Adding Value By Transforming Your Business

business-transformationIn addition to creating a new company that is disrupting the status quo, many founders are also challenging the old norms of how businesses operate in order to add value. When you are struggling to raise capital, hire, and scale your business, is there time and energy available to also rethink how you do business in general? How much effort do you want to put in to stand out as a company not only creating something spectacular, but also a company that differentiates itself as an employer? What truly matters in the end is whether that transformational effort adds value.

In 2012, the gaming company Valve published their novel Employee Handbook  which outlined their organization structure (or lack thereof). Valve challenged the notion of having assigned projects to work on or managers to report to. Many other companies have taken similar approaches not only to attempt to operate more efficiently, but also to attract and retain talent by differentiating their companies from the mainstream.

Whether or not the super flat organization or self-directed projects works, these companies have challenged the standard on how business are “supposed” to run. One could argue that these attempts to be different are distracting and time consuming when the work just needs to get done. However, by taking a chance at doing something different, not only are they attracting new talent, these companies are fueling creativity and innovation across their organizations.

Transforming your business doesn’t always have to be time consuming or distracting. The company Amplitude challenged how businesses handle equity compensation by extending the company options exercise windows to TEN years vs. the standard 90-day window most companies offer. Amplitude also helps employees understand the complexity of their equity plans by outlining in detail the possible scenarios and potential outcomes of their particular grants. The message here is A) you add value to this company and should benefit from it well into the future and B) we want to be sure you fully understand that value as an important member of our team. I imagine neither the window extension or transparency tactics were very time consuming or distracting to implement (well, perhaps the former took some selling to their investors!), but they certainly make this company stand out as an employer and innovator.

Most recently, eShares has stepped up their game by revamping the offer letter. CEO Henry Ward decided that, being in the business of equity management, they should excel in helping job candidates and new employees fully understand what it means to have options in their company. There’s even more to it though, as the offer letter outlines very clearly where a new hire will sit in the organization and what their first week of work will look like. The have transformed the on-boarding process by starting with the offer letter vs. waiting for a new employee to sign and come on board. Perhaps this is an attempt at self fulfilling prophesy (if we tell them about their first week, they’re more likely to accept our offer!), but regardless, the effort to be transparent sets this company apart from so many of the humdrum companies doing the same old thing.

Just because it’s been done that way forever, doesn’t always mean it’s the best way to do business and it certainly won’t set you apart from your competitors. Many entrepreneurs are getting advice from old-school investors and advisors who saw it done a certain way that worked in their day, but that doesn’t mean that’s how it has to be done. If you choose to take a new approach, don’t do it for the sake of being different, do it because it either enables your company to run more efficiently and/or it adds value for your employees or customers.

Have you transformed your business beyond the new products and services you offer to your customers? Share what you’ve done in the comments.

 

Today’s Disruptions Are Tomorrow’s Pain Points

minorityreport33gk.5905 My favorite innovations are those that the general population can’t quite grasp, but the technology is there and it’s only a matter of time when it creates a whole new set of pain points. In 2005, a colleague and I at VMware asserted that mobile phones would some day be the next desktop and people would want virtualization on them. This was well before Android and the iPhone – when I still used a Blackberry. Many of our respected co-workers told us there was no way mobile phones would have the memory, CPU or power capacity to handle a virtual machine. Appreciating Moore’s Law, we were convinced that it was possible that these clunky devices running ARM processors would have tremendous potential. We ignored the nay-sayers and plowed on to virtualize ARM…just in case those devices reached desktop potential. In 2008, we released a cool product (MVP, later renamed “Horizon Mobile”) just when it was becoming clear that mobile phones would do things we had never imagined were possible. Our killer use-case at the time was dual-persona phones that allowed enterprises to offer BYOD to their employees – a real pain point that was a result of the proliferation of mobile devices in the work place.

My contemporaries probably remember when e-commerce just started to emerge and the general population was skittish about entering credit card or other personal information onto a website. The SSL protocol and security apps such as Verisgin addressed a new pain point. Once we got past our fear of our lives being stolen on the internet, we had a new set of pain points around managing and sharing all the websites we frequented and of course remembering all our passwords. For a time, iGoogle was one way to get organized and 1Password has been a life saver to many. It’s a continuous cycle of new tech spawning new pain points.

