How to talk tech

Gong Xi Fa Cai. Happiness and Prosperity. We’re in the year of the pig.  

About 1.45 billion (population of China and the Overseas Chinese population) people ring in the lunar new year – sparking, possibly, the largest human migration in the world. Why? People travel home for the reunion dinner.

To help with those dicey dinner table conversations, the Singapore Government pulled together translations and explanations of tech terms.

I’m glad someone is thinking of us all and helping us come to grips with these complex concepts. Read the full article for the explanations.

And if you don’t smile, laugh or are not amused in anyway, maybe ping me. You might need beer.

Go Moment wins Innov8 at HEDNA 2019

Last week, Go Moment won the most innovative solution award at the Innov8 event at the Hotel Electronic Distribution Network Association (HEDNA 2019) conference in LA. We had eight minutes. And seven other contenders.

Any win energizes a team and the Go Moment team is no exception. We celebrate. Occasionally, we get on a boat, and explore new destinations together.

Three explanations

The win at HEDNA, however, was more energizing than others. Why?

  • Our first in 2019. We’re getting started!
  • The timing. We’re expanding our product offering beyond guest service and hence just being at a hotel distribution focused conference helped us immensely.
  • The all-volunteer team from companies like MGM, Wyndham, Booking.com, and other large hospitality brands was inspiring to work alongside. My special thanks to Sarah Fults (MGM), Inder Banga (Wyndham), Ian Ackland (Booking.com) – your energy to volunteer beyond your busy day-to-day schedules is inspiring!

What did we do right? How did we win this? In my opinion, we got a few things right.

Let me start with the most direct explanation. During our time on stage, we presented our read on the industry, opting for an educational, information-sharing tone instead of a direct product pitch. This resonated with the audience since they were able to map this information to their own experience. By the end of our presentation, we had several people agreeing with us on how disruptive the confluence of technologies (AI, IoT, and Voice) we discussed would be in the guest experience.

Now for the indirect, deeper explanation. We laid the groundwork for this win several months – perhaps a year even – before the conference. Having consistently worked on our network and our media coverage, we were on NBC, Inc.com, Circa, The Economist and several others. I am convinced that this web of visibility helped us secure an invitation to pitch in the first place.

Two learnings

  • Subtlety wins. Direct selling rarely does anymore.
  • Find the do-ers and align with them. Be where they are likely to see.

One observation

Finally, a trend that I see emerging.

Highly specialized solutions around payment seemed to be popular at HEDNA. I am going to bet on a blockchain-type payments infrastructure layer hitting the industry in the coming years, possibly something like Winding Tree.

If you were at HEDNA, and have a different bet, let me know! Actually, even if you weren’t at HEDNA, and have a 2019 prediction for the industry, I’d love to hear and learn.

How to get better at getting better

Google turns up 20.7 million results for Kaizen. Depending on where you’re located, a few of these are likely to be for local strategy consultants and investment firms.

Wait. You haven’t heard of Kaizen? Are you asking what Kaizen is exactly?

It’s Japanese for “change for the better.” Seems simple, but it’s not quite. Revolving around the word is a world of interpretations, historical significance, and use in modern management discussions. I’m not going to paraphrase or explore the full meaning here – the Kaizen Institute’s explanations is a good start if you are looking for one.

Kaizen and me

Kaizen though isn’t only about management or production practices. Here is what it means to me as a practitioner –

Fundamentals

Basic principles have taken me a long way. Lifting everyone’s energy and working to add order to environments is now second nature. A big misnomer that I encounter is about how entrepreneurs thrive in chaos – or a variation, entrepreneurs know how to build great things amidst constant chaos. (More on misnomers and entrepreneurs in another article.)

Focus

In a world that overwhelms, I learned where to focus my Kaizen efforts since many topics and people don’t warrant that kind of attention right now. I learned to differentiate between important and urgent. Let’s help folks who help themselves. “You can’t wake up someone who pretends to sleep” carries a lot of meaning, and unsurprisingly, exists in many languages.

Details

I work to leave every room better than when I entered it. And that starts with making my bed first thing in the morning. Even Admiral McRaven talked of changing the world by making our beds in his address at the University of Texas.

Improvement

James Clear Atomic Habits - taken from Shane Parrish's FS Blog

I read a paper book before bed. It’s my signal to my body to wind down while learning every day. From another perspective, I want to wake up 1% wiser than I slept – an idea that is best explained in James Clear’s Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Shane Parrish has a condensed 3 minute explanation in his blog post, Why Small Habits Make a Big Difference.

Leverage

I leverage my time by doing things that drive multiple benefits. Reading before bed leverages the brain’s continuous data transfer and deep learning process during sleep, as outlined in the book Why We Sleep. Mentoring is another area of leverage. Even as I share ideas/experiences/knowledge to improve others’ lives, I learn new points of view that invariably provide me more information and fuel for self improvement.

That’s Kaizen for me: continuous improvement. Sometimes, it really is that simple.

