The (possible) Meaning of Life

There are infinite possibilities, but one sticks out for me. This is what I think life is and the meaning behind it and the secret to a successful life.

First, you need to imagine that technology is taking us to a place where we no longer have fear, hunger, or death. The advances in technology will eventually enable us to avoid aging, live in a virtual reality, be able to survive underwater or in an active volcano. Technology will allow us to replace body parts or grow new ones. Have a bad liver? Just rub some stem cell juice on it and voila, you are healthy and young.

Now imagine what it is like to live in that reality. It’s probably intensely boring. Seriously, if you didn’t have to die, didn’t have to eat, never grew old, never feared anything, what is the point? I think the bottom line is that we would be so bored, we would be going nearly crazy.

How would you spend eternity if you were a god?
I think the answer is simple: You would go on vacation all the time.

But just going to Hawaii isn’t enough. After a few hundred thousand years you would have visited every spot on the planet. You would need to experience something new and completely different. The kind of vacation I am describing is virtual. You plug into the vacation maker virtual life 3000 and it lets you live a full life with no memory of being a god. You feel and experience like a normal person. When you die, you wake up as a god again and feel refreshed.

Imagine that you, right now, reading this sentence are actually a god on vacation from your own omnipotence and randomly selected your life to live for 80-100 years. What would your God-self want from you on this vacation? I think the answer, again, is simple: You would want you to live a life that isn’t boring!

If boredom was the reason for the vacation-life in the first place, you would want to have stories and variety in your life. You would want it filled with drama, fear, joy, adventure and comedy. You would want all the best attributes of a great book or movie.

Many cultures have picked up on this possible reality. Hinduism believes that we live our lives infinite times. Some cultures say “God is inside you.” Maybe someone had a glitch in the vacation maker 3000 and told everyone the secret. We keep living lives, over and over and over again. This is how we spend eternity. This is what we need. We need to live human vulnerable lives.

You may not believe what I am saying is true, but you can’t prove it one way or the other. It’s possible that what I am saying is true. If it is, then it is not God whom we must atone in the afterlife. Someone else doesn’t judge us. It is ourselves who judge our experience. Imagine waking up and saying, “Ugh, that sucked. I didn’t do anything good!”

The meaning of life is the life itself. The secret is to have an interesting life with ups and downs, drama and comedy. The secret is to wake up when you die and say, “Wow, that was a good one!” If you were to die/wake up tomorrow, how would you judge your life? Are you satisfied with that answer?

The Department of Redundancy Department

This elevator control brought to you by the department of redundancy department.

Why do we call the first floor L in this scenario? Why not just say 1? L for lobby just seems unhelpful.

Plus, the door-close button doesn’t do a thing. It’s totally useless. Pressing it has no effect at all.

It’s the little things in life that make all the difference, yes?

New LinkedIn UI is Slow

I don’t know how many people have the new UI in LinkedIn. I can’t seem to get out of it. (Yes, I tried)

  1. It’s slow af. Come on guys. You have buko resources. You should focus on speed, speed, speed. This is unacceptable.
  2. It’s ugly af. Look at the picture above. Seriously, is this an improvement? Looks lame to me. I hate the icons at the top.
  3. It’s confusing af. I don’t know where shit is anymore. I get used to stuff being in a particular spot. Stop moving it.

Congratulations LinkedIn! You hit the UX trifecta. Slow, ugly and confusing. Pat yourselves on the back while I struggle with this nonsense. This animated gif expressed my frustration well.

Obamacare is Terrible Branding

Medicare has a name. Medicaid has a name. Even unemployment insurance and Social Security benefits can be referred to with non-partisan labels. Names matter.

The Affordable Care Act is a bill but if you have that health insurance, what do you have? You have ObamaCare. This is the stupidest branding move I can remember and it will affect tens of millions of people.

Republicans originally started calling it ObamaCare because they wanted to make it partisan, but democrats started calling it the same thing shortly after. Why didn’t they give it a name like, “Medisure” or pretty much anything other than ObamaCare? The reason it is bad is because Obama is a democrat and there are people who will never ever support something with his name on it.

The reason it is bad is because Obama is a democrat and there are people who will never ever support something with his name on it. They made a huge mistake by not branding it with a neutral word. Now, it’s a political football when it should be a non-negotiable government benefit.

So what should we do?

Trump Option #1
If Trump is smart (which I doubt), he would replace ObamaCare with a single payer system (great article) and call it some neutral word like Medisure. This would be a huge boon for the US, saving 300 billion dollars per year, plus increase choice and coverage for all Americans. Plus, progressives would be forced to vote for it cementing Trump is a guy who gets shit done.

Trump Option #2
Fiddle with the existing ACA law and rebrand it from ObamaCare to be TrumpCare. This is pure stupidity, but a highly plausible scenario.

Trump Option #3
Destroy the ACA and let all those people who lose their healthcare pound sand. No more ObamaCare. Good luck. This is possible, but geez it sucks.

Trump Option #4
Let congress pass a repeal law and then refuse to sign it. Veto it, which would keep the ACA in existence. This would be the craziest thing to do. I think Trump will choose this option because, “Why not?!” Everyone will go bananas.

Am I missing an option?

Product Idea for an App: Told You So

I always had this dream of an app called “Told You So“. Here are the requirements:

  1. You sign in with Google or Facebook.
  2. It asks you to make a prediction.
  3. You sign it with your finger.
  4. It has a button for “I disagree” and someone else can sign that.
  5. It stores the predictions and signatures in the cloud.
  6. Later, when the event happens, you bring the prediction back up and show it to your friend/family member and say, “Told you so.”
  7. BAM button plays the “You’re the best around from Karate Kid.”
  8. Resolve button gives you the option of who was right, or possibly “disputed results”.
  9. It keeps score for family and friends.
  10. Ability to tweet the results for a public “Told You So”

Simple app, right? I would use this app all the time. People make predictions and then say, “I never said that!” I want to write that shit down and store it in a way that can never be deleted.

I am not saying this app would have Flappy Bird kind of success, but I think it would do well.

Speaking of which, here are some predictions for 2017:

  • Politics: Trump will make me sad for at least 20 unrelated reasons. Also, despite lots conflicts of interest, Trump will not be sanctioned in any real way in 2017.
  • Sports: Andy Murray will win the Australian Open in Tennis
  • Culture: Casey Affleck will win Best Actor for Manchester by the Sea
  • Stock Market: Dow Jones will be at 21,951 on Dec 31, 2017
  • Work: Engagio will be growing like mad. (OK, this one is self-serving)
  • Tech: Battery technology will FINALLY take a step forward. 2x life.
  • Medicine: The world’s first HIV vaccine becomes commercially available
  • Personal: My oldest kid will be accepted into Stanford. (Wishful predicting)
  • Personal: My middle kid will record 5 full songs on his first LP. He will refuse to let me watch him perform.
  • Personal: My youngest will read a book that I suggest. (long shot)

Predictions are difficult. You have to be willing to be wrong and take a stance on something. Let’s meet back here in a year and see how I did.

Happy Holidays!

Mac Designers Need to Test on Windows

An open letter to designers who only see the world through Apple products.

I’ll just jump right to the point. The rest of the world doesn’t see your work the way you intended. Take a look at this screenshot from my Windows 10 machine running Chrome. The site is a designers portfolio.

Notice the blurry font
100% zoom

I can’t read the text. It looks terrible.  I can see that it is embedded Lato from Google fonts.

So why does it look blurry?

The answer is “Font-weight: 200”. When I turn that off, the font looks slightly better. (I am not a fan of Lato when it’s thin). I am sure that on a Mac this looked better, but on Windows, it looks terrible.

According to NetMarketShare, Windows represents 80-90% of the market, while Mac is 5-10%. This view is shared by every single tracking service out there. If you are not testing on Windows, you are likely creating a bad experience for people.

I ask each and every one of you designers to look in Google Analytics and look up the OS stats. Here is mine for 2016:

My site is heavily trafficked by Silicon Valley and designers and I still have the majority of people visiting from Windows.

If you are a designer, you should be taking care of your portfolio site. It is the first and last thing I look at as a hiring manager. It should be awesome, not just serviceable. You are a designer, your site reflects on you.

There are services where you can see how your site looks in different systems. If you need to test interactions, you can install Windows on your Mac to test.

So word to the wise: If your font looks jacked up I am likely to hold it against you in my hiring decisions.

Bah Humbug! Umm, I mean, Happy Holidays!

UX = Value minus Friction

It’s a simple formula.

