Tracking progress

As a former business manager at Microsoft, I am almost bred up on KPI’s, metrics, tracking progress and so forth. Sometimes even to the extend where I have a hard time understanding, why it is a more alien concept to many. Including some startups.

The way I usually frame it is that you cannot play football, if you don’t have goal posts that help you decide, when you have scored the winning goal. Or any goal for that matter. If you don’t have goals, you’re just kicking around, and while that can be nice exercise too, it’s kind of hard to measure who’s winning and who’s losing.

So, if we accept that being able to set goals and track progress can be helpful, how do you go about it in a way that doesn’t kill you in bureaucracy.

This is where I actually back in the day got a great tip from my colleague at Berlingske Media, CFO Peter Nordgaard. He had a very simple way of looking at things and how to determine real performance that goes something like this:

You basically have 3 things you’re looking at in a traffic light perspective to set goals and track progress:

First you look a the market and the macro economic climate. What’s your assumptions related to overall growth in the economy YoY. Make that your target.

Then you look at the competition in the market. What’s your target market looking like? How much is it growing? Make that your first target? How much share are your most important competitors looking to grow? Make that your second target (and in effect your pre-dominant benchmark).

Finally, look at yourself. Given your assumptions about the economy, the market and the competition, how do you think you yourself is going to do? How much is you going to grow? What does that mean in terms of products shipped, sold, used or whatever your Northstar metric is?

Does your Northstar metric make sense in the light of all of the above (aka is it still valid as the most important single denominator in determining your progress)? If yes, good. Keep it. If no, come up with one that is.

Now you essentially have a Northstar metric and three sets of simple KPI’s you can track in order to determine your progress. And this is where it gets interesting:

If you end up short but the economy and the market has exceeded expectations, you will know that the buck stops with you. On the other hand: If you have done better than expected for the economy and the market, you have really put in a stellar performance.

While that in itself is super simple, it does another thing that is really great: It eliminates any doubt as to what should be the focus of your review and discussion about what to do going forward.

Because if it is your own performance that is sub-par, it will be evident, and you don’t have the need to come up with silly excuses. You can address the real problem. And move on from it.

So think about this super efficient approach the next time, you’re discussing KPI’s and ways to track your progress. We’re not too far off the start of a new year, so this might actually be as good a time as any.

(Photo by Tolga Ulkan on Unsplash)

Meta thoughts

Everybody that seems to have an opinion about Facebooks recent name change to Meta seems to have aired it by now.

So naturally, I thought it time to went my own two cents on the subject; why it changes nothing about the fundamentals, why it’s different from Googles renaming to Alphabet, why Mark Zuckerberg needs to succeed with the exercise and what bet he is making in order to make it happen.

First things first: Of course the rebranding from Facebook to Meta doesn’t change anything about the vast challenges that Facebook is facing.

On the contrary; the name change is a testament to the fact that one of the worlds leading brands in terms of market capitalization has become so toxic, it needs to be incinerated from public view.

It says a lot about CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his merry crew that they would rather throw their brand out than actually work to address and solve the myriad of issues affecting Facebook.

It’s will probably be the closest thing we ever get to Zuckerberg admitting guilt. Which of course he will never (see any reason to) do in the real world.

Second, the comparisons with Googles name change is some way off, IMHO. When Google changed into Alphabet it was basically for two reasons:

The original founders Sergey and Larry had pretty much lost interest in search and were looking to pursue other interests. And, more importantly, Google was doing so many different projects that had nothing to do with their core business that they probably needed an entire alphabet to keep track of them all.

Facebook – sorry, Meta – doesn’t have this. For all the existence of different apps, it’s still very much a social media company across software as well as hardware. Even though Mark Zuckerberg is dappling a bit on the side with other projects through foundations etc., it’s not like Meta is about to cure cancer.

Some would argue that Meta is much rather a collection of cancers than any kind of step towards a cure, but I digress.

