I’ll warn you upfront that this is my most personal post on this blog and may not have much to do with the word-of-mouth industry.  I would argue, however, that it has a lot to do with the mindset of consumers.  And, of course, they carry word-of-mouth.  You decide, should you decide to read on.

We’re approaching our 3-year anniversary (May 2) at Bazaarvoice, and I’ve been restless thinking about this incredibly transformational time in history.  I’m on my way back from an exhilarating week in Philly and NYC, and I’ve literally had 12 hours of sleep over the past three days.  My journey has included a $320 taxi ride from NYC to Philly at 1:30am and many other moments of craziness that I may share with you one day over beers.  Here are some of the forces of transformation I have been churning on:

1.    Civic duty: Bill Gates leaving Microsoft to focus, with his wife, on spending his mindboggling billions on the most important causes in the world.  The places where their money can affect the most impact.  Like Andy Grove recommended in High-Output Management (one of my favorite beginning management books), you should spend your time on the highest leverage activities – those that impact and empower that greatest number of people in your organization.  With Warren Buffett being one of the smartest people in history and realizing his own strengths and weaknesses, knowing that Bill and Melinda Gates would do a better job than him on impacting change through charity, entrusting them with 85% of his equally mindboggling billions – this was the most incredible personal initiative that I can think of in my lifetime.

        Civic duty is very powerful, and I believe we are in a transformational period where more people are getting involved.  From the beginning of Bazaarvoice, we have focused on charity, and this has nourished the soul of our company.  I’m convinced that our usual involvement in this area has led to faster and more profitable growth than our peers (fellow rapid-growth companies our age).  In Judaism, we call this tzedakah.  Perhaps the Web connects us and creates more accountability in this area, where a virtuous cycle of giving kicks in.

2.    Free-market regulation: I have always been a Republican.  I am also Jewish and most of my fellow Jews are not Republicans.  I am also an Austin native, where most people are Democrats.  And I am a Wharton MBA alum, where I presented all day Tuesday, on my own dime, on the subject of leadership and teamwork (teaching is giving and learning).  If there was ever a free-market focused school, it's Wharton.  This whole mortgage mess has great people, such as the Board of Directors at Shop.org, talking about free-market regulation in a way that I never heard in my professional career.  The exotic instruments created, the ignorant (or knowingly false) assumption that housing prices would climb forever, the forced sale of Bear Stearns, the sleepless nights for Paulson and Bernarke, and the near collapse of our economy.  It’s hard to sleep when I feel an obligation to study and learn from this period in history.  I grok business.  And it really has me thinking about the wisdom of unregulated capitalism.  As a result, for the first time in my life I will be voting for a Democrat in this presidential election (not my only reason for the switch).  The dot-com bubble bursting, which was personally so painful for me as an early pioneer as the founder of Coremetrics with 100 of our dot-com clients going out of business, pales in comparison to the trillions that will be lost globally as a result of our mortgage bubble.  I know from my conversations in the industry that many of us are rethinking unregulated capitalism.  I think this will mess will lead to greater consumer involvement in government, and the Web will be an extremely powerful force in that.  Just wait until everyone can vote online.

3.    The health of our planet: To be transparent with you up-front, I drive a 2008 Audi S8, which has a 10-cylinder, 450-horsepower motor.  It is an incredible machine, a real dream car for me and a reward for my entrepreneurial success, but it’s also a gas-guzzling monster.  So you can either skip this paragraph, or read on. 

        An Inconvenient Truth was just that – too inconvenient.  Hybrids haven’t really made a dent (well less than 5% of all cars sold are hybrids), and the truth is they are mostly gas-powered anyways – more of a symbolic gesture really.  The Tesla (see my previous post on them) and the Chevrolet Volt – that’s real change (but generating electricity also consumes resources).  I keep reading about the two-stroke cheap motors in China spewing massive emissions.  These small motors are even worse than huge ones. 

        Companies are moving toward green, both for attracting a new age of green-aware consumers as well as to ensure their longevity.  I have blogged about this many times over the past three years (see Aug-06, Dec-06, Jan-07 for three insightful examples).  It is a huge trend.  But I’m restless because we’re not making progress as fast as I thought we would.  I sometimes feel like we have a freight train speeding towards us, with rapid worldwide population growth not helping.  As I’ve blogged about previously, I’m ultimately hopeful that entrepreneurs will successfully affect real change by capitalizing on the multi-trillion dollar opportunities.  The venture capitalists are all over it, and that's because the entrepreneurs are all over it.  One only needs to look at the rapidly rising price of oil and commodities to realize that there are ridiculous amounts of money to be made if you can find real alternative sources of energy.  But I’m pretty sure it is going to take government regulation to get there, as my faith in unregulated capitalism has been somewhat shattered (see #2 above).        

