Category Archives: Uncategorized

Box-trolling: Amazon and Coca-Cola home-deliver their futures

I’m always interested in what brands do when you invite them into your home.

Amazon is awesome; the agency I work for does work for Coca-Cola. Which is awesome. Both gave us new ways to buy recently — Amazon via the Alexa software interface on the Echo (which I reviewed here); Coca-Cola via a website that lets you order custom-printed bottles, the latest extension of their “Share a Coke” efforts that tipped off in Australia back in 2011.

Both buy-flows ended in home delivery, and since each represented an opportunity to reward/reinforce a desired purchase-behavior change, I wondered: what would each of these powerful brands do with that chance?

Amazon Echo : O Alexa, where art thou?

I used Amazon’s Echo to order laundry detergent. I’d never ordered laundry detergent via Amazon, so a Bezos-ian algorithm generated a recommendation for Tide, and I went with it. I figured that since (a) Amazon has made no bones about their desire to get into replenishment; (b) Amazon and P&G are experimenting in the innovation space with products like “Dash”; and (c), this was my first voice-driven buy from Alexa, it might be interesting — so many new purchase behaviors! aligned with multiple strategic and business goals! I prepared to have my mind blown.

But Amazon was pure Amazon. Efficiency uber alles, nondescript box, packaging materials haphazardly thrown in.

Love, Amazon-style
Love, Amazon-style

No shipping info. No receipt. No acknowledgement in any way that this “Tide Ultra Mountain Spring Scent Powder Laundry Detergent 68 Loads 95 Oz” was the end result of a romantic foray with Alexa into the future of commerce, Bezos-style. Maybe there were operational issues preventing Amazon from customizing Alexa-driven out-bound shipments, but even the email acknowledgement of the order failed to mention Echo, Alexa or anything new or different. My family, excited to see an Amazon box, scratched their heads at the box of Tide banging around inside, and thought it was a mistaken shipment.

Coca-Cola: Shared the love

Coca-Cola (a company used to having other people put their products in your hands) was the opposite.

I ordered the custom bottles after my youngest son said “Dad, Coca-Cola has names on the bottles, but I never see MY name.”

Coca-Cola says hello
Coca-Cola says hello

Fluid ounce for fluid ounce, I overpaid, but I the experience blew me away. The box was like a present, red and happy and all “share”-y; opening it revealed protective packaging that unfolded like arms going in for a hug; custom bottles with names and a little card inside got the whole family talking.

IMG_2970Coca-Cola goes in for the hug

Look: Alexa is magic, but Amazon only delivered a product.

Coca-Cola is a product, but Coca-Cola delivered magic. And now my kids have those custom bottles sitting beside their beds.

What will your brand do when it’s invited into someone’s home?

Alternate Universe Plot Twist: Twitter Earnings Call Stunner

Twitter finally goes hard at @Hottopic, launches pop-up mall retailer ‘#TrendingTopic’, to sell Vine celeb merch + 3D printed accessories. ‘they’ve been riding our realtime coattails for too long over there,’ said @dickc, in well under 140 characters. ‘starting now, if it trends, we vends.’

Analysts rejoiced: ‘we all wondered when Twitter was going to take a swing at the cash pinata that IS mall retailing…I can speak for the street when I say Cinnabon and STRONG BUY, baby!’

yes, I’m kidding.

“CSI: Algorithmic Justice” will be really boring but maybe important

Hearings are being held by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee, led by Senator Carl Levin (D., Mich), to explore whether Computer-Driven trading and “Conflicts of Interest” are “eroding investors” confidence in the stock market. (sarcastic comment goes here)

The pull quote in today’s WSJ piece by Scott Patterson (“Venues That Pay Get Orders: Broker“) caught my attention: under the photo of Flash Boy-famous Brad Katsuyama on C1, Senator Levin is quoted:

“We’ve got to rid our market of conflicts of interest [COI] to the extent that it’s humanly possible.”

the piece ends with Katsuyama:

“Disclosure and transparency will help people make the right decision” about how they trade, he said. “Right now a lot of it is opaque.”

But this isn’t about humans or people. High-Frequency-Trading fueled boom/busts are the logical (if to a human, occasionally irrational) results of algorithms executing their instructions with ruthless precision at speeds faster than ‘humanly possible‘. Software’s conquest of Wall Street has reduced reliance on slow, error-prone, occasionally-moral human cognition to drive profits: the algorithms (self-correcting, self-optimizing) are out there, working for the “haves”, dimly visible only when they cause a trillion dollars to disappear. Logically, of course.

clement valla
Google’s Algorithms bring the merger of satellite images and topographic maps to their logical conclusion in Clement Valla’s “Postcards from Google Earth” series

Does the Permanent Subcommittee hope to hold code accountable for its actions? Perhaps you could bust the creators on the first rev of the software, but assuming a few generations of self-optimization, will the code’s functional autonomy insulate its creators from culpability? Holy legal fees, Batman.

PS: doesn’t the human-driven financial industry have a history of growing rich exploiting holes in systems? If algorithms are simply faster to those holes, but operate within the “rules”, can you blame them? and who (or what) will go after them? And what will we do if we “catch” them? Next up, a really boring “CSI:Algorithmic Justice”?

Engineering morality – and human values – into code is the debate behind autonomous cars deciding who’s life matters more, thermostats spying on you and financial algorithms causing trillions to evaporate. This ain’t going away, as we rely on software and algorithms – known and unknown – in more and more of our lives.

But here’s the thought experiment: Will an algorithm ever be prosecuted? What will the statute of limitations say about code that self-optimizes itself into an entirely new form nano-seconds after a ‘crime’? and what will the sentence be?

