at the receipt, depends who at O’Reilly monitors and reads the customer feedback.

oreilly-03

Take away?

 or, in other “words”…

September 19, 2012

#209 – Social media; you need a friend for that

Filed under: business buz,mmmmmmarketing,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 03:10
Tags: ,

Who’d you turn to for a good solid, reliable advice? It depends. For TV, I go to Bill Sheppard. For Pizza, I turn to Mohammed from Via Mia.  Martin Lister is for Apple Inc., best iToy apps and media, among other things. Dan is for cameras and photography [and then some].  For many years [in Israel], for car picking I turned to Amos. For electrical it used to be my dad, until electrical become much more electronic. I could go on.  I have my subject matter experts whom I trust, and know their advice to be a solid one.

Source: http://www.cartoonaday.com
By Bryant Arnold, Published: 18-Feb-11

Not that long ago, no one said, “I got an app for that.” We “had a friend for this.” Pre-googling, a thorough search meant a few “do you know somebody who knows something [read: A LOT] about this thing?” Between my family & friends network, I rarely had to make a decision without an expert’s advice.

Fast-forward.  With a marketing cap on, calling our contacts on FaceBook “friends” was a brilliant idea, exactly because of the trust value associated with friendships.  So what if this wasn’t the initial motivation.  The length of incentive, fake or not, and all other manipulations used to get us to like and follow a brand, and share it with friends are the best testimony for that.  It’s brilliant because we do indeed care, some of us more, some of us less, what our friends do, see, read, listen to, BUY.

Again, social media is built on the assumption that we pay attention to what our friends enjoy, like, buy, enjoy and a brand can harness this to promote itself, grow brand recognition, and improve its NPS.  Thing is, our friends, the real ones that is, don’t press us to buy and spend [other than my iApple friends].  And, as far as friends go, trust, respect, willingness to listen and accept opinions and recommendations, are all built on many positive, fun interactions, all non-commercial in nature.  Social Media marketing campaigns and promotions cannot expect to replace that shared experience with a few posts on Facebook, a couple of tweets, and “like me,” or “follow me” manipulations.

“What’s in it for me” is not a daily or a weekly test that our friendships need to pass.  We seek friends’ advice when we need it.  We are likely to put a distance between us and a friend who frequently offers unsolicited advice.  And of course, we want to have our chance to express an opinion or two, feel heard.  But when we are ‘encouraged’ to like a brand page, follow brand’s tweets, retweet and share, “what’s in it for me” is a legitimate and acceptable question.

A lot have been said, tweeted, posted and done WRT social media.  We got stars, gods, gurus and companies claiming mastery of this youngster.  A few manage to milk social media, which means that it’s the first virtual [cash] cow to produce dough.  Few are amazing in their vision, insight, advice.  Many are as good as you and I.  Many fail.  GM’s pulling off its marketing/ad budget off FaceBook helps those who don’t dig it at all, happy to say that this king is naked.

It is not. I am laughing as I type, “only the smart ones can see the amazing outfit.”  Thing is, it’s too early.  Social  Media is not yet as well-tailored as marketing and branding branches that have been around for decades.  Think of the shifts in marketing and advertisement budgets, from newspapers to radio, to TV… the first web banners… think Google…  and now things are up for more change.  it’s exciting.  It offers amazing opportunities to succeed and to… fail.

It’s here to stay.  Next, some facts and more observations.

TBC.

June 3, 2012

#208 – smartool or smartoy?

i miss my BlackBerry; more so on weekdays.  after weeks of Android and months of iToy, i know what i want and can’t have.

i want a phone that is smart enough to be my best loyal assistant, always available, ready, with my meetings, contacts & friends, emails, reminders and the rest of my life.  i want to prioritize, sort and group my contacts and emails in a click or a touch.  i want to be able to assign a unique ring, vibe and volume to certain people and events, and totally ignore others.  i want all of the above to transparently sync with all my devices; all EIGHT of them, including laptops and desktops,  iToy and my designated international SIMs phone. i want a GPS that connects in nanoseconds, not minutes, and always knows and tells me where i am and where i need to go, BEFORE I missed the turn.  i want a browser that shows me everything that i am looking for, not a skinny version that forces me to look for an invisible “go to full site” button. i want to stream music without having to wait between verses or songs.  i am OK with using an app for each need, but i don’t want to have to look for it among 100s of apps.  i want text-to-speech and speech-to-text.  i want a real QWERTY and a great touch screen.  And before I forget, I want to make and receive phone calls with GOOD voice quality, not from the depth of the deep sea, with low sensitivity to the wind and background noise and lab-type sensitivity to conversation.  Lastly and critically, i want a battery that lasts as long as i do, and is happy with as many [few] recharge hours as i do.

