Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


I don’t spend a ton of time listening to podcasts, so for me they have to be short, entertaining, and of high-value. I recently decided on about five individual subscriptions, which are diverse enough to keep me interested (you can find these all on iTunes):

  • BusinessWeek – Cover Stories
  • Ebert & Roeper
  • Endgadget
  • NBC News – Meet the Press
  • NPR: Story of the Day

And a recent subscription: 43 Folders Podcast.

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I started my career as an Engineer, as from an earliest age I was always driven by building things. Through a few convoluted steps, I eventually dabbled my toes in “the dark side” * of Marketing (Product Management to be exact). Having been on the Eng side of the table has helped me immensely as a PM (and sometimes been a problem, but old habits are hard to break). I know very well the innate distrust of Marketeers by anyone who does technical work for a living, and I try every day to keep that in mind.

I think one of the most important clarifications to make when describing what marketing does is to clear up the misconception that “marketing is just about telling people what to buy.” That may have been the old approach for companies like Coke, but in my line (Enterprise Software), you can’t just build something cool and then tell people to buy it, you actually have to build something they want.

“Marketing” is most importantly understanding the customer. Market research, customer interaction, etc. If I ever have to explain very quickly to someone what it is I do I sum it up as, “Work with the customer to understand what they want (to do), work with development to get it built, work with Marcom to communicate that value.” I think the fact that “Marketing” is mostly associated with the last item is our biggest problem, maybe we need a new name for all of this which isn’t so loaded with preconceived notions (or maybe its just that most people only see part C, so that’s all they associate with Marketing).

Anyways, it is definitely true though that there are a lot of bad marketers out there who encourage the stereotypes and re-enforce the distrust. I’ve been following a number of good blogs these days that talk about the importance of sincerity and clarity in outbound communication: Seth Godin, Joel Splosky, and perhaps a new guy John Dodds.

It was the latter that had a post which inspired me to write something: Geek Marketing 101. His top points that really resonated with me include:

1) Marketing is not a department. (Exactly what I said above)

2) Marketing is a conversation, but most people don’t speak geek. (One of the reasons I think I’m good at this)

7) Technical Support is marketing. (I would expand this to say that every single person who touches the customer is marketing, and you want feedback from them all)

* – After spending enough time in Marketing I started to realize that the real dark side is Sales…somewhere that I hope to dabble a bit in the future just so I can better communicate with the other side of the table in my day-to-day dealings.

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Outsourcing Legal

I’m taking a Business Law class right now at Haas and its…interesting. The Professor is excellent (a Deputy Attorney General for the State of California), but from the content and the book and many other sources its obvious that “the law” in general is very wishy-washy and there are no “Bright Lines” (his quotes).

There’s a hell of a lot of material though, and a lot of work done, at very high expense, and so when walking to dinner the other night I had what may be an interesting idea, outsourcing Legal work (likely to India). Makes sense, highly highly educated people, strong English skills, round-the-clock timezone support, and good IP protection. So good of an idea that it appears its already happening (here, here), but Google results are somewhat limited, so I would guess that its probably not as wide-spread as the full market might support. Not surprising, seeing as the legal profession is one of the most rabid defenders of its own structure, from political lobbying to personnel management.

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No Time To Play

I came across another excellent article from Joel Splosky talking about what motivates developers, and having spent a significant portion of my career on the business end of a compiler I found myself agreeing to every one of his points. (Joel is one of those guys who I subscribe to then drop off of but always get dragged back for some new piece of wisdom).

Of particular interest was “Use cool new technologies unnecessarily”, or as it might also be phrased, “Time to play”. The amount of time that I’ve spent futzing around on different things because they were shiny or new or interesting has declined linearly since my initial working life back in college. However, my “time to play” has dropped off considerably since I switched out of hard-core engineering and into Product Management. I think this is a major blow to both my overall job satisfaction as well as my job effectiveness.

The reasons are vast and varied: more demanding work deadlines, more mature personal commitments, part-time school, home ownership, etc; but the result is the same, I’m not as abreast of interesting/useful innovations and I’m losing competitiveness for both myself and my company.

Whether your a developer looking for new tools or a business person looking for new ideas, having adequate time to do unstructured exploration of new technology is critical I think. You get new ideas for your own projects based on minor features you might see in unrelated products, you develop new ideas for how to deal with your customers based on what you see in unrelated services, and you give your mind the breathing room to step back and actually be creative, instead of just grinding out the next deliverable.

The good news is that “free time” doesn’t have to be scheduled or rigorous or detract from daily output. In fact, its better if its none of those. You should take free time when you feel you can be most useful with it (like I am right now). You should avoid extending it unduly (as this Guinness here will help with) so as to not go down totally wasteful rabbit holes, and more often than not it should be done when there are no pressing deadlines/after hours/when there’s absolutely nothing else to do. Boredom can actually be the harbinger of great ideas.

I think I need to build some free time into my week a little bit more. <insert obligatory smiley>

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I promised to post this when I asked for your help taking a survey:

The Negative Effect of Cognitive Overload on an Organization’s Productivity

This is the paper that me and my team did for our Organizational Behavior class. Our results were somewhat inconclusive, but we got a decent grade at least. Thanks all for your help!

(And if you’re wondering where I’ve been, school and work have been keeping me ridiculously busy)

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My Haas Business School project team is conducting a survey for our Organizational Behavior class to determine the effect of cognitive overload on an organization’s productivity. Cognitive overload includes such things as work related stress, multi-tasking, various distractions (email, IM, phone calls), and data flurries–in general, anything that takes your focus away from your current objective.

