Aug 312006

How to Crush Your Competition

How to Crush Your Competition

My friend Karl used to call this the “embrace and extend” theory of competition, and when it works, it’s brilliant.  I just found a new example of it yesterday (thanks, Jack!) that’s very illustrative.

I have been a Firefox user for a couple years now and love the browser and its extensions.  I almost never use Internet Explorer any more — although sometimes I “have to,” because there are a couple of web applications I use that just don’t work well in Firefox, like Outlook Web and online banking.  Hopefully some of that will change over time as Firefox gets more mainstream, but in the meantime, there’s now a Firefox extension that allows you to open certain web pages in Internet Explorer — within Firefox.  I’m not sure how it works technically, and I’m not sure I care, but basically, the new tab that opens with the designated web sites has the little Microsoft “e” as the icon on the tab, and voila — the sites work perfectly using the Internet Explorer engine within Firefox.  So now I never have to open up Internet Explorer again.

Score one for Firefox on the competition front.  How can you apply this kind of competitive framework to your business?

Here’s the link to download the extension, then once it’s installed and you’ve restarted the browser, simply go to the Tools menu and then the IE Tab Options link to add the URLs you need to add.

Aug 302006

Book Short: And It’s Not Just Because I’m In It

Book Short:  And It’s Not Just Because I’m In It

Debbie Weil’s The Corporate Blogging Book is a good super quick read for any CEO or senior executive who is contemplating starting a blog — or even better, for those who have decided not to do so.

Weil’s writing style is great and very informal (blog-like, in fact) – a representative snippet is where she tells readers that there are two types of information to worry about posting on a blog, in her words, “stuff you don’t to reveal and stuff you could get sued for.”  And her range of topics is great and deals with issues head-on. Things like fear of losing control, time commitment, and ghost writing are all well covered.

Chapter 8 also includes a great Cliff’s Notes guide to web 2.0 technologies — RSS, podcasting, wikis, tagging — which is useful if you still Feel Like a Luddite about those things.

I did contribute a couple interviews to the book, as did most of the other oft-cited CEO bloggers like Mark Cuban and Jonathan Schwartz in whose company I am somewhat embarrassed and humbled to be. But don’t let that deter you from picking up a copy if you are in the target audience!

Aug 282006

Tech on the Brain

Tech on the Brain

I heard a good one today — a really good one.  A friend of a friend (who of course shall remain nameless) was at a stoplight the other day in front of a big Victoria’s Secret store with a big sign out front advertising their newest product — Wireless Bras.  Anyway, this friend sat there for a full traffic light cycle trying to figure out why the heck you’d need a bra that’s wi-fi enabled, and how you’d hook it up to a computer monitor or laptop to take advantage of the feature.

Fortunately, it did eventually dawn on this person that this was an ad that referred to the absence of physical support wires, not EVDO or 80211.g standards or a home LAN.  I’m sure there’s some awful off-color joke here involving either the word Bluetooth or the term backwards-compatible, but I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Filed under: Email

Aug 232006

Getting Good Inc.

Getting Good Inc.

There’s an old saying in PR about “getting good ink,” referring to good press – a phrase that will probably replaced by something like “getting good bits” soon enough now, I’m sure.

Anyway, Return Path was very fortunate to be ranked #167 in this year’s Inc. Magazine Inc. 500 list of the fastest growing private companies in America.  See the list here and our press release here.  We were also happy to see clients of ours like Constant Contact, Fishbowl, and Zappos on the list, as well as fellow email companies Exact Target, Vertical Response, and research panel Epocrates.  That’s all the sign of a healthy industry!

2006_inc_500_starburst_1

While we never rest on our laurels, it’s certainly nice to take a moment and reflect on the great growth we’ve had in the business the last few years and celebrate the public recognition.  I’d personally like to thank our customers, our investors, and most of all, our hardworking employees (now 100 strong!) for getting us here.

Now our challenge, of course, is STAYING on the list, and hopefully upping our ranking next year!

Aug 222006

People are People

People are People

So after nearly seven years of running Return Path, I think it’s now fair to say that I’m a direct marketer.  I’ve learned a lot about this business over the years, and there are a number of things about direct marketing that are phenomenal — the biggest one is that most of the business is incredibly clear, logical, and math-driven.  But there’s always been one thing about the field that hasn’t quite made sense to me, and I think it’s because the Internet is once again changing the rules of the game.