Any of that resonate with you?

Scott Galloway’s Winners and Losers: 2014-2018

Three weeks ago, NYU Stern professor Scott Galloway signed off for the last time on Winners and Losers. Galloway’s weekly series, Winners and Losers, had a brilliant four year run.

The series chalked up 50 million views over the years; a fact that Galloway doesn’t exactly shy away from in the final installment. Personally, I’ve been a fan of the sharp, incisive, and sometimes even wilfully incendiary commentary that Galloway has been turning out through the series. Add zany cultural references and crystal clear infographics to that mix and we had a presenter who truly knew how to hold our attention. A skill he probably picked up while teaching at NYU Stern. Check out the series finale here:

Or an episode that’s emblematic of his story telling style, and among the most popular: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sO6nUTFsYEs

Episode 196: Disrupting the Disruptors

I picked a different episode from the series to discuss today – mostly because I believe that Galloway’s assessment in that is far too simplistic. In Disrupting the Disruptors, Galloway warned the hotel industry that they “should fear Google the way retailers fear Amazon.” Google (and other tech monopolies) he says “operate with a very simple playbook: moving from “‘We are here to help you” to “We are you” to finally saying “We are here to kill you.’”

I’d suggest watching the 5 minute video before you read more:

If you know anything about my work, you’ll know that this episode hits close to home. I work in the hotel tech industry, come from a hotelier family, and Go Moment, the company where I serve as CEO, is backed by Google. If I line that up – tech industry innovators, a hotelier background, Google backed company – naturally I’d want to discuss this episode.

Precision, anyone?

When Galloway says that the hotel industry isn’t adapting fast enough to disruptors like Airbnb – I agree with him. I’d add though that this is primarily true for big brand, chain hotels. Smaller and more focused outfits, including casino resorts and independent hotels, are, in fact, pace setters in the fast-changing world of travel. They are well aware that consumers have declared war on lodging-as-a-service and now instead seek experiences-as-a-service, with lodging being merely one component of their decision. At the risk of plugging Go Moment, take a look at this NBC report of what Caesars Palace in Las Vegas has done:

Galloway, though, doesn’t distinguish between hotels. Consequently his point of view of hotels is a universalised, simplistic one. That may make sense in the US, where a majority of the ~55,000 hotels are branded.

And about Google wanting to demolish the hotel industry? That isn’t universally applicable either. Google’s Hotel Tools in fact positively impact the revenue streams for smaller, independent hotels since they don’t have the massive budgets for ad campaigns that the larger players do.

We are not “on the precipice of a war against the hotel industry” as Galloway says. We’re definitely on the cusp of major change away from a lodging industry and towards an experience industry.

What do you think — agree or disagree with Galloway?

Get a grip on complexity with beautiful data visualization

I dig dataviz.

Data visualization isn’t esoteric. Neither is it a world inhabited by math geniuses and data scientists alone. On the contrary, most projects are visually stunning and lots of fun to play with!

What I love most is how the artists (yes, they’re artists; not just creators!) zoom in to the essential within large datasets, unearth insights, and communicate these creatively while destroying the surrounding noise. Done right, this process makes the abstract approachable (sometimes even easy), and the end result is downright magical.

Daniel Kunin’s Seeing Theory project is a brilliant example of thoughtful dataviz. Kunin set out to make “statistics more accessible through interactive visualizations,” and his work absolutely crushes that goal. Seeing Theory has one of the most approachable visualizations of probability and statistics, paired with helpful content. Check out the site: https://seeing-theory.brown.edu

The website was designed using Mike Bostock’s JavaScript library D3.js. If you haven’t heard of Bostock before – and are keen on understanding how an algorithm might randomly traverse a maze – take a look at his Visualizing Algorithms “post,”. Its interactive, informative and simple – or quite simply the gold standard in my book.

Why am I talking of dataviz here? It is clearly one of my passions. More importantly though, I believe that we are not too far from a time when we will ignore datasets if they aren’t visualized beautifully. Or, are we there already?!

How to develop a financial plan in 13 hours

…and impress your investors

For most startup founders, few things make eyes glaze over faster than financial modelling and business plan generation. What’s not to love about numbers and wild projections?!

If you are in startup or fundraising mode, chances are that these are high up on your list of things-that-must-be-done. Despite limited time and energy (hello, 100-hour work weeks), we prioritize these because they’re linked to funding and getting VCs attention. Of course, if you’ve started and/or scaled a SaaS company before, none of this may apply to you.

Waitbutwhy, time, free financial plan template
How much time and money are you going to spend developing a financial plan for your SaaS startup?

At Go Moment, I spent 100+ hours with my team and outside vendors working to create a bespoke financial model. It wasn’t pleasant. I still have my battle scars from these times.

What we were trying to do and why it was painful

We set out to create a model from scratch. I tried to do it myself initially, and failed. I was modeling too many things far too granularly for the model to be useful. Numeracy and fluency with Excel were not my friends in this activity.

