Treat your customers’ dogs well — it’s great branding

Being good to your customers’ dogs isn’t just a nice thing to do — it’s also great branding.

My dogs can hear the UPS truck coming way before it arrives. They jump up in unison and run to the door, trampling anything that gets in their way.

The UPS guy is their favorite visitor. Why? Because he brings them treats. He’s the awesome food-from-the-truck-guy.

Kody & Tip wear electric fence collars, so they never cross the perimeter. Sadie, however, is well-behaved enough that I never felt the need to get her one. But for UPS she runs out and gets right up in the truck! Does he mind? Not one bit.

The USPS delivers here. FedEx delivers here. And UPS delivers here. Who do you think I choose when I have to send a package somewhere? It’s a no-brainer. I go with the company who’s good to my dogs. That’s great branding.


#BlogathonATX – This could be the start of something big

BlogathonATX logoI’m blogging from BlogathonATX, being held at Conjunctured Coworking here in Austin. It’s pretty clear already that this event is a big hit :) I’m in the Talkathon room at the moment, one of the two rooms people can go to for expert advice (the other is Techathon). The conversation is lively, there’s lots of laughter, and people are making all sorts of new contacts. The two Writeathon rooms are quietish, with writers hunched over their laptops blogging away.

people working in the writeathon roomClearly there’s a demand for this type of event. It’s not quite a BarCamp — there are no presentations — yet, like BarCamps, it’s a free event and plenty of opportunities for attendees to bring up their own topics.

I’m a roving expert, wandering back and forth between Techathon and Talkathon, but one of the really cool things happening here is that pretty much everybody is an expert in something. An official Social Marketing Expert might need tech help, and a Tech Expert might need Social Marketing help. I ended up offering some advice as a Travel Expert, which I sure wasn’t anticipating, but kind of the nature of this event. Conversations are all over the place.

Ilene Haddad is our Ringleader. This is her brainchild, and I’m quite certain she’s astonished at what it’s become. She has done an absolutely fantastic job putting it together. It’s been a blast being part of it — I can’t wait for the next one :)



Moodboards: my profile/guest post on the Evernote blog

Evernote logoI’ve been using Evernote for over 2 years (I checked. I thought it was longer, actually, since it’s such a regular part of my work process). I only recently started using it for moodboards. A tweet from @Evernote asking if anyone used it this way caught my eye, I responded, we emailed, and voila! My thoughts are right there on the Evernote blog as part of their Creative Series. Nice!

screenshot of my interview on the evernote blogIf you’re a designer and are unfamiliar with moodboards, definitely give this a read. They’re a powerful tool to add to your presentation/process arsenal.

If you haven’t tried Evernote, you really owe it to yourself to check it out. It’s web-based, but there are also desktop, iPhone, and iPad apps that sync to it, and of course bookmarklets that make it easy to clip and save stuff to your notebooks. I’ve used it not only for moodboards, but for market research, read-it-later types of things, recipe collections, shopping research, wishlists, idea lists… the possibilities are endless.


Rework: Short Attention Span Business Wisdom

ReworkCover of Rework falls into a genre of business books I call Short Attention Span Business Wisdom. Hugh McCloud’s Ignore Everybody, which came out shortly after Rework, falls into the same category.

There’s a lot to like in Rework. Certainly Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson, founders of 37 Signals, have learned a ton of valuable lessons on the road to building their successful company. Their lessons are — like their software — simple, to the point, and easy to consume.

One of my favorite lessons is “Why grow?” It’s so easy to get caught up in thinking bigger is better. Most VCs demand it, and many entrepreneurs presume it. It’s refreshing to know a successful software company recognizes where their own sweet spot is, and is proud to have only 16 employees. Money quote: “Small is not just a stepping-stone. Small is a great destination in itself.”

And I really like “Out-teach your competition”. I love the abundant-universe approach. Knowledge is not a scarce resource. Sharing your knowledge makes everyone stronger. And in the case of product companies, that sharing makes for better informed, loyal customers.

There’s plenty of inspiration to be found in these pages, and plenty of common sense, too.

