Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Why I wear suits

July 27th, 2010 in Business, Career, PlanetGNOME

Photo by thinkpanama http://www.flickr.com/photos/23065375@N05/2247354856/

I’ve struggled with business dress for a long time. It’s inconvenient (requires ironing), complicated (business casual dinner for a woman?) and it’s often uncomfortable (why don’t women’s suits have pockets??)  It’s even harder now that I work with people that are more likely to show up naked than show up in a suit.

I don’t care what people wear, and I’d much rather be wearing sweat pants, so why do I ever wear a suit?

I finally figured it out.

I do not want my clothes to make an impression for me.

I dress to not stand out. (At least when doing business.)

If someone at a business meeting is going to remember something about me, I don’t want it to be my clothes. I want it to be the idea I was talking to them about. So if they expect me to be wearing a suit, I want to show up in one, so they don’t even notice it. If they are expecting me to wear khaki’s, then that’s what I want to be wearing. So that my ideas get 100% of their attention.

And I’ll wearing my sweats as soon as I get home …

We need a business card substitute

June 24th, 2010 in Business, Career, PlanetGNOME

Photo by jaaron, http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaaronfarr/1404738465

Either we need a business card substitute or I need a better way to remember who I met.

I see fewer and fewer people handing out business cards at conferences. That’s fine by me. But some times it’s really hard to remember the name of the person I talked to. I used to flip through my pile of business cards and I could figure out who it was. Now I have a hard time. I know what they look like, where we were standing and what we talked about. And I want to follow up. But I don’t know their name. So I end up using details and google and friends to try to find them. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Ideally, I’d have a picture,  name and email for everyone I talked to at a conference. With location and a few notes. People might think I’m weird, but I could start just taking a picture of everyone I talked to at a conference. But I’d have to remember to do that and I’m often in a hurry to get to the next talk or conversation.

Thoughts? Ideas?

P.S. I’m not sure if fewer business cards are the trend or if I’m going to different conferences. I’ll let you know after OSCON.

Why do you have to pay employees to do the right thing?

June 22nd, 2010 in Business, culture, PlanetGNOME, Would you do it again for free?

Photo by eyetoeye

Energizer Battery Company is rewarding employees for flying coach. If employees fly coach, the company splits the difference with them – up to $2,000 for trips to Europe.

This just seems really strange. Let’s put aside the fact that employees are now getting a $1,000 bonus for flying to Europe, so they may be inclined to fly more. (That’s about $50/hour to sit in an economy seat! I’d consider a job doing that.)

At first glance this seems like an awesome deal. The company saves money, employees make money, everyone’s happy.  I’d be a lot richer if I got this deal. But I fly coach without an incentive. Or rather the incentive is that I think the GNOME Foundation can do better things with that money.

That’s the key. Obviously, that business class seat isn’t worth the the $2,000 more the company was paying for it. It’s not even worth half that much to the employee! The company is counting on the employee being willing to sit in economy for $1,000.

So why were employees flying business? Because they didn’t care that the company would be $2,000 poorer. They don’t think the company will do anything more important to do with that money than fly them in business. They either don’t have enough say in how the company makes financial decisions or enough visibility into the process to feel like that money would be wisely used. Or they don’t care about what the company is trying to do.

That is what this company is missing. Employees need to know the money they are saving is going to go to good use. It’s hard to stay in a budget hotel if you know your CEO is staying in a 5 star hotel. It’s easy to stay in a budget hotel if you know your company is going to ship 10 more computers to underprivileged kids with the $2,000 you saved.

The bigger problem here is that employees are either not bought into the company’s mission or they do not trust the company’s financial decision process.

Are you really solving a problem?

May 19th, 2010 in Business, kids

http://www.melrosekids.com/products.html

Often we get so caught up in our new ideas that we forget to stop and ask ourselves if we are really solving a problem and if so, which problem.

Head snugglers solve a problem. But it’s not for kids’ necks. (When have you ever heard about a toddler complaining about a stiff neck?) Head snugglers solves parents’ needs to feel like they are doing the most possible for their kids’ health and comfort. Many companies profit from that desire.

