Ageism and categories of irrelevance

I take people pretty much at face value.

I don’t group them by gender, race or religion. I’m basically category and prejudice blind.

A series of posts, one by Fred Wilson on Ageism, caught me off guard around the idea of being locked in and limited by these cultural groupings. Specifically ageism.

What struck me in the comments of Fred’s post was that age was a hard and fast market bracket, something to be overcome.

One commenter asked what the breakdown of his portfolio CEOs by race, background and gender was.

My response was who cares?

What you measure is what you use as a metric for value. The last thing we need are categorical measures that divide and discourage diversity.

Who of what age is doing what is, of course, data, but neither relevant nor I think very useful.

In my naïveté, I was a bit blown away that there was a downward stigma attached to it.

We all know that pro basketball is a younger person’s game, but I didn’t think that carried over to CEO, CFO, marketers, sales people, corporate account managers and on and on.

At the core of this is not age of course, it’s relevance and group dynamics.

Discomfort with age diversity within groups is a trend that, while understandable in some respects, has a rough and stupid side to it.

The rub is that ageism is not about how our parents will get treated. It’s about the 40 year olds in 10 years, the 30 year olds in a decade if they aren’t VPs and the entire turmoil in the fat part of the employment marketplace for whatever group is right of center at the time.

It’s also about how our culture is addressing (or ignoring) the reality that our lives are now 20+ years longer and that extra decade or so of productive work is in the middle, not the end.

And that in a world excitedly embracing entrepreneurship as a mass market occupation identified with youth, ageism is a problematic piece of the puzzle.

One that I never thought about much  til a week ago when I read in post after post that in your 50s and 60s, your relevance, except for the exceptionally talented or successful, was fading to grey. Literally.

I challenge those who are funding and staffing this generation of new start ups to think about diversity cross ages and experiences as a plus.

I’m not a head in the sand type of individual.

I’m also potentially not the norm here as I’ve packaged my extensive experience as the very definition of relevance to a new world. That’s what I sell.

Of course age does indeed matter. We see it front and center.

We worry about it from the age of the candidates we elect to public office.

We want to hire young unattached people who will work 24/7 and buy into the dream.

We sit back as executives and think that some spots on our teams are best for the analytical or the creative, the experienced or the just break the wall down types. We know that carrying a bag three times a year for thirty days at a shot is just not suitable to all.

Diversity of age, impacts teams and dynamics and fit. This is as much reality as age itself.

I love New York at dawn now, as that is when I like to begin work, get on Skype with European clients and write.

Back in the day, dawn was breakfast at Lucky Strike in SoHo then heading home after a long night out. As the song so rightly goes–Oh – Blah – Di, Oh – Blah – Da.

To be clear, as an advisor, my clients are invariably younger than I am. Some considerably.

We get along better than fine. We work like maniacs together. We do dinner, and I choose the wine. We even go to the gym, do floor intervals and Burpees.

Afterwards though, they go out to clubs and I grab a movie on my couch with Sam the cat and start the next day at 5 again with purpose and energy.

All is good. This is as it should be.

Do you think layering in people from culturally different backgrounds was not disruptive at one time? No question.

Do you think that layering teams that are as diverse as society itself is a new way to work? Without a doubt.

The market is changing, as is the workforce and the level of talent at a younger and younger age is a reality.

People whom I work with are smarter, more mature and aware of themselves than I certainly was at their age.

Brilliant actually at times, but with a narrower focus as they simply don’t have the exposure and breadth of experience as yet. I provide that. I mentor their teams. More diversity on the teams would not but help.

A while back, in some string on Facebook I made a comment about being in the middle of life. A dear friend (and I know exactly who this is) said ‘In!! middle age’. I told her oh so politely to fuck off.

Age can sometimes be a number with benefits.

Be open to it.


Dreaming the future

I had a waking dream about a world where our identities were completely decentralized.

Where there was a coin, like Bitcoin, that held securely who we were as we traveled around the web and lived life. Where URLs were irrelevant. Where place online didn’t matter.

