When I read on Twitter (of course) last night that Allen Stern had passed away, I couldn’t take it in. At my age, my friends do die occasionally, but not people who were much younger than I and who had made such an investment in becoming healthy recently.
I met Allen at a NewMedia meeting in New York. We had so many friends in common that we stayed in touch through his move to Austin, and I saw him when I went there to attend SXSW. I was also an early and forever customer of Cloud Contacts and a reader of Center Networks. But for some unknown reason, Allen was always asking me for business advice.
I say unknown because he had already successfully started two businesses, Center Networks and Cloud Contacts, and while I knew him he embarked on his third, the lifestyle and fitness site that sprung from his inspiring weight loss last year. He lost over 125 pounds, mostly through fruit smoothies and then green smoothies. In the process, he met tons of new people and reinvented himself in every way. He was walking miles and chronicling his distances, just like any one of us fitness freaks.
We were drawn closer because about the same time he began juicing and losing weight, I became vegan, and his smoothie recipes attracted me. We had many conversations about whether you ought to drink your meals or eat them.
When he asked me to advise him as he attempted to sell Cloud Contacts without disturbing the information of its clients, I spoke to him quite often about that issue as well.
I’m a complete non-believer, but I’m still asking “whoever” did this why they’d take away someone who worked so hard to stay alive. I am so sad that I feel the (unaccustomed) need to blame somebody, anybody, for this untimely death. But for all I know, Allen is happy and I should just shut up. I will miss you, my friend.
When Goldman Sachs invested in Arizona-based Infusionsoft last year, they were actually investing in small business as the economic engine of the future. Infusionsoft, one of the largest of the many small business marketing companies, grows its own business by creating a community of its customers, and encouraging them to help each other grow.
Small businesses often face a conundrum: they know they need to do more marketing to attract more customers, but since they don’t have much in the way of resources, they pretty much have to do it themselves. And they don’t have time, don’t know how, and can’t outsource it.
Infusionsoft solves that problem with its slogan “Automation Means Domination” and an army of experts who help each other learn how to create marketing programs that work. At this year’s InfusionCon, I sat in on the Ultimate Marketer Contest finals and listened to the finalists talk about what worked for them. The three finalists in the contest had all tripled the size of their businesses in the past year. And believe me, they weren’t in typical gazelle businesses: they were a company that helps churches raise money, an orthodontics practice, and a team sports apparel company. They’re the kinds of companies that go from $200,000 in revenue to $2 million in a year using common marketing strategies, good software, and guidance.
Here were ten big takeaways from the Ultimate Marketer Finalists:
1.Don’t grow away from your customers. As you grow, you may find you are interacting with customers less. That’s bad.
Automation trumps determination. You can’t stay in touch without help; marketing automation creates a foundation of stability as the business grows and allows you to keep close to customers.
Create a webinar that will help your target customers do something important.
Use broadcast email to invite them and others to the webinar.
Learn what the perfect customer life cycle is for your business. Examine how long it takes to make a sale after you generate a lead.
Attract traffic to your web site using social media, but don’t try to do it all. Use one tool well–either Facebook, or Twitter, or LinkedIn. Don’t try to maintain too many profiles.
7.Build a list of email addresses. Test several different landing pages to see which attracts the most email addresses.
Build campaigns based around your email addresses, and offer free information. Convert this to sales by offering a free trial.
Send handwritten thank you notes to new customers.
Turn your customers into affiliate marketers and/or advocates.
I was amazed at how much these small businesses were able to do with a little guidance and a good software package. Those who are willing to invest some time in automating their marketing will undoubtedly see a return on their investment.
One of the highlights of my trip to SXSW, the music, film and interactive festival in Austin that ended last week, was hearing Jonah Peretti, founder of Buzzfeed, speak Buzzfeed,although still a startup, gets 40 million unique visitors a month, 40% per cent of whom read it on mobile devices.
Is Peretti, who also co-founded Huffington Post, a great journalist? Nope. He’s a guy who. while a grad student at MIT Media Lab, experimented with how to make things go viral. Read his Wikipedia page; it’s hilarious.
