Worst Financial Crisis Since The Great Depression

I’ve been following the chaos in the financial markets pretty closely this week.

Anyone with half a brain knows that upward cycles do not last forever, and yet somehow the banking and real estate industries managed to convince themselves that this time it would be different, aided and abetted by a business-friendly government that didn’t care what happened so long as the economy was “strong”. On every level, from the consumer buying a house they couldn’t possibly afford to the whiz kids who turned those crappy, unsustainable mortgages into a huge stinking mass of debt and derivatives, it was about greed and the desire to have more, now, even if you weren’t sure how you could pay for it, and nobody comes out looking particularly good.

I can’t blame the government for feeling the need to step in and do something, I suppose, but I’m also not happy about their selective elimination of moral hazard from the equation.

Sat. Afternoon Update: Mark Cuban asks:

Does everyone realize how much bigger a disaster last week would have been had Social Security been privatized?

That would have been very scary indeed.

Barry's Righteous Rant

Over at “The Big Picture”, Barry Ritholtz has been doing terrific work reporting on the shenanigans in the markets and the economy. Today he let rip a rant that’s worth sharing. Here’s a taste:

When this era of excess and absurdity is treated by historians in the future, the question I expect to be asked most is not why many of these people weren’t jailed for their financial felonies. Rather, I expect them to wonder why so many of these folk weren’t placed in protective custody, and heavily medicated, for the only rational explanation for their statements and behaviors is that they have gone so far beyond the bend as to be completely and totally insane.

When Great Is Not Enough

We all tend to see the world through our own lens, that’s a given. UX people think UX is the most important thing in developing a product. Developers think that great programming is the secret sauce. Entrepreneurs think that if you’re not at a startup, you’re a loser. Marketers think that without marketing, you’re toast. Others say that “Marketing is the price you pay for creating mediocre products”. And on and on it goes.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years in this business, it’s a sense of perspective. In this case, it means remembering this:

It’s not just about building insanely great products, it’s also about building an insanely great company.

And to do it, you need a balanced team with a firm grasp of not just the nuts and bolts, but also the bigger picture.

The history of the Valley is littered with stories of people and companies who couldn’t get the balance right — great ideas poorly executed, slick promotions that couldn’t save a piece of crap product, great products ground into the dust by badly-managed companies, and many more besides. Success is very, very difficult.

Fail to keep your sense of perspective, though, and it’s that much harder to achieve.

Interesting or Compelling?

Over at Mobile Opportunity today, Michael Mace makes a point that’s true not just for technology products, but for virtually any kind of product development:

Very often tech companies will fall in love with a concept that is compelling to people in the company, but not to non-technologists. They’ll convince themselves that people will want it because, well, they ought to want it.

A related problem: A company will come up with a product that’s nice, but doesn’t really address [a pain point]. You know you have this problem when someone in the company says that need a marketing campaign to explain to people why they should want the product. The really good products need marketing for visibility, not persuasion.

I think this is the underlying problem behind most failed web applications. They do something interesting, as opposed to something compelling.

What makes this whole problem especially tough is that you can’t just ask customers what they need.

Emphasis added.

I’ll add the caveat that the line between visibility and persuasion is not cut-and-dried. Look at the advertising for the iPhone. Most of the spots are product demonstrations. Clearly, you’re raising visibility by showing what the product can do, but isn’t that also a form of persuasion?

And as always, one person’s “eh, interesting” is another person’s “OMG must have now!” But even so, the point is valid.