Tag Archives: corporate life

Are the eyeballs back?

shutterstock_110934842 line_600pxThe other day New York Times had an interesting article about 1 Billion dollar (Internet) startups. The piece opened up by saying:

The number of privately held Silicon Valley start-ups that are worth more than $1 billion shocks even the executives running those companies.

That kind of gives a flashback of the Dot Com Hype, doesn’t it? Do you remember the “eyeball logic” i.e. the acquired companies had no business model, no assets, but only data of people come came to their site.

Maybe it is different this time? Or, like Gordon Gekko in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, looks different but is still the same.

Let’s start answering that by asking is Billion dollars a lot of money? Of course it is. But in relative terms and as an investment? For comparison, the beer company Anheuser-Busch paid 20 Billion to get their hands on Corona, and their competitor SAB Miller paid 10.2 Billion for Australian Foster’s.

And all that is, paraphrasing the late Steve Jobs, not really changing the world, but just mixing barley with water.

Okay, okay.  Fair enough. Those acquisition pricetags surely cover more than just the brand goodwill and the customer base. There must be “hardware” involved. Bottling plants, distribution, exclusive contracts and so on. I am definitively not an expert, but, apart from the time it takes to replicate those, how valuable is all that really? So I am sure the math still contains big numbers for the brand and customer base value that make “investing 1 Billion to acquire a household Internet brand(s)” to sound more reasonable.

A billion here or there, but somehow the the get-rich-with-internet story may not feel that glorious. Could feel more like luck, gold-digging or opportunistic. People can picture how the blue collar beer makers brewed and bottled beer in the farmhouse, with the family helping, to meet the increasing demand, as the grapevine spread the news about the awesome, differentiated product. And, in comparison, the Internet entrepreneur did what? Sat at Starbucks hacking some code to his Mac, while making sure none of the Asian subcontractors were using child labor?

None of this matters. The valuation is what it is, because somebody built a product line or a customer base that Big Corporations need, but wouldn’t, or couldn’t, build organically.

And, unlike some of the beer companies going directly to the acquisition mode, most technology companies have first tried to build the new things themselves. Because that coding at Starbucks was supposed to be easy, remember? But it turned out to be everything but, their build-it-from-scratch efforts failing miserably. And often failing for so many different reasons, nothing to do with technology, but more with business model conflict and leadership culture. So companies are willing to pay the big bucks for the acquisition so that they don’t need to go through those self-inflicted failures again.

So in a way, yes, “eyeball acquisition business logic” is back.

But there is one major difference to the Dot Com era. Today’s Internet is no longer an experimentation of the early adopters, but the necessity of the Main Street (how do you think most people would answer: “Which one, and only one, would you take to a deserted island? A case of Corona or the Internet?”). Unlike ten years ago, people are quite much more willing to pay for, or truly engage with, services. And stick with them. Yes, people might switch away from Spotify or Dropbox, like they could switch away from Corona or Foster’s. But that churn probably can be estimated way better than 10 years ago. So good are many of these services, and so high is the user engagement. Which, in turn, means the investment banker estimates for the net present value of those eyeballs is more reliable.

The M&A excels aside, at the end, the payback of any acquisition is largely defined by what the Big Corporation does with the new stuff it owns.  In 2000, a major global conglomerate acquired a known-but-not-yet-mega-known, unconventiontal ice cream brand for USD 326 Million. It continued to let the brand do its thing, perhaps learning also something about its culture along the way. And now everyone knows Ben and Jerry ice cream, owned by Unilever, which by the way recorded its all-time high share price.

Maybe one day the price tags go down, as big corporations learn to innovate better themselves. It just may take some more ten-year cycles.

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Product guy – understand your levers

Archimedes_lever_(Small)Every decision Product Guy makes is important. So is every precious minute spent on any chosen topic, out of the many worthy of “Urgent!!” email header. However, some decisions are more important than others because of the leverage (interestingly, a concept invented by another theory guy, Archimedes)

Levers behave differently in different businesses and market contexts. And can be a little counterintuitive. But recognising the meaningful ones makes a world of difference.