UX = V – F

  • UX = User Experience

  • V = Value

  • F = Friction

If the friction or effort of doing something is higher than the individual perceived value then the majority of people will not want to do it.

Some examples where the effort outweighs the perceived benefit and therefore have the majority avoid it, despite its obvious value.

  • Working out
  • Doing your homework or studying for a test
  • Voting
  • Practicing piano or a new way to serve in tennis
  • Logging phone calls in Salesforce
  • Entering in JIRA estimates
  • Writing tests for your code
  • Usability testing

Apply this formula to anything in your life that you SHOULD do, but you don’t. The bottom line is that the hassle (friction) outweighs the benefits (value).

This is a core factor in designing software. If you want people to use it, you need to lower the friction point below the perceived value point.

For example, Marketo is NOT easy to use. However, the value is very high if you do use it. It is “easy enough” compared to the value you get from it. It is successful because the formula is still good. More value than friction.

I am designing software right now that had solid value for one type of user, but no perceived value for another type of user. Guess who complained about usability? The second type, of course. So now, my mission is to either lower the friction for them or increase their perceived value through new features. Ideally, we do both.

We often trick ourselves into thinking the value is higher and the friction is less than it really is. Don’t be foolish. Be harsh on your own products. Be a tiger mom for your product. It can never be good enough. Keep lowering friction and increasing value.

If you pretend your product is better than it is, you are the one who will suffer.

 

Masterful Conversations

I’ve mentioned this technique in other posts, but I was searching for it and thought it deserved its own spot. The technique is one that I learned during my 12 months at Intuit in 2006 called Masterful Conversations.

The basic premise of the technique is that we collectively spend all of our time talking about our own opinions and hardly even listen to someone else’s opinion. This creates poor conversations and poor relationships, especially in the work environment.

As a better model, they provided this simple graph to break your role in the conversation into three parts. You are supposed to spend your time in any conversation equally divided between the three parts.

1/3 Inquiry
It’s simple, just ask questions about what the other person said. If they say, “We should buy sauce for the dish!”, then you reply, “What kind of sauce did you have in mind?” There is always a question you can ask. People are never 100% detailed and accurate.

This is also called the Socratic Method.

The Socratic method is a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions.

The benefit of inquiry is that it forces the person on the other side of the table to think more specifically about what they are saying. Often, the devil is in the details and inquiry helps people see they may have a flaw in their logic. Also, it shows that you are listening. In fact, it forces you to listen. Listening is actually a crucial skill that rarely gets practiced.

1/3 Reflection
In my first year at Marketo, I would argue with the CEO about some product detail. At one point he said, “Why can’t you just acknowledge what I just said?!” I think rather quickly and was jumping from his point to a conclusion. However, other people do not think at the exact same speed as you (slower or quicker).  So I replied starting with the phrase, “So what I heard you say is _____”.  Immediately, the whole conversation changed. He was open to my opinion because I acknowledged his opinion.

Reflection is crucial because people do not always understand the same sentences in the same way. By reflecting, “I heard you say…” the other person often will say, “No, that’s not what I meant.” Imagine a whole conversation where each party understood the conversation in totally different terms. Reflection fixes that problem and forces the other person to think more carefully about their words and make it clear what they meant.

This will often have the effect of changing the other person’s mind. When you hear an idea it goes through a more stringent filter than when you say an idea. By hearing their own idea back, it is possible for someone to realize the idea has flaws. This is especially useful if the other person does not like you. By mirroring their ideas you are employing cognitive dissonance. They can’t dislike you when you are saying their own ideas back to them.

Keep in mind, reflection is not agreement. You are only acknowledging your understanding of what they said. You are not judging their idea at all. You reserve the right to have an alternative point of view.

1/3 Advocacy
This part is the easiest for people. It’s saying your ideas. Most people spend 100% of their conversation in this mode. This is a practiced method that everyone knows how to do. The key is the 1/3 part. Don’t overdo it. Don’t advocate all the time. It makes you unlikeable.

People are emotional, not logical. We make decisions all the time based on imperfect information and poor communication. Check out my previous post on the UX of Arguments, detailing the reasons people disagree.

If you follow the masterful conversations 1/3 rule, you will notice that your communication quality goes up and people generally like you more.


Recently, a professional woman was stating that as a woman she is perceived as pushy when she interrupts in a meeting, but men are considered assertive. This is, by and large, a fact of company behavior. My suggestion is to interrupt, but 2/3 of the time interrupt to mirror or ask a question. I think (hope) that kind of interruption will change the dynamic in the room and actually give power to the woman and when the 1/3 advocacy comes around, it will get listened to.

This advice is for everyone and I hope it helps. However, it does take practice. Keep at it.

Goodbye New York Jets

Superbowl III was played in 1969. Broadway Joe Namath guaranteed the win and came through. It was a miracle moment for fans of the Jets. I was born a few years later and grew up in the shadow of that glorious moment.

I was a Jets fan, hoping that one day, another Joe Namath would lead the Jets to victory in the SuperBowl. We got close and had some great moments. In 2000, Vinnie Testaverde manufactured the greatest comeback ever on Monday Night Football. I watched the whole thing from my bed. (It was 1 am when it finished)

We made the AFC Championship game several times, but in my lifetime, the Jets have failed to ever get back to the SuperBowl. They have gotten close, only to disappoint me at the last second. Yet, I remained a fan. I was not a fair weather fan. I stuck with them.

Even when the Patriots and Tom Brady started kicking our asses for a decade, I hung in there. Even with the Mark Sanchez butt-fumble, I hung in there. Even with Dan Marino’s fake spike play, I hung in there. I stayed because a fan stays.

And then I heard this news.

Woody Johnson Takes On Role as Fund-Raiser for Donald Trump.

A while back, I heard the news about the CEO of Barilla pasta being severely anti-gay. I voted with my pocketbook and decided to stop buying Barilla pasta, even though it was my favorite. So now, when I heard about Woody Johnson and Trump, I felt like it was the last straw. Woody Johnson inherited his fortune and hasn’t really done much with his life. He has mostly just amassed more money and avoided paying taxes. I’ve looked the other way for 16 years (since he bought the Jets in 2000), but enough is enough.

I don’t care about any of the Jets players. I don’t respect the coaching staff. I don’t respect the owner. I don’t enjoy watching the games. Almost 5 decades is enough. I give up.

I am no longer a fan of the New York Jets.

I am unsubscribing from DirecTV Sunday Ticket. I probably will not watch the San Francisco 49ers or Oakland Raiders (even though the Raiders are doing well this season). I think I will stop watching football altogether. It is a pretty violent sport and truthfully, I enjoy watching tennis more.

This is permanent and non-negotiable.

This likely will mean that the Jets win the Superbowl next year. I have that kind of luck. I won’t complain, though.

Good bye, sweet Jets. Good bye.

Hiring UX Designer 2016

I am starting my search for a UX Designer to join our team at Engagio. I actually prefer people in the earlier stages of their career. (Directors need not apply)

Designer Characteristics:

  1. Creative. Can come up with new solutions to problems.
  2. OCD. Does it bother you that their is a mistake in this question?
  3. Productive. We have a lot to do. Lots of context switching and multi-tasking.
  4. Concise.
  5. Confident. This position will have interactions with lots of people, including executives.
  6. Positive. It’s not personal; it’s always about the work.
  7. Special. A parent or loved one must vouch for you.
  8. Smart. Knows designing is hard work.
  9. Eloquent. Can explain why.
  10. Clever. Can come up with a witty retort to this list.

Job Characteristics:

  1. Deliver engineering specs. Engineering needs to know what to build. This is your responsibility. Don’t count on PM to do all the detail work. UX Design owns these engineering specs.
  2. UX is not just UI. User Interface Design, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Graphic Design and even Curriculum Design are all part of user experience and this job entails all of them at some points.
  3. Iterating with Engineers. This isn’t an Ivory Tower department. We sit right in the middle of engineers and help drive a project to the highest possible quality in collaboration with engineers and other various groups.

When applying, please include a link to your website.

Hint: I am actually going to judge your design ability by what your website looks like. Don’t skimp on your own site.

About Engagio
We are a small but growing startup in downtown San Mateo. Engagio makes SaaS B2B software for sales, marketing and account management. Products include:

Account-Based Platform matches Leads to the right Account; identifies which accounts are engaging (MQAs); and aggregates account insights (Scout) to serve as the foundation for ABM.

