@SeedPaths – Tech Training for Multiple Learning Styles is Good for Society

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 7.18.09 PMSeedPaths is an awesome organization in Denver that offers technical and professional development skill tracks to young adults who don’t learn well in the traditional learning model of today’s society. The students have either no or very little college education. The American academic system is just that – academic. And it doesn’t work for everyone.

Along with my colleague Jeffrey Laner, I am honored to be a regular facilitator in the SeedPaths program – conducting a training in the professional development track called Say It Straight. It is a communication course that helps prepare the students for the interpersonal and organizational stresses that are inherent in all organizations. I have witnessed first-hand how well this program does at improving the lives of the students. I think this statement from the website says a lot:

89% of graduates who sought employment secured an opportunity within 90 days of graduating and enjoyed a 460% increase in pay.

The success of this program and their students signifies that society is tearing down stereotype barriers. It shows that employers are embracing the idea that an organization can better serve its customers if the employees within are representative of the entire customer base, even if not everyone in the company resembles the leaders. The more successful we can make all learning styles in society, the more successful our society will be as a whole.

Good for SeedPaths. Good for society.

If you know someone who could benefit from the program, a new cohort starts every 8 – 10 weeks. Send them to http://www.seedpaths.org to learn more. And feel free to give them my information: josh@forman-consulting.com.

Use Intersecting Territories of Customer and Product to Drive Technology Adoption and Expansion

I’ve developed a repeatable process that enables technology companies to drive their product’s value and enable adoption and expansion. This post is to briefly describe it. The key concept to the approach is what I call the Stakeholder Capability Matrix. It looks something like this:

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 12.44.24 PMTo drive value and sell you must know the territory. And there are two overlapping territories – that of the customer organization and that of your product. How they interact, and most importantly, where they intersect, must be understood and taken advantage of. If you stop at the customer contact who made the purchase decision, you are missing opportunities.

There are two main phases to the approach. First, I work with the technology company internally to define their basic matrix. Then I work with the company to develop the process on how they approach and work with their customers, using the matrix as the map.

First Phase: Build Basic Matrix:

  1. Define the Stakeholders inside your customer organizations that your product serves.
  2. Define the Core Capabilities of your product. How does your product create value for customer end users?
  3. For each Stakeholder / Capability intersection, define how that capability could potentially serve those stakeholders.

Second Phase: Design Customer Approach:

How do you espouse this to your customers? You can’t just tell them “that stakeholder group within your organization should use our product to do this.” The basic process includes:

  1. Identity Named Stakeholders (real people)
  2. For each named stakeholder / capability intersection:
    1. Determine Current State
    2. Educate on Capability
    3. Plan Future State
  3. Build roadmap to future organizational state

The technology company needs a methodology on how to do this with their customers. It can take many forms. For a recent customer, we created a new offering “Assessment & Enablement Services”. In it, the technology company runs the project at the customer site, talking to the named stakeholders with the primary customer contact. The conversations are very illuminating, for both the technology, the customer champion, and the stakeholder being interviewed. And they lead to more sales.

Online Magazine Design

I’ve had an iPad for about nine months now. I have been consuming more and more content on it. It’s where I read blogs, it’s where I read my twitter fead, I read a lot of emails on it, and do a lot of web research and surfing. I have been reading more and more books with the Kindle on my iPad as well.

A few months ago I purchased Fast Company magazine iPad edition, and it totally sucked. It was essentially screen shots of the magazine. It had a table of contents to get to specific articles, but it was a cumbersome user experience, and I dropped it after two issues. I tried again with The Economist just last week. The full digital edition came with the print edition, so it doesn’t cost any extra.

They have done it right. It is a great experience to read the magazine online. There is a great multi-level table of contents, so you click on the super-headings (“Leaders”, “Americas”, “Asian”, “Business”, etc…) and then see all the articles within that heading. Each article you can flip through and/or read and then easily return to the table of contents. Bookmarking is very easy and intuitive. And if learning about products is your thing, most adds have an interactive option by clicking in the center of the ad.

There are also two super bonuses for me. First, for each article there is an audio download button, so I can download the spoken version of all the articles I want, and then later when I’m driving, I can listen to them in the car. We drove from Colorado to Wyoming these past two days, and I’ve already listened to two hours of articles. It’s awesome.

The other super bonus is the ability to increase font size. With the Fast Company digital copy, you can zoom with two fingers, but then you have to move the document around the screen to be able to read it. With The Economist, you pinch and zoom, but it just changes the font size – and therefore how many pages the article takes to read. It’s very similar to the way the Kindle works in that regard.

What they can do next is have a listing of all the audio articles you’ve downloaded in one place, and have search capability. But I’ll take it just as it is, any day. I think it’s the future of magazine reading.

Colorado: Entrepreneurial By Nature

You’ll notice a new logo on my blog site – on the sidebar on the right. I have officially joined the Colorado: Entrepreneurial By Nature movement. What does it mean? It’s pretty simple really. I love Colorado and I am entrepreneurial by nature. I thrive on things that are new and where there is a lot of unknown.

If this movement speaks to you and you want to join, simply click here (or on the new logo on my site), add the logo to your site, and declare that you think Colorado kicks butt and you are entrepreneurial by nature.

There is also some great stuff happening in Denver next week with Denver StartUp Week. Click here for more information on lots of free events where you can learn about the StartUp scene in Denver, and be a part of its growing startup culture.

Are Your Services a Product or a Feature?

