Who is your most important customer?

You!

Your first, and most important, customer should be YOURSELF.

first_customer

I left my last job because I didn’t like the person it was making me. I blame the customers. Over my four years there they’d had success selling to businesses of all sizes. But over the last year they really wanted to double down on Fortune 500 accounts.

Over that year I got tired of taking direction from 12 member-cross-divisional-virtual-planning committees that couldn’t agree whether a reply button should be on the left or right. These customers didn’t want to just test it and get data either way… they just wanted to debate it and I’d already spent a 7 year career at Microsoft.

Some people probably like the schmoozing and debates in those environments. As for myself… I had recently become a parent. I was talking with Gretchen about one of these pointless debates at home one night and realized that, even though I wasn’t THAT mad about it, the tone of my voice caused my 9 month old son (Gabe) to start crying.

The job was making me an unhappy person and my family deserved better. Work is such a huge part of your life and every business has customers that can dictate your job with their dollars. For me, that realization made it clear I needed to be a founder.

As a founder you get to choose your customers.

  • You choose the challenges you take on
  • You choose how you’ll leverage your strengths.
  • You choose how much growth you need out of your business.

Choose wisely. Be selfish. LOVE the challenges you put in front of yourself. If you aren’t happy you’ll have a hard time making customers love your product.

PS: It doesn’t matter if your a founder, marketer, developer, or member of the support team… it’s your job to make sure custoemrs love your product. So make sure you’re going to love the customers you serve. Start with yourself.

Cross Sell Your Products

imageI agree with Amy Hoy – “Niches don’t work – But worldviews do”.  If someone that’s part of your “audience” likes one of your products they are likely to also like (or at least recommend) another.  I don’t just agree with her, I have proof: On the free version of GoodDay I run house ads for the paid version of GoodDay, Local Note, & OneDayApp

You’d probably expect the link to the paid version of the app to have a decent click through rate, but you probably wouldn’t have guessed that the ads for Local Note and OneDayApp each have a click through rate of over 15%!  That’s only 3% less than the 18% click through rate I get for the advertisement of the paid version.  But it’s also 14% higher than the non-house ad click through rates!

That tells me that the thousands of people who downloaded GoodDay free share a worldview with me as a product creator. Because of this I’m upping the percentage of ad space dedicated to my house ads dramatically and may cut non-house ads altogether since people obviously aren’t finding them worthwhile.

Speaking of ads… this is just one of the tips you’ll find in my OneDayApp series.

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Incubating at the Fortune 500

in – cu – bate

to maintain at a favorable temperature and in other conditions promoting development

It feels like you can’t turn a corner without hearing about another startup incubator or angel fund. This model has launched several successful companies including Dropbox, Loopt, Xobni, and Disqus.

 

So the question is… why don’t big companies drive innovation in a similar way? I’ve seen a lot of corporate “startup” teams come and go. For all that’s been invested in “startup” teams at large companies, the results are pathetic. Millions of dollars have been wasted without anything to show for it. These projects are eventually folded and the talented people are slotted back into the larger teams.

But big companies do not have to be devoid of real innovation. They could have a successful startup mentality that creates thriving new businesses. The most important success factor exists at the Fortune 500: The talented people who can form incredible multidisciplinary teams. So the people are there, but real success inside the corporate walls would depend on radical changes:

1. Financial Incentive

If you work at a Microsoft, Google or Yahoo! and ship something that changes the world and makes billions, you get … not so much. The reward factor just isn’t there, and it needs to be. There has to be the dream in place that for the 10 teams that fail, the 11th team could make its members millions. Of course this sort of incentive doesn’t exists today because big companies pay great salaries to all 11 teams along the way. But truly entrepreneurial people don’t really care as much about that regular paycheck… which makes it less required and leads to:

2. Hunger & Risk Factors

Because employees on these teams make a great salary, there is no profit incentive. This is probably the biggest problem with startup teams at large companies. You can show up at 9 and leave at 5. And getting more play money is just a snazzy powerpoint away from a well connected exec. Nothing makes them hungry.

