On Preparing for Change


Only six weeks away from welcoming our son into this world, I can’t think of a more appropriate time to think about change.

Ever since reading the classics of business literature – the likes of Peter Drucker, Marshall Goldsmith, and Jim Collins – I’ve focused a lot on change and being a change agent. If there is one thing that all business gurus seem to agree on, it’s that change is necessary for growth and success.

However, lately I’ve started to think about change differently, both at home and at work.

I used to see change as an event. I thought it went like this:


Why I Think Slack is a Terrible Collaboration Tool

First of all – I don’t hate everything about Slack. In fact – in a lot of ways Slack is really excellent.

Slack is the first instant messaging software that actually works the way you’d expect an instant messaging client to work. Having used different instant messaging tools for the last 15 years – Slack takes the cake in a lot of ways.

Here’s what Slack does well:

  • Every message is archived and searchable (and the archive is reliable, a huge problem with other messaging clients)
  • Support across desktop, mobile, tablet, etc. in a seamless, intuitive way
  • Quick and easy file transfers
  • Lots of emoji’s and other fun goodies (like a nifty tool that lets you set reminders)

As an IM tool – Slack is actually very good: far and away the best choice for person-to-person communication.

Now – here’s what I don’t like.


So Good They Can’t Ignore You


Over the past couple weeks I’ve been reading So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport on recommendation from Michael Griffiths.

In general I think the book has a valid message, but I really didn’t like reading it that much.

The bulk of the book is spent debunking a common career myth: “Do what you love and the money will follow.” Cal asserts that this advice, often given to young professionals or recent college graduates, is misguided and leads people to make poor career decisions.

Instead of following your passion, Cal suggests that those new to the workforce should focus on building their “career capital” and assembling skills that companies are willing to pay for. Only after working for a number of years and assembling a large amount of career capital should employees then use that capital to get more control over their work schedule and start to think about what they really love to do.



I first wrote about meditation in July of 2013. The post (linked here) I penned shortly after reading the seminal work Meditation for Dummies.   At the time I was very excited and curious about meditation. I knew that a more focused mind would make me more effective at work, and (although I didn’t exactly know how) I also hoped meditation would help me live a more balanced and complete life.

Looking back over the past three years, I have to admit, I have not practiced meditation nearly as much as I wanted. I just haven’t found the right combination of routine, venue, and motivation to make it all work on a regular basis.

That is, until last month when I discovered Headspace (Well – I didn’t really discover it, my colleague Jenny Cox recommended it to me – but it felt like a discovery).

The concept behind headspace is simple – it’s an app for your smartphone that offers guided meditations. Each guided meditation is between 10 and 20 minutes long and is arranged in a “pack” – a sequential series of guided meditations focusing on a particular topic (e.g. Relationships, Focus, Health, Performance, Anxiety, etc.). Each pack is 30 sessions long and is designed to be completed like a course, the first few meditations introduce basic concepts and as you progress, you practice and master the techniques. Toward the end of each course, there is dramatically less guidance, and the last few meditations can be almost completely quiet except for a few prompts.


What vs. How


For the past couple weeks I’ve been reading Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport (special thanks to Igor Shindel for the great recommendation).

The book is interesting. At the core, Newport examines the differences between “deep” and “shallow” work. He explains that “deep work” involves long stretches of uninterrupted, focused work. Shallow work is the opposite, short bursts of unfocused work speckled with interruptions from email and social media.   Along the way Newport describes many of the world’s greatest thinkers and inventors, crediting their achievements to the disciplined practice of deep work.

One of the thinkers that Newport talks about is Andy Grove of Intel. There was one particular anecdote about Grove really jumped out at me.


It’s Really Hard to Change Your Brand

Late last year Playboy made headlines by announcing that they would no longer show nudity in their magazine. Down to a circulation of just ~800,000 (from a peak of 7.16M in 1972) the decision was likely spurred by declining readership and the changing media landscape. The move may also have been an attempt to compete with more popular non-pornographic male oriented magazines like Maxim – whose circulation is still relatively strong at 2M.

Taking the Metro North Railroad into Grand Central throughout the month of March, it was hard to miss the redesigned Playboy cover – it lined the exterior of the large Hudson News stand outside track 41, where my train routinely arrives.

As I walked by each morning, I kept thinking to myself: “Is anyone really going to buy that thing?”

The answer to my question came sooner than I thought – by March 24th the Wall Street Journal reported that Playboy (the company) was up for sale. Presumably the magazine did not meet sales expectations and as a result the company was on the auction block.

Today, Playboy magazine is no longer on display on the outside of Hudson News – but rather it’s hidden on the interior of the stand, next to other less popular magazines.

The overall lesson for me: It’s really really hard to change your brand.


The Death of Magazines (Round 2)

For a long time now, magazines have been in trouble. Everyone knows it.

Below, Pew research shows slow deflation of ad sales over time for many of world’s most popular magazines.


Back in 2008, when I was still working at an ad agency and I was buying magazine ad pages, I thought about the issue and concluded that the key to keeping magazines in business was the magic element of content curation. Content curation is the process of organizing content in a way that hangs together artfully and, in sum, has a greater impact on the reader than each article would in isolation if experienced separately.

