Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Strategic Leadership [MBA]

In preparation for my MBA finals and graduation on April 18, I'm reviewing Strategic Management by Charles Hill and Gareth Jones.

Chapter 1 is Strategic Leadership: Managing the Strategy-Making Process for Competitive Advantage.

As I go back though the book, I am looking for direct application to running Gunner Technology. The section I found most relevant from this chapter was the model for strategic planning, especially step 1: Select the corporate mission and major corporate goals.

Working at ESPN, I always felt the mission statement, vision and goals were a bit too high level. But the books makes a case for their importance and after going through the exercises, I understand how important they can be to set the foundation and culture of a new company such as Gunner Technology. So here we go.

  • Mission: Gunner Technology provides small businesses with custom Web strategies, including visualization, formalization, implementation, management and measurement, that meet and exceed our customers' unique goals of an online presence. 
  • Vision: Small businesses and entrepreneurs are crucial to the nation's economy and will be the next major force online as they move into Internet and Mobile technologies.
  • Values: Gunner Technology values transparency, honesty, trust and equality. If any of those values are lacking on either side, Gunner Technology will not enter into a client relationship. We work hard for mutually beneficial relationships and no client is more important than another.
  • Major Goals: In its first year of operation, Gunner Technology will establish long-term relationships with five clients. We have numerous short-term, time-based projects, but we best benefit ourselves and our clients with ongoing, long-term relationships.
So there you go. As CEO, that's my first pass at Gunner Technology's Mission Statement. It's definitely not set it stone, but that represents pretty clearly what we believe.

What do you think? What do you think of misson statements in general?


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Could Small Be The New Big? [Business]

These are my thoughts on Could Small Be The New Big? from the American Express OPEN Forum.

Small is the new big. And it goes deeper than that.

This is the classic Right Now Plan vs the Deferred Life plan first coined in the Monk and the Riddle.

Both Johnny CupCakes and David Garland love what they're doing. Yes, they are financially successful, but both would probably do what they're doing right now even if they weren't.

They're not trying to postpone happiness. They found a way to make money from doing what makes them happy.

David loves helping entrepreneurs. He's infectious with his positive attitude.

Johnny loves making shirts and helping those close to him: His friends and family.

It's societal-business harmony.

One more take on Small being the new Big.

I believe the next Big, Small thing is really small as in miniscule. Timothy Farris put it forward in The 4-Hour Workweek.

Automate your income.

Are you good at verbal skills? Record a DVD, helping people build their verbal skills for the SAT.

Are you a certified court translator? Record a podcast helping others learn the language and charge $2 a download.

Investment advisor? Daily stock tip. Charge .99 cents.

This is the genius behind virtual gifts, the App Store and the iTunes Store. Mutually beneficial relationships between business and customers.

By themselves, each transaction is worth nothing. Hit critical mass, and you're talking about making a nice income off of something you like to do anyway.

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10 common social media mistakes | Blog | Econsultancy

I just read 10 common social media mistakes and it's a good post.

Very solid, albiet, common information on social media.

The one that is really starting to irk me is ROI.

I don't know why this rankles consultants and strategists. It's simple.

Ask your client what your KPI is. If they say "Page views, followers and fans", ask them a simple question:

"Why do page views, followers and fans matter to you?"

That is what is the real KPI (Key Performance Indicator).

Maybe it's to increase registrations. Maybe it's to increase sales conversions. Maybe it's to increase brand awareness, scope or customer responsiveness.

Each is very easy to tie back to ROI.

1) Increase registrations: The reason an increase in registrations is important is because a registered user is worth more than a guest.

So the first place to start is finding out what a registered user is worth.

The next step is to tie Twitter/Facebook/whatever into your analytics tracking. URL referrers and tracking codes are a great place to start.

From there, you need to find out what percentage of followers or friends convert to registered site users. So, if a registered user is worth $10 monthly, and one out of every 10 followers or friends ends up registering, a friend/follower is worth $1 monthly.

That number is extremely high. The actual figure is more like a penny for most sites. But the principal is same. From there you have two options: Increase the sheer amount of fans/followers or increase the likelihood they convert to registered users.

Working with management, you should be able to estimate the cost of a campaign and how many fans/followers it will get you.

Again, these are estimates, but stick with me here.

You estimate that a one month campaign will get you 40 new Twitter followers and cost $100. From above, we know that 40 followers equals roughly four registered users and a registered user is worth $1 each. So you stand to make $40 that month, so you're in the hole $60 for the campaign.

The last step is to figure out retention. If your registered user base is loyal, that $60 loss in month one is acceptable because the CLV (or customer lifetime value) will far exceed that number.

2) Sales conversions: This one is easy. Follow the first few setups to setup analytics integration and find out how many followers/fans buy a product. If you have a $100 product and one out of 10 followers/fans converts on that product, your campaign will have to add 10 followers/fans well costing less than $100 to be successful. Or add 20 followers/fans and cost less than $200 to be worth it.

3) Customer responsiveness/Brand awareness: These are the trickiest. For brand awareness, I suggest a company like ViralHeat to measure whether the sentiment is positive or negative and see how your campaign affects that sentiment. For customer responsiveness, you measure feedback and returns. If you have a product that averages two returns out of 10 sales, and you launch a campaign to increase customer responsiveness and your returns drop to one out of 10, you have an indication of positive ROI if the cost of the campaign is less than the cost of a returned product. If you're a service organization, do the same, but see if the number of complaints drop or satisfied customers rise. Stick a number on that and compare it to the cost of the campaign.

It's really not brain surgery. It just takes some thought.

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, Dover Publications, Inc., 1992

The Prince, originally written in 1513, remains a quintessential book on leadership that is a must read for anyone with a modicum of ambition.

While Machiavelli recommends harsh principles that can detract unfocused readers, his overt motivation for writing was to provide Lorenzo de' Medici, who recently came to power in Machiavelli's home of Florence, Italy, a practical guide for acquiring and maintaining power based on his historical observations.

Machiavelli observations can be boiled down to three main points.
  • The ends justifies the means
  • It is better to be feared than to be loved
  • People can be trusted but only to follow their own selfish motivations

When I originally read this book as part of my seventh grade world history class, I looked at the examples Machiavelli put forth to support these principles and, generally, accepted them as truth.

Each time I have read it, however, I grew increasingly weary.

As part of my MBA curriculum, I just finished it for the fifth time and have nearly come 180 degrees on my opinion of The Prince.

First, in his day, Machiavelli was known more as a musician, diplomat, philosopher and playwright than the military tactician and political expert he's come to be known as.

Why is that? Maybe he wasn't really that great of a military tactician or politician. Not saying. Just saying.

Second, Machiavelli probably would have faded from history without much of a splash had he not mastered the art of creating dichotomies and one-solution situations.

For example: The question of whether it is better to be feared or loved is a construct created for the purely hypothetical. I would put forth that it is possible to both be feared and loved. Doesn't the Bible, which Machiavelli mentions in his writing, command that we love and fear God? Furthermore, I would argue that being respected is better than being loved or feared for a leader. One need not love someone or fear them in order to respect them.

Additionally, what ends are we talking about? I have learned the hard way that the end in which the mean justifies is not always clear. If I bust my ass and my employees' asses to hit a deadline, I achieve my short-term end with harsh means. But what if I alienated other departments by achieving this end? I might end up being less productive in the mid-term. But, in the long-term, those alienated employees may leave the company before me thus allowing me to reestablish a good reputation among fresh employees whom I haven't burned. This may lead me to have a more successful long-term career with my company. But what about my reputation as a person? If I burn everyone for career success, I could end my life with no relational success in the long, long-term.

Yes, this example is farfetched and a bit humorous, but the point is clear. Who knows what the ends are?

To the last main theme, I agree, most people have selfish motivations, which if discernable, can be leveraged for personal gain. But to what end...?

Finally, a careful reader will pick up on one of Machiavelli's strongest warnings and apply it to the conditions in which the author penned the book: Avoid flatterers.

In fact, Machiavelli's home of Florence had been in flux and had seen many rulers. The Prince is an attempt to gain favor with the flavor of the day, and Machiavelli overtly kisses Medici's butt in the book.

That said, I would recommend that anyone who hasn't read The Prince to pour through it at least once and read some literature about Machiavelli and the conditions under which he wrote The Prince.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How to Self-Diagnose Your Financial Health

How to Self-Diagnose Your Financial Health

Came across this today and thought it was a good quick survey to alert anyone to red flags in their finances.

