Category Archives: Uncategorized

Getting Dumped

Sometimes, a business makes a conscious decision to dump a customer segment.  It just got dumped by VRBO.  I am not bitter.  They did a reasonable job of signaling their intentions and providing notice of their changes.  But I am not sure it makes sense.

My wife and I have been in the cottage rental business on Catawba Island Ohio since 1986.  In those early days, we advertised in area newspapers and all correspondence relied on the USPS.  All that was painful.  Then VRBO came along and was perfect.  Based on a flat annual subscription, they provided an advertising platform and purpose-built application for conveying property information, rates, availability, and responding to inquiries.  Templates helped with all the repeatable emails like “Your Money is Due” or “Thanks for Renting with Us”.

HomeAway acquired VRBO in 2006 and in a roll-up strategy of many vacation rental websites.  They created a dominant marketplace with shared rental listings.  As a paid subscriber, VRBO continued to get better under HomeAway and I grew more satisfied as they rolled out new features.

In 2015 Expedia acquired HomeAway/VRBO.  And things began to change.  Alas, they began making it a booking platform and not an advertising platform.  That is, they wanted to be like AirBnB.  Initially, VRBO offered an option to pay more for an annual subscription to bypass their requirement to book through them.  However, they optimized their search results based on listings where they were getting booking fees.  Some customers got frustrated.  But I was OK because I really wasn’t that dependent on their search results…renters looking for Gem Beach only have a few options.

In 2016 they added additional service fees to the traveler.  Now I was frustrated!  My prospects were frustrated.  So I began to look for other options.

Today, my contract with VRBO expired.  For the same cost as their old annual subscription, I have my own website – www.gembeachvacationhome.com – with all the same functionality that VRBO provided me.  I use a dedicated gmail account for all correspondence and can display my property availability using the gmail calendar.  Everything is functionally working the same although I know I will have a bit of work to overcome VRBO’s SEO prowess in search results.

See you later VRBO.  It was a nice ride.  As you can see, I am doing fine.  I hope your shift to become a booking platform works out for you.

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Amusing Business Expressions

Last week, my good friend Stefanie Lightman and I blogged about the expression “bus driver” to better describe the all-important project leader.  Evidently, political cartoonist Jeff Stahler agrees with us based on his political cartoon today describing Ohio’s newly elected governor.  In researching our piece on bus drivers, I stumbled upon www.urbandictionary.com which has some very funny but NSFW expressions.  That triggered some more thoughts about SFW metaphors and expressions that creep into our (my) business language.  Here are a few that make me smile.

Fred Brooks Move Over

mmm Fred Brooks could have titled his famous book, “Nine Women Can’t Have a Baby in a Month”, instead of the Mythical Man Month.  As much as we may be tempted to correct the zealousness of software engineers, product managers and marketers, there is this thing called a critical path whereby adding more people to a project won’t make it go any faster.  I guess there are only so many seats on that bus.

From my Canadian Friends

“The dead moose on the table.” I’ve only heard this expression in Canada.  Here in Ohio, and I think in the rest of the world, the equivalent expression for an “awkward meeting topic” is “Elephant in the room”.   I’m curious why the Canadians felt the need to localize this expression.  Just like Canada, we don’t have elephants in Ohio, but that didn’t compel us to localize this expression to “The flattened deer on the side of the road” just to work in an indigenous animal.

“Bob’s Your Uncle” is an expression I heard used as a concluding remark after a passionate speech.  My first thought was “But I don’t have an uncle named Bob.”  I didn’t admit at the time that I had no clue what this meant, so after the meeting, I looked it up and learned that this expression is used in all the commonwealth countries.  It seems the more common equivalent is “I rest my case”.

Random

I learned “I turn in to a pumpkin in one hour” from my former colleague George Florentine.  It is a great way to tell your colleagues that they better finish their business with you in one hour because you aren’t hanging around even if they have more to discuss or say.