His key target audience? The “bored at work” network. The bored at work network is made up of people who have to spend all day at a desk on a computer, but who aren’t necessarily working all the time. These people use their mental breaks to shop online, and also to share content. If Buzzfeed puts out some content that interests them – say, a cat photo or a diet that gets you into a bikini in 24 hours – this network will share it because they can.
With the rise of the smart phone, a second, even larger network emerged: the bored in line network.
Mobile used to be where viral died, but now its where viral lives. Even reporters are part of the bored at work network, often scanning online for story ideas.
From his youthful experiments, Peretti concluded that if you want something to be seen by a large audience, half the time should be spent on the idea, and the other half on how to spread it. If content is attractive to people on social networks, it can get as much as 34x the traffic as it gets on the original site. So Buzzfeed went to the market with social and shareable content, becoming quickly known for its quirky cat videos.
However, that wasn’t Peretti’s total intent. He wanted to have a place for long form serious journalism that was equally shareable, so he hired Ben Smith, the highly respected reporter from Politico, to be his political editor. Smith broke the story of Romney’s running mate, and now Buzzfeed has lots of serious journalism.
What kind of news is good for social sharing? Scoops are good (everyone wants to be the first to know). So is any story that’s a matrix of fact and emotion.
So good sites should be like a Paris cafe: philosophy and politics are vociferously discussed, but dogs are allowed, and discussions stop to pet the dog. That’s why you like your Facebook news feed; it’s a combination of inspirational quotations, family news, and fascinating photos.
Only certain topics, however, lend themselves to sharing. To make you share something, you have to identify with it in some emotional way. Nostalgia is social. Breaking news about things like the Jody Arias trial or a tsunami are social. Humor is inherently social, as are cute animals. Buzzfeed did a promotional campaign with Toyotus Prius called “25 Hybrid Animals You will Love.” It got millions of shares and views.
This, people, is the future of journalism: emotional, sharable, and social. Get used to it.
I agreed to go back to SXSW with some trepidation, because this is my seventh year, and the event has gotten larger and larger. At first, I knew or knew of most of the attendees, and going to Austin was a way to put faces to Twitter handles. Twitter, like me, was new to SXSW in 2007. Now, the conference has over 25,000 attendees at the interactive conference alone, and I’m lucky to find my old friends.
But something has happened for me this year: the serendipity of new friends. The three things I learned at SXSW had nothing to do with meeting people I already knew, but rather in learning about things I didn’t.
At the WP Engine dinner the other night, I was sitting on the left of Werner Vogels, the CTO of Amazon, who was telling us about the lengths to which Amazon invests to make things convenient for its customers and the extent to which the company still reflects Jeff Bezos' vision. It was a behind the scenes look at a disruptive company’s vision and how it scales from category to category. Amazon has gradually changed the face of retailing, from books to luxury fashion to toilet paper and created almost instantaneous fulfillment through its free shipping service Prime. And now the company is facilitating e-publishing with Kindle and CreateSpace.
Along the way, it has revolutionized the away startups are brought to market through Amazon Web Services. I saw that when I attended the LeanStartup track. This year it was in a huge ballroom for a crowd in the thousands, because the cost of doing a software startup has been dramatically lowered by AWS.
The next day I found out that Ping Fu, whose memoir I had recently read, was speaking about the recent merger of her company, GeoMagic, with 3-D Systems, an early pioneer in 3-D printing. I didn’t understand much about 3-D printing, but now i do. Not only did I get to see Ping Fu’s own 3D printed shoes, but I saw people carrying around the lightweight portable 3-D Systems printer Ping says will go mainstream this year after nearly twenty years in development. It will usher in an era of mass-customization, or one-off manufacturing; in the near future your shoes will always fit perfectly, as Invisalign braces do now. Invisalign was one of the first GeoMagic customers
I had to race out of Ping’s presentation because my schedule told me Adam Curry, co-host of the amazing No Agenda show, was speaking in another venue. No Agenda, a completely donor-supported (no advertising) unbiased look at the news of the week, has become legendary in its iconoclasm over the fast five years. A scathing look at events covered by the mainstream media only as talking points, it is a profound new model for authentic journalism. Curry turned his back on a lucrative career on MTV to become a thought-provoking online podcaster, and the No Agenda Show now supports two families.
