MVP versus MVR: Minimum Viable Product vs. Minimum Viable Replacement

sEffort vs. Usage.pngIn the world of agile everyone talks about minimum viable products, that smallest set of capabilities required to meet a segment of your customers’ needs.

What doesn’t get talked about is an MVR, minimum viable replacement for existing products. The MVR is much more challenging as your goal is to replace your existing technology and not just grab an underserved market segment.

And as in the case of everything else in life, the first 20% of the effort delivers 80% of the most used capabilities while the other 20% requires 80% of the effort. The challenge is that your most valuable customers generally have the most complex requirements.

And while you can segment your customers such that you can build and potentially take an MVP to market for a specific segment, for the majority you need to deliver much greater capabilities if you want them to transition. And hardest of all, for your largest and most entrenched customers, you may need to build a ton more otherwise they won’t move and/or may defect if you force them to move.

After having been through multiple replatforming initiatives, i.e. from DOS to Windows, Windows to Web, Web to mobile, some of the key questions you want to ask as you plot your replacement strategy are:;

  1. Can you segment your customer base by capability requirement? If so then identify your MVR requirements for each segment.
  2. Are there new underserved segments that would be happy with a true MVP?  Oftentimes there are large markets that don’t currently use your existing product because they can’t afford it, implementation complexity or because it’s not available on X platform, e.g. mobile, that you can target with a lesser-featured lower-price point product which enables you to extract value sooner than just focusing on replacing everything for your existing customers.
  3. Is the new product an extension of the old and should be initially sold as an add on or is it a true replacement? Sometimes you can start by offering an enhancement which can be sold as an add on and then later integrate core replacement functionality. Again, you can deliver and extract value sooner rather than later.
  4. Are you willing to take two or three times as long to replace everything as originally estimated? No matter how long you think it will take to replace all your existing capabilities, it will almost always take much longer. So as you plan your strategy, double the transition time period as you will discover all sorts of unexpected and undocumented features and use cases. Transitioning customers always takes longer and involves a lot more pain than you expect, especially for enterprise systems where integration with existing systems is a key part of the value proposition.
  5. Is it better to frustrate your existing user base or potential users? Oftentimes, we build functionality for a specific niche or customer and have to make hard choices about whether it’s worth supporting existing customers vs. serving a broader set of new customers. Just be prepared for the blow back as what makes sense on paper to you may not make sense to the VP of sales or customer service dealing with irate customers or trying to hit their quarterly targets.  What you want to avoid at all costs is be held hostage by a vocal user base that is invested in a feature that prevents you from expanding your customer base, like Twitter and its 140-character limitation.
  6. How much do you want to invest in replacing vs reinventing? On one hand you want to make transitioning easy and avoid critical functionality gaps, but at the same time you want to take advantage of the new and different capabilities new technologies provide. Less visible change will reduce transition challenges but may limit the benefits of the new technology and prevent you from grabbing an even larger opportunity. Again, your always going to frustrate someone, it’s just a question of whom.

So have fun as you try to figure out how to get to a minimum viable replacement. And whatever you do stop calling it an MVP.

Dear banks, Please Protect my Parents From Being Robbed by Con Men

Dear banks,

Are you listening?

I need a partner to help me and millions like me take care of our aging parents or mentally challenged loved ones, so that they avoid getting scammed by con artists and salespeople looking for suckers.

My parents are old and getting older, but they’re still fairly independent and want to stay that way as long as possible, but they’re also vulnerable to financial abuse and easily avoided mishaps because their eyesight and BS detectors are fading. Like 11 million other Americans over 60, my dad suffers from macular degeneration and requires a 50-inch monitor so he can read his email. And my mom has mental health issues and Parkinsonisms. But despite, or because of, their handicaps, they work together to pay the bills. My mom acts as the eyes and my dad the finance brains, as they try to independently manage their finances.

The problem is they can’t really see the individual line items on the credit card statements, and sometimes get confused about which bill they are supposed to pay. So occasionally, bills go unpaid, or extra charges go unnoticed. However, if dementia begins to set in, inevitably bills will be forgotten but so far that’s not an issue, yet.

But what is a major issue are the fraudsters and hucksters who target my parents with scams and worthless crap.

“Your son is in jail! You need to wire a thousand dollars to bail him out but don’t tell anyone as we don’t want people to know he was in jail.”