Your responses will be aggregated with all other responses to learn about overall attitudes regarding this topic. No personal information will shared.

The survey will take no more than 10 minutes of your time. We will publish our final project in mid-October for those of you who are interested in our research findings. The survey can be completed on the web right here:


Our survey collection period runs through this Friday, September 16th, and every response counts. I thank you very much for your time and interest.

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Haas Week 3

I’m feeling voluble today, apparently. I think it has something to do with it being Thursday, which is where my week always gets a lot easier. Attending the evening program, my work-week usually starts sometime Sunday afternoon. I have to put a few hours reading, preparing, group projecting on Sunday afternoon before the insanity of the week starts off. Mondays and Wednesdays are a minimum of 14 hour days, getting on the train around 7:30am and not getting out of school until 9:30pm. This makes Tuesday my proverbial “hump day” where I’m just fighting through to keep things on track for the rest of the week. Wednesday nights I’ll sometimes need a cup of coffee before class to ensure awareness, but then after that things get a lot more mellow. Thursdays are meeting day at work, and most weeks I’m either getting on a place Thu night or picking Alexis up. Fridays are Fridays and Saturday is explicitly off limits for anything besides sleep and relaxation to let the body repair itself. School work isn’t so overwhelming, but the group projects for different classes take a lot of time to coordinate/research/execute.

I’m enjoying school a lot though, perhaps more than I even expected too. There are of course a great selection of people like I mentioned before, and after an initial “how basic can you get” worry about the classes they are getting quite interesting. There’s a ton of extracurricular activities at Haas though that have me really excited though: upcoming guest lecturers and symposiums, some very useful workshops on career growth and management, and a few student clubs that have me intrigued.

Its pretty obvious that B-School students are a pretty self-selecting crowd, and often have similar motivations/goals in mind. This makes it very easy to meet people who have the same mindset or are in the same point in their career/life as you. Within B-School there’s an even more self-selecting group of people who have enough interest in particular subjects to sign up for, help run, or even create a specific group. A couple that interest me the most are Net Impact, the Tech Club (obviously), and Social VC…and the Culinary Club (yum).

Other benefits of being a student again include cheap membership in the RSF (gym/pools). With an on-campus parking pass I’ve been finding it very easy to head up to Strawberry Canyon for some lap swimming. Nice.

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The Berkeley MBA

As I’ve hinted at over the past six months, today I’m going to be starting the MBA program at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. This is quite a turn of events for me as I remember walking past the newly-constructed Haas building when I was an undergrad at Cal and thumbing my Engineering-snobbery nose at the whole idea of business school. There’s a whole set of things I could probably write about what got me to this point, but the truth is that most of the people who are in the same mind-set I was in still wouldn’t get it…guess I need to do a better job of marketing on that one. 😛

So what am I excited about? Pretty much everything. We had a mandatory weekend orientation down at the lovely Berkeley Marina Conference Center (sic) and while there was little actual class content it offered a great chance to get to know your fellow students. They say business school is all about the contacts you make but I’ve realized that’s true of every curriculum you take. The failed logic of anyone who claims you can get all the B-school education by simply reading the right set of books is that true learning comes from analyzing and discussing those books with other people. True learning comes from constructive analysis and then applying what you’ve read. Like in Good Will Hunting, “you can tell me anything you can read in a library, but you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel” (it smells like sweat).

Our event this weekend was obstinsively about “practicing our networking skills”, but I liken it more to speed dating, where you’re moving around in a large crowd and quickly sizing everyone up to see who you might click with. Finding classmates you are compatible with is critical for this, because so much of our work will be in small groups, and those are the activities where you will really make some life-long friends. Don’t laugh, my current company’s CEO and SVP Marketing met on their first day at Harvard and make an indomitable team to this day.

I have to add to this a plug the incredible level of customer service that the Haas school provides. My undergrad experience at Cal was an exercise in Darwinism, with little to no help from the staff to assist my educational efforts. The B-school staff is all about customer service (which makes sense with the ridiculous amount of money we’re paying), and there are some extremely valuable services I’ll be using today such as top-notch career coaching and positioning tools, and into the future such as an ongoing alumni services program for business research projects, as well as access to the extensive Haas alumni network.

So once more into the breech, work 40+ hours per week, commute on BART two hours a day, and 8-20 hours of classroom and coursework each week. Some people would say that having Alexis off on a remote dig makes it easier for me to concentrate during the week, but my biggest worry is that I’m just going to end up losing the few weekends we do get to see her to exhaustion for the next few months…

(And just to clarify, I’m going to be doing the Evening program, two nights a week for three years. This is a full MBA curriculum, not the hyper-accelerated “Berkeley/Columbia Executive MBA” program. Some people would call my curriculum “part time”, but since we’re all working at least full time and then attending school/doing projects at night I prefer to call it the “overtime” program.)

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The Josh Kaufman “Personal MBA” Program

A friend of mine pointed me at this during a recent discussion about business school. I don’t necessarily agree with his views on the value of the program, but he does present a good list of books.

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I was pointed at Paul Graham’s latest online essay through a number of different sources, and I finally got around to finishing it. The funny thing is, it’s based on a talk he gave at a UC Berkeley CS group that I really wanted to attend, but couldn’t carve out the time.

Its good, read it. I don’t really have a lot to add that he didn’t already say.

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