Sep 282005

CEO Diary: What Makes a Great Day?

CEO Diary:  What Makes a Great Day?

5:30 a.m. – run (have to keep up with Brad)

8:45 a.m. – networking coffee with former main contact at large strategic partner; now CFO of another company in the industry

9:30 a.m. – work time/email/read newsletters, Wall St. Journal online, various RSS feeds

10:30 a.m. – internal meeting to discuss mothballing a product feature that’s hard to maintain and doesn’t generate much revenue

11:00 a.m. – internal meeting to clarify roles and responsibilities between account management and  client technical operations

11:30 a.m. – brainstorm 2006 strategy with head of one of our lines of business

1:00 p.m. – great sales call on a Tier I prospect with new sales person; business almost certainly forthcoming!

3:00 p.m. – meet with head of sales and hea of HR to discuss candidate for sales position and potential changes to sales compensation structure

3:30 p.m. – review draft of new (revolutionary!?!?) corporate web site; do deep dive on critical headlines and copy points with team members

4:30 p.m. – status meeting with new head of marketing,including quick stand-up meeting on PR strategy for upcoming trade show with one line of business head and product manager

5:30 p.m. – work/email/planning next Board meeting agenda/blog posting

7:00 p.m. – dinner with CTO

Energizing (frenetic?).  Diverse in terms of functions/departments covered.  Good balance of internal vs. external.  Some items high level, some more detailed.  Mix of brainstorming vs. decisions vs. status checks.  Some social mixed in with hardcore work.  This is why I love my job!

Sep 262005

Book Short: The Most Rapacious Guys in the Room

Book Short: The Most Rapacious Guys in the Room

I just finished The Smartest Guys in the Room, by journalists Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind. This is the story of Enron, and what a tale it is! The book is a good quick business novel read. It reminded me a lot of Barbarians at the Gate, except that it made me far angrier. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m at a different place in my career now than I was 10 years ago and therefore have a different appreciation for what goes on in companies, or if the Enron guys were just far worse than anyone surrounding RJR Nabisco. But in any case, as my Grandpa Bill would have said, this one certainly raised my hackles.

Anyway, I can’t even get into the details without working myself into a frenzy about these crooks, but suffice to say there are lots of “what not to do” lessons in this book, starting with CEO Ken Lay’s wuss-like, disconnected approach to leading the company and ending with CFO Andy Fastow’s insane rationalizations for using the company as his own piggy bank. Anyway, I thought it would just be easier to just list out a few simple things to look for in your own company if you’re concerned you might be having some financial scandals within.  You know you have a problem if…

– Your company has 3,000 off-balance sheet special purpose entities, including 800 in the Caymans

– Your CEO has waived your company code of ethics twice so that the CFO could negotiate deals for his own profit against the company

– Your President combatively calls an analyst an asshole on an earnings call when asked why the company couldn’t produce a balance sheet and cash flow statement with its income statement and earnings release

– Your staffers meet someone from your auditor and say “oh, you’re the guy that won’t let us do something”

– Your accounting department becomes viewed as a major profit center because of its treatment of revenue

It’s truly astonishing what these bozos thought they could get away with. Thank God they’re going to jail. Thanks to my colleague Patty Mah (a friend of the author) for this book.

Sep 222005

links for 2005-09-22

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Sep 182005

Hackoff – The Blook

Hackoff – The Blook

Fred and Brad have already posted some pertinent details as well, but here’s a must-read for you – entrepreneur Tom Evslin, who has a great blog, has just launched an online book, serialized as a blog.  It’s about a fictitious Internet bubble company called Hackoff.com (nice name!), and you can subscribe to the episodes of the book, either by RSS feed or by email.  The first episode and various subscription options are all here.

Tom’s a great writer and had front row seats/was a lead actor in the bubble.  The first episode has me hooked.  This is going to be fun!

Filed under: Books, Email

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Sep 152005

RSS Advertising

RSS Advertising

This is two-day-old news by now, but in case you missed it, we just announced than we – Return Path – are partnering with Feedburner to take RSS advertising to the next level (coverage here, here, and here).

