5 Questions to Attack your Competitor's Strengths and Win

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"We are not in the watchmaking business, we are in the true luxury business."

- Yves Piaget

 

When I ask many young CEO's and marketing people "Who's your competition and why are you better?" they answer with a list of both strengths and the competitors' longer list of weaknesses.  In addition, they rarely include the big competitor which is the customer's status quo.

Here's how to think strategically about competition.

HIGHLIGHTING A COMPETITOR'S WEAKNESSES RARELY WORKSlion-and-mouse

  1. Today's customer's are more informed of competitor's strengths and weaknesses (especially if they are already using the products)
  2. Customers buy because the perceived strengths outweigh the weaknesses (which they're told are temporary)
  3. Often the competitors' strength is much broader than just the product (e.g. financial strength, longevity, service etc.)

DE-POSITIONING A COMPETITOR'S STRENGTHS CAN TIP THE BALANCE

Here are 5 questions to get you started  de-positioning a competitor...

1)  If me and my competitor both had the same product who would win and why? 

Neutralize those... through partnering, guarantee's, customer insurance etc.

2)  If we swap products with our competitor who would win and why?

Extends the issues from above, neutralize these also

3)  Who is  my "Perfect" customer that would buy from me instead of my competitor?

 Qualify leads to this description and keep closing gaps

4) What is my  competitors "Perfect" customer that will buy from them no matter what ?

FIlter leads and don't  spend energy here, learn what they value in the competitor's strengths

5) Can the opposite of my competitor's strength also  be a strength?

  If so... consider positioning there and migrate customers to the other side

nobody-gets-fired-for-buying-ibm

apple_think_different2

The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth"    

- Niels Bohr

You must fulfill a minimum requirement on every axis of competition... but you only need to differentiate on one (see my 60 Minute Marketing MBA Presentation). Here are some examples I've experienced:

THEY HAVE...    Great technology              BUT...     not based on open technology price curves

THEY HAVE...    Large existing network    BUT....    compete with customer's  cycles of learning

THEY HAVE...    Financial strength              BUT...      not as strong as our combined partner's

THEY HAVE...   Been around                        BUT...      don't offer disaster insurance

THEY HAVE...   Big user base                        BUT...     you're not that important to them

You get the picture... a little progress here can pay off in higher sales!

Miles-Davis-Cool

"Half of being cool is doing what nobody else is doing."

-My friend Tommy Nelson

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I've Been Hacked!

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wordpress-hack

On August 20, I recieved an email from my hosting provider (www.Arvixe.com) saying they deleted something bad from my directory and I was likely part of a phishing scheme. When I went to the website every page  said:  "hacked by Hwins2005"    Bummer....

So here I am on August 23 after 20 hours of deep dives into WordPress,  (opening more PHP files than God intended), a bit of Apache, every tool CPanel offered and I'M BACK!  I still have a ticket with my provider which is making it's way up the queue.

This is a record of those lovely hours. I hope it is helpful for anyone that has to go through it.  First however is the emotional aspect... it is a mini version of a feeling I had many years ago when my house was broken into.  A feeling of invasion, violation of personal space and anger. People have this feeling  and it is why privacy is manifesting itself politically, whether it's the NSA, Scott McNealy's 2009 quote: "You Have Zero Privacy Anyway. Get Over It" or Facebook data-mining your friends to  get a better credit score on you... GET THE F*%$ OUT OF HERE!

