The World Is NOT Silicon Valley

What works here doesn’t always work everywhere else

How adaptable is the “Silicon Valley approach” in foreign markets?

Well, the approach(es) are plenty adaptable. The real question is — How adaptive are the people employing it?

The business practices developed in Silicon Valley are revolutionary, but they’re no silver bullet. Strategies tried and true in one market are worth nothing in another, if those implementing them don’t consider the cultural nuances that may affect them.       

Back in the early 2000’s, while working at eBay, I learned this firsthand while trying to aid the company’s failing efforts in China.

While living in China that summer I made sure to travel around and experience the sights

Our CTO sent a number of us Product and UX Design leads over to live in Shanghai for the summer (2005) to see if we could figure out what was going on, and how we might turn things around. That summer ended up serving as a masterclass in how to lose the Chinese market as a US company.

Upon entrance into the Chinese market, eBay followed its international expansion playbook, previously validated in Europe.

  1. Acquire leading local marketplace brand (given it’s a 2-sided marketplace)
  2. Migrate local marketplace to global platform, standardizing on global policies and features
  3. Market the heck out of it

But as it turns out, China was very much not Europe in the early 2000’s.

One of the biggest problems eBay had in China was not understanding the Chinese e-commerce customer — buyers and sellers alike. EBay’s management failed to listen (including some key local leaders who didn’t speak Mandarin) to the native employees who spoke up, only to be assured in vain that eBay’s global approach was better 

Well, it wasn’t.

By the time we all showed up in Shanghai in 2005, we surely each had our own ideas of what had been going wrong for eBay in China over the past three years. But seeing it first hand painted an entirely more vivid picture of the situation.

Behavior

EBay’s competitor, Alibaba, focused on helping small Chinese businesses sell their goods online. While eBay unleashed a barrage of online ad space, Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma knew that, even though his product was online, his customers spent more time watching TV than surfing the web. So he, instead, purchased advertisements on the major TV channels for his C2C offering Taobao.

Skepticism

In the Western world, an auction with no bids was viewed as an opportunity to get a good deal, and thusly were shown prominently on eBay’s site. In China, however, users equated bids with authenticity — an auction with no bids was thought to have been deemed fraudulent by previous viewers, and best avoided. The Chinese competitor (Taobao), knowing this, focused more on fixed-price items which did not have this issue.

Design Trends

In the West, a vibrant design approach was called “cluttered”. In China, the festooned homepages of local websites (including animated GIFs) told users there was a lot happening on their site – much more inventory and deals than that American company donning hardly anything but a logo and a search bar on their digital storefront.

Payments

Most Chinese customers either didn’t have a credit card or were just uncomfortable using them online for concern of fraud risk — a founded concern for them at the time. eBay’s feedback system for reviewing a users reputation on the site, and then submitting card information wasn’t going to work for them. Customers actually preferred to go through an escrow service or make exchanges in person where they could more fully establish trust. Management felt this went against the fluidity of our platform and delayed solving for it.

There really is no substitute for seeing things for yourself when entering a foreign market. Speaking with local customers. Getting a comprehensive understanding of advertisements and design trends one sees on the streets and in daily life. Watching cash exchanges everywhere, in place of what would mostly be credit transactions in the West. It was quickly evident that the local Chinese staff were perfectly competent, and only needed more support from management, rather than having their input dismissed.

In the end, all of these issues were solvable, and we did implement solutions, but it was altogether too little, too late.

To establish a place in a foreign, emerging and developing market, a company has to be scrappy, and it has to be patient. It has to be agile and responsive. In effect, eBay pulled out to get a problem country off their books. They could have dug in and reset. In time, things may have turned around.

I certainly will never underestimate the effects of a home-court advantage and local knowledge in business — nor the proverbial words of Alibaba’s Jack Ma:

Takeaway: never bring a shark to a crocodile fight.


Preston Smalley produced in collaboration with Mark Mizera.

More on the eBay China Case Study:


The best business practices in the world are worth nothing if those implementing them don’t have a deep understanding of their market. In the early 2000’s, when eBay went to do battle in the Chinese e-commerce market, a summer in Shanghai taught me this first hand.

