Category Archives: strategy+business

Geography is the new black…

Two articles that caught my attention:

Bloomberg’s rally cry for the benefits of Silicon Valley and the power of the networking effect. His article describes how environments and creative talent draw in capital and new ideas. A quick read!

An article on the global ad business and how geography is influencing the buy and sell side.

Go global!global

Interesting book to read – “Rules for Renegades”

I have worked at “big companies” all my life.

First Merrill Lynch & Co, then CBS MarketWatch (while a smallish company, it was still controlled by large media and their vested interests), then Dow Jones and finally now Time Warner.  Despite working at these behemoths, I have always searched for small areas where I could “act like a renegade” at work.

I have always strived to keep a “start up” mentality, challenge the status quo, work to overthrow group think, etc. While its debatable I was ever successful at such folly, it does keep me feeling excited about work in that I can sometimes, in my own small way, make a small difference and infuse my own little cultural syringe into large corporate structures.  Up till now, all the management books I have read on how to not become the establishment, while working for established entities have left me high and dry. Until I came along this little ditty.

“Rules for Renegades” by Christine Comaford-Lynch is one of those little gems that almost convinces you that you can create your own illusion, build power and lead with positive mojo. Alot of little examples from her life that are both inspiring and “self help” in a bullet point format.

Fun, a little quixotic but also an elixir for the those who love working for the big companies but who aspire to move more mountains and get product to market quicker.

MyYahoo becomes Microhoo

Fantastic news in the media/internet space with Microsoft taking a run at Yahoo.  PaidContent.org and AllThingsD doing a nice job following the trajectory and providing a “so what” to the arch.

No surprise to anyone right? How much longer could investors and companies sit around and watch Yahoo wither?  Such a fantastic property.  Not sure about the investment rationale by Microsoft specifically, but kudos or at least the acknowledgement of making a bold step to own more of the display/search/community play by the folks in WA.

On a related not, its fun to think of the upcoming combinations as a result of this catalyst.

Not to state the obvious…but $20 on when (not if) Facebook acquires search technology?  They havent acquired Meebo (as I previously posted)….but this seems to be a requirement as they move to become the starting point for users on the web.

Second bet…how many months (i project 12 months), until Google redesigns their search results and starts to incorporate UGC?  Bucket UGC in some form or fashion, figure out a way to sort and filter and it could be used for interest sentiment indicator or other applications?

Tivo for the web?

Interesting article in today’s NYT article “Link by Link” by Noam Cohen.

Article profiles a web advertising filter by the name of “Adblock Plus“.  Built for the Firefox browser, this plug in app has 2.5 million users around the world and is in its infant stages of uptake.  While similar apps have come and gone, this “extreme menace to the online advertising business model” caught my eye as it makes all commerical communication disappear, including Google’s ad words.

While I make my living by finding ways to surface products and services on the web (which in turn may be monetized via ad serving), this obviously caught my attention!    I figured it was a matter of time until someone built an ad-free experience (similar to Tivo).  In the finance vertical, we have all at one time or another looked at the economics of an ad free offering (supported either by a subscription model, or other) as we continually strive to deliver a unique experience to the user.

I believe the average consumer appreciates that quality content has embedded ads to support the costs associatd to produce and thus is undermined by this type of app.  Will sites start serving ads from their own servers to get around this type of app (as the article implies)?  Maybe articles will have embedded products in the text in some form or fashion … (oh, how the editors of sites around the world are scratching their face in horror).

For now, this is just another evolution of the business, and if this takes hold, some one will figure out how to build a revenue stream to support those very large costs with building and deploying quality content.  This may have other dependencies, such as the reliance on Firefox as a browser of choice? If IE7 were to prevent this type of app (as MSFT is not immune to the outcry advertisers might employ if this were to become widespread), would this drive up the value users place on alternative browser experiences?

Speaking of..and tangential at best, what if Facebook, Myspace or other powerful social site were to launch their own browser?  What about Yahoo? Change the dynamics of an IE7 world by providing some type of value add if users of such social sites were to download a new browser?  Attack MSFT’s monopoly?

Read this site, save a $100k..

I was reading Guy Kawasaki’s blog today and came across his article “MBA in a page”.  He linked to a page titled Value Based Management.  Someone spent a lot of time and effort to organize and consolidate every ppt, theory and application from across the business spectrum (marketing, finance, strategy, etc)…ie everything you learned sitting in the classroom at b-school.

If you are looking for a “cheat sheet” or need a refresher on one of those esoteric theorms that are great for .ppt in order to dazzle your boss….here you go.

“Unstoppable” by Chris Zook

If you read Chris Zook’s book “Profit from the Core“…then you may also be interested in his latest “Unstoppable”. 

