Viral marketing in 1860

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So you are General William Giles Harding, living in Nashville, Tennessee and you need to drive up sales of your thoroughbred horses in 1860 and pay for the upkeep of your 5,400 acre estate, Belle Mead Plantation. You have customers in the north but how do you get the message out and close sales, when the internet and social media won’t be invented for at least another 150 years?  You use clever marketing.

So the General invited a few of his top customers from the north down to his estate. The most wealthy he put up in his plantation house. The rest stayed in the local upmarket hotel and caught the train to his own railway station on the estate. Over lunch, before they were about to ride out and tour the estate he would say “Let’s go and shoot some buffalo”. He appeared senile and his guests politely explained that there had been no buffalo in Tennessee for over 50 years. But he was very assertive, “We can hunt buffalo. I’ll wager that if you can shoot a buffalo then you will buy one of my thoroughbreds”.  His guests not wanting to embarrass their host happily took the bet, not realizing that the General was not senile but very smart and had stocked his estate with buffalo, elk and deer.

So the shooting party spent the day on the estate and nearly all of them shot a buffalo, took it home to have it mounted as a trophy, and of course bought a thoroughbred as per the bet. More importantly, it was the most fun any of these rich northerners had ever had. So they went back and told their friends who lined up to come down and bag a buffalo and buy a thoroughbred.

So, even back then, marketing was about a clever offer which exceeded expectations and got the word out. Nothing has changed.

What did $1bn businesses look like at the beginning? @todfrancis @shasta

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Tod Francis from Shasta Ventures has written a fascinating blog where he has looked the early years of a number of the Unicorns ($1billion+) consumer companies and tried to identify some common traits.

His summary:

There are large companies to be built by offering new, innovative and superior customer experiences to large markets, regardless of how competitive the sector already is or how successful the founders have been before.

The full article is here

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Struggling to forecast sales? Maybe it isn’t you.

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The biggest issue when running an early stage company with a burn rate when selling to Early Adopters is the inability to predict the close date of the pilot projects. These make up the majority of the pipeline and are your lifeline. This uncertainty tears apart the executive team and drives the investors to distraction.

The issue is clear once you think about the IMPACT process. IMPACT is the buying cycle of all corporate customers.  It is described in this blog : IMPACT – the buying cycle from the corporate buyer’s perspective.   You can download the free abridged (20 page) eBook which explores IMPACT in more detail and how to sell innovative technology solutions. This is selling to the left of the chasm for those who remember Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm and Inside the Tornado books.

If you are making smaller sales then these are the pilot projects to assess and prove the viability of your solution. This is in the MPA part of the IMPACT process. You may run a number of these MPA projects before there is sufficient evidence to build a case for the enterprise roll out – the CT part of IMPACT. When we say “smaller sales”, these can still be $100k or more, so significant for your survival, but they are not the enterprise or global deal.

So if you are in MPA, then you are driving the deadlines, not the customer. You are not in a customer’s procurement process. Therefore it is impossible to predict a close date for the deal. Only once you reach the CT part of the process are you in a procurement where the customer has set deadlines. Then you can start to have confidence in the forecasted sales.

You can beat up yourself, sales management and the sales guys but it doesn’t make any difference. You do not control the buying cycle and the customer has not committed internally to any deadlines. The projects are being pushed forward by your sales team and the energy of your customer evangelist and sponsor. The moment that you realize that you cannot control the deals and therefore more and more granular forecasting is not going to help, then life becomes more bearable. So instead you need to rely on a different mechanism to ensure the long-term survival of the company.

You need to make sure that you have a large enough volume of sales in play so that enough will close each month. Combine that with enough investment so that you are not going to get killed if you have one bad month when enough deals don’t close.

Remember, you don’t really “lose” deals. There is rarely any competition. What happens is that deals get delayed and put on the back burner and can reappear later. The only way to really lose a deal is for your evangelist or sponsor to leave the company. The trick is to make sure that your sales guys are not devoting too much time and effort trying to push deals along that are moving slowly. Sometimes, deals need to be left alone so that the sponsor can progress them internally. Your sales team should be reactive rather than proactive. This is a very different approach for most Value Added sales guys who are very disciplined with their daily call lists that they use to hound customers.