WHERE IS THAT PHONE?  Take me there.

Snow Covered Tree Trunks, Waterloo, Ontario.
Copyright: All rights reserved by jgljgljgl

i didn’t forget the games.  However, for a phone that will do all of the above, i will happily go without any game.  i wasn’t kidding when i said i miss my blackberry.  for a long time, it delivered on over a half of the list above.  sadly, it neglected to progress with the market, and stopped to deliver on the missing items, nor improved on the performance of the already existing part.  The Waterloo-based innovation that started RIM, froze in the Canadian winter, and the innovation that bloomed in the valley and changed the mobile world was not listened to, not considered a game changer or a threat.

I am a happy first-to-admit that no tablet, no device i tried, is better than the iToy when it comes to content consumption.  any content i can think of.  weather, news, travel, entertainment, edutainment…  it’s a truly sweet fruit to eat, but far from being enough for a perfect diet.

i am happy to admit that the number of apps available for both my iToy and Android phone is mindboggling compared to the pathetic offering from BlackBerry.  i love that i now have not one, but FOUR portable SONOS controllers, one original, 2 Android phones and one iToy.  the original controller cost $399 [now $349].  all the others require is a free app.

i am happy to admit that finally i have a couple of games that i do play and even enjoy, the last one being 100 Floors from Tobi Apps Limited [don’t bother to click.  Last I’ve checked it was an empty page.  Am happy to wait as they add more floors]

but… i am extremely FRUSTRATED with the pain called managing my calendar and address book across my devices.

Bye Bye BlackBerry?

Google calendar outlook sync works on two computers, but not on the others.  contacts sync is a one way street and it’s not a true sync, and i can’t find one that will sync all devices.  outlook/blackberry sync required a cable and a PC in the middle, but at least it WORKED.  and i had support when needed – thank you RIM.

so, after a couple of months of BlackBerry no more, here i am, wishing for a phone that i’d be really passionate about, that I’d be excited about using and telling you about it.  and there’s none.

tool or toy

i think of my mobile smart first of all as a tool, a productivity attachment if you will.  this is the part that RIM got right.  and a good tool should easily fit on your tool belt.  it’s not a coincidence that BlackBerry was the only smartphone that shipped with a carrying case by default.  and it wasn’t a fashion statement.  it was black, functional and mostly ugly.  AND useful. i can’t find solid data re the size of the Android and iPhone cases and protectors market.  must be millions, with items going for anything from $8 and up, up, up. in 2009, TechCrunch estimated the mobile accessories market worth at $63 billion, and the average mobile phone owner spends roughly $60 on accessories over the life of their phone.  it takes no genius to assume that iPhone first and Android lagging behind are the pampered devices and that the market grows as fast as the devices market or faster.  after all, it’s not a far fetched idea  buy shoes, bag and a matching phone.  a fashion statement case or designer speakers cannot compare to the utilitarian accessories BlackBerry had.

fact: iPhone is becoming the dominant device among the working geeks, nerds and everyone else.

fact: i enjoy 100 floors, where’s my water and probably the next game one of you will recommend

and sad fact: the more sharing among you admit how less friendly and much harder it is to do your emails on these toys, compared to BB.

December 11, 2011

#202 – Due Diligence Drill

Filed under: business buz,Opinionated,reading material — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 07:15
Tags: , ,

Latte and fruit pie sound harmless, right?  Well, if you don’t count calories they might.  On a Sunday afternoon, I was having just that with Edna and Pessi @ the Fillmore’s Grove.  We were appreciating Edna’s latest amazing creations, enjoying the atmosphere of the place and all was good until I suddenly had a suspicious object in my mouth.  As I let it out, Pessi was the quick to identify it for what it was.  A piece of teeth.  Mine!  No pain, no stones in the pie, just a tooth that decided to split.  Wrapped in a napkin, I put it in my purse for future reference.

Three days later, at the dentist’s office, I heard about drilling into my jaw, titanium screws and implants.  A week later, Thanksgiving behind, I’m back to start what should be a 4-6 months dental reconstruction process.

Before I get to see the DDS, there’s that little form I need to read, initial, sign and be happy.  I start reading and my mood is quickly moving to red.  Apparently, the casually discussed process carries multiple risks, ranging from the harmless no drinking from straw for a few weeks to breaking or cracking parts of my jaw, “accidents” that will lead to additional surgeries at unknown cost, blood clots, prolonged pain…  all the way to killing a nerve that happens to reside in the neighborhood of the broken teeth.