Professional services for SaaS companies can be difficult to figure out how to market and sell. How much services does the customer need? Will more services drive the customer through implementation and adoption faster? Do the services come with the subscription price of the SaaS solution or are there additional fees?

One way to think about how to go to market with your services is to ask yourself if they are a feature of the technology product or if they are a product in their own right that complements the technology.

All technology product companies have a product, by definition. And something is required to make that technology product work inside the customer organization. For some products, the customer can do everything needed to implement the new product. In that case, no professional services are needed at all. Think Gmail here. I just helped a friend with a small company setup Gmail to host their company’s email. No services were purchased to make it happen.

For other products, there is a minimal amount of services required to get the customer up and running. Think of purchasing a new cell phone. You usually do this in the store, and get someone to help you for 30-60 minutes, activating your account, transferring contacts, etc… In this case, you could think of the services as a feature of the product. It’s very standardized and comes with the subscription purchase.

Other products require a medium to significant amount of services to implement. One of the more classic use cases for a large amount of services is an enterprise-wide deployment of SAP software. In cases like this, the services are a product onto themselves. They have a separate line item on the quote. There are usually different service products the customer can purchase. Sometimes the service product may be selected based on the customer use case to fullfil, or maybe based on the technology product purchased.

If you are providing services for your product implementation, are they a feature or a product?

Stop Internet Censorship – Protect Innovation

Below is a post I wrote for the Symplified blog:

There are bills currently making their way through congress that, if passed, will seriously effect Internet use and will have negative effects on technology innovators — both companies and individuals. This post gives a brief description of the bills, how they negatively impact technology innovation and society at large, and lastly what you can do about it.

Basics About the Bills

They are the Senate bill Protect-IP Act, and the House bill Stop Online Piracy Act (also known as the E-Parasites act) and are very similar. The positive intention behind them is to reduce piracy of copyrighted information on the Internet. Sounds good so far. The problem is how they do it. If you’ve got 4 minutes, this video is a great summary.

http://tinyurl.com/7sbu983

Since most piracy takes place outside the US, and the government can’t do anything to shut down the actual site, these bills give the government the right to legally require any infrastructure providers with US operations to block Internet access to these sites, and any websites to remove links and imbedded content. And, if they don’t comply, the companies and sites could be shut down. It also allows for entities to sue each other to remove links, embedded content, etc.

Why this is Bad for Innovation

These bills would put restrictions and create huge liabilities for any site that employs user-generated content, as it is impossible to control everything that any user is going to post on a site. There are already controls in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act to protect copyrighted content, as pointed out in this Wikipedia article, and these recent bills take it too far. Google has been opposed to these new bills. Facebook, Twitter, and eBay have also recently publicly called out against them.

Fred Wilson (a prominent VC in NYC), has a great post on these bills. Even if a web technology company is not guilty, just the fact that they may have to pay huge lawyer fees to defend themselves against frivolous lawsuits could be enough to ruin them. The big companies are better able to handle lawsuits like these, but it would crush a 3 person start-up. And that would make venture capitalists less likely to invest in a new Internet technology innovation. Fred also points out that it is the technology sector that is creating jobs in America today, and bills that stunt technology innovation are bad for the economy. We need more jobs and technology is one place that is providing job growth today.

Why this is Bad for Everyone

If passed, these laws would enter us into government censorship like that in China today. While not as extensive or far reaching as China’s current laws, it’s certainly a path that leads in the exact opposite direction of freedom of speech. The Internet is one of the biggest catalysts for change and innovation we have. We should make sure it stays that way.

What You Can Do

You can go to the American Censorship website to send a letter about SOPA. You can also visit Fred Wilson’s blog post and use new technology from Votizen that turns your comments on his post into a letter about the Protect-IP act to your representatives. Last, spread the word. That’s what the Internet is all about anyway, right?

Validated Learning in Enterprise Software Development

I’m reading this really great book – “The Lean Startup”, buy Eric Ries. It has many great ideas on how to build a product. It is about taking the concepts from Lean Manufacturing and applying it to software development. So, the ideas are mostly geared toward software product creation, but can be applied to most types of products. I’m a bit more than halfway through and thus far he has only used consumer internet software products as examples.One of the interesting thought experiments it has engaged me in is trying to apply his ideas to enterprise software products – software that you sell to businesses. Symplified sells to businesses, not consumers.

For example, Ries talks about a process called validated learning. Which is a method by which a company can test the validity of each new product feature it puts out. So rather than being able to say “we just put in features A, B, and C and we altered our marketing strategy, and sales are up 10%”, you can be more targeted and say “feature A caused registration to increase 5% and feature B caused existing users to increase use 10%”.

One of the ways to do this is with a process called “split-testing”. When you put out a new feature, you only put it out to half your customer base. You then measure the difference between the customers with the feature and those without to see if it drives the behavior you are looking for (increased use, increased new users, etc…). If the feature doesn’t have any positive impact, you remove it from the product, or you at least do not enhance it any further.

We don’t have a formal validated learning process at Symplified. Split-tests have to be built into the product, which is a lot of effort, and you have to have a large accessible user population (which is much more prevalent when the company is selling to consumers)  to make the splits test show trending data. I am currently in the middle of gathering data for a comprehensive report on how our customers are using our product and what features they are using. That could be the start of some validated learning. Issuing a customer survey would be another way to collect data. And of course, as Ries points out, talking to your customers is a great way to achieve validated learning about your features. The aforementioned report comes from metrics that our product collects and notes from many conversations with our customers.

The thought process continues and I hope to be able to get more validated learning information into the Symplified decision process as I figure out more and better ways to implement it.