“Yes! We can take care of the termites in your house for a measly $1835. We’ll use non-toxic orange oil” but what we’re not going to tell you is we’re not licensed, orange oil isn’t an effective treatment and you could have had your whole house tented for less. ;-(

And every time, my dad says he won’t fall for “that scam again!” No, instead he or my mom will fall for another scam instead. They’re not alone as millions of seniors lose billions ($36 billion according to True Link Financial) each year to greedy relatives and scam artists.

So as a good son, I’ve researched what options exist that enable my parents to both be independent and protected. Unfortunately, there are none. Bank of America allows me to get alerts after payments are made and the money is gone, but not prior to approval.

What I really want is the ability, like in a commercial account, to set specific limits and rules that require checks or withdrawals over a certain size to unapproved recipients be approved by a 3rd party, either me or my siblings. We should be able to create a:

  • Whitelist of standard payees, e.g. mortgage or insurance, that automatically get approved.
  • Blacklist of payees that automatically require additional approvals. The blacklist can be of hand-selected businesses and people, or of a compiled list of known individuals and companies suspected of abusive practices

Ultimately, the entire family should be able to have visibility so no one can begin siphoning off money without the rest of us knowing. The goal is leave my parents in control of the day-to-day finances, but with controls that prevent them from losing their life savings, or to raise alerts when bills fail to get paid or other warnings signs arise.

I would gladly pay extra for this service, but no one offers it. Why banks?

Considering seniors over 65 have about 30% of the wealth in the country, and that almost everyone of us with older parents have stories of strangers and/or relatives taking advantage of their loved ones, why haven’t you risen to your fiduciary duty and tackled the issue?

Many of us would gladly pay extra and shift our money to you, as it would give us peace of mind and save us money. I’d gladly pay $600 a year as that would already have prevented at least $4,000 in monetary losses, not to mention lost sleep from worrying. But you offer nothing. Nothing but excuses when you should be offering solutions to solve the problem, and make money in the process!

So become a financial Fido, friendly to your families, ferocious to the con men coming after your customers’ money. Do it, and I’ll toss you more than a bone, I’ll give you my family’s entire life savings to take care of.



Civic Intelligence: How news organizations can use BI & AI to Move Beyond the Static Infographic & Make Millions in the Process

Infographics are great to clearly and concisely communicate often complex concepts visually. And while a well-crafted static visualization is truly worth a thousand words, an Interactive infographic/dashboard is worth 10,000!

Unfortunately, today:

  • Data journalism tends to be the province of the few self-trained geeks in the news rooms comfortable with Excel, Access & Tableau.
  • The overwhelming majority of infographics are static charts and maps that lack drill-down or other interactive/personalization capabilities so users can’t easily explore and understand how the issue impacts them.

The good news is, the ultra-competitive $18-billion-and-growing-analytics market:

  1. Is bringing more powerful and easier to use tools to the market to help transform data into visual stories.
  2. Is making it easier to deploy not just static charts but interactive applications to the cloud so that users can both see high-level trends and drill-down/explore to find personalized insights.
  3. Needs new marketing channels to highlight the capabilities of their solutions and differentiate themselves against the competition.

These three trends present huge opportunities for news organizations to:

  1. Leverage business intelligence tools that incorporate artificial intelligence, smart data discovery and natural language generation to deliver better insights/civic intelligence to their audience with less work and training required.
  2. Drive audience engagement with their brand because users can explore and personalize the information themselves instead of just viewing a static image.
  3. Avoid your text being copied and monetized elsewhere, since users have to come to their site to interact with the application.
  4. Accelerate their journey toward becoming software/solution providers instead of just content providers.
  5. Potentially reap tens of millions of dollars and get assistance from software companies interested in showing off their products’ capabilities to millions of potential customers.

Delivering civic intelligence

The BI Bakeoff at the Gartner Analytics summit this March really highlighted the opportunity to apply artificial-intelligence and business- intelligence software to deliver civic intelligence.

Cindi Howson, the BI Bakeoff  & Scorecard queen, had the software vendors analyze Department of Transportation data to understand what’s drove the spike in 2016 traffic accident deaths.

The demos demonstrated the ability of how data journalists can use today’s BI tools to create and publish interactive visualizations and stories. And how artificial intelligence will enable even non analysts to identify key correlations and outliers with very limited training and work.

Check out Cindi’s blog for links to either videos or actual “dashboards” to explore the different capabilities and insights each provider discovered.