There needs to be risk factor that weeds out people who aren’t bought into the idea. The risk could be a greatly reduced salary that is redirected into the incubation fund. This fund would be used to help reward the teams who make it big and cover the cost of running these startup teams. It’s up to each team to manage the money, prove a market, and generate real ROI. Companies could still give these employees some basic health benefits, open office space, etc.

3. Independence to Change the World

Nothing stifles innovation like having to argue about internal competition. Slippery slope politics have entrenched leaders fearing cannibalization of existing customers from new initiatives. This only prevents great stuff from being customer tested. Prezi would never ship at a large company with an existing presentation application. And from the founder perspective: why would you spend 6 moths working on something that’s just going to be killed? There needs to be freedom to let these new businesses launch before they are killed off by a scared VP.

4. Finiteness

Freedom needs to be time-boxed. These teams should be given a small seed fund that would run out if they can’t start showing returns within a short time period. It’s powerfully motivating to know that without some profit my startup has a finite life span that is not on a 3 year horizon. If the “founders” want more life… give up more of the “equity” that you would have earned in the end from the new reward system. Several of these teams will die off quickly and thats OK.

5. Mentoring

At first you may have to bring in some outside mentors for these teams, but eventually the successfully graduated teams can help the new classes learn from their wins and losses. The classes taught at these companies today just aren’t designed to make something wildly successful. Most of todays corporate curriculum is about preventing failure. Instead, these teams need education on turning small wins into crazy money with a few risks along the way.

Will anyone actually put something like this together?

I doubt it. It would take a perspective shift that most executives of the current c-level generation won’t make. But the reality is that the alternative should scare them more. The alternative is bleeding talent, a lack of innovation, and a slow decay of existing market share as it’s eaten away by the same talent you let leave. Simply because you didn’t find a system that motivates talented people to build out phenomenal innovation and new markets.

Hire Josh Ledgard for Specifications, Analysis, Social, Training, & Mobile

Yup, I’m officially a free agent.  I’m looking to take on a limited set of engagements with people or businesses that could use help developing social customer connection strategies, product feature specifications, market analysis, or  developer/quality/program management team training.

You could say that I’m a general purpose handy-man that can help you simplify the online technical and social software challenges that seem to get in the way of running your business and doing what you love.  I’ve worked with companies that range from 2 to 100,000 employees and have experience working with and managing all of the engineering disciplines while also being responsible for social strategy and feature definition.

If you are a small business I’d love to discuss how you can improve your customer connection and online presence.  If you are a larger business I can help with that as well as provide feature specifications and market analysis for you.

I can offer usage or developer training for your team on social platforms like Telligent Community, Evolution, & Analtyics as well as WordPress and Phonegap that will help you get the most out of your investments.  Having most recently been the VP of Engineering Telligent I’m also capable of helping you achieve your platform integration goals.

For more information about me and my background check out my bio or my LinkedIn profile.

If you’d like to contact me and discuss your opportunity you can fill out the form below or send mail to josh@evolvingwe.com.

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Would you pay a premium for simple & flexible?

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I would. It is hard to find things that combine simple and flexible these days.  There are plenty of “single purpose” web services and apps these days, but they sacrifice flexibility. And anyone that’s used Ebay lately will tell you that the other end of the spectrum is the only thing worse.

Recently it was hard to find what I would define as a “simple” wordpress theme and most applications I see aren’t simple and flexible enough.  Yes, the two can go together.

I spent a lot of time on  http://themeforest.net/ and countless other sites looking for something like this blog theme.  I would have paid $50 to $100 for something even simpler instead of the $20 I paid for this theme.  Yes… I would have paid more for less done really well in a flexible way that would enable me to do something like this. 

