Friday, June 12, 2009

We have been busy at UlluTek

For the last month or so, our UlluTek team are working hard on two separate projects. We have already revised our high level design a few times and are now zeroing the Bill of Material (BOM). Users can start download the BOM and block diagrams for one of our projects.

It has only been a little over 6 weeks since we embarked on UlluTek. To me, this is very significant since it'd take months to get to the same spot that we are today under a normal corporate development cycle.

Since our team is all virtual, we are using Google Sites for our discussions and intranet. It is working out better than I expected. We have had several internal polls for our team to vote on various stuff and they all went very smooth.

I continue to be amazed with so much free and accessible services out there. It helps to keep our overhead low and we should be able to pass on significant saving to our customers.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Value Proposition

Value proposition is probably the trickiest work that a product manager would have to do. Recently I worked with several colleagues on the value propositions for their products and it was fun.

Good value proposition should be a simple one sentence describing the product and compelling enough for readers to take the next step. Yet, it should not be too laden with jargons, "warm and fuzzy feeling", or full of big empty words… Tangible results in one sentence.

I wrote about a process to come up with a value proposition a couple of years back in this blog and now looking back, I don't think it has changed that much. Here's the pictorial view of the process:

The process is simple:

  • Market segments: which target market segment(s) that the product will serve
  • Key Product messages/statements: these are the benefits that will solve customers' problems
  • Features: this is how the product will solve the problems
  • Competitors: the main competitors in the target segments
  • Competitive Analysis Differentiators: the product's differentiators deriving from the product's strong benefits that competitors do not have

Of course, you can always "word smith" it to make it fit your product and your company brand strategy. Also, what I have found is that the competitive piece is best for your sales force and the rest is the key value proposition for your customers. Here are the two examples that I found:

  • Weak value proposition: "ABC Corp. is the premier B2B portal for small businesses looking to grow" – very subjective (premier of what) and did not deliver tangible results to its customers (growing businesses how)
  • Strong value proposition: "XYZ Corp. is the exclusive provider of patent-pending project management software for paving contractors, saving US contractors over $34M in 2005" – Market segment is paving contractors; Benefit: saving contractors $34M; Features: patent-pending project management software. It has all the elements above plus a differentiator: patent-pending.

I welcome comments and suggestions to make this process better.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Update on UlluTek

It has been interesting to get an open source project off the ground... Everything that I learned in the MBA school is pretty much tossed out of the window. We have a high level mission "creating simple products to accelerate the adoption of complex technologies that we love" but outside of that, it has been a constant change.

Ultimately, we want to make UlluTek a commercial success. However, we want people to adopt cool technologies as well. It's a balance between opening it up our design and a desire to get cash flow. In a way, I think it's very refreshing. We get to communicate EVERYTHING that we do to the public. If we were behind schedule, everyone knows... No need to spin anything.

In additon, I get to test out the social media channel - specifically with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I am seeing that our traffic to the website spiked after each status that I posted on these websites - another proof that businesses can really get closer to their customers through social media. Let's see how the visits to our website improve if all of our team members utilize their own social network.

For now, we are getting more team members to join us through connections that we know. We want to give the public more useful products to play with soon. Please come and visit us at UlluTek.

Friday, April 24, 2009

An Open Source Hardware Project - UlluTek

I recently launched UlluTek, an open source hardware project, with a few engineer friends. Over the years, we discovered that there are many simple and useful hardware products that are not built because companies deem that they are - well - too simple and the ROI did not justify it. ROI strikes again!!!

Since we are bootstrapping the project (no venture capital firms in their right minds would invest in an open source company nowadays), we have to figure out the cheapest way to get the website up and running. To my surprise, there are so many options to choose from. I settled on a few tools to start:

