The technologies behind Amazon Go have the potential not only to disrupt, but to fully upend the physical retail shopping experience.The technologies behind Amazon Go have the potential not only to disrupt, but to fully upend the physical retail shopping experience.
The true intention is not to just understand personalities, but to become aware of the habits and limitations created by our personality structures and ultimately be able to live beyond our personalities. Breaking out of these ego constructs simply allows us to find and be our own selves again.
This time tested marketing principle also has a role in politics, both to define the candidate and the competition.
Yay! It's time for the annual Mary Meeker Report. Here are F'inn's takeaways.
While there is a market for both high- and low-end VR products, does a sub-par experience ultimately hurt the mass adoption of VR? Or does the initial taste of what VR has to offer entice consumers to eventually upgrade to higher-end devices and experiences
Six years ago, my wife and I built a playhouse for the kids. Thinking back on it now, much of our experience mirrored the journey one takes in innovation.
We started by trying to find a design. Scanning the web, our exploration was like the story of Goldilocks, but without the "just right" moment. There was the too small playhouse, sold at Walmart or Target and made of plastic. There was the Costco swing set/fort type of playhouse, which was mostly swing set, with a tiny fort. Then there was the overachiever playhouse, custom built, with glass windows, drywall, electric, sometimes even air conditioning.
Thinking we'd find dozens of good ideas, our search instead left us feeling frustrated. Why couldn't we just find a good design? This frustration revealed our first challenge: In our initial search, we never raised the question "what do we want?" It was easy to reject the designs we didn't want, but we needed to force ourselves to list what we did want. We decided to make a wish list, with the expectation that we wouldn't get all of our wishes:
- Room with a door, windows, and a ceiling
- An upstairs
- An unfinished interior; something kids could bang on, hammer on, write on, and make their own
- Enough space for a kitchen set
- Swing of some sort
- Nice looking exterior, so the playhouse wouldn't be an eyesore in our yard
So who wanted all of these things? The kids were definitely consulted, but the "we" in our case was really a combination of kids and parents. You won't find too many 5 and 10 year olds setting criteria like "fits in with the look of our neighborhood", after all.
When our criteria were set, the search suddenly became easier. We quickly figured out that nobody offered the right playhouse design. We had a need for a certain design, and there was nothing on the market that delivered. We'd have to build our own.
We sketched out a design for a two story structure, built on a foundation of four posts anchored into the ground. We had total freedom to do anything we wanted in the design, so we created windows on each wall, two secret doors, a trapdoor to an upstairs, a tire swing, a pulley system to send things up or down, and a door upstairs that could swing open as a launch platform for a zipline. At this stage, we could plan anything. All we had to do was dream it up.
Next came building. Neither of us work in construction and we must have made every mistake imaginable. I was just a lunatic with a blueprint and a hammer, who couldn't true-up a square if my life depended on it. The posts went into the ground straight-ish. The framing went up in such a way that the floor we'd designed wouldn't fit in, and the foundation could become a permanent home to squirrels, rabbits, mice, and whatever other critters are about.
We planned to use fence boards for the walls. My friend's father, an engineer, took one look and said, "Why don't you use siding instead of fence boards for the walls? It'll strengthen the entire structure, supporting the posts and framing." Hmm, that was a good question. We had done all kinds of research on the design, but never actually talked to a builder or an engineer about the construction. I knew plenty of people in the construction field. It would have been a lot smarter to research each aspect of the project, instead of just doing research on the design.
I took his advice. The house went up. We hadn't quite figured out the zipline yet, and decided we'd add that on later. The kids and all their friends spent countless hours in the playhouse that summer.
We planned the zipline for year two. I described my plans to another engineering friend (getting smarter, now), explaining that I wanted to mount the bolt (for the launch) off of the main roof beam. He looked at the structure for no more than 4 seconds, then turned to me and said, "It'll rip the roof right off the house the first time you zip off of it". He further explained that when you hang weight from a line, the tension applied to the end points of the line is ten times the weight of the hanging object.