For example, I worked in the mass market mobile phone business of Nokia, which had a massive “volume lever”. Individual mobile phone product families designed could ship in tens, and sometimes in hundreds of Millions of units. Hence, for example, any cent, or sometimes fraction of a cent, unnecessary component cost eliminated would impact profitability way more than any impressive sounding one-time cost.

High price elasticity can also be a lever. The income pyramids in different countries are very different, and being able to move down a tier can multiply the size of the addressable market.

Sometimes the important lever has nothing to with the cost, but is about ‘being the best’ or ‘being the first’. People might remember that Buzz Aldrin was the second person to step on the moon, but that’s a rare exception for the runner-ups in the collective memory of the man-kind. We also know Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon were in Apollo 13 because it was the best almost-disaster. But very few remember who were in Apollo 12.

Speaking of “Houston, we have a problem” level of catch-phrases, “easy copy & pasteability” can also be a lever. Communications and marketing people hone their materials to reach the same level of virality. Consultants and lawyers try to template-ize their work up to only needing the change the company name.

Sometimes it is the ‘partner visibility lever’ that matters. For example, during the rise of Facebook or Angry Birds usage, any electronics product that was ahead of the curve providing those functionalities got free publicity, and something to build the product identity around. Until of course, every one had them

Sometimes certain leadership actions are perceived to have ‘symbolic lever’. Personally, I think today’s world is overly consumed by this myth of leadership. I get that Bill Pullman, as the U.S. President Whitmore, had to make a passionate speech in Independence Day. But did he really have to suit up and get in a jet to fight some aliens himself, even if he had been a fighter pilot pre-politics? Generally, handing CEO or EVP the keys to engine room is amongst the worst crisis management idea ever.

And so on and so forth. The list is endless when you really put your mind into it.

What I am saying is that the impact of leverage on different activities should be a key determining factor how Product Guy spends his/her time.

This understanding of contextual geometrics also separates the rookies from the veterans. Running after every idea or problem until exhaustion works only for the young and dumb who love the thrill of being in the middle of product making action. The more experienced ones remember that it takes a village to move a mountain.

The experienced ones also know that overly transactional behavior makes the world a cold and indifferent place. Sometimes you need to spend the time on what’s right, what’s interesting and what gets the energy up, even if the leverage was non-existent. And, at the end, it may make rational sense too. You never know who’s going to carry the big stick in the next project.

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Happened in the previous episodes of Product Guy series:

Stay tuned for the next episode: Product guy – review the unknown

 

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Product guy – make one scoreboard

Setting up the product performance scoreboard is one of the most critical tasks of the product guy. But perfecting the granularity level of the information is hard.

Think it is this way. Dow Jones and NASDAQ tell if the stock market is about to fall off any cliff, but using them for stockpicking is risky. ‘42’as the meaning of life has value, but just comedy value. So let’s bake in more parameters, right?

Be careful what you wish for.

During my years at Nokia I saw product performance charts that convinced me that the idea of Balanced Scorecard combined with the infinite capability of Microsoft Excel to add rows and columns can be a lethal combination for human nerve.

Instead of searching for the perfect index or the basket of metrics, the product guy should recognize that the scoreboard needs to be used for at least four different purposes – focus of attention, feedback loop, sense of urgency and rewards – each one of them having different drivers from each other.

Focus of attention

Based on a highly proprietary focus group research, I believe there’s a high correlation between program and project managers and people who love air traffic controller movies.

Air traffic control picture_500px

Those dashboards, those PowerPoints or Excels with a lot of graphs and numbers covering every conceivable dimension of the execution tell them whether the gap between their dream and reality is closing or not. The emotional kicks those people get of staying ‘on top of things’ are hard for the normally wired people to understand, as evidenced by the lousy IMDB scores for the two great flight controller movies – Ground Control (only 5.6) and Pushing Tin (only 5.9).

