Tag Archives: eric dunstan

Buying the first home means not buying the sports car

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 9.29.22 PMThe explosive growth of the Internet brought a lot of money to the San Francisco Bay Area and the Silicon Valley in the late 1990s. Many of my work colleagues and friends cashed in their stock options and bought high-end cars or lived BIG in San Francisco during those go-go years. Many of us younger employees did not know the difference between paper wealth and actual wealth. Unfortunately, the paper wealth quickly disappeared as pro-forma balance sheets fell out of fashion and stocks plummeted. Easy come, easy go.

Fortunately for me I did not get sucked into the craze of buying a BMW M5 and renting an apartment in the Marina. My Mid-West style upbringing made me far too frugal (or cheap!) for such “extravagance.” Fortunately I was able to same-day sell a chunk of my ISO options and chose to just sit on the cash. I continued to drive the 1988 Toyota Carolla I owned in college and rented with a roommate a two-bedroom apartment in less than trendy Sunnyvale. I was also able to have my company pay for a good portion of the MBA program I attended to avoid taking on massive student loan debt.

Yes, I experienced a ton of peer pressure for not living in the city. “Come on, Dunstan! Move up to the Marina with us. You won’t have to make the long drive home to Sunnyvale late at night…and “Social Safeway” is just crawling with honeys.” Many a tale has been told about love found in the produce aisle.

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 9.43.19 PMWhy didn’t I cave to the peer pressure or buy-in to the spendy trends at that time? I wanted to buy a house. That was my goal. Even back then, living in San Francisco was expensive and many of my friends there lived paycheck to paycheck. Several work colleagues graduated with an MBA and $100K+ in student debt. I graduated with no debt. Shortly after I started my first job after business school I was able to purchase my first house. Goal accomplished.

The San Francisco Bay Area housing market is even more competitive (read “expensive”) now than it was in the early 2000s. Buying a home or condo takes a significant cash down payment to meet the more stringent lending requirements. A hefty monthly cash flow is also required to take care of the trappings of ownership…namely property taxes, insurance and then basic living expenses. Home ownership gets expensive. Fast. But I think it’s SO worth it!

First time home ownership is still possible in the Bay Area despite the gloom and doom affordability market data. Sacrifices have to be made and savings goals have to be achieved. Life style choices have to be made too. The process of saving for the first home may take some time and may require renting with a roommate in a less fashionable area to amass cash. Building a monthly and annual budget is a great tool to help analyze where the monthly paycheck goes and decide what changes are to be made to funnel more cash to savings. I highly recommend Alexa von Tobel’s book, “Financially Fearless” to help with building a budget and savings plan.

Buying what type of house and in what neighborhood will also be defined by company stock performance and salary compensation. People make a lot of money in the Bay Area. However, how well one manages money will play a key role in the home purchasing power of the individual. Keep in mind that most first time home buyers will NOT be able to buy a home in a top neighborhood. Be OK with that. Buy what you can afford in the best neighborhood possible. How this is done will be discussed in future posts. Start small and gain equity to then move up to the next house/neighborhood. This is all very possible. It takes time, commitment and money management. I did it. So can you.

Please send me a note on Twitter (@ericdunstan) if you have any questions.

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Uncle Fester says, “Focus on the customer!” Snap snap.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 8.28.39 PMLast week I had lunch with a member of the leadership team of an e-commerce company I am advising. I love these lunches for I get to hear about the challenges, provide a point of view, suggest an action plan, but I’m not responsible to drive the implementation. Sigh, it’s a nice change for I’ve spent many years driving and it’s nice not to have to provide a well thought out plan and sell it to all the stakeholders.

The company is struggling with many of the problems common to an early stage start up. Nothing really all that unique. One challenge, however, points to how important it is to address early or it festers like Uncle Fester and can pave the way to a visit with Morticia Addams. The challenge focuses on building a product that customers want.

Back in the mid to late 1990s the concept of “build it and they will come” spread across product innovation. Speaking from the days of the early Internet, I remember talking with companies who received funding based on an online product with the PROMISE that millions of consumers were on their way within a few quarters. WRONG. During my time at eBay, the product team had to take a very pragmatic test and learn approach to innovation for fear of disrupting how consumers buy and sell on the e-commerce platform. New product features would be built and rolled out to a limited amount of select eBay buyers or sellers. The effect of the product rollout on category revenue, GMV, completed listings, etc. was closely measured. Only after the product innovation had proven to achieve a targeted measured increase would the feature be rolled out to the greater eBay community. This test first concept is almost “well, duh” to most of us veterans. However, not every product road map takes this test-and-learn approach.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 8.25.06 PMApparently the founder of the company I’m advising was insistent that scarce product development resources focus on building a specific feature that would be the key product differentiator. The founder was certain that this feature would meet the needs of the perceived target customer and steal customers from the industry leader. Customers were certain to come and revenue would spike after this feature was implemented. No discussion or testing plan was discussed to determine if the feature really met the needs of the customer, if the needs of the RIGHT customer were being met, or if the feature provided enough lift in revenue to warrant significant finite resources.

