Monday, September 20, 2010

Sir Richard Branson's Speech at Exact Target Connections 2010

Last Wednesday I attended the keynote address of Sir Richard Branson at Exact Target's 2010 Connections Conference.  It was absolutely awesome to hear Branson speak in person about the early days of his entrepreneurial journey.  He primarily covered the early days of Virgin Records and explained how the idea for Virgin Atlantic, his second major Virgin venture, was hatched.  In short, he said that he was tired of flying on airlines that treated passengers like second class citizens and thought there was a huge need for an airline that worked the way he thought it should work.  So he proceeded to start Virgin Atlantic by hiring "200 friendly flight attendants" focusing on what he described as "friendliness" over any other trait including experience.  In spite of the view of his two partners at the time that he was completely crazy, he proceeded to launch the airline.  He now says he was lucky that he didn't know any of the details because he probably wouldn't have proceeded with the plan.  The strategy worked and Virgin Atlantic has flourished as an airline that has friendly employees who treat passengers well.

He also made the point that Virgin is not about being the "biggest" in the businesses they enter but rather being the "best".  In the case of Virgin Atlantic, they have 35 aircraft in their fleet, which pales in comparison to its large competitors, but they have become one of the best and most well-respected airlines known for their flights from London to New York.

Virgin has over 300 businesses they have launched and have proven to make the recipe of being the best work on many occasions.  Eight of the Virgin businesses have exceeded a billion dollars in annual revenue.

They now have their sites set on space with Virgin Galactic.  Perhaps in space flight, Virgin will be both the best and the biggest.

Monday, September 6, 2010

What Does SaaS Really Mean?

Software businesses today all seem to be interested in pursuing SaaS (software-as-a-service) business models.  Trailblazers like have shown that delivering functionality to customers over the Web can be beneficial to customers and vendors, alike.  For the software vendor, SaaS should allow them to more efficiently support clients by updating one set of code that instantly flows through to every single client.  Additionally, the annuity revenue stream that is generated through SaaS subscription pricing models tends to be preferred over the traditional "feast and famine" model employed by software companies that rely on selling up-front licenses to clients.  For the client, the up-front price should be lower and they shouldn't have to deal with any on premise hardware or software maintenance.  

So the debate about what SaaS really means comes into play when asking a group of software companies whether or not you have to maintain only one common, truly multi-tenant code base to be considered SaaS vs. deploying multiple hosted virtual instances of the code to support various clients.  The commonality between both of these options is that the pricing model is generally subscription-based on the software is provided over the Web without any on premise deployment on the part of the customer.  

So the question is whether or not you have to truly be deploying a multi-tenant architecture to be considered a SaaS offering.  I followed a heated debate about this on the SaaS group on LinkedIn and can see convincing arguments both ways.  I also know successful SaaS companies like Exact Target who are truly multi-tenant as well as successful companies such as Angel Learning (now part of BlackBoard) who are not.  Again, the common thread is the subscription-based model and lack of on premise hardware required to utilize the software functionality.  I suppose regardless of how you define them, the most important labels they can undoubtedly both claim would be high-growth and financially successful!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Microsoft Live Mesh is Excellent

Of all the Microsoft products launched in the past decade, I think Live Mesh is the best. It is currently in Beta but seems to be working just great.

The basic concept is that you download a small Live Mesh app to each of your devices (PC's but someday other devices such as Macs and smart phones) and your files stay in sync across all of those devices. It also provides the ability to remote desktop into any of your machines. Last but not least, it includes a Live Mesh Desktop online where you can access all of your sync'd files through your browser. I highly recommend trying it out!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

at what a age were you "successful"?

"Successful" is certainly a relative term. I successfully started my first business and turned a profit at age 20. Successfully graduated from IU at 22. I was successfully married at 22. Successfully had my first child at 25 (at least my wife did but I was involved). There are a few more but these stand out in my mind as most important. I've also certainly had my share of failures which I consider ammunition that helps me to be more successful by making better decisions moving forward.