Now, facing such complexity, the natural reaction is to try to dumb the metrics down, or to craft a super-index. Doing so would be about as useful as removing the altitude parameter from the tool set of the air traffic controllers. Or combining all approaching American Airlines flights under one AA code. Surely, Kiefer Sutherland or John Cusack would have no problem, but any lesser talent would be in trouble.

The highly quantitative approach with a lot of relative numbers can also cause losing sight of the big picture. For example, I worked with feature phones that usually ship in huge volumes. So, for example, in the dashboard of a product family shipping 50 Million units, the yearly product return rate moving from 4% to 5% may look like a blip. But in absolute terms that would mean 500,000 more visits per year to the customer care center. That’s the equivalent of 2,5 days of average total passenger flow through Heathrow Airport.

The dashboards serve best when they are used for understanding where to focus the attention, or what questions to ask. And such data should be kept in the hands of people who know how to interpret them, or at least always supplemented with an expert interpretation.

I saw first hand at Nokia that not much good happens when, for example, sales guys, in need for the product schedule, data tap into the intranet wiki of the product development team, upload some data points and start making their own extrapolations out of the bug curves. Even the highly multitalented Bruce Willis in Die Hard 2 didn’t get involved with air traffic controlling, but let Fred Thompson to figure out how to “stack, pack and rack” all the planes safely home.

 Feedback loop

Now, qualitative feedback i.e. written comments – be it via the scoreboard mechanisms or from the friends of the Board members – is another potential source of information overload. Again, it would be a mistake to try to bottleneck and reduce the volume of such valuable input. The more the better.

But in consumer-facing businesses, the amount can be overwhelming, beyond even Kiefer’s or John’s processing capability.

For qualitative feedback, the product guy should focus on building the most efficient “routers” that somehow split the feedback and route it to the right experts. If there’s a comment about “still camera noise levels not being quite right”, the router needs to be intelligent enough to send the feedback to the camera guys based on the word ‘camera’ (instead of sending to the audio guys based on the word ‘noise’).

Surprisingly often, the free form comments contain anecdotal weak signals about a problem (or opportunity) that only shows up on the dashboard when the crisis (or the unplanned success) is in the pants already. Routing data to the right person fast enough can prevent ugly from turning to bad or make good great.

But right routing doesn’t guarantee right action. Which brings us, again, to human behavior.

Sense of urgency

During my Nokia years, the product quality “lessons learnt” studies often revealed that somebody somewhere had detected the problem and the information was even routed to the right place. But nothing happened.

Hindsight is of course dangerous. These days only product managers and the referees of FIFA-governed football games seem not to have the luxury of video replay. A lot of product information comes in all the time and things can be missed.

Through experience people will get better with the information triage. If they have the right attitude. If they don’t….well….there is no easy solution to ignorance. But the product guy can impact behaviors that result in the ignorance blossoming.

First, stop measuring against yourself. “We met the plan. Hence we succeeded” is a train of thought that doesn’t account how often the plan sucks, or the measurement is too massaged from the get-go. Sales guys have a worldwide reputation for being experts in low-balling and sandbagging, but it is only because the product development community is lousy with their PR work. Further, in getting things done, following the plan isn’t the goal. That’s not to say plans wouldn’t be important. They are but they also partially exist as change management tools so that you know that you change for the better and can execute it in a synchronized manner.

Second, find ways to get around the ‘burden of proof’ problem to separate an anomaly from an epidemy.  Do you have to prove that generally rappers don’t make long-lasting box office hit actors? Or do I have to prove that Mark Wahlberg wasn’t a fluke? Or is it inevitable that we end up arguing whether he was much of a rapper so start with? A tough one. But this level of intellectual, quality dialogue about the product feedback is needed.

Rewards

It is impossible to start a discussion about performance and rewards without ending up to the links to Dan Pink’s talks and articles on why Carrots & Sticks don’t work, and how the Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose is the new religion. So let me save the effort and link to some of the most read and viewed material – here, here and here.

Don’t get me wrong. I am definitively not saying “So what?”. I very much believe Mr. Pink is onto something.

