Peak Apple?

Posted: January 25th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

It’s that time of the year…peak Apple Predictions! Consumer Reports didn’t recommend the Macbook for the first time ever. Less iPhone units shipped and revenue shrunk in 2016. The sky is falling! Apple is done!

Or is it? The products, leadership, cash on hand, potential and macro trends make me think the peak of Apple is a ways out (I define “peak Apple” as a peak in market cap).

Leadership

Cook is no Jobs but he’s done a hell of a job. The numbers are impressive. Since Cook took over, revenue is up 99% without sacrificing margins and over $185 billion in cash has been returned to shareholders. With Cook leading the company and Jony leading the products, leadership at Apple continues to be strong.

Peak iPhone?

Apple shipped 211 million iPhones in 2016, a dip from the 231 million iPhones shipped in 2015 but an impressive number. Apple shipped 169 million iPhones in 2014, making it’s jump to 231 million in 2015 a huge 37% increase. 2015’s shipments was helped by the penetration in China and the relatively newness of the larger iPhone screens. Although shipments dipped in 2016 the macro trends are in Apple’s favor.

There are approximately 2.1 billion smartphone users and 7 billion people in the world. The vast majority of people do not own a smartphone. It is estimated that smartphone users will grow to 2.9 billion by 2020. That’s 50% growth in 3 years for the overall market size for Apple to get a piece of.

The majority of new smartphone owners will not be able to afford an iPhone but there is one market where Apple’s chances looks promising – India. iPhone shipments were up 50% in India in 2016 and although the market is accustomed to paying less for a smartphone, as incomes rise so will interest in iPhones.

Unless the buying cycle changes to more than the current 2 year cycle or a competitor starts converting iPhone customers, I expect iPhone growth overtime to continue in line with smartphone user growth (a slower rate than it did in the previous decade).

Current Product Lineup

Apple’s revenue breakdown is 60% iPhone, 10% iPad, 10% Macs, 15% Services and 5% other products (like the Watch). I don’t expect much growth with the iPad but I believe it will be a healthy product line for years to come. The majority of startups use Macbooks and every college kid has one. As the overall PC industry declines Mac sales have stayed resilient. Will Mac sales ever make up the majority of PC shipments? It’s a long way to go, but that’s the bet I’m making.

The Watch and new AirPods are products an anti-peak Apple person can be excited about. At $269 a pop, the Watch isn’t cheap and yet Apple was able to sell $6 billion dollars worth its first year and shipped 25M units in less than two years. Once Watch becomes a standalone device and Apple gets the entry-level price point down to $150, we’ll see a huge boom in sales. For those questioning if Apple still has its je ne sais quoi, the AirPods by all accounts show that Apple can introduce best-in-class products.

Potential New Products

The biggest difference between Apple’s stock price compared to Google’s, Amazon’s or Facebook’s is that little of it is based on potential. Since Apple keeps their product roadmap close to their chest, Wall Street can’t justify lofty valuations based on a product coming any day now.

Apple makes computer widgets. Big computers, handheld computers, wrist-sized computers, etc. Apple designs processors and software. They do this better than any other company in the world and they have over $230 billion dollars in cash. Whether it’s a TV, a Car or a VR device, Apple has the means and know-how to crush any of these markets.

Bottom Line

We’re not at Peak Apple. iPhone shipments in 2017 will grow compared to 2016 due to growth in China and India. iPad and Macbook biz will remain steady. Watch will get cheaper and better. Apple will ship more Watch units for more revenue. Services will continue to grow as they enter the original content game. In the long term, Apple will use their $230 billion dollar war chest for a new product that will grow the business significantly. Tim Cook and Jony Ive will ensure Apple plays the long game and doesn’t optimize for short-term stock growth.

In other words, Apple’s death has been greatly exaggerated.

