What has happened to Dell’s online shopping experience?

I tried to buy a Dell laptop in Malaysia. The old way was such that I would place the order online, and checkout with my credit card. A process that would take 10-15 minutes.

The new way? Configure it, and call up someone at Dell. They then send you an email within a few hours. You are meant to then go pick it up at a distributor, and pay them via cheque or cash. No more credit cards. 

So I walked to the Lenovo store in MidValley. Plonked down my credit card (an Amex was accepted; and there was no extra 2% charge like you may get at Low Yat), and walked away with a Lenovo laptop, with the same 3-year next day on-site business warranty. I think I even saved some money compared to the Dell that I was speccing out.

I have to admit that this is a step back for Dell in Malaysia. The contrast to Apple? It takes about 5 minutes to configure everything and just make payment online. It’s that easy. Even many of the monitors I used to enjoy buying now basically say “call dell”. This can’t be a good way to move the company forward, eh?

OmniFocus Clip-o-Tron

I use OmniFocus and Apple Mail quite religiously. Sure there’s the wonders of GMail, but I’m an offline email kind of guy. What is not immediately obvious is how one can make a task from an email message in OmniFocus.

You want the OmniFocus Clip-o-Tron. I only recently just discovered it, and its one of those things you wonder why The Omni Group did not just install by default. It makes so much sense. It helps with GTD, after all, isn’t Mail the app where a lot of people spend their times and lives in?

Makes me wonder what else I’ve been missing out from using. This alongside MsgFiler are great tools to improve your Mail productivity.

Talent Management: What football teaches us

I took great interest in an article in the FT Weekend a few months back, titled: Game of talents: management lessons from top football coaches. (The FT claims you can now read an article a day even if you don’t have a subscription, so here’s hoping.) I’ve never watched a whole football game in my life, but the management tips in this were excellent for high performing organisations, and I think startups benefit a lot from learnings in other fields.

Learning that the idea behind “talent management” originated from a consulting firm, McKinsey, in 1997, when they identified a “war for talent” was rather fascinating.

Its true that big talent usually comes with a big ego. Smart mangers accept that. Its clear that big talents also know that the employer needs them, hence there’s scope to break the rule of behaviour. Does ego damage an organisation or help drive good talent to become stars (I’m going to agree with the latter)? If you want obedient soldiers (yes-men?), you forsake good talent.

Arsenal’s manager Arsène Wenger says: “If you want an easy week [in training with the players], then expect a hard weekend [in the game]. If you want an easy weekend, then prepare for a hard week.”

We always hear that no person is bigger than the organisation; however organisations should be large enough to accomodate great talent. But at the same time unchecked egos are probably not the best — high performers are better when they “get over themselves” (so the conventional wisdom of they have a family, a pet, etc. something we looked for hiring when at MySQL since most of us worked from home).

“Football is the most individual team sport” – isn’t that true in most organisations where it really is every man for himself? Manage, but don’t dominate talent is probably also key (I’ve experienced micro-management and I can assure you its a sure-fire way to frustrate talent and possibly to leave; not all good talent graduate to being good managers). Talent need to trust each other, i.e. the team they’re working with, a lot more than they like each other — again, anecdotally, when we started Team MariaDB, we were a team of people that trusted each other from the MySQL days, banding together to become one cohesive unit. Arguably, we still are!

Talent joins an organisation to improve while there. So focus on making sure they are always improving. Send them to conferences to learn more. Give them new tasks.

On motivation:

  • “Good talent motivate itself.”
  • “Our job is not to demotivate them by not providing the challenges and goals that their talents need” – Carlo Ancelotti
  • A big talent is usually self-motivated. He wants to succeed for himself and his career. However, if he senses that the management is second rate, he may decide to go and succeed in another organisation.

I found it interesting that 99% of recruitment is about whom you don’t hire; again its true that if you introduce a weak team member, the best talent may leave. Worse, a weak manager! Overall, one should also accept that talent may eventually leave (I think we have a pretty good record @ Team MariaDB for non-leavers). Its amazing that an average graduate changes jobs 11 times, while the average footballer changes jobs 3.8 times. Managers should seek productivity, not loyalty (though I think loyalty to the cause plays a role; this is where football doesn’t quite transcend say to opensource organisations with competition in the field).

Overall, I think it was a great article, I learned a lot from it, and I think you will too. Remember to read it — Game of talents: management lessons from top football coaches.

The online banking opportunity

It’s 2015, everyone I know makes use of online banking. In fact in Malaysia you’re getting online banking mobile apps that also take advantage Apple’s fingerprint sensor to give you a quick balance. Yet, you can’t take a photo of a cheque and get yourself credited, like you can do in the USA.

