Tour of one of best Silicon Valley service companies: Tiny Prints

What makes great service?

It’s something I’ve cared about a long time, since helping run consumer electronics stores in the 1980s to working at Rackspace (which regularly wins awards and praise for its quality of service).

I keep hearing about six-year-old Tiny Prints and how awesome its service is and have tried it myself. Their products are of the highest quality and the service I (and my wife, and other people I know who’ve tried Tiny Prints) get on the phone is exemplary.

What does it do? It makes custom stationery, greeting cards, and other printed goods.

Anyway, when I find a company that’s doing something extraordinary I want to find out more about them so I asked Ed Han, CEO, to give me a tour to learn more.

What did I find?

1. They are bootstrapped. They didn’t take venture capital, but started the company with $10,000 of their savings.
2. They hire carefully. I’ve seen this over and over again at great companies like Zappos or other companies (even Microsoft and Google hired very carefully at first and only got looser over time).
3. They have a mission statement.
4. They use technology ruthlessly. “We like to use technology,” Ed Han says.
5. They care about user experience before technology.
6. They, like Amazon, took on a business that’s existed for many many years before. Amazon took on books, Tiny Prints took on greeting cards and wedding invitations.
7. The management knows everyone (or seems like it). At Rackspace the Chairman Graham Weston walked me around the company and, despite having 2,000 employees, he knew something about every employee we met and personally greeted them. It’s an amazing skill I wish I had, but it said volumes about how the company is managed. I found the same when walking around with Ed. He obviously is fond of his employees and takes the time to get to know them on a personal level.
8. Their offices are open, no walls. Many of the world’s great companies are run this way. HP, for instance, had doors on the founders offices but they were never closed and were permanently open. At Zappos the CEO sits right in the middle of the building in a cube where everyone can meet him and say hi (his cube is even on the public tour, he encouraged us to sit down with him and eat peanuts).
9. They constantly learn and keep their skills and market understanding up to date.
10. They look for the best people and companies to partner with.

Anyway, watch the 30 minute tour and learn the details behind all of these points.

Oh, and Tiny Prints are having a 20% off cyber Monday sale today, so if you want some Holiday Cards now is a great time to try them out and see their great service for yourself.

Finally, thanks to Rich Bucich who both is a great photographer but also helped arrange this tour.

Dying career: traffic helicopter pilot

I still like listening to KGO Radio (AM 810 San Francisco) but on there they still make a big deal about having a traffic helicopter and a team that covers traffic. Every day they put on air someone caught in traffic too, mostly on the Bay Bridge, to report how long it takes him to drive from SF to Oakland, among other places.

This job skill is dying very quickly, according to the Associated Press. Why? Well, you only need to see Waze, a new crowd-sourced traffic app for mobile phones, to see just how lame this method of reporting the traffic is.

Here, let’s go for a ride around Palo Alto with Waze’s .

I’ve been using it and already I’ve found that the reports I’m getting are more complete than others (including the traffic reports in my 2010 Toyota Prius that I pay a lot of money every year to receive) and even include things like speed traps. Why? Because they are reported by other drivers on the ground. This system is even better than the Google Maps traffic on my Android phone (which is better than my iPhone).

This is a VERY disruptive company and one of my favorites to use. Get it now, it’ll save you a lot of time driving around. We’ll have to figure out something else for those traffic helicopter pilots and reporters to do, though.

The rush to socialize the Enterprise continues with Blogtronix

When Salesforce copied Facebook a week ago and put social information into its service with a new service called Chatter it got me to look around at what else was out there for Enterprises. Companies like SocialText, Jive, Yammer and others are out there. But Blogtronix was showing up on my Twitter feed a lot and people told me to take a fresh look at the company’s offerings, which had been updated in the past week too.

So, I invited Blogtronix founder Vassil Mladjov over for a chat about what’s happening in the enterprise space. We spend 30 minutes talking about the competition and getting a look at Blogtronix’ latest offerings. Good chat about how the way we’re working together is changing quite a bit thanks to innovation in the consumer space from Twitter and Facebook.

The Real-Time PR Man

If you attend a tech event or conference you will probably run into Brian Solis. He’s one of those rare PR birds: everywhere all the time. He’s always on Twitter and Facebook too. Plus he guest posts over on Techcrunch, which shows he’s gotten the respect of Arrington, which for a PR person is very hard to do.

I call Brian the real-time PR man and the other day he came over my house for a long conversation about how PR has changed over the years (he’s been doing PR since 1991). This 50-minute conversation is split up into three parts. If you are interested in how PR people think and where the industry is going, this is a great conversation to listen to. It’s also an interesting conversation about what’s interesting in the tech industry.

Part I.
Part II.
Part III.

Google's infinite strip: the brilliance in Google Wave

Imagine you had an infinitely-long strip of paper that you, and your friends, could write on anywhere along the strip. Imagine that you could write anywhere along that strip anytime, or even all at the same time.

That is exactly what Google Wave is. Except it’s not a piece of paper and using a Wave you can even have things automatically write to the strip (bots) and since we’re talking computers here we’re not limited to words, but videos, pictures, and, even information from other computer services, er, APIs. There are some new things you can do on a Wave too, like hold a vote. It’s a chat room, but not the usual text-only one-comment-after-another kind.