Needless to say, NONE of those was mentioned by the nice dentist who came highly recommended by a good friend.  I refuse to sign the form without a serious discussion about all these delightful risks.  When I first express my concerns to the eager dentist, he dismisses the form as a standard requirement by the ADA.  “So are these risks non risks or real risks” I ask.  “Well, these are potential risks.”

“Why should I proceed with the process,” I question.  “Right now, I’m in no pain.  Lucky for me, unless I truly LoL with my mouth wide open, it’s unlikely that anyone will notice the broken teeth, and I can eat hot, cold whatever.  Why do anything?!”

“You have other options,” says the now a little less trusted dentist.  20 minutes of Q&A later, and much better educated, I know I have FOUR different options; all new three are of a lesser risk and potential complications, all at a lower cost.  Greedy, aren’t we?

Armed with this new knowledge, I ask the nice dentist, “So if I were your daughter, which of these options would you recommend?”  “I need to look deeper, to see the exact condition of the teeth’s remains, the gum.”

Interestingly enough, he didn’t need to look deeper to recommend the most invasive treatment for me.  I don’t explode, I don’t point out the demonstrated little care for what’s best for me.   The least invasive option, second to doing nothing, involves getting an orthodontist to pull out the remains of the teeth, and then drill a titanium screw into it [instead of the jaw], building the new fake teeth on it.

So I drove to the orthodontist.  With one X-Ray shot I brought with me, and some poking around, he said he could do it, and would l like, while he is at it, to straighten up some rebellious tooth residing in the neighborhood?  I said “yes, how much is that going to hurt?”

OK, so now it’s no longer a cheaper option, but it comes with serious benefits.  This is where I swallow my embarrassment, and admit that I took the orthodontics route twice before in my life.  2nd-3rd grade was a disaster that is best remembered in my family with my dad’s constant complaint that he is not sure why he pays for straightening the bath tub.  Yes, that was often where I “forgot” my retainer.  Can’t remember how many times I broke it while in my pocket, for whatever reason.  Eventually, my parents gave up, and I got a free ticket to crooked teeth.  It wasn’t until late high school that I asked my parents for a 2nd chance.  I was denied a private dentist, but was welcome to go the HMO way.  And yes, I went to the army with a retainer.  This time, I was as committed as one could be, and it came with unpredictable fringe benefits.  Once a month I got an “after” to go visit my dentist and get the screws tightened.  What a nice break and a chance to visit home for an hour or two.  Unfortunately, even this treatment didn’t reach its happy ending.  As an army tour guide, I found myself lecturing to eager and not so eager soldiers about this Crusades site and this battlefield.  The whistling “sh” and “s” sounds that come with talking with a retainer in your mouth were good enough reason for me to take it out before talking.  On one such trip I lost it.  Never went back.

and it comes with color options

Fast forward to today, I get yet a third chance, at least for the lower jaw.

I see the orthodontist again a week later to get my mouth model [I thought it’s called a mold, but turned out I’m wrong].  I happily share my recent experience with dental consent forms, and casually mention to the nice DDs that I expect him to call out each and every potential risk, before we get to the part where I read a consent form in his waiting room and learn about multiple interesting risks.  “A medical due diligence” I say, “must be proactive.  I find it hard to trust a Dr. that hides behind a form.”  I definitely got his attention now.  He seats down and goes over all the risks, which I find reasonable.  He also instructs the receptionist to give me the consent form which is not due until our next appointment “to go.”

Next stop on this day is the C Dental X-Ray in San Mateo.  As the technician is getting ready to take the first head shot, the Doctor that doesn’t believe in proactive due diligence calls and offers to take the X-Rays in his clinic, thus reducing the cost.  Aha! My inner self is laughing.  You got an interesting call from the orthodontist, didn’t you?!

Turned out he can’t do it.  No worries, we’ll meet again when it’s time to slice my gum a bit.  And I will be asking a lot of questions.

Sometimes the right thing is to question the consent form.  Un-consenting is a real, good valid option.

 
 
art sources:
http://www.toonpool.com/user/2947/files/at_the_dentist_385005.jpg
http://nikkijenniferphotography.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/10-20-10-halloween-at-the-orthodontist.jpg

July 24, 2011

#193 – I’m a Lifesta lover

Filed under: business buz,mmmmmmarketing,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 20:08
Tags: , , ,

i’m a lifesta lover. no surprises here. and yet, i am completely and OBJECTIVELY loving this widget.