I can’t say I have a lot of evidence on my claim. The compensation schemes at Nokia – as often in massive companies – were set very top-down. So there was not a big sandbox to experiment in. But still I saw enough. I became convinced that the more clever & complex (meaning Ph.D. in Definitions required) or the more bold & binary (“If X happens, you get Y (as in yelling) and Z (as in zilch)”) the incentivisation scheme is, the more likely it will fail miserably, stifle creativity and create an attention-diverting headache to manage, stealing focus from what really matter – the product, the consumer and the team.

At the same time, the thinking of not linking performance and rewards at all is a little bit of utopia. Equality is a good starting point because, whether people admit it or not, there’s a socialist streak in every compassionate human being. It just may not reach the level of accepting the pay level of the most un-deserving member of the team. It may just be to the level of protecting that nice guy from being booted, which in realistic terms would be the way to free salary budget for others. And every knowledge worker surely is socialist enough to agree that not all the profit from the great wisdom unleashed should go to the capitalist class.

So a hard problem to solve….

Hence, the scoreboard design must take into account that its data ends up most likely being used for rewards purposes. Hopefully just not through some arbitrary, difficult-to-predict formula, but rather as a data point, or a piece of evidence, people can use to describe what consistutes ‘fair’.

The simple scoreboard that sucks the least

I wrote earlier how I think the combination of three metrics – Net sales, gross margin, Net Promoter Score (NPS) is the closest thing I’ve found to a working scoreboard.

Those metrics are from perfect and can easily be executed wrongly as any other scoreboard (ref: my post about the NPS stimulus problem), but around those metrics I believe it is doable to create a holistic system that works and is cost efficient.

Think NPS as the overall thermometer. If that is in red color, it is proper to declare a higher DEFCON class even if every other single metric is in green. Because something is not quite right. The program manager’s dashboard combined with the written NPS comments from the feedback used in the Dr. House way is then the way to figure out what the root of unhappiness is and how to improve.

In closing, in perpetuity

Unlike in sports, the buzzer of the product scoreboard should never sound full time. It’s a perpetual scoreboard that also becomes better – more accurate, more understandable and less latent – all the time.

That’s because the product guy plays a game that never ends. As the late management thinker, and the only official guru of the product guy series, Peter. F Drucker said, “The purpose of the company is to acquire customers. And keep them”.

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Happened in the previous episodes of Product Guy series:

Stay tuned for the next episode: Product guy – find your inner hipster

 

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Windows 8. The most important product launch ever. Or at least since the last time

This is the product launch that determines the future of the company. Nothing is more important, nothing. The local newspapers are following keenly, knowing that the outcome will have direct and indirect impacts to the community. Human interest stories about executive room drama emerge, highlighting not only different personalities, but different ideologies how cloud technologies should be integrated with the rest of the product offering. Occasionally, the stuff that actually interests the consumers – like, is the product any good? – gets some air time, but even then the experts are totally divided and all over the place with their opinions. And that is on top of  the consumer base evolution story being slightly messy, and the track record of previous launches being not quite impeccable. Messy, messy – but this is how one plays in the big leagues.

I can’t help it. I am getting some serious flashbacks when I read Microsoft Windows 8 related articles. It feels such a similar turning point (or anti-climax) with what I experienced during Nokia’s long slide from the heydays of N95 to last summer (that’s when I left). The main difference is that some of the controversies were somehow managed to be kept Nokia internal at the time of events, emerging only years later as newspaper feature stories.

So the common wisdom goes that Oct 26th, the sales start of Windows 8, and Oct 29th the Windows Phone 8 launch will tell whether Microsoft can reverse its course from the perceived slow march to the irrelevance.

Except that, in real corporate life, things are never that clear cut. In retrospect, there always will be pivotal moments on which the true competitiveness and strength of a company became fully understood. These moments may be product launches or ownership or executive changes, but even then, ultimately, they are just moments of disclosure over something that has been happening all along (but been known or understood by a few only).

