Software Marketing Pranks

I envy software marketing types.  They get to stay kids forever: pull pranks and even get paid for it.:-)

Today’s example comes courtesy of TechCrunch: PayPal competitor WePay dropped a 600lbs ice block at the entrance of the Paypal developer conference.  They got chased away and Moscone security removed the ice block.   My question: who gets the money?  Those are real dollar bills in the ice…

But don’t for a minute think it’s only at startup-land where 20-somethings rule.. the enterprise gray-hairs like pranks, too.  Below are some gems from the past.

NetSuite raining on Sage‘s parade conference:

NetSuite is quite a regular at competitor conferences, see their trucks at SAP’s annual SAPPHIRE conference:

(Cross-posted @ CloudAve » Zoli Erdos)


Google Apps in a Box. Oh, and an iPad Killer.

What we missed in our Google Apps Marketplace coverage: the Best Poster Award … drumroll.. goes to

box google

And while at it, their video isn’t too shabby, either:

Wait… is that an iPad killer with a great virtual keyboard at 0:46?

ipad killer

Bias alert: I’ve been watching from the humble early days starting here:

through here:

box toilet becoming a successful business.    Just sayin’ 🙂

(Update: my secret retirement plan is collecting royalty from for using Google-in-a-Box )

P.S. On a more serious note, here’s our previous Google Apps Marketplace coverage:

(Cross-posted @ CloudAve )


Startups, Remember: Transparency, Transparency, Transparency

  • How can people even think of launching a service without revealing the price upfront?
  • How can they expect users to go through the hassle of signing up, installing software, only to find the price info after all this?
  • Why do people still fall for this?

I’m discussing the above and more using Zumodrive’s launch as case study over @ CloudAve – read the details here.


Oops, They Fired All Their Workaholics

Wow, quite a firestorm on a weekend over whether startups should hire only workaholics or not. It’s tip #11 on Jason Calacanis’s How to save money running a startup list that ticked off many readers:

Fire people who are not workaholics. don’t love their work… come on folks, this is startup life, it’s not a game. don’t work at a startup if you’re not into it–go work at the post office or starbucks if you’re not into it you want balance in your life. For realz.

The edits show how Jason re-wrote this point after harsh criticism like Calacanis Fires People Who Have A Life on TechCrunch and Fire the workaholics by 37Signals. I don’t think he had to edit it, anyone who had been at a startup, who understands startup dynamics should “get it”.

He is talking about the need to have highly passionate team members, who at a certain stage of their life and the startup’s life are willing to – and happy to – shift their priorities. You can’t force people to be workaholics, all you get is slaves in a sweatshop, and that not only causes burnout, it does not produce quality results anyway. David at 37Signals is right:

If your start-up can only succeed by being a sweatshop, your idea is simply not good enough. Go back to the drawing board and come up with something better that can be implemented by whole people, not cogs.

Agree. But great founding teams are often made up of workaholics – it has to come from the fire within, not forced. These guys locked up in a live-and-work apartment probably did not have 8-hour workdays, yet didn’t look too unhappy. A year later they are growing, picked up two rounds of funding, have 20 employees and even put TechCrunch in the toilet.smile_wink I don’t expect their 20th employee to be just as passionate as the Founders, but it can’t be a 9-5 type person either. At this stage they still need driven Team Members, not simply employees.

Most startups that grow to a certain point will lose this team atmosphere at some point. They will start to hire more “regular employees”, many of whom are opportunity seekers, in for quick ride, ready to jump ship any time. Too bad, but it’s a fact of life.

Not everywhere, though. 37Signals is still a small team (by choice) but not really a startup anymore. They seem to have found the golden balance between work and life, having introduced 4-day workweeks, funding team members’ passions, be it flight lessons, cooking classes…whatever. I don’t think they whine if (when) the occasional crunch comes. Another “startup” (not really, anymore) I often write about is Atlassian: at $30M revenue and 130 employees they still preserve a unique culture, do a lot of programs together, and generally working there is a lifestyle, not just employment.

The above two have something in common, other than having good products: they did not take VC investment. They can pretty much do whatever they like. Maintaining a great team is no just a means to business, it’s part of their ultimate purpose.

The weekend firestorm comes completes a full circle: in a second TechCrunch article Mike Arrington comes to Calacanis’s defense: Startups Must Hire The Right People And Watch Every Penny. Or Fail. This is a very good article, I wholeheartedly agree with it. And while at it, let me also refer you to Startups: Executive Hiring Challenges or Beware of the Suits.

