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Shall we play a game?

TL;DR I started a new job as the Chief Marketing Officer of Recorded Future. We empower organizations to reveal unknown security threats before they impact business, and enable teams to respond to alerts 10 times faster. If you want to hear the why, read on…

Let’s face it, the 80s was the best decade for movies. This is inarguable. Before you ok boomer me, know that I’m a proud Gen X 🙂 So what’s the best movie from 80s? Acceptable answers include: almost anything from John Hughes, Spielberg, or Kubrick; the Empire Strikes Back; Say Anything. Or the best of them all, Wargames.

Wargames tells the story of bored high school student and aspiring hacker David Lightman. In the first 15 minutes of the movie, they show Lightman playing Galaga, the GOAT of all 80s arcade games. And even better, they show how Lightman was able to break into his school database and change his grades.

But really his dream is to break into the server of his favorite game company Protovision. So he wardials every phone number in Sunnyvale CA until one day he connects to a system that doesn’t identify itself. He pokes around to see if the server hosts any games and he finds a list that starts with chess, checkers, backgammon, and poker, as well as titles such as “Theaterwide Biotoxic and Chemical Warfare” and “Global Thermonuclear War”, but to his dismay, he can’t play any of them. Later, two hacker friends explain the concept of a backdoor password and suggest tracking down the Falken referenced in “Falken’s Maze”, the first game listed. Lightman discovers that Stephen Falken was an early artificial-intelligence researcher, and guesses correctly that his dead son’s name, Joshua, is the password.

Chaos ensues as the server he’s broken into is the WOPR at the Cheyenne Mountain Complex. It uses artificial intelligence to simulate millions of possible outcomes from various military strategies (e.g. wargames). But, the Joshua AI has a hard time knowing the difference between gaming and reality (hey, it happens) and because the WOPR has access to the missile launch codes, Lightman almost causes WW3.

By the time Wargames came out, I was already well into my obsession with computers and programming BASIC on my trusty TI-99 4/A. But Wargames threw my obsession into overdrive. I figured out how to lock down my computer with a password (Joshua obv) to prevent unauthorized access my from snooping parents. I got a 300 baud modem for my birthday, fast enough to read scroll text in real time from remote systems. I discovered the magic of the BBS where I could play games, chat with other nerds, and yes, download WaReZ (look, I was 11). It was absolutely magical. I kept programming all the way through high school and went to the University of Illinois to study math and computer science. At Illinois, I worked as a UNIX admin responsible for maintaining DNS. I read the 1992 first edition of O’Reilly DNS and BIND cover to cover. Eventually I realized at age 22 that I wasn’t very good at programming and that it was time to find something else to do.

Would I have gone down that path without Wargames? Maybe. But decades later I still think back to how inspired I was. And reflecting on it now, I think Wargames is as relevant today as it was to me in the 80s. Sure, we’ve moved beyond wardialing, but anything connected to a network is a potential risk. And while an AI that can pass a Turing-test like Joshua is still a ways away, it’s certainly on the horizon. Could a modern day David Lightman start a real war through an SSH terminal? Quite possibly. Look at the success of the Stuxnet program. Stuxnet is believed to be responsible for causing substantial damage to Iran’s nuclear program by exploiting a collection of zero-day exploits to gain control of programmable logic controllers, ultimately shutting down nuclear centrifuges.

From the national security to risk management at organizations large and small, security has never been more important to our future. Because there are tens of thousands of bad David Lightmans across the globe looking for ways to hack into your organization. The results of their efforts ranges from the mildly annoying DDOS attacks to catastrophic events. And maybe worse.

That’s why I’m excited about the opportunity at Recorded Future.

For the past 10 years, Recorded Future has focused on empowering organizations to take a proactive approach to cybersecurity. We’ve done this by collecting and analyzing threat data from the broadest range of sources and producing threat intelligence to help organizations gain insight into the intentions and techniques of cyber adversaries. This enables them to work smarter and stop threats faster.

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On Cambridge Analytica

Last night I watched the Great Hack on Netflix. Highly recommended. Here’s a TL;DR oversimplification on how it all worked: 

SCL Group, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, created a psychographics-based methodology to manipulate political opinion in developing nations. It worked, and they formed Cambridge Analytica to participate in the US election process.

Their methodology was pretty simple: they used the Ocean personality model to categorize people across 5 factors: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Voters were segmented using predictive models created with classic techniques like clustering. Then Cambridge Analytica created highly targeted marketing campaigns for each personality trait to influence voting.

So to this point, nothing is unusual. Marketers have been employing this segmentation strategy since Claude Hopkins wrote Scientific Advertising back in 1923. But wow, the scale they were able to achieve. That’s where Facebook comes in.

Cambridge Analytica started by paying Facebook users to complete a lengthy survey called This Is Your Digital Life. This created a complete OCEAN profile for all the users who completed the survey, and it let Cambridge Analytica harvest a bunch of additional data including your likes and even your entire news feed. More importantly, it also let Cambridge Analytica grab all the same data for all your friends who installed the survey app. Facebook wasn’t supposed to allow this, more on that later.

So now Cambridge Analytica could build a predictive model (well, 253 different models) based all the training data it captured from users who got paid to complete the survey. Then it could run everyone else who didn’t actually complete the survey through the model to classify them into a personality profile. That’s how you turn 32,000 survey responses into 87,000,000 voter profiles. According to Cambridge Analytica, their predictive models were only slightly better than a random chance but still, at that scale that’s more than enough to influence an election.

With these profiles now in place, the entire Trump Facebook ad budget could go to voters in swing states with very specific messages based on their personality profiles with less ad spend waste. The rest, is history.

This isn’t the first time technology was used to influence an election (and it won’t be the last). For example, the analytics team on the 2008 Obama campaign pioneered using multivariate optimization to increase donations, and in one test generated an additional $60m. This result led to the founding of Optimizely.

But this wasn’t some bullshit user acquisition growth hack gone bad. It was our election, the foundation of democracy. It’s easy to point fingers at Cambridge Analytica, and they obviously bear lots of the blame for this. But in my opinion, it’s Facebook that deserves most of the blame. Cambridge Analytica can’t happen without data mining millions of Facebook profiles. It seems pretty clear that lots of people at Facebook knew this was happening, maybe even Mark Zuckerberg. But they did nothing.

This is an extreme, history altering reminder that “if you don’t pay for the product, you are the product”

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Sales Engineers are the MVPs of SaaS

I graduated college back in the mid-90s when a 56k modem was considered high-speed internet. I started my tech career in QA at a software startup called AimTech that created authoring software for multimedia apps. We competed with Macromedia Director, and eventually Macromedia Flash.

Through my QA job, I became an expert on our product called Jamba. Anytime someone wanted to learn how our a specific feature of our product worked, they came to me. Apparently, I was pretty good at explaining how our product worked, because one day the head of sales asked if I was interested in becoming a Sales Engineer. I had no idea what a Sales Engineer(SE) did, but I noticed they wore nicer clothes than me and none still lived at home with their parents, so I agreed!

And loved it. It was easily the best career decision I made in my life. 

As an SE, I traveled the world meeting with customers and prospects to talk about how we could help them build interactive applications on the web without having to learn how to write code in this new language called Java (I told you, this was a long time ago).

Me on the left giving a tradeshow demo circa 1997(?)

Eventually, my little New Hampshire startup was acquired by Asymetrix, a company founded by the late Paul Allen. Shortly after I moved to San Francisco to join the SE team at Macromedia. After a few crazy years at Macromedia, I joined a dot com era high flyer called Interwoven, which kicked off my journey into web content management. I started as an individual contributor at Interwoven and later moved into an SE leadership role before being asked to move into a Product Marketing role.

Looking back at that journey reminds me of how much I absolutely loved being a part of an SE team and how much of a lasting impact it had on my career. Nearly every skill I use today as a marketer came from my experience as an SE for well over a decade. 

Here’s are the 5 most valuable lessons I learned in my time as an SE:

Everyone in tech needs to learn how to sell. SEs sell. Most get paid commission and carry a quota just like an Account Executive. Sure, I didn’t have to own the forecast or be responsible for doing whatever it took to get a deal at the end of a quarter. But I always felt like I owned the number and that my success was binary: I either hit the number or I didn’t.

