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Sunday
Dec232007

DonorsChoose.org

We do a lot of advertising on Google, and each year they send a nice little Christmas gift. Usually, it's some gadget with their logo on it. This year they got creative. They sent a $100 gift certificate to DonorsChoose.org.

DonorsChoose.org is a pretty fascinating idea. Basically, it is an online philanthropy network. Teachers post proposals to fund various classroom projects. Potential donors fund these projects partially or in full. DonorsChoose.org handles the fulfillment and assures the necessary accountability. It's a great site and an efficient process.
 

Wednesday
Jun202007

The Break Up

I read about this film on Matt Bailey's blog. It's an excellent and creative contrast between the the old ways and the new ways to connect with consumers.

Wednesday
May302007

Doug on CNBC

My brother, Doug, was on CNBC yesterday. He runs an investment firm called Broadleaf Partners. Among other things, Doug talked about the current private equity environment and the continued importance of the Fed's influence on the market. You can see the video here while it lasts.
Monday
May282007

Google Entrepreneurs

Cringley wrote a piece the other day called The Final Days of Google: It is going to be an inside job. Basically, he puts forth the idea that many potential entrepreneurs at Google will cash out their options at some point, leave the company, start ventures of their own, and, eventually, one of them will unseat Google as the undisputed corporate heavyweight champion.

Cringely's basic statements are right on the money, but his interpretations are simplistic.

...Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are sure (and for good reason) that their crew will generate in this 20 percent time thousands of ideas and technologies that the company can commercialize for decades to come.

It is a brilliant strategy and one that would appear to be almost foolproof. Alas, that's not so, for Google's strategy for business immortality is fatally flawed and will ultimately kill the company.

Yes, the "20% time" and other idea manufacturing that Google does certainly constitute a brilliant strategy. But Cringely believes that Google is somehow planning to hoard all of these ideas:

Google quite properly will pursue 10 projects per year and five of those will fail both because they are expected to and also because they were never worth pursuing in the first place. This leaves 390 orphaned projects of which 35 are absolutely stunning but unrecognized and 355 are pretty darned good. What happens to THOSE ideas?

They fester.

No, I don't think so. The Google guys are smart enough to know that they cannot keep all of the good ideas in house forever, whether or not they decide to pursue them. Google just wants first dibs and earns this right by fostering a creative, free development environment. If they thought they could keep it all to themselves, they would not offer the options exit plan with Morgan Stanley that Cringely writes about.

Will a culture of resentment develop among Google employees whose ideas are rejected? Sure, it's possible. Every big company takes on a life of its own; this is inevitable. Many employees may become bitter rather than strike out on their own. However, to suggest that because Google generates a lot of business ideas, they will somehow cause mass numbers of employees to defect misses the whole point of this strategy.

Here's a very specific example. Step2 does a lot of business with Google. The AdWords program has been very successful for us. We got started with AdWords because an astute Google sales rep named Adam Goldberg called me a few years ago and sold us on the program. Adam guided us through the setup process and followed up regularly to make sure things were going well. All along, he kept giving us good advice and helping us optimize our campaign.

Adam is a really smart guy. (I wish I was that smart.) While he was working with us and other clients over the years, he noticed that Google was doing a lot to generate traffic and great top-line sales for its advertisers. But the advertisers really had no easy way of calculating true ROI on their AdWords campaigns. It was even more difficult to figure out which specific keywords were performing better than others at generating actual profits.

Adam figured that all of the performance data that Google was providing to its advertisers could be combined with the advertisers' own profitability and sales data to analyze true ROI down to the keyword level. This was a big deal because if campaigns could be managed using such granular ROI measurements, then it would allow advertisers to optimize their campaigns with much greater efficiency. Waste could be eliminated, and spending could be increased where justified.

After developing the idea, Adam did what every Googler does -- he pitched it to management. They liked it, but they told him that it was not a direction they wanted to go. What happened next is important: They gave Adam their blessing to leave Google and pursue the idea on his own. Today, Adam and some very talented programmers run a company called ClearSaleing in Columbus, Ohio. We do business with them, and their product is amazing.

The point of this story is that Google does not hoard all of its ideas. They do not foolishly believe that they can stop good ideas from leaving. Contrary to Cringely's thesis, they actually encourage people to leave from time to time -- with ideas that were hatched at Google.

Believing in your core business is the true lesson of Google's long-term success. As I have stated time and time again, their core business is advertising. Everything they do drives users to encounter or create relevant content, and relevant content is a channel for serving relevant advertising.

Innovation and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. Google uses both to grow their business. The side effect is the creation of additional businesses. Some might even become competitors. Will this be their downfall? Perhaps one day it will, but my guess is that the end will come later, much later, because of this strategy.

