One of the challenges with creating something that’s truly new and innovative in a market is the anxiety you inevitably feel as you wonder whether the market itself is ready for your solution. But when you have really smart people who see an opportunity for technology to solve a real problem in a totally new way, sometimes you take a leap of faith that the market will respond and then a really interesting adventure will begin.
And so, it was extremely gratifying to see the announcement yesterday that the analyst firm IDC has included FirstRain in its 2011 list of “Innovative Business Analytics Companies Under $100M to Watch.” FirstRain was one of 6 companies selected, and one of just two specifically focused on the discipline of Cloud-Based Analytics. According to IDC, this designation is given to companies recognized by their analysts as “driving innovation in business analytics.”
As an analytics software firm whose patented technology solves the challenge of delivering relevant, Business Web content to professionals in Sales, Marketing, Competitive Intelligence and other key roles, this recognition by IDC is yet another validation of the importance of the problem we’re helping our customers solve, and it’s terrific to see a leading analyst firm like IDC recognize the role FirstRain is playing. We’ve seen it in the great customers we’re signing every day, with the amazing product feedback we hear from those customers, and now we’re hearing from the analyst community too. It looks like this adventure is getting bigger!
It’s always interesting, as we begin to approach the end of another year, to think about how far technology has taken us once again. With the holidays right around the corner, I’m confident that more people than ever will be hoping for an iPad2 in their stockings. Since the new release of the iPad2 in March of 2011, Apple’s iPad sales have rocketed over the sales of any other tablet device. As a result (or perhaps vice-versa), people are shifting their behaviors when it comes to reading and consuming information. Maybe people are feeling compelled to help the environment and go green (saving trees is a great thing!). Perhaps more people are taking advantage of awesome applications like our very ownFirstRain, which helps deliver news in a faster, more efficient way than ever before (in fact have you tried our FirstRain iPad app?). Or maybe people just feel compelled to keep up with the pace of modern technology—the iPad is a perfect, modern example of how amazing technology can be.
In the morning, I ride San Francisco’s Caltrain from the city down the Peninsula to our FirstRain office in San Mateo. I can’t remember the last time I saw a rider reading the actual newspaper—and I take the Caltrain every day. The typical Caltrain passenger behavior (and we’re talking about mostly Silicon Valley employees) is coffee in one hand and iPad in the other. For the few not lucky enough to have a new iPad, you have people like me who scan news on their iPhone (although thankfully I am able to access news using the FirstRain iPhone app!) Either way, I’d say 8 out of 10 Caltrain riders definitely use technology to access the news they may have been receiving years ago from printed versions. I feel badly for the guy who stands at the end of the station trying to sell newspapers! This shift in behavior is not limited to just business professionals. Last week Mashable.com published a video portraying a 1-year old baby using an iPad. When handed a magazine, this adorable baby girl began to press the non-existent buttons, not turn the pages. She resorted to her only knowledge of how to “read,” that is: how to read using technology. Is this a sign of what’s to come for the next generation? Will turning the physical pages in books, and magazines become ancient history? Was there a generation that mourned the physical satisfaction of pressing cuneiform into clay tablets, or decried the loss of reading an elegant scroll?
Last week, here at the FirstRain office, we had our own conversation about the lack of reading print media in today’s society. Ryan Warren, our VP of Marketing, noticed and commented on the fact that I printed out a colleague’s blog to read over, instead of just editing and reading it on my laptop. I tend to focus better on what I’m reading when I print out a physical version (Facebook & Twitter are not floating around in the background this way). Proof that printing out someone’s paper to edit is becoming less common, he asked if this was something I did normally. What if I’ve been the only person out there who still prints out things to read?
So I decided to investigate. I sent out an email survey to a network of friends, all millennials, all in my age bracket, mostly young business professionals and a few graduate students, asking them all if they preferred reading text online rather than printing out and reading a hard copy. I wasn’t surprised by most of the responses. 90% of those who answered preferred to read online. Some preferred to read online only when the length of the reading material was limited to four pages or less. Others preferred to read online if it was reading for pleasure rather than reading for business or school. And sure enough, some opted to read online because it was “greener.” One friend said it was easier to “stay organized while having everything in one place” on their laptop. I was quite impressed with the reasoning behind each of their answers. Am I the only person still printing!? Don’t get me wrong, I read articles online every day and I don’t buy physical paper newspapers. I use our FirstRain apps and use the Web to access the news. Yet, sometimes, I still chose to print things out in order to help me focus… even though I suppose this makes me old fashioned. Maybe when I finally purchase an iPad, I’ll give up my old habits. I’m really curious to see what lies ahead for future generations and how they’ll consume the media of tomorrow. Will the baby with the iPad write this same blog post, wondering how many people still prefer touch interfaces instead of just having it plugged directly into their brain?
I have a pet peeve that got me thinking. My peeve is people who say “I’ll call you” or “I’ll email you some times to connect” and then don’t. It’s the modern equivalent of the Hollywood brush off “Let’s do lunch”. One of my service providers did this to me last week and it’s annoying and unprofessional, and it got me to thinking again about how important expectations are.
Satisfying other people really is all about setting their expectations, and it’s especially true in business.
