Yahoo Mail redesign – well done team

I use Gmail and Yahoo Mail, both. After the latest refresh on Yahoo Mail, I have to say, it’s the best working product I’ve seen from my former team in years. The oddpost acquisition a long time ago put them on the path they’ve been on and now, with the refresh, I have to say it’s far more usable. Fun, too.

Gmail isn’t fun. It’s functional and there’s a massive difference. Sometimes, when you use a product, you want to have fun. Be entertained. At the core of Google is utility (at least, it has always felt that way to me, but I’ve never worked there). Yahoo’s aspiration, I felt before, during and after working there, was to entertain. Sure, Google bought Youtube…but those two brands, despite it being the same corporate entity, aren’t synonymous in most people’s heads. There’s a reason Google did not rebrand it as, “Google Video.”

The silly exclamation mark, the logo experimentation in public…so far in my post Yahoo career, it seems that they finally have a better grasp as a whole team of what to do, where to go and what they need to achieve. It’s impressive. The Carol Bartz days made me cringe, personally. Then the guy who they tossed with the fictional resume…

…I might write vampire stories but I know that those are based on lies, for lack of a better term. Vampires, djinni’s, glowing magical swords and the like are not real. Just trust me on that one.

If they can start to turn the opinion of a “Silicon Valley cynic,” like me…they’re definitely doing something right.

Inequality, social justice and my long radio silence

It’s not often I feel like somebody I know, or knew, is a hero. Today, I was browsing LinkedIn while trying to figure out the right last leg of a new story; I saw a link that was powerful, inspirational and exactly what more people need to share. The odd part? It was shared by one of the one percent, who typically aren’t lobbying to improve the inequality of the United States.

I don’t know Jeff well, I’ve chatted with him in person all of once and been in meetings with him perhaps a few times, heard him speak less than that. However, seeing his post today in my LinkedIn feed reminded me of how fortunate I am to have known, at least for a short while, a guy who has the vision to dream a brighter, better future and the courage to take the steps to move society at large towards that vision.

Check out this trailer, see the statistics and try to wrap your head around the problem in the United States as it stands today.

Unfortunately, I grew up relatively poor and the lessons you learn growing up, for the most part, in the socio-economic status that I did are not the same ones you learn growing up in an affluent home. It’s taken years, a lot of studying outside of school and self reflection to figure out the gap between my education and understanding. While I’ve been spending my time learning, studying, connecting…I haven’t been sharing, at least, not as, “Me.” A few friends know of my other blog, which now has as large an audience as this. But…that one is personal, this one, is business.

In a business sense, in terms of how things are run and yes, I’ve done this myself to my chagrin, something is very, very wrong with the way most companies operate. The way compensation gets structured and the way that wealth is shared in our society. It’s heartwarming to see an executive with the influence, the vision and the ability of Jeff to share something so near and dear to the hearts and minds of the majority of Americans.

On the eve of a, “Government shutdown,” when some jackass politician wasted our money by reciting, “Green Eggs and Ham,” it’s gratifying to see, to hear, a billionaire say that something is fundamentally wrong and that we need to fix it, as a society.

 

Fingerprints, digital forensics and the impact we have which lasts far beyond our tenure

More than a decade ago, I posted on an internet forum under the pseudonym, “Han_solo,” my favorite character from Star Wars. Later, when I realized it would help my reputation, I asked Brett Tabke, the founder of WebmasterWorld, to update my handle to become, “jeremy_goodrich,” to ensure that people who looked up my reputation could find it easily. This was before LinkedIn, before social profiles were huge, before…a lot of things. When searching just now for one of the first academic algorithms that detailed issues with search results quality, IP addresses, Class C blocks and host affiliation…you can’t find my post on Webmasterworld. Try a search for, “Hilltop Algorithm,” it doesn’t show up in the top three on Google. However, when I look for, “Hilltop Algorithm Webmasterworld,” I find my post from 2001. This was before I had built a search engine in Perl and MySQL; before I had co-founded a social network that would be listed in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch and others.

