Archive for 'Stage Two'

Feb 21

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Products, Stage Two

Building Hardware is Hard

Kara Swisher is reporting at All Things D that student tablet maker Kno

is considering selling off the entire hardware part of the business and is in talks with two major consumer electronics manufacturers to do so, according to sources close to the situation.

Engadget also picked up the story, and cites competition from more established hardware manufacturers as one of the motives behind this move. Kno will reportedly focus on providing software for the iPad and Android tablets going forward.

The news only underscores the point that bringing well designed hardware to market is a difficult proposition. Some individuals think that because they have built a successful software business or popular website, they will be good at building hardware. This is a lot like assuming that if you are good at plotting data on a graph, you know exactly how a black hole works. Hardware is a complicated, complex animal. It presents many potential points of failure, and has its own unique challenges. The key to delivering great hardware is assembling an experienced team that knows how to handle everything from product concept to product launch.

Let’s imagine a web entrepreneur who starts a successful dating site (or cooking site, etc). Given the way the web works, he could easily transfer all of the lessons he learned building that site to another URL. Everything the first experience taught him about customer acquisition, internet marketing, and web design would apply to his second website (and his third and fourth, etc). If this CEO used the same transferable skills to build a number of websites he would be considered (rightly so) a savvy entrepreneur.

Now let’s look at what it takes to build a gadget, and the paradoxes that are inherent in successful hardware manufacturing. The more successful one is at building a gadget, the more money is needed to continue to be successful and the more likely the gadget business is to fail.

Wait, what? It seems counter intuitive, but with hardware, growth = problems. The moment your device becomes a success you need to accommodate more orders from the distribution channel (those are the guys that place your hardware in retail, BTW). For example, if you sold 10K units last quarter, and orders for the next quarter are 30K, you have to start building for the quarter after that. The good news is that sales are projected for 60K units. The bad news is that you need to pay for those gadgets now.

Hardware presents problems that software and websites never encounter. Bringing a hardware device to market can take 9-13 months. During that time there are significant costs and multiple points of failure that can come up (the power button won’t work, the driver is malfunctioning, the gadget loves to catch on fire, etc). As opposed to the web/software entrepreneur mentioned above, almost all of these hardware problems are unique and no amount of software success will apply in the gadget realm (you can’t pivot a defective mother board).

This post isn’t meant to pick on Kno or its leadership (by any means). And the point is not to say that startups that build hardware can’t be successful (they can). The point of this post is to point out that a great product team determines hardware’s success. They do this largely because they have done the work before and were successful. (Take us for example, we have been building award-winning devices in the CE space for years, but don’t ask Stage Two to design a main frame- that’s not our bag). Dedicated product professionals understand how complicated hardware is and have the mettle to think through every potential problem, from the quick start guide, to the distribution channel, to customer service and support. Building a new device is hard. Make sure that your product team is up to the challenge.

Feb 18

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Stage Two

HBR: How Apple Broke All The PR Rules and Got Away With It

Joshua Gans has a smart article at the Harvard Business Review that looks at how Apple broke major PR rules during “antennagate” and lived to tell the tale.

To recap, after the iPhone 4 launched, there were reports that holding the phone a certain way would reduce the signal strength. Quoting from the article:

For several weeks, Apple looked like a laughing stock. But by mid-July, the issue was gone. And not just negated, but pretty well forgotten.

How did Apple achieve this seemingly impossible public relations feat? By breaking 5 key “rules” ingrained in the public relations playbook. Jobs & co. did none of these — and that is why he succeeded in capturing the higher ground.

The PR laws that Apple broke were:

1. Apologize and take full responsibility.

2. Don’t create expectations with a media event.

3. Announce the give away first.

4. Avoid specific comparisons with competitors.

5. Don’t air your industry’s dark secrets.

The article is informative (as are the comments) and well worth a read, but the summary is that Apple played its own game, stuck to its guns, smashed two decades of PR dogma and came off smelling like roses.