Where the web just served me whenever I needed it with a tap on my phone. Where everything was secure and the middlemen across a multitude of industries were burnt toast.

Where democratization of information was not a risk, but a necessity to kick start change.

And where transparency always seemed the right choice without the horrid compromises that certifications and standards demand.

I thank Albert Wenger’s excellent post yesterday for this fueled inspiration and now, Fred Wilson’s post today, for the whisperings of a new and different world. And some telling comments from Brandon Burns on both posts.

I’m listening and can’t stop thinking how this impacts just about everything, from how we live to how we market our companies.

Of course, this idea of a distributed identity, decentralized coined reality and transactions is not the real view from my window today. It’s not something that is really actionable.

Or is it?

Is it behaviorally already there in pieces? Has the market and culture already shifted with technology as the lag?

Usually big shifts like the Internet happen–then culture slowly intersects, verticalizes them to our behavioral needs in every imaginable form.

Bitcoin and transactional systems aside. A protocol of value aside. Even the absolute of decentralized identity aside as well—change in the market is already afoot.

The web and the big identity platforms are unbundling before our eyes. Even the marketplace itself is following suit with transactions part of where we discover what we want, not where we necessarily go to find it.

Do people really make a choice between using Facebook, What’s App, Twitter, Instagram and others? Not at all.

Are our identities really tied to just one of them today? I don’t think so.

All of the platforms are sub- and supersets of each other. How we sign on is not really who we are.

Everyone is on Facebook and Instagram though the communities in each are very distinct. The same picture posted in each will gather a mostly different set of people. This is true from platform to platform and app to app.

Bitcoin or something akin to it will certainly happen. A decentralized identity—maybe—but the change they represent to how we live, work and market is already in process and our common ways of doing things in flux.

I discovered Wollit this morning. A Bitcoin-based, cause-focused fundraising site. It’s scant and early, not well explained yet just felt very right. A Mcluhan-esque approach where indeed it makes sense as form and content become one, feels like a norm that has already become part of us.

Even from an everyday use case, pre the coin becoming tamed and ubiquitous, it’s already a behavioral layer in how we act without understanding a thing about the protocol.

It’s front and center in how groups and communities are formed today.

Most all group structures are horrific, yet we form groups and communities every day. We cut through different platforms forsaking the idea of a centralized place with a basic need in time. (Check out Vintage141 as an antidote.)

The market already understands decentralized realities all to0 well in how we act and connect with people on the web.

I started this rant with a jolt, fueled by a rush of Bitcoin intellectual stimulus with decentralized identity as the chaser.

Bitcoin is a wondrous mess and the most interesting thing happening on the web today. Most don’t understand it, most will ignore it till smart people build services that do something that matter. And just works.

That’s our birthright as consumers to demand this.

When that happens, it will spread like crazy, as people already live a semi-decentralized reality today.  Its inefficient,  but we are comfortable with it. Most of us simply embrace and incorporate the new when it does the job or sparks the imagination.

When Bitcoin is stable, my bet is we will use it without the need for education. We already understand the idea and act on it in human terms every day.

But the big realization—and the big upside to me—is that everything is yet again going to get turned on its head. A whole generation of new apps and solutions will flood in. A whole new way to market and connect new values with customers will be discovered.

The market will simply take it in stride, and adopt it as their own as it just makes sense.

They did it without fuss or bother when social became platformed because the behaviors were already present and the upside, enormous. They will do it again I think for very similar reasons.




Citibike…urban product design at its best

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I really love Citibike.

It’s transportation that works almost perfectly as designed. It makes my life better.

A solution built for what myself, and hundreds of thousands of others, needed without knowing. Without ever really asking, lobbying or fighting for. A gift from the transportation gods.

The numbers at a glance show instant market alignment.

Since launch on May 27th of this year, 6.6 million miles in 45-minute hops have been logged by 6,000 bikes at 330 locations by 285,000 users, mostly in downtown Manhattan.

As a New Yorker and obsessive urbanite, every time I jump on a bike, which is often, I’m enthused by how much it has improved my life.