ABM Analytics shows the impact of Account Based Marketing efforts with account-centric awareness, engagement and impact metrics that matter.

PlayMaker orchestrates cross-channel interactions across sales, marketing and customer success to engage accounts with personalized and timely human touchpoints.

Engagio is an Equal Opportunity Employer

Apply Now!

Disturbing Trends

Not all trends are bad, but some really scare me. For example:

Congress is supposed to pass laws. It’s kind of their job. I suppose I would rather no laws than terrible laws, but still, this is a disturbing trend.

How about this one?

The top 1% is earning more and more of the pie that is supposed to be shared. This trend got it’s first huge boost under Bill Clinton. Look at how the disparity is increasing below.

Also, the wealth is being centralized in white hands. This is not because white people are “smarter”. This is systemic bias of the economy.

But look who carries the most student loan debt…African Americans.

These trends are disturbing. We are also putting more people in jail than ever. Again, it started in the 80’s and got a huge boost under Bill Clinton.

There are so many more charts that show our society getting worse, not better. This isn’t a question of who is president. The Congress has lots of responsibility here as well.

How can we hope to reverse these trends without also reverting back to a time of racism and xenophobia? I’m not saying it’s hopeless, but it isn’t telling a very positive story so far.

Happy is not my preferred state of being

My mom asks me all the time, “Are you happy?”

I find the question to be annoying. (Sorry mom) The reason is that I don’t actually want to be “happy”. Happy to me implies blissful cow-like behavior. It implies sitting and staring at the sunset and thinking, “Gee, this is swell.” To me, it’s boring to want to be happy.

I want to be focused. I want to be filled with purpose and drive. I want to be a man on a mission.

Of course, there have been moments in my past when that purpose and drive led to a moment of joy/happiness. Wonderful days to be sure. However, those moments are the few and far between. Every day, I want to be aware and alert and moving towards my goals.

Yesterday was my 1 year anniversary of joining Engagio. People often ask, “Are you happier there than at Marketo?”  Again, I think it’s the wrong question. The right question is, “Are you more focused now than at Marketo?”  The answer is “YES, by 100x!”

I was focused at Marketo from 2007-2012. However, the last few years left me feeling unfocused, without drive and passion, rudderless. I didn’t believe in the company vision or how I personally could fit into it. This more than anything else led me away from a company I poured my heart and soul into.

At Engagio, I feel focused on a new mission. I am building a new product for new people doing new things. We chose a very ambitious scope and it will take years to fully realize it, but when we do it could change the SaaS landscape.

Happy/fulfillment is a destination. It is a momentary place. Purpose is a process, a journey. Purpose drives you. Happiness makes you stay still. Inspiration feeds purpose and purpose drives mankind forward

Ask yourself, “Do I want to be happy or do I want purpose?” Now ask yourself, “What is my mission?”  Are you happy with those answers?

Hiring a Product Manager – 2016

I just started a search for a product manager on my team at Engagio.

Summary
Smart, intuitive, empathetic, energetic, friendly, fun person who can put on a professional game face for customers and partners. Here are some additional qualities I look for.

Works well with others
A Product Manager works with engineering, sales, design, customer success, partners, prospects and customers. Did I miss anyone? Synthesising input from all of these sources into intelligent requirements is part art and part science. This is the key to success as a PM on my team.

Has long term vision and short term execution
We are building a really big thing that will take years to realize while giving strong value all along the way. We need someone who can think far ahead and translate that into an actionable game plan.

Bonus: Knowledge of SaaS Workflow
Understanding of systems like Salesforce, Eloqua, Marketo and other SaaS workflow/sales tools is a helpful.

Engagio is just under 2 years old but is already taking the market by storm. We are rapidly growing and have a huge vision for the future. Currently the team is small so you can get in on the ground floor.

Experience Requirements
Chemistry is everything. I would happily hire a smart, intuitive, empathetic, energetic, friendly, fun person who can put on a professional game face for customers and partners with no experience versus the opposite but has decades of job history.

It’s a special position for a special person. Bring your best.

The Electoral College is Bad

I’ve complained about the Electoral College before, 12 years ago. This thing doesn’t make any sense in today’s world.

From Wikipedia:

Some delegates, including James Wilson and James Madison, preferred popular election of the executive. Madison acknowledged that while a popular vote would be ideal, it would be difficult to get consensus on the proposal given the prevalence of slavery in the South:

There was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to the fewest objections. – James Madison

The Convention approved the Committee’s Electoral College proposal, with minor modifications, on September 6, 1787. Delegates from the small states generally favored the Electoral College out of concern large states would otherwise control presidential elections.


So clearly, the original intent of the electoral college had alot to do with slavery. It also helped small states have extra power. Small states have incredible power compared to their bigger neighbors. They have the same number of senators, despite representing far fewer people.  Additionally, they have more than their share of congressmen and electoral college delegates.

There are tons of videos about how the electoral college sucks. Here is one:

We don’t have slavery anymore. There is no need to spend weeks to travel with your votes to a central location. We don’t need this archaic institution anymore. The popular vote is fair. People who live in small states shouldn’t have more power to elect a president than I do. We should have equal voting rights.

It’s hard to change things. Occupy Wall Street didn’t really change anything because they didn’t have concrete goals. I think it’s important to pin down specific goals and unite behind them.

7% of all presidential elections have failed the majority of voters. Al Gore and Hillary Clinton won the popular vote only to lose the electoral college. This is unacceptable. People can make a change when they are united behind a specific goal. Here is one: Abolish the Electoral College. Sign the petition below.

Election 2016

The election is over and the next President of the United States will be Donald Trump. To many people like myself, we imagine someone voting for Trump and it fills us with rage and frustration. However, with my empathy hat on, I know that the people who voted for him feel the same way about me. There is a huge gap between us.

Its tempting to imagine our electorate as a normal bell curve. Left is liberal and right is conservative.

However, the truth is that 50% of the voting public did not even vote, so this is just the top part of the curve. Also, the curve doesn’t actually look like this. It looks more like this:

There are not that many people in the middle. At least it seems that way when you watch television. You are either an ultra-liberal hippie who just wants to tax everyone and steal the money or an ultra-right wing racist nutcase who just wants to fire guns at brown people. It’s hard to tell the truth. Where does reality start and entertainment end?

It fills me with despair that I predicted this outcome in March. (Based on my Presidential Election Charisma Rule). I love Hillary, but I voted for Bernie in the primaries because I thought he had a better chance of winning. I think he would have beat Trump. I also believe Joe Biden (whom I voted for in 2012) could have beat Trump.

The problem with Hillary primarily was that she was not charismatic. She was competent and smart and would actually do a good job. Unfortunately, that is not what wins elections. We are not that bright of a people. She won the primary because of the super-delegates. This was a mistake on the democratic party. One that we will pay for dearly in the coming decades. Yes, decades because of supreme court nominations.

On the subject of polls, they were clearly way off. I don’t think I will trust a polls for a very long time. Here is my hypothesis of what happened. “Likely voters” are determined by poll data from previous elections. In this election, Trump energized a previously dormant constituency, white uneducated males. They typically don’t vote.

Remember the charts above. 50% of the chart is missing. It’s the iceberg under the water. This time, a significant portion of those people voted. They weren’t counted in the polls because they typically don’t vote. It is a real lesson in how you can change the formula by tapping into the untapped.

In the end, I am disappointed, but I understand what happened. It’s like when I design something that people find “difficult to use”. There is no use in fighting it and saying, “They are just dumb!”. I have to go back to the drawing board and make it better.

I hope the Democrats take this lesson to heart and start working on their presentation skills. If you (Democratic leadership) need some UX help, please don’t hesitate to ask.

One last thing: President Trump…please try not to start a nuclear war. It would be bad.

 

How are we so evenly split?

One of the strangest things in American politics is how evenly we are split between the two major parties. Look at the last few months of the popular vote between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Here is the same chart with % chance of winning

The second chart at times looks like a landslide. However, the first chart is neck and neck. This is a poll for voting for two very different candidates. Whatever your politics are, I think you could agree that they are wildly different people with huge chasms in their policy objectives.

How are we as a society so closely matched between democrats and republicans? One possibility is that the system has a market dynamic that forces parity. In other words, imagine two political groups Alpha and Beta. They have no specific policies. Then they start to develop their positions.  Each one of the parties chooses policy points and gets some people to love them and some to hate them.

