Author Archives: meetnickthomas

Finding your inspiration

Is this how you try to “put the ball in the hole?”

One of the beautiful challenges with any form of writing is to ensure that what you are putting out is truly authentic, and not something that is contrived to support a secondary purpose or motive. When you think about it, this approach goes beyond writing and really is applicable to anything that you do – is your intention for doing ____ based upon a natural interest or ability in the subject itself, or is it the outcome you are after? Ironically, I find that whatever you do – from developing a product to engaging your customers to writing an editorial to designing an ad campaign – if you do it for the wrong reasons, and your inspiration comes from a source other than pure authenticity…it will show, and people will take the wrong kind of notice.

That brings me to a question I feel many of us need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves more often – where do you find your inspiration? Whether it’s your job, your life, a new hobby – how do you get motivated, how do you find that spark?

I think the answer is something we often overlook when we get wrapped up in our day to day scramble. Something simpler than an HBR “how-to” article. My best ideas come to me when I’m doing something I truly enjoy. When you are in that state of mind where external factors aren’t influencing your thinking – when your thought process is healthy and free. When you can allow your mind wander to it’s natural area of inspiration and determination to do the right thing – that’s when the magic happens.

After all, that IS how Happy beat that evil Shooter McGavin

Categories: Life | Leave a comment

What’s the iPhone worth to you? For mobile carriers…a lot.

If you’re a bit of a tech geek like me, you are probably checking in on the Apple v Samsung drama from time to time. Some interesting accusations and facts have come out, but one in particular caught my eye this morning.

What does Apple really charge carriers for the iPhone?

Thanks to documents released Friday, we have a pretty good idea.

For those of us who grew up during the peak of the Nokia/Sony Ericsson/Motorola days, remember when mobile carriers introduced the “free phone” concept? There was a period where quality service was expected, and carriers differentiated with their devices and associated marketing campaigns. That’s how AT&T scored the iPhone exclusively…at the time, even though Apple was a bit of an anomaly, as a whole the carriers called the shots. It was normal for carriers and device manufacturers to cozy up and work together exclusively.

Wow, how times have changed in just a few short years. Device manufacturers now rule the yard, as it’s their product that interacts directly with the customer…the service is a commodity, it’s the device that creates the relationship and maintains loyalty (quick plug for the power of the consumer!!!) Mobile plan costs have skyrocketed 2x and 3x from past pricing. The carriers claim its the advent of the smartphone and the need to invest in the bleeding edge technology that these devices require, and consumers expect.

Today, you sign up for new service via your preferred carrier, be it VZW, AT&T, Sprint, etc. you typically pay $199 for your shiny new iPhone. If you’re used to FREE, well, $199 can be tough to swallow. After all, those evil carriers are charging us $100-$200 a month, can’t they hook us up with a freebie device? Well, yes, if you’re willing to use the modern day version of the Startac. If you want that iPhone, pony up!

However, while the iPhone has literally changed the face of multiple industries, impacting our lives in many ways…who is footing the bill? Ultimately it’s us, but taking a look at their sales figures, there is more to it than that.

How much do you think VZW, for example pays for that iPhone?

Try $590.

Yes, Mobile carriers take, on average, a nearly $400 hit every single time a customer signs up for their service and chooses Apple’s one button wonder. Furthermore, if you look at costs over time, they are increasing steadily.

2007 (the iPhone is introduced) – $428 average revenue per device
2010 – $563 average revenue per device
2012 – $621 average revenue per device

These numbers raise a few observations and of course many questions. Before we draw conclusions, we need to point out some variables here:
– Firstly, there is no way to distinguish between the people who paid the $200 intro price, versus the $650 non-upgrade price either via Apple directly, or a carrier. So while the price per device numbers are direct from Apple, we can’t tell for sure how many devices were sold directly to consumers without a plan which would impact the overall profit loss carriers have experienced. Go conservative and cut it in half if you want, it’s still startling.
– Second, Apple still sells older iPhones at a discount. So in reality, if we are talking strictly their latest 4S model, the average cost per unit is actually HIGHER than what is above.
– Finally, Apple’s sales claims are quite contradictory. In 2011 Jobs claimed Apple had sold its 100 millionth iPhone. In 2012 analyst estimates were around 250m units sold worldwide. Per recent court filings, that number is approaching 100m iPhones sold…what number is correct? We will use the 100m number to be conservative.

