Identi.ca and the Art of the Launch

Ask any startup. The most difficult decision leading up to a public release is when and what? Some might argue that getting funding is the most difficult but a good startup avoids funding until later, if at all. Others might argue that the difficult part is getting the right mix of people and hitting milestones. That also is important, but not as important as the when and how.

Usually, a good launch product is the result of a perceived need. Or maybe a need not yet realized – it’s hard to say for sure. There’s some black magic involved in all that.

FriendFeed launched not long ago because there was an empty hole in Twitter – that was aggregation and conversation. FriendFeed figured out that, to be successful, it was going to target that emptiness in the highly popular Twitter experience.

Disqus and Intense Debate figured that, in order to be successful, they needed to target the missing piece in blog comments – that was reputation and reputation management across blogs. The two fight it out, post-launch, over which is going to differentiate it over the other.

In these cases, the timing of the launches was critical to the uptake. Twitter started experiencing significant problems and influential early adopters began getting itchy to be somewhere that scratched their itch.

Putting aside timing, the most important part of a launch is what. It’s feature-sets. It’s determining the balance between a fully developed roadmap of features and what is needed to “hook” early adopters and get them to stay.

Take Identi.ca, the new Twitter clone that is completely open source and is timely in that Twitter faithful are really, really close to burying the hatchet and simply abandoning it altogether. The timing could not be more perfect. Folks have been talking about distributing Twitter and relieving the strain of a centralized service at one time. Open sourcing the product does this, to a degree.

However, Identi.ca gets a big “FAIL” for its launch for a few very important reasons.

  1. There is no coherent way to deal with “replies”. Folks used to Twitter realize that when there is a river of content, and that’s what Twitter is, there must be a way to manage conversations. There must be a way to keep up with followers who are talking to you. In my working with Identi.ca, there is no way to do that and, while that might be coming, it wasn’t there at launch. Very conceivably, I’ve been lost forever and I generally have tons of followers as an early adopter. FAIL.
  2. XMPP doesn’t work. The one reliable way to reply that folks on Identi.ca were talking about last night was with XMPP, the protocol used for various IM clients including Google Talk. I could deal with replies that way if it worked but at some point, XMPP stopped working. I could receive, but I could not send. A one way conversation is a monologue. FAIL.
  3. OpenID integration must be seamless. I was pleased to see OpenID supported when I signed up. Unfortunately, today, I could not login with my OpenID account. If I can’t get in, I can’t use it. FAIL.

Some would say I’m being too hard on this startup. Screw that. Perform or get off the stage. There are very obvious and defined features that must be included in a microcontent site at launch. I’m not saying an entire roadmap needs to be worked out. No, get a working beta up and get testers in there. However, without replies, without reliable “offline” access (i.e. IM, SMS or client integration) I’m not going to stick around. Finally, direct messages would be a nice feature.

While I have high hopes for Identi.ca, I will remain there only to squat on the name “technosailor”. Bye, guys.

Marketing Plan Series: Part 4 – Objectives

In Part 4, we continue building out the goals that must be accomplished through the marketing plan. This section, called “Objectives” is usually only a page in length and are the milestones that you will achieve as you execute your business on a daily basis.

The KnowThis web site has a great explanation of the Marketing Objectives section:

“Marketing success is quantifiable using several non-financial market metrics. You want to show the underlying conditions and circumstances facing the company that are not easily seen within financial measures. The marketing objectives section should indicate targets to be achieved across several marketing decision areas. To add additional strength to this section include marketing metrics where possible.”

The Chamber of Commerce web site identifies three major areas for your objectives:

  • company definition (e.g., “to be a manufacturer of 100 percent all-natural snack food products”)
  • market definition (e.g., “to attain leadership in dollar market share and volume for the healthy, all-natural snacks segment of the salty snacks category”)
  • technology (e.g., “to become known in the industry as the leading developer of new vegetable protein products”)

KnowThis web site has a great breakdown and outline of how you should structure the objectives section:

1. Target market objectives

  • market share
    • total
    • by segments
    • by channel
  • customers
    • total
    • number/percentage new
    • number/percentage retained
  • purchases
    • rate of purchases
    • size/volume of purchases

2. Promotional objectives

  • level of brand/company awareness
  • traffic building
    • (e.g., store traffic, website traffic
  • product trials
    • (e.g. sales promotions, product demonstrations)
  • sales force
    • (e.g. cycle time, cost per call, closing rate, customer visits, etc.)