Over time, each party moves only slightly and accrues some voters while shedding others. However, if a party ever gets wiped out in an election, they immediately change their tune to get the votes back. In fact, what it means to be a republican or democrat or federalist or even Whig has changed dramatically over the years. The democrats in the early 20th century were the racists and the republicans were the party of stopping slavery. Then in 1948, everything was turned on its head. (Look it up)

This is my only explanation, but it feels wrong to me. The market of ideas doesn’t seem so flexible. Here is a list of my policy objectives in general order of importance:

  1. Progressive Supreme Court (Highest priority!)
  2. Energy Grid Upgrade
  3. Cut Defense Spending by 50%
  4. End Gerrymandering
  5. Continue/Tweak Affordable Care Act
  6. Allow government to study gun violence (duh!)
  7. Research and combat climate change
  8. Fund Arts / schools / basic research (like we used to!)
  9. Support women’s reproductive rights
  10. Tax corporations/billionaires more

Not everyone has a top 10 list, but they should. They should have a list of policies and decide who supports their agenda the best. However, 99.9% of people do not have this. They vote the way they would vote for American Idol based on who like the “like” and who they want to have a beer with. We are mostly uninformed, uneducated people who are asked to vote on questions we are ill equipped to answer.

It’s like deciding which sports team to be a fan of. You usually choose the team your parents supported, simple as that. I am still stumped as to how each election is nearly 50/50. It seems that with all of the challenges facing the world that one sides (democrat) policies would become more acceptable. However, this is not the case.

Some economist should make a podcast about this. (If it already exists, please point me in the right direction)

Eero Wifi Review (Day 2)

My house is shaped funny. This results WiFi dead spots. This weekend, we moved a bunch of furniture around to give two of my kids their own room, rather than sharing. Doing something like that always involves alot of work you didn’t expect and plenty of dust in the air which made my left eye blood red.

After moving the office downstairs, I realized that our dead spot problem was now blocking computers from the internet completely. I had to find a solution for 3 floors, 2 TVs and about 10 other roaming devices. Previously, I had tried WiFi extenders, but they always seemed to causing problems. Setting them up always was finicky and the speed was terrible. Also, I had a system using PowerLine adapters which was expensive and somewhat limited.

Enter Eero

I actually started researching this new technique when Google announced their own offering which is launching in December. I was going to wait, but circumstances intervened with the move.

The concept is called Mesh WiFi. You buy three pucks and plug them in. You install an app on your phone and control everything from there. I have used Web applications to control routers for almost 20 years. This was a very new concept for me.

I can’t emphasize enough how easy the whole setup was. Installing the app was obviously simple. Registration took virtually no time. It recognized the pucks below quickly. There was basically nothing to do. It just worked.

The app did a speed test and matched roughly the speed I wanted. There were no dead spots. I got rid of my router and got rid of the powerline adapters. Now, we are 100% WiFi. We have officially cut the ethernet cord.

It’s expensive. The three pucks cost $400 + tax. However, the amount of time this has saved me is worth it. I was considering returning, but if the speeds keep up. I think they earned the money. Nice work Eero.

Note: I didn’t try Netgear Oobi or Luma, but they are basically the same idea.

The Gooey Emotional Center

Marketo Retrospective Part 9
As part of a series, I am doing retrospective lessons from my 9 years at Marketo. This might be the last one. It’s the part that very few people understand, but I think it is the reason Marketo did well.

Some people call it Product Market Fit, but to me that doesn’t do the concept justice. I call it the The Gooey Emotional Center of a product.

There is a particular thing Marketo power users say to me. They say, “Thank you for my career.” This is a big deal to me. We didn’t just build software that did a job. We created a category, created a career path for people with very few skills in the beginning.

2007
In the first year of Marketo, we built a UI that replaced Google Adwords. It was a fancy UI improvement over the built-in Google UI. It flopped terribly. Marketo ended up deleting the feature because it wasn’t being used. However, it also had a landing page editor that worked like PowerPoint. This was a huge hit, people loved that.

I interviewed people to understand why they liked one and not the other. This is what they told me:

“Look at my resume. Google Adwords is one of the few skills I possess. How can I replace that with your little product? It’s the cornerstone of my skills bullet. However, with the landing page editor, I can add Marketo Landing Pages to the skills bullet. It’s not huge, but it’s something.”

I asked more about the landing pages and they described the following interaction to me:

A Marketer walks up to Web Developer Gunther. (Names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

  • Marketer: “Hey Gunther, can you change this sentence on the website?”
  • Gunther: “Ahh, there a problem with the domain of the CDN, so I can’t FTP the HTML and jQuery to the server until the DNS gets propagated. Should be a few days.” (Gunther goes back to playing game on Linux computer)
  • Marketer: (looks depressed) “I hate you, Gunther.”

At this point in the story, the Marketer doesn’t know HTML, JavaScript, Programming, Database Management, SQL queries or anything a developer knows how to do. Their job is basically project management, procurement combined with writing. Marketers didn’t know how to do anything computer technical.

2008-2010
I saw this interaction and thought that we could solve the problem by giving the marketer drag and drop tools to achieve their vision without the help of the web developer. We made simple versions of the following:

  • Form Editor
  • Landing Page Editor
  • Email Editor
  • Workflow Engine (Smart Campaign)
  • SQL Queries (Smart List)

This is the core of Marketo and what makes the magic. These are the 4 components that tapped into the Gooey Emotional Center of the marketer. These 4 components meant they didn’t have to talk to Gunther anymore. They felt empowered with real skills.

Gunther is dead! Long live the Marketer!

This simple idea: Give the marketer tools to make them feel useful and skilled is what created a 1.6 billion dollar company. Talking about Product Market Fit misses the larger point about human beings and why they buy things. People buy based off emotion 90% of the time. They FEEL and then buy. Logic often has little to do with it.

2011-Present
The next big emotional improvement came with Sales Insight. This made the marketer look good to sales. Deep down, marketers want sales people to like them. There is a small inadequacy thing that happens to marketers talking to sales folks. A resentment mixed with a desire to look smart and talented. Sales Insight started to tap into that.

Unfortunately, that was the last time that Marketo found the marketer’s product-emotional fit. All of the following failed to improve the emotional well being of the Marketer:

  • Social widgets
  • RTP
  • RCE/RCA
  • Programs
  • Calendar
  • Mobile
  • AdBridge

The Marketo roadmap was filled with stuff that didn’t really matter to the Marketer. Maybe this has something to do with being a public company, maybe it was poor decision making, maybe it was group think…the bottom line is that the marketers emotions became less important.

My recollection of Marketo is filled with “what-ifs” and “shoulda done this/that”. It’s a useless endeavor. You make choices along the way and hopefully learn something for next time. There were great features built like the Engagement Streams, but if they fail to connect emotionally, then they will fail to change the world.

At Engagio, I am trying to tap back into those same people and find the Gooey Emotional Center. If we can, then we may be able to create another billion dollar unicorn. Sounds like a tall order, but I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else.

 

Marketo Marketing

Marketo Retrospective Part 8
As part of a series, I am doing retrospective lessons from my 9 years at Marketo. Today, I focus on the Marketo’s Marketing. Like building a Sales Team I think this is an area that Marketo really shined and set the benchmark for thousands of other companies in the past 10 years.

Content Marketing
This all started with Jon Miller writing the Marketo blog. He was talking about digital marketing even before we had a product. He built a loyal following with great content, so when we finally had something to sell, he had built up an initial audience. This was brilliant and new in 2007.

Jon extended this content with eBooks that he named the “Definitive Guide to [insert topic]” series. These were exhaustive (long) tomes on topics that were important to marketers. Some people read them, some skimmed, but everyone downloaded. This led to specific features in the product like Engagement Streams and Forms on Landing pages.

The content set Marketo up as a thought leader. This helped close many deals. The sales people may not have understood that factor, but they had a hidden advantage in all of their deals. Content Marketing wasn’t entirely new, but Marketo perfected it.

Inbound Marketing
I think Maria Pergolino invented Inbound Marketing. From Wikipedia:

Inbound marketing is the promotion of a company or other organization through blogs, podcasts, video, eBooks, newsletters, whitepapers, SEO, physical products, social media marketing, and other forms of content marketing which serve to attract customers through the different stages of the purchase funnel.

Maria was everywhere on the web. She was answering questions on remote sites, she was tweeting at people, she was at every conference. You couldn’t talk about Marketing Automation without Maria being there contributing value and mentioning Marketo.

Maria earned her keep and more with that effort. She brought attention to the company in a non-invasive way. She hit a (glass?) ceiling in the marketing department and joined Apttus in 2012. Currently, she is their SVP of Global Marketing.

