Categories
Business

Hold on to your skunks.

Like many Americans in 2020, I found Doctor Anthony Fauci’s calm, no-nonsense approach to the coronavirus briefings to be a moment of solace.

Unfortunately, the information that Doctor Fauci was sharing tended to run in direct contradiction to the message the White House wanted to put out. It seems this often got Doctor Fauci in trouble and caused him to be publicly sidelined by the White House.

The New York Times has an excellent interview with Dr. Fauci with more than a few anecdotes where his commitment to the truth got him into trouble. Some excerpts:

There was one time — we were in the Oval Office sitting in the chairs around the Resolute Desk. We had this interesting relationship, kind of a New York City camaraderie thing where we kind of liked each other in the sense of “Hey, two guys from New York.” And he was holding forth on some particular intervention, and saying something that clearly was not based on any data or evidence. There were a bunch of people there, and he turned to me and said, “Well, Tony, what do you think?” And I said, you know, I think that’s not true at all because I don’t see any evidence to make you think that that’s the case. And he said, “Oh, well,” and then went on to something else.

Then I heard through the grapevine that there were people in the White House who got really surprised, if not offended, that I would dare contradict what the president said in front of everybody. And I was, “Well, he asked me my opinion. What do you want me to say?”

Did Mr. Trump himself ever yell at you or say, “What are you doing contradicting me?”

There were a couple of times where I would make a statement that was a pessimistic viewpoint about what direction we were going, and the president would call me up and say, “Hey, why aren’t you more positive? You’ve got to take a positive attitude. Why are you so negativistic? Be more positive.”

For anyone who has worked closely with a strongly opinionated leader, this may feel familiar.

As leadership teams expand, often so does the peer pressure to agree with the head person in charge. A fear about being perceived as negative, “not a team player,” or even being terminated can set in among generals if they contradict the leader. So it stops, and soon, the leader is surrounded only by those who are willing to agree with them.

While this may mean the leader is more empowered to execute on and attempt to realize their vision. It does little to ensure that vision is successful at achieving its goals.

In a Scrum-based software organization, a development team will form a set of hypotheses, build something based on those, release it. They will then gather feedback and form new hypotheses to improve on it through iteration. When executed properly, this leads to a team that is not afraid to ruthlessly kill their darlings in pursuit of a goal.

In my experience, the greatest periods of growth and success at any company I’ve worked at were the ones where a healthy dialogue existed. In these places, the leaders not only embraced differing opinions but sought them out and used the Socratic method to build a stronger hypothesis and adapt.

From what we’ve learned, I think it’s safe to say that our 45th President did not embrace the Socratic method. I also think it’s safe to say that the administration’s Coronavirus response was objectively a failure.

Now, correlation is not necessarily causation. But pandemics, like markets, don’t care about the ego of the leader. You can’t ‘spin’ a virus away.

Had the President been more willing to trust Dr. Fauci and listened to him seriously instead of fighting against him, it’s safe to assume that the United States would have handled COVID-19 much differently. And perhaps we’d be better off for it.

Weren’t you concerned that you would be blamed for the failures if you didn’t resign?

When people just see you standing up there, they sometimes think you’re being complicit in the distortions emanating from the stage. But I felt that if I stepped down, that would leave a void. Someone’s got to not be afraid to speak out the truth. They would try to play down real problems and have a little happy talk about how things are OK. And I would always say, “Wait a minute, hold it folks, this is serious business.” So there was a joke — a friendly joke, you know — that I was the skunk at the picnic.

Did your wife ever suggest that you quit?

She brought up that I might want to consider it. She’s an incredibly wise person, knows me better than anybody else in the world, obviously. She said, “Do you want to have a conversation to balance the pros and the cons of what it would accomplish?”

