Tag Archive for com

Simplicity: How the Key Design Element in Consumer will drive the Enterprise

This morning I made an interesting observation – while riding the 2 train to the office, I noticed 3 women sitting in front of me with Blackberry phones, but the iPod white earphones in their ears, listening to an iPod that was nestled away in a pocket, only to show its face when the user didn’t love the shuffled song selection. It’s an observation that many of us could trace back 10 years, to the beginning of the iPod revolution, when the simple music player became all the rage. What was so interesting to me here though was the fact that these girls were carrying newer Blackberry phones, which carried MP3 music software, and enabled them to use a single device, instead of the two – and yet they preferred using the two devices separately.

I recall making a similar decision while at Greylock a few years back, lugging a Blackberry Bold along with my iPod to listen to music – I wouldn’t want to use the Blackberry’s clunky music interface or even pretend to concern myself with cutting its battery life short. My wife made a similar choice last year when we were carrying Droid 2’s, worried that listening to music drained the battery, and the music player was still horrific.

I also noticed a recent report from ChangeWave Research about the iPhone’s remarkable customer satisfaction – see link here. With 77% very satisfied and 19% somewhat satisfied, that leaves only 4% unhappy on some level – astonishing numbers.

When we look at comparable studies with Android and other handheld devices, we see a staggering difference:

So why the affinity to Apple iOS devices? The most commonly offered response is the intuitive interface and sleek design. The device just works, and doesn’t require a brilliant operator to get through all the kinks (see Android). And now, iOS is competing seriously for the enterprise – why else would $RIM and $MSFT support iOS at the Enterprise level?

Simplicity

The focus on complexity has always been part and parcel to the WinTel universe. Whole IT consulting firms with legions of IT professionals were employed with the sole goal of taking basic Windows building blocks and developing custom apps and tools to spec. Clearly many of these tools have been extremely successful and helped push firms to higher levels of efficiency and competitiveness. These tools grew and grew and grew, often long beyond their natural scale and shelf-life. Their great sales staffs then pushed their clients to extend the tools further and further, to extend lock-in…

However, the new buzz word is ‘simplicity’. Everyone who’s read Steve Jobs knows this well – “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” In fact, Isaacson devotes the entirety of Chapter 26 to the design simplicity – here’s my favorite quote via Johnny Ive:

Why do we assume that simple is good?

Because with physical products, we have to feel we can dominate them. As you bring order to complexity, you find a way to make the product defer to you. Simplicity isn’t just a visual style. It’s not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. It involves digging through the depth of the complexity. To be truly simple, you have to go really deep. For example, to have no screws on something, you can end up having a product that is so convoluted and so complex. The better way is to go deeper with the simplicity, to understand everything about it and how it’s manufactured. You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential.”

Source: Isaacson, Walter (2011-10-24). Steve Jobs (Kindle Locations 6006-6011). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

There is an inherent philosophy here that is embraced by many innovators in the enterprise – simplicity is the art of saying no to complexities, while focusing on the essential. 37signals follows this approach with their SaaS products – limited customization and a requirement of your team adapting to the 37Signals workflow and conventions, but the product is a pleasure when you accept those limitations. But it also requires a philosophy that folks like 37Signals might know what you need better than you do – just as we trust Apple to figure out what features and services we need before we need them.

I remember when StockTwits first started with CRM, we went to 37Signals first for HighRise. The product worked, but we felt we were missing features we’d probably want to use, namely Social Media integration, E-Mail integration, and some customized reporting features. We then took a 6 month stroll testing other CRM tools (we actually loved BantamLive, but it was shut down this summer), before finally landing in Salesforce.com. The reasoning behind the decision was the expectation of an expanded feature set in the future, the inevitability of using Salesforce.com as we scale our sales team, and a casual forgiveness for Salesforce.com’s complexity in prior engagement with the tool. Not surprisingly, unlike our sales rep at 37Signals, who tried to convince us that we didn’t need these more complex features, his counterpart at Salesforce.com encouraged heavy customization, and even recommended a handful of consultants to build our application to our own customized needs. Now, several months into Salesforce.com, I frankly long for the time when we had fewer, simpler features to deal with – simpler tools that just did the essentials. The brilliance of simplicity…

The Coming Explosion

The iPhone and iPad have really shaken the enterprise. Firms like $MSFT and $RIM who in tandem ensured that mobile devices connected to legacy e-mail systems, prolonging their shelf-life in a world of cloud computing, are now seeing their worlds turned upside down. The truth is, while we all loved our Treos and our early Blackberry’s, most people today want something more from their mobile devices – iPhone. In an even clearer manner, the iPad has grown to complete domination of the tablet market, despite $MSFT having a 10 year head start and a multitude of vendors selling Android devices. More and more enterprise folks come to work and laugh about their old-world desktops and devices (in fact, you see firms reluctantly supporting iPad because employees show up to work with them to enhance productivity, outside of IT mandate). This trend will continue to blossom, encouraging a wholesale review of business tools at the enterprise level.

