Friday, February 01, 2008

One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall

While Hillary Clinton has been talking up the possibility of a "dream ticket" with Barack Obama as Vice President, something tells me that regardless of which of the two Democrats wins their party's nomination, the other isn't going to be in the mood to accept a supporting role.

As I was contemplating this clash of the titans (or what Hillary calls, "the fun part"), a vision came to me, a vision that I was able to render for you dear reader, thanks to Google's Image Search and 15 minutes of Photoshopping.

"One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall."

As one friend commented when I described the vision, "Does that mean that Bill is Starscream?"

P.S. This artwork is mean for satirical effect, and not to suggest that Senator Clinton is a 40-foot-tall inhuman killing machine. Though come to think of it, that probably would help her win the robot vote that nearly put Al Gore over the top in 2000.

P.P.S. Don't forget to vote on Super Tuesday!

P.P.S. Finally, if you want more inspiration, just watch the original. Vote Prime!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

If at first you don't persuade, try, try again (The Rule of Six)

One of the most important principles of marketing is persistence. Every marketer I've ever worked with has said that a target has to be exposed to your message at least six times before it sinks in.

At first, I wasn't certain if I believed them. After all, six times seems kind of arbitrary, and I never saw any scholarly research to back it up (I am so ancient that this was actually in the pre-Google days, and you had to go to the library to look anything up).

Yet as the years went by and I heard it from more and more people, I came to accept it...which just illustrates the power of this homely rule.

But there are also some important implications to this rule that most people forget, especially in this age of instant gratification.

If it takes six impressions to make an impact, the relationship between marketing and results is non-linear. In a linear world, buying 1 week of ads would drive 10% awareness, 2 weeks 20%, and so on. Here's a quick table for emphasis:

Week 1: 10%
Week 2: 20%
Week 3: 30%
Week 4: 40%
Week 5: 50%
Week 6: 60%

But in the non-linear world of the rule of 6, the results actually look more like this:

Week 1: 0%
Week 2: 0%
Week 3: 0%
Week 4: 0%
Week 5: 0%
Week 6: 60%

If you give up after Week 5, you'll have spent 83% of the money and achieved 0% of your goal. You can only achieve a worthwhile ROI if you have the stomach to stick with your guns and keep sending your message out, even without visible results.

I have a theory on why this principle works. I believe that what's actually happening is that a lot of the effects of marketing are exponential, rather than linear. That's why overnight success is generally an oxymoron.

What's actually happening is that the press only picks up on the effects of "week six" marketing--the debut album, or the starring role in a sleeper hit that shocks Hollywood--and completely ignores the previous five weeks of marketing--the years of playing in clubs and building up a fan base, working for scale in indie movies and making the right contacts.

In my own life, I began 2002 as a failed entrepreneur who had managed to lose $6 million of investor money. I had no job, no money, and no reasonable prospects (caveat: I did have degrees from Stanford and Harvard Business School, but we'll ignore those for the time being).
It was around that time that I started getting involved in professional organizations such as SDForum and HBS Tech. It was also around that time that I decided to change my hermit-like workaholic ways, and start reaching out to venture capitalists and other entrepreneurs. And I started using something called Blogger that had recently been launched, and was being run by a single dogged entrepreneur named Evan Williams.

For years, it was difficult to see how those activities were making a difference. Those were weeks 1-5. But fast-forward to today, and all the little things and persistence ended up making a big difference. I've met hundreds of wonderful people since then, including many entrepreneurs that I've invested in, and many angels and VCs that have invested in me. Thousands have read my writing, and many more have read about me and my projects in TechCrunch, The Deal, and many others. And most of these good things have happened in just the past 18 months (helped along by a heck of a boom in our industry).

But if I had gotten discouraged with entrepreneurship and decided to cash in my chips by becoming a consultant or investment banker, I would never have had all these great experiences.

Marketing is hard, and the rule of six makes it harder. You have to be willing to persist, even when all the standard measures scream for you to pull back and give up. But if you've made the right call, and you persevere through day six, you may find you'll get the chance to bask in the glory of your "overnight success."

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Necessity of Hope

I'm endorsing Barack Obama as the Democratic candidate in this year's presidential race.

This probably comes as a shock to long-time readers who know my fondness for quoting the Michael Jordan Rule when it comes to politics. Yet if ever a time existed for breaking my own rules, this is it.

Most of my commentary on politics is both critical and cynical, and in this I am far from alone. But I also write a lot about entrepreneurship, and one thing that all successful entrepreneurs have in common is the ability to sense the critical moment.