The last one should have been the first one, though. That's the whole premise of The Monk and the Riddle and The 4-Hour Workweek.

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With a Tangled Skein by Piers Anthony [Book Review]

With a Tangled Skein by Piers Anthony 1986

With a Tangled Skein is the third book in the Incarnations of Immortality series, which has declined steadily since the first book.

Each book in the series follows one of the five (really seven) Incarnations: Death (book 1), Time (book 2), Fate (book 3), War and Nature.

In the series, God and Satan are also incarnations, locked in a war over souls. God plays by the rules. Satan does not, which forces the other incarnations, who would otherwise be neutral, to battle Satan in order to maintain balance on Earth.

Each book has a new human assuming one of the incarnation offices and focuses on that character with the other incarnation characters playing supporting roles.

Unfortunately, the series has followed one small battle with Satan that involves perserving a mortal woman's future as an influential senator who, in the future, thwarts Satan's political efforts on Earth.

Instead of moving on, Satan continually tries to dispose of the woman or prevent this future from happening and each book follows the incarnations' plow to keep the future in place.

With a Tangled Skein was worse than the first two because, outside of a now trite storyline, Fate was the most disappointing of the fates so far. She's made up of three different aspects, one of which controls the body of Fate at any one time. Her power is nebulous at best and annoying at worst.

Additionally, in the first two books, Death and Time relied on their unique power to thwart Satan. Not so in this book, although Anthony forces something close to it at the end.

I do enjoy the tragic events that lead to the main character becoming an Aspect of Fate and the twist she goes through after returning to a mortal life.

Unfortunately, this was not enough to prevent the series from dropping to mediocre.


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What to ask your Social Media Expert/Consultant/Guru

After reading several quizes and questions to ask a potential Social Media Consultant (etc), I decided to pull together the best of the bunch and create a one-stop guide to screen the experts from the ex-cons (or current cons).

If you want to skip this long quiz and hire a sure thing, just head on over the Gunner Technology and give us a shout.

API stands for... 

  1. Advanced Prototyping Infrastructure
  2. Application Programming Interface <--
  3. Adept Programming Interface
  4. Application Prototyping Infrastructure

Which one of these is NOT a programming language?

  1. .NET <--
  2. Haskell
  3. LISP
  4. JavaScript

Which one of these is NOT part of a standard or modified LAMP stack?

  1. Linux
  2. Microsoft <--
  3. PHP
  4. Python

Which one of these is NOT an authentication technology?

  1. Facebook Connect
  2. Twitter OAuth
  3. OpenID
  4. Gravatar <--

Which one of these companies is NOT currently profitable?

  1. Twitter
  2. YouTube <--
  3. Pandora
  4. MySpace

A hacker is a...

  1. Person who profits by breaking into personal and bank accounts.
  2. Computer programmer of considerable skill. <--
  3. Cyber criminal who breaks into computer networks.
  4. An unskilled person creating a sloppy work product.

Which one of the following statements is FALSE?

  1. C# and .NET are Microsoft technologies.
  2. Most programming languages add layers of abstraction between human-written and machine-readable code.
  3. It's relatively simple to translate PHP into C++.
  4. Oracle's database is a great example of open-source technology. <--

Which of the following is NOT a supported web browser?

  1. Opera Mini
  2. Chrome
  3. Konqueror
  4. Mozilla <--

In startup funding, the seed round is preceded by the...

  1. Friends and family round. <--
  2. Angel round.
  3. Series A.

What is your experience using the web interface on Twitter?
The answer should be very little. A social media consultant should be using a Twitter client not the Web interface.

How do you go about pitching bloggers?
If you hear the words "blind copy," "news release" or "email blast," look elsewhere. Bloggers look for reciprocation and mutually beneficial relationships. They aren't tools you can "use for free" for marketing.

How do you monitor what people are saying about you?
If the answer stops with blogs, you've got yourself a fake. Additionally, they should at least mention "Sentiment Analysis"

Where can I find you online?
Take a look at the accounts. Have they been updated recently? You want doers, not talkers. Choose people with a presence who are actually participating in the methods they espouse.


How do you measure results?
There are numerous answers to this question. Increase conversion. Increase brand awareness. Increase registered customers. Page Hits is probably the weakest and means the least.


How would you define social media?
PR isn't press releases, media lists or speeches. Social media isn't a list of tools. Same principle. Your "expert" should start with principles. Occasionally you might hear a tool within that.


Can you just pretend to be me online?
They should answer no. A social media consultant can plan, run and manage campaigns, but they should never pretend to be someone or something they are not. The bad publicity alone if exposed makes this a bad idea. This doesn't mean they can't Tweet for your business or run your Facebook page. But, for example, Cody Swann should never pretend to be Michael Smith to post content.


What experience do you have?
Social media is new, so there are lots of effective consultants/agencies who can help you, but lack years and years of experience. That said, your small business shouldn't be someone's guinea pig. Don't hire someone if they can't talk about experience, and more importantly, success.


What social networks should our business use?
A good consultant may throw out a few examples, but they'll also tell you that the real answer depends on how your consumers/target markets are using social media. And this times some research and digging. If a consultant says "Twitter, Facebook and a blog" and that's it, odds are you don't want to work with that person.


Do you know HTML?
It used to be that only web programmers understood how to use HTML. But, today, it's important for PR and social media people to understand at least the basics. For example, you don't want to pay extra fees or wait extra time for the web programmer to embed some links in a social media release, do you?


How do you use social media?
Not everyone uses social media the same way, and that's perfectly fine. But, it's important that the person you hire to assist with social media demonstrates the ability to use social media strategically. For themselves and for clients.


Why is social media right for our business?
We're working with a client right now where Social media isn't right for them. But, a consultant attempting to win your business should provide a thorough answer that goes beyond "engaging your customers."


Who are your references?
This is a no brainer. But not necessarily a non-starter.

Tell us about a lesser-known social media initiative that you think was a success — and what can our business learn from their approach.
Dell, Best Buy and Nordstrom are common answer, but what about small businesses operating locally? Look for those types of examples.

When did you start in social media?
This is a trick question. Social media is new, so six months isn't exactly a non-starter. If they say 20 years, that should raise an eyebrow as well. That said "Social Media" is new as a term, but the principles are what the Internet was founded on.

What's a social media campaign?
If specific numbers are thrown out, or automatic, gaming-of-the-system methods are mentioned, you should pass. All campaigns start with content and making that content appealing enough to want to pass it along to someone else.

How do you monitor social media for a client?
Google alerts, third party tools and Twitter searches are all good answers.

How do you build an audience?
Building an audience takes time and depends on the campaign, especially through social media. It requires emergence in the communities and integration. Auto-following, spamming and email blasts are terrible ideas for social media campaigns.


Do you offer a guarantee?
The only real guarantee that can be made is effort. A social media consultant can guarantee hard work, but not results because you're marketing to people and it's impossible to say what they'll like and not like and what will happen in the world that could affect behavior.


How did you learn all this stuff?
If they mention a book, that's not good because a book on social media was out of date when it was printed.  Learning through doing is the best explanation. Going to conferences is OK, too


How does social media impact SEO?
"It builds links" is only half the answer. Social media exposes your content. If people find that content engaging they will interact with it. If they enjoy it, they will want to sure it with others. This is when links get built and SEO is impacted.

How often do you write?
They should blog or write almost every day.


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Monday, March 29, 2010

Payvment puts $1.1M in its basket to power online shopping carts | VentureBeat

Payvment puts $1.1M in its basket to power online shopping carts | VentureBeat

This is a big deal. And I'm glad to see these guys get funding. Being able to put a shopping cart on Facebook so easily is a huge boon for small businesses.

I'd call it a game-changer if I didn't have to slam my toe in the door for saying it.

Facebook is slowly creating a platform that makes creating your own Web site unnecessary.

It's great for small businesses. And great for Gunner Technology to use as a tool to help small businesses

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Increase thy ability to earn

Increase thy ability to earn. This is the seventh and final rule that George S. Clason lays out in The Richest Man in Babylon.

Don't stop learning. Diversify and research. Do the leg work. This will open new investment avenues to you.

I've heard a lot of talk about whether it is better to be an expert on one thing or a jack-of-all trades.

While such debates are lively and entertaining, they are largely moot.