So here's what I did:

TRY TO FIX THE EXISTING SITE

  1. Read about the first 6 or 7 search items on "WordPress Hacked"  (half were advertisements)
  2. Logged into wp-admin and realized that my backup settings were not scheduled and my backup was months old (while fearing I was doing something bad by logging in)... more Bummer
  3. Ran a backup because the searches said to
  4. Downloaded a malware plugin and ran it ( $ to get the fix-it plugin)
  5. Deleted that plugin then downloaded and ran another ( $ to get the fix-it plugin)
  6. Ditto for that plugin
  7. Spent some time cruising WP directories and opening files hoping for a hail mary
  8. Gave up
QNAP Storage Server

Qnap NAS Storage Server

ABANDON THE EXISTING SITE AND REBUILD ON A STAGING SITE

  1. Decided to build a "staging version" and was always intrigued what the performance of a WordPress stack would be  on my QNAP TS-419U II NAS
  2. Built a clean MySQL/WordPress/Apache stack on the QNAP and the
    performance SUCKED (minutes to do  single digit second tasks on my hosting provider)!
  3. BTW I'm a BIG fan of QNAP and their hardware/software. This server has a Marvell  2GHz single core processor and it just wasn't up to managing the RAID as well as the WP Stack.
  4. Before the hack I was moving my trading  code (C#.Net, C++, Amibroker and Matlab) to the cloud using virtual machines in Virtualbox mixing Win7 and Centos.  I intended to automate the configuration and provisioning with Vagrant.
  5. Great stuff but  realizing I was getting far away from fixing my blog,  I Gave Up ( ummm..... more like postponed to  fix the specific, instead of the general problem  )

TRY TO FIX THE EXISTING SITE OR REBUILD AT THE HOSTING PROVIDER

  1. I started running phpmyadmin browsing the SQL tables and removed a bunch of users, changed my admin account Usernames and Passwords and the character code from UTC-7??? Back to UTC-8.
  2. Deleted (not just de-activated) all plug-ins except the most basic.
  3. Without a terminal on CPanel to "grep" my way through all the WP files I kept wondering how long it would take to build a diff tool to compare my site to the WP release on GITHUB. Then I found Anti-Malware and Brute-Force Security by ELI.  I installed and ran it.
  4. The plug-in did not find the problem but gave me about 10 suspect files. I opened them with the CPanel editor and pasted the current GIT versions.  When saving, the editor informs whether anything changed, two files had changed.
  5. The site and pages still redirected to the "hacked by Hwins2005".  I figured if my php files were cool there must still be issues in the javascript
  6. I deleted my Theme and reloaded it
  7. I'M BACK

Whew....   probably saved $250 to have someone clean it for me but I learned alot about WordPress' architecture and improved my CPanel and overall web stack chops. I'll be attempting to harden things more going forward.

Cheers,

virtualbox       vagrant   centos

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5 Reasons You've Gotta Love to Fish to Execute Strategy

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strategy intersection

I just finished a great article in Harvard Business Review called "What is Strategy, Again?" by Andria Ovans (an HBR editor). Andria outlines  seminal articles and books on strategy.

Now I view strategy as fishing the intersection of Technology, Market and  Business (TMB) for a "Theory of the Company".  Many of the books Andria references are in my 60 Minute Marketing MBA Presentation .

The article  groups 40 years of strategy books, journal articles  and consultants.  They fall under these three headlines...

1) Do Something Different

2) Build upon what you already do

3) React opportunistically to emerging possibilities

MPython_different

bldfoundation

 

 

 

ducati_turnHer article lead me to another HBR article "Why Strategy Execution Unravels - and What to do About It" by McGrath & McMillan .   Their research from 8,000 managers in 250 companies found five myths people had about execution.  The research is continuing along with experiments at 40 companies where they make changes and  measure the impact on strategy execution. Here are the five common myths they've found:

1) Execution equals Alignment

- rowing in the same direction, "smart" goals, KPI's/MBO's,  adequate funding ...ISN'T IT

2) Execution Means Sticking to the Plan

- grit and gutting it out...ISN'T IT

3) Communication equals Understanding

- regular communication to reinforce goals...ISN'T IT

 4) A Performance Culture Drives Execution

- Israeli commando, seal team 6, never miss a beat...ISN'T IT

 5) Execution Should be Driven from the TopExecution_Bossidy

- Larry Bossidy, TJ Rogers, Henry Nicholas kick butt "I'll show you                                discipline"...ISN'T IT

So what is it?