I'm a Lifesta Lover

When it comes to lifesta, I am anything but objective.

Why?  You can read all about it HERE – #173-My Lifesta is a Startu[p].  to observe a startup growing, evolving, getting media attention, gaining brand recognition…  it’s amazing.  There’s a great Hebrew children song, “how is a song born” by Yonatan Gefen.

How is A Song Born?

Like laughter.

It starts from within,

And rolls out.

How is A Song Born?

It Like a baby.

At first it hurts,

Then it comes out.

And everybody is happy

And suddenly WOW!

It walks on its own…

While both songs and startups are mind-made, creating a song is a one-time creative process. Bringing a startup to life is a much longer, more complicated process.  And so I observe, ask questions, realize the differences between working for a big company and working for yourself, your partner, your investor/s.

The most fascinating, most adventurous part of being a startup is the venturing into a new territory.  What feature would Lifesta users appreciate more, the new improved search function, launched 2 weeks ago; a great feature for buyers, or the ability to promote your deal directly from your blog and having a widget linking it to Lifesta, directly to your deal – coming very soon.

So, yes, I’m a lifesta lover, and I love it.

How about you?

June 4, 2011

#186 – iPAD or iDEAD, China made

Filed under: business buz,mmmmmmarketing,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 18:52
Tags: , , , , , ,

no one can ignore the hype, impact, revolution that the iPhone’s launch did to the mobile ecosystem;   gaming, connecting, living experience – everything.  the iPhone created a new standard for mobile phones, one that each and every OEM on the planet wanted to exceed and settled for “me too-ing“.  hindsight, the impact was limited to the mobile ecosystem, and to consumers already USING phones and able/willing to spend that much more on an iPhone experience.  and then came the apps with incredible business opportunities built on top of the device itself.

yet, by comparison, iPAD impacts users in practically every imaginable area of our life.   not sure?

here’s a random pick:

iPAD line in San Francisco, April 3, 2010. Source: http://www.nydailynews.com

it goes on and on. and it’s great.  i love game-changers.

over the last few weeks, i was exposed to the experience  iPAD shopping.  standing in lines in ungodly hours to get a note that will allow one, hours later, to enter the Apple Shrine and buy an iPAD – i listened to 3 such reports.  it ain’t me, babe, no, no, no. it’s amazing marketing as well as manufacturing capacity limitations, and it works.

happy to support the Israel-based consumers who hate to pay the ~10-30% markup Apple products accumulate as they make aliyah, i placed an online iPAD order. [ordered MacPro too, but that’s a different story]

as the waiting begins, the $100K question is will iPAD make it here before visitors take off back to Israel?  contrary to Apple’s rep who said it won’t,  iPAD was delivered on Friday afternoon, just in time for shabbat.

Shabbat, sadly enough, is something that Foxconn DOESN’T allow its  Chengdu and Shenzhen employees, the ones who put iPAD and iPhone together.  if the name Foxconn sounds familiar to you, it’s because on May 20th, the explosion in the China-based factory manufacturing/assembling  iPhone and iPAD took place in one of their facilities.  forget shabbat, here’s how iPAD gets delivered ahead of committed delivery date:

  • employees put in up to 98 hours of overtime a month; almost three times the limit in Chinese law.
  • Foxconn insists they have to break the law to hit targets, even though excessive overtime is banned by international law and Apple’s own code of conduct.  “have to” is an interesting excuse to breaking the law.  maybe we should all give it a try.
  • in one factory, declining to do overtime at the level required is reciprocated with denying the person any overtime at all.  gotcha.  w/o overtime, salary isn’t that attractive. another response: system may “lose” track of your overtime…  gotcha again.
  • workers are banned from talking at work, have to stand up for their entire 12-hour shifts and are made to do military marching drills.
  • Half a million Chinese, many of them teenagers or kids work at these factories.  they have young stamina, they can do it.  they love it.
  • Employees sleep on-site, in high-rise dormitory blocks where hair-driers and kettles are outlawed.  it’s not camp here; we pay you [base pay $5/day] to work, not to blow dry your hair.  go do more overtime.

which brings me to iDEAD.  at least 14 employees committed suicide over the past 16 months.  several others tried.  the corporate response?  rather original.

One executive accused victims of doing it to win compensation payouts for grieving relatives.

