Sunday, June 07, 2015

On-demand is the new subscription

This week I encountered a web based service and took note of their ‘cancel anytime’ feature.  It occurred to me that this had for a few years become a novelty feature in software.  Now I tend to expect it.  So much that I almost overlooked this product’s claim of stopping anytime.

Photo Credit: 
Subscriptions became the default business model for many of the popular software services of the last 10 years.  There has been a marked shift though, to a different model, subtlety, but different none the less. That is the on-demand model which allows you to cancel and restart the service at any time.  

Take for example services such as Netflix where you can stop, restart, scale up or down on demand. This model works because it mirrors the reality of so many services we use every day: dry cleaners, house cleaning, etc.  

This got me thinking: What subscription services do not have an on-demand option?  I asked this question to my circle of friends on Facebook and received back several familiar brands.  Comcast. Dish Network. DirectTV. Verizon. Cable television and cellular. 

To some extent, this is not surprising. We have all watched the big providers try to acquire companies up and down the stack of content and service.  We’ve seen them throw everything at crushing net neutrality laws to be able to increase their lock-in power.  Cable and wireless seem to be the holdouts in the consumer space, although there is no shortage of competitors trying to disrupt their rule.

So, I got to thinking a bit more about the B2B software services we use. Platform-oriented software, from cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), is already on-demand.  

There are many vendors that are not, though. These are products that fall under the classification of ‘enterprise software applications'.  Most of these are still based on annual contracts.  As a product person, I understand why this is good for the product companies. I struggle to see scenarios where its logical to constrain the customer with lock-in given this evolving standard.   The early days of SAAS saw the ‘perpetual license’ start to give way to the ‘annual subscription’.  I dare say that the  these plans can’t exist much longer.

What enterprise software applications have you seen transition to a  pure on-demand model? That is one with consumption or monthly service fees, but no prohibitive set-up/activation fees, cancellation fees, etc.  Please share in the comments.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Zen Retreat at Green Gulch

Green Dragon Temple at Green Gulch Farm
Green Dragon Temple at Green Gulch Farm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of the things that I was interested in doing on my sabbatical was a meditation retreat. Over the last few years I had read a number of things on mindfulness, including the great Coming to Our Senses. I was hoping to use the time off to find a location where I could get immersed in the practice of meditation as a total novice.

Luckily where we live, there are many options. There is the legendary Spirit Rock center just a few miles away, and for those looking to drive a couple hours to Big Sur, the beautiful Esalen.  In the last week, I learned there is actually a center that offers vipassana retreats right in town.  In any case, I found a really nice option in the San Francisco Zen Center at Green Gulch Farms. What sold me on this center was the combination of proximity, cost and sheer beauty.  If you have ever driven to Muir Beach you will have driven past the entrance.

Full disclaimer: I did not really know a great deal about formal meditation before going, so everything that I am writing about was based on this one experience.


From the moment you drive down off the main road you feel completely immersed in another world with towering redwoods and eucalyptus, ferns of all shapes and sizes and the cool, clean smell of the ocean in the distance. The temperature was consistently cool, even in the hottest hours of the day when the sun was able to penetrate the canopy over the farm.

I arrived in the early morning and as I ambled down the path towards the main grounds, an owl swooped overhead and perched on the tree next to me. Throughout the day I would see many different types of birds throughout.

The main grounds consisted of the Japenese style Zendo (or meditation hall) surrounded by a number of modern buildings that contained the dining hall, some offices and dormitories. Everything was surrounded by freshly tended native flower gardens.  Beyond the main buildings it was possible to enter the actual farm, which is communally worked for the subsistence of the community. It appears that in addition to supplying food for residents and students, there are also plant sales that occur on-site.

About the practice

The practice at Green Gulch was based upon the Vipassana and Zen traditions, the distinctions of both being new to me.  For those that are also not familiar, I would summarize them by saying that the Vipassana tradition uses silent meditation and is based on the notion that 'what happens is what happens', meaning that there is not necessarily a specific end you are pursuing in your meditation. Rather, you focus on keeping the form and practice and allowing your mind and emotions to go where they will. As far as I can tell, the Zen tradition was based upon Vipassana but has built up quite a bit more in the way of ritual and formality in terms of the postures and forms of the meditation.

