August 30, 2014

Flirting With Clients, And the Power of a “No”

Flirting With Clients, And the Power of a "No"

Through the years I came to the conclusion you can’t satisfy all clients, no matter what. On the contrary, it’s sometimes much better to just let a client go than to suffer consequences – beyond what you’d normally expect – because of your stubbornness.

Sometimes you end up under-delivering because, hey, shit happens, but let’s be honest for a moment, it’s not always 100% the company’s fault, and in some situations clients have their own responsibility.

True enough, the contrary can be said as well. Facts are rarely black or white, more often a comfortable shade of gray. We just have to navigate through them to try and understand where and how we fell.

So I end up thinking maybe it’s not the company’s fault, or the client’s fault per se, but more like a mix of the two elements, much like glycerol is harmless unless you nitrate it. Just as two people can date for a while and decide they are not made for each other, two companies can just stay friends without flirting any longer.
It’s no one’s fault, not entirely and not exactly anyway, and the world is full of fishes right?

I know, it doesn’t sound totally right in an economic moment like the one we’re living through, it’s not the best of choices to let go of a client, but it’s sometimes needed, because the mechanics started up by its presence can bring more harm to your company than benefit.
The way some businesses have to manage a consulting/marketing company working for them is just not what you would expect, and this can create malcontent and frustration among the people working for you.
As an entrepreneur, you cannot expect to absorb and be the safeguard of all the negativity of such cooperation, and your employees are in the first line of fire, they feel when something’s just not working right, from the first moment.
This is especially true in small businesses, where the personal touch is felt the most and one starts to wonder if the fault is his, entirely.

So what do you do? You confront the problem, you try to address it, to isolate it, to solve it. Sometimes it works, some other times it’s too much to handle, and you start thinking “why?”.
Well, truth is, there’s not always a why, and you shouldn’t focus too much energy in answering a question that, sometimes, has no reason to exist.

Try to learn from the experience, to learn to recognize the faint alerts signaling that a situation is building up. Try to learn to anticipate said situation, or if need be, to avoid the client entirely.

There’s no shame in that, and it’s perfectly fine to say “no”.

Making Things Too Dumb (and Why It Sucks)

Making Things Too Dumb (and Why It Sucks)

There is a common problem I often find in software I use or web applications (that I won’t name not to be an ass), and I am sure it’s a problem that many others have as well. They are either too complicated to use or too dumbed down to appeal to a so called “power user”.

I was thinking about this a few days ago while I was being frustrated for the lack of some features in a web application which I personally considered pretty basic. I thought “heck, this could be a bit more ‘advanced’, so I could do this and that”. But then I stopped for a moment and thought “ok, IF it was really this advanced probably I would be the only happy about it”, and I suddenly remembered that probably it’s better to have 10’000 happy users than 1.

Question is, is there an equilibrium in this dilemma?

The Right Platform for the Right People

One of the first things I learnt in web developing (but it’s true for application developing in general) is that you shouldn’t develop for your own taste. What developers (and often entrepreneurs) fail to realize is that they are a pretty freaking peculiar kind of users. They have needs most people don’t, they have obsessions most people don’t, in the end they have tastes most people don’t. We often think something is THE right choice simply because it’s right for us, at that particular moment (it may not be tomorrow, or a year from now, as well).

Hence, we develop – applications, businesses – not around potential users, but around us. Which is a deadly mistake.

Classic example: when we started developing our 3D virtual mall, we initially finalized deals with express couriers in order to give individual accesses to shop owners to manager their own shipping. However, we soon realized they didn’t want to be bothered at all because they found the system too complicated (it was perfectly fine for us, of course). So we switched it to a solution managed by our staff instead. Later on, we developed a master editor (stand-alone application for Windows and Mac) to let shop owners edit their 3D shop appearance in a “simple way”. This was far too complicated as well and we switched to a really simple web-based solution without stand-alone applications involved apart from our web browser.

See where I am heading to?

Not One Solutions, but Many Solutions

The key here is not to pick one kind of users over another, but to try and satisfy both of them.

We (developers, entrepreneurs) are just a sub-set of “people”. If we develop for us, we fail hard. However, it’s not good to just go for the simple way not caring for the power-user as well.

My solution is: develop for the basic user but please the advanced user with little gems.

If you offer an ecommerce system with a custom-made CMS, it’s good to make the product management panels as simple to use as possible. But it’s also good to include a CSV/XML importer for the advanced user who doesn’t want to spend a month manually loading products from a web page.

We do offer a light 3D editor, but the advanced stand-alone option is still there.

If your web service is user-friendly and awesome as I hope it is, offer an API interface in case people want to do things their way, rather than your way.

And so on.

Why Would You Even Bother?

