On Persuasian

Robert Scoble writes:

How do you persuade? In a weblog world where everyone has access to all the information on your company/ideas/you/your products/ etc.?

Do you take the “our product/idea/meme/service/etc is the best and the rest are crap” point of view? Or do you take “I’m an authority on this topic and I’m looking out for your best interests” point of view? Which is more likely to persuade you to change your mind?

Are you also looking to help customers become so passionate about your company and your product that they’ll do a better job of selling your ideas/products/company than you ever could?

Scoble’s point: honesty and humility work best. Adds Ted Leung: “Honesty and humility are the foundation for persuasion. After you have these two, you can add passion, excitement, and the willingness to go an extra mile. If you can do these things you’ll persuade me. I’m willing to pay a bit more money to deal with individuals and companies that can learn to treat me this way. Not only will you persuade me to buy your product, but you’ll make me a customer for life.”

Adobe’s Bruce Chizen Interview

First, some background on Adobe from Knowledge@Wharton:

During the past two decades Adobe Systems’ products have had a major impact on business processes in several industries. Its PostScript printer language, first shipped in printers by Apple and QMS in 1985, revolutionized digital typesetting and made desktop publishing possible. In 1993, Adobe’s Acrobat software introduced PDF. Other products, such as Photoshop, won lots of loyal customers.

But brilliant technology does not necessarily create a successful business. By mid-1998 — when most other technology companies were booming — Adobe was in trouble, experiencing stalled product sales and a sagging stock price. As part of a major corporate overhaul in August 1998, most of Adobe’s executive management left the company, and Bruce R. Chizen was promoted to executive vice president, products and marketing. Chizen led a drastic restructuring of Adobe’s business, including instituting several rounds of layoffs and defending the company from a hostile takeover attempt by rival Quark. In 2000 Chizen was named the company’s president and CEO.

Now Chizen is hoping to remake Adobe again — betting that by combining the core electronic document capabilities of its Acrobat products with a new collection of server-based products, Adobe Systems can become a major supplier of application solutions to enterprise businesses.

Next, excerpts from an interview with the Adobe CEO:

Our mission hasn’t changed. It’s always been about developing, designing, marketing, selling software to help people to communicate better. But being able to stay with what we do well — and then growing the number of our constituents — was a major transformation for the company. The fact that we could articulate our mission was a huge change for us.

For example, look at a company like Honda, which — whether consciously or not — realizes that what it does well is build engines. Once Honda has figured that out, it can go from making engines for lawn mowers to building motor-scooters. From motor scooters, it could go to building really good motor cycles, and then cars. Now, recently, Honda has begun to build jet engines. Adobe is similar. We know what we do well — we make software where “good enough” is not acceptable. Over the last five years, we’ve managed to take our core competence and reach many more constituents.

We have grown from being a “point product” company to a technology platform provider. What we’ve done recently with the Creative Suite allows us to provide not only a great solution for our customers but it provides a vehicle in which to build more products and services.

The biggest growth opportunity for Adobe is around document workflows — both digital and paper. On the desktop, our approach has been to use Acrobat. To date we’ve only sold about 14 million new units of Acrobat. According to Microsoft, there are at least 200 million knowledge workers who have Microsoft Office. We believe at least 60 million of them want to send reliable documents — either through e-mail, or on the web, or through peer-to-peer networks. We think Acrobat is a great solution for that.

We’ve been at this now for 20 years. Everything we do is based on Adobe’s imaging model and rendering engine — that layer between the operating system and the application, that allows us to express information in a way that Microsoft has trouble figuring out. It doesn’t mean Microsoft won’t eventually get it right, but as long as we keep moving ahead rapidly, they’ll never be able to catch up. PDF — which is an open standard — is already adopted by most government agencies around the world, most institutions around the world, and most corporations around the world. It gets harder and harder to displace us as time goes on. And that — combined with just not a lot of affinity towards Microsoft today on the part of their customers and others — gives us a lot of confidence.

With PostScript and PDF we found that publishing the specifications, making them open — but not open standards, but not providing open source — is the right path for us. Once something becomes a standard driven by a standards body, it moves at a glacial pace. And innovation slows down significantly, because you have to get everybody to agree, and there’s lots of compromise. If you make it totally open source, you don’t get a return on investment.

Turning Customers into Suppliers

Feed Wilson has asuggestion to those among us in the enetrprise software business:

The enterprise software business has been built on a simple business model – build a new software product and sell it to companies that will pay you for the increased efficiency that the software creates for them.

But its harder and harder to get companies to pay for software today. Theyve got a lot it in place already and they are paying more and more every year to maintain it. Plus theyve been burned by relying on small companies to deliver for them.