No, there is a much more compelling reason for Zuckerberg to dip into the met averse in order to keep his collection of apps on a path of growth and prosperity:

The ownership of the operating systems and the platforms that come with them.

Facebook in its old form had grown way too dependent on other peoples OS’s and platforms being it Apple iOS, Google Android or whatever.

Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, because when you’re huge, you hold both sway and leverage within the ecosystem. But to Facebook it has been for the sheer reason that even though Facebook is huge, the OS owners are bigger and more powerful.

And – add to that – pretty pissed with how Facebook operates.

Example? Apples decision to limit apps ability to track users for advertising on iOS.

I could image Facebook has been the single biggest driver for the decision by Apple to roll that out. And on the other side, I could also imagine that that very move has been the biggest motivation for Mark Zuckerberg to go big on the metaverse and do the whole rebranding exercise to Meta right now.

He simply needs to build and own his own OS and be independent of the other OS owners.

So I think this is the light Meta and the bet on the metaverse should be seen; it’s Mark Zuckerberg big bet on creating a brand new form of operating system that he hopes will disrupt and replace and others, so he will be able to have to last laugh.

His biggest asset? The huge user base. If he can convert the users of the many Facebook apps into the univer…sorry, metaverse…he will have won.

Of course the biggest challenge that he will face in doing so, is the lousy history he has with many of the same users, who he through his failed stewardship of Facebook has failed time and time again.

Will they place their faith on more of the same, more immersed, potentially more powerful?

I seriously doubt it. But it’s pretty much the only big bet he can make.

(Photo by Dima Solomin on Unsplash)

Always stay alert

Just because you have made it once, doesn’t mean that you have made it forever.

Just as you replaced an incumbent by delivering a better, smarter, cheaper or whatever solution to your customers pains, somebody else could come in tomorrow and do to you what you did to them.

Just as you worked tenaciously to get to where you are today and be successful, numerous other players are plotting the same way against you as we speak.

So always stay alert. Always be ready to change and transform what you’re doing in order to stay ahead.

The second you stop doing that you risk becoming a lame duck.

(Photo by Advocator SY on Unsplash)

Bond. Jeff Bezos Bond

Amazon is reportedly looking to acquire MGM Studios for close to 9B USD.

That’s a lot of money to fork up just to get in with a shout at becoming the next James Bond. You have got to hand it to Jeff Bezos:

When he does something, he does it in style.

Neither shaken nor stirred.

Just solid.

Let’s get serious for a moment, ok?

Not only will Amazon get its hands on the James Bond-franchise. Despite my obvious affection for 007 that’s a minor detail. What’s important is that they will get access to a content powerhouse that will be an interesting competitor in the streaming wars being waged between Amazon Prime, Disney+ and that ‘old incombent’, Netflix among others.

The really interesting bit is just how important a part of the overall Amazon offering, streaming is becoming. To me at least it seems like it’s a key ingredient in keeping the Amazon Prime rundle interesting and value for money for consumers. It’s the icing on the cake. After you have eaten the cake, that is.

Taken into a larger context it seems rather bizarre by now that we have been discussing the value of content over the years as something that approached zero, when it’s becoming fairly obvious that great content is a key differentiator that makes the bundle turned rundle ever more evergreen and attractive to consumers.

People have never spent more money on content than they do today. They are just spending it with a set of very different providers and value propositions than they were a couple of decades ago.

Where does this leave the media players that used to skim all the profits?

Almost like a failed Bond villain.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Saboteurs

We’re so used to innovating and building products and businesses for people, who have a need for what we are looking to go to market with that we completely forget about the other people.

The saboteurs.

While I totally understand why we never think about those, who don’t wish us well – it’s not the kind of thing you want to spend a lot of time thinking about – thinking about them may actually hold some merit.

Let’s think of it this way:

What are the scenarios where someone would aggressively try to detract other people from using your product?

And more importantly:

What can and should you do about it to try and counter it?

Maybe the answer to the last question turns out to be “Nothing. Haters are gonna hate.”