“I am cornfused” is an expression I recall from a high-school coach and teacher.  Most people just think you’re illiterate and cannot pronounce the word “confused”.

“Ping me” is another common expression that means contact me via any means possible – email, txting, mobile, or yelling out the window.  It has its roots both as a network test between two computers and in sonar detection in naval warfare.

Just sayin” seems to get lots of use lately.  Add this to the end of all your highly offensive or insulting remarks to take the edge off.

Feel free to share any of your favorites that I’ve missed.  SFW only please!

Who’s Driving the Bus?

By Bill Forquer and Stefanie Lightman

Co-authored with Stefanie Lightman.  Stefanie is co-founder of iFridge & Company and consults on strategic positioning.  Bill and Stefanie both have years of experience driving and riding in the bus.

Effective teams get things done. The science and skill of running effective teams is hugely important in business.  Effective team leaders run effective teams.  The team leader gets everyone involved, leverages their talents, maintains focus on the goal, manages the schedule and assignments, and is the person you should thank the most if you receive a bonus when the goal is reached.  We think such an important role deserves a stylish and metaphoric name. “Team Leader”?  “Project Manager”?  Too lame!

Commonly, we hear sports metaphors like “quarterback” or “point guard” to describe the team leader role.  In Canada, you hear “stick-handler”. And it is certainly hard to imagine a football team scoring touchdowns without a quarterback, or a basketball team executing plays without a “point guard”, or a hockey team scoring goals without a stick-handler.

The Bus Driver

We both like the term “bus driver” the best.  There is a sense of urgency about a bus going down the highway without a driver!  A bus driver is a highly responsible position.  A bus and its passengers can perish instantly.  Bus drivers can be male or female; tall or short; creative or analytical.  The only physical characteristics required are the ability to see and quick reaction time.

There is also the sense of journey with a bus, just like the mission of a team.  Everyone is traveling together and hopefully focused on that common mission.  Everyone is heading in the same direction.  Everyone relies on the bus driver to get them safely to the destination – on time and within budget.  The bus driver must continuously monitor the direction, watch for detours, and make either minor or major course corrections.

Deciding the Route

NoWhereInParticularBus Often guided by a well articulated company vision and strategy, the bus driver now must choose the route.  The bus driver should empower passengers to make the journey as effective as possible.  The bus driver is usually the first to see upcoming roadblocks that can impact success, but roadblocks might also be seen first by passengers, if they’re paying attention.   Would your bus driver call an impromptu meeting when the “Check Engine” warning light comes on, or just ignore it?  Running an effective team or driving a bus – all the analogies work.

Driving or Riding … Not Both

Another downside of the sports metaphors is that some people believe it is perfectly acceptable to have two quarterbacks, two point-guards, or two stick-handlers on a team.  While sometimes that is the case in sports, and good succession planning requires a backup, a bus can uniquely have one driver.  Riders in the bus can advise, point, shout, jump out the window, and maybe even pull an emergency brake, but cannot drive. Bad things happen when more than one person attempts to drive a bus.

Sometimes however, a bus driver change is required.  The most successful way to handle this is to determine that this change should happen early.  Recognizing who in your organization can drive the bus and realizing when someone may not be suited for that role, is important to a positive outcome.

So next time you’re planning a journey by putting together a team of folks, do yourself a favor and tell everyone they are in a bus, where they are going, the role they have while in the bus, and by all means, make sure you have a driver.  If not, be sure to stop, as we’ve each done a few times in our careers, and shout out loudly, ‘Who’s Driving This Bus?’

Relationships as a Source of Importance

Before Twitter.

I was an early adopter of myYahoo.  I built highly organized tabbed pages on all things that were important to me.  It didn’t bother me at the time that I had to decide what was important to me.  In fact, I felt empowered that I got to decide rather than some pre-historic layout editor deciding for me.  This was revolutionary for our industry.