OK, on to the commentary and analysis:

– Kudos to Apple for turning an industry upside down and completely changing the way their
partners think…and doing it by delivering what customers want, before we know we want it. This has ushered in a whole new era of customer focused companies who create the path forward versus simply copying others. Last night a friend of mine mentioned the new Sony Ericsson phone that “looks like a Droid 1.” If you aren’t innovating and driving consumer demand, you are the punchline. Companies have been dong this successfully for years, but Apple deserves their credit for recent contributions.

– Assuming 100m iPhones sold, at an average ~$400 loss…over the last 5 years mobile carriers have experienced nearly $40 BILLION in losses via iPhone pricing. That is one hell of a commitment to this technology and this device.

– For comparison purposes, in 2012 Samsung received $316 per device (Galaxy S2). That results in a much more cost effective proposition for carriers. Another testament to Apple that carriers actively market more profitable devices, yet consumers still choose Apple more than half the time versus dozens of other options.

– I would love to see someone do an analysis/chart of the major carriers’ R&D investment over this same time period. Has it truly risen parallel to the cost of service plans? Furthermore, how has profit risen/fallen over that same time period?

– Clearly the carriers feel this whole situation, at a minimum, is egregiously acceptable, or they wouldn’t be scrambling to get in on the action. However the trend here just isn’t sustainable long term. Something has to give. Plan prices obviously are increasing (and now we see a big reason why), one has to imagine Apple will continue increasing their prices as their own R&D costs increase. They are facing more legitimate competition than ever. I’m no Tim Cook, but I would venture to guess their strategy is to do what they have always done, but do it better, and faster. Well, for you automotive gearheads out there, you know the old adage – “cheap, reliable, fast – pick two”? Yep. There is also that little commitment they have to shareholders to grow profitability quarter over quarter.

My guess? Price hikes are coming…with regards to your plans…and your device. Carriers have to draw the line somewhere. If the iPhone 5 is released and Apple expects carriers to take a $500+ hit again and again…what will they do? My guess is charge the consumer more…maybe a $249 price point for the device, and some iPhone feature-specific pricing, if things get really hairy.

After all, someone has to pay for it 🙂

Categories: Customer Experience, Technology | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

So, THIS is how to be a “killer employee?”

Many of us, despite our immense individuality, share common traits – one similarity I have identified is the constant desire to improve our own efficiency. It’s as if we have this supreme confidence in ourselves, yet we often feel dissatisfied with our ability to prioritize and attack each day, so we constantly seek improvements to our daily ritual. There is nothing, I repeat, nothing wrong with this at all. After all, Bob Dylan said so:

To that end, a friend I have a great deal of respect for sent me this article recently:

12 Tasks that Killer Employees Always Finish Before Noon

All really good recommendations – don’t be a slave to email, exercise daily, find a routine, etc etc. You’ve read articles like this before, and chances are they have probably helped you find what you’re looking for in an incremental “wow that did help” type of way.

However as I read the article I was just waiting for the light bulb to go off….and it never did.

Why not?

The premise of the article is to address the readers’ need to improve productivity and be “the killer employee” that we all expect from ourselves. So the writer takes a task-focused approach to doing so in the hopes that the reader can pick a few that really resonate and engage. OK, love the concept…but aren’t we missing some fundamentals here? Do a page search for these words:






You get more zero’s than Zuckerberg’s last Fidelity statement. Listen, I got a very early start to my career, but at the end of the day I’m 29 years old, and I am not ashamed to admit that I haven’t seen it all out there. In fact I am thankful every day that there are so many experiences I have yet to enjoy and endure in life, my eyes and ears are always open. I am extremely fortunate to have been surrounded by amazing, well traveled, experienced, talented people all my life, and I try to lean on their wisdom to improve my own outlook and approach.

