Saturday, December 14, 2013

This blog is for the birds

Part One: Bird Feeders

The saying “for the birds” is an old one. Etymology: based on the idea that birds eat seed, which is not worth much.  So, something that is “for the birds” is deemed to be worthless or undesirable, without value.

This television program is for the birds. Winter weather is for the birds. “What do you think of the new software?”  I think it is for the birds - it won’t work.

This year, we put up a bird feeder. Actually two, one that hangs from a tree, and one that sticks to a window in our den. I did not participate in these projects. So, when I first heard the noise at the window, I did not know what to think. And so came the conversation with my wife: “You know that once you put out the bird feeder, you have to do it all winter. Otherwise you will kill the birds.”

Excuse me?

It turns out, that if you put out a bird feeder, certain types of birds become dependent on that food for the winter. Certain breeds don’t live more than a small footprint from where they were born; they don’t migrate. So, if they find food - they become dependent on that local food source. If that local food source goes away, they are not capable of making the adjustment. They don’t know how to go find another source of food. So, putting out a bird feeder becomes a commitment. Doing it only a few times is actually more harmful than not putting out any food at all. If you are not going to feed the birds all winter long, you are better off not feeding them at all. Finish what you start, or don’t start at all.

I had to actually Google this, to see how many stories support this notion. There were many. Some birds can overcome this food / no food scenario. Others, not so much. Some breeds pass the point of no return. They stake out a source of food for the winter, and they are stuck with their decision. It is the little birdy version of crossing the rubicon. Now go Google “crossing the rubicon.”

Part Two: Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a 2011 American documentary film directed by David Gelb. The film follows Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master and owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a Michelin three-star restaurant, on his continuing quest to perfect the art of sushi. The film also profiles Jiro's two sons, both of whom are also sushi chefs. The younger son, Takashi, left Sukiyabashi Jiro to open a mirror image of his father's restaurant in Roppongi Hills. The 50-year-old elder son, obligated to succeed his father, still works for Jiro and is faced with the prospect of one day taking over the flagship restaurant.

My youngest son Bobby turned me on to this documentary. I watched it - twice. I think it should be required viewing by every business school. The film received very positive reviews from critics. The film earned a rating of 99% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 70 reviews and an average rating of 7.8/10, with the critical consensus saying, "Beautiful, thoughtful, and engrossing, Jiro Dreams of Sushi should prove satisfying even for filmgoers who don't care for the cuisine."  

While watching it, I found myself drawn into the mystery of this man. Are there any unrealized wishes in his life? Secret diversions? Regrets? If you find an occupation you love and spend your entire life working at it, is that enough? Standing behind his counter, Jiro notices things. Some customers are left-handed, some right-handed. That helps determine where they are seated at his counter. As he serves a perfect piece of sushi, he observes it being eaten. He knows the history of that piece of seafood. He knows his staff has recently started massaging an octopus for 45 minutes and not half an hour. Does he search a customer's eyes for a signal that this change has been an improvement? Half an hour of massage was not good enough; 45 minutes was much better. Jiro notices things.

Part Three: Finish What You Start

If you start feeding the birds, you must be committed to the task. Otherwise, your initial good deed turns into tragedy. You started out trying to do a good thing, but if you are not committed to the cause, you actually do more harm than good. Starting without the commitment to finish is a bad thing. How many people will start a business this year, especially an online business? How easy is it to turn up a website, making posts on social media, and open your little business to the world. How many people will “just do it” with the feeling that if things don’t work out, it is no big deal. You asked people to come to your store, but if they don’t you can just close it down. You might start a blog, and then stop. Not enough people are reading your words. No big deal. Or you might start a class and then drop out, as it's just not for you.

Finishing what you start is always within your power. No one can force you to do anything that you truly do not want to do. And, no one can prevent you from starting - and finishing - what you start out to do in life. There is a big difference from “quitting” and modifying your plan. Being “indifferent” is never a strategy that leads to success, unless your plan was to fail. Making mistakes, and learning from these mistakes is what makes life wonderful. If you must quit doing anything, let it be this: quit starting things that you had no intention of finishing. That’s just nuts. Modifying your plan: good. Not finishing what you start: bad.