It also means that the tools to drive sales have a stronger marketing focus i.e. Hubspot & Marketo rather than a sales forecasting approach ie & Netsuite.

IMPACT – the buying cycle from the corporate customer’s perspective

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The six phases of the process are easy to remember as they will have an enormous IMPACT on your company’s performance:

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Every purchase goes through all six phases, with or without the vendor (your) assistance. The reason that you probably don’t recognize this process is because the customer goes through the process on their own, and only invites you in at a certain point. But more of this later.

First, let’s understand the IMPACT process – from a buyer’s perspective. This is an employee in a major corporate, mired in politics, trying to make change happen. It may be formal – driven by the executive team – or more likely it is an employee who spots the opportunity and is the evangelist that initiates it.

Phase 1: Idea

The identification of ideas for changing or improving a business that are good enough to warrant investigation.

This is the ideas phase. This may be the executive team going on an offsite with strategic consultants to plan its future. They will be looking for ways to grow revenues, create competitive advantage, increase shareholder value, contain or reduce costs. It is ‘blue sky’ thinking to discover breakout ideas, rather than looking for solutions.

Alternatively, it is a vendor who has the idea and through their marketing (white papers, conference presentations, blogs) highlights the new idea and it is brought to the attention of the customer, either directly or via a consultant or analyst.

 Phase 2: Mentor

The mentor runs with the idea to validate it.

To move forward the idea will need a mentor. This is your Early Adopter, to the left of the chasm. An Early Majority buyer will not even consider the idea, as it is unproven and risky in their minds. A good mentor is someone with vision, passion and energy. Generally they are ambitious. The idea is not for public consumption and the mentor will work with their close team and trusted advisors to validate the thinking. The mentor will be scoping and testing the idea for feasibility, credibility, and political acceptability as much as they can without raising internal awareness. Mentors may start using the internet for research – analyst reports, blogs, articles, vendor white papers, free ebooks and references in social media posts. They may come back to the vendor who started it all. The mentor will start to plan how the idea can be delivered as an initiative, how it will be announced, what will be presented and to whom, and a route through the political maze.

If the idea does not fly then it will get buried – forever.

 Phase 3: Position

Enrolling a sponsor who can make resources and budget available to invest further.

The mentor will need to find a sponsor, because to move forward into the next phase will require resources (money, people, time) to run a pilot project to assess the value of the initiative. The sponsor will be the person with enough political muscle to get the resources. This may be under the corporate radar, as it will not be announced as a formal change initiative, with all the politics that this entails. The mentor will know that the initiative is moving out of the Position phase when an assessment team is assigned and money is being spent and a pilot project has been launched.

Phase 4: Assessment

Gathering data to assess the value of the idea.

The Assessment phase plays a very important part in the modern world. Today, with ever increasing levels of corporate governance, there are layers of compliance that ensures company officers are held accountable for their decisions. Particularly ones involving investment and strategic direction, which has made the Assessment phase a big hurdle. But the Assessment phase is not just about cost justification. It is an evaluation of everything, both quantitative and qualitative. This typically involves an assessment team or project team conducting a proof of concept or pilot project to generate the evidence and data. Hence, the need for a sponsor capable of funding the team. This is your paid pilot project. The pilot could be as much as $100k spent on product and professional services so don’t just focus on the enterprise deal or think that this is just the first phase of the enterprise deal.

Phase 5: Case

The creation of a quantified business case and assignment of resources/budget to it.

The mentor will use the output from the Assessment phase to build a business and investment Case. It is likely that this Case will then be pushed back and forth between the mentor and the sponsor until the sponsor is happy that the Case appears to support all the business and political goals. Then, the Case can have a budget assigned to it and is used to start the formal procurement process. At this point the project may no longer be in the hands of the mentor or sponsor. It may now be part of a formal procurement process driven by IT and procurement.

Phase 6: Transaction

The formal procurement.