The ultimate is meeting your quarterly numbers. AAPL was slammed because they missed their financial expectations even though profits had grown dramatically. If you say you are going to report X and you report X-1 you are going to get dinged in today’s short term market. It’s a no win for the public company CEO and the great ones understand it’s a long term game, but the CFOs make their stripes on setting expectations right consistently.
Next is product schedules. There is discipline to this skill. You want to be aggressive to stretch the team and yet hit the dates you set because the rest of your business team is planning on it. Literally. Planning customer roll out, planning PR, so major delays play havoc with customer expectations. I very much admire my business partner YY and her ability to think through every aspect of the product release, set the company’s expectation at 95%, consistently deliver that 95% and sometimes deliver the upside of 100%. Everyone’s needs are met and our products leap forward every month.
Then there is your relationships. Californians seem very friendly at first, and then are hard to get close to. The English are frosty at first and then warm up. In business, be clear about your relationships. Are you work colleagues or friends… can your companion truly be him or herself in all his or her dumbness at times, or do they always need to be wary ? Are you loyal or fickle at heart? Obviously you can’t signal this early in a relationship but there comes a time when you can, and it’s just more efficient.
Arrive when you say you are going to arrive. Being late is the ultimate in bad manners – it says you think your time is more important than my time.
At FirstRain many of our technical and support team are located in Gurgaon just outside of New Delhi in India. Because it is very important that the US based team and the India based team work closely together we not only travel to Gurgaon several times a year, we also bring Gurgaon team members out to San Mateo from time to time for product design sessions, for training and to improve our support process.
Earlier this month Sagar and Nitin came out for 2 weeks and since they were here over a weekend we decided to take them for a classic California experience – wine tasting at Ridge Winery. Ridge is in Cupertino up on the Montebello ridge and offers spectacular views of the Bay Area, plus a warm garden to picnic in and wine tasting for those that drink. We put together a picnic and took family members with us, including one who was 15 months old, and one who was 82. A great way to get to know one another better in a relaxed atmosphere.
Cory, our resident sommelier, sampling the cheese selection with his grenache
Our littlest rainmaker, Sebastian, enjoying the picnic with Sagar and Nitin
Towards the end of the picnic our families persuaded us to pose together and toast a lovely day
I was delighted that my blog, The Grassy Road, was selected as one of the top 10 CEO blogs by Chief Executive Magazine this week. Given all the exposure and risk a CEO already faces why, you may ask, blog?
At the heart of my reasoning is that transparency is a good thing for a CEO. It’s important the CEO is an active communicator, it’s important that she is well understood by all her constituencies and a blog can be a powerful additive to the traditional communication platforms.
We have a FirstRain blog – MarketMine – on our web site. It’s a good vehicle for us to comment on our industry, market developments at FirstRain, showcase customers, and for my team to write and share their views in an open forum.
But for a CEO blog Seth Godin set the bar high when he posted many years ago that blogs need
Controversy – Does this sound like a CEO to you?”
I agree – this is a tall order – but if you can do it then it becomes both interesting reading and a vehicle for people to get to know me… my opinions on industry, technology, corporate boards, gender equality issues and, then sprinkled in just occasionally, a personal post about a vacation or a swimming race.
You can get to know me and what I care about very easily by reading my writing. You’ll know where I stand on a number of business issues, what developments matter to me as CEO of FirstRain, and, if you want to, how to connect with me. It’s a powerful recruiting tool for prospective employees to understand our culture, and many customers read it as a way of staying close to FirstRain.
More challenging is blogging on the Huffington Post if I think an idea is interesting to the Business section readers (I’m not qualified to write about politics or celebrities which are their highest traffic sections!). HuffPo has a huge readership and so posting there carries significant responsibility, but overall I get positive feedback from people who find it helpful and so I strive to share my experience, and expose readers to our business at the same time.
But it is not without risk. As a visible person (I sit on two public company boards) I do also have to be very careful that what I write never breaches confidentiality, while controversial is never in bad taste, and does not embarrass my companies even indirectly. This is hard at times – I am not without strong opinions! Sometimes I want to write on an idea that even I know is a little out there and I’ll ask my team for advice – and so far they have corralled me well.
We are swimming in a social media world. It’s one of the characteristics of today’s Web that makes the need for FirstRain so strong in our customers. They need to understand, with great precision, what’s developing in their markets. One of the best ways I can stay on top of the emerging trends is to be a part of that world myself – blogging and tweeting and collaborating so I understand first hand what the benefits and challenges are.
John Kador characterized me as ” fearless in mixing the personal with the professional in her blog”. I should have told him about the deep breath I take before I click on Publish Post each time!
We announced the FirstRain iPad app yesterday. Our new iPad app marries the elegance of the iPad with the precision of FirstRain’s business Web. It’s visual business monitoring – slick, fast, cool, beautiful, powerful – all the adjectives we can’t use in a press release but want to say. I truly love it and it’s now how I stay on top of my customers, our industry and everything else business wise that I need to know in a few minutes a day.
If you are in sales, marketing or purchasing, or you are a partner in a law firm, or a librarian, or a MI or CI professional, you are going to want a FirstRain subscription and this app. You are missing developments in your market, your customers, your vendors TODAY that you can now see real-time with the gentle swipe of a finger.