But just maybe it could spur a couple of twists to your products and services that not only deter the saboteurs from going crazy on your product but actually also ends up delighting your loyal customers even more than they already are.

If that is an option, wouldn’t it be worth spending just a little time reflecting on who your potential saboteurs are, and what you could/should do to counter them?

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Records or music?

“Are you in the records industry or the music business?”

Maybe it seems like a banal question, because the two at face value sound like one and the same.

But they aren’t.

The latter is about the value proposition. The former is about the mode of delivery.

The key thing to consider, when you’re looking to deliver value to customers, is your key value proposition. The music so to say.

You then deliver that through whatever channel is best suited – for your customers. That means that you never ever get stuck in an insistence that you deliver it in a certain way, take it or leave it.

In other words: You don’t insist on delivering a record, if what the customer wants is the single delivered through a different channel, medium or packaging. You just do whatever the customer says and what fits into the customers habits and lifestyle. Period.

Sadly, a lot of legacy companies insist on being in the records industry rather than in the music business. They do so at their own peril. And they are – and will be – paying a price for it.

Don’t be like that.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Jumpstart your insights

When we try to figure out what the jobs, pains and gains of our future customers are, it is tempting to do all the research from scratch.

But maybe you don’t have to. Maybe there are forums where you can get a pretty good feeling, before you spend a lot of time doing surveys, interviews and observe the behaviour of your customers.

One place to look is in competing products. Especially the ones that seem to do rather well.

Get your hands on them, try them out and reverse engineer the problem statements that lies behind the form and feature(s) of the product.

What is the core feature of the product? Does it cater to a specific target audience? Which? And why? And what is the core assumption behind how it’s done?

If you spend a bit of time reverse engineering the competition for jobs, pains and gains, you will probably get a pretty good idea about what the real jobs are that determines whether a customer buys and uses said product or not.

And then it becomes a question of your future product doing it better, cheaper or whatever. But preferably better since that will serve you well, when you start to focus on retention.

After all you shouldn’t make it as easy for another competitor to snatch away your customers from you, as it (perhaps) was for you, should you?

Another place where you can look for insights into the jobs, pains and gains of your future customers is social media. I know for a fact it can be a pure gold mine for insights into what needs, your product could serve.

The great thing about social media – and especially more niche oriented groups – is that people are unfiltered. They will be looking for advice and guidance, and the more they look for it, the bigger a felt need it is for them.

That is not to say that you should do everything, a community tells you to do. Of course you shouldn’t, and often the conversation ventures in a lot of different directions.

But if you take the time to look for signals – tone of voice, mentions of a specific problem again and again etc. – there is actually a ton of things, you can take away with you.

That should set you off to a good start before you start doing a lot of classic user and market research too.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The “red tape” danger

The problem with too much process and red tape is that it creates excuses for not getting problems solved:

“Our processes dictates that I must do this”, “I am not measured on doing that”, “I cannot do anything about it, it’s the rules”, “We have a policy that…”.

Etcetera etcetera.

Of course there needs to be rules and processes, and sometimes they’re even defined by law.

But having said that it is also important to reiterate that just because you can push a set of rules, a boss or even the law in front of you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t show empathy for the person(s) in the other end obviously experiencing a problem.

One of the reasons why startups even stand a fighting chance against much larger and more resourceful organizations is that they don’t have all these rules, processes and KPIs in place.

They’re just trying to do what they think is necessary to enable them to solve issues and move forward. By showing empathy and some sort of efficient pragmatism whenever they encounter a challenge or – most importantly – a customer experiencing a problem and in need of a fix to it.

When companies grow and more people get onboard, the need for processes, policies and rules will grow – sometimes almost exponentially.

That may be fine in itself. But it should never be an excuse for throwing empathy and the ability to act and fix issues out the window.

If you start doing that you will enable precisely all the behaviour internally in your organization that you DON’T really want. And absolutely don’t need to succeed.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)