This is meant to be a reminder of important issues/decisions that already have some thought put in them (usually by others). - Automatic categorization of text is a core tool now - Instead of offering advice, rank priorities - Build a website first (before an app), some forgotten article but the point is: faster, and desktop users expect applications to work (and to pay for them). Plus if done correctly, this can work on all platforms (and then build the app for the appstore). Stick with what we know in the marketing channels we know. Expand products, and channels for those products.
Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs have similar insights when it comes to hiring the best. This is equally relevant when one is building a school. Hire the best teachers possible, if you want a high-performing school.
Three Questions When Making a Hiring Decision
From the 1998 Amazon Shareholder Letter: It would be impossible to produce results in an environment as dynamic as the Internet without extraordinary people. Working to create a little bit of history isn't supposed to be easy, and, well, we're finding that things are as they're supposed to be! We now have a team of 2,100 smart, hard-working, passionate folks who put customers first. Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com's success. During our hiring meetings, we ask people to consider three questions before making a decision: - Will you admire this person? If you think about the people you've admired in your life, they are probably people you've been able to learn from or take an example from. For myself, I've always tried hard to work only with people I admire, and I encourage folks here to be just as demanding. Life is definitely too short to do otherwise. - Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they're entering? We want to fight entropy. The bar has to continuously go up. I ask people to visualize the company 5 years from now. At that point, each of us should look around and say, The standards are so high now -- boy, I'm glad I got in when I did! - Along what dimension might this person be a superstar? Many people have unique skills, interests, and perspectives that enrich the work environment for all of us. It's often something that’s not even related to their jobs.
Steve Jobs on Hiring Truly Gifted People
> In Software, and it used to be the case in Hardware, the difference between the average and the best is 50 to 1, maybe 100 to one.... > > I've built a lot of my success off finding these truly gifted people, and not settling for B and C players, but really going for the A players. And I found that when you get these A players together, when you go through this incredible work to find these A players, they really like working with each other becuase they've never had a chance to do that before. And they don't want to work with B and C players, and so it becomes self-policing, and they only want to hire more A players. And so you build up these pockets of A players and it propagates.
Amazon is different than other companies. From the outside, this difference can appear as anomolies, odd things that stand out. I belive that there is a fundamental way of understanding the current state and dynamo of change within Amazon.
Amazon is meant to be the most customer-centric company on Earth. Likely when we get to Mars, Amazon will need to change that to the Solar System. However, it is not customer-centric in all ways. User interfaces and documentation are a huge challenge that many competitors excel. Even on the issue of price, there are various options that are generally cheaper, or as cheap, such as ebay. This is where things like free shipping and very fast delivery come into play. Bundling digital and physical goods (to sell more physical goods) is a good tactic, as digital goods have low incremental cost of sales. If this locks in a customer who will pay in excess of the margin on digital goods, that is an increase in profit, a happier customer, and an increase in trust and mindshare. But in some cases prices are still poor in relation to the competition. In these cases, it seems clear that (unless we are talking about overlooked anomolies) there are other factors at work.
Most organizations have fewer resources than they could use (though that is not correct unless there are appropriate mechanisms for management and leadership). Customer centrism can always be a focus, but of course it will be constrained in terms of resources available. In order to understand customer centrism, there should be two aspects: improvement (which might be called innovation) and listening/understanding (which might be called communication, more generally). Since communication actually informs improvement/innovation, that part is primary (and we see that in the generally lightning-fast reaction times to customer requests. However, this can be somewhat annoying as small things require a request to customer service, rather than being fixed in the interface. However, again, this is brilliant management as those issues which generate the most support calls, or have a greater impact on sales and customer satisfaction, will get the priority for engineering resources. Given enough computing power and good data, prioritization of product development and maintenance could potentially be done by the Amazon computer brain.
This idea of markets as driving optimal resource allocation is rife throughout the company, and the ability to participate in these markets externally (essentially the core of ecommerce) is invigorating. Some examples:
Amazon Vendor Programs
Amazon has multiple vendor programs, from the original affiliate program and the amazon advantage (for media companies) to the Amazon Seller Central program, there are many ways to interact in the Amazon marketplace. Shipping/delivery is an area that has become increasingly varied with options for vendor fulfillment, fulfillment by Amazon, and in some cases Amazon Prime fulfillment by the vendor.
