The other night I was traveling back from WWPC with two girls from Microsoft that were heading to their MDX meeting. I did my best as a Floridian to give them an idea of what to do, where to go, how not to get robbed… but about the only thing they had planned to do was sleep for a few days and recoup from WWPC. Strange, I thought. Then I pulled two back-to-back 12+ hour sleep nights and am still adjusting to the time zone changes, maybe they had the right idea after all. Either way, I’m in bed with the LCD glare and I figured I’d offer you some perspective on what WPC did for me this year.
WPC Last Year (2006)
Whenever you do reviews of investments you always compare time periods. How did I do this quarter vs. last quarter? Met expectations? Exceeded growth? Failed miserably (like there is any other kind of a failure):
In the now infamous suicide note, last years event fundamentally changed how I do business, how I make my business a part of my life.. in a way, last years WPC marked the death of the old Vlad who seemed to be preoccupied with work, immediate surroundings and very little else. I’m quite glad I killed him because deep down I believe he would have killed me eventually. Before I sat at this lake with Susanne and Dave, both of whom have moved on since then as well, I had spent days in meetings with middle aged guys who seemed to have lost their technical edge, who seemed to be in a rut with their business and trying to outsource everything, some that had big dreams and were perhaps just begging for a landing in a sea of reality.
What was particularly sad was the WPC Attendee Party that year; I remember running around trying to meet up with someone and in my circles around that Boston square I saw those same guys, standing far away from the stage, by themselves, almost without a friend in the world.
I decided that was not going to be me in 20 years. They say the change begins when you decide; what they don’t say is that it can take some time till the change you decide upon gets planned, implemented, documented and finally executed in full effect.
So this year, towards the end of the concert at the WPC Attendee Party, I pulled back from my friends at the Coors Field and walked back to the distant left seats and sat there for a few minutes. Went through the videos, went through the photos, played for a minute in my cell phone. I took a moment to reflect back on the previous year: the good, the great, the bad, the ugly, the muddy…
… no regrets. Year to date, I like this Vlad much better than I did the old one. Perhaps thats about all you can expect from life, that each year you see yourself as having improved.. something.
Always..Be..Closing; That in itself is Microsoft’s World Wide Partner Conference. Closing deals, closing opportunities, closing project resources, closing hopefully a successful year. WPC 2007, for me, was all about validation. Have most changes I’ve implemented made sense for me, for my company, for my family?
While I am sure you can understand that I cannot share the specifics of parties, discussions and details due to confidentiality…
This year was different, it was not about Microsoft anymore as an enemy or a friend, it was more about me and where I am heading, with Microsoft obviously being the 900lb gorilla. Every now and then people share with you some small tidbits of knowledge that really affect your perception of what is around you.
Little while back I was complaining to a friend about my inability to bring out people to my user group meetings en-masse. His response?
Maybe it’s really about the people that do show up, not those that don’t.
Which, extended to the Microsoft partnership, means: It’s not about the $800 trillion in the business I will never see but in the $XXX million in business I do see. Maybe it is all about my partners and customers, not about the future ones that aren’t coming, aren’t doing what we do now, aren’t interested or can’t afford us.
When you approach a professional conference in such a way, and do not give in to someone elses vision (ignore and reject banners)… when you only come to turn your vision into reality, pursue your agenda, further your goals and plans.. Things look a lot different.
WPC 2007: Validation
I established my agenda long before I got to Denver. I established my next years goals way before I went on the road to begin with. I know where I fit, I know who I am, and I am blessed (lucky) to be able to finally focus on what I am really good at.
So this year, I was determined not to sell a single CAL, a single copy, a single deal or a single lead.
This year, I was determined to say: Listen, I know we suck, how can we make this better?
And I did. Some, and to be honest, many didn’t think we suck at all. But I get that all day long. I wake up to a pile of orders. I go to bed with a pile in a processing queue. I get fanmail all day, far more so than trouble tickets. But I wanted to know what sucked.
Even though nobody would play with me and go as far to say that we suck, I really pushed my partners, coleagues and others to tell me their little annoyances. Give me some ideas. Tell me what you usually do with it. How do you deal with this situation. What about that. Have you considered xyz. Oh, you want it to do that. Ok. Hrm. Ok.
To me, this year was about validation of all the changes I had made last year, based on the vision Microsoft had for me (yeah, right) and based on what I saw my customers demanding from us. They are two very, very different things but our customers and partners pay us a heck of a lot more than v-Microsoft does.
Was I right in making the drastic changes I’ve made over the last year? You bet. Is Microsoft right with their direction, hopes and dreams? God I hope not, but its their perogative.
Did I learn anything new?
Yes, I did. What I specifically learned is that I am no longer a small business. Or perhaps, I no longer have the small business mentality. This was painfully obvious in a lot of conversations I had with Microsoft, partners, customers, vendors.
I had also, in no small part through Vladville, influenced a big change in the community, evidence of which I’ve seen over and over again.
I have also seen, first hand, how the Karma tends to work in your way when you don’t only look at yourself, at your company, at your wallet… but also at that of the others and take their best interest before your own. It’s not easy, but looking back over the past 3 years there are very few regrets and a lot of triumps.
