Category Archives: Marketing

Lessons from the Obama Campaign for the Software Business

Yesterday at the 15th Annual Stanford University Accel Symposium, I heard an energizing talk with Chris Hughes, Facebook, and Architect of Obama’s Digital Campaign Strategies, and Matthew Barzun, National Finance Team for Obama and Former Chief Strategy Officer, CNET Networks, Inc. on “Technology Priorities: Lessons from the Campaign”.

Three powerful lessons leapt from the stage that certainly any software company trying to do something different should understand. These apply to any company who cares about their customer community and focuses on growing a large business.

Scale and Focus

Traditional software counts on hunting down customers and finding those willing to pay the large price tag. Kind of like traditional political fund raising where fund raisers seek big-heeled donors for the $5,000/plate dinner.

The Obama campaign’s New School thinking concentrated on creating scale and community. Instead of only mining a list for the 1-in-5 donor with the big bucks, they started asking 25 people to go out and each find 25 more to pay $25 to show up at an event. The first time they tried this, they sold every ticket. So they tried it again, and next thing they knew: 1,800-person venue sold out.

Thinking how to scale from a smaller list of initial supporters (Obama challenge) was very different than thinking how to divide-and-conquer the large list of potential donors (Clinton early advantage). Matthew said it required concentrating on metrics that really matter – a mantra within the campaign, lowering the barriers to entry for donors and supporters, while having high expectations for the ultimate outcome. Aside from this concentration on large scale, they were relentlessly focused on immediate outcomes: they had to win Iowa; there was nothing after Iowa. Matthew represented this new thinking…
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Farming vs. Hunting

The campaign compared their marketing strategy to Seth Goding’s Farming and Hunting analogy. The new school campaign focused on farming a community versus only game hunting (Yes, they did both: about half small donors; half large.). The idea was to spread word-of-mouth, build a bigger community using the existing base of early passionate supporters.

The trick was multiplying the base versus the traditional 1-in-5 division game of hunting. Build the community through networking. Get 25 supporters to rally another for a small entry fee. This is how Matthew illustrates some of the early results…

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Once the Obama campaign got this farming working, the multiplier trumped any notion of relying on the traditional approach.

Values Matter

Communities thrive on trust and respect. If you are serious about building a community of supporters or customers, start with asking how to treat people. Here’s the Obama Campaign Code they handed out for the Iowa caucuses: three simple values:

    Respect
    Empower
    Include

At one caucus the Clinton people showed up with 13 supporters, which on a Cold Day in Hell in Iowa is a good showing. The Obama supporters on the other side of the room numbered 68. But the Clinton group was below the 15 count needed to participate. The doors to the caucus closed at a specific time, meaning no more participants. The Clinton team was potentially without a quorum.

Then after the rules allowed, in walk two more Clinton supporters, giving Clinton a quorum. This was against the rules. What did the Obama supporters say? Let them in. Include them. They deserve to be here. The spirit in the room was immediately more inclusive.

Software companies (all companies frankly) would do well to start by treating their customers with respect, treating them well, and concentrating on inclusion. A couple values we think apply to software companies is treating customers equally and fairly regardless of their company’s size or the size of their orders, and opening up information about your company (pricing, licensing, source code, bugs) so you build trust.

Applying new school marketing thinking and concentrating on scale, inclusion, and low barriers made a whopping 100% difference to what Obama raised. What would it do for your business, Mister Software Man?

The Secret Ingredient to Blogs?

(Warning: This ingredient may not be for every blogger.) The ingredient is mixing business and personal issues. Right off the bat, this flies in the face of accepted Public Relations rules. But, the more personal and authentic a blogger can be, the more readers will believe a blog. Why do I say this?

I was honored to have Christine Kent of Ragan’s Media Relations Report cover my story of cancer in this blog. She asked me if there was any upside to executives talking about personal issues in their blog. My response was, “if executives blog honestly and passionately about something personal, there’s no need to figure out if there’s a corporate upside or downside.” The question is not about upside; it should be about authenticity.