 


Just Enough Design for B2B SaaS

Posted: December 25th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Design, Product, SaaS | Tags: , , | No Comments »

For decades, design in B2B software has been an afterthought. There are products making billions that were designed with no taste and no thought. Those who have been around the game for a while will tell you “Design in B2B software doesn’t matter!” and based on history, they have a leg to stand on. These design haters will go on to list successful companies that have what many would consider poorly designed software – Peoplesoft, Salesforce, Taleo, the list goes on.

Design in B2B SaaS matters less than Consumer

“Consumer Products” are bought and used by the same person. In the B2B world, this isn’t always the case. Since the Buyer may never use the product they are less likely to feel the pain of poor design than the end user. B2B software is more likely to have upfront costs – setup costs, integration costs, training costs, etc. These upfront costs immediately make the software more sticky, sunk costs be damned, the buyer will have a tough sell to their manager if they bail on a product after incurring the upfront costs.

Design matters more in B2B SaaS than it use to

The world is shifting, as people grow up using consumer-grade (better designed) software, expectations for design become higher. Even the buyers, who may never use the software, are becoming more critical of the appearance and this impacts their buying decision.

Furthermore, the SaaS model typically has lower upfront costs than on-premise B2B software. This lower cost decreases the buyer’s reluctance to switch if the end users complain. The low cost SaaS model makes it easier for a small team to adopt a product in an organization and let it spread from there.

Slack is the best example of this phenomenon. From a feature list standpoint, Slack is not much different than its IRC predecessors. Where Slack differentiates itself is through superior design – both aesthetic and usability. Slack’s free tier allows small teams to try it risk-free, and once they fall in love, it becomes viral within the organization.

Design & SaaS metrics

  • Close Rate & ASP. Looks matter. If your product looks “professional”, buyers are more likely to believe it’s a more expensive product and pay more.
  • Churn & NPS. Usability matters. It may look pretty but if it is difficult to use, the end users will complain and this increases the chance of churn
  • CRC (Customer Retention Cost). Intuitive software cuts down on training and long term support. Ideally, a user should learn the product without personal hand holding

When making a case for a design overhaul or adding more effort to your design process, these are the metrics that can be valuable when establishing your goals and measurable results.

Design & Market Factors

  • Buyer = End user. Design, particularly usability, will be more important to reduce churn.
  • Self-Serve SaaS products. Making your product intuitive becomes more important if you will not have a salesperson explaining its value or a Customer Success Manager training the end users.
  • Competition. The more competitors in your space the more likely design will become the differentiating factor. When I worked at Jibe, design became our core competency. Jibe provides a consumer-grade experience for applying to a job on a company’s career website. The incumbents – Taleo, Kenexa and SuccessFactors, are weak at this and Jibe is taking that opportunity and running with it.
  • Age of end-users – Older users, although generally less savvy, are more tolerant of poor design. They’re use to it. A younger user base is more likely to demand a well designed product.

For the past six years I’ve worked at venture-backed SaaS companies. In my experience, we don’t have time or money to design products in the thorough, methodic fashion many product people would like to. It’s tempting to read the latest design book and want to implement all of the suggestions but it’s not practical at an early-stage SaaS company. Does design matter in SaaS? Absolutely. Know your market, track you design efforts with measurable results and invest your time and money wisely.


Measurable Results for SaaS Products

Posted: November 15th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Product, SaaS | No Comments »

what-is-a-product-manager

Whether you’re doing OKRs, GSCs, KPIs or some other 3 letter process, a generally accepted good practice when building a product and company is to tie measurable results to goals. Try to keep these goals “SMART” – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-specific.

My manager, Derek Haller, spoke about the importance of using measurable results when Driving Business Outcomes during our last ProductTank Meetup. Derek and I work at a SaaS company, Social Tables, and we identified the main types of Measurable Results that are relevant to those managing a SaaS product.

Types of Measurable Results for SaaS products

  • Behavior (click paths, engagement)
  • Business (active users, conversion rate)
  • Financial (ASP, billings, time to close)
  • Performance (load time, uptime, crashes)
  • Operational Costs (storage, hosting)
  • Go To Market Costs (acquisition, programs)
  • Sentiment (NPS, surveys)
  • Environment (PR mentions, comments)

Goals may have a variety of types of measurable results. Depending on the stage of your company, some of these types, such as Operational Costs and Sentiment, may take a back seat to Business and Financial results.