Feb 17

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Marketing, Press, Products, Stage Two

Stop Enabling Mediocre Technology

Enabling personality types tend to minimize obvious problems, “protect people from negative consequences” and suffer from intense denial, among other psychological traits. While the urge to enable is “born out of love,” the results of this behavior are ultimately destructive. A loved one makes excuses for an addict in the family because they feel that this will help them. In reality, though, it only encourages and prolongs the negative actions.

In my mind, many tech reviews – both professional editorial content and amateur user comments – enable mediocre products by overlooking their obvious flaws. These articles give glowing impressions of consumer technologies that are clearly “not ready for prime time.” The reviewers and commenters are acting from a place of love. They think they are helping by engaging in this behavior. They may feel strongly that a certain company makes great devices and they really want other people to feel the same way. But what winds up happening is that these individuals make excuses for devices that are lacking in quality and the entire tech industry suffers as a consequence.

The quotes below are from positive product reviews. The names and quotes have been altered to protect sub-par devices:

I’m sure it will improve over time.”
- Top Tier Blogger

“This device has a lot of potential.”
- Well Known Gadget Site

“There is a ton of potential here.”
- Tech Review

Again, these quotations are from three and four star reviews. This kind of cognitive dissonance happens all the time. Never mind that the device breaks sometimes, or that it’s missing some core functions at launch. It’s still a good purchase, say the enablers. And because we refuse to call out bad consumer tech, the manufacturers feel they can get away with shipping so-so products. As long as there is sufficient “hype,” “buzz” and “social interest,” who cares if the gadget doesn’t work that well?

This enabling happens in every sector of the lifestyle electronics industry. Take almost any product in the smart TV space, for example. Not that great. But you wouldn’t know that from all the noise. These devices have been written up – for the most part – as a good first try and well worth investing in. Android mobile up until 2.1? Same apologetic story (I can’t remember if that version is called Hot Chocolate or Snow Cone).

Every member of the CE industry needs to deliver on the promises of amazing tech. We all need to work together on this and raise our standards, not lower them. When a product doesn’t work – we should say so. If a device ships with a lot of “anticipation” but doesn’t deliver on its promises, we need to say that, too. If most products are written up as “pretty good,” it makes it harder for consumers to distinguish the truly exceptional devices in the field.

16% of Galaxy tablets are returned. Why? The enablers are partly to blame (although with those numbers there is plenty of blame to go around). The bottom line is that we all need to approach tech from the perspective of a consumer. We need to hold companies accountable for shipping bad products. Not in a nasty way, but in an honest way. When that starts to happen, I believe that the overall quality of consumer tech will improve. By encouraging people to purchase products that do not perform as they should, we tacitly encourage bad behavior from the industry as a whole. And that is the definition of enabling.

Feb 16

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Marketing, Products, Stage Two, UI/UX

Why You Won’t Beat the iPad by Building an . . . iPad

Hey, you look familiar.

If anyone really wants to compete in the tablet space, they can’t do it by creating products that look and feel almost exactly like Apple’s iPad. We’ve blogged on this topic before, but it bears repeating here. Chasing the iPad’s form factor, feature set and price point will not differentiate PC tablets or attract new customers (with the rare exception of the Apple haters, which isn’t really an exciting market to fight about). If anything, we can easily see the decision to copy the iPad driving even more consumers to Apple’s tablet.

The three most prominent tablets in the news right now (that aren’t the iPad) are the Blackberry Playbook, the Motorola Xoom and the recently announced HP TouchPad. What do these tablets all have in common?

They all feature interfaces that look the same as iOS.

It doesn’t matter if competing tablets run Android, Windows or webOS. They all run operating systems that look like the iPad’s iOS. Sure, some tech enthusiasts (read, fanboys) will line up for the next version of Android, but for the vast majority of consumers, all the tablets look the same. This is a disadvantage for iPad competitors. They have failed to innovate and differentiate themselves.

They all have a form factor that mimics the iPad.

