Micah March 8th

I Dont Do Book Reviews

Every week, I get emailed 2-4 offers to do book reviews on my blog.

I dont do them.

Then a few days ago, my friend Gary Vaynerchuk text’d me and said “Micah, my book comes out in a few days. Can you read it and tell me what you think?”

I quickly replied “Of course,” while thinking to myself “that book is 250 pages! What have I agreed to?”

Before I get into the Thank You Economy, I want to tell a couple of stories. (I drop names like Thor drops hammers. But whats a story if you dont know the players?)

I met Gary, and his brother AJ three or four years ago at the TechCocktail conference in Chicago. I was giving a talk entitled SEO for Douchebags, and while I was talking, I kept looking over seeing two dudes, one with a shirt that said “Legacy > Currency”  and the other with a baseball cap, tshirt and shorts. And they were nodding vigorously. “Who the hell are those guys?” It was clear to me that they were from New Jersey, and knowing all the stupid crap I have done in my life, I was wondering if 1) I pissed them off some how; 2) if the opposite door was unlocked; 3) that I was pretty sure I could take them.

About an hour later, the dude in the “Legacy > Currency” shirt takes the stage, and the program said he was Gary Vaynerchuk. I leaned over to my friend Harper Reed, and said “Who is this dude?” Harper (if you dont know harper, find him on twitter, and get to know him) says, in his very Harper way, “hahaha that dude is awesome. Its Gary, he sells wine.”

Later that night, I ended up with Gary, AJ and a few other folks playing Cranium, watching Gary get pissed because he was losing, and putting playdoh in Nate Westheimer ‘s mouth as he snored.

Two years ago, at the Big Omaha conference, I was lucky to speak with a bunch of friends. At around midnight, Jeffrey KalmikoffJason Fried, Gary and I found ourselves in Gary’s room chatting. (By chatting, I mean four strong personalities diving into all kinds of topics, learning and teaching simultaneously.) It was a smaller version of several similar sessions at various conferences that we have all attended, which was great, because less people meant the room didnt stink as badly or was as warm.

About half way through the night — We were there until, I think 3am, with Jason being the second speaker at 9:30ish — Gary said “You know, the only way to win is to give more than you take. For businesses to be successful, we have to figure out how to use the internet to be more like old school mom and pop shops.” Now Jason with 37signals does that quite well and Jeffrey, who was at Threadless at the time preached the same. That one statement led to easily a 1.5 to 2 hr conversation about what Gary now calls “The Thank You Economy.”

You see, for all the noise that Gary makes around wanting to own the Jets or using sound bites like “Whats the ROI of your mother?” at his core he is a kid running a liquor shop, where each person matters.

Gary was on his book tour for Crush It a year or two ago. He was coming to Denver, and wanted to swing by Boulder and say hi to some friends. Joe Stump was here as was Jeffrey and a few others. I offered to drive him to his signing in Denver, and on the drive down, traffic was horrendous. We got to talking about people.

“I hate people,” I declared. “I hate that people have expectations and view others by who they are and what they do, rather than what they care about.”

“I love people, Micah,” Gary said. “I really, really do. I care that people are happy and fulfilled, and that they are as excited about what they are doing as I am for what I am doing.”

I used to tell people that I believe that there are two types of people: People that care how the world effects them; and people that care about how they effect the world. Gary is clearly the second.

Now, to make sure you dont think this is some puffery about how awesome Gary is, while we were driving down to Denver, he got a call from Wine Library, the liquor store, and he had a long discussion with the manager about an employee that wasnt performing. You think Gary was soft? Yeah, I didnt think so either.

Want to know what I think of The Thank You Economy? I will sum it up in a single quote from the book:

“Success in the Thank You Economy hinges on obsessively caring about the customer, yes, but a great caring culture stems from the top of a company and cascades through it like a waterfall.”

Is that how we end up being successful in life? Its how Gary has done it. It is what we are trying to do at Graphicly . And, frankly, if you are not focused on caring, then you are planning your demise.

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Over a year ago, I wrote a post titled Business Development in a Web 2.0 World. I wrote about the importance of relationships in today’s business dealings. I wrote:

To get, one must give, and trust that the gift is compelling enough to have the other give in return.

(I’ve always wanted to quote myself. Talk about an ego boost!)

Now, its a year later. The work we have done at Lijit has really begun to pay off. Since I started in the end of 2007, we have seen our pageviews grow 30x (11mm per month to 325mm per month) and our user base grow 11x (1,000 – 11,000). Clearly, our approach to business development has worked.

But, this past weekend at Gnomedex, I began to rethink my philosophy.

If you approach relationships as “give with the hope of getting something in return,” by definition, you are creating unidirectional value relationships.

A good illustration of this is the classic/stereotypical dating situation: Man takes woman out to a meal and a movie. He expects she will return a little loving. Who has the power in the relationship? Clearly, not the man.

Look at traditional sales relationships. Same story.

The majority of business dealings are created with the intent of forming a unidirectional value relationship. To be clear, while there is always some value passed back and forth, this is more an exploration of mutually equal value and sharing of power.

Which brings us to the concept of a bidirectional value relationship. Value is mutual. Power is shared.

