Consumer Buying Habits and Design

In a recent episode of the Podcast HBR IdeaCast titled “Authenticity”a comment was made relating consumer buying habits with authenticity:

“Consumers buy in their own self-image.”  

I feel a parallel can be drawn from the concept of Authenticity to Product Design.  I have been in the website business for years.  Over and over Management struggles with how to templatize a website offering to reduce design costs.  For certain companies such as Template Monster, taking advantage of this concept has worked well for them.  

Finding the balance between a generic low cost design and something a consumer feels great about buying is an ongoing challenge.  Because a website represents their Business or Organization, choosing a design from a Gallery doesn’t match the passion, pride and uniqueness they feel for that Business.  Even if the consumer does find something that suits their needs from a Gallery the urge to “customize” is present….a way to make it theirs and only theirs.

Morning Think Time

I set my iPhone Alarm for 5:10am, currently to the ringtone Viva la Vida by ColdPlay.  Most days during the work week I am able to wake up, sometimes I need to sleep in and I do, no pressure.  On some advice from Brad Feld, I have created a routine for my wake up: turn off alarm, coffee already brewing, standup and stretch, grab robe, walk downstairs.  I have found having a routine for getting yourself out of bed is a key part of being able to wake up early.

I have set no rules for myself for this early morning time, it’s my time.  As I sit down at my computer I check email, twitter, sometimes read through my RSS feeds…it’s my time to think, surf and read.

A result of this no pressure approach is that I get to see where the morning takes me.  Sometimes the first tweet I read takes me down a path of learning something completely new.  For example, a few days ago I watched a 30 minute interview of Mike Wallace and Frank Lloyd Wright at 5:30am!  I’ve also had mornings in which I sit down and start chipping away at my Inbox.  If I had this scheduled or planned I am sure I would not be able to drag myself out of bed.  I’ve had great IM sessions with friends on the other side of the globe, written blog posts, worked on startup ideas, fixed bugs, watched videos, caught up on Facebook and more during my morning think sessions.

As much as I practice GTD and follow concepts advocated by people like David Allen, I feel that having total free time to think, read and learn is key to work happiness.  By the way, I am writing this at 6:04am as I pour my second cup of coffee.  I wonder what today has in store for me.

3 Reasons Why I Care about TechStars

After a fun day in Boulder attending the TechStars Investor Day, I thought I would share some thoughts on why I would sacrifice a vacation day to drive to Boulder and listen to a bunch of presentations by startups run by people I’ve never met.

Motivation

Your career can be 2 things: a job that you go to, make money, do some interesting things, and have a few laughs along the way OR it can be your Opus.

“The entire process — not just the finished product — was known as the “Opus.”  The word means “work,” and was often capitalized to distinguish it from the more ordinary sense of the word.  The “Work” was the long process of refining raw material, going through many phases identified by colors — blackening, whitening, reddening, yellowing — and reaching an end point described variously as a peacock’s tail, the philosopher’s stone, or the elixir of immortality.”

– taken from Thomas Moore’s A Life at Work

The more years I get under my belt working, the more I appreciate people’s ability to do great stuff.  This is my first reason for following TechStars, Motivation.  I am constantly referring to “the way TechStars did that” when I am talking with people at work.  The crew that runs the Project and the companies that are participating really do quality work…..being surrounded by this gives me energy to improve what I’m working on.

Legitimacy

I have always admired traditional careers like Doctor, Lawyer, etc and have never felt “Businessman” fit into that grouping even though you hear the term grouped with traditional career tracks a lot.  My admiration for these careers likely stems from a grass is greener viewpoint, but nevertheless I respect some of the formality that accompanies these careers.  Conferences, titles, certifications….all known and passed down from generation to generation.  

When I began as a Software Developer for SPSS after college I never quite felt like I had that legitimacy in my profession.  As I worked my way through small businesses, startups and contract gigs the stress over career validation continued.  I was this weird combination of “Businessman”, even though I wasn’t really….“Engineer”, even though I would never compare myself to a “real Engineer”…..and “Entrepreneur” even though I felt starting a little tiny business that wasn’t going anywhere didn’t count.  With that said, I didn’t feel like a failure rather I didn’t quite understand how the Opus I was building fit into the grown-up work world.

