Feb 112016

Poor Twitter. Today’s earnings report showed what everyone knew, its user growth has stalled with the number of active participants – Monthly Active Users as the company calls them – didn’t grow in the last quarter and are only up nine percent on the previous year.

The good news for shareholders is advertising revenue grew 48% with both US and international markets showing strong increases. Despite user growth flatlining the company still remains on track to becoming profitable.

As Farhad Manjoo argues at the New York Times, maybe the service needs to focus on more modest ambitions. The company’s dreams of competing with Facebook or growing like Google are never going to be achieved.

We’ve argued at this blog for a year that Twitter’s management and investors should accept the market’s expectations of the business were too lofty and while there’s no reason the company can’t be profitable, it’s not going to be a massive river of gold like Google.

There’s nothing wrong with being a healthy billion dollar business. The risk for Twitter is the greed and ego of investors, founders and shareholders could condemn the company in trying to meet impossible expectations.

Feb 092016

What happens when your Managing Director of five years standing announces he’s decided to move on?

This was something Xero’s senior management had to deal with when Chris Ridd, the company’s Managing Director for Australia, announced that after five years he had decided to move on.

In interviewing Chris and his successor, Trent Innes, last week for The Australian it was striking just how well the succession process had gone for Xero in dealing with the management change, “It has worked out well, it was our preference to go with an internal candidate,” the outgoing GM told me. “From my perspective it’s always good when you can do that but it doesn’t always work out that way.”

Much of this comes down to Chris putting together a cohesive management team, something he’s quite proud of, “Xero has a huge bench, we have a really talented leadership team. I feel really good about leaving now given that the business has gone from six staff to 295 people, three and a half thousand customers to 265,000.”

“I achieved way more than what I thought I’d be able to do in that role and after five years it seemed like the right time frame to go into something else,” he continued.

Part of his confidence in moving on was his confidence in his successor, “Trent and I go back twelve years at Microsoft,” he told me.

The other part of his confidence was that the company has a clearly defined strategy and business plan that neither he or Trent see changing.

Many companies struggle with changing their senior management and much of that is because the board and executives are in denial that people – even those at the top – will move on to new ventures.

A stable management team, a solid business plan and a realistic view about leadership succession are the keys to successfully managing a change at the top, so far it looks like Xero have managed to pull off a change that many other struggle with.

Feb 032016
social media is about connecting with friends

It’s nice and comfortable living in an echo chamber and we’re all guilty of it one way or another. An example of how insular echo chambers can be are two surveys done by UK company Apollo Research on who UK and US tech writers follow on social media.

The answer was each other, with most tech writers following a common core of twenty in the UK and thirty in the US. Basically the groups are talking to each other which explains how technology stories tend to gain momentum as variations on the same stories feed through the network.

While technology journalists are bad for this, it could be argued their political colleagues are far more guilty of this group think as their working in close quarters makes them even more insular and inward looking. That explains much of the political reporting we see today which often seems divorced from the real world concerns of voters or challenges facing governments.

For all of us, not just journalists, it’s easy to become trapped in our own little echo chambers and find it harder to think outside the pack as the web and platforms like Facebook deliver us the information we and our friends find confirms our own biases.

Clearly, thinking with the pack creates a  lot of risks and for businesses also raises opportunities. At a time of fast moving technology and falling barriers to entry, thinking outside the prevailing group could even be a good survival strategy.

A good example of industry group think is the US motor industry of the 1970s where they dismissed Japanese competitors as being cheap and substandard – similar to how many think about China today – yet by the end of the decade Japan’s automakers had captured most of the world’s market.

On a national level, Australia is a good example of dangerous groupthink as up until three years ago the consensus among governments, public servants, economists and business leaders was the China resources boom would last indefinitely.

Today that consensus looks foolish, not that those within the echo chamber are admitting they made the wrong call, and now governments are struggling to find new revenue streams as the expected rivers of iron ore and coal royalties fail to arrive.

For Australian businesses, governments looking to raise revenues are another factor to plan for and getting one’s tax return and company paperwork in on time might be a good idea to avoid fines from overzealous public servants.

The bigger lesson for us all however is not to think like the group. While it may feel safe in the herd, we could well be galloping over a cliff.

One simple way to avoid groupthink, and that cliff, is not to copy the tech writers or the Australian economic experts who mis-called the China Boom. With the web and social media we can listen to what other voices are saying, most importantly those of our markets and customers.

A varied information diet is something we all need t0 understand what our markets, economies and communities are doing. It might be comfortable huddling down with the herd, but you’ll never stand out from the pack.

Jan 152016

Zappos’ experiment with a new way of management continues to show slow progress reports the New York Times.

While Halocracy’s introduction is proving problematic at Zappos, Tony Hsieh’s quest to reinvent management remains fascinating. In an October 2015 interview on This Week In Startups with Michael Arrington the Zappos CEO explained how the system works.

“The ultimate goal is for employees to find what they’re passionate about, what they’re good at and what’s going to move the company forward,” Hsieh explained.

Given such a change in management philosophy, it isn’t surprising a lot of staff and supervisors are struggling. Hsieh though should be credited with this experiment to move away from Twentieth Century management practices and we are some way off finding out whether it’s successful or not.

Oct 262015
business confidence is essential to the cloud

“The cardinal sin of the computing industry is the creation of complexity,” is quote attributed to Oracle founder Larry Ellison and often repeated at the company’s Open World forum which I’m attending at the moment in San Francisco.

For the computer industry that complexity has been a very profitable profitable business with everything from the local computer shop through to the big technology vendors and integrators.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of that complexity were the salespeople, big complex enterprise deals meant big commissions.

With the shift to cloud services and apps, those fat margins and commissions have evaporated, leaving the lucrative old models of business stranded. IBM are probably the greatest victim of this while Microsoft are, once again, showing the company’s ability to evolve in the face of a fundamental market change.

For the salespeople the days of fat commissions are over, with thinner margins it’s not possible to pay big lump sums for winning contracts.

The simplification of the computer industry is changing the fortunes of many IT businesses, but that change isn’t limited to the tech sector or their salespeople as those fundamental changes are rippling into other sectors.

A constant claim by Internet of Things evangelists is that the IoT will squeeze inefficiencies out of businesses and this is exactly what we’re seeing with cloud and mobile based services like Uber and AirBnB.

If you’re in a business that profits from market inefficiencies then it might be time to figure out how to survive in a low margin environment. The challenge facing companies like Oracle is one whole industries are now having to face.

Oct 232015

Twitter’s new Executive Chairman finds the service intimidating to use reports the Wall Street Journal.

With a distracted CEO juggling the Initial Public Offering of his other business, it’s hard to see how Twitter is going to get the focused management and supervision it desperately needs to maintain its valuation.