An Open Letter to Google to Help Save Lives

Dear Google,

You have it within your power to help create change and save lives. To give a voice to those who have been silenced. To hold those we entrust with our safety accountable. To empower the oppressed. To start a social revolution.

You could do it within three months. You could do it with tools you already have. In fact, you probably already have plans on your roadmap to do it but perhaps not for the same reasons and not with the same sense of urgency.

More frequently, we watch with bewilderment and moral outrage as crimes against the innocent are perpetrated with impunity. We have had our faith that truth and justice will prevail shaken to its core. For a while, we will seethe and shout for calls to action only to have it invariably dissipate into a quiet murmur. Until the next time. And the time after that. And so again. As if the wicked have discovered just the right rhythm to ensure the ebb and flow never ends. So that we still dismiss these wrongs as isolated incidents with extenuating circumstances, rather than the insidious cancer eating away at the fabric of our society.

Before lines are drawn across which to shout and political diatribes drown out my message, consider that light casts shadows and defines the darkness in all directions. Law enforcement will have documentation of proper procedure. Alleged victims out to falsely accuse first responders will have their deception on full display. Those who would besmirch another for profit will be left empty-handed.

Erasmus said, “Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.” This isn’t only a chance to illuminate the evil that men do in the dark but to celebrate his profound potential for compassion in the light. In moments of kindness. Of hope. Of humanity.

So what could be so simple and yet so powerful?

Google Hangouts on Air…

On mobile. In the hands of the people. Live broadcasting crimes (and acts of kindness) in progress.

The functionality we need is already possible on my laptop. I can stream a live Google Hangouts on Air broadcast and also have it automatically recorded and uploaded to YouTube. Unfortunately, I’m not in the habit of always having my laptop with me. Nor is it the quickest or most discreet way to capture video. That little device in our pockets could mean all the difference.

We almost had it with Qik. That Skype bought. Then shut down. Of course, there are a few other mobile streaming apps and services out there. But they have a lengthy sign up process, require painful integration with other services, cost money, have a limited recording length, or produce poor quality video. These are all things that create friction that will prevent the quick capture these events need. You have the resources to scale with Google Hangouts and YouTube. You already have what you need to solve these problems. Empower the people to use these tools for good.

Your company and your people create technology that continues to change our world. I only ask that you consider your tremendous opportunity for empowering change. The absence of evil is not the presence of good. Not being evil is no longer enough. Be good.


cc: Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and Microsoft

You all have the tools you need to do this as well. I challenge you and Google to a race to the finish. To the winner goes the gratitude of millions.

To My Colleagues

To my colleagues,

On Monday, many of you had your positions eliminated at eBay. I know that you will have your choice of opportunities as other companies vie for your talents or as you pursue your own personal passion projects. My disappointment and anger are only fueled by seeing how, to the very end, you conducted yourselves with grace and professionalism. Instead of bitterness and anger you selflessly expressed hope and concern for your people and colleagues instead of your own situation. Until you stepped out of the doors you–my family for a quarter of my life–kept it human and radiated compassion, concerned only that the important work we do continues to serve our customers, representing the very best of what I love about eBay. You were busy making sure that the code and research were properly archived. You made sure to transition your knowledge to those who remain. You worked to the very last moment to minimize the impact of your departure. But these mechanics, these logistics, are not our greatest loss. You are. You humble me. I am ashamed, that no small part of me is saddened by what your departure means for me, of how my day will be diminished by your absence. I can only promise that I will do my very best to continue our work, to serve our customers, and to create the change in the world that brought us together.


Taking Your Idea from Good to Great

Good-to-Great Matrix

Ah, the myth of the flash of genius or the eureka moment. Rarely does a brilliant idea spring forth fully-formed and ready for that billion-dollar valuation. There are a great many, many steps that stand between your taurine-addled, TED-marathon-inspired brainchild and the delightful product or service that will win you legions of dedicated customers.

Contrary to what your Nana tells you, you’re idea ain’t that special. Not yet, it isn’t. What? You thought you were the only person on a planet of 7 billion people to have ever come up with that idea? I guarantee you, you’re not. But…you can be the one in a billion who has the conviction, passion, and tenacity to do something special with that idea. To take the initial spark of inspiration and turn it into something truly great.

So how do you take your idea from it-seemed-like-genius-at-3am to life-would-cease-to-exist-without-it? By being disciplined about how you develop that idea. Here’s a Good-to-Great Matrix I’ve developed as a thinking exercise when I’m considering an idea. It’s not meant to be a checklist nor is it exhaustive by any means. It’s simply a place from which my exploration can take me down many paths. Food for thought. A tool to begin a conversation with my peers, potential supporters, experts, and investors. It’s something I return to frequently through iterations and pivots.