I have also seen and heard the fundamental principle behind success of a community, business community. No, not from Susan Bradley, not from Steven Ballmer, not from the PAMs/PCMs/TS2 guys. I was sitting one day with a partner, who shall remain nameless, and a third partner who wanted us to develop a solution. We’ll call them Partner A and Partner B:
Partner A to Partner B: Ok, so where do you come in?
Partner B to Partner A: I am just here to make an introduction. We work together often, these things work in such a way that eventually everyone wins. I just wanted to get you together and see how you can make this happen, we’ll sort this out on the backend.
(not 40 seconds later)
Partner A to Vlad: Oh, and what about _____?
At which point I turned to Partner A and just pointed. Nuff said.
Oh, what about Microsoft?
Prior to the event I had written that anyone that thought WPC was about Microsoft was a fool. I stand by that, even more so now that it has ended. Whats even more interesting is that the partners I hung out with also seemed to come to the same conclusion – it’s not about Microsoft.
This of course is going to hurt the Microsoft marketing department a little bit but hey, everyone paid for their ticket and made out what they needed to. I think last years endless vision of unimportant things, as I like to think of it, told many of us in the audience that despite the numbers and the dreams there really isn’t much for us up there. Not if we wanted to grow, not if we wanted to continue in our roles and keep our existing relationship with our clients.
So this year the keynotes were largely ignored. As I’m figuring will be most of Microsoft’s future stack. Not to slant Microsoft in a big way over this, they are a public company with greedy investors and they have to do what they have to do to grow their market share, even if it means killing all of their ISV partners, marginalizing their consulting core, antagonizing their licensing sales force and patronizing the entire channel. Perhaps one day Microsoft will be able to stand on the stage with HP, Quest and Unisys and have a huge hug fest but that ceremony will not live to see any of us that are actively looking elsewhere. You wouldn’t run after a bus that just ran you over, would you?
Again, validation. This has been written on the wall for years and now its actually showing up. Those of us who have seen this have adjusted our approach, changed our direction, moved our marketing and accordingly our investment in the future of our companies. That is why business plans exist folks, so they can be reviewed, judged and adjusted.
If its not about Microsoft, what is it then?
The fact that we were all busy with our own agenda, not that of Microsoft Corp, meant that we could sit down and discuss our wins and losses. Our changes. Our developments. Our ideas. Key word: our.
I spent most of the week walking around with Karl, Dave and Erick and just comparing notes. Meeting other partners and seeing whats on their mind. But really, at the end of the day, what this was really all about was a huge board meeting with people I respect immensely, working and branstorming the new business plan. We went from presentation to booth to meeting to lounge to lunch… constantly throwing out ideas, suggestions, recommendations. At some point it stopped being a conference and it became a little summer CEO camp. I hate to put it in such an amateur way, given the maturity of the subject, but that is what the whole thing was about.
Even on Day 1, not 8 hours into the conference, Susanne knocked it out the park for me. One of the biggest issues for 2007/08 at OWN is the customer service angle. How do I take “Vlad’s Own Web Now” and make it stand on its own without destroying the satisfaction ratings we enjoy now? How do I gently go about changing the very core of what made this company successful? How do I tell my partners and customers just what we intend to do for them over the next 3–5 years without them looking at me and getting the feeling that we’ve completely lost it?
Susanne explained that to me (and maybe 50–60 others) in roughly under 50 minutes: “This is a circle. This is where you are, this is where your partners are, this is where your customers are. The world goes in this direction, now… push. Got it? Good, 5 is a good number on the evals, thank you, try the beef I’ll be here I’ll week.”
As I wrote before this, life is what you make it, your company is what you develop it into. WPC was all about me. And I think I did well.
What about the leads, the sales, the touches, the cont..
What about them? We’ve got a good product & service, we don’t need help selling it.
What we do need help with is making sure our partners and customers know we’ve got their back, so they remain our partners and customers for the long time to come. That means not screwing them for a 5% incremental revenue and a good quarter, that means not giving up the principles for immediate gratification, that means not being afraid of competition when you know you’re doing the right thing, that means not trying to close the doors that aren’t really open, that means not forcing.
Not… forcing. I see many people fail. I see many projects fail. Something they have in common is either a general lack of interest/effort or more commonly the outright disregard for anything but pure force being put into the item. Forcing in terms of pushing your partners, in pushing your clients, in pushing your employees, in pushing your external support staff.. Folks, I cannot say this enough… You cannot force things. On your best day you can present the things in the best possible light, offer the alternative or two, all the honesty and sincerity as you can put on the plate and hope the other party makes the right decision.
Consider the opposite. You’ve nagged someone into something. You’ve forced someone into a contract. You’ve overpaid/underpaid someone into a position they didn’t want or fit into. You’ve screwed a partner/vendor. You won. Yes, you won. Congratulations. Here is your medal. Just what do you think will happen to your victory party when the other side realizes just how badly you’ve screwed them?
Folks.. Life… business… success… loss… all of which I’ve had the pleasure to experience over the past 28 years is all about the balance and inner peace. If you can’t be at peace with what you do, if you can’t enjoy your victories and cry over your losses, if you can’t see why you do what you do in the greater scheme of things… then whats the point? But if you can, and if you live and put everything you do in a somewhat greater context.. then little blips and turns in the road don’t need to be more than what they really are, and more importantly, they won’t affect you any more than they should because there are bigger things to create and enjoy.
Is that realization worth $1,800? F yeah. I only wish I could have spent it when all I had was $1,800.