It is their wisdom that leads me to constantly question my own path towards being this so-called “killer employee.” One very popular quote comes to mind, and frankly it has nothing to do with email or meeting invites or the snooze button on your Surge clock radio (shout-out to the 90’s!). By the way, yes I am quoting Ghandi, I know, one foot on the soapbox, deal with it:

Firstly, what aspects of the world  around you bring you happiness? For example, what “change” do I want to see in the world? I want to see people helping one another, not because it’s right or wrong, but because they want to. I want to see people  being true to themselves. I want to see people communicate more based on emotion, and feeling, and what their heart tells them. I want to see people being genuinely happy for each others’ success and accomplishments. That all brings me happiness in my personal life.  Which brings me to an approach I try to embrace every single day in order to bring a natural sense of order, peace, organization, instinct, and success to every interaction:

Start your day off by making someone else’s a great one

Text your partner, your parents, your sibling, your kids, whoever, that you love them. Send a note to a colleague and their manager expressing your gratitude or admiration. Bring in your neighbors’ trash cans from the curb. Tell the lady behind the counter at your coffee shop that you really like her hair. Call a friend to let them know how much  they mean to you. If you’re getting great service from someone, let the company know. Do that odd-job around the house that you know your significant other hates to do…send them a text with a picture of the job well done. Give those kids selling lemonade on the corner a $5 donation to celebrate their entrepreneurial spirit. 10 seconds of your time can mean the world to someone else. Think back to your own experiences and the impact that someone else’s “Random Act of Kindness” had on you.

Now, what if your efficiency and level of success has nothing to do with your email, your schedule, your priorities, or other inward-focused aspects of your general day to day approach? Rather, simply by making someone else’s morning, you end up operating through a 100% crystal clear lens that day. You know exactly what to do and when, and how to do it. What if you can have a profound impact on your own productivity….by improving someone else’s?

Try it, and let us know. Everyone has a different approach – what works for you?

Categories: Leadership, Life | Leave a comment

The rise and fall of internet browsers – what is the trend consumer-driven organizations should take note of?

The goal of every customer-focused organization should center around not just keeping your customers happy, but effectively developing them into promoters of your brand. It’s great if I enjoy Philz Coffee, but if I don’t speak up when someone says “hey where do you want to go to grab a coffee?” then the company is missing something in their efforts to develop me into a true promoter.

As I was reading an article this morning using Chrome, I started to think about the correlation between the rise and fall of web browsers, and what those companies could do, and are doing, in recognition of the above fact – making customers “happy” doesn’t cut it anymore. Happiness = the meeting of expectations for most. Promotion = exceeding expectations. If your customers are just “happy” that doesn’t mean they are loyal. There is so much technology out there that allows us to capture true customer sentiment, there is no reason an organization should sit back and allow their competitors to drive loyalty, while their internal efforts ultimately drive complacency.

Let’s take a quick walk down Web Browser Way to reflect…


Remember this? If you’re a Millennial like me, of course  you do! Netscape was cool because it introduced us to the concept of a “portal” to this “world wide web” – a place where anything goes and information is accessible 24/7. Netscape was embraced as “THE” portal for years…mainly because there weren’t any viable options. Microsoft swooped in and said “we can deliver more” – which at the time meant mega-functionality and complexity. Which is what we wanted, interestingly enough. Our demand at the time was “ok we get step 1, we’re on the internet – now give us more of it!” Netscape couldn’t deliver…enter Microsoft.

MS Internet Explorer

We all know this product well. For years it was the standard, and we endured long load times, crashes, and other technical challenges…all because ultimately IE delivered way more functionality. MS did a terrific job of incorporating plug-ins and embedded video and whatever the latest buzz was….but often at the expense of usability and stability. So while consumers were demanding for functionality just a few years prior, and MS delivered…what was the latest demand? “Just make it work!” So while MS was focusing on building more functionality that no one wanted, Mozilla came along…

Mozilla Firefox

This is where things got really interesting. YES IE is the standard, it’s on 90%+ of all computers, everyone uses it and everyone knows it. The folks over at Mozilla knew there was a better way and decided to go against all odds (and a surging MS at the time), introducing Firefox. This was so very disruptive on so many levels at the time, it’s such a great story. The very nature of Firefox as an open source tool meant that the company could quickly deliver and maintain a product based upon what people wanted. This agility was a stark contrast to IE, and users began defecting in droves. Firefox also opened the door for Opera, Safari, and other browsers to get away from being platform or niche-specific browsers and welcomed them to the mainstream. Firefox (and its peers) offered stability, and started a trend that Google ultimately would pick up and run with….SIMPLICITY!

