7 Lessons I Learned From Jeff Bezos

It’s not often that I summarize other people’s work or talks, but this one was too good to pass up.

This video is 80 minutes and 27 seconds well spent but below are some of the takeaways for me. Maybe they are important to you too?

Make your building blocks public and reusable (API’s first). Who would have thought that an online book store would be one of the largest providers of cloud hosting services in the world? It happened because one day around 2002, Jeff Bezos decided “All service interfaces, without exception, must be designed from the ground up to be externalizable. That is to say, the team must plan and design to be able to expose the interface to developers in the outside world. No exceptions.” The mandate, among others, closed with “Anyone who doesn’t do this will be fired. Thank you; have a nice day!”

When you think about building a business, you quickly realize how many moving pieces there are and how interconnected everything is. If one part of the machine breaks, the other parts are surely affected. This is especially true in technology. If the button on my website doesn’t work, then it can’t perform the function it was supposed to. Conversely, if the button on my website does work and the supporting function does not, well then I have a clickable button that does nothing. By instilling an API-first culture, Jeff was able to create incredible efficiencies within the organization ensuring that there was a universal language to communicate between different parts of the Amazon machine. Some of those parts were so good, that they were able to be exposed to the broader public as standalone parts, and we now have AWS which is one of the three pillars or business units of their company.

Work backward from customer needs. Business is simple when you realize the core essence of what it’s about: Find a problem, solve it, make money to solve it. In the case of Amazon, the problems they are fixing are customer selection, price, speed and accuracy of delivery. That’s it. Those the are core problems that they set out to fix. It seems this is the best and easiest way to align a business. Figure out the needs and work backwards.

Make a little amount of money on a lot of people instead of making a lot of money on a few number of people. The internet has redefined the impact and importance of geography. The old world: one store could serve a few. The new world: one store could serve everyone. As a result, smart companies are taking advantage of this new paradigm with both technological innovation that sits on top of the internet, but also, financial innovation. In Amazon’s case, their financial innovation is to race towards the bottom with prices and with margins.

There are still plenty of other industries where this financial innovation can be applied such as legal services, financial services, and any other high-priced, big-ticketed item. These are all ripe for financial disruption because of the scale of the internet. In my world, I believe the same thing is happening in enterprise software. We call it, the “consumerization of the enterprise.” Long gone are the days of a bag-carrying, quota-carrying, sales guy that needs to hop on a plane to shovel a 20-page agreement across a table to a CEO for a few million dollars. If not long gone, they are surely moving in that direction. Instead, we’ll see the broader adoption of enterprise software which, like Amazon, will win on selection, price and speed.

The only way to give people happy experiences is with happy people. Depressing and pessimistic people are energy vampires. Positive and optimistic people are encouraging and motivating. You will not win unless you surround yourself with smart, motivated and positive people. “Positive”, is the key operating word. In fact, it is one of the 4 company values at Troops.

You don’t choose your passions, your passions choose you. There was a young kid growing up in Seattle in the 70’s and he was obsessed with computers. He would spend hours upon hours on his school’s first computer and tried to figure out every possible way to break the machine and outsmart it. He became obsessed to the point where his parents had to force him to take a break and not use a computer for a whole year. So he did take a break and engulfed himself in books for a full year which also meant no computers during that time. But sure enough, he made it back to his obsession and started a company we now know as Microsoft. Could Microsoft be the company it is today if someone was first and foremost motivated by money? Could Facebook be Facebook without a Harvard dropout chasing some crazy and passionate idea for an online social network? The answer to me seems fairly obvious and yet, most people still try to rationalize and justify the decisions they make in their career. Jeff is successful with Amazon because a passion called him out and he listened. Most people don’t do this and never will. He did, and so am I.

There will be a bunch of artificially intelligent agents. I could not agree more and it is what we are building at Troops. More on that here.

Be stubborn on the vision, but flexible on the details. When Intel Israel’s back was against the wall and it’s facility was at risk of shutting down, it needed to prove that it was an essential part of Intel’s future. To do this, the CEO of Intel Israel said, “$0.66 or die.” He meant we figure out how to make the cost of our chips $0.66 to be the leader in costs and price, or we will go out of business, lose our jobs, and professionally speaking, die. Without the faintest idea of how they would get there, they set out a mandate and just figured it out. Sure enough, they achieved a cost of $0.66 for one of their chips and it proved to be the model for every other Intel Fab factory in the world.