When real world fingerprints fade, digital fingerprints last as long as the website stays alive

Having hired dozens of people for my own company, larger companies and during my consulting days, helping startups review talent…I fully appreciate people who put an effort into building out their digital footprint. I love learning and it’s sometimes hard to find people who are always in the mood to update their skills. This became one of my screening criteria which I used heavily in recent years because my goal, as a mentor, is that whoever I work with gets 10x better than I am in that particular task, area or skill.

Getting stuff done is very, very gratifying for me which is why I’m looking at early stage companies right now. A landing page win, where I wrote the control and the test copy, which I instrumented via Optimizely, Google Experiments or similar? YES! A short conversation, then a few days later, a dozen pages of copy with an information architecture practically guaranteed to help long term search (paid and natural) results? Count me in, twice. In a physical sense, I’m not nearly as hands on as my family. But digitally speaking, nothing makes me happier than to pull the trigger, see results, optimize and iterate. Every time I approach a new vertical, I generate hypotheses quickly and then chomp at the bit to start testing, iterating and discarding.

Not all the work I have done in my career is still visible on the open web; some can only be viewed by archive.org. Websites created, sold, modified, re-purposed and more. If somebody has the digital savvy to do a full on forensic look up on a given individual, if you have been working online, it’s impossible to hide any aspect of your experience. Thank goodness for that; I’d prefer my work product to last a near infinite time frame.

Cultural fit and personality are as important, if not more, than technical skill

When hiring and building teams, it’s relatively easy to find people with skills. However, when you need specific skills it gets a bit harder. Then when you start to consider personality, communication style and cultural fit potential it gets harder still. Building a relationship with a new team member can be challenging depending on the operating style of the company. Over time in my last role, I got better and better at the on-boarding process post hire so that the team could ramp faster. Also (Hi, Ben) I learned from one of my hires that I needed to balance selling the opportunity and the current state of things. For nearly six months, I got the kind of questions I am certain I had for my first manager. Setting expectations appropriately would have saved me time and energy.

In my interview yesterday, the cultural fit wasn’t there. The awesome thing is that the recruiter followed up quickly and the team did not waste their time, or mine, in the process. Ultimately, as I learned from watching the first season of, “The Apprentice,” on NBC is that technical skills are good but the ability to learn and improve is better. The other thing which came across about the show was how each person usually had trouble spotting their own gaps and improving. It was as much personality challenge as it was about the business challenge.

The whole area of personality assessment and the Meyers-Briggs type questionaires never made a ton of sense to me until my last role. For the startups I’ve had, even when we ramped the staff, the management was hands on and very much scripted. Hiring was putting people through a list driven process and seeing if they had the internet savvy to check each box. Other than that, as we were a virtual team, personality and cultural fit weren’t a part of the assessment.

Looking back on my Yahoo experience, the underpinnings of the company back then were still very, “Hacker friendly,” in a good way. Want a developer account? Done; you’re good to code. Want to setup an email list? Done in five clicks. Want to get all sorts of data six ways from Sunday on usage patterns across any given property, whether or not you’re working on said property? Done. The, “Hacker friendly,” part of Yahoo’s culture was very appealing to me, despite my few years of programming, it’s not my forte. Still, things were raw enough and the ingredients were all there if you wanted to do something in your free time that made work easier, you had implicit and explicit permission.

In my Intuit experience, I learned a ton about communication and building consensus across disparate stakeholders. Leading through influence, rather than position authority. I learned other things as well, which I cherish and that having had the experience enables me to be even more excited about the next chapter.

Oddly enough, growing up I was the least inclined of the Goodrich’s to roll up my sleeves and do serious physical work; I never worked in construction and have only re-roofed one house and painted two. Digitally speaking when it comes to work, I’m thrilled whenever I can get stuff done. Checkout via Git and edit some copy? Sure. Draft a blog post, press release or script for a webinar? Awesome. Strategize on a testing roadmap to ensure optimal price, conversion rates and LTV? Definitely.Instrument via Google Experiments, Optimizely or similar the test code and HTML? No problem.