Investigators said Foxconn reacted to the wave of suicides by calling in monks to exorcise evil spirits.  seriously? this is so the daily show material.  next we’ll be getting blessed iPADs with the double happiness character?

Foxconn forced new employees to sign pledges not to commit suicide before they were taken on.  repeat: staff seeking jobs were ordered to make written promises not to follow suit.  They had to vow that if they did, their families would not claim more than the legal minimum in damages.

so is this how it goes?  fictional scenario: an employee can’t take it anymore, commits suicide.  if he succeeds, his family gets the minimum compensation [if any].  Dead worker moves on.  if employee survives, they fire him for breaching employment contract.  no compensation due.  iDEAD indeed.

Apple’s own inspectors found fewer than a third of Foxconn factories obeyed overtime rules.  and WHAT did they do about it?  from what i could find, NOTHING.  Apple also found 91 children working worldwide last year.  i guess they didn’t look too hard, did they? only 91? or is it that Chinese people look so much younger than their Caucasian age group?

i could dive into an anti-capitalistic rant, preach for an iPAD boycott and sound very righteous.  I’m doing neither.  in the same way you cannot shove democracy down people’s throat, i don’t believe you can shove labor laws, respect and sensitivity.  changing centuries-old practices of emperors who treated people as disposables is not done over night.  it may take a century or two.

over dinner last night, MD [Taiwan-born] represented the Chinese, and not in a happy way.  “this is the culture, life has no value, if one dies, there is always a new employee to take his place… why do you blame Apple,” she wondered.  i don’t blame Apple; i want them to leverage the power they  have to force improvement of the conditions.  what is stopping Apple from including in their contract terms penalties for forced overtime, hiring kids, and sub-standard living conditions?  share-holder pressure?  greed?  auditing the factories is already included in these contracts.  i don’t expect China to become the country of model employment.  I expect Apple, who is all for clean designs to enforce some clean-your-act practices.

Foxconn has local offices here, in California, not that far from Cupertino.  one doesn’t have to travel to China to have a discussion.  here’s one: Foxconn, 1688 Richard Ave, Santa Clara, CA, 95050-2844. here’s another one: 1705 Junction Court, San Jose, CA 95112-1023.  need directions, Steve?  you got an app for that.

Due diligence: i don’t own an iPAD [or an iPhone].  it’s safe to say that the only way I’ll end up with one is if it’ll fall onto my lap.   got nothing to do with above post.  and yes, my inner child is alive and well.

Caution: this post heavily relies on secondary on-line sources, more than i usually do. i did my best to ensure accuracy.  if you know anything to be different from what is presented here, please let me know ASAP and I’ll update/correct as needed.

Netted dormitory blocks. Bosses have now rigged up nets on all the balconies to stop jumpers. Source: http://www.people.co.uk/news/uk-world-news

Sources:

May 5, 2011

#173a – My Lifesta is a Startu[p]

Filed under: business buz,mmmmmmarketing — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 10:44
Tags: , ,

Christopher's startup

i realize that while everybody is talking about startups, and not always in the most favorable terms, i should have properly defined what a startup is.

the best definition i am aware of is the one used by mashable.

here it goes:

“A startup company or startup is a company with a limited operating history. These companies, generally newly created, are in a phase of development and research for markets. The term became popular internationally during the dot-com bubble when a great number of dot-com companies were founded. A high tech startup company is a startup company specialized in a high tech industry.
Startup companies can come in all forms, including those that are simply life-style companies, but the phrase “startup company” is often associated with high growth, technology oriented companies. Investors are generally most attracted to those new companies distinguished by their risk/reward profile and scalability. That is, they have lower bootstrapping costs, higher risk, and higher potential return on investment. Successful startups are typically more scalable than an established business, in the sense that they can potentially grow rapidly with limited investment of capital, labor or land.”

Source: http://mashable.com/follow/topics/startups/

with Christopher David‘s beta launching next week, i know a part II to #173 – My Lifesta is a Startu[p] is coming.