All of these tablets look like the iPad (sure, the Samsung Galaxy is a bit smaller, but the device hasn’t sold all that well and suffers from a 16% return rate). For the most part, other tablets are following Apple’s lead. The TouchPad even has the same one-button design. Engadget writes that it “is shaped almost exactly like the iPad.” The Xoom and the Playbook also have a physical profile that mirrors Apple’s original. Where is the innovation from Apple competitors? Where is the tablet that has ten physical buttons (hyperbole here, to be sure, but why only one button)? Where is the tablet that is easier to hold? Where is the slide out keyboard? There are so many ways to create a unique tablet experience, but most tablets today are content with imitating the iPad.

They all have prices similar to the iPad.

Almost all of the competing tablets have price points near the iPad’s (except the crafty Xoom which costs $200 more than an iPad). The failure to differentiate on price is a de facto win for Apple. Quoting from my earlier blog post:

No consumer will want to spend more than $500 for a Windows or Android tablet. At that price point, they will simply purchase the iPad. It is desirable, it is stable, it is fun and has a cultural allure attached to it thanks to Apple’s brilliant design and marketing.

Even pricing below $500 is problematic for Apple competitors. A $300 tablet is just close enough to the iPad’s price that people will probably wind up mowing a few extra lawns or clocking some overtime to get their hands on the genuine article from Cupertino.

They all have the same target customer as the iPad.

Sure, there are a few specialized fields where non-iPads can grow rapidly (think medicine, defense, kids tabs, and enterprise solutions). But apart from those arenas, it seems that every tablet coming out from PC makers is competing directly for potential iPad customers.

They have all announced products that haven’t shipped yet.

There is almost no upside to announcing products that are not complete. All you wind up doing is telegraphing your punches and revealing your plans to the industry at large. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, these other companies have announced their unreleased tablets prior to the iPad 2 shipping. Has no one read The Art of War?

“The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known.”

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Why would a company move its “army” (read, tablet) into field when it knows the enemy (read, iPad 2) is coming very shortly? What advantage is there in telling the world about a new device that isn’t quite ready yet and will ship sometime soon? There is almost no discernible advantage. In general, do not share your product road map, and do not announce products publicly until they are ready to ship.

Conclusion

Hardware manufacturers will not erode iPad’s first mover market position by copying the iPad. In order to gain market share (and mind share) tablets need to show people something they haven’t seen before. Where are the tablets that let you divide the screen into multiple sections and run different programs in each “zone”? Why do all the other choices seem to be copies of the original iPad? Given the explosive growth of the iPad, other tablets need to innovate, not imitate.

Feb 16

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Stage Two

Why Microsoft Should Kin The Zune

If the first image your brand conjures up is this one, it’s time to build a better brand.

Stephen Elop and Steve Ballmer recently issued an open letter outlining – in great detail – the strategic partnership between Nokia and Microsoft. However, the letter (which is really a press release signed by two CEOs) never mentions Zune once. In fact, it seems that neither company has had much to say about how the Zune brand fits in to the emerging Windows/Nokia mobile ecosystem. This has led some industry observers to conclude that the Zune “brand is on its last legs.“  Paul Therrott writes that “Zune was conspicuously missing—both in discussions from both Elop and Ballmer and on a global reach marketing slide that was created by both companies.”

Where's Zune?

Paul continues:

My sources tell me that the Zune brand is on the way out and that all Zune products and services will be moved into other businesses, including Windows Live. Zune will essentially cease to exist under this plan.

Mary Jo Foley has more at ZDNet, including a standard “we are not killing off Zune” statement from Microsoft and this clever piece of reporting:

Some veteran Microsoft heavy-hitters are moving to the Xbox division, as I’ve blogged recently, and are seemingly working on some kind of services-focused project . . . Maybe the Zune service will end up as part of the evolving Microsoft IPTV strategy?

It seems likely that Zune will be rebranded (as Windows Live or XBOX Media) or killed off in the coming months. Some have opined that getting rid of the Zune brand would be “foolish.” However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Here’s why Microsoft should Kin the Zune.

Zune is not a great brand.