Amazon Web Services
AWS has itself also evolved over the years, and the fundamental resource of computing, storage, and networking has become sliced and diced into a variety of offerings. EC2 is the basic VPS options with some levels of resiliency. Next came the Elastic Beanstalk, which takes care of much of the provisioning in dealing with scaling stateless services. Third is Lambda which is serverless computing (it simply executes the code without any server management/configuration).
Amazon Hardware - Kindle, Fire
Amazon hardware has also gone through many iterations and includes variety in the offerings. This is akin to a normal product line, and line extensions, though sometimes the level of innovative is category-defining. The Kindle ebook reader, while certainly not the first, has become dominant for good reason. The Fire TV and Fire TV Stick has largely beaten out the Chromecast. And most recently Alexa on the Echo and Echo View.
Software + Hardware + Logistics
The fundamental skills underlying Amazon are several, but building and maintaining software, designing and managing hardware (different kinds, from a handheld device to server farms), and logistics, especially distribution/shipping/delivery. Expect innovation around each of these fairly complex, and difficult alignment of the two sets of three pillars of expertise and practical, valuable knowledge.
When dealing with cloud-based office productivity applications (documents and spreadsheets), the main contenders are obvious:
- Apple iWork
Docs, Apps, Drive, GSuite
- Microsoft Office365
While Apple's offering is relatively unknown (little noted, therefore little discussed), the real sleeper is Amazon's WorkDocs and WorkMail
The Kit and the Kaboodle
Here I will deal only with Google and Amazon, rather than all major Cloud providers. I have not considered Apple's (iCloud is an ongoing disappointment) or Microsoft's (sorry, not going back, too many scars). The main issue that I experience with the Google and Amazon offerings is integration among kinds of files to back up, especially images, music, and standard office documents. The main disconnect (for Apple vs. Google) is the Music component. Both are now offering pretty much unlimited images, and a hefty amount of storage. For a small fee ($1.99 USD/month) Google provides 100gb of cloud storage space, plus unlimited images (compressed in some way, not native image size). While the location of Google Photos inside of Google Drive basically works, the edits on one side (filenames, for example) do not replicate to the other side.
Google Mail, Docs, Drive, Photos, Music
For Google, the integration of Mail (and Calendar) with Docs (cloud editors), Drive (all files), Photos (with sync to/from desktop and mobile), all work out well. The Music part is a separate app and sync, but as a basic backup and Web/App based access from other devices, it works great, and offers 50,000 songs of upload storage for free. That's a great backup plus access via any device through a browser or Google Play Music app. I've been using free tiers of Google Apps/Drive for years and years, now grandfathered in. I don't mind paying some small amount per month, I don't need to pay nothing. Currently I pay the $1.99/month for the Google Drive 100gb storage, nothing for Apps, Photos, or Music.
Amazon WorkMail, WorkDocs, Drive, Photos, Music
Amazon has a bunch of similar features with their Amazon Drive and other accompanying products. Drive is unlimited Photos plus 5gb of files for Amazon Prime subscribers, and unlimited files of all types for $59.99/year. They also have a virtual desktop service Amazon Workspaces. For Amazon Music, there are two streaming options (Prime and Unlimited -- which starts at $3.99/mo). But the upload option is the one I am most interested in, and it is 250 songs for free (not including any bought from Amazon, which do not count against the limit), and $24.99/year for 250,000 songs. For pricing, Amazon WorkDocs and WorkMail can be bought together in tiers that support both, for $6 USD/month. Prices are currently $4/month for WorkMail and an additional $2/month for WorkDocs.
Yandex Mail, Yandex Disk
Another interesting competitor not mentioned earlier is Yandex Disk. The latest 2.0 version does not require files to be on a local drive. This solves a problem with most cloud storage, where a thin client can access through a browser, but anything similar to a native client experience synchronizes all files locally. One computer could initially upload a file system, and then later not need those files to remain local, as well as thin clients such as an intel compute stick with limited storage could have a full experience of file interaction. Yandex offers 10gb of space for free, with additional storage purchased monthly at $1 USD/mo/10gb, $2 USD/mo/100gb, and $10 USD/mo/1tb. Yearly purchase offers a 17% discount and any number of each of the tiers can be purchased (example, 1.2tb would be $14 USD/mo or $140 USD/yr. Yandex also has web-based editors for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Their sharing model is better than Amazon, as Amazon only allows for comment access, but with Yandex Disk, shared access can be granted.
