Making A 60º Turn

March 31, 2008

steering-wheelToday we’re announcing a whole bunch of product changes and the launch of our first two partners, technically on schedule in Q1. What it’s taken to get here has been anything but according to plan, though, in a way I think sheds some real light on what it takes to build a successful startup.

Starting a company is like setting off on a journey, headed true North in the direction of your vision. You map a path to get there, called your strategy. Along the way you encounter obstacles, new lands, people and opportunities, all of which change you as a person. Your understanding of yourself and your goal changes. Sometimes you find your way around these things to get back on your original course, other times your destination itself changes.

One of the hardest thing about running a startup is separating the “signal” – feedback that indicates the need for a change in your path or your destination, your strategy or your vision – from the “noise.” Noise is the friction that any new idea needs to overcome, the inertia of the status quo and the way things work today. Signal and noise are streaming in constantly… from employees, partners, investors, competitors, the press, your family, everywhere. Follow the noise and you’ll be lost. Miss the signal and you’ll march resolutely in the direction of nothing.

The volume of signal/noise amped up for us significantly at DEMO, and we’ve spent the time since then trying to determine what we needed to change and where we just needed to improve the quality of our execution. We’ve made a bunch of 30º course corrections since then, which startups need to be able to do with relative ease. We can improve our internal communication on this stuff, but on balance we’re pretty nimble within that 60º arc.

By late in Q4 it was obvious, though, that the calls to make a couple of 60º turns – disruptive, dis-continuous changes in our product roadmap – were signal, not noise. It hurt, but we did it, and it feels like we’ve grown up a little bit as a result.

Anyway when you look at our new release, one which features:

  • Focus on origination within a single partner application,
  • “One-Click Key Creation” if that partner already knows what you like,
  • The elmination of the need to download anything, ever,

Know that it’s taken a lot of hard work from a lot of smart people to get here so quickly, and that the signal is coming though loud and clear.


Our Higher Moral Purpose

January 17, 2008

Between my first and second year of business school I was a strategic consultant at The Monitor Company in Cambridge. During that time Mark Fuller, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, was obsessed with an exercise to help the company define what he called its “higher moral purpose.”

“All truly great businesses serve a higher moral purpose than the need to create value for the shareholders,” he said, “and we need to find ours.”

This seemed a little pretentious to me at the time, but it stuck in my head for some reason, and as I’ve been a part of building subsequent businesses I’ve always taken the time to reflect on what thier higher moral purpose might be.

There’s an Italian saying that the only thing more true than truth is a story. The story in this video, Malcolm Gladwell’s TED speech, captures what I believe to be matchmine’s higher moral purpose:

Link to Malcolm Gladwell TED speech

Partners, Partners, Partners, Partners…

October 11, 2007

To paraphrase another balding, hyper-intense ex-marketing guy with a glandular intensity problem, matchmine needs to get focused on 4 things right now: Partners, Partners, Partners, Partners.

Back from a 24-hour trip to Denver to meet with a potential “anchor” in the online movie space, and I was struck by how different these conversations have become since DEMO. Whether it’s because of the credibility lent by that event and the surrounding press, or just because we’ve now got our act together on product and messaging, these guys got it immediately. The concept of portable personalization clearly resonated with them, as did the power of our user-centic (or, if you prefer, medium-, application-, and device-agnostic) approach to media discovery. The next steps in that conversation parallel our fourth quarter priorities right now; first validate the predictive value of our science in the context of their content set (kind of a slam dunk, IMHO), then get focused on the technical and user experience details of matchmine-enabling thier application.

As might be expected, we’re still heads down getting the trailing end of the DEMO release out the door right now… things like Mac support, the facebook app, and a few of the other goodies that will give users more places to get value from thier MatchKeys today. Expect this follow-up release late next week, after which job 1 at matchmine is to get our first 3 Partners (Fuzz, FilmCrave and Peerflix) live and ecstatic about us, then begin announcing and launching the second wave.

We’re of course doing all this while taking the next step in our evolution toward being a grown-up business with real processes and lines of accountability, but this too is to be expected. The point is we’ve connected with the marketplace, we have our story straight, and now it’s just a matter of delivery – something we, in the end, control.

This is fun, I hope it is for the rest of the team as well. To quote Mr. Ballmer again, “I love this company.”

The Movement Begins…

September 24, 2007

Hello from beautiful San Diego… We made it to DEMO!

We’re all a little tired after an intense couple of weeks, but we’re at long last LIVE and I wanted to mark the occasion with a few thoughts.

First I want to thank this team, which at this admittedly early stage is the best I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. matchmine executes, baby… and that’s why we’re going to win.

Second I want to say that great businesses almost universally have some higher moral purpose, beyond creating jobs and making money. Ours has been and will continue to be to connect you with media you’ll love. Not the media everyone else loves, or the media somebody else wants you to love… but the media you’ll love. Brave new world.

Finally, I want to ask for your help in getting there.

For matchmine to connect us all with what we love, it has to be more than a technology, more than a bunch of algorithms and a big content database. It has to be a movement – to empower users to take control of their preference data, publishers to give users what they want, andDemo Floor advertisers to reach just the people interested in what they have to say.

It’s about getting people to believe. If enough do – and they only will if we continue to be worthy of their trust – then everybody wins. Anything less, and (in the immortal words of the great Elvis Costello) “It was a fine idea at the time, now it’s a brilliant mistake.”

700 of the more important people to get on board first are sitting down in a big room about a 500 feet from here right now.

Time to go make them believe.

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Summer Slam

August 6, 2007

Sir WinstonBeen a while since my last post, much afoot here in the ‘Mine.