There went my great plan for a zipline, but at least I'd figured it out before destroying the house. Had I learned this earlier, I would have simply moved the playhouse about 5 feet back, so that the upstairs exit would lead to a tree, where we could build a simple platform for the zip launch. It was too late to move the structure, so we improvised, and adjusted our plans. A friend who works as an electrical lineman found us an old, unused electrical pole that could handle the weight. We anchored the pole next to the playhouse and started to work on the zipline. I found an excellent resource for equipment and advice at Ziplinegear.com, where I bought all of the equipment and got properly trained on zipline physics.
The zipline was the first addition, and we continued each year to add something new. The playhouse was never done. Each summer I'd go out to tighten all the bolts and make sure nothing was falling apart. The kids had other ideas for improvements. Some were as simple as interior shelves for their potions and pots & pans. One summer they asked for shudders that could open and close on each window. Chalkboard paint on the inside gave them places to write down menus, special orders, magic formulas, or whatever else they were playing. Later, we added canvas beds that could roll up and clip to the walls (once again, spending hours sketching out different designs).
You might think that with our missteps, the playhouse project would have been a disaster. It could have been had we given up to frustration or scrapped our wish list, but the project wasn't a disaster. It was a great experience and resulted in the right end-product. If you work in the field of innovation where you need to create new products, here are a few lessons from this experience:
Know what you want
We started without knowing what we wanted. It's hard to solve a problem when you don't know what you want. When innovating, you need to focus your energy toward a particular problem. It's harder to come up with brilliant ideas, when you shoot too broadly.
Know your audience
When building our playhouse, we had two audiences to solve for…the kids (end user) and the adults (gatekeeper). Many businesses have a similar dynamic. In b2b, you may have a user (e.g., sales rep) and decision maker (IT or Finance). Medical categories are similar, with an end user (patient) and influencer (doctor). Even regular household purchases can work this way, with husbands or wives influencing one another or playing a gatekeeper role.
Address a need
We had an unmet need. During our search, we discovered that nobody offered designs that worked for us. Had we found a design, we wouldn't have needed to create something original. When innovating, it's important to do the same. Develop something that fills a gap.
Creating new product ideas is one aspect of business that should truly be fun. Come up with wild ideas and things nobody else would try, just because you can. When ideating, push the limits, without fear of what is realistic or reasonable. As George Bernard Shaw said: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
Do your research from every angle
We'd spent plenty of time thinking about playhouse designs, but neglected to investigate materials or structural integrity. It's easy to get trapped into one way of thinking about a problem. Marketers look at product and promotion. Engineers grapple with the technical feasibility. Finance looks at money. The best work happens when people from different practices work together.
Improvise and adjust
We had to overhaul our zipline plans, mostly due to poor planning. Innovation is often messy, even with the best of plans. Setbacks are normal. When things don't go to plan, keep true to the vision, and roll with the punches. If all of your wish list doesn't make the first cut (like our zipline), keep moving forward.
It's never done
A product has a life. We maintained the playhouse so that it wouldn't fall apart, but we also found new ways of making it better each year. Innovation is similar. You don't just put your product out there and hope it lasts a few years. You build. You tinker. You try new stuff to keep it exciting.
You can make mistakes...
And still create the best thing in the world. It wasn't always fun going back to the drawing board to fix our screw ups. Had we penalized ourselves, or stopped with each failure, who knows what kind of monstrosity we would have built? Businesses can place a great deal of pressure on their employees, often penalizing people for mistakes. Cultural perceptions, like "heads are gonna roll if we mess this up," practically guarantee that people will play it safe rather than push the boundaries.
Great things are created by taking chances, and doing things that you may not know how to do right now.
At CES 2016, we got a glimpse of the real arrival of consumer virtual reality (VR). VR is an immersive experience where you can interact with your simulated environment, real or imaginary. VR has been promised for decades (does anyone remember the movie Lawnmower Man (1992)?) but up until now, hasn't delivered a convincing experience that truly transports the user. We're finally at the inflection point for mass adoption - processing power (needed to realistically render a complex 3D environment that tracks with one's movements) and display technology (that presents a pixel-dense, quickly refreshing image separately to each eye) can finally deliver the dream of VR.
The first consumer ready Oculus Rift, developed by Facebook-owned Oculus, was on display at CES. Previously only available as a developer edition, the Oculus Rift is open to pre order and set to be available to all consumers in March 2016 for $599.