So maybe we will be wiser after this week. Or not. The true question is that does the Planet Earth really need Windows altogether that much anymore. I don’t know, I really don’t know, but I can see how easy it is to be skeptical.  The reason to spend money on Windows isn’t as clear as it used to be.

Interestingly, July 2009 was already the first time I had exposure to Windows 8. I gave the Nokia presentation in the partner section of some Windows 8 Program Managers Kickoff event in Redmond. I talked about what we had learned about online consumer behavior with Nokia Nseries. Our interesting finding from the “Nielsen type of” consumer panels was that mobile phone browsing at home was really high, because people were simply not happy with the home computing mobility and the computer startup times. This was clearly a top-of-mind topic with the audience, so it’s not like my preso was causing any epiphanies. The more incredible thing actually is how much so many other companies – other than Nokia or Microsoft, that is – have managed to deliver stuff in 3,5 years to solve those problems for the consumers.

So I’ll be following the Windows 8 reception with great interest. And ironically, what happens will not be isolated from the destiny of Nokia (and tech scene in Finland), because – as I explained in my mobile megapost – at the end I see Windows Phone more a proprietary extension of the “big” Windows 8 than anything else.

Ethics statement: Not that anyone could mistake my posts for being overly pro-Nokia, transparency is important. So, hence, do note that I still own some Nokia stock that I received as a part of my compensation when working for Nokia.

Picture credit: flickr user eschipul, licensed under Creative Commons

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What I learned in my corporate training programs

One big benefit in working for a Big Corporation can be the training programs, provided of course that the firm invests sufficiently in them. The reason is primarily math. Best training programs are highly tailored to the day-to-day context in which the skills are to be deployed, and have handpicked, motivated participants. Hence, the training tends to have high fixed costs, and require special deep skills. That in turn means doing them properly is easier for bigger companies (not an excuse for smaller companies though).

During my 17 years at Nokia, I surely was blessed with the opportunity. I went through the whole training path, from various functional training programs (such as Brand Training, Compass and Product Program Manager) all the way to the executive leadership program called Panorama. These were not just some day-in-and-outs but massive programs with several 4-day modules each, with group homework.

Now, interestingly, as I reflect back those numerous months in the courses, I am not sure I learned anything that long-lasting about the mobile phone industry, the internet technical protocols or even the business models. Don’t get me wrong, I got to hear some incredible keynote speakers, and hang out with cool industry insiders. Yet I have to press my memory to single out anything that truly changed me, as opposed to getting me more informed.

By far, the most I learned about leadership. And I am not talking leadership in the sense of How-To-Do business books, copycatting Jose Mourinho, or reading out Churchill and Rocky Balboa quotes around the camp fire.

I mean leading yourself. That is the hard thing. And that’s the important one, because that’s where every other aspect of leadership is rooted to.

Learning about yourself is hard in the classroom with someone lecturing in the podium. They tend to talk about themselves, not you. Further, very few of us have a book written about us, as individuals. So the best methods for learning about yourself are interaction, dialogue and role play -base for which the carefully planned corporate training programs can offer the trusted and relevant environment.

Now, even if becoming a better leader for the company who paid your training fails, there is a high possibility that you walk back to the wild as a better father/mother, spouse or just a human being.  So my advice is that if your company has decided to invest in you with something that sounds fluffy to you, seize the opportunity and open your mind. You get out what you put in.

I know. I know. You have this and that the most important and urgent project that is competing about your time. I guarantee that when you look back years from today, you won’t remember what pressing business thing was. But you will remember what you learned about yourself.

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Previously in Corporate Life series:

Related links:

  • Most of the Nokia training was carried out by a company called Mobilizing Teams International, founded by Chris Parker, a IMD professor and psychologist. Check out their pages for their methods. There are probably many similar in the world, so this is just an example of a company I know to be excellent.
  • I was also glad to hear that, upon moving to alumni, one of the Nokia training program facilitators Andreas “Anttu” Forsberg has set up his own company offering team dynamics related training here in Finland. Check out Leading High Performance Ltd. 
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Why I like to use the word ‘Nokia alumni’

 

I have consciously tried to use the word ‘Nokia alumni’ when talking of people that have worked for Nokia, including myself.

