Monthly Archives: July 2014

How is a zebra different from a basketball hoop?

7233868808_75f70d0738_kThree months ago, I wrote about how quickly the storage industry was changing.  I commented on how the fundamental concepts you need to know to be in a conversation about storage are really different than they were just 3 or 5 years ago.

Last week I attended BriForum (great event focused on virtual desktop technology) and was reminded again of how quickly things change.  It came in the form of questions from prospects who came by our tradeshow booth.

Earlier in the year, the questions we got the most were:

“So what do you guys do?”

“Oh, so you’re like ABC?”

Except it’s like we’re selling zebras and ABC is basketball hoops.  Prospects had no sense of our part of the industry and a large part of our interaction with them was around education.

Now – just a few months later – it’s:

“What makes you different from XYZ?”

“Oh, so you’re like ABC?”

It’s a good sign for us, because now ABC is horses.  We’re selling zebras, and someone’s saying, “oh, I know what zebras are, they’re like horses, right?”  XYZ is cows.  We’re being asked how zebras are different from cows.

The technologies we’re being compared to are in our space.  This is good news.  

It means we’re in a maturing part of the industry, one that is sussing out who the players are, and what the right technical solutions are.  A part of the industry that is determining how we talk about value and what category our solutions fall into.  It means our customers are getting better educated before they find us.  A lot of things make Infinio different from our competitors and now that can be a larger part of our discussions with customers.

It’s been really interesting to actually see this happen; previously I had always sold and marketed technologies that were already part of existing industries.  It’s also been challenging to keep up with the marketing as the industry matures.  We have to quickly shift from “this is what server-side caching is” to “this is why our technology is better.”

I’m holding on for the ride.

Would you eat that bagel?

bagelI used to work across the street from a well-known franchised bagel store.  I ate there because it was convenient.  But the food was prepared terribly!!   Cream cheese an inch thick across the entire bagel, hole and all.  Tuna spread across the bagel unevenly, extra in the hole it seemed.

I always used to think to myself, “Do these people even look at the food before wrapping it up?  Would they serve themselves, their spouse, their child this food?  I think not!”

The other day mrDiva and I had One Of Those Days.  Carsick babyDiva, accidental separation of adults at the beach, dead car battery.  We got home, looked at the food in the fridge, and said (nearly simultaneously) “delivery.”

He really wanted Papa Razzi pasta, so I called to find out who provided delivery services for them.  Turned out it was Dining In, so we placed an order with them.

Except from the time we started our order and the time it took to correct their misbehaving web form that wouldn’t take our credit card, the delivery time changed by 45 minutes.

We weren’t having any of it.

mrDiva called Dining In and I daresay his hackles were up.  But their customer service rep was delightfully human.

That doesn’t sound good,” she said, “that sounds like a long time!”  She went on to work some magic that had our food delivered sooner.

Over orichette and penne, we discussed what was so good about her service.  It was that she was human in her response, while still doing her job and not disparaging her company.  She was exactly the opposite of the bagel sandwich-makers – she gave us her honest reaction while working to resolve our problem.  She was herself.

I don’t think this happens enough in sales and customer service.  Service is so script-oriented that rarely do you get an actual human reaction to a complaint or request.   And this experience was more than just empathy or assistance, it was a real person on the other end of the phone showing me that she was a real person who was also trying to solve my problem.  Having that interaction made me really like Dining In.

(And no, there’s no WAY you’d eat that bagel.)

How to have a professional network

Here is a strategy for how to have a professional network:

Step One: Get a job at a big company
Step Two: Work there for a long time
Step Three: Note when people start to leave the company
Step Four: Leave the company

Congratulations – you now have a big network across your industry.

When I was at the Massachusetts Conference for Women last year, I went to a “women in technology” break-out.  A young woman asked about how to manage building a network if you are at a big company.  Then she seemed a little panicked about what to do with said built network if you leave your job.  Seasoned industry veteran that I am (ha!) I commented that you will end up with a big network just by staying in a big company because eventually those people go work somewhere else, and so will you.

Granted, you have to work your network – stay in touch with people, engage in conversation, solicit advice – but if you have one at a big company, you’ll eventually have one in your industry.

Yesterday I attended the VTUG Summer Slam in Maine. It’s a great annual event for virtualization users in New England, and this year was no exception.

I couldn’t believe how many people I knew there on the vendor side.  It was exactly my point on networking: former colleagues of mine were at XIO, Pure Storage, Citrix, Datacore, CommVault, and Veeam.  These were all people I could call up and have lunch with, not just acquaintances.

I had a great time catching up with everyone, hearing how they were doing, and learning about their technologies.  Already looking forward to VMworld.


Last week was an exercise in brainstorming.

Our biggest tradeshow of the year is coming up, and we didn’t have the right story yet.  So Alan, Carrie, and I met to come up with something.  Then we met again.  Then again.

vlcsnap-931788_jpg__853×480_And it was like that episode of the West Wing when the President is deciding whether to kill a known terrorist, and it’s in the situation room, and the joint chiefs of staff are presenting him with all the info, and they’re ready to take this guy out, and the president looks at them and says,

“You haven’t got it.”