The package includes the headset that provides the visual experience with mounted headphones, an Xbox One game controller for navigating in the virtual world and a camera that provides head tracking. What the package doesn't include is the powerful computer needed to drive the experience - Oculus estimates at least $1000 for the necessary processing capability. The equipment is of little use if there is no content; however, the units will ship with two games, Lucky's Tale and Herobound, and the Oculus store will have many more games, applications and experiences available to new VR adventurers.
Perhaps the top challenger to Oculus' domination of the early days of VR is the HTC Vive, which had a long line waiting to demo the unit and garnered a best VR of CES award. The Vive is a partnership between smartphone manufacturer HTC and the game developer Valve, and while generally similar to the Rift, has two significant differentiators. First, it has a front-facing camera for integrating your real surroundings into the virtual. Second, it has a Chaperone system which allows you to walk around in your virtual environment by actually walking around but not bumping into things in your room. Room-scale VR lends a significant boost to the feeling of immersion, being able to traverse in VR as you do in the real world and makes VR a more active experience. The Vive is also expected to ship with VR-specific controllers, while Oculus' Touch controllers are not due until the second half of 2016.
The Vive is taking pre-orders at the end of February, but the price has not yet been disclosed. Given Valve's expertise in game development, there are expected to be many VR-optimized games available in 2016.
Finally, Sony's virtual gaming system linked to their gaming-console PS4, PlayStation VR, was also on display at CES 2016, although little new information was disclosed.
Expected sometime in 2016, PlayStation VR has the benefit of a large installed base of PS4 units (over 36 million sold so far) and popular game developers on board. While the display resolution is not as high as the Rift or Vive, the refresh rate (which can improve immersion and helps reduce nausea) is higher and the PlayStation remotes are already spatially aware.
The consumer releases of the Rift, Vive and PlayStation VR in 2016 signals the beginning of the VR revolution. Likely relegated to early adopters at first given the high prices and other hardware needs, the user experience and VR content will be developed for more mass adoption in the next few years. First to market does not guarantee success and competition for consumers' wallets among the big three will drive innovation in product and content development.
Cars took center stage at CES last week, just before the International Auto Show in Detroit this week. CES, marked the introduction to much of what is innovative in cars right now with traditional auto makers and startups alike lining up to share what’s new. Innovation appeared in the form of new electric vehicles, onboard software and apps, as well as services like ride sharing and driver assistance. The complete self-driving car remains fleeting, but signs of its impending introduction were everywhere.
Ford, for example, “…will continue investing $4.5 billion in 13 new electric vehicles by 2020, the company will focus more attention on the transportation services sector, which includes ride- and car-sharing services targeted at Millennials, whose indifference to traditional car ownership is causing the industry to rethink its business models,” according to CEO Mark Fields.
Let’s start with VW, winning Engadget’s Innovation Award. The VW BUDD-e was awarded for the extremely efficient battery, able to be charged up to 80 percent in 15 to 30 minutes. The 101-kWh battery in the BUDD-e can go an impressive 373 miles between charges.
Some other car concepts
BMW i8 Spyder introducing gesture control with AirTouch
Chevy Bolt EV - The long-awaited Chevy Bolt, which will bring a fully electric vehicle with a 200-mile-per-charge range to the masses at a price of under $30,000.
Autonomous Driver Platforms
Autonomous driver platforms are introducing technology that, over time, will make cars nearly impossible to crash.
Full Digital Sound
Are we turning our cars into smart phones? Most people plan to replace their cars every 10 years or longer. Ten years ago, I was using a Blackberry… it’s hard to imagine that these in-car systems won’t accelerate the purchase and replacement cycles for new cars in a meaningful way.
Finally, not a smart/ connected car, but a very interesting new vehicle - the flying car. Passenger Drone by Terrafugia
Some of most meaningful impacts to our lives might be seen in the partnership between Ford and Amazon. Announced at CES, Ford CEO Mark Fields took the stage with Amazon to roll out their shared vision to connect Ford’s Sync Connect and AppLink services with the Amazon Echo home automation hub.