Were there any other takeaways for you?

My Grandfather’s Last Birthday

My grandfather recently turned 96ish…and that will be the last birthday he ever has.

This morning he passed away.

But the days leading up to this morning he was able to spend time with his 3 children, 8 grandkids, cousins, oldest friends from Europe and newer friends from America.

That’s what mattered most to him. Family and friends.

And he worked hard for it.

After the Holocaust and before his immigration to America, he moved back to Munich, Germany and opened a textile store. He sourced fabrics from all over the world and sold them to people looking to make dresses and suits.

He hung out with a couple of guys over there who were also hustling trying to make a buck and rebuild their life. Eventually, they decided to come to America and leave the dark memories from Europe behind. They landed on the Jersey shores. In Toms River to be exact.

He started a farm because my grandmother thought that producing food and raising chickens was a good endeavor. After all, they just escaped Nazi brutality and had to steal, beg and borrow to survive. So food made sense. So did eggs. He would get up at four in the morning to drive his egg route to NYC all the way from Toms River… which is easily a two-hour drive each way.

He did that every day.

Exhausted, every day.

Startup life in the 50’s I suppose.

But he did it for his family.

Shortly thereafter, his pals from Munich told him to join them in the building industry. Given the way the farming and building industries were going, it was an easy decision.

And so build he did.

He built his house and the homes of many others. If you live in NJ, chances are you’ve driven by something he’s been a part of.

And so when I say he came here after the war to “rebuild” his life, I mean it. He literally built.

And the thing he is most proud of is the family he built.

“Make sure the family stays together,” he said.

He might have lost everything as a kid. But in the end, he gained more than most could ever hope for.

And that was my grandfather, Sam.

He was a survivor.

He was a builder.

A 96ish year old builder who built the best home of all.

His home.

My grandfather recently turned 96ish.

My grandfather recently turned 96ish. I say 96ish because he doesn’t really remember his age.

When he was a teenager he had to flee Poland from the German invasion. That was only after he narrowly escaped a Nazi firing squad.

He did escape and obtained a fake identity to fight on the Russian front. That was his only way to survive and survive he did.

But shortly thereafter he was captured by German allies, held as a POW and forced to take on a fake identity. He lied about his name and his age while struggling to stay alive under impossible conditions. That was his only way to survive and once again, survive he did.

He came to America with very little but he rebuilt his life and started a family. A family that is able to celebrate his birthdays with him even if he doesn’t remember his age.

So ya, my grandfather recently turned 96ish.

His 5 or so brothers never made it past 20 years old.

6 million others didn’t make it all.

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

For me, that is every day.

I’m sure for my grandparents, and many others, that is every day too.

‪#‎neverforget‬

Introducing Troops – A Slackbot For Sales

It wasn’t too long ago that my partners and I found ourselves obsessing over an idea for a product that we’ve always wanted. It would help us be more effective at what we’ve been doing our entire lives: hustling –or in a more traditional sense, “selling.”

In the world of technology that support sales and account management teams, the most commonly used software is a broad category commonly known as Customer Relationship Management (CRM). If you’re not familiar, maybe you’ve heard salespeople at your company complain about having to use it.

It seemed crazy to us that despite the fact that there are now self-driving cars, the advancements in a category that pervades such a large portion of the workforce has largely not evolved in 30 years. We talk about the applications we use in our personal lives as “delightful,” but not the ones we use at work. There had to be a better way to arm organizations and sellers to succeed at their jobs.

  1. It had to be mobile first.
  2. It had to be intelligent and predictive
  3. It had to be turnkey and work with the tools we were already using
  4. It had to be easy to use and dare I say fun to use

In order to imagine the future, sometimes the best place to start is by looking at the past.

In 1977, Oracle launched with the goal of building a relational database. This database needed to be installed on-premise at a specific physical location, and could be managed using a bunch of fields, forms, buttons and boxes. And then Marc Benioff, founder of Salesforce, very astutely realized that this database should live in the cloud and not have to be installed on-site, so that people anywhere could access these same fields and forms whether they were in a hotel room or at the office.

As time went on, our computers became smaller and so software developers all over the world tried to pack a ton of functionality into a little screen by simply making those same field and forms smaller.

Screenshot 2016-04-20 16.22.36

If you ask most people today who rely on this software to do their jobs, they’ll tell you the experience isn’t exactly enjoyable.

Why?