I dont believe that we have come anywhere close to addressing every problem that software and information technology can solve for businesses. But I am beginning to feel that we may be reaching a saturation point in terms of what enterprises can pay for software and information technology.

So what should we do about this? I think we should turn our customers into suppliers.

A technology that solves a fundamental business problem can be monetized in more ways than you might imagine at first blush. And the most obvious business model is often not the best one.

So when you are writing your next business plan, think long and hard who your best customer is and who your best supplier is. It might not be the ones you first think of.

He gives a good case stufy of Multex.

Another point to ponder: “Its not the obvious business model that often generates the most value. Its the company that figures out to get inside of this beautiful open system and expose hidden value that often wins the biggest.”

IBM’s SOA Strategy

News.com writes:

IBM is rolling out a series of consulting services and a middleware product designed to convert business customers to a more modular and modern computing architecture.

The consulting services, which will be delivered through IBM Global Services (IGS) worldwide, are meant to help companies assess their current computing systems and devise a plan to build a services-oriented architecture and use Web services, a set of standards for writing modular and interoperable applications. IGS will also offer services for moving older systems, such as mainframes, to a services-oriented architecture.

IBM has built in work flow software based on the Business Process Execution Language for Web Services, a specification under development for automating business processes that use software based on Web services.

IBM’s approach to SOA, which combines consulting services and software, allows customers to better apply technology to the business processes they are looking to improve, said Michael Liebow, vice president of Web services at IGS. Consulting services takes the task of integrating applications from customers, and IBM can offer its consulting expertise in many industries, he said.

“We’re trying to speed certain processes, and the blurring of the line between software and services means you’re more focused on solutions than products,” Liebow said.

One of the consulting services IBM is rolling out worldwide is called business component modeling. Formerly code-named Catalyst, the service is the result of a collaboration between IBM’s Business Consulting Services group and IBM Research.

The service allows a customer to measure how efficient its business processes are compared to other companies in its industry. Looking at an individual company’s business processes in the context of its industry helps it locate areas that can be streamlined and decide which processes, such as running a call center, can be outsourced, Liebow said.

SMEs need a similar strategy – there is a need for an “IBM-for-SMEs.”

Silicon Valley Brain Drain

Always-On has an article by Greg Gretsch of Sigma Partners who visited India in early February:

Everything you’ve heard about how exciting and dynamic things are in India today is true: if anything, it’s understated. Politicians and labor unions who are expressing concern about U.S. call center and SI jobs going to India are focusing their energies on the wrong problem. The problem is not the inevitable transfer of certain business functions to where they can most efficiently be performed, but the migration of the entrepreneurs and experienced workers who create the companies (and the wealth) to their ancestral homelands.

We’ve all heard the stories about the quality of the Indian workforce. They’re smart, they’re well educated, and yes, compared to engineers in Silicon Valley, they’ll work for peanuts. But there are two critical pieces of human capital that India (and countries like it) lacks that Silicon Valley has in spades. The first is years of relevant experience: each new generation of technology is building on the successes and failures of the one that came before it. The second is high-tech entrepreneurs: people have worked in an industry for long enough to know how things are done and that solutions to important problems are worth some money. But there’s nothing genetic that leads these shores to produce more entrepreneurs than anywhere else.

For the last 30-plus years, the best and brightest from around the world came here. They first came here to get educated. That’s why the graduate programs at our top engineering schools are filled to overflowing with the best and brightest from India, China, Russia, and everywhere else around the world. The world’s diasporas came to the United States to get educated. And then once educated, they realized that the companies that would put all that good education to best use were companies right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. If they happened to be in an area where companies are started as fast and furious as they are in Silicon Valley, they may have gotten the idea to try to start one themselves. They built up that critical experience, and some even became one of our most treasured natural resources: the entrepreneur who innovates, creates jobs, and creates wealth.

Now some of those people are heading home. So those bright engineers who graduate from IIT with arguably the best engineering education in the world won’t be forced to reinvent the wheel. They’ll have mentors who learned their trade through years of hard work in the valley and elsewhere. And some of those who head back will be the entrepreneurs with the ideas and the initiative to start high-tech companies that are ready to compete on a global scale.

I think there are immense opportunities in India at this point of time as all the revolutions – computing, Internet, wireless, broadband – are happening at the same time. The next 3-5 years will transform the social and technology landscape in India. If one is willing to take some risk and be entrepreneurial, India is the place to be.