Marketing Automation
I’ve said this many times to Marketo customers, “Don’t listen to how Marketo uses Marketo. They are the worst users of the system.” I don’t mean this in a mean way. As a product leader, you have a vision of how the system ought to be used. The Marketo marketing team used it in avery different and extremely complicated way. Customers who tried to mimic that usually ended up extremely confused and unhappy.

One guy who shall remain nameless to protect his identity invented something called Traffic Cop. The dreaded Traffic Cop. This is the worst thing that ever happened to Marketo. It was a nightmare. It brought down arrays of servers. It flooded the activity log with non-sense. All to try and send email. Customers left and right complained that Marketo was too hard. All because of over-complications our own team tried to do.

I had to invent Engagement Streams to stop people from using Traffic Cop. I complained bitterly that customers were getting annoyed with the product saying “It’s too hard!” specifically complaining about the complex ways Marketo’s own marketing department said they use the system.  I think they poisoned the well for no good reason. It saddens me that the team couldn’t get their shit together enough to stop this bad behavior.

Brand Marketing
I remember one executive who sent around an “elevator pitch” of Marketo. It was 3 paragraphs of nonsense. I told them that engineers were not going to remember all that. They needed 1 (very short) sentence. She told me, “This has been approved from pretty high up.” That is the kind of bullshit that ruins companies. Logic and reason should win out over crap like that.

Marketo, sadly, never really built a strong brand presence. It was a simple corporate brand; clean and professional. However, it never had much to love or latch onto emotionally. The community was vibrant, but the brand itself left much to be desired. This is something we are trying to do better at Engagio with Gio the Whale. Some people might hate him, but as a tech startup, you need to be bold and take a stance. If you eliminate anything objectionable, you will end up with nothing.

Recruiting brand was also dismal. Marketo never actively marketed to potential employees. This is something you HAVE to do in silicon valley. Google, Facebook, Apple and Uber snatch up people by the boatloads. You have to stand out culturally. The values and positive work environment were never a big part of the marketing. I think this was a mistake and led to lesser employees being hired.

Customer Video Testimonials
This was another huge innovation of the Marketing Department. For years, Marketo was the #1 ranked result when searching for “Customer Video Testimonials.” Today, they are not even on the first page. However, this was truely ground breaking at the time. Eloqua didn’t show the product, but Marketo did. They hid their community and users and Marketo took videos of them and portrayed them loud and proud on the home page. I believe that this single marketing practice was responsible for a major increase in sales wins over Eloqua.

Events
Marketo was a master of events. Tradeshows, roadshows, webinars, seminars, virtual events and dinners. It didn’t matter, Marketo killed it every single time. It has just been a joy and education to watch people like Maria Pergolino, Jeff Cowen, Lauren Moskowitz and their teams create experiences that seem to come from a much larger more funded company. They made us look big, bold and professional. I was so proud at those events.

The biggest coup, by far was the 2014 Annual Summit featuring the keynote speaker Hillary Clinton. I just couldn’t believe it. This was the height of my pride in the company. 6,000 people jam packed in the Moscone center and I was front-row center with my son. I was prouder than the IPO day. That day was created by the marketing department and I will never forget it.

Hillary Clinton and Glen Lipka

Summary
Marketo made a tremendous impact on Marketo. They influenced countless other companies and changed the course of marketing for a generation. Business classes in universities should study how it happened. They weren’t perfect, but they did an awful lot right. There is alot to unpack here, but it’s all worth it. I hope I did the experience justice in this retrospective. I hope you found it helpful, entertaining, or both.

Email Transparency, Pandora’s Box

If you have a corporate email address, you should read this post.

You currently may not realize, but IT and the management of the company have full rights and access to your email..right now. They can copy your entire inbox and see every message.

This probably doesn’t bother you too much because the reality is that they don’t look. So unless you got caught embezzling money, the likelihood is that no one will bother to look at your emails.

Ok, now let’s imagine you buy SalesforceIQ, DataHug or Engagio. These tools consolidate all of the email to and from target accounts. It’s as if the lights are suddenly turned on in the bar at 3am. It’s not pleasant what you may see. Some examples:

  • Criminal activity
  • Dick pics
  • Harassment
  • Disclosure of confidential information
  • Security/Password info
  • Inappropriate behavior/speech
  • Complaining about their boss
  • Soliciting a new job
  • Poorly worded or incorrect explanations
  • Poor brand/marketing alignment
  • Misspelled words/typos
  • Sent to wrong person
  • Never sent email

Notice how I got progressively less bad as the list went on. Still, this is a common list of sins. Some much worse than others.

Next, imagine you are a business owner and I told you that out of your 100% of employees, 5% of them are engaging in one or more of the above sins. In fact, at least one of them is engaged in criminal activity.

The million dollar question: Do you want the lights turned on?

Let’s break down the choice.

Yes, turn the lights on
First thing that happens is you admonish or fire the worst offenders. These people were well liked and otherwise productive. You have to hire a recruiting firm to replace them and lose time and money in the process. You may even lose a few people who they managed. Ripple effects.

Additionally, people start to get angry. They are mad that you are looking over their shoulder. They don’t feel trusted anymore. They start to complain about Big Brother. Culturally, something is lost.

Then things start to get better. People are more conscious of their communications and are more thoughtful about it. They are more appropriate and inappropriate use of email drops significantly. People get used to the policy and bad feelings dissipate. Eventually, only the good parts will remain. People will use email for appropriate work purposes only. This option is clearly 1 step backwards for 2 steps forward.

No, leave the lights off
Well, you are living this reality right now. A few bad apples will continue abusing email and nothing will change. No steps backward or forward.


 

It’s not every day that software raises ethical questions like this. I am excited that change for the better is possible and that I can be an agent of change. However, I understand there is going to be alot of hard feelings and chaos when the lights go on. It ain’t pretty out there.

If I went back in time and told Hillary Clinton that all of her emails are going to made public during her run for President, I bet she might have made different choices.

In the meantime, please think about how every word you type is being stored in the cloud whether you like it or not. Maybe act like they are watching even if they aren’t.

Remember, your email address at work is not private! It’s owned by the company. Protect yourself and don’t be stupid.

Building a Startup Sales Team

Marketo Retrospective Part 7
As part of a series, I am doing retrospective lessons from my 9 years at Marketo. Today, I focus on Building a Startup Sales Team. I think this is an area that Marketo really shined and set the benchmark for thousands of other companies in the past 10 years.

In the beginning of Marketo there was one sales executive (VP) and two sales reps (Scott and Nick). The product was this new UI for Google Adwords that did NOT do well at all. The sales guys were unhappy and not making their numbers. The executive stayed in their office and did not venture out very often. The mold of the VP was more of an executive, someone higher up than lowly me.  One day, the CEO announced that the sales exec was no longer with the company, and meet the new sales exec, Bill Binch. (That was a confusing day.)

Bill took his laptop, closed the door to the executive office (with no one inside) and sat next to the sales team. He was saying, “This is a team sport and we are going to win it together.”  This one move set a brand new tone. We were very impressed right away. This wasn’t going to be some high falutin position that is above the fray. Bill was a field general. He was in the battle working with sales on every deal. It changed the tone immediately.

I had never seen a functioning sales department before this. The only sales teams I experienced were 1-2 man operations where they would answer the phone if it happen to ring. This was something else, much more energetic and engaged. The energy level was infectious, but he brought another factor as well, process and execution.

During the 9 years, I learned how teams can be formed with territories and spiffs. (Spiff is an internal promotion – If you make X goal, then you get Y bonus) I learned how sales execution and process makes selling repeatable. It was tremendously impressive and will stay with me forever. Keep in mind, I had not experienced this before. For those of you who always had that kind of sales, consider yourself lucky.

This is not meant to whitewash the sales team. During the later years, sales suffered from numerous cultural problems including charges of sexism and cronyism. My main lesson here was how sales can be bootstrapped from the ground up.

Over time, sales walled themselves off from the rest of the team. I lost touch with the ebb and flow of their lives. Ideally, sales should be much more integrated with the overall team. One suggestion is to not have a sales only “club”. (Club is an annual outing to a resort for top sales people) The rest of the company thought club was unfair and that it created discord. I won’t dwell on this too much because it is contentious. The key lesson for me is to integrate sales into the lives of the rest of the company. Silos in a company create red tape and limit growth. It takes a strong culture to bridge the gaps, but Sales, Marketing, Engineering and other departments need to be aligned with more than just empty words.