SsaaS

SsaaS, Stock Software as a Service, is a company I just made it up :). We make software for Stock Advisors to analyze a stock. Below are the Objectives and Key Results for SsaaS –

Objective

Successfully Launch MVP Stock Analysis Tool with a Free Two-week Trial Period

Key Results

  • Establish ASP of $5,000 / year (Financial)
  • Receive press coverage in 5 publications, including TechCrunch (Environment)
  • Net Promoter Score > 50. (Sentiment)
  • Engagement: 75% of users analyze > 5 stocks. (Behavior)

Time Frame – Q1

Objective

Sunset Two-week Trial Period and Launch Freemium Product

Key Results

  • Deliver 1000 new Product Qualified Leads (Go To Market Costs
  • Reach 500,000 Daily Active Users (Business) 
  • Improve user sign up by 10% (Behavior)

Time Frame – April

Objective

Launch Product Rewrite and Sunset old Product

Key Results

  • Cut down hosting costs by 30% (Operational Costs)
  • Achieve 99.7% uptime (Performance)
  • Decrease support inquiries by 10% (Operational Costs)

Time Frame – Q2

Timeboxed Results

It’s nice to set key results and work backwards to figure out when you can achieve those results but some organizations prefer to set OKRs on a timed basis (usually quarterly). Some goals take longer to hit the more traditional key results (i.e. engagement and revenue). For example, if you are embarking on a six month product rewrite that will not have active users in the first quarter you must come up with other ways to validate your product/decisions along the way. You may accomplish this through internal validation and surveys.

Objective

Validate New Stock Comparison Product

Key Results

  • 75% of current customers confirm the features on the road map would meet their needs (Sentiment)
  • 5 prospects have signed letters of intent to purchase (Financial)
  • 90% of the Sales team believes the product is sellable (Sentiment)

Time Frame – Q3

Always Be Learning

Finally, when setting measurable results, it’s effective to have goals and results that are focused on learning. Create a hypotheses to help validate your vision and develop experiments around that hypothesis.

Objective

Determine if Stock Advisors want to display a portfolio publicly

Key Results

  • 75% of Stock Advisors surveyed confirm they would like to have their portfolios displayed (Sentiment)
  • 50% of Stock Advisors provided with embeddable portfolios use them on their corporate website (Behavior)

Time Frame – December


Sharing with Collaboration Products

Posted: September 21st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
Sharing is caring

Sharing is caring

Sharing is caring. As a Product Manager of a collaboration app you must consider friction, security, virality and the overall user experience. I’ve analyzed the top dogs when it comes to collaboration apps these days – Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, Asana and Trello to see how each handles the following workflows.

Workflows

Sharing with Existing Users

  • Send Email to existing user email
  • If logged in, the user goes directly into the item (document, event, etc)
  • If not logged in, prompt the user to log in
  • If clicked on the link while logged into a different account, inform the user that account doesn’t have access and allow them to sign in from the account with access

Access Denied

Sharing with Existing Users is for the most part standard among all collaboration apps. One difference in the approaches analyzed is the notion of “Accepting” the invitation. The majority of the collaboration apps automatically give access to the user and the user will see the new item when they log in while others required the user to accept the item before they could access it.

Sharing with Non Users

  • Share with an email address that is not associated with this account
    • Prompt the user that this user does not have an account. Warn the user of any security concerns this may arise Google Share New Account Warning
      • Send Email to new user     Asana New User Email
  • If the user has another account and is signed into that account, you have a couple of options
    1. Allow the user to merge accounts Trello Account Merge
    2. Inform the user the account doesn’t have access and allow them to sign in from another account Access Denied
    3. Prompt the user to log in to the account it was shared with or accept the item to the account being used. Dropbox Accept
  • If the user would like to sign up, put them through registration 
    1. Quick Registration (Just email and password, no confirmation or profile gathering) Easy Registration
    2. Full Registration asana-profile
  • After Registration there are two main options
    1. Put the user directly into the item
    2. Put the user through a tutorial

Sharing with non-users has more trades offs to consider and therefore more variation among those analyzed.