Alumni is not (yet) a super common word outside native English speakers, but it is steadily creeping its way into, for example, the Finnish dictionary (see e.g. the pages of the university I went to). It simply is such a good word.

The tonality of the word ‘alumni’ captures, in my opinion, the life-long learning and relationships one gains when working for a big corporation (or any other big common cause) better than, for example, “ex-Nokian”. Hot businesses come and go, but learning and relationships are built to last.

I am also convinced that a lot of Nokia alumni will again be a part of something great. There is just too much mileage, energy in the tank and deep skills to go wasted.

That’s also how the world works. For example, the alumni of Hewlett-Packard, the first success story of Silicon Valley, played a significant role in the next waves of the Valley growth. As an another example, basketball took a major step as a sport not at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, but after it. Why? Talented players who had been stars in their own teams saw up, close and personal how hard the other talented people worked, and vowed to become even better. Glued to the television, many kids and teenagers experienced all this via TV – such as Dirk in Germany, Manu in Argentina and Yao in China – paving the way to a new generation of international players. Consequently, the next 10 years after Barcelona the game just got better and better.

Don’t get me wrong. It will be a long road to any kind of gratification for being ‘Nokia alumni’. And there will be many rehab hurdles that people need to go through. Things are likely to get first worse before they get better. All companies are different than Nokia. Start-ups certainly are, but people tell me that so are many big companies (different meaning just different, not good or bad). And as people have a tendency to hire people they know and trust, there is a risk of “Nokia alumni cliques” inside the new companies that may result in resentment. Last, the journey of Nokia alumni is in such early chapters that even the exact role of Nokia, the company and its not-yet alumni, in the resurrection story is open.

One thing is for sure. One day, someone will publish a slide gallery of the Nokia alumni that will be as impressive as the one made of Apple today (see Forbes: Apple alumni & how they went to change the world)

Behind the Forbes link, you’ll learn, for example, that Queen Rania of Jordan is also of Apple alumni. And that, in fact, she met the future king when going to a dinner party with a co-worker. Interestingly, she worked at Apple in 1993 which certainly weren’t the finest hours of the rise-fall-rise-rise of the company .

Now, I certainly am not suggesting that chasing Madeleine, Carl Philip or Pippa is the wisest way to spend your Nokia bridge money. All I am saying is that ‘alumni’ is a word that best captures the potential of the Nokia people, and the world will hear of those people in many different ways.

 

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Would you like to switch that shovel to a Bobcat?

It was reported widely yesterday that Yahoo will offer its employees a high-end smartphone of their choice. The buffet includes, for example, iPhone5, Galaxy S III and also Nokia Lumia 920 (on top of which Doug Dawson, Nokia VP for PR, promised to chip in a wireless charging pad).

I really hope Yahoo will publish the statistics on what people opted for. Would be fascinating.

I am not attempting to single out Yahoo in any way (I only wish good for them, including that they’d get their act together with flickr) , but it was interesting to read some of the surprise reactions. Corporates – and again this is a general statement – spend such a big amount of money on all kinds of legacy stuff that is probably less important. As a manager of a bigger corporation, I am sure if you’d spend some time check what your catering or DHL/FedEx/UPS charge you, or what is really inside that “facilities charge” allocation, suddenly some of the mobility and computing investments start to feel money well spent. Even if there was an occasional peek to the facebook every now and then. But physical services like couriers and meeting catering have been a permanent part of corporate life since the days of Mad Men, and unlike the liquor tray, they haven’t been substituted because of the die-slow habits of how things are supposed to be organized in a proper company. So those lines in the checkered notebook of costs need less justification than others.

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How many VP:s do you need a blog make?

photo bulb flickr creativetools First of all, I am sorry for not being able to resist the headline. I don’t want to get tangled up whether the answer is four (“one to think, one to write, one to post and one in matrix to oversee”) or zero (“I hire mortals to do this stuff”), because the process of coming up with the answer would be too painful.