I've noticed execution problems at even well run companies when trying to execute a strategy, which led me to some observations.

1) Since strategy is fishing a set of Technology, Market and Business (model) choices to  filter opportunities, focus resources and build ecosystems, then having STUDIED ALL POSSIBLE TECHNOLOGY, MARKET and BUSINESS OPTIONS, WHAT HAS AND HASN'T WORKED IS NECESSARY TO DEVELOP TRUE EXPERTISE ( the space is not that big and can be pared down heuristically pretty readily).

"True expertise requires making all possible mistakes"  -Neils Bohr

2) I've observed that a clear strategy in the hands of the senior people when the company gets big doesn't usually work.  McGrath &McMillan identify "Distributed Leaders" that get things done inside and outside the company as the key players, not just senior management.  The org chart is not a map of power and influence in a company. In fast changing environments those closest to decisions need a strategic compass.

The Distributed Leaders  need to learn and love to fish for the possible TMB combinations that fit their company. They need to love learning and talking about TMB strategies so they can synthesize ON-THE-FLY the agile decisions today's organizations need to make.  New management paradigms like Holacracy  as practiced by Tony Hsieh @ Zappos go much farther than I'm describing, but has ways to structure some of the same ground.

Bottom line is that the Distributed Leaders must love the strategy fish and learn the essence of what has worked, what hasn't and why.

girl-with-fish

Distributed Leadership needs a lesson in Love

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Think about Economics

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economics-480x280

When talking to executives, technologists and marketing people I'm surprised when they over-simplify  how the global economy functions, and is changing. Here are some key understandings and implications I use when analyzing events.

My framework for recognizing the forces impacting businesses is to isolate three economies and define them as below.

1) Global Economy - how countries settle trade balances (international clearing)

2) Financial Economy - disk drives and filing cabinets with  "claims" on the real economy

3) Real Economy - making, buying and selling stuff

Taking them one-at-a-time with  key takeaways...

GLOBAL ECONOMY - 4 important things to know about the Global Economy...

global economy

1) Prior to 1971 there was an agreed-upon system (1944 Bretton Woods fixed-exchange rates) but in 1971 things went rogue (US dropped peg to Gold and currencies "float") and many policies have STILL not adapted to the new structure.

     Takeaway: I thought Foreign cars held their value better than US cars but it was the US dollar, not the cars, that was changing. Even Congressmen don't get how rapidly rates change (up to 20%/year, and 100% over 5 years for the Yen) and how Global Capital Flows affect everything.

2) Floating exchange rates were intended to be market set, but countries game the system by manipulating (pegging), here's 34 doing it http://goo.gl/43B9ic

      Takeaway:  Countries create mercantile policies that "advantage" them in global markets for DECADES. But markets will EVENTUALLY clear. (China and Germany)

3) The US is the "reserve currency" so transactions occur (not just price) in dollars. Therefore the US must create enough "working capital" dollars for both the US and the rest of the world's International Trade (~50% of US Dollars are in the USA and ~50% overseas with the US share of global GDP at ~20% now, ~31% in 1971 and ~40% in 1941)

     Takeaway: Policymakers make mistakes since changes in foreign demand for US$ can be as  large as monetary policy impacts on the supply. QE and other policies can cause foreign bubbles but subdued US impact with all the moving parts.

4) In 1969 a new global "unit of account" called "Special Drawing Rights" http://goo.gl/5kQGnp. SDR's were set up to be a "worldwide reserve currency" . In fact, the US Post Office accepts SDR's as payment! http://goo.gl/C0jlrG

     Takeaway:  The global monetary system is being restructured. Expect unintended consequences and economic hiccups.