The command "Alexa, ask my Ford for the charge status of my C-Max" spoken to the Echo tower was met with a robotic response communicating the current battery level of the plug-in hybrid and the estimated range. "Alexa, ask my Ford to start" would remotely start the car allowing the cabin to be warmed or cooled.
Once in the car, the driver would be able to access Echo home automation functions using the Ford Sync voice command system. "Alexa, turn on my home lights," or "Alexa, open the garage door," could be spoken to the system to activate connected lighting or garage door openers.
Other home-to-vehicle functions being explored include locking or unlocking the vehicle remotely ("Alexa, ask my Ford if the doors are locked,") stating the vehicle location, temperature for plug-in models and more. On the vehicle-to-home side, Ford drivers will gain access to any of the Internet-enabled smart devices (lights, home security, thermostats, garage door openers, and more) that are compatible with the Echo and Alexa, as well as services, weather reports, music and more. With the tap of a steering wheel button, a driver could be asking "Alexa, when's my next appointment?"
Timing for this launch has not been announced yet.
Starting your own business is a big risk. After considering it for years, last Spring I finally let go of a steady paycheck, starting F'inn with three partners. F'inn is a consultancy that focuses 100% of its energy by helping companies innovate. We inspire leaders to discover and develop great ideas, give them purpose, and make them real.
As I shared my plans, everyone made it seem like success was inevitable. Friends, family, colleagues, clients were so encouraging. While I was optimistic about the road ahead, it felt like anything but a guarantee. Starting and running a business is an adrenaline pumping blend of fear and excitement.
As the first year of comes to a close, it's too early to say, "Our friends were right, we did it", but there are some positive signs. We helped bring five new products to market, designed and implemented a new global brand platform for a B-to-B services company, and helped a startup win its biggest sale ever.
If you have ever considered starting your own company, you might find some of these insights helpful. These are my biggest learnings as I thinking back on the first year of F’inn.
1. You have to take a chance
Most small businesses are self-funded - they don't have venture capital funding. For me, losing the steady paycheck and health insurance, made all sorts of questions run through my mind. Can I still provide for my family? How will we fund college accounts? If my car breaks down, can I afford to fix it?
Like many of life’s big decisions, there is never a "right time". If you want to start a business, you have to accept this risk. I imagine the fear keeps many people from ever taking the chance.
2. Sock away some money first
Long before you actually go for it, think about the lifestyle you'll need to live in your early startup days. Do you need a fancy car? Do you dine out all the time? Do you want to have all of the latest tech gadgets, or the nicest wardrobe?
A new business owner needs to build up a large enough bank account to cover business and personal costs in the early, lean days, while earning little or no pay. Instead of setting aside enough to bankroll your first year, these higher costs work against you by depleting your savings. Before starting F'inn, my wife and I went through every line item in our monthly expenses, and made big cuts to force ourselves to live with less. My partners love to make fun of me for drinking Pabst, but that PBR is a great reminder to keep the costs down until our business really takes off.
3. Treat people with respect
Here is another area where you can prepare years before you start a business. Throughout our careers, my partners and I always tried to be fair and honest with employees, clients, and vendors. When we started our business, the payback was immediate. Suppliers continuously go the extra mile for us. Friends and former employees are eager to bring business our way. Countless people have offered to come work for us.
We’ve all heard stories of business titans who walked all over people as they climbed their way to the top. I'm sure that works for some people, but being decent human beings works better for us.
4. Value good suppliers
This is an extension of the prior point, but is worth calling out separately. Businesses will often go out of the way to help their clients, only to turn around and beat suppliers into submission. When you find a good partner, appreciate them and treat them well.
- Look for opportunities to bring them more business and ask them to do the same for you.
- Give them genuine feedback - share the things that they are doing well.
- When things don't go well, take a long term perspective and try to solve the problem together.
By surrounding ourselves with great partners, we've been able to establish a competitive advantage by offering higher quality work in less time.
5. Know your industry
There's a steep learning curve in virtually every aspect of running a business. It helps to begin in an area where you are already knowledgeable. In the case of F'inn, all four of us previously worked in innovation: research, branding, strategy or marketing. We understand who buys, how projects are priced, the competition, and how to establish a point of difference. Looking back, it would have been really tough to figure out an industry where we were rookies, while also trying to get our new business off the ground.