SEs are in the position to sell as a trusted advisor in a way that an Account Executive just can’t. And that doesn’t just apply to getting the technical buyer to recommend your product. The best SEs can shape business conversations in a way that leads to your product becoming the only option. Which leads me to:

The best SEs aren’t always the most technical. The endless debate in SE circles revolves around technical vs. business acumen. Sure there’s a foundational technical knowledge you need to have to get the technical win in a sales cycle. But a great SE can achieve a technical win without always needing to be technical, because they can change the conversation. 

For example, my ex-Interwoven colleagues John Narbaitz, James Santoro, and Ryan Sciandri were highly technical SEs. They were both able to blow customers away with brute technical force using highly customized demos and proof-of-concepts. Yes, of course both John and James were fantastic at driving the entire sales cycle (both are sales execs now) but being technical was a competitive weapon for them. 

Some of my less technical Interwoven colleagues like Rajib SenGupta and Andrew Wamberg worked earlier in the sales cycle to change the conversation from technical to business outcomes. They could do more in a few slides than I could do in a week of writing code. They were much better at listening than I was.

All were fantastic SEs who used different approaches to win. But over time my view has changed, and I now think that the very best SEs are the ones who can win with technical skills but almost never have to because they are so good at listening to the customer and driving the conversation away from the technical to the business value they can deliver.

Presentation skills matter. Life is about selling ideas. Whether you are selling your boss on your next promotion or at home selling your daughter on going to bed on time (my nightly challenge), we are always working to influence people and change behavior. And there’s nothing that will refine your persuasion skills quite like spending a decade on the road presenting to customers and prospects.

In my early SE days, I was a terrible presenter. I talked way too fast (still do). I used big words I thought would make me sound smart. I had awful body language and was too afraid to look at my audience. I talked about product features like anyone cared about them. I eventually became a good presenter by putting in my Freakonomics 10,000 hours. To this day, I’ve never taken any formal presentation training but I continue to work hard to get better because it’s been such an important part of my career (and life).

One easy way to stand out as a presenter is to always bring the energy, whether you are presenting to a small team of colleagues or standing in front of a room of 1000. Sure you’ve shown the same demo and slides hundreds of times, but why should an audience be enthusiastic about something that you obviously aren’t? Make this one simple change and you’ll 10x the results from your presentations.

SEs are the authentic voice of the field. Want to really know what’s happening in the field? Ask an SE. What are customers really looking for? Is your messaging working? What’s happening with competitors? SEs are always on the front-lines and are great at providing a spin-free perspective on what’s working and what isn’t. 

Because of this, SEs have an obligation to have a strong internal voice. If something isn’t working, speak up.

The SE role uniquely prepares you for any career path. There’s no other role that better prepares you for whatever direction you want to take your career. There are so many options:

  • You can advance through multiple individual contributor roles into team leadership. My SE journey went from being a Sales Engineer to Senior Sales Engineer to Principal Sales Engineer to SE Manager and eventually SE Director.
  • Many SEs eventually move into Sales. As an SE you get to learn a lot about the sales process and the expectations that come from being in Sales. The challenge that new SEs in Sales have are usually related to the start (prospecting &qualifying) and end (forecasting & closing) of the sales process.
  • More technical SEs sometimes move into Product Management, where they can use their hands-on knowledge of products and customers to build better products.
  • The smartest SEs move into Marketing, often starting in Product Marketing. Okay, maybe I’m biased 🙂 Product Marketing is a great landing spot for SEs as it lets you take everything you’ve learned in the field and apply it at a broader scale. 

I have so many fond memories of my time as an SE. I learned so many foundational skills that have allowed me to grow my career. I love being in marketing too, but I absolutely miss being on the front lines all the time. Which leads me to my next point: 

The SA team at Acquia is among the best I’ve seen

The SE team we had at Interwoven was absolutely amazing. Until I joined Acquia, I was sure it was the best team of SEs ever assembled. Now I’m not so sure.

I’ve been working closely with the SE team at Acquia (we call them Solution Architects, or SAs) for over 4 years and what I’ve seen them achieve is nothing short of spectacular. If you want to be a part of the best and learn from the best, you owe it to yourself to talk to Acquia. 

Here’s what the team at Acquia does that makes them special:

They start with the customer and work backward. The Acquia SA team is obsessed with customer value. They are experts in driving sales conversations by linking a customers high-priority needs to Acquia products. In most companies, this is usually the domain of the Account Executive. But in my experience at Acquia, the SA team is deeply involved in this process, which helps them avoid having to win on brute technical force alone.

They don’t rely on being technical. On the whole, the SA team at Acquia is more technical than the other SA teams I’ve been a part of. To be a great SA at a Acquia, you need to know Drupal and its role in the modern web technology stack.

When we’re in technical evaluations against competitors like Adobe and Sitecore, we almost always always win. That’s because our SAs are able to clearly demonstrate how Acquia delivers business value. They do that through expert discovery that connects customer requirements with unique value that Acquia can deliver.

Acquia nails the SA career path. I’ve never seen a more well defined and supported career path for SA. From formal titles definitions with clear goals and milestones necessary for advancement to support for SAs joining other parts of the organization, Acquia’s got it down.

There are multiple SA levels at Acquia including Associate SA, SA, Senior SA, Master SA, and Principal SA. And Acquia SAs have moved into many other positions in the organization, including Sales, Customer Success, and Product Management.

SA are strategic. There’s nothing an SA hates more than being asked to just “give the demo”. Give a demo of what? To whom? Why? 

The SA team at Acquia is used to drive strategic sales conversations. Of course, giving demos is an important part of this process, but only when it makes sense. And only after the work has been done to setup the demo for success. 

They care deeply about winning. This is near and dear to my heart. The thing I most miss about being an SA is that feeling you get when you win against a competitor. Our SAs know that they are in sales and embrace the challenges and opportunities that come from being responsible for hitting a number.

I believe that the Acquia SA team is the best in the WCM / DXP industry. So if you’re are an SA at Sitecore tired of dealing with all the technical debt and leadership changes, we’ve got a home for you. Or if you’re at Adobe and are tired of crazy quotas and constant reorgs, we should talk! Just drop a note to jakub dot suchy at acquia. Tell him this blog post sent you 🙂

Final thoughts on being a Sales Engineer

  • Learn how to command a whiteboard. It’s a lost art and a great way to have an interactive conversation with a prospect.
  • Saying “I don’t know” is better than giving a BS answer.
  • Never show anything in a demo that you haven’t practiced 100 times before. I don’t care what your rep asked you to show.
  • Don’t talk past the sale. When your prospect understands something, move on.
  • 9/10 times when something goes wrong in a demo the audience didn’t notice it. Just keep going.
  • Be careful when bashing the competition. There’s a right and wrong way to do it. I’ve learned this the hard way.
  • I hate blind RFPs too, but unless you are consistently crushing your number you’ll have to do some.
  • Be nicer to marketing 🙂 They work really hard too. If you don’t like something, just tell us why.
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Oh Shit, Now What?

Okay let me start by paying off this clickbait headline right away: A couple of months ago I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. TL;DR I made life changes, and so far they are working.

Let’s take a step back.

I’ve never exactly been a skinny guy. Even back in high school when I was in the best shape of my life, I weighed around 180 pounds. Four years of pizza and beer at the University of Illinois took that up to around 200 or so, where I stayed throughout my 20s. In my 30s, relentless travel and all the associated bad habits–usually pizza and beer–drove my weight up even further. I became the Big Tuna (thanks Sal and Capitan Ron for that).

Then in August of 2012, I hit an all time high at 246 pounds. Of course I had just bought a wifi-enabled scale–just because–so all of my glorious highs and lows over the years are tracked forever.

But even worse than clocking in at nearly 246, in my annual physical I learned that my blood sugar was elevated all the way into the pre-diabetes range. Not terrible yet, but it scared me. I changed my diet and started tracking everything I ate using an app called LoseIt! I tried to eat ~1200 calories, a day backing out any exercise. For example, if I burned 400 calories running a 5k I could have three glasses of wine. So I started running, a lot.

And It worked! By the time I started a new job at Acquia in late 2012 I was down 30 pounds, and by February I was all the way down to 202!

Even better, I got my blood work done again and I had fallen out of the pre-diabetes range. For most of 2013, I continued to do really well. I tracked my calories every day. I worked out with a trainer a few times a week. I ran at least a few times a week. I even did three Tough Mudders in one summer.