PC Buyer’s Guide

Walter Mossberg offers his suggestions:

This guide is designed to help buyers of Windows PCs wade through the confusing array of models and configurations on the market. Apple’s Macintosh computers are also excellent choices, but there are too few models to require a buyer’s guide.

As always, my advice is aimed at mainstream users doing common tasks such as word processing, Web surfing and e-mail, personal finance, simple home photo and video editing, digital music and basic games.

Memory: Memory, or RAM, is the most important factor in computer performance. You can get by with 256 megabytes, but I suggest 512 MB.

Hard disk: A 40 gigabyte hard disk is the minimum these days, but you can get up to 100 gigabytes in midrange models. Top models now have at least 200 GB.

Processor: Under Intel’s new naming scheme, model numbers in the 500s will do fine, and most people can get away with models in the 300s, called Celerons.

Security: Turn on the built-in Windows firewall that keeps hackers out, or buy a better firewall, such as ZoneAlarm.

Digital connectors: Insist on several USB 2.0 connectors, with at least one on the front of the computer.

Memory-card slots: Look for built-in slots that accept the various types of memory cards used by digital cameras and music players.

High-speed Internet: Get a built-in Ethernet networking connection for high-speed Internet connections via cable modems and DSL lines.

Video system: Get at least 32 megabytes of video memory, preferably 64 megabytes. Less expensive PCs use something called “integrated video,” sometimes known as Intel Extreme.

Monitor: Flat-panel screens are the way to go. The 15-inch flat panels now cost well below $400. The 17-inch models can be $500 or less.

Mass storage: Look for a PC with a built-in CD-RW drive that lets you record your own CDs for playing music, or for backing up or exchanging files.

Media Centers: A Media Center PC has a built-in TV, lots of memory and huge hard-disk capacity. And it uses a special version of Windows XP that can be operated with a remote control from across the room for playing music and videos, viewing photos and watching TV.

Perhaps, the next year’s guide will have a mention of Linux!

TECH TALK: As India Develops: Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Combining the right combination of Vision and Will, India also needs a healthy mix of Innovation to think of the problems we face as opportunities, and Entrepreneurship to commercialise the solutions and build profitable businesses. Solving Indias problems is not a business for the government, aid organisations or philanthropic organizations if we take that route, we will improve small parts of the country, but will never make a difference across the country. Indians have to see a business opportunity, and they will capitalise on it that is the culture of entrepreneurship that is built-in. What India needs is an environment to thrive in. A pro-active, participative and smart government can do wonders to catalyse this process. The mantra for the bureaucrats and ministers should be what Buddha once said: First, Do No Harm.

Innovation in India means thinking affordability and the mass-market. Look at what has happened with cellphones Indias pricing of 40 paise (less than one cent) per minute is unmatched globally. IIT-Madras has developed a rural ATM machine for about Rs 30,000 as compared to the Rs 7-8 lakhs (USD 15-17,000) price of the global manufacturers. Prof. Sadagopan of IIIT-Bangalore wrote recently:

For decades we are used to MNCs dumping obsolete products in the Indian market and Indian corporations launching shoddy products; suddenly, there is a realization that the Indian market must be looked at afresh, either because they deserve such attention or because such a perspective opens up markets elsewhere too (the poorer sections of the rich countries, cost conscious consumers and large sections of poor countries).

In IT hardware, Proton dot matrix printer from TVS Electronics has revolutionized rural retail stores and set a record through its least expensive dot matrix printer in the world. In the electronics industry, Philips India introduced last year a Hand Wound Radio that can be powered by hand winding; this basically addressed the need for rural India where electricity supply is erratic and constant use of batteries makes the radio expensive. This product is doing exceedingly well in the market. In the consumer product business, the use of sachet to dispense shampoo is the oft-quoted example from India. Use of polythene packets to package milk and the no refrigeration, yet six months life packaging of milk, is really Made for India. In the banking sector, CitiBank Suvidha, a retail product that worked in spite of the lack of branch network for CitiBank in India, is well-known.

In short, Made for India is a viable business option. It is happening in every industry segment. What I have compiled here is a small subset with my limited knowledge. What we need is the scaling up of such experiments to a mass movement to take India to a developed country status by 2020, the vision of President Kalam.

What is needed is for us in India to adopt, and if necessary adapt, innovations to the Indian context, and then let Indian entrepreneurs work on diffusing them through the country (and perhaps later, to other developing countries). India has the educational talent and the institutions to help foster the innovations. What has been missing is the early stage venture capital (in the form of angel funding) and mentoring to get enthusiastic teams of people to give up cushy and predictable jobs to take the path less travelled on, and focus on the needs of the market within.

Tomorrow: A Personal View

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