How Tidal Goes Against All Current Product Development Theories

I’m not an expert in the music industry. I have no idea what the future olds for Pandora, Spotify, iTunes and now Tidal, Jay-Z’s new streaming service that describes itself as, “Introducing the first music streaming service that combines the best High Fidelity sound quality, High Definition music videos and expertly Curated Editorial.”

However, I have spent some time in the last 4 years teaching some classes on marketing new products. I lean heavily on the insight of Steve Blank, because, well he seems like a really smart guy. And Mr. Blank espouses a product development process that leans heavily on the following:
1) Finding a problem that customers have.
2) Developing hypotheses on how the customer wants that problem solved.
3) Testing that solution with as many customers as possible.

You’ll notice that all 3 principles of the process include the term, “customer.”

Tidal seems to use a completely different theory. Summarizing bullets from the Washington Post, Tidal’s offering is based on the following:
1) Consumers will develop a sense of ethics, i.e. a willingness to see musicians actually make some respectable royalties from music streaming, which they currently do not.
2) People will want exclusive content and hear directly from artists.
3) Those who subscribe to the premium service will receive higher sound quality.

Let’s compare the Tidal plan to the Steve Blank plan.
1) Is my problem that I think musicians are underpaid? Do I really care what musicians make on each song I listen to? Probably about as much as I worry that the 1st Associate Director on House of Cards can afford her rent. Or that the Copywriter on AT&T’s Barles Charkley commercial is being paid fairly by his agency.
2) And honestly, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.2 billion bands in the world. if Taylor Swift or Jay-Z stick their music someplace I can’t get it, will I even notice? What problem is being solved by taking music away from my channels of choice?
3) I’d love to see the research that says, “When Andy is at work listening to music on his headphones, what he really wants is higher fidelity music for $250 a year.” Even if this is true for some people, how many? How good can music sound? And won’t I need a pair of $800 headphones to even notice?

This isn’t a bash on Tidal. It’s simply an observation. They are taking avery non-technology product management approach, and that puzzles me because I live in my own little Seattle technology bubble. Obviously with the star power they’ve assembled, the deck is stacked in their favor, so they can skip some of “Lean Startup” type principles. They’ll have great marketing, get lots of exposure and be able to test the product in real time.

More choices for music is better than less, so I hope they do well. It will be interesting to see how their product development plan works out.

Quirky Has Become My Favorite Product Site

I was talking about Quirky.com to a few people this week and was shocked – shocked I say – to hear they hadn’t heard about it.

How to describe Quirky… Imagine every crazy idea you ever had for a product was suddenly being built and you could order it for a pretty good price. Doesn’t that sound like a good deal?

You should visit Quirky. You should buy stuff from Quirky. You should sign up for their newsletters and vote on what products they are going to build next. And then you should take your latest, greatest idea and submit it to them.

Quirky

Does Pronto Have Their Pricing Wrong

Since I work downtown a lot, and I am always rooting for startups, I’ve been keeping an eye on the bike-renting service “Pronto.” I think it’s a cool idea, and with enough manipulation, you can kind of shove this square peg into the circle hole of The Collaborative Economy. So that intrigues me as well.

Via DowntownSeattle.com

So this week I wanted to use the service to get about 9-10 blocks across downtown. And here is where I found out that I think they may have a simple to fix problem – pricing.

Pronto will let you rent a bike for 24 hours for $8. It seems like a paltry amount to spend. But I don’t need a bike for 24 hours. I need a bike Car2Go style – for 5 minutes to get to my meeting across downtown, and then an hour later I need it for 5 minutes to get back.

For $8, I can hop in an Uber. For $8 I can buy a sandwich and eat it as I enjoy a 15 minute walk. Sure 8$ is only $.33 an hour. But I only need the bike for 4% of the time in which I can have it. I’d rather pay 5-10x that $.33 per hour rate, and get closer to 70-100% efficiency.

That’s my use case. Maybe I’m unique. But I really want this company to succeed, so I’m curious why the pay by the hour model isn’t a viable alternative. Regardless, there seems to be more and more Pronto stands popping up all over town, so they must be doing something right.

Calling All Startups

It’s that time of the year again – almost the beginning of school.

Once again, I’ll be teaching the Entrepreneurial Marketing Class, MKTG 555, at the UW Foster School of Business. While I’m switching up the curriculum a good deal, I’m still incorporating hands on work for students.

