Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dinner With Doc

Wonderful to see Doc and his wife last night, to celebrate his birthday, as well as my move to his neighborhood. My fiance lives a stone's throw from the VRM guru, so that's another great new benefit of moving in with my beau. This neighborhood is full of fun friends, fascinating folks and seriously green non-suburban proximity to Cambridge and Boston.

This is a picture from Paris I took of Doc when we spoke at Loic's first Le Web (aka Les Blogs in those days). I remember thinking how well he looked here and after this past year of so many up-and-downs for him in terms of health, there was only one birthday present I could give, those traditional wishes of good health and long life.

We talked a lot about managing vendors, no surprise, after my post here about the uphill work of simply changing my many magazine subscription addresses due to moving. (Only Fortune Magazine did an excellent job.) Doc totally gets it and didn't even give me any "I told you so" about VRM, now that I'm finally getting it too.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Moving House and Moving My Magazines With Me: About Fortune

I'm moving house and one annoying part is redirecting all my magazines. Yes, I read a lot of magazines and newspapers. I've had to change my address online for 1 daily business newspaper, 3 newsweekly magazines, 7 monthly magazines and the experience has been a royal pain in the butt if you'd like to know, with one exception.

The exception is Fortune Magazine. They had a terrific online customer service interface and made it a piece of cake to change my address. I don't know who's running their website, but they need a promotion, a raise and a bottle of champagne. But more about what they did RIGHT in a minute. Here's what everyone did wrong.

I know when you arrive at a publication's website, there are a lot of things that a particular magazine is trying to tell you all at once -- about their current issue, about a new conference they might be sponsoring, about new subscription deals, about upcoming issues, about advertising -- but nearly every site made it REALLY DIFFICULT to even find the place where I could just change my address. Why does it have to be so hard?

Then you would reach the page for customer service and most of them are pushing you to first register your email address and go through about 15 extra steps before you can just simply change your address. And I am sitting here at my desk with a pile of the actual magazines with the actual mailing labels ... which should make it a no-brainer ... but au contraire!

Only about half of them bothered to show me a sample address label and where to find my customer subscriber ID number. And even those guys didn't explain it very well. There are usually three letters to start with that DON'T MATTER and they want you to ignore, but it's not obvious. And the number ends with a / and then more numbers which the folks in mag subscription land also seem to find obvious, that anything after the slash, and the slash, of course, don't matter. Okay, fine, well, good for you all, but maybe we mere mortals don't get that.

Then the online address forms are stiff and unforgiving and you push SUBMIT and all sorts of dumb little things come back WRONG with red stars and you can't figure out why.

Then even when you do it right, most sites return a screen with your OLD ADDRESS in big print and a tiny message saying they did receive the change but it won't be in effect for 2 weeks. Why can't they show you the new address you just typed in and say this is what we received and it will change in 2 weeks. Seeing the OLD ADDRESS makes you think you have not accomplished your task after 15 screens and endless attempts. Duh, duh, duh!

So Fortune Magazine (I love you guys!) didn't commit these sins. They made it easy, they found my address fast, they took care of business. And even better ... they happened to know I had two other magazines I needed to change and brought those up on a polite little list, asking me if they should change the address for me on those magazines too. YES! YES! YES! Thank you! Sitting on my desk next to me with packing tape, scissors, a list of items still to pack, a big bottle of Tylenol, and a thousand of details of my moving house fiasco, was a big pile of magazines and they just took away the trouble of changing the addresses for two of them. Way to go Fortune! How fortunate for me!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Talking Silently Via IM

Early morning and everyone else in the house is snoring away down the hall. Nothing I like better than chatting with my girlfriend via IM quietly. Her kids are sleeping too, so it's the perfect way to talk without the phone. What did my mom do in an early morning kitchen, tea kettle on the stove ... not IM ... I can barely remember. She read the paper, looked out at the garden to see if it needed weeding.

I love the fact that we have a wide range of technologies that perfectly fit the time and space we're in. Like picking out the right clothes for the right weather, you have an electronic closet of perfect apps.

IM is ideal for quiet mornings in a quiet house. Text on a bus or other transit can be ideal, but don't drive and text (it's potentially more deadly than drive and drink scenarios.) Good old email let's you toss across a few paragraphs, with more thoughtfulness. Wiki at work or in social circles might be the group connection of choice. Twitter for hanging out fast and loose, jotting notes to a crew. And all the pages ... myspace and facebook and blogs ... and the interesting ways people use those. And the "here's what I love" apps like Digg. What a wardrobe of custom-fit e-duds. Just slip one on for size. Pret-a-porter, or maybe Pret-a-transporter.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It's The Team, Stupid

I've never been a fan of those corporate outward bound type team-building activities, where the team goes white-water rafting or does a psuedo-boot camp mud crawl together, or any number of other perilous physical activities, but I do think after working in a few start-ups in roles as varied as CEO, CMO, low-level lackey, Advisory Board member, and everything in between, that the team IS everything.

Most people give the well-known venture capitalist, John Doerr, credit for the mantra about teams being the most important factor in a successful start-up. Here he is in an interview on the Harvard Business School Alum site,
There are plenty of ideas, entrepreneurs, venture capital, markets, and technologies out there. What's lacking are great teams. So a key service from venture capital has become team-building and recruiting. Management skills are absolutely crucial to the quality of teams, and quality teams are what set the winners apart from their competitors.

He's right as rain. He's quoted earlier in that same piece talking about the best teams having a sense of URGENCY. Again, he's spot on. And because there should be a sense of urgency, the team has to function even more smoothly. When things get hectic, then go from fast to furious, you have to trust your team members and have exquisite communication among them to be decisive and effective. Think Flying Trapeze. Think Cirque de Soleil. Now that's a team-building activity I'd love to participate in -- circus skills, acrobatic derring do, try tossing your partner in mid-air, knowing another team member is there to catch them, yes, that would be the thing. You need almost that much agility to navigate a dynamic start-up business environment.