At the core of the experience were about four different seated meditation sessions in the Zendo of about 40 minutes a piece.  These were alternated with 40 minute periods of walking meditation, 40 minutes of qigong as a group in the gardens (very similar to tai chi) and an hour long silent group meal consisting of soup, salad and bread from the on-site garden. There were also a couple hours of Dharma talks which I could be describe as lectures on various philosophies and practices of buddhism and how they can be interpreted.

It was during the dharma talks that we were able to really get to appreciate our practice leader, Edward Brown, as he took the time to point out to us what aspects of the practice were really important and which were less so.  He had a tremendous sense of humor and I thought his teachings were very pragmatic.

Overall Experience - What I would look for next time

I had few expectations going in as I really had no idea what I was in for. That said, I found the time very rewarding and exhausting.  I don't think anyone can really explain to you how physically and mentally tired you can become by meditating all day, but it really does take quite a bit of strength. As a newbie to the practice, I can say they were incredibly friendly to new students. There was also a tremendous amount of diversity amongst our group and other attendees there.  I would highly recommend a meditation retreat here, although I might explore the one closer to my home just as a counter point to this experience.

The outdoor beauty was a bonus. I was completely in love with the farm itself and it was just such a perfect compliment for me, given my love of gardening.  I look forward to heading back just to explore the gardens some more and hopefully talk to more of their gardeners.

I think the only additional thing I would look for would be a retreat that incorporates some yoga practice. While there was nothing stopping one from practicing on their own here, I think the scenery was so fantastic that it would have been just an amazing complement to the weekend.

Friday, May 29, 2015

My Wistiafest 2015 Experience

Last week I attended the second annual Wistiafest conference in Cambridge, MA.  We've become avid users of the Wistia platform at ThoughtWorks, and consumers of their content on doing great marketing using video.  Here's a bit of a recap from my perspective.

Welcome Party

Unfortunately I missed this as my flight got in a bit late, but by all accounts, this was great fun. The Wistia team welcomed everyone to their HQ and took a bunch of footage that Wistia included in the Day 1 "Good Morning" Video.

Day 1 Keynotes

Who doesn't love free swag?  We all do. But what's better than free swag is BEAUTIFUL free swag.  I already knew that Wistia makes great T-shirts, and we received a new one for the event.  That's not all, they also welcomed us with a packet of other fun goodies and a well designed program that were all really coordinated.  You can take a look at the package on Dribbble here.

I would also call out the really fun signage and sets for the conference, because I geek out on stuff like that.  The signage was hand-written style, white paint (crayon?) on cardboard.  The main stage featured a few silver screens of varied height and a big cylinder of multi-colored butcher paper.  The overall feel was like you were sitting inside of a video studio, which was cool.

Once, the event started, they kicked us off with a fun Good morning video which had footage from the prior night. It was a fun way to get to know the whole Wistia team (who were all in attendance, I should add - pretty rare for a company conference).

Chris Savage, started the talks with one called Driving Creativity With Data. It set the tone for the next two days by introducing some of the overarching themes, which in my assessment were: 
  • Your marketing should humanize your brand and video is one of the best tools for that
  • Unless you're one of the mega-brands with all the cash, you'll need to be creative to get attention, and more creative to keep it. This means we need to foster an environment that welcomes creativity within our organizations.
  • As marketers we don't experiment enough and we test even less. It's up to us to hold our teams accountable for trying new things. We should also use real data analytics to confirm that we're seeing impact.
  • Analytics is a hard game.  Tracking nothing is a missed opportunity, and tracking everything is stupid.  You should figure out the right balance for your company.
On the whole the examples of Wistia's hits and misses were helpful and honest, which I think everyone loved.

Phil Nottingham of Distilled followed up with a great talk called Building Your Social Video Strategy.  Phil has been a regular speaker on video SEO for many years. He is also an authority on when to host videos on site versus when to use services such as Youtube or Vimeo. This talk focused on changes to the video landscape during the last 12 months and how they affect marketers. Some of the items he covered included:

  • How should brands consider Facebook and Twitter video
  • Micro-video formats on Vine and Snapchat 
  • Live streaming video from Meerkat and Periscope

Phil advocates that brands design video for each channel and take advantage of their unique features. He provided some tips on how to customize content for individual channels without massive rework. Phil also provided guidelines to evaluate hosting video on-site versus on a social platform.

The great Ann Handley then gave a talk called "Uncovering Your Most Authentic Stories" (will link slides once I have them).  What I loved most about this talk were the examples that Ann chose to illustrate her points.  Ann drew her brand examples from higher education, healthcare and technology. Each one showcased their humanity by focusing on answering the Frequently Unasked Questions (FUQs) from their audience.