Trello uses usernames instead of email addresses as their log in. This allows them to associate multiple email addresses to one account which allows them to give the user the option to add an email to an existing account. This approach maintains security and a good user experience.

Accepting the invitation to a different account than was shared was only observed with Dropbox. Dropbox allows you to do this when the item is shared with an email address that doesn’t have an account but forces you to log in to the account it was shared with if the email does have an account. This is an example of balancing security and user experience.

How much friction you put a user through when accessing a shared item is a tough decision with tradeoffs. The user may be in a situation where they need to access the shared item quickly and experiencing friction during sign up may leave a bad taste in their mouth. On the other hand, there are compelling reasons to add some friction to the process. Collecting contact information can allow a sales team to follow up with the new user. Putting the user through a tutorial may allow the user to understand the application better and have an overall better experience. Prompting a user to invite others into the app may allow that user to get more value from the app while also serving as a viral hook.

Conclusion

There are lot of options with sharing and no straightforward formula to figure out what option is best. Is security most important? Is allowing users to quickly access the item more important? Is capturing lead information critical? These are questions you can ask yourself when deciding on your options. As always, tracking your user behavior and A/B testing is your friend. Monitor your users and conduct tests to answer the following questions – Are users bailing during sign up? Are users using the app once to access the item shared but never come back? Is marketing/sales having trouble reaching out to the new user to convert them into a paying customer?

Happy Sharing!


Why I Invest in Facebook

Posted: July 19th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

I’ve posted a lot on this blog about Facebook and when it comes to their business, I’m fanboy. Other than Apple, Facebook is the second highest (tied with Google) on my investing rubric.

Investment Rubric

Stock My Love Leadership PE Cash Potential Macro view Total
FB 8 10 4 8 8 9 31.3
AAPL 10 9 10 10 7 8 36.1
AMZN 7 9 1 3 8 10 26.4
TWTR 7 9 1 5 9 9 27.2
GOOG 8 8 8 8 7 8 31.3
BRK.B 5 10 8 8 5 7 28
CMG 10 8 5 3 7 7 29.2
UA 8 9 4 2 7 7 27
SIRI 7 6 6 2 5 5 22.6
TEAM 8 9 1 8 8 9 28.4

Cash

Annual Cash

Facebook has nearly $5 billion in cash along with $21 billion of overall assets, a growing position year over year. Facebook has enough cash in the bank to weather a bad year or two and enough cash, along with an attractive stock to own, to make acquisitions such as Instagram and WhatsApp.

PE

As of this writing, Facebook’s PE is 74.33. I give FB a low score of 4 for this high PE. That being said, considering FB’s growth last year (23% earnings growth, 43% revenue growth) they’re growing into that valuation reasonably quickly (although the price has appreciated nearly a quickly as the growth).

Potential

Facebook’s user base and the information about their users puts it into a fascinatingly strong position. There are many categories Facebook could dominate if they chose to, such as events.

The upside within the Big Blue App is enormous but the potential with their other products is an attractive icing to the cake. Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus are growing and still a ways away from achieving their true potential. We may think of Facebook not as a Social Network, but as a Virtual Reality company someday.

Macro View

More internet users are coming on board every day. 46% of the current population is on the internet, plenty of room to grow. Internet users grow 7.5% yearly.

Online advertising, where Facebook makes its money, continues to grow as well. Online advertising accounted for 28% of all advertising and is growing 13% per year.

Leadership

Mark Zuckerberg has the ability to see a clear vision of the future and execute to get there. It appears Mark still owns voting control. Mark has shown the ability over and over again to delay gratification and think in the long term. As a buy and hold investor, this gives me great confidence that our interests are aligned.

My Love

I use Facebook every day. It’s typically the first app I open when I wake up in the morning. I use WhatsApp to communicate with my cousins around the world and I use Instagram nearly daily. I’m a fan of their products.