The basic answer is: for your own good. Chances are that the “advanced” solutions will be the ones you already use internally, so if you implement them you’ll encourage your team to use your own tools, which is always good. Additionally, you will appeal to the kind of user who think like you, even if you are just a sub-set of people this sub-set isn’t made of you only, remember.

It’s also realistic to think that these additional advanced features won’t be too hard to add if you plan them from day 1.

Sometimes I feel like the potential of some application is totally wasted because the developers tried to dumb it down far too much. Maybe I would like to use it but there is at least one change that would make things SO much faster and more efficient at the cost of sacrificing some ease of use.  So, if this addition is just some sort of “plug-in” which won’t affect any other user than the ones who are actually interested in it… that’s what I call a brilliant win-win solution.

Am I really the only one thinking like this?

The Importance of Being an Intern

The Importance of Being an Intern

During the years we have been particularly lucky with our interns, even if we didn’t really have many due to how things work here in Italy.

I have read a lot about how it is like in the US and the “traps” many entrepreneurs fall into when dealing when internship, and thanks to that I always managed to be quite ok at it.

The big occasion to write about this is the successful graduation (with top grades, I add) of our latest intern, Giulia Borri, who I also featured in a previous video we released (and she did much better than the other guys, too!). And since her final dissertation is about one of our projects, it was actually pretty nice to attend to.

When talking about internship, there are several keypoints to consider and quite some pitfalls to avoid in order to make the whole experience profitable for both ends. It’s far too easy to fall in the temptation of abusing your interns for the stupidest tasks or just end up giving them far too much responsibility, ending up in a huge mess.

Learn to Recognize the Value

It’s essential to understand what kind of advantage your business can have from interns in first place, beyond the simple concept of having 1 more person. In fact, if you don’t know how to use this new person, it will be exactly like not having him/her in first place.

Since most interns we had came from universities, we learnt to put the emphasis on what they know rather than assuming they are clueless, which is a typical mistake many managers do. Interns aren’t some mass of clay you can shape, but they come with a luggage of knowledge you might find useful, especially if you – as you should – get your internship deals done with university courses compatible with your niche of business and if you have your ideas very clear about what you want.

They are a valuable external opinion on your business, and believe me, if you run your company since year like we do, you kinda lose track of what it looks like from the outside. Entrepreneurs often commit the capital sin of believing everyone think like them, so external eyes are extremely valuable in order to overcome this common mistake.

Additionally, interns can become your best evangelists, if they learn to understand, appreciate and love what your company does, trust me, it’ll show in what they do, and every additional person talking awesome about you and your business helps a lot nowadays.

Don’t Be Shy

Especially, don’t be shy about using your interns. Don’t underestimate them or assume they won’t be up to the task, and don’t assume they don’t care and they just want to get it done to get their course credits.

This of course doesn’t mean they are good for ALL tasks. You should evaluate carefully how much responsibility they can take, and in what context. Don’t exaggerate, but also, if they do screw up or severely underperform, hold them responsible and don’t just go like it doesn’t matter – it’s not kindergarten anymore.

This is the best advice I can give you: an intern is never going to be a substitute for an employee. Don’t give them tasks they have to complete on their own just because they are employee-class tasks no one wanted to get done, in order to do it they will need to be supervised at least initially, something that’s too often forgotten. Interns shouldn’t be recipient for boring tasks, so to say.

Last but not Least, Help Them Out!

After all, they need your help in order to succeed, so by all means, give it to them. If they choose to base their final dissertation on something related to your business, all the better, that can really be an important marketing tool for your company.

Eventually, just remember this simple motto: let’s not both waste our time. If you can help your intern and your intern can help you, that’s the perfect relationship and one you should facilitate as much as you can.

Delicious Rises From Its Ashes

The Fall of Delicious and the Rise Of... Delicious

I was writing about the fall of Delicious back in December, when one thing was sure, Yahoo! was going to axe their social bookmarking service pretty soon and no one was really queueing up offering to buy it.

The thought of losing all my bookmarks saved on it was really annoying, even though I suggested the possible alternative of Diigo, another service similar to Delicious for many aspects but also offering a whole set of new things to enhance the user’s experience (like page annotations, highlights and so on).

Breaking News

What happened just wednesday is that apparently Yahoo! finally did find someone to sell Delicious to, nothing less than YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen.

After selling the gargantuan video platform to Google for an astronomical amount of money, the two ventured into founding a new internet company, AVOS, whose main activity seems to be dealing with the transition from Yahoo! technology to proprietary in-house one (something that must not be easy seen how deeply Yahoo! services were tied into Delicious).

In the press release there’s much stress about how serious the two seems to be about this acquisition, and I have no doubts about that because seeing how Diigo is moving around their own service, there’s much to be done for Delicious as well.

The possibilities around a service effectively gathering all your website choices and making them available to others are huge, and seeing how we just started to scratch the surface of “social” it’s very exciting to see that two successful entrepreneurs decided to get their hands into this.