Nice Package, Amazon Media Services

Amazon’s ‘Advertising Week’ splash revealed the worst-kept secret in online media and marketing: Amazon’s ambition to be a media/marketing powerhouse open for brand business. Adweek reported that Lisa Utzschneider (Amazon’s VP-Global Sales) “pitched Amazon’s ecosystem of websites and devices and showed off ads with Amazon’s familiar buy button” to a standing-room only crowd. “When it comes to advertising,” Ms. Utzschneider said, “we have applied many of our core tenets by starting with the customer and working our way backwards. We are actually running ads we are proud of.”

And then today, I received this:

COD Amazon Mailer
Amazon’s COD-branded packaging

Was this a part of the new offering for advertisers? The messaging outside seemed completely unrelated to the item I’d ordered (FYI: a copy of Tim Harford’s ‘Adapt‘). Is Amazon now delivering packaging custom-printed to age/demo/interest targeted recipients? Can you buy based on reach, frequency, DMA? We’ve seen what happens when systems get behavioral targeting wrong…now imagine the most questionable thing you’ve checked out on Amazon – or dodgy site “your friend” browsed while using your Kindle – and translate that into “behaviorally-targeted” product pitches in HUGE PRINT on the side of your mailers. Awesome.

But think of the creative possibilities an Amazon palette could enable: Time-targeted, geo-fenced, purchase and browser-history aware, behaviorally micro-targeted, personally ink-jetted messages and experiences? Exxxxcccellent, Smithers.

Just start from the customer and work backwards.

I’m hoping to connect with Ms. Utzschneider – more to come.


Boundary Behavior: Toilet tweet ’til your legs asleep


Someone will sue the bejeesus out of Twitter for “emotional damage” and “injuries suffered” when they topple off wobbly legs that have fallen asleep while they tweeted on the toilet. Twitter can thank Apple’s crap battery life for protecting them so far (see fourth tweet down), but with the impending iPhone 5, will their luck hold?

a quick search nets gems

Boundary Behavior

tentative definition: “Boundary Behavior”

“The dynamic renegotiation of provocative human connections in the face of accelerating, digitally-fueled  social, cultural, personal and economic dissonance. At the core AND fringes of cultural transformation, it’s where the new stories and new meanings of the connected age are built and crash-tested in real time.”

Slice of PIE: #Revisu’s brush with the internet famous

Although it’ll start with him, this post really isn’t about Dave Hersh.

It’s about how talking about not talking to Dave led to a lot of buzz for a young PIE startup called Revisu.

Some quick background: Amongst other things, Revisu lets folks append comments to files, specifically design files, whether they have the software that created those files or not.

So back to Dave.

PIE mentor, Jive COB and all-around awesome guy Dave Hersh was in PIE meeting with startups this week. Unfortunately, Revisu’s co-founders, Clifton (@maxticket) and Brad (@bradhe) didn’t get time to talk with him, but then spotted him later in a nearby bar, talking with a friend. They wanted to say hello to this well-respected VC and advisor, but didn’t want to interrupt him. So they did what any self-respecting hacker co-founders who had trouble working up the gumption to talk IRL would do – they shared their quandry on Hacker News (HN) in a post entitled “Ask HN: Hey VCs, do you mind if ppl intro themselves when you’re out at a bar?

This post resulted in Union Square Partners VC Fred Wilson responding with a blog post of his own entitled: “Should you introduce yourself to me at a bar?” His reply, in summary, was: be quick, be memorable, be considerate, but hell yeah. And that post spawned hundreds of replies.

One of them from @FAKEGRIMLOCK. Yes, that @FAKEGRIMLOCK. The giant robot dinosaur.

Clifton saw the comment and further up the twitter stream read an earlier post from @fakegrimlock that indicated he wasn’t crazy about the new new twitter redesign:

Clifton asked @FAKEGRIMLOCK whether he’d like to provide some color commentary on the Twitter redesign. When the giant robot dinosaur agreed, Clifton pinged his network to get older Twitter screenshots into Revisu, then sent the link to @FAKEGRIMLOCK, who proceeded to annotate them. Here’s one comment (read them all here, before the non-famous get there):

Once done, @FAKEGRIMLOCK tweeted his handiwork to his thousands of followers, who in turn retweeted it to their friends, and drove so much traffic to Revisu it crashed their servers.

The best? PIE startup Cloudability quickly helped Revisu get back online – and earned a @FAKEGRIMLOCK award (and unquestionably their best testimonial EVER):

What started as a conversation about not having a conversation became a high profile product demo by a benevolent internet rockstar. FAKEGRIMLOCK wins at internet, Revisu shows what its product can do, Cloudability saves the day.

Thank you, Dave Hersh!

what size is your box?

The Foundry Group’s @bfeld and @jasonmendelson stopped by PIE today for one-on-one mentoring sessions with the startups.   In the course of tossing a few brilliantly-aimed grenades to juggle, they shared two great turns of phrase –

@bfeld and @jasonmendelson, always with an exit strategy, visit #PIE
  • “Grinf**cked”, or ‘the smile that wastes a year’.  Focus on your core product and don’t be distracted by shiny objects, and
  • Someone “thrashing around in too big a box” hasn’t narrowed their focus enough to make rapid iterative progress.  (see also: ‘boiling the ocean’)

Shoutout as well to @andrewhyde, also in the house, mentoring.

If you haven’t read Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup by Feld and David Cohen, please do – full of great stuff.

And if you are planning on getting a venture deal going, please read Feld and Mendelson’s new book: Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist.  They just did a book signing this evening over at PIE graduate Urban Airship!