As citizens of Arizona, as Americans and as a members of the larger human family, we must all take this opportunity to pause and reflect on the unspeakable tragedy that struck our friends and fellow citizens in Tucson on Saturday.
All across America, bells are tolling for the victims and their families, but the larger realization, as penned by the 17th century poet John Dunne, is that those bells are tolling for all of us.
In the words of the poet:
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main… Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. . . .”
We have all been stunned and reduced to tears by this tragic event. We have all been outraged by the senseless violence. We have all been diminished by the loss of so many innocent lives, because we are all members of the same human family.
As we reflect on this great sadness, however, there is also cause for solace. As Americans, we have had more than our share of loss at the hands of ruthless, indiscriminate killers. But somehow, by the grace of our Creator, we have always managed to rise above the carnage and the tears to realize that despite the grief we share a common heritage of good. In the midst of the bloodshed, we witnessed the uncommon valor and unselfishness of the victims who gave their lives protecting others. We listened to the parents of a sweet 9 year old girl as they somehow found the grace to meet their sadness with dignity and celebration of the child they lost. Once again, our grief was tempered by the professionalism and devotion of the doctors who gave so much to save lives. Through it all, we are reminded that we live in a nation where public service, despite its inherent dangers, is still a beacon to the rest of the world.
As we mourn our loss, it is also comforting to know that while loved ones have been taken from us, they remain a indestructible part of our lives.
For many years, especially when Jericho Technology’s early reputation was built on Flash development, I was not just a Flash devotee and evangelist, I was an apostle. My love for the product and the professional results it could achieve were unequaled. “Criticize Flash at your peril” was my war cry. The occasional critics of Flash websites, then mostly in the minority, were quickly dispatched.
Sadly, all things change.
Every David has a Goliath at some point in his life. And with Steve Jobs, Adobe Flash may have its hands full. Among other things he said, “Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.”
I have read Mr. Jobs’ complete explanation for why Flash is not allowed on the iPod, iPhone and iPad, and I understand the case he is making. Unlike the old days when such arguments could be ignored, or at least not taken seriously, this time the casket may be closing. Whether the reasons are strictly technical, as Mr. Jobs insists, or due in large measure to the fact that the child-like Internet is finally outgrowing its knickers, the result may still be the same.
There are many fine web design companies continuing to use Flash religiously, and Adobe is a fine software company. However, Mr. Jobs is a thought leader with a strong and well-deserved following. He is the Wagon-master that led all of us across the new frontier, keeping us safe from the Indians in his unapologetic way.
I hope that the Internet is big enough for all of them.
I have remarked in this space before that the Ford Motor Company is doing a masterful job in Social Media. A brief visit to their Ford Story website stakes their claim to the Social Media title, unequivocally in my view. They are listening to their customers, and they are paying attention to what they are hearing.
The graph on this post, taken from The Nielsen Company and Netview statistics, tells an even more important story. Of the Top Ten Automotive websites, ranked by audience size, Ford is the only auto manufacturer listed. The audience is saying by their presence, “We might scout around for deals and Blue Book values, but when it comes to brand loyalty, our vote goes to Ford.”
I can hear you saying, “OK, but Ford is an American icon, and their CEO is remarkable. Their prominence is not because of Social Media.” I won’t dispute either claim. Ford is an icon, and Alan Mulally, the Ford CEO is remarkable. And their prominence is not because of Social Media alone.
This is just one man’s opinion, of course, but in my view Ford’s Social Media presence is second to none. Scott Monty, the head of Social Media for Ford, has a lot to be proud of, and my prediction is that as Social Media becomes more determinant of the public’s buying behavior, Ford will completely out distance the competition.
Occasionally throughout the history of the Internet, the web has created new and exciting career paths inside of major corporations. When this type of corporate genesis occurs, the hearts of lifelong marketing aficionados skip a beat or two, (mine included).
Perhaps the most interesting new position in recent memory is the Chief Marketing Officer for Social Media. Like all new positions of this importance and novelty, the brevity of the new market results in a lack of specific knowledge. Even the most accomplished marketing executives, with decades of experience, can find themselves lost in the uncharted reaches of Social Media Land. Undaunted, these marketing professionals throw themselves into the fray and learn as they go along.