There comes a time in the history of a business or a nation, where you reach an inflection point. Where a tiny nudge can make the difference between two radically different outcomes.

Great leaders instinctively understand that when the moment arrives, you have to go all in, because you might never get the chance again.

The 9-11 attacks represented such a moment. In an instant, countries around the world responded with an outpouring of sympathy and emotion. Even sworn enemies like Iran reached out to the United States. For a moment, there was a chance to make that unwelcome sacrifice mean something by finally convincing the world of the fundamental evil of terrorism.

Unfortunately, poor choices and poorer execution on the part of the Bush administration squandered that opportunity. Seven years later, the reputation and influence of the United States are at painful lows, and many lives, American and otherwise, have been lost in a badly mismanaged war in Iraq. Just about the only thing that has gone right has been the "surge" strategy of increasing the American troop commitment to help bring order...and that simply corrected the original mistake of overruling the military's warning that far more troops would be required to keep the peace than Rumsfeld was willing to authorize.

(Side note: No, I am not going to debate whether or not the war was justified, moral, or correct...I may be willing to break the Michael Jordan Rule, but I'm not going to spit into the wind by blatantly defying it!)

The Obama candidacy offers another such inflection point, one that may even hold out the hope of reversing some of the damage of the past seven years.

American badly needs hope right now. And not just our usual hope for a better future, but hope for escaping the past.

Barack Obama exemplifies the American Dream, not just for us, but the rest of the world. If a black man with a Muslim father can become President of the United States, it's much harder for people to hold on to the belief that Americans hate Islam.

Yet those who look deeper than the color of his skin will see something even more remarkable: A viable candidate who actually does seem to represent a break with politics as usual.

He says he wants to appeal to our better angels and bring people together, and you know what, I actually believe him.

After 20 years of fierce partisanship which taught an entire generation of politicians that the best defense was an onslaught of attack ads, sleazy innuendo, and demonizing the opposition, we finally have a chance to, as they say, "Move On."

Even in the face of vicious attacks and crude race-baiting on the part of a former President of the United States, he has remained determined not to drag himself into the mud.

Again invoking the Michael Jordan Rule, I'm not going to even attempt to articulate a comprehensive opinion of Hillary Clinton. Like George W. Bush, she is a polarizing figure who inspires strong emotions, both positive and negative.

What I can say with great confidence is that I doubt you'll find anyone who believes that Hillary will represent a break with the past 16 years, appeal to our better angels, and bring the American people together.

And most importantly, I doubt that she'll inspire hope.

The ability to inspire hope is rare and precious. Only a handful of presidents this century have had this ability...Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, JFK, and Reagan come to mind.

At first, I fought against this hope, not wanting to be disappointed.

He's got no chance of winning the nomination, I thought, and besides, he's probably just another phoney who will show his true colors as soon as adversity hits.

When he won the Iowa caucuses, I felt an unexpected joy. Well, I thought, at least he's going to make it interesting.

When Hillary won a narrow victory in New Hampshire, I felt that familiar sinking feeling. Oh well, I thought, it was nice while it lasted.

And then came the blowout in South Carolina, and despite a terrible 102 degree fever and a wracking cough, I felt jubilant. Despite my best efforts, hope had made me its bitch.

The race is far from over. Hillary Clinton holds substantial leads in a fair number of Super Tuesday states. Thanks in part to negative campaigning, she continues to poll strongly among Latinos, the poor, the uneducated, and the elderly.

Yet I can sense that the critical moment is at hand. All the polls are moving in one direction--towards Obama. If not now, then when?

Even Ted Kennedy has sensed it. He and his niece Caroline have endorsed Obama, invoking the two names are that are most sacred to the Democratic Party: JFK and RFK. They know that every vote will probably count, and they have chosen to use their last best trump card in hopes of making a difference.

And while I doubt that this post will sway many voters (and certainly many orders of magnitude fewer than an Op Ed piece in the New York Times), I cannot stay on the sidelines if there's even a chance that I can affect a single vote. (And given that I'm not registered to vote in the Democratic primary, this is my only chance to affect this race!)

I cannot tell you with 100% certainty that Barack Obama is more qualified to be president than Hillary Clinton. I cannot tell you that he'll pursue fundamentally different policies than Hillary. Heck, I can't even say that I agree with most of Obama's policies--after all, I'm a hard-core capitalist and talk of bailing out subprime borrowers brings to mind the old adage about a fool and his money.

What I can say is that his campaign has made even this old cynic feel a renewed sense of hope for America. For the first time in a long time, I feel like we've found a guy gives all of us a chance to make our country better.

And that, my friends, is something worth voting for.