Google Chrome

Google banked on their corporate message of simplicity to bring out, in their eyes, the ultimate browser…one that is functional, stable, and just works. Your experience may vary, but the point here is to emphasize their intent…which was directly driven by what was going on in the marketplace at the time (think about all the automation we have been introduced to in the last 5 years aimed at simplifying our lives)…what CONSUMERS wanted was something that is simple and just works as advertised. Chrome is not without its flaws, but Google delivered and consumers (like myself) are responding favorably.

So to summarize, the demand went from ACCESS -> FUNCTIONALITY -> STABILITY -> SIMPLICITY.  The common trend here is right before every disruptive technology was introduced…something fundamental to the customer experience was broken and someone knew it. Someone, somewhere realized that IE was unstable and folks simply shouldn’t have to deal with crashes. So they developed a better way. Anyone who has been a part of this process will tell you – what’s the best way to find out what’s working and what’s not? TALK TO YOUR CUSTOMERS! Leverage every tool you have – online reviews, customer feedback/surveys, social media….use it all. Not just to enter data into a spreadsheet and present in your next weekly team meeting (which is a blog topic for another day)…do more with it. Make it actionable by embedding the analysis and response to this data into your organizations’ daily routine.

We as consumers are  very fickle (especially Millennials)…if you are not constantly improving your service (and letting us know about it) we will find another outlet…like we all did with web browsers. Innovation isn’t just about revenue, it’s about inspiring and motivating your customers to believe in your brand…moving them from happy customers to loyal customers to active promoters.

Just ask me – I use Chrome. I literally have 18 windows open right now on a 3yr old Dell Lattitude laptop…and it’s humming right along – you should try it 🙂

Categories: Customer Experience, Technology | 1 Comment

Welcome to the NFL, Robert Griffin III – what can you teach us?

It takes a lot for someone to admit this publicly given the pain and suffering we have endured for years….but I am a diehard, go hard or go home Redskins fan. I know every single word to Hail to the Redskins….yes, there is more to the song than “Hail to the Redskins, Hail Victory!”. I am quiet on offense, and am straining every inch of my vocal chords on defense. My teeth clench and my left eye twitches just a bit when I see that blue star. So naturally, I have been eagerly anticipating this day….the day we get to see Robert Griffin III suit up and face a real, live, NFL defense.

Being a Redskins fan, I have learned not to get my hopes up, so this post isn’t about how great this player is going to be…he hasn’t proven a thing yet, and we all need to keep that in perspective. However, he has shown a tremendous ability to lead, inspiring fans and his teammates with his poise and preparation.

As a professional who aspires to get the most out of myself, my colleagues, and my clients every day, I am really enjoying studying how “BobGriff” leads his team, but also how he interacts with the media, taking note of some really thoughtful and inspiring statements. Let’s take a look:

Q: “Are you going to be nervous leading up to your first game?”

Griffin: “I think I’ll be more anxious than nervous. When you’re anxious, you can’t wait to go succeed

I thought back to some of my more “anxious” moments in my career, comparing that feeling to being nervous. Nerves are a blessing – your body telling you that something isn’t right…most likely you are not prepared, you’re missing something. We’ve all been in a situation where we were unprepared…it feels horrible. Conversely, remember that feeling you get when you have prepared for something so thoroughly that you are just ready to hit it head on and will run over anything in your way? The difference between being nervous…and being anxious.

Q: Are you worried about your offensive line blocking for you with so many starters hurt?

Griffin: If you think you have a banged up offensive line or a bad offensive line then as a Quarterback, you’ll play scared. One thing I don’t want those guys to think is that I don’t trust them — I definitely trust my offensive line, whoever is out there with us.

We all know it – confidence is key. Not just YOUR confidence, but that of your teammates. Griffin takes this opportunity to make a public statement that he trusts each and every guy on the field with him…whether they are a starter, a pro bowl player, or a rookie, they are in it together. He could have said “no, next man up will do the job, we miss those guys but we’ll be OK” but frankly that’s not good enough. He needs whoever is out there to perform their absolute best, he is setting the expectation that they will, and he is making them feel comfortable and confident in their own abilities to succeed. What a great reminder of the importance of inspiring confidence in each other as individuals and as a team.