FINANCIAL ECONOMY - 3 important things to know about the Financial Economy...

financial economy

1) 10x bigger than the Real Economy (Bain & Co. estimates globally ~$600T financial assets supported by ~$63T GDP http://goo.gl/NQWYFX )

      Takeaway:  The Financial Economy can jerk the real economy around with bubbles and busts even when the real economy looks good. E.g. 2000 tech, 2008 mortgage, 2015 shale oil etc.

2) Since the early 1900's manipulating the financial economy (e.g. capital gains vs. income tax rates, IRA's, Mortgage Interest deduction etc.) has become the PRIMARY tool of Politics.

      Takeaway:  Policy changes provide huge business shifts. E.g. Tax credits built Hollywood, Obamacare and the Insurance Companies, tax credits and Solar etc.

3) Since 1971, the Federal Government (NOT State or Local) can Print as much money as they want (they don't need to borrow). Ben Bernanke (Chairman of the Federal Reserve) said during a Congressional Testimony "... with all do respect Senator, the US will always pay it's bills unless you direct the Fed to not make the computer entry" http://goo.gl/r32iEl. They are limited by inflation which is a function of (global) demand for US$.

"Private sector SAVINGS is equal to the Federal DEFICIT to the penny!" -Warren Mosler

The cash (ASSET) in your pocket shows up as a LIABILITY on the Federal Reserve's Balance Sheet!  Money is scorekeeping, home economics doesn't apply to the Federal Government they  MIRROR the private economy.

      Takeaway:  We've had ~12 balanced budgets since 1940, there is no intention of ever repaying the federal debt (nor is it necessary) http://goo.gl/ExHANm. Federal interest expands the money supply, but allows financial intermediaries to allocate the expansion,  growing the Financial Sector. Shrinking deficits slows GDP if money velocity remains constant.

REAL ECONOMY - 3  important things to know about the Real Economy...Vespa

1) It is jerked around by the Financial Economy expanding and shrinking credit

      Takeaway:  See Financial Economy 1-4

2) It is jerked around by the Global Economy moving money into and out of the US. (Globalized Finance)

      Takeaway:  See Global Economy 1-4

3) Export / Import financial data collection was built during fixed exchange rates, based on currency not units. Accuracy is a function of exchange rate volatility in any given period.

      Takeaway:  Export/Import to a country expressed in currencies (vs. Units) cannot be compared over time.  Unit trade numbers can be off by 20% with the same $ trade number in a single year!

FINALLY
Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Investments created a wonderful video called "How the Economic Machine Works" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHe0bXAIuk0 Ray clarifies how buying things with money vs. buying things with credit and productivity in the real economy interact.  It's 30 minutes, watch it.

Here's a paper on the same http://goo.gl/s2Nanq

I hope this helps...

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How do customers recognize the truth?

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Image result for truth

Marketing (marcom in particular) is communicating  about your product and company things that customers  believe are true n'est pas? Therefore, understanding how customers recognize truth is a pre-cursor to believable communications.

I've found three groups of people who've worked "truth" really hard. Religious, philosophers and mathematicians. Apparently there are ..... 9, NINE,  IX, 8+1 ..... different theories your customer (assuming they're people) might use to decide whether your statements are true!  Here they are:

1) Coherence                    - fits within a whole

2) CORRESPONDENCE    - proved by evidence or individual opinion in a similar context

3) Constructivist               - constructed from social processes, culturally specific

4) Consensus                    - whatever is agreed upon by a specified group

5) Pragmatic                     - verified by results of putting one's concepts into practice

6) Pluralist                         - "property" of a statement which makes a proposition true

7) DEFLATIONARY           - assertions of truth don't mean anything,  they're a tool of discourse                                                     to emphasize claims or form generalizations (also called Minimalist)

8) Redundancy                - asserting something is true is the same as asserting the real thing

9) EPISTEMIC                    - notion of truth is epistemic (all of the above)

Whew...there you go.  Now we know what to do.