Do you sense there’s a big BUT coming?

There is.

BUT I take issue — enormous issue — with the essay entitled “Learning from mistakes is overrated.” HUH?

Another common misconception: You need to learn from your mistakes. What do you really learn from mistakes? You might learn what not to do again, but how valuable is that? You still don’t know what you should do next.

Wow. This is a remarkably arrogant attitude. In fact, it’s complete bullshit.

Mistakes are a part of every business. Mistakes don’t just teach you what not to do. They teach you better ways to move forward in other areas. Mistakes can open entirely new pathways of thought. And they can teach you a whole lot about yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, and where your ego gets in the way.

I’ll be curious to know if Jason and David feel the same way after they have a few good mistakes under their belts.


The Frogs Are Getting Smarter

outdoor shower

My rockin’ outdoor shower

I have a sweet outdoor shower — a wonderful thing in Texas. It’s the master shower. There is only a tub in the master bath. There’s a dinky indoor shower upstairs, and it’s become a badge of honor that I’ve never used it in the 10 years I’ve lived in this house.

I absolutely love my shower. So do the frogs. They come out a minute or so after the water comes on. I’m not sure if they’re just curious about where all the wet stuff is coming from or if they’re trying to avoid all the suds. I’ve always been fond of frogs, so this doesn’t bother me one bit.

Border Collies Sadie & Kody

Sadie & Kody: uninterested in non-sheep

My two border collies, Sadie and Kody, have always peacefully coexisted with them, and in fact seem a little afraid of them. Hey, if they’re not herdable, why bother, right?

But then Tip came along. She has decided that the frogs are obviously there for her entertainment, and joins me in the shower daily, eagerly awaiting their appearance. For awhile, a frog would come out and pretty much just hang out in one corner. If I noticed it, I’d pick it up and put it out of Tip’s reach, but lately she’s been getting pretty strategic about the whole thing and usually beats me to the poor little critter.

Tip, a small brown mutt

Tip: stalker of frogs

She snatches it up and trots it out into the yard, where she tries to get it to play with her. After much batting and tossing and barking, the unfortunate frog stops moving, and Tip loses interest.

Lately though, the frogs come out and immediately scamper to safer ground, as though they know what might be in store for them. Sometimes they even succeed. So how is this happening? The ones that met their unfortunate fate at the paws of my dog couldn’t exactly send word. Do they send “Danger! Danger!” signals as they’re carried off? Have they been sending scouts to watch the action?


Some Things Shouldn’t Be Crowdsourced

Crowdsourcing: The Good

Crowdsourcing has been behind some truly great products and initiatives. Wikipedia and Linux are perhaps the best-known, and there are indeed stellar examples of the power of this model.

Other great examples include:

  • The Netflix Prize for a 10% improvement on their recommendation engine.
  • reCaptcha and their innovative use of the millions of typed words to help digitize old books.
  • Foldit invites people to play a game that ultimately results in new protein-folding strategies.
  • Microlending companies like Kiva are pooling small amounts of money and loaning it to poor business owners with enouraging results.

Opinions can do well as crowdsourced projects, although I contend people are more likely to supply them when they are bitching rather than raving. Still, reviews and other opinions certainly provide value, and I admit I readily use them when deciding on restaurants, books, and products. Companies like Yelp, Amazon, and Ebay are learning to navigate the intricacies (and legalities) of the relationships between businesses and reviews, making the content even more valuable in the process.

What do all these good examples have in common?

  1. wikipediaLogoThere is governance. Although anyone can contribute to Wikipedia, all contributors are not equal. A hierarchy of editors ensures that spam and misinformation are quickly weeded out. It’d be nice to think it’s all perfectly democratic, but it’s not, and it wouldn’t work if it were.
  2. Crowds are used to solve problems or to offer commentary, not to determine strategy or any decide critical business issues.

