Thursday, August 2, 2012

Picking the right battles

I shook my head reading about the recent disqualification of 4 badminton teams from the Olympics.  Unless there was a rule forbidding teams from throwing games, the disqualification is misguided.  In building products, we often pick strategies that offer differentiation on high value features while ceding ground on less-profitable features.  In my current gig, we prioritized adding more mobile friendly authentication methods over some missing features to support the desktops.  This means that we lose a few deals that require desktop support, but even if we had this feature, it wouldn't command premium pricing.  Contrast this with the newer mobile features that is helping us sell at a much higher price point because our competition do not have some capabilities.  This is a choice that we picked and would pick again if we have to.

Why should sportsmen (or women) not be afforded the freedom to choose the matches they want to win?  Is using the brain to get closer to the gold medal such a bad thing?  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Never thump a gift melon

On my way to work, I was listening to an interview on the radio.  The host asked the guest on the program why she claimed that none of the congressmen had read a bill that was being considered.  She gave a long reply for a full 3 minutes in which she provided various statistics to explain why the bill was not in the best interests of the community.  A great tactic to highlight her concerns, but a wee bit disingenuous.  I was glad when the host gently reminded her that she had not answered his question and forced her to explain why she made that claim earlier.

I see this pattern repeated in mock interviews I conduct for MBA candidates - those who are trying for admissions or internships.  A lot of times, the candidates are more interested in highlighting why they are such a great fit that they forget to answer all aspects of the question.  I am not suggesting that MBA candidates are bad listeners, but just that I would expect this group to pay more thought into how they answer questions in an interview.  When the supposedly well trained groups (like MBA candidates) themselves exhibit this behavior, it is no wonder that the rest of the society is tone deaf as well.

While on this topic, one of my favorite sales quotes is "never thump a gift melon".  Turns out you can check if a melon is ripe by thumping it and listening for a hollow sound.  But, thumping the melon can also hurt the melon (like bananas with dark spots on the skin).  Translated, the quote means that if you have verbal commitment on a sales deal, do not try to keep selling, for you might divulge information that could jeopardize its closure.  To do this well, the sales person should "listen" to the customer and know when their selection is final.  That would be a good time to navigate the conversation to the contracts/procurement process.

On the Product Management side, we are often coached that everyone has "two ears, but just one mouth".  Fairly straightforward idea that emphasizes the importance of listening well.  This is easier said than done and requires a lot of practice.  But, one incident from my early days in Product Management helped me a lot.  I was visiting a customer with my manager.  When the discussion veered around to problems that this customer still faced, I could not resist responding to each item on the list with details about how we planned to fix the issues in the next release.  Later, my manager suggested that it might be better to just let the customer vent about all problems and go back with a roadmap update later.  This approach involves fewer interruptions (so that we can get all the details about problems), does not make us appear over defensive and gives us the opportunity to have another contact with the customer (which can be key to building a relationship)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Tracking Market Statistics

As an entrepreneur and product manager, I am always on the look out for new opportunities.  One of the first things I am trained to do is to Can I expand into an adjacent market by adding a new feature?  What is the size of market for a completely new product which I can bring to market with existing technology?  Good market data is hard to find.  Sometimes, our companies have access to analyst resources like IDC, Gartner, Forrester, etc.  However, I have found a lot of great information pop-up in newspapers and other popular media outlets.  I keep track of some of the key statistics in a spreadsheet.  Here are some entries from my market data spreadsheet -

  • Number of vehicles sold in 2010 = 12M
  • WW PC sales (2011 estimate by Gartner) - 364M 
  • WW PC sales (2012 estimate by Gartner) - 368M
Collecting this kind of information has helped me develop an instinct and enough data points to quickly size different opportunities.  What would be really terrific is if the marketing firms that keep track of such data democratize this information.  In other words, instead of charging $1,995/report, expose the high level data for free.  This would hook users like me and if I need more data, I wouldn't mind paying $20 for every additional piece of information.  Something like this (numbers are made up) -


Monday, April 30, 2012

Roomba - Product that I love

A friend asked me recently to think about some products that I would love to manage.  Roomba was the first thing I could think of.  I acquired my first Roomba almost a year ago and liked it so much that I bought another one as a gift for my parents.  The Roomba is a great product because it solves a very common problem  in an unconventional, but effective way.

