The difference that focus makes

Over the past 48 hours, we had some things happen at with respect to email delivery. I found some of the takeaways interesting, and felt like writing about it, and how it connects to larger business and strategy ideas. With respect to Ship and the companies involved, I’m going to stay light on the details, and look more at the concepts I see behind the issue.

Mandrill and SendGrid are two very big players in the email delivery space.

Mandrill is owned by Rocket Science Group. Rocket Science also controls MailChimp, TinyLetter, Gather, which are all very marketing-focused products.

SendGrid is a company that focuses on developers as customers. They aggressively brand themselves as developer-focused, and show up at every hackathon they can (one of the Ship developers has three different SendGrid shirts that he’s been given at hackathons).

A marketing focused company is going to attract marketing people, who think of the universe through a marketing lens. A developer company is going to attract engineer-minded people, who think of the universe through an engineering lens.

As Porter taught us, one way of analyzing a company’s strategy (and their strengths and weaknesses) is to look at what their team has done in the past. Past experiences will inevitably shape future decisions.

If you were choosing an email service provider, which one would you choose? Which company do you think understands your view of the world? Which one do you think will create features that lend themselves to your use case?

An innate understanding of ROI

I think humans have an innate concept of many business concepts. For example, “return on investment”. Business schools will complicate the idea of ROI in any number of creative ways, as they do many concepts. I once saw an accounting professor confuse an entire room of college students on the topic of averaging numbers with an overly complicated formula and greek symbols.

Let’s imagine that you are dropped into a fictional time in the past, in a Rousseau-ish land of humans who lie around all day, plucking fruit from trees when they are hungry. Rousseau calls your fellow humans “noble savages”.

You look to your left, and see a savage MBA sitting, calculating how many calories they use per day, how many calories are contained in a piece of fruit, and how many calories they can allocate to climbing a particular tree to allow them to meet their caloric needs with a certain number of minutes spent gathering fruit each day…

…then you look right and see a tree whose branches have sunk low to the ground, heavy with fruit, and you walk over, and (savagely) grab a piece, because you don’t feel like climbing up and down the same tree all day. Return on investment.

When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong

Hat tip to Chapelle.

Well, there was a lot I didn’t know 10 years ago. The decision…is in keeping with a post-Boomer ideology that values emotional fulfillment above all else.


The trick now is to subtly demonstrate that while you may have a job, a family, and a house full of stuff, you are not spiritually connected to any of it. What matters now is not just buying things, it is taking time for you, to create a life focused on your unique needs and that reflects your particular taste and sensibility.


Ms. Bédat says people love being a part of an authentic brand because they aren’t just buying into a logo — but also “buying into a set of values.”


Also, I still cannot believe that Tito, of Tito’s Handmade Vodka, is actually “Mr Beveridge”

The Interview and economics

I typed up this whole reply, and then VentureBeat’s commenting system didn’t work and redirected me back to the homepage instead of actually posting. :(


HI Chris,

I’ve got to disagree. This may not be a single key moment that changes online video distribution for Hollywood, but it is a hugely important one. A widely known movie was distributed online and it generated returns similar to one in theaters, while charging far less per viewer. That changes the conversation. Every online distribution discussion is going to reference this movie.

Of course, we’re all speculating until Sony sits down at their Q1 numbers. Still, speculating is fun, so I’m joining in too :)

In this case, the movie benefited from extraordinary publicity. By the time Christmas rolled around, it was safe to say just about everyone in the U.S. had heard something about the movie given that even President Obama felt compelled to weigh in on the drama surrounding its release. A typical release online would have an incredibly difficult time getting such attention or even much respect given that people tend to view movies that get VOD-first releases as a sign the movie is weak.

The Rogan&Franco&Greenberg style has been around for a while now. They’re a known quantity. People who like them know it, and people who don’t like them know it too. The movie may be unimaginably famous, but the fame may be a red herring. Since they are such a known quantity, the publicity is not likely to have made someone who wouldn’t have been a customer become one. On top of this, if you are a fan of the trio, you already knew this was coming out, so the added publicity from the hack may not have affected the actual returns. My gut says there’s no more than a 15% bump, which still leaves the current returns over the $15m mark.

“…given that people tend to view movies that get VOD-first releases as a sign the movie is weak” — perceptions of VOD-first is a trailing indicator. “The Interview” is a leading indicator. Imagine the discussion: “would I watch a movie on my PS4/Apple TV/Kindle Fire? Yeah I would. I remember my friend telling me how much cheaper it was to watch that Interview movie at home. They sat on their own sofa and got to eat their own food…cheaper and healthier!” — how many cultural trends just got tapped there?

More than that, the actual amount of revenue generated is a meaningless measure. What matters is the underlying terms of the revenue deals that Sony struck with distributors like Google and Apple.

As to the economics of the distribution: you’re right. No one knows what the revenue split was between streaming services and Sony. I’d venture a guess that the services were excited to make this deal happen, and were willing to offer nice terms. That being said, the more important issue is that running a streaming service costs far less than operating a physical movie theater. The streaming services have a structural advantage in the long run when it comes to offering desirable terms.

Again, let’s all wait and see what happens once viewer’s wallets have had their time to vote over the next few months.

Technology, by age

A discussion of payment apps turned into a revelation on a line in the sand on social. The editors at QZ noticed a pattern at the over-and-under-30 age line — over 30 didn’t understand why Venmo would have a public timeline of payments; under 30 liked it.

Pando expanded on the subject a bit, and it got me thinking.

If the “social-digital” line is around 30 years today, in late 2014…

…in 2024 the age line will be around 40…

…in 2034 the age line will be around 50…

…in 2044 the age line will be around 60…

…in 2054 the age line will be around 70…

I imagine that the line will be blurred as time goes on, but these are rough target dates.

What life events happen at different points? At what date is a critical mass of this social-digital line going to arrive at certain things?

I’m not foolish enough to think that this social-digital line is going to move smoothly throughout the ages, but there’s definitely reason to think that later-in-life products haven’t been created yet, or that the market for an otherwise-good-idea hasn’t been created…yet.

The most Apple-ish things

WWDC14 keynote was today. New software, no new hardware. The voice messaging via text is something that I’ve wanted for a long time. Interested to see how it affects texting-while-driving habits, and the resulting effect on accident rates. Will iPhone users get in less car crashes?

I wanted to put an idea out there. It’s something that I’ve thought about for a while with mobile phones, and I’m hoping for in the new iPhone.

The most natural way to hold a phone is vertical (portrait). The most natural image format to us is horizontal (landscape).

Why not allow people to take landscape pictures while holding the phone vertically? Why must I hold the phone awkwardly (and risk dropping it) anytime I want a decent picture?

There are a few ways of solving this.

The first is to simply take the existing image sensor, rotate it 90 degrees, and call it a day. This would work, but it’s not Apple-ish. It means you would have to hold the phone sideways if you actually wanted a portrait shot.

The other option (that I like) is to put a bigger image sensor in the camera, and downsample the image taken via software. That way you could have a massive picture (if you want), but easily get the type of picture most people want from a camera.

Service people’s defaults as the default case. This seems the most Apple way to do things.