So, What Is Going to Happen?

Your data won’t be lost as I was initially afraid of back in my previous post. As AVOS effectively acquired it, at some point you will be asked to login with your Delicious/Yahoo! account and explicitly authorize this data transfer. Any successive change will then be communicated afterwards, even though the transition will be seamless. And that’s great news.

Why Shouldn’t I Switch to Diigo?

I don’t really know. I mean, I switched in January, and I am pretty happy about it. Despite the lack of a dedicated application for it (not like I searched much, I admit), the Chrome extension and bookmarklet for Safari work great. Actually, the bookmarklet works fine on Safari for iPhone/iPad as well, allowing to save bookmarks on the go as well.

However, if you stuck to Delicious so far I advise you to keep using it. The names involved in this operation make me kinda sure your data will be safe and the change will happen without hassles.

Delicious Rises Again

Like a phoenix Delicious rises back from its own ashes. Hurley and Chen are two top notch entrepreneurs, working at Paypal before founding Youtube, they definitely know what they are doing and if they believe in Delicious enough to acquire it from Yahoo!, I am pretty positive they have a solid strategy behind it.

As I mentioned, the possibilities are limitless, and as the transition happens in July we will probably begin to see Delicious’ future unfold.

It will surely keep being a social bookmarking service, but it will obviously become something more, to counter the offensive of all the other services who cannibalized many of Delicious users (me included) just a few months ago.

Will this be enough to become once again the #1 social bookmarking service on the web? How will they be able to monetize such a service without driving off users? Do they have any surprise up their sleeves? We will see very soon, I am sure it’ll be worth waiting for.

5 Types of Users You Will Write For

5 Types of Users You Will Write For

After several months from the launch of this blog (or at least, from the start of my contribution to it), I can start asking myself who am I writing for – I know the answer to that actually, but I am asking it to make a point.

Widening the question, I ask myself: who is everyone running a blog writing for?

I am relatively new to social media, but after reading thousands of posts in the last year alone I can at least try to give a decent answer. I believe it’s very important to do it, each of us, because if we don’t keep track of who we are really writing for, I am afraid this all translates into a huge waste of time. You can shoot as much as you want but if you don’t actually aim, you’ll never hit bull’s-eye.

One of the conclusions I reached thinking about this topic was that every blog, in the end, is a business blog, unless you just run it for fun or because your analyst told you it’s good to keep a diary of your thoughts, that’s great too but I am divagating.

Wether you are an individual looking to enhance your own personal brand, or a full-fledged business looking for a way to be “more social” (it’s the latest trend anyway), a blog is an extension of your business, any kind of business.

Individuals and businesses can blog for the most various reasons.

Credibility & Authority, by interacting with other peers, showing off your knowledge, discussing with your visitors about your niche’s topics, participating, engaging and encouraging participation and engagement yourself. If you are a business this will show the “human side” of it and it’s kind of evident people prefer to interact with people rather than fancy corporate names.

Tech and R&D, using your blog as a portfolio for what you do, what you’ve done, what you WILL do, attracting interest around a certain technology or achievement and showing people your actual skills, with obvious benefits.

You might blog for direct income, be it from advertising, eBooks and various services, consulting or conference speaking.

You can even blog to get a job, like my friend Antonia Harler did. In her case it worked very well in the end, but she has powers and all, I know.

Or you might blog just for the sake of it of course, where all of the above doesn’t apply, you just write and enjoy people reading and commenting it. Bless you.

You really can blog for the most various reasons, but I believe there are only 5 main type of readers you’ll eventually blog for.

1. Clients

You blog to get new clients, simple as that. Or well, it’s simple to say, but not to achieve.

If you’re a tech company, you’ll blog about industry news or about the uses people can have for your products/platform/services. You have to be careful to do it in a meaningful way, to avoid the classic mistake of just spamming your products and promotions and making your blog become just another extension of your corporate website.

People – even potential clients – are looking for something more than another advertise, so give them just that. Don’t just mention how awesome is your product, but actually help them being awesome using it (MailChimp’s blog does an excellent job, for example).

My 2 Cents: consider that this is also a very good exercise for your company. If you can’t think of ways to gain advantages using your products or services, then you’re probably selling crap anyway.

2. Peer & Friends

Most people involved in social media write for peers and fellow bloggers, think about all those posts to improve the quality of your posts, find new ideas for them, simplifying various processes through the use of WordPress plugins and so on. Theres’ nothing bad in that unless you write only for this kind of user. In this case, you’ll have to start asking yourself where’s the money in all this. It’s the kind of question no one ever likes to ask but it’s fair to, once in a while.

The advantage of writing for peers and friends is that you’ll build up a healthy network of people to trust and who will hopefully trust you, it’ll help your credibility and authority, but only if you have something good to say, otherwise you’ll just tag along in the social media boat like many people do nowadays.

