Wednesday, December 02, 2015

What Star Wars Can Teach You About Focusing On The Customer First

To fully prepare for later this month, Jessi and I are watching all 6 of the Star Wars films in their optimal order (4, 5, 1, 2, 3, 6 - We like #1, so it stays in the line-up). We're also watching most of the special content that goes with them.

One of the extra videos really struck a cord with me. It was a 26 minute video that described the immense steps LucasFilms took to add a couple Dewbacks to the scene in "A New Hope" where the Storm Troopers discover that the escape pod carried droids in it. The picture is above and here's the video clip of the scene (the link opens in a new tab).

When first released, the Dewback in the background didn't move. The scene was also much shorter. In the video, they explained why they made the changes:
  1. Lucas didn't like that the Dewbacks didn't move because they didn't look real.
  2. It shows more Storm Troopers which heightens the sense of danger for Luke and Obi Wan.

To make the changes created a TON of work. They had to find the original film (which wasn't easy). Then clean it. Then model out EXACTLY how the new scene would be shot so it matched the old scene perfectly. They added different filters to the new film to match the look of the old film. They also studied all the notes from the shot to make sure they got the lighting exactly the same. There were multiple story board and conference calls. They eventually sent a team out to do the shoot over two days. Then they edited, and edited. Oh yeah, don't forget about the artist who came up with the initial drawings of the Dewback, and the CGI specialist who brought it to life, and the multiple reviews that happened before getting signed off.

Are you getting a sense of the time and effort spent on such a small scene?

Here's the deal: The entire time, everyone is talking about why they're taking so much care to get it right. It's not about preserving the film's rich history. It's not about filling up time. It's not even about fulfilling a 20 year dream.

Their sole motivation for caring about every single little detail is you and I. They want you and I to watch the film and believe it was part of the original; that it fits perfectly.

It's a fanatical focus on the customer that all companies should strive for.

There's an interesting wrinkle though: it's not about actually creating whole scenes/props and filming it. Instead, their goal is to do just enough to make us believe what we saw actually exists. For example, they only physically made half of the Millennium Falcon. That's all that was needed to convince us it was real. So they stopped. Again, it's not about making the Millennium Falcon. It's about us, the viewers, the customers.

Often times companies lose sight of this. They might make something cool, but it's done for themselves (and taken too far), or done in a way that customers can't appreciate.

This is a reminder I need. I sometimes get caught making amazing spreadsheets... for myself... and lose sight of the purpose, which is to answer a question. As a result I spend too much time on one activity instead of refocusing on my customer (which for me, also happens to be my manager).

If you have a chance, I recommend watching the special features for Star Wars: A New Hope. You'll get a perfect example of what it looks like to fanatically focus on the customer.


Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Organizations & Products With A Clear Owner, Passionately Promoting A Vision, Leads To Success

Back on October 5th Seth Godin wrote a blog post called "Peak Mac". I've been mulling it over this last month and find his thoughts really resonating with me. He goes on a rant about how software on the Mac isn't getting better and offers an hypothesis. The hypothesis is what I care about:
"Software like Keynote, iMovie and iTunes that doesn't get consistently better, but instead, serves other corporate goals. We don't know the names of the people behind these products, because there isn't a public, connected leader behind each of them, they're anonymous bits of a corporate whole...
Mostly, a brand's products begin to peak when no one seems to care. Sure, the organization ostensibly cares, but great tools and products and work require a person to care in an apparently unreasonable way...
The best strategy for a growing organization is to have insiders be the ones calling it. Insiders speaking up and speaking out on behalf of the users that are already customers, not merely the ones you're hoping to acquire."
The issue is ownership. Organizations start to flounder when nobody steps up and takes ownership. They need someone who says, "I'm responsible for this. It's success and failure is on me - And I deeply care about the outcome."

Sports teams, and especially coaches, know what this means. You can see it on their face during the post-game interview. And you know what? Customers can tell if passionate ownership exists as well. They see it in the product, the sales pitch, the packaging, and the customer service.

This is one reason why start-ups do so well. They're fueled by a single vision with enough passion for the idea to start a company and risk their time/money/reputation on the idea. You may not agree with that person's vision, but you can sense the passion behind everything they do. Once start-up had the vision to put a computer on every desk. That vision, owned by Bill Gates, fueled Microsoft's growth for many years.