Mix and Match for 2017
Besides having had generally good experiences regarding Google Drive, Google Apps, Google Mail, and Calendar, these are something I want to migrate off of Google. I simply don't trust them, and there is a lack of encryption involved. With Amazon, WorkMail (and WorkDocs) is available in the US and Ireland currently, so EU laws apply to the Irish servers. As well, the Amazon Simple Email Service (SES) makes it easy to manage transactional email and business use cases. The free Google Play Music is still quite compelling, and I will likely stay on that, as I have close to 100gb (12,000+ songs) in music. Yandex is a great solution for a personal user, there are useful security aspects to it. And while not as configurable at an enterprise-level, it is still a worthy offering. The sync and backup of Yandex Disk appears to be more robust and functional than that of Google Drive. Redundancy for email is difficult to achieve based on the nature of a single email address being mapped to a single mailbox. This still needs to be worked out. However for file backup, filesharing, and editing, using both Amazon and Yandex is a viable solution that is fairly inexpensive (<$10/mo). Note: there is also Proton Mail, which is an even more secure (than Yandex) email-only service.
2019 Update - I simply no longer use remailers. Everything gets shipped directly to Chiang Mai, Thailand whether that be from Ebay, Amazon, or more often, Lazada (the Amazon of Southeast Asia). I pay the extra shipping charges (at least on Amazon, as in many cases the shipping costs are the same on Ebay and nearly nonexistent on Lazada). I use Wyoming Agents for inbound physical mail which is very infrequent, at a cost of $50 USD/year. When I need something forwarded (e.g., a new credit card) then that costs me an additional $25 USD or so. Yes, expensive, but infrequent.
Earth Class Mail Sucks
I was a customer for about 4 years of Earth Class Mail, starting in 2008. Besides very poor service, they nearly tripled their charges over that time (and this was a few years ago, I imagine it is worse now). Even simple requests to improve the service are met with thankful tidings and then silence, for years-on-end. It's really quite maddening. In any case, I've abandoned them, and it turns out all for the best. There are a myriad of other service providers who offer the same or similar services. Here are a few I have looked into that appear to have good offerings. There are many more out there.
Remailing and Virtual Address Services
2016 Update - Over the past few years there has been some segmentation of this growing market for mailing addresses and remailing services. Traditionally the service was for travellers, those without a fixed address at least part of the year (RV and boating enthusiasts). Then virtual locations became popular both with expats and foreigners who had the same need for themselves or their business. Finally, a large segment emerged for people wishing to buy online (in the US, mainly but also elsewhere) and to reduce the cost of, or in some cases make possible, shipment to their actual address. Many countries are not supported on platforms like Amazon and Ebay, and these remailers (and virtual shopping services) became popular. Finally we are seeing an integration of company formation, virtual address, and remailing services.
Caution on Remailers
The main remailing services focused on virtual shopping have large marketing budgets and horrible reputations. These should be avoided. Some people have satisfactory experiences, but too many do not. The biggest cost comes when there are handling fees (this is true for all companies in this business), and worse if they require the use of specific carriers, especially courier services for shipping abroad. This is a scam, because the wholesale price to them is a lot less than what they charge, whereas if they were to use cheaper mailing services, especially USPS Priority shipping out of the USA, they would earn less money. Costs can balloon significantly because of added import duties, taxes, insurance and fees.
Virtual Shopping-focused Remailers
There are others out there but those listed here: Viabox, Shipito, and MyUS are a good indication of the shady side of remailing. Folks are looking to save money, as well as have access to various ecommerce sites that don't normally ship to where they live (Amazon, Ebay, etc.), but in the end costs can balloon, especially for these virtual shopping-focused remailers.
