Monthly Archives: November 2014

The most important meeting I had last week

When I first arrived at Infinio, I reflected on the types of meetings I Infinio_Systems__Inc__-_Calendarattended, praising most of them for being pretty valuable.

That’s been consistent here over the 9 months that I’ve worked here. While there are certainly moments that are unproductive, there are rarely entire meetings that I come out of thinking “geez, what a waste of time that was!”

In fact, two meetings I’ve been attending recently are particularly interesting.  One is the Sales and Marketing leadership planning meeting for 2015 programs, and one is the long-term roadmap & strategy meeting. Both meetings are attended by really smart, engaged people, and between the two of them, I get a sweeping view of the company going forward, which significantly helps me do my job better.

I went to a few other interesting meetings last week – the bi-weekly engineering iteration review, a review of survey results from a vendor, and a discussion about our website.

But none of those (nor the two mentioned above) were the most important meeting I had last week.

The most important meeting I had last week was with one of our BDRs. BDRs (business development reps) call the people we meet at tradeshows and online, and engage them in further conversations about Infinio.  This BDR had some questions about our industry, product, and competition, so we spent ~45 minutes together talking through his (well-thought-out) list of questions.

The reason this was so important was that I got to hear:

  • Which parts of our training were working, and where we were leaving things out
  • What questions he was getting the most on the phone, and what things he did and didn’t know how to respond to
  • What things we’re suggesting he say work, and which are a total misfire on our part

It was a view from someone who directly interacts with our prospects all day long.  And that is the most important thing for me to be in touch with.

How big is your job?

A few weeks ago I wrote about why I shouldn’t work at a startup – the tl;dr version is that I’m risk-averse, skeptical, and I like firm answers to things.

Of course there are good reasons for me to be here, and one of them crept up last week.

We’ve been having a series of sales and marketing leadership meetings to formulate our FY2015 strategy.  One of the hardest parts of this exercise has been examining our FY2014 activities and analyzing what went right and what went wrong.  Sure, it’s easy to sit through your colleagues’ presentations of their years’ worth of work and critique, but it is not so easy to present one’s own year, and acknowledge the shortcomings.

One of the things that has surfaced is some gaps between functions.  Nothing fatal, but just some places where someone could have noticed that “oops, nobody’s doing that and we should” or “huh, how will this process work?”

And this is where I am valuable – but I can also get myself into trouble.  I immediate look at all those instances and think “should I have been the one to do that?” and “I know how to do that, maybe I was supposed to have thought of that.

And that, dear reader, can make a person nuts.

So I need to have a gauge, something that helps me calibrate whether that was within my universe or not.  Which is tricky – I never want to have a “that’s not my job” response, but I also don’t want to take on everything (or feel like I’ve failed when I don’t.)

At Dell, it was easier – I would just take a step back to think, “is this something that belongs in classic product marketing?”  and then figure that as an overachiever I would do 20% more.

But this is #startuplife.  It’s not my job to just do 20% more than the “classic” role.  It’s my job to be part of building this company and its story and its processes.  So that calibration is harder. It’s more like “is this something that belongs in classic product marketing?  or does it belong to a function that doesn’t yet exist here?  or am I the best person here to do this right now?”

It makes for a job that right now is pretty big.

Why I’m buying another shitty coffeemaker

When our Keurig coffee maker breaks (which I think will be in the next week) mrDiva and I will keurigprobably buy a new one. I know it’s about to break because it’s displaying the same symptoms our previous four Keurigs had before they broke irreparably. Yup, this is going to be our fifth Keurig in ten years. While a few of those were warranty replacements, we paid for most of them.

Why do we keep buying a product that is clearly low quality? It’s not because we think of it as disposable. Actually, when I pay $75-$100 for an appliance, I expect it to last more than 2 years. My parents had a cheap coffeemaker that lasted what seemed like my entire childhood.

So why, oh why, do we keep buying replacements? Because it is otherwise a perfect product for us.  Here’s why:

  • It requires zero cleaning.
  • It makes one cup of coffee at a time, which means I can have decaf and mrDiva can have regular.
  • It requires very little maintenance.

Plus, as another incentive, I have about $100 of k-cups in my pantry right now (some because we’re nuts about trying weird flavors and some because I needed a 5th Subscribe and Save item a few months ago on Amazon) – this stuff is sticky!

Mark Zuckerberg said, “if you’re building a product that people love, you can make a lot of mistakes,” and I think that’s a great insight. I used to think of it in the context of a startup – as you are finding product/market fit and iterating past your MVP, you can mess up as you learn things.