Q: Are you worried about any routes you aren’t comfortable with?

A: “There are always those routes as a quarterback that you have. There are routes that I feel good with and there’s routes I don’t feel good about. It’s just my job to echo that to Coach and to continue working on the ones I don’t feel so good about, so that when it comes down to it we can pull anything out of our bag of tricks and go for it.” 

We tend to forget this, especially when things are going well, but this is a great reminder about being honest with yourself regarding your gaps and where you can improve, as well as surrounding yourself with people you trust to help you continue growing as a person, as a friend, a teammate, a father, a brother, etc. The anatomy of a Salesperson consists of many unique qualities, one of them being an immense fear/discomfort with regards to those who you are close with (clients, management, etc) being disappointed in you. As anyone who has sat on a sales forecast call knows, a great leader often tests their people on their willingness to find gaps in their approach, and their natural ability to know when it’s time to ask for advice from others on how to improve. The only thing more inspiring than a confident person is when that confident person asks for help, gets it, and reaps the rewards.

Enough RG3 love for the day…well, until kickoff that is. Stay healthy Griff, good luck, we’re rooting for you!!

Categories: Leadership, Sports | Leave a comment

Square Payments coming to Starbucks – EMBRACE DISRUPTION!

Square goes mainstream (updated link)


We all enjoy disruptive technology as consumers. Developments like Square’s payment system are a perfect example of people realizing “there is a better way to do this” and actually doing something about it. Hey, small business owners, remember the days of those “payment system” companies robbing you right in front of your eyes?

“Yes sir, that will be $2500 for the credit card machine, payable in 100 installments of $25 a month…and we will also be taking 3% of every transaction for VISA/MC and 3.5% for AMEX, thank you”

I was talking to the owner of a local business the other day who told me that he gets a surcharge on every transaction he swipes that is under $10. Wow. It’s (ironically) a small coffee shop – how many transactions do you think are subject to this arbitrary fee?

The “experience” didn’t stop with hefty fees. Good luck getting a live person on the phone to assist with an inoperable machine or a billing issue. Your brand and your revenue stream rests on your ability to take payments via card, and if your machine is down, your world stops….yet you couldn’t hold anyone accountable to meet your expectations as a customer.

Credit cards are such a staple of our everyday purchasing routine, we as consumers expect businesses to accept any and all forms of payment. When they don’t, you kind of look at them funny like “is this a legit operation?” Small businesses need to accept credit cards, so unfortunately, they are taken advantage of in the process. Excuse me for being sentimental, but shouldn’t we be encouraging people to start local businesses, not discouraging them with unreasonable fees on top of unreasonable fees?

Enter Square – eliminate the hidden fees…charge a flat fee for any type of card. Leasing a credit card machine? History. Eliminate the proprietary hardware and associated challenges by making a simple device that works via technology you already own and use every day. Create a vast online knowledgebase where customers can get support immediately. Truly act as a service provider, taking pride in the service you are delivering. As with most technology today, Square is taking the details out of the equation and making it simple – pay us a flat fee, and we will provide the service you require….no fluff.

The deal with Starbucks (SBUX) is a terrific win not just for them and for Square, but for small businesses, consumers, and fans of similar companies who challenge conventional thinking and fix what’s broken. Howard Schultz (Chairman & CEO of SBUX) sitting on Square’s board makes so much sense as it strengthens their credibility in the eyes of other retailers, who certainly are taking notice.

Way to go Square, and way to go SBUX for believing in and embracing disruptive technology.

What’s next? Replacing cash registers with iPads? Equipping everyone at your big box retailer with their own scanner and payment system via iPhone, so you can “check out” anywhere in the store? It’s all coming…and as consumers, our transactions are about to get much easier.

Categories: Customer Experience, Technology | Tags: | 22 Comments

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

Larry David – do you see yourself, or is this guy nuts?

This video is a great example of 2 people just being themselves…no filter. It’s also the initial episode of an awesome online series by Jerry Seinfeld. I love it because:

a) It’s Jerry & Larry, come on, hilarious

b) it raises the question – why don’t we lighten up and find the magic in the mundane more often? Larry makes us laugh because of how ridiculous some of the conversation is, but also because his comments catch you off guard. “Are you excited” is met with “eh, I wouldnt say I’m excited” which of course is not the appropriate thing to say at the moment…even though it’s completely true. So why isn’t it appropriate?