Thanks to the good graces of CMO.com, a map of the Social Media Landscape has been created. There is a veritable feast of valuable information here. (You are welcome to click on this map to enlarge it, and click to enlarge it again).
On those occasions, I would shut out the rest of the world, disconnect my phone and my email, and simply allow my mind to wander around in its closet, hoping to stumble upon the next “Big Idea.”
Lately I have changed that view. I still make every effort to be creative, but the elusive “Big Idea” has been replaced by an even more interesting and exciting stand-in … the “small Idea.”
Everyone fantasizes about being the next Bill Gates, I imagine, and my theory was that I was just as deserving of that honor as anyone else. But a growing list of experts are now suggesting that the days of the “Big Idea” may have come to their inevitable end, and that surgically precise small ideas may be the wave of innovation from here on.
Decades ago Japanese factories fine-tuned an idea called the “lean manufacturing process,” which focused on eliminating any work or investment that didn’t produce value for customers. Within the last week, the New York Times was reporting on a new idea coined by two entrepreneurs, Eric Ries and Steven Blank, called the “lean start-up,” and it is already resonating throughout the venture capital community. “If it works, it will reduce failure rates for entrepreneurial ventures and boost innovation,” says Thomas R. Eisenmann, a professor at the Harvard Business School. “That’s a big deal for the economy.”
“Technology animates the lean start-up process,” the New York Times continues. “Free open-source programming tools and easily distributed Web-based software drive down the cost of developing new products and services. The early companies embracing the principles live largely on the Web, which makes it possible to measure and track customer behavior constantly and to invite suggestions and criticism.
Internet companies have steadily taken advantage of the falling costs of getting up and running — often spending just hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of the millions that were required several years ago. But the lean start-up formula adds management practices tailored to exploit the Web environment.”
“So the lean playbook advises quick development of a “minimum viable product,” designed with the smallest set of features that will please some group of customers. Then, the start-up should continually experiment by tweaking its offering, seeing how the market responds and changing the product accordingly.”
Not quite a “big idea,” Social Media was certainly a sea-change in the way entrepreneurs view the Internet. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Foursquare and other variations on the Social Media idea, are truly inexpensive, small ideas, that when combined with lean operations may be the best path toward profits in today’s climate.
Seth Godin has said, “Small is the new big. Focus on relevant, specialized, and unique. It’s the difference that makes the difference”. According to Seth, small helps you be remarkable – “Small means that you will outsource the boring, low-impact stuff like manufacturing and shipping and billing and packing to others, while you keep the power because you invent the remarkable and tell stories to people who want to hear them.”
Many years ago, Danny DeVito popularized the term OPM (“Other People’s Money”) in a movie by the same name. It was a comedy, albeit a little dark, having as its theme the greed that came to be synonymous with some facets of American business.
For purposes of this article I have invented a new catch phrase, IPM (Innovate, Populate, Monetize) to help answer the question … “How do we make any money with our website (or if you’re very optimistic, a livelihood) in an entirely professional manner?”
This would seem to be an obvious question, but it really isn’t, having mystified start-up companies for the entire history of the World Wide Web.
First, at the risk of disappointing some of my readers, let’s dispel a few myths:
THE “FIELD OF DREAMS” MYTH
This myth is a basic untruth that promises… “If you build it … (any website, even if mediocre and non-Social-Media enabled)…they will come.” This has never been true. If anything, it is much LESS true today than it was years ago when the Internet carried an implicit cache. There are literally millions of websites now, and even the best ideas or products are indistinguishable under an avalanche of mediocrity.
As a minimum, your site must be more compelling, more interactive, more “sticky” and more user-friendly than ANY of your perceived competition. After that it still has the challenge of being found, and the pressure of converting visitors into customers.
Do it yourself websites are fine, if you happen to be an Internet aficionado, a marketing and strategic planning expert, and a seasoned businessman with a long track record of real-world successes. Otherwise, what you have is a hobby, not a business.