It doesn’t stand for anything and people do not have a positive emotional connection with Zune. MSN is a more desirable brand at this point, as is XBOX.

Killing Zune is cost effective.

Look at how much money it would take for Microsoft to turn Zune into a desirable, fun, meaningful brand versus how much money it would take to acquire a new media brand. Zune supporters argue that Redmond is “pot committed” to the brand, but this is not correct. Any additional investment in Zune is throwing good money after bad. It’s good branding and good business to kill Zune.

Microsoft has killed off bad ideas before.

Look no further than the Kin. Even after something has come to market, Microsoft isn’t afraid to put struggling products out of their misery.

Conclusion

There is no reason to doubt Microsoft’s ability to compete in this sector. They understand the need to build a Windows-based mobile ecosystem (as the Nokia deal attests to). And they know that a big part of mobile is delivering media. I trust Microsoft to ramp up a competitive iPhone/Android alternative that gives consumers easy access to movies, photos, games and music. They are capable of doing this well and in a timely manner. They just shouldn’t attempt this with the Zune brand.

Feb 08

Posted by Jim

Posted in Marketing, Stage Two

Why Engineers (Usually) Aren’t To Blame For Missed Product Deadlines

Picture this: Your company is about to miss a second product deadline that you’ve committed to publicly. You’ve told the press that you are launching Feature X tomorrow and QA knows it’s not ready. What do you do if you are the CEO? Marketing Manager? VP of Engineering? Whose fault is this and how can you course correct?

Many people’s first response is to blame the Engineers. After all, they didn’t deliver on time. It must be their fault. But this is usually an oversimplification of the product development process. There are best practices for managing a product crisis, and almost none of them involve screaming at engineering.

Ideally you never want to be put in this situation. But examining this hypothetical example of missed public deadlines can be instructive for executives and professionals in a variety of fields.

The first question to ask when staring down the barrel of a (second) public shaming is, “How did we get here?” There are many ways this scenario could have happened.

This kind of problem usually occurs when a company builds something new. Maybe it is a first-run product or a new set of features. Maybe there is a new third party API. Whatever the product or feature is, it typically contains a lot of unknown variables and hidden horrors that push out expected deadlines.

There are also institutional issues that contribute to missed product milestones. Problems can occur when business or financial motives arbitrarily set product deadlines without getting sign off from the “boots on the ground” in engineering.

A good rule of thumb for setting product development deadlines is to have the engineering team 90% confident that they can meet proposed milestones. Not the head of engineering (at least not without the confidence of all his team leads). Not the CEO. Managers can’t will something into existence if it requires code, no matter how persuasive they are. Make sure that all the people who own the product have committed to the date and encourage them to send honest feedback up the food chain.

Of course, the best possible scenario is never missing a public deadline in the first place. Here, then, are our guiding principles for managing missed public deadlines.

1. If you miss a publicly announced deadline, don’t set a second deadline publicly.

2. If there are variables in the project that are out of your control (such as third parties) don’t set a new deadline publicly.

3. Only announce a ship date after the product is ready to ship and all the bugs are worked out.

4. If marketing (or any other department, for that matter) changes product features, engineering needs to adjust the ship date. If this date is publicly available, you must communicate the changes to the public.

5. If you work in Marketing/ Communications/ PR/ Social Media, be realistic. Don’t be hopeful, optimistic, pessimistic, angry or ashamed. Be real. No one cares how you feel about your missed deadline. Stick to the facts.

6. Don’t blame others for your own missed milestone– it’s petty.

7. Clearly explain why the deadline was missed. Open the kimono and tell what happened (in diplomatic terms), what your initial expectations were and why you were wrong.

8. The moment an organization knows a product will be late it must begin the process of communicating that information to the press and public. The sooner the better.

An analogy here is to think of going on a hot date. If you have a date with an attractive person at 8:00 pm, and you know that you are running late, when would be a good time to tell that person that you won’t make it on time? Should you tell them as soon as you know, or at 7:59 pm? It all depends if you want another date.