One area of interesting discussion relates to the SDR/BDR group. These are young employees who qualify accounts to make sure they are ready for sales. They are the junior grunt workers of the sales process. The question is whether they should report to Sales or Marketing or even be their own department reporting to the CEO or Head of Revenue. For more information on this, check out my blog post on Engagio about SDRs. I think the answer is the have the SDR group in Marketing, but the battle continues.

Sales is hard and it takes alot of different skills. You have to inspire the prospect, identify the right people in the organization, control the message, communicate enough but not too much, negotiate the price, manage expectations and many other details. I am good at “inspiring”, but I struggle with every other part of sales. I respect their abilities and don’t envy the hard work they do. In some companies, they make very little money because of a crap product. However, at Marketo, sales people did very well. I wish the sales team had shown more appreciation (over the years) to the engineering and product teams.

So in the end, the lesson regarding sales is mostly positive, especially in the beginning, due in large part to excellent leaders and salespeople. There are some flaws, but I tried to be balanced.

UX and Technical Debt

Marketo Retrospective Part 6
As part of a series, I am doing retrospective lessons from my 9 years at Marketo. Today, I focus on product development. Specifically about a philosophy I have around maintaining products after initial innovation.

When you have a startup, the first innovation is complete free from existing customer complaints. It is pure in that sense. It is only after you deliver that first product and customers are using it that you start to accumulate UX and technical debt.

Technical debt is a concept in programming that reflects the extra development work that arises when code that is easy to implement in the short run is used instead of applying the best overall solution.

From my 2011 blog post on technical debt.

Notice how the quality goes down exponentially with technical debt.
Notice how date driven releases contribute to technical debt.
Notice how new features are delayed because of tech debt

At Marketo, the technical debt load was very high. Part of this was cultural. We were strongly dissuaded from refactoring and improving code. For every one engineer like Crash who optimized code as he went, there were dozens who cut corners to make deadlines.

The real culprit here is date-driven development. This is when you focus on the deadline instead of the quality of the release. Usually, it is executives who pressure the team, not the team itself.

UX Lesson #9: People don’t remember the date you released your product. They remember the way it makes them feel. Focus on that.

Because refactoring was verboten, the focus became solely about new features. This created a very large codebase, but because of the debt, slowed overall development to a crawl. Ultimately, this became crippling. As a designer and product leader, I couldn’t stop the degradation of the experience without a massive payback of the debt. (In other words, rebuilding the application from the ground up)

No one likes paying technical debt, but it is crucial to the longevity of a product. Marketo made the mistake of driving development to a date, thereby causing cut-corners (technical debt) thereby slowing development down. It’s a vicious cycle and it sucks to be inside of it.

A series of acquisitions (social, mobile, RTP, SEO) made matters worse by introducing new codebases, new people and taking oxygen away from much needed existing products. There is this great post in the Marketo community from Gregoire Michel that basically lists a ton of UX/Technical debt. I wish that stuff could get the attention it deserves.

I take plenty of blame for the situation. Although I could say that it was other people who made the decisions, I was there and it happened on my watch. I did not persuade the powers that be to focus on usability, refactors, upgrades and feature completion. I rolled over and accepted that we were moving on. I tried to maintain balance, but in the process gave up my values about how products are built.

In the end, my lesson was mostly about what happens when you ignore technical debt and how lack of persuasion on my part led to this outcome. It is a poor leader who blames others for problems. Maybe with the new ownership Marketo will change their formula on paying debt. Time will tell.

Brand, Culture and Recruiting

Marketo Retrospective Part 5
As part of a series, I am doing retrospective lessons from my 9 years at Marketo. So far, the learnings have been in fits and spurts. Also, not much complaining so far.  Today, I’m thinking about how Brand Identity evolved at Marketo and specifically how it related to culture and recruiting.

DISCLAIMER: I have always been on the product team, so my perception is colored in that way. I know alot less about how sales people perceived the company.

2007, The Startup
Startups in the Bay Area usually have a particular vibe about them. If you have seen the show Silicon Valley, you know the type. Hyper-technical engineers paired up with over-the-top type-A executives/sales. The brand you have as a startup has to do with what technologies you are using and how well you explain your vision.

At Marketo in 2007-2008, we had a very, very low-key brand. We worked, we went home, we came back and worked some more. We didn’t get drinks together or have picnics with each other’s families. We just worked.  The first company bar-b-que was in the parking lot. It was pretty low-budget. The first holiday party was at the CEO’s house. I guess you would describe our brand as introverted. We weren’t the team to socialize all over the place. When people interviewed, we just tested their coding skills. We didn’t really spend time selling the vision.

2010, The Rocketship
By 2010, things were going REALLY well. We were selling product like crazy and growing people by leaps and bounds. However, we had never really worked out the values, vision, mission or brand. It was a lowest-common denominator approach. Nothing offensive, nothing lovable. We were just there.

This is the big tragedy for me. Marketo was a rocket ship at that time and we should have been the hottest place to work. We should have had our pick of the pre-IPO litter. However, the lack of focus on brand and culture led to a different outcome. Lots of B players were hired in those years. Even a bunch of C players got through.

No one likes to believe they are a C player (or worse), but truth is truth. People are different. This is why we interview and try to get good candidates. Brand and culture help you attract and close the best people. When you walk in the office, how does it look? Does it look like Apple or Google or more like Dunder Mifflin?  At Marketo, we looked alot more like Dunder Mifflin than we should have. We lost something by saving money on the environment. (Dunder Mifflin decor is less expensive)

Additionally, the lack of written values made interviewing and evaluation a crap shoot. By this, I mean that each interview team used different rubrics to decide who was a good fit and who wasn’t. It also made people who joined the company feel that there wasn’t a set of cultural norms to adopt, so they just kept their own culture. This led to a diffusion of culture and a lack of common vision.

2011-2012, Get ready for IPO
The brand become more professional and polished. Written values finally became a priority and were rolled out. They are Customer Passion, Results First, Speak the Truth, One Team, and Aspire to Be Great. For a year or two, they helped bind the company together. However, they started to wither after a while. Values are like plants. They need constant attention or they will start to die.

This is hard to say, because I mostly loved my time at Marketo. However, it wasn’t a perfect place. I think we allowed culture, values, brand and recruiting to all get second-class status. This led to the outcomes you would expect. Low quality of new hires, slow cultural absorption, more arguments about value decisions.

Value decisions are crucial to the health and wealth of a company. The values aren’t meant to be “mom and apple pie”. They aren’t meant to be good things like “be nice”. Rather they are tools to help you make a decision between choices that are equally good/bad. When faced with those decisions, you need to decide your character as a company and use that to make the decisions.

For example, there was a time when the competition (Eloqua) found a badly written response by a support rep in the community. If transparency was the corporate value, we would have fixed the problem and left it open to public view. However, that wasn’t the value of the company. Since that day, the community was closed to the public. (Customers only)

2013-2016, Post-IPO
Once you go IPO, it’s alot harder to hire the best-of-the-best. You have old technology and old offices. It’s hard to compete with Goliaths like Facebook and Uber. However, the public market demands a ton of growth or they punish your stock price. Here is where Brand could have helped a bit if we had a more lovable identity. Unfortunately, the brand was simple and professional, not lovable. The pressure to grow made hiring difficult and many people left the company with their IPO payday.

This led to a rapid infusion of B, C and some D players. This was a hard time for me personally. I started feeling more and more disconnected from the success of the company. One of my personal values is transparency, so I say all of this knowing it looks bad on me. I’d rather be honest with you though. I hope I am not hurting anyone’s feelings about all of this. (Even the D players)

2016, Vista Acquisition
This is a tricky time for Marketo. New owners, new executives, possibly new direction. Alot of people will likely churn. Brand, values and culture are more crucial than ever. I would suggest rolling them out again, fresh. Create a new beginning with a new mission. You have to start somewhere.

I don’t know what the future will hold for the company I poured my heart and soul into for 9 years. I truly wish them the best.

In hindsight, I think this is the area that could have improved the overall trajectory of the company the most. A company is, in the end, the people that work there. It can’t do anything without the people. Attracting and keeping A players is crucial. Think about your website: What does it look like to an A player? Don’t just sell to prospects, sell to new employees. Spend time on your environment and make it compelling. Keep your technology up to date. Get the values written down early and talk about them all the time.

That’s what I learned about Brand, Culture and Values at Marketo. I hope it was helpful for you to see that side of things. Again, no company is perfect and this post shouldn’t diminish my respect for the company and team that took it as far as it did.

