Revisiting the Wisdom of two Toastmasters

by Susan Ellsworth

A few months ago, a fellow Toastmaster observed that the real value of our program is not what one does inside our meeting room walls….it’s what we do outside our meeting places with what we learned within the program. Years before Pequod Systems was formed, I was sitting in a Toastmasters meeting and hearing comment about the actions of a member that the group did not quite approve of. Finally, one Toastmaster looked around to the group and said, “You know, there really is value in negative examples. You can learn what NOT to do.” In their own way, both these Toastmasters validate our operating belief in telling the outside world that customers deserve products that have been well-tested and that they are not beta testers for products pushed to market before they are thoroughly well-tested and debugged.

Lately I have been reminded of one of our core values. We believe it is inappropriate to promote to our customers—let alone deliver—products that were frankly pushed out the door too soon. Recently a significant upgrade of a product we know about was released. Within days, I was reading complaints from the manufacturer’s partners that said

“But even beyond firing up exotic new hardware, I think [company] could do more to improve overall [product] performance. As mentioned a few times above, performance drops are completely expected when users upgrade from [version] and [version] (of course no one wants to be told this _prior to _ upgrading, else they’d never upgrade). Performance is almost always the first thing users complain about after upgrading. Some customers have even threatened to force us to roll them back to their old [product] version, which of course sends us scrambling to do anything we can to eek out more performance.

Of course, we could just require all upgrades to have brand new, dedicated high powered servers (even if their existing server meets the min [product] specs). But I’m not even all that convinced that the performance issues are strictly related to the server alone. I think the [product] client app itself is also to blame for sluggish-ness, at least in part (yes, on machines that meet the min reqs). So that would mean, not only upgrading the main server but also workstations. This has the net effect of pushing the overall upgrade cost beyond the reach of many customers.”

For this reason, when a new product is released, we watch for comments and avoid treating our customers like beta testers who pay us for the privilege of using software that has not been thoroughly tested and is not ready for distribution. The connection with those Toastmasters? Over the more than twenty five years we have been associated with Toastmaster, we have learned to articulate and share with others our core values.  Delivering quality products is one of them.

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Technology Past and a Bet on the Future

Susan Ellsworth

We all have rituals in our lives. One of ours is to get together on December 31 or January 1 with a friend of ours from the Eastern shore of Maryland. On December 31, he brought his iPad with him, and our discussion about technology ran something like this.

When Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak first rolled out Apple computer in 1976, their assumption most likely was that if they built a better mousetrap, the world would beat a path to their door. When Bill Gates started Microsoft, Gates believed that if he promoted his operating system widely, included necessary tools  and got it installed on all the new small pc’s being rolled out, the world would create and roll a carpet to his door. Gates was right, and Microsoft was initially more successful than Apple.

So why am I now reading eMail newsletters that talk about the Apple iPad in the corporate workplace?

Consider one of the smarter moves that Apple made in the 1990’s. Almost as if by magic, Apple Macintosh computers started appearing in public schools. The children in those schools became comfortable with the way the Apples worked. Those children grew up and today are the decision-makers in corporations who remember those Apple computers. They are the ones using the iPads and going to “cloud computing.”

Or consider this software scenario. Back on April 11,2009, I was wondering out loud if Front Range Solutions, the manufacturer of GoldMine, had a purely technical focus rather than a marketing focus—and just who [was] being listened to—and who had contributed significantly to FrontRange’s lack of planning so that GoldMine Premium Edition was not working with with social networking applications.  I wondered if this situation were the total lack of awareness of a sea change in marketing strategies. Lack of incentive ? Lack of customer access to the FrontRange movers and shakers that make it happen?

Today GoldMine Premium Edition still is not integrated with social networking, still is not Software as a Service, and still is not in the cloud. Has FrontRange has concluded that the midmarket is ignoring social networking? How long will FrontRange continue along this path before it is abandoned by its midmarket target?

In an interesting twist of fate, Jon Ferrara —the creator of the product GoldMine and co-founder of the company GoldMine Software— concluded that “most of the vendors that used to serve the small business market have either taken their eye off the ball or have tried to move up-market in price and features. They have abandoned their traditional users and partners and have left a large hole in the space that GoldMine used to fill. “He created a new company and product “to address the needs of the small business CRM community including its end users and Solutions Partners. ” He predicted that “Nimble CRM, a SaaS CRM system for the small business market, will be launched in 2010. It will be lean, mean, affordable and of course Nimble. In addition to all of the features you would expect in a CRM system it will have cutting edge features that leverage the internet including tight social networking integration, web and blog site integration, and great email marketing. “[LinkedIn Nimble group] As with many technical product launches, the beta testers found and reported a few more issues than a responsible company would roll out to the public. Nevertheless, I believe that Ferrara—a guy with a record of success—will succeed with Nimble.

What remains to be seen includes the computing platforms (smart phones and iPads, for example) we see in the schools today that will thrive and be the corporate tools of choice when the students of today are the CIOs of tomorrow.  It also includes  well-developed, flexible softwares easily accessed by the computing public.

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