I don’t know if there is a more refreshing characteristic in a person – pure, unfiltered truth! Time to break out some old episodes of Curb…

Categories: Funny | Leave a comment

Bill McDermott…on Tim Tebow?

Bill McDermott on…Tim Tebow? SAP’s CEO on what his peers can learn from the Jets QB

Fascinating read for a couple reasons:

1) Classic McDermott – all about authenticity. I have never met a more inspiring, authentic, naturally enthusiastic leader in my career than Bill. Here is a great quote, right off the bat, where he immediately disrupts common thought and introduces the  basis for his whole approach as a leader:

“In business, people tell you to fit in, but it’s far better to be yourself, be different and contribute whatever unique talents you have. Most CEOs and executives have a “secret sauce”that makes them successful. It’s critical to stay true to who you are.”

2) One of the reasons I always enjoyed hearing Bill speak – he consistently conveys an undying passion for winning, and never under-emphasizes the importance of customer success in that equation. His entire organization and leadership team embraces the fact that in order to achieve their goals, they need to ensure their customers are not just satisfied, but enthusiastic promoters of their brand.

“In business you are your record. Do you inspire people, are your customers loyal, do partners trust you and your word, do you give back to society? For a company, culture is the foundation, and a culture focused on long-term sustainable winning is unbeatable”

Kudos to you Bill, your character and vision continues to make an impact on folks around the world.

Categories: Customer Experience, Leadership | Leave a comment

“So…what do you do?”

How do you answer that question?

Most people would respond accordingly with their profession:

  • A bus driver
  • A podiatrist
  • A professional ping pong player (where do I try out!?!)

In a beautiful little town in Hawaii by the name of Hana (and as much as we fell head over heels in love with Hana, it’s no surprise it’s the first thing I chose to blog about), I was part of a conversation with a few locals, whereby one asked a visitor this standard, conversation-opening question.

“So what do you do?”
“What do you mean, ‘what do I do?'”

“Like, for a job…what do you do?”
“My job? Why do you want to know?”

So at this point you’re thinking “what a jerk” – what he said next was extremely thought provoking.

“Listen – when you ask me ‘what do I do?’ – well I surf, I fish, I like to read, I really enjoy writing in my journal, I have a beautiful girlfriend who I try to spend as much time with as possible…that’s really what I do. Doesn’t that tell you more about  me than what my profession is?”

So yes, maybe still a jerk, but he wasn’t trying to be. He was answering honestly, instead of perpetuating the expectation that anyone participating in that conversation would get anything truly meaningful talking about the successful HVAC company he founded 15 years ago. Nevermind the fact that he could tell the person asking…well she didn’t really care.

His answer changed the tone of the conversation from small talk, to an hour-long discussion about relationships, how people interact with one another, and how each of us chooses to approach those interactions.

So…what do I do?

I approach life with open arms, open eyes, and open ears. I love my wife Jacke very much, and our dog Terra puts a smile on my face every morning as I walk out of the bedroom and see her anticipating a great doggy-day. Travel is my favorite way to experience life – the beach is magical to me, I could listen to the sound of waves crashing for hours and hours. I respect honesty, character, courage, innovation, integrity, commitment, and passion…and believe the same should be expected of me. I enjoy fast cars…maybe a little too much. I play guitar, and aim to learn a new song once a month. I have recently begun to really enjoy gardening and  flora in general. I love technology and the automation of just about everything. I am extremely passionate about the impact that technology continues to have on the business/consumer relationship, and am a firm believer that we are on the cusp of something special as organizations place an emphasis on their obligation to deliver a stellar customer experience. While cutting edge technology is great, I still hold a special spot in my heart for retro gaming and electronics – things that just work as they should. I often have very high expectations of myself, my friends, and my colleagues, and have always felt if you’re going to do something, give it your all. One of my favorite quotes hangs in my office (a gift from my wife) from James Dean:

“Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today”

The concept Dean conveys is what drives me every day.

So…what do you do?

Categories: Introduction | 3 Comments

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