THE “WIZARD OF OZ” MYTH
In the iconic film “The Wizard of OZ,” a key character was a short, old, slightly plump man, hiding behind a screen. He had no real powers except those his visitors imparted to him. In the world of Social Media, there are more self-proclaimed experts than there are needy customers. Of the 35.4 million hits on a Google search for “Social Media experts” do we really believe each of them is an authority on a medium that has only existed for a few years? And what about the countless people trying to sell you their “secret formula” on how to make Twitter work, for example? If it is working so well for them, why do they find it necessary to sell their solution to you? They should be rolling in money, should they not? It’s really just silly, don’t you think?
For roughly the last two decades I have been deeply immersed in all facets of the Internet, after a career as a senior officer for a huge company, and I would be the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers.
Here’s a brief suggestion: If you assume that your start-up business will generate $6 million per year of revenue when it reaches maturity, ask your new “adviser” if he has ever been responsible for a business with a $6 million per year budget. If he says “No” find someone who has. It’s really that simple.
Now for the monetization formulas:
This article, (Part 1 of 3), will concentrate on the most obvious and generally accepted method that has proven successful, particularly in the recent Social Media realm: Display Ads.
Let’s skip immediately to the bad news. If you wish to use this form of cash generation, you must be able to innovate sufficiently to populate your website with a million (yes, million) visitors per day, in order to monetize your site for (on average) a revenue stream of $200 per day or $6,000 per month.
As explained on Venturedig.com, (a bona fide expert), “This is your bread and butter business model. It centers on showing showing Display/Context Ads. The two major forms of this are CPC (cost per click) and CPA (cost per action or acquisition).
With the ad above, the user clicks the ad, they take a quiz, and usually they fill out their email address or phone number. The advertiser (IQ Quiz), will pay the Facebook developer (you) each time a user fills out their email address or phone number. Usually, there’s a middle man involved. The middle man is called an ad network.
These types of ads can pay out a CPM of $0.05 – $0.80 (*Depending on Country*)
Say you serve 1 million impressions of these per day, at a $0.20 CPM, you can expect to make $200 per day, or $6,000 a month.”
Watch this blog for Parts 2 and 3 to come.
For many years in the 1980’s & 1990’s, I was a Senior Vice President at AIGM, the marketing arm of the American International Group. Among other things, I was responsible for transplanting various successful product lines in the United States, to 135 foreign countries.
Insurance companies have tended to be myopic in such matters. In the past, they have assumed that if Product A sold in the U.S., it would also sell equally well in England, France, Russia, Egypt and anywhere else they chose to cast their net. That was a mostly invalid assumption.
As reported this month in the Harvard Business Review, companies still assume …”that a good track record at home is a predictor of success in the global arena, and that exposing high performers to new cultures will set them on the path to becoming effective multinational leaders.”
“To a point”, HBR continued, “those things are true. We agree that moving people around the world is vital to developing global leadership capabilities. But it is seldom enough. Plenty of smart, talented executives … fail spectacularly in expatriate assignments, even when they try their best to understand local cultures and fit in. Assigning an important overseas post to the wrong executive—one who doesn’t have the propensity to learn and succeed in a new and different environment—can be a painful, expensive proposition.”
Chalk it up to ethnocentrism, arrogance, hubris or plain naivete, doing business overseas can be very challenging for U.S. companies. In today’s global community, differences in cultures have slightly less impact, but still business leaders ignore the remaining differences at their peril.
Specifically, the Harvard Business Review suggests that, “success abroad hinges on something called a global mind-set. This mind-set has three main components: intellectual capital, or knowledge of international business and the capacity to learn; psychological capital, or openness to different cultures and the capacity to change; and social capital, the ability to form connections, to bring people together, and to influence stakeholders—including colleagues, clients, suppliers, and regulatory agencies—who are unlike you in cultural heritage, professional background, or political outlook. The most effective international leaders are strong in all three dimensions.”
I have traveled extensively over the years, and the more I learn, the more I realize that the Worldwide Web is replete with opportunities, as well as challenges. For companies with the inclination and the expertise, in an ever smaller world, the puzzle of doing business overseas will be solved.
Jericho Technology has contacts in the following countries. If we can be of service in your international business, feel free to contact us:
- United Kingdom
- United Arab Emirates
- Russia (Russian Federation and Volga Region)
- Hong Kong
It pays off in actual business, not just buzz, according to Inc. and marketing expert Michael Stelzner, founder of SocialMediaExaminer.com. And the more time you use it for (and the more experienced you become), the better the results.