My contact shared that the feature was rolled out and had consistently abysmal (sub 1%) adoption from the target customer. The target customer did not find value in the feature and significant product adoption did not happen. There was no spike in revenue. Sigh. It became clear that the innovation efforts were focused on the wrong customer and needs. Opportunity was lost.

Meanwhile, the competitor focused on launching new features to help the RIGHT customers, small businesses, who brought supply to the e-commerce platform. These innovations brought more small businesses to the platform, which attracted more consumers, generating more revenue for the competitor. These innovations resulted in a significant A round of investment.

“Yikes, I feel like we missed the boat here,” my contact shared. Hopefully the team is able to quickly pivot and re-align resources before the competitor gets too far ahead. The lesson is very clear, however. Before young companies launch their product, it is important to identify the customer who has the potential to generate the most revenue. Focus on meeting the needs of this customer first through product innovation. As we all know, it’s sometimes not obvious who this customer is and what needs are to be met. However, that’s where product leadership is needed to hold back the “build it and they will come approach” and fan the flames of the “test and learn” approach. The life of the company is dependent on it. The floor of the Silicon Valley is littered with the bones of companies that did not get this right.

The Addams Family. Snap snap.


Mobile payments leader must provide value to consumers and banks

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 8.23.55 PMI remember being swept up in the early Foursquare craze. I raced around my little town checking in at my local Starbucks and favorite lunch spots to become The Mayor. I worked hard to keep it by doing drive by check ins as I was stuck at traffic lights. I know, I’m hyper competitive on certain things. Friends and I would compete on who could win the most badges too! I quickly earned the “jet setter” badge with frequent flights from SJC to SNA. Other friends won the “crunked” badge with late night shenanigans. Ahh to be a DINK again. All for what? For pure competition and Facebook feed bragging rights!

At a deeper level, I hoped that eventually I’d receive relevant geographically based alerts and rewards on my phone as I walked by a restaurant or store. Unfortunately, many of these rewards required an AMEX card subscription (creating a HUGE hurdle) or were nothing more than a free drink at check in. Big whoop. Sigh…it was very clear that geo based local marketing had not made the jump from great concepts to effective execution. However, this is all changing quickly with the launch of mobile payment solutions like Apple Pay and well designed retail loyalty mobile apps. Real customer value can be delivered at the right time. Banks can also make HUGE strides in building more meaningful customer relationships beyond checking accounts. FINALLY!!!!!

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My family and I are loyal Safeway customers for the majority of our food. The loyalty was solidified by Safeway launching a program that contained several weekly coupons and special offers based on shopping activity. A key component of the loyalty program is the Safeway mobile app which serves as the main touch point for how offers are communicated to consumers. Just recently, Safeway has pushed daily offers that appear on the front scream of my mobile device. Last week I made a special trip into Safeway’s deli to take advantage of a sandwich offer that was delivered to my phone that morning. Cool. There are several other retail apps, Starbucks for example, that deliver this customer value in a similar way. All of these apps have a way to go on using geo fencing technology to send me offers as I’m nearby or actually in store. Clearly this will be coming!

I mentioned in a previous post that I recently completed my first Apple Pay transaction at Sports Authority. It took me 6 months to actually do this after I loaded all of my cards. Honestly, I forgot to use Apple Pay and struggled with finding locations that use it. I opine in my last post that Apple Pay must do a lot more to remind users that “Apple Pay is Accepted Here” to drive adoption. Steps are being taken to do so for I saw an Apple Pay logo appear on a Walmart payment terminal as I purchased Easter cards.

So where do banks fit in creating greater customer value? Apple Pay requires that customers enter in debit cards and credit cards to make payment. Banks provide these cards. Banks frequently offer rewards programs and provide an incentive to shop a designated retail location. By not actively engaging in this payments ecosystem, banks are LOSING OUT BIG TIME on engaging with customers in a meaningful way with relevant, geo targeted offers.

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 3.15.25 PMFor example, let’s say a consumer is using a Wells Fargo bank card for Apple Pay. The consumer pays for items at Walmart that is a member of Well’s Earn More Mall program. The consumer is then informed that they receive double points and are reminded of other Earn More Mall retailers that may be geographically close by. How powerful is that for Wells to influence consumer purchase decision and drive usage of its cards?!