A lack of ownership is why larger companies struggle: they tend to make decisions via committee. Just yesterday I was listening to HP Inc's CEO talk about the company's vision and mission (disclosure: I work for HP). It's essentially: we want to be amazing at everything for everyone.

The problem is that it's too general to actually guide any decisions. His committee obviously skipped that part of the MBA class that talks about picking a niche and targeting customers.

But that's OK if the vision doesn't resonate because the CEO doesn't own the vision. He started out saying that the vision had been focus-group tested with multiple customers and partners. Therefore it must be good one. It didn't stem from a core belief and passion.

Contrast this to another vision set within Hewlett-Packard's LaserJet division a few years ago. The VP said "We want to be the intersection of the digital and physical world for an enterprise's paperwork. We will create the on-ramps and off-ramps for enterprises to seamlessly transform digital paperwork to physical, and vice-versa."

Super specific, and easily actionable. Out that statement flowed a natural product road-map and ecosystem. It also made a market that had been ignored (large copier machines) an obvious extension for growth. A specific statement like that is powerful and can't be created by a committee.

I get that the CEO is at a higher level and should therefore be more general. But one of the reasons Hewlett-Packard split into two companies was gain a clearer focus and vision. To say we want to do everything really well for everyone makes no distinction between the old HP, or any other company for that matter.

One recommendation for HPI would be to do what Apple used to do: Steve Job took ownership of every single product. You may not have agreed with his vision, but was clear that Apple had one which informed what products it created and what features they focused on. He eventually articulated it as Apple focusing on "the intersection of technology and the liberal arts while owning both the hardware and software." Very clear. A explains why their Numbers application is horrible.

I know that HPI is heading down the 3D printing/scanning path and has a tag line about a "blended reality." Something along those lines which also captures our current printer and PC businesses seems much more appropriate. Or, how about a vision that describes at actual attainable/measurable goal? I could also get behind a philosophical statement which describes how we approach business.

For the record, I think HPI will be fine. Overtime, my guess is that the new CEO will get used to being the CEO and most likely create his own vision that he's passionate about.

As for me, I describe my job as creating the most accurate forecast of ink cartridge revenue as possible. That's my responsibility. It's also very specific and guides my activities each day.

What do you take ownership for? Can you say it in a couple sentences explain why it's important to you? If you can, others will notice and start rooting for you to be successful in attaining that vision.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

32 Things I'm Grateful For

I'm grateful for...

  1. My wonderful wife who takes care of Elinor, Vinnie and me.
  2. My beautiful daughter who smiles whenever she sees me.
  3. That Vinnie is recovering from his back problems (and that we don't have to help him go potty anymore!)
  4. Morning showers.
  5. Wednesday's synergistic synergy meetings.
  6. Macaroni and Cheese.
  7. My mom who makes time to chat with me on the phone on Wednesdays.
  8. Podcasts and audiobooks made by people willing to share their knowledge with the world.
  9. That my job is back to normal working hours and I genuinely like the projects I'm working on.
  10. My dad who knows he can call to chat with me in the morning when everyone else is still asleep.
  11. Richard & Hope's work at Willamette and Chemeketa.
  12. A church who loves us and supports us in times of need.
  13. Our small home.
  14. My brother for being an excellent podcast host.
  15. My iPhone.
  16. Steve & Mary's guidance and friendship.
  17. That my sister still talks to me despite being a "mean older brother" while growing up.
  18. Christ's sacrifice on the cross for my sins.
  19. Taking walks along the waterfront.
  20. Excel.
  21. The wonderful people living in our rentals.
  22. Lee & Michelle's enthusiasm for our current phase of life.
  23. Space heaters that are perfect for cuddling with Vinnie in front of.
  24. Naps.
  25. Working from home most of the time.
  26. Man Club on Friday mornings.
  27. Matt & Cam's friendship and investing encouragement.
  28. Our Community Group who came to our rescue during a tough pregnancy and first couple of months.
  29. Swapping foot messages with Jessi.
  30. Wifi.
  31. My health.
  32. These last 32 years!

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

AT&T's Next Program Explained for iPhone Owners

My mom is ready for a new iPhone. She almost went out and got the current generation, the iPhone 6, but I convinced her to wait until September 9th when Apple will refresh the line up. So she's waiting.

At the same time wireless phone carriers are going through their own set of changes, which raised some questions around what type of plan she should get.