Whether you are an expert or a handyman, get better. Read. Do. Never be satisfied with what you know. Knowledge does not produce linear growth. It's exponential.

The more you know, the better you get at learning, which increases your capacity for knowledge and your ability to do your job.

Also, learning how to do your job better increases the likelihood of automation, which frees you up to make more streams of income and continue learning.

So read that trade blog. Pick up that book. Do the mental exercises and keep learning.

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Foursquare’s Growth Not Slowing Down: 725,000 Users, 22 Million Checkins

I just read on Mashable that Foursquare just reached 725k users, who have produced 22 Million Checkins.

That's impressive and believable. Unlike the inflated startup numbers that I constantly read: 3 million users, 10 million visitors, etc, this I totally believe.

Consider that Foursquare launched with a slowly growing limited release, it's especially impressive.

It's also a little scary.

Checkins threaten to be the worst kind of spam, especially because of the products close tie-in with Twitter.

Think about it. What's the typical example you hear from critics of Twitter? "I don't care if you're eating a banana."

That's almost synonymous with "I'm at x, y, z." Do I really care? Not really.

In order to maintain its growth, Foursquare is going to have to do something to better encourage its users to leave tips and shouts. That's the stuff that's useful.

But I fear the location spam.

MBA: The Executive Summary

Assignment for Professional Writing class w/comments and grade

To: Ed Davis, title?
From: Cody Swann, title?
Subject: Summary of Relational Work Skimpy, the subject line should better reflect the doc’s contents and the action required.

We’ve seen our employees work best when their work matches their interests. By recognizing our employees’ relational interests, we can utilize relational work to guide personnel choices, project assignments and career development. What is “relational work”? Guide your reader. And change won’t come just from “recognizing” relational interests, but by assessing and making assignments based on the four dimensions. Be specific.

Our identification of “team players” is too broad; it has created lopsided teams with blind spots and an under-appreciation of interpersonal differences and contributions. Transition? Relational work has four dimensions: influence, interpersonal facilitation, relational creativity and team leadership. Very choppy paragraph—plus are you claiming that your company specifically has a too broad definition of team players, or in general?

Influence-oriented people are skilled in persuasion, negotiation and the power of holding valuable information and ideas. Jobs in sales, marketing, negotiation and financial deal making attract these employees.

Interpersonal Facilitators focus on others' experiences and work behind the scenes to keep their colleagues committed so that projects don't get derailed. These employees recognize the best combinations of people for a project. Jobs in human relations resources attract these employees.

People strong in Relational Creativity forge connections with people through visual and verbal imagery. They use images and words to arouse emotions and create relationships with groups. Jobs in marketing, communications,

Don’t forget to include all the commas when separating 3+ items in a series: X, Y, and Z.

and public relations attract these employees.

Team Leaders need to interact with people frequently. They love managing high-energy teams in service environments and enjoy working with teams and customers. Jobs in sales, management of direct service delivery and marketing attract these employees.

Good summation of dimensions. But so what/who cares? Interpret these ideas for the reader. Why are they important? How will you use them? How do they work in your team orientation?

Are you now moving to how to hire people? This paragraph is purely descriptive, so seems to just repeat what you do in the numbered list above. Explain its purpose. Influence-oriented people usually have experience in elected leadership positions and maintain a strong professional network. Interpersonal Facilitators can explain the possible root of a hypothetical conflict between two people at work. People strong in Relational Creativity frequently give creative, offbeat answers to questions related to motivating other people. Team Leaders usually have a history of involvement with groups and will inspire others, even in conversation, to excel. Weak paragraphing, ¶ lacks a “paragraph head” (akin to a “topic sentence”). You need to let the reader know that you are summarizing ways to identify the relational dimension (such as during interviewing) in the paragraph, because as is the reader cannot put this information into context.

As leaders in our group, we don't have to possess all four dimensions of interpersonal work. But we must know where we stand on each in order to strengthen our weaknesses. Sense/clarity. If group leaders don’t need to possess all four why do they need to strengthen weak areas? If we know where we stand on each, we can assess the dimensions in our employees and potential employees.

We must account for the four relational dimensions when making hiring decisions, assigning people to teams and projects, recognizing and rewarding performance and developing relational abilities. Doing so will help keep projects and initiatives on track.

With that in mind, the leaders in our group should:
  • Take the analysis survey at www.careerleader.com/people to get a better understanding of where we stand on each of the four dimensions. 
  • Fill the gaps in our lopsided teams by conducting an informal audit of the available interpersonal talent pool. 
  • Reward employees by giving them tasks and projects that fit their strongest dimension Nicely done! 
Acting on these three items will help us get the most out our employees and help our employees get the most out of their positions, thus strengthening our competitive advantage. Great work in this conclusion statement!

Cody,

You’ve done a good job of including “action items” at the close for your reader—how to apply relational work assessment to improve performance at the workplace. You’ve also done a good job of using formatting to break up the information into easy to digest sections, though I recommend including subheadings for rapid reading, also.
However, in terms of providing guidelines for your reader and leading her through your logic, your document is weak. The frontloading and paragraphing in the intro (¶2 in particular) of the Executive Summary are so-so. The paragraphing in ¶3 is also weak (as noted). Work on paragraph structure and using transitions (pp 50-59 in The Write Approach) to create logical build of your argument

You seem to repeat information about the four dimensions, not explaining how to use them or why they are in the summary. Work out how to present them to move your action forward so that you avoid redundancy.

While your expression is mostly active and direct, short paragraphs (need to be at least 3 sentences for topic-detail-conclusion) are sometimes too skimpy and imprecise (as well as choppy) to make a strong point. And watch out for sense/logic in your sentence construction—sometime you know what you mean, but your reader does not. Be as specific as possible.

B+ 178/200









Sunday, March 28, 2010

Insure a future income

Insure a future income. This is the sixth of the seven rules that George S. Clason lays out in The Richest Man in Babylon.

Once again: Simple.

I'm sure you know what it means to insure a future income. You just need to do it.

This is very similar to the first rule of paying yourself 10% of your income and then setting it to multiply.

Invest in your 401(k) or Roth.

Automate some income streams

Get health insurance.

Get life insurance.

Get home insurance.

This rule is all about safety. It's a safeguard against being unable to follow the other rules.

Emergencies happen in life and no one thinks they will happen to them.

There is no reason not to have health insurance. If you have any type of dependents, you must have life insurance.

Guard yourself and your loved ones against tragedy. Now.

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I'm edumacated

There's book smart and then there's street smart. And then there's me smart.

When I get my MBA on April 19, I will have three degrees from the University of Florida and zero debt (Amazing!)

I graduated high school in 2000 only to finish my B.S. in Journalism two years later, graduating with highest honors, a 3.9 GPA, the Ruth and Rae O. Weimer Award (for most outstanding graduate) and the award for most outstanding journalism graduate.

Two years later, I snagged an M.A. in Mass Communication with distinction and a 3.8 GPA.

Impressive right?

Maybe until you consider that I couldn't spell my own name without looking at my drivers license (yes, I had to use auto correct to fix "license"). "Recommendation"? Nope. "Entrepreneur"? Seriously? 

Or until you consider the fact that just today, I dropped my dirty red underwear in an elevator while leaving the gym and didn't notice it until I got to my car. And then decided to save face by leaving them there.

Shoelaces? My worst enemy.

Dangling objects? Causing forehead injuries since 1982.

You may say that's clumsiness. But, I am a damn good athlete and walked on at the University of Florida. No, I can ball, son.

I just learn what I have to when I have to how I have to.

I don't get embarrassed (no, I didn't know how to spell that) easily, so what do I care if I trip and fall?

I have a hard head, so banging it isn't a problem.

I'm never more than three seconds from the Internet, so spelling takes care of itself.

No, what I'm really good at is figuring out what I need to know and mastering whatever the heck that is. I figured out what I needed to know to get some degrees, and, dang it, I did it.

I figured out I needed to learn PHP (or Ruby or Python or Javascript or Java or SQL or Lua or C or Flash or.....), and, dang it, I learned 'em.

I figured out I needed to learn how to run a business, and... you get the point.

I attribute hard work and dedication for this more than anything else. Nothing comes easily to me, except maybe sarcasm. I've had to work, scrap, pick, pester, read, listen, research, deny sleep and work more for all the skill and knowledge I have.

