Here, There, and Nowhere in Particular #17

Here We Go!

As we get over the year that never was, I thought the moment was ripe for another edition of Here, There, and Nowhere in Particular (HTNW). For those of you who have read previous editions, the promise of sticking to almost no defined publishing schedule still holds true, and for new users take note: there’s absolutely no pattern here — hence, the title.

Thank you to everyone over the last few months who mentioned they missed reading Here, There, and Nowhere in Particular. As with most editions, the topics covered include the usual suspects around industry coopetition, treasury yields, design thinking and my point of view on the Big 5 (FAAMG).

Design Thinking: Total Experience

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been devoting weekends to outdoor activities. While the activities themselves offer a great break, with them comes car rentals (because when you live in New York City, who wants to own a car) and, sadly but necessarily, the occasion need to cancel, reschedule, and chase down refunds.

It’s worth sharing recent experiences I’ve had with two different rental agencies. While both involved a car not being available at a specific lot at a specific time (forcing cancellation of a trip! I was not happy, as you might imagine), the helpfulness and empathy from the support staff at the two companies were polar opposites. The employee from the new age car rental app was engaged and enabled to make decisions and help me navigate through options — but the one from the old-school car rental company was sullen, unresponsive and downright rude. They did not make me feel they were trying harder or it was my space…(if you get my drift)..

It got me thinking about this piece I recently read on the concept of Total Experience. While we continue to invest heavily in the customer experience, do we tend to ignore or, at best, give passing thought to the employee experience. But, really, without a stimulated and engaged employee force, no amount of fancy app-building or backstage process creation will give customers the intended experience.

Also got me thinking: escape hatch prevention design

As consumers, are our decisions influenced more by consistent (negative or positive) range-bound interactions or outliers? For my part, the experience I had with the tradition car rental company was enough to make me jump ship (or, as I like to think of it, to make me run for the escape hatch). In other words, I was out of there, and I’m never going back, and that’s true despite the fact that for years I had been a customer with this company, pleased when its service met my expectations and willing enough to shake off small inconveniences or problems when they arose. As customers, we should ask ourselves: What will we do when a single awful experience with a company far outweighs a set of net-positive experiences?

And as producers of experiences, we should ask ourselves: are we spending enough time looking for those deficient experiences that will trigger the race to the escape hatch? If we did, would we clearly see ways to avoid those experiences? If the car rental company had done so, they might still be getting my business. But I’ll find other ways to hit the great outdoors now.

The Big Five

Developments around the Big 5 Tech companies are always fascinating. Here’s what I’ve been paying attention to lately:

Amazon: Speaking of employee experience, here’s Jeff Bezos’s final letter to shareholders before he turned over the reins over to the company’s new CEO, Andy Jassy. In it, he stresses creating value for employees.

And while this was a natural fallout of the unionization attempt at the Bessemer warehouse in Alabama, there’s a larger message: the need to balance goals across a business, its employee, and its customers.

Microsoft: An interesting piece of news on the Data & AI front was Microsoft’s acquisition of Nuance. This is especially relevant in the healthcare space, where Nuance has been laser-focused around voice transcription for the clinical settings domain. It’s also a great example of where deep learning can be effectively used in the context of narrow tasks, as opposed to general problem solving or causal inference.

Any acquisition by Microsoft always tends to catch my attention. The packaging of these products into an overall integrated value proposition with Office and Teams will be interesting to watch. I wonder if the near future will have operating systems specifically catering to verticals (ex, MS Office — Health Care Version).

Industry Coopetition

Over the last few years, many of us have focused on the lack of effective industry coopetition in the technology. An incredible amount of potential value can be unlocked across financial institutions through sharing of practices, technology design, and other collaterals.

If this is on your mind, the FINOS initiative is one worth following. Thanks to Craig Rowe for pointing me in the initiative’s direction; I look forward to unpacking and understanding some of the ongoing collaboration projects.

I started looking through Goldman’s legend platform that works on data discovery, data quality, transformation, and delivery. Here’s a link to a great video by Pierre De Belen outlining the components of the platform.

S is for SPACs, D is for Davids

After raising $80 bn+ last year, SPACs have already raised $100 bn. this year. But, did the SPACs juggernaut finally hit a bump on the road? Regulators have passed down critical comments, which you could say have caused a “slowdown”: only 12 new SPACs have hit the market in the last 14 days. I guess it’s a notch down from roughly 5 new SPACs hitting the market daily in Q1.

This piece on WSJ makes for good reading on some of the recent transactions and what caught the regulators attention.

SPAC Growth (2011–2021)

But what also piqued my interest was the chart going all the way back to 2011. It got me thinking about the origin story — in fact, the genesis of SPACs goes all the way back to 1993 when David Miller (“Miller”) and David Nussbam (“Nuss”) worked for over a year to install protections for investors and other changes to prevent fraud before completing the first blank-check firm. The Davids also coined and copyrighted the term SPAC. In case you haven’t seen it already, here’s a useful summary of the history of the flashiest trend in finance for many years.

Quick Hits

· A fascinating space is the cutthroat competition around the $600tn ETF market. The latest move is Blackrock introducing not just new benchmarks and tickers but also bringing fees down to absolute rock bottom. It is wonderful to see the efficacy of free market, when it’s allowed to operate without significant barriers.

· This past weekend, when I received the tenth text in an endless stream of Multi Factor Authentication (MFA) texts, I realized I had stopped thinking of texts as a medium for personal interaction. The text channel has been replaced by interactions over WhatsApp, Signal, and other similar communication platforms. It would be interesting to get a perspective from digital marketers on how this plays into expansion around channel strategy.

· Last year, PayPal rolled out the ability for users in the United States to buy and sell crypto. Last month, the new “Checkout with Crypto” feature was introduced. This is big for me: I’m gearing up to make my first purchase (the early favorite is an inflatable kayak for open-water swim practice) using the feature, and I wonder if life will ever be the same afterward.

Product Recommendation

We have a clear winner on this one: if you have not yet checked out the awesomely cool (and in equal parts worrying) Google earth time-lapse, please run and do so immediately. The time-lapse shows the impact of climate change on geographic formations (Drying of the Aral Sea, Deforestation in Boliva and many others).

Movie Review

Before the thought even enters your head, here’s a disclaimer for you: yes, the connection I’m about to make is entirely manufactured and, at the very least, a stretch.

If you read my thoughts above on Escape Hatch Prevention Design (as I’m calling it now), here’s the story of Pedro Cerrano, one of the stars for the movie Major League. Pedro was a monster when it came to crushing fastballs but throw him a curve ball and he would strike out. It behooves us to ensure we spend time designing for that curve ball, whether it’s a car rental cancellation, an insurance claim dispute, or any other outlier experience that drops the CLV to zero.

Back to the movie, though: I had fun watching it again recently, this time with my thirteen-year-old. This is my official parent recommendation for this Friday evening with your kids.

And, of course, the song recommendation for the week has to be Wild Thing!! (Watch the movie and you’ll get it.)

It was fun writing up this episode — hope it’s equally fun to read. Until the next episode!

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