Being respected by others for what you do bears always good consequences and responsibilities as well.

My 2 Cents: in the end, social media is about being social, so there’s nothing wrong in writing for this kind of visitor. As I mentioned, it’s bad if you write ONLY for them, a mistake which is more common than not especially when you’re just starting your blog. But it’s ok, nothing bad in adjusting your aim while running.

3. Machines

One thing is optimizing your blog for SEO purposes and search engines, another thing is writing for them uniquely. This often leads to what I call “the explosive headline trap”, where the headline is forged in a way to blow people’s mind off but the content of the post itself is totally mediocre even though totally “SEOtastic”. This kind of behavior will attract visitors in an explosion of page hits, but will also drive them off your blog faster than you can say “ouch” when it appears clear you’re just talking bull.

My 2 Cents: spending 20 minutes optimizing your post, researching some keywords, running the Google Adwords tool? Sure, why not. Heavily modifying all your post to attract as much keyword searches as possible and writing shocking, controversial headlines just to get people’s eyes? Good luck with that.

4. You

Don’t we all write for our personal wellness, in the end? I mean, there’s something addictive in pressing that “Publish” button, some kind of… mmmhmm, that’s done, onto next task, sorta feeling, no? Also, blogging has the objective benefit to help you organize your business and your thoughts in a far more efficient way, to learn new things and to force you to read a lot. Judging from statistics on what and how people read nowadays, this can’t be bad can it?

My 2 Cents: what if you write just for yourself? Well I suppose if you do that you also do realize there’s no $$$ in for you. If you’re ok with that, then by all means have fun. It’s important that you write also for yourself, because if that’s not the case you will run out of enthusiasm very, very soon. As long as you still have that positive feeling when you press Publish, all’s good.

5. No One

If the question “who are you writing for?” leaves you with a blank look, then you should seriously reconsider your intents. You probably don’t have a strategy nor a plan, you’re effectively achieving nothing and wasting your time. Blunt? Perhaps, but it’s really fundamental not to fall in this category, alright?

The most important thing to do before you even start considering running a blog is planning a strategy around it, to avoid ending up in a situation where you won’t even understand who you are really writing for.

Most of the various failures in social media are, in my opinion, due to the lack of a clear vision of what you want to achieve. Without a vision you don’t know where to go, and even if you are strong-willed and resolute, your efforts will be wasted in the wrong direction.
You really want to avoid this.

Why Your Business Deserves to Party Once in a While (And How to Make a Kick-Ass One)

Net Style 10 Years Party Music Mixer

That’s the second post in a row I dedicate to our 10 years birthday party, ok maybe I am exaggerating but what the heck, I managed to make something useful out of it so I am gonna share it.

If you run a business, chances are you don’t have much time to celebrate, go out, party, generally have fun outside of your work environment. We are the same, that’s why every now and then we throw parties in our office space (which kinda resembles a lounge bar, if you haven’t noticed).

Last Friday was the 10th birthday of our web design business unit, so what better chance to organize something epic?

You’re probably thinking organizing a party is something futile, an unnecessary waste of money and resources, but I am here to prove you wrong!

Why You Should Party More Often

Remember that in business it’s always important to celebrate the smallest of victories, mainly because you won’t win every day, and also ’cause small celebration can boost the performance of your whole team. Meeting your work colleagues in a non-work environment (or in a non-work mindset, if you share the same environment like in our party) is good to cement the bonds between the various team members, and it’s good to loosen up those stiff dudes you never see smile.

Additionally, if the party is important enough and you will invite clients, prospects or partners, you have a chance to befriend them beyond the working relationship, which can prove very beneficial to your future affairs.

A party can be an awesome chance to present a new line of products or services, like we did during our opening party last year. It will boost your brand especially locally (which never hurts, particularly since Net Style was born as a local brand anyway, and has most of its current business based on local companies). If done right, it will also show the eclectic side of your company, not just able to get the job done professionally but also to apply its organization skills to something more frivolous.

Be Careful Though

Not every party is born right and some can end up pretty badly, depending how you do things, and what kind of people you end up inviting. If you invite only your close friends and they all take the chance to get some free booze, things aren’t gonna be quite as professional as you’d hope for.

Realistically, any reasonable party will have a less than reasonable amount of alcoholic drinks. I know it’s easy to be tempted and behave like you’re at a night out with friends, but resist! Limit your drinking or the clients/prospects/partners you invited aren’t gonna be much impressed with your social skills. Remember that in these modern times it’s very much likely that a lot of people will be taking pics on their phones or cameras. These pics will broadcast you and your business on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and whatnot. You really don’t wanna appear drunk out of your mind in any of them, it’s your business organizing the party and “branding” it, so to say.

Another thing to avoid is to fall in the “good memories trap”, where most of the following days are spent discussing how awesome the party was and how good everything went. I remember that we talked about our opening party for 2 weeks afterwards, and this had dramatic side-effects on our productivity (ok I am dramatizing the situation here, but I made my point clear I guess).

