A plea from a friend in Egypt

Posted: February 23, 2011 in Reform
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The recent and current events in the Middle East are both deeply disturbing (in the cases of government brutality and uncertain futures) and at the same time providing the whole region with new-found hope of democracy and freedom. The events in Egypt have especially moved me, since I have many friends and ex-colleagues in and around Cairo. I’m proud of what the citizens of Egypt have accomplished so far and I stand firmly behind initiatives to stabilize and reform the country.

Today I received this email from my friend Rami Ayad, who is a very skilled IT professional having just started his own company:

Dear Ole,

Thanks again for your support

As you know, Egyptians are coming together to face the current challenges of revolution impacts; that is not clear for public until this moment; however the Intellectuals can see it according to the current indicators

some of this coming challenges is IT employment, for that professionals are going to lose their jobs soon;since there is a lot of IT professionals have been engaged on the Egyptian electronic government projects and others, but unfortunately the most of that projects will be suspended soon
In order that i am trying to help on solving that coming issue via my new software company to gain some opportunities could be helpful at the soon challenges

I am not claiming long history or good experience as company ; however my only objective is finding new job opportunities for good IT professionals, that can safe them suitable income ; so that i am asking your help if you are care and can support.

lastly, please let me say that all Egypt are working now, not to gain profit but to survive; so that we all glad to do our best with no profit.

Awaiting your relay

Rami Ayad

His words made a great impression on me. In fact, the way I see it, this is our opportunity to show solidarity with our Egyptian and Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in a very real way. Therefore, if you have any IT-related jobs within any of the major programming languages, please do consider Rami and his company. You’ll find details on his LinkedIn profile.

Rami – and the rest of you guys – good luck!

I just retweeted a tweet by Rob Markey passed on by my colleague Jacob Bøtter that said “If every company built its discipline on the Net Promoter Score, the world would be a better place” – Graham Button #nps2011“.

Without going into the ins and outs of the Net Promoter Score (NPS) it’s a unique way to measure, not customer satisfaction, but customer loyalty. It starts with one simple question: “On a scale from 0-10 how likely are you to recommend our company to a friend or a colleague?”. People answering 9 and 10 are promoters, 7 and 8 are passives and 6 and below are detractors. The stats prove it. Promoters are your ambassadors and allies; they actively and joyfully promote your company to friends, colleagues and family. Passives do none of all that and detractors actively engage in slandering your company.

We’ve used it for a while at Wemind and more than anything else it’s one of the best ways to engage everybody in dazzling our customers. It really changes behavior – and it starts with the employees. Said John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market: “Business is simple. Management’s job is to take care of employees, The employees’ job is to take care of the customers. Happy customers take care of the shareholders. It’s a virtuous [not a vicious] circle.”

Being involved in impressing customers and exceeding their expectations is such a rewarding activity that it has the potential to inspire and motivate us to whole news levels. Knowing that the customer will feel the same, will indeed make the world a better place.

Some would call my interest in the open data movement an obsession – and I guess they’re probably right. I’m convinced that once we open up all proprietary and closed data we’ll be unleashing one of the biggest, unresolved potentials in the world today.

My inspirations are Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the world wide web and linked data protagonist), Tim O’Reilly (open data and open source visionary), Hans Rosling (professor of global health and data visualization guru) and I admire the efforts of the likes of Streetfilms, who brilliantly document open data success stories in urban environments.

Here’s my current favourite video selection. Let me know if I need to add other shots to my Delicious.

Tim Berners-Lee on the next web

Tim O’Reilly’s speech at Gov 2.0 Expo 2010 – Government as a platform

Tim Berners-Lee: The year open data went worldwide

My favourite Hans Rosling TED talk

Streetfilms’ Open data in transit

Values that matter

Posted: September 21, 2010 in Company culture, Motivation
Tags: , ,

My good friend Rasmus is heading up a small digital media company, Contentcube, in Copenhagen. They are by no measure a big company, but that’s actually part of the charm in what I’m about to tell you.

Recently I asked Rasmus what really differentiates them from other similar companies. The answer had nothing to do with superior skills (although I can tell it’s there in abundance) or bleeding edge technologies. Instead he said that they always do what they say they’ll do – and in their business it translates into ”on time and on budget – always”. A pretty simple differentiator and yet it’s where most competitors fail (trust me, I know) and guess what: Failure to stay on time and on budget is the number one frustration factor for customers. It’s what pushes customers away.