  • Web creation and hosting: Weebly - I was able to setup the site in less than half an hour. I registered the domain with Weebly and got 50-user Google Apps Standard Edition. I got 6 users up and running in less than 15 minutes.
  • Instant Messaging: even though Google Apps comes with Chat application, we chose Skype since it gives us a better conferencing capability. Besides, I am already using Skype to call my family in Vietnam and loving the service.
  • Wiki/Forum: I have not picked an application yet but WetPaint looks very interesting. Ning is in the running as well.
  • Code revision: I am going to use LaunchPad for code depository and revision.
  • Drawing: I am using Inkscape for homemade logos and other drawing needs. Inkscape has tons of tutorials on the web so it was very helpful learning the tool.
  • 3D Drawing: Google Sketchup fills this need although Inkscape has some basic 3D capability as well. Sketchup is a lot more fun and my 8-yr old son loves to play with the program.
So for now, I have enough tools to get the project up and running. My engineering friends are still looking for a low cost CAD tool. Any recommendation out there?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Kitchen PC - Take Two

So what would an ideal kitchen PC look like? First, it should not look like a PC. Secondly, it should be stylish. Last but not least, it has to be cheap.

HP TouchSmart PC come very close. It's stylish and doesn't scream "I am a PC". However, it has an anti-recession price. The starting price is $1299 but you can't watch TV yet. If you want to watch TV and wall mountable, you are looking at almost $2000. Ouch...

I feel that PC makers are approaching this "final frontier" upside down. They want people to buy a PC and turn it into something else. In my last post, I talked about PC as a "lonely" experience. TV in a kitchen is a social experience. Imagine this, NCAA basketball championship game is on. Mr. and Mrs. Partyfun are throwing a bash. As usual, the guys and maybe some gals gather around the 50" plasma in the living room or family room enjoying the HDTV and surround sound experience. The rest are hanging out in the kitchen with the game on in the TV - talking and once in a while checking the score. Do you think they care if this is a $2000 PC or a $300 appliance?

I would propose building a TV that happens to have a PC brain. With the introduction of Atom processor, an OEM can offer an appliance that gives people the social experience first - TV - and other convinences later - ondemand content streaming, sticky notes, grocey lists, etc. And by the way, please don't charge us an arm and a leg. The netbook is less than $400... Hmm... May be I'll buy one of those netbooks and mount it upside down under my kitchen cabinet???

Friday, March 20, 2009

Kitchen PC

Asus recently just announced a touch PC that is kitchen friendly. Another PC maker goes after the kitchen crowd. I would love to get my hand on this PC and play around with it but with the budget constraint, I don't think I would be able to anytime soon. Asus... can you spare one for test??? Not to be left behind, Dell has one as well. And if you are not afraid of tinkering with parts, you can build your own.

Anyhow, I am not sure if the PC makers really understood about the purpose and usefulness of a kitchen PC. Kitchen is increasingly becoming the place for social gathering. At our house, our kids can do their homework, eating snacks or informal meals, or just hanging out in the kitchen. Every time we have guests, 90% of the guests will gather in our kitchen (good food and wine do help, by the way).

At the same time, PC experience is an "alone" experience. Think about it: one display, one keyboard, one mouse... When one surfs the web, that is basically it. The other person or people would just look over the shoulder. We just take something wonderful - social gathering - and destroy it with a PC. I understand the so-called benefits of a kitchen PC: downloading recipes, looking up something quick on the web, IM, calendar planning, scheduling, and so on. Believe me, I am a gadget geek and I'd love to have another gadget to play. But I think PC makers need to understand how the kitchen PC can fit with the social gathering aspect of today's kitchen.

I read an article in the past about Intel hiring anthropologists to find the keys to tech adoption. That's the step to the right direction - really understands the cultures and what makes people to use certain technologies. I wonder if Asus, Dell, and HP apply the same techniques - deploying their product managers and/or their own anthropologists to people's kitchens?

A parting thought: PC is not for the kitchen... It has to be something else... I'll share more in my next blog.... Stay tune!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Wisdom of the Crowd

Lately I have been thinking about the wisdom of the crowd. With the recession is all around us, social networking websites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are becoming more active. Since I am a very regular LinkedIn users vs. Facebook or Twitter, I want to share my observations on LinkedIn. With all the groups that I belonged to in LinkedIn, it gets very depressing when I see so many brain powers looking for new opportunities. It would be interesting for LinkedIn to run a little survey to see collectively how many years of professional experiences are now on the street.