But this is a more interesting case – I’m totally willing to settle for a product that isn’t meeting one of my basic requirements (coffee uptime!) because it is otherwise so compelling. And the cost of switching (the investment in k-cups and the time to research) just isn’t worth it.

So, here we go again. Another year, another new coffee maker.

Make a raving fan

At the supermarket I used to go to, there was a sign hanging in the deli area, ostensibly for the bla bla blabenefit of the staff, “Make a raving fan.”  It was a reminder to offer customers (like me) the first slice of meat or cheese so I could be sure it was exactly what I wanted.  I’m not sure I was a “raving fan” of the deli department, but I did like the sample.

This weekend, I had another experience where someone wanted me to be a raving fan: my nail salon.  (Had enough of sports-related business metaphors?  Read on.)

Every other weekend I get my nails done.  It takes about an hour, and I agonize for at least 10 minutes over the color.  Most of the staff is from Vietnam, and their English ranges from passable to conversational.  They’re all very nice.  The owner is extremely friendly, and makes an effort to know every customer by name, which means she keeps hundreds of names in her head – and is almost always right.

This weekend, Kim was doing my nails.  Kim’s English is pretty good, and we chatted about my daughter and her daughter.  When all the filing and cleaning and buffing was done and it was time to put on my chosen color, there was something wrong with the polish.  I don’t know if it had chemically separated or what, but it wasn’t coming out the right color.

Kim immediately sprung into action.  She brought over three different colors and put one on each of three of my fingers, and let me choose what I wanted.  She choose great options and I immediately liked one.  She verified after the second coat that I definitely liked the color.  She told me that it was similar to a color she knows I have chosen in the past.  Then she took the glitter coat I had chosen and applied it more times than is usually done so it really showed up and looked great.

As she was putting on the glitter I thought, “wow, she’s doing this as if it were her own daughter’s nails, or her own nails.  She wants this to come out looking great.”

It was the opposite of the tuna bagel place I used to go to, where I’d look at a sandwich and wonder if the person making it would actually eat it.  It was the opposite of the coffee places I go to where if there is no “medium” size, I’m on my own in ordering a cup.  It was someone wanting to solve my actual problem and provide great service.

As we seek to be customers’ “trusted advisors”, how do we transform that from being a hackneyed, elusive goal to an actual role we can play?  I can remember Dell’s top customers saying that they felt like their sales teams were literally extensions of their own teams – the relationship was so frictionless, and added so much value, that they felt like Dell’s salespeople were members of their team.

This is a hard goal, surely, but one to aspire too.

What I learned from listening to Car Talk

I’ve been a Car Talk fan for decades.  My parents weren’t big NPR listeners, instead preferring car talkone of the AM talk radio stations, or one of the news stations that had “traffic on the twos.”

However, every Sunday we’d drive to Brooklyn from NJ to see my grandparents, and during that drive, we’d listen to Car Talk.  In fact, when I listen to Car Talk now, I swear I can smell Freshkills Park, at that time a garbage dump.

Ray and Tom, whose voices I still find indistinguishable – well, distinguishable, but not identifiably belonging to one or the other of them – were like an Italian mechanic version of my dad.  They made the same kinds of jokes, laughed at the same kinds of things, and, being roughly his age, made a lot of similar pop culture references.  They also approached problems the same way my dad does.

Reading Tom’s obituaries, I’ve learned how much those guys influenced what public radio is today.  Even Ira Glass, the patron saint of public radio, agrees.  But what strikes me the most about them is how good they are at troubleshooting.

For someone technical, troubleshooting is one of the most important skills to have in your arsenal.  And within troubleshooting, I include things like being sure you know what the problem is, separating confounding variables, getting actual data rather than perceived impressions, and understanding how repeatable problems and solutions are.

Tom and Ray were great at this.  They were great at zooming in on the crux of a problem and quickly figuring out the root cause – or at least forming one or more hypotheses and testing them out.  They’d ask great questions and probe at symptoms and request specific information – exactly how to do problem solving.  They’d also keep each other honest – reminding each other when they were drawing a scientific conclusion and when they weren’t incorporating all the information they had.

They were funny, down-home, as-Boston-as-they-come mechanics, but they were also strong disciples of the scientific method.  (Likely from the many science degrees they held between them, eschewed by their big laughs and thick accents.)

One responsibility I had in my first job was for tech support.  I was pretty good at the methodology of it, but I didn’t have the subject matter expertise to actually draw any conclusions.  So that was the other thing about these guys – they knew everything about cars.

I know that it’s radio, so it’s likely they had some manuals or, later, Google in front of them, but I like to think that they rarely used them.