Bad Products, Good Products

In my new role as advisor I speak a lot with people in charge for the companies' portfolio. As former managing director responsible for go-to-market (among other things) I went through such discussions many times. What's a good product? What's a bad product?

A product is not necessarily good ...

  • ... just because your CEO and management says so
  • ... just because your engineers tell you it's the best in class
  • ... just because your marketing tells great stories about your stuff
  • … just because <add further internal only opinions here>

It's always the customer and the market that makes the decision whether a product is good or bad. Thus I attend many customer demo sessions these days to understand what they like (and what not). This really helps you to tell a compelling story to the market. Assuming that your product is good, you need to have the right words for the market:

  • Stakeholders with budget often don't speak a technical language. Thus, you need to translate technical terms to customer value: how does your product help the customer? Are they getting more productive? Or does it help them to avoid bad business outcome? etc.?
  • Whenever you get new features from engineering ask yourself the value question again. How can this specific feature help a customer?
  • Write down customer value for your target groups, refine this while you go, and apply this messaging consistently. Over and over again - it's not done if you use it only once.

You get this started by speaking with your customers and prospects exactly about this: what does value mean? How can your product help? What do they expect? Open minded customers appreciate such conversations and you should not be shy not to do this. A key challenge can be that your crew is not willing to do this because they might perceive this approach as too offensive. So start this discussion internally and never let go again.

Old School Calisthenics. Or: "Convict Conditioning"

I have already written a little more generally about functional training and about my introduction to training with my own bodyweight. As already mentioned, I am always looking for new impulses to bring variety into my strength training. I stumbled across the book Convict Conditioning by Paul Wade.

At first I thought the title was a bit silly, because you immediately think of yard work, where rusty weights are lifted - as you know it from US films and series. But I quickly realised that there was more to it than that. I particularly like two aspects of the book: 1) the reduction to a minimum of exercises and 2) the gradual increase of the load within an exercise. Both result from the fact that a prisoner has nothing but his body in his cell and therefore has to train in a minimalist way (if he wants to). Of course, this can also be applied to one's own training if muscles are to be built up without much expenditure on material and space. I will go into this briefly.

  1. With 6 Basic Exercises strength can be built up for the whole body. That's all that's really necessary and I always enjoy integrating this approach into my training for a few weeks. The exercises themselves are familiar to everyone, which is one of the great things about them.
    1. Push-up: Chest and Triceps
    2. Squat: thighs (Attention: a lot can be done wrong with squats, I had to learn a lot the hard way)
    3. Pull-up: upper back
    4. Leg lift: Abdomen
    5. Bridge: Spinal musculature
    6. Handstand push-up: shoulders

As usual, functional exercises also train other parts of the body. However, there are also (at least) two exercises for which you need aids (pull-up) or which are not quite so easy (handstand). The pull-up is an exciting exercise - if you can't even do 1 pull-up, you are either too weak or too heavy. Or in case of doubt both. But the book also helps here with the approach of increasing from easy to maximum hard.

  1. Paul Wade goes into detail on how to do each exercise. And brings the exciting concept of 10 steps into play for each exercise. Step 1 is the easiest execution, for a push-up, for example, a push-up standing against the wall. Whenever you reach the training goal for an exercise, you move on to the next step until you reach the top. In the case of a push-up, this is a one-arm (!) push-up. This is then really incredibly hard, but even step 6 or 7 is already top and also realistically doable for everyone. In the pull-up, step 1 is a vertical pull. You stand close to a door frame, for example, hold on to it, slowly stretch out your arms and pull back again. This is a step that anyone can do. The master step (step 10), the one-arm pull-up, is certainly only done by very few people.

Conclusion: I find the book very good, it is simply written and based on practical experience. (Pseudo)science is left out. It is also good that you can start immediately. I would buy the book again and can recommend it.

For pull-ups, by the way, I got myself a rail to which I can attach a bar, for example, which can be easily unhooked again after the exercises or pushed out of the way. I'm sure there are other solutions with less installation effort (in case you're sitting in a cell after all?).