As a marketer, who connects products and markets for a living, it’s the epitome of a product launched into an impossible environment with hardly any public hiccups. One that changed the human landscape of this immensely complex metropolis in demonstrably positive ways.

And potentially may ever be a profitable model within an astoundingly short time.

As a user

Transportation in New York is serious business and now has a rock star new kid on the block with Citibike.

Alongside the subway, cabs, call-a-car solutions like Uber, and ZipCar. Not six months in, Citibike has earned a spot on the transportation line of apps on my iPhone. It’s part of my getting-around rooster of tools.

Why does Citibike really matter to me?

Here’s a common scenario.

I’m in TriBeca and need to go to Meat Packing District, wearing gym clothes or a suit, weather permitting. I hop on a bike (there are 5 racks within 10 minutes of my apt) and I’m there in 15 minutes and hop off.  To the East side? Same drill, 20-30 minutes for the ride. It takes about one-third as long as any other method with no fuss, no waiting for a train or sitting in traffic. It costs a whooping $.27 a day with a yearly pass.

In my downtown world,  anything south of Madison Park, from river to river, to dinner or to work, this is always a viable option to get from here to there..

Take a look at the humanity hopping on and off these bikes at any busy rack.

Every possible type of person, from tourist with tour book in hand in Swedish or Japanese, to bankers, to families, to people commuting to work,  to me.

It just works.

From late Spring when it started with 3.000 users on day one, through the Summer and now Fall, there are almost 300,000 users with some 90,000 annual passes. A home run.

Who knows what Winter and snow will do to the bikes and my excitement with them.

But for now, this is one giant step to making NYC—an impossibly busy, crowded and expensive city–just easier, approachable, more human, and of course, more environmentally sane.

 It ain’t perfect but do we really care?

When you are in a rush and the bike racks are full at the most convenient destination, it surely does suck.

When you were counting on a bike as transport and there are simply none there, this is bad. It happens, though way less than it did in the beginning.

There are nits as well. Bike adjustments that won’t tighten and gears that slip. And an app that while great at finding where the next location is, is useless at predetermining whether there are open slots to park or bikes to use.

This isn’t bike rental, it is transportation. And this is New York.

Every day subways during rush hour are too jammed to let you in. Or running late.  Or cancelled.

I’ve been biking in NY for years.

There were less bike lanes, and for what I use Citibike for today, I had to schlepp my bike out of storage and carry chains around to lock stuff up.  And worry generally about theft, safety and weather.

The value of Citibike as a community service is infinitely more important than all the annoyances and imperfections that come along with it.

There seems to be a real business here.

I believe Citibank put in $41M to get this started.

As of September 15th, Citibike had generated $10,067,819 in fees, excluding overtime charges. The goal of $36M per year over time in revenue seems like a slam dunk. I don’t have any insight into operating costs and details, but I’ll take these gross numbers as an indication that this is trending well.

So let me see:

New York is a town where getting a permit is a serious nightmare.  Getting stuff done is daunting for the most staunch and perspicacious, and the most wealthy and insulated alike.

Citibike had to change the very fabric of our streets. Build bike lanes, remove parking spots and meters, change the look and feel of old and affluent neighborhood streets. And add 6,000 people on two wheels, tooling around south of Madison Park during any given 45 minute period.

There was no real marketing or advertising that I noticed. No deaths that I know of, and rumored few accidents.

All this work and change so I could get to where I need to, easier and cheaper. Nice of them!

And as a tax payer, this seems to be net positive from the outset as taxes will be generated (I think) and paid into the city coffers.

Not too shabby.

Lessons that jump out from this.

This is a great analog for all of us who build products and companies, brands and customer service organizations.

It’s a case study in taking a real human problem and solving it by providing a service that does one thing really well. In using the web as an on ramp to add efficiency to activities on the street.

And proof that there are things that done simply and clearly can indeed change the world and how we live in it.

I took a ride this morning to the West Village to get some supplies. (A thirty minute round trip!)

Three core marketing lessons jumped out at me as I was riding along:

1. True user value makes the seemingly impossible an insignificant barrier

If my numbers are right that this was built for $41M, I’m in awe.