This is where the customer will make their decision. In the perfect world you are single source at this point, having managed the mentor and sponsor through the first five phases. Procurement will raise a purchase order and negotiate contracts for the solution put forward in the Case. Depending on the solution, market and company approach, procurement may need to drive a formal procurement with competitive tendering, beauty parades, and all the fun and games that this entails.

Looking for that perfect Valentines Day card message?

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With Valentines day coming up, some of the less-romantic guys may be looking for ideas to put in their Valentines cards…

I may be dyslexic, but that doesn’t mean I don’t vole you

Roses are red, violets are blue, I’ve got something nasty, and now so have you

You make me so hot just thinking about you. Lots of love, Mum

You’re perfect person for me – pissed and gagging for it

Dear Valentine – do we have to go through this shit every year?

There are just 3 words… Dream On. Bitch.

You see. Romance isn’t dead.

Children have incredible power over you

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I mean in a good way. Not manipulation.  Their ability to drive powerful emotions in you is part of the magic of being a parent.  There are the 2 obvious ones, but a 3rd surprising one:

1. Pride

When your child is performing on stage, comes back with a string of A+ results, is on the winning team, is singled out for their support of others.

2. Pain

You see it coming, but can’t stop them taking a massive fall – both physically (climbing, skiing, wakeboarding) or in terms of relationships with friends.


But one came out of left field today.  First you need the context:

The next big thing: The launch of Q9 Elements has been the talk of the dinner table as I work through the details and prepare for the March 18th launch.  Q9E is taking everything we learnt in Nimbus over the 15 years, delivered through the cloud, offered at a fraction of the cost and then extended to offer “low-code” workflow automation. I am very excited as we are “getting the Band back together” – the Nimbus executive team. We worked well together and delivered results; over the life of Nimbus we generated over $100 million of revenue. And there is clearly a strong unmet need and we still have great relationships back in the BPM market.  So I am feeling confident that this could work. Unlike the last one!!

The last one: On a high of having built Nimbus and then sold it, we looked at the market and launched ZenAlpha. Surely everything we touched would turn to gold. There was a huge market (events) and clear need (better internal planning and management of events) but once we had built the product we discovered there was no demand. Sadly we needed a product to prove that. Luckily it was just our own money we invested and didn’t burn any VCs. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love put it well, and I summarise. “How do you follow a success? Your next thing is always going to fall short. So get on with it and get through it.” To hear her put it far more eloquently, watch this excellent TED video.

So what was that other emotion that kids drive in you?

3. Inspiration

Inspiration: I came downstairs and found a signed document on my laptop. It was a request to buy shares in Q9 Elements from Max, my son aged 13. He has the confidence to put a lot of his savings into Q9 Elements. He watched ZenAlpha fail. He has weighed up the pros and cons. He is clear on the risks and is negotiating hard to make sure that he is in at the very beginning with a low valuation. Suddenly I have a very important investor that I cannot disappoint.

Inspiring entrepreneurs

He has, in that one simple act, summarised why entrepreneurs need to get back up after failure and try again. We need to have a childlike confidence that it will work. We need to ignore the inner voice replaying all the past failures. And despite the crisis in confidence that we have constantly, those who know us best trust us. And it makes me realise I need to get back to where I was when we launched Nimbus. We had no idea how hard, how scary, how stressful, how motivating and ultimately how rewarding the 15 year journey would be.  In one sentence we need to be:

Ignorance on fire, not knowledge on ice

AK47 – perfect example of “know your user”

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Designed with “user in mind”

The AK47 assault rifle was designed with an intimate knowledge of the potential “user”. It was designed for an army made up of “average grunts who are scared, incompetent, untrained and have limited natural talent”.  Increasingly the average age in conflicts is dropping with children armed with AK47s. What happens when they are scared and come under fire?  They grab the rifle and hit the fire selector and pull the trigger.

Logical is not always best

The logical sequent for the fire selector is SAFE -> SEMI AUTO -> FULL AUTO. But understanding that the typical user in 99% of the cases would panic and ram the selector all the way home, onto FULL AUTO, means that they would end up emptying the whole magazine on the first unaimed burst. Within a few seconds they have an empty magazine. Not an ideal a situation when joining a firefight.

