Customer Focus

The Money Comes Last

Jan 09, 2014

Back in December I wrote an article called All About The Money. My basic point was that many great entrepreneurs are money motivated. And I have no problem admitting that I am money motivated as well.

The day after I wrote this Dave Willams came out with this Facebook post:

"The problem with business is that the #1 goal taught is to maximize shareholder wealth. This can't be done without first focusing on maximizing employee, customer and corporate health first. Shareholder wealth is an outdated and shortsighted metric."

I agree with Dave 100%.

Being all about the money does not equal maximizing profit or short-term shareholder wealth. It does not mean putting the money first. The money is a single leg of a four legged chair.

First and foremost a company has to focus on doing an excellent job of serving customers. It all starts with customers. Customers are what create value.

Secondly a company must provide meaningful work for its employees. It must do this for no other reason than without providing such work for employees it will not be able to retain them. If a company can not retain employees it can not do an excellent job of serving customers. Moreover, customers can tell when the employees that they communicate with are not provided meaningful work. They can hear it in their words and see it in their actions. Employees are the brand. Treat them well.

Third, a company has to be a force for good in its communities. It has to be a good corporate citizen. It must do so to provide meaningful holistic work for its employees. Which is required to do an excellent job of serving customers.

Fourth, a company must deliver (or make a reasonable promise to deliver) exceptional returns to investors. Without doing so the company can not be an force for good in its communities, provide meaningful work for its employees, or do an excellent job of serving customers.

So being all about the money is really being all about the community, the employees, and the customers. It all starts with an intense focus and passion for the customer. 

The customer comes first. The money comes last.

I would be remiss not to mention that this point of view is heavily derived from the written misison of MindSpring Enterprises, Inc. and the beliefs that I developed during my time with the same company.

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Posted in Customer Focus, Entrepreneurship, Management

I Was Fired

Mar 03, 2013

Not me. Andrew Mason. The founder and CEO of Groupon. His letter to employees and the fact he publicly posted it because he knew it would leak are classic.

People of Groupon,

After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I've decided that I'd like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding - I was fired today. If you're wondering why... you haven't been paying attention. From controversial metrics in our S1 to our material weakness to two quarters of missing our own expectations and a stock price that's hovering around one quarter of our listing price, the events of the last year and a half speak for themselves. As CEO, I am accountable.

You are doing amazing things at Groupon, and you deserve the outside world to give you a second chance. I'm getting in the way of that. A fresh CEO earns you that chance. The board is aligned behind the strategy we've shared over the last few months, and I've never seen you working together more effectively as a global company - it's time to give Groupon a relief valve from the public noise.

For those who are concerned about me, please don't be - I love Groupon, and I'm terribly proud of what we've created. I'm OK with having failed at this part of the journey. If Groupon was Battletoads, it would be like I made it all the way to the Terra Tubes without dying on my first ever play through. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to take the company this far with all of you. I'll now take some time to decompress (FYI I'm looking for a good fat camp to lose my Groupon 40, if anyone has a suggestion), and then maybe I'll figure out how to channel this experience into something productive.

If there's one piece of wisdom that this simple pilgrim would like to impart upon you: have the courage to start with the customer. My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what's best for our customers. This leadership change gives you some breathing room to break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness - don't waste the opportunity!

I will miss you terribly.

Love,

Andrew

The guy does have reason to be terribly proud. My take is that moving on is the best thing for both Groupon and Mason. The guy is set and it will be interesting to see his next adventure.

Have the courage to start with the customer. Good advice.

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Posted in Customer Focus, Management, Startups, Stocks

Don't Rely On Bad Vendors

Jan 24, 2012

So a long time ago at a place about a mile away I worked at this little startup called MindSpring. MindSpring was kinda like Zappo's before Zappo's was just a gleam in Tony Hsieh's eye. The company was completely core values based. To cite one of them, we were customer driven. We also had something we called the 14 deadly sins. Number 2, rely on outside vendors who let us down.

What held true then holds true now. 

At Half Off Depot we had a vendor named Digital Doorstep, or DDS as they are known in the industry. DDS was good for revenue but bad for business. Since October they have been consistently the number one source of customer service calls. Boatloads of refunds. No communication. And despite what they claim in their public Chapter 7 bankruptcy notice, they left a lot of number of online deal companies holding the bag. 