There is so much ainnovation showcased at SXSW. Perhaps the most mind-blowing thing I saw was an app called Augment, which takes augmented reality to the next commercial step by helping you take a photo of a piece of furniture and lay it on a background to get a 3-D view of how it will look in a room. It looks like CAD drawing, but it’s a free app.
Things I’ll take away from this year: the value of investment in obsessive customer service; the mainstreaming of 3-D printing and its effect on manufacturing, and a promising new model for journalism. SXSW certainly augmented my reality.
I’ve been thinking about the special attributes women bring to entrepreneurship lately, how they are more nurturing, more compassionate, more transparent, and more resilient to help their companies through the inevitable dark moments.
But while Silicon Valley loudly complains about the lack of women in technology, and Sheryl Sandberg writes books urging women to lean in to their careers, one of the pioneering women in technology over the past three decades is being criticized for her success.
Ping Fu, founder of GeoMagic Software, has written a memoir about her childhood in China and what it taught her about entrepreneurship. In the memoir, “Bend Not Break,” she tells about being removed from her Shanghai mama and papa when she was 8 and being forced to work in a factory from the age of ten during Mao’s cultural revolution.
At age 25, Ping was quietly deported to the US, without much education besides the contents of Mao’s “Little RedBook,” and through a combination of very hard work and lack of interest in money became a reluctant entrepreneur. Her life as a child was a series of unexpected events, during which she leaned on her grandfather’s teachings about how bamboo survives the winter. It will bend, but not break.
Now that Ping is a success in the US and her company does business in China, critics in China have come out of the wood work accusing her of lying about her experiences, applying for asylum under false pretenses, and making up her kidnapping upon arrival in the US.
I’m not concerned about the literal accuracy of her memories of those events, because from what I have read about how memory works, people don’t remember events per se, they remember their impressions of events. In other words, all memoirs are fundamentally inaccurate. We remember only the impression, the scar. That’s why when an entrepreneur commits suicide, as three men did this year, we say we should have reached our to help them, because their situations don’t seem worth suicide to us. But to them, it was different.
For me, the most powerful part of “Bend Don’t Break” isn’t the litersl circumstances under which Ping Fu was wrested from her parents or how she got to the US, but the “letting go of expectations” from her Buddhist upbringing that allowed her to succeed in the largely male world of Red Guards and tech entrepreneurs. Time after time, she succeeds by letting go, or by following the principle “sometimes the best strategy is a retreat.” She sees the world as grey, not as black and white.
Why? Partly because she was brought up with Buddhist teachings, but also because this is how women in general lead – not from command and control, but by consensus-building, and it is what makes their leadership different from that of men.
We need a more open dialogue about the special qualities that enable women to be good leaders. Women lead more like Ping Fu than like sports figures or generals.Women recognize our interconnections, and try to look for the good in others. We try to love each child equally.
After we recognize this, we need to allow women to lead in their own ways, and not like men. There are always many roads to the same destination.
We’re all pretty much in agreement that social media has been commandeered by marketers, and that brands now have the upper hand. I’ve got promoted Tweets in my stream, invitations to join brand communities on G+, and special offers from brands in my Facebook feed. Not to mention the constant spewing forth of often-ignorant political opinion on every side of every issue.
Every day I ask myself, “how much time do I want to waste on all this?”
And every day I am brought back to the origins of social media, and how it was in the glory days of 2006 and 7, when Twitter and Facebook were manageable, and Google+ was an embryo.
This morning I looked at my Facebook feed. A man I know only from Twitter and blogging, although I’ve since met him at conferences, has lost his grandfather. Condolences pour in. In his feed, I see the names of other people I know, like @queenofspain, who has tweeted and blogged her own fight to “kick lupus' ass,” and who I have actually come to love by following her heroism. I’ve actually traveled to conferences where she appeared just to give her a hug.