On a lighter note, the CEO of another self-funded former startup, Zoho apparently heeded 37Signals advice, and fired all his workaholics.

(Not really… Watch out for a major product announcement next week.smile_wink)

Update: This quick rant by Bob Warfield is worth reading:  Startups Need Starters


TechCrunch in the Toilet

No, I am not implying that TechCrunch is bankrupt, or heading into their own Deadpool.  TC has all the signs of doing just fine, with 700K subscribers and loads of advertisers.  But they are in the toilet, nevertheless – at least in a certain toilet.

Online file-sharing and collaboration startup is changing the ancient habit of reading your newspaper in the toilet.  (Frankly I never understood this habit, personally I prefer getting out of there as soon as possible, but for many people it’s a true ritual.)   The company, which just a year ago was 4 guys cramped together in a two-bedroom live-and-work apartment has grown to 20 employees and picked up two rounds of funding.   Flush with VC money, they equipped their restroom with a flat screen that shows an auto-refreshing display of technology news from TechCrunch.  No more newspaper in the bathroom!

I can’t help but wonder about the screen position though.  For all I know, this is only for the guys’ entertainment, gals usually face the other way – is still an all-male team?  And, without getting into the very material details, even we boys only perform one “operation” facing that way.., and that’s normally the quicker one. (?)

Aaron, care to clarify? smile_eyeroll


Zoho Suite Gaining Muscle

If you follow the online productivity / collaboration market, you’ve probably noticed that Zoho, the company that earned their fame releasing new products at breakneck speed is slowing down. But are they, really?

I think they are just going through adolescence – you know, the stage when you can grow muscles fast. smile_wink They’ve been silently updating several of their products in the past months. Today’s Writer update includes support for pagination, headers, footers and spell checking in 43 (!) languages. Incidentally, some of these are the very features the Burton group listed as missing from Google Apps in their recent report titled “Google Apps in the Enterprise: A Promotion-Enhancing or Career-Limiting Move for Enterprise Architects?” The original report is 55 pages long, but here’s the InfoWorld summary:

Microsoft Office has a huge lead in features over Google Apps, the Burton Group says, giving these examples:

— Documents: “Google Docs does not support a table of contents, headers, footers, automatic creation of footnotes or end notes.” …

Although the Burton report focused specifically on GAPE (Google Apps Premier Edition), it could be construed as criticism of the the web office market in general. Well, with today’s updates Zoho Writer meets all the Burton Group “requirements”. In fact, Zoho delivers most of what the Burton study considered missing features outside Documents, in the areas of spreadsheet(Sheet), presentation (Show), custom business applications (Zoho DB & Creator) , web conferencing (Zoho Meeting), and wikis (Zoho Wiki).

Several of the above services received updates in the past month – sometimes announced, other times silently appearing, without further ado. In fact that’s an obvious benefit of using web applications: the enhancements are simply available, without the need to apply annoying patches (I could go on listing failed client-side updates from Microsoft, Macromedia, Adobe.. you name it). Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu explained his views on updates vs. new products recently. He is obsessed about eventually delivering the “perfect” web applications that fully stand up to Microsoft Office, and recognizes the limitations these services have today.

Frankly, I think he is a perfectionistsmile_wink and perhaps would not even need to go all the way…after all, the point in web applications isn’t simply to replicate the offline experience. Moving applications to the web opens new dimensions, namely mobility and easy, native collaboration. Today’s Writer updates are important, because in our legacy world the challenger is measured against the standards of the incumbent. But Microsoft Office was created at a time when the purpose of document creation was to eventually print it. In the 90’s we thought we’d reach the dream of “paperless office” only to see paper-consumption grow dramatically. (Secretary prints email, faxes it to boss, who makes hand notations, faxes it back for secretary to type again…smile_angry). Today, in the age of better online collaboration (that you can NOT manage on paper) and ergonomic large screens, who prints anymore?

So while I recognize the importance of layout-oriented features (user acceptance), the real value to me is in real-time collaboration (co-editing), version control and restore, embedded chat, web-conferencing, linking, linking and linking – the things that make web documents live. On a side-note, this is why I am surprised that the latest Web Word Processor entrant, Buzzword, beautiful as it is, does not support entering URL’s and real-time co-editing: those omissions defeat the purpose of being on the web.