If it helps, mathematicians thought they were on the most solid ground before Godel's incompleteness theorems http://goo.gl/Z50liu now they'd rather not talk about it.

Wait there's more ... "according to a survey of professional philosophers in November 2009 (taken by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy faculty members and 829 philosophy graduate students) 44.9% of respondents accept or lean towards CORRESPONDENCE theories, 20.7% accept or lean towards DEFLATIONARY theories and 13.8% EPISTEMIC theories." (I'm not sure what happened to the other 20.6% maybe they told them to buzz off).

Here's your takeaway....

1)  ~45% of your audience will find 3 or 4 independent testimonial sources that corroborate your pitch (customers, thought leaders, editors, bankers, car salesmen etc) credible

2) ~20% will think you're just BS'ing to make a point

3) ~15% will think that it's all so complicated whatever anyone believes is cool

4) ~20% won't show up (read or listen)Image result for truth

http://psychology.wikia.com/wiki/Truth

"The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of profound truth may be another profound truth"          -Niels Bohr

"A lie makes a problem part of the future, the truth makes a problem part of the past."                                                                         - Quote from YMCA Camp Marston

 

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Disassembling Software Architecture

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modelt

Disassembled Model T - Henry Ford Museum

I've been time traveling after seeing a great O'Reilly Video by Mark Richards on Software Architecture Patterns http://goo.gl/vAQloM. He includes some well thought out metrics as well.

Mark describes 4 of the 5 architectures in his book(s):
1) Layered
2) Event Driven (brokered and not-brokered)
3) MicroKernel
4) MicroServices
5) Space Based

I remember the early days of IC design (70's-80's) when product ideas became components in future products (the engine of exponential growth). The 1T DRAM, 6T SRAM, PLA's, ALU's started out as chips on boards but eventually were microcoded together to create a microprocessor, then SOC etc.

In the mid 90's I saw Mr. Silicon Graphics and Netscape Jim Clark (I consulted with Jim in 1983 when his "Geometry Engine" ran slower than simulation) at a Stanford Hot Chips conference. He forecast...

1) "We used to build small/consumer products by cost-reducing components for big systems"

2) "In the future we will build big systems from cheap components developed for small/consumer systems"

He spotted the pattern.

After the video I compared Mark's 5 patterns to  "Software Architecture in Practice", Bass et al,  a Stanford U. early 00's Software Architecture class textbook.   Chapter 18 of 19 is "Building Systems from Off-the-Shelf Components". I'm struck by how software architecture has moved from case studies to building with off-the-shelf components Just like early IC's.

Fast forward to the mid 00's when I ran a SaaS company warehousing chip measurement data. The product started with a 3-layer architecture (browser + "big ball of engine" + OracleSQL). We bogged down trying to add new features. How do we dis-assemble and re-factor the engine while the car is in the race?  A recent piece by Mat Stine at http://pivotal.io/ pointed to two recipes from SoundCloud http://goo.gl/nluAmU and Karma http://goo.gl/HpUOSp . Nice to see my problem dis-assembled 10 years later.

TAKEAWAY: BUILD SIMPLE SYSTEMS FROM SIMPLE STANDARDIZED BUILDING BLOCKS. Unless you're on the bleeding edge of speed, the benefits over a product's lifecycle outweigh any monolithictarball  approaches appear to bring. For you scrummy, lean and agile folks, kludge a prototype but don't evolve a prototype into a platform.

George Whitesides does a TED talk http://goo.gl/YGd6ta about the same idea (importance of building complexity from simple building blocks) to build pieces of paper that diagnose diseases... Same movie different actors...

So there... at the "right" level of abstraction you can re-factor West Side Story into  Romeo and Juliet by changing the UI.