Once you start down the road of being a parent, it never ends. There is no finish line; once the parenting journey begins it wonderfully never ends. There is no quitting being a parent. As your children get older, they will have their own experiences, and their own mistakes to make. They will have their own families, the own careers, and their own successes and failures. Do not let your children go through life with a cavalier attitude. Like Jiro, I have two sons - and they are very different. No matter what they do for a career, I can only hope that they find a little of Jiro's passion in their own lives. I’ll never stop trying to give my sons advice, but as my youngest son Bobby said to me:

“Dad, you have to check out Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”  

Something tells me that little birdy #2 left the nest when I was not looking. And I just noticed: it is time to go refill the bird feeder.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hey, no cuts!

I can predict the future, and I can prove it. Millions of people will purchase 12 month health club memberships on 01/02/2014. These savvy shoppers will go to their new health club a few times in January, never to return. And these same people will do it AGAIN every so many years (purchasing health club memberships - never using said health club memberships). Brilliant.
People will go to work on 12/02/2013 (tomorrow) and no matter what their company policy - these loyal employees will spend many hours online, shopping. Not working from their cubical, but shopping from their cubical. Heck, we have faster Internet at work, right?
If you want to predict future behavior, just look at past behavior. We all know this is true, it is common sense. But never in recorded history has it been easier to track human behavior, with “big data” and the power of the Internet. It is so easy to see the future. And even when you can clearly see the future (good or bad) we are powerless to change it.
Or are we?
Why will someone leave their warm cozy home to stand in line (in the cold) to get a “door buster” bargain on something that is going to be a gift for someone else? Why do corporations risk public ridicule opening their stores on what was previously a national holiday? If I sold fuel oil for your home at 25% off would you stand in line at midnight (in the cold) to grab that bargain?
As of this blog, the website has the following message:
The Health Insurance Marketplace online application isn't available from approximately 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. EST daily while we make improvements. Additional down times may be possible as we work to make things better. The rest of the site and the Marketplace call center remain available during these hours.
Now please, put your love / hate of the Affordable Care Act to the side for just a minute. Let’s just focus on the technology.
In the past 90 days, no website in the world has had more news coverage than  This website has become the top news story. Because it did not work, it became news. It could not handle the traffic. The online store for health care was broken, and the best minds in the most technologically advanced country in the world could not make it work. One day, the eCommerce site for Obamacare will be the topic of discussion in major business schools, but for today, this eCommerce showcase site is still not ready for prime time. USA! USA! < sigh >
Because could not handle the traffic, the quick fix was to ask people to please log in during low traffic hours - please use the site in the early morning, or late at night. Please don’t use the site during typical high traffic hours. We simply cannot handle the demand, please work with us. Thank you.
< Insert hysterical laughter here >
Has no one heard of Cyber Monday? Black Friday? And now Brown Thursday? Humans are the most predictable of creatures. We will stand outside in the cold to get a Smartphone on sale. We will risk losing our jobs, shopping online while at work, challenging our bosses to try to stop us. What did you think would happen, when you asked people to come back and shop for health care during low peak hours? I am still laughing, are you?
I have seen people sleep overnight on sidewalks to get a new iPhone. I have seen people leave their warm, safe homes - leave their families and relatives that they only see once a year, to shop on Black Friday / Brown Thursday. These are the same people that you are asking to log in during low traffic hours. What were you thinking?
People want what they want -and they want it NOW!
Everything below this line is from 2012. If you want it to be current and accurate for 2013, just add around 5% to these numbers. Maybe even 10%. Happy Shopping!
  • Big sales increase (again) – According to an IBM report, Cyber Monday sales increased by 30.3% compared to last year. The number of consumers shopping online peaked at approximately 11:25 AM EST with another strong peak later in the evening at approximately 9:10 PM EST. These peaks are likely due to the commuting patterns throughout the U.S. during traditional work hours as people shop once they get to work and when they arrive home.
  • Total sales may vary – According to Adobe, total sales reached $1.98 billion on Cyber Monday, a 17% increase from 2011. Analytics firm comScore also reported a 17% increase but a lower fiscal value at $1.46 billion in sales.
  • Mobile shopping soars – According to IBM, more than 18% of online shoppers used a mobile device to shop online on Cyber Monday 2012, an increase of over 70% from the previous year. Mobile sales accounted for approximately 13% of all sales for online retailers, almost double the amount of mobile sales on Cyber Monday 2011. The iPad dominated mobile traffic, surprisingly ahead of smartphone models, and accounted for over 90% of all tablet traffic to retail sites.
  • At-home shopping increases – Cyber Monday, since its inception in 2005, has been known as an online holiday for consumers to shop as they return to work on Monday after the long Thanksgiving weekend. According to comScore, for the first time ever, purchases made from at-home devices (up 4% in 2012 to 47.2%) surpassed purchases made from work devices (down 3.1% to 47.1%). This shift in shopping location is likely tied to the increased usage in mobile devices, especially at home during the early and late hours of Cyber Monday.
  • Consumers shop smarter – As online shoppers continue to spend more on Cyber Monday, they are also becoming smarter in regards to where their dollars are spent in order to take advantage of promotions such as free shipping. According to IBM, the average order value on Cyber Monday dropped 6.6% to $185.12, but the average number of items per order increased 14.1% to 8.34 items.
  • Pinterest leads social sales growth – According to Adobe, sales generated via Facebook and Twitter accounted for 77% for all social referral sales on Cyber Monday 2012, a percentage which is almost identical to Cyber Monday 2011. However, Pinterest was the big winner in the social media space this Cyber Monday with approximately 15% of social referral sales, a 105% increase from last year. Social referral sales from other social media sites (such as MySpace) fell to only 8%.
  • Cyber Monday is getting competition – In our preview post related to Cyber Monday 2012, we mentioned that Black Friday saw exceptional growth in online sales last year and could challenge Cyber Monday in the future as the biggest online shopping day of the year. According to comScore, Black Friday online sales surpassed $1 billion for the first time ever ($1.04 billion) with approximately 57.3 million Americans visiting at least one online retail site on Black Friday (an 18% increase from last year).  As more retailers develop multi-channel solutions it will likely become more common for these retailers to offer the same in-store promotions to their online audience.