West Side

But then life happened. I had my daughter in late 2013, which made it harder to keep up the insane exercise program I was on. I stopped tracking calories. And by the time I left Acquia for RapidMiner in 2015, I was all the way back up to 231 pounds, and guess what? My blood sugar was again back in the pre-diabetes range.

But this time, I didn’t make any dramatic changes. I did lose ~15 or so pounds over the next few months, and every 6 months or so I got my blood checked and each time I was “safely” in the pre-diabetes range.

Until February 2019.

I had pushed off my bi-annual bloodwork because I knew something was wrong. I just didn’t feel right. I had even started to eat less and workout more in a crash diet attempt to fix my blood sugar. But it doesn’t work that way.

The main measurement used to diagnose Diabetes is the A1C test, a blood test that provides information about your average levels of blood sugar over the past 3 months. Eating well for a few weeks can impact your fasting blood sugar, but moving an A1C over a short period of time is impossible.

So when I finally went in to get my blood tested, I knew it was going to be bad. But I couldn’t have imagined how bad it would be. For context, an A1c of between 4% and 5.6% is considered good, that’s what everyone should shoot for. Anything between 5.7% and 6.4% is considered pre-diabetes. In previous tests, I was somewhere between 6.1-6.3%.

I checked in at a cool 11%, an average blood sugar of 269 over a 90 day period.

What. The. Actual. Fuck.

Looking back, I have no idea how it got that bad. I really hadn’t gained any significant weight, and my diet really didn’t change, I’ve always been a pizza and beer guy. My doctor didn’t get it either, and we even considered running the test again because it was so crazy high. But I knew deep down it was bad and the test had to be right. Normally at such a high A1C you’d be put in insulin, but my doctor trusted that I could get it back under control. To do that, I had to make a change, for real and forever.

After doing some research in lots of places (shout out /r/diabetes) I settled on doing two things to get back on track: Intermittent fasting and Keto.

Intermittent fasting is one of the most popular health and fitness trends. It doesn’t specify which foods you should eat but rather when you should eat them. There are lots of techniques, but I settled in on the 16/8 method: Skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, such as 12–9 p.m. Then you fast for 16 hours in between.

I also starting cutting carbs and eventually went all the way to Keto. The Keto diet aims to force your body into using a different type of fuel. Instead of relying on sugar from carbohydrates, the keto diet relies on ketone bodies, a type of fuel that the liver produces from stored fat. With Keto, you’ve got to limit yourself to like 30-40 net carbs a day. It’s difficult but possible. Especially when you are only eating two meals a day.

I cut out Diet Soda. I cut out my morning Sugar Free Red Bull. I’ve cut out snacks including my all-time favorite Utz Pretzel Rods. I haven’t had more than a slice of pizza in months. I limit myself to a beer or two a week. But let’s not go crazy, wine is low-ish enough carb to keep in the diet.

And the changes worked. I’m a sample size of one, but as of this morning I’m at my lowest weight since New Kids on the Block had the Right Stuff. I donated every XL shirt I own because they don’t fit. I’m never going back.

Through better eating and testing my blood sugar a few times a day, I’m in a much better place with my blood sugar too. My A1C is already down to 7.5% after 6 weeks, and I’m confident that I’ll be down to pre-diabetes levels in a few months. And this time, I’ll stay there. There’s science behind why Keto and intermittent fasting work for Type 2 Diabetes.

I wrote this post to keep myself accountable. If I keep this plan up, I’ll take my A1c back down to pre-diabetic and maybe even non-diabetic levels. I’ll always have Type 2 Diabetes, but it’s totally manageable.

I’ll save my preachy stuff for last: the American diet sucks. I made all the bad choices myself. No one forced me chase a Dominos pizza with a four pack of IPAs. But we make it really hard for people to eat well. Nutrition guidelines are a joke, gamed by minuscule serving sizes that hide the truth behind calories and carbs.

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There and back again

Today I started a new job at Acquia, the open source digital experience company. Yeah, that Acquia.

First day at Acquia in 2012

Since I left in 2015, Acquia has exploded to over $200m in revenue. Dries, Lynne, Tim & team have done a fantastic job turning Acquia into a digital experience powerhouse. Bigger, bolder, better. My journey back is a homecoming to both to a company I loved working for, and a deep passion for the web developed over more than two decades.

See, back in the early 90s, I studied computer science at the University of Illinois. I was a classmate of Marc Andreessen while he was creating Mosaic, the first widely used web browser. I was also a huge fan of the band Phish, and an active poster on the rec.music.phish USENet newsgroup.

I decided to build a web page to list Phish tour dates. For a brief period of time, https://uxa.cso.uiuc.edu/~tww40334/phish.htm was the definitive resource for upcoming Phish shows. It probably looked something like this handcrafted in VI:

<html>
<title>
Upcoming Phish Concerts
</title>
<img src="phish.gif"></img>
<p>1993-08-14 World Music Theatre Tinley Park, IL</p>
</html>

A few years after graduating from Illinois, I moved to the Bay Area for my dream job as a sales engineer at Macromedia. I joined shortly after the acquisition of the company that became Flash (sorry about that) and a little bit before the first release of Dreamweaver 1.0.

Who knew the scourge this would become?

Products like Dreamweaver, Homesite, and Frontpage empowered a new “webmaster” role at companies who were in a mad scramble to get the corporate print brochure recreated as a website. Being a sales engineer at Macromedia during the dot com boom was the closest thing in my life to being a rock star. Well before embarrassing moments were shared forever on social media, I remember stage diving during a private Beck during Internet World Los Angeles in 1997.

The big topic? Oracle’s plans to create a network computer.

While Dreamweaver was fantastic (drag+drop HTML tables!), webmasters were overwhelmed. Web pages became web sites. Everyone wanted to publish content but the tools remained out of reach for most. Pure play web companies like Amazon.com were showing that the web could be so much more than just a slightly uglier version of the corporate print brochure. The companies I met with wanted something with the simplicity of Dreamweaver and the ability to handle growing complex sites and applications.

So in early 2000, I joined Interwoven, a pioneer in a new type of application called Content Management Systems. Interwoven had recently held one of the most successful IPOs of the dot com era and was so desperate to hire it offered a free two year BMW Z3 lease to new engineering hires.

Sadly, sales engineers didn’t count

This was the pinnacle of the “dot com boom”. Startups would IPO pre-revenue using the proceeds to lease office space along Route 101, buy a Sun E10000. And a Content Management System. Back then you didn’t hire more SDRs to scale, you bought more fax machines.

Your iPhone is way more powerful than this

After years of battling Vignette for Content Management supremacy, Interwoven emerged as the dominant first generation leader. We acquired MediaBin, a digital asset management company and then Optimost, a website testing pioneer. We built a rules-based personalization engine. And in 2007-2008, we helped create the category that became known as Web Experience Management. Websites had become web experiences. In all, I spent 8 years at Interwoven on all the way through our early 2009 acquisition by Autonomy.

I left Autonomy to join scrappy CMS upstart Ektron (now EPIServer) that happened to be located just a few miles from my house. Ektron was battling Sitecore to become the leader in Microsoft .NET content management. We successfully drafted off the growth of the Microsoft/Sharepoint ecosystem, and in early 2012 became a Leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management. All was going well until the day I got a LinkedIn InMail from a recruiter:

Yes please.

I had been following both Drupal and WordPress for many years. Back at Interwoven, I once convinced the Interwoven marketing team into setting up a WordPress blog instead of using TeamSite. Sure WordPress didn’t do everything TeamSite did (and still doesn’t) but it was easy. It was fun. It was, in many ways, better. I was less familiar with Drupal, but knew of Dries and had watched Acquia rise to become one of Boston’s best startups under the leadership of Dries and CEO Tom Erickson.

From VI to Dreamweaver. From Dreamweaver to Interwoven and Ektron. In my mind, no company was better prepared than Acquia for the evolution of Content Management to Web Content Management to Web Experience Management to Digital Experience Platforms.

Ambitious Digital Experiences

I forget exactly when I heard Dries talk about Drupal for ambitious digital experiences. But it was brilliant. One of those why didn’t I think of that moments.

See that’s the thing: Most digital experiences aren’t ambitious. They aren’t much better than my Phish page or the sites I saw created through Dreamweaver and Flash at Macromedia in the 90s. Yeah, the technology behind digital experiences is better, but for the most part, the experiences they power remain decidedly un-ambitious.

