Category: Mantras

The Comfort Curve

This is what working smarter looks like
This is what “working smarter, not harder” looks like

Over the last few months my company has made a very intentional effort to “work smarter, not harder”.  Hat tip to good ‘ole dad for ingraining that mantra in my head at an early age.  

We build and sell apps, then sell [and help our customers sell] the advertising spaces on those apps.  “Working smarter” means that we have been “increasing the value of our current apps”.  Translated to non-marketing speak, that means we’ve been adding a whole new smorgasbord of advertising options to the apps.  By introducing new and different types of mobile ads, we generate more revenue.

But there is a dark side…

After all of these new ad units, the audience is confused and upset.  Here’s a sample quote from the reviews in the app stores:

“They shove ads right in the middle of the stories cutting them in half.  When you go to look through pics in a story half of those are ads too…and there are the banners at the bottom.  A good third of all content is ad related.  I will avoid all advertised products and services”

But what gives? Visit just about any news website. You’ll see similar ad units, if not worse.  Watch any TV program and have your viewing experience interrupted for 90 – 180 seconds with commercials.  I say this not argue advertising one way or the other, but to point out a simple observation.  The audience is outside their “comfort curve” in mobile.  This is new territory we’re crossing, people aren’t used to it, and therefore have a visceral reaction to the change.

Ever get pissed that Facebook changed their layout?  What did you do?  Did you quit, or just get used to it?

Over time, you and everybody else, get used to changes in your favorite products, or you quit them entirely if the pain is too high.  For those that stick around, here’s how I visualize this comfort curve.

The Comfort Curve
click to embiggen

Over time, you’ll end up comfortably numb to the changes.  Hell yeah, Pink Floyd reference in a boring business blog post.

While this example is specific to mobile advertising, it can be universally applied to any new change or experience thrust upon a group.  I found myself perturbed when the buttons change on computer screen of the self-checkout lane at the grocery store.  How dare they?!

If there’s a lesson in here somewhere, it’s to expect negative reaction to any change you make with your product. Expect it to even out as the comfort curve approaches comfortably numb.

Just Because You Can

Just because you can taunt a bull...
Just because you can taunt a bull…

Just because you can…

  • Share everything about yourself publicly
  • Make everything out of plastic
  • Quit your job and start a company
  • Process the crap out of food and jam it in a box
  • Check your phone every time it buzzes, chirps, or vibrates
  • Drink one more drink before bedtime
  • Tailgate that person that just cut you off
  • Taunt a bull

…Doesn’t mean you should.  Just because I CAN do something, should I really be doing it?

Covey’s Time Management Matrix has helped me with this lately.

Covey's Time Management Matrix
Covey’s Time Management Matrix


Information Is The Mother Of All Victories

Join me in February of 2012 [that’s last year]. The clock shows 7:45pm and it’s cold & dark outside. Inside we are sitting in incredibly uncomfortable chairs at NCSU, the fluorescent lights cast their sickly glow upon us all, and our HiTEC Entrepreneurship graduate school professors are verbally abusing us once again [in a good way].

Really Cold Calling
Really Cold Calling

“You will call hundreds of potential customers. You will log every call. You will take detailed notes for every call. You will share the notes with us. The teams and businesses that succeed make no less than 1,000,000 calls to know the “Voice of the Customer”. Every colleague in the classroom felt the impact [my memory might be foggy on the 1M number]. Cold calling new, strange, and probably really scary people about your startup is hard work.

Regardless of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles, we put our heads down and made hundreds of calls. In total we recorded detailed conversations with 45 leaders across the state and the country. We gained incredible insight into our future customers. We built trust because we never pitched the business. We asked thoughtful questions. Secret bonus tip: we used our .edu email addresses to initiate contact, which works WAYYYY better than a corporate email address. We built an 8 month pipeline of customers. We forged a relationship with the statewide organization.

For the “I-don’t-want-to-go-back-to-school-to-learn-more-about-this” version, Steve Blank and Bob Dorf provide an authoritative overview in “The Startup Owner’s Manual“.

Eventually, we had to stop the research, get off our arses, and make the sales. The fancy startup word for that is “executing”, just FYI.

The gist: the more information we gathered, the better we did. Better product, better sales, better marketing, better network, better relationships. But we needed more…more on that later.

My “Less Is More”

Credit to Nomad Slim

Everyone has certain codes they try to live by, whether conscious of them or not. One of my personal favorites is “Less is More”. I personally believe this mantra holds true for anybody attempting to create, build, or deliver anything of value. A few quick personal experiences.