April 24, 2011

#178- How sweet is this M&M ad?

there’s something about TV ads.  don’t deny it; i know you watch.  OK, if you have to, go ahead and deny it.  interestingly enough, some TV ads work, make us laugh, are great fun to watch…  while some are so bad that i may rush from the other room to FFW the DVR or flip a channel to avoid listening to that dose of stupidity, obnoxiousness or whatever. I don’t pretend to know how it works for you, i don’t even always know what makes an ad work for me…  there are some personal, cultural, educational, national components that may explain part of it.  but really how does it work?  clearly, it’s not the big budget that makes an ad successful.  personally, an obnoxious enough TV ad will ensure that I’ll avoid the product to the best of my ability.  latest example is the “Crystal Geyser Please!”  got it; you bottle on site, great.  how many times per evening do i need to be reminded of it?! and do i really care about your value chain or bottle route?  NO!

as far as I’m concerned, if the owners of a brand sign off and approve an annoying, obnoxious TV ad, or decide to launch a sensory attack on me,

what other bad judgment calls they make?  do i trust these guys? after all, they chose to brand their product in what i perceive to be as an insult to our intelligence; a waste of our time.  do you hear me annoying lady in pink of T-Mobile?

what makes an ad a good one?  there’s no single simple answer.  many say it is the innovative and creative idea that makes an advertisement appealing to the audience.  but there’s much more to it than that.  for example:

  • the right graphics.  small graphics may make the commercial uninteresting.  too big and the commercial may look cheesy
  • length of commercial. too long and we lose interest after a short time period. A  rather short ad that gets straight to the point makes a TV commercial a good one. if an ad can keep us interested for the duration AND get the point across in under one minute – that’s a good one
  • the right characters.  good characters create an excellent commercial. Familiar characters can have a positive result on spectators. picking incorrect characters can truly make a TV commercial uninteresting, lame, or plain bad
  • arouses visual engagement. best tested by turning the sound off and if  ad has the same visual effect then it’s on to something
  • inspires trust, confidence, and believability
  • provides a single consistent message that penetrates the prospect’s mind and stays there for a while

i can’t say i agree with all of the above, but who am i to know…

Microsoft’s Cloud ads overload triggered my anti ad mode.  I didn’t flinch at the CEO serving lattes as his day job ad was aired.  but from the mother that can’t let her family be as-is and has to “edit” them to fit the  perfect family image she must show the world to the couple stuck at the airport, these are, wait….

ANNOYING.

annoyed enough?  not yet? wait.  here comes even more ANNOYING

As i said before, cultural, personal, gender, religion… all these introduce  biases that play a significant role in determining the reaction to an ad by one ethnic, socio-economic, demographic segment or another.  the more heterogeneous the audience is, the harder it is to be spot-in.  personally, i prefer the funny, creative, not-so-realistic ones over the “identify with us; this could be you, buy whatever we push and you’ll live happily ever after” ads.  i love an ad with a punch line or a twist that surprises me, makes me laugh.  a good ad should be fun to watch.  if it’s information only, I’d want you to play with the setting, background or something to counter-balance the education you want to deliver.  Honda’s Really Big Thing was doing well with the BIG promotion, but over doing it, much too often and making one listen to the message again and again just killed it.

how can you compare the above ads with this one?

disclosure: i own their Scala Rider Q2 Pro BT headset, but i did find this great ad while searching for ads to make my point about creative, out-of-the-box ads that deliver a message that sticks.
what does the M&Ms title got to do with all this? a whole lot.  it was their imaginative, funny campaign which i haven’t got tired of [yet] that got me thinking about TV ads and their effectiveness.  to be honest, it did more than that, the ads promoting the new M&M pretzel version were so effective and funny that i ended up LOOKING for it @ the supermarket.  sadly, once tasted – no further purchasing is to be expected.  but, it this campaign got me to try it.  and simply put, i can’t think of any other TV ad in recent years that influenced any purchasing decision i made.  to get one to ACT on an ad IS the ultimate success criteria of a TV ad.

here are two of my favorites:

this year’s best, the one that should get awards if my opinion counts, is this one.  laugh out loud.

Sources:

http://www.marketingpush.info/what-makes-an-excellent-television-commercial/22307/
http://www.redrovermarketing.com/marketing_articles/Secrets_of_Television_Advertising_For_Small_Businesses.php
http://www.pubarticles.com/article-how-to-produce-successful-tv-ads-1242884425.html
https://yaelol.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/icarly4g-bike.jpg?w=300

April 22, 2011

#177a – NRI, yet another standard of living index

i thought i was done with indexes.  after all in #177 – how soft is your standard of living i listed more than enough of those…  until i clicked, and learned of another standard.  a very  relevant one.  The Networked Readiness Index (NRI) featured in The Global Information Technology Report 2010-2011, examines how prepared countries are to use ICT [Information and Communication Technologies] effectively on three dimensions:

  • the general business, regulatory and infrastructure environment for ICT
  • the readiness of the three key societal actors – individuals, businesses & governments – to use and benefit from ICT

and

  • their actual usage of available ICT.

