The Balancing Act

September 3, 2008

Great article here by Jeff Bussgang at Flybridge, on what it takes to win:

…I have come to realize that the true question corporations need to ask is: “How do I get my employees to think like VCs but act like entrepreneurs?” In other words: What’s the best way to impose the challenge of complex, competing priorities on employees who must, in effect, be adroit at living with split personalities? This new frame of mind requires the corporate manager to extract the best from both worlds—entrepreneurs with a bias for action, and VCs with a bias for analysis. Elements of both are required.

Says easy, does hard.

As I’ve said before, for me the basic tension of a new venture is between the two defining characteristics of most successful startups:

  1. Commitment to a process of iterative refinement, engaging the marketplace open to the truth, and being mercenary about doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
  2. A team that executes with conviction, almost unreasonable in its commitment to overcome inertia and do something that hasn’t been done before.

Too much “1” and half-assed execution obscures what would work if done well; too much “2” and you miss the turn that would have made it all work.

I guess “think like a VC / act like an entrepreneur” is another way to put that, if it helps get the concept in more people’s heads all the better.

Which do you think makes the idea more clear?


How To Make An Ad

August 15, 2008

It’s not uncommon these days for Joe Blow Web 2.0 to need to create an ad for something, in digital or physical media. Most of what they produce is a waste of money and time, and though that’s all too often true of The Professionals as well, pros like my friend at right have a distinct advantage in the form of something called a Creative Brief.

A Creative Brief is a kind of intellectual scaffolding for the magic of great ad creation. It frames the communication challenge in a way that helps talented people come up with a solution. While different agencies have their own take on the particulars, most of the big boys use a minor variant of the below.

Get In The Zone

Start by thinking about your target… not as a “Target Audience,” but as a person. Put them in your head… A real live individual, think about what they look like, and what they’re doing at the time they get your message. Ready?

OK… 5 Steps, to be done in order:

  1. Define the Desired State: What is it, exactly, that you want this person to think, feel, or do as a result of receiving this communication?
  2. Define the Current State: Relative to the Desired State, what does he/she think, feel, or do today, in advance of receiving this communication?
  3. Define the Key Thought: What is the singular, essential idea you believe will move this person from the Current State to the Desired State?
  4. Define the Support Points: What evidence, if any, to you have to prove or evidence the validity of this Key Thought? If more than 3, what are the 3 most impactful?
  5. Begin Creative Process. Once you have all that straight, we can start noodling ideas that will capture your target’s attention enough to deliver the Key Thought.

While there are no guarantees this approach will yield an ad that does what you want it to do, it will at least give you a fighting chance to come with what the late, great David Ogilvy called a “Big Idea.”

Meat in the Machine

August 7, 2008

Don Dodge has a characteristically thoughtful post here asking a bunch of good questions about why there seems to be such a big gap between the promise and the reality of online ad targeting:

Lots of startups and VCs are pinning their hopes on this simple premise. It seems obvious, but there is very little evidence to support it. So what is wrong?

  • Is the ad serving technology not able to take advantage of all this new “attention data” to better target the ads?
  • Are advertisers not willing to pay higher CPM rates for the better targeting?
  • Has ad targeting been tried with all this “attention data” and the results are not much better?
  • Is there just too much ad inventory which is depressing prices?
  • Are we just too early in the game to get good results?

Collectively, kind of.

To be more precise, starting at the top, the ad serving technology has not yet made it sufficiently easy for advertisers and their agencies to better target the ads.

Joe Blow Media Buyer

Sometimes tech folk forget that at the other end of the digital tentacles reaching across the ad-powered web, sooner or later, is a person pulling the levers. Joe Blow media buyer – think pimply-faced state college graduate 2-years out of school making $18K/year and living in Queens – simply can’t keep up with the pace of innovation on the web. They learn a few of the biggest ad targeting systems, which incidentally are the only ones with sufficient scale for them to complete their buys and move on, and crank 90% of their ad budgets through them. Once in a while one of the better ad network sales guys buys them some really good sushi and makes a decent case for some experiment, and voila, that technology gets thrown a $10K “test buy” bone.

If it works as promised – “works” being hard to both define and measure given the current cacophony of competing measurement standards and conflicting data – Joe may up the ante, and pay more for it on a CPM basis than he’d been willing to up to that point. Still, the equation he solves in his head:

  1. What is the probability that doing this will make me a hero with my boss and/or client?
  2. What is the probability that said boss and/or client is going to smack me for wasting time on this $35K diversion instead of doing everything I can to “optimize” the $500,000.00 buy we already have in process on Yahoo?
  3. Is the potential upside of 1. materially greater than the potential downside of 2.?