Needless to say, we will not be buying any head snugglers even though we often comment that the kids look really uncomfortable sleeping in the car! They always wake up just fine and able to flop their heads over to our shoulder to be carried into the house.

(Are you supposed to stop the car and slip this on once the kid is sleeping? Or are you supposed to get them to agree to wear it when they are still awake? I’d like to see that battle!)

How my Kindle paid for itself

February 25th, 2010 in Books, Business, Career, Kindle, Web/Tech

My blog post about Kindle covers brought in enough revenue in December to pay for my Kindle. It now brings in enough every month to cover my Kindle reading habit.

KindleGranted, I could use that money for something else, but I like to think of it as my Kindle paying for itself. I mean, I wouldn’t have written a review of covers if I didn’t own a Kindle.

Amazon pays a healthy 10% affiliates fee for any Kindle product sales that you send them. Those affiliate fees have encouraged a huge number of Kindle blogs. All people hoping to get rich from Kindle sales.

They fall into a number of categories.

  1. Books. There are blogs that just talk about books available for the Kindle. Since Amazon makes it pretty easy to find Kindle books, I don’t understand the point of these blogs at all. If I want advice on what books to read on my Kindle, I’m much more likely to read a blog about the genre I like to read, not about the reader I like to read on. These blogs can be useful when they point out free books, but you can find those easily on
    Amazon’s site
    too. Or just check the bestseller
    list
    – the good free books hit the bestseller list fast. (Interestingly enough, Amazon’s own
    Kindle blog
    falls into this category of mostly about available books.)
  2. Merchandise. People have created entire blogs about Kindle accessories. I can see a blog about home accessories for people that like to decorate, but a blog about Kindle accessories? How many can you add to the little thing? A cover, a light, a screen protector, and then what? These blogs must live off searches. Much like my cover review blog post does.
  3. Kindle news. These blogs try to update you on Kindle news but there isn’t much. Some also offer tips and tricks for your Kindle and some of these are rather useful. I enjoy being able to check the time on my Kindle. (Now if they would just release the source code so I could make the time display permanently at the top of the screen …)
  4. E-reader news. Some blogs cover all the e-readers and the news about the industry including DRM issues, debates between publishers and distributors, etc. I think these are the only blogs that are going to live long term. Ones like the Kindle Review. If you want to try getting rich off Amazon Kindle affiliate sales, this is the long term category to be in. (I don’t think your chances of getting rich off Amazon Kindle affiliate sales are really good though.)

But even if most of those blogs don’t work out … Amazon’s affiliate program has given them enormous amounts of cheap advertising.

So the real question is how can you create an affiliates program around your product? Can we add an affiliates type program to Friends of GNOME? To GNOME? To Kids on Computers?

Would you pay someone to help you write LinkedIn recommendations?

February 3rd, 2010 in Business, Career

I was talking to Leslie Hawthorn and we had what we thought was a brilliant idea for a new business for writers. At least we'd sign up to be customers!

Business idea: Writing LinkedIn Recommendations

Here's how it could work:

  1. Potential customer pays for help writing a recommendation. ($10-20?)
  2. Potential customer calls writer. (Or writer calls the customer. I think this would have to be a phone call, not a voice mail, but maybe not.)
  3. In 5 minutes or less the customer tells the writer what they like or admire about their colleague.
  4. Writer rights up the recommendation in a format suitable for LinkedIn (a couple of sentences) and emails it to the customer.
  5. Customer posts the recommendation to LinkedIn.

Any writers looking for some part time work?

LIMITED TIME OFFER:

In order to see how this would work, I am making a limited time offer. For the first 6 people to donate $60 or more to the GNOME Foundation or to Kids on Computers and to email me saying they'd like to take me up on this offer, I will help write 3 recommendations. Obviously we will have to set up a time to talk and you will have to tell me what's good about the people you want to recommend.