So how do they do it? What makes them better than anyone else? To answer that question let me tell you how they recently celebrated a successful year. Rather than just paying out big bonuses or throwing a party, they decided to relocate the whole company to Berlin for the entire month of August (which you have the privilege of being able to do if you’re a digital media company). Why did they do that? Well, for starters Berlin, to Copenhageners, is the quintessentially cool place to go if you want edge, inspiration and spot new trends. And by moving everyone for a whole month they created that good old holiday camp atmosphere, which, in a new and unique way, brought people together and created strong bonds. When I recently mentioned this to Guy Kawasaki he said, “What a great story”.

But how do they do it on a daily basis? Well, this post was inspired by a conversation I had with Rasmus yesterday. He’d been collecting good customer stories for a while and had realized that magic would arise whenever a customer was impressed by something a Contentcube employee had done. Right down to the little things such as suggesting small improvements which the customer hadn’t expected or finishing tasks or jobs early. It’s not unlike the Zappos core value of always aiming to wow their customers – and it’s the exact opposite of the commonplace “just good enough” attitude you find in so many companies. Always aiming to impress customers, walk the extra mile, try harder and wow customers, inspires employees to be proud of and passionate about what they do. And pride and passion are the cornerstones of a great company.

Contentcube now has “aim to impress customers” as one of their key targets – and it’s something they’ve started measuring. Thumbs up for that and good luck to Rasmus and his team moving forward!

For more inspiration about measuring what makes life worthwhile, check out this Chip Conley TED talk:

In this past week I was fortunate enough to play a key role in the launch of DSB Labs – an open data community by the Danish Railways. For a while I have been following and been mesmerized by the open data movement, right across initiatives such as Tim Berners-Lee’s (TBL) Linked Data, Tim O’Reilly’s (TOR) Gov 2.0 and Barack Obama’s data.gov. I like TBL’s analogy of data being the unhidden goldmine no one can see on the surface, but whose potential is profound – and I totally agreed with TOR’s mantra to redefine government’s role to that of “government as a platform” as opposed to a vending machine of ready-made citizen services.

When you look at data in that light, all of a sudden the release of locked and proprietary data becomes one of the biggest untapped potentials in the world today. A cause worth fighting for. With DSB Labs we’re obviously focusing on the daily needs of commuters and travellers, but if we move beyond travel, open data has already proven to be an excellent crowdsourcing aggregator. During last year’s Haiti earthquake open data helped the relief efforts in a very real way, when GeoEye allowed the open source community to use its satellite data to allow people all over the world to edit the Open Street Map and thereby greatly facilitate efforts on the ground. Impressive – and that’s just the beginning.

My vision is to see all non-confidential data – commercial and public alike – released worldwide to allow all creatives, developers, nerds, visionaries, well, frankly, all citizens to offer their angle on data, because – in the words of Jacob Bøtter (see video below) – the data owners don’t have all the answers.

I had the pleasure of interviewing and filming some of Denmark’s open data protagonists last week and ended up producing this video for DSB Labs. A subtitled version will follow.

Thanks to the following visionaries for making DSB Labs possible and/or for making themselves available for the video: Henrik Jessen, Ronni Egeriis Persson, Kim Jonasen, Kristian Stangerup, Nursel Yildirim, Anne Mette Koch, Rasmus Viemose, Simon Bønløkke, Jacob Bøtter, Søren Rindal Nielsen, Tore Vesterby, Klaus Silberbauer

We had been struggling with our dishwasher for a while. Plates, forks and knives came out dull (and not at all clean and shiny the way they were supposed to). It really is a major pain in the neck. I don’t know about you, but with these kind of things I always feel it’s my own damned fault – for not rinsing the plates properly, for not using the right kind of soap, for not adding enough salt (or using the right kind of salt), dishwasher rinse, water hardness settings and what not. You get the picture.

It’s one of those things in life where you really have to rely on an expert, although in the past I have always felt somewhat at loss with dishwasher service technicians – not that we’ve had a steady flow of them – but I’ve always felt they either didn’t give a toss about me as a customer, just wanted to get the job done and out the door as soon as possible or needed to charge me an outrageous fee for something they couldn’t even bother explaining to me.