6. Know your numbers
- Draft a variety of budgets. If you think you'll reach $1MM in sales, then run conservative budgets that are much lower. Do the same thing for your costs and margins. If you think you'll earn 30% gross margin, then run more conservative budgets at 20% and 25%. Drafting different budgets doesn't take a lot of time but can give you a great deal of perspective.
- Regularly analyze your sales, tracking your performance vs. the budgets. Startup business finances are stressful. When you remove the guesswork, and look at financial performance on a regular basis, that stress level is reduced, and you make better decisions. For F'inn, we were able to estimate how much we could pay in salary, what and when we could spend on marketing efforts, when we could reimburse one another for business expenses, and when we could finally add health care insurance.
- If you do not know how to run a budget, then either take a course in finance, or find a friend with accounting or business management experience to teach you. You have to figure this out before you start a company.
7. Test your (communication) ideas
You have to be able to confidently and clearly articulate who you are, what you do, and most importantly, why you are different or better than others.
- Learn how to introduce yourself covering these points in 30 seconds or less.
- Practice sharing your story with people you know (in your industry) and insist on honest feedback, even if it is negative.
- Observe if they get excited when you share your idea. Ask them what caught their attention most. Find out what’s confusing, what they didn't like, or didn't believe.
Here's the most important part: listen to what they say and make refinements. Your goal is not to convince everyone you have a great idea. It is to learn if your offer is relevant, and if people understand it. If your business is hard to communicate, you're not ready. When I started sharing the F'inn story, I learned that I was trying to say too many things. It took weeks of sound-boarding with friends and clients to simplify the message to the points that mattered most.
8. Take care of your customer
This seems obvious enough, but as customers, we're accustom to getting burned, because many businesses do not take care of their customers. It takes a lot of effort to win a new customer. It doesn't do you much good if they go away. Even if your business doesn't require repeat purchases from the same customer, you'll want advocates who will recommend your business. So when you win a customer, care for them. Be selective and take on only the type of work where you can do an excellent job.
As F'inn wraps up its first year in business, nearly every client has come back for repeat work. We believe this is because we continually prioritize taking care of our client to ensure they have a great experience.
9. Find the best tools
It is possible to start a business with very low costs. There is an abundance of tools that make it easy to be a small business owner. We pay for affordable monthly software for our financial management (Quickbooks), payroll (Gusto), contractor management and benefits (Zenefits). Squarespace is a low cost tool that gives you a high quality web page. Cloud based storage through DropBox makes it easy for us to store and share files, ensuring that all of our documents are backed up securely. And Slack keeps our team truly connected.
It takes time and commitment to learn these tools, but they save thousands of dollars (compared to hiring people to run marketing, IT, HR, Finance, etc.).
10. Don't stress the little stuff
I'm trying to take my own advice as I write this, because our benefits payments for the month didn't go through as planned. As a result, I've had to spend hours tracking down online and phone support with our software provider, and talking to tax advisors to make sure I'm following the law.
There are hundreds of things to do when you run a business. You're not going to be expert in all of them, nor is it likely you'll be able to pay for an expert every time you have a problem. Learning or building a new system often feels like you're taking one step forward and two steps back. You want things to work the first time, but they don’t. Then, just when you think you've got it all figured out, you figure out that you figured it out wrong and have to do it again.
I find I have to step back and remind myself that, 'Everyone else who ever started a business has figured this out. We'll figure it out, too.' If you're the type of person who expects everything to work just right, then think twice before starting a company. Otherwise, go for it, but remember not to blow a fuse every time things don't go your way.
11. Have the hard conversations with your partners
It's normal for people who start businesses together to be excited about all that is possible; yet, there are countless stories of partnerships imploding over disagreements. Much of the time, fights are about the money. Think through areas where conflicts could arise in the business, and how you will handle them. Our lawyer provided a framework for considering the biggest issues, like firing or buying out a partner. We also spoke to other people who run businesses with similar dynamics (industry, numbers of owners, etc.) to learn about issues they'd encountered over the years. For any issue related to pay, we keep the numbers transparent, and document decisions. Finally, and most importantly, we intentionally created an environment where conflicts are acceptable, where team members can air disagreements, and we set rules as to how issues would be resolved.
