Sorebrek's Musings and Ramblings

In search of the holy grail of an MBA (class of 2008 hopeful), this space will hopefully chronicle the search and my other quixotic pursuits.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

In today's headlines ...

(Backdrop - Spangler Hall, news anchor in a yellow turtle-neck and cheap traffic-stopping-red North Face jacket).

AnchorMan: As the war in Iraq drags on with no end in sight and the country remains divided along red and blue lines, another storm is brewing here in Cambridge Massachusetts. This time it is the venerable Harvard University taking up battle stations against applicants to its world-renowned business school. (pause) In fact, the battle has been lost for these applicants before it even began.

(Sound of wind howling into the cheap microphone, anchorman's warm breath clouding the sharp and frosty morning)

AnchorMan: For the HBS 119, as these hackers are now know, a palindrome not entirely lost on them, their dreams of walking the corridors of Spangler Hall have come crashing down! In a twist of high-tech drama and moral conflict of the highest order, these applicants deliberately broke into the Internet computer servers that stored their application files.

AnchorMan: In the not-so-clear words of a neutral observer, Harvard retaliated by "doing to them what they should have done a long time ago to their politically incorrect president ..." - something having to do with derrieres and drop-kicking.

AnchorMan: Harvard has come under harsh criticism for what many think was high-handed action on its part. We spoke to Larry Summers, the embattled President of Harvard University on the subject.

(Dean Summers in a summer dress shivering as he bends forward to speak into the microphone)

Dean Summers: At Haavud, we like to hold our applicants to the highest ethical aspirations of this institution. To my critics, I only have this to say: while the original hackers were 118 in number, 59 of them men and 59 women, we ensured that we denied admission to one more woman candidate to dispel any notion of gender bias.

(Camera pans back to the anchorman)

AnchorMan: Under conditions of strict anonymity, we managed to speak to another commentator of this macabre turn of events, who goes by the name of, (pause) er, Power ... Yogi.

(Camera pans to a pixilated silhouette of whom we will only know as Power Yogi)

AnchorMan: Do you consider yourself to be ethically correct in defending the HBS 119?

(Studied silence) Hey man, I'm just happy to be on TV. This is better than Elimidate dude!

(Camera turns away hurriedly)

AnchorMan: While the controversy brews, at the center of this storm in a tea-cup is the uber-hacker who goes by the name, (pause) Brook ... Bond, who happens to share his name with a most unpalatable brand of tea from India. We attempted to contact Mr. Bond, but the only comment we could get out of him was this cryptic statement (pausing to read deliberately from a piece of paper):
"Go Apply Yourself you applyers!"

AnchorMan: Reporting live from Cambridge Massachusetts, this is Kent Brockman for CNN News. Back to you Paula.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Long Tail or Tall Tale?

I remember visiting the headquarters of Excite in the Silicon Valley in early 2000. We were trying to figure out if Excite might be interested in the technology we were hawking. Little did we know at the time that Excite was tanking like several other tech shops in the area. But the sad part is that this was no 10-person startup. There were hundreds, if not a few thousand employees working from those glass and steel buildings, and poof, one day it was gone, just like that. I think the Excite facility still remains unoccupied. Any way, I digress.

So there is this post by Joe Krauss, co-founder of Excite and currently associated with Jotspot that caught my eye. On his blog about entrepreneurship (talk about hind-sight being 20/20), Joe presents an argument that demolishes the commonly held 80-20 notion about market distribution, which postulates that 80% of your sales come from 20% of your market. He however contends that in several industries, uniqueness of customer needs and wants is the rule rather than the exception. Apparently, only those companies that figure these out (he cites Google, Amazon and Apple iTunes as examples) will succeed in the long run. Excite did not and went down the tube.

Personally, I think IBM figured it out in the enterprise software. They recognized that selling software to organizations is not the same as selling shrink-wrapped software to consumers. Organizations need solutions, not platforms and IBM builds platforms and backs them up with armies of consultants who customize the solution for the company in question. In the process they end up serving the customer's need better and making more money. Only time will tell if this method of throwing man-power at the problem rather than developing smarter software is the right approach or if it is even feasible. In the meantime, in a market where companies are doing neither, IBM gains ground.

So, is this the old (Alvin) Toffler customization wine in Chateau Krauss bottles? Ok, so metaphors are not my forte, I will get to my point: yes and no. The trick, I think, is in picking out the segmentation distribution within your own industry. If it is a long tail industry, this might actually work. But in a bell-curve market, you're probably better off cookie-cutting your offerings to take advantage of the economies of scale.

