A supporting benefit of my diverse experience is that it positions me to assist with offer planning, usability, design ethnography, understanding research, branding, integrated marketing programs and consumer behaviors and much more. Occasionally, I also get pulled in to create an entire website or two. Let's just start by saying that I'm here to help you to think through your next moves.
Connect with me and let's see where the conversation goes. I hope that I've started it here.
Now for a little about where I've been spending my time over the last twenty years. Read a little or read the whole thing. Whatever connects with you.
|Social Media||Digital Media||Connected Home||Web Cams|
|Video Conferencing||Connected PC||Global Communications||Global Understanding|
Online Social Media - AOL
When I was asked to join AOL as Executive Director for Broadband Products, I had not used AOL for years. I looked at that as a benefit. I had also not used dial-up in years, other than the occasional hotel stay. I had been one of the original AOL customers when they started on the Mac platform back in the 80's. Back then, it was clear to me that the visual elegance complemented with sounds that AOL presented was far more usable and engaging than the online bulletin boards of the day. By the time that I joined AOL, it was experiencing the classic problem that Geoffrey Moore describes in his book "Inside the Tornado". We struggled to grow beyond the Internet newbie and family user (almost as a homogeneous group) that had made AOL so successful early on. Now the offer was optimized around a declining archetype.
As a colleague used to say, "AOL was most successful as long as a mass of newbies were coming over the hill and we could smack them on the head with a sign-up CD. 'Oh! This is how I get on the Internet?' ". AOL's highly successful CD direct marketing campaign became so omnipresent that it even motivated the creation of a Wikipedia article on collecting the CDs and there's a site to trade them. We needed to redefine who our customers were and what they desired in an online experience. Families were still a likely target, but not everyone in the family is a newbie anymore. Mom and Dad may be expert at using the Internet, but they still want their children to have a safe place to learn and communicate. What were we offering to the internet-savvy parents or young adults without children? The AOL for Broadband team led by Shawn Hardin and Don Fotsch was focused on this issue and I was brought in to lead the effort to create the new AOL experience for broadband users.
What was our goal? It was to deliver the first consumer online service designed specifically for broadband users. We delivered on this promise starting April 2, 2003. I led a small team to create the award-winning "roadshow" messaging piece that we used to communicate our story to the media. AOL offered, and frankly still does, some awesome content. We did the math and for your $14.95/month, you got a heap of premium content. I used the analogy that we provided a premium club experience. For one flat fee you never needed to worry about whether you were authorized to see premium content. Stop by the Major League Baseball area and want to watch game highlights, step through the velvet rope Ma'am. Want to see People Magazine's online content, NASCAR...? Step on through. At the time, these were all "a la carte", fee-based services offered by partners. No other major player had placed a bet that there were a class of users who were ready to drink up the broadband quality Internet the way that we served it up. We delivered CD-quality music and high quality streaming video of sports and original music videos called AOL Sessions while others were still hesitant to surface such things in case they slowed down dial-up users. Now we planned to create a new user experience that would weave this offering into the broadband user's daily life.
One challenge we encountered was understanding and distinguishing behaviors. The dial-up team generated the bulk of the money to date and had their definition of the "user". Our broadband team's behavioral research (design ethnography), conducted largely side-by-side with IDEO plus prior knowledge from our days at 3Com, showed that Internet behaviors changed once a family got "always on" broadband. Dial-up users batched their online time because it took so long to get the modem connected. They would check email, the weather and news in a longer visit and then leave the Internet for a while. Broadband users did what we had called for years "Internet Snacking". Want to get an address or travel directions? Get it. Want to find out the movie time? Get it. Something hot going on in the news? Check it out right now. Want to listen to music while you work? Stream it from the Internet. In addition to batched versus Internet snacking differences, users tended to use two main pieces of software: a browser (with Google search as the front door to the Internet) and email client software. What role did the legacy AOL "client software" need to play?
We called the new AOL experience project ACME. An awesome team of bright, innovative engineers and user interface designers were assigned to the task. I like to think of the next two years as similar to what it must have been like at Apple during the early Mac design days. When, Guy Kawasaki later came to speak to us about innovation and his description of the early Mac days, he made it seem as though they were fed royal jelly. No royal jelly for us. Without the luxurious treatment, we did spend months considering research and sketching concepts and working on how it would all work to leverage AOL's powerful infrastructure and online community without being limited by it as well.
