Oct 31

One of my most favorite eletters comes from Merge’s client, Rob Ketterer of Visionworks Consulting. Rob produces the most straight forward, but insightful newsletter that he sends out on a monthly basis.

Here’s a sample:

“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.” — Conrad Hilton, Hilton Hotels

Atari founder Nolan Bushnell said, “Everyone who’s ever taken a shower has an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off and does something about it who makes a difference.”

Andrew Carnegie was this type of man — he was known for building one of the most powerful corporations in history, and then later in life, giving away most of his riches to others. Reflecting on life, Mr. Carnegie wrote: “As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders are action oriented, knowing that ideas and talk without action are meaningless.

I highly recommend subscribing.

Oct 28

This weekend I took my three kids to Mutt’s Barbecue. As we were eating our feast of pulled pork, my son asked why the restaurant was called Mutt’s. I told him that I didn’t know. That’s when my 3 year-old daughter chimed in: “Won’t your phone tell you?”

My, what different times we live in.

You see, my Blackberry knows all sorts of things. It knows: why pineapple is called pineapple, what an easel looks like, where the closest Moe’s is or what a Comanche Helicopter looks like.

These items are all things my kids have asked me about that I didn’t know. But my phone does. Simply pulling up Google or Wikipedia on my phone, I can find out about 98% of any question my kid may ask. I am now super dad.

The only thing that I couldn’t find out is why Mutt’s is called Mutt’s. We could help them with that problem.

Oct 25

Welcome home prodigal son. The dotcom bust is immanently back apparently:

“Microsoft agreed to pay $240 million for a 1.6% stake in Facebook, a deal that places a $15 billion valuation on the start-up…The high valuation for Facebook is the latest sign of a renewed exuberance in Silicon Valley over Internet companies with lots of users — even if those users haven’t yet translated into much revenue — and is reminiscent of the Internet bubble that ended in 2000…Microsoft scrambled to keep Facebook from falling into Google’s hands…” (see article)

When the irrational behavior, rationalization and denial are part of justifying valuations, it’s time to throw a party for our not-so-favorite son. We lived through it once, can we do it again?

Oct 22

This weekend, my wife and I went to listen to some music at the Handlebar in Greenville, SC. (By the way, Nickel Creek is playing Nov. 10th, 2007. Great band-if country/folk/blue grass is your thing.)

Anyway, we walked in to the Handlebar and at the back of the listening room were some aprons on a table. Sort of weird. Nobody paid much attention to them and simply glanced at the aprons as they made way to their seats.

I introduce you to Rosie Thomas, the opening act for the night’s headliner, Over the Rhine. Rosie talked like Minnie Mouse but sung let Bette Midler (not exactly, but she had a powerful voice is my point). Rosie’s stage presence came across like Nancy Griffith’s: she had the peculiar humor / quirky / intrigue from the stage. Rosie was funny. She was real. She was peculiar. She wasn’t putting on an act. She was herself, and being herself was more attractive than any act could ever be.

Contrast that to Over the Rhine, who’s been around since 1991 (or so), and I could only guess they were on there 700+ performance over a 15 year span. All act. Rehearsed. Mechanical. Predictable. Talented? Yes, but personality, no. If they had personality, I couldn’t detect it through their act. They came across phony, albeit the are a talented group of musicians.

Back to the aprons. They once stood unmoving, not selling. After Rosie’s “act,” they were gone. Personality sold them. Genuine sold them. Real sold them. Unpolished sold them. She connected with her audience. Something in Rosie’s personality instilled in her female customer that said, “I have to have one of Rosie’s aprons!” Not: “I have to have an apron.” Her customer probably never wears an apron! But all of the sudden, after a 20 minute exposure to Rosie’s personality, this 20-something female stood 30-deep in a line to get her apron.

Personality sells. Peculiarity sells. Intrigue sells. Is your web site-is your marketing showing your personality? Note: a personality is not perfect. It has it’s warts, bumps and imperfections. Isn’t it interesting that you need this in your brand and/or your web site to be effective?

Don’t believe me? Read what the Wizard of Ads, Roy Williams, has to say in today’s Monday Morning Memo on Personality. Here’s an excerpt:

“Shallow brands are fully integrated and seamless. To be deep and attractive, a brand must have incongruent characteristics that make it interesting.

Just like a person.

Francis Bacon said it 400 years ago: ‘There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.’”

Oct 19

A new list service from Microsoft:

Here’s the latest from Microsoft Live Labs: Listas. Listas, get it? Funny, right? This is a list-sharing tool that lets you edit lists, share them with others, and search for public lists that have been created by users. Microsoft is proposing its use for just about any reason you’d make a list, including meeting notes, shopping lists, or casual event planning.

Now you have a place to aggregate and manage all of your lists. Items can be entered manually, or with a downloadable bookmarking tool, and there are a few formating options for the list itself, including font modification and a bullet system. Privacy settings for lists include public or private, and lists can be edited by other users in a wiki-manner as well. So now you and your friends can list the pros and cons of taking that trip to Vegas together (as if there were any cons).

See article.

Wow. Merge did this two years ago on a budget of, err, nothing. See www.listalist.com. What am I missing?

Oct 17

It’s amazing how we adapt. I was meeting with a colleague this morning at Port City Java, when the barista started doing her thing. Our conversation volume went from a very normal level to a near scream, which ironically, I could barely hear.