On G+ I see a brilliant diagram from my friends in London +Thomas Power and + Bob Barker, whom I met in person four years ago in Half Moon Bay – through +Louis Gray and +Robert Scoble. And how did I meet Louis and Robert? Through their blogs, at first. Robert’s blog announced that he was moving to Half Moon Bay, where I had just bought a house. We reached out to each other, and have become close friends. I watch for news of his autistic son, and try to share information with him and Maryam.
And then there are my niece and nephew, young people living a continent away from me, whose lives I see almost daily and whom I can talk to with my keyboard.
Every once in a while Arabic tweets come through my stream, because I met @karabeesh and @jamalon, two startups in Amman, and can stay in touch through Twitter. Being able to stay in touch with the wonderful Jordanians I met on my trip is a gift that social media has given me and brands can’t take away.
So for me, the ROI of social media is different. It’s not about the money. Quite the contrary. It’s about the relationships, the knowledge, and the understanding that comes from meeting a much wider group of people than I would ever have met otherwise, and sharing their extraordinary lives.
And believe me: there are many extraordinary lives on Twitter and Facebook – some obviously so, like the ones @andycarvin tweets about, and some not so obviously, like my step-grandson at NAU who is an amazing young poet.
So think twice before you delete your Facebook account, call Twitter a waste of time, or dismiss Google+ as “just another social network we don’t need.” It’s way more complicated than that.
Long, long ago, way back in 2010, Altimeter’s Jeremiah Owyang gave a talk in which he uttered the immortal words, “social media doesn’t scale.”
I’ve found that out through my work with ZEDO, the San Francisco-based platform partner for publishers. ZEDO started with one person doing its social media almost two years ago: me. But the company is growing rapidly, and it has a globally distributed work force in many different time zones. This year, my challenge is to inspire my colleagues to help me with the social media so we CAN scale it better.
I’m fortunate, ZEDO is still relatively small – about 250 employees. But suppose you are a public company, or even a very large private company with a distributed global work force? How will you control your brand? How do you respond to Twitter complaints in a manner that meets the expectations of customers who tweet out their troubles expecting someone to be there listening? And how do you use social media to help you attract talent?
Listening platforms like Radian 6 help. But they’re just a beginning. After all, they’re just listening and monitoring. They’re not sharing information.
Ideally, we’d like to turn our best customers (our fans) into advocates or at least into customer service reps. SocialToaster purports to do this for fans, and forums do this online if you have the patience to consult them. But those are relatively minor efforts that still don’t solve the problem.
And most customers don’t want to be bothered. They can’t be depended on to be there when you need them, 24x7x365. Who else can help?
Maybe it’s the people whose paychecks we sign.
Because of the scope and magnitude of the “Big Shift” to customer control from vendor control, we must engage and enlist every employee to help, whether two or 200,000. IBM figured this out a while ago, and has been singing this song as loudly as it can, including walking its talk by empowering its own employees. IBM even has created an enterprise platform for this.
But the platform is not the most important part: it’s the education, engagement, and empowerment of the employees that’s critical.
I had this discussion with Marcus Nelson, formerly of UserVoice and Salesforce, about 9 months ago, and I angel invested in the company he started to solve this problem: – Addvocate. Addvocate is moving right along through its beta, but it is only able to work with companies that are already enlightened.
Most companies are not. First, someone must have the discussion with the C-suite. Why is it necessary (rather than just nice) to have employees who are empowered, with the ability and tools to respond socially? How do you engage those employees, incentivize them, and educate them so they can really help the company deliver the right messages at the right time with the right results?
As usual, I’ll be the person who starts the discussion and takes the arrows. In the next couple of months, I’m going to speak to a large company that has a unique set of challenges in this area. And I plan to speak many more times, until I help complete the transition to a more social, responsive, business environment for all of us.
I’m staring into my crystal ball, and I see…nothing. And neither can all the other swamis wildly trying to issue predictions for 2013. My predictions are based only on my intuition, but for what it’s worth, here they are:
1. Small tablets will catch on, because you can now pretend you have an iPad or an iPad Mini even if you only have a Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire, which in many ways are more flexible and better. And cheaper. But the iPad Mini sets the trend, and all of us over 45 will once again struggle to read smaller screens without spectacles. For kids, no problem of course.