Yes, this Saturday night, my family will be donning our finest Star Wars costumes and parading down to Oakland's landmark Grand Lake Theatre to watch The Force Awakens. We’ve spent the last month reviewing the OT, so we’re fresh.
And, we’re more than a little excited, that our new company shares its name with one of the Force Awakens' heroes, Finn FN-2187. (Having not seen it yet… I gather that he was one of the best Stormtroopers who defects to join the Resistance.)
Not to take the analogy too far, but that feels incredibly relevant to each of us. Having spent decades on the side of tradition and large corporate rule, rewriting the rules of innovation feels like a rebellion. It feels important and worthy and we’re all so proud to be fighting the good fight. Now, if we can only get our hands on an X-Wing fighter…
Star Wars, since its inception, has changed the way movies are made. The vision, technology, and even its basic business model serve as inspiration to creators in every field. When we talk about innovation being seismic, this is what we mean. George Lucas didn't make a movie (and then a bunch of sequels), he designed a canon. "A set of rules and principles that guide what happens in the Star Wars universe, and which innumerable authors, fans and others have built on over time."
Rather than rewriting what so many others have said so well, here are some of our favorite essays on the innovative genius of Star Wars, George Lucas and his dedicated creative teams.
(May the force be with you)
Here are our seven favorite links about Star Wars and how it’s changed the world.
#1 The quote above about the canon comes from this piece - it talks about how George Lucas made a platform on which creative talent could multiply. What Brands Can Learn From Luke And Leia
#2 To the power of influences and how they compound to inspire us. Infographic - Pretty Much Every Way Star Wars Changed Film & TV Forever
#3 This piece sums up why, when I was eight, I wanted Star Wars toys more than anything in the world, and my now 8-year old son wants Star Wars toys more than anything in the world - How One Brilliant Decision In 1973 Made George Lucas A Multi-Billionaire Today
#4 And how those toys let children (re)play the movie over and over, keeping the spirit of the movie alive between the sequels, even when that's a really really long time! How Star Wars' Insane Toy Frenzy Changed Movies Forever
#5 A nod to what we all know is true - George Lucas is first and foremost an innovator, never letting the way things are today stall the best way to tell a great story. Nine ways George Lucas changed movies forever
#6 "Over the past 38 years, the saga’s brand consistently finds a place in the top five licensed toy brands each year". How Star Wars Changed Film Marketing Forever
#7 Looking forward from here, can the creative team sustain their seminal position. "...where will the 2015 iteration fit in the aesthetic legacy of a cinematic icon?" Star Wars Revolutionized Special Effects Twice. Can It Do It Again?
In the work world, the ability to have open dialogue within an organization or team moves beyond politics and forced structure into cooperative, mindful decision making; faster, more transparent and linked to real purposeful intent.
Innovation happens when there is openness, true listening and applied learning, and the possibility to change course based upon insight without fear. Movement forward stems from an acceptance of the risk of not having all the answers and continually learning throughout the creative process.
As organizations, processes and strategies often become doctrine forced to fit on all happening within. Individual reality and expression are squashed in order to stay true to the ‘one way of working’. And while there’s a guarantee that this will not get you to the best result or to true innovation, the biggest loss is the energy and engagement from your people.
The need for the rebuilding of its core and injection of fresh, healthy energy within NYC built enthusiasm for this vision…now becoming closer to a plan. Crowd sourcing (years before anyone knew what crowd souring actually meant) kicked off, providing opportunities for community residents to collectively share ideas and thinking openly about the possibilities for ‘Designing the High Line’
At F’inn, we have a large crew of Irregulars who work along with us to help cover all the areas you need to bring a new idea to market. These are geniuses who focus on their specialty and come in as needed to move innovation forward.
What I'm really looking for is someone who can help us solve big challenges. I lay out a hard problem, and tell them that this is terrifying. I have no idea how we’re going to do this. The right person's response is, ‘NEAT.’ That's what I want. That's what I've found most linked to success.