Month: June 2019

  • Interview on Sumo Heavy’s eCommerce Podcast

    A few months ago I sat with the guys at Sumo Heavy to participate in their eCommerce podcast, The Register. We had fun sharing ‘ism’s and rehashing some Philly eCommerce from the last 15 years.

    You can find the episode page with exec summary here and a direct link to the podcast here:

    We obviously talked about RevZilla a bunch, but it was also fun to talk about my career in tech before all the orange. We also chatted about what led up to the RevZilla acquisition and what my universe has looked like after transitioning out of full-time ops and leadership.

    gel ftw

    Sumo also found the most orangey, exhausted and high-haired photo of me that exists on the internet. Strong detective work, gents… Click through above if you really want to see it.

    It’s also worth noting that I do appreciate the opportunity to go on the record a few times a year to discuss my focus or how I’m seeing the universe at that moment.

    I find it useful to have a record of my headspace at different periods of my life and career. Every once in a while it’s interesting to go back and compare notes with a previous vintage of yourself.

    Thanks for the opportunity, Sumo.

  • Feeling Lucky?

    Recently, a friend told me that my name came up randomly in a business setting of folks I don’t know.

    He paraphrased the sentiment towards RevZilla’s success as a bit dismissive. “That guy totally got lucky. He practically tripped over it.”

    This is my laptop case… Punk.

    The comment didn’t bother me. I’m very proud to be part of something people broadly perceive as successful enough to consider me lucky. 🙂

    That said, in business — my former business, any business — luck matters and it always favors the prepared. Some people say luck is when preparation meets opportunity. I agree with that. I’d also agree with those that might say people can absolutely do the work to put themselves in luck’s path.

    Additionally, some of the most accretive luck is having the foresight to enter a market at a moment that reveals itself later as the optimal time. This is when things are still moving, converging and the full data set actually plays in your favor.

    In 2007, the online motorcycle market was big and dominated by less experiential ecommerce leaders, compared to other specialty industries. I got lucky that year when I went to buy my first bike, helmet and jacket after having just spent nearly a decade in ecommerce. I was prepared enough to clearly recognize the opportunity to build what I believed to be missing from the market.

    RevZilla found further luck as the 2008/2009 financial crisis actually helped us by slowing the industry and incumbents a hair, allowing us to scale our unique strategy organically.

    We were able to stay too small to fail or to need funding, while also getting more time to figure out how to perfect our offering, captivate the customer and run a company. All this while the established eCom players struggled to rebound and respond to a big dip in new motorcycle unit sales.

    We were prepared enough to be able to sneak in from let field (our apartment) and delight their customers.

    Only years later, with the benefit of hindsight, would we see how our timing in entering the market and then the financial crisis actually affected things. In the thick of it, we didn’t know what our competitive set would have felt like in a previous time, so we just tried to focus on figuring it out moment by moment while executing vigorously.

    I do believe that few things, if any, are more important for outsized outcomes (the lightning-in-a-bottle type) than the timing of the market you are in.

    But while that 08/09 credit market was an excellent tailwind, we still needed to have the right idea, the right product, the right strategy and build the right team.

    We (all of us) had to execute our butts off, as well. There were no shortcuts.

    With my expanded data set today, I have even stronger conviction that great execution can’t beat a bad or ill-timed market. The external market conditions just impact too many things.

    I also believe you still have to operate well (obviously) while moving as fast as possible. Weak or slow execution in a great market might produce a B result – at best.

    But… when you nail the things you can control and have the benefit of the right market timing, that is when the ball has a chance to leave the yard. In this scenario, luck, as they say, is on your side.

    So yes, while I know we got a lot right (and a lot of help), we also absolutely got few key things lucky, which certainly enhanced our trajectory and outcome(s).

    Some people hate being called lucky, but I don’t mind it. I’ve already evaluated and continue to appreciate how lucky I’ve been.

    I also expect to continue to be lucky, as I don’t ever plan to stop preparing for new opportunities – whatever they may be.