While all of the dashboards could have been more user friendly, they all gave great insight and the ability to personalize the information by state or other variable that might be of interest. The two that you can actually play with are:

  • Tableau: They created the most intuitive and visually pleasing story
  • Microsoft’s Power BI: I really liked how they embedded an Interactive car Infographic as part of the overall story.

For large organizations looking to figure out who to partner with and understand market trends, Cindi’s incredibly detailed knowledge of all the major’s vendors platforms, is probably worth the cost of the Gartner subscription alone. For those on a budget, you can always find a free version of the Gartner BI scorecard to get some insights about the different players in the market.

Show me the money!

The conference also highlighted how competitive the fast growing the $18 billion market is, and the potential opportunities news organizations have to partner with different vendors looking to show off their products’ capabilities.

After all, what better advertisement is their than for vendor’s potential customers to interact with an online information app on their favorite news site that is powered by IBM, Microsoft, Tableau, SAS, etc.. Today IT vendors pay millions of dollars to sponsor sports and other events that don’t even show off their capabilities. Imagine, what it would be worth for them to put their product in the hands of tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of users.

My guess is that for organizations like CNN, the New York Times or the Washington Post, this could be worth tens of millions of dollars annually. And for news organizations, it’s a way to deliver better value to your advertisers and audience. In fact, I bounced this idea off a few vendors and their eyes lit up at the potential.

The future is so bright

But in order to take advantage of it, news organizations and journalists will need to think differently and:

  1. Embrace their roles as technology companies providing civic intelligence and engagement solutions.
  2. Leverage the cloud and modern BI tools to move beyond the static infographic.
  3. Partner with cash-rich software companies for money and expertise to improve their value proposition and bottom line.

Banks leave millions on the table by not integrating psychology and education to help people buy, instead of renting, homes

The article in the Commercial Appeal about Memphis being a hot spot for flippers and families paying more to rent than own highlighted the failure of banks to innovate.
Reading the article made me wonder, why don’t banks:

  • Really think of themselves as life partners helping their customers successfully navigate through life’s major financial challenges?
  • Why do banks leave educating potential homeowners to non profits?
  • Why aren’t banks offering classes, savings clubs and savings games/products that leverage peer pressure, gamification, laziness and education to help people save?

All it takes is a little empathy, understanding human behavior and creativity combined with human-centered design to identify profitable ways to really help people and make millions in the process.

Banks could host a weekly home ownership club, similar to a book club or a Tupperware party, where people learn and commit together to save. And the bank can offer savings apps and products to help people reach their goals, sort of like Mint but specifically designed to help people save their down payment, e.g. automatically allocating a percentage of their paycheck to a down-payment fund. And as they hit milestones, the bank along with their marketing partners, E.g. Home Depot, Ikea, Realtors, and others who will benefit once they become homeowners, can reward them with gift cards, etc. along the way.

And since the banks will have been tracking their clients progress, they should theoretically have better insight to their reliability, beyond just their credit score and pay stubs.

Maybe my ideas are way off base, but after reading the article, I can’t help but believe there has to be a better way to help hard working Americans become homeowners.
First Tennessee, Regions Bank, iBank and others, what say you?

Or maybe some banks are doing innovative things to help their customers become homeowners. If so, I’d love to hear about them.

Best Buy Offers Free Warranty Service & Opportunity to Differentiate from Amazon but Instead Hides Service From Employees & Customers

Did you know Best Buy will deal with your warranty issues for you, as long as you bought the computer there and it’s still under manufacturer warranty?

Unfortunately, I only discovered this after already having spent months trying to get Asus to either correctly fix or replace my daughter’s 9-month old laptop.    

If I had have known that instead of having to buy computer boxes, spend money shipping it, deal with manufacturer incompetence, I could have just taken it to my local Best Buy and avoided all the hassles, I’d never shop anywhere else for a computer.
But I didn’t know.

 In fact many of their associates don’t know this and Best Buy never advertises it as part of their value proposition. It’s not mentioned on their receipts. It’s not on any in-store advertising.  It’s not mentioned anywhere prominently on It’s not mentioned anywhere.

And yet they offer it. But I only discovered this after visiting different Best Buy stores as we tried resolving the issue with my daughter’s laptop not working even after Asus supposedly fixed it.

And now after three failed attempts by Asus to fix the laptop, and twice sending a cheaper and wrong-sized replacement laptop, dozens of hours on the phone,  I’m still trying to get an adequate replacement six months later. 

When I think about the contrast in potential experience, I get furious. 