The ACME team went down the path of looking at a client experience that would integrate with your desktop activities more fluidly. Rather than something that you "launched", ACME would be infused in all that you do, always available to provide information and entertainment blended with your daily activities. We put an emphasis on habitual routine behaviors throughout the day - checking the weather, checking email, checking sports scores, listening to music or reading a favorite blog. We also focused on things for which you held a passion including sharing your photos or sharing your thoughts in a blog. Throughout, we would leverage AOL's core competencies, our community and the safety and security underpinnings.
My efforts included quite a bit of behavioral work and what is called design ethnography with IDEO and as well as on our own. We did numerous projects to understand broadband life in the home, online video & photo behaviors and connected communications uncovering a wide range of observations and meaningful trends.Unfortunately, the ACME designs and concepts, rather than being taken as an impactful whole, were woven into the dial-up plans and rolled out slowly over time and therefore largely under the radar. Lesson: Avoid "feature creep" and enforce a shared vision on what success looks like or you will fail. Some even believed that there was no such thing as an entirely "broadband user". Everyone, the story explained, lived in both worlds. The facts bore out that once you go broadband, many avoid going back. The problem is, if you try to design for both worlds you end up straddling the middle and failure. Be educated and decisive. I joined the start-up AOL Video team to define a new streaming video service that delivered licensed content from TV shows to music videos. While, YouTube went from nothing to a star during the same period by enabling the delivery of unlicensed content, AOL Video and Truveo garnered a huge audience that far exceed most other players while offering licensed content.
We did some fabulous work with some awesome people. AOL Communicator. New AIM with SuperBuddies. AOL Video. UnCut Video. AOL Sessions. AOL streaming Live 8. However, under the AOL brand, we never seemed to be able to get credit for our innovative work. Now the trend is to spin off new brands such as WalletPop, PopEater, Fanhouse and Propeller that leverage AOL's infrastructure and content.
At every company I've joined there have been exceptionally talented people that desire to do great things. To make success happen, it takes:
- Leadership with a strong, unified voice providing clear (and correct) goals.
- Intuition to find the best in each person on the team and demand that they deliver it every minute.
- Openness to new ideas, but maniacal focus on the customer.
- Make it fun.
Digital Audio Revolution - Escient / OpenGlobe
I was brought down to Indianapolis to lead the overall marketing efforts of a new company called OpenGlobe, Inc. as VP of Marketing. They were an offshoot of Escient. They had selected the name already and needed me to build a brand identity around it, solidify a unique selling proposition, create a website, produce sales collateral and strategize, plan, project manage and execute on an announcement, launch and press tour plan timed for CES three months away. It was a huge success and very memorable. A friend of mine from, OpenGlobe - Steve Kukla - told me that once you unlock your music from its CD packaging, you discover your music collection all over again. He was totally correct. Music that I owned, but had not listened to for years suddenly appeared as I randomized my collection. My music was fresh again. As I began to listen to my collection differently, I found new artists that had some similar styles. This was at the beginning of the Apple iTunes / iPod era. What Steve Jobs had done right was to price songs at less than $1 each and let you share them with a few friends and burn CDs. Buyers had done the math. A $13 album divided by 13 songs equals $1/song rather than the $2-$3 that labels wanted. We all knew the story but couldn't all work the deals with the labels. OpenGlobe was at the leading edge of that transition point. We built and sold a home media component, essentially a CD player that could rip CDs and store the songs inside it. The revolution we were starting involved making "ripping" a cd as easy as pressing the "record" button on your CD player. Looking through a wall of CDs was replaced with album covers or an elegant searchable and sortable catalog by song, artist, genre or album on a TV screen. Your entire music collection was placed at your fingertips in a grand display. The magic was amplified with our OpenGlobe Services integration which let you find out more about the music you were listening to and even find similar artists while your music was playing to help you to unlock the music in your collection and to keep it fresh. One of the additional ideas that we considered was "MediaMoments" metadata. Our sister company, Gracenote, focused on music metadata. We wondered if we could create a metadata resource for finding moments within music and video clips.