So instead they designed the AK47 with the selector that goes SAFE -> FULL AUTO -> SEMI AUTO. Not linear. Not logical. But it means SEMI AUTO is the default and FULL AUTO is a deliberate decision.

What are the real requirements?

Next they realised that the AK47 would get virtually no care and maintenance. So they made it so reliable that they have dug up AK47s that have been buried for years with woodworm that has eaten the stock…. and they still fired just fine.

Finally, they know that the average grunt couldn’t hit anything further than a couple of hundred feet away. So why spend any effort designing in accuracy. That again sounds counter intuitive. A rifle where accuracy is not on the list of requirements!! But the AK47 is a close quarters weapon. In the streets, in the jungle, across a river.

So the design brief was; foolproof & reliable. Accuracy doesn’t even make the list.

How does your user ACTUALLY use your product?

Once you have built your MVP, then you need to observe how your users are using your product. You may be surprised. Or even horrified. But that cycle of build, observe, modify when iterated rapidly is at the heart of the MVP and LeanStartup principles. It helps you zone in on your market before you have committed too much to development. And wasted effort on development has 3 dimensions. And often the cost and impact of 2 of the 3 dimensions are overlooked:

  • time and money is wasted on building the wrong functionality, when that effort could be used to build the more important features
  • nothing saps the morale and destroys productivity in the engineering team than pouring heart and soul into building unused features
  • finally, the product is being complicated and cluttered up with functionality that is not needed, which makes it less intuitive and viral.

Product management has a huge responsibility

Product managers need to get out and meet customers and watch them using your product  – ideally in person – but at least virtually.  Cloud apps enable you to observe behaviour, provide you have built in the instrumentation. But product managers also need to have an open mind and not look for data to support their expectations of product use. Instead they should be curious, question, analyse and finally test ideas before they launch into specs and development.

Passion + Cause + Brains + Social = POWER

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Here is yet another example of the power of the current free marketing tools and channels in the hands of bright, innovative and passionate people.  Combine this with the viral power of social media and you have a marketing reach which eclipses the marketing departments of corporates staffed with their good to average marketers.

This example is targeting Pepsico and Doritos and was made by SumOfUs who are campaigning against Pepsico’s destruction of rain forests due to the palm oil used to make Doritos.

“That sound when you bite down on Doritos? That’s the sound of rainforests being “crunched” to make way for massive palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia. Workers, and even children, are trapped in modern slavery on the plantations. Forests and peatlands are burned to the ground, driving endangered species like orangutans to extinction and polluting the Earth’s atmosphere with gigatons of greenhouse gases — all to make palm oil. 

Doritos’ parent company, PepsiCo, could put a stop to the deforestation. But instead of leading the charge, PepsiCo is hanging back, issuing middling policies with gaps so big a parade of endangered pygmy elephants could fit through them. 

Tell PepsiCo to be bold and help save the rainforest.”


Ideas need nurturing, even when they are ugly @ge #innovation

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A lovely video from GE talking about the importance of giving ideas the understanding and love that they need to grow and produce amazing things.  This is a tribute to those of us who face the ridicule, laughter and disdain as we try and bring new ideas to market. It gets ugly. It gets messy. It gets expensive. And whilst many attempts fail, some become fantastic successes, which make all the heartache, anguish and sleepless nights worthwhile.

I raise a glass to all those “idea nurturers”.

At last, technology gets useful: NASA emails spanner to space station

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LIving in Silicon Valley you get inundated with announcements by sites like Crunchbase, AngelList of another technology company that is launching a product or service which seems pointless. Perhaps that is harsh, but let’s say that the business benefits of these companies are slightly difficult to grasp. Not that it seems to stop investors!

However, 3D printing does seem to offer some real potential to change the world. The ability to create components, parts or complete products from a file is transformational. No need to wait days for a part to be delivered. Instead, send a file via email, or download it and then print in situ. And distance is not an issue; San Francisco, Stuttgart or space.

As it explained in this BBC News article, NASA has emailed a spanner to the astronauts in the space station.