Working From Home
Recently, I started taking part in an experiment. I began the process of adding voice controls to my home. As part of this, one phrase started to become commonplace:
“Alexa, turn on the tv…”
These same five words can be heard in houses around the world, at least once a day. They’re words that help people segue into using something that is, at its core, something extremely complex and technologically advanced. And yet, what I realize as I listen to those words is that they are also cleverly meant to connect with us.
When I was younger, not only did we not have internet, or cell phones, or even personal computers in most homes – our televisions didn’t have remote controls. A common phrase heard in every home was “<insert name of youngest child>, turn on the tv.” This was followed up by asking the same person to change the channel (often one channel at a time), by going forward and back, to change the volume up and down (often multiple times), and then to go turn on or off the lights. As I’ve been experimenting more with Alexa, I can’t help but think about “her” as that young child.
Jennifer Prenner, global head of marketing, growth, andengagement at Amazon Fire TV, offered a similar take on the new Fire TV Cube with Alexa. “We wanted to take everything that was great about the Echo, including Alexa, and make it even better with visuals from a FireTV,” she says.
And, as a visual version of an Echo, it is certainly an upgrade. Says Prenner, “Our goal is to give people an open ecosystem where they can have the type of entertainment they want, on their own terms.” In my experiments, though, I’ve had some hiccups getting the Fire TV Cube to open third-party apps like Netflix or HBO over the Amazon Prime app, and it won’t turn my television off, no matter how politely I ask.
Interestingly, as I asked Alexa to pause Netflix, she told me of new commands added in an update that I could now utilize. This made me realize something–like the young child changing the television, Alexa is growing up, and learning along the way.
This just highlights one of the most difficult choices you can make as a business owner: knowing the right time to set your child — I mean, product — out into the world. Here’s a few guidelines to help you out:
It may seem obvious, but the first step in releasing any product is to have some sort of consumer base to release it to. If you have gotten into the unenviable position of developing a product with no built-in customers, then you will have a long road ahead to try to convince them that they need it.
Instead, try building on something that is familiar. With the iPhone, Steve Jobs took an MP3 player, a computer, a camera and a cell phone and combined them into one unit to give people something they’d purchase.
While we all wish it weren’t the case, most products do not work correctly 100 percentof the time. In early releases, products have a higher percentage of failure as early bugs are being worked out of the system.
Research indicates that customers are willing to put up with a few glitches, especially in technology. However, they want a product they consider reliable. As LinkedinFounder Reid Hoffman famously said, “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
There’s nothing worse than finally releasing your product after working on it for months (or years) to the resounding silence of the internet’s indifference. Instead, prior to launch you need to spend some serious effort letting people know you exist and building up a targeted userbase. Then, you can release it when you’re fairly sure they’re ready to buy in.
Of course, the other option is toassumepeople will come on their own. From my own personal experience, going this route means certain failure.
Like all young children, Alexa has a lot of growing up still to do. By opening up the ecosystem for development and giving users the reigns, Amazon is giving us a chance to grow with her.
Hopefully, she’ll learn to turn off the TV soon, so I can get back to work.
For Modern Fertility’s Afton Vechery, the biggest adjustment to going remote during the coronavirus crisis has been minor but symbolic: “I’ve had to switch from contacts to glasses because of all the screen time and video calls,” she says. Vechery co-founded her home-fertility-test startup, which has $22 million in funding, in 2017. While many now have plenty of time on their hands for, well, fertility, Vechery is busier than ever. Here’s how she stays productive.
The alarm clock buzzes at 6:30 a.m. “A lot of founders have these amazing morning productivity hacks, like meditation,” says Vechery. “For me, the single greatest motivating factor is to just be doing something I love. And so, uh, that translates to emails in bed when I wake up.” After that, Vechery typically bikes to work. During the crisis, she’s swapped her commute for an early-morning ride to the top of San Francisco’s Twin Peaks. It doubles as me time. “It’s really helpful to understand what’s going to bubble up from your subconscious when you’re not being stimulated sitting in front of a computer,” she says.
Vechery’s days in quarantine include more one-on-one meetings than they did before, but that’s the cost of keeping information flowing. Modern Fertility has implemented daily meetings at which employees can check on current and upcoming projects. And the staff has organized optional virtual lunches and happy hours, which Vechery will drop into when she can. Whether at home or in the office, she and co-founder Carly Leahy generally eat dinner while working and wrap up around 9 p.m.–though they encourage staffers to leave earlier.
Vechery relies on an app called Captio, which lets the founder email a note to herself with one click. But you won’t find the Captio icon on her iPhone’s home screen, which is clear of everything but three apps: Calendar, Clock, and Notes. Manually searching for apps lets Vechery ignore distracting notifications. “As a founder, there’s constantly something else you could be doing,” she says. “But when you have space to think through what you’re working on, you’re a better leader.”
When she makes time for a TV show, Vechery starts with the season finale and views the episodes in reverse order. The strange habit helps prevent the urge to binge. “I have an incredibly addictive personality,” she says. “So this is better for everyone.” Vechery also unwinds by playing the trumpet. “It’s a total break from everything else in life,” she says. “It lets you process your thoughts in a really different way.”
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