Today I Am A Marketer

To paraphrase President Kennedy: Ich bin ein Marketer. It’s not that I don’t care greatly about the product and features and it’s not that I’m not heavily investing my time in developing product. It’s that, in the past few months, I have come to understand my customers better than I ever have before. For the first time I understand WHY they use our powerOne and FastFigures products, not just WHAT they use them for. And this, my friends, makes me a marketer.

Figuring this out is really hard. I know. I spent years struggling with it.

If you follow Infinity Softworks then you know we have distributed some 15 million units, through bundling and sales, in our 12 year history. We gave away a low functioning product to sell a high functioning product. powerOne Finance, RRE and CRE, our three for-sale products focused on financial and real estate markets, were used to run calculation in the field. This is WHAT it did. But it took me a decade to figure out WHY these finance, real estate, investing and business customers used the products. The WHY is because it gave them credibility with their clients and co-workers. They are paid to have answers, to lend their expertise to a situation, and powerOne gave that to them, very quickly, everywhere and at their fingertips.

If I would have understood this, I could have developed the capabilities around the product to do even a better job of solving this product. Understanding WHY would drive every decision we would have made. And seeing opportunities in that light would have been a litmus test to decide whether we should pursue them or not. We could have also utilized this to develop other products that solved the same core problem.

I obviously didn’t understand this as our next move was to develop powerOne Graph. powerOne Graph was primarily focused on the scientific community, whose main constituents are in education. powerOne Graph answers the WHAT question perfectly: run calculations in the field. But the WHY for education is completely different then the WHY for business and finance. Education WHY was to develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. Completely different then the WHY for our financial products.

It’s that un-ending focus on solving the customers WHY that builds world-class products and companies. I hope to stay true to the WHY this time around.

Dear Microsoft

Steve Ballmer
1 Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA 98052-8300

Dear Mr. Ballmer:

I am concerned about Microsoft. The last decade has not been good to the company. Sure, it still owns the desktop operating system business, dominates the office suite and makes big money on servers and development environments. But there is something missing. To be honest with you, I think Microsoft has lost its way, it mojo so to speak. And I can tell because the developer community is no longer afraid of you.

Your business is assaulted from every direction. Linux has grabbed hold of IT departments. Google has become the thought leader on the web, destroying you on search and starting to challenge you in office suites. Open source is providing a bevy of development environments, all for free. Firefox is eating away at your dominant browser position. Apple has wrestled design and thought leadership away on mobile devices and laptops. Amazon is winning the race to be the web’s “operating system.” Nintendo outplayed you in game console systems.

Once upon a time, Microsoft was a visionary company. You took a concept like email and incorporated it as one piece in a grand vision to organize and manage personal information. That changed the game and wiped out Eudora, the market leader at the time. I think you can do the same kind of thing now, change the rules of the game and bring computing power to the masses, only this time on the web.

The strategy I am proposing here is perfect for Microsoft as it all relates to your existing businesses. Only this time, it’s on the web:

1. It’s about data. I am end-user and have data everywhere. I have it on cell phones used by everyone in my house and business, I have it on multiple computers, I have it on a personal server, I have it across the web. What I need is someone who knows how to extract all this information, put it in one secure central place so it can all be accessed on the web and on all the devices. Microsoft can do this. And it just so happens that you have a head start: you already have the technology to do this. Exchange works with all kinds of computers, servers and mobile devices. But what we need is not Exchange for IT pros but Exchange for the rest of us. I want to be able to enter an appointment on my BlackBerry and see it appear on our family’s web site calendar and my business calendar and on my business partner’s BlackBerry so she knows not to schedule that phone meeting then. And I want to buy a new song and have it appear on my wife’s laptop without having to think about it. And the same for pictures and video and every other piece of personal information. There’s plenty of money here. And that should make your shareholders happy.

2. It’s about developers. What was amazing about Windows is that it made operating systems useful for all of us, not just the nerds in the IT department. I don’t have to remember obscure keystrokes to make it work, it just works. This time it is not about end-users, though, but about people with ideas, whether they are developers or bloggers or just need to promote themselves. The web is still a bit like DOS. I have to know how to set up a server, databases, load balancing, run-time environments and such. It’s a real pain. And, of course, then I have to keep it running and make sure I don’t run out of server space or bandwidth or… I think you get the idea. I don’t really want to deal with this stuff. I want to create amazingly cool web apps. I want to share my ideas. I don’t want to be a systems administrator, as the current web provider’s require me to be. Microsoft could be the infrastucture for the world wide web, providing a platform for developers who wish to pay (think monthly fees) or don’t (think search placements).