Meta-work about the work that needs to happen before it can get then prioritized in an upcoming sprint to have an impact which can’t be measured end to end? Not so much. I like data, I like measurement and I love marketing platforms that can change the category. Knowing my own cultural and personality type ensures that I’ll land in the right place, doing the right kind of work.

Writing the long awaited SEO book based on my 13 year history in search

This is something no few people have suggested to me over the years. While I might not ever finish up a book, I’m a huge believer in the, “Information wants to be free,” theory on digital publishing. So what I thought I would do today in consideration of this idea is to start a reference, tutorial area on the site. I also need to fix up the nav and do other things but to start with, here’s my general outline for what I think such a book would cover:

  1. Performance & Load Speed Optimization as well as notes and pointers to resources on why this matters. My cliff notes for this is that, “Nobody will ever ask to wait for your site to load.” Secondarily is that speed is a competitive advantage. Know it, make the trade offs and you can achieve the kind of conversion rates and referrals that the largest sites achieve.
    1. Case study from back in the day with my first experience optimizing a site to load faster on FunAdvice, where we dropped bounce rates by 13% through perfromance alone. This also increased pages per visitor and gross sign up rates.
  2. Tell a great story, or to use the oft used phrase, “Content is king.” This means the overall experience of your site, not just the speed but the visuals, the creative, the copy, the voice and every single piece of text. What makes a great story isn’t keyword repetition and redundancy, it’s about convincing your prospects that your story makes a visceral connection with them by providing real value, free of charge, that’s directly adjacent to your core audience’s search term. In other words, provide real world value before engaging in commerce. When you consider browsing behavior and time spent online, a stat I heard at a Google event was that 95% of time online is outside of search engine results pages.
    1. Case study from my experience with emotion and targeted verbiage from my work at Quinstreet more than a decade ago. By making the style, tone and information very location centric rather than generic, keyword stuff verbiage, the conversion rates on the same type of traffic on every other site were 25% lower.
  3. Off site value has to be baked into the business model to ensure that third party websites drive traffic and build inbound links. The business potential of having tens of thousands of sites linking to you and sending consistent, steady traffic cannot be understated.
    1. Case study in one of the fastest growing sites we ever worked with and their link velocity. In fact, with every client I have data on, the growth of the business overall was always positively correlated with the number of third party sites linking to their site.

I will write up more case studies as well as I have data to support the various sections. The goal will be to have a mix of experience, history, technical terminology, how-to, suggested detailed strategies and references for more detail.

Get in touch via LinkedIn if you have any specific requests on media types, posts, subjects or case studies to be included in the book. Also, free quote, attribution and mention here as well as the book for anybody who gives me a shoutout.

Playing spot the possible spy in an airport

People who know me understand that I have a very active imagination. Those that know me really well know that while I’m a bestselling author, it’s not my vampire book that’s selling. At present, I’m working on the first of a new trilogy series that I still haven’t decided if I want to publish under my own name or use a new alias. The premise is fun and people I’ve shared the basic story arc with were impressed (or just being very nice). Any author will tell you that inspiration comes in all forms, shapes, sizes and mediums. I’m a fan of reading, learning, traveling, using my own experiences and dreams.

At the airport today in Seoul, I wandered around a bit after having some yuck breakfast. It was cheaper than the buffet at the transit hotel but my stomach did not appreciate the distinction. While wandering here, I noticed that Caucasian people are a small minority of the travelers passing through. A few white guys traveling together, a few couples, some older, larger folk and a single, solitary man who could pass for a carbon cut out of an agency operative on Nikita or Covert Affairs (TV shows, btw).