Would I like to be a prodigy at something. Nooooo (there's that sarcasm). Do I think not being a prodigy at anything taught me how to work hard and teach myself? Absolutely.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

MBA Assignment: Vincent's Cappuccino Express

Three years ago, Vincent Chow completed his degree in accounting. The economy was in a depressed state at the time, and Vincent managed to get an offer of only $20,000 per year as a bookkeeper. In addition to its relatively low pay, this job had limited advancement potential.

Since Vincent was an enterprising and ambitious young man, he declined this offer and started a business of his own. He was convinced that because of changing lifestyles, a drive-through coffee establishment would be profitable. He was able to obtain backing from his parents to open such an establishment close to the industrial park area in town. Vincent named his business The Cappuccino Express and decided to sell only two type types of coffee; cappuccino and decaffeinated.

As Vincent had expected, the Cappuccino Express was very well received. Within three years, Vincent had added another outlet north of town. He left the day-to-day management of each site to a manager and focused his own attention on overseeing the entire enterprise. He also hired an assistant to do the record keeping and to perform selected other chores.

Required:
1. What is the competitive strategy of Vincent’s business – cost leadership, differentiation, or focus?
Focus. Vincent chose to focus on only two types of coffee as well as convenience.

2. What are the critical success factors of The Cappuccino Express? Which of these are controllable by Vincent?

a) Threat of substitutes
b) Supplier Power
c) Barriers to entry
d) Buyer Power
e) Degree of rivalry
f) Controlling costs
g) Strategy
h) Advertising
i) Managing inventory

Vincent partly controls all of these, but none of them are fully in his control.


3. What major tasks does Vincent have to undertake in managing The Cappuccino Express?

Vincent will have to hire employees, train these employees, develop a strategy and research competitors and potential competitors. He also will have to study the industry and the economy as a whole. He will have to implement cost and inventory controlling methods as well as monitor crucial ratios of The Cappuccino Express over time and those of other companies, comparatively.

4. What are the costs of operating The Cappuccino Express? Choose a cost object and classify each of these costs as direct or indirect, fixed or variable, controllable or uncontrollable, product cost or period cost, or opportunity cost.

a) Advertising – direct, variable, controllable, opportunity cost
b) Wages – direct, variable, controllable, product cost
c) Inventory – direct, variable, controllable, product cost
d) Plant, property, equipment – direct and indirect, fixed, controllable, period cost
e) Competition – indirect, variable, uncontrollable, opportunity cost

5. Vincent would like to monitor the performance of each site manager. What measure, or measures, should he use?

Cost, profit, employee turnover, revenue, innovation

6. If you had suggested more than one measure, which of these should Vincent select if he could use only one?

Profit

7. Suppose that last year, the original site had yielded total revenues of $146,000, total costs of $120,000, hence a profit of $26,000. Also assume that Vincent had judged this profit level to be satisfactory. For the coming year, Vincent expects that due to factors like increased name recognition and demographic changes, the total revenues of this site will increase by 20 percent to $175, 200. What amount of profit should he expect from the site?

Well, if costs remain constant while revenues increase 20 percent, the profit would be 175,200 – 120,000 or 55,200. That said, I would expects costs to increase along with revenue, so profit would most likely be smaller. As long as the costs don’t raise more than revenue, the profit will be somewhere between 26,000 and 55,200


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Florida Gators coach Urban Meyer apologizes to Orlando Sentinel writer Jeremy Fowler in 'constructive' talk - ESPN

Florida Gators coach Urban Meyer apologizes to Orlando Sentinel writer Jeremy Fowler in 'constructive' talk - ESPN

As a former Florida Gators beat reporter, I've been chuckling as I follow this one from afar.

And in my new role, following and leveraging social media, I have to chuckle some more.

Some quick observations:


  1. As hard as athletic departments try to "coach up" players on talking to the media, some just aren't very good at it, and feed the quote machine by saying stuff that sounds tantalizing in print, but when you're their, it's just a conversation.

  2. I worked along side Jeremy Fowler, the reporter in question, he's a good guy. But, in this case, I think he did owe it to Deonte Thompson to paraphrase that quote. Fowler had to know what Thompson meant and also knew that the quote would be taken pretty harshly. The quote wasn't near the lead, but I would have paraphrased. Or asked Thompson for clarification.

  3. This is a classic case of old media meets new media. The video of the Meyer "incident" was captured by a local television station (where I also used to work). The video combined with the social media spread of the video led to the story exploding.

  4. Meyer was subdued. I covered the team when Ron Zook was coach, and he would scream at reporters. Forget making veiled threats. Zook pushed me up against a wall underneath the stadium and we had to be separated by a security guard. Big deal. It's a contentious relationship. Journalists want free flow of info. Coaches do not, and I understand why.



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My Personality

So, instead of having a traditional "About Me" page, I've decided to start a new label, aptly named "About Me." It's just easier this way, and I like to be different.

And the first one is a whooper. My church, Oasis Christian Center, requires all new members to take an online/offline class before becoming members. I thought this was strange at first, but after taking the class, I totally get it.

But seeing as this post is About Me -- wow, I'm witty -- I'll stay on point.

As part of the class, we had to take a DISC personality test.

Here's mine.

Enjoy!

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Friday, March 26, 2010

MBA: Review Of Important Lessons

After completing the course, I have a lot better understanding of the considerations that must be put forth when considering building products. I realize that I was focused almost exclusively on only one of the fundamental forces (degree of rivalry) and tried to combat that solely with speed to market. It’s important to consider the cost of being first to market and how much it actually benefits the company.

The most important thing I took away from the course was the segment on strategy. More specifically, I realized that our group at ESPN was trying to do everything the best: cost leadership, product differentiation, innovation, first to market, etc. I really learned that a successfully strategy means we have to focus on what we can do best.

I need to explore leadership and incentives. We can’t afford to compete salary-wise with some firms for developers. The best thing we can do is create an empowering work atmosphere where our employees enjoy coming to work every day and growing. But we must align that enjoyment and growth with meeting the company’s goals.

Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Bantam Books, 1998

Working with Emotional Intelligence struck my as a hybrid of Blink and Outliers, both by Malcom Gladwell, but WWEI didn't interest me as much as Gladwell's books.

As part of my company goals for this year, I agreed to read two books from a selected list and implement two ideas from each one. I read WWEI first and struggled to find two concrete ideas to implement.

Goleman's main point is that IQ and intellect are just a baseline to getting into a company. Think of it as one of those "You must me this tall to ride this ride" sign. But to reach career stardom, people must be able to react and make sound judgements based on experience and interactions. This is what he calls Emotional Intelligence.

He breaks Emotional Intelligence into two competencies: Personal and Social.

He breaks Personal Competence into Self-Awarness, Self-Regulation and Motivation and further breaks these down into subcategories.

He break Social Competence into Empathy and Social Skills, which, again are broken down further.

Goleman spends the majority of the book descending this latter, examining each subcategory with detail and real-world examples.

This is great for someone who needs to be convinced. However, for someone like me, whose employer recommended this book to the book falls short of helpful because it doesn't offer many tips or tools for growing in these areas.

See my employer told me to read it, so I don't need to be convinced of Emotional Intelligence's importance. I was tasked with implementing something from it.

I managed to pull two things to implement from it, but neither are ground shaking. I'm going to spent 15 minutes each day in reflective silence and turn off external distractions such as Twitter, Google Reader, e-mail and instant messenger and only check it periodically.

As for the book, if you want examples of why Emotional Intelligence is worth while, read the whole book. If not, read Appendix 1, and you'll get 90% of the book's worth.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Make of thy dwelling a profitable investment

Make of they dwelling a profitable investment. This is the fifth of the seven rules that George S. Clason lays out in The Richest Man in Babylon.


Probably the simplest and clearest of the seven, the fifth rule says to own and not rent your house.

When you rent, you will never see that money again, Clason says. But if you borrow money (ie get a mortgage) when you pay back the money, you will see that money again, and most likely more than you put in originally.

Interestingly, I wonder if Clason would hold to this one as law. Clearly there are times when it is better to rent as we have seen in the past few years.

I guess Babylon didn't have to worry about government spending. I keed. I keed.

Apple does the right thing [iPhone]

I actually feel a bit sad that I have to write this post, but when big companies do the right thing these days, such acts are praiseworthy.

I bought an iPhone 3GS soon after Apple released it back in June. So less than I year after I bought it, it breaks..and I literally did nothing. No jailbreaking. No dropping. Nothing.