Sounds like an opportunity to me.

Tesla has made ordering a supercar as easy as buying a roll of paper towels on Amazon. I can order a Dominos pizza through my voice, watch, or just tweeting 🍕to @dominos. Enduring companies and brands win through creating moments that matter.

That’s why I’m coming back to Acquia.

Developers rule the world

You can’t buy an ambitious digital experience. You just can’t. But you can create one.

CMOs buy digital experience platforms with the right intentions but underestimate the importance of developers and the role of the tech stack. It’s the difference between begrudgingly enjoying meal purchased from the frozen section of your grocery store vs. dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Most digital experience platform vendors avoid developers at all costs because they ask too many tough questions: Tell me exactly how your platform supports modern front-end architectures like React? What standards do you support? How exactly does your cloud platform scale? How do you manage and govern hundreds or thousands of sites?

Twilio and Atlassian have built multi-billion dollar companies by giving developers exactly what they need. Acquia gets this.

Open source delivers better innovation

Believe it or not, there was a time when open source was considered “risky”. FUD was rampant: open source isn’t secure! It’s not reliable. It can’t scale!

Once upon a time RedHat the only example of a successful open source company at scale. But then came Acquia, MongoDB, Mulesoft, Elastic, and many more. From the FAANG stocks to century-old Fortune 500 companies, now open source dominates every layer of the modern tech stack.

As more open source companies have gone public, there’s a growing trend to move away from licenses like the aGPL. Yet Acquia remains as pure of an open source company as there is.

Closed marketing clouds are still a bad idea

They were a bad idea (pre-cloud) in 2003 when Oracle released its Frankensuite that brought together Peoplesoft, Siebel, JD Edwards, and other legacy products everyone hated. The only thing unified was the license bill you received from your Oracle rep.

SaaS is prettier now

They were a bad idea in 2013 when I wrote this post on the Acquia blog about the rise of the Adobe Experience Cloud. Many years later, the foundational products behind Adobe’s Experience Cloud are still not well integrated and the problem is only growing worse as Adobe acquires everything it can to keep shareholders happy. Do I use Adobe Campaign or Marketo, not quite sure?

And yes they are still a bad idea now. I won’t show the obligatory Scott Brinker infographic to make this point, but history has proven over decades that innovation doesn’t come through product integration alone. While Oracle was busy assembling its Frankensuite, along came pioneers like Salesforce, Workday, and Netsuite.

Creating moments that matter

Machine learning is the next frontier of digital experience Let’s face it: website personalization hasn’t evolved much beyond simple A|B testing and the rules-based approaches I first saw at Interwoven. Mick MacComascaigh of Gartner has been talking about the idea of a “next best experience” for nearly a decade yet most personalization is nothing more than a last-in-first-out queue. Looking at you, retargeting.

One reason personalization remains a challenge is that customer data is stored all over the place. I’ll accept that, but I’m not okay with how companies like Facebook continue to abuse our my personal data in spite of new regulations like GDPR. Consumers want personalization, but on their terms.

I do think machine learning is the future of both creating and delivering digital experiences. There’s just so much that we can do to help guide users to create better content and deliver more moments that matter. While vendors brand their AI machine learning linear regression with cute names like Einstein and Sensei, the reality is that we’re very much still in the early days.

Creating moments that matter means embracing the entire customer journey. Today marketing teams have been restricted by tools that assume linear customer journeys that look like a funnel. But that’s simply not that case. A modern customer experience looks somewhat like a plate of spaghetti with nearly infinite twists and turns. We’ve evolved from delivering HTML files through a browser to delivering content everywhere through mobile apps, voice-enabled devices, screens, chatbots, augmented reality, and places we haven’t dreamed of yet.

Acquia has an exciting roadmap for both the future of customer journeys and machine learning. Stay tuned for more.

The rise of false clouds

Last week Lyft filed its S1 as its about to go public. I love reading S1s for the risk factors. The risk factor at Lyft that stood out was its relationship with AWS and a pre-committed spend of over $300m over three years. There’s was lots of armchair debate on Twitter over cloud economics and why Lyft shouldn’t just build its own bare metal infrastructure. The TL;DR is that it’s just too expensive and hard for almost any company to take on.

The cloud won.

Acquia pioneered delivering digital experiences in the cloud. Of course, these days every digital experience platform vendor offers something -as-a-service but when you really dig in, they are managed-services-as-a-service. They might not scale when you need it. They don’t offer than types of modern APIs that developers expect. They make it difficult to implement modern CI/CD best practices. They are optimized for a few sites, not thousands.

There’s just no better platform to build a digital experience than in than Acquia Cloud. As Steve Jobs used to say about Apple products, it just works.

Pick your boss, not your company

Over my prior three years at Acquia, I grew more than at any point in my surprising long wow I’m old career. My boss Tom Erickson challenged me in a way that made me a better person. I’ve never forgotten those three years: they were fun, challenging, and rewarding.

This time around I get a chance to work for Dries.

10 years from now, many of the products we use daily will go the way of Blockbuster. In 50 years, almost all of them will be a distant memory. Yet in 100 years I bet we’ll still be using Drupal. That’s a testament to Dries commitment to building a community that is bigger than any one person or company. It’s a privilege to be a part of something truly enduring.

Dries told me when I left in 2015 that we’d work together again. He knew then what I only recently re-discovered: that the excitement I felt creating my first web page in 1993 would turn into my life’s work.

“Little” Dries and I at DrupalCon Barcelona
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My 2018 Book Report

A year ago today, I challenged myself to read err listen to more books in 2018. Thanks to a long commute and Audible, I hit my goal. Here’s a quick review of all the new books I read in 2018 (in alphabetical order) with my unscientific rating at the end.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

This is the sad story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos.

Holmes isn’t exactly a sympathetic character having willingly put lives at stake by delivering inaccurate labs results to patients. But she had a big vision, and was making good progress towards it — albeit more slowly than apparently she was willing to accept. Had she played by the same rules as, you know, every other healthcare startup, Theranos would be on a much different path.

But she didn’t play by the rules. She lied. Defrauded investors. Put lives at risk.

To Holmes and her co-conspirator COO boyfriend Sunny Balwani, the illusion of success and the paper wealth it created were more important than the truth. Bad Blood highlights everything wrong with the current win at all costs mentality that permeates Silicon Valley.

10/10

Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang

I already knew most of the stories — Chris Sacca’s weird hot tub meetings. Susan Fowler’s awful experience at Uber. The creepy abuse of power from investors like Dave McClure and Justin Caldbeck. James Damore’s manifesto.

Taken individually they are a series of really, really bad decisions made by men. Assembled together by Emily Chang, it paints a clear picture of the signifcant obstacles faced by women and minorities in tech. From minor daily annoyances to outright harassment and criminal behavior, women in tech have had to put up with a lot of unnecessary shit. The irony pointed out by Chang is that the numbers show companies who hire more women in leadership positions perform better.

8/10

Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins

David Goggins is an enduarance athlete and retired Navy Seal. He has completed two Navy SEAL Hell Weeks, run 100 miles in 19 hours, run 135 miles in just under 26 hours, done over 4,000 pull-ups in 24 hours (a Guinness World Record), and completed the Ironman World Championships in just over 11 hours.

He’s absolutely crazy. Or is he?

One of the first points Goggins makes in Can’t Hurt Me is that “motivation is crap.” That’s because motivation disappears at the first sign of adversity. Goggins calls this the 40% rule — where we stop physical and mental pursuits way before hitting our actual capacity. There’s a reserve tank within, and only by pushing and breaking limits can we reach full potential.

To break through, Goggins calls on his mental “cookie jar” containing every setback he’s overcome in his life. And there’s lot of setbacks for him to draw upon. Goggins embraces pain and suffering to “callus his mind”.

Yeah, he’s pretty much the toughest man alive.

8/10

Dopesick by Beth Macy

Dopesick chronicles the opoid crisis told through stories of addicts and dealers in a small Virginia suburb. It’s the spiritual successor to the brilliant book Dreamland from Sam Quinones.

The introduction of OxyContin in 1996 affected society in ways we’re just now beginning to understand. Dreamland chronicled the ground zero of the opioid crisis — Central Appalachia. Dopesick expands on the story of how the crisis came into the suburbs, often through the I-70/I-81 corridor known as “Heroin Highway.”