After launch, and a day or two after I finished my press interview with Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal and while we were still on our press tour, we heard that Walt had edited a column that he had already largely written about digital media servers and said that we were a company to watch.
We sold our designs (OEM) to manufacturers including Kenwood, Compaq and our sister company Escient who put their extra touch on them. Kenwood went high end with the Kenwood Sovereign Entré and developed a line around them. Compaq did what a PC company would do at the time - try to sell an expensive product as if it weren't all that expensive. Escient stayed true to its heritage and made it the centerpiece of its home theater and whole home integration effort.
Since most of our potential customers were in Japan, this brought another opportunity for me to work on my Japanese and share cultural knowledge as we met with all of the top manufacturers there. Many were very interested and some had prototypes that were very early, but were unsure whether the market was ready. This was a very different Japan than I had worked with in the mid-80's. Then they led the market with investments supported by the banks. Now they had been through some tough times and needed to to be less speculative.
The market we targeted is now served by iPods, Apple TVs, Microsoft Media Centers and X-Boxs. While there is a class of digital media servers, they all seem to miss the one point that we got absolutely right - the user interface is what builds a strong relationship with the customer. If one of the media server companies would deliver a "TiVo" level of user interface excellence on their media server, they might be successful. Apple TV is a good example.
One of the typical challenges that we faced is the intersection of two worlds that I will roughly describe as the audiophile world meets the techs. I had lived with the MP3 craze, but audiophiles still mourned the low quality of CDs and were reluctant to go "MP3". One typical behavioral question that arose was when our early software treated audio CDs differently than data CDs. If you ripped an audio CD fresh out of the wrapper, it showed up in your digital catalog as an album. Perfect. If you placed a data CD with 10 ripped albums on it, they were treated as a playlist, not ten albums. When technologies evolve, we need to be careful to observe when to retain old behaviors and when to change with them and when to provide both old and new simultaneously.
In the end, we won a lot of awards and committed customers, but the costs needed to come way down to achieve mass market numbers. Escient brought home the Consumer Electronics Show Best of CES - Home Audio award and Kenwood won a CES Innovation Award. We never got to mainstream price points, but we had a fabulous product and the line lives today as the Escient Fireball line.
I went on to connect with Don Fotsch at AOL's Broadband group to help drive the transition from the dial-up world to broadband "always on" behaviors that we called "Internet snacking".
Connected Home - 3Com
Building on the success of our webcam human behavior efforts, we sought out to rethink how we looked at computer networks. Instead of connecting devices, which held little interest to most users, we positioned our products as enablers of things that did create passion such as streaming music and photo sharing. In my role as Director of Home Networking Products & Video, we started to define the Connected Home. Don Fotsch had worked with me supporting my efforts with video and now was inventing a class of home connected appliances called Ergo Audrey that brought the connected home story alive in the nerve center of the home - the kitchen. I was dreaming up a concept that I called the HomeWeb. I held the belief that for many people the Internet was untrusted for family photos, financial files and such. But, who actually works at those web service companies after all? Might there be a problem employee on staff? The HomeWeb would use the Internet for transport, but each unit would securely contain the user's content. Security technologies would only allow those HomeWebs that you said were a "family" to connect to each other to share files. Think of it as a private, family intranet that extends from your home to your parents' home securely. I decided to move closer to where people spend money - digital home media systems.
U.S. Robotics considered acquiring the Vistium video technology, but opted instead to track me down and bring me in to start a consumer video web cam business. At the start, I was the sole dedicated resource driving the video effort and eventually built a top notch team that accomplished some amazing things. The low end web cam market already had an entrenched dominant player, Connectix (now Logitech). We launched our product line as BigPicture Video aimed at higher quality video which evolved into the 3Com Homeconnect Video product line which became the market share leader for this segment. We created the defacto standard software bundle that now is familiar with web cams: photo editing and manipulation, video web mail and web conferencing.
