Category Archive: Tech

Letters of Note: Worthless Yahoo! emails

This is the email I just received from Yahoo!

Yahoo! sent me an email to say that they’re renaming their calendar and notepad by adding “All-New” in front of them?

I don’t use Yahoo! Calendar and Yahoo! Notepad. Where’s the unsubscribe button? Oh wait, there is none.

Lesson learned: Make sure emails are adding value versus destroying value. While sending an email may not have a monetary cost, there are costs for sending bad emails. Perhaps the only way to get off this list is to delete my Yahoo! account, which I don’t really use anyway.

Dear Yahoo! Calendar and Yahoo! Notepad Customer,
Yahoo! Calendar Beta will soon be renamed “All-New Yahoo! Calendar,” and Yahoo! Notepad Beta will soon be renamed “All-New Yahoo! Notepad.”

Is Google Reader being phased-out?

What happened to the shortcut to Google Reader within Gmail? It used to be right there next to documents. Now, “Photos” is in its place…

To get to Google Reader now is a three-step process. You must click more, scroll down to reader, and click on it. Not so slick anymore.

It’s obvious that Reader is a lower priority for Google. The smartphone experience is abysmal. There haven’t been improvements in the standard Reader experience in years. Half the functionality has been replicated within Google Buzz.

Is this the beginning of the end of RSS within Google? I sure hope not, but the writing is on the wall.

Great Marketing: Zeeks Pizza incorporates Google Maps on mailer

I was really impressed when I opened up my mailbox today. Zeeks Pizza, a new restaurant opening in Bellevue in a few days, sent a flyer with coupons. But that’s not all. Inside was a map with directions on how to get there from my house.

I’ve never seen Google Maps integrated into something offline so effectively. Kudos, Zeeks. I will definitely plan on cashing in your coupons to try your pizza.

Neil Roseman says focus on the inputs, not just the outputs

On my day off Friday I attended Redfin’s fantastic brown bag lunch speaker series, which is open to the public and highly recommended for people working in start-up environments. Neil Roseman was the guest speaker, who built the server-side software for Amazon’s Kindle, among other things. It also gave me a great chance to check out Redfin, which has a great web-based real estate search tool.

The #1 takeaway for me was to focus on input metrics, not just output metrics, when managing a team or a project. It’s something that I’ve practiced, but also seen the opposite from people in high positions. It served as confirmation for me from a very successful manager.

An input metric is something you and your team directly control and goes into the eventual finished project for the company – for instance when selling reports, the # of reports completed or average time to complete a report. An output metric is the ultimate goal, but not necessarily something you directly control – # of reports sold, for example. So, when the company goal is to sell more reports, the report writers definitely influence that metric, because the quality of the report matters and will affect future sales, but if the salespeople do a bad job, or if the economy nosedives, those are actually bigger drivers of that metric in the short term and doesn’t reflect the impact of the report writers.

Measuring the entire team’s success based on reports sold is a bad idea because its success or failure is only loosely correlated with their work. Too many times I’ve seen managers focus on output metrics to measure success of the team, and it is demotivating for their teams and doesn’t do a good job identifying high performance within the team. It seems like a no-brainer to me, but too many people in high positions say “we’re holding everyone accountable for average spend” or “stock price” or name-your-output-metric-that-nobody-can-directly-impact.

Neil also had some great thoughts on working backwards to solve a problem. It’s a great approach that I often use to solve problems, but Neil takes it a step further and actually writes the press release for the product he’s going to launch before 1 line of code is written. I’ve never gone that far, but it’s something I’m willing to try, because it would definitely force me to focus on what adds value for the customer. It’s definitely worth a shot.

Neil also showed that he was an avid Woot user, wearing this t-shirt to the presentation (it went on sale a week before the presentation).

Overall, great presentation. Thanks Redfin!

What happens if you don’t get on the second leg of a flight? Nothing!

In my post describing secrets to booking online air travel, I got a few questions asking for more details. One was – what happens if you don’t get on the 2nd leg of a flight? The answer: nothing. Airlines can’t stop you from using this trick to save a bunch of money.

The key to this, though, is to book a one way ticket. If you book a round trip ticket and hop off after the first leg, the rest of the ticket will be canceled.

Here’s an example:

1 way ticket from Seattle to Houston on 3/18 (11:50 AM flight): $200

Same flight: Seattle to Houston, continuing on to Detroit (obviously you’d hop off in Houston): $119

Don’t tell this dirty little secret to too many people though!