The stories are so real and tragic. The injured high school football star who is prescribed painkillers but becomes addicted and dies of an overdose. The young addicts who are forced into dealing & prositution to support their habit. It’s trivially easy to get addicted and for many reasons, almost impossible to get clean for good. Dopesick makes it clear that the opiod crisis is getting worse, not better.

There are no easy answers. Opiates play an important role in pain management. For many, they are a godsend. But something has to change. Shame on Purdue phrama for bringing a product to market that was trivial to abuse. Shame on the doctors who overprescribed strong opiates for minor conditions. Shame on the pill mills who made opiates as easy to get as Skittles.

8/10

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Okay, so I’m torn on this one.

A lot of the advice make sense: It should be less crazy and more calm at work. “Growth at all costs” is a pretty shitty way to build a business. I hate it when people add me to random meetings with no context. Remote is the future of work. And Gary Vaynerchuk bothers me sometimes too. But stuff like this, I just don’t know:

How about something really audacious: No targets, no goals. You can absolutely run a great business without a single goal. You don’t need something fake to do something real. And, if you must have a goal, how about just staying in business; or, serving your customers well; or, being a delightful place to work.

Or

If you can’t fit everything you want to do within 40 hours per week, you need to get better at picking what to do, not working longer hours…. when you cut out what’s unnecessary, you’re left with what you need.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy and Work received great reviews from the general press, but my tech friends and I are more skeptical.

It’s a good read and there are some great actionable ideas in here. In particular I love the Office Hours concept, and I’m going to try it in 2019. But where’s the how? Where are the other examples beyond Basecamp? Does this only work at an n=1 sample size?

Basecamp feels a bit like the successful neighborhood store of tech companies. They built a business that works great… for Basecamp. But I’m not sure it would work for my company or yours. To be fair, Basecamp is honest about this.

But I think sometimes achieving great things requires sacrifice. A maybe a little crazy. Ask David Goggins about that.

6/10

Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World by Rand Fishkin

In Lost and Founder, Rand shares the story of Moz and what it’s really like to build and scale a startup. I really enjoyed the book and the cheat codes he provides based on the successes and failures he experienced building Moz to over $45m in revenue.

Rand teaches lessons through the lens of failure, which makes them much more real and actionable. Chances are that your startup looks a lot more like Moz than it does Slack, Atlassian, HubSpot, and the other hypergrowth rocket ship unicorn startups that you are likely to hear about at the SaaStr conference.

Stories like Moz need to be told loud and proud.

7/10

Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs by John Doerr

The OKRs concept came from legendary leader Andy Grove at Intel. Doerr saw the impact of OKRs when he worked for Grove at Intel. While at Intel, Andy Grove first implemented OKRs for “Operation Crush” — a project to achieve market dominance by taking down top competitor Motorola.

Doerr shared Grove’s OKR brainchild with more than 50 of his Kleiner Perkins portfolio companies, most notably Google. I’ve never worked at a company that’s used OKRs, but I’ve always been interested in learning more how they worked. And now I know.

7/10

Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi

I was there when Agassi first burst onto the tennis scene at the Stratton Mountain tournament in 1987. I was a young kid watching in awe as a 17 year old Agassi almost took down world number 1 Ivan Lendl with his huge topspin forhand. And huge hair! And huge personality!

Roger Federer is easily the best tennis player of all time and my personal favorite player will always be the great John McEnroe. But Agassi is right up there. I geeked out on all the tennis stories of his rise — fall — and rise again. Three things stuck out to me:

  • Sadly, Agassi hated tennis. It was work to him from the minute he landed at the Nick Bollettieri Academy.
  • Agassi used crystal meth during 1997, the worst year of his career. Wait, what?
  • And yes, his (in)famous hair was part toupee. Shaving his head was one of the most joyous moments in his life.

8/10

Principals: Life and Work by Ray Dalio

I’ll be honest. I had no idea who Ray Dalio was or what Bridgewater Associates did. The second is especially embarrassing as Bridgewater Associates is a long-time RapidMiner user.

I do now.

Wow, this is probably the best business book I’ve ever read. It really spoke to me.

In 1975, Ray Dalio founded investment firm Bridgewater Associates out of his two-bedroom apartment in New York City. Dalio started as a moderately successful commodity trader. After a few starts and stops, he learned that by analyzing historical patterns he could create machines that take inputs from the entire supply-chain of a commodoity — like a pork belly — and predict what will happen next and make better decisions.

Everything in business and life can be turned into a system.

Dalio’s Bridgewater operates on a principle called “idea meritocracy” — employing systems and methods to the best ideas come to make the best decisions. To do this requires “radical honesty”: Everyone has to be honest about their strengths and weaknesses in order to deliver the best inputs to the system. Each Bridgewater employee has a baseball card that lists their strengths and weaknesses across over 100 datapoints.

Dalio’s documents everything he believes in for both work and life as his “principals”. Here’s a good example of the type of insight you’ll read:

Just read it.

10/10 (David Goggins could get behind this!)

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

Shoe Dog is the story of the early days at Nike. It’s the anti-Valley success story. There were no insane growth hacks or unicorn funding rounds. Just the perseverance and grit of the “shoe dog” — Nike founder and Phil Knight.

Knight turned his running side-hustle passion project into a $30 billion business. Knight himself is worth $33b or so.

9/10 (Goggins approved)

The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by Gucci Mane

East Atlanta’s Radric Delantic Davis aka Gucci Mane is the founding father of trap music. He’s sold drugs, and been addicted to them. He’s been arrested many times. He was charged with murder (later dropped). He started writing his memoir while in federal prison.

It’s a fascinating story of drug-dealer-turned-rap-god. Gucci Mane began selling drugs in the seventh grade. By the time he released his first single So Icey in 2005, he had already been arrested and jailed twice.

Rap was his only path out.

7/10

Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwarzenegger

At 23 hrs and 21 mins this was easily the longest book I listened to in 2018. It was also one of the best.

Total Recall is truly an incredible story that boils down to simply setting goals with unrelenting focus on achieving them. NO ONE has a track record like Arnold. He simply refused to start at the bottom and work his way up like everyone else.

✅ Top bodybuilder on the planet

✅ Real estate mogul

✅ Top movie star

✅ Marry a Kennedy

✅ Governor of California

Look Arnold is flawed. You may not like his politics. Or the fact that he cheated on his wife + had a child with his housekeeper (he covers both extensively in this book). But before reading the book I didn’t appreciate Arnold’s ambition, motivation, and intelligence.

9/10

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Bad Bros and Bad Blood: a Summer Vacation Book Report

Hey kids: I know you hate all that summer reading you get assigned at the end of every school year. But when you grow up, you’ll discover that reading books is actually the best part of your summer vacation.

Here’s what I read on my summer vacation.

Brotopia — by Emily Chang

I already knew most of the stories — Chris Sacca’s weird hot tub meetings. Susan Fowler’s horrible experience working at Uber. The creepy abuse of power from investors like Dave McClure and Justin Caldbeck. James Damore’s manifesto. Taken individually, they are a series of really, really bad decisions made by men. Assembled together by Emily Chang, it paints a clear picture of the signifcant obstacles faced by women and minorities in tech. From minor daily annoyances to outright harassment and criminal behavior, women in tech have had to put up with a lot of unnecessary shit. The irony pointed out by Chang is that the numbers show companies who hire more women in leadership positions perform better.

One thing that really stuck out for me in Brotopia is the idea of hiring for cultural fit or — hiring people you’d want to get a beer with after work. In the real world, this translates to “hire someone exactly like you”. Chang proposes explicitly hiring for “cultural addition” i.e. people who can bring diverse experiences and perspectives. That makes a lot of sense to me.

While brainstorming writing this post, I wanted to think bro culture is less pervasive in the Boston tech ecosystem than in the Bay Area. But just last week, the MassTLC technology association announced the nominees for it’s annual leadership awards. There were 15 nominees in the category of CEO, CMO, and CTO of the year. Zero women.

(By the way MassTLC I’ll help you out: Carol Myers of Rapid7 should be the CMO of the year, every year).

Lost and Founder — by Rand Fishkin

In Lost and Founder, Rand shares the story of Moz and what it’s really like to build and scale a startup. I really enjoyed the book and the “cheat codes” he provides based on the successes and failures he experienced building Moz to over $45m in revenue.