UI Frameworks (2006-2016)

Marketo Retrospective Part 4
As part of a series, I am doing retrospective lessons from my 9 years at Marketo. I learned alot of things and this is my way of processing all of that experience into bite-sized nuggets of wisdom. Today, a little deep dive into how the client-side technology has evolved.

UI Frameworks
In 2006, I was introduced to jQuery and it changed my whole outlook on web development. When I joined Marketo at the end of that year, I was looking for something LIKE jQuery, but specifically designed for enterprise applications. What I found was YUI-Ext by Jack Slocom. At the time, Yahoo had something called YUI (Yahoo User Interface) which could be used to make applications. However, Jack (a programming genius) realized that there were no common components like drop down boxes, tables and trees. He built the components as an open source project called YUI-Ext (extensions).

Marketo’s first UI was built in YUI-Ext 0.33 Alpha. It was early days for sure and the code had plenty of problems. However, the time it would have taken to rebuild all of that functionality would have been enormous. As a designer, I was able to make a very rich interface without the huge investment of time. Here is a picture of one of the first screens of Marketo. (Interesting review of that 2007 app)

Notice how hokey it looks. Eloqua used to call us PlaySkool. Even our logo was not super deluxe.

However, building out tabs and trees and layout was SO easy compared to making everything by hand. In 2009-2009, we updated the UI and we took the opportunity to upgrade the UI Framework. Jack Slocum turned his YUI-Ext into a company called ExtJS and dropped the dependency on Yahoo. We skipped version 1.0 and upgraded immediately to 2.0. It was a 9 month project, but when it was done, the UI was faster and sleeker.

We used to name all of our releases after elements in the periodic table like Hydrogen and Helium. This was the Carbon user interface. It was a great year for Marketo. The UI was new and easy to work with. We started to grow rapidly and make lots of sales. The UI framework, again, was a key ingredient in build a next generation interface without spending insane time on it.

Eventually ExtJS renamed themselves to be Sencha and the product was called ExtJS. The Marketo interface got more and more complicated. Elsewhere in the world, new frameworks were being introduced like Angular. Sencha has a few releases that were not excellent and were not easy to upgrade. 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0 were progressively harder and harder to manage. Eventually, the engineering team gave up and we were stuck in an old UI framework that we couldn’t upgrade.

This huge benefit had turned (after 7 years) into a huge liability. Creating new features became very difficult. The larger team struggled to learn the system that had grown to be gigantic. Think of all the things Marketo does. There is programming for all of it. It’s alot.

I wanted to upgrade the system, plus the UI was starting to look old. The cool skeuomorphism of the past had been replaced with the flat Apple look of the present. Rather than upgrade the framework, we just upgraded the CSS styling. In the spirit of the elements, I called that the Cobalt user interface.

Notice the flat look, no gradients, no rounded corners. I didn’t love this look, but I did my best with it at the time. The worst part was not upgrading the framework. I set myself on a journey to try and upgrade the framework. The reason was that recruiting had become difficult. No one worth their salt in Silicon Valley wanted to work on 5 year old technology. Also, the slowness of the interaction along with the slow pace of development made creating new features intolerable. The roadmap slowed to a crawl and routinely UX goodness was cut from scope.

Finally, the decision to bite the bullet and change the whole UI framework was made. This is a huge decision for any company to make. Currently, in 2016, the framework of choice is React and Redux. This framework is the coolest shit of the year. It makes development a breeze. At Marketo, changing the UI also required changing all of the internal APIs away from PHP towards something more powerful like Java. This is a particularly huge process, but it is unavoidable if you want to move forward.

The newest UI was named after the element Mercury. It was my last project and I left as it was beginning engineering. Since I left, the look has apparently changed significantly. I don’t know what it will look like. I have have my old designs of it from last year, but it will be surprise to me when I see it. My design used some patterns pioneered at Slack and also used at Salesforce Lightning.

Looking into my crystal ball…React and Redux will be replaced with other technologies and become old and crusty. It’s a never-ending cycle. There is infinite desire for speed and flexibility.

Well, that was a longer blog post than I anticipated. If you made it this far, you get a cookie. (Go get yourself a cookie and say “this is for the blog post”.) I hope you liked it. (The post….and the cookie).

UPDATE
I forgot to mention, with React and Redux, you can use this awesome component library that works like Google Material design.

Remote Offices

Marketo Retrospective Part 3
As part of a series, I am doing retrospective lessons from my 9 years at Marketo. I learned alot of things and this is my way of processing all of that experience into bite-sized nuggets of wisdom. Today, here is what I learned about remote offices.

Sales Offices
Marketo had many sales offices around the country and even around the world. After a certain amount of people, it totally makes sense to distribute. It’s much better to close a deal in Australia if you actually live down under. Having centralized sales may be useful to some, but I clearly saw the benefit. The downside is that it is incredibly hard to teach the remote offices about new features and make sure they are demonstrating the product effectively.

Services and Support Offices
This is actually one of the best uses of a remote office. These are generally lower paid employees and going to a less expensive location saves money and gives a better quality of life to the employees. It’s easier to learn new features because you are living in it all day. Additionally, you can provide more hours of support if you have offices around the different time zones. Ireland and Portland were especially effective support locations.

I wish I had talked more with the people in Ireland. I think they wanted to talk with me more, but the time zone difference made it really hard. I would call the office a success, but it also lacked many benefits you get from working closer.

Engineering
This is the one that most Silicon Valley companies struggle with. If you have a blackbox situation then India or Eastern Europe is an option. You need a rock-solid specification or you will end up with something weird.

Blackbox engineering situations is when you need something built that does not have any knowledge of the rest of the system. Also, the rest of the system doesn’t need to know how the blackbox works. It just does a simple job. Thus, it is easier to outsource because the communication requirements are lower.

I have worked with great engineers and poor ones in all parts of the world. I feel like there is a formula that has something to do with:

  • Q = Quality of engineer
  • D = Number of time zones distant
  • C = Complexity/Length of project

The point is that remote workers create challenges that onsite workers do not. You can still be successful with a remote worker. I worked on a project with a superstar from Amsterdam named Ian. If he was a lesser engineer, then the project would have taken twice as long. I also worked on the Marketo community version 3 (its currently version 4) with a team in India. That one did not go as well, because the talent wasn’t as good AND the number of time zones distant was too many.

There was also a Portland team of engineers that were actually a delight to work with. This had alot to do with the head of that office (Shaun K) who was such a great leader and communicator that it just made things go better. The fact that they were in the same time zone helped tremendously. They (or I) could fly and visit often.

In Silicon Valley, engineers are highly recruited. Google, Apple, Facebook, Box, Uber and others all try to recruit a limit set of engineers. It’s hard to be a startup and get the best. However, in Portland or Seattle you can be a bigger fish in the pond. Creating a remote engineering site makes sense for economic reasons, but you need to create extra communication channels for PMs and Designers to talk. Specifically, I found video conferencing to be a great bridge between different locations.

The pool of talent in the Bay Area for a mid-level tech company that has already gone public is fairly small. This led to an erosion of talent in the San Mateo office. Realistically, unless you are prepared to compete with the perks Google doles out, a remote office may be a better option.

In the end, I think remote offices are a reality if you want to scale. You just can’t have everyone in the same room forever. The lesson I learned was to over-invest in communication vehicles like video conferencing, tele-presence and Slack. Also fly people in both directions frequently. Also, I would try as long as you can to keep the engineering teams in the same time zone.

When I started this post, I thought I had alot of good learnings, but here I am at the end, and I think I have very few concrete suggestions. Something for me to think about, I guess.

UX Follow-Through

Marketo Retrospective Part 2
As part of a series, I am doing retrospective lessons from my 9 years at Marketo. The time was filled with good and bad and everything in between. Looking back is the best way to learn and do better in the future. This time, I am looking at UX follow-through.

UX Follow-Through
In the beginning, I designed the Marketo Smart List and said, “It is good.” Well, that’s not true. It actually sucked at first. People don’t remember how buggy it was in 2007/2008. Also, the interface lacked much of the elegance it has today. The reality is that the current Smart List is version 6. Paul Abrams and I worked hard to polish it and rework it until it was just right. We had good UX follow-through. We didn’t just stick with version 1 and the effort paid off. People today love the Smart List.

Unfortunately, most of the other features of Marketo did not get the same benefit.  The story explaining why that was the case is basically the same for each feature. Here is one example: Workspaces.