A Quick Economic Lesson

The wireless industry is an "oligopoly" which means there are only a few dominant companies in the market. Usually this happens because the cost of another company entering the market is really high. In this industry, a new company would have to build out a new wireless network. That's probably not going to happen because of how expensive it is, and so the existing companies are safe from someone outside coming in and stealing their customers and profits. As a result, their incentive to have the best products/services at the lowest prices is pretty low.

(BTW, if there is only one company, that's a "monopoly." An example is your water/sewer provider. The cost of digging multiple holes to lay multiple lines of pipe is huge and so one company offers water to the whole area. The solution to protecting customers with these types of monopolies is to regulate them (or just let the government run it) and require a certain level of service and/or price.).

Back to phone carriers. Another general characteristic of oligopolies is that companies tend to make changes together. When you see one company changes, you can bet that the rest will follow because customers will quickly start switching. Since it's so expensive to change prices and/or services, it usually doesn't happen that much (new marketing, new training, new backend systems, etc are all expenses they'll have to take on). However, sometimes customers get lucky and one of the smaller players gets tired of being small and decides to go rogue. That's what happened to T-Mobile.

T-Mobile Changes The Nature of Wireless Phone Plans

T-Mobile radically changed their plans and explicitly attacked the bigger players. As a result, we've seen two dramatic reactions in carrier plans that are increasing transparency and plan flexibility. The first big change happened a little while ago: Texting and talking are now unlimited. Now you pay for a different levels of data and share it with everyone on your plan.

More recently, phone subsidies are switching to payment plans. You used to pay a smallish up front fee, sign a two-year contract and the rest of the cost of the phone was built into the wireless plan. Now it's more transparent. The wireless plan rates went down and now you take the full cost of the phone and split it up into monthly payments just like you would with a car or house. So when you pay off your phone, the payment goes away. So far, no carrier charges interest on these payment plans which is nice.

The AT&T Next Program

So, my mom is looking to get a new iPhone and we're on AT&T. Given all the changes, we wanted to know if she should switch over to AT&T's Next program (which is the payment plan instead of the subsidy). The short answer is yes. AT&T is so keen to move everyone over that it's significantly cheaper than the subsidy plan. I sat down with a sales rep and did the math for each scenario. First, you don't have to make down payment if you don't want to and save $200. Then the Next service plans drop $25-$15 each month compared to the subsidies. So it's worth switching.

The next question: which payment plan should you choose? AT&T has 4 options which they named based on when you can upgrade, NOT based on how many payments you'll make. Way to make it confusing AT&T. Here they are:
  • AT&T Next 24: 30 payments; trade in and upgrade after 24 months.
  • AT&T Next 18: 24 payments; trade in and upgrade after 18 months.
  • AT&T Next 12:  20 payments; trade in and upgrade after 12 months.
  • AT&T Next with down payment: 30% down, then 28 payments; trade in and upgrade after 12 months.
So, the equivalent of the two-year subsidy is AT&T Next 18. With Next 18, you make 24 payments. Once those are finished, you can do whatever you want with the phone, just like with a subsidy. The big difference is that after that last payment, you're costs will go down.

Now clearly AT&T doesn't expect you to actually pay off your phone. That's why the plans are named based on the upgrade cycle. Sticking with our Next 18 example. If you get a year and a half in, and want to upgrade. You can! You give your phone back to AT&T and they'll start you on a new payment plan. If the phones are priced exactly the same, your monthly costs won't change at all (except for some inevitable taxes you'll pay). AT&T will then take the phone you gave them and sell it to someone else to recoup the rest of their money. That seems fair.

If you wait the full 24 months before switching up phones, you could sell it yourself since you'll no longer be tied to the payment plan.

If you didn't get that, go back and review each plan type and the example. It's worth understanding.

By the way, AT&T is fine with you paying off early too. So if you planed to trade it, but a company like Gazelle is making a great offer on your phone. You could pay off your phone early and sell it. Then when you buy a new phone you'll get back on a payment plan. It's extremely flexible and much more transparent.

Speaking of Gazelle...

With September 9 coming quickly, it got an email from Gazelle telling me I can lock in the price of reselling my phone today in advance of new iPhones being announced (and subsequently dropping the value of my existing phone). I'm on the old two-year contract, so I'm not selling, but it didn't stop me from doing some math.

I have an iPhone 6 Plus with 64GB of storage in good condition. Unlocked, it costs $850.

Gazelle is offering me $336.

If I outright paid for my phone, that means my total cost would be $514 (850 - 336).