Spoiler alert: it’s not always unicorns and rainbows.

The prevailing narrative is that every tech company is a hypergrowth rocketship that’s going to triple triple double double double their way to unicorn status. Yeah, on occasion this happens i.e. Box, Slack, Zendesk.

It’s happening at Drift right now.

But at vast majority of startups look more like Moz. Moz is a clearly a successful company. They’ve built a great product that users love. At $45m, they have significant scale. They are even profitable! But Rand admits he led the company through a series of bad decisions over the years, including:

  • Launching a slew of new of product initatives that failed.
  • Prioritizing investor feedback over customer feedback.
  • Failed “growth hacks” and that brought in a bunch of new users… who all subsequently churned and distracted the company.
  • Turning down a $25m acquisition offer from HubSpot. Note, that at HubSpot’s current stock price, Rand would have been worth at least a bazallion dollars by now had he taken the deal.

In the end, Rand left Moz — and it seemingly it wasn’t his decision. He seems like a solid guy, and I’m sure he’ll be a better entrepreneur after going through this experience. Thanks to Rand Fishkin for sharing these candid stories.

Bad Blood — by John Carreyrou

Okay, so this was the book I was most interested in reading on vacation. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down.

Bad Blood is the story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, the company she founded after dropping out of Stanford. If you’ve been paying attention, you know this story did not end well. Theranos is now all but over, and Elizabeth Holmes is currently facing a number of criminal charges.

Elizabeth Holmes was a brilliant narcissist with a vision that one day, a single prick of the finger would bring blood testing into every household. Holmes and her arrogant COO boyfriend Sunny Balwani created an extraordinary illusion of success, faking out everyone from Walgreens to investors who gave her $400m a $9b valuation. She created a Jobs-ian reality distortion field.

All without a product.

Well, Theranos did have a couple of products. Their first product was a device that could run a few blood tests, but it often didn’t work, and it couldn’t completely replace everything you’d get done in a real lab. So Theranos ended up creating their own lab to analyze blood using tried-and-true Siemens blood testing equipment. The Theranos innovation was modifying the Siemans equioment it to handle the significantly reduced blood volume captured by their pinprick device.

Of course the Theranos modification introduced a really big problem: the results weren’t accurate. Walgreens rolled out Theranos to stores in Arizona, and delivered tens of thousands of inaccurate labs results to customers. It took brilliant investigative journalism from Carreyrou to unravel the the insane amount of investor fraud and criminal behavior happening at Theranos.

My wife has spent her career in biotech working with the FDA on new drug applications. It often takes decades for companies to commercialize medical research to the point where it can be put into the hands of customers. This is real life and death stuff, but Theranos treated it like an a form of a beta SaaS application. They purposely avoided both the FDA and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, both of whom are charted to protect consumers from evil companies like Theranos.

To Holmes and Balwani, the illusion of success and the paper wealth it created was more important than the truth. Bad Blood highlights everything wrong with the current “win at all costs” mentality that permeates the Valley.

I experienced a similar situation after joining Autonomy in 2008. At the time, Autonomy was a tech powerhouse, well on its way to a billion in revenue. Autonomy sold to HP in 2011 for a massive $11b valuation. But less than a year later, HP had to write off a huge chunk of the aquisition over “accounting improprieties” and last month Autonomy’s former CFO Sushovan Hussain was convicted on a series of felony charges related to the acqusition. Like Theranos, Autonomy formed a distorted reality where low margin hardware could be sold as high margin software, and where deals sold to resellers never had to make it to the end customer to be booked as revenue.

Autonomy employees knew that something was way off, but the power of the distortion field was strong. I suspect Theranos employees look back and see many of the same warning signs I saw.

In the end, I feel like the Theranos story should have ended much differently.

Look, Holmes isn’t exactly a sympathetic character having willingly put lives at stake by delivering inaccurate labs results. But she had a big vision, and was making good progress towards it — albeit more slowly than apparently she was willing to accept. But had she played by the same rules as, you know, every other healthcare startup, Theranos would be on a much different path.

Shoe Dog — by Phil Knight

I saved the most inspiring and grounded story for last.

Shoe Dog is the story of the early days at Nike. It’s the anti-Valley success story. There were no insane growth hacks or unicorn funding rounds. Just the perseverance and grit of the “shoe dog” — Nike founder and Phil Knight.

Nike started out as Blue Ribbon with a $50 loan from his father. Blue Ribbon became the sole distributor of the Onitsuka (now ASICS) Tiger. Knight faced a series of obstacles, ranging from terminated bank loans to a lawsuit that could (maybe should?) have crushed Nike before it even got started.

Today, Nike sales top $30 billion and Nike’s swoosh is one of the most recognized logos on the planet. Knight himself is worth $33.7b.

Not bad for a guy who built his business initially as a passion project.

Go buy the book and read it. If you don’t like it, let me know and I’ll refund the cost 🙂

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How to do A/B/N testing in a Pardot Engagement Stream

Want to do A/B testing in a Pardot Engagement Stream? You can’t 🙁 Well, not without a little bit of customization.

Here’s a simple workaround for doing A/B/N testing in a Pardot engagement stream using a Salesforce APEX trigger.

I won’t get into the details of building an APEX trigger, so if you aren’t comfortable with adding code to Salesforce, ask your admin nicely for help. But it’s really pretty easy to do. The process looks like this:

  1. Create a new Lead field in Salesforce. Mine is called abRandom.
  2. Create an APEX trigger with the code below and deploy it.
  3. Create a new custom Prospect field in Pardot and sync it with Salesforce
  4. Add a rule to your Engagement Stream to branch on the random number you’ve generated.

Here’s the APEX trigger code to generate a number between 1–4 so that I can have up to 4 variations inside an Engagement Stream:

trigger assignRandom on Lead (before insert, before update) {
    for (Lead lead : Trigger.new) {
        if (lead.Testing__c == NULL) {
            lead.Testing__c = ( (Math.random() * (4-1) + 1));
            lead.Testing__c = lead.Testing__c.setscale(0);
            }
    }
}

Testing__C is the API name for a Salesforce field I created called abRandom (I probably should update that name, eh?).

This function will look to see if the abRandom field is empty and if it is, it will generate a random number for every Salesforce Lead. You can create a random number in any range by changing the values below i.e. if you wanted a number between 1 and 2 you’d change it to:

(Math.random() * (2-1) + 1)

Once the APEX trigger is deployed, all of your Leads will get be assigned a random number that will be synced to Pardot. Here’s what a Pardot Engagement Stream looks like with A|B branching based on the random number.

This example will split test two emails.

Pardot Engagement Stream w/ an A/B test

That’s it. I hope this helps! Maybe someday Pardot will add support for native A/B testing without workarounds like this 🙂

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Debunking Five Analyst Relations Myths

Analyst relations is easily the most misunderstood function in marketing.

I’ve been involved with analyst relations — or AR — for over a decade, working on dozens of Gartner Magic Quadrants and Forrester Waves. I’ve experienced the impact that analyst relations, when done well, can have on growth. And I know how much time and effort it takes to do it right. It’s not witchcraft nor is it a simple “spend more / do better” formula.

It’s time to set the record straight, so in this post I’m going to debunk five of the most common myths I’ve come across. Well, turns out this ex-mathematician is not great at counting, so I’ll be dubunking a bonus 6th myth as well 🙂

Myth #1: Analyst firms like Gartner are “pay to play”

Okay, so let’s start with the big one. No, they aren’t. Let’s kill this myth once and for all.

No matter how much money you spend on things like research subscriptions, strategy days, webinars, or events — you can’t buy your way into analyst reports and rankings. Companies who complain about “pay to play” are just bad at analyst relations. There, I said it. I’m going to focus on Gartner to debunk this myth, but the same concept applies to all of the major analyst firms I’ve worked with.

Consider the story of NetScout, who once tried to sue Gartner using the “pay to play” myth. NetScout wasn’t happy with its placement in a Gartner Magic Quadrant(MQ) a few years ago, claiming that:

Gartner has a ‘pay-to-play’ business model that by its design rewards Gartner clients who spend substantial sums on its various services by ranking them favorably in its influential Magic Quadrant research reports (‘Magic Quadrant reports’) and punishes technology companies that choose not to spend substantial sums on Gartner services.”