I put it in my car's cup holder while a friend and I played tennis and then relaxed in a hot tub. When I got back in my car, I grabbed the phone to text my friend and it gave me some weird warning sign like "This iPhone cannot send or receive calls. Please restore it via iTunes."

I found this odd, but not that surprising.

But then I couldn't restore it. iTunes wouldn't even recognize it.

So I put it in DCU mode and tried to restore it.

iTunes got halfway through the process and then crapped out with a strange "Error 23".

There was some debate as to whether this was a hardware issue or not, and Apple suggested some things, non of which worked.

So i deleted the local firmware from my computer, forcing iTunes to download a new one and try again.

This time, we got a bit further through the process, but it died with Error 23 again. At this point, it's about 8:00 p.m. and I see there is one appointment left at the Grove Apple Store at 8:50 p.m. I book it and pick up my friend, and we're off.

I make the appointment and tell the Genius that it's Error 23. He groans. He knows. My iPhone is toast, but, naturally, he has to confirm it himself. He does.

Two questions left.

  1. Will I get a free replacement?
  2. Will I get it tonight?
Now, I use my iPhone. This one was beat up, but nothing that would have caused the Error 23. Like I said, I was no where near the thing when it went haywire. So, the Genius takes a look and sees a small crack. He has to check for water damage.

Now, there is no way this thing had water damage, but the Genius could have easily said there was, and I would have bitched but paid for a new one right there. But he happily told me there was no water damage. Free iPhone. On the spot.

Here's the thing. This is my second free iPhone. I had an original that broke and Apple did the same thing.

So, thank you Apple. Thank you Grove Apple Store. Thank you Ivex (the Genius' name, which I'm sure I misspelled). And a big thank you to my friend for going with me.


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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey

Reaching for the Invisible God by Philip Yancey, 2000

Philip Yancey is the preeminent Christian writer of our generation, and he proves, again, why in Reaching for the Invisible God.

Although I did not find it as powerful as "What's so Amazing About Grace?", "The Jesus I Never Knew", or "The Bible Jesus Read", this book is classic Yancey with his unflinching look at some of the most difficult questions Christians face.

This time, those questions revolved around having a relationship with someone we can't even see let alone understand. Yancey looks at many of his own doubts in various situations and explorers the common theme of new Christians full of hope, fading to despair when they don't physically hear God.

Yancey comes to the realization that he probably has never actually, physically heard God and that the number of people in his life who have are less than a handful. Yancey also challenges the people who claim to hear from the Holy Spirit about "people in the room."

You know what I'm talking about.

"The Holy Spirit is telling me someone in this room is in trouble. They're having problems with money. Yes, they need financial help."

I was so glad he called BS on that.

Instead, Yancey says we must listen for God's voice in things. Nature. An opportunity. A friend.

Another great portion of the book is where Yancey battles with the idea of praising God when things are great, yet "letting Him off the hook" when this go sour.

Yancey points out we live in a fallen world, and while God's Ultimate Will, will come to pass, that won't stop evil from occurring in the world.

Instead, Yancey draws an analogy to a hypothetical, punctual friend. If that friend is always on time and then is suddenly late, would you get mad at the friend or assume something happened?

Same with God.

He has done so much good, Yancey is willing to give Him the benefit of the doubt.

Finally, Yancey encourages us to have an "arranged marriage" view of our relationship with God.

Unlike Western marriages wich are often based on romance and how the couple make each other feel, Eastern, arranged marriages, are more focused on the relationship and how to make it work because they've accepted it for what it is.

I really love Yancey's no BS view of Christianity. He has faith. But he's not afraid to question his own faith and admit, no share, doubt when he has it.

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MBA: Pricing Strategy

Pricing Strategy: Price is a highly visible decision variable for organizations: customers and rivals can see changes and anticipate responses. Please analyze your company's pricing policies. Consider your company's pricing techniques as an external business analyst would.

How does your organization determine the prices charged for its products?

On a very high level, we determine prices for sponsors and advertisers in a couple ways.

Marketing derives a value of each user. This is done with a complicated formula that takes into account ads clicked, subscriptions bought, fantasy games played and many other things. With this value, it then calculates how many visits these users make a month and use that as a number to sell to sponsors.

For more general products, ESPN calculates a CPM or click per million to use for allowing ads on the site. This CPM represents how much money the advertisers give to ESPN for each “click” of the ad impression.

To what extent does it use multi-part pricing, bundling, price discrimination, time-of-use pricing, and other strategies?

Well, ESPN bundles the subscription to ESPN.com Insider and ESPN the magazine. It allows lowers the subscription fee during the holiday season. Finally, there are special promotions, like coupons that will sign up and Insider for a lower price or fee.

How do your company's pricing policies compare with best practice methods for selecting prices?

I think it’s pretty standard. As seen from the answer above, we try to use bundling, time-of-use, multi-part and price discrimination.

One thing that I would like to investigate is if we could charge a higher price for things like Insider and The Magazine during times leading up to certain events (Super Bowl, NFL Draft, College Football Season, etc). Right now, we tend to lower prices during this periods because they are usually accompanied by free trials.

That said, at least for the Internet, charging a subscription fee is very hard as very few users will actually pay for it, and I think the goal is to get as many “Insiders” as possible and not worry too much about making a profit on signups.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gym Tip: Form the Habit

Furthering my attempt to make this blog about everything and nothing, I've decided to start posting some gym tips. I get asked a lot of questions about the gym, so maybe I can share my knowledge on a wider scale.

Please note, I am in no way qualified to be giving exercise advice. I've been working out for about 15 years, and while I love it, am completely addicted to it as well and have absolutely no training as a trainer or a nutritionist.

So, the first type is to Form the Habit of going to the gym.

Interestingly, there is no evidence to suggest that habits take a certain amount of time to form, but they do form over varying amounts of time.

What this means is, going to the gym will get easier, but it could take 10 days, or it could take 100 days to actually "get in the habit" of going to the gym.

Here are some tips to help you get in that habit.

  1. Hire a personal trainer. I started with a trainer. Everyone should start with a trainer. If nothing else, you learn what you don't know. But this is more about getting in the habit right now. If you're paying for sessions, you're more likely to get your butt in the gym. No body likes to burn money.
  2. Find a work out partner. The second best option after a personal trainer is a work out parter who will push you to be in the gym. Not only that, but this gym partner will probably rely on you to push them, making you both (gasp) accountable to each other. You won't want to let the other one down.
  3. Tell someone to ask you about your workouts. Tell a co-worker you going to start working out and you want him or her to ask you about your workouts. If you have to tell someone how your workouts are going, you're more likely to.....that's right.....work out.
  4. Don't do the home gym thing. Home gyms can be great. I desperately want some cardio equipment and basics in my home. But not for the person trying to form the habit. It's too easy to put it off, knowing it's conveniently located and you can "do it any time." You need that sense of urgency.
  5. Don't sweat a missed day. Don't even try to make up for it. If you miss a day, you miss a day. There is no getting it back, so just go the next day. Keep it at one, and you're fine.
  6. Go early. If you start forming the habit by going early and then you do miss a day, your body is going to be mad at you for the whole day. And trust me, you'll feel the difference.
  7. Take weekends off. Use this as a reward, but get in the gym before work on the other days.

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MBA: Rivalry

Your organization might wish to consider new strategies in cost leadership and differentiation. Such an initiative requires a thorough analysis of your industry competitors to assess the efficacy of these possible strategies.

Identify your organization's main rivals.

Traditional Media:

Foxsports.com

Sportsline.com

NFL.com

MLB.com

Startups:

Fannation.com

ArmchairGM.com

Yardbarker.com

Assess their relative strengths and weaknesses:

Traditional media competitors have the benefit or an inherent large user base and many channels of promotion and distribution. Additionally, sites like NFL.com, MLB.com and NBA.com own the product and control the distribution of it.

Their major weakness is change. They are so big that they have trouble adapting to the changing nature of the Internet. Additionally, there is a lot of process and political overhead that make decision making difficult.

Startups are just the opposite. They are able to quickly and efficiently develop a great product, but typically struggle to get any traction in the form of users. Additionally, startups can struggle to fund their ventures. This also causes a strength because it forces them to be cost efficient.

How would your rivals assess your relative strengths and weaknesses in the competitive arena?

We would be viewed in the traditional media group. Although groups within Digital Media at ESPN.com such as mine are changing that. We operate a lot like a start up, funded by a parent company (ESPN.com). This gives us a lot of the strengths from both, and minimizes the negatives.