And after a conversation, she ultimately agreed with me. I always felt that if I did walk away, the skunk at the picnic would no longer be at the picnic. Even if I wasn’t very effective in changing everybody’s minds, the idea that they knew that nonsense could not be spouted without my pushing back on it, I felt was important. I think in the big picture, I felt it would be better for the country and better for the cause for me to stay, as opposed to walk away.

Leaders beware; if you want your business to succeed, make sure you’re not chasing all your skunks away. They probably have your best interests at heart.

Categories
Business Pop Culture Technology

Facebook’s GIPHY acquisition is evil genius.

I’ve seen a decent amount of bewilderment as to why Facebook would spend $400, 000 on an acquisition of GIPHY.

Honestly, I find it surprising that so many people would be confused by this because truthfully, it’s a brilliant strategic move.

To understand why, one only needs to look at all the ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ buttons that litter the web currently.

Even when you’re not using Facebook, every ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ button on the web uses browser cookies, IP addresses, and a host of other methods to track your behavior. These embedded pixels monitor almost your entire browsing experience and report it back to Facebook, who then uses it to profile you to better target ads at you.

But as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself has pointed out:

“I believe the future is private,”

https://www.wired.com/story/f8-zuckerberg-future-is-private/

This is remarkably prescient and brilliant positioning. Because from a PR perspective, it makes it seem like Facebook is moving towards caring about privacy, when that is not really what he means at all.

In the last few years, we have seen the rise of tools like Slack and Discord to communicate and organize. These are perceived as “private” communities to users. And they represent a challenge for Facebook because our behavior in them is cut off from their data mining.

For Zuckerberg, “the future is private” is a challenge the company faces, not a business opportunity. Facebook’s continued growth requires a way to peer into our private communities.

So how do you find a way to track things that go on inside those walled gardens?

Same way you would the web: Tracking pixels.

And who has a large market share of image files embedded in closed chat conversations and “private” communities?

GIPHY.

Categories
Business Chicago General Technology

Congratulations to ActiveCampaign on 100K Customers

Today ActiveCampaign announced they had surpassed 100,000 customers and over $100 million in annual recurring revenue.

When I joined the company in 2013, we were a team of 10 in a tiny office downtown. At that point, we were still transitioning from a downloadable software to a software-as-a-service model and had not yet launched the company’s flagship automation builder that would go on to spike our insane growth path.

Something that has set ActiveCampaign apart from its competitors is its dedication to customer care. Although the company has changed dramatically, and not EVERY practice has scaled (at one point, I would designate a half-hour at the end of every day to handwrite a personal thank you card to every customer who purchased an enterprise account) the team’s commitment to being customer-centric has never wavered. I believe if they can keep that as their guiding light, they will continue to find success.

I’m incredibly proud of the product I built at AC, but I’m even more proud of the fantastic customers and colleagues I helped in the process.

The company released this video this morning, which inspired me to write something. The video not only features a photo with me in it but a few that I shot while working there. It made me smile, and I’m proud to share it. Congrats to the whole ActiveCampaign team. Here’s to 100,000 more!

Cheers!

Categories
Business

On Leadership in the Face of a Pandemic

We are going through a collective trauma right now.

Unemployment is skyrocketing.

Companies are scaling back and laying off whole offices.

Thousands are dead, and we’re just scraping the surface.

The companies that are in the enviable position to not only feel stable, but to continue to hire in this economy should expect employees to have a dip in productivity right now, adjust their expectations, and communicate that as okay to their teams.

What’s not okay is putting an employee on a “Performance Improvement Plan” (aka “PIP”) in the middle of a global pandemic.

When people are under shelter-in-place orders, and having to weigh the safety of simply going out for groceries while also worrying about loved ones in other states. The last thing they need is “leaders” dangling their job security over their heads as well.

Moments of crisis tend to reveal who people really are. Do you want to be a leader, or do you just want power?

Take a moment and think before you react.

Categories
Business General Technology

Low Hanging Fruits: Apple in 2016 and Beyond

Between the Apple Watch, the iPhone 6S, the new Apple TV, and Apple Music, by all accounts, 2015 was a banner year for Apple Inc.