The Connection Machine

The Connection Machine -space based architecture

 

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"JTC1 Moats" TTM Simulation

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14Mar23 " JTC1 Moats" TTM Simulation

14Mar23 " JTC1 Moats" TTM Simulation

JTC1 Moats  is a rotational trading strategy that ranks and selects from a proprietary list of approximately 100 stocks chosen for their defensible market position. It holds 8 stocks (if criteria is passed) and is re-balanced weekly. The system uses the S&P500 Volatility Index (VIX) and weighted averages to time the market. It invests in the iShares IEF 7-10 year treasury ETF during bear markets.

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"JTC1 Moats" 14 year Simulation

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JTC1 Moats  14 Year Simulation

JTC1 Moats 14 Year Simulation

JTC1 Moats  is a rotational trading strategy that ranks and selects from a proprietary list of approximately 100 stocks chosen for their defensible market position. It holds 8 stocks (if criteria is passed) and is re-balanced weekly. The system uses the S&P500 Volatility Index (VIX) and weighted averages to time the market. It invests in the iShares IEF 7-10 year treasury ETF during bear markets.

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Paul Tudor Jones on the InJustice of Income Inequality

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Paul Tudor Jones (PTJ) is a legendary trader  that runs one of the largest  Hedge Funds in the world....Tudor Investment Corporation. He recently gave a TED talk about income inequality.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vesdt5vDIek PTJ shows data documenting a 40 year high in corporate profits as a % of Revenue and a 40 year low in the percentage going to labor (Classic substitution of capital for labor). I guess todays corporate leadership doesn't think like Henry Ford who famously paid his employees enough to ensure they could buy a Ford Automobile.

PJT has created an independent non-profit organization that will  poll 20k  Americans annually to  define corporate societal responsibilities that they will use to  rank the largest 1000 US companies.

Interesting that the early comments on YouTube are mostly negative. Commentators seem unconvinced PTJ is genuine. PTJ concludes that historically this level of inequality ALWAYS is corrected via Taxes, Revolutions or War. So is he worried about "killing the rich people"?  Perhaps, but someone of his stature needs to quit the BS that optimizing shareholder value is Smith's invisible hand. Read Smith, it's not.

I've  been inside the core of the Technology business (semiconductors and software) for over 35 years. I see four changes that are creating winner-take-all monopolies by compounding capital much faster than when I started in the 70's...

1) Repeal of Glass-Steagal and conversion from LLC's to Public Companies driving TBTF Banking   the largest corporate sector in total capital and profits.  We have ~$800T in capital supported by a  ~$80T global economy.

2) Knowledge (IP) , when exchanged, creates 2 owners of the same IP. The knowledge economy is a mathematical engine for exponential growth.  Most of world economic history was built upon physical object transactions which does not implicitly create shared ownership.

3) Globalization especially w/respect to the benefits of 2)

4) The flawed assumption of Ergodicity  in economic teaching and policy now well documented as a mathematical error in Menger's foundational book that created "modern" economics, http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/369/1956/4913 . Lucky money compounds to +infinity but unlucky money stops at zero... game over for the unlucky.

I believe these have created a tangibly different environment than our economic history books.  I agree with PTJ that unintended consequences (inequitable distributions) will not settle out before Capitalism's benefits fail to benefit the majority of the people.

 

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Hardly anything hard to say about "The Hard Thing About Hard Things"

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HardThingI recently read Ben Horowitz's book "The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers",  it was great!  I've read alot of management, marketing and strategy books but  I can honestly say it is the only book I've read that captured any of my experience as a CEO or being in the inner circle with a CEO in a startup. 

Einstein once said of his friend Kurt Godel http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_G%C3%B6del that his mere existence brought him happiness. I can say that about this book.

Ben captures five things that are integral to the role yet is never portrayed in the happy crap "small big company with freedom and payouts"  media and journalism stuff...

1) Impossible odds and running out of money (again)

2) Peacetime vs Wartime CEO

3) Firing / laying off friends

4) Lonely decisions (esp:  People Choices)

5) Overwhelming Guilt

Start ups are hard... it helps to be naive... why do people do it....  not all do...

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