I won’t go into each item individually but I will highlight three that I’ve found most helpful, especially as I’ve coached other aspiring innovators through this exercise. For this, I’ll lean on a few of the Delphic Maxims.

Know Your Opportunity (Customer)
Who are your 1000 superfans? If you can’t delight 1000 people there is no way you’re going to be able to delight millions. Now, I’m not saying that your entire enterprise can sustain itself on just a thousand customers as there are very few businesses that could. But what I am saying is before you can grow your legions of fans, you’ve got to really understand who are the first thousand superfans. Rabid about telling others about your work. Can’t imagine life if you went away. Those are your thousand superfans. They will help you stay laser-focused as you go through your first important iterations. They will help you manage scope.

Whenever I am considering a concept, I construct an archetype in my mind of who I imagine the ideal customer might be. For example: he is Jack, 36, husband and father to a 4-year old daughter, and lives in Topeka, Kansas; Jack makes $44K a year and spends less than $2400 a year online. So now, as I consider Jack’s needs and how I might address them I can defer those features that wouldn’t delight Jack. That’s not to say I won’t come back to revisit them for Jill, 28, single, makes $82K a year, and spends more than $4700 a year online. But for now, it’s all about Jack. Jack will be my superfan. Jack will convince and bring on board Tom, Dick, and Harry.

Why 1000? It’s a tipping point to 2500, then 5000, then 10000, and so on. It’s not a trivial number but also not an impossibly high number. I can personally talk to a thousand people over a long weekend. I can give great attention and service to a thousand people. I can delight 1000 superfans.

Know Thyself (Experiment)
What could you test right now? I’m a programmer by training. It’s in my nature to tinker. To hack. To get into the code and experiment. There is goodness in this. But it could also lead me too far down a path before I’ve really considered my critical assumptions. What are the one or two things that if they prove to be false my entire concept falls apart? Great, now how do I construct an experiment to validate them without touching code? If developing the idea would cost me $100K in dev hours, how do I test it for $1K? Before building a mobile app, how could I test it using existing tools and user behaviors? In the hundreds of teams I’ve coached through this exercise I have yet to encounter a critical assumption we couldn’t test without minimal dev effort.

Know the Judge (Sponsors)
Who do you need to convince? One might think that this is a no-brainer but I can’t tell you how often I have asked this question only to be met with blank stares and deafening silence. Not all investors are created equally. The temptation to go after the big firms with the deep pockets is tremendous. Bigger is not always better. You’ll need to consider who are the people who will be most passionate about your idea, who will be the most invested, who will have the best resources to bring to bear on your concept. That is who you need to convince.

This is especially true if you are trying to promote an idea within a large organization. You might think that going to the CEO, CTO, and CPO is a guaranteed path to success. It’s not. Any more than going to the Vice President of regional sales in EMEA when your concept lands in APAC. If your concept involves automobiles then speaking to the Director of Data Infrastructure probably isn’t going to have as great a return for you as finding time with the Director of Motors. Know who you have to convince.

An Exercise
I have used this matrix in many different parts of my life, not just for my work in innovation. I had a colleague who I was coaching on the Good-to-Great Matrix a while ago who was having a bit of difficulty grasping it so I asked her to walk me through some project she had that was not work-related. She was trying to get an intramural soccer league started for her daughter. So who were her 1000 superfans? Girls? Not good enough. Girls between the ages 6 and 11 who lived in her school district who recently saw their athletic budgets cut. Those are superfans.

Who did she need to convince? Local parks and rec in order to use their facilities. Other Moms who wanted the same for their daughters. What could you test right now? Before you get into all of that city paperwork, liability insurance, and funding, do you have enough interested parents and players? If that isn’t true you cannot have an intramural soccer league. Put those phone trees to work. Speak to the other parents. Ask how many would be ready to put a deposit down for league fees. If you don’t think that this pre-sale approach is practical ask Tough Mudder, who pre-sold 4500 tickets and made a cool $500K before digging a single obstacle; they’re worth over $250M today. By asking her just three of the questions from the Good-to-Great Matrix she was well on her way. And, yes, they were able to start their intramural league that still flourishes today.

Final Thoughts
The Good-to-Great Matrix is not a formula for success. It’s simply a tool to help you with a rigorous, disciplined approach to developing an idea. It helps you begin to think of all those devilish little details. From here, the really hard work begins.