Wearable computing moves further into the mainstream. Some day, God willing, the Pebble watch will deliver. And people have begun getting their Basis devices. The new Fitbit, the new Jawbone, and the now-familiar Nike Fuel Band continue to valiantly count steps and calories for people who either do or do not make lifestyle changes–and this is random. You can’t predict who will or who won’t.
Google Goggles are only a subtext to the trend above. Sure Scoble’s writing a book on contextualism, but that’s not part of 2013 unless you are a developer or someone with $1500 burning a hole in her pocket.
Many startups merge, converge, or die. The term Series A crunch is a euphemism for the death of mediocre concepts, and many emerged over the last two years.
America (and especially Silicon Valley) cedes its place as the only place to build a company. It never was the only place to build a company, but before streaming video that wasn’t widely known. Now that we can see into remote crevasses of developing countries, we are aware of how much innovation goes on there.
Ya gotta break the eggs to make the omelet, and 2013 will be the rise of bundled payments that no one knows how to manage, outcomes that no one knows how to measure, and steadily rising costs as everyone tries to make a bundle off the old system before Obamacare really kicks in during 2014.
People begin to realize how broken our health care system is, and how often doctors can be wrong. Slowly they begin to adopt preventive techniques to make going to the doctor-who-takes-forever-to-get-an-appointment and then gives-you-the-wrong-diagnosis-anyway unnecessary.
A subset of #7 will be the continued rise of the Paleo and plant-strong (vegan) health regimes, which present huge new opportunities for the restaurant business. The regimes will appeal both to the very young, who believe their parents have polluted the planet and left it to them, and to the very old, who will try everything to keep from dying. Or going to the hospital.
Nothing to predict here, move right along. We will either go over the fiscal cliff for two weeks or pull it out on the final day, only to kick the can down the road with a bunch of partial and ridiculous solutions that put the debt off into the future. Politicians will not miraculously change from the corruption of 2012 to a bunch of selfless public servants.
The US will continue to treat all other countries like potential colonies, and the other powers like Russia and China will pretend they aren’t doing the same thing. The war is between the US, Russia and China, although it will have names like “Syrian Independence” or “Arab Spring.” Those are camouflage.
I will continue to keep my memoir unfinished, as I travel around and live my life. I will be totally immersed in family, although my family will think I am absently playing with my iPhone.
My ship will come in. I’ve predicted this every year for the past 50. And here’s what I’ve learned. Some years it does, and some years it does not. When it does, I find a way to spend or give away all the treasure. When it doesn’t, I am only slightly less happy.
After all, I am healthy, I have tons of friends, and a life other people lust after. But all they have to do to have my life is decide they want it enough to sacrifice illusions of security. I hope they figure it out in 2013. They probably won’t.
A friend of mine actually sent an email to his friends list last night about his fears that Congress would pass laws on gun control and our right to bear arms would vanish.
Silly man. His gun rights won’t vanish. No one is calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment. But our children might.
This morning even Joe Scarborough gave up his position that guns don’t kill people, people do, in favor of his fatherhood. That tells me he’s a leader. I’m a mother and grandmother, stepmother and foster mother. I know what it is like to lead children. And if parents don’t do it, who will?
As a foster mom, I saw mental illness up close and personal. The birth parents of my foster kids were drug addicts. The father committed suicide. Not only did they abdicate their responsibilities to lead their children, they didn’t even feed them regularly.
The oldest child ran away from home. The second oldest went to prison, with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder that went untreated. The next one down had attachment disorder and helped her boyfriend rob my home. Later, she stole my identity. The youngest, still a drifter, has no work ethic.
There’s a somewhathappy ending to their story, because I stepped in and exerted my leadership over their lives, just as I did with my own children. I literally rescued them to the point where they are all taxpayers, mothers and fathers, determined not to treat their own children with the disregard lavished on them.