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what is the best snowboarding mountain in the U.S.?

Good question! I'm definitely a fan of the Rockies and in recent years my best runs have been snowboarding the bowls at Aspen Highlands. I also love Beaver Creek and Vail. Come to think of it, anywhere I can find powder is my favorite at that moment!

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Friday, February 12, 2010

A Million Steps in the Right Direction

This afternoon I was thinking about all of the progress we have made at Bostech since I rejoined as CEO last July. I then quickly shifted to thinking about all of the opportunities and challenges that we face moving forward to realize our full potential. I believe the key to building high performance companies is to make progress every day - realize that it will take A MILLION STEPS IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION to achieve your goal. There is no silver bullet strategy for building a high performance business. All too often, I see entrepreneurs who are constantly leaping from one silver bullet idea to the next. I think this approach is incredibly unproductive and ultimately creates a hollow, unstable organization. It creates a culture where everyone is detached from reality and where morale bottoms out each and every time the silver bullet of that week or month fails to hit the target.

Admiral James Stockdale was the master of this approach. The strongest evidence of this can be found in the reason he provides for surviving years in isolation as a POW in Vietnam. Here is what he said:

"I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade."[4]

When Collins asked who didn't make it out, Stockdale replied:

"Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart."

Stockdale then added:

"This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Discovering Google Labs in GMail

Maybe you know this already, but if you go into Settings then click on the Labs tab in GMail, you can enable loads of cool features. One that I am using right now, which requires use of the custom url feature, is posting to my blog through GMail. I might actually blog more than once a month now!

Another cool feature I enables was sending text messages through an IM-like gadget within GMail. Super cool.

A Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures

I was talking to my friend Bob Braun of Revelant Technologies a couple weeks ago while we were reviewing a new presentation our marketing team at Bostech had been working on for our ChainBulder Labs solution.  I am big on using infographics rather than lots of bullets to convey important points and concepts in presentations so in this ChainBuilder Labs presentation we were looking at an infographic illustrating what the product does for labs and healthcare providers.  Bob made some positive remarks and provided some feedback on ways to improve the infographic (thanks Bob). 

Somewhere along the line I said, "a picture is worth a thousand words Bob" (totally cliche) and Bob replied (wisely), "...and Brad, most importantly, a word is worth a thousand pictures." 
Bob is right.  When you hear someone say something - like the word "compression" - you have your own thoughts and beliefs related to that word.  For every thousand people, there are a thousand different thoughts they may come away with if you put a slide full of bullets and text in front of them.

With a picture (fancy word is infographic) you capture the message instantly in a way that is consistently understood.  And the bottom line is, if you don't capture your audience in the first 60 seconds, you never will...

This topic came up again today with Bill Johnson and he recommended the book "Back of the Napkin" which apparently is about the art and science of developing infographics. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

If you had a chance to ask anybody anything you want, who and what question would it be?

That answer would depend on the moment, but right now I may ask Epictetus for some pointers on the practice of stoic philosophy. Or perhaps why I am still awake...

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Brad, I have started two tech consulting companies, the first was bought out. I have been running the second company since 2002. I have moved into hosted SAAS envrionments, but don't have a clue on how to find new customers. Any advice? K. Vanover

To be clear, are you running SaaS environments for other clients who have SaaS applications they need you to host? If so, I would recommend reaching out to software companies who are moving from traditional software models to SaaS models and include value-added services to help enable that transition. Competing solely on hosting the environment will be tougher and tougher given the strength of Amazon's Web Service offering and similar services. Hope that helps K. --Brad

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Brad,I want to sell ChaCha advertising in Chicago. Indiana to Chicago logical big market bump. Let's do this. I am a guide. I wanted to test the service before I became your VP of Sales for the Chicago region. Let's CHACHA!!

Although I co-founded ChaCha, I am no longer involved in the day-to-day operation of the business. I'd suggest reaching to someone at ChaCha to discuss. If you are a Guide, Esther would probably be the best place to start. Thanks!

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