The first thing Don Draper does when he gets to his office is give his busty secretary a suggestive wink. The second thing he does is take off his fedora. Finally, depending on the severity of the previous night, he completes his morning routine with a stiff drink.
What can we learn from Don’s habits? First, that scotch and submissive secretaries always equal drama. But what of that fedora? There’s a lesson there too.
As any Mad Men fan knows, it was once popular for men to wear hats everywhere they went — except that is, when they stepped indoors. When a gentleman went inside, he removed his hat and placed it on the nearest rack. It was a required social norm, a sign you were ready for business.
Though hats have long gone out of fashion, the custom should be a guide for how we adapt to the increasing pervasiveness of personal technology. It’s high time we started doing with our digital devices what well-mannered men did with their fedoras. We need a digital hat rack.
It seems that whenever people meet in person these days, they do so while separating their attention between the people in the room and the devices in their hands. Somehow, it has become socially acceptable to digitally masturbate in each other’s company. You might say, “but I’m taking notes or responding to an important request!” No you’re not, you are digitally dicking around.
Right now, someone is tinkering with a billion dollar secret — they just don’t know it yet. “What people aren’t telling you,” Peter Thiel taught his class at Stanford, “can very often give you great insight as to where you should be directing your attention.”
Secrets people can’t or don’t want to divulge are a common thread behind Thiel’s most lucrative investments such as Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as several other breakout companies of the past decade. The kinds of truths Thiel discusses — the kinds that create billion dollar businesses in just a few years — are not held exclusively by those with deep corporate pockets. In fact, the person most likely to build the next great tech business will likely be a scrappy entrepreneur with a big dream, a sharp mind, and a valuable secret.
Where are the Secrets?
I believe secrets about human behavior, which provide insights into the way people act even though they can’t tell you why, are levers for creating user habits and competitive advantage. These kinds of secrets are also relatively cheap to uncover but can be the basis of massive enterprises.
Once, only large companies had the resources to discover monetizable secrets. Throughout the twentieth century, companies like GE, Dupont, Chrysler, and IBM specialized in discovering the optimal form of physical goods and their insights lay largely hidden in the discipline of industrial design. For these companies, uncovering secrets required massive R&D investment to find the best way to create a better, cheaper, or faster product.
NOTE: This post originally appeared in Techcrunch. (Photo credits)
Reading Leena Rao’s recent article on Techcrunch about the personalization revolution, you get the sense that the tech world is waiting for a bus that isn’t coming. Rao quotes well-known industry experts and luminaries describing what needs to happen for e-commerce to finally realize the promise of personalized shopping, a future where online retailers predict what you’ll want to buy before you know yourself.
Ironically, Rao and her pundits are missing the zooming race car that’s speeding by them as they wait for the personalization bus to arrive. That racecar is Pinterest and the new breed of startups marking the beginning of what I call the “Curated Web.”
The promise of personalized e-commerce began over 10 years ago with technology pioneered at Amazon. It was then that the mental dye was cast for what eCommerce personalization would look like, an algorithmic solution for matching customer to products. Web watchers came to expect that someday all online retailers would have such algorithms on their sites and the dream of personalized commerce would finally be realized.
For over a decade, startups took their best shot at making this apparition a reality. Companies like Hunch tackled the data collection piece of the equation, asking users endless survey questions to determine their tastes and preferences. Google’s Boutiques.com tried to crack the challenges of structuring the data associated with personalized shopping recommendations. Ultimately, these attempts failed.
Note: This article was first published in Forbes
- Pinterest is onto something big, but few know its obvious secret.
- The company is succeeding because of its focus on reducing users’ cognitive load.
- Pinterest brilliantly aligns its user experience with its business objectives of getting users to consume, create and share content.
- Pinterest will soon have the richest consumer purchase intent data ever assembled.
Last week, I sat down for drinks with a few friends. “Have you heard of this Pinterest website?” said Jonathan, “My wife is totally addicted.” “Yes! Molly is hooked too,” said Ben, “She even has her grandmother into it, who, by the way, still can’t figure out Facebook.” “What’s Pinterest?” said Colin, the unmarried engineer.
My friends, the very definition of tech-savvy, couldn’t understand Pinterest’s astounding success. For one, the idea of capturing photos on a virtual wall is nothing new. The Facebook newsfeed is 5 years old and searching for pretty pictures on Google Images is ancient.
And yet, the Pinterest juggernaut is growing faster than Facebook when it was this size. Investors recently plowed in$27 million only five months after the company raised its previous round of financing. But even those who believe Pinterest is onto something big may not really understand why.
Lately, I’ve noticed a startling paradox in Silicon Valley. I see shitty companies hiring more engineers than they know what to do with, while other, much better companies struggle to fill open roles. Now my definition of “shitty” is completely subjective, but I bet you too can name some ridiculous start-ups that no sane engineer should work for. Meanwhile, companies catering to huge markets, logical business models, amazing user growth, and cash in the bank from top investors, are having a hard time hiring tech talent. What gives?
I call this phenomenon the developer divide. It occurs after a company has cracked a user need and is gaining traction, the VCs have started piling on the cash and the servers are melting from all the users. But there’s one big problem. The company is having trouble hiring engineers to keep up with the torrid pace of growth.
Take Pinterest, the latest toast of Silicon Valley. The company is growing faster than Facebook when it was of equivalent size. Andreessen Horowitz, some of the smartest money on Sand Hill Road in my opinion, just invested in a $27 million dollar round only 5 months after the company closed its series A. The company has umpteen different ways to monetize and few serious competitors. Of course, the company is no sure thing and has plenty of risks ahead, but any investor could make a case for why this company is a good bet. But despite the opportunity, a LinkedIn search reveals the company still employs only 15 people.