Unfortunately, this type of consumer influence will not be available to banks through Apple Pay. Apple has decided to not share consumer purchase data with card providers/banks. Clearly Apple is looking to own the consumer relationship AND control the valuable behavioral data. However, given the amount of marketing activity driven by banks, especially Wells Fargo, this seems a little one-sided of Apple…giving room for a competitive payment platform that helps consumers AND banks. Banks need to use their power to guide the creation of a payments ecosystem that builds deeper customer relationships.

As we all know, Android OS based Samsung announced the acquisition of LoopPay as their digital payments platform and competitive solution. It would not be surprising if the Android OS based Samsung phones enable banks to access purchasing data to banks and provide the channel to communicate special offers. For a fee, of course. Apple and Samsung need to be reminded of the power banks have in the transaction process. Banks provide the cards! Strangely, BANKS need to be reminded of the power THEY have in influencing the payment ecosystem. The larger banks like Bank of America and Wells Fargo, have enormous power. At the current moment, banks are willing to draft on the success of Apple Pay.  Wells Fargo even promotes their Apple Pay features in TV commercials.  Cleary banks see value in positioning themselves as “cutting edge.”  However, this affiliation is purely brand driven and not consumer value drive.   If a bank can be promised greater access to consumer data AND direct access to consumers through the device, banks will drive great consumer value while promoting new technology.  Because of the consumer value focus, banks will promote one payments solution over another…and mean it.


Protect company data by securing the personal cloud – a cautionary tale

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 8.53.17 PMI was part of the leadership team at a small technology company based in Europe and North America. As with many multi-national companies, there was friction around the strategic direction of the company and what verticals provided the greatest revenue opportunities. Unfortunately, the friction was never resolved and festered into a deep level of distrust between the US and European based business units. At times it got down right ugly.

The CEO convinced the Board to focus our technology in the financial services vertical where we had the strongest foothold and generated enough revenue to break even. Other members of the leadership team had very different points of view on where the product should evolve and several stealth projects started popping up. Yes, it is wise to focus on innovation and to make longer-term bets on where and how the market or technology may evolve. However, this can’t happen at the expense of making customers happy.

As a result, several “skunk works” projects were started, engineers ran amok and no one was in control of the code. Our CTO mentioned to me in passing that one project was being coded on a unsecured personal laptop…and the director of the team was not aware of it. When I heard that, I busted out the Rolaids. Oh boy. Clearly these “skunk” projects were stinking up our offices and needed to be reined in for corporate data and proprietary code was at risk.

An eagerly anticipated employee was hired and brought under management by the product organization. This employee was cherry picked from a competitor and had great knowledge of our type of technology and how to apply it to the financial technology vertical. He quickly got started creating innovative products and the team was excited to reap the benefits of a growing revenue side. Sounds great, right?! The company will own innovative products and the code to meet the lucrative financial technology vertical! WRONG!

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 8.42.21 PMThe leadership team learned that our innovative product dynamo was developing code on a work laptop, but was backing up to a personal cloud service. Our IT team had no policy in place to prevent or address this. Yikes. The company lost control of a proprietary asset. This employee was quickly reprimanded and asked to back up to a secured back up solution. Unfortunately, the relationship quickly soured and the decision was made to fire the employee. The employee was escorted out of the building, but a copy of the code was backed up to the personal cloud only hours before the termination. Clearly the employee saw this coming. Shit…the code was gone. The investment in the employee’s talents was wasted and company assets were outside of the company’s control.

Obviously once this incident happened, there was A LOT of finger pointing for why the right data policies and technologies were not in place to secure the personal cloud. This unfortunate tale is not uncommon and points to the many challenges company leaders, especially CIOs, face in a fast paced and innovative world. These many challenges are made even more complex with the adoption of cloud solutions and mobile devices in the business environment.

This personal yarn I’ve spun points to the importance of having CIOs and other IT leaders think through how to protect company asset. The first exercise is to implement a mobile enabled network access control (NAC) solution and policy. This technology will enable IT managers to define who and what devices have access to the corporate network. Speaking from my experience, a NAC solution and policy would have prevented employee personal laptops from accessing the secured network. IT would have easily identified the laptop’s posture and directed the employee to access a public Wi-Fi network. Given the wide adoption of mobile devices, it’s important to consider a NAC solution that is also mobile aware. Imagine the competitive implications if our code dynamo was able to access proprietary code through a powerful tablet he brought in the day we terminated his employment? By not controlling this device access, a company is leaving a back door open for data to escape.