To date, enterprise software companies have been trying to get humans to adapt to software, when instead, the software should adapt to humans.

We think this is the wrong approach. Instead these companies should be striving to build solutions that mirror behaviors people already know and enjoy.

That brings us to our mission and what we’ve been quietly building at Troops. Today we’re excited to share more publicly what we’re up to.

At Troops, we fundamentally believe that the future of “getting things done” is going to look a lot less like static fields and forms, and more like a conversation with a human being… an intelligent one for that matter!

Furthermore, we believe that messaging, or conversation, will be the defacto UI for a growing number of software applications. The “bots”or human-like inhabitants of these interfaces will not only be highly responsive to real-time requests, seamlessly cutting out a myriad of clicks, but also be able to intelligently suggest actions based on my process and workflow across all the tools I already use.

Screenshot 2016-04-20 16.22.43

Everyone already knows how to message. We believe so strongly in messaging and conversational interfaces because these are already behaviors we’re accustomed to in our everyday lives.

Six of the top ten apps in the world are messaging apps, and it’s no surprise that the apps we use for work are looking more and more like the ones we use in our personal lives. Ten years ago, would you expect cat giffy’s to be shared in the workplace? The consumerization of the enterprise has arrived and it’s here to stay.

KPCB Messaging Apps

Whether it’s Slack or Facebook and their new announcements at F8 to make messenger the place where businesses and customers interact, it’s clear to us that messaging is beginning to permeate the work environment in a very different way than we’ve seen before…and we think it’s the first inning of this trend.

As Tomasz Tunguz says from Redpoint Ventures:

“At work, we’re thirsty for data to guide and inform decisions and we bring with us similar expectations of technology’s ability to answer questions instantly. As chat becomes an increasingly important user interface in the workplace, there’s a massive opportunity for startups to enrich conversations with answers to questions that pop-up in Slack and elsewhere.”

We agree.

So back to Troops and what we are announcing today.

Troops is a Slackbot for sales teams. It makes it easy to use CRM data to do your job — no more trudging through Salesforce. Troops lets you instantly push and pull CRM data in and out of Slack, turning it into the sales hub for both you and your team.

Over time, this Slackbot will evolve and become smarter. It will live on all conversational platforms that are either controlled by text or voice. It will become your artificially intelligent assistant for work — completely agnostic to medium.

We’re starting with the roles and functions we know best: people who interface directly with customers — sales, business development and customer success teams.

We’ve been fortunate enough to work with many leading sales organizations and customer success teams. These teams are trailblazing their respective industries, and we are excited that Troops is playing a small part of their success.

For those of you who are excited about our mission of making it easier to be successful in the workplace, drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you. And if you’re interested in giving Troops a try, sign up for the beta at Troops.AI.

– Dan

PS. And some press on our launch here – 3 founders spent a year building a Slackbot that makes sales jobs easier, and they raised $2.6 million from a who’s who list of investors

How To Make Slack Work For Your Business

There is a tidal wave coming and it’s changing the way we do work. We caught a glimpse of it in 2014 when Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion. Forget for a moment that the company only had 30 engineers. The fact that Facebook was willing to pay such a high price for this asset was a window into the world to come. That window showed us how important and scalable messaging can be. That window of messaging is only getting bigger.

Less than two weeks ago, Slack completed a $200 million round of financing at a $3.8 billion valuation. This is largely due to the fact that they were able to grow from about 15,000 daily users to over 500,000 daily active users in less than a year. That’s over 33x growth in just 12 months. They could be the fastest growing software company of all time.

People now are beginning to ask why? Why are companies rapidly adopting conversational platforms like Slack? Why do we need it when we already have things like email? And more importantly, how can we use it in our organization when it seems like just another tool to add to the mess of tools? As one CEO of a large technology company told me, “we already have email, Gchat, Facebook messenger, text messaging and WhatsApp. What do I need one more tool for?”

Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to look at one of the most successful CEO’s of all time, Andy Grove from Intel. In the 1980’s he also saw a tidal wave coming and he used it to his advantage to outperform his competitors, namely the Japanese DRAM manufacturers. The Japanese would work in the same rooms, side by side, in order to foster the most efficient means of team communication. However, the tidal wave that would help shift things in Intel’s favor, was their rapid adoption of electronic email, especially as the business became more global. From Andy Grove’s, High Output Management:

The informed use of e-mail— short for computer-to-computer electronic messaging— results in two fundamentally simple but startling implications. It turns days into minutes, and the originator of a message can reach dozens or more of his or her co-workers with the same effort it takes to reach just one. As a result, if your organization uses e-mail, a lot more people know what’s going on in your business than did before, and they know it a lot faster than they used to.