For samples of my writing, you can read this blog or see the recommendations I have written on LinkedIn for people I recommend.

This offer is good until February 26th or until a total of 6 people have signed up, which ever comes first.

You must be among the first 6 people to donate to the GNOME Foundation or Kids on Computers and email me to qualify.

Amazon, let me give you more money!

December 23rd, 2009 in Books, Business, Kindle

Dear Amazon,

I would like to buy more books from you. In order to be able to give you more money for more books I need:

  1. A Kindle reader for my G1 Android phone. If I could read my Kindle books on my phone, I would buy many more books from you.
  2. Kill Kindle DRM or at least make it possible for other ebook readers to display Kindle books. (This is really to solve problem #1, reading books on my G1. But this is the best solution to that problem. It would also enable me to read books on my Linux desktop, netbook, etc.)

I have no desire to break the law, I simply want to read more of the books you sell in electronic format. I'm willing to pay you for that privilege as long as you make it easy for me to read those electronic books on the device of my choice. This could be done without any extra work on your part if you would enable others to work with you.

Please help me to spend more money at Amazon.

Sincerely,

Stormy Peters

P.S. This will be followed up with "Dear Publisher" letters to ask them not to give Amazon exclusive deals to their electronic books as it means that a large number of people that would like to read their books will not be able too. Something that Amazon could prevent.

P.S. II. I like the Kindle. I own one. I recommend it to my friends. But I would still read more Kindle books if I could read them on other devices.

P.S. III. Many of my friends are free software supporters and anti-DRM believers. They are usually also the people most willing to invest in new technology. They would be more likely to buy a Kindle if you fixed this issue.

P.S. IV. While we are at it, I would also like to be able to easily download and play Audible books on my Linux system and my G1. Again, you could enable people to do this for you if you would make the format available to others who produce hardware and music players.

Today's world is one of cooperation. Others could help you succeed in your business if you help them succeed in their business and their lives. Like your Amazon Affiliates program. Now please apply that to Kindle and Audible.

Thanks, I look forward to working with you and buying more of your products as soon as they work on all my devices.

Book Review: Managing the Nonprofit Organization

July 31st, 2009 in Books, Business, gnome

If you follow any of the links to Amazon in this post, any purchases you make will send a referral fee to the GNOME Foundation.

Peter Drucker‘s Managing the Nonprofit Organization
was full of good ideas. I started ripping off pieces of my bookmark to mark interesting pages and ended up with no bookmark!

Managing the Nonprofit Organization discusses mission, marketing, fund raising, performance, people, relationships and developing the leader.

Mission

According to Drucker, mission matters most in a nonprofit – much more than the leader’s charisma or talents. Non-profits exist to bring about change in individuals and society and focusing on the desired outcome is essential for defining plans, executing a strategy and putting the right people in the right roles.

A few specifics he had in this section were:

  • New ideas should be tried out separately – you shouldn’t try to convert the whole organization at once. “Babies don’t belong in the living room, they belong in the nursery.” I’m not sure I agree with the quote but I agreed with the idea that it’s often easiest to incubate an idea in part of an organization before you move it mainstream.
  • Focus on people’s strengths, not what they don’t have when hiring. He said in most interview processes people talk a lot about what each candidate is missing instead of the strengths they bring to the table. A criteria he really liked was asking the question: “Would I want one of my sons to work under that person? Would I want my son to look like this?”
  • Unlike for profit businesses, non-profits have lots of bottom lines, not just profit. Not just one constituent, one group they are trying to please.
  • Don’t forget to offer training for volunteers! Give them the tools they need and treat them not as volunteers but as nonpaid staff. (This idea comes up again and again in the book.)
  • Mistakes are part of education, as long as that person wants to try.
  • Measure leadership not by publicity but by how organization adjusts to change, how well does the organization deal with conflict, meet the needs of customers, etc?

He also talked a lot about the importance of understanding your mission and articulating it well. I paid attention in this section because a couple of the GNOME advisory board members have told me they couldn’t articulate GNOME’s mission. (It’s to provide a free desktop accessible to everyone regardless of ability, language spoken or financial status.)