By the same logic I find’s Openbox a significant move: it allows to store one’s files online, while making it really easy to use a range of services, initially including Autodesk, Echosign, eFax, Myxer, Picnik, Scribd, Snipshot, Thinkfree, Twitter, Zazzle and Zoho on those files. There will be users who prefer the All-in-one concept, and they will likely settle on Google (bigger brand) or Zoho (more and better apps), but others will prefer picking their individual services, and for those Openbox is a good platform. Choice is good.

Related posts: Wired, CenterNetworks, Mashable, web 2.0 weblog, Zoho Blogs.

Update (10/17):  Google Docs added footnote support.


When Funding Spoils Startups

I ‘m reading about two startups this morning and I can’t help but draw a comparison.

TechCrunch features the two-way storage widget released by I consider is a cool company, with an interesting product, even though they are in a crowded market.

Their story is that of the classic, frugal live-in startup model: few friends get together, build the product and business day and night, live frugally but have fun in the process. (The photo to the right is from the SF Chronicle that featured several startups living the frat-house culture).

I suspect may now have real offices, having received funding from DFJ, but somehow I don’t see them spending that $1.5M on luxuries. Certainly no reserved parking smile_wink

The other story is from Wired, about Socializr. The photo on the left shows their entire team. At first glance, a “typical” startup team – except their job titles. Toni Graham’s, in particular: Executive Assistant. No, it’s not a joke.

I had the honor (?) of discovering Socializr while they were still in stealth mode, based on a job listing for the Exec Assistant position. For a while I thought it was just a prank, but later on I confirmed they were indeed real, raising funds and actually hired Toni. While I still don’t know why a 3-person startup needs an Executive Assistant, at least I’m glad the search was thorough, and she has all the right qualifications: pretty, blonde, sings, in fact trained in opera!

I can’t really figure out what to think of this. I recall visiting some of the later stage startups, like Socialtext, JotSpot (prior to acquisition) already in decent offices,with larger teams, still no Exec Assistant to be found. What are they doing wrong? Or Atlassian, with revenues in the $16-18M range, hiring a VP Marketing for the first time, yet when you visit their San Francisco office, the President (or whoever) opens the door – no Assistant there, either.

You see, I am biased. Yes, it’s all about the product and meeting real market demand, but I admit I prefer following companies that are “likeable” in many other ways. My bias tells me when a startup’s first hire is an Executive Assistant, there is something wrong with priorities, and I don’t expect much. But of course, what do I know – and it certainly helps if your investors are your friends. smile_omg

Related post: Socializr, the “un-startup” on VC Ratings.

UpdateSocializr Lays Off Staff, On DeadPool Watch


Zoho – the “Safer Office”

It’s somewhat ironic that in the very days I’ve just written about Duet, the joint SAP-Microsoft product, I am seriously thinking of escaping from Microsoft-prison, and switching to the most promising WebOffice (Office 2.0) suite. Perhaps I am part of the trend that prompted Vinnie to consider Duet a “nice-to-have” only, but generally too little, too late. (I actually disagree with him, Microsoft’s lock on corporate users is far heavier than on individuals or small businesses.. but that’s another discussion). Update: I’ve had this post half-written for a while, and now we’re getting warned left and right: “use Word in safe mode“, “don’t open Word attachments from Outlook” – the fix from Microsoft is not expected until mid-June. WTF? That’s three weeks away! I am sick of it, just as much as I am sick of Outlook forgetting where the address book is again, freezing on me frequently, and I am especially sick of MS crippling my computer via the automatic Windows updates. While I can’t get rid of Windows (just yet), I can certainly get rid of buggy unsafe Office. Office 2.0, here I come!

But what’s Office 2.0? First of all, terminology: some call it Office 2.0, others Web Office: the point is to have web-based applications that are accessible via a browser, without any download, that will store the data files on the web, too (sorry AjaxWrite, you are out), thus making all my stuff accessible from any computer, any time (as long as I have Internet access).

I’ve been using Writely for a while, so when I first found Zoho Writer, it was a non-event: both editors are equally good, convenience wins, no need to switch. Are any of these Microsoft Word killers? Scoble would laugh it off, they would not stand a feature-by-feature comparison. So what? I am part of the 90% crowd that barely uses 10% of Word’s functionality anyway. Then I found Thumbstack, a web-based “mini-powerpoint”, that allows me to share and collaborate on presentations easily. It does not do a lot of fancy things, amongst them the animated transitions – great, so now I can focus on substance in my presentations, rather than disruptive entertainment. What about a spreadsheet? Zoho Sheet is easy to use, and is aesthetically pleasing – a point so often missed. Is it as poweful as Excel? Of course not. But my Excel knowledge is probably on the level of Lotus 1-2-3 anyway, so for me, Zoho is the Excel-killer. I also have Stikipad, Calcoolate, … and a few others – all in my Firefox “Office 2.0” bookmark.