  • Resulting and Credibility Scores

    Last year, I read Annie Duke’s latest book, “Thinking in Bets“, and liked it so much I gave it to all my close friends as a holiday gift. It’s a life book as much as it is a biz book.

    If you are not familiar with Annie, she was for years the winningest female in the World Series of Poker and, since retiring from playing in 2012, now works with UPENN doing research around Decision Science.

    The book isn’t a poker book and doesn’t even over-index on poker stories. It’s a collection of research and anecdotes surrounding common mistakes in how we all make decisions and evaluate their outcomes.

    I took a handful of things from the read, but two really stuck with me. The first one being the ability to clearly recognize and hopefully avoid “resulting” when I can.

    Resulting is the common trap in which we erroneously offer credit or blame based on the outcomes of the decisions that were made. People tend to falsely believe that all necessary information was known and/or static when decisions were being made. When stated that plainly, it is easy to see the inherent issue.

    Most if not all complex decisions rely on incomplete or uncertain information as well as some elements that are changing. All needed information typically can’t be known or may evolve, for any number of reasons, over time.

    Annie encourages us to ignore outcomes and instead evaluate the decision-making process based on what we know and can control. That could include our process, research, thoroughness or the evaluation of multiple orders of consequences leading to an outcome. It might also include speculation about what is unknown or the assignment of probabilistic values to the elements which could change.

    Excellent decision makers can be unlucky and people who wing it can get it right here and there. The point is to ensure credit or blame is placed appropriately based on the quality of the process for deciding and evaluating the expected outcome. In other words, we should put the greatest value (and potential incentive) toward consistent and excellent forecasting.

    My second major takeaway is the “Credibility Score”, which I’m not sure is her words or if I’m paraphrasing at this point. If “Resulting” is a macro framework which can be used often, I consider Credibility Score the micro framework which can be used daily.

    Tons of research (internet) shows that people will overvalue information which is shared by another person (or the media). Another bucket of research (internet) shows that people want to be helpful because 1) many are inherently good and 2) because it makes them feel good. Unfortunately, a third bucket of research (internet) shows that in an effort to be helpful and feel good lots of people will just make crap up on the fly instead appropriately saying “I don’t know” when they are out of their depth.

    Most of us are guilty of listening to others more than we should. It’s easy at times. It’s even easier when it’s an opinion from your boss, spouse, parent, friend, board member, investor, co-worker, etc. who you respect.

    We’re also all guilty of confidently suggesting things in a friend, family or business setting when we should really be saying, “I’m not sure”, “I haven’t actually done that”, “I don’t know”, “This is just my hunch” or “Let me find out more and get back to you”.

    Being on either side of the ball can create real problems for you, the people you care about or that you are accountable to.

    Taking all of that into account, these days I try to affix a credibility score to the information I share or receive from others. When on the receiving end, I ask “On a scale of 1-10, how certain are you?” Followed typically by a “Why did you score it a #?” I’ve even seen people back off their original number when I ask them to back it up. Very useful.

    On the giving end, I try to proactively offer a, “Remember I’m an N out of 10 confidence level on this because I have/haven’t done X amount of it.” I try to be religious about this when speaking from the adviser, board independent or CEO coach seat.

    I don’t want people I care about to undervalue or much more importantly, overvalue my advice in their decision-making process. Instead of just a rough “Remember, it’s just my opinion”, I want to offer a more useful numeric or contextual score.

    I have to believe that the skeptics out there have a built-in credibility scoring mechanism. For those like me who tend to be more optimistic in their approach, the credibility score is a great check and balance on a potential blind-spot.

    These two people patterns are so simple and easily understood and yet they cause issues in so many places well beyond the office. Once you can spot them, however, they are not that tough to work around via a little extra diligence and/or some checking of the ego.

    If you want more of Mrs. Duke and are being lazy, she popped up on the a16z podcast this spring and frolicked further in these weeds for a solid hour. It’s a great listen.

    Thanks for retraining my brain a bit, Annie. Useful to say the least.

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