Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Jester of the Board.
A business parable

A young King came to power after the passing of his father. He immediately began to assemble a group of trusted advisors and confidants, men who were experts in their respective fields of governance. The country prospered under his rule and he became known far and wide as a great and wise ruler. Years passed and he began to notice that his advisors were not listening to him and making decisions without his involvement. Surely they recognised what a great ruler he was, how could they ignore his advice? Indeed how dare they ignore his commands? The King began to get involved with every facet of his Kingdom and ordered his advisors to get his seal on every decision. He suddenly felt more in command and began enjoying the feeling that he was making a difference. His advisors began to wait for his input before doing anything, and simply nod their collective heads in agreement when he offered advice.

The Kingdom slowly began to go downhill as the advisors abdicated their decisions to the King. The advisors would get together every now and then and grumble about the way things were and complain about the King’s lack of confidence in their abilities. Many suggestions were made behind closed (and bolted) doors; committees were suggested by some of the older men while revolution was on the lips of a few of the younger advisors. These gatherings always ended without progress and the advisors would go back to waiting for the advice of the King.

One day a travelling jester made his way to the court of the King and begged leave to entertain the King. A feast was proclaimed and all the most powerful men in the Kingdom were assembled for a night of merriment and festivity.

The Jester proved his worth and his antics had the court spilling copious amounts of wine as they rocked in laughter. He was an accomplished performer juggling, acrobatics, song and comedic wit all within his repertoire. His forte however was mimicry and as the evening progressed and he observed the members of the court he began to mimic them each in turn. Assuming before the eyes of the assembled the stance and belly of the bawdy governor of the southern provinces leering and spilling wine down his shirt to huge guffaws. The tight lipped ashen military advisor with the quick darting eyes managed to assemble the faintest of smiles as his apparent twin gave an impromptu inspection.

For his finale he gestured to the King to vacate his throne and regally sat down and surveyed his kingdom. He began to bark orders and moving swiftly from the throne assumed the stance and demeanour of a lowly peon bowing scraping and nodding. Another swift movement, another order barked, a blur and more nodding. Suddenly the whole room seemed to be filled with one figure shouting orders and a thousand nodding their heads. As if taking their part in the performance all bodies in the room shrunk down silently and watched and waited for the Kings reaction, somewhere in the background as is obligatory in these scenes a goblet clattered heavily on the flagstones amplifying the silence.

The King frowning looked around and slowly smiled and began nodding as relief swept through the room and chatter broke out once more.

In the time of Kings decisions were autocratic, swift and based on the whims of one man and his trusted advisors (Does this sound familiar?). The King however always held power and the decision would ultimately come down to what he wanted or, if he was in the least benign, felt would be the best course of action. An advisor on the wrong side of a decision might find himself without favour or in extreme circumstances without a head on his shoulders. So the king was likely to find himself surrounded by a bunch of yes men nodding vigorously at every hint of suggestion. Every Kings needs someone fool enough to hold up a mirror and show him the absurdity of his ways. Few Kings have the foresight or courage to have such a fool on staff and most fools having performed for Kings who do not heed their advice will command huge fees to perform for crumbling kingdoms on a consulting basis.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

How to make Venture Capitalists dance.

I have spent my share of time presenting to VC's. Angel investors and sundry other investment types and most of the time I was the one doing all the dancing. So I feel duty bound to share my newfound discovery how to make venture capitalists dance.

Step 1: Go to http://www.generalcatalyst.com/team.html (let it load before doing anything)

Step 2: Put on some dancing music ( I recommend Dancing Fool by Frank Zappa)

Step 3: Move your mouse over the pictures in time to the music. Now we're really grooving ;)


Reccommend before and after every trip to Sand Hill road.

The Nike advertising myth and the Google corollary.

Advertising agencies love the Nike story, the use of high value frequent media space to imprint the soul of a company on our collective psyches.

There is no disputing that this works if done exceptionally well, but that is the problem. For most mediocre brands, with average appeal, driven by average marketers and executed by average agencies the most you can hope for is a slight jarring and some recall the next time we are pushing our shopping trolleys past the your product category.

You might say that in this day and age there are no average creatives in our world class agencies, but consider what average means. The average is determined by peer group, the guy who comes 5th in the Olympic 100m final is way above the collective average but try and name one person who has come fifth in an Olympic event.

The Nike myth tells us that if we utilise the media well and execute well we build a great brand. This is what leads marketers to follow other “similar brand type” successes, when the original success came from the juxtaposition of a unique message in a stand out medium.

In order to succeed in your product category, like Nike did in theirs, the answer is not to follow what has worked before but figure out what could work that hasn’t been done (or done on a large scale) that fits your brand or product. AOL chose to unleash a discstorm on the US while Prodigy and Compuserve were fighting each other on the networks (as suggested by their very well paid agencies) and were handsomely rewarded with customers. Scott Bedbury on leaving Nike for a little coffee company called Starbucks didn’t follow the same path in creating the now dominant coffee brand worldwide.

Advertising should not be formulaic and when it is it is decidedly average.

The corollary to the Nike myth is one spawned by the internet and its myriad of Brands that have never spent anything on advertising to claim their space in the collective conscious. This myth feeds on search and its promises of relevance and timing.

Put your message in the time and place when a user is about to make a decision. Sounds perfect; subject A is hungry, Google adsense for thoughtwaves (beta release set for early 2008) makes a lightbulb go off in A’s head and A is heading for the nearest Burger King.

The problem with this model as the ubiquitous one is that it in its purest form it is advertising after the fact. I need to decide I want something before Google can steer me in the right direction. The Nike model on the other hand makes me believe my life is not complete without something I never knew I needed before. The bottom line fact is that there are no hard and fast rules for advertising other than hard work, constant innovation and testing and the guts to scale when it appears as if you have hit the sweet spot.

Postscript: The Google corollary is only valid as a myth if we see search advertising as the ideal form of advertising. Google’s strength however is that for every Nike there are millions of small companies and traders for whom the idea of large full scale advertising is more of a fantasy than a methodology. So what if we am not convincing customers they have to have my product, the fact remains that every day people buy things they need; all we need to is be there when they need what we have to offer.