If you work with a start-up and have an interesting problem for an MBA student to solve, or just want to have your company profiled, let me know. I’d love to have your company involved.

Looking for Some Teachers to Give Insight on a Website to Help Teachers

There’s a little company based in New Jersey called PortfolioGen. Started by a teacher and a Vice-Principal, its mission is simple – To make it easier for teachers looking for jobs to find employment with schools who need their skills and expertise.

Traditionally, teachers have had to lug around an offline portfolio when they go interview. Teachers don’t always have the web expertise of a marketer, so they don’t all know how to build a blog or social presence. Plus, they may not want to be easily found by students and parents. PortfolioGen is a safe and secure place for teachers to create an online presence, upload their portfolio and lesson plans, and one day, communicate with schools who are hiring.

PortfolioGen Screenshot

The site is still in in infancy, but does have more than 14,000 teachers on board. If you’re a teacher or administrator, we’d love to get your feedback and insight. You can help the founders shape the site into something that is tailor made for teachers. Just email me for info.  Thanks.

Geek Stars Shine Bright at Annual Geekwire Awards

There was more Polo than Prada. More Ralph than Lauren. And Levi’s outnumbered Louboutin’s about 5 to 1. But there was enough revelry, camaraderie and fun at Geekwire’s “Oscars of Seattle Startups” last night at EMP that you expected Ellen to organize a group selfie.

You can get the full results of the 13 Geek Awards over at Geekwire.com. But maybe more importantly than the awards themselves is the annual chance to catch up with what every startup in town is up to.

The startup world is a fluid one. Some people who were 100% confident in one project last year have a new passion this year. And some folks working out of their garage a year ago now have a staff of 26. But thanks to Geekwire, we get this annual opportunity to check in with one another.

It’s hard to know where this community would be without Geekwire’s involvement the last few years. Would the Seattle Times and Puget Sound Business Journal have been able to whip 800 entrepreneurial and tech enthusiasts into a kind of extended family who cooperate more than compete with each other? Would we all know the brand names of a few companies poised to be the next Zulily? I think not.

And in an industry still made up of more men than women, it was fantastic to see Julie Sandler and Jane Park given two of the top individual awards – for Geek of the Year and CEO of the Year respectively. In addition to her day job at Madrona, Julie has pushed tirelessly to encourage more young girls to pursue tech careers. And Jane is running one of the fastest growing non-tech businesses in the region.

I don’t think any more people could fit into EMP, and I don’t know how long you’d have to make the event in order to chat with everyone you know there. But it’s nice that in an environment that delivers more struggles than solutions, you know there’s a community rooting for each other. And that’s really what the Geekwire Awards are all about – a place to recognize the ones who made it, and be inspired to follow them on stage next year.

Helping the JOBS Act Get Through

From the entrepreneur’s perspective, more access to capital is better than less. We have a current ecosystem that involves Angels and VC’s, but there are many reasons why we should make it easier for people to make informed decisions about investing in new ventures.

There’s a hearing in the Washington senate on this Tuesday, 2/25. Here’s a good link to learn more: http://lunarmobiscuit.com/washington-state-jobs-act/

“This law will allow any Washington State company to raise up to $1,000,000 per year from Washington State residents. Any resident will be able to invest at least $2,000, with that amount rising to 5% or 10% of a resident’s income or net worth. No longer will entrepreneurs be limited to raising money from “accredited” investors.”

Why Start-ups Shouldn’t Pretend to Recruit Agencies

In the Entrepreneurial Marketing class I teach at the UW, we talk about how start-ups need to be scrappy with their money. Without aa lot of money to spend, we need to make every dollar stretch. We talk about the fact that we often can’t afford to hire an agency.

One of the ways to temporarily sidestep the need to hire strategic services from an agency is to look at campaigns you find compelling, and model your own plan after them. If you’ve noticed a company, it may be possible to reverse engineer their thought process (or their agency’s) and generate similar success. Emulation is a form of flattery.

However, one thing we DON’T advise students to do is “pretend” to be hiring an agency, send out a bunch of RFP’s, and have them do free work for you. Yes, this seems like a scrappy thing to do. Submit your problem and solicit proposals and ideas from 10-20 small to mid-range agencies. You’ll get a few hours of free consulting and brainstorming from each one, and get to form an overall strategy out of the ideas you like best.