The Notorious Viabox
Notorious in not a good way. Indeed, they had to change their name due to a variety of lawsuits and judgements against them. A perusal of the Pissed (-Off) Consumer page on Viabox should give sufficient pause. The biggest problem with them is fraud. Fraud because they say they support USPS as a shipping agent, and then when you try and get that, they say they can't (after several weeks of emails back and forth). I ended up getting charged $128 USD for shipping and handling, for something that should have cost $50-70 USD at most. But that isn't the end of the matter. By forcing the use of DHL, I was hit with another $80 USD in tariffs, taxes and fees. Part of this was because they didn't write down the correct contents (used vs. new items) and also because of the use of DHL, which prepaid the incorrect tariffs and then demanded them from me. Communication is atrocious and the website is full of lies, plus their online system is so crippled nearly everything requires an email to the support dept, which answers the email and closes the ticket (and another department is supposed to then handle it). Pretty much the most amateurish operation I've ever encountered.
The Suspicious Shipito
I've not personally dealt with them, and was going to use them after I exited Viabox, but there are enough horror stories on the web with them. It seems they used to be great, but now there are many reports that they have jacked up the prices and are basically doing the same Earth Class Mail routine. Not to mention poor communication and customer service, something rife in this industry, unfortunately.
MyUS, a new entrant
There are some fairly good reviews for MyUS, there are also enough signs it is going the way of Viabox and Shipito. Apparently, as per the usual, there are a lot of hidden charges with MyUS.
Traditional Mail Forwarding Services
The following are some current mailbox/mail forwarding services. One can expect to have their mail scanned and available by pdf, and to group mail and packages together for remailing. These are usually safer as their business model includes two revenue streams: virtual addresses and remailing. Here are a few, with more description below: - Mail Link Plus, - Mailbox Forwarding, - My RV Mail, - PoboxZone, - St. Brendan's Isle, and - Virtual Post Mail
Mail Link Plus
Mail Link Plus is based in Las Vegas and offers mailbox and mail forwarding. Street address comes standard and they do mail scanning. Prices start at $30/3 months. Reasonable. Haven't tried them.
Mailbox Forwarding has real addresses in Michigan (free), Los Angeles and Pompano Beach, FL (additional price/month). Reasonable $10/mo not including additional address charges. Not so bad, though the shipping costs ended up being more than expected. Also, the address charge and monthly fee added up, especially for my needs which are fairly light. Left them due to better prices elsewhere.
My RV Mail
My RV Mail, as the name suggests, focuses on the RV people, but the services are the same needed by expatriates. Mail forwarding services, online scans of mail, florida address. Starting around $25/mo for full access, down to $15/mo for yearly prepay. Haven't tried them.
St. Brendan's Isle
St. Brendan's Isle targets boating people, as well as other travelers and traveling business people. Added value of helping establish Florida residency. Around $20/mo with online access to scanned mail. Prepay $100 and monthly debits against the credit. Used these guys for years, and they worked fairly well. The online shipping tool they could never fix a part of so every shipment needed a few emails to get going. I shipped an item through them that was lost on the way out of the USA (USPS Priority) and there was never any resolution (no insurance, nothing). This soured me on them and I switched to Mailbox Forwarding (below).
Virtual Post Mail
Virtual Post Mail offers a very low introductory price but reasonable prices after the trial. Address in Los Angeles, CA (actually Walnut, CA). Check deposit services also available.
PoboxZone (Nevada, Delaware, Wyoming)
PoboxZone offers mail forwarding in Las Vegas, Nevada. They will offer addresses in Delaware and Wyoming in 2017. Besides receiving and forwarding mail PoboxZone does mail scanning, with pdfs sent via email and/or directly uploaded to Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Drive. They have free shredding of unwanted mail and free storing until mailout. Packages and parcels can be received as well, which is pretty rare among mail forwarding companies. It's a good solution for travelers and even companies that haven't got a physical office. Clearly they are targeting this virtual office for companies niche, which is a wise move in my opinion. If they integrate actual company formation as well, that could be a very powerful value add.
Wyoming Agents focuses on the Agent requirement in Wyoming LLC and Corporation registrations. By providing that service (along with the registered address) they provide the legal requirement along with a privacy service. In addition, for a low cost, they offer remailing services. However, they do not accept mail for individuals, only for a company name.