My Concerns

Time spent on Facebook per day (~40 minutes / day) is high. Will people fatigue? Will Snapchat, Twitter and yet-to-be-named startups chip away at this time spent? Will another Social Network overtake Facebook someday?

They’re betting a lot of money on messaging – Messenger and WhatsApp. Can they win this war? Can they monetize communication like AT&T and others have in the past?

When I’ll Sell

I’d sell if Zuckerberg left but I thought I’d sell Apple when Steve Jobs died but I haven’t. Zuckerberg leaving would make me think long and hard about their prospects.

I’d sell if they started to stretch themselves too thin. Although I invest in companies who do a lot (Google, Apple, Amazon) I love Facebook’s relatively focused product line.


My Investing Rubric

Posted: May 19th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Dilbert-Future-Returns

WARNING – Shitty investment advice ahead. Proceed at your own risk!

It’s 2016 and all of the practical advice on investing is to sit back and invest in index funds, ETFs like $SPY. Maybe you’re even more savvy/lazy and use a service like Betterment. Yet here I am, still unable to resist the allure of picking a stock.

Maybe it’s the ego, maybe it’s the rush you get when a stock you pick doubles, maybe it’s more extrinsic — the exercise of evaluating these companies will (hopefully) make me a better Product Manager and a better entrepreneur someday. Either way, it’s a hobby of mine and it’s something I enjoy whether I make money or not (but def trying to make that $$$$). Don’t do what I do, stick to the ETFs. But…here is how I go about evaluating a stock.

As Product Managers tend to do I’ve developed a rubric. The criteria of the rubric are heavily influenced by the greats – Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, Ben Graham and Peter Lynch.

Criteria

I invest on 10 year time frames. I’m not concerned about how well the stock will do tomorrow, or next year, but where will it be 10 years from now. Keeping that in mind, I break down each stock from six different perspectives.

How much Cash does the company have in the bank? If they hit a rough patch do they have the cash to get through it? Do they have cash for R&D, for acquisitions?

What’s the Macro View of the company? What trends in the world will affect this company both positively and negatively?

What’s the company’s Potential? They’re making money doing X but what other opportunities do they have to make money in other ways?

What’s the current Price/Earnings ratio? Is the stock, based on its price, already expected to grow like a weed? Is the price cheap compared to earnings and therefore the growth expectations modest?

How’s Leadership? Particularly the CEO. Have they shown the ability to delay gratification? Are they committed to building a long lasting company? Visionary?

My Love. The most important criteria of them all with my investing. How much do I love the product? And not just any product by the company, but the product that is making the lion share of their revenue and profit. This is where I hope to leverage any information asymmetry I may have. Picking individual stocks that will beat the S&P 500 is tough and a big reason for that is because Wall Street is very good at understanding many of the other criteria I listed above. My taste has to be the differentiator.

The Equation

My Love + (Leadership .8) +( PE.7) + (Cash .3) + (Potential *.7) + (Macro View .5)

My love for the product is the most important to me and therefore I give it the most weight within the rubric.

The Individual Stocks I Own and Their Rubric Score

Stock My Love Leadership PE Cash Potential Macro view Total
FB 8 10 4 8 8 9 31.3
AAPL 10 9 10 10 7 8 36.1
AMZN 7 9 1 3 8 10 26.4
TWTR 7 9 1 5 9 9 27.2
GOOG 8 8 8 8 7 8 31.3
BRK.B 5 10 8 8 5 7 28
CMG 10 8 5 3 7 7 29.2
UA 8 9 4 2 7 7 27
SIRI 7 6 6 2 5 5 22.6
TEAM 8 9 1 8 8 9 28.4

Each criteria is on a 1-10 scale. A perfect score, after the weights, would be a 40. A score of 25 and above is what I consider to invest in.

With $SIRI, the outlier, I only invested $500 and I did it because it was unbelievably cheap at the time and I’m a big Howard Stern fan. It’s my biggest percentage gain investment to date but I consider it to be a lucky investment.

