Joel Vincent

Technology. Wine. Family. (maybe not in that order)

Archive for Business

eCommerce Holiday Season – "Hooray! We suck less!"

Image via Wikipedia

Is there ever an occasion to celebrate sucking?  I’m hyper competitive and I can personally tell you that typically “sucking” is not an option.  Let me strike that, I’m hyper competitive with a smidge of lazy.  So if I actually choose to do something – a project, blog, social network, whatever – then I insist on it being the best possible.  (The lazy helps by making sure I don’t commit to everything under the sun and thereby giving myself to excel and be the best I can).

Researching some of the eCommerce data thats being reported to draw a picture of the environment for our clients at VinTank I noticed something – eCommerce can celebrate sucking this holiday season!

Sounds wierd, I know.  But look what these numbers bear out (I’m clipping from various notes and sources that I’ve been looking at):

Amazon’s sales peaked on Dec. 15, when online shoppers worldwide bought 72.9 items per second, amounting to more than 6.3 million items that day, the company said, although it did not report a dollar total for how much it sold. Wal-Mart and Apple also reportedly had strong online sales.

U.S. e-commerce sales between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 were down 2.3 percent compared to 2007, according to SpendingPulse, an information service of MasterCard Advisors. SpendingPulse called online sales “an area of relative strength” amid overall holiday retail sales that rank among the worst in recent memory.

And the the stories keep coming, mostly generated by SpendingPulse report (a subsidiary MasterCard).  I don’t think all the evidence is in just yet but its obvious that the value of ecommerce (easy, search capabilities, avoidance of difficult crowds and/or customer service situations) played a pretty big role this holiday season.  The question that has to be worked on is how to best get over the hurdles to wine ecommerce (logistical, legal, as well as product proliferation) to make sure wine companies can share in this rising tide.

Anyway, back to my homework.  Cheers!

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Repetitive iteration is killing to Innovation

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Image via Wikipedia

I have two real passions that I’ve spent the last few years trying to combine – technology and wine.  This post is about technology.  My technology passion goes back a long long way (in my life) to Commodore Vic20 to working in a computer software store all through High School to going to MIT for an Electrical Engineering degree.  I just love to learn about it and having grown into my skin as somewhat of a geek I feel fine diving in and ripping things apart just to figure out how it works at its most basic level.

Anyway, one thing I’ve seen, particularly in the latest “craze” of social media, is the utter lack on innovation.  There is a repetitive iteration (yes, that was on purpose) to sites and technology I see coming out all over tech but particularly in social media websites.  People, particularly in wine, are confused as to which site to use, why?  Because that are pretty much the same thing.  Slight variations, but for the most part the same.

And yet, many of these sites call their releases “innovation”.  Blech!  Come on.  Innovation is disruptive to the status quo.  In my mind, disruptive makes things interesting.  I’ve gotten involved in a few projects that I found interesting (i.e. I thought could be disruptive) and have tried to counsel these companies on how to highlight their innovations.  I’m not going to blather on about them in this post, this is more of a post to highlight what is and isn’t innovation which is pretty simple – if you’ve created something with some defensible intellectual property then you’ve likely got an innovation.  That means a NEW WAY of doing things.  Not a re-swizzle of old technology.

Unfortunately, far too often folks in Marketing (I guess my current field, technically) walk around touting innovation and what this does is create a high noise floor for real innovation.  One very innovative company that I worked with, Cruvee, went through some intensive messaging sessions with me and are going through some re-designs to reinforce that messaging.  But why did they have to do that and why did they have to call me and ask for my help?  Because the sheer number of “social media” sites that lack innovation in the tiny tiny area of “Wine” made it actually challenging to highlight what they do differently, and believe me, they are taking a very different approach and actually introducing some new concepts.  But that seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

I think this is in part due to a diluted engineering discipline called “agile development“, which I’ve written about before.  I say “diluted” because the interpretation of the interpretation of the interpretation of the original discipline has made people think that pumping out any old crap and then adding features will eventually allow you to hit the one thing that people need (or somehow early adopters will just start using it for what they need).  That is a horrible assumption.  That is called “luck” and its no replacement for hard, smart, innovative work.  If you know the story of YouTube you might disagree with me.  If so, then “good luck”, you’re gonna need it.

If you agree with me then what’s the cure?  Easy, proper Product Management – think about what you’re doing, the audience you’re attracting, what their actual problem is, and have a directed effort.  What a Product Management discpline is all about is INCREASING YOUR CHANCES OF SUCCESS.  You can count on luck, or you can do the work.  I guess it depends on how much time you have and how long you can go without a salary.

On the plus side, investors that I know just ask me “who’s got something innovative?” or “what do you think of this company?” and I can keep being employed to separate the wheat from the chaff.

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Still alive and kicking…

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Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

As a fugitive of the cubicle nation I’ve learned a few interesting things.  Some about myself and some about actually jumping ship and really trying to get things going.  In fact, I don’t have much time today but this blog is an important part of my life and I don’t want it to go dark for too long.

So its about three months since I was officially “jumped” and the main thing I’ve learned is this – have your shit together, ducks in a row, and get ready because having little visibility into where the money is going to come from is a scary thing.  Don’t let all these entrepreneurs tell you “oh yeah, just do it; shit or get off the pot; blah blah blah”.  All crap.  There is NOTHING impulsive about jumping ship and going it alone.

If you’re part of the cubicle nation you’ve most likely gotten extremely good at your job and that gives you confidence to “give it a try”.  Recognize this – while you may be a genius in your field, you do NOT know everything you should to go it alone.  Go into it with your eyes open and allow yourself to “know what you don’t know”.  Business development, marketing, networking, tech services, administrative assistant, bookkeeper, customer support, legal secretary, etc…

Its not that you CAN’T do all this stuff, but just know that you’ll need to plan some time where you don’t have money (or assume you don’t) figure out how you’ll pull that off – assuming no income – and then when you’re OK with that you can go for it.  Because what will happen is things will take longer then you think and you need to make sure you’re not rushed into bad decisions for your business just because of the uneasy feeling that “no visibility” gives you.  In fact, you want to figure out everything I mentioned in the previous paragraph as a way to give yourself visibility into your business and the more visibility you have the better you’ll feel about the jump.

Next – you can’t get away from politics.  Now granted, there are no office politics unless you want to count arguments over why the dogs haven’t been walked in a week and the potential of withholding of certain marital obligations as politics.  But the politics that I’m talking about are around meeting new people, making a name for yourself, and building your business.  I’m not big on politics and generally as a consultant, even early in building the business, I tell it like it is, turn down business that while I’m perfectly capable of doing the work, it doesn’t add to my “portfolio” if you will.  Its a tricky thing breaking into new markets and its clear that there are “circles” everywhere you go.  I’ve always known that and I’ve been ready for it.  But its more important to understand that going into it then I would’ve thought before making the leap.  So I think its important to communicate that out – You are not getting away from politics by escaping from the cubicle nation; you are just dealing with a different type of politics.  So “how to gain friends and influence people” is still an important skill!!

OK, I have to run but I think I’ll be doing more and more around communicating my Cubicle Nation Fugitive experiences as they seem to be coming fast and furious and they are actually interesting as I learn from this.

Cheers!

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