How I book travel online

NY Times has a great blog post on how to book travel online. Here’s how I book domestic travel with defined dates:

  1. Check mileage programs – see if a saver ticket is available (generally 25k for a roundtrip). If so, book, but watch out for fees, especially if within 3 weeks of the flight.
  2. Check Kayak.com, ITASoftware.com,and Southwest.com (using multiple tabs)
  3. Redo #2 for alternate airports
  4. Redo #2  using one-ways for each leg
  5. Redo #2 searching each leg of the flight separately (including all layovers)
  6. Redo #2 for one-ways in alternate cities that use your destination as a layover. For instance, it’s possible that a ticket from Seattle to Chicago is cheaper if you book a flight from Seattle to Indianapolis with a layover in Chicago, and just don’t get on board for the second leg.
  7. Check Bing and Kayak to see if the fare is likely to decrease. If so, wait
  8. Book directly with airline of best/cheapest/shortest option

For complicated (multiple airlines and multiple legs) and/or international travel, I usually book with Expedia. They have great service and I’ve never had a problem using them.

I try never to book the last flight of the day, because it’s often canceled. I try to book one flight earlier than I need to be at a destination, because if something would happen, I’d have a 2nd option to get there. For vacations I book far in advance to lock in low rates, but for business trips and for events like weddings and sports/concerts, I try to book closer to the event because airline timetables change frequently. Generally, book no sooner than 3 months prior to an event you need to attend at a specific time.

Definitely pick your seat if you can. If you don’t, you could get a middle seat, or even bumped at an inopportune time (it happened to me). Use seatguru.com to pick a seat (the NYTimes article suggested seatexpert.com but I’ve never tried it).

Free Kindle to Amazon Prime subscribers: good idea, but will it be profitable?

TechCrunch broke the story of Amazon‘s plans to give a free Kindle to all Amazon Prime subscribers. I love the forward thinking by Steve Bezos. Cell phone companies have been doing this for years – free cell phone with a contract. Could he leverage a similar formula for his Prime subscription base?

There is one problem. Many of Amazon Prime subscribers are not avid book readers. Many like the various other products Amazon sells, from food to electronics. In fact, Amazon’s own sales record show they’ve already converted their heavy book buyers to digital already. Over the holidays, Amazon sold 6 e-books for every 10 print books that were available in both formats. Perhaps Amazon could send the Kindle for free to those who actually buy books, or perhaps bundle a subscription with the free Kindle to ensure usage.

And then there’s the problem of eBook profitability. Analysts estimate that Amazon LOSES $2 per $9.99 book sold. While prices are headed upward, the margins still don’t look too good for Amazon. Bezos is the king of monetizing a business model, so I have no concerns that he can right the eBook ship.

But there’s this nagging question I have. While cell phones have been loss leaders for many years, those come with an iron-clad contract that is NPV positive on day 1. Why hasn’t Apple given away the iPod to generate iTunes sales or the iPhone for app sales? Because that would be highly unprofitable: Purchased downloads pale in comparison to hardware purchases.

iTunes sales were only 27% of hardware sales, in 2009, and actually declined as a % from 2008. Digital music sales are roughly equal to physical formats (slightly ahead of where eBooks stand today), so even if the world went 100% digital, iTunes sales would still be way behind hardware sales. I wish I had similar figures for Amazon’s Kindle, but they don’t release that information.

At $259, the Kindle would need even more eBook sales to make up for the cost of the hardware compared to the average iPod price of $150. Assuming a $2 profit per eBook, Amazon would need to sell 130 eBooks to reach breakeven. Even the top 25% of readers don’t read a book a week, so it would take years to get to that point. And, these Prime customers would have likely purchased many of the books from Amazon anyway, cannibalizing those revenues. From a profitability perspective, the numbers don’t add up.

So as Amazon considers free Kindle giveaways, there must be something else at stake. This must be a market share play. The Kindle already has a 55% share of eReaders (roughly 3 MM Kindles), and Apple’s iPad looms. A free Kindle to the 4-5 MM Kindle subscribers would take this figure over 70% and seriously block Apple’s entry. If Amazon can solidify it’s market share position and control distribution (become the iTunes of books), this could be a wise investment.

It will be interesting to see if Amazon goes through with it and Apple’s response.

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