Your VC and investors may think this is a fabulous idea. $10,000 in free consulting is a huge win, right?

But I’d argue that long-term (and even short-term), you can do your brand a pretty large disservice when you do this. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. As a Start-up, your plan is going to involve Influencers and Thought Leaders. When an agency tells you they can recruit “Thought Leader X,Y and Z,” they are saying they have a personal relationship with them already. When you get free work from the agency and then tell them you aren’t hiring anyone, you’re not creating a neutral relationship with the agency world, you’re building a negative one. These Thought Leaders you need to recruit will already have heard about what kind of company you are from the people whose time you wasted.
  2. When you become successful, you will get a larger VC round and have more money to spend on marketing. Then you really will have a budget in which to hire an agency.  But this time when you send out your RFP’s the good agencies will remember how you treated them in the past and decline to participate. Yes, you will get responses to your RFP, but you’ll be getting them from companies that need the work.  You want to hire agencies that turn down work, not the ones who can’t keep it.
  3. You are going to work at other companies in your career. When you are a junior person and your CEO sends you out to burn a bunch of cycles from the agencies, he/she is sending you on that mission so they don’t sully their own name.  We agency people are horrible gossip hounds. We’re going to share stories about the person who sent us on a wild goose chase.
  4. And finally, it’s just not good start-up karma.  Most agencies are like little start-ups.  They have to be scrappy themselves to go get the next piece of business. They have to balance how much staff to have on hand because they always either have just a touch too much work or a touch too little. Their teams are usually either overworked or worried they are going to be laid off. So it’s just bad to make these people do free work for you. As a start-up, do you want to have customers with no intention of buying your product to burn your salespeople’s time? No.

So start-ups of the world, I suggest you resist the urge to get free work from people under the guise of an RFP. If your CEO and VC are making you do this, pause and think what kind of nefariousness they are committing themselves. Is that the kind of company you want to hitch your star to?

 

Join Me at the TechCrunch Meetup Thursday

The next version of the Techcrunch Meetups + Pitch-Off is headed to Seattle this Thursday. Besides the fun and frivolity of your typical Seattle tech event, a few lucky entrepreneurs will be pitching their businesses to a group of TC judges. These entrepreneurs will have one minute to explain why “their start-up is awesome.” Since all the products will be in stealth or private beta, we may see some companies we haven’t heard of before.

Details:
Thursday, July 18
ShowBox at the Market
1426 1st Ave‎nue
Seattle, WA 98101
6 PM – 10 PM

See you there.

Ben Huh Discusses Laying Off 1/3 of His Team

An interesting article ran in Inc Magazine this week about Ben Huh and the layoffs at Cheezburger a while back, “How I Live With Myself After Firing a Third of My Employees.”

At first it looks like it’s been written by Huh. But I read it and it sounded nothing like how the charismatic CEO speaks. Then I noticed that it was “written by Liz Welch, as told to her by Ben Huh.”

This fact made have contributed to the piece sounding self-serving to some. In fact, there was a mini-debate in a Private Facebook group I belong to about this very subject. Some people found the article in very poor taste, suggesting Ben’s attitude seemed to be, “Well too bad for everyone I fired, I don’t feel bad at all.” Having met Ben several times in the Seattle start-up scene, it struck me that this didn’t seem like it would be Ben’s general attitude at all. Even the people who were neutral on Ben’s comments seemed to think the piece came across staged, edited or worse.

I want to give Ben the benefit of the doubt here, since he didn’t write the piece. So we don’t know what was lost in translation or incorrectly quoted by Welch. But I took away a few points:

  1. “We were profitable until we took VC investment” = Don’t just spend money because you have money in the bank. You still have to make smart decisions.
  2. “The Board did not ask for this, it was my decision” = As CEO, you have to think about the 42 people you are keeping just as much as the 24 you let go. I made the mistake of growing too fast, I’ll take the blame.
  3. “To mitigate the risk of a leak, I called John Cook” = The info will get out anyway, so unless you want one of the folks who got laid off to pen an anonymous op-ed piece for Geekwire, call Geekwire first and give John the straight scoop.

What do you think about this article? Any comments? Was Ben wrong, or did the magazine just butcher the story?