The software, the bike design, the permits, the approvals, the physical process of changing the streets. Then the infrastructure to make it work and keep it updated.

All that, so in 6 months, hundreds of thousands of  people like myself can blithely walk down the street, get somewhere with ease, with no instructions, no fuss or bother.

If you are touching on something that truly can matter to a sizable market, the end can really justify the severe pain of the means.

2. Consumer behavior is remarkably malleable

Marketers and business builders rightfully fear the idea of having to educate a new mass market. The idea of teaching consumers new behaviors is a costly and long nightmare. You always want to extend what consumers are doing, not add something potentially alien and disconnected. Possibly wrong.

Bike share is albeit not a new concept. I used Veleb in Paris 6 years ago and bike shares everywhere from Vienna to London. But this is New York!

People said it just wouldn’t work. That there would be consumer blood on the street every day from trucks wiping out tourists. That this is just not how we do things here.

They were wrong. The behavior was either there and very latent. Or the market had some weird vestigial drive to jump on a bike and that Citibike simply created a platform to exercise that need.

I don’t know.

I do know that bike share for New Yorkers is as much a part of life moving forward as well…those really recent digital signs on the subway platforms! How did we ever get from here to there without them.

Was this project a risk?

A huge one and Bloomberg’s legacy depended on it.  I think that his legacy will now be built on this as one of his (and the city’s) biggest wins.

We all create things that don’t work, more often than not.  This one did…and really well.

 3. A truly great product has marketing built in

Citibike’s marketing is built into the product itself. The ease of use and the clarity of why it is here and what it is best at.

They made tough decisions like where to deploy and I’m certain, made lots of enemies in the process. And important, little things, like that real people answer the phones when you call with a concern.

Citibike does one thing really well. It let’s you get from here to there without fuss. This is a really big deal. That is the positioning, the promise and what is delivered. Thousand of people signed up walking by and hopping on for a ride the day it started.

Not everything is perfect with this service. But it never made me crazy like a lost file on my laptop, a Zip Car with no way to get back to the garage, or going out of cell range on an important call.

Very few things of grand scale get done good enough the first time around.

Most products have to work amazingly hard to find an audience and most never do. The winners evolve and iterate to find their right pace and market connection. And in almost every case, what and how we think will work, invariably doesn’t.

Not this one.

Well done Citibike!

We all win as New Yorkers and tourists.  And the New Yorkers who ride their own bikes win with more paths and a more friendly bike culture.

As marketers, we get a living example of how things do at times, in spite of everything, just come together and feel like they belong from the very beginning.


Do share your own experiences with Citibike or bike shares wherever you use them.

Numbers for this post were taken from this Newsday article.

Back to marketing basics

The web is like junk food to a generation of marketers.

They chew on it because it’s there. It’s like muscle memory doing the same thing over and over because it looks good in the mirror.

It’s often exercise without form or results.  And worse—we do it simply because we can.

I seriously love the web.  How it has changed our world. How it has reconfigured how we build brands and sell products. How it has turned upside down how we interact how with our customers.

It’s dark side is that while it has made the impossible plausible, and  everyone a marketer and a brand, it has created a generation of posturers, along with an echo chamber of deafening noise.

And I’m personally not exempt from the lure of vanity cruising. The behaviorally insane truth that I care if someone likes a picture of Sam, my cat (as wonderful as he certainly is!). Of mistaking activity with work.

Social porn is fun to play with—it’s just not marketing.

BACK TO MARKETING BASICS is a message in all caps I have on my computer screen this week. It is not retro in the least, nor a call to a better, simpler past. Not at all!  It is all about core behavioral values and market truths.

The opposite of social grinning is not advertising. Not email. Not SEO. Not any channeled tactic over one or the other.

I believe that marketing starts with belief and intent. Period.

My biggest lament about most marketing I see, is that is all exclamation points. It’s all trolling to discover themselves in the eyes of the customer. It’s like politicians taking polls to discover what to talk about.  Kind of insincere and invariably unsuccessful. Heartless and substanceless.