        The implications for companies is obvious – attract green-aware consumers through their actions and affect real change to ensure their longevity (e.g., are they dependent on gasoline or other diminishing resources to survive?).

4.    The war on terrorism: This is too thorny to really dig into publicly, and I’m not educated enough about all of the issues to feel confident in my proposed solutions.  I pray that our government is.  In any case, this is a huge problem for the human race, not just the U.S., and I have no idea what happens if we stop being vigilant.  It is pretty obvious that the actions of our current President are easy to criticize in hindsight, and there has never been a costlier war.  As I travel throughout Europe, it is clear to me we need a President that will be able to repair our relationships with other countries.  I look forward to seeing solutions vigorously debated in the upcoming Presidential campaign (and I’m sure it will continue for long afterwards) and being open-minded to solutions proposed then.  I’m hopeful that the Web will bring us together, as the human race, to debate these issues and find reconciliation through understanding each other.  Given the increasingly global nature of business, this is incredibly important to businesses as well as the disruption could be exponential.

I would love to hear your perspectives on my rants above.  After almost three years in business, having much pride for what we have accomplished as a business and team, I can tell you that the best part of my job is working with our incredibly smart clients.  Thank you!

I'll post Part 2 (update: Part 2 is live now) of this trend piece soon, and I promise to make it more focused on word-of-mouth and our business.  And I'll end on a better note, too.

And now I’m going to catch up on some sleep! 

21 Responses to “An Incredibly Transformational Time in History (Part 1)”

  1. Cay Real Estate

    Great thoughts and insights Brett. I’d agree with what you said in the fourth part: “… we need a President that will be able to repair our relationships with other countries.” Though at times promoting and upholding the peace is harder than making war with other nations, I’m sure that with the right solutions we can still promote peace and unity with other countries. Optimism perhaps is much needed as well.

    Kevin White
    Visit us at: 

    http://www.cayrealestateagentdirectory.com 

  2. Brett,

    happened to catch this “old” post. I wonder how you feel now that it has been over a year with Obama as president? I am Jewish, live in Austin and am a democrat. I am liberal leaning, but also don’t believe giving people something for nothing in return from their part is always a good thing for that person or anybody else.

    Anyway, I “follow” you as I am involved in sales and online marketing and I know a lot about Coremetrics and Bazaarvoice (in fact I would like to get a job there if possible!). It is refreshing to hear about a Jewish Republican who is at least thinking about “social” improvements in the world.

  3. Brett, thank-you for posting your thoughts. I have found myself recently struggling with thoughts on how to raise my son (2 years old today) to be resilient to, and even become someone who is able to repair, the rough times ahead. It is comforting to see that an entrepreneur and leader like you is worried about the same things – because it means change is coming.

  4. Brett, thank-you for posting your thoughts. I have found myself recently struggling with thoughts on how to raise my son (2 years old today) to be resilient to, and even become someone who is able to repair, the rough times ahead. It is comforting to see that an entrepreneur and leader like you is worried about the same things – because it means change is coming.

  5. Brett Hurt

    Arnie,

    Thanks for your feedback. And happy Pesach!

    We are very careful in how we invest both of our time and money in charity. On Friday, a large group of us went to help in a retirement home. This is the best form of charity, in my opinion. It shows our employees the direct benefit of getting involved in helping the elderly and less fortunate. It is also the most costly. Time is money (one of my favorite Benjamin Franklin quotes). It is much easier to give money than give time, especially when you are a successful company.

    Thanks,
    Brett

  6. Brett Hurt

    Arnie,

    Thanks for your feedback. And happy Pesach!

    We are very careful in how we invest both of our time and money in charity. On Friday, a large group of us went to help in a retirement home. This is the best form of charity, in my opinion. It shows our employees the direct benefit of getting involved in helping the elderly and less fortunate. It is also the most costly. Time is money (one of my favorite Benjamin Franklin quotes). It is much easier to give money than give time, especially when you are a successful company.

    Thanks,
    Brett

  7. Brett Hurt

    Arnie,

    Thanks for your feedback. And happy Pesach!

    We are very careful in how we invest both of our time and money in charity. On Friday, a large group of us went to help in a retirement home. This is the best form of charity, in my opinion. It shows our employees the direct benefit of getting involved in helping the elderly and less fortunate. It is also the most costly. Time is money (one of my favorite Benjamin Franklin quotes). It is much easier to give money than give time, especially when you are a successful company.