Inc Magazine continues … “One in three business owners say that social media helps them to close business. That percentage may yet improve – 74 percent of small business owners who were early adopters, and have been using social media for years, say it’s helped them close business, according to the 2010 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, which surveyed 1,898 small business owners.
What’s more, a resounding 85 percent of those surveyed say that the platform has created buzz for their businesses. (For the record, 91 percent of all respondents use social media.)
Other benefits (in the order in which they ranked): The medium increases web traffic and opens opportunities to build new partnerships. More than half of respondents said social media generates good sales leads. And a couple of fringe benefit: Some three-quarters (73 percent) reported a significant rise in search engine rankings, which feeds exposure. Nearly half (48 percent) said social media reduced their overall marketing expenses (up from 35 percent in the 2009 survey). Marketing expert Michael Stelzner, founder of SocialMediaExaminer.com, put together the report.”
Here is a tremendously useful experiment: The next time you attend a business conference, or have the opportunity to brainstorm with extremely successful start-up company executives, ask them for the most noteworthy success formulas they monitor in their businesses.
If you ask this question repeatedly, you are likely to get many different answers. Some of the most common ones will be ratios: Return on Equity, Return on Investment, Net Profit Rate, Gross Margin Rate, Current Rate, and other less obvious formulas.
One answer you are less likely to hear is the Productivity Ratio — sales divided by number of employees. The objective is to have a large sales number and a small number of employees. Admittedly, this is not a terribly sexy calculation. After all, if you are growing, should not your employee base be growing proportionately? Is not the number of individuals you employ a barometer of success? Is it not risky to leave your company vulnerable by under staffing it?
The answer to all of these questions is … “not necessarily.”
Inc.com, the online magazine with an enormous following of start-up entrepreneurs, recently published the following examples that argued this case eloquently:
COMPANY: Nature’s Cure, in Oakland, Calif.
DESCRIPTION: Produces a line of acne medicine
REVENUES: $6 million
RATIO: $462,000 per employee
PRODUCTIVITY STRATEGY: Outsource like crazy
The reason for the company’s low head count is simple: CEO Amy Baker deliberately built the company to function with few rank-and-file workers. The staff is incredibly top-heavy: 7 of the company’s 13 employees are executives.
Baker gets away with her unorthodox management structure by outsourcing nearly everything. For instance, whereas many consumer-products companies would employ rank-and-file workers in sales and marketing, Baker has farmed out most of those functions to brokers and outside strategists. The executives in sales and marketing operate more like relationship managers.
To be fair, Baker’s penchant for outsourcing artificially inflates her company’s productivity ratio. But Baker argues that the outsourcing makes it easier for her employees to maneuver or make changes without fixed overhead. Take, for example, her four sales executives. Three of them manage a regional group of sales brokers, and one serves as an inside sales coordinator. If the VP who’s in charge of the Atlanta region finds that sales are slow, then that VP can simply fire the broker and find another.
Strictly speaking, Nature’s Cure is a manufacturer of acne medicine. Yet the company even outsources the making and packaging of its product. The company also relegates its distribution to a warehouse-cum-shipping center in Chicago. One of Baker’s execs, based in Chicago, oversees the entire distribution process. Another VP, in the Oakland office, coordinates every aspect of manufacturing: quality standards, packaging, and inventory management.
Baker acknowledges the risks of building a manufacturing company this way: Nature’s Cure has few hard assets, such as equipment or real estate. A valuation of the company would involve only an appraisal of the soft stuff: the company’s medicine patents and the Nature’s Cure brand.
And because Baker’s exit strategy is to sell Nature’s Cure to another consumer-products company, she believes that she ought to spend her time and capital on building assets that her acquirers would covet — namely, a big-time brand.
COMPANY: Legacy South, in Atlanta
DESCRIPTION: Provides wealth-management services
REVENUES: $3 million
RATIO: $600,000 per employee
PRODUCTIVITY STRATEGY: Automate key functions with technology
Legacy South grosses an impressive $3 million a year with only five employees, but that feat is even more impressive given that two of those staffers are administrative. The other three, including CEO John Viani, do the actual wealth management, each handling about 35 clients. Some clients speak to Viani quarterly, while others talk to him a few times a week. And Viani’s two partners communicate with clients just as frequently.