If a vendor disappoints you early cut them quick. Don't rely on outside vendors who let you down.

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Posted in Business, Customer Focus

Think Different

Oct 05, 2011

Steve Job 1955-2011

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Posted in Angels, Business, Computing, Current Affairs, Customer Focus, Deals, E-Commerce, Entrepreneurship, Film, Fun, Games, Internet, Management, Marketing, Mobile, Music, Networking, Personal, Photography, Presentations, Science, Social, Startups, Stocks, Web/Tech

The Winning Formula

Sep 01, 2011

With Groupon mishandling its IPO, Facebook closing down it's Deals offering and Yelp cutting back on its deals staff, pundits are starting to question the viability of the deals market. Lots and lots and lots and lots of questioning. These folks are as wrong as those that said Facebook Deals would be the death of Groupon.

Recently Jim Anderson of Silicon Valley Bank wrote a nice analysis of the online deal market.

The money quote:

This brings us to the critical success factor for all these daily deal companies. Getting repeat customers from the 5 million strong e-mail list is easy. Making your real customers, the merchants, successful with the product is the challenge....

We think a winning formula is sitting in front of anyone who has strong relationships with these local merchants — especially a firm that has a history of helping them with Web marketing and promotions. Whoever teaches the merchants to use these new techniques will own this market. 

Jim and I think alike (except getting a 5 million strong email list may be a bit more challenging than he makes it out to be). I am not a pundit, I am an operator. An operator that is seeing double digit traffic and revenue growth. The deals market is a large opportunity that is not going away anytime soon. The key to success is helping merchants use online promotions to get and keep new customers while offering great deals of value to consumers.

It's as simple as that.

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Posted in Customer Focus, Deals, Half Off Depot, Internet

The Next Facebook

Jun 04, 2010

Last night Abby and I were having a nice little stroll to dinner when the subject of Facebook came up.  I mentioned to her Mark Zuckerberg's reported comments via IM about Facebook users.  "They trust me.  Dumb f***s."

Don't know if the story is true or not.  I do know that Facebook has a pretty aggressive attitude about privacy, one that does not sit well with many users including me.  Abby was aghast about the Zuck's comment and asked "so what's the next Facebook?"  It's a company that will do two thing well.

Performance was one of the main factors that led to the decline of MySpace.  Privacy could lead to the decline of Facebook.  The next great social network will perform at scale and treat users and their privacy preferences with respect.

And BTW, Shel Israel is right, it is time for Mark Zuckerberg to step down.

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Posted in Customer Focus, Internet, Social

Under The Bus

Feb 10, 2010

One of the more rational voices during the recent chatter about startup events was Michael Blake.  He asked the rather simple question "are there specific events that you think have outlived their usefulness?" and threatened to throw me under the bus in retaliation if I mentioned StarupLounge.  I am sure there are lots of buses I could throw myself under.  Not going to do that. 

When I was with my first startup I never attended events unless I was speaking or it was a business development activity.  That, along with extensive travel left me not well networked.  Not a good place to be.  I got a bit connected and then involved with another startup.  I committed to not letting my network wither.  Toward that end, though the demands of rapidly growing a company made it difficult, I made it a professional development goal to go to about two events per month.  If I were an earlier stage entrepreneur, although I might have the time to attend many more events, I would follow the same general rule.  Target two per month, sometimes do more, sometimes do less.  And this is how I might spend that time. 

Attend the annual Startup Riot.  Nice big event.  Good networking.  Opportunity to see lots of early stage startups present.  Watching others present and listening to the crowd feedback is a great learning opportunity.  If I were actually presenting at the Riot I would go to Startup Gauntlet to get open and honest feedback on my pitch.

I would attend StartupLounge.  Again, nice big event.  Great networking.  Build relationships with some folks that might be able to help you down the line.  Go to PitchCamp to prepare.  It's a quarterly event.  As long as you are making significant strides in moving your business forward go every other quarter. 

Go to the GRA/TAG Business Launch Competition finals.  It will give you a view as to what people believe to be better seed stage companies.  If you think you are ready or need a forcing event, apply.  It will make you get some stuff done and you may get a mentor.