Focused on “finding hidden assets to renew the core and fuel profitable growth”..the book will seemingly be a hit to add to his two other best sellers.   With the book relying on work from Bain & Co, it postulates that 2/3 of companies will have to redefine their core business over the next decade.

While I am not sure the coming decade will wipe clean 66% of companies business plans, I think globalization and other factors (emergence of China as a competitive force, rising cost of oil, climate change and the costs associated with doing business in a new environment..as well as the impact of a 24/7 trading day with the exchanges merging) will certainly require new strategies and new ways to think about an “always on” 24 hour day of reaching customers across many time zones and who speak a variety of languages and have a multitude of needs/wants. 

I just read the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” by Kim Mauborgne.  While that book keyed in on topics like “overcoming key organizational hurdles” and using “strategy canvas” to map out core customers, the principled approach to defining strategy was useful, if a bit academic.

Turnaround Specialists “rules of engagement”

Read an article in Booz Allen Hamilton’s Strategy and Business titled “Why Wait for Trouble”? 

Cant say I enjoyed the magazine too much…it was no HBR.  The articles were dense without a clear “take away” or application and the subject matter across the magazine was wide without a knife’s edge focus within each article to surface a salient point of view. 

That being said…one article titled “Why Wait for Trouble?” by Kenneth W. Freeman talked about vital questions a turnaround specialist can ask when dropping into a new company.  The use of a “turn around” specialist seems a bit too precise for my interests….as I believe the article and its discussion can apply to (a) execs moving to a new job(s), (b) an employee moving into a new role within his/her company or (c) taking on a new responsibilities within one’s current job.

The article talked about crises and diagnostic management.   I will lay out the underlying questions poised in the article:

(1) “Is there evidence of imbalance or excess, either in the company or in the industry”?

Take Away:  I thought about this question and wondered if this is applicable in understanding a company or department (or other granular application) vis-à-vis a department or company’s competition.  A manager will have a tough time if he/she doesn’t understand if his/her company’s product is a commodity, what the level of demand from consumers is for a product or service, deep understanding of consumption patterns and whether they have changed, whether the industry is evolving and a company’s product offering vs the competition and if there are new parameter’s to review. 

Application: conducting some basic SWOT analyses, comparing the competitors product offerings vis a vis one’s own or even something mundane such as summarizing the 5-10 competitors with 10-K info, public/private data (non financial), and position in the market (ie an X – Y graph with two salient variables on the axis), is an easy way to start. It sounds trivial, but often times the time invested in documenting the competitive set teases out findings or learnings that may not have been overt or explicit prior to such exercise?

 

(2) “Are the perceptions held by senior executives of the company aligned or contrary”?

Take Away: This raises the basic issue of communication within a company?  Employees are busy, communication on the ground is “sweetened” as it goes up the chain to make it more digestible to the senior team.  Engaging senior management and creating a situation where they can provide valuable feedback to strategic problems is much more valuable in the long term then reporting on the minutae of the ground level efforts and having a rubber stamp from above.

Application: Create a weekly or monthly summary of the business.  Avoid the laundry list of “projects worked on” or “delivered” and instead take a step back and offer up three opportunities, three challenges to the franchise and three recommendations and solicit timely feedback.  Make the communication more of a thought exercise vs a report card and summarization.   Another area that can align interests is having senior execs review and interact with customer service.  Without hearing the voice of the customer and understanding on a weekly basis what the end user is saying abou the product, its hard to think any meaningful change will take place if the product/org is not aligned or delivering what the customer “wants/needs”.

(3) “What is the level of accountability among the employees?” 

Take Away: Are employees motivated? Is there a healthy appreciation of risk and opportunity to fail (without career limiting move type repercussions)?  Accountability and having a voice go hand in hand.  Creating a strong feedback mechanism is important to engage employees and make sure they take pride in their work and are on the hook for delivering.

Application:  Accountability is difficult to monitor and even more difficult to instill.  Senior managers need to be accessible…taking walks from the executive floor and interacting with the ground troops across the org.  One of the CEO’s who presided over a company I worked at earlier in my career had a brown bag lunch once a month, in addition to popping by people’s offices/cubes every week.  Each employee whose start date anniversary on that month was invited to the brown bag lunch (granted our company was 100…so probably not scalable…but certainly at the division level or dept head level).  The lunch served as an opportunity for the rank and file to discuss issues with the CEO, ask questions, provide feedback etc.  Win win from both sides of the table.

 

These three questions poised by the article are helpful in order to frame a problem or set of problems at an organization.  Probably interesting exerices quarterly to review such questions from an organizational behavior standpoint and see if the answers or responses change throughout the year.  A report card of sorts?