Bottom Line and How to Choose a Remailer
Like with many kinds of industries, organizations can be good and then go bad in terms of prices and service. There is no guarantee that a good experience today will stay that way tomorrow, and certainly pricing can and does change. It pays to stick with a smaller operation that is not greedy, but at the same time is competent and professional, and they actually like happy customers. Again, even these relationships can go bad, so just keep in mind that moving to a different remailer/virtual address is almost a certainty. Stay organized regarding all the places that addresses need to change, and be prepared to make a change when needed. There is no reason to suffer for months on end from inflated prices, poor customer service, and incompetent remailing. While I still have virtual address needs, I have backed away from remailing. There has been an increase in availability of items to ship to my country of residence (Thailand) from the likes of Amazon, Ebay, and also new ecommerce sites such as Lazada which operate there. While I had savings on many items, there were also significant costs that may have made it all not worth the trouble, in the long run.
Post Office Form 1583
This form is required to give permission to have a third party collect your postal mail (does not apply to parcel shippers, but only to the US Postal Service). This also needs to be notarized, so if you are far away from a Notary, or one is more expensive (say, abroad), then check out NotaryCam which is an online service. Apparently this is a valid method good in all 50 US States.
A social media style guide is only necessary in a narrow technical sense, as much of what the other style guides include applies to external / public communication, of which social media is a mere element. However, it is always useful to have particular protocols and concrete guidelines so there is no confusion.
Social Media What, Where, How
First, the value of social media is the conversation thread. Anything that can encourage these to generate and for customers, stakeholders, and the public to participate is usually good. Of course all other style guidelines should prevail.
The what of social media is more of a which, and that is usually best determined by goals. The most relevant goals, from an SEO perspective, should be relevance and access. This means those social media for whom others can easily discover and engage, and of course, that show up in search engine results pages.
This usually varies across organizations, but there is a range of 1-6 networks and/or platforms that make sense. As well resources are needed. The media can be categorized by various functions, such as: chat, image/video sharing, audio/video calls/conferencing, blogging, status/link updates/general social, etc. Obviously there is overlap and many platforms trying to add the functionality of their rivals in other categories. The most common platforms (and therefore the most relevant in terms of raw numbers, though market demographics may indicate better foci), include:
- Facebook Messenger
- Google Plus
Relevance, Relevance, Relevance
Relevance for the potential customer means acting appropriate for a brand, which means occasional, relevant messaging and also availability for interaction. The content needs to be brief and in context. Talking for the sake of talking won't work out well. Not being authentic in communication threads also turns off people and may develop brand backlash. Here are some findings/guidelines:
- For Image/Video sharing there needs to be very good creativity, very brief messages, in context and relevant. This may be the most difficult social media category to perform well in, but it can pay off in widespread messages.
- For Chat/Calls, brands are accepted if they keep their messaging one of pull, not push. Being available for Skype or Line messaging can be convenient for potential or actual customers, as long as the focus is on transactions rather than social.
- For Blog/Status this is usually acceptable since people seek out affiliation. Careful with advertising on these platforms as they will not be cost-effective unless focused. But keeping a well-stocked facebook page or Twitter account can be effective at displaying professional behavior.
Answer the Phone
If accounts are created, and more importantly, listed as ways to communicate, ensure that the chat message or phone call is answered in a reasonable amount of time. One can accept only text and does not have to support voice or video calls for these platforms, and therefore effectively use chat as another asynchronous textual communications channel (second to email).
Check your Email
Turn on email alerts for specific kinds of communication, such as messages addressed to the organization's social media account(s). Don't rely on apps providing alerts, but have some secondary messaging system in place, which could be email, chat (.e.g, a Telegram Bot), or something else.
Text, Text, Text
The text is the key part here, even with voice being popular. For example, maybe it isn't a habit to have Skype on all the time (and it certainly drains batteries), but configuring skype to forward inbound text messages as SMS to a phone, and be able to reply via SMS, is a great way of being available through a channel potential customers may want to use.
SEO Longform and Links
Of special interest is the kind of link-building and link-following from content (either URL or complete) that is posted to social media.