8 Ideas For Tesla’s Next Software Update

My wife and I taking delivery of our Tesla Model S at Fremont Factory in 2015

I’ve been driving a Tesla Model S for three years now and I simply love it. It’s the first vehicle I’ve owned that gets better with age. With every software update, a new set of tricks and features appear at my disposal. It’s hard to imagine commuting and driving along winding roads now without features like AutoPilot and Forward Collision Warnings (features that were automatically added to my car after I had already bought it).  

Naturally, as a product person, spending several hours commuting in my Tesla everyday, I dream up some feature ideas of my own from time to time. And I’ve decided to share some of them here. According to the six degrees of separation theory, someone at Tesla is bound to have a look.

Who knows?

Maybe something will stick.

Eight Feature Ideas and Improvements For Tesla

1. Curated radio and podcasts

I utilize my commute to stay up on my favorite audio content (news, tech, leadership, …), but the media playback experience can be cumbersome while driving, as you have to know exactly what you want to play and select it specifically. I know from my time spent in the TV industry that people love to be entertained with as a little decision making as possible.

It would make things easier if the car analyzed my listening behavior and curated an ongoing, custom feed just for me. Aggregating both on-demand media (like podcasts), and also recorded segments of live broadcasts that match with my topics of interest — combining the playback ability of DVR and the machine learning of personalized media streams.

Resulting in a linear, Pandora-like talk radio station, with a mixture of sure bets and new suggestions.

2. Instapaper integration

I also utilize Instapaper to catch up on articles I want to read, by listening to them on my commute – but I do this manually through the iPhone app and it’s a bit clunky.

It’d be great if Instapaper could be integrated directly into the Tesla’s media interface, playing the audio transcripts like they were any other digital radio station.

Actually, Instapaper’s competitor, Pocket, announced last week that they are focusing on this read aloud ‘podcast’ use case – so fingers crossed for more attention here.

Listening to Instapaper read aloud my backlog of articles in my Tesla

3. Autopilot and motorcycles

When Autopilot is engaged, the Tesla maintains a perfectly center position in the lane – even when a motorcycle passes by in the gaps between cars, which is not ideal (Note I have APv1).

If the car could sense the motorcycle approaching from behind and move to the side of the lane (yet remaining within the lines), the motorcycle would have more clearance as it passed.

Occasionally, as the motorcycle passes by my car’s front bumper, AutoPilot thinks the motorcycle is another car, suddenly appearing in dangerous proximity, and proceeds to apply the breaks. This can be dangerous if the car behind is not paying attention.

Making this change I think would place Tesla as a loved brand among motorcyclists and as an added bonus, this would increase the percent of miles driven using AutoPilot (driving up that KPI).

My drawing of how Tesla might better handle land splitting motorcycles

4. Fort Knox Mode

When I leave my car somewhere, at the airport for example, I’d like to be sure it’s safe and sound.

The iPhone app could notify me if the car is unlocked, or moved, by someone other than myself. This would come in handy when parking at a valet, too – knowing if the car gets taken out for an unauthorized joyride.

And if there were no notifications, I could be more confident in the safety of “our beloved Tessa” (as it’s known to my children who consider the car part of the family).

5. Cool on arrival

Remote cooling the cabin of the vehicle so that it’s comfortable when you return to it on a hot day. You can do this manually today through the Tesla app but you have to remember to do it. Imagine if instead you could schedule a time you expect to return to the car, or better yet, the GPS on your phone could automatically begin the process once you return to a certain proximity.

6. Commute analytics and recommendations

Departure time recommendations based on traffic conditions. I’d love to plot average commute times I’ve had over the last year or so, and see how they historically vary by time of day and how they are changing. It might advise me to leave 15 minutes earlier than normal on Thursdays, where I could save 10 minutes on my commute time.  

7. Weather

A brief weather report for where I’m going (as entered into the Navigation system). Automatic, unless switched off. For longer drives, this might cause me to grab an umbrella or jacket for the destination.

8. Phone app

Contact Favorites.

We need contact favorites.

When I want to call my wife, I have three options: I can either use voice command (and then select which “Jeanine” out of 3 potentials, and then select between her home and mobile number), or scroll through the 1600 contacts in my phone, or I can dial her number manually. None of these are great options when cruising along at 70 MPH.