We won numerous awards for quality and usability. Listen to Leo Laporte, then at ZDTV, react to seeing our camera's amazing quality when demonstrated by my Marketing Manager Anna Pappas. By the way, when he says "down there", he means under and inside a dark cabinet in the studio, in case you were wondering. My driving philosophy was that, at retail, each unit has a "rubber band" on it. If a customer takes it home and doesn't love it, it will show up at the store again and possibly back in our inventory. I challenged the team to do research to understand at what point a customer believed that the camera was installed and working as desired. We labeled this measurement "time until enjoyment" and the clock started when they paid their money at the store. We discovered that once the customer saw themselves on their monitor, they were convinced that the camera was working. We stripped everything out of the process that wasn't required to reach that point, including the software bundle install. We also found that the Microsoft practice of requiring the hardware to be installed before the drivers was a flawed approach.
To eliminate possible installation issues, we were the first to break the Microsoft "rule" and have customers install the drivers first so that the system would recognize the camera right away. We were the first to add the following sticker so that users would install in our new way. You see this on a lot of products now. The result...? Reviewers and customers alike recognized that our web cam was the easiest to install and use and had the highest quality.
I realized at the time, that it is incredibly hard to change people's behaviors. It's far easier to understand your users' current behaviors and map your product experience onto those existing behaviors as a new way to do what they already do, but better. Our targeted existing behavior was serving the "people hanging out together" online. Online, this took the form of chat rooms. We experimented with The Palace, an avatar-centered experience that simulated hanging out at a bar together. How might adding video to the conversation be received? The prevailing view was that users wanted to stay anonymous in chat rooms. It was a chance to lead another life. What we found after spending hours in the rooms was a different story. After you hit it off with someone, they would invariably flip their avatar to show their real image and then flip back to their stylized view. They were basically saying, we know that this is a fun costume party and I'm happy to let you know what I really look like, then let's get back to the fun charade. So paralleling "real life", they had masks on until they knew if they respected you enough or found that you were worth bringing down their cover. However, they felt compelled to reveal their true selves if they wanted to have a longer term "friendship". So we did a trial with a long term chat room moderator that everyone knew by her online name, but nobody had seen online before. During a chat, she told everyone to go to a website where we had her streaming video showing. The conversation went wild as chatters expressed their excitement about being able to see her while she typed. People want to feel connected. They like to connect with people with shared passions.
ZDTV 3Com NetCam Network - Putting YOU on TV?
At one point, Jim Louderback gave me a call and said that he was starting a new cable network, ZDTV (affiliated with the Ziff-Davis publishing empire), and a key attribute would be that users would participate on air right from their homes. This would make the network feel more approachable and real and build a strong viewer base. He asked if we would be willing to trade (they called them "netcams") for promotion on air. Jim had known me when I was in charge of videoconferencing at AT&T and had put me on a trade show panel with him at PC Expo. We felt that it would be a great way for people to get excited about this technology and experience our quality video story. Neil Clemmons, our VP of Marketing at 3Com / U.S. Robotics, agreed that this would lead to excellent exposure (ultimately, we could not have bought that much exposure outright). Besides the fun that we had working together to make this happen, this marked a critical turning point in what was considered "good enough" video for TV. What really mattered was that regular people could get their 15 minutes of fame, not whether the video quality was always perfect. Now you see user generated video commonly. We were the first, thanks to Jim Louderback and ZDTV.
We were always looking for ways to get into the popular culture. We conducted a fashion show via webcam from Bloomingdales' windows in New York City and then a local Burger King franchisee had the idea that we could put cameras in his restaurant in the Financial District. When you bought a Value Meal, you received a ticket that would let you send a video email postcard from NYC to anywhere in the world.
Yahoo! Online Music Awards
MP3s and digital audio were becoming a big issue and an opportunity for artists. Again working to get our products into the path of user behaviors, we joined the Yahoo! Internet Life Online Music Awards event to conduct a live Web Chat with top artists Prince, Chuck D and Wyclef Jean. While Prince declined to use video, he impressed me with his candor with chatters. Chuck D became so excited about the web cams that he asked his manager to bring me over to talk with him. Chuck D's position was that MP3s were helping artists to get closer to their fans and that web cams could help him to be "real" with his fans directly. He told me that MP3s enabled an artist to get their music to the fans faster and to experiment more. Artists didn't have to wait to deliver an entire album. They could release singles and see what the reaction was. He was also unhappy with the high volume mentality of "the labels". Instead of 10 artists selling 1 million albums each, Chuck D envisioned one million artists selling 10,000 albums each. This way there would be more variety and experimentation and unique sounds would emerge. Sharp guy. Prince performed and spoke at the event. This was the night that he announced that he was changing his name back to "Prince". He mirrored that MP3s could enable freedom of expression and from control by the labels similar to what he sought through changing his name.