3. Channel objectives

  • dealers
    • total
    • number/percentage new
    • number/percentage retained
  • order processing and delivery
    • on-time rate
    • shrinkage rate
    • correct order rate

4. Market research objectives

  • studies initiated
  • studies completed

5. R&D objectives

  • product development

6. Other objectives

  • partnerships developed

Next time in the Marketing Plan Series, in Part 5 – Strategy we discuss how having a well written guideline that sets forth the business’s marketing strategy is critical to the success of your business.

Next time in Part 5, we will discuss the strategy section which lays out a plan for the situational analysis and the problems and opportunities must be addressed by the marketing plan.

Doers and Talkers

An impromptu conversation happened last night over on Twitter. The topic began as a discussion over a hypothetical show (video, podcast, whatever) that would reflect the community and not just have the same people. The conversation began because of a discussion over perceived sexism in the social media community where men could do anything, but women could only be “consumed” (hey, it’s a legitimate use and context for the word!) if they were “sexy”.

To pop this proverbial bubble, the idea was presented that a community-driven show should be created where “panel members” would include an equal cross-section of the community, regardless of sex or race.At one point, a panel was suggested that I noted were all “talkers” and not “doers”.

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Photo Credit foolfillment. Used under Creative Commons

Naturally, some took offense to this characterization, but my question is why? There is an equal need for both and is non-hierachal. In fact, it may be too simplistic of a thought considering the diversity that exists across sectors, bloggers and industries.

I think it’s important to establish a premise for talkers and doers. What are they, why do they exist and what do they contribute to the ecosystem?

Talkers

Talkers are visionaries, by and large. Not always. Sometimes they are just pundits. They are the idea people, often challenging the status quo and causing people to think based on data, research and innovative thinking. They share their ideas readily and often bring a different level of communication to the fray.

Talkers are often CEOs, PR, Marketing, or members of management teams and they frequent the conference speaking circuit.

Doers

Doers are often mistaken for developers. Though developers generally fall into the category of “doer”, the definition is far wider than just physical “doers”. Doers are usually the ones that have ideas and instead of talking about them, they gather the resources (financial and human) and set about putting plans into actions.

Entrepreneurs are often doers. They are the ones with the ideas that have the guts or experience to run with them. Though they may sometimes be talkers too (small business CEOs for instance), their bread and butter is in the action. Smart doers listen to talkers ideas and filter them for actionable items that make sense for the ecosystem.

These are my definitions. They may be simplistic, but I think they provide a great framework for this conversation.

I think there is a symbiotic relationship between doers and talkers. One cannot exist without the other and gets its lifeblood from the other.

For instance, Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester is largely a talker. Though he comes from Hitachi where he was largely a doer, by his own admission he’s more of a talker now.

I think there’s a negative connotation to talkers. That they are just windbags excelling in the art of punditry. But talkers bring ideas to the table that often shape the course of what is going on in the ecosystem. Talkers need doers who will take their ideas and run with them.

Doers, of whom I would classify Dave Troy of Twittervision have ideas but instead chooses to innovate on ideas and create new things. In this case, David (whom in disclosure, I realized a few weeks ago I interviewed with back in the 2002-2003 timeframe when he was the CEO of Toad) has taken ideas surrounding Twitter and made a visualization for them. He also recognized that there was a need for something like SocialDevCamp East and created it (with help).

Others like Jason Calacanis straddle the line between talkers and doers by challenging the status quo of spammy search engines and proposing a concept of human-powered search and running with it. People who can straddle the gap, place themselves in the most valuable position of seeing the cloud, recognizing it’s potential and doing something about it (pardon the reference).