People are sick and tired of all the media relations filters. One principle problem with our US Presidential Campaign Death March is everything is filtered down to pablum. No surprise: the one moment Hillary Clinton got emotional in public, the media treated her more positively for her authenticity.

The majority of advice on writing good blogs is keep it short, be punchy, be pithy, be controversial, and the like. While most of this is reasonable advice, speaking from the heart trumps most of this. My longest blogs are my most well read. Another popular piece of advice is have a clear theme or subject for your blogs. Again, I stumbled on mixing business and personal issues at the risk of being scattered, yet today a woman who is a volunteer for Livestrong told me in an email, “I love that it’s corporate and personal at the same time: it’s you. In my work… I have proposed launching blogs with the same natural style. Now I have a good example to show my Board of Directors.” Lesson: Do not obey all the rules. Make your own.

But why mix business and personal issues? Well, it’s not for everyone as I warned at the start. I told Christine Kent it’s Steve Jobs’ business if he wishes to talk about his personal life. Also, the rules are different for public companies.

If you can mix the two, you open the opportunity of showing more passion, more heart, more transparency, and then all that Often Boring Business stuff just might have a chance of being a little more interesting.

Tips on Recruiting Executives Part II [On Atlassian]

Daniel Freeman who runs product marketing and Jay Simons, new head of marketing, chatting with Mike Cannon-Brookes (back) in our new SF office. That’s Jay’s weimaraner named Sydney, also a great API developer.

In May, we completed the search for a vice president marketing which I wrote about last year. I promised to blog about the search when it was done, so here’s Part II on tips for recruiting executives and senior people.

1. The best candidates are referred by friends.

Our new head of marketing Jay Simons was referred by Kathleen Reidy of the 451 Group, a really bright industry analyst I had the pleasure of meeting last year. Analysts can be a great source of information because they frequently get briefed. James Governor of Red Monk gave me advice more than once.

VC’s are another good source. Some are protective of their network, so it helps to have good relationships. A VC we trust referred our director of product marketing Daniel.

All but one of our best candidates came from referrals. One came through Linkedin. Your network matters, but it requires more than blasting referral emails out to hundreds of people.

2. Use Linkedin as chum.

Think of Linkedin as a big bucket of fish heads, or chum. Chumming is when you throw a big bucket of fish heads and guts in the water to attract fish to your boat. You probably won’t find the candidate through Linkedin, but it’s a great way to announce your intentions. Kathleen Reidy learned of our intentions through my Linkedin email blast.

We received 50-75 resumes for each ad. The problem is filtering these is rough: marketing people are Pro Bullshit Throwers, and their resumes look very professional. Reading these resumes requires a healthy dose of Mike Cannon-Brookes-style skepticism.

I targeted a few candidates by doing People Searches on Linkedin and sending blind emails. I targeted some companies that were in transition. Always be thinking of companies who might be going through a transition. Coincidentally Jay came from BEA/Plumtree, which was being eaten by Oracle. Munch Munch.

3. Best athlete trumps best functional fit.

It’s easy to get wrapped around the axle about candidates meeting all the tick boxes on your list. Silicon Valley executive headhunters can be obsessed with candidates meeting every functional requirement, and to a fault. One problem with executive search is that because they get paid so much, they have to do this to earn their pay. Within reason, of course, you don’t.

The best candidates were not necessarily the best on paper, and did not meet every wish we had. For example, at Atlassian finding business people who have experience with highly technical products like our developer tools is tough.

An analogy is when an American football team goes into a draft looking for a Tight End [Tall guy that can catch passes and run short routes]. If presented with a top athlete in another position and who could be a game-changer, it may be foolhardy to pass. Coincidentally we ended up hiring the youngest of all the best candidates.