There are traditional companies in the space that focus on B2C direct marketing.  There are others that focus on B2B.  It’s been obvious to me for years that there was a huge cultural or perceived divide between these types of companies.  You can see it in the glazed over eyes and hear it in the scratchy voices of long-time industry members from the postal and telemarketing world — "Ohhh," they say, "they’re a B2B company.  We don’t do that."

But the distinction between B2B and B2C is rapidly diminishing.  I may not want a telemarketing call about office supplies on my home number or one about car insurance at work (or any of them at all!).  It might not make sense to send me a catalog for routers to my home.  I get that.  But at the end of the day, people are people, and the ubiquity of the Internet is eroding distinctions between the different places I spend time. 

True, most of us do have multiple email addresses, and some are company-sponsored while others are personal.  But how many of us have all that email coming into the same mailbox in Outlook?  Or if we do have a Yahoo or Hotmail or Gmail account, how many times per day do we check it from the office?  Is an @aol.com account a B2C account?  I don’t know – AOL says there are hundreds of thousands of small businesses who use AOL.  Is an @ibm.com account a B2B account?  It’s probably someone’s work account, but how many times does he check that account on his Treo over the weekend?  And what if it’s that person’s only email address?

Sure, you’ll want to use different media properties or lists to acquire corporate buyers vs. individuals.  Sure, there are still some nuances of data collection in the distinction as well (no reason for LL Bean to ask you for your title), and there will always be differences in creative and copy to drive response for a corporate buyer vs. a personal buyer.  But the legacy distinctions between B2C and B2B are definitely melting away.

So I’m not accused of being Internet-myopic, this same principle (or a related one) explains why you see ads like crazy for FedEx and DHL during The Office on NBC.  I had this quote written down from several months back for which unfortunately I don’t have attribution, although I’m pretty sure it was a media buyer in a Wall Street Journal article, who said, "The best time you can reach people is when they’re in their entertainment mode and consuming media they really want to see when they’re in their down time.  And that might not be CNBC, that might be My Name is Earl on NBC."

Filed under: Business, Email

Aug 172006

links for 2006-08-17

Filed under: Uncategorized

Aug 152006

Solving an Annoying Windows "Feature"

Solving an Annoying Windows "Feature"

I was just about to write a quick rant on how ANNOYING it is when Windows downloads a software update and then automatically reboots your computer, shutting down all your open documents and windows and causing you to lose work, when our ace system administrator, Tom Nguyen, told me how to disable the auto-reboot feature.  It seems that Windows has been doing this more and more frequently lately, and I’ve heard this as an issue from others as well.  So for anyone else who is wondering how to do this, Tom says:

Option 1.  Click on the Start menu>Control Panel>Automatic Updates>Notify me but don’t automatically download or install them.

Option 2.  XP prior to Service Pack 2
Back up your registry, then add or change this key:
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\ Software\ Policies\ Microsoft\ Windows\ WindowsUpdate\AU If it doesn’t already exist, create the DWord value “NoAutoRebootWithLoggedOnUsers”. Set it to 0 if you want Windows to automatically restart, or 1 to prevent automatic restart. Then exit and reboot your computer. The result: As long as you are logged on the system, it won’t take matters into its own hands.

Option 3.  Post-XP SP2,
Disabling Windows Automatic Updates;
Opening Task Manager (by pressing Ctrl-Alt-Del); Ending all instances of wuauclt.exe, then; Making the registry changes noted above.  Once Service Pack 2 is installed, XP Pro, 2000 and 2003 users can stop automatic reboots by editing Group Policy. Start the Group Policy editor, select Windows Update in the Windows Components portion of the Administrative Template, and choose No auto-restart for scheduled Automatic Updates installations. You can also completely disable Windows Update at the Group Policy or User level.

Feels like Option 1 is the DIY option, and the other two are better left for the professionals!

Filed under: Email

Aug 142006

Book Short: It Sounds Like it Should be About Monkeys, Doesn’t It?

Book Short:  It Sounds Like it Should be About Monkeys, Doesn’t It?

The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson, is a must-read for anyone in the Internet publishing or marketing business.  There’s been so much written about it in the blogosphere already that I feel a little lame and “me too” for adding my $0.02, but I finally had a chance to get to it last week, and it was fantastic.

The premise is that the collapsing production, distribution, and marketing costs of the Internet for certain types of products — mostly media at this point — have extended the traditional curve of available products and purchased products almost indefinitely so that it has, in statistical terms, a really long tail.