Looking like we’ll be moving to general availability (GA) of the platform sometime this Fall, hopefully at a major technology showcase that will enable us to demo our wares :). We’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to make sure our ducks were in a row with respect to the plan to get us there, and as usual it’s been a tough slog.

Any good planning process starts with a deep dive on the scope of the end-product, and that means hard choices among features, audiences, and even core platform components. With the caveat that being 20% wrong on these decisions is 10x better than not making them, I’m feeling very good about what we plan to take to market, and confident we’ve set ourselves up for success.

Now comes the hard part. Our whole team will need to be heads down through the summer in order for us to climb this hill, starting last week. It’s always amazing to watch the energy shift in a place, and the pitter-patter of fervent key clicks on this Monday morning stands in sharp contrast to the hallway chit chat of the last few weeks.

Our Director of Product Management changed his sig file while all this was underway, and it’s hard for me to top in terms of the insight-to-bits ratio. It says:

“It is of no use saying ‘We are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary” – Winston Churchill

Who am I to quibble with the savior of the western world?

Now back to work.

“You work with good people, you win.”

April 19, 2007

I had breakfast with Robert and Jonathan Kraft today, and at the risk of seeming a name-dropper or a sniveling kiss @ss, spending time with them is like a lesson in the values that contribute so much to the success or failure of a business. Among Robert’s most often sited maxims, reinforced at every opportunity, is the importance of working with “good people.”

What does he mean by this? Of course “good people” means competent people, people who are good at what they do. But he means more than that. He means people of high moral character. He means people who are decent, sensitive, smart, ethical, and loyal. “Mensches” who not only do their jobs well, but who make doing yours that much more enjoyable.

It can be a trivial thing to say this. It’s almost a truism – you hear it all the time from parents, teachers, coaches, and CEOs… I mean who’s out there looking for the really bad people?

It is a decCharacter 2×2idedly non-trivial, and altogether more rare thing, to stick to this value when put to the Tyrant test.

Tyrants are people with high job performance and low character, the upper left folks in the matrix. We’ve all seen them – the high-performing sales guy who abuses the delivery team; the departmental superstar despised by his peers and subordinates; the external media darling who puts style over substance. There are more than a few archetypes in this quadrant, sad to say. All of them can seem invaluable to a business in the near term, which leads managers to overlook their “personal issues.” Tyrants interpret this as reinforcement of their own power, which engenders further bad behavior, and the cycle continues. Value is destroyed in the enterprise – friction is created, and good people leave.

Only leaders with the conviction to dump the Tyrant without hesitation hold “good people” as a value rather than a slogan. This is the Patriot Way, and it will be ours as well.

Disciplined, Metrics-Based Management

March 28, 2007

Yesterday’s post talked about the role of truth in an entrepreneurial context. Today I’d like to share a few thoughts on the importance of getting to the truth in a more mature business.

As Dick Costolo wrote in his excellent blog:

Successful businesses measure and count things. I think that’s a safe assumption on top of which we can drop the following hypothesis: unsuccessful business either measure nothing, the wrong things, too many things, or finally, they measure the right things but they don’t communicate the measurements efficiently.

Everyone acknowledges this, yet so few business really spend the time and energy to avoid one or more of the pitfalls at the back of that quote. This is unfortunate, and due in part to the fact that many executive managers see metrics as some kind of administrative exercise to be delegated to the accountants.

Weekly metrics are so much more than that. There’s been a lot of good work in this area, and I’m not sure I could add much value to the nuts and bolts of why a good and comprehensive set of weekly numbers is even more than an essential tool of financial management. I will say this, though – one of the most common symptoms of poorly defined operational metrics is a dysfunctional executive group, along with the inter-departmental friction and infighting that fragmented management teams invariably encourage.

There are of course other reasons for executive mis-alignment – poor CEO leadership, overly political cultures, even individual execs who are, in the words of Harvard Business Review contributor Bob Sutton, “Assholes.” But I truly believe that more often than not good metrics will solve alignment problems faster more constructively than the other obvious remedy, which is to remove otherwise good people who can’t get with the program.

Why, you say?

Because if you give smart people with aligned incentives the same set of facts, 9 times out of 10 they will come to the same conclusions about what needs to be done. And then they will do it.

Good business metrics define an objective truth for a group of people trying to get to the same place from very different points of view. This is absolutely essential as a business becomes too large and complex for the people in one part to understand what’s happening day-to-day in all the other parts.

And yes that’s “an” objective truth, rather than “the” objective truth. It’s not clear that the latter exists in business except in retrospect. Rather than be paralyzed by this, executives can use it to their advantage by choosing specific metrics that focus people on the right things. For example, think about the many ways to measure what is most often the easiest thing to measure: revenue. A company interested in driving behaviors that maximize revenue growth in a highly transactional business might want to make sure that week-over-week percentage sales growth is the big number in bold at the top of the reporting package. That same business, if it was more interested in maximizing gross profit (revenue minus direct expenses) might be more interested in measuring the gap between forecast and actual sales in a given week, or even in projecting a quarterly variance number that reflects the gap between the budget and the new forecast.

Once you get these numbers right you begin to understand the levers behind each, the drivers and even leading indicators that provide real insight to the state of the business. The numbers evolve, into percents and ratios first, then into bar charts and pies and scatterplots. With a little creativity and genuine commitment it’s not long before the weekly reporting package takes shape as pithy and well-formated document people really depend on to make decisions… and when that happens, more and more of those decisions tend to be aligned with one another.

We are building a culture of disciplined, metrics-based management at matchmine, in every aspect of our business, and at every level. We are doing so not because we value numbers over judgement, or action, or creativity; but because we understand the importance of seeing the truth.