Category Archives: Innovation

Business Lessons from Agile Development

Reprinted with permission of the Community Magazine Network – because I posted it there 🙂

As a small startup with limited resources and outsized ambitions we have to constantly juggle our technical, and business, roadmap to take advantage of new opportunities and information. We’ve adopted the use of Agile development practices, or at least a variation of it. The purest SCRUM Master would talk about backlogs, sprints, and iteration – basically that means planning and prioritizing, short bursts of activity, then improvement once you see what you have to work with. Why do community magazine publishers care about this? Because this process is useful for business too.

created at: 2010-09-15It’s too easy to get consumed with the work at hand and work head-down without coming up for air. Some people call this working in the business rather than working on the business. Don’t get me wrong, this is a useful skill to possess but if you get off track (or in our business the track itself moves) then when you do come up to surveil your surroundings you’ll find you’re lost. More than that, an Agile approach teaches that some planning is good but too much is a waste of time – I may be paraphrasing.

Knowing when to keep moving full speed ahead as opposed to when to surface is a tricky thing and definitely something we haven’t mastered but I have two suggestions both of which are probably pretty obvious. 1. Go see customers, as I tweeted about my visit with folks who publish 425 & South Sound Magazines, getting that infusion of fresh perspective and energy is a great reality check against what you’re currently consumed with. 2. Schedule times to step back and adhere to it. If you don’t make time you’ll find yourself working on those things that are merely urgent and not necessarily important.

It wouldn’t be a corporate blog post if I didn’t gratuitously plug one of our services. Giving publishers and their teams the ability to step back, even if only for a short time, to share and learn from each other is the reason we created the members-only professional networking environment on MagazineConnect.com. There are a lot of publishers and each are dipping their toes into new things, we bring them together to share and learn actionable insights for their business while still leaving them time to run your business. End of sales pitch.

I’ll close with a football analogy now that we’re heading into the Fall – great offenses need to be able to pass the ball and run the ball. Sure, one sided offenses can be effective for a while or against a given opponent but champions can do both. They’re balanced, able to adapt, agile. Make sure your business is balanced.

No Medium is an Island

Isn’t print dying? Marketing dollars are all flowing online, right? These are samples of things I hear on occasion when I tell people we’re creating a brand called the Community Magazine Network. I’m big on prefaces so here’s mine: a magazine is both a medium and a story telling technique, generally they are one in the same and reside on paper but that will not always be the case. As a result, the word in our brand that I focus most on is Community.

All that being said, I was flipping through Inc Magazine (turning pages not swiping on a digital device) and what did I see? A print ad from… GOOGLE! Google is the company that prints money from it’s online ad network (oh, they do let you buy ads in other mediums too but that’s beside the point for now). There ad has a call to action that requires readers to go online, you can see you get a $75 trial so it’s a compelling offer for new customers.

What’s the lesson here? Digital is powerful but can’t do everything. The very first marketing class I took at APU talked about the importance of Integrated Marketing Communications and I buy into it. The premise is simple and extends the Reach x Frequency concept to say, you want action get your message in front of your target audience as much as possible and in as many (relevant) ways as possible. That means that brands need a diversified approach that includes a variety of mediums and messages.

Wouldn’t you know it but empirical research has shown that magazines drive web traffic and search more than other mediums. The key in all mediums is contextually presenting your message to the right group of people knowing that if done right the cumulative effect will have a whole that is greater than the sum of it’s parts.

Innovation Boom or Apocalypse?

The last 10 years has been pretty blah as far as innovation is concerned. Sure the web has evolved and we all love Facebook and Twitter and couldn’t imagine living without Amazon or Google (Bing anyone?) but these are all web properties and thus not very diversified.

Where are the medical breakthroughs, the truly revolutionary transportation inventions be they car or plane, even household tech doesn’t feel all that different other than flatter TVs. Clearly people haven’t been standing still but I don’t feel there have been many innovations or inventions that have impacted us in a how-did-we-survive-without-that kind of way.

As a consummate optimist I’m convinced that the next decade will see some pretty interesting breakthroughs that leave my son’s high school years looking very different from mine – and not just because he’s texting or listening to MP3s. My gut tells me that some of the biggest innovation will be around business models and service – the offline varieties (although I’m sure they’ll leverage the web).

What industries do you think are ripe for a leap forward?

P.S. I hate that people use innovation to describe any progress. Innovation is incremental, often a re-purposing of existing tech for new uses – often affecting the fat part of the bell curve. Invention is new in a that’s-never-been-done sort of way. Help me fight the good fight by replacing innovation with invention when appropriate.

We’re TechStars Finalists!

I was excited to learn today that we (Hyper Local Media) have been selected as finalists for TechStars Seattle 2010. As you can see from Andy’s explanation of what it means to be a finalist, we haven’t been selected but we’ve made it through to the more detailed review round.

TechStars is a great program that has been proven in just a few years to give startups a leg up. HyLo is off to a good start but we’d definitely stand to benefit from the insights and introductions that comes from being a TechStars company plus there’s something special about being a part of the first class of startups to go through the program in Seattle – from the way the community has already started to rally to the friendly competition that the selected companies will have that pushes all of them forward.

Well, I better start working on the stuff they requested. Hopefully in a couple weeks I’ll have another positive update.

Are Innovation & Evolution Really the Same Thing?

I am fascinated by evolution. It’s a controversial topic (+), science knows it exists but can’t explicitly determine how it works (+), our existence is a result of this mysterious phenomena (+). What’s not to like, you couldn’t make up this sort of drama? Of the literature I’ve read the punctuated equilibrium model where after eons of consistency something happens and as a result there is a dramatic jump in evolution (either within a specie or more frequently across many species) seems to me to be the best justification for evolution.

So what does evolution have to do with business? Well, you see, I’m a fan of Glee. I know I’m not exactly the target demographic but it’s a fun show and I recently read How Fox’s ‘Glee’ Married TV and Music in a New Money Making Model. It got me thinking that if it weren’t for the Internet and DVRs popping up and causing all sorts of havoc for network television Glee probably wouldn’t have emerged, at least not in the form we have today. For years TV remained pretty static, sure it went from B&W to Color and later Cable and Satellite emerged to add choices but the model remained the same. Until web video and DVRs changed things. The same is true of the music industry, it’s hard to imagine Glee selling as much music as it has if it weren’t for MP3’s dislodging physical media and the emergence of iTunes where people can watch the show and download music simultaneously.

So, while the dinosaurs in traditional media went extinct some evolved… and sure other new species emerged to fill the vacuum. All this has led me to a new question: does more innovation (valuable sustainable innovation) happen in steady-state as innovators see opportunities or has it been in a response to changes in the landscape that the greatest advances in technology, business process and business models have taken place?