The only problem is, when I am not on my own PC, sometimes I forget what’s where… and of course my data files reside with the various service providers, and I am not completely at ease with my digital life being so fragmented. See where I am heading? This move to the Web is liberating, but the plethora of different services causes a bit of chaos. There are two basic concepts to deal with the chaos:

  • Some of the Web storage companies, like, Omnipage, Openomny ..etc .. offer their open API’s to application providers, or make one-to-one tight integration and propose that we store all our data centrally, no matter which application accesses them. This is definitely a step forward, in terms of data management, but I am still dealing with point applications, without any integration between them..
  • The second concept obviously is one-stop-shopping: is there one service that offers ALL the MS Office capabilities (with the common simplification we just discussed)? The answer is increasingly yes: Zoho is releasing new applications at an impressive speed, and they come with 1G of storage. While I would not have left Writely for the sake of Zoho writer only, the abililty to have everyting under one hood is just too damn tempting. I can have Writer, Sheet, Presenter (due out in the very near feature) all from the same source, my data is stored at the same place, and although currently these applications require individual registrations, in the near future they will be available with a single sign-on.

The Zoho guys also promise integration between these applications, and I have reason to believe they will be able to pull it off – after all, they already have the Zoho Virtual Office, which incorporates several of these offices in an integrated fashion. AdvantNet, a 500-person company (of which about a 100 work on Zoho) runs entirely on Zoho Virtual Office. Currently Virtual Office is a downloadable server-side product accessible via the Web, but Zoho will offer a Web-hosted version in the future. Without integration an Office 2.0 is not really Office 2.0, just a collection of online applications. (For those who may not remember, it took Microsoft long years to achieve some level of integration in their Office; for several years and throughout several releases “integration” was copy/paste, and quite painful as such.)

Zoho leverages a good deal between the different product offerings: some parts of Virtual Office make it into the individual applications, and vice versa, some of the standalone products become part of Virtual Office. For example 1G storage is now an implicit part of using the applications, but Zoho Drive will soon be available as a standalone service, too. Ah, and let’s not forget about Zoho Creator, which is exactly what the name suggests: an easy web-application creator. They even go beyond traditional Office functionality, into the transactional world buy providing Zoho CRM, a web based, or downloadable full-featured CRM system. Fully featured means supporting the full sales-related workflow, including vendors and purchase orders all the way to sales orders and invoicing… definitely more then just a “glorified contact manager” as the other guy is often referred to.

Listening and responding to customers is an area a lot of companies fail nowadays – Zoho seems to excel here, too. As part of research for this post I looked at earlier reviews, and several features reported “missing” from Writer are already included in the current product. There is a direct feedback link from the applications, and the longest response time I experienced was a few hours – sometimes it’s just minutes. In comparison, a question I posted on the Writely forum over two weeks ago is still unanswered – I guess those guys are busy finding their place in Google.

Summing it up: Zoho pumps out new applications at an amazing rate (check the site for a few more I haven’t even mentioned). While one by one most of their applications are comparable to at least another web-based application, I am not aware of any other company offering such a complete suite, with that level of support and the realistic prospect of integrating the applications soon. For me the choice is obvious: Zoho is my Office 2.0 Suite.

I’d like to touch on another issue, namely the value of being first, “original” vs. doing something better the second time – but for the sake of readability I’ll break it out to another post – soon.

Update (5/27): Assaf, who made blog conversations really trackable by bringing us co.mment read my post and gave the Zoho Virtual Office a try. His overall impression is positvie, but he also includes some criticism – just as he should. One thing I learned is that Zoho listens and moves fast. Another obeservation (of mine) is that they seem to move in iterations:

  • The downloadable Zoho Virtual Office has been around for a while (they run a 500-person company on it)
  • Now they are focusing on individual “Office” components making them available on the Web
  • Finally they will relase their own hosted version of Virtual Office probably incorporating may improvements they’ve made in the standalone products.

Update (6/6 -yes, the famous 666!): Google Spreadsheet is out, the blogosphere is abuzz, and I won’t have the time to write today, but at least I wanted to point to Ismael’s article, since he arrives to the same conclusions I did…