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A Tremendous Day for Nicira And The Networking Industry July 23, 2012

Posted by John Vrionis in Uncategorized.
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With their acquisition of Nicira today, VMware is making a brilliant strategic move that gives them not only the leading network virtualization technology but also a world-class of team of executives and engineers.  Congratulations to Martin, Steve, Rob, Alan, JJ, Paul, Denis and the entire Nicira team – for me, and the rest of the Lightspeed team, it’s truly a privilege to have been a part of the effort where an entrepreneurial team realizes a vision and begins to transform an industry.

Nicira is fundamentally changing networking as we know it, much in the same ways that server virtualization changed the datacenter only a few years ago.  The company virtualizes the network, separating the logical network from the physical topology, much like server virtualization decouples the virtual machines from the underlying server hardware. With Nicira, networks can have the same dynamic and flexible operational model of virtual machines and they can be programmed and configured without disruption or manual intervention.

So while today’s news will likely center on the financials of the deal (which admittedly are tremendous for all shareholders) and how the two companies will integrate, to me, the real story is the impact that Nicira has had on the industry in just a few years and the team behind it.  These are truly some of the best talents in networking and infrastructure, more broadly, in the world.  The spotlight should shine brightly and entirely on them as they’ve done all the hard work to make this happen. 

On a more personal note, I’ve known Nicira’s co-founder Martin Casado since 2004 when we were both studying at Stanford.  He was getting his PhD and I was in Business School; we were introduced by Andy Rachleff and Nick McKeown and have been friends ever since.  Martin is a genius, really.  That word tends to be overused, but in Martin’s case it’s the absolute truth.  You don’t have to take my word for it, Scott Shenker, a co-founder of Nicira and UC Berkeley computer science professor recently told WIRED, “I’ve known a lot of smart people in my life, and on any dimension you care to mention, he’s off the scale.”

Congratulations guys, thanks again for all the effort and for letting me be a part of it, and of course to VMware for a great move. 

How a change in wording increased response rates by 15 percentage points July 9, 2012

Posted by jeremyliew in copy, product management.
1 comment so far

I’m a big fan on focusing on getting the “copy” (the words on the page) right to drive behavior. I’ve posted in the past about Cialdini’s great book, Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, and how the principles outlined in it can be used for structured brainstorming to improve copy to drive the results that you want. Of course, all this needs to be A:B tested, but it provides great ideas to test.

Sunday’s NY Times has a great story on how behavioral science can help drive policy, and how a change in copy helped increase tax collection in the UK by 15 percentage points:

One early success story involves an attempt to collect taxes from people who fail to pay on time. Most British citizens pay their taxes promptly because it is a simple tax system with few deductions, so that most taxes are collected via payroll withholding. (That’s “make it easy” in action.) But small-business owners and individuals with significant nonpayroll income are expected to save up the money to write a check to the government, and some of them fail to pay on time.

In such cases, the government’s first step is to send a letter asking for payment within six weeks, after which sterner, more expensive measures are taken. The tax collection authority wondered whether this letter might be improved. Indeed, it could.

The winning recipe comes from Robert B. Cialdini, an emeritus professor of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University, and author of the book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”

People are more likely to comply with a social norm if they know that most other people comply, Mr. Cialdini has found. (Seeing other dog owners carrying plastic bags encourages others to do so as well.) This insight suggests that adding a statement to the letter that a vast majority of taxpayers pay their taxes on time could encourage others to comply. Studies showed that it would be even better to cite local data, too.

Letters using various messages were sent to 140,000 taxpayers in a randomized trial. As the theory predicted, referring to the social norm of a particular area (perhaps, “9 out of 10 people in Exeter pay their taxes on time”) gave the best results: a 15-percentage-point increase in the number of people who paid before the six-week deadline, compared with results from the old-style letter, which was used as a control condition.

The tax authorities estimate that this initiative, if rolled out across the country, could generate £30 million of extra revenue annually. And note that sending an effective letter doesn’t cost any more than sending a bad one.

If you’re in product management and you haven’t read Cialdini’s book, go out and buy it now. Nine out of ten product managers already have! 😉

People can’t do math, and what that means for ecommerce July 3, 2012

Posted by jeremyliew in Ecommerce.

Pretty interesting article in the current edition of the Economist about the psychology of discounting:

A team of researchers, led by Akshay Rao of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, looked at consumers’ attitudes to discounting. Shoppers, they found, much prefer getting something extra free to getting something cheaper. The main reason is that most people are useless at fractions.

Consumers often struggle to realise, for example, that a 50% increase in quantity is the same as a 33% discount in price. They overwhelmingly assume the former is better value. In an experiment, the researchers sold 73% more hand lotion when it was offered in a bonus pack than when it carried an equivalent discount (even after all other effects, such as a desire to stockpile, were controlled for).

This numerical blind spot remains even when the deal clearly favours the discounted product. In another experiment, this time on his undergraduates, Mr Rao offered two deals on loose coffee beans: 33% extra free or 33% off the price. The discount is by far the better proposition, but the supposedly clever students viewed them as equivalent.

73% higher sales is an astonishing number that comes simply from positioning the same discount differently. Of course, this only helps if you are making a positive contribution margin on the sales!

This reminds me a bit of  Prize-Linked Savings accounts, basically savings accounts with a lottery ticket attached (that is bought by slightly lowering interest rates):

One way to think of these “prize-linked” accounts is that they can offer an expected market return, but in an innovative way. They pay a guaranteed return below market interest rates, but also provide a lottery ticket whose value makes up the difference.
To be specific, a lottery-lined savings account could offer a lower rate of interest, but also say a one-in-a-million chance of winning $1m for each $100 deposited. Mathematically, the expected return is the same, but the chance to win $1m makes the account much more attractive.
Britain has historically led the way with these sorts of savings opportunities, starting with the “million adventure” lottery in 1694. Households were offered 100,000 tickets at £10 each, with poorer groups able to club together to buy fractions of tickets. Holders received a 6 per cent annual return for 15 years, plus the opportunity to win a prize of between £10 and £1,000. Historians suggest the programme was popular and successful. More recently, much the same theory was seen in the UK’s Premium Savings Bonds, which offer the opportunity to win a prize but no base interest rate. From Brazil to Germany, Mexico to New Zealand, a variety of other prize-linked savings opportunities already exists.

This is another example where reframing the same economic returns can change user behavior. I wonder if framing a 33% off sale so that people buy at full price but with “Every third purchase free” might increase sales overall. Has anyon had any experience with this?

UPDATE: Recently found a really fun and relevant post on pricing experiments that is worth reading from conversionXL.