Obviously the internet has meaningfully hurt the magazine industry because people can get access to information much more quickly than ever before (sorry weekly news magazines). However, a downside of the internet is that it is so sprawling and messy. How do you know that you can trust what you read on the internet? How do you keep from spending all day looking for useful information amid the internet trash heap?

That’s where magazine curation comes in. In 2008, I was sure that the future of magazines was well-curated content organized by a professional editor.  Done and done, magazines saved.

Well recently I had an experience that has caused me to take a closer look at the future of magazines. (more…)

Channel Partnership

Last week, Miranda and I discovered that the windows of our new house (yes – the windows I spent 3 days last fall re-glazing by hand..) are covered in peeling lead paint. After a strong warning from the lead inspector, replacement windows immediately shot to the top of our to-do list.

We met with a few different window companies over the last few days – but by far the most interesting company we met with was a company called “Renewal by Anderson”. Here’s their website: http://www.rbawestchester.com/.

They are part of the Anderson window company (the company that makes the windows) but this company also delivers and installs the windows. When the salesperson was here I started asking him a little bit more about his company and how it was started. The answers he gave me were fascinating.


What is a Product Offering?

Attribution: Today’s post is inspired by a lesson I recently learned from Dr. Dwight Porter, President of Applied Decision Resources and all around business genius.  I’m very lucky to study under his tutelage.


Imagine for a second that you (the reader) and I just started a brand new tech company.  We’ll call it Andrew and Jon’s Technology Company (I’m going to refer to you as Jon, just play along).  The first thing we do is draw up a thesis on what the company could be, maybe we raise a small amount of money from friends and family or angel investors and then we hit the streets trying to sell our software.  For the sake of this exercise let’s say we’re building a software application for corporate instant messaging.  Our value proposition is that unlike current players in the market, our app lets you view group chats in a threaded pattern (big weakness of current apps in the market, like Slack).

To start, we’ll have zero customers, a work-in-progress messaging platform, and no revenue.  Our immediate goal is to land our first customer – someone who believes in us and is willing to bet on us.  Chances are we’ll pitch dozens of prospective customers before we find a single company who will buy anything from us.  The first 30 companies we talk to use Slack and don’t have a need for anything more sophisticated or different.  However after weeks of searching for a customer, we do find a security company called Security Inc. that has a special unmet need.  They need a messaging app with a very high level of security.  Well – it’s a little different than our business plan, but these folks are willing to pay us, so why not give it a shot? 

At this point, our “product map” looks roughly like this: (more…)

What Differentiates One DSP over Another?

This is a repost from Quora – if you like it, please follow this link and “upvote”!


Disclaimer: I have a bit of a horse in this race because I lead buy side product for AppNexus and one of our products, Console, can be used as a DSP. That being said, I’ve been studying this space for a long time and I’ll try to be as objective as possible.

Before you get started with your DSP evaluation, there are two very important things you need to know about the DSP space.

One: Media vs. Technology.

Inside the DSP category there is a hidden dichotomy between two distinct offerings (two distinct industries, really): media and technology. When evaluating DSPs the first thing you need to think about is whether you’re really looking for more of a media-first solution or more of a tech-first solution.

The choice is not as straightforward as you might think.

Are you an agency who is looking for a new vendor to put on your media plan and see how the performance compares to other DSPs, Networks and Publishers? Are you a marketer who really wants a full service solution and easy results? Are you a trade desk who wants to tap into the efficiency of programmatic buying but doesn’t have a team of traders? If any of these questions resonate, you’re probably looking for more of a media-first solution.

Are you a marketer with a data science team that you want to leverage to optimize your paid media? Are you a marketer who is looking to build a differentiated in-house media buying capability? Are you an agency or ATD with a built out trading team? Are you an ad tech provider looking to build on top of a commodity ad tech platform to accelerate your time to market and allow you to focus your development effort only on differentiated features? If any of these questions resonate, you’re probably looking for more of a technology-first solution.

Knowing up front whether you’re looking for media-first or technology-first will help guide how you evaluate solutions.

Two: How to tell if you’re talking to someone who will provide “media” vs. “technology”.

This one will be very confusing for industry outsiders. Every company in the DSP space (no matter if they’re really providing media or tech) will say that they are a technology company. The reason for this is rooted in the funding/capitalization side of the business. Ad tech is very over-invested and every company in the space is looking for an “exit” – either an acquisition or a public offering – to provide liquidity for investors (often venture capitalists). Historically speaking, at time of exit, “media” companies earn a valuation that is between 0.5x and 1.5x their annual revenue. So – for instance, if a media company is making $100M in revenue, that company could be valued between $50M and $150M. Not bad, right?

Well – on the other side of the aisle, “technology” companies earn a valuation that is between 6x and 10x their annual revenue. So that same company with $100M in revenue, if it were a “technology” company, would be worth $600M – $1B.

This is why every company in the space, regardless of whether or not they provide media or technology, will aggressively assert that they are a technology company.

If you have trouble telling the difference in the market, you are not alone, but this is something you’re going to have to look past in order to find the solution that will work best for you. Just remember this one straightforward rule of thumb: technology empowers you to do things, while media is something that someone else delivers for you. (more…)