As mentioned in my post yesterday, I expect there will be several firms who will come in and replace (or redefine) the biggest enterprise software firms, namely $MSFT, $ORCL, $RIM, $SAP, etc. The very best of breed will likely have an Apple-like approach, with more rigid customization capabilities in exchange for a tremendously better user experience and ROI for the company. Obviously, we’re hoping StockTwits will be one of those SaaS vendors for the finance vertical – and we’re working hard to make that a reality.

Of course, there will be a silver lining for all the old-world IT pros though – there will be tons of migration work in the near-term…

Twiddle me this… On the Twitter protocol, ecosystem and the company’s business

First, a must-read – Twitter CEO Dick Costolo’s interview with the WSJ this wknd –> http://stk.ly/i8IerR… The Twitter ecosystem has really exploded over these last 12-18 months, with numerous companies building interesting tools, functions and adaptations of Twitter’s underlying architecture. Many of these companies have even built robust and sustainable business models as well, which bodes well for the future of the communication platform. For a reasonable snippet (but by no means the entire list) check out this TwitterVerse graphic from Jesse & Brian Solis:

The eye opener from the Dick Costolo interview, and their actions over the last few months with ‘the new Twitter’ clearly indicates the battle lines that Twitter seems to be setting for many of these ‘ecosystem’ participants.

The key to the puzzle is business model – Twitter believes that it has a very robust advertising business, in which a sponsored tweet, sponsored ‘trending hashtag’ and sponsored username will support a company with a $2Bn+ valuation. Given the investors and the intelligence of Dick, I’m sure they have made a very conscious decision on this front, and they probably do have a bright future in this business model.

Implications of the model are quite clear:

  1. 3rd Party Clients / Communication Management / Mobile Applications– Advertising will either need to be ‘passed through’ to 3rd party platforms, e.g. sending sponsored Tweets through the Twitter API, or Twitter will need to make a very strong effort to get people to experience Twitter on Twitter.com (or Twitter-developed mobile apps). While the former is really a good stop-gap solution, that they will probably be able to push through quickly because of their immense influence, the latter is easier for them to model, as they seemingly have unlimited resources at their disposal as well as access and significant influence over some excellent engagement models built by 3rd parties (think Tweetdeck, Seesmic, Hootsuite, etc.). Twitter has the ability to build/enhance the best features from these platforms in their new Twitter.com experience, if they so choose, enhancing their user engagement (and ultimately advertising impressions) as they do it. The question will be whether they choose to build or buy, as i’m sure they’ve considered both.
  2. URL Shorteners – I stand in awe of the brilliant execution of the small team at bit.ly that built a powerhouse out a simple consumer-facing idea that solved a problem (giving us a few characters back in that limited 140), an immense backend capturing nearly every detail of the link and its history, and the insights that only come from aggregation. There are many companies that were built, based on the basic premise of collecting data, then selling intelligence on top – think Hoovers (company data), Bloomberg (bond data), Facebook (personal interests), Linkedin (personal resumes), etc. – Bit.ly has done it remarkably well, offering a ‘relevancy-based’ web search by topic that is just phenomenal. Unfortunately for Bit.ly and the other shorteners, Twitter has realized the power of this data and is actively pushing users to use their own tool. Once again, much like #1 above, Twitter seems interested in actively competing with their ecosystem players, instead of buying them.
  3. Trends and Analysis / Twitter Marketing Tools / Search – Lots of companies in this space, many with questionable business models. As Twitter becomes more aggressive on the ad side, these will be critical core competencies of Twitter. I’d be shocked if they do not build through acquisition here, simply because I do not see any independent companies in this space, and frankly, i’m not sure I see any other logical buyer here. If you need a guide to how this will all happen, take a look at Google’s acquisitions around the Adwords/Adsense/Doubleclick ecosystem.
  4. Influence – I find it hard to believe that Twitter won’t actively pursue an acquisition or build here, since Influence is a very critical measure on the platform – as an advertiser, I want to get impressions and in front of the right people, but I also care where the message comes from. Tracking which messages are being sent by whom will better granulate ‘impressions’ by quality, which allows for more focused campaigns.
  5. Relationship Management – Tools that are further away from the Twitter core, and frankly compliment it, will likely survive and be given the chance the flourish. Of course, larger relationship management tools, like Salesforce.com and other CRM tools will add more and more Twitter connectivity, and may pick of some of the guys in this category.
  6. Message Origination – Tools that encourage more messages on twitter will continue to thrive, particularly places like Facebook, LinkedIn, Yelp, OpenTable, the geo services like Foursquare and Gowalla, and firms like StockTwits. Firms that encourage their users to push messages to Twitter help the Twitter equation, as they make Twitter’s message platform more robust, and allow Twitter to generate revenues from advertising based on the content of those messages from within the Twitter.com (and Twitter mobile platforms). Obviously, not all companies in this broad category will survive for various reasons, but by and large, i’d expect Twitter to be comfortable with the existing arrangement…