Define marketing basics?


1. Internalizing the core value of who you are and what you sell

If you don’t know who you or your company is, get to work and figure it out.

You may not be right forever but you need to know in your gut that this is what you are about right now.

2. Acknowledging the difference between core value and market fit

This is my favorite one. Market fit is not a reflection (usually) of what you believe in. It is a mashup of belief, the economics of your value, how you deliver it and to whom. Ninety percent of what people call ‘minor pivots’ are not about core value at all. They are about iterating market fit.

Iterating beliefs is strictly for amateurs, not the serious or inspired.

3. Talking to customers in their own language

Marketing is about what you don’t say and how what you do say is heard. Iconization of customer needs is the art; choosing language is the craft. If you are dumping Instagram photos and Tweets to Facebook, Tumblr posts to Twitter without thought, you are doing more harm than good. It’s just exercise in a vacuum.

4. Sell value  by understanding customer behavior

If you believe in your value, don’t gently nudge it forward but smartly and passionately sell it. In almost all cases we aren’t selling a better barbecue, we are selling a different approach to eating. Find the language and the passion, giving the customer the way to opt in to the discussion, then sell away. Here’s a post on selling value.

Understanding why a customer would respond defines the language and context of how you sell. If you can’t understand, on the social web, why a customer should care enough to share, why are you bothering? Here’ a post on just that.

5. Respecting the market’s attention span

Attention is the currency of the market. Customers opt in, give you their time, out of respect.  This is a gift to the lucky.  Take this opportunity seriously. This doesn’t mean you are all serious–or even perfect.  Honest intent will trump form every single time.

I disdained survey marketing when it was the vogue. I disdain the easiness of ‘what do you think’ or ‘discuss’ as leading the customer to a conversation. It invariably is a bright light on the Exit sign and a quick slide unsubscribe and unfollow link. Teaching is not leading necessarily and the market is not your classroom.

Don’t waste anyone’s time is as true a goal as you can have.

 Thinking before you act is not overrated

I try and consider these five core basics before I act each and every time.

These are building blocks of strategy. They often determine organically how you determine the channels  you should target, the language you should use, the offers you should make and the messages you want remembered.

Some stuff just works on email. Some segments just rock on Instagram and hit the floor with a thud on Twitter. Markets and messages are channel specific.

I’m all about understanding craft. I’m very much a believer that each channel for communications has its rules-of-thumb that we need to become masters of, from know when to post and understanding the value and limitations of the analytics you can gather.

But–I would choose a crisp message about a core value infused with passion with absolutely no budget and no tools except drums and smoke signals, over instant and free access to the web and just nothing useful or inspiring to say.

Shopping redefined…mobile popup stores


I walked by this storefront in the Meatpacking District late last week.

My first impression, like others on the street was—what? The big gotcha of course is that this is not a storefront at all, but the popup store itself.

It’s an interactive diorama of Kate Spade merchandise. A visualization of a giant mobile commerce site, store sized and street side. Big brand commerce wrapped up as an adult busy box for mobile shopping.

On the left side of the the window are the ‘Saturday’ line of products for sale on pegs. To the right, an over-sized touch screen complete with some funky mechanical sound effects for each action. You sort by item, check sizes and colors, confirm availability and then order.

IMG_2207This is a mobile shopping cart on growth hormones in a store window. It lets you browse, shop and purchase. To transact, you put in your cell number, and they text you a link to their mobile site to complete the sale.

The big difference, of course, is that this is literally driven by walk-by-foot-traffic, and what you buy is delivered to wherever you are in the city in an hour.

Quite cool. Clever certainly and speaks to innovations that are starting to happen on the streets of New York, as shopping enters a mobile renaissance and location based-retail gets turned on its head.

To be clear, this storefront is actually a promotion, jointly developed by Kate Spade, eBay and PayPal. It’s not a channel per se but event marketing launched a month ago to bring attention to the Saturday line of clothes, sold in-store and online.