There is, however, a grain of truth, that when working for a(ny) Big Corporation, there are so many specialists to help out that one can become too reliant on others to get stuff done. There’s nothing wrong with that per se. Many great things are built on the shoulders of giants behind the curtains. But, as an executive, one can go overboard, and lose track of the effort and the mastery making all that ‘stuff’ work actually requires.

So when I decided to launch this blog, I didn’t hire a Web agency, or a consultant, or ping a friend. Instead, I tried to go by with my basic knowledge of how Web works (or at least used to work) and with what googling and the various helpdesks give me.

I’m sorry to spoil the suspense on how this post ends, but the executive summary is that I made it through.

I also learned a bunch of little things. In the case you are about to go through the same hoops, here’s a rundown of the selections I made. There’s just so much choice with Web apps, services and tools that picking your weaponry starts to feel like the agony of deciding on what detergent to buy at the groucery store. And the customer process is about as non-scientific (good luck, marketers!).

  • First I needed a heavy-duty-writing-friendly laptop. Writing in Starbucks-copies of the world is one perk of blogging I wasn’t ready to give up. I had been an IBM/Lenovo ThinkPad user for, like forever. Because that’s what I got from IT department, and I was always happy enough. This time, I went the new 13” Apple MacBook Pro. It would be tempting to tell a story on how I was finally liberated from the employment of Nokia/Microsoft ecosystem, and I could now pursue what I had always truly wanted. It just wouldn’t be true. Many Nokia people had Macs and I could have had too. I just didn’t choose to switch back then.  Now I did, mainly because I wanted some change and new things to learn.  The price was steep (over 1900 EUR + 300 EUR for Microsoft Office) but I feel served.
  • For managing the domain name(s), I picked hover.com. Prior to this exercise, I had never even heard of them, but they sponsored a blog I am an avid reader of (Horace Dediu’s asymco). I also saw somebody in my twitter feed say positive things. People said the UI is easy (it was) and helpdesk capable (don’t know, never needed them). They charge about 15 USD a name/a year for a domain name,  which made me also notice how much my Finnish Elisa ISP had ripped me off with some ancient domain name renewals (never paid attention). Overall, domain name selection is hard. Any time you think of some catchy name, the odds are someone has already thought of that, and reserved it. Optimally, I would have loved this site to be just “boxscore.com” but the starting bid of 1500 USD was a non-starter. So all of you need to deal with the extra four characters.  Sorry for being cheap.
  • For the blogging platform, I picked WordPress. That was a critical decision that required a little bit more scrutiny, but the verdict of the interwebs seemed to be that they are the equivalent of Chicago Bulls of the 90’s. You just can’t go wrong picking them. I am also wired to root for the community efforts because I fundamentally believe that the checks and balances of that way of doing software produce superior value-for-money and quality. Of course, the price of zero was appealing too.
  • Then I needed an Internet host provider. My project-manager-background-pessimism kicked in, and I assumed massive technical issues, and, hence, having a good help desk became a key selection criterion. That, in practice, meant a Finnish provider because of time zones. I chose louhi.fi semi-pro package (roughly 110 EUR a year).  Their helpdesk was supposed to be good and they ticked all the right boxes of WordPress support. I did have some qualms because they were the company about which one entrepreneur friend of mine complained in Facebook. What happened was that Louhi ended up losing a chunk of customer data for good after a weather storm related power outage. That is not a good thing for a hosting provider. At this point, the optimist side of my brain thought that that somebody who has had a catastrophe is more likely to focus on ensuring it never happens again than somebody who lives in the ignorance of “that will never happen to us.” As I write this, I am getting a nagging feeling that these words might back come to haunt me. Nevertheless, so far so good. I had to call the helpdesk twice about some detail I couldn’t figure out in the WordPress installation. In both cases, the help desk answered within one minute. The first guy was a little too impatient with my lack of proper geek vocabulary to explain what the problem was, but the second guy was the useful kind of interrogator who asked E.R-doctor type of direct questions on my symptoms, identified my problem and told me exactly what to do and in what order.
  • I also needed a FTP client to be able to upload the WordPress installation package to the servers. Again there was so much to choose from. I chose FileZilla, the logic being that any app or service selects the ending –zilla is under the obligation from the Internet gods to be good enough.
  • There was very little HTML work to be done in the whole installation procedure. More precisely, I had to insert one specific database address to one script. I could have done that with Notepad or anything that handles HTML, but I chose a real HTML Editor called Taco Edit. The logic was that the name sounded cool and the google search “Taco CNET review” gave over four stars. I am on trial period on that one – I might not actually need it – but should I decide to purchase it would cost me EUR 19.99.
  • Last, WordPress also had a commenting system but I wanted something more sophisticated. It seems there are three contenders: Disqus, Livefyre and IntenseDebate. Plenty of good reviews existed on all three of them. I ended up going with Disqus, partly because it was reviewed to be the easiest default choice and I had registered to it because of commenting to the asymco blog.