  • Best Buy: Stop by on way back from work, walk into store, wait in line a few minutes, talk to a real person face-to-face and come back in a few days. If there is an issue repeat process, if need be escalate with store management in person.
  • Asus: Call, get put on hold, talk to someone in the Philippines, get an RMA number, go to FedEx Office, pay for laptop box and shipping, wait, get laptop shipped back, discover it still doesn’t work, call ASus tech support, talk to First level support, get put on hold while waiting to get transferred to second-level support, repeat process multiple times. Then starting in January, ask for replacement laptop, go through entire process all over again, only this time spend an between 30-45 minutes or longer going through level 1&2 support to get to level three support because there is no direct line to level three. And then they promise you a replacement, but what they don’t tell you is that they can’t just send you a new computer, they can only send you a refurbished or returned computer and that they don’t actually have any inventory available, so you spent weeks waiting. And then instead of sending you a 13.3-inch laptop, they send you a 15.6-inch laptop because that’s all they have in stock. And so you call and repeat the process all over again. And again. And wait. I could go on with a lot more gorey detail but suffice to say it’s March and my daughter still doesn’t have an adequate replacement, but at least I now have an email to communicate with a 3rd-level supervisor. Yet still we wait.

Best Buy could have saved me money and time and earned a customer for life, if I had have known I could have driven by my local Best Buy on the way from work and just dropped it off; no muss, no fuss.

So why  doesn’t Best Buy highlight this service? 

Don’t know but their missing out on a great opportunity to leverage their stores to differentiate on service instead of just competing on price. 

So Best Buy, how come you don’t highlight this service?

And Asus why does your support suck so badly? And what are you going to do to improve it?

Software Eats The News: Will Nextdoor Eat Local Media?

In 2005 I tried raising money to develop a platform for connecting people with their neighbors, public services, politicians and deliver personalized news, real-estate and other high-value content and services. At the time I was the sole breadwinner with three small children rapidly going broke after working at a struggling startup so I shelved the concept and found a job.

And then just the other day I discovered that my city is now using Nextdoor as a news, communication and civic engagement platform. After reviewing their vision, funding and penetration I believe Nextdoor is now positioned to execute on what I envisioned 12-years ago and revolutionize local news & civic engagement.

So instead of worrying just about Facebook, journalists need to be thinking about their Nextdoor strategy.

So what makes Nextdoor special?

  1. Their use of mapping-technologies to mirror and connect physical communities.

2. Building civic engagement tools to enhance communication between public agencies and the public they serve.

How is that different from Facebook and local media?

  • Traditional News approach: Journalists curate everything and publish to non/low-interactivity platforms so impossible to connect and hear directly from neighbors, politicians and public entities. Journalists and sections may be focused on specific communities but since space and journalists are limited, features very little actual local news/information.
  • Email, Facebook & Twitter: You can connect and engage directly with other community members, government and politicians but connecting is extremely inefficient as you need to find and connect one-at-a-time with each person or organization. Also since birds of a feather flock together it leads to people primarily connecting and engaging with friends and folks who look and sound like you. And neither provides sophisticated civic-engagement tools.
  • Next door provides a much more efficient GIS/ address-based platform that automatically connects you with your neighbors and public agencies. Enter your address, and then through the magic of geocoding and mapping software, Nextdoor finds the city and neighborhood you reside in, applying physical geography to the virtual world. Next they provide tools specifically designed to connect public agencies they serve.

So what’s that enable?

Delivering truly-localized/personalized news and engagement based on the many different political and civic spaces/boundaries you live in.

You belong to not just a specific neighborhood and city but to many geographically-defined government and civic areas, e.g. City council districts, county council districts, public-school attendance zones, state and federal representative districts, public-utility, non-profit and business-service areas, etc.

Nextdoor by using mapping technologies, can now connect you with not just your local police but all of your geographically-specific political, educational, business and non-governmental organizations.

Instead of landing on either a generic screen or an information bubble of an algorithm-chosen feed, you can view both news stories and updates from your elected officials, public servants, favorite non-profits and local businesses.

And news orgs could either integrate or build their own geo-enabled platform and deliver personalized news to you. So instead of just getting a story about the city council, you could see exactly how your representative voted.

What does this mean for journalism and news orgs?

The opportunity: A new platform for delivering local news to a built in and engaged audience.

One of the reasons Patch failed and why local news sites struggle is that the World Wide Web is organized around interests, size and discrete facts, not geography.

