More on the Tom Cruise redesign of the NASA website

A bit of news going around that Tom Cruise helped redesign the NASA website.

From CNET:

O’Keefe, who was NASA administrator from 2001-2005, said that Cruise is a “big space nut” and that when he paid a visit to NASA offices, the actor said the agency’s website wasn’t really designed for the masses. He then offered one of his “tech heads” who worked on his movie trailers to help the agency out by redesigning the site.

“So I took him up on the offer,” O’Keefe says in the video, “and it changed the appearance of that website in a way that made it inviting, interesting. Folks wanted to participate — you know, here it is, it jumps out at you.”

The work by Cruise’s team was done for free to the government, and was a major improvement.  It’s worth noting that Cruise never mentioned this to anyone or attempted to take any credit. It was mentioned by O’Keefe 13 years later.

Keeping in mind that this was done in 2002 (before a lot of current thinking in web design), here’s the original (and truly wretched) site:





Ugh. Memories of Geocities!

The new website was substantially better.

Getting past a Flash intro (hey, it was 2003…), we can see the changes: 


You had the ability to actually navigate the site, find what you needed, and it didn’t look like someone just threw up on your screen. In short, a very credible improvement.

You can enjoy it all yourself at

Of course, NASA went through evolutions, and the current website is a whole world different than the past.

In short, Cruise should be thanked for pitching in to help this very valuable agency.


Leading in a time of crisis


An excellent overview of crisis management, complementing a few earlier posts by me on this blog.

There are two rules to follow in a crisis. Rule number one is this: Protect other people first – customers, employees and citizens. Not your shareholders or yourself. Protect the public and your customers, and the shareholders will follow. Why? Because the longterm reputation and goodwill of your organization are more important than any shortterm risk to shareholder value or your own job security.

Rule number two is a corollary to the first: Be prepared to reframe and expand your level of responsibility. In other words, accept responsibility even if you’re not at fault. This may feel counterintuitive, especially when someone else is clearly culpable. But reframing and expanding your level of responsibility will help lead you out of the crisis.

PDF link here.


How about a BMW laptop?


Here’s a reply I used recently to an Apple fanboy just dying for an Apple car (because it would be sooo cool):

Me: “What’s your favorite car.”

Fanboy: “BMW”

Me: “How about a BMW laptop?”

Fanboy:  (silence)

What was the first thing Jobs did when he came back to Apple? FOCUS.

He was killing more products than he was making.

And now, amidst Apple car rumours, we have Carl Icahn in a one-man bozo explosion today, urging Tim Cook to get into making cars.

As autonomous driving would release drivers’ attention from the activity of driving and navigating, and perhaps even increase the time people actually want to spend inside a car, both an automobile and the services provided therein become even more strategically compelling. While Apple currently addresses this market with CarPlay, it seems logical that Apple would view the car itself as a the ultimate mobile device to which it could bring its peerless track record of marrying superior industrial design with software and services, along with its globally admired brand, and offer consumers an overall automobile experience that not only changes the world but also adds a robust vertical to the Apple ecosystem.  And for Apple, the car market is more than big enough to “move the needle” significantly, even as the world’s largest company.

All great ideas, but as I’ve said in a previous blog post, it would be a deadly move, due to something called the Line Extension Trap (a term originally coined by Al Ries and Jack Trout).

That’s when a company says “Oh, our brand is so powerful, we’ll extend it to other completely unrelated products”.

As Ries says:

Bayer non-aspirin. Dial deodorant. Life Savers gum. Kleenex towels. Eveready alkaline batteries. A1 poultry sauce…

If everyone in an industry line extends their brands (as happened in the beer business) then it’s not an issue at all. The winner will be the leading brand and its line extension (Budweiser and Bud Light) regardless of what the competition does or doesn’t do. (And in the cola business, Coke and Diet Coke.)

The case against line extension is a philosophical exercise. For a brand to exist, it needs to be filed away in the mind. And where does a consumer put your brand in the mind?