We learnt from our mistakes and now we limit the post-party chit-chat to the morning after, with the occasional laugh in the following days but no epic gathering to see pics and videos for weeks, we’re over that fortunately (and anyway everything goes live on Facebook practically in real-time).

The Perfect Guide to the Perfect Party

I am sure this is the part of this post you were all waiting for – if not, please keep feeding my illusion.

So, what did I learn from organizing my company’s parties? Let’s divide this into steps:

1. Prepare the Place

If you make an office party, you really don’t want people near any of its operative areas. Close their access as good as you can, and make it clear that’s no party ground. Move away anything valuable you have from the actual party floor, and arrange the rest in a crowd-friendly way.

We usually split our sofa into… sub-sofas so people can sit on them. And we spread every chair of our office around as well to provide more “sitting material”.

2. Drinks

I guess you’ll want to stock up on alcoholic drinks, and that’s fine. But remember people will want normal stuff too. We usually get orange juice, apricot juice, pear juice, ice tea, coke and lemon soda. For the “soft” drinks part, we go with classic spumante wine (Italian sparkly white wine), both sweet and dry.

The alcoholic part depends on your country I guess, just focus on 3-4 popular drinks and buy ingredients for those, it’s not gonna be a real bar so you can’t expect to serve people everything they want, they will have to adapt a bit.

Get plastic glasses, the transparent bigger kind, and straws, lots of them, the rigid, wider kind that you will cut in half so they won’t stick out of the glasses too much.

Fundamental thing: ICE. Lots of ice, both to keep things cool and to limit the amount of stuff you pour in a glass. And, drinks taste just so much better with ice in your glass.

It doesn’t hurt of course to have a dedicated barman, he doesn’t have to a pro ’cause everyone can learn to make those 3-4 drinks we were talking about, plus people will soon tend to serve their own (which can lead to disasters, but it depends on you, really). And if he’s picky as our barman, he will ask you those fancy dosing caps (or whatever they are called), they are cheap so just get them and make him happy.

3. Food

I know you’ll be tempted to organize a full catered party, but don’t bother. Especially if it’s an after-dinner party, simple snacks will do. Chips and nuts come to mind, but at least here in Italy we have cocktail snacks (crackers-like small salted cookies, of all kind and shape) and they will do just fine.

Be sure to include plastic plates and lots of paper napkins and you’ll be good to go.

4. Kids

No, this doesn’t mean you should serve kids. Just be aware that, if kids will be present and the party, they will bored out of their mind following their parents around. If you have a way to keep them entertained things will go much smoother. We had just one kid at our party and he was more than happy to play with the… well I really don’t know how to call it in english, but here’s a picture of it:

Net Style 10 Years Party Soccer Kid

With THAT! Yeah he liked it.

5. Music

No party is a party without music. You can either use an iPod or have someone play the DJ and put music on. I like to do that, so I did that under my fake identity:

Net Style 10 Years Party Music

Whatever is your choice, size your speakers wisely. Of course you can’t ever go too big, but be sure not to go too small. Nobody likes computer speakers desperately trying to play decently, so don’t even think about it and get something good (of course it helps when your CEO’s dad owns a music instruments store, but sshh).

6. Clean Your Mess

Yes folks, be ready to spend the next day cleaning, or actually, starting from the after-party. You will want to at least sort out the leftover drinks, glasses spread all around ready for someone to bump on them and have the contents spilled all across the floor. You don’t want that, the floor will be messy as it is already, trust me.

Put trash cans wherever you can, people won’t use them but at least you’ll have an excuse to blame them. If you manage to secure leftover drinks and food immediately after the party, you’ll have half the job done.

But the next morning, that’ll be a battle field. We do have a cleaning service on mondays, so we could let it slide, but we usually clean the hard stuff on our own not to have the cleaning lady explode in desperation. 20 minutes of mopping and everything’s good to go.

Net Style 10 Years Party Group

I hope this helped clear your mind about the good (and bad) of organizing a company party. Did you have similar experiences? Do you have other suggestions you’d like to share? Making a “business party for dummies” eBook doesn’t seem like a bad idea at all.

And if you want more pics, here comes the Flickr set for the party.

10 Years of Ideas: Happy Birthday Net Style

10 Years of Ideas: Happy Birthday Net Style

This is going to be an unusual post, but since it’s an unusual event, I would hope I am forgiven. And I hope you’ll also forgive the bazillion links you’ll find in it, but I promise they are all worth your attention.

On April 11th, 2001 the original company I worked for the first time, Net Style, was born.

It all started from the entrepreneurial push of two people, Francesco Marcantoni and Marcello Comanducci (now CEO and CCO, respectively, of Esimple) who decided to make a job out of something they’d been doing for a while, and that meant, back then, websites and marketing materials for businesses like business cards, ads, brochures and so on.