So there I was, with all my engineer-like tasks completed. I had managed to install the WordPress package to the ISP disk space I had rented and configure the Hover domain servers to lead traffic to the right place. And I had figured out the various control panels and could access the the WordPress content management system interface via my laptop browser Next, it was time to get artistic and play a little designer.

  • A really tricky juncture was selecting the WordPress theme (i.e. CSS template). Again, there’s just so much to choose from. I wanted something minimalistic and “academic-like” (e.g. Times New Roman or similar as a font) because I wanted my blog to look intellectual. Yet I needed something broadly enough used because I didn’t want to get dragged into maintenance issues caused by my tinkering. Also, the posts themselves needed to look nice on iPhone, Lumia and Android. Through just mindless web surfing from one free theme to another, I ended up to something called Brunelleschi, done by a guy called Kit McAllister. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and his web presence gave an appearance he cared about his project. Through that due diligence, I also learned Brunelleschi was not a Serie A football player, but some Italian architect (note to self: avoid too much revealing of your ignorance of arts & culture. Not good for us wanna-be designers.)
  • Next I needed to design the header banner. At work, I had a Photoshop license, but the price of that is close to robbery (817 EUR) and would not be in line with the meager graphic editing skills I possess. Through googling “best photoshop alternative for mac” I found a software called Pixelmator that does all the things I need (read: I am capable of doing) for USD 59. The only difference I feel is that the file extension is .pxm, not .psd. I already feel guilty having wasted Nokia’s money on those Photoshop licenses.
  • I didn’t have appropriate own photos for the scoreboard logo, nor could I find anything from flickr under Creative Commons. So I needed to license some stock photo. There are so many companies. I picked shutterstock.com because it sounded coolest of the alternatives. Through them, I purchased the rights to the photo as a part of 12-pack of medium resolution pictures for EUR 29.

So far so good. That means I have probably not aware of some big danger lurking around the corner. So if you have any advise for me going forward, don’t hesitate to share.

I also walked away with three big picture learnings:

  1. There’s such an unbelievable amount of choice with Web related apps, tools and services that I don’t envy the job of marketers in cutting through with their message. Especially, when the customers are as casual, irrational and illogical as I was
  2. Big corporations likely pay extra for so much of stupid stuff.  The tools available start to be so sophisticated that they go beyond our professional skills. I suspect in many cases much simpler and cheaper solutions would get the job done than what corporations buy out of habit.
  3. The answer can be one. All you need is the right attitude. Google search will help with the rest

UPDATE (Sept-11): Only minutes after I had linked the blog, I had the first person commenting that I should put some social media plug-ins. Sheesh, hmmm, not a bad idea. That turned out to be similar experience as with other WordPress plug-ins. Really simple to do, but so many things to choose from. I used popularity as the selection criterion, and then some trial-and-error, ending up (at least for now) with Sidebar (for share links on posts), Twitter Widget Pro (to expose my last 2 tweets) and Facebook Like Box (getting fb like button, which include me having to create the facebook page as well (simple)).

Credits: Picture from Creative Tools, licensed under Creative Commons

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