NetScout argued that competitors who spend more with Gartner ranked higher, and that Gartner salespeople implied that spending more money would improve their position in the Magic Quadrant.

Here’s how the Magic Quadrant works in a nutshell: Gartner evaluates vendors using a proprietary methodology honed over decades of research. Analysts apply this research methodology to form conclusions about vendors and markets, in a peer reviewed process. Magic Quadrants categorize vendors into one of four quadrants based on Gartner’s assessment of them in two dimensions: Ability to Execute and Completeness of Vision.

In this case, Gartner identified NetScout as a Challenger, pointing out feature gaps in their product and negative customer feedback. NetScout, of course, thought it should be a Leader and sued Gartner. The case never went to trial and eventually the lawsuit was dismissed for the obvious reason that Gartner is protected by the first amendment and Netscout couldn’t prove any malicious intent. Gartner is paid very well by its customers for forming a strong opinion based on its methodology.

Gartner analysts could care less how much you spend with Gartner, and there are firewalls in place to make sure even the appearance of a conflict of interest are minimized. Could a Gartner salesperson have hinted at a connection between investment and MQ positioning? Of course. I’ve never experienced it, but even if it happened, an organization of NetScout size knows better.

Now, time to contradict myself. There is indeed one case where it does help to pay — you should really consider purchasing an subscription, sometimes called a seat.

Every analyst firm I’ve worked with will encourage you to provide regular briefings — whether or not you are a customer. These briefings are a monologue not a dialogue, but they are a free way for startups / category creators to get some mindshare without the cost of a subscription. The minute you have evidence of product-market fit you should be doing this at least once a quarter.

But if you are in a market with a Gartner Magic Quadrant and/or a Forrester Wave, or if there’s likely to be one, then you should consider purchasing a subscription. A subscription provides you with access to all the written research from the analysts, and more importantly it lets you schedule “inquries” with them to get direct 1–1 feedback.

The single best thing you can do to improve how analysts view your company is to help them map your company and products to their vision for a market. To do this, you first need to understand what’s important to each analyst you speak with — the language they use, trends they see, and specific product capabilities they deem important. Once you know this, you can frame your communication in a way that directly speaks to each analyst, using customer references as validation points (more on references later).

Any vendor in a big enough market to warrant a Magic Quadrant is likely able to afford a Gartner subscription. Yes, subscriptions are expensive, but so are many marketing investments, including paid acquisition and events. Doing well in an analyst report can be one of the best ROI investments you’ll make.

The TL;DR is this: there’s value in paying for an analyst subscription to gain more access to analysts. It’s not required, but probably a good idea for a lot of companies — just like investing in Adwords or events is probably a good idea for a lot of companies. But beyond a subscription, paying more to analyst firms doesn’t move the dot.

What does move the dot? Your customers. Which brings us to the next myth.

Myth #2: Your PowerPoint slides matter

Wrong, sorry. Analysts see right through hyperbole laden BS messaging, Nascar logo slides, and highly produced demos with more special effects than a Michael Bay movie.

Look, analysts are see thousands of PowerPoint slides a year and unless you are Steve Jobs, chances are your slides aren’t going to impress them. What analysts do care about is the strength of your customer references. This is basically all that matters.

Sure, regularly update analysts on your company, positioning, messaging, pricing with PowerPoint slides. All good foundational stuff. But analysts are forming their opinion on you through their interactions with customers, both the references you provide directly, and the daily interactions they have with their client base. Analysts are digging deeply in your company and product through the lens of the customer. How much value have they received? How difficult was the implementation? How’s your customer support?

If you really want to really improve your position in an analyst report, stop worrying about creating better slides and instead worry about creating better customers.

Myth #3: Gartner is the only analyst firm that matters

No way. There are lots of analyst great firms who offer tremendous value to both vendors and end-user customers.

Of course everyone knows the obvious names like Gartner, Forrester, and IDC. They cover lots of markets and buyer personas, and produce the popular vendor reports that get CEOs and boards exited ie. Magic Quadrants and Waves. Vendors spend most of their time analyst relations times with them, and I think that’s a mistake.

It’s often the more boutique analyst firms who offer more insight and value. These firms often have a narrower focus and are able to dig more deeply into a specific market. For example, there’s no one who knows digital experience better than Scott Liewehr from Digital Clarity Group. Scott personally travels hundreds of thousands of miles a year to speak with the companies and agencies who implement digital experience technology. When a CEO or CMO in this market really need to get to the bottom of something, the first call they make is to Scott.

Another example is David Menninger, who covers data and analytics for Ventana Research. Dave’s background as both an analyst and (recovering) product marketer at bunch of successful tech companies gives him a unique perspective that many analysts don’t have. As a former vendor he speaks my language and provides good insight on messaging, positioning, competitive dynamics, etc.

There are lots of other firms like Digital Clarity Group and Ventana Research who serve more specialized audiences. My recommendation is start first by researching the specific analysts who are closest to the customer in your market, not the just the analyst firm they work for. Otherwise, you’ll be missing out.

Myth #4: You can move the “dot” in a Gartner Magic Quadrant

This is one of my favorites! Sorry, but this never happens. Let’s start with a quick overview of the Magic Quadrant process.

A new Magic Quadrant kicks off with an email to all of the vendors Gartner thinks are candidates for inclusion. Vendors are provided a specific set of criteria, and then asked if they think they meet it. Gartner vendor feedback combined with their own knowledge to come up with a final list of vendors to evaluate. Each of the vendors is provided with a long set of requirements and asked to provide reference customers. Each vendor is then given an opportunity to present to the analysts for 60 minutes or so. This process takes 2–3 months start to finish. Gartner then compiles all of the findings, going through an exhaustive process over an additional 2–3 months or so.

And then that moment when you get the email from Gartner with “FACT CHECK” in the subject. Sit down. Breathe. Open the email, and you’ll see where all the dots landed!

Careers can be made and destroyed by this one email. Exceed expectations and you are a forever a hero to your CEO + board. Do poorly, and well sadly I’ve seen people fired. True story: I once fell out of my chair and ran around the office screaming when I saw that Acquia had become Leader in a Magic Quadrant. Pro tip: you can’t tell anyone about it your dot position during the fact check stage, so make sure you have a good story already worked up 😉

Regardless, no matter where the dot lands, no amount of arguing, pleading, or begging is going to move it at this point. Gartner makes this crystal clear in the fact check process, but it doesn’t stop companies from trying. Take an any analyst out to dinner, and you’ll likely hear stories about all the irate phone calls they get from CEOs who are furious over the dot. I’ve been told it’s badge of honor when analysts get these calls from the likes of Larry Ellison and Marc Benioff.

Look, Gartner doesn’t care that you just crushed Q2, or that you never lose the the competitor who is ranked well ahead of you, or that you just raised a $100m Series C from every top-tier valley VC. They only care about their methodology. I’ve worked on a couple dozen Magic Quadrants over the years and I’ve seen a vendor dot move exactly once during the fact review process. Even then it was by such a miniscule amount that you’d barely notice it, unless you obsess over things like this like I do.

The time to move the dot is well before the Magic Quadrant process started. If the result isn’t what you hoped for, take the feedback, swallow your pride, and get started for next year. Whatever you do, don’t be that company whose CEO makes the angry Friday 5pm call. It’s not going to work. Send them this post.

Myth #5: Just becoming a Leader in an analyst report will double/triple/10x your growth

Hopefully, but usually not even close. Being a Leader helps revenue growth for sure, but maybe not as much as you think. Even then, it takes a lot of work to make the growth happen.

Jeff Mann of Gartner once put this fake Magic Quadrant together as an April fools joke, but there’s indeed some truth to it.

Credit: Jeff Mann https://www.gartner.com/analyst/26077/Jeffrey-Mann

The implication is that buyers prefer Leaders, ignore Niche, and are wary of everyone else. To prevent this, Gartner and other analyst firms have standard disclaimer language that encourages buyers to look more closely.

Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

Of course buyers should look beyond Leaders, and they usually do. It’s highly unlikely that your requirements directly map to the ranking methodology used by analyst firms. Often buying from a Leader is the worst possible decision you can make.