Day 1 Workshops

I attended the Marketing With Wistia track on Day 1, which was facilitated by Mack Fogelson, Ezra Fishman and Casey Henry. Links to the slides that I have are below.

I thought this track was a really a very practical compliment to the rest of the day's talks.  I won't go through all of the session details for these, but will call out a few takeaways.

Mack's session was an interactive exploration of how to workshop your business goals using a Focus Canvas.  The examples here were great as well: Patagonia, Traveling Vineyards and Help Scout have aligned their marketing with their strategic business goals.

Ezra took us on a tour of Wistia's content creation lifecycle including the concepting, promotion and learning phases.  I was already familiar with the concept of the 'table read', yet, it was helpful to know that the Wistia team now uses this to decide whether a piece of content should be a video at all.  My favorite part of this session was understanding the promotion cadence that the Wistia team follows for their new content. We've evolved our own tactics at ThoughtWorks, but it's always great to hear what other marketers are finding success with.

Finally, Casey walked us through how the Wistia team measures its marketing funnel.  He also shared research from his team on how video can improve landing page performance, particularly in the case of PPC.  There are some useful tips in the slides for those interested in retargeting, social promotion and analytics; I hope that Casey will write some blog posts detailing the findings.

Day one wrapped up with an awesome cruise on the Charles river with other attendees.

Day 2 Keynotes

If you've never seen Wil Reynolds speak, you're missing out on one of the most energetic, witty and inspirational cats in business today. "Building a More Human Brand" drove the point home that the humans we should be focusing on are our customers.  A couple of stories that he told that stuck with me included how Airbnb crowdsourced Vine video from its community to create the concept video which later became a television commercial, and Revzilla's focus on creating useful motorcycle product comparison guides that built up its online brand equity.

Sarah Green of Harvard Business Review gave a fantastic talk on how to build a successful video team and brought to bear lots of management science on how to do so!  It was also great to hear about HBR's journey into interactive and how it has looked to social and video to bring written content to life in new ways. Two great examples were this video on The Costs of Racial Color Blindness and this study, 'We're all terrible at understanding each other'.  Sarah was kind enough to share the full list afterwards.

Justine Jordan of Litmus loves email, and she also loves telling us about the common ways people ruin the medium.  Having seen Justine speak numerous times, she never fails to send people away with several ideas for improving their own email marketing.  This particular talk was focused less on the technical aspects of mail and more on the qualitative ways we can bring more humanity to the most popular and effective marketing tool out there (email).

Brendan Schwartz of Wistia closed out the keynotes by taking us on a tour of Wistia's explorations with data analytics particularly to understand a couple of key marketing questions:
  1. What videos appeal best to new users versus returning users?
  2. Does placement of CTA in videos affect performance of conversion (e.g. Turnstyle)?
During the course of the talk Brendan announced that Wistia would make our own new/returning data sets available to us for analysis, so that we can make some of the same comparisons for our businesses.  I'm looking forward to more analytics within the product along these lines.

Following the keynotes, I attended the workshop called "Building a Brand With Video" on Day 2, which was a treat as it featured folks from Mailchimp, All Star Code and BambooHR who all shared great examples from their own work.

It was an insane amount of content and fun for two days that couldn't be topped by much, other than a huge party with tacos, IPA, oysters and dancing.   My head was full, my belly was full and I left happy. Looking forward to come again next year.

Finally, if you made it this far, I'll leave you with a last treat which is the roll of speaker intro videos that the Wistia team made for the keynotes. Hysterical.

ps. Great thank you video from Bart@Work

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Launching a newsletter

For some time, I've been toying with the idea of a newsletter, for a couple of reasons.  First, I often have folks tell me they enjoy my shares, and think it could be a way to really effectively put my time into curating things I really like for my audience. Second, I personally have found that most of my own reading time is spent on reading curated newsletters.

If you're interested in subscribing to upcoming issues or reading past issues (just one available now :) head on over to:

Friday, May 01, 2015


This week marks the beginning of my three month sabbatical from ThoughtWorks.  One of the very special perks we have is the 12 week paid sabbatical after 10 years with the company.   I reached my 10 year milestone last August but it took until now to plan a suitable time and to prepare my team.