With 5 to 10 pre-set “favorites”, you could just tap phone icon and tap the pre-set people.

Also, the “mute” button should NOT be adjacent to hangup. It’s easy to tap the wrong one while driving. For this reason, I tend to use the steering wheel buttons when doing conference calls in the car. Alan Cooper calls this notion hiding the “ejector seat lever”.

Alan Cooper on hiding “ejector seat lever” in About Face 3.

With all that being said, it’s been a great three years driving my Tesla, and I expect nothing but more good things to come.

It really is a kick to have the question, “What will my car do next?” always floating through your head, and I look forward to finding out.

– Preston, driver of a Model S


Preston Smalley produced in collaboration with Mark Mizera.

With Tesla’s software updates, my car is better today than it was three years ago, the day I bought it. That being said, I’ve got a list of things that I’d love to see Tesla improve in the UX.

How to design for Viral Growth

INFOGRAPHIC: Design for Viral Growth

Visual overview (by @morganb) of many of the core tenets to consider when designing for viral growth. Keep in mind that increasing the “speed” of the loop is the most often overlooked component and quite important—just asks a rabbit.

Visual overview (by @morganb) of many of the core tenets to consider when designing for viral growth. Keep in mind that increasing the “speed” of the loop is the most often overlooked component and quite important—just asks a rabbit.

What was missing in the 1st iPhone? (5 years later)

This week Apple will share their latest innovations at WWDC. However, I think its time we reflect back on what Steve Job’s announced 5 1/2 years ago at Macworld 2007: the 1st iPhone (worth another watch).

Steve Jobs pitched it under the backdrop other historic Apple products:

  • Macintosh (1984) – which changed the computer industry
  • iPod (2001) – which changed the music industry
of which it definitely became the third industry changing product for the company.

But remember what was missing?

  • It didn’t have the App Store – Native third-party apps weren’t available until 18 months after the announcement in mid-2008.
  • It wasn’t affordable – It cost a steep $599 and was cut in price by $200 two months after launch.
  • It wasn’t mass adopted – Despite the lines, only 1.2M were sold in the first full qtr of availability (vs. the 35M last qtr ending Mar 2012)
  • It didn’t have push email or MS Exchange support – the most important feature on other “smartphones”… missing.
  • It didn’t have GPS – It triangulated “good enough” location using wi-fi and cell towers, but no chip til the 3G.

Yet, we already look upon the Apple iPhone as one of the most successful consumer products ever. It shows how in Lean Startup language, Apple’s MVP did everything they needed to learn about the market and the space.

Apple focused on what it could do better and in a unique way. That’s good advice we each should take when building our new products.

This week Apple will share their latest innovations at WWDC. However, I think its time we reflect back on what Steve Job’s announced 5 1/2 years ago at Macworld 2007: the 1st iPhone (worth another watch). Steve Jobs pitched it under the backdrop other historic Apple products: Macintosh (1984) – which changed the computer industry iPod […]

Why Design Matters – P&G

I recently was invited to speak at P&G headquarters in Ohio on “Why Design Matters”. It was a leadership summit of their Global Business Services division which supports all the brands and employees worldwide. For me it was a great chance to reflect on what aspects I see as critical to design and what can get in the way.

View more presentations from Preston Smalley on Slideshare.

I recently was invited to speak at P&G headquarters in Ohio on “Why Design Matters”. It was a leadership summit of their Global Business Services division which supports all the brands and employees worldwide. For me it was a great chance to reflect on what aspects I see as critical to design and what can […]

Why Design Matters – P&G

I recently was invited to speak at P&G headquarters in Ohio on “Why Design Matters”. It was a leadership summit of their Global Business Services division which supports all the brands and employees worldwide. For me it was a great chance to reflect on what aspects I see as critical to design and what can get in the way.

Here are the slides. I plan on adding the audio slidecast soon.
UPDATE 6/15: Slidecast now available.

View more presentations from Preston Smalley.