- Links to Articles (posted on organization website)
- Facebook status update (and sponsored post), Twitter status update, Google Plus post
- Article reposts (copied/pasted with some edit on 3rd party websites)
- LinkedIn, Medium, WordPress.com
Duplicate content -- to Google at least -- is not the same content on different websites but the same content on different pages of the same site. Therefore the key is to ensure Google is aware which copy of a given piece of content is the canonical one. They simple way is that all non-canonical copies link back to the original, with text such as:
What of the current projects generate which percentage of revenue now, and in the future? This question helps cut down on too many extraneous activities, to which I am prone. It all comes back to Drucker and knowing what should be done (and then getting that done). Like any healthy organization, my various projects are in states of transition. How to determine which projects gets what time? What skill set will be more valuable and make current and future projects more viable? Invest in these projects and skills development, dear reader. I say this to you, but am really saying this to myself. Hopefully one of us will listen.
According to Freire (2007) there are Five Archetypes of Organizational Culture. Naturally, these cultures are based on, developed and perpetuated by leadership. Those he names: - Customer-Centric - The Customer is everything - One-Team - Oneness is everything - Innovation - Learning is everything - Achievement - Getting the job done is everything - People-First - Our people are everything Now at first the One-Team and the People-First look suspiciously similar, however the former has the people sublimating themselves for the organization, and the latter has the opposite.
- CEO spends a lot of time with customers
- Effective listening is widespread
- Client issues are part of every meeting
- Top investments go to client initiatives
- Untrained staff never put in front of the customer
- People proudly share stories of exceeding customer expectation
- Customer feedback integrated into everyone's compensation
- Those closest to the customers know more about their needs than senior leadership
- Are you really a humble organization?
- Are you really a learning organization?
- Is the relationship based on trust and reliability?
- Is there arrogance and rejection of feedback?
- Willing to sub-optimize subsystem to optimize overall system
- Once agree on what is best for the firm, will follow decision
- Work is done by one group on behalf of the whole
- Remuneration encourages facilitating the work of others
- Reporting lines and structures recognize dual-citizenship
- Move people around through the organization to gain broader perspective
- Most people have good motives
- Generosity and sharing, trustworthiness, openness
- Not territorial or silo mentality
- Japanese style
- Experimentation, risk taking
- Experience is valued
- Resources given to Research and Development
- Lots of learning processes and meetings
- A lot of rigorous measurement focused on continuous improvement
- Curiosity, courage, openness, learning
- If it isn't broken, break it anyway
- Not risk averse
- Shoot for the stars
- We are not here to count the pens, we are here to change the world
- Culture of accountability
- Meritocracy, my word is my bond, truthfulness
- Bottom 10 % needs to go
- Clarity in communication of goal-setting
- Healthy confrontation when excuses for nonperformance are given
- Encouraging people to grow
- Give under-performers a second chance
- Symbols of lack of hierarchy
- A lot of training, workplace development
- Believe in diversity, opportunity, trust
- No distrust
- Find people the right place in the organization
Organizational Cultural Change is Hard
Organizational change is a huge undertaking, and in many cases simply falls short. I appreciate that Freire says it takes about two years to shift cultural focus of an organization. Also, though it really doesn't work well, Freire suggests it is possible to build all five cultures into a single organization. A well-rounded organizational culture is a fairly bland culture, but of course each of the types of organizational culture has elements that any decent organization should embrace. It is simply that one type needs to be primary. But how can leaders change or enhance Organizational Culture?
Leaders Send Messages through Actions
- How do you as a leader do things
- Distance between walk and talk
- What you do says what is important, role meeting
- How do you run meetings, how much time in meetings are spent focusing on customers, change, etc.
- Symbols are the calendar and the checkbook
- Time spent on things shows value
- Money spent on things shows value
- Who gets promoted, why, office space
- Role as storyteller, what are the stories? They show values
- Planning and budgeting process
- Compensating people based on achievement, learning, customer
- What are people rewarded for doing?
Hofstede and Dimensions of Organizational Culture
Freire has a nice set of cultural types but the idea that there are only five types doesn't get at the why, the actual dimensions of organizational culture, and how to measure it. For that, Geert Hofstede is the best source.1
I actually met Hofstede at the University of Hawaii in the mid 2000s. He had a connection with the university in the past, and on occasion would visit and give a lecture or two. He spoke at a seminar and was charming. I've also read in depth both Cultures' Consequences and his research on Organizational Culture and related publications. For a popularization of this academic research, see Cultures and Organizations: Software for the Mind. ↩