I got on board a couple of months later as a programmer, to start selling dynamic websites (PHP powered), and I remember we were among the first in Italy to offer a self-made CMS for clients to update their websites.

I got a lot of memories of that time, like the small (and I mean, reeally small) office we were initially stationed in, the chaos all around us, computers laying down everywhere on the floor, my initial disgust for Apple computers (I was an idiot back then I admit), the tons of promising prospects turning into charlatans, against whom we were kinda unprepared since we were very new to this world.

And then, 09/11 came, and the shock about the event itself was pumped up by the uncertainty of the economic crisis following it, making 2001 overall not the perfect year to start any business.

Moving to the new office, a relatively big open space taken from one of the meeting halls of the Hotel in which we were located (Marcello’s dad owns the Hotel, yes we were lucky like that). The countless happy times we had there, and the less happy ones (which were always ’cause of external people we met through the years and who showed up to be less than honest).

2008 came, the founding of Esimple with Francesco Gallorini coming onboard as CTO, the launch of our first Web 3D project, Virtuy, our participation as invited guests to 2008′s edition of the SMAU exhibition (the most important IT exhibition in Italy).

And finally, 2010, the new headquartersthe completely incredible opening party, new markets across Europe and Canada, and the acquisition of the poor lil Net Style as an internal business unit to keep the legacy going.

So many moments to be proud of, so much fun, more than a few tears, countless emotions. How to celebrate all this?

Well, with a kick-ass party of course, how else?

On April 15th, we are going to party hard and celebrate these 10 years of ideas, dreams, hopes, successes and why not, failures, because nothing comes up just the way you wanted, and it’s up to us to celebrate even the sad moments as a testament to our growth.

I do realize that you probably live very far away from where we are going to celebrate, but I felt like this post was kind of mandatory. I owe it to Net Style, and I owe it to all of us working hard to make our customers’, our employees’ and our own dreams come a lil more true.

Happy Birthday Net Style, and I hope to celebrate your 20th birthday with a holographic video-post in 2021 (I am thinking ahead, the world will end next year after all, but being positive doesn’t hurt).

Breaking Into the Mobile Market (And Why You Should Be Part of It)

Breaking Into the Mobile Market (And Why You Should Be Part of It)

As it appears more evident every day that goes on, everything around us is getting more and more “mobile”, a silent (but not so much) revolution that’s changing our habits and redefining our priorities and our way to approach them.

Yet, sometimes you’re left to wonder what the fuss is all about. Why so many people get tangled in mobile applications, and most importantly why companies invest so much in them. The “wow” factor, even if gradually fading as time passes by, is still a good motivation, but there’s a lot more behind it.

The first important thing is to really understand what kind of mobile application we’re talking about here.

Through the years, I could divide them in essentially 3 kinds, of course this division is just a personal view and functional to my real life experience in the field.

Entertainment Apps

This kind of app is meant to entertain the user and build awareness around the brand sponsoring the game. Advergames fall in this category, and I have already written about how gaming is a next-gen way to gain an advantage on your competition.

Advergames are usually free applications with the purpose of engaging the user in a game, often with social inserts (from the ability to post your record on your Facebook wall, or Tweet it, or take advantage of promotions through the brand’s page or the game’s scoreboards and so on) and meant to complement a promotional campaign centered around a new product or service.

They are successful, if well done, for the simple reason they entertain people without really asking anything in return, they offer free fun and at the same time they bring the brand to the user’s attention, a real winning outcome for all the parts involved.

Utility Apps

For a brand, utilities can represent a true asset in gaining a user base and favor. For example Aboca, an international brand making natural health remedies, put us in charge of developing the mobile version of their food diary (for now just in Italian, though) which works as an interface to their website and allows people to keep track of what they eat through the day, and how many calories they still can consume or, in case they already went over that, how bad they are behaving. The app is free and people can use it without any limit, becoming at the same time aware of Aboca products which can help their efforts.

Even in this case no one really asks anything to the user, the promotion isn’t insisting nor spammy, and they get a useful and complete application free of charge.

This last category is a bit generic but I couldn’t really define it in any better way.

While games and utilities even if presented in innovative platforms are kind of old concepts, mobile devices can be used in new ways that go far beyond this.

For example, augmented reality apps can really provide a new view on something – literally – allowing us to implement multimedia content into static products – for example you could scan a marker printed on the box of a kitchen tool and view a 3D representation of how to use it effectively (this is the first example that came to my mind, probably because lunch time is nearing).

Similarly, QR codes provide a fast way to access a whole set of information relative to anything, something which was not possible in the past. You can scan the QR code on a business card and immediately view a video presentation of the business, or be redirected to the person’s personal website, and so on.