Monday, March 22, 2010

MBA: Product Differentiation/Quality

SECA 8 Product Differentiation/Quality Organizations are always mindful of potential future competition from rivals and potential entrants. Provide an assessment of your company's current differentiation (or product quality) strategy.

Why has the company adopted this particular strategy?

I actually was hoping this wouldn’t come up because this is one area where I group is still lacking. As I’ve said before, our group’s strategy revolves around speed to market and cost.

We do rely heavily on our brand (ESPN), which is one of the top three brands in sports. That brand loyalty differentiates our products from our competitors. We also recently outsourced QA. In the Internet world a QA person is rare let alone a group, which is what we have. We hope this will reduce the amount of defects (which are not rare in Internet products) thus further differentiating us from competition.

We differentiate ourselves from the general social networks (Facebook and MySpace) by focusing on a particular part of networking (sports) where Facebook and MySpace don’t have a particularly strong focus. Also, we differentiate from our sports competitors (Sportsline.com, Foxsports, etc) with our integration strategy. Eventually, we will tightly integrate with the rest of ESPN and leverage many existing products.

What is the impact of the strategy on profitability (or organizational sustainability)?

Our group is still too new to determine this strategy’s impact on profitability or organizational sustainability. However, I feel integration is the key in differentiation. We lean very heavily on cost leadership and speed to market, which hinder our ability to build a “better” single product than, say, a start up, which can solely focus on that on product. That said, our road map to bringing all our product offerings into a single product, tightly integrated with the content and data already provided by ESPN would have tremendous positive impacts on both profitability and organization sustainability.

MBA: Cost Structure/Leadership

Cost Structure and Cost Leadership Organizations often consider changes in cost strategy to enhance profitability or other dimensions of performance. Please assess your organization's cost leadership strategy.

How comprehensive is your organization's cost leadership strategy;

Why has the organization adopted this particular strategy?

What is strategy's impact on profitability (or organizational sustainability)?

Our group within ESPN positioned itself to be cost leaders within the enterprise-level social networking and sports media industries.

We have accomplished this by:

· Outsourcing product development

· Relying on open source technologies and communities

· Adopting hosting innovations

My boss and I adopted this strategy because of shared experiences, necessity and freedom.

My boss knew the value of outsourcing, and, as a developer, I knew the cost benefits of not having to spend money on licensing fees and product support. Because we are both on top of the industry, we recognized virtual hosting as a viable and cheaper option and jumped on it.

Additionally, we founded our group less than a year ago, and because we didn’t have profit-generating products, we were given a small budget to work with, so we had to find a way to cut costs.

That coincided with our desire to have freedom from some large company bureaucracy. We basically traded headcount and involvement in broader areas for control over our budget and a bit more money.

By implementing this strategy, we are able to experiment on a lot of projects and fail quickly without incurring a pile of expenditures. A “failure” costs us very little because we can pay a company for just a prototype, host it for essentially nothing and not have to pay any fees for the technology used to build it.

That obviously increases our profitability because we are able to focus attention on “successful” products. It also scales because we don’t have to worry about managing an increase in employees or worrying about technology suppliers increasing their prices.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Blink by Malcom Gladwell

Blink by Malcom Gladwell, Little Brown and Company, 2005

Malcom Gladwell is making a living peddling commonsense.

I've come to realize this after reading, Blink and Outliers, which should be considered parts two and three in Gladwell's epic tale: You're not that special.

Since this is a review of Blink, I will try to focus on that, although, my review would not be complete without drawing similarities to Outliers.

In both books, I found myself fascinated by the stories and insights that filled the pages while I was reading  the material.

However, almost immediately after finishing both, I stepped back and said, "Duh."

Essentially, Outliers told me repetition and luck is the way to achieve success. The seemingly fascinating tales break down to this: Practice hard and hope for a break. Common sense, right?

The moral of Blink is even more obvious: Go with your first instinct but hone your skills in knowing why your first instinct is your first instinct.

Practice Hard. Look for breaks. Go with your gut.

Three things we've hear over and over again, yet somehow, Gladwell weaves them into intricate stories that make the book putdownable.

From war to police shootings to symphonies to CEOs to phony art, Gladwell deftly tells us what we already know, but don't like to admit.

I can't wait to see what I've already known from his other two books.

MBA: R&D

Describe how recent innovations by others have affected competition in your industry. These innovations might have originated from historical rivals, new entrants, producers of substitutes, your suppliers, or your customers. 
Elastic computing combined with “on-demand pricing” has been the biggest innovation lately that is affecting competition in the digital media/Internet industry.

Basically elastic computing is virtualized computing. A firm has virtual computers that are hosted within mega computers. This allows firms to forgo charges related to data centers, power consumption and, to a large extent, maintenance labor. It also gives great flexibility with growth. For example, a firm just starting off can opt for the cheapest or least powerful computer, but if the firm’s product becomes popular, adding additional computers or upgrading to a more powerful computer is essentially trivial. This innovation goes a long way in solving one of the biggest problems in our industry: scaling to meet demand.

The pricing model is innovative as well. With this innovation, firms only pay for what they use. So firms can pay based on the computing power they consume.

To what extent does your organization incorporate the time-cost trade-off into decisions to develop and introduce new products? 

In our group, we don’t consider the time-cost trade-off that much. All our products are built within a year, so there isn’t much cost to save by delaying the time to product the product. What we usually do is assign a severity score when deciding what project to build next. Basically, we look at perceived value to our group’s strategy divided by estimated cost plus estimated time. That gives us a barometer for choosing to develop a product or not.

Explain the extent to which your organization is (or is not) an innovator.

We innovate by building new products for our users. For example, we are releasing a new application that challenges fans to see who can pick the most amount of games in a row correctly. We are also innovative for our industry. As a large content producer, we are one of the first firms to move to elastic computing, Ruby on Rails and outsourcing of development. These are all things smaller startups do, but normally aren’t possible in large companies with proprietary technologies and large amounts of Internet traffic.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

MBA: Production

SECA 5: Production The production function, in conjunction with input prices, determines input choice and cost per unit output.

Describe the nature of key production processes utilized by your organization.

We use a production process called “Scrum”, which in software development is a branch of the Agile Development philosophy.

Basically, roles are identified (Project manager, developers, business/product owners), a daily, 15-minute meeting sets the product development agenda for the day and every set period of time (weekly, bi-weekly, etc) there is an iteration planning meeting where the product is demoed for the business/product owners and a backlog of tasks for the development team is created.

The cycle repeats until the product launches, but the focus is on eliminating waste. We use a technology that allows us to “fail fast.” In the time it takes to plan a feature, we can just build a prototype of it. If the prototype is deemed a failure during testing, we can scrap it and try something else without losing any additional time.

Like those new IBM commercials, Agile Development is about doing rather than talking about doing.

Do you expect similar processes to be in use in five years? In ten years? Why?

Yes. With this process, the focus is on doing as opposed to talking about doing.

Agile development and Scrum are relatively new and will evolve and take on different names, but the nature of the Internet demands fast failure and that is one of the main benefits of Agile/Scrum.

How does your organization benchmark its performance against those of rivals?

We benchmark our performance against rivals by comparing usage of products (unique visitors, time spent on page, page views), number of products launched per year and the value of products (how much is the CPM for an ad? What does sponsorship cost?)

Influence by Robert Cialdini

Influence Science and Practice, Fifth Edition, Pearson Education, Inc.

Influence is a guide to living in a communication age that constantly bombards its constituents with soliciting messages.

The book is packed full of example stories that will have you shaking your head and saying "Wow" and "Of Course".

Wow:
  • Woman asks someone in line at a copy machine at a library: "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerorx machine because I'm in a rush?" 94 percent asked complied.

    Woman asks someone in line at a copy machine at a library: "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerorx machine?" 60 percent asked complied.