Poor kids, you think. That would never happen in MY community. Oh yes it will. Too many parents do not exert leadership. Sandy Hook was not a poor minority community we can forget about because it is not us. It CAN happen here. As Scarborough said, “the trail of violence will end at your home.”
Adolescent boys and girls are subjected to too many stereotypes of violence. They think all the stuff they see in video games and movies is cool, and they don’t understand the finality, the meaning, and impact of death. My foster sons loved all those songs and movies about “gangsters” who used Glock-9s. Adam Lanza loved his computer. Parents must exert some influence over what their children see and do. On TV, in the movies, in video games.
We are going to find that the Lanza family was complicit in its own demise. Of course people don’t feel comfortable acknowledging that their kids are mentally ill. But if they don’t acknowledge the problem, and they blame it on the school being inappropriate, then who is left to lead? If not adults, then who? Adam Lanza’s mother had acknowledged it, but then there’s the next problem: What resources are there for parents with mentally ill children? Very few.
In this case, although there had been a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, Mrs. Lanza had guns in the house with a disturbed child. Because, poor woman, she believed, like every parent, that it wouldn’t happen to her, or in her house. She thought she was doing the right thing by sharing her love of guns with her sons.
But there’s a time to share things with your children, be their friend and participate in their activities, and a time to lead them. I try to put myself in the shoes of the parents who lost kids. I would not want to go on. I would not see a meaning to life. They probably WERE trying to lead.
So, like most things in life, there’s not a simple answer. We need a systems approach: partly gun and ammunition controls, partly mental health resources, partly better leadership training for parents, partly an end to our violent entertainment culture.
What we sure don’t need is someone, even a friend of mine, firing off an email full of the old cliches about the Second Amendment, written 200 years before the invention of automatic rifles.
There is a world of difference between people who travel and people who don’t. People who travel learn things along the way, almost by osmosis. After GeeksonaPlane left Dubai, I stayed an extra day, and my flight home was full of contractors on their way back to the States from Afghanistan. Because the flight from Dubai to Atlanta is over sixteen hours long, I spoke to quite a few of them, all of whom were en route home for R&R.
The ones on my plane were almost all former military and former police, retired from their first careers and out to secure their second pensions working for KBR, DynaCor, or the US government itself. They are outsourced resources–people who have traded poor job prospects at home for big money in the Middle East.
One woman works for the government and is part of the civilian force that runs the bases. Another man is training Afghan police in American methods.
Cynical to a man about the mission they are engaged in, they are all in agreement that the Afghan people won’t change, and that we have squandered our resources trying to help them. But of course our problems have created jobs for them as contractors. They are on the lookout for the next war, because it will be impossible to absorb most of them back into the US economy otherwise. They support families and send money back to the US, but they are under no illusions that they are doing anything worthwhile.The military may have faith in the mission, but the contractors are there to pick up a paycheck and escape with their lives.
One of them told me we are over there nation building not to create security for the Afghans or even for ourselves, but for the Chinese, who have contracts to extract nickel and copper from Afghan soil. In his opinion, it is our way of paying them back the money we owe them. I have no idea whether what he’s saying is true, but there’s a logic to it, since this man works with Americans, Canadians, and Mongolians.
Another woman told me she was worried about how the Afghans who work on the military bases will go back to their desert farms in 2014, where they will have no cell phones, no TV, no regular food supply. Another man told me the Afghans dress and live a life much like they did in medieval times and they don’t want to change, so maybe we are projecting a difficult transition back because that’s how WE would feel.
Although we have started to pull troops out, and some of the government contracts these men work under are also ending, the opinion of these men was that we will never be truly out of there, even after 2014. “Once the United States lands somewhere, we never leave,” one said, reminding me of Iraq, where he had also spent some time. He told me that the Iraqis, unlike the Afghans, were at least willing to modernize politically and were beginning to do so, while the Afghans are resolute and refuse to give up their ways.
I was also told that at a party held by the military to celebrate the US accomplishments recently the Taliban came in and killed the dancers. There is no doubt, they say, that the Taliban is in charge.
And there was consensus among the ones I spoke to that war will break out between Israel and Iran, probably next spring.
That, some said, could be their next big job opportunity.