It's a pretty weird thing to plan on stepping away from your job for 3 months.  Immediately I was peppered with lots of questions from friends and colleagues:  "what are you going to do," and "where will you go?" The truth is when you have two toddlers at home, you're not going far, but the possibility of having that much free time on my hands again was very exciting.

That said, I do have lots of plans including:
  • Eating and sleeping well
  • Daily fitness activities, namely lots of Yoga, but also hopefully taking advantage of the many hiking trails around our house
  • A meditation retreat
  • Spending lots more time on my hobbies including gardening and music
  • Returning to working on my personal blog and website which has become something I don't make enough time for anymore. Considering starting one thats more professionally focused.
Proud to say that I've started off well with a great workout every day and an awesome trip with Jen and the boys to Stinson and then up the Highway 1 through the Marin hills.

I don't think I am going to live up to my original ambitions to blog daily, but I am going to set aside some time each week to work on it more, particularly some of the longer piece ideas I've had.

Stay tuned for updates!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Digital Business Goodies from 2014

OK. Buckle in.  I've been saving up a number of digital business resources to share and its coming down to the wire for 2014.  Here's a collection of resources on digital strategy, social media, online engagement, tools, video and  industry trends.  

For your holiday reading pleasure and beyond...


On Objectives and Goal Setting
Social Media Effectiveness
  • Great study on Twitter Engagement from the folks at Stone Temple Consulting.
    • A few known truths here cemented in by further evidence as well as some new learnings. You can even digest the study in multiple formats, including video and info graphic!
  • Track Maven's Fortune 500 Instagram Report
    • Great report from the folks who deal with massive amounts of brand analytics from Instagram on a daily basis. Always great to get insight into how brands are becoming successful on this platform.
  • Track Maven's Facebook Report 
    • Another very useful report from the folks at Track Maven. Some useful tips to make sense of the Las Vegas Marketing Fiesta that is Facebook.
Nice Examples of Tools for Online Engagement
  • Great blogs about Infographics and Data Visualization
    • Just when you get tired of infographics, someone curates a great site like this to show you how many crazy things you can do with them.
  • Interactive Tools - Customer Journey to Online Purchase by Google 
    • Topically this is interesting to me because its relevant to me as a marketer. Overall I'm just loving Think With Google's use of interactive tools on the blog.
Online-to-Offline (020) and why we should care
If you're already versed in what O2O is about, this may or may not be useful. For those who are not, this set of articles is really to inform about some in-market-tests taking place as we speak which are bound to change the nature of projects we work on for clients, particularly if they are in B2C industries that involve storefronts of any kind.

For many consumer oriented businesses, one of the most expensive challenges of the last 50 years has been bridging the effectiveness of advertising impressions to buying behavior.  People spend most of their disposable income locally, but retailers and other local service providers have often been blind to how online media influences their in-store traffic and behavior.  The big ad players, namely Facebook and Google have been racing to get their solutions for in-store conversion tracking into the market; as you can imagine, these solutions rely heavily on your smartphone and location based services.

Here are a few brief pieces that describe how these pilot programs will roll out:

Monday, June 02, 2014

Goodbye Bourbon

Playtime at Home
Getting comfortable in the new digs
One week ago at this time, we were returning from the animal hospital where we had to put our Bourbon to sleep.  His condition had rapidly degraded to the point that he could no longer stand up on his own.  After so many times of wondering if he was near his end, only for him to bounce back even stronger, it was a bit surreal for the moment to arrive where it was absolutely clear that what he needed most was mercy.

As it was the evening of Memorial Day, we had one option which was to bring him to the pet emergency hospital where he once stayed for a week of treatment while he had severe seizures.  This time circumstances were different. He was calm on our car ride, and very agreeable with the staff.  They prepped him and brought him to us on a big comfy rug where he did not squirm or fuss. He just let us say our goodbyes. I probably could not have imagined a sweeter way for him to go; he fell asleep in our arms, snoring, before they gave him his final dose.

It's been a tough week. Although we cleaned out most of his things, each day you stumble upon something else that reminds you of him: a paw print in the concrete, the places he would sleep, the lack of a water bowl when you reach to fill it. Mostly the hard part is the silence.

Jen put together a touching post about B here, that I think summed things up pretty well:

I know that I did not know what Bourbon would bring to our lives, and although he was a great deal of work, he changed me for the better.

Bourbon, thank you for everything, most of all finding us. I miss you but I hope that you are now at peace.

Finding Bourbon at Homeward Bound
After Bourbon's first grooming
Family Dog 101