Now we have electronic conversation and thanks to companies like Slack, which have matured and polished this form of communication, it is now easier than ever to collaborate and work. It doesn’t turn “days into minutes” but minutes into seconds.

So how can you create “high output management” process and organization on top of Slack to accelerate your business and productivity? Here are five tips to best utilize Slack to organize your teams for optimal efficiency.

  1. Organize around key objectives. You have a sales team, a customer success team, an account management team, and maybe 5 other teams that touch the customer. Do you create one channel or group for each team? Do you create one channel for each customer? Do you create a generic sales channel? This answer will largely depend on the size and scope of the company. Consider the following scenario, which could be taken from an ordinary day at a large enterprise software company. You have an account executive working on large multi-million dollar deal. That deal represents one customer but requires the help of at least 10 people from various parts of the company including management, product and engineering. We’ll call that deal the “IBM” deal. In this example, it probably makes sense to create one dedicated channel for IBM, however it probably does not make sense to create channels for each and every account. Understanding the most pressing key objectives at your company is a good guiding light to how your team should organize in Slack.
  2. Real-time leading indicators. One of Slack’s innovations is their ability to integrate with third party systems and services. For example, every time our engineering team pushes out an update or fix, I can see the real time update and context around that update in a stream. Our engineering team uses this to gauge the pulse and health of our company’s engineering output. Before slack, this data was more obfuscated living in different silos. Now the entire team can optionally check in to gauge velocity on product. This concept of real time leading indicators can work in a sales situation too. Consider the scenario where a sales rep has five meetings but forgets to follow up with all five customers. Wouldn’t it be helpful to automatically and in real-time notify the sales rep that they forgot to follow up? This is the power of Slack. We can now seamlessly integrate with third party data sets and make those leading indicators available in real time for all, or just some, to see.
  3. Workflow. At Troops, when someone signs up for our newsletter, we get a real time alert that someone signed up. Moreover, we append third party data in real time so we can give the team greater context of who exactly the person is. For example, if john@smith.com signs up, we can quickly determine who he works for, what the company size looks like, where it’s located, what he’s been talking about, all in a fraction of a second simply by looking at just his email address. If we think the person is a VIP of sorts and needs immediate attention, we can quickly start a dialogue around the alert. The team can quickly give an emoji thumbs up or thumbs down on how valuable that person is, and if enough ‘thumbs ups’ are accumulated, a sales rep can reach out in real time. There are all sorts ways the messaging stream can be adapted to custom workflow but this is just one example.
  4. Cultural Development. If you ask someone about Slack that has any familiarity with it, you might hear them mention the word “giphie” within the first five seconds. Many people recognize that Slack itself just makes work more fun. But fun, has a very real implication on culture and productivity. If left unchecked, it can erode productivity. However, if embraced correctly, it can enhance culture and subsequently drive happiness and efficiency. At Troops, we are automatically surfacing client wins in real time in Slack. This happens automatically and ties in unique content to drive a stronger, sales-oriented culture. Before Slack, companies would resort to things like trophies, sales gongs, and bonuses, which is especially hard if teams are spread out across multiple geographies or time zones. Now, there is a greater ability to increase culture through “digital gongs” and celebration, across large teams or sub-sets of teams.
  5. Speed. As you are reading this article, it’s likely that you have over ten web browser tabs open. Each tab represents entirely different context, modes of thinking and ways of working. When you consolidate systems and services into one stream or one messaging interface, you can begin to increase the speed at which you do work. For example, at Troops we are able to execute commands in third party systems like Salesforce, Gmail, Calendar, and GitHub all from within one command line. This is very analogous to the google search box. Instead of having to click through a set of listings to find information, you can simply type a request and have Google spit back the information to you. Slack represents a similar opportunity, only this time, you can get more creative with what type of information you search for, what is returned, how it is returned, and who it is returned to.

This is just a short, high-level list of ways you should be thinking about maximizing the use of Slack and the other conversational platforms to come within your organization. If you think this trend is fleeting or that these messaging tools are just a fad, consider this. WeChat, another messaging platform in China, already has 20 million companies selling and marketing products through a messaging interface. This change in user behavior is so profound that it has driven Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella, to orient the company around this paradigm shift, and it seems this is his first major product decision that deviates from Microsoft’s legacy product lines. It’s still early days and we’re going to see the next wave of enterprise solutions being created through messaging interfaces like Slack.