But being a Leader in an analyst report will absolutely get you on more short lists, which itself can be good or bad if you aren’t prepared. For example, when Ektron became a Magic Quadrant Leader in 2012, it got us into a whole bunch of new opportunities against much bigger competitors like Adobe. It completely changed the dynamics of our sales funnel. Deals were bigger, but took longer to close and were much more competitive. It was overall a huge net positive, but success didn’t happen overnight, and we still had to work hard at it.

It’s great to be a Leader in a Gartner Magic Quadrant or Forrester Wave, and companies who make it in for the first time should be very proud. It’s a huge PR moment. Your CEO, board, and investors will love you. It’s a good morale builder internally. But make sure you set realistic expectations about the growth impact it will have, and make sure you are prepared for the changes that will happen to your business as a result of it.

Myth #6: Your PR firm can manage analyst relations

Probably not, it’s a different skillset.

I’m sure there are some PR firms who are better at this than others, but in my experience, treating analysts as just another influencer channel is dangerous. I recommend two things if analyst relations is really important to your company.

  1. An executive should own it directly and consistently. Too many companies delegate AR far down into the organization, especially as they get larger. In my experience, having one executive own AR over a period of many years builds the sort of trust it takes to influence how an analyst thinks about a market.
  2. Always involve founders or whoever is the actual thought leader at your company in as many analyst interactions as possible. Analysts want to hear from the most credible sources, which isn’t your AR team or product marketers. At Acquia, that meant using Dries Buytaert as often as possible when speaking with analysts.

If you do need help scaling your program, look to agencies who specialize in analyst relations like Spotlight AR. They understand the nuances it takes to run a successful AR program at scale. (Disclosure, I was once a customer of Spotlight).

Want to learn more?

To demystify the black arts of analyst relations, here are the best analyst relations professionals + resources I’ve come across. Who/what am I missing?

Beth Torrie. I competed against Beth for many years, and she’s the best. I hope to never compete against her again.

Rick Nash and Andrew Hsu at SpotlightAR. They’ve helped dozens tech companies with their AR programs.

Joely Urton of Box. I’ve never met Joely, but a good friend of mine worked for her, and said she’s great. That’s enough for me.

Institute of Industry Analyst Relations is a not-for-profit organisation established to raise awareness of analyst relations and the value of industry analysts.

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What I Learned Building an App on the Drift Platform

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away — I was a Computer Science major at the University of Illinois. I grew up programming in BASIC on a variety of hardware, including my beloved TI 99/4A and then later a Commodore Amiga. My parents came up with a brilliant strategy to get me to learn to program — you want to play games on the computer? Build them.

But after graduating college I realized I was pretty awful programmer. I was working in QA at a software company, and I found out pretty quickly that I better find something other way to make a living. Since I was better at talking about technology than building it, I ended up becoming a sales engineer and then later, a marketer.

I’ve always felt that my tech background has helped my marketing career, a phenominon Scott Brinker wrote about way back in 2008. Marketing as a discipline sits at the center of science and humanity, and I’ve tried to balance the two in my career.

But sometimes you just feel the need to build.

Building a App on the Drift Platform

The Drift platform is a new set of APIs to allow developers to create and publish apps on Drift. I wanted to find a way to make it easier for our team at RapidMiner to learn more about the people we’re having conversations with.

I’ve been wanting to get back into coding as a #sidehustle thing, so I took at look at at one of the sample applications that launched with the Drift platform and decided to give it a try.

Every time we start talking to someone with Drift, we try and look them up in Salesforce to learn about them so we can make the converation more relavant. Salesforce has all of the usual information, but more importantly for us, it has all of the information about how people are using our products.

Our process with Drift at RapidMiner was to cut+paste the email address into Salesforce to look up a user. Sounds easy, but it takes time, and disrupts the flow of the conversation especially when we are juggling lots of simultaneous conversions.

So, I decided I’d try and build an app called salesforce-lookup that would make it easier to pull data from Salesforce into Drift. It takes the email address of the current user and returns a bunch of useful information from Salesforce directly into the Drift conversation. It looks like this inside Drift:

The app will automatically generates a direct link to the user in Salesforce, and returns information about the user, including the number of times and the last time they used RapidMiner. Simple for sure, but it saves a bunch of time for the team and lets us have more relevant conversions.

Here’s how I did it, and what I learned in the process.

Creating a GitHub Account

Okay, I already had a GitHub account, but had never used it before. Wow, GitHub is simple and useful. I can’t compare it to the all the old ways to manage code because I never used them, but it sure beats vi and a filesystem.

Apparently people still do use vi (and emacs). And there’s even a Wikipedia on editor wars. (I’m team vi, for the record).

Setting up Heroku

Heroku is an obvious place to run nodeJS apps, so I gave it a try. It was super easy to setup, and connects right to GitHub. Every time I pushed my code to GitHub it would automatically redeploy the app.

Learning nodeJS and Asynchronous JavaScript

Okay, now the hard part — building the app in nodeJS.

I’ve used client side Javascript extensively during my time as a sales engineer, but I never really appreciated how much its has evolved for server-side applications.

My breakthrough was learning that Javascript can be asynchronous, and that means it requires a bit more planning when building the app.

I had to string a serious of function calls together to make sure that I had all the information I needed at each step. That meant I had to learn all about callback functions (shoutout to Joel on the Drift team for explaining this to me).

For example, here’s a function that finds the Drift Contact Id for the user in the current converation.


In an asynchronous Javascript world, you don’t really have the Drift Contact Id variable until you execute the callback function GetContactId. Once I figured this out, I was able to chain together a series of API calls to Drift and Salesforce.

The Drift APIs were easy to use, but Salesforce was a bit harder. One of the best parts of nodeJS is the ecosystem, and I found a robust library called JSforce to help with the Salesforce query.

The hardest part was logging into Salesforce using OAuth. I had never looked at OAuth before, so I had to learn enough about it to access both the Salesforce and Drift APIs. Authentication to Salesforce is a little bit more difficult as you have to handle tokens that can expire.

Once I was able to authenticate, it’s just a simple SQL-like query to return what I needed for my app — the users name, company, and some details about their RapidMiner product usage. I can query any field we have inside Salesforce.

conn.query("SELECT Id, Email, FirstName, LastName, Company, Academics__c, Total_RM_Studio_starts__c, Last_RM_Studio_usage__c FROM Lead where Email = '" + emailAddress + "'", function(err, result) {

Then I put together the message…

// Build the Drift reply body
body = "<a target='_blank' href=https://na52.salesforce.com/" + Id + ">" + firstName + " " + lastName + "</a><br/>" + "Company: " + Company + "<br/>Total RM Studio Starts: " + totalStudioStarts + "<br/>Last RM Studio Usage: " + lastStudioUsage + "<br/>Academic: " + Academic

And lastly send the message back to the Drift conversion.

// Send the message
return request.post(CONVERSATION_API_BASE + `/${conversationId}/messages`)
.set('Content-Type', 'application/json')
.set(`Authorization`, `bearer ${DRIFT_TOKEN}`)
.send(message)
.catch(err => console.log(err))

I was glad to learn that the best way to debug things is still to output stuff to the console. That hasn’t changed since my days of debugging BASIC. At one point, I basically had a console.log every other line.

All marketers should learn to program

When I finally made this work (at 2am last night, just like in college!) it felt really great. There’s nothing like building something and seeing it actually work. Heck, someone has even forked my code already (looking at you Brian Whalley, good luck!). I’m sure my code is awful, but it does something useful, and it was really fun to build.

Steve Jobs once said everyone should learn to program a computer, and I agree. It helps you develop logical thinking (hey asyncronous Javascript), and many of the same concepts you learn in programming apply to lots of things we see as marketers. For example, your Marketo, Pardot, or HubSpot segmentation lists are just a complex boolean expression.

The advent of applications like GitHub and Heroku plus the availability of a massive variety of training resources make getting started with programming today easier than ever. Seriously, imagine getting a CS degree today without StackOverflow — yeah, that’s what my generation had to do.

function getContactId(conversationId, callbackFn, orgId) {
// Get the contact from Drift
request
.get(CONVERSATION_API_BASE + `${conversationId}`)
.set('Content-Type', 'application/json')
.set(`Authorization`, `bearer ${DRIFT_TOKEN}`)
.end(function(err, res){
callbackFn(res.body.data.contactId, conversationId, orgId)
});
}
// call back function
function GetContactId(contactId, conversationId, orgId) {
return getContactEmail(contactId, GetContactEmail, conversationId, orgId);
}