So who tops the world?

noteworthy:

  • other than Iceland [16th], all Nordic countries made it to the top 10 list.
  • Asia, with Singapore in second place, is rising steadily.  Taiwan, China, and Korea improved five places to 6th and 10th respectively; Hong Kong SAR follows closely at 12th.

personal interest:

  • Israel ranks #22
  • India ranks #48
  • why did Canada go down?
Report is published by The World Economic Forum
To read report on-line click HERE

source: http://www.weforum.org/issues/global-information-technology

March 21, 2011

#173 – My Lifesta is a Startu[p]

the leap from imaginary startup to a real one is not a trivial one.

the true rewards in life come from the act of creation. source: http://startupblog.wordpress.com

In the fall of 2009, when Eran told me that he is not only leaving Sun, but also leaving the valley, it took a huge effort to be supportive, encouraging and happy for him.  Sometimes friendship requires one to put the friend ahead of the one in the friendship.  Eran took off to start-up land and moved to NYC.  Even without the close and personal emotional engagement of those who have built a startup from scratch, with my limited experience + hours of conversations with startup veterans, I can understand the passion and the obsession, the burning desire to be the man that takes this one small step that makes a giant leap.  I’m intrigued, excited, and most importantly, want to be part of it.  I got the bug; have yet to get the guts.

Part of starting a startup is the knowledge and [hopefully] the acknowledgment that even the best idea may fail.  talking to few startuppers, it seems that there is some consensus around Benjamin Tseng’s view:

“… Two years later, I can see all the reasons it was bound for failure, but despite the difficulties, I can honestly say it was one of the most rewarding and educational experiences I’ve ever had. In no other context is it possible to learn so much about management, organization, business model development, marketing/public relations, and execution in one fell swoop.”

BENJAMIN TSENG
[http://www.benjamintseng.com/portfolio/xhibitr/]

After Auntie Chef couldn’t cook, Eran and Yael [Gavish, not me!], without a notebook full of ideas, took long walks, brainstormed a lot and with Julie as the defining use case, lifesta came to life.

It’s tense; it’s stressful and hard to watch.  It’s so exciting.  How often do you get to watch an idea becoming reality, a website moving from zero traffic to the first ten and then 100 and then 1,000?  It’s watching a best friend fathering a baby,

It’s watching a best friend fathering a baby, from the first breath through nourishing him… It was much harder before Lifesta got their funding.  Now the parents breathe better and easier, and so do I.  Grow baby, grow.

Along with being an enthusiastic supporter, well-wisher and a tester, I tried to improve my understanding of the bug, suspecting it’s contagious.  Not having the guts doesn’t mean I don’t have the desire.  So I asked friends who have done it and have the bug, the passion and desire running strong in their system.

Nadav, Founder of WorldMate Inc. who’s WorldMate I happily use and love, moved here from Israel over a year ago. I asked about his view.  He said “Like it or not, there is something noble about going into an entrepreneurship in my mind. It’s about taking your fate in your own hands, about creating the future for you (and your future employees) yourself. Our economy could not survive save for such people. So when someone like Eran, who’s spent a long time in an environment I consider ‘protective and nurturing’ takes the plunge, I always have to applaud.  At the same time, I know so well some of the hardship that he’s bound to endure and doesn’t yet even imagine (in his case he got an inkling with auntiechef.com), so you have to feel a little compassion for him, too.”

Then I asked Jeet.  After two startups, moving back and forth between the relative “safety” of corporate innovation and the 7X21 start-up job, one of Jeet’s comments that got stuck in my head is “when an employee, brilliant as he/she may be, tells me she is leaving my org, there are only 2 reasons that will stop me from trying to persuade the guy to stay; it’s going to a start up and seeking education”.

One of my friends from LANNET was told by his wife that under no circumstances he is allowed even to entertain the idea of joining a start-up.  “We know enough people who started the start-up road and restarted, and restarted and restarted.  Unfortunately, the start-ups didn’t provide the dreamed-of step-up.”

“It’s vetoed, dear husband” she said.

for illustration purpose only

Back to Lifesta.  After 9 months of hard work and an angel, they now have five employees and a San Francisco office.

And the word is out.  See for yourself:

I asked Eran what he has to say about all this.  He shared some thoughts and observations.

“When you work on a project in a big company with a predefined goal, e.g. “build the next version of product X”, you know what you have to build. Success is predefined, and in some cases has nothing to do with how well the product is in the market. You plan, execute and mitigate risks to get to a delivery date.  The person responsible for the delivery and the person responsible for the business success are usually not the same person.