If you say, “Would you like a Budweiser?” the consumer thinks “beer.” Why is this so? Because apparently the Budweiser brand is filed in a mental category called “beer.”

Or if you say, “Xerox this document,” the consumer thinks “make a copy.” The Xerox brand is apparently filed in a mental category called “copier.”

So what happened when Xerox, the copier company, introduced Xerox computers?

Nothing. And Xerox went on to lose billions of dollars.

It is not only an issue of focus, it’s also an issue of brand extension into an unrelated area. I’m no saying it won’t work. But history is not on Apple’s side in this argument.

(Oh, and yeah, there is no big-screen Apple TV on the horizon.)

I like Icahn, for odd and various reasons. But as a marketer, I would give him a fail.


Using Google Image Search to filter out scammers

We all get invaded with friend requests on Facebook, LinkedIn and whatever else. Sometimes, it’s difficult to figure out if the person is kosher.

I got a very pretty woman friending me on Facebook recently. I don’t get pretty women friending me on Facebook, apart from my wife (yup, I’m playing to the crowd here!). Anyway, she looked familiar… and it turned out it was someone using Taylor Swift’s photo.

This is very common.

So… one quick way to check to see if someone is a scammer is by right-clicking on the photo image of the person, and choosing Search Google for this image (you need Chrome for this).

I’ve found two of these scammers in my LinkedIn inbox just today. Here’s one:



We simply search for the image…



And find he’s a complete fake. Probably some guy in India.


Be careful out there.



Calculating MRR correctly

As more business go to subscription and SaaS models, they incresingly report to investors MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) and ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue).

But it’s not a standardized method of reporting (it’s not GAAP or IFRS), and I’ve certainly seen some serious mistakes myself.

Eric Yu does a good job of breaking the problem down.  Link here.

General venture capital

A trip down memory lane — Robertson Stephens commercials from 2000


(Note: there seems to be an intermittent WordPress problem displaying these YouTube videos on the main blog site. If you have trouble, you can access them directly here.)

I remember seeing this commercial in December 2000 (nine months into the dot com nuclear winter). I was a venture investor at the time, getting my ass kicked as my portfolio turned into a toxic sludge. One or two of the investments were sourced from Robbie Stephens. The irony was deep.

Robbie was out of business by 2002.

And there are others:




I happened to find this collection on the Errol Morris’ site (the agency that did these ads) where this gem of a collection still exists. I’ve done the internet a favor and put them on Vimeo and YouTube. Enjoy.




If you haven’t seen the article on Andreeson Horowitz over at the New Yorker, it’s a worthy read.

This is priceless:

A16z was designed not merely to succeed but also to deliver payback: it would right the wrongs that Andreessen and Horowitz had suffered as entrepreneurs. Most of those, in their telling, came from Benchmark Capital, the firm that funded Loudcloud, and recently led the A rounds of Uber and Snapchat—a five-partner boutique with no back-office specialists to provide the services they’d craved. “We were always the anti-Benchmark,” Horowitz told me. “Our design was to not do what they did.” Horowitz is still mad that one Benchmark partner asked him, in front of his co-founders, “When are you going to get a real C.E.O.?” And that Benchmark’s best-known V.C., the six-feet-eight Bill Gurley, another outspoken giant with a large Twitter following, advised Horowitz to cut Andreessen and his six-million-dollar investment out of the company. Andreessen said, “I can’t stand him. If you’ve seen ‘Seinfeld,’ Bill Gurley is my Newman”—Jerry’s bête noire.

I can’t help but feel that this firm has a bit of the high-flyer in it, that’s a bit reminscernt of the Robbie Stephens of the 90s. Time will tell. They are making some very sharp investments, but they sure are paying a price for them.

Link here.




SaaS funding trends

Good breakdown of the current environment over at CB Insights.

BI, Analytics and Perf management lead the pack.


No surprises in big deal sizes.


More here.




