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7 posts from February 2016

Search, discovery, curation, and scale

Have we maxed out on search? I'm not sure. I certainly seems as if some important things are not showing up. When I search on Amazon for unusual products I sometimes get very confusing results--suggesting that some suppliers are so good at gaming the results that are pushing our real objectives off the table. I expect Google and Amazon will eventually deal with that. 

Creating curated lists certainly seems to be an important up-and-coming resource. I've been reading curated news emails, such as Dave Pell's Next Draft, for years. I sure miss Daily Candy

As Ben Evans points out in the article below, the challenge is monetizing the curated lists, given the limits of scaling up the business. Still, if you aren't planning world domination, they seem good way to grow. Assume high margin, low volume. 

Benedict Evans: Lists are the new search, 2016-Jan-31 by Ben Evans

Showing every SKU, of course, is exactly the Amazon approach - 'the everything store', and it works well for some categories, and especially when you know exactly what you want. But knowing what you want is not necessarily the starting point - that's what needs to happen along the funnel. Amazon's relative weakness at curation, discovery and recommendation (I've seen data suggesting the recommendation platform is only 1/4 of its books sales) is, I think, a big reason why, after 25 years of ruthless and relentless execution, it's still only got to 25% of the print books market in the UK and USA. A bookshop (or any shop) is, yes, the end-point to a logistics system, but a good bookshop is primarily a discovery platform. That is, it's more about the tables than the shelves. And the tables are lists, not inventory. 

The problem with using a list instead of a searchable database is how you get to scale - or perhaps, what kind of scale you can have.


Why employees are always in training

As a company grows, it's nearly impossible to control the quality of the people. If we plan to build a company, we have to plan on constant training. Otherwise, we'll follow Chipotle and General Motors into national scandal. 

Harvard Business Review: How one fast food chain keeps its turnover rates absurdly low, 2016-Jan-26 by Bill Taylor

“People go out of calibration just like machines go out of calibration,” CEO Crosby explains. “So we are always training, always teaching, always coaching. If you want people to succeed, you have to be willing to teach them.”


Remembering Umberto Eco: stories are better than ideas

Having read Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, and Foucault's Pendulum (seriously), I was trying to decide whether to tackle another one of his books. If you want to understand why he's important, I suggest this lovely long read by Lila Azam Zanganeh in The Paris Review (2008). 

Favorite quote by Umberto Eco:  

An idea you have might not be original—Aristotle will always have thought of it before you. But by creating a novel out of that idea you can make it original. Men love women. It’s not an original idea. But if you somehow write a terrific novel about it, then by a literary sleight of hand it becomes absolutely original. I simply believe that at the end of the day a story is always richer—it is an idea reshaped into an event, informed by a character, and sparked by crafted language. So naturally, when an idea is transformed into a living organism, it turns into something completely different and, likely, far more expressive.


Is targeted advertising a problem? Is signaling the solution?

I don't have the time to wade through everything Don Marti and others have written about the 'evilness' of targeted online advertising. However, I do think they are correct to worry about it. As a marketer, I'm most concerned with the plausible idea that it causes people to ignore advertising at a higher rate. As a human being, I'm concerned that it may reinforce problem behaviors such as gambling addictions.  Tq160219bd

Although it will never go away, mass advertising via broadcast media is NOT the answer for any EXCEPT the largest advertisers. However, there's another form of advertising which is not getting much attention is this discussion, and that's sponsorship. Not permanent sponsorship but temporary sponsorship and multiple sponsors who can keep a web site going. Someone still has to sell and maintain those sponsorships, but for niche web sites, this seems a much more useful approach than highly targeted advertising. I hope to see it flourish and slowly reduce the amount of mechanically targeted ads chasing us around. 

Don Marti blog: Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful, Updated 2015-May by Don Marti

In a market with asymmetric information, signaling is an action that sends a credible message to a potential counterparty.

Advertising spending is a form of signaling that shows that a seller has the money to advertise (which the seller presumably got from customers, or from investors who thought the product was worth investing in), and believes that the product will earn enough repeat sales to justify the ad spending.

Commit to writing down what you do

As we organize people, we are usually receive pressure to write things down. It's challenging, and you can't just do it once and be done. It needs to be a living document. At Percolate, they try to write everything down and post it on Google Docs. If you are interested in keep a group of people well organized and free to lead themselves, you should read this article. 

First Round: The only onboarding timeline you'll need, 2016 from Percolate

Nothing scales better or faster than words. The average adult reads two to three times as fast as she listens. Plus, documentation is a ready resource, while people aren’t always available.

Architect Richard Keating on Houston changes: more traffic on road, sidewalks

Kirby Drive in 2000 from Bill Jacobus on Flickr

Looking for something else, I stumbled across this interview I missed last year. Architect Richard Keating arrived in Houston in 1976 and worked on the Wells Fargo Tower, BMC Software headquarters and other major buildings before leaving for Los Angeles during the 80's oil bust. He's returned to work on the Kirby Collection, and believes Houston has progressed. 

Houston Chronicle: Q&A: Architect draws on city culture, 2015-Oct-9 by Nancy Sarnoff

Q: What's changed about Houston since you lived here?

A: The people that have always come to Houston, from the pre-A/C days to the current times, those people aren't the same people who went to LA. People went to LA because of the beach. They came to Houston to work hard. So that's why you have Gerry Hines and these oil entrepreneurs. There's an entrepreneurial culture that comes from that history. Those things haven't changed.

I think the only thing I've noticed that has changed is the traffic, obviously it's getting worse. And there was no significant high-rise housing when I lived here. If it builds around the bayou, it'll be lovely. All of a sudden you have a walkable city.

Social learning embraced by an old dog


Geoffrey Moore became an influential business consultant long before social media was available. (His Crossing the Chasm is now in its third edition.) Recently on LinkedIn he shared how enthusiastically he has embraced social media, and listed six amazing benefits he finds. Even more amazing, the post attracted many valuable comments. You can see a couple of excerpts below, but I recommend reading both posts all the way through. 

LinkedIn: Getting Social in the Enterprise... Seven Things to Get Your Head Around, 2016-Jan-12 by Geoffrey Moore

3. Social is efficient. There is no queueing in a social network. This means principals can connect directly peer to peer and get on with whatever it is they want to get on with. Among groups, it lets people opt in to eavesdrop on conversations that may have implications for their work. It also allows for the unexpected expert to surface unprompted with an insight or a solution to the problem no one else thought of. The opportunity cost is low, and the serendipity is high.

LinkedIn: Social is Social! 2016-Jan-28 by Geoffrey Moore

Jill Rowley, Startup Advisor, Marketing Expert: I'd add Social is humanizing. Social Networks like LinkedIn and Twitter give us the ability to understand someone's identity (their skills, where they've worked, where they went to University, where they live), their relationships (to whom they're connected, what groups they're a member of, who they follow and are followed by), and their interests (what they care about, what makes them tick).