Are long tail industries increasing in number? I suspect yes. Will long tail focused applications become more prevalent? Very likely. A few months back, I had started using Excel quite seriously, writing macros and googling for Excel power user tips. It occurred to me that I was not solving problems but discovering tools, admittedly quite awkwardly like an otter using a piece of rock to crack open a clam. The rub is that my work is seldom done in isolation. I would make the models first and then have several other people fill in their numbers. What if someone developed a software that took in a spreadsheet, analyzed the formulae and generated an application out of it on the fly? The application would display standard forms like you would see on the web and allow users to interact with it just like any other web-based application. If done in an open-source fashion, this could be the mother of modular, collaborative software of the future (I forbid you to snicker, you'll have your chance). You could then deploy it on to standard application platforms and all of a sudden, the tools that you had collected over the years have become applications that can now be shared. I could see investment banks lining up outside sorebreK Inc to buy the coveted software. A google search later, my Archimedes moment turned into an Al Gore gaffe; once again someone's already been there, done that, seen the movie and bought the t-shirt :-(

Anyway, is long tailing becoming a trend? I suspect yes. More information and more access to it refines the consumer's outlook and expectations - one size fits all suddenly seems passé. Long tailers like Google and Amazon are burgeoning in numbers and business volume. What got my neurons all fired up are the unique marketing challenges this presents. Traditionally, you would divvy up your markets into segments and address those segments individually. A 'mischievously' hypothetical segment could be baby boomers with, er, recreational ED. A lab accident provides the innovation and targeted marketing manifests itself as an ad showing a 'horney' middle-aged guy. I jest. In a long tail market where the baby boomers' aforementioned tastes are, shall we just say eclectic, when it comes to popping an aphrodisiac, you end up with as many segments as there are boomers. What does this bode for the marketer and the strategist? Not wanting to leave you on a titillating note, here, check out James Cherkoff's thought provoking article on Open Source Marketing.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Cabala and Cable Cabal - the tale of a near broadband-felon

I wake up to the incessant ringing of the cell-phone. I pick up and a series of Nextel beeps and crackles later, a voice: You sorebreK? (ok, not really, he asks for me by name).
Yours truly: Yeah, that's right.
The Voice: You want cable, man?
YT (very groggily): Huh? yeah, yeah, cable internet installation right? What time are you coming by?
V: Be there soon.
Three hours and half of my workday later, I hear the doorbell. I buzz in the face behind the voice. Before I could say 'shoes', the foot soldier of the cable cabal has already trampled down to the center of my precious area rug and arms akimbo, is taking in the view of my spartan digs.
V: Just moved in huh?
I am pissed. Yeah Sherlock, the U-Haul boxes gave me away didn't they?
YT: Yeah. The cable outlet is right here.
Undaunted Sherlock presses on,
V: So you a student man, or you working?
YT: A bit of both.
V: You work here? What do you do?
YT: I work at World Dominator Corp.
V: Nice - big money huh?
YT: Not really, but I am not complaining.
V: So what you studying?
I want to say "
premature combustibility of solid rocket propellant fuels", but I settle for
YT: Some business stuff.
Whew, I lost him! How wrong I was.
Our protagonist fishes out his very bling gold pinz nez glasses (who wears them these days anyway) and starts very officiously poring over the work order and shakes his head in disbelief.
V: You just want internet man? No cable TV? What's with that?
YT: Yeah, just internet please.
A rather personable look comes over our friend's face.
V: Look brother, I can hook you up for free. Just pay me $100 and you get 76 channels for free. Nobody's gonna know.
Greed clouds yours truly's reasoning, but then vignettes of the Harvard 119 in Guantanamo standard-issue orange jump suits flash across my mind in rapid succession.
YT: But, isn't that, isn't that illegal? It is not kosher right?
V: What the hell man? You Jewish now?
Damn, I should never have left those latkes out to thaw. Seeing the bewildered look on my face, with an avuncular pat on my shoulder, I'm reassured:
V: No big deal brother. It's just the signal.
YT: Thanks, but I'll pass. I am not much of a TV guy any way.
And then the one-two punch!
V: It's a good deal brother. How you gonna survive in business?
Albeit for different reasons, I sometimes wonder myself. But it did give me great satisfaction seeing that our protagonist will never know why I looked as amused as I did.