What questions or comments do you have about Slack?

5 Tips Every Small Business Owner Needs To Know

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

With companies like Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly helping people create their own e-commerce stores, taking a business online has never been so easy. And yet, it’s still a challenge to run an online business successfully. “It can be difficult for a small business to really make an impact online, even when it has a beautiful site,” says Olga Vidisheva, the founder and CEO of Shoptiques.com. The 4-year-old business is an online destination for customers to shop brick-and-mortar boutique stores. Having recently signed its 5,000th store, Vidisheva’s company is now the largest of its kind. I sat down with Vidisheva to get her perspective on what it takes for small businesses to thrive online.

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Shoptiques has over 5,000 small businesses on its platform.
  1. Have a point of view and unique product offering

Commodity businesses such as books and electronics were the first to see e-commerce really squeeze out mom and pop stores. The product offering is uniform and easily comparable. If you’re looking to buy a copy of the latest bestseller there isn’t anything distinguishable from one copy to another. If the differentiators are only price and speed, then purchasing from an e-commerce giant like Amazon is a clear choice even if there is a shop down the street that sells the same item. Amazon may be able to deliver it to your door before you have time to stop by the store.The more difficult industries for Amazon and others to compete in are those with high degrees of differentiation and low degrees of uniformity. “Your offering must stand out and have a point of view,” says Vidisheva. “If what you’re selling is not special, your business will never get off the ground,” she adds. This maxim is true for both e

The more difficult industries for Amazon and others to compete in are those with high degrees of differentiation and low degrees of uniformity. “Your offering must stand out and have a point of view,” says Vidisheva. “If what you’re selling is not special, your business will never get off the ground,” she adds. This maxim is true for both e-commerce and traditional retailers. Vidisheva explains, “for fashion, we really believe that boutiques selling unique items will continue to thrive and those are the boutiques we’re bringing to Shoptiques. It’s not enough to be unique to your zip code or postcode. Once your customers can access product from around the world, you need to be offering something truly special in the global marketplace.”

  1. Logistics are key

Consumer expectations today are heavily influenced by companies such as Apple, Amazon, and Uber. Consumers want products and experiences that are intuitive, operate smoothly, and arrive virtually on-demand. Once customers take the leap and buy from your store, restaurant or even a dry cleaner, it’s important you don’t lose their trust with a bad delivery experience. “Items need to arrive in perfect condition, quickly, and nicely packaged,” notes Vidisheva. “It is no longer enough to just offer the product, whether you are a large or small business, the consumer expects a lot from the start to finish of their purchase experience.”

  1. Embrace the omnichannel

Your brand is your brand, wherever customers experience it. “Cultivating a brand identity is critical for a small business,” says Pinkyotto boutique owner Peter Hsia. “Whatever the client sees or experiences becomes your brand.” That means your site, app, social media, and in-store aesthetic should be consistent. “The website shouldn’t feel like a departure from your product.” Vidisheva adds. “A customer should immediately recognize the look and feel. It builds recognition and repeat rate.” Eliminate the ‘e’ in e-commerce and think about how to use technology to serve all of our customers across every touch point. It shouldn’t matter if your customer wants to walk in the door and try something on or if your customer wants to purchase via a tweet from the other side of the world. Technology is what will allow small business owners to operate on a global scale.

  1. Always be on their minds

There are more ways than ever to be in touch with your customers. Social media is an essential communication tool for a company to engage with customers on a regular basis, and so is email. For brick-and-mortar stores, an online presence is also a way to cross-promote. Elliot Dejmal of New York’s Dor L’ Dor boutique explains, “I love being able to market the website to customers in-store and market the physical stores on the web.”

  1. See what else is out there – and use it

Companies like Shoptiques, PostMates, and OpenTable make it easier for small businesses to compete in a global scale. As Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Local wrote, “As a result of technology, services that were once only available to multinational companies with millions of dollars in revenue are now only an app away for small businesses.” Small businesses shouldn’t shy away from using these types of services to grow their digital footprint.

Have more thoughts on tech and small businesses? Share them in the comments section below. And check out the independent boutiques on Shoptiques here.

A Student – Learning, Living at the Intersection of Business + Technology + Innovation + Culture.