A great posting about Vendor Love from Seth Godin!
Book short: Myers-Briggs Redux
Instinct: Tapping Your Entrepreneurial DNA to Achieve Your Business Goals, by Tom Harrison of Omnicom, is an ok book, although I wouldn’t rush out to buy it tomorrow. The author talks about five broad aspects of our personalities that influence how we operate in a business setting: Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. These traits are remarkably similar to those in the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator that so many executives have taken over the years.
It’s not just that you want to be high, high, high, high, and low in the Big 5. Harrison asserts that successful entrepreneurs need a balance of openness and conscientiousness in order to be receptive to new ideas, but be able finish what you start; a balance of extroversion and agreeableness so that you have enough energy but also have the ability to work with others; and not too much neuroticism, as you have to be able to take risks.
The book not only talks about how to spot these factors, but how to work around them if you don’t have them (that part is particularly useful, but he doesn’t do it for all five factors). He also talks about the entrepreneurial addiction to success, and creating the all-important Servant CEO culture, which I certainly agree with and wrote about early on in this blog in my “Who’s The Boss?” posting.
Harrison does have a great section on how “Nice Guys” can and should be winners; how being nice and having guts aren’t mutually exclusive, and he gives a well-written Twelve Rules for expressing the Nice Guy gene:
– Don’t walk on other people, but don’t let them walk on you
– Respect the big idea in everyone
– Own everything
– Never let ‘em see you sweat Keep it simple
– Never think in terms of “So what have you done for me today?”
– More is less
– Live your word consistently
– Don’t lie: fix what’s causing you to think you need to lie
– Never forget to thank, congratulate, or acknowledge people for their efforts
– Keep your door and your heart open
– Never stand in the way of balance
The most annoying part of the book is that Harrison keeps making references to a handful of genetic studies about twins to prove on and off that traits are inherited and that inherited traits can be expressed in different ways. These references are mildly interesting, but they detract from the substance of the book.
Overall, the book has some interesting points in it, but it’s too much like Jim Collins’ Good to Great and Built to Last, only without the depth of business research and case studies. Plus, Harrison does the one thing I find most irritating in business books — he is clearly an expert in one thing (business), but he unnecessarily pretends to be an expert in another thing (genetics) in order to make his point.
Million Dollar Baby
I had one of those aha moments today while looking over some insurance numbers with Rob Mattes, our CFO (and a gentleman and a scholar). I know it’s dangerous to think about dollars in the aggregate across years, but I’m pretty sure that by the end of this calendar year, we will have spent close to $1 million on insurance over the course of the 7 years we’ve been in business at Return Path.
I think I gagged when I realized that. I mean, one million dollars? Really? How is that possible? And how many other ways would I have rather spent that million dollars?
Well, it all adds up — we have coverage for, among other things, E&O (errors & omissions), D&O (directors & officers), Employer Practices Liability, Fiduciary, Property & Casualty, General Liability, Employee Benefits Liability, Auto Liability, Umbrella, Business Interuption, Property, Workers Comp, 401k Fidelity Bond. And we have two lengthy, expensive run-off policies for E&O and D&O that are legacy policies resulting from acquisitions we did along the way — to cover those companies’ prior boards for liabilities discovered after the fact for incidents that happened on their watch.
In aggregate, these policies all get us $13 million in coverage and $120,000 in deductibles, for what’s currently costing us at $250,000/year — although in a steady state, we’d only be running at about $120,000/year in expense.
I guess in the end it’s worth it, and of course I only gag because we haven’t really *needed* the insurance, but I guess that’s what insurance is for. It really does look a little absurd when you add it all up, though.
Maybe it’s all just part of the business getting bigger and older that I just need to suck it up and get used to. I’m sure if I added up how much money we’ve spent on free soda, coffee, and pizza over 7 years, I’d be similarly astonished.
A New Member of the Internet Axis of Evil
Fred has written a series of postings over the years about the Internet Axis of Evil, roughly in order here, here, here, here, and here (I’m sure I missed some). The basis of the postings is great — that, as Fred says:
There’s a downside to an open network. It’s the same downside that exists in an open society. There are a lot of nuts out there who want to do bad things (the evildoers as George W Bush calls them). And we all have to spend a lot of time and money making sure that we are protected from them. It’s a huge burden on an open network and an open society, but i see no way around it.
So far, the members of Fred’s club are:
Comment Spam/Link Spam
Really Simple Stealing
So today, I propose a ninth member of this esteemed club: Survey Fraud. A lot of people don’t know it, but one of our biggest businesses at Return Path is market research — or a subset of market research known as online sample. Our brand for this part of our business has historically been Survey Direct , but next week, entirely appropos of this posting, we are changing the name to Authentic Response.
What we do in this business is work with market research firms to drive qualified, interested, double opt-in members of our research panel to take online quantitative surveys. It’s a little like the email database marketing business (which is why we’re in it), although the dynamics of qualifying for and taking surveys are totally different than lead generation, and we have a separate team that supports the research business.
Occasionally, surveys carry a small cash incentive, usually in the $2-5 range, to thank people for the time they spend taking the survey, which can often be 15-20 minutes. Usually we just pay people via PayPal, although we also allow people to donate their incentives to our favorite charity, Accelerated Cure. You’d think at $2 a pop, it’s not so interesting, but there seems to be a cottage industry that’s sprouting up that I’m now calling Survey Fraud — the art of faking your way into a survey or completing a survey multiple times, in order to collect as much incentive money as possible.
First, there are message boards on the Internet where the Survey Fraud perpetrators hang out and share information with each other about surveys — things like “hey for XYZ survey, you need to be a 40-year old homemaker in zip code 12345 with a college degree” that encourage people to fake their way in.
Second, there are more serious thugs out there who write bots and scripts and create dozens or hundreds of phantom online identities in order to “take” a single survey 100 times over. $2 adds up when you can earn it 100x in 5 minutes with the help of a little Perl script.
The people who conduct Survey Fraud are just as pathetic as the other members of the Internet Axis of Evil. We have to constantly stay 10 steps ahead of them in making sure our system has state of the art security — a feature we are trademarking called Authentic Validation — in order to fend them off and make sure our clients get 100% authentic survey results as promised. I can’t share with you our complex security methodology, since that would compromise it (geez, I sound like the White House, sorry), but as Fred says, it’s a huge burden that we have to bear in order to run our survey business on the Internet.
So congratulations to our Authentic Response team on their new name and their constant efforts to fight the Axis of Evil, and to all who commit Survey Fraud, please take your “business” elsewhere!
A Study In Contrast
We just visited India for a great two weeks of vacation (with one quick business meeting thrown in for good measure). The most striking part of the country was its seamless transition between old and new. Bumpy dirt roads and new, gleaming highways give way to each other at random intervals. Streets in many cities and most smaller towns are filled with trucks fighting for space with cows, oxen, camels, elephants, dogs, and donkeys. Ads for cell phones and new Internet cafes are mixed in with storefronts prominently advertising land line phones, since almost no one in outlying areas can afford or has electricity to power an in-home phone.
Anyway, if you’re up for a quick travelog on our personal web site, you’re welcome to have a break and visit India with us.