His example of a mission that is often misunderstood is a hospital’s mission. Most people (even those working at the hospital) think that hospitals exist to keep people well. If that was the case, they’d focus on outreach to healthy people. A hospital’s mission is to help the sick. Knowing that changes how you work.

Marketing and Fundraising (He calls it “From Mission to Performance”.)

Marketing is not selling or advertising, as most people think.
Marketing is studying the market, segmenting it, targeting the right
groups, positioning yourself and creating a service to meet that
group’s needs.

What’s of value to your customer? Don’t start with
the product but with the satisfied customer. Companies typically learn
about their customers but they should focus on people that should be
their customers but aren’t.

On fundraising:

“Fundraising is going around with a begging bowl, asking for money because the need is so great. Fund development is creating a constituency which supports the organization because it deserves it.” I don’t think the term fund development has caught on but the point is a good one – you want people supporting the organization because they believe in the mission and how the organization is carrying it out, not because they feel sorry for all the people in the world that are starving.

This made me think we should change some of the GNOME goals from “hiring a system administrator” to being able to receive reports from users about problems in less than two minutes. Or something that shows how a system administrator will help with our mission.

He also pointed out you should make sure you tell your donors about the results you accomplish. “Educate donors so they can recognize and accept results” -” they don’t automatically understand what the organization is trying to do.”

Donors are customers – focus on what they need. Why are they supporting your mission?

Performance

Nonprofits have lots of people they need to perform for (unlike businesses.) Nonprofits need to satisfy employees, volunteers, donors, board, beneficiaries, …

He talked a lot about decisions:

  • Disagreement (but not fighting or bickering) is essential for good decision making. Fighting and bickering is a sign of a need of change – you’re probably set up to meet yesterday’s needs, not today’s. (Given the amount of back and forth I see on some mailing lists, I thought this was important. Perhaps those groups are showing that its time for a bigger change of mission or organization.)
  • If there’s consensus on a decision you probably haven’t decided much or people don’t really understand the issue. There should be discussion and disagreement.
  • No decision is made until someone is assigned to work on it. Some one accountable with a plan. And especially in nonprofits you need to think about what training and tools that person needs.
  • Make sure you really know what a decision is about – often the decision
    is a sign of a bigger problem and a bigger underlying decision that
    needs to be made.

I thought he had a couple of points that free software projects would agree with:

  • “Don’t tolerate discourtesy.” “One learns to be courteous – it is needed to enable different people who don’t necessarily like each other to work together.”
  • “Build an organization around information and communication instead of around hierarchy” People have to be responsible for educating their colleagues and bosses, for making sure they are understood.

And a few more points on managing performance:

  • Delegators rarely follow up with the people they delegated too but they should because they are still responsible for that work.
  • Never start out with the negative points in a review – you’ll never forget that part. Be sure to focus on the strengths – the things they can do well instead of the things they can’t do.
  • A big difference between businesses and nonprofits in his mind is that
    businesses are used to making mistakes but nonprofits think they have
    to be perfect. When mistakes are made, the focus should not be on whose
    fault but rather on who is going to fix this?

And one big one:

You have to be able to define what the results are – the results on the world, not the organization. I think this is one area nonprofits have a particularly hard  time with. Even when we define a result, we don’t know how to measure it. GNOME wants everyone to have access to desktop technologies. How do we measure that? How do we know if things are getting better? Is it when we have a complete free desktop? Or when more people in developing countries can access it? Or when it’s in more languages so that more people can use it? And if it’s all of the above, how do we measure it?

People

Drucker’s advice is to hire people with a proven track record not people with high aptitude for success. And to focus on strengths and the mission when placing someone.

He thought developing new leaders often takes more than just one mentor. He had example where a really successful leadership development program actually provided four “mentors” for each potential leader:

  1. a mentor to guide
  2. a teacher to help develop new skills
  3. a judge to evaluate progress
  4. an encourager to encourage them to try again when they made mistakes

I think some of my favorite managers were Peter Drucker fans, or at least they’d learned the same skills or had the same insights. He said something that I learned from my very first manager at HP.