First Multipoint Video / Data Conferencing
An elite team of engineers were culled from the AT&T Bell Labs ranks in Naperville, IL and assigned to the "Multimedia Team". This group had delivered the first symmetric multi-processing server to the marketplace and were ready to attack a new challenge. I was selected to share leadership for the product management of this new venture. We saw the potential in multimedia PCs (PCs with speakers, CD-ROM drives and powerful graphics, rare at the time) for rich communications in training environments, but wanted to see how we could turn that into a distant communications tool that was just as effective. We saw the success that PictureTel was having in the "rollabout" space (systems so large that they had their own carts and were rolled into the conference room) and decided to make a desktop PC version. We hired two human factors specialists to consider the usability and behavioral issues that would be involved. This was my first lengthy experience with looking at user interfaces through behavioral eyes rather than as 2D pictures. To complete the experience, we determined that we needed to bring the whole PC desktop into the story. After all, if I'm having a video call, why should I have to fax the materials in advance or hold them up to the camera? What if we could share documents and work on them together collaboratively just as we would in person? We eventually launched the first desktop PC video conferencing system with application and whiteboard sharing called the TeleMedia 1300 which evolved into the Vistium Personal Video 1200.
Once again, I went on the road working closely with analysts and industry media to communicate what we had learned in our behavioral studies. My colleague Sean Glynn tirelessly got me in front of the right people which included Michael Miller, Jim Louderback, Jim Galley, Robin Raskin and more. By now, PictureTel and Intel had both launched competitive products and were challenging us. Despite the competition, The Vistium 1200 won PC Magazine's coveted Editor's Choice Award that year. As the AT&T top management got increasingly excited about the prospects for big revenue data calls, other AT&T businesses (services and business equipment/PBXs) got involved. In another first, we delivered the first Multipoint Data Conferencing Service called WorldWorx(SM). One Monday, one of our most creative engineers pulled me into a room and showed me something that he had cranked out that weekend. There on his screen were six windows of separate, simultaneous video conversations over the company LAN. Nothing like this yet existed in the market at this scale. It would take a while longer because AT&T shut down the business that ran this product line as they split into three separate businesses, shuttering one of their high profile, award-winning ventures.
Communications is really grounded in the ability to "speak" to each other in ways that we both can understand. Technically, we speak of that as interoperability. The video conferencing standard was then H.320, but Intel wanted to fight the standard to create a defacto standard that they "owned" called Intel ProShare. I was honored to represent the PC system viewpoint with the AT&T executive team in numerous high profile press and analyst tours and as a video conferencing expert speaker at PC trade shows to fight the videoconferencing standards fight. We eventually won the case and H.320 stayed the standard. Along the way, I met some sharp and wonderful analysts at Frost & Sullivan, Gartner and specialist firms including my great analyst friends Andrew Davis of Wainhouse Research and Elliot Gold of Telespan.
A radical thought at the time, my team was the first to launch a line of PCs that were designed to foster online communications directly between computers. It's hard to believe now that computers were commonly islands with limited or no access to each other. The sneakernet (copy files to a floppy disk and carry it to the other PC) was the common method for moving files. Interactively communicating directly between PCs was extremely rare and expensive. We took the lead and made fax modems, application sharing and whiteboarding software standard in our PCs with video conferencing available as an option. The core idea was that people would communicate with each other via PCs over long distances sharing ideas and their desktops virtually. Today, this behavior is served by Webex and GoToMeeting and PCs regularly enable chatting online. We believed that everyone would gain from being able to open up their local computing power to reach out to others. After all, we were part of AT&T - the long distance communications people. Our band of brothers were the survivors of the wild, heady early days of AT&T's computing effort and were now a lean, talented and innovative team. We called our approach PC&C, which was derived from Personal Computing & Communications. We were even well on our way in our negotiations with Thompson/RCA to deliver a living room PC built into a console TV.