The main problem with brands nowadays is the amount of money they budget for marketing initiatives, and how they do it. Most important, it’s how much money is dedicated to “new technology” ideas. The bigger, more traditional the company is, the less trust they have in new technology. They will spend dozens of millions of euros in TV and magazine ads and nothing in social media or mobile applications. Don’t misunderstand me, the value of traditional advertising is still high and it will stay high for a long time still, but you always have to keep an eye on innovation if you don’t want to be left behind. Especially because there are many advantages in this kind of approach.

Why Brands Should Invest in Mobile Applications

1. First of all, numbers, sheer numbers. Apple’s iOS platform alone has now more than 150 millions devices, this means an unprecedented way to reach the highest possible amount of people. The appstore model works, this is clear both reading Apple’s statistics and by the fact everyone else is trying to copy it. Having access to such a platform dramatically decreases the promotional costs of marketing your application.

2. With just one platform, there’s a lot less to worry about. Especially for iOS devices, one application almost fits all (unless you use special stuff that works just in newer models). This makes sure everyone will see exactly what you see, and will guarantee a consistent experience among all users. No weird browser behavior, no Internet Explorer ruining your website or game.

3. Ease of use, the touch interface of these mobile platforms allows for a more intuitive and natural user experience. For how necessary keyboard&mouse might be, nothing beats actually touching stuff on the screen. As an anecdote, I like to cite the example of our CCO’s son taking his dad’s iPad (at 3 years old), launching his favorite game and starting to play it with no assistance. Try to do that with a normal computer and good luck with that.

4. Social media integrations, since social media IS more and more mobile, a mobile application can naturally tie to it tightly. Games can post records and populate leaderboards, utility apps can share information between its users, innovative marketing solutions can provide an unprecedented multi-player experience. All things that can be quick and instant, much more than any non-mobile counterpart.

It’s not a matter of deciding wether to participate in the mobile innovation or not, but to decide HOW to do it. Be it a game, a utility, a more innovative concept (like our 3D virtual art gallery we are currently developing into a more all-around solution), just do it. It will be a shame to be left out.

5 Good Reasons Why People Really Need to Talk More (and 4 Things to Avoid)

5 Good Reasons Why People Really Need to Talk More (and 4 Things to Avoid)

It is very true that failing (well) is a fertile ground for improvement and personal/business enhancement. And even when you don’t explicitly fail, just recognizing something could be much better, overall, is a very good happening in the life of any business.

I have already written about planning and project management in the past, so you can safely consider this post as a follow-up, another step in the never-ending learning process if you will. One that takes into account all that’s happened around here in the latest months – all good things, no worries – to formulate some additional thoughts on how project management can be truly successful and, most of all, useful to everyone.

Let’s start from the basics.

What is a project? Well to me, a project is “people”. Simple as that, no project can exist without people behind it, otherwise it’s just some pretty writing on a piece of paper (or the electronic equivalent, if you’re modern like that).

And the best thing people can do together is to communicate. Truth is, despite social media being all around us, and everyone striving to be more communicative and open, we tend to communicate less and less in our everyday life. In fact, the biggest obstacle any project manager can face is the lack of communication: between members of the team, between clients and the team, between team and management. Many possible fail-points and each of them can potentially screw everything up for good.

Many Alternatives, Few Solutions

So what are the traditional practices when it comes down to communicating?

Email

Email is still one of the favorite methods when it comes down to business. However, it poses the disadvantage of a lack of real engagement and a poor history management – as it’s not always very easy to navigate through the various stages and replies within a project, especially with many people involved.

Collaboration platforms

I have written about the collaboration platform we use – ActiveCollab – and, while I still believe it seriously kicks ass (and you should seriously try it out), I do recognize it has some limitations regarding true communication which are more intrinsic to the concept of collaboration software itself than specifically to ActiveCollab. For example, it’s not “immediate” enough, you lose the sense of real-time, and in the long run people are less and less encouraged to use it, and tend to give up.

Voicecalls

As in telephone calls, Skype calls and whatnot. Phone is still at the verge of the virtual pyramid of communication methods, but it’s hard to phone between several people (Skype multi-calls are extremely chaotic to me), and it’s hard to keep track of things and decisions in an efficient way.

Videocalls

Sure, it’s good to have some face-to-face contact with people you work with but, honestly, it’s not always comfortable to be stuck for a hour in a videocall, and the disadvantages of voice calls are not solved but even amplified.

So what’s the real solution to all these problems?

Funny enough, it’s about getting back to the basics.

Back to the Root

Let’s get around a table more often. It’s not always possible, but when that happens, a project advances SO much more than in any other way. Why?

1. Real-time engagement

People are facing each other, next to each other, they communicate in a way that’s extremely more natural than any other possible communication method.

2. Eye-to-eye contact

Watching each other in the eyes – be it team members or client-team meetings – holds a value that’s too often underestimated. Emotions, impressions, honest feedback, all those subtle “touches” that other way of communicating ideas simply cannot deliver.