There’s gray area, of course. Most software developers actively solicit feedback for new features and general improvements. Notice, though, that they rarely promise the most popular suggestion will be implemented. The people responsible for the business strategy are wisely learning that what their customers want isn’t always what they need. They know better than to leave the final decisions to the public. The customer may be good-intentioned, but they just don’t know enough to always be right.

For some excellent crowdsourcing stories and analysis, be sure to read Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams.

Crowdsourcing: The Bad

Logos. I cringe every time I hear someone brag that they crowdsourced their logo. For one thing I have an intense distaste for doing work on spec. Most logo crowdsourcing sites (as well as contests) do just this — a bunch of designers create a logo for free, getting paid only if the company likes and select it. But logos are critical to the identity of a company. It’s not just a matter of what looks nice on a business card and on a website. Do you really want to entrust this critical piece of your brand to starving artists out there eager to get their hands on your $200? Pay someone what they’re worth and get it done right.

Strategy. No one knows your business as well as you. Get Satisfaction and UserVoice are great for site-based feedback and ideating. Customers and readers make suggestions and vote on their importance, and the companies do with those suggestions what they will. Austin’s own BountyStorm lets companies post questions with a bounty (usually in the $5 – $15 range) for the best idea. Some questions are perfect for this model — creative Valentine’s Day ideas, for example. Some are a bit worrisome — ideas for a first tattoo (Yikes! Isn’t that supposed to be a deeply personal decision?). And some just don’t belong there. There are a ton of people asking for business names, taglines, and marketing strategies. Do they really think they’re going to get what they need from a stranger? For $10?

Crowdsourcing SXSW: The Ugly

And now we come to the issue that drove me to write this post in the first place. Programming at paid conferences should not be crowdsourced. Not even part of it. This will be the 6th year SXSW is letting the general public vote on panels, and the 6th year that attendee complaints have swelled about the quality and selection of that programming. Lots of folks come to town and don’t even bother attending the conference, opting instead for the appropriately crowdsourced BarCamp Austin. Last year at SXSWi some really great panel ideas with excellent panelists never made the cut, while panels presented by often pathetically underprepared heavy hitters filled the schedule. The panel-picker was at least a little easier this year, with the option to vote thumbs up or down rather than assigning a number of stars as a rating.

This approach sounds really good in theory, but what ended up happening last year was would-be panelists filled our Twitter streams with panel pimping promotions and micro-celebrity popularity contests, while many deserving panelists truly working at the cutting edge of our industry were left in the dust. Bloggers with tens or hundreds of thousands of readers ready and willing to vote for their panels crowded out those doing interesting, paradigm-changing work. SXSW is too important to the industry to run it as a popularity contest.

I’m not sure what the best solution is, but I have a few ideas that would improve the SXSW experience..

  • Make it clear that there is a committee that is ultimately responsible for the programming. Not just 40% of it. All of it. There should be 2 (preferably divergent) experts in each area of content (coding, architecture, marketing, social media, business, etc.). The committee could be nominated by the public, and chosen by SXSW staff. Or nominated by staff and chosen by the public. Continue to accept panel suggestions from the public, but leave the deciding to the committee.
  • Create a SXSW advisory group committed to uncovering and featuring new voices and industry trends. Some of the A-Listers are fantastic presenters. I’m in no way saying they shouldn’t be on the schedule. But there are some amazing thinkers doing innovative work right here in Central Texas. Commit to finding them. Ask the public for suggestions of inspiring speakers they’ve seen in other settings and personally encourage them to submit a panel.



What do you think? Is it time for SXSW to change the way they manage programming? How do you think it should be done?


Clothes make the Mac

I don’t need a new Mac laptop. Ok, I admit, that’s never stopped me before. But really, the MacBook Air, stunning though it may be, is not for me. I do lust after the multitouch trackpad. I’ve been reaching to pinch my screen while viewing maps since a week after getting my iPhone. I’m ready for it. But there are too many limitations for it to be my primary computer, and I don’t want to go back to messing with keeping multiple computers in sync.

Then I saw the fabulous AirMail. Now there’s the hip yet understated MacBag. Cripes. I may have to get an Air just so I can carry it around in one of these.



Be nice.