And we didn’t have it.  So back to the brainstorming we went.  And eventually, we got it.  But it had me thinking about brainstorming all weekend.

A few months ago, I read an article that indicated that brainstorming in a group is not more effective than just thinking alone. I can’t find the exact article, but a cursory google led to hundreds of pages on “ground rules for brainstorming” “the myth of the brainstorming session” “sometimes it’s better to brainstorm alone” – in short, there are myriad articles on how brainstorming is not all it’s cracked up to be and how to make it more effective.

I’m an old-school brainstormer.  I believe in taking every idea that comes up and putting it up somewhere that everyone can see it.  I think seeing ideas helps generate more ideas.  And the whole point is to generate as many ideas as possible, then weed through them after.

I’ve always found that if you have enough ideas eventually you’ll hit a good one.  Sure, there’s a process of debate and valuation and examination, but getting the raw ideas is the most important part.

You know why this is hard?  And you know why I love doing it?  It’s for the same reason that asking dumb questions is hard.  And the same reason I love asking dumb questions.  You have to put aside your pride, put aside your well-honed ability to self-censor the random thoughts that pop into your head, put aside your carefully cultivated professionalism.

You have to say things out loud that may already sound terrible in your head.  You say things out loud that sound good in your head but terrible out loud.

But, eventually, you get it.

Book Review: Lean Startup

(cross posted at  

This is probably the top business book that has been recommended to me since I joined a startup. Now that I have read it, I can understand why – it ought to be required reading for anyone coming from a big company into a fast-paced startup. I had many a “a-ha” moment reading this, like “Oh, that’s why we are shipping a product that seems incomplete…it’s on purpose!”

The concept of Lean Manufacturing grew out of the Toyota Production Systems innovations of the mid-20th century. This comprised the idea of constantly improving systems, measuring more important things, and driving organizational learning. In grad school, I remember learning about this, and about its influence on the software industry. Agile/scrum development seems to have its roots in Lean.

So all this forms the backdrop for the ideas in this book – that companies and projects in general can use a lot of the same concepts that have fundamentally improved Manufacturing and Software Development. There’s a real focus on learning and structuring the product development process to increase the speed with which everyone learns. (And it is worth pointing out that like Innovator’s Dilemma, this is relevant for innovative parts of big companies, not just startups.) Two items stuck with me the most:

1. Vanity Metrics – Ries argues strongly against using vanity metrics when evaluating a change to a product. He says that too often metrics are chosen that look like improvements when really they aren’t, like number of downloads (without number of repeat customers) or number of repeat customers (without number of paying customers.) He says you really need to know what you are measuring and why.

2. Experiments – Ries gives several examples of how you want to run experiments about your product in real life with real customers. If your audience is big enough, A/B test actual features. Release great products without all their features to see if you have Andreesen’s elusive product/market fit. Ask focus group customers the right questions, not question your existing assumptions. 

It’s his examples that I liked the most – they were perfectly relevant and constructive. He’s delightfully honest about how hard it is to learn this way by sharing his experiences at his company IMVU. In any case, this is a MUST-READ for people interested in the model for success in technical innovation in the next decade. It’s in my mental bookshelf next to “Innovator’s Dilemma” “Good to Great” and “Crossing the Chasm.”

Best Laid Plans

bla bla bla

I’ll get the door, Mama.

Yesterday was supposed to be a productive day.

I had a plan.

On Sunday night, I got ready.  I wrote a blog post for Monday, packed my lunch for the week, packed babyDiva’s lunch for the week, cleaned out my personal email inbox, and cleaned out my work email inbox.  I wanted to be ready for Monday morning.

Top of my list for Monday was to work on some new messaging in preparation for our big tradeshow, VMworld. I also owed some collateral to our Demand Gen Director for last week’s webinars. Finally, I had planned a meeting with Alan to talk about some changes to the website.

That plan imploded at 8:40.

At 8:40, I was emerging from the Kendall T stop, steeling my willpower against the bakeries on my walk to work. The phone rings. It’s babyDiva’s day care. It’s clearly one of two things. One, I forgot her lunch/diapers/jacket/sunblock. Two, she’s sick and needed to be picked up.

You guessed it, it was “two.”

mrDiva was traveling for work, so back on the T I went, back to the bus I went, back to daycare I went, and off to the doctor.

It was the first time I had to miss work for a sick kid. My day was filled with “itsy bitsy spider” instead of messaging, board books instead of collateral, and a walk to the library instead of work on the website.

It’s taken me a long time to adjust to being a mom. For some women it seems to come naturally, for me it didn’t. Mostly, I had a hard time adjusting to a new set of responsibilities where I didn’t feel competent. I wasn’t used to someone relying on me entirely. Like, entirely.

But yesterday I was in full-on Mom-mode. Snack, bath toys, sippy cups, sticky fingers (how are they sticky ALL THE TIME?), and Goodnight Moon.

Today I’m back to work.