Cyber Monday 2012 was yet another historic day for the online retail industry. With double digit sales growth and initial sales reports roughly in the $1.5 to $2 billion range it’s no surprise more records were once again broken this year. The major difference between Cyber Monday 2012 and previous years is primarily the exponential growth of mobile shopping, likely a key catalyst behind at-home sales overtaking workplace sales for the very first time. As the online retail industry continues to evolve, days such as Thanksgiving and Black Friday will likely continue to see strong online sales growth as multi-channel retailers continue to unify their online and offline promotions.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Where were you when...

I was 3 years, 1 month and 20 days old when John F. Kennedy was Assassinated. I think this was my first memory. I was in the kitchen with my mother. She had the radio on and she heard the news. She screamed, and then she cried. I never saw my mother cry before. My father came home from work and she asked him “Did you hear?” I saw both of my parents so devastated. I remember that day like it was yesterday.

Less than one-third of us alive today, according to the U.S. Census, were here in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy's assassination plunged the country into grief, social re-assessment and a tailspin of conspiracy theories that persists 50 years later. Americans alive on that Nov. 22 day never forget.

JFK's murder, followed by the Oswald and Ruby fiascoes burned into the memories of those who were old enough to experience it. For older generations, like my parents and grandparents, it was yet another "Where were you on Pearl Harbor?" kind of day. For the young like me, we would not be able to process this until we were much older.

The Zapruder film is a silent, color motion picture sequence shot by private citizen Abraham Zapruder with a home-movie camera, as President John F. Kennedy's motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, unexpectedly capturing the President's assassination.

Though not the only film of the shooting, it has been called the most complete, giving a relatively clear view from a somewhat elevated position, and on the side from which the president's head wound is visible. It was an important part of the Warren Commission hearings and all subsequent investigations of the assassination, and is one of the most studied pieces of film in history. Of greatest notoriety is the film's capture of the fatal shot to President Kennedy's head when his limousine was almost exactly in front of, and slightly below, Zapruder's position.

Having a motion picture camera in 1963 was a big deal. They were expensive, and not easy to operate. Color film was expensive to buy, and even more expensive to develop.