Canva’s story on massively increasing blog traffic

AsfasdfasdfasdfAs a veteran blogger, I admit I was impressed with this overview of how Canva increased their traffic by 226%. Solid block and tackling backed by analytics and a bit of ingenuity.

A good read, here.


The rich untapped power of Pinterest

Consider this: There is a website that 28% of adult internet users and 22% of the entire adult population use. That’s bigger than Twitter. And yet to some, due to its quirkiness, it’s not fully understood.

Of course, I’m talking about Pinterest.

Now, Pinterest is an interesting animal. It’s heavily female-dominated (over 70% of users are female), and it’s heavily foodie, crafts and home decor oriented. But that’s the fat tail. Look at the top categories of Pinterest:


There’s gold there. Certainly, housewares and food are top. But consider that photography, which makes up a smaller proportion, is still massive when taking into account the sheer scale of Pinterest.

And the average spend on conversation is higher than Facebook.


QuickSprout has a lot more in their useful infographic, here.

General startups

Great companies are started in all markets


This is a great chart. Because it shows that no matter what, great companies can still be created, and still thrive.

I started my last company in the middle of 2002, and it was actually easier, since hiring developers was far less expensive than just a few years earlier. In 2007-2008, when the financial collapse occurred, we experienced our biggest growth by pivoting to target the SLED market (State, Local, Education), whose property-tax revenues had plummeted and budgets were slashed. Ironically, by leaning forward and going after a replacement strategy of the incumbent product, we were able to save these institutions a lot of money, while doing a massive landgrab of desktops.

Nothing beats a good idea, decent execution and persistence. No matter what the market.



The democratization of the MBA


Pstt… wanna a free MBA? You can get one at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Without putting up with the cold winters.

It’s a bit nuanced, but basically here how is how it works:

  • You sign up for the online MBA at Coursera.
  • If you want to be actually matriculated at the University, you pay the $20k fee for the MBA (you will have to go through the acceptance process).
  • But there’s a twist — you can just take the courses for free. You won’t get the level of classroom involvement, but you’ll get the core information.

If you go the free route, you can always apply later, building credits as you go along. But if you just want the information, then you can get it. And not pay through the nose (even though $20k is very reasonable for an MBA).

This is not a little thing — Urbana-Champaign is one of the top MBA schools.

General startups venture capital

Where the unicorns are

A328dc559e1fceca19c8787be41094cfUnicorns — private companies that have a valuation over a bill — are not just in the US (the whole unicorn phenomena is a new one, part of the bubblelicious experience.)

CB Insights has some interesting information on where the mythical unicorns actually are; Silk mada a nifty interactive chart.

Digging into the data, you would think that the Unicorn phenomena is relegated to the Silicon Valley/SF Bay area. Not so lad! While 62 are located in the U.S., there are 11 in China, 10 in Europe and 6 in India. There’s even a couple in Canada!

What we can see is the power shift from Silicon Valley to San Francisco. Out of the 62 companies in the list, I counted 25 in San Francisco. 21 are not in the SF bay area at all — there’s New York (WeWork, Vice, MongoDB, AppNexus, Oscar Health,  Warby Parker, Sprinklr, Gilt); SoCal (Snapchat,SpaceX, Legendary, JustFab, Razer); then a surprising number are in Utah (Domo, Qualtrics, Pluralsight, InsideSales); trailed by the Boston area (Moderna, Actifio and SimpliVity). Florida makes an honorable mention with the mysterious (and probably real unicorn), Magic Leap.

Just to have some fun, here are the SF based-unicorns:

Prosper Marketplace
Social Finance




10 ways to piss off David Ogilvy

David-ogilvyWarms my heart, this blog post by Demian Farnworth. If you know me, you know I’m a massive fan (earlier in my career, I would require all marketing employees who worked for me to read Ogilvy on Advertising).

Ogilvy was the first real data-driven marketer and that was the simplicity of his power: He knew what he was doing, because he had the data to back it.