Sunday
May132007

Stats from The Week

The May 19th issue of The Week, by far my favorite news magazine, has its usual roundup of statistics snippets. These two caught my eye:

The New York City metropolitan area is home to 7 percent of the U.S. population and 23 percent of the psychiatrists. (from The New York Times

That's amazing yet completely believable. Presumably, the number of patients seen by these shrinks is much higher than 7 percent of the U.S. population as well.

Fifty-two percent of teenagers who signed an abstinence program's promise to remain virgins until marriage had sex within one year, according to a new study of 14,000 teens. (from the Los Angeles Times)

Well, I suppose that's also pretty believable, but it leaves out an important contrast: If you survey 14,000 teens who did not sign an abstinence agreement, what percentage of them remained virgins after a year? That would tell us something even more useful.

Sunday
May132007

What happens to people when they get old?

This Flickr set just showed up on Digg. It's very funny. I will definitely use these in ABF next week. Normally, this is the kind of thing that would be written in a blog. Using Flickr preserved the whole experience and added authenticity. Very cool.

Monday
May072007

Raising Boys

This from GreatDad.com is hysterical. My favorite:

You should not throw baseballs up when the ceiling fan is on. When using a ceiling fan as a bat, you have to throw the ball up a few times before you get a hit. A ceiling fan can hit a baseball a long way. 

Monday
Apr232007

Mozy Lands Big Fish

I started using Mozy several months ago after reading Walt Mossberg's review. It's a nice, simple product that works very well. I haven't had to restore any files yet, which is probably the ultimate test of Mozy's worthiness. Nevertheless, it runs smoothly, and I rest comfortably knowing that my data is safely backed up offsite. It's nice to see that they've created a scalable product that works as well for GE as it does for me.
Saturday
Apr142007

The Famous Trumpet Practice Video

Last December I captured this little video of Jack annoying Charlie while he practiced his trumpet. The whole family thinks it's hysterical (and it is), so I uploaded it to YouTube.

Sunday
Mar182007

Wii Believe in Nintendo Customer Service

After three months of gaming bliss, we ran into our first problem with the Wii yesterday. Last week I installed wifi in the house, so the kids were itching to connect the Wii and start using its online features. The setup went pretty well until I got to the part where the console needed to update its software.

There are two updates that the Wii has to download after you get wifi working. The first one occurs immediately after the connection is confirmed. This took about fifteen minutes, a bit longer than I expected. The second update is where the trouble started.

The second one occurs after an apparent registration process (i.e., it asks you for your country, etc.). It's a sizeable download, but after two hours it was still only about 25% complete. I spent another hour Googling for solutions and digging around the Nintendo knowledge base. It's a well-executed support site with lots of answers. Unfortunately, this specific problem was not discussed in any detail. There was plenty of advice for slow downloads in general but nothing about this problem specifically during the initial setup.

This is usually the point in these things where two things happen to me:

  1. I get really upset about all the other things that I should really be working on
  2. My blood pressure climbs to new heights

I was not in the mood to waste any more time, but I couldn't figure out how to reset the darn thing back to normal working order. I pulled the plug twice, and both times the Wii started up right where it left off. (Later I found out that if you shut down your router, it will error out, and you can go back to playing games sans wifi connection.)

Lisa noticed my symptoms and decided to call Nintendo customer service. I had absolutely zero expectations and laughed at the mere notion. Think about it: Here's a company with a scorching hot product. The Wii is so allocated that retailers actually have to sell Nintendo on why they deserve more inventory than the next guy. I am no cynic, but this is hardly the recipe for a good customer service experience. I expected nothing more than a message saying they were closed on Saturday and that we were not eligible to speak with them by phone until we had fried our broadband connection searching for help online.

Boy, was I ever wrong. Lisa easily found the number in the owner's manual and got right through. I think she was on hold for fifteen seconds. Even better, the agent knew all about the issue and walked me through a series of steps to correct the problem. This primarily consisted of changing the channel on the router and resetting it.

As it turned out, the real culprit was probably just network congestion. The Internet was slow all day and it was horrific last night. I think the the Wii just couldn't keep up. Bottom line: After about an hour, the second update was completed, and we were able to connect. For me this amounted to checking the weather on the Wii Forecast Channel. The kids went deeper and found new ways for us to spend money on games (of course).

The last thing that the Nintendo agent did was arrange for an advanced technician to call me back in a day to see if the problem had been rectified. That guy called a few minutes ago and was just as polite as the first agent.

Bravo to Nintendo for not taking customers for granted when it would be so easy to do so. Nintendo obviously takes a long-term view and realizes that this is the best time to offer great service and bolster their brand.