That leads to my next thought. Would it be great if somehow one could harness this unprecedented level of expertise for the next wave of innovation? Social networking was born during the dot bomb which eventually led to Web 2.0. And that's because we wanted to leverage the Internet to create a highly linked community. So how can we do the same thing this time around?

We have seen that Linux and open source software benefits from the wisdom of the crowd. Social networking sites have great number of users but have companies taken advantages of this crowd yet? There are now books written about how to use LinkedIn or Twitter to your business benefits. That remains to be seen if and how successful that would be.

For now, I continue to ponder about the wisdom of the crowd. Care to join me?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Optimism - A Poem by Jane Hirshfield

Our friend forwarded this poem to us as we are tested by this tough economy. I'd like to share it with others facing uncertainties and hard times. Hang in there... This is the tough time but we will get through.


More and more I have come to admire resilience.

Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam returns over and

over to the same shape, but the sinuous tenacity of a tree: finding the

light newly blocked on one side,

it turns in another,

A blind intelligence, true.

But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers, mitochondria, figs -

all this resinous, unretractable earth

"Optimism" by Jane Hirshfield, from Given Sugar, Given Salt. © Harper Collins, 2002.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My Approach of Reducing Monthly Expenses with Technology

Let's start with the land line. As much as I would love to get rid of my land line altogether, we are in a dead zone. Our office is in our basement so that is a double whammy for us. VoIP (Voice over IP) is the next best thing. After looking around, I ended up with the veteran, Vonage, for a $24.99/month with unlimiated local and long distance. There are other plans out there (Packet8 for instance) but at least Vonage has been around for awhile so most of the kinks are already worked out. With any VoIP service out there, you should be able to get your voicemail delivered to your Inbox if you are using smart phones - a bonus that you don't get with your lovely local phone company... $24.99 in comparison with $50'sh or more for land line service plus voicemail, caller ID, and other fun stuff: 50% saving.

Satellite radio: DEAD... Long live: Streaming radio. Sirius plan: $12.95/month. Pandora: free. So I have to get broadband access but I need it for VoIP and our works anyway so the broadband access cost is amortized over these services.

My wife loves DVR since she can watch her shows whenever she wants. Now with Hulu plus major networks putting their shows online, we have unlimited DVR capability. We love Psych on USA Network and now we can watch these episodes whenever we like. Equip an HDTV with Dell's Studio Hybrid, you can have a nice little set up and yes, you can get a remote control for it. The Studio Hybrid runs about $500'sh but you save money on cable or dish bill, which is about $50/month or more. You should get your money back in about 10 months or so.

With the PC, I can access my Netflix for movie on demand. For $8.99/month, you have access to all movie on demand. Dish is charging anywhere from $3.99 - $5.99 per movie. That means you get your money back after two movies (plus a DVD in the mail). I know that NetFlix does not have a lot of movies right now but they continue to add more titles as we speak.

On the napkin calculation, traditional approach to phone, Internet, and home entertainment for 12 months is about $1980. Leveraging the technologies (plus the PC) for 12 months is about $1390. That's $590 in saving per year. I am sure we can use $590 in elsewhere, especially in the current economic environment. If you can use your old PC for streaming, you save yourself an additional $500. That's over $1000 in saving. Not bad!

I am sure that some of you might not agree to my approach but at least, I am getting you to read the post... The fun part for me writing this post is to figure out how to bring all cool technologies together, don't you think!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Why Should I Continue to Pay for Cable/Dish and Sirius?

I have just started to use Pandora with my iPhone 3G and I am becoming a big fan. It's commercial-free and customized to my likings. Unlike Sirius, it doesn't cost me a monthly fee and I can take this "radio" anywhere I wanted (at least in US anyway).

Along with the recent article on PC Mag, How I Slash My Bill with Tech, I can now have a quality TV and radio streaming with the high speed Internet, NetFlix, cellular/3G - all the things that I already subscribed to. The only missing puzzle for a sports nut like me is ESPN or other sports programming on cable/dish.

The one thing that I also need to figure out is how to make it easy to use - laying on the couch and flipping channels - for me as well as the rest of my family. May be a remote control that acts like a mouse as well??? Is there such thing???

In addition, would it be something that one could create a little consulting company on the side??? Thoughts?