I recently was invited to speak at P&G headquarters in Ohio on “Why Design Matters”. It was a leadership summit of their Global Business Services division which supports all the brands and employees worldwide. For me it was a great chance to reflect on what aspects I see as critical to design and what can […]

Interesting Product: Dropbox

I’ve decided to try periodically sharing interesting products I come across here. First up, Dropbox…

What is it: Dropbox is a service that syncs your files online and across your computers. It keeps copies of files synced across my Mac and PC as well as making them available in the cloud which I can access via the web or my iPhone. See their 2 minute overview video (great prod. marketing example)

Why I like its design:
Dropbox-WinI like that I can use the standard file system built into the OS on my Mac and PC without worrying about how it’s getting synced or stored—in other words the primary way I interact with Dropbox is actually not thru their UI at all. No matter where I open the file, I know it’s always the latest version—but I don’t have to wait on the sometimes slow speeds of working directly off the cloud since it’s synced locally. They have designed their product to fit my workflow rather than ask of me that I change my workflow to fit their product—true user-centered design.

They have added a subtle addition to the OS iconography which shows if the file is properly synced with my other computers and the cloud. This helps reinforce to me that the service is working and that my files are safe and synced. This UI also enables me to go back in time and view older versions of the file (their website even features a DeLorean for us Back to the Future fans) when I need to.

Finally, their iPhone app enables me to access read-only versions of my files wherever I’m at. Here they’ve smartly optimized for storage keeping all the files in the cloud. However they have offered an easy wait to tag a handful of files I’d like to keep locally on my iPhone.

I’ve decided to try periodically sharing interesting products I come across here. First up, Dropbox… What is it: Dropbox is a service that syncs your files online and across your computers. It keeps copies of files synced across my Mac and PC as well as making them available in the cloud which I can access […]

Should we take off our black turtlenecks and give up “ownership” ofinteraction design in order to take it mainstream?

Shailesh Shilwant and I submitted a discussion topic to the Interaction 2010 conference yesterday on a something that’s near and dear to our hearts: Product Discovery as a transparent and facilitated process. I encourage you to comment on our proposal and offer your suggestions.

ABSTRACT:

As we evolve interaction design as a field, one approach we should consider is to open up the facilitation and ownership to people that don’t have the word “design” on their business card (e.g. product managers, development leads). We’ve recently tried a number of techniques that does just this at eBay and would like to discuss with you the following topics:

  • Giving up “ownership” of design (how to do it, pros and cons)
  • Impacts this shift has on the role within the company and our field
  • How language and terminology can help or hinder you
  • How to build on initial successes and institutionalize the methodology

In this discussion you’ll hear real world examples from companies such as Facebook, Intuit, Yahoo! and eBay. We hope to create some healthy debate so come with your strong point of views to share.

IxD10 Topic Submission

Shailesh Shilwant and I submitted a discussion topic to the Interaction 2010 conference yesterday on a something that’s near and dear to our hearts: Product Discovery as a transparent and facilitated process. I encourage you to comment on our proposal and offer your suggestions. ABSTRACT: As we evolve interaction design as a field, one approach […]

Should we take off our black turtlenecks and give up “ownership” of interaction design in order to take it mainstream?

Shailesh Shilwant and I submitted a discussion topic to the Interaction 2010 conference yesterday on a something that’s near and dear to our hearts: Product Discovery as a transparent and facilitated process. I encourage you to comment on our proposal and offer your suggestions.

ABSTRACT:

As we evolve interaction design as a field, one approach we should consider is to open up the facilitation and ownership to people that don’t have the word “design” on their business card (e.g. product managers, development leads). We’ve recently tried a number of techniques that does just this at eBay and would like to discuss with you the following topics:

  • Giving up “ownership” of design (how to do it, pros and cons)
  • Impacts this shift has on the role within the company and our field
  • How language and terminology can help or hinder you
  • How to build on initial successes and institutionalize the methodology

In this discussion you’ll hear real world examples from companies such as Facebook, Intuit, Yahoo! and eBay. We hope to create some healthy debate so come with your strong point of views to share.

IxD10 Topic Submission

Shailesh Shilwant and I submitted a discussion topic to the Interaction 2010 conference yesterday on a something that’s near and dear to our hearts: Product Discovery as a transparent and facilitated process. I encourage you to comment on our proposal and offer your suggestions. ABSTRACT: As we evolve interaction design as a field, one approach […]

How I organize my personal finances

UPDATE: I revisited this topic in Nov 2018 with a new article
Product Management Concepts for Better Personal Finance.
A decade later many of my practices have continued but I’ve also added a few more you ought check out. 