2011 will be a massive year for the Twitterverse, and I do expect that many of these 6 categories will look dramatically different by year end…

Time for M&A in Location/Yellow Page-type sites?

I just passed a restaurant on the upper west side of Manhattan, where the owners wanted their patrons to find them on the web…

Lets see here…

Restaurant Reviews

  • Yelp
  • Zagats
  • Eats.com
  • Citysearch
  • MyUpperWest

Delivery/Menus

  • SeamlessWeb
  • Delivery.com
  • Menupages

Kosher

  • Kmenus.com
  • Koshertopia
  • Jdeal

Web Search

  • Bing
  • Google

Web Browser

  • Firefox
  • Internet Explorer

Portals/Social Networks/Comm Platforms

  • MSN
  • Yahoo!
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Foursquare
  • Google Maps

Might be time for $GOOG, $AOL, $MSFT and $YHOO to make some moves and make it easier for our local shopkeepers to keep a simple web presence…

StockTwits and Finance 2.0

Since joining the StockTwits team in May, I have constantly felt the need to get back to blogging. My last blog post was written on May 10th under the FinTechIsrael.com blog, discussing Finance Narrowcasting and Reuters Insider. Since then, I’ve gotten married, taken an amazing honeymoon in August, moved to NYC from sunny Tel Aviv and taken over the StockTwits office in the Flatiron district, as the VP of Business Development. So here goes…

Why StockTwits?

I first came across StockTwits back in 2009, and wrote a post on my thoughts at the time. I then had the pleasure to host Howard and Ellen in Tel Aviv in February 2010, and have Howard keynote  one of our FinTechIsrael events (with Yoni Assia, of eToro). You can find video of that event here.

Over the next few months, I touched base with Howard on several occasions, as I started to consider my next move. While in New York for Passover in April, I met with several VC firms and a bunch of startup companies. Despite a few very tempting opportunities, the allure of working with Howard and his young and ambitious team, coupled with excellent investors, compelled me to push Howard to give me a position at the company. The rest, as they say is history…

StockTwits and Finance 2.0

Howard Lindzon, our fearless leader @ StockTwits ($STWIT), has had a vision for a new paradigm in finance, where the old barriers of entry into financial media are removed, and where good ideas, regardless of source, can be shared, discovered, and profited from. From Day 1, StockTwits has focused on keeping an orderly and meaningful conversation around Financial Securities on our site, while ensuring speed and reliability of message delivery. The result is a real-time, meaningful stream of ideas, discussions and debates, that users can customize, query and participate in.

Now, why is this important, and who actually cares? Good question (and yes, I get this a lot). In my view, StockTwits sits at the apex of three key macro trends going on at once, namely:

  • The always-on (mobile), always connected (social),  and always updated (real-time) world, in which $MSFT (of all companies), can suggest that we’ve gotten too extreme with our focus on real-time communications via the smartphone
  • The shift away from Sell-Side Research, which has been going on ever since the Frank Quattrone CSFB scandals of the early 2000’s (e.g. the chinese wall between investment banking and research); The best analysts are now striking out on their own, as its more lucrative to run an independent research house than work at a traditional firm (think Meredith Whitney)
  • The advent of informal sharing tools, whether it be through platforms like Tumblr ($TMLR) or Posterous, character limitations on Twitter ($TWIT), expansion of the activity feed (think Zynga ($ZYNGA) game updates or Foursquare updates, or that pesky little ‘Share on Facebook’ ($FBOOK), or ‘Share on LinkedIn’ ($LKIN); People are sharing lots of information in a less eloquent and more direct manner than ever before

StockTwits allows for a truly real-time, social experience on nearly all platforms, in which analysts (both pro and amateur) can share their insights and build their notoriety, both through traditional means (long-form blog content) or the new forms (short-form messaging, chart pics, screencasts, and live video). Active traders can connect with contributors directly or just watch the magic unfold. It’s a true win-win for everyone involved…

Needless to say, I’m excited about our prospects going forward, particularly this coming year…

Closing Notes

I’m excited to be back on the blog scene, and hope to extend topics beyond just StockTwits in future posts. Feel free to leave comments/questions or just send me a note directly.