    Woman asks someone in line at a copy machine at a library: "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerorx machine because I have to make some copies?" 93 percent asked complied.
  • A jewelry store owner is going out of town. She's had major problems selling some sapphire stones, so she sends her employee a note asking him to attach a tag to the sapphires that reads "x 1/2" for half-price. When she returns, as she expected, all the stones are gone. But turns out the employee misread the note and tagged the stones "x 2" for double the price. Turns out, with little expertise, we rely on simple cues for decisions. What is a simple cue for the quality of a sapphire? Yup, price


Of Course:
  • To increase completed sales, Amway asks potential customers to write the sales agreement as opposed to writing it themselves. Just the simple commitment of writing the sales agreement dramatically increased actual sales.
  • Sales people will try to trap you by getting a small commitment and then asking for your follow through. The example in the book is one of an attractive female conducting a "survey". She asks Cialdini a number of questions about things he likes to do (Go to the cinema. Go to the ballet. etc). Trying to appear more suave than he is, Cialdini exaggerates his interest in this topics and the frequency in which he partakes in them. Once he does, the surveyor becomes a saleswoman and says "Well, for $1,250 you can get tickets to all these things, which is a huge savings for someone so involved in these activities." This creates a trap of consistency.


Influence is well organized around manipulation tactics that are broken into stories. Once presented, Cialdini backs up his contentions with research and plays devil's advocate to offer alternative suggestions, which he then debunks. Each chapter ends with strategies to defend against these manipulation tactics.

The book is a fascinating read on its face and a great practical guide for marketing, selling and avoiding manipulation. The latest edition has stories from readers of previous editions who have experienced these tactics personally.

I would recommend this book to just about anyone. I advise a detailed read, including the questions at the end of each chapter. That said, each chapter ends with a nice summary of the techniques, which a rushed reader could take a lot away from.

Friday, March 19, 2010

MBA: Public Policy

Obviously ESPN as a company monitors cable television policy and tries to sway it to its favor. Clearly, public policy affecting or potential affecting this gets the most attention from the decision makers at ESPN.

However, for ESPN.com, an issue that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention yet, but that I am intrigued about is Network Neutrality. Briefly, proponents of Net Neutrality favor legislation to get the Internet as an open playing field where no company’s “tubes” get preferential treatment.

Big companies, like ESPN, probably would favor the opposite, where established businesses get preferential treatment over personal blogs and such. So, in terms of personal gain, I hope no legislation is enacted and that there are tiers of networks because that would put us a leg up on some of our smaller competitors. Otherwise, we remain on a level playing field, in terms of network quality, as even the smallest sports and social networking sites.

I am not aware of any action ESPN has taken to influence or deter enactment of policy surrounding Net Neutrality.

Technologies: My Horse(s) in the Race

I got into an interesting discussion with @jorgemir the other day.

Basically, we were talking about what to put our chips on in the upcoming year.

Here is what I came up with:
  • Google: The search giant will become known less for search and more as the engine that drives the Internet. With hundreds of awesome and mostly free APIs and tools led by App Engine and an emerging Microsoft killer in Google Apps (Marketplace is amazing), Google has become "most know" technology for developers and consultants
  • Twitter: While I still don't think Twitter will be much in five years, in the next three, it's going to be huge. If Google is the engine that powers the Internet, Twitter is and will be the communication lines. And Twitter has always been a model citizen in keeping these lines open to developers.
  • Facebook: To continue with the metaphor, Facebook is where people go to hang out. It's the lounge or sports bar or poolhall of the Internet. With increasing and better developer options, most importantly, Facebook Connect, developers and consultants look foolish if they aren't intimately familiar with Facebook
  • Wordpress: Wordpress is not a blogging tool. It's publishing software and gives developers and consultants a quick, easy and customizable way to give any time of business a serious presence online.
  • Javascript/HTML5/CSS3: We talked about the engine, but Javascript will be the gears on that engine. Not surprisingly, many of Google's APIs rely on Javascript. It's the de facto language of the Internet and HTML5 will provide the canvas on which those gears turn. Finally, the advent of CSS3 will allow eloquent design of the canvas, which Javascript will manipulate.
  • iPhone: The new Web browser.
I was a bit surprised that no server languages made my list. I was bullish on Ruby until I played around with Python. Basically, I've come to realize that languages are irrelevant. It's becoming trivial to write in a high level language and have it compile into a lower one. They evolve and they're all approaching a pyramid tip. Javascript is the exception because it is ubiquitous. 

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

MBA: Demand

Advertisements and marketing affect the demand of our product quite a bit, especially when the advertisement or marketing crosses mediums. For example, the ESPN television audience is hundreds of times larger than the ESPN.com audience. So when ESPN promotes an ESPN.com feature or product on SportsCenter, the traffic for that feature or product climbs exponentially.

Another determinant is current events. This is the determinant we see most in my group, which builds peer-to-peer and social networking applications. For example, my team built message boards and conversation pages (which are user comments on a particular story or game). When Barry Bonds approached Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record, the traffic and participation increase was obvious. Normally, a story will generate about 1000 comments, but stories about Bonds reached upward of 10,000. The same held true for Roger Clemens and his steroid saga.

Some of these events, we cannot plan for. Others, however, we can and do plan for. The Bowl Championship Standings, which determines the national champion in college football each year, always draws a ton of debate from our fans. We use this knowledge to promote other products inside conversation pages and message boards. Last year, the final BCS release drew nearly 90,000 comments.

I have not been made aware of any key elasticities used in decision-making. Mostly, in .com, decision makers have made decisions based on history and tradition. Since starting the class, however, I am pushing for estimates to be derived.

The key take away for ESPN, ESPN.com and, specifically, my group, is to plan ahead whenever possible. Synergy provides a powerful tool for us. And we should capitalize on events to promote our products for us and increase demand for our new and existing products.

On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony

On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony, Del Rey, 1983

I began to develop a sense of a déjà vu as I read through On a Pale Horse.

The story takes place in an alternate version of the United States where Satan is in the midst of an agressive ad campaign to convince humanity that Hell is a desirable place to be because it is much more permissible than heaven.

In this alternate reality, magic is commonplace with white (good) magic and black (evil) magic being practiced and sold regularly.

The story's protagonist, Zane, is down on his luck and decides to shoot himself in the head after he loses the love of his life (as predicted by a lovestone) in a underhanded deal with a magic stone dealer. Just before Zane pulls the trigger, Death appears and startles Zane, causing the suicidal, soon-to-be hero, to shoot Death instead.

Death dies because he was negligent and not wearing his bullet-proof hood, and in this world, that means Zane must become the new Death.

The rest of the book deals with Zane's experiences in his newly appointed role. His main responsibility is taking balanced souls (those with an equal amount of good and evil) to their respective destinations (Heaven, Hell or Purgatory).

In the process, Zane uncovers a sinister plot laid down by Satan (can you imagine Satan hatching an evil plan?!) and sets about trying to thwart it with the help of other Incarnats (Chronos, War, Nature, Fate, Death).

It's at this point that I realized the book reminded me of the Spawn comic book series; so much so, that I wonder if this series was the comic's inspiration.

There are a total of five books in the Incarnations of Immortality series, and I can't wait to start the next one.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

MBA: Optimization/Priorities

What are the primary objectives of your organization (Profit? Growth? Market Share? Reputation?)

ESPN’s primary goals are profit, growth and reputation. Additionally, ESPN.com adds market share to that list.

ESPN.com tries to turn a profit in several ways. These include sponsorship (Gatorade buys and application or scoreboard, and it becomes “The NCAA Scoreboard by Gatorade”), advertising (typically banner ads which pay us either per click or by “renting” space on our site) and Insider subscriptions (users can pay us money for “premium content”).

In terms of growth, ESPN.com recently acquired Cricinfo.com, the world’s largest Cricket Web site, began a Community initiative, which includes social networking, widgets and p2p communication, and opened offices in London and Brazil.

ESPN.com recently made market share an objective as sites such as Yahoo Sports! and FoxSports.com have grown in percentage. The long tail of sports web sites also has consumed a larger and larger portion of users.

ESPN.com highly regards its reputation or brand. Many of the decisions ESPN.com makes will not make a profit, but we execute them in order to strengthen the overall ESPN brand.

Have these objectives been prioritized and communicated to decision-makers?

Every year, both ESPN and ESPN.com sets four to five company-wide priorities that almost always deal directly with one of the areas mentioned above. I have been in groups where I felt like the decision-makers did not know how to communicate to the developers and producers how they could be working toward these goals. That said, my current group sits down when these priorities come out and creates individual goals and milestones that directly related to company goals.

Has your organization provided clear, measurable objectives for managers?

ESPN does provide clear, measureable objectives for managers. As mentioned above, the company goals are pretty straight forward. For example, one year, ESPN set reaching half a million Insider subscriptions as a goal. Another year, it set becoming number one in Fantasy sports as a goal. This year, ESPN tasked us to reach 20 million unique visitors a month.