Apple is a company of patterns and progression. As a former retail employee, we often knew what was coming next, not due to any insider knowledge, but just due to an understanding of how Apple works.

Of course, we’ll also get new iPads (spring), iPhones (fall), and Macs (throughout) at some point, but I figured those are foregone conclusions.  Sometimes the company will throw a curveball, but based on the way things are going, here are some things I expect to see from Apple in 2016 and beyond.

Beats by Apple

The first product Beats launched after the Apple purchase was the Beats Solo 2 Wireless Headphones, but it was clearly well into development before the purchase took place. Shortly after that launch, Apple began releasing new colors of everything to match their iOS devices.

The Beats Pill+, however, is different; it seems it’s the first true hardware child of this merger. It still has the look of the Beats brand but taken to another level of polish that feels quite Apple-like. This polish should be unsurprising since Apple ended the company’s relationship with Ammunition, the design agency responsible for their headphones and the original Beats Pill. There should be little doubt that this product was, at least partially worked on in house by Apple’s teams. Right down to the Lighting port. Little surprise that it’s only available in black and white (for now.)

I expect this trend to continue with new headphone designs in 2016.

Lightning Everywhere

Lighting ports are not just for iOS devices anymore. Almost as an afterthought, Apple launched new peripherals before the end of the year. The Magic Mouse 2, Magic Trackpad 2, and Magic Keyboard. Each of these devices is equipped with an internal rechargeable battery and charges via USB via Lightning cables.  However, these were not the first new devices to pull this trick. The new Beats Pill+ speaker launched quietly a few weeks earlier with this feature already in place.

Expect this to continue throughout Apple’s product lines and pop up in some surprising places we haven’t thought of yet, like new Beats headphones.  Most of their products today include Micro-USB charging, no doubt Apple will do everything it can to phase that out over the next year.

Refined Apple Watch

To some, this may be a foregone conclusion, but there are those who have their doubts. While how much of a success the Apple Watch has been is up for debate, make no mistake, this is no iPod Hi-Fi.  Apple is committed to the Apple Watch and, by association, the fashion world.

Apple Watch users tend to tell people how much they love theirs (myself included); however many of us like it for different reasons. When people ask about why we love the Watch, it’s hard to point to one thing. It’s a platform without a killer app, which makes it hard to sell. Expect Apple to work on changing that both through marketing and continued iteration.

I anticipate that by the roll-out spring fashion lines, Apple will announce a revised Apple Watch. It won’t be radically different, but it will be noticeably more responsive for third-party apps and will likely contain new sensors to track health and fitness.

Smarter Maps

Apple took a beating when it launched new Maps in iOS 6 without transit directions. Now Apple has a lot of trust to regain in this field. If the company wishes to succeed in this area, it needs to iterate rapidly. The company’s health and fitness focus will likely help it here as well as its ‘proactive’ initiatives. Something we could see is “smart” time estimations on walks from place to place based on our own pacing.

Another area of focus could include bike directions in Apple Maps, which will be especially handy for Apple Watch users who will be able to accurately navigate to their destination via haptics alone without looking at their screen.

New Transit Innovations

Apple wants to be much more involved in how you get from place to place. Sure, we’ve all heard rumors about a car, but if that is coming, it’s not going to be in the short term.

The expansion of ApplePay, and with it, NFC chips, raises some interesting possibilities about how you get around town. Chicago, Tokyo, London, and other cities already use some form of radio frequencies for mass transit payment systems. All of which have moved towards NFC as their technological solution. With New York City also planning to switch to a similar system, this is good news for all involved.

I expect that Apple will start making deals that allow the company to make future iPhones and Apple Watches work as your monthly transit pass, furthering its strategic goal of replacing our wallets with digital solutions.

I do not expect all of these things to happen in 2016, but I do believe they’re all inevitable. I look forward to what the future has in store.