As the parent of a toddler (think spills and dirt), I love switching on my Roomba when stepping out of the house and coming back to a clean room.  What a time saver!  Some features that I would introduce in the Roomba (or other products in the portfolio) would be -

  1. Ability to clean stairs
  2. Make it less noisy
  3. Ability to mow my lawn 
  4. Ability to remove dust from furniture (a la swiffer)
  5. Ability to clear cobwebs

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

McAfee - Strategic value or Botched Acquisition?

McAfee was one of the absolute best companies that I have worked for in my short career. From 2006 through 2011 (just before its acquisition by Intel), McAfee nearly doubled its revenues at a healthy CAGR of 12.51% -

The only other large security company (500M+ in revenue) growing at a similar pace was Checkpoint

Intel acquired McAfee for $7.68B in 2011. As an insider, I was surprised that Intel never clearly articulated the rationale behind the acquisition. I also know that a number of senior execs left McAfee shortly after the acquisition was announced - Dave Dewalt, George Kurtz, Rosen Sharma, Dmitri Alperovitch to name just a few.

Looks like the exodus was a leading sign of a massive step backwards. Today, Intel announced its 2011 results with breakup of the Software and Services group which is the unit which includes McAfee and Wind River. Intel claims that it wrote down $204 in deferred revenue. The accounting period is also a little different (McAfee's fiscal year was aligned to the calendar year, Intel's FY is staggered by 3 months).

But, these adjustments should be more offset by the revenue from Intel's Wind River and other software operations. Wind River had revenues of $350M+ when it was acquired in 2009. In other words, McAfee's post acquisition performance has been disastrous. I'd guess that Checkpoint, Imperva, Palo Alto Networks, Splunk and even Symantec are the ones who have benefitted from Intel's acquisition of McAfee. Thoughts?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Identifying New Ideas for a Startup

One of the biggest challenges for an entrepreneur involves how to rate new ideas before you decide to chase it. There are different aspects that you can evaluate, but here is the fundamental list from Berkeley, especially for those interested in seeking VC money -
  1. Unmet or Underserved need - we must start by critically analyzing whether the idea meets an unmet or underserved need. In other words, is there at least 1 customer whose hair is on fire when he hears about the idea from you?
  2. Market size - Most successful entrepreneurs will tell you that chasing a large or growing market played a huge part in their success. Current thinking is that VCs are loathe to funding ideas which do not have a $1B potential.
  3. Sustainable competitive advantage - do you have a secret sauce or technology that increases the barrier to entry or makes it extremely difficult for your competitors to battle you?
  4. Scalable business model - can you build a scalable business around the idea. Are the fixed and variable costs such that you can increase and maintain high margins in steady state?
  5. Why us? Why now? - do you have the right team with the experience, network or other necessary attributes to win with this idea? Is this the right time to go to market with this idea or will it take another 5 years for this idea to gain mainstream adoption.
At a minimum, you should be able to pass these five checks easily. Of course, it helps to examine the idea to gauge the attractiveness of the idea using personal metrics also. For instance, you may want to see how well aligned the idea is to your own interests, the cost of other opportunities you'll have to forgo, etc.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Corporate Blogs - the real audience

In the last 3-4 years, I have seen most software vendors starting their own corporate blog. I have seen first-hand how these corporate blogs help in lead-generation and sales. Most of us think that this requires a lot of thought-provoking, high quality content, but that is not necessarily true. This is because the true audience of the corporate blog is NOT the CIO or IT manager or admin who is looking to learn about new technologies. The real audience is actually the search engines and corporate blogs provide a great way to improve where one shows up in the search results.

One of my close friends, a great marketing person, gave these tips to get maximum mileage out of corporate blogging efforts -
  • Create a shortlist - start by creating a list of keywords that you'd like to improve your search rankings on. At Solidcore, these keywords would normally include Change Control, File Integrity, Whitelisting, etc.
  • Post Regularly and consistently - every blog post must target 2-3 of these keywords in a consistent manner. For best results, try to incorporate these keywords in your titles or tags. And be regular - it takes at least 3 posts a week for 6 months before your search rankings improve
  • Link back - linking to other articles about the topic you are posting about also improves the search rankings. In fact, you should aim to link to at least 1 (preferably 2-3) other posts in every blog post
As you can see, this is fairly simple. If you don't find any good topics to blog about, just repeat the words in random order, a la "change control is solidcore and my file integrity oops what a neat way to cheat the search engines". I haven't seen too many instances of such obvious posts, but don't for a moment get beguiled into thinking that the corporate blog is aimed at you, the reader. It is not.