Marketo Workspaces were designed while I was gone in 2010, but I inherited it once I got back. Once you inherit something, you need to own it as much as if you built it yourself. In this case, the lack of a central “HQ Workspace” made it nearly impossible to manage shared assets amongst the different workspace groups. It was pretty obvious at the time that this was a miss and needed refinement and features. However, what happened was the the “powers that be” decided NOT to follow-through with the feature. They cut it short and released the (unfinished) feature, never to be worked on again. My efforts to keep going on the feature were fruitless. I was disappointed and not proud of the feature, but I couldn’t do anything to prioritize fixing it.

One might say that I should have designed the feature perfectly the first time, but this just isn’t the way the world works. No one (to my knowledge) designs things perfectly the first time. Great products require some revolution AND some evolution. This is a key lesson learned and something I would do differently the next time around.

Other features that had UX or features stripped out and were hardly improved after the initial release. Marketo features without the UX follow-through include:

  • Revenue Modeler
  • Operational Reports
  • Social Widgets
  • Programs
  • Calendar
  • RCE
  • All the Analyzers
  • Import Library

This isn’t to say the features are worthless, far from it. Rather, this is about following through on a half-created great idea. Those features were great, but needed more effort. They needed time to evolve.

One technique is to ban all time-boxing in the product development. Release the feature when its finished, not when the due date is up. It is true that engineers and designers might fiddle with things for a while, but maybe they are doing important fiddling. Let the designers and engineers figure out when they are done. Focusing too hard on a date will force everyone into thinking about cutting corners rather than delivering a lovable product.

The good news is that so few products have follow-through. It means you can be really great in comparison. Just remember, people don’t care how hard it is for you or when you launched it. They care how it makes them feel. Focus on that and you have a much better chance to succeed.

The Power of a Single Word

I am a firm believer in retrospectives. How can you expect to improve without looking back at what you did? I am going to do a series of lessons learned from my 9 years at Marketo. Doing one giant post will be too long, so I’m breaking it up. This is Lesson 1.

The Power of a Single Word
Early research (2007) led me to understand how Salesforce.com labels different core entities. The one that was most important was the word “lead”. In speaking with SMB companies, the word lead meant “a person”. When they went to a conference, they collected new names, each one was a single lead that represented a single human being.

Also, Salesforce had a word called a “contact”. A contact was also interpreted as a single human being. How could this be? There were two objects, each one representing a single person. I thought this must be a stupid mistake by Salesforce. So what I did was design the system so that leads and contacts were the same thing, a “person”.

This got baked into the very essence of Smart Lists in the Marketo schema. It was crucial to how the whole system worked. Duplicates were thought to be a problem that needed fixing. If you had a lead and a contact of the same email, that clearly was a duplicate.

Unfortunately, the enterprise market did not interpret the word Lead in the same way the SMB did. They interpreted the word the way a homicide detective would use it. “I am following up on a few leads.” In this usage, a lead is a clue. Several leads may lead to the same contact. So in other words, if someone downloaded 3 white-papers, there should be 1 contact and 3 leads. The enterprise would then merge the leads into the contact when the time was right.

I had a long-standing project that never came to life called Purposeful Duplicates. The whole point of that was to allow a single record to the parent “person” and then you could have many leads or even contacts underneath that represented manifestations of the contact. In other words, a “proper lead as clue” schema.

Because of the focus on people, my design of Marketo did not really support Accounts in an especially useful way. This led to many limitations with the product.

The whole problem started with the interpretation of a single word, Lead. If they had called it an “activity” or an “interaction”, I would have designed the system very differently and probably would have made the company more money. That is the power of a single word. It may have cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars in valuation.

English is a blunt language. It’s so blunt, in fact, that it had to borrow the French word for nuance.

My Design Process

I’ll try my best to be concise.

Step 1. Receive commandment from God
Or your CEO or your PM or boss, whatever. They will say something like, “We need _____” Fill in the blank with any two word feature. (Example: Dynamic Content, Enhanced Security, Cool Dashboards.

Step 2. Talk to users
Is this obvious? I say users instead of stakeholders because I actually want to understand the lives of the people who will actually use the system. Who are they? What do they do for a living? Look for painful parts of their job.

Step 3. Design a mid-fidelity storyboard
Nothing that takes too long, but high enough fidelity to give the idea. I find black and white wireframes or sketches are too simple to get people to understand and give meaningful reactions to.

Step 4. Iterate on Step 3
Show the storyboard, modify the storyboard, show, modify, show modify. Keep your old work, they are fun to look at later. This iteration takes as long as it takes to get people excited about the results. Don’t stop iterating too soon. It should get better and better. Sometimes you have to erase everything and start over.

Step 5. Build it
For realsies, no prototype, no usability testing, no focus groups. Just build the fucking thing. What are you waiting for, an engraved invitation?

Step 6. Train people how to use it.
This is crucial. You have to train people yourself, in person. See their faces. Every time you see a grimace or a confused look you need to take note. These may be documentation issues, metaphors or worst case a complete fuckup in step 3-4. Most of the time they are minor usability bugs. Get them fixed. Learn the language of engineering and get these bugs prioritized. If possible, personally make the documentation outline. No one can train people as well as the designer who understood how and why it was built.

Step 7. Write down all the shit that got cut from the project.
This is an awful step, but you have to do it. That animation you liked, that usability feature you wanted, that feature that made it all work better together. Write them all down in an epic. You will have to bring that back up one day when you want to improve the feature.

That’s it. It’s worked well for me for over 20 years. The key part of the design is Steps 3-4, that’s where the magic happens. Get good at step 3-4 and you will have a good career.

Ponderlust

There is a phrase called Wanderlust.

wan·der·lust
ˈwändərˌləst
noun: a strong desire to travel.

There should be something called Ponderlust.

pon·der·lust
ˈpondərˌləst
noun: a strong desire to contemplate.

I know many people who have this symptom. When faced with a situation, they want to think about it, alot. In one sense, this can be a form of procrastination. They think and think and think indefinitely until the problem goes away. In another context, ponderlust might just be a curious soul who wants to think about lots of problems deeply. I am probably the latter.

Too many people do not have ponderlust. They would prefer NOT to think about the problem at all. Take the people who support building a wall in our southern border. If they took the time to think about it, they would realize that it’s impractical, expensive and ineffective to solve the stated problem. These people do not have ponderlust. They just jump to conclusions.

The right mix combines a healthy dose of ponderlust with a sense of action. You need to take that pondering and do something with it. Pondering with no action is as bad as action without contemplation. The world and your own life is better when you mix the two.

How well do you balance analysis with action? This is something truly to ponder.

 

FUD

Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt.

FUD is responsible for millions of deferred decisions each day. It stops us from embracing reality, moving forward and dealing with our circumstances. FUD doesn’t make you conservative or liberal. It makes you stick to the Status Quo.

The Status Quo is the universal remedy for FUD. You might be in a terrible situation either personally or professionally, but FUD makes you avoid changing anything because the new reality might be even worse.

Famous incorrect words: “It couldn’t get any worse!”

Of course things can always get worse, but they can also get better. FUD is wired into our brains back when a bad decision would literally cause us to die. Imagine some early caveman who said, “I love change! I wonder what would happen if I went into the woods at night?” [sounds of bears eating caveman] Obviously, that “devil may care” attitude has been mostly bred out of us. The ones who survived are the ones who had a healthy dose of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt about any changes to the status quo.

So we have this ancient fear of being eaten by a bear, but we live in a society with smart phones and cars and laser beams. We clearly have the capacity to shhh our inner caveman, at least sometimes.

As a UX Designer, I always avoid asking people to ignore their inner caveman. Rather, I use the caveman to delight customers with animations and other psychological tricks. However, in life, you are better off ignoring the caveman and modifying your point of view.

I think the appeal of Donald Trump to his base is largely about FUD. New technologies, new ethnic realities, new economic truths…all of these create a disturbance in the Status Quo. “Make America Great Again” is code for “Go back to the status quo when we didn’t feel FUD.” Its code for returning to a more racist past. The past, no matter how terrible (and for many americans, the past was a much scarier and sad place) it is still knowable and therefore not scary.

At work, I am designing software that disrupts the status quo. Therefore, I have to deal with FUD. In fact, I’m up to my eyes in it.

If you really thought about it, your behavior was recently influenced by FUD. Do you care? Maybe it feels safer to not care. Because if you changed…who knows if it would be for the better or for the worse?

Something to ponder.