In the next couple of weeks I’m going write a breakdown of how I came to the numbers in the rubric for $FB, $AAPL, $TWTR and $TEAM.


Young Users

Posted: March 31st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: facebook, Product, snapchat, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | No Comments »

giphy (2)

Old habits die hard. As you get older your mental models of the world become more rigid. You know what you know but ya start becoming closed off to trying new things.

People making products, especially products with a shitload of users, run into this all the time. As processors and cellular networks improve, new features are possible but people are stubborn, they like the way they do X and they’re not trying to change it.

Facebook, with over a billion users, has a tough task on hand. They don’t cater to the lowest common denominator but they don’t cater to their advanced, or power users either. This means Facebook doesn’t release the most advanced product they can, Facebook makes concessions so they can release a product that will be widely used.

Snapchat, on the other hand, is doing an excellent job of capitalizing on bandwidth and smartphone improvements. “Stories” – a mixture of photos and videos that users create using the editing tools Snapchat provide are a perfect example of this. When Facebook came out, sharing videos was a pain in the ass, it was slow and cameras weren’t readily available. People form a mental model around what Facebook is as they use it and when things change it becomes difficult for companies to break out of the box their user base sees them in.

Facebook has done a great job pushing against that tide and have made huge inroads with videos, some say they’re even surpassing youtube, but taking a video of yourself and uploading it to Facebook is not the ubiquitous behavior you see in Snapchat.

Snapchat has a much younger and more open minded user base and this allows them to be more aggressive with their product. When Snapchat Chat 2.0 was released on 3/29 I was curious if they were going to push the envelope in the chat game. Sure enough, they delivered.

The chat game is crowded, as I pontified on before. It’s hard to make inroads but one of the ways to get started is to piggyback on your social network’s user base. Unlike Facebook and Instagram that have public ways of giving props, Snapchat lacks this which encourages users to send a chat if they like a Story or have something to say. It’s funny because, like the name implies, Snapchat started off as an ephemeral chatting app, evolved into a Social Network and is now getting back to its roots and beefing up its chatting abilities.

It’s one thing to release cool features it’s another to have them be used. At 33, most of my friends will be reluctant to embracing the new features. The majority in my age group insist on using feature-poor iMessage or SMS. Luckily I’m on the older side of Snapchat’s user base. Snapchat Chat 2.0 will be immediately embraced by their users. For whatever reason I find the stickers lame (too old?) but I look forward to seeing my (younger) friends live stream, create small gif-like videos, annotate em with Snapchat’s editing tools, audio notes and more.

 


First 90 Days at Social Tables

Posted: February 16th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: SaaS, social tables | 1 Comment »

ST_Headshots-230 (1)

Gut check time. It’s been three months since I left my job as Director of Engineering at Jibe and started working as a Senior Product Manager at Social Tables — did I make the right move? Do I enjoy Product Management? Do I enjoy Social Tables? Do I enjoy the people I work with?

Yup, Yup, Yup and Yup.

For me, Product Management is the shit. I’m enjoying getting in the head of our users — performing customer interviews, making surveys, observing their behavior through tools like Heap and FullStory. I’ve (kinda oddly) really enjoyed making product-tradeoff decisions. As an engineer, I many times felt the features we were working on were half-baked and I questioned the prioritization. I’m now the PM being questioned by bright engineers and it’s been a fun exercise to be able to diligently score each feature, prioritize them in as an objective-way as possible and convey my reasoning to my team to ensure buy in. I think I’m doing pretty good here but I hope to get much better.

I’m not sure what I’m enjoying more, the new role or the new company. Social Tables embraces transparency – weekly updates from Marketing, Sales, Product, Customer Success and Engineering, rich updates filled with no-bullshit metrics. We do a monthly “Global Takeover Meeting” where the founder and CEO, Dan Berger, covers a wide range of topics, including numbers that reflect the positives and negatives (room for improvement?) of the company during the previous month. After each board meeting, the memo to the board is available for all “Tablers” to read. I love that we’re trusted with not-so-encouraging information at times and treated as adults. The transparency has made me trust the Exec team (called “Staff” at Social Tables) more than I have at any other company.