Let me run down the characteristics of the stereotypical agency guy on those shows:

  • Tall – has to be over 5’10 inches (average height for an American man is 5’9 from what I’ve read)
  • Built – he’s got to be in shape enough to sprint, to run distance, to perform hand to hand combat, etc
  • Black leather or suit jacket – for some reason, this tends to be the default move for so many spy movies and TV shows…I’d bet lunch that the CIA actually has a rule against wearing this ;)
  • Travels with multiple bags, one of which clearly has his high tech computer – see, if he’s a spy, he’s got one bag for his computer, one for his emergency clothes and ultra high tech gadgets, which of course break down into smaller components and probably masquerade as parts of children’s toys for his non-existent kids
  • Aware, curious and alert – most people I walked past were laser focused, had tunnel vision and were not paying any attention to the other people walking by. This guy, like any good spy, was on high alert and aware of his surroundings. Just because it’s a secure airport doesn’t mean there is zero chance he’ll have to go all Jackie Chan on somebody.
  • Hardened, unforgiving and perhaps sardonic expression – this comes from seeing too much of the world, knowing the breadth and depth of humanity. Since any decent spy in those shows will have experience, it’s hard in an unguarded moment to truly wipe the cynicism or hyper-alert state from your face.
  • No glasses – ever see one of the good or bad guys get into a serious brawl with glasses on? I don’t care if they are plastic lenses, the odds are tremendous that your face would take damage, not to mention that once lost, you’d be at a serious disadvantage.
  • Posture is straight and carries himself unlike a computer toting office worker – ever notice how almost every guy you meet over 35 who works in an office has a perma-hunch? It’s not all of them, just most.

Of course, people that know me really well know that I have some seriously crazy stories about my own life. My goal is my next book, like my vampire one, is actually crazier than my life. I think the ingredients I have together so far will ensure that’s the case.

The reason I’m writing this here is because for some reason, my blog blew up yesterday. I know why but I’m not going to repeat it here. It’s flattering to get attention and I appreciate it. In case the people who aren’t my target audience, like the other day, are still reading, here’s what I’m up to…starting some consulting work, interviewing for some awesome job opportunities and as of this week, writing again.

I took a few months off of writing, even though I had the same ideas as I do now but after chatting with my kids and hanging out with them I remembered something. In encouraging them to follow their dreams, I can’t neglect my own. I have business goals and my writing is both a hobby and a possible, future state where I become a bestselling author. In the airport, under, “English books,” I saw many authors I recognize and have read. Rothfuss, Riordan Martin and others that I have heard of including Brown, Patterson and more.

While the first goal of my writing is to start selling a story that connects with people, that changes lives…the second goal I’ve decided is I want to become, “Airport famous.” Alongside brands including Rolodex, Ferragamo, Gucci and others, I think for any writer, that would be a clear signal of seriously massive sales.

Do you have a dream? If so, you should pursue it. Do you want to know what my dream is? I want to tell stories that improve people’s lives.

Thirty-six hours to fly from Hong Kong to SFO; ouch

When I booked my tickets, I grabbed the cheapest ones. Now I realize given my layover today that if spending an extra hundred could have skipped the twenty two hour layover I have today…well, that would’ve been the right way to go. Now I have to fly out to Seoul, wait twenty-two hours, then board my final flight back to SFO. Even flying to the other side of the world from SFO in Maldives or India if you go through Dubai, it tends to be less than thirty-six hours.

I’ve been on email and in touch with folks; got some great news and am expecting more soon. Jet lag has been brutal this week, I’m sure that when I get to the states, it’ll be a fast recovery since I never fully adjusted to Hong Kong time.

What were the highlights of such a short and brutal trip?

Seeing my kids, of course. I spent the entire time in a tiny apartment, writing, looking up consulting agreements and reviewing job opportunities. In just about three days, I wrote nearly six thousand words and rebooted the first novel in a trilogy that I’m super excited about. Re-reading a few books by some authors I enjoy also allowed me to see, since it was a re-read, what I liked, what I didn’t like and where my style is just different.

The nice thing about distance, about doing something again, repetition is that you can see things which you might not catch the first time.

Creepy guy keeps clicking my linkedin profile, does this happen to you?

For some reason, this guy checks out my LinkedIn profile every couple of days. I wish he would browse anonymously or something because it’s really, truly creepy. He doesn’t write, he doesn’t favorite my stuff, he doesn’t offer me a job or solicit me as a recruiter. Nor do we work together. He just keeps checking in, even when I haven’t posted anything. I am 100% sure that I’m not the only person on LinkedIn that views this behavior as strange. It would make sense if it followed, you know, a status update, post, like or share. Or if they were actually in my network as a connection.