That is what is brilliant about Google Wave. Unfortunately they didn’t stop there and make that work right. Read a guest post in TechCrunch by Martin Seibert for a great analysis on where they went wrong (they stuck this infinite strip inside an email metaphor, which makes it nearly useless if you get more than 20 people interacting with you via Wave — my account is almost unopenable because it’s so unproductive).

But let’s forget the email interface because someday someone will strip Wave out of that crappy interface and give us its brilliance: just the infinite strip.

There still are some problems with just this part of Wave. There are two that I’ve found:

1. I can’t find where the good stuff is. I sat next to a Wave user at the Defrag conference in Denver. I could see that tons of people were putting good notes into a wave about that conference. But, quick, find the useful stuff inside that wave. You can’t. Why? For a whole lot of reasons. We’re going to need curation so that guys like me can overlay a map of where useful stuff actually is. Which brings me to point number two.
2. There aren’t permalinks that we can figure out. We need permalinks for each few inches along the infinite strip so that we can link you to a Wave and say “there’s value right here.” Right now I can’t do that, so I can’t point you to specific places in the Defrag conference Wave and say “check out xyz’s notes here, they are most excellent.” Now, I’m sure some geek will point out there’s a way to do it, but I haven’t figured it out yet and the guy I was sitting next to couldn’t tell me, so it must require some sort of Sergey Brin decoder ring.

That said, these two things are fairly easy to fix. But first the Google Wave team MUST get rid of the email interface.

I wish I could tell the team to free their minds. You won’t get more adoption by putting it into something that looks like email. All you’ll do is hide the brilliance and ensure it remains unusable and undiscoverable for lots of us.

I was wrong about full-text feeds

In 2006 I wrote that I wouldn’t use any news aggregator or feeds that aren’t full text. I was wrong.

See, I often do get it wrong. Or, even if I’m right today, I can be proven wrong tomorrow by market changes.

What changed since 2006?

1. I have moved about 70% of my reading behavior to iPhone and other Smart Phone devices. Why does that matter? Well, on such a small screen having full text is far less desirable than if I use my 27-inch iMac.
2. Twitter came on the scene and now has lists/group support. This is a sizable shift. Back in 2006 Twitter was just for talking to a handful of friends. Now it has become a full-on aggregator. Look at this page of tech news brands, for instance. I couldn’t do that on Twitter back in 2006. I can today. Or, look at my list of Tech Companies. How is this NOT similar to an RSS aggregator? Notice, no discussion, no conversation, no “here’s what I had for lunch” types of Tweets, just feeds of information.
3. Google Reader became bloated and slow. Back in 2006 my Google Reader account was very fast. Today? It takes more than 20 seconds to start up and isn’t really nice on mobile phones (and, yes, I’ve tried all the apps, I still prefer Tweetie (I’ve been testing an early version of that app with list support and it totally rocks).

So, I’m sorry I was wrong in 2006 and that the world changed to 2009 technology.

I now use my Twitter account as my feed aggregator. Yes, I know many people still disagree with me about that. That’s OK, but soon you will see that Twitter has changed and has now become a very powerful RSS reader and that full-text isn’t as important as it once seemed.

Have you switched your feed reading behaviors lately? To Twitter? Away from Twitter?

By the way, have you looked at Listorious and seen the thousands of lists people (and companies) have created on Twitter in just the two or three weeks since lists came out? Have you listed your lists? My lists are here, feel free to steal from them and follow them. That’s why I made them and, oh, that’s another thing Twitter lets you do (see my lists without importing them into a feed reader).

Yo @chrisbrogan you're doing Twitter wrong

It started as a little joke that I said on stage at the BlogWorld Expo. One of my fellow panelists said she didn’t like people who told other people that they were doing Twitter wrong. So, of course, I blurted out “Chris Brogan is doing Twitter wrong.” Mostly as a joke, but partly because, well, I think he’s doing Twitter wrong. More on why in a moment.

Of course Chris heard about it and he got back at me on stage at the Web 2.0 Expo by pointing out that he is doing Twitter right. That’s why his video is embedded on this post.

How did I find Brogan’s video about serendipity? Well, I often read my Tech News Brands list. I saw a link there to David Armano’s blog, which pointed out what a great speech this was.

Oh, I do love finding good stuff in my lists.

Speaking of good stuff, you gotta watch Baratunde Thurston’s speech, titled “there’s a hashtag for that.”

So, that’s off topic. Why don’t I like how Chris Brogan does Twitter?

Because I can’t find his good blogs and videos. Why? Because he does so many conversations. Look at his Twitter home page. All you see is @replies. This is what makes Brogan Brogan, because he’s going to answer you no matter how popular he gets. But, that means I can’t find the good stuff he publishes.

I wish he’d do a separate feed of just his blog posts and well-thought out things.

Actually it was that realization that made me open up two new Twitter accounts: scobleblog is a feed of just my blog posts and scoblemedia is a feed of just my videos and podcasts I’m on.

So, Brogan, can you do the same thing? Give me JUST YOU in one feed and all your conversations in another (I do like that too).

Oh, I should admit that I stole this idea from Guy Kawasaki. He does Twitter wrong too, but that’s a different post. :-)