My tabbed pages included included headline news, business news, technology news, news on specific companies including their stock price, score of my favorite sports teams, weather in locations that I frequent or where business friends live, and some cartoons.  My myYahooo page became habitual.  I would look at it once a day – either first thing in the morning or last thing before signing off.  It was embedded in my daily routine.   It was the tool that answered the question, “what is going on around me that I care about”?  It was the ultimate of what Yahoo wants to accomplish with their information services.

After Twitter.

Well, I just realized that myYahoo is no longer habitual.  I only go there now for Yahoo Finance where I have nicely organized portfolios of every public company in every software industry segment.  Yahoo Finance still does a great job with drill down into public company specifics.

Twitter is the new habit that has replaced myYahoo as the information service that answers the question “whats going on around me?”.  And unlike myYahoo, I don’t even have to decide the topics or sources.  I just follow people in Twitter from a variety of different disciplines whose opinions and insights I value.  That is so simple and easy.  So as they tweet on topics important to them, those same topics are likely to be important to me.  I feel better informed now using this service than I was previously using myYahoo.

Given the success of Twitter, and my own experience of willingly delegating “importance” to those that I follow, I have to conclude that relationships are a better source of importance than my own judgment.

Introducing Game Theory – Part 1

Game Theory is Not Game Studies

I’m encouraged that I’ve been encountering confusion between game theory and game studies.  Encouraged, as I’m hopeful this confusion is a result of both disciplines gaining exposure.  Since its just language getting in the way, perhaps some comparison and contrast will help.

Game theory is a branch of mathematics used to predict and optimize outcomes.  Game studies is the discipline of designing games to increase engagement.

Game theory is often applied to business strategy.  Game studies is applied to increase engagement with customers or in corporate training.

If you’ve ever bluffed in poker, you’re applying game theory.  If you play Farmville or use Foursquare, then you are using products that apply game studies.

This blog post from Mind Your Decisions is a great summary of business and everyday applications and articles about game theory.  This HBR guest blog post, from a leading video game designer, contains excellent insights into game studies.

If you were CEO of a video game company, you’re applying game studies in your products.  If you’re that same CEO trying to decide what action to pursue about software piracy of your games, you need game theory.

Game theory and game studies are both sciences about human behavior.  Game theory is rooted in mathematics.  Game studies is rooted in most of the “ologies” like psychology and anthropology.

I represent Priiva Consulting, a consulting firm that specializes in the application of game theory for strategic decision making.  I recently met Rini Das, CEO of PAKRA, a remarkable firm with a SaaS offering that specializes in the application of games to improve learning, engagement, and efficiency in business processes for sales and support.

If I was an advocate of game studies, I might have formulated this post as a game to increase engagement and learning.  I haven’t.  So just stay tuned here…this is the first in a series of posts to share my experience and the enormous potential of game theory in strategy.

My Sentimental Dictionary and Apps

The next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) may be only available online and not in print form, according to the publisher in this recent article.  This is a sentimental milestone from a past research project at the University of Waterloo to apply search and SGML to tag the Oxford English Dictionary and automate the work of lexicographers.  That research project was the genesis of my former employer Open Text Corporation.

The article cites the obvious, it is easier to use the OED online than in printed form (the dictionary now weights more than 130 pounds).

I use www.dictionary.com nearly everyday (its easier to remember than Oxford’s www.oed.com).  Before that, I used Webster’s Ninth Collegiate which was given to me as a high school graduation gift.  In my first class as a college freshman at Ohio State, the English professor opened his lecture by challenging the entire class to annotate their dictionaries with words you didn’t know.  Being anal retentive and an eager over-achiever, I embraced that recommendation and wrote codes and dates in the margin next to every word I ever looked up.  It was later in life while working on legal discovery systems, that I learned the technical term for this is “marginalia“.

So my marginalia coding scheme was very simple —  M stood for meaning and S for spelling — followed by the date.  I annotated religiously the remainder of my college and beginning of my work career.  Remember we’re talking the early 80’s before PC’s and spell check were common in the workplace.  This strange habit provided amusement for my wife and workmates.  When asked, “Why do you do that?”, it just inspired me to continue this strange habit.