The perpetual challenge for Legacy South is striking a communicative balance: maintaining high-quality personal interactions while preventing a daily deluge of calls from needy clients.
For Viani, the answer is technology. In addition to sending clients their quarterly statements from discount broker Charles Schwab, Legacy South sends its own statements, which are “in a more friendly format,” according to Viani. The company generates the statements through a software program called Advent, which automatically downloads information from the Schwab Web site, then rejiggers it to Legacy South’s easy-to-understand style. For daily access to the information, clients can log on to the password-protected Legacy South Web site (www.legacysouth.com).
For the most part, Viani and his partners communicate with their clients through phone calls and face-to-face meetings. But there are occasions when Legacy South feels the need to communicate with its clientele as a group. Say the Fed hikes interest rates, or the stock market plummets. Clients often want to know how such events will affect them. In such cases Legacy South relies on the relatively low-tech combination of a client database and E-mail to efficiently communicate en mass.
Although technology eases some of the communicative burden from Legacy South, customer selectivity and management decisions play a part as well. Viani says there have been “two or three instances” when the company has had to “fire” excessively high-maintenance clients. Viani and his partners have agreed that they will take on no more than 40 clients each. When the principal-to-client ratio surpasses 40, Legacy South will look to bring in its sixth portfolio manager.
COMPANY: U.S. Energy Services, in Wayzata, Minn.
DESCRIPTION: Provides energy-management services
REVENUES: $22 million
RATIO: $1 million per employee
PRODUCTIVITY STRATEGY: Use open-book management and profit sharing to instill efficiency
U.S. Energy Services makes $22 million a year from a client base of 150. The company examines every aspect of its clients’ utility bills, scouring them for cost savings. After diagnosing problems, U.S. Energy acts to solve them for its clients — for instance, by renegotiating rates with the utilities. U.S. Energy charges clients a percentage of the total bill, usually around 2%, and a fee ranging from $400 to $10,000, depending on how labor-intensive the solutions turn out to be.
But how does a paltry staff of 22 master the post-regulation-era billing intricacies of thousands of energy suppliers in 48 states? Over the years, employees gain an intimate knowledge about clients’ billing particulars. Generally speaking, the longer U.S. Energy has had a client, the less labor-intensive it becomes for the company to assess that client’s utility bill. That is why the company has been able to beef up revenues in recent years without adding legions of employees.
CEO Bill Bathe also credits the interplay of two management factors — open-book management and profit-sharing bonuses — for the high revenues-to-worker ratio at U.S. Energy Services. He and his partners share all the company’s financial information (except individual salaries) with their workers. The employees, in turn, have a clear understanding of how their productivity can affect the bottom line. In other words, the employees know they’ll receive larger bonuses if their individual revenue-generating efforts are fruitful. Conversely, the employees also understand the cost burden of any non-revenue-generating employees, which is why, as Bathe says, “there are no secretaries here.” Employees type their own letters and spreadsheets, but they also know better than to spend hours on such non lucrative tasks.
Bathe believes that the open-book system, which cultivates a culture of knowledge sharing, motivates greater group productivity. For example, say that an experienced U.S. Energy employee, while analyzing a corporate client’s utility bill, finds an error on the statement that he’s never seen before. The employee then shares his discovery to help his coworkers discover similar errors in the future. That information sharing saves money for U.S. Energy’s clients, increases the company’s total revenues (some of which come as a percentage of any savings the company secures for the client), and, by extension, boosts the size of the profit-sharing bonus.
There is, however, a downside to running such a tight ship. The company can’t easily take on new work since it lacks what Bathe, using a sports term, calls “bench strength” — high-quality backup performers whom it can enlist at times of increased demand. Also, he says, the company culture’s emphasis on efficiency at all costs often prevents workers from even casual socializing. “We’re so efficient, we spend almost no time together,” he laments.
“Big Money, Small Payroll, Growing Your Business Article – Inc …” Inc.com. 25 Nov. 2009. Read the article here.
Jericho Technology wholeheartedly embraces the Productivity Ratio as a key factor in success. In it’s fifteen year history, the company has never employed more than four individuals full time. It is a success formula that we consistently recommend to our clients.