9. CEOs should investigate the process and find out where it broke down. In addition to issuing personal apologies the CEO should be prepared to fire inept senior managers.

In general, keep your product road map a secret. Ask yourself why you are announcing something before it is ready? It can’t be to drive sales, because the product is not on sale. Is it for pre-orders? There is almost no upside to releasing dates to the press and public. There are, however, many downsides.

Apple does this incredibly well. If Apple told the media that iPad 2 would ship on XX day with YY features, that would only cut into the original iPad’s sales. So they never announce a product until they know that it is ready to ship. To conclude, there are many things executives can do when a public deadline is missed, but the most important one is to not give a revised deadline that people will not have faith in.

Jan 26

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Blogging, Gadgets, Stage Two, UI/UX

Fortune: How Steve Jobs Gets Things Done

We ran across this interesting Fortune article today that examines how Apple CEO Steve Jobs gets things done.

He doesn’t just develop new products; he changes games. The iPod, iPhone, and iPad, along with iTunes, have created massive disruptions, forcing players in the music and telecom industries—among others—to change their business models.

The piece is well worth a read. It examines how Jobs is able to create successful consumer tech again and again during his “second act” at Apple. While there are a number of factors at play here, the article pays particular attention to how Jobs focuses on product design and User Experience.

He views a product as an experience, not just an object. He can visualize what it will look and feel like, and can then execute it to near perfection. He makes advanced technology friendly to consumers based on his uncommon talent for connecting it to user experience. He has an innate feel for design, convenience, simplicity, and elegance in the product.

Fortune also points to his ability to manage people, make critical decisions and identify new opportunities as contributing factors to Apple’s meteoric rise in the past 12 years.

Steve Jobs didn’t invent phones, MP3 Players or Tablet PCs; he made them simple to use and desirable by focusing on how hardware and software design relate to the user experience. Steve Jobs gets things done by demanding the best from his people and building technologies that people desire.

Jan 26

Posted by Meghan

Posted in Stage Two

Google Calendar Gets Even Better – NudgeMail Adds gCal Integration

Lots of people use Google Calendar to manage their schedules. They enjoy the simple, powerful organizational tools it provides. Well, gCal just got even more useful.

Stage Two is pleased to announce full Google Calendar integration with NudgeMail, the email based reminder system. Starting today, you can set up appointments and reminders in Google Calendar with NudgeMail. Draft an email, send that email, see it in your gCal. It’s that easy.

NudgeMail users are drawn to the simplicity and ease of our reminder system. It uses plain language, works in any email client and doesn’t have anything to download or install. Now we’re providing more robust tools for setting reminders and managing your schedule from your inbox.

The Google Calendar integration also adds more functionality to your NudgeMail. For example, now you can get NudgeMail reminders via SMS just by turning on the gCal integration. If a service talks to gCal, it now talks to NudgeMail too.

To set up your gCal and NudgeMail together, go to www.nudgemail.com/gcal Not using NudgeMail yet? Just send a blank email to welcome@nudgemail.com (it’s that easy). NudgeMail was founded to help people manage their inbox. Now it helps people manage their calendar too.

The word is out and people are excited! See links below. If we’ve missed something, don’t worry, we will continue to add throughout the day:

All Things D

CNET

Geek.com

LifeHacker

SiliconANGLE

TechRepublic

The Next Web

VentureBeat

ZD Net

Jan 17

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Blogging, Outreach, Press, Social Media, Stage Two

The 10 Commandments of Tech PR

It seems like only yesterday that Moses came down from the mountain with 15 10 Commandments for righteous living.

Like Moses, we have received 10 unbreakable laws. Unlike Moses, our list only covers Tech PR and Social Media Best Practices. These rules will give you moral clarity whether you are working with enterprise level technologies or lifestyle electronics; cloud computing or home networking; gadgets or accessories.

Without further preamble, we present the 10 Commandments of Tech PR.