But the truth is, so few teams really do work well together. There are egos, politics, power plays, everything pulling in the opposite direction of trust and cooperation. Many of us haven't gotten much past the kindergarten level, wanting to yell, "That's Mine! Don't Touch!" when it comes to territory, taking credit, sharing resources or just acknowledging another teammate's good or better idea. Still, at least, thought leaders like Doerr can give us something to aim for, telling the truth about the real challenge of building a great product, which is first, build a great team.

Photo Credit: Quasartrapeze

Monday, July 21, 2008

YouTube's Ruining My Dinner Parties

I knew it was coming to this. Last night I was getting ready for a dinner party -- my teenage kid even helped me clean the house, prep the food, lots of amazing cooperation -- but then came the YouTube issue. He wanted to position the Mac so everyone could watch YouTube videos with us DURING MY DINNER PARTY! Yikes!

We had a real "discussion" about this. He was dogged about how fun it would be, and I knew it wasn't just because he's an intractable e-teen. The truth is all the guys I'd invited in my age range ALSO would rather spend part of dinner sharing YouTube videos with all of us. I have to admit, he was right!

In fact, more and more, sharing YouTube's after dinner (or during) has become the fun thing to do, probably a bit like people in the early 1900's gathered around the player piano singing. It's funny, I can't think of anything in recent times that's similar in terms of a participatory social activity after dinner. Watching a rented video or TV is too passive to compare to the rollicking enthusiasm my guests have for showing me and others the funniest new YouTube. Maybe videogaming compares, but is mostly not a age-defying activity in most families, though the Wii is certainly challenging that.

But let's talk about the hardware -- we don't have the correct furniture around the laptop or PC that really let's you share YouTubes socially. We end up scrunching into the desk chair to watch, or handing the laptop around a circle of people. I guess it's time the Net took over the big screen and I know in many modern homes it has, but not in most. It seems these days that the Net is trying on hardware for size; one day it's jammed into a tiny handheld device screen, next evening it longs to be splashed across a big screen.

Maybe I need a dining room table with a screen at every place ... or maybe my plates need to be interactive. Yes that's the next big thing, an international merger of Lenox, Limoges and Linux.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Moving: I Hate You! Gentle Giant: I Love You!

I'm moving and I forgot how much I hate packing, organizing, sorting, tossing, and moving all together. Then I remembered how terrific the guys at Gentle Giant are and I realized they can make this move a piece of cake.

And I like cake!

And I love their funny purple trucks with the big giant's goofy shoes. I'm fine with their big giant reaching down, picking up my stuff in one big gentle handful and setting it down in another place.

This is really gonna be alright.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Brand Slam: Fergie, We Hardly Know Ye!

In October 2006, Rolling Stone featured Fergie from Black-Eyed Peas on their cover. Notice her tiara is askew. They put it succinctly, "Good Girl Gone Wild" and everything about Fergie was true-to-brand. She was tough. She was edgy. She was as bad as the bad boys in her rappy-rough Black-Eyed Peas boy gang band. Guys liked that, but so did us girls! We liked her tough, sexy womanly ways.

Her songs were "on message" -- songs like SHUT UP and SEXY and MY HUMPS and DON'T LIE -- and that message was, "this grown-up girl don't take any guff from any guy."

But something happened along the way. Something went terribly wrong. Someone steered Fergie in the opposite direction. Someone decided Tough Chic Fergie should become Pampers Fergie ... they turned her into some big blubbering baby. She went from tough to toddler in two seconds.

Some dopey management team actually thought we all wanted to see her turn into a cutesy wootsy girly girl. Yuck. Someone thought "Big Girls Don't Cry" was cute! Look at the video like an anthropological study, notice the middle verse where she's a grown woman baby-stepping around pigeon-toed looking like she's lost her lolly. Very embarrassing. Lyrics like, "And I'm gonna miss you like a child misses their blankie ..." Yikes. Ironically, the lyrics say "it's time to be a big girl now ..." but demonstrate the opposite. She should be singing "it's time to be a big baby now."

Did they honestly sit down one day, in some office in Burbank or Culver City or Santa Monica and say, "Well, her tough girl sexy image is working so well, let's destroy it and turn her into Daddy's Little Girl" -- I mean, did they? And no one said, "maybe this isn't such a great idea" and tried to stop it.

It IS the music business. I hope they were simply on drugs. Because in one fell swoop she left the ranks of tough girl singing sensations like Gwen Stefani, Beyonce, Pink, Avril Lavigne, Madonna, Shakira, Rhianna, and Tina Turner behind to end up wandering around like a little lost girl at the mall.

Monday, July 14, 2008

My Battery: In Scary Territory

Ut oh ... I just wasn't watching and it seemed so easy to run my MacBook without that long white tail ... but then ... whoops ... we were down to 0% ... haven't been there in a while. Black. Completely black, off, gone!

Okay, let me yank my cord out of my computer bag. I'm reportedly "1:49" minutes away from full charge.

Slowly, it's building strength, I'm already at 3% ... go Mac, yes, yes! I love you baby!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Millie On TV!

We love Millie Garfield and she's hit the bigtime! Having a very famous blog wasn't enough for her, now she's on the evening news with Charles Gibson tonight! Wow! Awesome! Great!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

4-day Mandatory Work Week

Interesting to hear that Utah has signed into law a 4-day mandatory work week for state employees. Going green has an upside, but even 4 days of gas is expensive!