If I did Next 12 (20 payments, upgrade after 12 months) here how it would look:
$850 / 20 payments = $42.50 per month. Since it's been a year, I'll have made 12 payments, my total cost would have been:

$42.50 x 12 = $510

Well. Well. Well. Would you look at that. Clearly AT&T did their homework (or Gazelle? Not sure). I don't know how this holds up to other devices, but for iPhone, it doesn't seem to matter which route you take.

For completness, the other option is "AT&T Next with down payment"

30% down x $850 = $255

Plus 28 payments on the remaining balance of $595: 592 / 28 = $21.25 each month. After 12 months, when I could upgrade, my total cost would have been:

$21.25 x 12 = $255 + the down payment of $255 = $510

Ah. I love it when numbers work out like that.

What if you wait a month? Or Apple delays a month?

Now it gets interesting. Here's how much more it will be each month:

  • Gazelle: I'm not sure, but it's probably between $20 and $45. Apple had lots of delays last year and Gazelle extended the turn-in period to accommodate people. So depending on the reason, it could be zero.
  • Next 12: $42.50 (only 8 more payments until fully paid off)
  • Next Down: $21.25 (16 more payments)

Great. What Should I Do?

OK. Mom. I hear you. That's nice information and background, but what option should you choose?

First of all, let's be clear. We're talking about optimizing an expensive purchase. If you want to actually save a significant amount of money, go with Republic Wireless. Their plans are amazingly priced. The only catch is that they only offer 2 phones: The Moto E and Moto X. I actually think the Moto X is a good phone. If I was an Android user, this is exactly what I would get.

But I'm addicted to Apple. And so instead we're talking about optimization and saving less than $50 instead of hundreds with Republic Wireless.

If saved up the full price, should you pay for it all up front? There are some nice benefits: It gives you instant flexibility to switch carriers and gives you flexibility on when to upgrade. Waiting an extra month or two will only cost you on the resale side. If you have the money. Go for it.

As for the Next Program: Do you want to upgrade every year? Or can you wait two years? If you plan to wait two years, go with Next 24. Then actually upgrade on schedule. Don't wait around.

If you want to upgrade every year, the down payment option strikes a nice balance. If you need to wait a month or two, the addition cost isn't too bad. If you follow the schedule, it doesn't cost extra.

Fundamentally, follow whatever plan you choose. If you choose, Next 24, upgrade in 24 months. If you choose Next 12/Down payment, upgrade after 12 months.

If, for some reason you can't upgrade when planned, but still plan to upgrade before you finish making payments, then you'll want to pay off your phone on the upgrade month. Then sell it like normal on eBay or Gazelle. That'll save you a little extra money.

Next 18 doesn't make much sense if you're an iPhone user. Apple releases new phones at the same time once a year, so you're not going to upgrade after 18 months. If you're on Next 24... and get to month 24, but you don't want to upgrade but do want your phone paid off, just pay it off and it's as if it was the Next 18.

Final Thoughts

AT&T's Next program is actually a good alternative to the subsides (except for those of you still on the unlimited option). It's worth switching. Then decide when you want to upgrade and choose the plan that goes with it. If you have the cash saved up, consider paying for it up front. This obviously isn't the most frugal option (that would be picking a cheap plan and phone and using it until it breaks), but it does optimize your dollar while giving you the latest products from Apple.

Hopefully that was helpful. Feel free to ask questions below or talk to an AT&T rep.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Running Towards My 2015 Goals

One of my 2015 goals included completing a marathon/2. The reason for the goal was to get in shape and generally feel healthier. I was well on my way with a training schedule that increased by 1 mile each week. Then...

Around the 6 mile week, my left knee started to hurt near the end of the run. Thinking nothing of it, I pushed through. By the time I hit the 9 mile week, it was hurting 3 miles in and making the rest of the run impossible. Not good.

After some research and talking with a friend who's a physical therapist, it became clear that I over stretched my IT band and it was pulling on my knee, which was where I felt the pain. It's strange how you can hurt yourself in one way, but feel the symptoms in a completely different place (this must be a good analogy for something in life...).

All that to say, I threw my training schedule out the window and played it by ear. So, when the day came for the Albany Half Marathon, I decided to walk and finish instead of push myself and get seriously injured.

I've also decided that it's much more fun to participate with a friend (I'm actually a social runner). So when I complete another one, I'll be looking for someone to run (walk?) with.