During the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, two pressure cooker bombs exploded at 2:49 pm EDT killing 3 people and injuring an estimated 264 others. The bombs exploded about 13 seconds and 210 yards apart, near the finish line on Boylston Street.

There were thousands crowding the last stretch of the Boston marathon, all capturing the events before and after the bombs exploded.

The reality is with the number of people who are carrying with them the equivalent of HD video cameras, history is being documented by millions of people every day. In just over a decade, the amount of video being shot by amateurs has increased dramatically - and so too, has the evidence available to law enforcement officials.

Can you imagine back in JFK's day if you had the proliferation of cameras? There would be no question about the grassy knoll. We'd have answers on day two.

I was only 3 years old, and I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when John F. Kennedy was killed. I remember exactly where I was when the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred on January 28, 1986. And September 11, 2001. And when the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster occurred on February 1, 2003. And now, the Boston Bombings on April 15, 2013.

I wonder what our next “Where were you when” moment will be?

One thing's for sure, there will be video.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Knowing where to dig

Let’s say you grew up in a fictional place called Cedar Grove, New Jersey. And then at the age of 10 you moved away to another fictional place called Boca Raton, Florida, never to return to Cedar Grove. Let’s also say that you have very vivid childhood memories of your father “hiding things” in and around the house you grew up in, because he did not trust the banks.

Fast forward forty years. Your childhood home still stands, now owned by a local church (we lived next to a church). Do you tell them “where to dig?” And then the follow up question: Do they listen?

Sometimes in business, we are given advice that is so blatantly obvious, we have no choice but to promptly ignore it. Sometimes the people who care about us the most - our family - our investors - our shareholders - are turned a deaf ear.

Backing up your data is so obvious, that you would think that it would be automatic. You would think that no one in their right mind would use a computer without backing up their precious data. And yet, less than 45% of computer users backup their data consistently.

Higher education saw online distance learning coming down the tracks decades ago, but very few took steps to compete with what is now a game changing movement.

The book publishing industry clearly knew that eBooks were coming, but many chose to ignore the threat, hoping that eBooks were going to be a passing fad.

I was introduced to Brad Stone via my friend and amazing author Dan Pink.

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon started off delivering books through the mail. But its visionary founder, Jeff Bezos, wasn't content with being a bookseller. He wanted Amazon to become the everything store: a store that offered limitless selection and seductive convenience at disruptively low prices. To do so, he developed a corporate culture of relentless ambition that transformed retail in the same way Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing.

Brad Stone enjoyed unprecedented access to current and former Amazon employees and Bezos family members, giving readers the first in-depth fly-on-the-wall account of one of the world’s most secretive companies. Compared to technology’s other elite innovators: Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg, Bezos stands out for his restless pursuit of new markets, which has led Amazon into risky new ventures like the Kindle, Kindle Fire and its cloud computing business.

I recommend reading this new book from Brad Stone. With or without a Kindle.

Because I pursued (wanted to meet) Dan Pink, I was introduced to the works of  Brad Stone. Because of Brad Stone, I have an upcoming audience with Jeff Bezos to discuss all things distance learning and the  

In business and in life, it pays to know where to dig.

It pays to take the advice from the people who truly care the most about your success - the ones who know where to dig.  

It also pays to keep a shovel (metaphor) handy at all times, and not hesitate to use it.


Afterword: I may or may not have a sister who may or may not live in Toms River, New Jersey who may or may not be able to corroborate the  “Daddy does not trust banks” story.

And I think you can buy cool life-changing tools like shovels with Amazon Prime. Sports & Outdoors  Outdoor Gear  Camping & Hiking  Knives & Tools  Shovels 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Put it in writing

One of MTP's best relationships is with Fortune 50  


First Data makes payment transactions secure, fast and easy for merchants, financial institutions and their customers.

To shape the future of global commerce by delivering the world’s most secure and innovative payment solutions.

Company Overview
Around the world, every second of every day, First Data makes payment transactions secure, fast and easy for merchants, financial institutions and their customers. First Data leverages its vast product portfolio and expertise to drive customer revenue and profitability. Whether the choice of payment is by debit or credit card, gift card, check or mobile phone, online or at the checkout counter, First Data takes every opportunity to go beyond the transaction.


Now, watch the First Data animated video above. 