What technical tools are available to promote optimizing decisions within your organization?

Individual groups usually institute they own technical tools for optimizing decisions. That said, we do have access to SAP, which provides such tools, but they are limited and not widely used to my knowledge.

Across the Face of the World by Russell Kirkpatrick

Across the Face of the World by Russell Kirkpatrick, Orbit, 2004

The cover testimony reads "Not since Tolkien have I been so awed", but I think the publishers made a typo. The testimony should read "Nothing like Tolkien. I'm so bored."

That's weird because Kirkpatrick does everything in his power to channel Tolkien.

From an eclectic party of heroes forced into a common, yet impossible goal to magic to a small but determined hero to a long journey, Across the Face of the World has all the elements of a Tolkien-esque tale but non of the intrigue.

It's poorly written. Half the time, I didn't know whose point of view the story was being told from.

It's inconsistent. According to the book, one of the villains is skillful and powerful enough to defeat an army, yet four of them somehow managed to be defeated by the gaggle of inexperienced heroes.

It's slow. Seriously, the book covers over a month of time and hundreds of miles of travel, but nothing happens.

It's woefully unoriginal. I understand that good fantasy novels have a lot in common, but this book is what you would get if you took the Bible, the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings and mashed them together with no method to your mashing.

At one point, I was upset because I thought the book was just good enough to make me want to read the other two to find out how the tale ends.

But by the end, I didn't care anymore.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Supply/Demand

Has supply (via changes in technology, input prices, or entry) been driving price?

The nearly limitless supply in the Internet industry has driven prices nearly out of existence. Obviously, E-commerce sites such as Amazon and Overstock can put prices on their products, but charging customers a price for content and community, which are my segments of the broader industry, is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, and here’s why:

· Entry. In the Internet world today, there is virtually no barrier to entry. Someone can start producing content in 10 minutes with little or no cost. Additionally, this makes piracy an especially complicated problem because anyone can use such entry to illegally spread for free what would normally cost a price.

· Input Prices. For the little guys in the industry, the prices to create a product are almost none existent. In some cases, the only input required is a little bit of time. Even medium-sized applications and content producers can get by with input prices equal to the cost of renting a server somewhere.

· Technology. As mentioned under input prices, the cost to running a product is tiny. With changes in technology, even the big guys are able to drastically reduce cost in order to host more content and produce more applications. Additionally, the technology used to create these products is becoming vastly easier to use, opening the door to more and more entry, and slicing time to market to fractions.

Has demand (via income growth, changes in preferences, changes in the prices of substitutes) been driving price?

Demand has not driven price because it simply cannot keep up with the overwhelming increase in supply. Everything on the Internet has, at the very least, a handful of alternatives. If one firm decides to charge a price for something, that firm would stand to lose the vast majority of its users to another firm, which does not charge a price for the same service.

Take Flickr for example. Flickr used to allow unlimited photo uploads per user. Now it allows users to host up to 200 photos for free, which most users won’t reach. After that, a user must purchase a pro account for a small annual fee. When Flickr made this decision, it lost a lot of users to competitors such as Zoomr, Photobucket and Facebook, which don’t place limits on uploads.

ESPN.com faces a similar challenge. We offer the vast majority of our content for free, but users can purchase an “Insider” account and get access to restricted information. However, the same information can be found (albeit with a bit more effort) on other sites for free.

Which factors are most likely to be most important over the next five years?

Metrics, metrics, metrics. I predict that nearly all services and content will be available at no price at the end of five years. And no one will be thinking about how to charge the user a cost. The shift to figuring out the price for sponsors and advertisers already has started, but it will be even stronger. The key to structuring those costs are metrics.

· Who are my users?

· What are they interested in?

· How long to they spend on our site?

· What other sites are they interested it?

· How many users do I have?

· Are they likely to click and ad?

What are the implications of these observations for your organization?

ESPN.com’s Community group must collect extremely detailed information on its users, so as to be able to sell them to advertisers. We must figure out how to attract more users and keep them on our site longer. Additionally, we must figure out how to “convert” users that are not ESPN.com users. By this I mean that we must have a strong distributed strategy. With the vast supply that exists, assuming that we can attract everyone to us is naïve. We need to adapt and go to them by building applications that they can interact with on their MySpace, Facebook, iGoogle, or blog pages. Many of these allow sponsorship and count toward relevant metrics. If nothing else, all further strengthen the ESPN brand.

Creating an Empire by Stuart Evey

Creating an Empire by Stuart Evey, Triumph Books, 2004

In Creating an Empire, Stuart Evey, a former Getty Oil executive and ESPN Chairman, provides a history of ESPN.

The cover bills the book as "The No-Holds-Barred Story of Power, Ego, Money, and Vision that Transformed a Culture."

A more accurate description would be "The Self-Aggrandizing and Poorly Written Story of a Former Yes Man Looking for His Share of Recognition."

For those picking up the book, I woud suggest starting with Chapter 17, in which Evey details his stay at the Betty Ford Clinic and admits he has an over-inflated view of himself.

Having worked for ESPN, I will say it's a great company with great people. I'm also a huge fan and watch it more than anything else on TV. But I am so tired of people looking to revel in the succes of sports' most recognized brand.

Here's the book in a nutshell.

Evey started out being an errand boy for the Gettys. Because he was a loyal friend, they allowed him to give his input on bigger and bigger projects.

One of those projects turned out to be ESPN.

Evey said "yes" to it, and Getty footed the bill.

From there, Evey hung out around ESPN from its inception in 1979 to 1984 when ABC bought ESPN.

Aside from eye-popping stories about the Gettys that I didn't know about, the book is a snore.

I recommend skipping the book and Evey and checking out the Wikipedia entry on ESPN.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Strategy

1) To what extent does your organization achieve Operational Effectiveness (OE)?

ESPN.com struggles to achieve Operational Effectiveness. In the early days of ESPN.com, the technology group was located in Seattle and the editorial group was located in Bristol, CT. In 2000, the groups were combined and ESPN relocated the technology group to Bristol.

While such a move might seem to promote cohesiveness and communication, it actually had the opposite effect. Political wars broke out over ownership of products. No one had the authority to implement process and dead-end meetings became the norm.

I left that environment to partner a new branch in Los Angeles. With the autonomy and distance, my group has drastically improved Operational Effectiveness by moving off of ESPN.com’s proprietary technology, implementing agile and iterative development practices, outsourcing most development and instituting SCRUM. <-------- HA! I was SOOOO wrong

2) To what extent to does your organization achieve an effective Strategic Positioning?

ESPN and ESPN.com leans heavily on its brand, which, with Nike, is the strongest in the sports market. ESPN’s position as “The World Wide Leader in Sports” has driven ESPN.com to capitalize on opportunities outside the United States, including the world’s largest cricket Web site.

More specifically, my group has taken that position to extend ESPN outside of ESPN-controlled environments. We are leveraging the opening of platforms such as Facebook, Google, MySpace, Beebo and others to spread the brand and open new advertisement streams.

3) Is your organization’s strategy is focused primarily on cost leadership or product differentiation?

Without a doubt, ESPN focuses on product differentiation over cost leadership. Time and again, ESPN, and in particular, ESPN.com, has shown that it will spend money to try and provide a unique product.

ESPN.com has paid top dollar to acquire talent to produce content. From bloggers (TrueHoop, Hash Marks, Jayski) to specialized services such as Scouts, Inc, Stats, Inc, SportsTicker, Baseball Reference, Baseball America and Elias Sports Bureau, ESPN.com is constantly seeking ways to provide content and information not available from competitors.

4) How does your organization’s OE and SP compare to those of competitors (affecting your level of profitability or performance relative to others)?

ESPN and ESPN.com have a far stronger brand than any of its competitors, which it relies on heavily for Strategic Positioning. Additionally, ESPN is the only 24-hour sports network, and in fact, operates six such stations in the United States. Not only does this present a nearly insurmountable barrier for cable competitors, it provides ESPN.com an advantage because these stations can be leveraged to promote and advertise products on ESPN.com.

My assumption is that OE is very similar among ESPN.com’s competitors (FoxSports.com, Yahoo Sports, sportsline.com and the league sites). However, as mentioned, my group in Los Angeles operates with superior technology and process, which is allowing us to release community-related products quicker than our competitors.