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!