Written By Jim Fowler
One of the most valuable business lessons I have learned is that you don’t necessarily have to be good. You just have to be stubborn.
In 2001-2002 I worked for a public company called Digital Impact. We did high-end email marketing for companies like Sun Microsystems (now a part of Oracle (ORCL)) and Microsoft (MSFT). I was VP of Sales and Microsoft was my largest account. I spent a lot of time in rainy Redmond, Washington.
At the time Microsoft was a juggernaut that scared the crap out of just about everyone in the Silicon Valley. This was during the time of all the antitrust talk. Like most, I was convinced that Microsoft was the death star. I started with a decisively negative opinion of the company.
But when I looked, what I found was a well-oiled machine. Microsoft had a confident, can-do attitude (an attitude they seem to have lost in recent years). One event really opened my eyes. They had a huge vendor day in one of their spectacular conference rooms for all their big vendors. Neither Balmer nor Gates spoke, but just about everyone below them did. The unifying message was: “We can’t do what we do without you, our vendors”. I was amazed by how much effort they put into firing us up.
Most impressive was their CFO, John Connors. John, who is now a venture capitalist, got up on stage and laid out the way that Microsoft went after markets. Here were his key points:
- Microsoft wasn’t a company that invented things. They usually started in their markets with inferior products.
- They performed “constant and relentless” improvement.
- They patiently waited for competitors to make mistakes.
- Usual result: market domination!
He pointed out many examples of the above. The most interesting was Xbox which, at the time, was a distant third in the market behind Sony (SNE) and Nintendo (7974) . Microsoft was dumping wads of cash into their Home Entertainment division and many of the vendors at the conference were Xbox providers. Connors explained why they were going after this market (it was huge and exciting) even though they had zero experience and were getting crushed in the press.
He predicted that by performing constant and relentless improvement, and waiting for the competition to make mistakes, Microsoft would eventually become at least number two in the home entertainment market. “Number two in a massive market is a LOT of revenue”, he said. I did not believe one word of it at the time.
Xbox is now number one and kicking the stuffing out of everyone else. My twelve year old practically lives on the thing. Microsoft has not been able to accomplish this strategy with every product, and certainly has had its share of market failures, but Connors’ talk rocked me to my core. When I started Jigsaw I shamelessly and frequently quoted John Connors mantra of constant and relentless improvement. We lived by it.
I shudder to think of some of our early product releases. They were ugly. Really ugly. We weren’t good, but we were stubborn. We improved constantly and relentlessly. By the time Salesforce (CRM) bought us we were good, and on our way to becoming great. I am convinced that the mindset of constantly demanding quick improvement is the way to create a successful company.
Our plan is that you’ll see the exact same behavior from Owler – constant and relentless improvement. We can’t wait to show you what we’ve got.