Goop in the Tranny

My point is simple: The reason all these Ferrari-esque ad targeting engines aren’t driving the wheels as fast as it seems they should is that there are a bunch of messy, imperfect, easily bored and overworked human beings gumming up the transmission.

The pace of progress in the ad targeting business will NOT be constrained by the capabilities of the technology to deliver improvements. The bottleneck is elsewhere… namely in Joe Blow’s ability to identify, grasp, and fully leverage the capabilities of that technology. That’s the lag, Don, at least IMHO.

Good News on the Horizon

So where are we in that process? Don refers to a pretty comprehensive post on the subject by CNET’s Stefanie Olsen, where she opines:

The first wave of Internet investing dealt with commercializing the Web, helping companies like and eBay get on their way. The second wave has been about helping people socialize and connect through sites like Flickr, YouTube, and Facebook. The third, venture capitalists say, will be about making sense of all the data people create around the Web, and then searching for patterns in the data to improve the delivery of personalized content, search results, or advertising.

Amen. I think we’re getting there, glad some smart folks on the VC side seem to agree.

“Time wounds all heels.”

June 13, 2008

The brilliant pun above (with credit to Mr. Lennon) is only one of the worthwhile things to be gleaned from this great post on the selfishJohn Lennon reasons serial entrepreneurs need to be decent people.


Successful serial entrepreneurs know that each relationship they develop is a potential goldmine. As noted in Your Personal Pitch, in order to be successful, entrepreneurs must enlist the help of numerous Donors – individuals who are in a position to give their adVenture a helping hand. Most employees, investors, customers and suppliers prefer to work with people and organizations which they trust. Thus, as noted in Corporate Creed, dishonesty is a major handicap for an entrepreneur, just as honesty and integrity are significant assets.

Amen. The rest here.

Can you make a car from cloth?

June 11, 2008

BMW GINA Concept Car

This is very cool, both as an end product, and for what it says about the direction Bangle is taking BMW’s design philosophy.

Bravo, BMW.

Authenticity & Leadership

May 30, 2008

Great article in the New York Times about how the nature of leadership may be evolving. Leaders themselves are stuggling to integrate their professional and personal lives, just as people within companies are more hungry for authenticity and a personal relationship with those they choose to follow.

This ties very tightly to the twitter / blogging sensibilities I’ve discussed here, about trying to be a real person and sharing your true feelings with others. I’m not sure which way the causality runs (did the blogosphere create this desire for a personal connection, or did the desire for more personal connections create the blogosphere?) but I find the topic pretty fascinating as both a leader and a student of human nature.

What do you think?

Why Google Sucks

May 27, 2008

I still remember the first time I used Google.Dyson

It was in early 1998, and I was sitting in my office at Ogilvy & Mather in New York. I hit the page, expecting something Yahoo!-ish, and sat there staring at a word and a box on a white page for maybe five seconds, marveling at the boldness of it. This was not white space for design’s sake. Oh no. This was a statement of confidence.

“You want the stuff? Yea, we got the stuff. Take your best shot, boy.”

I typed in “Sinatra,” and there, painted before me within milliseconds, was a list of sites related the Chairman of the Board. Even more amazing, the best ones seemed to be towards the top. I clicked around, suppressed a yelp, then returned almost in disbelief. I tried “Star Trek,” then “Ogilvy,” and finally “Troiano,” each time uncovering the fruitful bounty of the Web, each time amazed – literally, amazed – by a technology that seemed able to look inside my head, inside my soul, almost, and give me what I wanted.

The memory is still vivid for me, as is a certain nostalgia for the early days of the net, when we were all just tooling around on our Netscape browsers and Panix e-mail addresses, trying to figure it all out and explain what we’d learned to the dinosaurs who still cared about TV.

All of which is why it pains me to face the truth of 2008, which is that Google sucks. And I’m not talking about the company, or the business here. To be honest I think the accusations of evil-doing at The Goog are 1 part factual and 4 parts envy, and as for Google’s actual business, well, to quote a great film of an even earlier age, “We’re not worthy.”

No, I’m talking about About Search. About the very foundation of what is expected to be a $10 Billion industry next year, about what may be the most powerful franchise on the planet.

Why doth Google suck? Let me count the ways…(cont’d)