3. Chill-time value

A meeting isn’t always synonymous of an uncomfortable event, it can be a way of relaxing a bit and engaging in a productive conversation, admitting you know how to hold a proper one (more on this later). Relaxing is also a very good way to be more effective and focused on what needs to be done.

4. Accomplishment

The feeling of accomplishment you have when you are done with a meeting – and you do realize progress has indeed been made – is something a simple email or phone call cannot give you.

5. Quick and easy

Nothing’s simpler than just sitting around a table, talking and taking notes. A natural method to address problems and find solutions to them in the simplest way possible.

Is it all roses? Definitely not, you have to pay attention to some key points, especially…

The 4 Most Important Things to Keep an Eye On

1. Time it right, nobody likes to feel like you are wasting their time, have the topics of the meeting clearly outlined at start (better if the attenders know them in advance), stick to them unless something extremely important comes out, and assign a proper timing to each of them, making sure you respect it as much as you can.

2. Know the roles, have the right people attend the right meeting, or you will have around you just people not interested in what you say and you will lack those who truly can make the project advance as it should.

3. Keep the right mood, if the attenders are not receptive, relaxed and open-minded the meeting will go nowhere. Of course this is easy when it comes to your own team (hopefully you have an awesome team), but it’s less guaranteed when you deal with clients, so make sure you prepare them beforehand.

4. Make it resolutive, nothing frustrates people more than a meeting ending in a big fat nothing. A meeting’s ultimate goal is to make a project advance, not just to move people’s lips up and down. A meeting needs to solve problems.

Perhaps I am being too old-school here, uh? Well don’t be too sure of it, even though I have a lot of faith in the future and I keep an eye on all those tools that are currently in the works to address all the problems of traditional communication methods.

I am especially looking forward to a project led by one of Facebook’s co-founders, Dustin Moskovitz, who left it specifically to manage his new startup.

The company is called Asana, and the cooperative software solution they are currently developing really intrigued me when I first read about it:

“In managing and contributing to projects in the past (at Facebook, Google, etc.), we felt frustrated by how much time we spent trying to stay on the same page with everyone (making sure teammates have the information they need, figuring out what everyone’s working on, clarifying priorities, …) and doing “work about work” (progress report emails, meetings, …). We’ve tried email, wikis, whiteboards, Microsoft Project, Google Docs, you name it, and while these are great for lots of things, we found everything suffered from one or both of: [..]” Keep reading here

Maybe they will solve all those problems I addressed before? We’ll see, I’ll be there to check. Or do you have a better idea?

Social Media Isn’t The Most Important Thing of Your Life

Social Media Isn't The Most Important Thing of Your Life

I originally wanted to post something entirely different today, something that I will most likely manage to fit in next week’s schedule.

But the horrible planner I am (even though too much planning is bad, some planning wouldn’t actually hurt me at all), I don’t really write posts in advance since a long while.

So here you are, reading some random thoughts I am writing spontaneously on Evernote for no real reason other than state a simple concept, yet very important to me: social media isn’t the most important thing of your life!

Today was a busy day, for a particular personal issue I won’t bother you with, but the point is, I didn’t really have time to finish the post I was going to post instead of this, and since I don’t really like to post drafts, I thought it’d be nicer to wait some more to give it the final few polishing.

But I felt very bad. For some reason, I felt like I literally HAD TO post something today.

Of course you might argue that, in fact, I am actually writing some useless post to fill in. Maybe you are right, but the point is, I hate to HAVE TO do something at all costs.

Despite the obvious business objective of this blog, social media is, overall, supposed to be kinda fun, uh? What’s the fun in doing something just because you have to do it, at all costs, no matter what?

So, just for today, do me a very personal favor. Stop for a second, and ask yourself: am I Tweeting because I HAVE to, or because I want to? Am I writing my future blog post because I HAVE to, or because I feel fulfilled in doing it? Am I reading this weird post because I HAVE to, or because I am actually enjoying it? (Much thanks if you do).

In everyday modern, busy, often rushed life we frequently – more and more so – don’t have time to enjoy what we do. We just do it because we feel obligated to do so. It’s part of our job, of course, but a job should be interesting and engaging every now and then. My job is very much so, and I am thankful for that, but social media… I don’t know, I still think it should also be a bit of fun. That doesn’t mean I don’t take it seriously – if you read this blog, you know I do, if not, well subscribe to it already and you’ll see – it just means I value entertainment for me and my readers before the commitment I have to post something every tuesday.

My personal resolution is not to read this post before pressing the Publish button. I won’t check for mistakes, or nonsense phrases, or screw ups. I will trust me instinct on this, just because I want to know your opinion.

Have you ever felt like you had to update your status, blog, Tweet at all costs without any particular reason behind it?