Monthly Archives: April 2016

Friday morning walks with my mom

My mom has Parkinson’s. She has studied the disease very closely, and she does everything she can to minimize the negative impact. She takes a couple of different medications, and she seems to respond very well to them. She seems to be handling everything really well – she still just seems like herself to me.

A year or so ago, I started realizing that my mom might not be around forever and that I don’t spend enough time with her. To be clear, she’s very healthy overall, and she isn’t planning to check out anytime soon. I just noticed that I wasn’t spending enough time with her, regardless of her health.

By contrast, I manage to see my dad during the normal course of things, because we play golf from time to time, and he stops by during errands, etc. If we all go out to dinner together, I feel like I’ve spent time with my dad, but I need to have one-on-one time with my mom to feel like I’ve actually seen her. So about a year ago, we started taking a walk every Friday morning, and it’s been great. Exercise is good for Parkinson’s, so that’s an extra bonus.

Today was a cool, gray, slightly damp morning, and we had a very nice walk. We went a little bit earlier than usual today, and her pill hadn’t kicked in yet. It was interesting hearing her describe how she experiences things like that. As usual, we talked about life, philosophy, each other, and other family members. As usual, it felt great just to spend a little time with my mom.

I’m very lucky to have such a wonderful mom and to be able to spend time with her each week. If your mom is still around, don’t forget to spend time with her. Go give her a hug or give her a call … and maybe even take a walk with her.


This week i started reading Different by Youngme Moon. I’m about halfway through and really enjoying it.

I first heard about Professor Moon when I heard her speak at the 2010 Business of Software conference (a very important event for me).

Her basic point is that competing on the same BS marketing language everybody else uses (“new and improved!”) makes everybody the same – and the way to stand out is to be different … so STOP DOING THAT. Instead of trying to fix your weaknesses (or lie about them), focus on your real strengths.

As an example, think about Ikea – they’ve never shied away from their weaknesses compared to other furniture stores, yet their customers actually stick up for them concerning those weaknesses:

  • Their furniture is shoddy (“who wants to keep furniture longer than 5 years anyway?”)
  • The have few stores, so I have to drive far (“it’s an adventure!”)
  • I hate assembling it (“I hate waiting for deliveries even more”)

It’s very rare that a strength can exist without a corresponding weakness – everything is a tradeoff – so if you want the marketplace to embrace your strengths, you better be willing to embrace your weaknesses, too. I’ve always said for individuals that our strengths and weaknesses point to two sides of the same coin. Apparently, it’s true for organizations as well.

Even though we don’t have a whole lot of competition at Moraware, we still have a distinct perception in the marketplace … I want to understand better what that perception is so we can do what Professor Moon suggests: lean into our strengths and double down on them. Instead of trying to shore up our weaknesses (real or perceived), embrace them. It’s better to be something real with strengths and weaknesses instead of some bland caricature that stands for nothing.

This isn’t the easiest thing to examine, and I’m not the only stakeholder here – but my first take at our biggest strengths and corresponding weaknesses would be something like this:

  • Strengths: No-nonsense, stable, straightforward
  • Weaknesses: Unresponsive, slow to change, incomplete

I don’t know exactly what to do with that yet, but I think it’s true (at least as a perception of us it’s true). Our best qualities have predictable weaknesses as tradeoffs.

What about you? What are your organization’s strengths and corresponding weaknesses? How are you going to lean into those? Let me know in the comments or on twitter.

Aspirin Business vs Vitamin Business

A few years ago, I heard Rob Walling explain the difference between an aspirin business and a vitamin business: in an aspirin business, you don’t try to convince customers that they need your product. Instead your customers have a problem – a “headache” – and they know it. They go looking for a solution – your “aspirin” – to make their problem go away (or at least make it better).

On the other hand, if you have a vitamin business, you constantly have to convince your customers they need what you’re selling. Vitamins supplement our diet and supposedly make our lives better in some way – they promise to make us healthier, more vibrant, etc. In a vitamin business, your customers can survive without your product, so your job is to show them how much better their lives will be with it.

You can build a great company selling either aspirin products (like this one) or vitamin products (here’s one I use and one I don’t use), but it’s extremely important to know which kind you have and to be intentional about which selling approach you take. One of my favorite products, You Need a Budget, is so useful to me that I thought for a second that it was an aspirin company – but actually, they’re an extremely effective, high-quality vitamin company.

The company I work for, Moraware, is very much an aspirin company. Our customers reach out to us, typically as they’re growing, either with a scheduling problem or a quoting problem. We have a product for each, and our sales approach consists mostly of making sure that customers indeed have one of the problems we solve. Our ongoing product development approach attempts to solve those problems slightly better each day (an extremely slow process) and occasionally to solve a new problem (an even slower process).

Aspirin businesses like Moraware tend not to be sexy but instead try to be useful, consistent, and predictable. Our biggest responsibility is simply to make sure we don’t screw up our customers’ data, because our customers now depend on us to run their companies. Our biggest challenge is that our customers have many more problems that they’d like us to solve – most would prefer our regular-strength aspirin to morph into extra-strength (OK, I’m almost done torturing the metaphor, I promise). Unfortunately, even the tiniest improvement takes a long time to implement.

I often get frustrated that we don’t have every feature our customers ask for – and they get frustrated, too. What I’m ever-so-slowly learning is that we’ll never have every feature that customers ask for! Because of that, it’s better to focus on each customer’s problems that they’re trying to solve whenever they reach out to us. By focusing on their problems, then we’re in a better position to say “here’s how we can help” (whether it’s a great solution or a mediocre one) or simply “we don’t help with that problem, but maybe look in this other place.”

Over time, we’ve added significant capabilities to our products and will (slowly) continue to do so – but at any moment in time, we can only sell the product we have, which means we can only solve some kinds of problems well. It sounds so simple, but those end up being the problems we focus on – the ones where we actually can provide good solutions. That’s the essence of being an aspirin business.

Birthday reflections

Today was my 47th birthday. In most ways, it was just another day, but I got to enjoy a nice dinner with my family, and my parents even came over for cake after their line-dancing class. Life is good.

Since today was a work day, I spent time reflecting on my career. I tend to focus on things I haven’t accomplished … but today seemed like a good day to look back on all the good things I have done and to appreciate the work environment that I enjoy today.

I work for a great company with great people. I’m not solving world hunger, but I do help people build better businesses (albeit in an extremely narrow niche). I’m building new work muscles – particularly in the simple-but-critical area of helping customers. I work hard, and I learn something new every day. 

My job affords me the opportunity to develop myself and improve. I figure I have 10-20 more years left in my career, and I’m looking forward to finishing it strong. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to learn over the rest of my career, but I’m sure looking forward to figuring it out.

Onward and upward!