Partnerships in Business - the Win:Win:Win triangle

"Hey, we need partners" is something I have heard throughout my entire career. I haven't heard a sound answer on why partners would be needed. Consequently, people started to get as many partners as possible - not surprisingly with little to no effect. Have you experienced the same? If so, this is an article for you for sharing thoughts and some insights.

So, why do we want to partner`? My say would be: to provide more value to the customer (win #1), to provide benefits for the partner (win #2), and of course provide a benefit for own company (win #3). Value and benefit and "the win" depends on the type of a partnership. Understanding the envisaged type of a partnership helps you to manage expectations for all stakeholders and also to define goals for what you want to achieve (I'd say: no goals, no success).

Selling software products (that's what I did in the past 1.5 decades) is typically suited for the following types of partners:

  1. Sales Partnership: in such a partnership, the partner is ideally listed as vendor for the customer which is already a win for all since it reduces time and complexity in the procurement cycle. It's key that the partner's sales team gets targets for the product, that the vendor support the partner's sales team, and that you team up for non-standard sales situations (like a company licence).
  2. Hosting Partnership: the partner can sell the solution, but also install and run it for a customer. Since many organisations go away from manual technical work, this is a service adding even more benefit. For the partner it's an additional offering in his portfolio making him a better choice for customers.
  3. Managed Service Provider (MSS): such partners can do all of the above but also use the product (on behalf of the customer) and feedback the results to the customers organisation. This is particularly valuable in expert domains where experts are not easy to find and hire.

For sure, there are more types of partnerships like technical partners that offer complementary components. But that is a different story told on another day.

I have seen things going wrong in establishing a partner model. 1) it's about quality, not quantity. As mentioned in the beginning, many partners don't help you if the partnership is not alive. 2) Consequently, a partnership will silently die if nobody cares. You need partner managers, a mutually agreed go-to-market approach, and regular working together situations (maybe every day!). 3) I have seen partners asking for exclusivity - you don't want that because it adds too many restrictions on everyone. The customer decides which route to follow, not a partner agreement. Non-competition and non-solicitation clauses can be accepted. 4) In cases where one partner is small and the other is big, discussions are often not at eyes level. I'd say that size doesn't matter but being fair and polite. If this is not the case: next one, please.

Ultimately, a first, joint win is the driver for success. So setup a team with exactly this goal, win your first deal together and take it from there. Nothing is a better motivation than success.

In a followup article I will write about a "partners only" model which is particularly suited for product companies.

Smarthome visualisation with HomeAssistant

I had KNX installed in my house to automate one or two things. I started with Hager Easy, but for various reasons it soon turned out to be unsuitable for me. After I got myself an ETS licence and extracted the KNX addresses from the Easy environment, I have various visualisation platforms. There are numerous articles comparing the offers, e.g. here.

Essential criteria for me were:

  • Configuration with little/no programming (although or precisely because I come from computer science: I like it when complex technology is easy to master)
  • Modern surface
  • Wide coverage of components (KNX, Z Wave, HUE, Unifi, Doorbird, Logitech Harmony, Sonos, etc.)
  • Future-proofing (=dissemination, community, release cycles)

I experimented with ioBroker at first, but it was too much work for me to configure. The same was true for FHEM, for example, which was far too complex for me. However, I became aware of the HomeAssistant interface through ioBroker and tested it in parallel with OpenHAB. In the end, I decided on HomeAssistant because I was able to make fast progress, my KNX environment could be integrated with all other components under one interface and automation is very elegant in a mix of visual programming and simple coding (YAML-based). The community is also very large and there are really no questions left unanswered.

I installed HomeAssistant on a Raspberry Pi, you just have to follow these few steps. HomeAssistant also offers a cloud integration with which the control can be accessed remotely. This also makes voice control via Alexa & Co child's play. For geofencing-based logics, I use the app Geofency, which works very precisely and reliably. I use old iPads with wall mounts or the family's mobile phones as displays.

All in all, I am very satisfied with the changeover and the decision to use HomeAssistant. The system has been running for a long time without any major problems and since the release cycles have been reduced, updates are no longer a big issue. It is important to always make a backup that can be activated on a spare platform at any time. I haven't exhausted all the possibilities by a long shot, but that's kind of the point, that there's still a lot of room for improvement.