I don’t know if the promotion is working. And I’m not certain that it it is going to sell many products through the mobile link, but there is something seriously disrupting going on.

There are a number of retail redefining concepts playing out here:

1. The web is not a place

ecommerce is not enough on its own. For all the brilliant plans to interrupt our lives with advertising, engage the enthusiasts with shareable and transactionable social objects, and the science of driving traffic online, there’s a gap between sites on the web and shoppers on the street.

Web sites just sit there. Stores wait for people to come to them. People want to buy products where they happen to be, when they feel like it. For Kate Spade, maybe that is Gansevoort Street. For New Yorkers, one-hour delivery is certainly better than standing in line to pay and schlepping stuff home.

The system of shop and buy, wait in line, pay and carry out, is vestigial behavior en route to extinction.

2. Transactions are the easy part

We’ve perfected taking payments efficiently from our customers. Transactions aren’t the issue. Connecting transactions to inventory and delivery wherever the customer may be is.

Kate Spade, consciously or not, has smashed a hole in the status quo of retail. By taking a mobile site and externalizing it onto the street, she makes it clear that this transaction, this store itself, could be just about anywhere. A wall in the subway station, even on the back of a cargo bike rolling around the neighborhood.

This is a touch screen kiosk fronting for a mobile store tied into local warehousing and delivery through the web.

Kate Spade is selling hand bags and fashion accessories. Next it could be wine or beer maybe, or who knows, a massage package arriving at the park for you with a blended green on the side and a customized I Love NY beach towel.

3. Urban markets are unique unto themselves

Kate Spade in Manhattan and in a mall in Ohio are different animals completely. Behaviorally and culturally distinct.

The most dense population centers demand their own shopping solutions. This popup might make little sense in suburban Illinois but it sure would work in Paris or Singapore. These are a massive market in their own right.

Human density is in itself an inspiration for innovation.

Cities are the perfect sandbox for discovering market proof for mobile solutions. They are quick becoming an open source petri dish for not just mobile, but a mashup of urban life, ubiquitous connectivity, transportation and shopping. Something is brewing on the streets big time.

4. Channels are nothing more than a moving consumer doorway into the supply chain

Depending on where you are and what you buy, channel is mutable to the situation.

Think about the Apple Store early innovation where the people on the floor could provide the product and handle the transaction. Primitive today but groundbreaking then.

Imagine if in store, a mobile app let’s you buy for delivery as you walk around without talking to anyone. Or try it on, get sold, then buy on the subway at a kiosk or online on the way home for delivery when you arrive. This idea of people on a personal map, carrying purchasing and organizational capabilities around with them wherever they are, connected directly into supply and delivery is unquestionably the future, unfolding right in front of us.

This is inevitable. In fact, it’s overdue as the behavior, the technology and market is already there.

5. Brand is the most powerful filter there is

This mashed up popup shop works because of the filtering power of the brand.

Not the Saturday line being introduced, but Kate Spade. Her clothes, her bags, her reputation is what let’s us plonk down dollars without trying the clothes on, seeing how the bag hangs from your shoulder. Video or no video, it’s trust and brand identification. With us giving her the ability to text us transactional links in the personal context of our cell phones.

There’s two other brand driven trends intersecting here:

–>Online brands (like Etsy) using popups to connect more directly with people where they are, not just online. Nothing builds a strong online brand and community like face to face contact in the real world.
–>Hyper local brands known in-neighborhood, moving into new locations with a low cost, highly branded and just easy model and test delivery system. Spot (even moving) distribution like these virtual popups.

These are the building blocks of the future

Mix up mobile ubiquity, transactional efficiency, predictable street traffic, brand recognition and delivery when and where you want it!  That is the joint power of mobile, and, in New York’s case, the added power of the bicycle delivery person getting there just in time.

This is a serious shake up of the traditional kiosk signage idea, connected to the mobile web on one side, people on the street delivering to you on the other.

If you live in NYC, check out these popups. The locations are here!

If you live in another dense urban area, do share variations on this theme with us. I’m certain that this is not the first of its kind but it’s the first for New York and I can assure you, many more are coming.