My plan is that Social Tables will be my last job. Not because I want to be like my parents and work at a company for 25+ years, but because I hope I will have the courage to start my own company after this Tour of Duty. Social Tables is training an army of entrepreneurs. All of this transparency has allowed me to see behind the curtain, to understand much more intimately what it takes to run a software company. Dan not only gives us access to numbers that most CEOs keep behind lock and key but he also does a great job training us on the SaaS business and walking us through his decision making and thinking. This, along with the Social Table’s adoption of the Deliberately Developed Organization philosophy, make me feel like I have a job where I’m getting paid to learn, which is a hell of a bargain.

All of that is fine and dandy but if you don’t like who you’re working with it’s hard to get job satisfaction. I’m digging the peeps I work with at Social Tables. You can read about the makeup of the company here (more transparency FTW). The company’s average age is 28, making my 33yo ass the old guy :). The youth brings a certain level of eagerness and passion that I relate to. It’s tough to generalize 100+ people but I can say that I’ve been impressed with how welcoming/friendly everyone has been (I think Dan does a good job setting this tone and hiring with culture at the forefront of his mind) and I’ve been most impressed with how much people want to do well at their job. In the past, I’ve been discouraged by co-workers focused on appearance of doing well and not always having a passion to succeed. It’s been a joy to work with people that can meet, and many times exceed my intensity.

I’m happy and grateful to be a Tabler.

 


Yentas, the Messaging Gold Rush

Posted: January 19th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: facebook, messaging, Product | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

yenta2

We’re all a bunch of yentas and inventors from Samuel Morse to Alexander Graham Bell to Brian Acton (WhatsApp) have made a ton of money making it easier for us to chit chat. Communication is a time-tested gold mine that’s changing with the rise of new paradigms (like smartphones). With so much at stake, we’re experiencing an intense battle between all sorts of players vying to solve our messaging needs.

To name a small sampling ya got iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, GroupMe, Line, Viber, Kik, Tango, Skype, Slack, Google Hangouts (Gchat), Tencent QQ, Snapchat etc etc etc. They all have different twists to them but the general use case is the same: help people directly communicate.

These players differentiate in a few key ways:

Communication styles is the first way these messenger services start to differentiate. People like to communicate differently depending on where they’re at and what they want to say. You have short text (SMS-style), longer texts, pictures, videos, gifs, voice, ephemeral messaging, and who knows what will be next…VR videos?

Cross-platform is a big differentiator in the messaging wars. Many of the newcomers are smartphone only (iOS and Android generally). Skype crosses a number of platforms (Windows, OS X, Windows Phone, iOS, Android, Blackberry OS). This cross-platform support ensures the vast majority of computer and smartphone customers can use a messaging service conveniently on the device they have on them.

Interoperability is the next decision all of these messaging services wrestle with. The majority of the popular ones are single-protocol –i.e. ya gotta be on Google Hangouts to talk to others on Google Hangouts. When you go multiprotocol, you allow your users to talk to people outside of your messaging service.

Deciding how to approach each of these areas of differentiation can be a challenge, and implementing too much can slow down your ability to do anything cool. Supporting multiple communication styles adds complexity to both the code base and the UI. More communication styles limits what platforms you’ll be able to support with parity. A cross-platform strategy adds complexity to the development process — instead of building a feature once you build it per platform. Supporting multiple platforms can affect your ability to support these features and can result in a “lowest common denominator” type effect if you want a consistent user experience. Same thing with interoperability, you ultimately hinder your ability to support numerous protocols well (e.g. if you want to use SMS, you’re limited to 160 characters).

In the messaging game, getting better distribution (cross-platform, interoperability) makes it harder to do cool stuff. If you want that premium, cutting edge experience, you go for the 80/20 rule when it comes to cross-platform and not worry about interoperability.