3. It’s about business. It used to be that when you needed an application to run your business, you turned to Microsoft. But this is going to change as apps move online unless Microsoft moves too. Let’s face it, today this web-only approach by Google and others doesn’t work all that well. It’s slow and a little painful to use and I have to worry about working on my spreadsheets on the airplane. What they are really good at, though, is getting feedback on something as the web makes a great place for collaboration. You are uniquely positioned to offer online and offline versions of the products every business relies on. I know you risk cannibalizing your business, but for $50 a year you could charge for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, giving users both an online account and the software to load locally on their Windows or Mac computer. Anything I do locally automatically syncs to the server and others — with permission of course — can review and make changes and share their thoughts, wiki or subversion-style, all of which gets synced back locally. Now, I never have to worry about being out-of-date on my software and you have taken a big headache out of my daily life: sharing and soliciting feedback happens automatically.

One thing Microsoft has been amazing about in the past is re-inventing itself. It did this with operating systems, dropping DOS line entry system for a Windows interface. It did this with browsers. This, of course, is a bigger transformation than what the Company has done before. But it’s time, before we in high-tech start thinking about Microsoft like the rest of the country thinks about General Motors.

I hope you will take my suggestions seriously. After all, the last thing we need now is only one behemoth, destroying innovation and taking advantage of small companies. With both you and Google at each others throats, fighting like Mothra and Godzilla over dominance of the web, we’ll all be a little better off.


Elia Freedman

Company Foundations: Money, Vision and Timing

I have been thinking a lot about the keys to success for a company. In short order, they are money, strategic vision, and timing. If those three aren’t in place, then nothing else the company does will be successful. What I mean is without these three, excellent execution will mean nothing. Let me explain each.


A company is only as good as it has money in the bank to strategize and execute. This has been Infinity Softworks’ problem the past few years. We never had enough money in the bank to give us enough time to build a comprehensive strategy and execute to it.

In 2001 and 2002, we raised $550,000 but because of the economic downturn at the time money was very hard to come by and we raised it in drips and drabs. The mistake I made was we used the money to meet current obligations rather than executing to a comprehensive plan. At least until the end, when we raised a large chunk all at one time and we used that chunk to build our education plan and go after it. In that case it didn’t work out, but that was because of timing not money.

Don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not saying how much money needs to be raised; I am saying that money gives a company time to plan and execute. When Infinity Softworks started in 1997, we had only a few thousand dollars to build the company with, not many dollars (particularly for the kinds of money being tossed around in those days). But we had time. We were are all young and had very low overhead. This gave us the time we needed to bring out our first products and start to generate cash.

As mentioned, money has been an issue the past few years. We took part-time jobs working for others so we could continue to build FastFigures. Now, we are in the process of completing a small round of funding. It will give us the ability to focus on building our strategy and executing to it effectively.

Strategic Vision

It is imperative that a company understand what it is doing and what it is aiming for. Customers, partners and employees all need to understand it. A vision for what the company can be makes everyone excited to work with you. I have to admit that Infinity Softworks was aimless for a while. I had a better strategic vision in 1998-2000 (the next generation of financial calculators) than I had in 2001-2002 when we raised money. The vision became muddied.

Finally in 2003, we focused on revolutionizing math education (focusing our class time on key concepts instead of keystrokes). It brought partners out of the woodwork. Customers understood it. And the company’s employees all had common purpose. We knew what we needed to do and, importantly, we knew what we should not do. When it fell apart in 2006 (see Timing below), we were aimless again for a couple of years while the vision around FastFigures formulated. Now we are back on track. I can see excitement in the emails and conversations with beta and other customers, and see potential partners becoming excited about it.


With all the money in the world and the perfect strategy, none of it will matter without the right timing. This was the doom for our education business. The timing was wrong. Monies for technology in the classroom were drying up at the same time that Palm was struggling and decided to get out of the handheld business. We tried to switch course, to move to the web, but we took with the move the same strategic vision. It didn’t fit with how technology was used in the classroom. So we struggled to find partners and customers who bought into our vision. It just didn’t match the market.

The timing has to be right. I was too early and customers weren’t ready to hear my message. If I was too late, then my customers would have found a good enough solution already.

I think our timing is right for FastFigures. From a technical perspective the confluence of mobile computing and web-based computing are making a lot of things possible that just weren’t even two or three years ago. Fine, as my customers have pounded into me, it doesn’t mean web-based apps running on smartphones. But it does mean an improved method for sharing data and interacting between the two.

From a business perspective the economic meltdown has made professionals the world over have to understand the numbers before doing a deal or giving an answer, something missing over the past few years. Are we too early? I hope not but I can only know this one in retrospect.