Brand-Building: Brand Essence, Claim & Proof
One of our team, Laura Lee Morris, had previously been a Brand Manager for Procter & Gamble for the Folgers Decaffeinated brand. We knew that we needed a powerful branding strategy to support our communicating PC approach. We hired the internationally acclaimed brand strategy company Interbrand and a small number of us worked hand in hand with them working on branding strategies, name ideation, global testing and final selection, art and implementation. This process took over a year and became an in-depth course on how brands are created and supported to build lasting brand equity. We learned about brand hierarchies and master and key brands. We learned how to make a brand unique, memorable and defensible and how to support it with the "claim" and the "proof" points that reinforce the claim. My current brand, Vivosity was created using a similar approach, but not the global testing, so it may mean something horrible in Tahiti.
Soon after analysts stated that AT&T's PC business was the only one with a clear differentiated strategy, AT&T finaly recognized that it was overextended and it trivested into three businesses to try to deal with it's split personalities and stepped on some of it's most promising innovations along the way. One of our teammates, Pat Moorehead went on to launch the Compaq Presario with much the same feature set as our PC&C systems and turned it into a big business. Our ideas were validated when multimedia connected PCs became the norm. After a short stint preparing Lucent for the Data Celullar world and the launch of PCS, the precursor to what we do with iPhones and smartphones today, I followed my dream of turning online video communications into a consumer experience.
AT&T - Puerto Rico & U.S. Virgin Islands
After AT&T's divestiture of the Bell Companies, AT&T formed External Affairs to manage the relationships with the new telephone companies. In good times, this meant negotiating calling card agreements and other promotional opportunities. Too frequently, this also meant settling billing disputes. I performed all of these duties with the Puerto Rico Telephone Company based in San Juan, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands Telephone Company based in Charlotte Amalie, U.S.V.I. Eventually, I was part of the team that executed the acquisition and merger with I.T.T., the company that handled the island side of the connection and spent 7 months in San Juan, Puerto Rico helping the new AT&T group assimilate.
Japan External Trade Organization - Tokyo, Japan
I spent 3 months learning to speak Japanese at the Franciscan School in Roppongi, Japan and, after a chance meeting with an attorney for the American Embassy in Tokyo, interviewed for and got an internship with JETRO in their Tokyo, Japan office. JETRO is part of the Japanese government's Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) tasked with working to improve the ability for companies to trade with Japan. My role was to write public relations materials and assist with "Americanizing" anything put in front of me. Additionally, I was used as a resource to help JETRO management become more familiar with American behaviors. At one point, I was asked to write a letter for a senior executive..."He went yachting last year with a California businessman who has a wife and three children. Write a letter thanking him for that wonderful event, asking how the wife and children are and suggesting that he will be in town next month and would like to get together again." Another time, a class from the Thunderbird School of Global Management (Glendale, AZ) was visiting Japan. The professor and students sat at a table along one side of the room and JETRO management sat opposite them. I was placed next to the top JETRO manager toward the center of our table. After they asked each question, the JETRO manager would turn to me and ask me to explain to the business students what JETRO's answer was. While my time there was short because I left to get my Master in Business Administration (MBA) degree, my experience working as the only foreigner (gaijin) in a Japanese office and exposure to visiting international ambassadors and businessmen was a powerful start to my career. I lived here on the third floor and this is where my Japanese friends and I spent time or here (this is where Gwen Stefani saw the Harajuku girls) walking in Yoyogi Park. The Harajuku girls where there when I lived in Japan too.
Semester At Sea - Spring 1983 & Spring 1984
There is no more profound experience in my background that has impacted me more than my two trips on the original Semester At Sea program. We had many exciting experiences such as when our huge ship ran aground on a sandbar and we had to be bussed to Jerusalem to finish out our 5 1/2 weeks remaining in our program. We saw the highs and lows of the human condition. We learned about cultural, religious, artistic and lifestyle differences. What I leanred most profoundly is that we are all just people with hopes and dreams with differing obstacles to achieving them. While my frenetic schedule since then has made me lose track of my wonderful friends from those days, I hold them close in my soul and think of them kindly often. I will add more about these voyages soon.