4. Interview intensely and spend considerable time.

You can’t spend too much time interviewing key hires. I sat down with the best candidates three times or more. Once I interviewed for a CEO job in a six-on-one interview format that lasted over two and a half hours; CEOs should be able to handle this. Any critical hire should. We interviewed one candidate three-on-one in Sydney.

In another case, Daniel who now runs our product marketing took three of us through a case study of another company to determine any lessons for Atlassian. Not a typical interview format, yet a great way to learn how someone thinks.

5. Source your own references, and get the most senior ones.

Find out who were the VCs on the person’s board at his or her last company. Always ask to talk to the CEO. Board members and CEOs tend not to suffer fools. Start checking as soon as you start to like a candidate, while carefully observing the person’s confidentiality. This may mean checking former execs at the company, or someone you know and trust. If the person is in a senior business role, find out what the senior engineers thought of the person. Good business people should command the respect of technical staff.

6. Always have an executive search backup.

There’s a reason why VC firms use executive recruiters. They don’t want to waste time. If you find yourself wasting time, be ready to hire a strong executive recruiter. I had one on alert from the start.

The Pizza Strategy: 5 Tips for a Successful Business

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A Coffee shop opened on the corner near our office. What they are doing to launch their new business amazingly applies to most companies. It’s brilliant and common sense. The Coffee shop illustrated to me lots of attributes of how to think about starting a new business, and how not to do it…

1. The New, New Thing vs. the Pizza Strategy

Mistake #1 in Silicon Valley is the obsession with the New, New Thing. The opposite is the Pizza Strategy. It’s practical, you could eat it every day (if you work with engineers), it’s both lunch and dinner food. It serves a lot of purpose, but it’s common and a bit boring. Innovation is wonderful, yet not enough technology companies go after crowded industries where an unmet need still lies.

Coffee Bar, which opened last month in our neighborhood is an excellent example of my kind of entrepreneurialism. They opened one block away from Starbucks. People asked why they would do that? Dumb question. Starbucks is an Unholy Blasphemous Sacrilege to those of us religiously devoted to the Sacrament of Coffee.

I call JIRA our Pizza business. It’s the sincerest form of flattery because Mike and Scott chose a software product with tons of competitors yet found an unserved need: a useful, practical issue tracker for $1200 – $4800. Five years later, it still sells like hotcakes. There were lots of pizza shops, but JIRA pizza has a strong following.

2. Marketing vs. Product

It’s not that marketing is bad. Hell, I’m recruiting for a VP Marketing. The question is: what do you lead with? If you can’t win folks with the product first, pack it up.

Coffee Bar has sitting next to their menu a ranking of all the best, generally boutique coffee shops in San Francicso. This takes cojones because San Francisco has some great coffee shops in the North End that are historic with the Beat Generation. Coffee Bar ranks #1. The point is: they are proud of their product and determined to be the best. They lead with Great Product.

Coffee Bar does something else we try to do at Atlassian which is give customers fewer choices, but give them good ones. We apply this rule to pricing to keep things simple. The first time I heard about Coffee Bar’s food, Jonathan Nolen said “The menu is limited but everything is great.” Bullseye. Apple figured this out a long time ago: compare the number of add-on options available on a Mac to those on a Dell. With Dell, the choices are agonizing and confusing.

Lead with product and keep things simple.

3. Free Trials vs. Hassle

What’s the biggest problem with test driving a new car? The hassle from an annoying salesman. Why do software companies do this when all you want is a whitepaper…

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Why don’t more companies just let you try their products with the least intrusion and hassle? During lunch when I normally don’t have coffee, Lindsay at Coffee Bar asked me if I wanted to try the coffee for free. Just the act of offering me a free coffee warmed me to the place. When I asked for a double espresso, she said, “Perfect”, because she wanted me to taste the undiluted essence of the core product: coffee. She handed me the espresso with a pride and belief in her product. She expected nothing in return.

The more questions you get asked when you evaluate a product, the more you ought to run for the hills. Businesses need to be willing to trade bad customer information for engendering trust.