As you probably know if you receive my feed or other ones, Feedburner has been doing some experimenting with ad units at the bottom of feeds for months now, first using Amazon and more recently Google AdSense to serve up ads.  And as you may know if you look at ads closely, neither of those services has done a great job making the ads truly relevant.  I can’t tell you, for example, the number of times I write a posting about a book, and the ad has absolutely nothing to do with books, let alone the book or author I’m writing about.  My favorite one was a posting Fred wrote called “Why a Conservative Turns Liberal,” with an ad called “Meet Conservative Singles” — probably not Fred’s intent, although it certainly brought a smile to my face.

Anyway, what we’re doing with Feedburner is very simple.  Our Customer Acquisition Solutions group sells lead generation products to hundreds of advertisers each month in the form of either email list rental or web-based lead gen based on categories of interest expressed by consumers who sign up with our Postmaster Direct service.  Feedburner has categorized a number of the 100,000+ feeds they publish as “Consumer Electronics” or “Computing and Technology,” which are two of the strongest categories we have, both in terms of consumers and in terms of advertisers.

So our salesforce is going to add “RSS” as an option for our advertisers in those categories, and we will work with Feedburner to insert demo-targeted ads into select feeds.  We and Feedburner both acknowledge this is an experiment, but we’re very optimistic about the results: the demographics should line up perfectly and provide our advertisers with a new channel as part of their existing campaigns.  I’m sure Dick or someone else at Feedburner will blog about it as well at some point, and if we learn anything  truly interesting after the first few months, we’ll let the world know!

Filed under: Email

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Sep 122005

Reality Bites

Reality Bites

So Oracle is buying the $1.5 billion revenue Siebel for $5.85 billion, and eBay is buying the at most $60 million revenue Skype for $2.4 billion, which could grow to $4.1 billion if Skype hits some performance targets.  Huh.  Must be all those pesky customers, receivables, and assets bogging down Siebel’s books.

UPDATE:  Fortune’s David Kirkpatrick, one of the most insightful journalists covering technology, makes some sense of this in this week’s Fast Forward column.

Sep 092005

It’s Easy to Feel Like a Luddite These Days, Part II

It’s Easy to Feel Like a Luddite These Days, Part II

In Part I, I talked about tagging and podcasting and how I felt pretty lame for someone who considers himself to be somewhat of an early adopter for not understanding them.  So now, 10 weeks later, I understand tagging and have a del.icio.us account, although I don’t use it all that often (quite frankly, I don’t have tons of surfing time to discover cool new content).  And I’ve even figured out how to integrate del.icio.us with Feedburner and with Typepad.

I’m still out of luck with Podcasting, mainly because my iPod and computer setup at home makes it really difficult to add/sync, so I haven’t given that a shot yet.

But today I had another two breakthroughs — I switched from AOL Instant Messenger to Trillian for my IM client, and I started using Skype.  Trillian is pretty cool and of course free.  I’ve never used MSN Messenger or Yahoo Messenger seriously, so the value for me is less in the aggregation of all three clients, and more in tabbed chatting.  Just like Firefox, the client lets you have all your chat windows displayed as tabs in a single window, which is much simpler and cleaner.  But better than Firefox, you can detach a chat window if you want to see it separately.

Skype is really cool.  I understand why the company will be sold for a good price, although I still don’t understand either $3 billion as a price or eBay as a buyer.  For those of you who don’t know what it is, Skype is voice Instant Messenger on steroids.  The basic functionality (for free) is that you can ping someone computer to computer, and have a real time voice chat if you are both online and accept the connection via your computer’s microphone.  If you decline the connection, it saves a voicemail for you.  The extras, which I haven’t tried yet, include SkypeOut (you can dial a real phone number from your computer for $0.02/minute, anywhere in the world) and SkypeIn (you get a phone number to give people so they can call your computer from a phone).  The quality was pretty good — certainly as good as or better than many cell phone connections, if not up to land line or VOIP standards.  Permission and usage/volume controls will be an issue here long-term since this is much more intrusive than regular test-based IM, but when it works, it is a beautiful thing.

Now, just like the vendor mayhem in the blog/RSS world (Typepad, Feedburner, Feedblitz, etc.), we need to get Trillian to incorporate Skype into its client so there’s a truly universal chat application.

