May 26, 2006
Authors love to hear from readers
Now that the book is out, I am craving feedback. (And feeling guilty about how I never give other authors feedback. I’ve started emailing them as I finish their books.)
One kind reader wrote to tell me that she and her husband put the book to use after reading just one chapter:
"We have a company with about a dozen employees. Well, it was a dozen until this week, when I bought your book for my husband. Now we are a better team at eleven."
There are more than twenty business lessons in Fire Someone Today, but it looks like the title chapter is stirring the most pots.
Did you fire someone today? Or was another chapter helpful? I would love to hear from you, too. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 23, 2006
People choose the easiest solution
In general, web sites are poor substitutes for specialized software applications installed on your local machine.
For almost any web application there is a superior software package. It is true even for things we think of as “made for the web” applications: In 1996 United Connection, a Windows application that got data over the Internet, was a better airline reservation tool than most travel sites available now. Copernic offers a richer interface and more full featured search tool than Google by using Google, and other engines, through its own rich interface.
But in most cases the web application beats the pants off the desktop application in number of users and market share. Because, as Dennis Forbes puts it, Rate of Adoption = Ease of Setup, and typing a web address is a pretty easy setup.
It is a hassle to setup even the simplest of software applications, and then you have to keep it up to date, move it to your new machine, install it on your laptop, etc. Simple as these tasks may be, they are obstacles to adoption, especially when the alternative is visiting a web site.
This is not a software principle. It is a general business principle.
I have let numerous magazine subscriptions lapse because the renewal notice didn’t offer credit card renewal. I don’t write checks in the day of electronic bill pay, and I don’t want to get another bill later. I just want to provide my credit card info and be done. In fact, I want my subscription automatically renewed every year, at the best available price, until I say otherwise on an easy-to-use magazine web site.
Yes, I am that lazy. And so are lots of customers. Every little thing you can do to make it easier to do business with you and to use your product or service will improve your rate of adoption.
May 15, 2006
Beware of constant numbers
The fuel-thirsty RV I drove for the past two weeks has a 70 gallon tank. I discovered quickly that some gas stations have pumps programmed to shut off after dispensing $75 worth of fuel (or $50, in some cases). This amounts to around a third of my tank; a friend with a large van reports that the pumps often stop for him, too.
I am told that this limitation is imposed by the credit card companies, presumably to reduce fraud and keep no-signature transactions small.
This is a rare example of a lose-lose-lose situation (as compared to the more common lose-lose situation). Both the credit card processor and the gas station are losing volume, and profit, and the already-antagonized-by-gas-prices consumer is being further annoyed.
It is also an example of the danger of constant numbers in business processes.
Inflation, efficiency, scarcity, competition. The numbers are always going to change. Some go up and others down, and always more than we think possible.
In computer software design there is the Zero-One-Infinity Rule, which suggests that zero and one are the only constant numbers you should worry about. Beyond one you want a limitless formula.
I am sure that the person who came up with the $75 pay-at-the-pump limit used a reasonable formula: “Three times the cost of a full-tank in a full-size car.” The mistake was in programming that day’s answer into all the pumps instead of programming the formula into the pumps.
Gas prices also caught some car rental companies off guard recently. Corporate rental contracts had fixed per-gallon costs for cars returned without a full-tank of gas. This was a great profit center until retail prices rose above the contract rates, which were set at constant numbers instead of a ‘premium over average retail rates’ or some other formula.
A century ago, Frank Woolworth resorted to selling hammers disassembled -- the head and handle separate -- to maintain his promise that everything in the store was five or ten cents. From 1903 to 1970 Hershey shrank its chocolate bars 12 times to avoid crossing its own nickel price barriers as costs increased.
Yet businesses continue to marry themselves to constant numbers. Dollar stores continually seek new lows in quality to maintain their premise. Each year inflation chips away at the profit in the 99 cent value menu and the iTunes music store. How small can the burger get? Will they make the songs shorter?
Check your code, your contracts, and your business processes. Trade your constant numbers for flexible formulas.
May 11, 2006
No, thank you, I won’t be bringing my patience cap
I am on the road with my family in a big, vinyl-wrapped motor home, promoting my company’s latest release. (That’s why the blogging has been light.)
The other day I had a minor maintenance crisis first thing in the morning, on a day when I had to drive five hours to a presentation. Fortunately there was a Camping World nearby, so I went over there to see if they could help me.
The Camping World parking lot was full of RV’s waiting their turn in the busy service bays. I explained my problem, and my tight schedule, to someone at the service desk. After consulting with his manager, he came back to tell me that there was just no way they could help me quickly. He handed me the card of a smaller competitor down the road, though, and said that he had already called to confirm that they could help me immediately.
I called the shop to tell them I was coming. There an exasperated voice wanted to know who was paying for this work. I explained that I was traveling on business and would pay whatever it cost to fix, even if it wasn’t covered by warranty. I also explained that I had a tight schedule and hoped they could look at it right away. “Well, bring your patience cap,” I was admonished.
Well, I didn’t want to bring my patience cap. I didn’t want to bring them any cap at all. So I got some parts and ideas at Camping World and, right there in the parking lot, fixed things well enough to get back on the road.
Camping World will always be my first stop. Even though they couldn’t help me, they took my problem and my schedule seriously. The smaller shop probably could have helped me, but they treated me like an annoyance, not a customer.
May 6, 2006
Leading Blog reviews Fire Someone Today
Fire Someone Today sounds like a book of contrary advice for bosses. Surprisingly, it is a book full of down-to-earth, practical and tested advice for leaders seeking to better their company and the lives of those who work for them.