I classified 90% of the themes I found as unusable. Everything was image heavy, rounded,  3d scrolling , cufon font having, etc.  Let me translate these “features” for you into what they mean: 

  • image heavy = not easily flexible.
  • Rounded = Poor browser support
  • 3D Scrolling = Bad Performance. 
  • Cufon Fonts = Bad Performance and sacrificed simplicity

The other day someone left a 2-star review of GoodDay on iTunes that read:

“This is about as simplistic of an app as you’ll ever find.  For what it does it should be free.  There are other apps that are free or cost $1 that have way more features…”

I took this as a compliment. The goal was to create a flexible app that was so simple I could open it up, rate my day, and close it in < 30 seconds with as little need to forward, back, click, or swipe as possible.  Adding a bunch of features that the competitive apps he mentioned contain would have made it take more than 30 seconds to rate your day. This person was clearly not someone that believes what I believe and, if I could, I would get him his $1 back in iTunes.

How about you… would you pay a premium for simple and flexible?

How I learned the Value of Meaningful Work

mortal-kombat-fatality-finish-himWhen you start a new job or formally meet new partners there are typically a round of introductions that may include the question “Tell everyone something about yourself that they wouldn’t know.”  With the internet this has become a more challenging endeavor.  Since I have no co-workers I figured I’d start re-introducing myself to the world on this blog.  So, here is something just about everyone reading this didn’t know…

When I was 11 years old I ran a magazine business. Well, calling it a business would probably be a stretch.  I convinced my friend we should try to make a living playing video games.  I figured that next to “Professional Toy Tester” a career playing video games had to be as good as it could get.  I fired up my Atari ST and we wrote game reviews and hard-hitting editorials that, for example, explained why it was OK for your kids to rip the heads off of characters in Mortal Kombat.

Each issue was self printed, copied, and stapled together en-mass.  We then convinced the managers of any rental shop within bike range to stock issues above the video game sections.  It turned out people liked them and the issues were being picked up by kids and parents alike.  It was awesome and it felt good to have people read what we wrote.   We simply forgot about the whole making money part at the time. Smile We were happy with distribution and doing something we loved at the time.

But doing something you love, even for a short while, can have long lasting impact on your life.  From this experience I can trace the following path…

1. Improved writing skills.

2. Learned about the state of the part in digital publishing tools.

3. Turned that into being editor of our high school paper for two years.

4. Leveraged that as a weapon to get into Vanderbilt and turned that education into my first career at Microsoft.

I also learned that because the work had meaning I was also able to rope other kids into helping us write, copy, staple, and distribute for free.  I may have simplified a few things along the way, but the seed was planted.  I loved doing meaningful work and was rewarded for it over the long run.

If I’m lucky someone reading this will have a copy for a second edition printing.  🙂

GoodDay – Over 5,000 Served!

As of today 5,321 people have experienced GoodDay!

Thanks to everyone that’s downloaded it and I hope it’s helping at least a few of you improve your lives. I know it’s helped me already.

If you like it all I ask is that you help out by rating it in the app store and leave a comment or two about how it’s helping you.

– Josh

GoodDay Donates $114 to Reading With Rover!

Reading With Rover LogoWhen I started writing GoodDay I committed that I’d donate profit from the first version to Reading With Rover in memory of our dog Oliver.  Reading With Rover is an outstanding children’s literacy program that operates in the northwest where dogs are used to help children learn how to read.  I can’t say Oliver was the best reading dog in the program… but I know he loved the attention he got while helping the children and would have wanted to find a way to help more.

The $114 comes from the sale of 114 copies @ $1 a piece before I released version 1.1 and made it free.  Since Apple doesn’t have a way to avoid paying their cut for charity I’m picking up their tab to cover the $34 that went to them. Here is the modern day giant check in the form of a PayPal transaction receipt…

A big thank you to everyone that purchased Goodday and shared it with other people to make this possible!  Oliver only hopes that its helping a few of your achieve your goals… whatever they may be.