    Thanks,
    Brett

  8. Brett Hurt

    Robert,

    Thanks so much for the kind words. It is a real pleasure to work with you and the Eisenbergs. I look forward to Bryan speaking at our Summit in May, and hope to see you there too.

    Have a great weekend.

    Best,
    Brett

  9. Brett Hurt

    Robert,

    Thanks so much for the kind words. It is a real pleasure to work with you and the Eisenbergs. I look forward to Bryan speaking at our Summit in May, and hope to see you there too.

    Have a great weekend.

    Best,
    Brett

  10. Brett Hurt

    Robert,

    Thanks so much for the kind words. It is a real pleasure to work with you and the Eisenbergs. I look forward to Bryan speaking at our Summit in May, and hope to see you there too.

    Have a great weekend.

    Best,
    Brett

  11. Brett Hurt

    Stokes,

    Thanks for your comment. What I meant by my comment is rethinking whether or not the lack of regulation in the industry is a good thing. It is clear that the lack of regulation in the mortgage lending market was not a good thing. It was a Ponzi scheme to get rich quick, and now we as taxpayers will bear the burden.

    The documentary “The Corporation” is a good one to watch. Although biased, it does help you think through these issues as you realize that incentives of the corporation, in this case the mortgage lenders, are sometimes not aligned with what is good for us as a human race. The book “Freakonomics” was also eye-opening as it made me realize that incentives are often the driver behind behavior that we don’t sometimes understand (on the surface). In this case, the incentives of the mortgage lenders were very different than the incentives of the lendee and the incentives of our government and the incentives of the general public.

    Thanks,
    Brett

  12. Brett Hurt

    Stokes,

    Thanks for your comment. What I meant by my comment is rethinking whether or not the lack of regulation in the industry is a good thing. It is clear that the lack of regulation in the mortgage lending market was not a good thing. It was a Ponzi scheme to get rich quick, and now we as taxpayers will bear the burden.

    The documentary “The Corporation” is a good one to watch. Although biased, it does help you think through these issues as you realize that incentives of the corporation, in this case the mortgage lenders, are sometimes not aligned with what is good for us as a human race. The book “Freakonomics” was also eye-opening as it made me realize that incentives are often the driver behind behavior that we don’t sometimes understand (on the surface). In this case, the incentives of the mortgage lenders were very different than the incentives of the lendee and the incentives of our government and the incentives of the general public.

    Thanks,
    Brett

  13. I’ve been a fan of your work for some time, Brett, but now I feel like I’m even more a fan of the person.

    Very well articulated. There are a lot of us who feel the same way.

  14. I’ve been a fan of your work for some time, Brett, but now I feel like I’m even more a fan of the person.

    Very well articulated. There are a lot of us who feel the same way.

  15. Nice candid post.

    But… “rethinking unregulated capitalism”?! Seems like the most regulated, or at least government-maniputed, ‘deregulated’ industry ever. The Community Reinvestment Act changes in 95, the history of government bailouts like in the S&L crisis,… not fully responsible but surely all factors in the current mortgage crisis. So to say “that was ‘unregulated’ and it didn’t work” is mislabeling.

  16. Nice candid post.

    But… “rethinking unregulated capitalism”?! Seems like the most regulated, or at least government-maniputed, ‘deregulated’ industry ever. The Community Reinvestment Act changes in 95, the history of government bailouts like in the S&L crisis,… not fully responsible but surely all factors in the current mortgage crisis. So to say “that was ‘unregulated’ and it didn’t work” is mislabeling.

  17. fantastic! i am very impressed (and pleased) that you keep tzedakah in the forefront of what you do. well done and it is a great business model.

    now, just be sure that the groups and organizations you are supporting are as effective and efficient as you are! you do NOT want your hard-earned tzedakah shekels wasted on overhead, fundraising, poor planning, etc. – make sure you give wisely.

    arnie draiman
    philanthropic consultant
    http://www.draimanconsulting.com

  18. fantastic! i am very impressed (and pleased) that you keep tzedakah in the forefront of what you do. well done and it is a great business model.

    now, just be sure that the groups and organizations you are supporting are as effective and efficient as you are! you do NOT want your hard-earned tzedakah shekels wasted on overhead, fundraising, poor planning, etc. – make sure you give wisely.

    arnie draiman
    philanthropic consultant
    http://www.draimanconsulting.com

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