1. Thou Shalt Not Spam

If your “pitches” are mass emails to outdated and/or irrelevant media lists then they are not outreach. They are spam. Be sure to keep your media lists current and tailor them to best meet the needs of your client. Unless you are pitching a maritime gadget, you probably shouldn’t contact Sport Fishing Magazine.

2. Thou Shall Only Pitch News

Don’t pitch a story because your client said to. Don’t pitch a story in order to tell the client you pitched a story. Don’t pitch a story you know is forgettable. Don’t pitch a story that looks like an ad. Don’t pitch a story that looks like the intern wrote it. It sounds simple, but many tech PR professionals forget this Commandment. Only Pitch News.

3. Thou Shalt Be Aware of Current Trends

Read everything you can get your hands on. Understand how your client relates to current media and technology trends and pitch accordingly.

4. Thou Shalt Not Pitch Products You Don’t Believe In.

It is best to work for companies whose work you believe in. When you represent amazing products, you can speak with integrity and authority.

Great products make great PR.

When Tech PR people are passionate about the products and services they pitch, the result is usually better outreach, more coverage and increased buzz.

If you are pitching a bad product that you don’t care about, it will probably show in your work. Even if you create “professional” releases for sub-par products, word will get out that you and your firm work with second tier clients. That is a reputation no PR professional wants to have.

5. Honor the Exclusive and Embargoed Release

Never leak your own rumors anonymously to the internet just to drum up interest in your client. If you ensure your pitches are newsworthy, relevant, interesting and aligned with current trends, the buzz will take care of itself.

6. Thou Shalt Not Pitch Products You Don’t Understand

If you don’t know how the gadget works or what the device does you should not be pitching it. If you look at the specs and can’t grok what they mean, then you should not be pitching that product. If you don’t have a deep understanding of the technology you are pitching, you need to stop pitching that technology.

7. Thou Shalt Not Guarantee Coverage

It’s impossible to guarantee coverage. Don’t do it.

8. Thou Shall Speak English

You would think that speaking in technical jargon would only occur in the enterprise space. You would be wrong. Speak English. Avoid Specs and Jargon at all costs. No one cares that the processing power of your pocket popcorn popper increased 20%. People care about benefits, not features. Do not blog like a calculator. Be sure to use spell check and make sure your work has perfect punctuation.

9. Thou Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Your Client

Never lie to the press. Ever. Not even a little bit. It is immoral. It is also bad for your clients and your own reputation. When people know that your word is your bond, they will grow to trust and respect your  pitches. Ethical business is good business.

10. Thou Shall Be Creative

Most tech press releases go unread. Don’t be afraid to get creative when reaching out to the media. Instead of a press release, how about hosting an event? The secret to coverage isn’t free booze – it’s positioning great technology in creative and relevant ways.

If you have any more Tech PR Commandments, be sure to inscribe them in the comments section below.

Jan 13

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Blogging, Clients, Events, Gadgets, Marketing, Outreach, Press, Products, Smart TV, Stage Two

CES By The Numbers

The following numbers were compiled during Stage Two’s journey to CES this year.

Number of Clients Named Finalists for iLounge’s Best of Show CES 2011: 1

Broadcast Interviews Held: 7

Number of Clubs We Talked Our Way In: 6

Number of S2 Clients Named Mashable Awards Finalists: 1

Number of Articles Published Mentioning S2 Clients: 199 (and counting)

Number of Stage Two Clients Featured in this Wall Street Journal Article: 2

Alcoholic Beverages Consumed: 94

Times Clients Appeared Live on G4 TV: 1

Press Briefings Conducted: 343

International Articles Posted: 7

USA Today Video Interviews Delivered: 2

Number of Cigars Smoked: 4

Number of Tweets Sent: 296

Total Hours of Media Training Provided To Clients: 53

Client Mentions in Rolling Stone: 1

Impressions Delivered: Millions

Number of Miles Walked: 129

Times We Ate Reese’s instead of Dinner: 3

Number of Colds Caught: 1.5

Ars Technica Articles Published: 1

Number of Business Cards Collected: 384

Number of Filets ordered: 1

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