The OED news caused me to peruse my old dictionary.  I had trouble spelling the word “enamor” as I looked that up on three different times in 1994.  My ideas couldn’t come to “fruition” because I looked up its meaning on May 23rd, 1990.  Dictionary alacrity I know (now) I can never remember when to use “affect” and “effect”, so I expected to see markups next to those terms but surprisingly found none.  Evidently I made frequent “inadvertent” (looked up on Sept 17th, 1986 for spelling) errors using “affect” and “effect”. I looked up the word “alacrity” on May 23rd, 1990 for meaning – the same day as “fruition”.  Hmmm.  I still don’t know what that word means so I added a new entry for Aug 30th, 2010.  You might also grin about the six-digit programmer’s date format I used.

Now fast forward to today and our emerging world of social networks.  I don’t use my tattered dictionary any longer as www.dictionary.com is an easy mouse click away, and can be integrated to web applications in many ways.   These folks have the mega annotation scheme – way better than my crude S for spelling and M for meaning scheme.  Their social dictionary has insights gleaned from an entire community of users, instantaneously, in ways that can be monetized today, and with monetization potential they haven’t even thought of.  Their insights should include trends around language usage, patterns, slang, and culture.

George Colony of Forrester recently commented about the next wave of the internet being application focused, not search focused.  He is correct.  Every traditional habit where we act individually will be replaced by a more powerful social application that will accomplish the same objective and much more.  We already see this in our daily life.  Photos are already shared more broadly in FlickR than in a dusty scrapbook; your iTunes music playlist for your July 4th picnic was influenced by the attendees, OpenTable helps you decide on a restaurant choice based on recommendations of others, and then makes your reservation.  You will have control of all your home appliances from your smartphone.  And in a business context, the next phase of automation will be realized, for example, when the oil pressure gauge on an airplane will schedule the next available mechanic and start contingency planning for the gate agents all without human intervention.  We’ve only witnessed the beginning.

Internet Television

 

My Ustream Broadcasting Experiences

I had the opportunity to learn more about UStream as a business earlier this year.  What Youtube is to recorded video, UStream wants to be to live streaming video.  It is internet television.  As part of my learning, I obviously needed to become a user of the service.

It takes about 2 minutes to set up your own broadcasting channel in UStream.  I’ve completed two broadcasts this past year.  First was to broadcast an Operation Feed benefit party we hosted at our house.  The invitees were all former colleagues, so I thought out-of-towners would enjoy attending virtually (they didn’t attend by the way).  The second broadcast was providing roving reporter highlights of a recent Soap Box Derby rally here in Columbus.  No one watched this live either. The production for the derby was quite minimalist, as I accomplished everything using the Ustream app on my new Motorola Droid phone (not the X). 

These were both amazingly simple to set up.  But they obviously aren’t amazingly simple to attract viewers, or to produce quality content.  That takes lots of old-fashioned creativity, thought and promotion.   But the point is, the barrier to entry in television broadcasting is approaching $0, as you are already in possession of all the equipment required to get started.   And the next time, I will work harder to promote the broadcast and create better content.

You can go to Ustream’s site and see all the broadcasts that are currently live.  You should try it.  At the time of this writing, over 4000 people are watching Molly the Barn Owl and 2000 people are watching a cricket match between India and Sri Lanka.   You will also find some incredibly poor quality broadcasts (content-wise) just like my first two attempts. 

But clever people will figure out promotion, quality content, and the other requirements to create successful new businesses or marketing programs around this capability.  So just as cable ate into the market of network television, internet television will soon eat into cable’s market share.  The internet created the channel for everyone to become a newspaper publisher.  FlickR provided the channel for amateur photographers to license and distribute stock photography.  And now  Ustream is creating the channel for you and me to be in the television broadcasting business.