If you are like most people, you will watch the entire video from beginning to end. Not because you are deeply interested in the world of global eCommerce, but because your curious mind wants to see "what's next." 

It is like watching an artist paint live in the park. It is like watching a live performance vs. a movie. Something in your brain makes you want to see the creative process unfold right before your eyes. 

The animated whiteboard video is cool. The above detailed paragraphs (although well written) are a little boring. You might understand the words as you read them, but you "feel" the video. 

People buy from people. Emotions sell. We are visual creatures. 

And since we are curious visual humans, we seek to be entertained. If you have a website, you need video now more than ever. The holiday season is here, and the eCommerce sites with short "explainer videos" will outsell non-video empowered sites by a factor of seven or more. 

"Curiosity killed the cat" is a proverb used to warn of the dangers of unnecessary investigation or experimentation. A less frequently-seen rejoinder to "curiosity killed the cat" is "but, satisfaction brought it back". 

Put human curiosity to work for you this holiday season. 

Your satisfaction is guaranteed. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Just Water Economics

The family went out to dinner last night. Perfect weather on Lake Hopatcong (the largest lake in New Jersey) with a sunset worthy of a painting.

When the waiter came to the table, the girls were not ready to order (go figure) so my son Robert went first. Chicken Parmesan with Onion Soup appetizer. And to drink? “Just water, please” was his answer. Next up was Tom Jr., with a steak and salad and a side of pasta. Again, “Just water, please”. I was up next with the King Cut Prime Rib, and the Onion Soup sounded good. And then I did something that I never do when eating out: I said “I’ll have just water, thank you.” When all was said and done, all five in our dinner party ordered “just water” with their meal.

I’ll fast forward to the end of the story: a great time at the lake. The food was perfect. The service was excellent. The portions were huge, and when asked, no one had room for dessert. Not even coffee. Just the check, please.

There was something wrong with the check. It seemed to be “too small”.

Before we sat down at the table, I had a number in my mind of how much this evening was going to cost. From many years of eating out (and picking up the tab) you tend to have a guesstimate of what things should cost (dinner at a lakeside restaurant in New Jersey vs. The Four Seasons in New York City).

Because we all had “just water” and we also passed on coffee and dessert, the final tab was around half of what I was prepared to pay. I am sure that many of you (especially if you have young families) have had this “just water” epiphany. If it was not for my son going first, we all would have had beer, wine or soda - but not “just water”.

Then it also hit me: were there for the good food and the atmosphere (sunset on the lake) not to drink. It was a restaurant, not a martini bar. We should be focused on the food and the conversation, not the beverages.

It got me to thinking about other “just water” moments. Did you really need all of the features in that new smartphone, or could you have been just as happy with a regular phone? I carry an iPad mini everywhere I go. Do I really even need a smartphone? Or do I carry a smartphone because I don’t want to be seen carrying a regular phone?  

Do people order more than “just water” at a restaurant, because they don’t want to look cheap ordering “just water” in the eyes of the server? Don’t worry guy, your 20% tip is still safe.

Now make the leap to the money that we spend on technology. Do you know how to monetize the features of your laptop, desktop or server? Do you know the incremental costs of the extra storage, the extra speed or the bigger screen size? My “just water” moment from last night made me think about all of the technology that I purchased over the years without even thinking about the choices I could have made regarding the transaction.

At a restaurant, water is free. Coffee, Tea, Soda is not free. In business, online collaboration tools like StartMeeting and Google Apps are free, while collaboration tools like GoToMeeting or GoToWebinar are not free. Do we know when to pay for technology, and when to use a free service? is free, while is not. Sometimes free is just fine, and other times, free is just too damn expensive. The key is to know the difference.

We tend to buy Cable TV packages with 1000 channels, the latest smartphones with the extra pixels on the camera, and new computers with the fastest processors. New Computers. New Appliances. New Cars. Do we know why we buy Premium Gasoline for our cars if Regular Gas is just as good?

According to my research on Google today, I should be able to use regular gasoline in my vehicle, no need to buy the higher octane for $0.35 more per gallon. The next time I fill up my car, I’ll tell the guy “just regular, please”.

Sadly, it will never be as much of a savings as saying to your waiter “just water, please.”