Goldman Sachs shares with its wealthy clients various views of the market. Here, they’ve taken on the election in terms of markets.
It’s an interesting read, here.
Goldman Sachs shares with its wealthy clients various views of the market. Here, they’ve taken on the election in terms of markets.
It’s an interesting read, here.
It’s what drives us to create better products, and stay on top of our game.
But how do you find out the skinny on your competitors? You could hire a private detective to fish around, but most likely, they’ll find the stuff that’s publicly available anyway. Yawn.
You can do it illegally, and that’s a really bad idea.
However, there are plenty of ways to find out about a competitor, using perfectly legal methods.
Let’s start with a few tricks.
Glassdoor is a bit of a cesspool, since it allows anyone to anonymously comment on their employer. And, while the intent is good, that is one of the great dangers of the platform: anyone could gang up on a company and write horrible reviews.
However, it’s still a very useful tool to get an understanding of the internal dynamics of a company. Put on a BS filter and read through the reviews and interview comments. You’ll often be surprised at how much you can learn.
Google dorks and advanced search operators
Get to really know Google’s advanced operators to turn search into a powerful intelligence tool. You can also use a number of Google dorks to find things like price lists and other interesting intelligence. It’s not necessarily that hard: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just typed in the name of a company with the words “price list” and gotten great intel.
I’ve done this with great success: Survey customers of competitors to get valuable information. Or, here’s a tip: you can simply create an inexpensive Google survey and get a quick NPS score on your competitors, and then track your NPS against theirs. Makes for a heck of a game.
Similarweb and Alexa
Unfortunately, you can’t find out what a competitor’s actual web traffic is without hacking into their system (again, no illegal stuff here!). However, you can get a feel as to how popular their sites are by using services like Similarweb and Alexa. And, if you have the bucks, pony up for ComScore.
Always set up a Google alert on a competitor to stay on top of what they’re doing.
Keep an eye on their keywords
Track your competitors through Yelp, their Facebook pages, Twitter and Citysearch.
Customers and suppliers
Customers and shared suppliers are amazing sources of information. In fact, some of the most valuable intel I’ve learned is from customers. Pricing, product plans, release schedules… the works.
Watch who they’re hiring
You can learn crazy amounts about a competitor by watching who they’re hiring.
Yup, you can actually call your competitors and you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll learn. For example, call their tech support with a question, and then perhaps ask innocently “how many people do you guys have in support, anyway”. You get the picture.
Google Trends is useful to see what’s trending, whether in your industry, or with your competitor.
LinkedIn, of course, is a weapons-grade intel system. Not only can you find who works somewhere, but you can also get a feel for employee counts, etc. Employee count alone can give you a feel for revenue.
Ex-employee interviews and hires
Ex-employees sure seem to like to talk… ANd nothing is a better source of intel than a disgruntled former employee. This is sometimes a gray area; you don’t want to be in a position where you’re compromising the ethics of an employee’s own confidentiality. But a lot of what they will tell you is not confidential and very useful.
It’s lame to even write this, since everyone knows it and does it. But tradeshows and conferences are cesspools of leaked information. If you want it, chances are you can get it by just chatting away with people. Buying drinks helps.
It’s surprising that competitive “booth busting” is not done by more people. And sometimes, your competitors will do astonishingly stupid things. Be on the lookout for these rare opportunities. For example, many years ago, I was a product manager for a disk utility. A competitor was coming out with a new version, and we were dying to know what features were in it. So I went to a trade show, and they were demonstrating the beta version at the booth. That was somewhat useful, but I really needed to (legally) obtain a copy of the product.
And then something amazing happened: Over the PA system, they announced that they were raffling off a beta version of the software. I couldn’t believe my ears. I ran to an ATM machine, took out $200 in cash and then waited. Soon, a winner of the raffle was announced. I walked up to him and bought it off of him for $200 and we had a beta copy of the company’s software. We were able to run it and find out what features were planned. Needless to say, it didn’t end well for them.
However, keep in mind the Golden Rule. Compete fairly and ethically.
But that doesn’t mean that getting out there and doing some basic reasearch won’t drive tremendous results. You might be surprised at what you’ll discover.
A while back, I had a bad cold and was sitting at home with not much to do. So I decided to write a little ebook on avoiding common mistakes in writing.
I have no intention of making any money off of this, it’s just a fun little primer. It’s up on Amazon, and it’s free for the next several days.
Today, Microsoft announced its acquisition of BlueStripe Software. As an active board member of the company, I couldn’t be more pleased with the combination (although I will really miss working with the BlueStripe team).
BlueStripe has the mission to help IT operations teams map, monitor, and fix their distributed applications.