As a recovering salesperson, I’ve done my share of “show up & throw up”. That’s when your best prospect finally takes your call and you rattle off the 30 reasons your company is so great for them before they can even speak a word. Before you even know what they want. I have Brandon Wilkins, who was my sales colleague at the time at Bronto Software, to credit for this particular lesson. Immediately after verbally overwhelming a prospect, Brandon pulls me aside and with his characteristic charm spouts “Davis. Dude. Everything you said was awesome. Just say it slower and with less words”. Doesn’t seem like much, but it floored me. Thanks for that, B. Less talking = more listening = more selling. To this day I keep a post-it note glued to my desk that demands “Talk Slower”.

Saleperson's Nightmare
Saleperson’s Nightmare

Another incredibly exciting work story to which us work folks can relate is what I have just dubbed as Salesforcification. You heard it here first. That’s when every freakin’ department decides they want the sales team to capture 40 points of data about a prospect or customer and enter it in to Salesforce. Oh yeah, you don’t get credit for your deal until you have it all entered. Sheesh. The focus should be on Less data that has More impact on what really matters. Plus, grilling your brand new customer with 25 questions about what vendors they use strictly for your own corporate benefit is just plain rude. If you’re implementing or managing Salesforce, don’t let this happen to you.

And now a fun case study with audio. Back when I was cool I played guitar, wrote Excuses Album Coversongs, and attempted to arrange the band as well. Figuring out who plays what & when. Our first arrangements were a sloppy mess. Check out “Blue Jay” on our CDBaby page here. 5 years later we were starting to get the hang of Less is More on “Smelling Like a Rose. We played less notes and the music sounded more better. At least to me.

If you open your mouth to speak, if you write an email, if you tweet, if you code, if you post/pin/whatever, quality [almost] always trumps quantity.

What You Make Of It

Every experience is what you make of it. That’s one of the mantras I use to justify the good, the bad, and the indifferent situations to which I’ve been privy. It’s hard work sometimes.

Have you ever been a part of something in your life that’s pretty easy for others to offer their unsolicited point-of-view, which usually means they didn’t agree with your choice? Here are a few of mine.

Me. A Junior in HS.
Me. A Junior in HS.

Fraternity. There is a lot of garbage within fraternities. You get more than 50 people of any kind and you’re gonna have a few nutballs, no matter what the group. I knew one person the day I started college at a school of >20K students. That’s 0.005% social connectedness. I had my share of nerd-dom in high school (yearbook photo) and I was ready to experience “college”. You know, John Belushi college. My experience gave me life-long friends, the courage to start a band, and a partner to start a window washing business. I’ll take that.

The MBA. For many people they are a waste of time. For me, one of the best uses of time I could imagine. I can count on 4 hands the number of times folks eagerly have shared with me why they don’t need an MBA. I agree with it all. What did I get out of it? I got a startup, built an incredible network, and authored a career change.

Biz partner Matt Kryder
Biz partner Matt Kryder

Startup. One of the most rewarding yet most difficult years of my life. Some nights I dreaded going to bed knowing what faced me the next day. Some mornings I dreaded getting out of bed. But some days I learned more than 19 years of formal education I’ve had. Some days I met incredible people. Some days I got to do things I never dreamed I’d be doing. Incredible and still worth every moment.

Kids album. I used to be cool. That’s what Dads say who think they used to be cool. I led a band for almost 10 years. We recorded 4 albums, appeared on a few local radio & TV stations, and played some great venues in NC.

Me & Buzby on sax
Me & Buzby on sax

All that stopped once band members started having twins and went back to school. After a 4 year hiatus, the sax man recorded a kids album. I think everyone can agree that kids albums are generally horrible, and kids bands are at best creepy. Despite my best judgement, I sat in on the album for guitar and vocals. Now my kids think I’m cool. At least for the next few years. That’s worth it.

The Expert Generalist

I am not a specialist like Jiro. I probably never will be.  I’ve held an embarrassing number and array of jobs: basket weaver, house maid, pool man for Aquarama, plant nursery guy, Arby’s cashier, valet and then room service at the Carolina Inn, intramural ref, fry guy at the Carolina Brewery, window washer business owner, commodities trader assistant, pressure washer, mortgage broker, software salesman, startup founder, marketer.

Credit DieselDemon via Flickr
Credit DieselDemon via Flickr

I’ve done a bunch of random things: church performer, student govt leader, salutatorian (I got robbed for the top spot), lived in Spain, MBA, play piano/guitar/banjo/harmonica, recovering road cyclist, mountain biker, jogging, swimming, disc golf, band leader for 10 years.

Somewhere there’s value in all of this.  Being a little bit good at a bunch of different stuff.

There is no big purpose to the Expert Generalist.  This is writing for the sake of writing.  For being able to finally clearly articulate and think through everything.

The ideas contained here are rarely, if ever, my own. I’ll give credit where credit is due, cite sources if possible, use data when needed. Mostly I just make things up and share what I took away from it all.