However, none of those things is true and I really wish that they would buy a clue, realize their creep factor has hit a billion and just knock it off.

Let me give you an idea how this is supposed to work on LinkedIn in a few steps:

  1. I check you out, it’s because at the moment, I’m job hunting and looking for consulting work
  2. Somebody else checks me out because they want to hire me or I shared something; or they were curious
  3. What you do not do, under any circumstances, is keep coming back to my profile every two days to look at my face.

After I post this, sure, come check me out – that’s kind of the point. But, check me out every three days, whether or not I’m posting stuff? That’s just weird.

OR maybe, just maybe, I’m the only one that thinks this is strange?

 

On being a free agent, rumors and politics – juicy details inside

I need to Google the saying, “The cat’s out of the bag.” Without announcement, I’ve had a few consulting offers come through (hey, if you’re reading, thanks!). On top of that, I’ve had a few interviews…one long shot but the potential is so crazy huge…I couldn’t resist. Then today, I had a call from a former agency relationship (Hi, Todd), and that sealed the deal for me. I can’t hide, my personal life might be put on blast on Twitter ad nausuem, but none of that changes things. Long, deep breath….

As of Monday, April 8th, 2013 I’ve become a free agent. That means I no longer lead the team I built, despite my admiration for each and everyone of them. It means I can rebuild my consulting business if I choose (I’m already half way there, but I want equity upside), and it means I’m looking. Recently, I’ve taken to the expression, “I’m all that and a bag of chips,” because it was the easiest to explain. If you are curious, as I’ve shared with a few people, I want to work for a smaller company. Every venture backed startup I’ve worked for got acquired and or went public; I add value.

Politics wise…there are a list of things I could say, but I’m not 25 anymore. If you want dirt, dig elsewhere.

Sometimes, we have to make sacrifices in life. For me, it means holding my tongue in public. For my friends, you know how much this costs.

To the one person who reached out and confirmed my guess; thank you. Life is what happens when you make other plans.

Hiring a team is a lot like my business development experience, check everything

Today, I had two phone calls with recruiters. As a hiring manager for my own business and a large tech firm, I know how the story goes. Check everything. Any flags, yellow, orange or red – done. It’s not that I have an issue with mistakes, what I know from experience is that when hiring, you are building a relationship that will last years. Thus when building the relationship, you have to be picky. Mull things over, double check and follow the process. First, you phone screen. Then if they pass, you screen in person. In a large company, there are two phone screens. One with the recruiter, the second with the hiring manager. Before any given candidate gets through the door, they need to clear both hurdles. What’s interesting to me is what happens after the, “Lunch test.”

The evaluation is very straightforward. Get lunch together while you’re checking their skills. If they can eat, be good company and explain their experience in a way you know will add value, bonus. If they can’t, they are still good people. But they just aren’t the fit you believed from the phone calls. Google posted that after four interviews, they found zero value in extra people on the panel. For my small business, there were only two people on the panel, myself and one other co-founder. In my business development experience (a long while ago), the checklist was drafted by yours truly. More recently during my consulting experience, I screened businesses as much as they screened us.

Why would a consulting firm screen their potential clients?

Simple. Every client we had, I needed to know two things before I would bother sending a proposal. First, would they follow our recommendations? If not, the relationship would not be fruitful for them and it might have a negative impact on my reputation. So I screened for companies who would follow through, because while we didn’t get paid on success, I am only happy when working with a team that gets it and can deliver. Secondarily, I also wanted to know that after we kicked the ball out of the park that it might lead to a referral. Success creates success and in consulting, happy clients create more opportunity.

After a few chats last week about consulting, I’m tempted. The money is good, the work is flexible and the people are awesome. However, despite the temptation, I want to be on a team. I don’t have a business plan in mind, so, I’m looking at other plans. It’s amazing what you see when you lift your head up and take a look around.