Entering your address in Google displays info about your specific house but little about your neighborhood.

Enter your city and it tells you only information at the city level.

Go to your local news site and you may get the option for info about your local neighborhood but almost nothing about regional, state and national decisions with local implications and participation.

A geo-enabled information architecture using real-world boundaries provides an entirely new method of discovery and organizing information.

And this represents a huge opportunity for journalists to deliver localized content on the Web to a built in audience via Nextdoor.

The threat: It also represents another threat to local publishers that don’t adopt a geo-enabled platform and approach to news as they lack the personalization and integration capabilities of Nextdoor.

After all, much of what passes as local news involves public affairs announcements, and now that residents can easily get that info direct from the source, it’s one less reason to subscribe or visit a local news site.

Nextdoor also represents a new competitor for advertising dollars, further eroding the economic model for local news, especially since advertisers will be able to target down to the specific address level. Having worked for a real-estate information service provider, knowing a users’ address enables you to target them for all sorts of mortgage, insurance and home-service products specific to the house, e.g. you can see when their house was refinanced and target them with refinancing offers with fairly solid info about the interest they paid vs. now.

So what will Nextdoor do next?

I have no idea as I’ve never spoken to them, but as someone who envisioned similar concepts over a decade ago, I’d:

  1. Build more and more integration points into local public services and political establishments, so Nextdoor becomes your one-stop shop for civic engagement.
  2. Provide two-way communication and organizing tools to enable residents to give feedback and create conversations with both their neighbors, their elected officials and other public-service agencies.
  3. Allow media partners to post their content on the site and enable them to leverage the platform to deliver personalized news in exchange for a revenue share. And since Nextdoor controls the platform, they will determine the deal structure.

What should news organizations do?

Decide whether they want to be content organizations feeding other people’s platforms or whether they want to be information technology organizations that provide civic engagement and intelligence solutions.

  1. If you want to just provide content, then focus on trying to be the first on your block to negotiate a deal so you don’t get locked out. If I were Nextdoor, I’d be putting out RFPs and getting news orgs to compete for placement.
  2. If you want to control your own destiny and compete from strength, integrate geo-enablement capabilities into your content management systems, develop a geo-enabled information architecture and geographically-discrete content.

The challenge is that for 99.9% of the world, even for software developers, the previous paragraph is pure gobbledygook. The only reason I understand it is because I minored in geography, took several GIS courses 20-years ago, have 20-years of software experience and built as an after-hours public-service project that began providing address-level personalization for Memphians. (Unfortunately we had to shut it down due to work and family constraints.)

If you’re interested, let me know and I’d be happy to explain in more detail how news orgs can leverage geo-personalization to increase both site and civic engagement.

Software is Eating the News: Are you in the in the Entertainment or Work business?

work-vs-entertainmentRight now, news organizations still haven’t really clarified what business they are in and/or what their audience is really looking for, as a result they often measure and focus on the wrong things.

Information technology businesses fall into two primary categories:

  1. Entertainment: The goal here is to help people have “fun,” to spend their downtime with you. And the more time spent with you the better. It doesn’t really matter whether that time spent makes them a better or worse human being, helps the planet, it’s fundamentally about entertaining people. Think Facebook, Pinterest, movies, gaming, etc.
  2. Work: The goal here is to help people take action and solve problems, whether pay their bills, stock their pantries, lose weight, learn new skills, influence public policies. In this case, the goal is to often spend the least time possible, as the primary thing you care about is the outcome. Traditional B2B software and Google search falls primarily into this category; you’re not using it for fun but to get the task done as efficiently and effectively as possible, and the less time spent the better.

So are journalists and news organizations primarily in the entertainment or work business?

Traditionally, they have straddled both worlds and as a result have muddied their value proposition, measure the wrong things and apply the wrong business models.

Additionally, what one segment of the audience and what journalists’ often think of as entertainment, others often think of as work, politics being one of them.


In the entertainment world, your goal is to get people to spend as much time with you as possible, since the whole point of your existence is to fill people’s free time. In this scenario, display advertising as a revenue stream and products that encourage spending time make sense.

In the work world, your goal is to minimize the amount of time people spend with you and instead give them the answers to their problems, or eliminate their problems all together. In this case, the less time spent on your site/application is often better, since the goal is to increase their time. In this scenario, display advertising makes absolutely no sense and products that don’t solve problems are bad.


So should news organizations focus on delivering more entertainment value or more work value?

And that will be a question for another day. 🙂