“An executive’s first responsibility is to enable people who want to do the job, who are paid for doing the job, who supposedly have the skills to do the job, to be able to do it. Give them the tools they need, the information they need, and get rid of the things that trip them up, hamper them, slow them down. But the only way to find out what those things are is to ask. Don’t guess – to and ask.”

(My manager came up to me one day and asked me what I needed to do my job better. I came out ahead a new computer and a couple of meetings less. He was my hero! With more insight and experience now, I might ask for different things but the thought – that managers exist to help their employees get their work done – has stayed with me throughout my career.)

Some other tips from this section:

  • Build relationships with the people you serve. He had an example of a hospital that everyone loved even though it wasn’t the best hospital because the hospital always called a few weeks after a visit to follow up.
  • Treat volunteers as unpaid staff. Hold them to high standards. Give them responsibility, training, tools and hold them to it.
  • Make sure you don’t lose the top of your class, your best volunteers. Keep them inspired and everyone else will stay.
  • When working with a group of people (like the board), meet with them before hand, at least the key ones. You can’t change their minds in a meeting and even if you don’t change their mind, you will have set them up to understand what you are trying to do.
  • When building a team, start with what you are trying to do and then
    match skills with work. The purpose of a team is to “make the strengths
    of each person effective”.

He had a really good idea for meetings between leads and non-leads
that I’m going to try. Leads should say:

“This is what you are doing
that helps me. This is what you are doing that hampers me. And what do
I do that helps you? What do I do that hampers you.”

Developing yourself as a leader

This section started out with some excellent advice I wish I could get many of my friends to hear:

“The right decision is to quit if you are in the wrong place, if it is basically corrupt, or if your performance is not being recognized. Promotion itself is not the important thing. What is important is to be eligible, to be equally considered. If you are not in such a situation, you will all too soon begin to accept a second-rate opinion of yourself.”

I actually left a job because a promotion came up and my manager said that nobody that worked for him was ready for it. I could have understood if I wasn’t ready or a few of us weren’t, but we’d all worked for him for a long time. The thought that he hadn’t been working with us to make sure we were ready made me realize I wanted to work with someone who would provide more opportunities for learning and growth.

Some more advice in this section:

  • Change is necessarily to stimulate yourself. Burnout often just means you are bored. His solution to burnout is to work harder! But work harder at something a big different. Like volunteer at a different organization or arrange for a couple of visits to similar (but different) organizations. So when you are feeling burnout or stress, you should work harder! 
  • To learn from your work and life, write down what you expect to happen every time you launch a new activity. Then compare it to what did happen later.
  • Always answer the question “What do you want to be remembered for?” He points out that your answer should change as you get older and wiser!

I also learned some where along the way that the best job you could do is to work yourself out of a job – then the job was really done. (Note that some people get really nervous when you say this to them, especially when they are working for you! I always assure people that there’s plenty, plenty, plenty of work to be done out there.) The manager that taught me this must have also read Peter Drucker’s books:

“If I were to leave tomorrow, I don’t think it would make much difference. They would carry on.” That’s the proudest boast any executive can make, to have built the team that will perpetuate my work, my vision, my institution. That, in my experience, really distinguishes the true achiever.

So if you are interested in learning about management, Peter Drucker has some good insights.

Small companies or mega companies?

May 27th, 2009 in Business

I finished listening to the The Wal-Mart Effect this weekend. The author's main point is that Walmart has gotten too large – or at least larger than we ever planned for when we planned how companies should be regulated. He argues that Walmart with $375 billion worth of sales is beyond market capitalization and beyond the checks and balances that the market is supposed to have.

And this morning I read a Wired article in which an MIT professor named Tom Malone says that large companies will grow so large that they will fall apart and become small companies that can communicate more effectively among each other than a large company can within itself. The article goes on to say that we are seeing this right now. Walmart is closing stores, huge financial companies are falling apart and large corporations are being more regulated, encouraging a lot of smaller companies.