Powerful mobile handsets, explosive growth of cloud-based applications and the internet of things have created countless disruptive new approaches to the way we live, work, learn and play. We are a culture of pursuing every app and gadget we can to optimize. From Amazon Prime, which has made it so easy to shop that I’m a little concerned about how well I know my UPS guy, to Uber which, when combined with public transportation and Zipcar, has caused me to question whether I need to own a car at all. Instacart has almost completely eliminated my two hour weekly shopping trip and saves me cash by totally removing impulse purchases.

I’m now using so many tools and gadgets to optimize – Taskrabbit, Zirtual (or Amy Ingram), Cash, DocuSign, dropcam – it’s almost obscene. I’ve heard myself say things to friends like “You actually go shopping at a store?” or “Why would you ever print, sign and fax something?”. I am shameless about pushing people to get on the platforms I use to further optimize my life. For example, encouraging people to rate professionals on Dunwello, so I have more professionals at my fingertips or telling my favorite local barista to get on LevelUp so I don’t have to bring my wallet to buy my coffee.

Most of these newer technologies are addressing the pain points of our busy lives, wanting to use less energy/resources, and recovering our personal time. Technology has enabled us so significantly that it’s hard to imagine how we lived without it and we are becoming addicted to the dopamine rush from the social connections we make through these new tools. The generation before me went out for a run with just a pair of sneakers. Over a decade ago, I used to go for a run with a portable CD player with a mix of songs I had downloaded from my PC, wearing huge headphones and with no data tracking. I’d guess the milage of my running route and rarely talked about reaching a new minutes-per-mile milestone with friends. Now, I find a fresh playlist on Spotify, pop in my bluetooth earbuds, and start Runkeeper. When I finish my run, I not only have my performance stats, but I occasionally share my results and a pic of my route on social media. It’s like getting an additional 10% dopamine rush every time I work out.

The world is continuing to evolve. Siri, Amazon’s Echo and Jibo are the beginning of robots entering our daily lives and virtual reality (VR) is fast approaching as we see Oculus, Hololens and Magic Leap getting Oculus-Rift-Condition-Onemore headlines. Intelligent cars are hitting the streets and drones soar in our skies. Self-driving cars no longer look like sci-fi when we watch The Minority Report and 3D printers are going mainstream. It’s only a matter of time when someone has that killer use-case where every home or office has a 3D printer; which will of course create a whole new set of pain points!

With that long preamble, herewith, some future pain point ideas I’ve been noodling:

  • As transportation options improve with Uber, Zipcar and driverless cars, the next generation will see owning a car as a new pain point instead of a status symbol and that needing to find parking or valet services will no longer be a pain point. GPS apps will evolve to address pain points for a new set of users (namely, drones and robots).
  • As VR evolves, we’ll need new ways to wear or store our VR headsets or they’ll probably evolve from headsets to some other optimal wearable device [if you really want to freak out about the possibilities, watch Black Mirror, season one, episode 3 or season three, episode 1]. I’m also considering that the more time we spend in virtual worlds (social media, online learning or gaming) will create the demand to be closer to each other than via comments and likes on our timelines or by playing Words With Friends. We will find ways to be more present using advanced haptics and holograms (a.k.a. UltraHaptics) and a new set of pain points around security of personal space, “touchable” devices, and access boundaries will emerge. Unless the higher education system in the US is totally disrupted at a meta-level, VR and improvements to MOOCS will address the pain point of college costs and less demand for fully matriculated students. The quintessential college experience could be more about living away from parents for the first time, figuring out life skills, and hanging out with other 19 year-olds taking similar classes on-line than about getting a four-year degree. Lots of new pain points there!
  • The preponderance of on-demand supply apps will further disrupt retail to the extent that no one goes to the mall any more causing a new set of pain points for retailers or a new use-case for that real estate (Interactive, indoor walking destinations for seniors?). Grocery stores become giant warehouses where drones do our shopping for us and self-driving Ubers deliver us our food and supplies any time of day and night. Packaging for shipping and the USPS will be obsolete. New pain points here could be how we train our drone shoppers to personalize our experience, using VR to shop with our drones, or new forms of packaging (I want non-toxic air bubbles that pop and disintegrate after drones deliver the goods).
  • Finally, let’s not forget about our robots. There’s a whole new set of pain points around accessorizing, storing, and transporting those babies. Just you wait!

As an innovator, I am as excited about what’s coming as I am about the new pain-points that come along with it all. It’s certainly not a boring time to be in tech!

Have ideas about new pain points for the near future?  Please share with your reply to this post!