In the end we had to call Bosch (the manufacturer) and so we set up an appointment. And this is where I was taken by surprise. I’d expected the usual anonymous, know-it-all, couldn’t-care-less kind of chap, but instead this real pro showed up. I won’t bother you with all the technical details, but let me say this: After 20 minutes I felt like an expert. I really rarely come across the kind of person who displays such pride and commitment in his job – in a genuine, not over-the-top kind of way. While he was working, he explained to me about the latest generation of low-energy dishwashers, properties of different types of soaps, the workings of salt, the importance of rinsing and dishwasher life expectancies. In the end I started to feel a bit emotional towards our 6 year old dishwasher…

Anyway, the message is this: The service technician, by simply enjoying and being proud of his work, had a dramatic, positive influence on my perception of Bosch, his employer. In fact, if you asked me right now, I wouldn’t dream of buying another brand, which brings me to my last point: A great company brand is a result of a great company culture, which in turn produces inspired employees, who wow customers. You really can’t fake it.

Oh, and by the way, the dishwasher runs like a Rolls-Royce now!

Those of you who have to listen to me every day or several times a week know that my conviction is that your culture is your brand. It’s one of the cornerstones of the world’s most celebrated online companies, Zappos, it’s the foundation of Chip Conley‘s boutique hotel chain, Joie de Vivre, and it permeates all the great business minds that I know of.

Yet, for so many years it’s largely been a forgotten virtue. Companies, organizations and cities have talked about rebranding themselves as if your brand is a coat you can buy, wear and discard at your convenience. Many companies have tried and failed.

I recently wrote a post about a local ferry company, Mols-Linien, who, in their 2009 annual report, announced the biggest advertising spending ever to “rebrand” the company in order to become more profitable. The advertising campaign had nothing to do with their culture (and actually ended up insulting a large population group – which is another good story). At the peak of the national television campaign a famous TV chef decided to test the restaurant on board one of the ferries and gave it one of the most appalling reviews I have ever come across (and 95% of all online readers agreed). The food was ridiculously expensive and the quality abysmal. When I investigated further into the company, I found that the ferry company just happened to be hiring chefs for their restaurants at sea – and alarmingly I realized that chefs, among very few requirements, had to have experience with just basic cooking and have a high stress threshold. Imagine that: Unskilled chefs cooking, under stress, with sub-standard ingredients at Michelin star prices. No wonder why the restaurants weren’t doing too well – and it also gave me a pretty good impression of the type of company culture (or lack thereof) you’d find on board one of those ferries.

The case of Copenhagen
Now, this is really just leading up to the real purpose of this post: The case of Copenhagen (you know, the venue of last year’s failed climate summit, the home of The Little Mermaid, at least when she’s not abroad visiting China, and Tivoli Gardens – you get the picture).

Last year, The Danish tourist council, VisitDenmark, decided to launch a covert branding campaign (you know where this is going, right?). They hired a young Danish actress and shot a 3-minute amateur video, in which the actress pretended to be Karen, a young single mother. The video was put on YouTube and in it Karen explained that this was her last resort trying to find the father of her baby son (featuring on her lap), who was conceived with a stranger (a foreigner) on a hot summer’s night in Copenhagen. Not surprisingly, within a very short space of time the video had generated several million hits and at first people were debating the authenticity of the video and soon after who was behind the stunt. Well, within days it was revealed that VisitDenmark was the culprit and that’s when the criticism started – both in Denmark and in several other countries.

The idea was to generate traffic and attract visitors by portraying Denmark as a country with liberal, open-minded, blond people, but instead Denmark came across naive and silly (at best). Shortly after VisitDenmark removed the video from YouTube, they closed all related websites and made an official apology. The video shown above is therefore a pirate version with much fewer hits than the original.

Wearing my your-culture-is-your-brand hat I would have to conclude that the campaign had to fail (if not instantly from the criticism, then at least longer term from the fact that it was a fairly lame fake that didn’t represent what you’ll find in Copenhagen).

Cycling Copenhagen, Through North American Eyes
The contrasting video (below) by Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson, Jr. was filmed during the Velo-City 2010 conference in Copenhagen in June 2010 and released in July 2010. It wasn’t sponsored by or paid for by anyone. It’s there because of Copenhagen’s unique cycling culture. No more, no less.

The contrast to VisitDenmark’s Karen video is striking and it begs the rhetorical question: Does it make sense to spend your money and efforts on a branding effort or on creating and developing a unique culture? You see, the same rules apply to companies, organizations, politicians – and cities.

Read the growing number of comments on Streetfilms.org.