A second exercise is to consider implementing a mobile security solution to secure the personal cloud. This is of paramount (I LOVE that word!) importance given how many productivity solutions are moving to the cloud. From my experience working for a multi-national company, cloud technology is very important to enable cross time-zone collaboration. However, it is mission critical that access to this cloud is controlled and managed. Cloud collaboration should only be occurring in secured environments where employees have the approved device posture and access credentials. If the right cloud solution is not in place, the company risks experiencing the code floating out the door accidentally or through deliberate nefarious employee activity.

Heed my words, young IT Jedi, or risk having your “Death Star” plans slip right through your fingers.*

*Star Wars fans, yes, I understand I’m mashing together a lot of Star Wars quotes with this sentence.


Banks think Apple Pay is so money..and Apple totally knows it

WellsFargoApplePayI was glued to my computer on September 9th to watch the live stream of Apple’s BIG announcements. As a fin tech guy, I was particularly interested in what Apple would announce around mobile payments and their creation of a true mobile wallet. I had my fingers crossed that the stream would not freeze during that part!  They did not disappoint with the launch of Apple Pay and the announcement of the several major banks and retailers that are participating in the network. Apple did it right…again. These bank and retailer partnerships are key to quickly driving adoption. Consumers do not need to change how they pay for things, download any apps or struggle to find retailers who accept a certain form of payment. The only “hurdle” to participate in this payments network is for consumers to buy the iPhone 6.

The major banks started aggressively promoting their participation with Apple Pay the day after the big announcement. As a matter of fact, I received an email from Wells Fargo the following morning informing me of the many features and benefits of Apple Pay. I also noticed similar messaging on Wells Fargo’s ATMs that day as well. Wow, major banks see Apple Pay as a benefit for the current customer audience. It will be interesting to see if Wells Fargo, and the other major banks, lead with Apple Pay messaging as part of a customer acquisition or switch marketing program.

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The aggressive promotion by banks and retailers also helps Apple too. Keep in mind that while the iPhone 6 was available on Friday, Sept 19 with HUGE lines outside Apple stores, 75% of all handset users worldwide run the Android operating system. Hmmm….will the creation of a secure mobile wallet be enough to cause Android toting bank customers worldwide to switch to an iPhone? Or will Android users be patient to see what payment platform Samsung and Loopts come up with in the months to come? The intensity and reach of the awareness messaging just might cause some Android users to shift…assuming the iPhone 6 and Apple Pay are AMAZING. Time will tell.  The race to create the leading mobile wallet is ON.  It is so on.

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On a side note, it is truly amazing that Apple has such strong brand power that powerful, multi-billion dollar market cap financial institutions have taken notice and forged partnerships. Yes, Apple is THE LEADING worldwide brand.  These partnerships also echo a common theme within the financial technology industry; technology innovation will happen outside the financial institution. So true. Apple, you are so money.*

* I’ve sprinkled many “Easter Eggs” through out my posts to make reading more fun. These eggs include cultural references from the ‘80s, ‘90s and present day. If you get the reference, send me a tweet (@ericdunstan) with the answer.


Apple Pay is great but I will still need to carry my wallet

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I have to admit that I was GLUED to my computer screen this morning during the Apple announcement. It still blows my mind that technology and bandwidth can’t deliver a smooth online feed to a live event. What was up with the live translation feeds being clearly audible to online viewers? ANNOYING! Fortunately the live stream technical team saw the multiple tweets and fixed the problem.   Unfortunately my viewing experience was very choppy and I got word of the announcement in real time more from Twitter.

As predicted, Apple entered BIG into payments with Apple Pay and into wearables too with Apple Watch too.  Apple’s recent announcements around partnerships with Visa, Amex, MasterCard etc were clear leading indicators of the entry into payments. I am very excited about Apple’s payment system and how it will help drive mass consumer adoption of a true mobile wallet. Yean! However, we are a ways away from Apple driving mass adoption of their wallet.

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.14.30 PMApple Pay will be available on the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch devices for it requires technology included only in this hardware. Yes, the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch will set sales records and proliferation will be fast across the globe. However, Apple Pay will not be available on legacy devices that will slow down the adoption rate. Additionally, Apple Pay will be limited to major retailers including Whole Foods, Macy’s and Toys R Us. Yes, over 200,000 stores will be accepting contactless payments through Apple Pay. I’m sure Apple is busy negotiating partnerships with several other major retailers as well and the footprint will grow even more.