For the next go, I roped in quantitatively gifted team members, then expanded that to outside consultants, fractional CFOs, advisors… you name it. We went through three or four iterations – and ended up with a result that was, at best, a 5/10. If you want to hear about the details of financial resources that all this took up, you will have to contact me.

I failed not because I didn’t have quantitative expertise – or people with it. It’s hard to know the dimensions to model, the metrics that matter most to the business, and more importantly, to the investors.

There is another way.

Look for the wheel

It was invented a long time ago.

Meet Christoph Janz – a partner at Point Nine Capital. He blogs at The Angel VC (incidentally the tagline for Point Nine Capital too) and is more frequently on Twitter as @chrija. Point Nine Cap, by the way, has a prolific history of backing SaaS startups like Zendesk, Typeform, Algolia (etc).

In 2016, Janz shared a financial plan template that is available for free download. And he topped that with detailed documentation, notes and comments to explain the variables and understand the model better.

It took me about 12 hours to get really comfortable with the linkages and variables, and the output is ~8.5/10. ROI-wise, that’s a 10x return! More time to build… you know, the actual business! 😉

Christoph – thank you. This is my first time writing to say what a difference you made by sharing that template so freely. Having heard you on podcasts like SaaStr, your wisdom and startup experience shine through brilliantly. I’ve shared this model with 20+ founders personally.

If you are a VC, take a look at Janz’ template. I found it later than I would have liked; but it may save you (and your many investees) valuable time, money, and agony. Let me know if it helped you. More to the point, let Janz know what a valuable contribution he has made to the startup community.



What can the Google walkout teach us?

Let’s talk about the Google walkout.

We know the details. On November 1, 2018, 20,000 workers in Google offices across 50 cities walked out. The move attracted tremendous attention – The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo called it “a watershed moment”. Kara Swisher hosted all six of the organizers, at once, on her podcast, Recode Decode.

The Google walkout

Before we go further, know this: Google has backed Go Moment (the official announcement), where I serve as CEO. Besides the investment, I’m fortunate to have a ringside view of the burgeoning voice assistant market, including Google Assistant. I’m not a Googler or a TVC (Google lingo for Temps, Vendors, Contractors) by any means, and I have no access to their messaging boards or discussion groups. I’m an interested, inspired bystander.  

I’m deeply inspired by the energy that defined the Google walkout. To me, the walkout signalled the Googlers admiration for the company they worked for and their determination to hold the company accountable.

What went right

That said, I’m curious about something: why did the walkout get all the media attention that it did?

  • Was it the number? Over 20,000 people is a significant number – considering that people have taken on companies alone.
  • Was it the number of people protesting at a tech company? Unions enable protests and there are no unions at tech companies (right?). Perhaps the collectivization was surprising.
  • Did the walkout get the timing right? A central issues of the walkout was the $90 million dollar payout to Rubin despite sexual misconduct allegations against him. In the aftermath of the #MeToo movement, a walkout on the issue was bound to garner attention.
  • Or did the walkout hit headlines because it happened at Google?

Maybe all these reasons had a role to play. If you read an article that explained the contributing factors behind the popularity, link me please?

It matters

Why do I care about the attention that the walkout managed to garner?

There is a lesson to be learnt there – about attracting media attention.

Protests within the tech industry are spreading. Amazon has had a long history of workers protesting against the wages and working conditions (reports here and here. The Guardian has just announced a new column Amazon Diaries). They have happening over at Microsoft, Salesforce and elsewhere.  Even non-technology companies like Marriott recently experienced labor problems around in part due to their adoption of tech. And yet, more are likely on the way. Swisher, at the end of her podcast, calls on the walkout organizers to “get over to Facebook and help those people over there immediately”.

I agree completely with Kara – the walkout is an inspiration. Googlers are a role model for the rest of industry.

The exponential rate of change we’re all facing now necessitates some tough conversations. The response by Sundar Pichai (Google CEO) was along expected lines for the tech giant, and will no doubt serve as a precedent for other titans of industry. Empathy and great listening skills are both essential for leaders.

If we are going to see more and more protests – protests that are as inevitable as they are necessary – media attention can help underrepresented stakeholders have a voice. And that, in my book, is a very good thing.

This isn’t a Trojan Horse

I’ll keep it simple: I’m going to write. More often, more consistently, and right here.

I’m not jumping onto the content marketing bandwagon as much as I am stitching together disparate threads and creating a single destination to showcase the end result.

Besides my professional ventures, I have been collecting random, beautiful images for inspiration since June 2010. I have assembled them all at this site – check the archives here. I also have a soundcloud full of unfinished tunes that were a complete joy to create.

Going forward, at RS|LA you will read about the intersections of UX design and futurist technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, VR/AR/MR, and IoT. And occasional references to  Kurzgesagt, waitbutwhy or xkcd.

Hold me to my promise of writing often?