4. Marketing vs. Word of Mouth

When I told Lindsay at Coffee Bar lunch was excellent, she asked if I could tell my co-workers. I was more than happy to oblige. Lindsay led with great product, she has visible pride in her restaurant and product, she is happy to be a few feet away from the Starbucks, and she understands my recommendation is much more important than an advertisement.

Ask yourself what can you do to promote word of mouth? Advertising is no longer what it once was.

5. Branding only matters so much

Too many tech and Internet companies obsess over names. Granted, consumer companies have a greater challenge. If you are taking on, say Coca-Cola or Cheerios, I would support an intense effort on naming.

What I like about Coffee Bar is that it is imperfect but it works. It stands for Coffee in the daytime, Bar at night. “Oh, that’s cool”, was my first thought. I’ll remember that. Is it a boring, generic name? Sort of. But so what if the product is excellent, and they concentrate on what customers really want?

There are a few common, useful rules for naming from Rob Gemmell, a friend and Marketing God:

  1. Own-able — The name is unique and you can own it. “Accenture is ow-nable; “Pacific Lumber” is not. Any name becomes own-able over time if you either spend a lot of money on marketing, or you establish a large market of customers who know you.
  2. Spell-able — The one weakness of the “Atlassian” name. Sometimes related is Pronounceable, which is another Atlassian imperfection.
  3. Memorable — Related to uniqueness, but very different: will people remember the name?
  4. Relevant — “Reliable Roofing” is highly relevant: it includes the benefit. It is relevant to the customer. “Apple”, on the other hand is completely arbitrary and not relevant. It’s cute, but it’s not relevant to the customer. “International Business Machines” was extremely relevant at the time.

The other two useful, secondary rules are: 1) Start with a letter high in the alphabet, a strength of Atlassian or Apple, and 2) Try to keep it as short as possible.

“Coffee Bar” is imperfect. Once you understand it, it might be memorable. But it is too generic to be own-able, without a lot of marketing money behind it. It doesn’t matter as much as the product, the customer service, the ambiance, and of course, a motivated, smart owner like Lindsay.

How to Win the Atlassian T-Shirt Competition

Disclaimer: We have not formed a judging committee, I have no idea whether or not I will be on the committee, and the decision could be made by a couple of engineers over a lot of beer in Sydney. These facts do not prevent me from giving you, Dear Reader some valuable insights into this hotly contested competition.

As an employee I am officially disqualified from Atlassian’s T-Shirt competition, which irks me to no end as I would whip everyone’s ass in this competition. Nevertheless, I am compelled to dispense potentially useful information on how you might stand out from the crowd pounding down our doors with spectacular designs and ideas. Here are some possible strategies for you Closet T-Shirt Designers:

Strategy #1: Design something a woman might wear. Being engineers and being men generally, we have a terrible habit of designing things that are questionable when written across a woman’s chest. The original clean, simply designed Confluence T-shirt is one of my favs but as you can see…

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This is a risky, breakout strategy as our founders are 28 year-old Australian men and of course, engineers and opinionated at times. But I think the timing is right to do the right thing by women, as Kathy Sierra pointed out a long time ago.

Strategy #2: It’s all about a clever, funny tagline. With this strategy, the design is irrelevant. Take our most coveted JIRA T-shirt. To this day, people love the tagline:

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Strategy #3: Get edgy. This is risky as you might go too far. Here’s an example of one of our more recent T-shirts which may have gone too far:

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This one may say something about engineers who spend too much time in front of their monitors, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusion.

Strategy #4: Make something retro and timeless.
The problem with retro is it is in the eye of the beholder, and I’m not sure there’s anything retro about a 5-year old software company. My favorite example but a really sweet T-shirt is this beauty I got from Ted Leung:

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[Disclosure: I used a Newton for 18 months. I still own it.]