Facebook-logo-png-2

Of all these players, I’m digging Facebook’s approach. They have two massive horses in the race with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, which allows them to try out different strategies that will capture different segments of the market. WhatsApp is all-in on the cross-platform strategy and removing the $1/year fee removes the remaining friction there to get on WhatsApp. Sure, the experience won’t be great and definitely won’t be consistent for all users, but WhatsApp will continue to capture the low-end market where people want a cheap way to chat.

Facebook Messenger is going for the premium experience and taking the platform route. It’s single-protocol, it’s got a web presence and is on the major mobile platforms, but it’s focusing on the cool things. More importantly, Facebook is empowering other devs to do cool things within Messenger.

In the messaging space, being the best of breed might not mean squat. The network effect is too important, you go where your friends are. I love Facebook Messenger but I gotta admit, I’m a iMessage, Google Hangouts, email, SMS (non-iOS users) Facebook Messenger, Skype, WhatsApp kind of guy, in that order. I may like Facebook’s strategy the best but I go where my friends are.


The B2B Gold Standard

Posted: December 19th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Investing, Product, SaaS | No Comments »

Atlassian Logo

I can’t believe it, I’m excited for an IPO for a B2B company. Maybe the past 10 years working at B2B companies has poisoned my brain but I’m hoping it’s because Atlassian is something special. Companies like SalesForce and Workday have killed it on Wall Street but I never had any interest in throwing money at them. I like to invest in companies in which I’m intimately familiar with their product, companies that are profitable and are led by founders who care. I haven’t found a B2B business that fit those requirements but Atlassian is a different beast.

The money most SaaS companies put towards marketing & sales boggle my mind. The majority of SaaS companies spend 2x on marketing & sales compared to product & engineering. For every buck put into making the product better, these companies are spending two bucks to get the word out and convince customers to fork over the dough.

Bucking the norm for SaaS, Atlassian has been profitable since year one (Note: Atlassian isn’t a true SaaS company since they allow customers to host their software). Thirteen years in, Atlassian continues to make more than they spend. The margins aren’t anything to brag about but at least they exist and Atlassian still has the killer revenue growth people expect from SaaS companies.

I’d imagine part of the reason Atlassian has been able to turn a profit is its small marketing & sales spend. Atlassian spent 21% of its revenue on marketing & sales in the first half of 2015, 16% in 2014 and a mere 12.5% in 2013. In comparison, Box spent 200% of their revenue on marketing & sales in 2013, Salesforce spent 56% and the industry standard is around 50%.

Atlassian’s marketing & sales budget has been growing but I’m hoping they keep the course of letting the product speak for itself. My ideal B2B company does the following — build a badass product that customers enjoy, those customers spend more money with you and they tell others about how great your product is, which does the sales for itself. When you get into that cycle the money goes into making your product better which accelerates it and scales better than a heavy marketing & sales approach. After a decade of using Atlassian products like JIRA, I’m of the opinion they make best of breed products and can pull this strategy off.

I dig not only Atlassian’s product-focused philosophy but all of the other things I look for when I buy a stock. I like that their founders have shown an ability to delay gratification. Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes could have sold out long ago but held out, these guys are in it for the long haul. They’ve been patient in building Atlassian slowly and thoughtfully. They only took funding after they had impressive traction, which gave them the leverage they needed to get a favorable deal. The values the founders run the company on jibe with me —

  1. Open company, no bullshit.
  2. Build everything with heart and balance.
  3. Don’t f*** the customer.
  4. Play as a team.
  5. Be the change you seek.

I’m going into this stock knowing the Price to Earnings ratio is ridiculous, and that is fine. The bottom line is I think this company will be around in 10 years and will be making a lot more money than they are now. I have faith that Atlassian will continue to seek profit and their low marketing & sales spend will allow them to do so with ease. The founders will keep the culture strong and ensure a long-term outlook is maintained. The product line will continue to get better, the current Atlassian customers will continue to spend more money, the Atlassian products will continue to make their way into the browsers of employees at companies all over the world and the money will add up nicely.