You can understand my amazement then, when the barista suddenly stopped her craft, and immediately all went silent. My friend instantly dropped from a concert-level decibel output to a near whisper-totally unaffected and without missing a beat. He acted as if nothing happened. Like there was no problem with conversing, yelling and then whispering all within the span of 14 seconds. It was normal. Call it the Starbucks (or Port City Java) conversational discourse if you would.

What other whacky things do we put up with to accommodate our modern life (oh, think of cell phones, blackberry’s, smoking, shopping, the internet…)?

Oct 16

I have to admit, this is good. Story goes, a woman orders several shoes from Zappos for her mom, mom dies, and Zappos pays to pickup the shoes, arranges UPS to come out and get them and then sends flowers and a card. Wow. Can you say customer for life? Read the actual blog.

When Merge was at sxsw last year, we heard the founder of Zappos speak. The blog post above fits very much into their philosophy, as he explained it. Really, really good customer support. Extraordinary-in the true sense of the word-customer support.

RackspaceIt’s so refreshing when that is your experience. And with that said, I want to share a similar experience. Merge uses Rackspace to manage its servers. I’ve often joked that I want to name my third (now fourth) kid after Rackspace. Their slogan is “Fanatical Support.” They’re one of those few companies, like Zappos, that actually lives up to the hype.

Actually, it’s not hype, it’s what they do.

Rackspace can be reached any time of the day, 24/7, 52 weeks out of the year. Their support is spot-on, and often they have any problems solved before I even know about it. They are fanatical. If you have to hire a company for something, don’t you want them to be fanatical about their service?

How you ‘doing?

Oct 15

This morning I heard a great observation on the podcast TWiT Episode 116 (this week in tech) about how the schools are teaching children.

They were commenting on Dr. Goodnight’s rant, founder of SAS, which is summarized below:

“What does SAS CEO Dr. Jim Goodnight have in common with 47% of high school dropouts? A belief that school is boring. Marking the 50th anniversary of Sputnik with a call for renewed emphasis on science and technology in America’s schools, Goodnight finds today’s kids ill-served by old-school schooling: ‘Today’s generation of kids is the most technology savvy group that this country has ever produced. They are born with an iPod in one hand and a cell phone in another. They’re text messaging, e-mailing, instant messaging. They’re on MySpace, YouTube & Google. They’ve got Nintendo Wiis, Game Boys, PlayStations. Their world is one of total interactivity. They’re in constant communication with each other, but when they go to school, they are told to leave those ‘toys’ at home. They’re not to be used in school. Instead, the system continues teaching as if these kids belong to the last century, by standing in front of a blackboard.’” from slashdpot, see original interview

I think Dr. Goodnight has some credence to his rant. But my point really isn’t about school children. What I wonder, is how well is the business person adapting?

We’re in a world where we can learn anything we want to with a simple click of the mouse. Need to know how to create a blog? Need to figure out how to configure your Outlook? Need to know how to build a web site? Need to know how to create a marketing budget?

It doesn’t stop with just simply searching web pages on Google. You can also find video and audio to enhance you’re learning. You can even subscribe to a topic, using RSS.

It’s alarming that adults spend an average of 4 hours watching television a day, when we could be in almost a constant state of learning. I don’t know about you, but I think learning is great. I take a life-long approach to the subject, and feel very fortunate that we have all of these tools at our disposal. I’m learning how to adapt. I’m shelving the old model of learning, and using technology to enhance my current learning. For the professional, learning doesn’t stop at college and we can’t depend on our employer to teach us what we need to know. The internet has given us the ability to take our professional development (or personal development) into our own hands.

So here’s a challenge: What can you do today to begin enhancing your professional/personal development?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Find 3 blogs to follow, and subscribe to them via an RSS reader (see my Google Reader blog for more info)
  • Get an iPod and subscribe to Audible.com. You can download 1-2 books on “tape” and listen to these books to and from work, when you mow the lawn, exercise, etc.
  • Search the iTunes store for a podcast of a subject that interests you. Listen to your podcasts throughout the week.

Let’s not fall into the same trap our school system is and assume we have to learn the same ol’ way. Use technology to take advantage of the amazing opportunity to advance your professional and personal life. Seize the day!

Oct 11

Seth blogged today on how to create a good enough web site. Sure, that’s a topic that guarantees controversy from the web world, but it is thought provoking nonetheless.

Most companies just need good enough. That’s an online brochure. It doesn’t have to be great, because their company isn’t great. Mediocre is good enough. So why would their site need to be any better?

Seth then posts the next day on what it takes to make a great web site. There you have it. You have options. If you want mediocre, there are web developers that can get you up fast and cheap. If you want great, well, that’s a whole different world and blog posting altogether. It’s also a totally different type of web firm that can deliver great vs. good.

Oct 10

I recently was asked in an interview if I had any advice for new entrepreneurs…

“Yes. I’m an advisor for the Small Business Advisory Board that meets through the Greenville Chamber the second Monday of every month at 4:00 pm. I’d start there for some great advice.

Secondly, I always offer some very simple advice to entrepreneurs. I’ve talked with numerous individuals who are really excited to launch a business, but after asking some pretty basic questions, they find out their emotion is the main driver behind the business versus the viability of the business idea itself.

You really need both emotion and a viable business model to make a business work. So I simply offer this advise: Get a napkin out and do the basic numbers. Does it work? If not, what do you need to change in your assumptions to make it work?

I’m really surprised to find that most entrepreneurs have never crunched some basic numbers. Crunch the numbers before you get too far down the road. If they work, then keep going!”