But that’s not the online banking I’m referring to. Online banking as a service or conduit for your physical bank is pretty boring. I’m thinking of the online savings accounts like ING Direct does provide you in Australia — high interest rates due to not having physical bank branches to maintain. Withdrawals or payments are made easy by having access to a cheque book. 

So the online banking I’m excited about is the idea of a direct bank.

No bank branches, minimal advertising (have you seen the HSBC ads on the rugby or the many airports one may visit?), mobile first, desktop second, and great telephone support in the local language of choice. ATM withdrawal fees at any network will be reimbursed if less than 5-8 transactions a month (Standard Chartered in Malaysia already manages this). ATMs in critical areas (malls? coffee shops?), with cash deposit as well as coin deposit (Singapore’s DBS has good examples of this). Cheque deposits via snapping a photo on your mobile phone. 

What about loans? Let’s do it over the telephone. Since we’ve got the online first mentality, wouldn’t it be cool to provide an interest rate discount if you provided us access to your social media streams? After all the more data we can get about you, the better it is we can provide you with a loan! This can also work for unsecured lines of credit (credit cards, personal loans, etc.) — your creditworthiness can be deemed on how much you’ve demonstrated you can pay (ala Amex), but at the same time once we have more information about you, we can be a lot more efficient (eg. you’ve posted a photo of you in Athens on Instagram; the bank doesn’t have to call you about a potential fraudulent transaction since it knows you’re there). Identity (and encryption) is important, so tying in a service like Keybase.io might make sense to ensure that now I can email my bank about my travel plans. After all banks are already used to using “Secure Mail” to send their private banking customers notes via email…

Hong Kong and Singapore understand electronic payments at point of sale via Octopus cards as well as the NETS system. Australia was way ahead of this trend with EFTPOS (with the ability to cash out at some locations like supermarkets even, thus eliminating the need for you to visit a bank ATM). Malaysia has this ability with MEPS but it has never really taken off. I once had dreams of paying my nasi lemak seller using plastic; that was the promise of SoftSpace (Malaysia’s answer to Square). Execution of buying a unit from CIMB (they white label for them) is nowhere near as easy as Square, which explains why uptake has been extremely slow.

But the time is now. There are more mobile phones in use than there are Malaysians. Many have access to the Internet, either via mobile data or WiFi. Pretty much every establishment today has access to an Internet connection. There is no longer an excuse to not have electronic payments. Its also a lot more efficient for the tax man (from a retailer’s standpoint).

One thing that I’ve not focused on much is regulation; however regulation is something that will eventually change with time (or if you do something first…). South Korea is moving towards this as the FT reports — South Korea moves towards first online-only bank. They plan to only issue one or two licenses, and it seems that DaumKakao is looking towards getting their hands on a license, and offer banking via their popular messaging app, KakaoTalk. “Seoul is introducing web-only banks as part of efforts to deregulate and advance the under-developed financial sector, as it seeks new economic growth drivers.” – something Malaysia can learn a lot from. It’s interesting that China already has some of this in the form of Mybank (backed by Alibaba) and WeBank (backed by Tencent).

There’s also reading material that I found rather interesting, a 2014 McKinsey report — Digital Banking in Asia. The US has something cool via Simple (can draw some great inspiration from their execution).

If you’re interested in solving a hard problem, with a great focus on customer satisfaction, with the ability to be really disruptive, please feel free to drop me an email — byte@bytebot.net.

LinuxCon North America in Seattle

I’m excited to be at LinuxCon North America in Seattle next week (August 17-19 2015). I’ve spoken at many LinuxCon events, and this one won’t be any different. Part of the appeal of the conference is being able to visit a new place every year.

MariaDB Corporation will have a booth, so you’ll always be able to see friendly Rod Allen camped there. In between talks and meetings, there will also be Max Mether and quite possibly all the other folk that live in Seattle (Kolbe Kegel, Patrick Crews, Gerry Narvaja).

For those in the database space, don’t forget to come attend some of our talks (represented by MariaDB Corporation and Oracle Corporation):

  1. MariaDB: The New MySQL is Five Years Old & Everywhere by Colin Charles
  2. MySQL High Availability in 2015 by Colin Charles
  3. Handling large MySQL and MariaDB farms with MaxScale by Max Mether
  4. The Proper Care and Feeding of a MySQL Database for a Linux Administrator by Dave Stokes
  5. MySQL Security in a Cloudy World by Dave Stokes

See you in Seattle soon!

On grooming

Via Bloomberg Businessweek (July 20-26 2015, page 63):

“I always say no one ever got fired for asking for more. And you manage your boss, not the other way around. (I am going to regret this.) — Mike Sheldon, CEO, Deutsch North America