So here are 10 ways to piss off David Ogilvy:

1. Be boring
2. Sling mud at competitors
3. Write copy that lacks charm
4. Break a promise
5. Use jargon
6. Be a weasel merchant
7. Feature self-justifying research
8. Write copy that fails to make the cash register ring
9. Demonstrate incompetence in the advertising business
10. Be an obstinate creative person


You can get a poster with these maxims here.

10 Ways to Piss Off David Ogilvy (Free Poster)



If mobile is a secondary concern, you will lose


On Tuesday, Google reported that in some parts of the world, mobile search has eclipsed the desktop. And we’re not talking about tablets — Google includes tablets in the definition of desktops.

This change has occurred in 10 countries, including the US and Japan.

And yet, even though this data is not surprising to many of us (Google has been warning about this for quite a while), I still find many of the companies I work with are still not mobile-friendly.

It’s not just the website. It’s email marketing, organic search strategy, product, and…everything.

To make matters worse for those who haven’t caught on, Google now optimizes its search algorithm for mobile-friendly sites.

Can anyone say wake up call?

Don’t get scared. Get excited! Those who are ahead of the curve on mobile marketing are killing it.

If you don’t have a mobile-friendly website, you need one on an urgent basis. By mobile-friendly, I don’t mean “yeah, we work on mobile”. I mean that people would actually enjoy using your site on a mobile device. Mobile is now an organic, intrinsic part of your marketing strategy. I’ve worked with companies that one would think “got it”, but their site is hard to use, with tiny fonts, difficult to read, difficult to navigate. Mobile hasn’t been a #1 priority.

It can’t just look good on a tablet or an iPhone 6+. It has to look good on an iPhone 5 and the other smaller devices.


For a quick diagnostic, you can use a free tool like Google speed insights to gain an understanding of where you may be lacking in mobile. While this tool is designed to test for speed, it will also point out how your site ranks on other usability aspects, such as viewport, a key metric. The viewport is what the person can see, and if you’re not using an optimized viewport, it makes the whole mobile browser experience just awful.

(Some experts recommend using the Google Mobile-Friendly test. That’s kind of like asking a triage doc at ER to do a diagnostic. It’s not as useful as what you’ll find in Google’s Speed Insights.)

Some tips:

Get responsive. A responsive site design will respond to different browsers and size factors, with one URL. This has a huge advantage with Google’s search algorithm, and it has a huge advantage in speed, since there are no redirects. Plus, you don’t have to maintain several different sites. It’s what Google recommends, so it’s what you should do.

Not responsive? Then fix the viewport. The viewport is what the customer sees on the page. Google can help, but there’s also common sense. Load your website on every mobile device you can get your hands on and see what it looks like. You may be humbled!

Get exposed. You may find that some parts of your site are hidden (especially if you’re using multiple sites for mobile and desktop). A quick check with Google’s Fetch as Google will insure that Google is seeing what you want it to see.

Make it work for mobile

As you can imagine, I don’t believe mobile is an “afterthought”. It should be organic to your efforts. So, that means making the site as mobile-friendly as possible. That means not requiring people to pinch and zoom to read your site.

Here’s some tips.

Fonts: Headlines should be 22 px and body copy 14 px. Otherwise, people will need to pinch and zoom and that sucks.

Fat: Make call to action buttons big and fat. 44 px by 44 px.

Use alt text. Sometimes images don’t load. The user needs to see what the image is supposed to have been.

Workflow. Look at how people actually use the site. This is really important — I’ve seen a massive change in an online retailer’s sales just in how they presented the products. You want the mobile shopping experience to be fairly binary — touch, touch, buy. Simple.

The ultimate in mobile workflow? Tinder. Think of that level of simplicity.

Other tools to consider and Origami — Great mobile prototyping tools.

ImageOptim — optimize images for mobile.

LiveView and Skala — both great tools to preview and optimize mobile sites.

Good luck!

(Hubspot has some other tips, here. Additional credits here and here.)