2) I'm happy to share that I'm on track to memorize 52 Bible verses. This is what the wall looks like above my desk. Each card is a different passage with only the first letter of each word. That way I can quickly look up and review one of them. I'm not nearly as artistic and Jessi, but it works for me.

3) I can do 100 push-ups and am now focusing my efforts on the crunches. At first I thought I could ramp up both at the same time, but that didn't seem to work because I would be too tired from the first set.

4) I launched a website called Professional DIY Landlord that's dedicated to teaching new landlords how to manage their property professional: to maximize long term cash flow and minimize headaches.
My current focus in on content creation and promotion to build up a mailing list. To be honest, it's been a struggle to find the time to write regularly, especially with a new member of the family. So far the best solution has been to wake up at 5am and write for a couple hours before starting my official morning routine (verse memorization, working out, etc). However, I find that I can only wake up that early a few days per week before I start dragging and need to catch up on my sleep.

This is a project I'm committed to, and so I'll need to keep experimenting to find a sustainable solution.

5) My "improve eye contact" goal was never really track-able, so I'm not really sure how I'm doing. My guess is that it's hit and miss. Still, I'm continuing to practice.

6) I was doing great and only watching one show / movie per day... and then Elinor came along. It's simply easier to watch a show while holding her than doing anything else. I'm still watching less than I used to, which is good, but I'm off track on this goal. Any suggestions on things to do when you're on baby duty?

7) I'm a little behind on the book reading goal. I read Landlording On Autopilot and it's pretty good. There are definitely some good tips, like his new tenant introduction package, that we'll be implementing.

I'm currently in the middle of two books: The Reason For God by Tim Keller and Graphic Design for Nondesigners by Tony Seddon. One is for a new men's group I joined and the other is fun. I'll let you guess which is which.

I also recently made a small change with is having a dramatic impact on how much a read: Instead of keep my book on my desk, I put it next to my bed. Now, when I'm going to bed I see the book and remember to read. This is what I used to do growing up and in college and I read all the time. By simply changing the location of the book, I'm back to regularly reading 20-30 minutes each day. Amazing.

So there's a mid-year check-up on my goals. If you run into me, feel free to ask how I'm doing and hold me accountable.

(BTW, like the photo at the top? It's a free iOS app called Color Splash Effects.)

Monday, July 27, 2015

Happy 7th Wedding Anniversary (Lots of Fun Pictures!)

7 years... How time flies when you're having fun. :)

Enjoy a trip back down memory lane!

Thanks everyone for all your support and friendships over the last 7 years. Here's to many, many more! :)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Moving Beyond Apple iPhone's Tap & Hold of an App Icon

I love my iPhone and generally wouldn't change anything about it. However, there is one highly under-utilized feature I would like to see re-purposed.

Tap and hold an icon: It starts to jiggle and you can move it.

It's a neat visual experience and genuinely useful to be able to move icons around. However, here's the deal: I RARELY use it. My iPhone comes with a super convenient action (tap and hold an icon) that I don't use very often. That was the right move (pun intended) when the iPhone launched, but it's time to evolve in the direction of the Mac's icon right click menu.

What if tapping and holding an icon instead...

  • Brought up an app-specific settings menu. Let me quickly change my app settings (like notifications and privacy) and developer specific settings. I don't change these often, but it's a pain to hunt down an app's settings in a long list of apps.
  • Showed my current notifications and/or widgets that are in the main pull down menu.
  • Gave me a option to move the icon which then goes back to the home screen with a jiggly icon like today.
  • Let me read the latest app update notes, read about the developer, view other apps they created, and similar apps I might be interested in.
  • Kind of silly, but it would be cool to choose different icons the developer makes available (maybe for free... maybe as an meta-app purchase).
  • Obviously, an option to open the app.

There you go Apple. Those are some ideas to get you started. Tap and hold (or Force Touch in the likely near future) is a fantastically convenient action which can, and should, be used to do more than move icons around.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Elinor Ruth Furlo

Well, well well... It's been a little while since my last post. But it's for good reason! As you know, we had a daughter on the way. Due to Jessi developing Cholestasis, we decided to induce and deliver 3 weeks early and avoid trouble when going full term.

So, at 9:00pm on May 28th, 2015 Elinor Ruth was born weighing 6lbs 4oz at a height of 17.74 inches.

We are so thankful for everyone who supported us with prayer and support. It's been a long three weeks and I finally feel like I can barely bring my head above water and admit the rest of the world exists.

OK. Now for the part you really want: pictures! :)