BlueStripe’s software, FactFinder, is a type of Application Performance Management (APM) product that is very unique, and very powerful. (The use of the APM label for BlueStripe is admittedly sloppy — it’s technically, per Gartner, Application-Aware Infrastructure Performance Monitoring, or AA-IPM. Nevertheless, the label “APM” sticks and even I can’t stop using it.)
Classic APM solutions help developers and IT managers spot and resolve problems with applications. Typically, this is done in the form of some code that is inserted into an app (kind of like a “barium trace”). This is what a company like New Relic does.
The problem with the code-centric solution is that it’s great for developers to debug their apps, but it doesn’t help IT or DevOps folks. So, the typical solution to an application problem is for enterprises to hold large “bridge” calls, where IT, DevOps, and app developers all get on long and often painful conference calls to determine where the fault lies.
FactFinder doesn’t rely on any code, and is a different type of APM. Instead of code, it relies on lightweight and intelligent agents (called “collectors”) directly installed on servers and desktop systems to monitor a broad set of applications. These agents then feed up into a map of all major applications, allowing an IT executive to immediately spot (and dig down to) where the problems are.
For example, let’s imagine an application in banking. When a person inserts their ATM card, a series of actions occur behind the simple ATM transaction, often involving a series of applications residing on various servers. And, let’s say that ATM transactions typically take under 30 seconds, but suddenly, start taking over 2 minutes. Something is wrong. It could be a failed connection, a configuration issue, bad code, DNS issues, rogue applications, mis-matched bandwidth, memory or storage — whatever. With FactFinder, the IT executive gets an immediate alert, and can visually determine where the problem is, dig down and fix it.
It’s wickedly cool stuff.
FactFinder can monitor pretty much anything. Windows, Linux, Solaris, and AIX servers, and even using containers like Docker. It can even monitor response times from other servers (mainframes, 3rd party services) that are part of an application. And, it monitors both packaged applications (SAP, PeopleSoft, Exchange, etc.) and custom-built applications.
Environments are becoming insanely complex
The problem of managing complex application environments is even more difficult because of two trends: virtualization (massively multiplying the number of servers and the complexity of the environment) and the move to the cloud.
It’s not unusual for a server to have 12, 20, 50 virtual machines — on one server. And the cloud… well, it’s not “the cloud”, it’s almost always hybrid deployments in enterprises. So you have a multiplication of complexity, because you have apps and data residing on the private cloud, and apps and data on the public cloud. You get the picture. Sucks to be an IT ops person.
And this is where FactFinder becomes intensely interesting. Because it can monitor the apps in these complex environments.
Which brings me to…
Where Microsoft fits in.
In my opinion, BlueStripe is a perfect fit for Microsoft. In fact, I can’t think of a fit more perfect.
To explain, Microsoft’s centerpiece in its systems management strategy is Systems Center Operations Manager (SCOM). SCOM provides IT managers with a total view of network operations.
FactFinder provides many advantages to SCOM environments, by discovering, managing and measuring application and platform dependencies.
IT managers can have FactFinder automatically build topology diagrams (not possible now in SCOM), map a dynamic application architecture, monitor dependencies and provide full coverage of dependency failures (you can see a 30 second demo at TechEd by Nick Burling to get a quick idea of how it integrates).
Simply stated, it “turns the light on” for IT, development and DevOps as to what is happening to with applications on their network.
In addition, BlueStripe Performance Center for Windows Azure Pack adds application management – and a single view for managing application service delivery, all tied directly into the Windows Azure Pack service management workflow.
Oh, that’s cool.
Well done, BlueStripe team (and the competent banking group over at Pac Crest).
And to Microsoft: You got a good one here.
Each year, Mary Meeker of KPCB does a data-overwhelming presentation on the state of the internets. Her slides and slide volume are famous: this woman knows data (there are even attempts to make her slides better).
There are not many surprises in this year’s presentation, but there are important highlights that are valuable.
There’s a lot of money being made. Tell us something we didn’t know.
The presentation starts with a nice throwaway slide. It’s largely useless but a nice way for Kleiner Perkins to pat itself on the back and for Warren Buffet to feel silly.
(So the market cap of internet companies is massively bigger, because, well, the internet is massively bigger. Plus there’s this asset inflation thing going on.)
Okay, on to the meaty stuff…
If you haven’t figured it out, it is all about mobile.
Mobile, peeps! Just yesterday, I went to the website of a well-known technology company, only to find that the website was unusable on mobile (clearly, they ignored me).
But this is all not about creating mobile websites. It’s about mobile as the fundamental paradigm. The desktop is a “who cares” proposition. If this isn’t clear to everyone within hailing distance, I don’t know what else to say.
So, we start off with the obligatory OMG THERE ARE SO MANY MOBILE USERS!!112!!
But this is interesting:
In other words, the daily usage of digital media on mobile is now the majority of the time spent during the day. Kind of obvious, but it’s still yet another wake-up call.