In my personal life, I tend to be more like my original concept: “To get, one must give, and trust that the gift is compelling enough to have the other give in return.”

Which makes me more interested in women that have such needs that within the relationship, I can provide more than I get in return. This creates an imbalance in mutual value and power, often leaving me in a less than ideal situation. While I was assuming that I was keeping control, and therefore the balance of power in a relationship, the truth was that I was giving away both.

In business relationships, if you miscalculate and the value you provide is not compelling enough, or the other party is uninterested in providing equal value in return, the relationship ends up being unequal and creates the reality of a difficult ending.

Think of it this way. There are two parties, and between the two parties there is a bucket sitting on a level. Neither party can take the bucket, but each party can fill the bucket. If one party fills the bucket, but the other doesnt, the bucket tips. If one party takes too much out of the bucket, the bucket tips. There has to be equality.

Does this mean that relationships are not the focus of business development 2.0? Actually quite the opposite. Relationships are the centerpiece, but successful relationships are bidirectionally valuable.

How does Freemium work in all of this?

The general idea is that if a user likes a product, they will be willing to pay more to use it. Or, for some cases, free accounts can be used for lead generation. But, if the relationship with the user is unidirectional (you give away too much; the paid services are not compelling; you attract the wrong kind of user), then the model fails.

When building a strong, lasting relationship, its important to determine what equal value entails (For example: you put Lijit search on your blog and allow us to share in the revenue generated, and in return we will monetize an under-monetized section of your blog and give your readers a superior search service) and ensure it is understood by both parties.

Relationships should be evaluated on the ability of both parties to provide value. A true relationship, business or otherwise, is predicated on the fact that power, and therefore control, is shared by both parties. When that is out of sync, the relationship has no chance of becoming long-term. In fact, there is no relationship at all.

There is simply an agreement between two parties, that usually occurs after a series of negotiations focused obtaining the highest potential value for each individual party.

Building bidirectional value relationships takes time and trust. It takes a willingness to be vulnerable and a clarity of requirements. Such relationships take learning whats important to each party, and being brutal if those requirements are not met.

Micah August 11th

Feasibility vs. Possibility.

Yesterday I was on a call with a potential business partner for Lijit. With me on the call was one of our product people.

We were going down a specific path with this partner, who on the call threw us a bit of a monkey wrench. It happens. Its the internet.

Our product guy sends out an email after the call that basically indicates that the project is now dead. At the same time, I draft an email to the business partner about ways that we can potentially still work together even with the major change to the business strategy.

So who was right? The product guy for answering the question “Can it be done?” or me for answering the question “How can it be done?”

The truth is we both are correct. It needs to be determined if there is a solution to the problem, but also a need to understand the brain damage that solution might cause.

Organizations that understand this fundamental reality (product cares about the feasibility of projects, while business development cares about the potential of projects) create a positive work environment where idea flourish and projects actually complete.

Right around when I first started at Lijit, Todd Vernon wrote a post about the roles of a CTO and a VP of Engineering. Initially, I was taken aback by this section:

Another way to look at it, the CXO team should all be thinking of the next way to upset the world.  The VP’s and their Directors should be huddling on how to deliver the crazy ass stuff the CXO team is thinking of.  Of course, everyone wears a little of both hats, but in my mind that’s the focus.

After all, I had just come off of selling my company, and saw myself as someone who’s purpose in life was to “think of the next way to upset the world.” Yet, I was taking on the VP of Business Development role, which was a “by design” decision. (My focus was on learning more about how a venture backed company worked and surrounding myself with experienced rock stars like Lijit’s board and management team.)

But the question that loomed was could I do what I do best in a role that is defined by “the delivering crazy ass stuff the CXO team is thinking of”? Isnt that the role of the product team? Frankly, I was worried.

And for a year, that worry never completely subsided. Dont get me wrong, we landed big publishers, launched strong product upgrades and created great partnerships. Dont believe me? We are currently approximately 50%-ish ahead on our goals (which were scary high to start with). Clearly, we are doing something right.

Because of our successes, I never bought into the need for a dedicated product team. I didnt want a group who primary function was to tell me no. Who’s role was to determine FEASIBILITY not POSSIBILITY. To ask “Can it be done?” Not “HOW can it be done?”

Then we hired Greg Keller. Greg is a seasoned product manager and a solid blogger. He rides a bike (ok, he is a cyclist), but most importantly, understands the proper intersection of product and business development.

Over the past several weeks, the product team has expanded (and contracted a bit) to take ownership of our three products: The website (and search results), the widget and our ad network. In each case, the product path has become more clear, the important (and missing) elements have come to light, and the spots where I can make the most impact for Lijit.

What this has taught me is that if I were to build a company, I would look past the current constructs of position titles to understanding the true functions:

CEO – final decision maker; vision builder (“What do we want to be?”)

Operations – operationally focused; makes the business run (“How can we make that a reality?”)

BD – Lives outside reality, thinks about what is possible. (“What is possible?”)

Product – Lives in feasibility; thinks about how to make things reality (“What is feasible?”)

Engineering – Focused on making. They are the builders. (“Can we do it?”)

(Yes, I dont talk about sales. Sales is a very mechanical function, even though it is very necessary).

Can a small company share these responsibilities? Yes.

But, damn, its nice to have area experts.