Strategy #5: Sex. That’s right. Sex would be a cheap trick but Hey, stooping to the lowest common denominator works often. Here’s Yelp who in a lot of their branding uses some of the same tricks as American Apparel:

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Yelp can get a bit frisky with their marketing of their apparel:

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Would this cheap tactic work with a bunch of young engineers in Sydney? You decide.

How to Write a Bad Resume

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There are three surefire ways to write a bad resume:

  1. Make it too long.
  2. Obscure your background with your interpretation of your strengths and skills.
  3. Give a vague chronology.

Kicking off our search for a VP of Marketing this week made me ruminate about bad resumes. For this role, the problem is that marketing people can make anything look good, or more accurately: they can talk at length about anything, even if it’s irrelevant. So, the primary problem is long resumes that put you to sleep. I thought this a good opportunity to get crabby about resumes in general.

The three best ways to write a bad or a good resume:

1. Length

Most mortals can fit their background on one page. After about ten years of experience, you might merit a second page. Maybe. But think hard first. It might take 15 years before we need to hear it all. I have seen some resumes that creep onto a third page that are well written, but these are people with 20 or more years of experience.

Four pages are uncalled for unless you are from a foreign country where the sheer weight of your resume is part of the Feng Shui and culture. In spite of this habit overseas, it is a practice that is doomed in a world of impatient, ADD Type A’s who spend more and more time on the Internet. Get over it. Practice using that delete key, Champ.

2. Identify Your Background, not Your Skills and Strengths

Let the facts speak for themselves. Nothing is more annoying than resumes that start with a half page or an entire page summarizing someone’s background and skills. Your experience is what counts, not your interpretation. I have seen good resumes that start with three pertinent bullets highlighting key experience, but unless you merit a two or three page resume, try to skip this. Your work history and specific accomplishments are what matters.

Here are two actual examples from resumes I received today:

  • “I am a marketing master that can develop unlimited campaign ideas from the fertile right side of my brain.” I kid you not. A Master with a Fertile Brain. Save me.
  • “Strengths (Source: Gallup Clifton Strengthsfinder): Maximizer, Ideation, Strategic, Self-Assurance, Activator.” Is this necessary? Aside from being very unclear on what a “Maximizer” exactly is, or for that matter an “Activator”, what God-Help-Me is the Gallup Clifton Strengthsfinder?

3. Specific, Clear Chronology

If you have ever interviewed with Heidrick & Struggles or any of the major executive search firms, you know that competent, highly paid recruiters are exacting about chronology. Even if you are a CEO, these recruiters will carefully go through every crevice, so no stone is unturned.

That means month and year, start and end to every job. Yes, the month matters. It demonstrates you are a concrete, specific person. Remember, this is your career. Here in swashbuckling Silicon Valley where folks go through jobs like hot knives through butter, a string of jobs all less than two years is not uncommon. Therefore the month becomes material.

Always show the year you received a degree. Vagueness can make one wonder what you are hiding. Did you get lost at a Dead concert for a few years? (There’s an appropriate way to describe this career move.)

If you can get these three things right: 1) brevity, 2) background not strengths/skills/functional nonsense, and 3) clear chronology, you are off to good start.

Atlassian User Group: Palo Alto

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It is a sad day in Mudville: We are not interviewing Paris Hilton at the User Group, and we are not giving away free iPhones. If you can get over that…

Stanford University is the idyllic setting for our First Inaugural Bay Area User Group. The spine-tingling, white-knuckle highlights include:

    • Customers presenting a variety of case studies from Sony, Apple, and Polycom
    • Scott Farquhar, founder and CEO
    • Chris Kohlhardt demoing the groovy Gliffy plugin to Confluence
    • … and more!

    Oh and lest I forget: Beer! And the venerable, Collectors Item: Atlassian T-Shirts, for which folks have been known to sacrifice their first born. The T-shirts are exceedingly more popular than iPhones, we have discovered.

    And rumor has it that in attendance will be a few of the Enterprise Irregulars. You heard it here first.

    RSVP here.