Sep 092005

Why Publishing Will Never Be the Same, Part II

Why Publishing Will Never Be the Same, Part II

In Part I of this series, I talked about our experience at Return Path publishing a book back in January through a new type of print-on-demand, or self-publishing house called iUniverse and why I thought the publishing industry was in for a long, slow decline unless it changes its ways.

We had another interesting experience with iUniverse more recently that reinforces this point.  It turns out, although iUniverse is mainly a “self publisher,” they also have a traditional publishing model called their Star Program, which includes an editorial review process.  The good news for us is that they contacted us and said they liked our book so much, and sales are strong enough, that they’ve given it an Editors’ Choice and Readers’ Choice notation and they want to put it in the Star Program.  That was very exciting!  I mean, who doesn’t want to be a star?  The bad news is that the traditional model isn’t particularly compelling.  This is the deal they’ve offered:

– A 3-year exclusive for them (our current contract is non-exclusive)

– Diminished control over the IP

– Diminished royalties

– iUniverse would re-publish the book, which means (a) it would become unavailable for 6 months before the re-launch, (b) they would give it a new cover and re-edit the book, (c) we could revise the content if we want, and (d) they’d have control over all final decisions around the editorial and cover

– iUniverse would do more active marketing of the book

Ok, so this could be a compelling deal, if the “more active marketing” was really going to move the needle for us.  So we asked more about what that gets us.  The answer:

– Sending the book out for reviews (we did this within our industry but certainly not by broader business press, although we probably could do so on our own)

– Setting up book signing events (hard to imagine this is interesting for a business how-to book like this)

– Setting up interview or radio appearances (again, we did this in-industry but not broader)

– Introducing us to the buyer from Barnes & Noble retail stores (success rate unknown – too early to tell in the program’s life)

The folks at iUniverse had no idea what we could even project in terms of increased sales from these activities.  When we pushed on this a little bit more on the tangible benefits of marketing, their end comment was “the most successful books are the ones where the authors are out actively promoting them.”

We haven’t made a decision on this one yet.  Their support is probably valuable on balance, the change in royalty structure isn’t material, and assuming we could carve out the IP issues to our satisfaction, it could be a good way to issue a second edition with less cost.  The in-store presence is really the wild card that could really tip the scales.

But the lure of legitimacy (e.g., someone else published it with an editorial review process, we didn’t just pay to play) is the biggest thing in iUniverse’s favor on this one, and that’s what I have to imagine will decrease over time for the publishing industry as it becomes easier and easier for individuals to publish content, market it, and establish credibility by having other individuals rate and review it.

Thanks to my colleague Tami Forman for her assistance on these postings (and for managing the book project!).  Tami is too modest to tell anyone, but she is a wonderful writer and has a blog that she updates not nearly often enough on food — she used to be the food editor for iVillage.

Filed under: Books, Business, Email

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Sep 072005

Book Shorts: Fred the Cow?

Book Shorts:  Fred the Cow?

I enjoyed two interesting, super-quick reads from last week that have a common theme running through them:  being remarkable.

The Fred Factor, by Mark Sanborn, is one of those learn-by-storytelling business novellas.  It’s all about the author’s mailman, Fred, and how Fred has figured out how to make a difference in people’s lives even with a fairly routine job.  The focal points of the book are things like “practice random acts of kindness” and “turn the ordinary into the extraordinary by putting passion into your work.”  It’s a good reminder that it is unbelievably easy, not to mention free, to be kind and thoughtful, and that those things are always always always worth doing.  Kinda makes me wonder what the Brad factor is.  <g>

The Big Moo, a collection of essays written by 33 different business thinkers/writers and edited by Seth Godin, isn’t out yet, but you can pre-order it via that link on Amazon.  It follows the main theme of another of Seth’s books, Purple Cow, about how to make your business remarkable and backs it up with various vignettes from the different writers.  It has some great reminders about how easy and inexpensive it can be to be remarkable in business.  Wisdom like “Criticism?  Internalize it,” and “Get great ideas about your business from new employees,” and “How would you run your business if you relied on donations from your customers in order to survive?” are all insightful and thought provoking.

Each is great and an easy read, and while one is more personal and the other business-oriented, in they are both somewhat remarkable.

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