Startup Weekend.  If you have never been in a startup before this is a nice little proxy for what it is like.  We seem to do a pretty good job of launching companies like InstantLoop, Twitpay, and Skribit

ATDC Showcase.  This annual event is getting bigger and better every year.

Atlanta CEO Council.  This is where the big dogs play.  Meets six times a year.  Need $1 million in capital raised or $5 million in revenue to get in the door. 

Throw in ad-hoc and niche happenings in your area of interest and you are done.  That would be my approach. 

Now I have three questions for you entrepreneurs and startups.  You are the customers of all this activity.  I believe that event organizers would all welcome candid feedback.  What specific events are helping to move you forward?  What specific events do you think have outlived their usefulness?  Or put another way, if an entrepreneur came to you and asked for your advice about what events they should attend, what would you tell them?

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Posted in Customer Focus, Entrepreneurship, Startups

Developing A Marketing Plan

Jan 21, 2010

Last night I had the pleasure to present to a group of folks that are in the Georgia Tech College of Management Business Plan Competition run by Alan Flury.  I have been involved in past years.  It is a great program that has been the start for operational companies such as Accelereyes and Sentrinsic. 

The topic of the night was developing a marketing plan.  That is a really challenging task to undertake for a new venture.  Too many unkowns.  Unkowns that are best solved via the customer development process.  Regardless it is a business plan competition.  They have to write something.  Hopefully the audience walked away with some good thoughts on how to write a rational well thought out marketing plan that will help them in the competition and move their business along.  More importantly I hope they got the message to get out of the classroom and go talk to customers.

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Posted in Customer Focus, Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Presentations, Startups

Happy Festivus American Express

Dec 23, 2009

It being Festivus it seems quite appropriate to air a grievance during an otherwise perfect holiday season.

My grievance is with American Express.  I am deeply disappointed with them.

I had an AMEX charge card before I had a credit card.  It was the first card I owned and used.  Honestly was surprised that they give me one, but my first boss out of college told me to apply, and sure enough it was granted. I was a member. Have been a member since 84. 

Over the years my AMEX use has grown.  It is the primary card we use for household expenses.  Used AMEX to buy laptops for new employees at MindSpring.  Continued to use it during periods when I was traveling extensively on business, often racking up bills in excess of $10,000 per month.  I think I was over $20,000 a few times.  Even tried to buy my car with it though the dealer refused (I really like the Rewards Plus program and have taken many free trips to the Caribbean and mountains). I have 334,000 points in my Membership Rewards account.  I easily have charged more than $1 million on my AMEX cards over the year, maybe more than $2 million. With the exception of current balances, which are not extraordinary, I have paid my bills.

I now have five AMEX accounts with nine cards outstanding.  Many of these cards are used just to help with internal family accounting.  Three of the accounts are used for businesses in which I am an officer.  The Enfuse Group, Skribit, and another startup.  Like my personal accounts these accounts are current.

So I have yet another startup, I need another AMEX account. I called up AMEX. Asked for another OPEN account. They would not even take the application.  Said it would be rejected. I had too many accounts or something to that effect.  

Excuse me. Here I am a long-term loyal customer with a FICO score above 800 and a life-time customer value that has to be off the charts and they are telling me they don't want any more of my business.

OPEN my derrière. AMEX you stink. I'll use that Citi card to finish up my Christmas shopping.

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Posted in Customer Focus, Personal

Why I Don't Use LinkedIn Much Part 1

Dec 03, 2009

It is not very user friendly.

This morning I found a nice message in my mail box. A snippet of what it contained is below.

LinkedIn Pending Messages
Yes 336 messages awaiting my response.  Each with its own little check box spread across 27 distinct pages.  And to quote LinkedIn's help pages "Deleting an item from your 'Inbox' is not an available function." Good grief.  They have a function called archiving but it would require at least 363 clicks to clean out my Inbox. 

I am declaring LinkedIn messaging amnesty. 

Guilt is not a good method to increase use.  LinkedIn needs a mass Inbox delete function or use of a river metaphor to handle messages. 

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Posted in Customer Focus, Internet, Social
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