I don't know if I buy it since the Walmarts near me seem to be doing really well and I don't see a lot of new small businesses. But I personally would like to see a world with lots of small independent companies than a couple of megalithic companies.

Book Review: The Marketing Playbook

May 10th, 2009 in Business

I really enjoyed the first part of The Marketing Playbook
by John Zagula & Richard Tong
but it took me forever to get through the last two parts.

In the first part of the book, the authors (old Microsoft Windows and Office marketing guys) explain the five basic marketing strategies they see.

  1. The Drag Race. This is the scenario you think of when you think of competition. Microsoft Word versus Word Perfect. Visa versus Mastercard. There are two players and you both solve the same problem in pretty much the same way. Drag races are very expensive money wise and time wise. A lot of people think that GNOME/Linux are in a drag race against Windows. I’d argue that we aren’t going to win that way.
  2. The Platform Play. This is the play for the company that won the drag race. They keep potential competitors away by making them into partners. Think Amazon.com and all the brands they sell within their store. Amazon makes it easy for those potential competitors to be their partners.
  3. The Stealth Play. This play is about identifying and targeting a couple of niche markets and becoming really good at them. Then you can either take over the whole market one niche at a time or you can grow until you can win a drag race. I think this is where GNOME/Linux should go. There are niches that we are well suited for like users with accessibility needs, netbooks, mobile, … You don’t have to do lots of PR and adverting in this mode. You want to stay some what quiet and just talk to people in the niches you’ve identified. It’s not about sitting back though – you have to be one step ahead of the big guy (the one that’s won the drag race) in each of the niches you are targeting. The goal of this play is to eventually move to one of the other plays.
  4. The Best-of-Both Play. This play is about defining a whole new offering. Think of the car industry when Japan had cheap cars and Germany had luxury cars. Toyota decided to market a “Japanese luxury car”, an oximoron at the time. This is the personal computer – somewhere between a calculator and a mainframe. This play is about the product (a whole new offering) and marketing (you have to tell everyone about it.)
  5. The High-Low Play. This play is for someone who dominates the high end or the low end, or both, and is trying to compete with someone coming out with a best-of-both worlds product. You tell your customers that compromise, a product that meets the low-end and the high-end, can’t possibly work and you market your low end and high end products agressively. It’s a temporary play – the book recommends that you actually develop your own best-of-both products while you keep the competition from winning by critisizing their best-of-both product. This play is all marketing. (And in this play, the marketing they were suggesting definitely felt like lying!)

In the rest of the book the authors explain how to map the terrain (yourself, competitors, what’s missing, etc) and how to run your marketing campaign. I found those sections to be much less applicable to things I do in real life. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t work at a large company like Microsoft or just that they couldn’t put enough detail into a couple hundred pages, but it definitely didn’t give me much useful information. One interesting point though was who is the most important player in a given strategy.

  1. In the Drag Race, the main player is the salesperson. In an all out competition it’s about convincing people you are the best, whether it’s more features, faster, better, whatever-better than the other guy.
  2. In the Platform Play it’s all about business development because you are trying to build an ecosystem of partnerships.
  3. According to them, in the Stealth Play it’s all about the CEO. However, reading why, it’s really all about leadership. It’s about dedication, patience, long-term plays, staying flexible and motivated. That takes lots of leadership. (And I’ve found that leaders are all over an organization, not just in the CEO’s office.)
  4. In the Best-of-Both Play, it’s the product team. It’s really your product that will win this strategy.
  5. In the High-Low Play it’s all about marketing. You’re trying to convince people that two very opposite products are both the best without confusing them. So you need to define both in a way that doesn’t compete with the other and market each one to the right audience.

If you decide to read The Marketing Playbook: Five Battle-Tested Plays for Capturing and Keeping the Lead in Any Market, my advice is to quit reading when you get bored and you won’t miss too much.

P.S. If you are interested in trying out marketing, please join the GNOME marketing team!