So, for example, where Wal-Mart might only be able to carry (I’m making these numbers up, don’t have the book in front of me) 1,000 different CDs at any given moment in time on the shelf, iTunes or Rhapsody can carry 1,000,000 different CDs online.  And even though the numbers of units purchased are still greatest for the most popular items (the hits, the ones Wal-Mart stocks on shelf), the number of units purchased way down “in the tail of the curve,” say at the 750,000th most popular unit, are still meaningful — and when you add up all of the units purchased beyond the top 1,000 that Wal-Mart can carry, the revenue growth and diversity of consumer choice become *really* meaningful.

The book is chock full o’ interesting examples and stats and is reasonably short and easy to read, as Anderson is a journalist and writes in a very accessible style.  You may or may not think it’s revolutionary based on how deep you are in Internet media, but it will at a minimum help you crystallize your thinking about it.

Aug 142006

Book Short: Choose Voice!

Book Short:  Choose Voice!

I took a couple days off last week and decided to re-read two old favorites.  One –Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead — my fourth reading — will take me a little longer to process and figure out if there’s a good intersection with the blog.  One would think so with entrepreneurship as the topic, but my head still hurts from all the objectivism.  The second — Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, by Albert O. Hirschman — is today’s topic.

I can’t remember when I first read Exit, Voice, and Loyalty.  It was either in senior year of high school Economics or Government; or in freshman year of college Political Philosophy.  Either way, it was a long time ago, and for some reason, some of the core messages of this quirkly little 125 page political/economic philosophy book have stayed with me over the years.  I remembered the book incorrectly as a book about political systems, and I think it was born consciously in the wake of Eugene McCarthy’s somewhat revolutionary challenge to a sitting President Johnson for the Democratic Party nomination in 1968.  But the book is actually about business; it’s just about businesses and their customers, not corporations as social structures (the latter being more of an interest to me).  Written by an academic economist (I think), the book has its share of gratuitous demonstrative graphs, 2×2 matrices, and SAT words.  But its central premise is a gem for anyone who runs an organization of any size.

The central premise is that there are really two paths by which one can express dissatisfaction with a temporary, curable lapse in an organization:  exit (bailing), or voice (trying to fix what’s wrong from within).  The third key element, Loyalty, is less a path in and of itself but more an agent that “holds exit at bay and activates voice.”

You need to read the book and apply it to your own circumstances to really get into it, but for me, it’s all about breeding loyalty as a means of making voice the path of least resistance, even when exit is a freely available option (few of us run totalitarian states or monopolies, after all).  That to me is the definition of a successful enterprise, both internally and externally.

With your customers:  make your product so irresistible, and make your customer service so deep, that your customers feel an obligation to help you fix what they perceive to be wrong with your product first, rather than simply complain about price or flee to a competitor.

With your employees:  make your company the best possible place you can think of to work so that even in as ridiculously fluid a job market as we live in, your employees will come to their manager, their department head, the head of HR, or you as leader to tell you when they’re unhappy instead of just leaving, or worse, sulking.

With your company (you as employee):  make yourself indispensible to the organization and do such a great job that if things go wrong with your performance or with your role, your manager’s loyalty to you leads him or her to give you open feedback and coach you to success rather than unceremoniously show you the door.

Ok, this wasn’t such a short book short — probably the longest I’ve ever written in this blog, and certainly the highest ratio of short:actual book.  But if you’re up for a serious academic framework (quasi-business but not exclusively) to apply to your management techniques, this short 1970 book is as valid today as when it was written.  Thanks to David Ramert (I am pretty sure I read it in high school) for introducing it to me way back when!

Aug 132006

It’s a Sad Day When the Lawyers Take Over

It’s a Sad Day When the Lawyers Take Over

With all due respect to lawyers, of course, Google’s recent decision to start making a legal fuss when people in the media use the word “Google” as a verb is NUTS.  Someone, get Marketing on Line 1 — and make it snappy.  Steve Rubel wrote about it, as did Jeff Jarvis, and the source material is here.

For the record, anyone who wants to use any of the following words or phrases as a verb, noun, or any other part of speech, may do so at any time:  Return Path, Sender Score, Authentic Response, Postmaster Direct.  Oh, and then there’s ECOA, the service we pioneered in 2000 that *is* occasionally (in some very small circles) used as a verb!

css.php