But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of greenfield:
ARPU (not a typo)
Then, she talks about advertising, but in the context of Average Revenue Per User (ARPU), it’s up but the growth rate is slowing.
It’s still incredible, but…
Here’s the impossible-to-understand chart by Mary Meeker:
But someone (namely, me) puts the data into a spreadsheet and then it’s clearer what’s happening.
Okay, that looks sweet.
But now let’s graph the growth of Facebook:
Yeah. The growth is slowing. Ugh.
Desktop advertising. A big fat “meh”.
Oh, and just in case you didn’t get the memo, desktop advertising isn’t where the party is.
TV is so… not
Now, again on that whole mobile thing, take a look at mobile screen viewing.
It’s beating TV.
(And she also basically says not to even bother with horizontal videos for ads, stick to vertical.)
Enterprise software is dead. Long live enterprise software.
There are quite a few slides spent on something that I really consider important.
Enterprise software as we have known it is dying.
Instead, we have innovative and (often) amazing tools by companies like Slack (reducing email traffic materially), payment gateways (Square and Stripe), business intelligence (Domo, my personal man crush on an enterprise software company), secure documents (Docusign), customer messaging (Intercom), customer service (Directly), HR (Zenefits), spreadsheets (Anaplan), recruiting (Greenhouse), and much more.
This is important and what I’m spending a lot of my time right now working on — the complete revolution in enterprise software, from stuff that was disintegrated and required proactive action on the part of the user, to products that are integrated and are themselves proactive (domo is a perfect example). Some of these solutions are truly awesome, and I mean that.
Big data was the first big breakthrough, but there’s a lot more behind the story. It brings the vision of software as a unifying activity, not what it has been in the past — by any stretch of the imagination.
Do I sound breathless? Yup, guilty.
So onward, soldiers, let’s look at some more slides and have a bit of fun.
Messaging is huge.
Okay, messaging is big. I mean — really big. Messaging apps are top in global usage and sessions. No surprise, since human beings spend a vast amount of their time communicating (even if it is cat videos and other crap).
Will mobile be the central communication hub? Of course. It’s already happening. And that’s really important to understand if you are into that space. Or any similar space, for that matter.
Power to the peeps.
Now, along the way, some people may have forgotten about the most critical aspect to this whole community thing: the actual user.
And the user is now the curator and creator of content. It’s really massive.
Look at this data: Power to the people, indeed.
And listen to the kids. They are leading the pack:
Cybersecurity wake-up call.
Then we move into my wheelhouse, security, where there are no surprises. But certainly some clarity. Again, mobile, BYOD, these are real issues.
The global stuff.
So then we get to a touchy subject, the global economy. If you’re pro-China, now is the time to pay attention. And if you’re pro-America, now is the time to really pay attention.
Now the good news: Americans will have more time to spend on cat videos on their smart phones.
And with US population growth outpacing job growth, more and more people are on the dole. There is probably a bit of bread and circus going on, but one cannot discount what has happened to the US.
Immigration is slightly up. And that’s good, not bad.
Immigration is up. I think this is very positive, as immigrants, despite some who scream otherwise, infuse our economy and culture with freshness and vitality.
Life still sucks for wedding planners.
And another reason we need immigration: We are going to need fresh citizens, because a) Americans don’t marry much anymore and b) the average household size has plummeted.
Pay attention to the millennials. They are the biggest portion of our workforce now.
And now, with millennials being the biggest percentage in the workforce, expect the workplace to change.
Because they have different needs and wants than other types of employees:
Keep a spare lance around.
And freelancers (yay fiverr) are 34% of the workforce. Yup.
And that’s good news, because the economy is not going to help them.
Elance, Airbnb, Etsy, Thumbtack, Uber, Fiverr, etc. are all a big help to freelancers.
China is doing the Estonia thing.
Okay, in China you can use WeChat to interact with the government.
Hey — I want that here.
There’s more on China and India starting on page 150 and the rest is other useful information, particularly on UI design.
So that’s my color commentary for now. You can see the whole report, here.
Many years ago, I held a talk at one of my companies about email etiquette. We certainly had a problem.
But by putting in place some simple rules, it really made a difference in our internal culture.
More importantly, realize that your email is a broadcast of who you are. A well-written email really is noticed by the people who matter — those who will promote you, work with you, help you. Sloppy, crappy emails are very annoying.
Email is the prime communication medium for an organization. So I thought I’d share some lessons I’ve learned over the years. Probably none of this is new to you, but you might find a reinforcement of your own viewpoint in this list.
1. Never vent or show anger in an email. It’s so tempting to write a blistering email that gives you the last word. But it’s incredibly toxic and unproductive (and I know, because I’ve done it!). Instead, cool off and talk to the person directly.
If you’re a manager and you are cc’d on an email with this kind of behavior, kill the thread immediately. Direct communication is the only way to resolve upsets.