Maia Garau recently visited eBay as part of our “principal in residence” program and discussed with us the growing field of service design (which she teaches at RISD). My favorite line she quoted was from the Economist which defined a service as “…anything you can’t drop on your foot.”

It got me to thinking about some great end-to-end “services” that I use to manage my finances and yet what’s still missing.

Bill Management

I hate getting bills in the mail and my wife hates how they clutter up our house. So when we were first married I didn’t want to look at the bills and she’d stuff them away out of site–not a good combo for our FICO score.

logo-paytrust

Then I discovered Paytrust which goes far beyond the other bill payment services available in that they actually receive your bills. When you sign up Paytrust, they give you a personal PO Box in Sioux Falls which you use as your mailing address meaning for example my PG&E (power & gas) bill gets mails to them and not my home. They scan, OCR, and post the bill online as a PDF with all the appropriate metadata (amount due, due date, etc). Bill payment is easy either by EFT or by having Paytrust mail a check on your behalf (meaning I can even pay my gardener and dentist).

There are several benefits to having Paytrust handle your bills this way:

  • It’s safer as you don’t have to worry about someone stealing bills out of your mailbox (and you don’t have to worry about organizing and storing them).
  • It’s a great papertrail. I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve won with Customer Service agents over the years since I know exactly when I paid each bill and for how much.
  • They mail you a DVD at the end of each year with all your bills PDF’d for your tax records.
  • Whether I’m at work or at home or my wife wants to view the bills–we can do it from anywhere.

You can tell that this service was thought thru E2E from bill receipt, to payment, to auditing later–which sets it apart from the competition. The only drawbacks is that the service costs $12.95/mth (vs. many banks offer pure payment services for free) and Intuit (who bought Paytrust about 5 years ago) hasn’t made any major improvements in a few years–but at least they haven’t messed it up. 🙂

Daily Account Monitoring

As a big Scott Cook fan, I always wanted to love Quicken over the years but just never did. It always felt like work to keep it’s register in sync with all my accounts and payments. It also didn’t help me during the week when I wanted to know just how much money I had at any given moment and what was coming in and going out.

Mint Money Management

Then a few years ago a board member for Mint visited a class of mine at Berkeley as a guest speaker. I tried the service out the next day and have really been pleased with it ever since. Since it’s a web service, it’s always up-to-date, synced with my accounts and I can access it from anywhere. It alerts you if you have any irregular behavior such as large deposits or withdrawls. It leverages crowd sourcing to learn how to better categorize transactions. However my favorite feature is how it learns over time what you usually spent in a given category and establishes a “budget” for that amount (letting you know if you’re over or under it later).

Finally the Mint iPhone App connects me to this rich set of data on a daily basis in a simple way. Of course it could be improved such as I’d like to be able to dig into changes in my 401K (chart of how it’s trending, which holdings are up/down), be able to re-categorize transactions, and “predict” my cash flow out a couple months based on past data and budgets.

Quarterly Lookbacks

Download Excel Financial Statement

I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad around 2001 and quickly understood the value of regularly assessing our income/expenses and balance sheet. Yet nothing at the time met my needs (Quicken, MS Money, etc) so I looked to Excel to do the work for me in the way that I found most intuitive. It puts all of our monthly income and expenses, assets and liabilities onto one sheet of paper. Simple, visual, straightforward. We update it every 3 months and graph our progress over time.

Download Financial Statement Template
[Google Sheet]

I imagine that perhaps someday, Mint could replace this manual aspect of my E2E experience but just not yet–however it does make filling out the statement way easier.

In summary I have incredible brand loyalty to both Paytrust and Mint due to their well thought out service design (I’m a NPS promoter) and see how powerful a differentiator it can be in what is a crowded field.

What services do you find most useful and why?

With Intuit acquiring Mint they now own two of the services I mentioned above. I hope they do a better job continuing development of Mint than they have done with Paytrust and would love an integration of the two services. If anyone on those teams would like to chat I’ve got a number of ideas… 🙂

Recommended Resources:

How to gain perspective on your financial situation with a quarterly lookback plus how to streamline bill-payment and account monitoring.