Apple Pay will not be available to stores outside of this Apple negotiated big box retailer network. Consumers will not be able to truly leave their wallet at home. Apple’s partnership with IBM, though, will help Apple Pay expand its footprint to more business….but it will take time. As I mentioned in a previous post, the IBM partnership provides Apple access to many banks and financial institutions. These FIs have business banking customers and frequently provide merchants with POS payment systems. Now that the iPhone 6 includes the NFC chip, Apple will be hot to engage IBM on pushing the distribution of NFC enabled payment terminals to their banking customers. Only until NFC enabled payment terminals are more widely distributed will Apple gain ownership of the mobile wallet.

Clearly Apple has the hardware, technology and strategic partnerships to create the closed loop necessary to build a ubiquitous payment system. It’s a matter of time before this happens. However, NFC technology and devices are not Apple technology and can be easily licensed by competitors. Yes, Apple has leap fogged into the lead on building a mobile wallet, but the competition did see this coming. Apple must continue adding nationwide retailers to their network to enable consumers to use Apple Pay. The first mover advantage will be key and the network affects will take hold. If a competitor is to provide another offering for consumers and merchants, they better act FAST. Samsung and Loopt I’m sure are having lunch right now.

On a side note, I am amazed by the level of talent Apple employs for their advertising and marketing efforts; JT, Jimmie Fallon and U2. A list talent meets A + list company. I’m sure Apple pays a large portion of the marketing budget for these names. Or maybe it’s vice versa! Let this be a reminder of the high margins Apple receives on every product they sell. Impressive.

 

 

 

 


Marketing Advice for Start-ups: Know your customer first

An e-commerce start-up asked for my thoughts on how the company should be thinking about marketing and what could be done with almost no marketing budget to drive acquisition and purchasing activity. I had to chuckle when I was asked for this input for yet again it demonstrates where in the priority list most business people perceive marketing to be….at the bottom. Most start-ups build a product, get it up and running and have a rough idea of how it will generate money. Unfortunately, most business leaders look to marketing as the tool to help grow the business…after the product is launched.

4PsGraphicI am using the term “marketing” very loosely here. Marketing is mostly understood as all the tangibles – online, website SEO, paid search, social media, etc. Little regard is given to the core marketing principals of the 4 Ps, for example. When most people hear the words “the 4Ps” they think about the OPP song from the mid 80s and NOT the critical marketing concepts of Product, Price, Place, Promotion. Clearly most people get stuck on the Promotion part….which is putting the cart before the horse.

I encourage all start-ups who approach me for marketing help to stop, take a deep breath and evaluate their business and product through the lens of the 4 Ps within the context of a few additional guiding principals; defining the target customer segment (s), understanding why the customer segment wants to buy the product and defining how the customer evaluates/buys the product.   Now to the start up leadership who feels time pressed, this sounds like a lot of work to do for marketing.

Working through this process and understanding the customer is CRITICAL to the success of the business. Leaders may find their product does not meet the right customer need or that a different customer segment should be targeted. This can be a tough nut to swallow for it means reworking the product that was just launched. Start up leadership must get these marketing concepts right before any marketing plans or programs can be developed and launched with a successful outcome.

One of my mentors and managers at eBay developed a structured document called a Unified Marketing Brief that helps guide business units and companies through this form of critical thinking. The document requires debate and thinkin around target audience (segmentation), marketing objectives, key success metrics, competitive industry analysis and market research. Once these elements are addressed, discussion is encouraged around brand and how to position and message the product and key benefits. I’ve guided business units in the e-commerce, identity protection and financial technology verticals through this process with very successful outcomes. Yes, it’s a lot of work and it takes time. However, once completed, business leaders now have a road map to guide marketing planning and tactical program development.

Buying Cycle GraphicI found another great example of a structured approach to startup marketing by April Dunford on Rocket Watcher . She provides a great approach to mapping marketing tactics to the buying process of each target segment.

April also takes the concept one step further by discussing the importance of testing, improving and understanding the root cause of the tactical failure. Too often companies don’t get the immediate tactical response rates desired and make the wrong assumptions as to why it happened. Unfortunately these wrong assumptions follow to the next tactical program…that has the same poor results. April makes a great point in encouraging marketers to understand the WHY to improve tactics. Check out April’s recent presentation to learn more at:

Now let’s assume that most of this strategic marketing work is in process and marketing tactics are launched. Is the marketer’s job done? Obviously no. The work has moved into a different phase of continuous improvement based on customer feedback. Start-ups must have a mechanism in place to capture and listen carefully to customer feedback. The mechanisms can be customer support teams accessible by email or online chat, twitter feeds or by call centers.

Listening to customer feedback is critical…but converting the feedback into actionable product improvements is another. This is a topic for another post! Does your start up have these mechanisms in place? I bet your competition does.

 

 


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