When you start a company, you have no idea what’s going to be on the other side. You’ll start with A Better Toaster(TM), test it on users, pivot multiple time, and end up delivering a website for cat lovers. But if you work hard, are lucky and have the smarts to pivot well, you’ll be successful in delivering a product customers will pay for.

Failure in the first case, i.e. not delivering on time or failing to deliver all the functions, is just a day-to-day part of the second case, where you’ll fail multiple time, keep changing, until you run out of time and money, or you’ll have something worthwhile. Then you get the next round of funding to extend the time you have to keep failing.”

How about succeeding, i wonder. feels so much better.

I’ve started writing this blog over 6 months ago.  If I learned anything about startups since, it’s that in a startup, change of direction, product, plan and everything else… is a given; inevitable, its essence.  Very encouraging, very exciting.  Not for the light of heart. I want it.

Clipart:

Resources:

March 18, 2011

#172 – What iSiT? marketing? PR? is it?

Filed under: business buz,mmmmmmarketing,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 17:10
Tags: , , , , , ,

too often marketing people are teased, criticized, or worse, dismissed for using too many words to say less than little.  sometimes it’s even true.

i do my best to avoid this professional hazard.  i vividly remember when i just joined Sun, one of the engineers

me cutesy? no, thank you

describing my slides as “cutesy”.  i didn’t like it. maybe this is one of the reasons for my growing impatience for extra marketing wording.  enough intro.  to the point!

iSit is a very interesting company, claiming to be a “Web 2.0, Web 3.0 software application”.  Reasons to be proud?  “This highly creative startup idea was judged as the first place winner by Google, IBM and Sun Microsystems at a Startup Weekend Israel competition,” says says David Marcus, CEO of iSiT Ltd.

Positioning: “The iSiT online, fact checking software application is being developed so that people can verify the credibility of online information in real time,” says Marcus.

so far so good, even interesting.  more so since i am pretty sure that this is the David Marcus that was the Legal Counsel of LANNET, my entry company to tech/geek world.  i want him and his company to succeed.

my excitement and hope for their success though are somewhat weakened when i continue to read the press release.

my first press release writing experience took place, as a matter of fact, at LANNET when the VP my boss was out.  the CEO/president called me.  never before i was made more aware of the “weight” of each word.  yes, of course it was  in English and sensitive since we were just getting spun-off.  since then, i gained much comfort and confidence in contributing, reviewing, commenting on press releases.

as i was saying, i was ready to be all excited and supportive for iSiT, until i got to this “shopping around” list paragraph.  i stopped counting at 16, companies that is.

“When potential investors such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL, Facebook, HP, SONY, Apple, Amazon, Citrix, Intel, Qualcomm, ARC Angle Fund, Trident Capital, BlackRock, The Blackstone Group, Barclays Global Investors N.A., Lehman Brothers – Wealth and Asset Management Division, Osage Partners, Goldman Sachs, i-Hatch Ventures, Launch Capital, Genacast Ventures, GSA Venture Partners, UBS AG, Barclays Global Investors, State Street Global Advisors, JPMorgan Chase, Chris Dixon, Ron Conway, Reid Hoffman, Esther Dyson, Peter Theil, Marc Andreeson, Arnon Katz, Jeff Bezos, Chris Sacca, Mike Maples, Andy Bechtolsheim and others whose investments are listed on NYSE, NASDAQ and AMEX equity markets are seeking creative consumer Internet, new media, social media, Web 3.0 software applications that could enhance their ROI they become more than eager to share coffee with us.” [from their press release]

Who, in their right mind, would list all these as a proof of [potential] success?   don’t you know that we humans cannot well process lists exceeding 3-7 items?  you may be the Business Development VP trying to prove your value, or maybe the CMO, and you should know better.  pick no more than five to list, and better yet, get a quote…  something that may be perceived as a compliment, sign of interest, endorsement…  nada.

and then you may be the CEO of a start-up that have a firm belief in name dropping.  but are you sure that publicly listing all your potential investors, angels or acquirers is what will get where you want to go?  seriously?

what am i missing? after all, by the time i was done with reading this impressive list, my coffee had gone cold.

good luck.

Resources:

http://www.isitfact.com/
http://www.prweb.com/releases/isitfactsoftwareangelsvc/investorscapitalstartups/prweb5076504.htm
 

Clipart:

http://www.animetion.co.uk/Reviews/merch/negimafigumate1p1.jpg
 

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