Projects like TechStars bring legitimacy to a career path that many people like myself are either on or are just starting.  Their Mentorship approach showcases examples of individuals that are deep into building their Opus and serve as excellent examples to follow.  The TechStars Demo Days and Events they put on bring Investors together with Entrepreneurs in an exciting atmosphere that is much much cooler than any other industry gathering that usually depress me (ie: Industry Award Banquets).

After observing a TechStars event you get a good sense that this is a Community in which you belong and legitimizes the professional career you’ve chosen.  

“Oh yeah, what I do is actually really cool, I’m surrounded by brilliant and successful people, and this is actually very fun.  I’m lucky to be a part of this.” 

– how I felt walking out of the Boulder Theater after the TechStars Investor Day 

People

During the Investor Demo Day the Ignighter presentation joked about how hard it is to meet people after college.  There is truth to this as well in the tech community.  I have been to a variety of conferences, tech meetups, etc but never quite click with the people I meet and talk with.  The Community around TechStars, both the people that are involved with the Project and the people that follow it for fun (like myself) are cool and fun to talk with.  I have learned a ton from simply following TechStars on Twitter and reading blog posts from the TechStars Community.  As lame as that may sound I consider the TechStars Community a valuable asset that is part of my career growth.

Operational Processes

Joel on Software writes a great article about Starbucks and how they have developed customer services “systems” and “procedures” that are failing.

If you’re planning to expand your business to a certain scale, you must first establish procedures and build systems to get predictable outcomes so that your employees can produce decent results even when they’re not having a great day.”

This is extremely applicable to my current role.  The nature of working with Clients as your customers mixes different personalities and can create frustration somedays.  It is so important to have good work processes in place so you can turn off your email, let the frustrations go and continue to crank on the work that needs to be accomplished.  Getting Things Done is the easiest way to satisfy a Client as a customer.


Natural Breaks

Gen. Michael Hayden was interviewed on Meet the Press about the Iraq War.  He used the term “Natural Break” to describe circumstances that create change or opportunity. 

“So I knew if I got to mile 22, there was a natural break that would begin to turn things into my favor.”

We need to look for Natural Breaks in business.  Examples are holiday downtime, the period after a Product Launch or new Release, after a company meeting, etc.

What does Pro Forma mean?

Sometimes terms are used in a meeting, everyone nods their heads in agreement (including me), but then I walk away feeling like I did not understand perfectly what was being said.  I have often times seen this as a sales technique….people are afraid to ask questions so the sales person uses terms they realize the potential client will not understand and will intimidate.

Anyway, the term “Pro Forma” was used in a meeting the other day and although I had a general understanding, I thought I would look it up anyway and write this quick blog post.

Projected earnings based on a set of assumptions and often used to present a business plan (in Latin pro forma means “for the sake of form”). It also refers to earnings which exclude non-recurring items. Pro-forma earnings are not derived by standard GAAP methods. 

Source: Investopedia

Understanding your Market

As I listened to Venture Voice #48 with Frank Addante I thought about how successful people always seem to understand their market incredibly well. 

This is, of course, an obvious statement.   I wonder though, is this understanding in part due to hindsight? Maybe they got really lucky and can now justify their decisions…when really at the time they had no idea of the impact.

Listen to the mp3

Business Advice from Walden

This excerpt from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden offers great advice on Business: 

Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood.  “Do you wish to buy any baskets?” he asked.  “No, we do not want any,” was the reply.  “What!” exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, “do you mean to starve us?”  Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off — that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and, by some magic, wealth and standing followed — he had said to himself: I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do.  Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man’s to buy them.  He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other’s while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy.  I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one’s while to buy it.

Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them.  The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind.  Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of the others?

I read this book via DailyLit, a service that delivers a few paragraphs a day to your Inbox.  I highly recommend trying this out.