2. Don’t ever say anything in an email that you wouldn’t like to see on the front cover of the New York Times. Privacy is an illusion and nothing is private anymore. I don’t even need to use examples of recent embarrassments. They are a dime a dozen.
(Peter Chung’s incredibly embarrassing leak that lost him his job.)
3. Always reply to an email within 24 hours. Ideally, sooner.
There is nothing more frustrating that sending an email, only to get zero response. When it spreads as a habit by many employees, it hurts corporate culture, something I’ve seen first hand.
If you can’t reply immediately with an answer, write something to the effect that “I’ve read this, and I’ll get back to you a bit later on this.”
Organizations rely on rapid communication, and those who ignore emails are actually hurting their own company.
It’s common to think that someone who doesn’t answer your email is ignoring you, lazy, not doing their job, or a whole host of other “reasons” for not replying, when all that might be happening is that the recipient is traveling and hasn’t gotten to their inbox. But you still have to try to reply in 24 hours. It is important.
4. Don’t use fancy formatting. Stay away from colors. Stay away from different types of fonts. No pictures of unicorns, rainbows, puppies or any other such happiness. Keep it very, very clean.
Keep your signature simple. No pictures of your kids, flowers, huge and unnecessary graphics and other clutter.
Also remember that graphics often just become attachments (and too many attachments can make a spam filter suspicious), so use them carefully – if at all. (Of course, your LinkedIn information and typical business contact info is totally fine and expected.)
And don’t use patterned or colored backgrounds.
5. Grammar: Write normal, full sentences. Don’t use “ain’t”, “gonna”, and other non-standard English words.
Be careful with emoticons — use them sparingly, if at all (and only if you have familiarity with the person). I saw an email once that had something like 10 emoticons in one paragraph. It looked, well, ridiculous.
6. Don’t write all lower case or all upper case. Write normally. Writing all in lower case means you have aspirations to be the next e.e.cummings or that you’re old or uneducated or can’t use a keyboard. And, of course, UPPER CASE MEANS YOU’RE YELLING (or old, or uneducated, or just can’t use a keyboard).
7. Punctuation: Don’t overuse exclamation marks (!!!!) or question marks (???). Separate your paragraphs. Don’t place a space between the end of your sentence and the period (surprisingly common).
Don’t overuse ellipses (ellipses show that some text has been removed). And if you do use them, remember that ellipses are always three periods…
8. Don’t overuse CCs and don’t abuse Reply All.
I had to really drill this into my employees at one company. “You don’t have to worry about covering your ass and including me on a million emails. Think of who you’re including — it should only be the people who vitally need to know about what you’re sending.”
And the Reply All — don’t get me started. However, one thing that is important is to Reply to those who need to be on the thread. You can reply to the recipient and another person(s) who need to be on the mail, noting that you’ve removed the others. If it’s important, you can also Reply All to the group, saying you’re taking the issue off-line with a few people, so that they know the situation is under control. Just don’t abuse Reply Alls.
Also, be very careful of Blind CCs. I’ve seen this bite people in the (you know what). They Blind CC me, I reply and then everyone knows there’s a Blind cc. Use it carefully, if at all.
9. Be considerate of the recipient’s device. Not everyone reads on a desktop. Realize that your beautiful HTML email, with your italics and boldface text, may just become plaintext. Or that the big attachment you’re sending might not be viewable on someone’s mobile device.
10. Write to be understood. Don’t use a lot of scientific jargon or big words that the recipient(s) won’t absolutely understand. Write at the level of a 15–year old.
In general, good writing (whether in email or in life) is:
Pure means that the writing is in just correct English, without anything else added. Pure writing doesn’t include:
Clear means writing that uses normal, simple words, and does everything possible to avoid confusion. Words are not used that might be misunderstood to mean something else. Clear writing also does not show off, or use complicated terms that no one understands.
Precise means writing that intends to have the reader completely understand what is being communicated with as few words as possible. Precise writing has the goal of getting something immediately understood by the reader. It is writing that doesn’t use long, boring sentences. It doesn’t overuse words. However, it is not too short to be baffling.
The folks over at EmailTray have some more pointers.
What do you think? Are there any other items that should be on this list?
(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.
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.
Unicorns — 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.)
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:
I routinely simply take pictures of things with my phone to catalog them — receipts, whiteboard discussions, etc.
Office Lens promises to do just that, with the power of OCR. Very useful. Link here.
Net Neutrality is a Good Thing (what is pretty mindblowing is how thoroughly the entrenched and very powerful vested interests — the telecommunications and cable lobby — got their posteriors royally kicked).
How it happened I’m not too thrilled about. But the devil is in the details.
I think the best, most reasoned response comes from the EFF, an organization that you can put a high degree of trust in when it comes to internet policy.