Editor Profile - Denny K Miu - The co-founder of WWW.LoveMyTool.com was the CEO and one of the six co-Founders of Gigamon Systems. Denny has extensive experience in developing technology, products and business relationships. He has been a Professor, an engineer, an entrepreneur, a team leader as well as an individual contributor.
(This will be the last LoveMyTool post for 2007. We shall return on Monday, January 7, 2008.)
Starting mid-January of 2008, I will step down as the CEO of Gigamon, which is my second startup with the first one being Micromachines.com which did not survive the 2000 telecom crash but has since been recapitalized and is currently very successful. The main reason is that I am a startup guy In other words, being both a dreamer and a do-er, it is time for me to dream again. So I want to take a break from day-to-day operations to finish my book, travel around Europe and South America with my son and also focus my energy on LoveMyTool.
In the past, I have written about the success and failure of startups and while I talked a lot about luck being the most important contributing factor to the success of any startup (my definition of luck is the absence of bad luck), I also talked about the importance of being a “surrogate customer”. In other words, if you can identify a problem (i.e., pain) that you personally experience but currently has no solution (i.e., no cure), and if you are really passionate about it and fundamentally believe that it is an industry-wide problem that affects a sizable community (who are willing to pay to make the pain going away), then you have identified the cornerstone you need to build a company.
As it turns out, in the last four years while building Gigamon, I discovered something interesting. The most popular Google search term for our web visitors is consistently “Gigamon”. This tells me that Gigamon has done an incredible job in brand building (through word-of-mouth free advertisement by happy and evangelizing customers and through partnership with tool companies) since our potential customers already knew enough about us to visit us on their own (most web users do not enter the URL manually but instead use Google tool bar to find websites that they already know). That was a revelation (as usual I didn't see a glass that is half full, instead I saw it as being half empty).This confirms my suspicion that for a startup, brand building is actually in conflict with lead generation. When we build brand, our job is to differentiate. Kleenex would never associate itself with handkerchiefs. Kleenex would never market its product as desposable handkerchiefs. Instead their goal is to create a brand new product category and position themselves as the leader of that emerging category by educating potential customers on why they need their innovative product. That works great for customers who have been captured by Kleenex but not so well for customers who are in fact looking for deposable handkerchiefs. In other words, if Gigamon’s customers are cognizant of the Gigamon solution, they can easily find us (and they have). But for customers who have never heard of us (because the tool partners decide not to tell them about us for fear of losing sales or losing account control) and when they Google, they can only describe their pain in terms of existing access solutions (e.g., taps and matrix switches), then they would have great difficulty finding us (and they didn’t). I was convinced that this interesting dichotomy is not unique to Gigamon. The standard remedy is to pay a PR firm who is in the business of third party referral. In other words, their job is to connect us with magazine editors and industry analysts and persuade them to write about us (most of whom unfortunately are mercenaries whose idea of writing technical reviews is to rewrite hand-me-down press releases). In any case, if and when the paid effort comes to fruition our potential customers will find us through the conventional marketing medium. But this has proven to be extremely inefficient since there are few credible or even recognizable mouthpieces but there are plenty of PR firms competing for attention (imagine trying to build a sound system where the noise level is very high, there is an inherent mismatch in acoustic impedance and you have limited power budget). The problem is compounded by the fact that old media (magazines and PR firms) have yet find a way to adapt or even survive in the new world information eco-system so dominated by search engines. So even if you could afford to pay, you are still getting an inferior and out-of-date product. So inadvertently I have become my own “surrogate customer”. The problem that I have identified is one where we (the peddlers) are tasked to find potential customers, customers who have never heard of us and could never find us on their own. And yet the only solution available to us is inherently “channel-inefficient”. So what do I do ... I do the only thing that entrepreneurs know how to do which is to force a paradigm shift. The new paradigm is an innovative direct (i.e., “dis-intermediated”) marketing channel and it is called LoveMyTool.
LoveMyTool is all about “Advocacy Marketing”. The targeted audiences for LoveMyTool are network engineers and managers who are ready to make substantial purchase decision on monitoring solutions for their mission critical networks (often putting their career at risk for making such a decision) and need more corroborating evidence to convince their management that they are making the right technical choice. LoveMyTool is all about pre-sale technical support. LoveMyTool does not post press releases nor marketing collaterals. Instead we post only customer testimonials and technical reviews by third parties (i.e., advocates who “love” their tools and are passionate about their industry). By structuring LoveMyTool as a co-op (i.e., the service is completely free and any manufacturer can join as long as they are in the network monitoring and management business), we have created an astonishingly efficient distribution channel for companies to reach out to their potential customers (bypassing the inefficient traditional marketing medium and the even more inefficient PR firms). I am convinced that LoveMyTool will grow into a sustainable and scalable platform (potentially going beyond network monitoring) since the intrinsic value we bring to our industry is that we serve the customers direct and we serve them uniquely well by being completely vendor neutral and by providing testimonials and technical reviews that are based on first person experience. Moreover, unlike vendor websites, LoveMyTool is updated every working day of the week with new material so it is being indexed much more aggressively by Google. And the end result is that the same case study or technical brief is often ranked much higher on LoveMyTool than even on the original sites. In fact, I have seen search results where we Google a vendor name, the LoveMyTool landing page for that particular vendor actually ranks higher than even the vendor's own home page (which is simply amazing). So there you have it, LoveMyTool is an invention that greatly reduces the noise level by returning the impedance coupling of the communication channel such that there is a perfect match between the manufactures who want to sell monitoring solutions and their potential customers who are looking to buy solutions. Like all great inventions that are destined to be a substantial financial success, LoveMyTool innovates not just in technology but in business model, bringing about cost-effective solution to a pent-up problem by addressing inherent deficiency and scarcity in the marketplace that is currently not being served by existing vendors (who fortunately are constrained by an entrenched and dated business model of their own creation). Since July 2007, we have posted 107 articles (including this one). Most of these are customer testimonials (provided by over 20 participating manufacturers) augmented by a steady flow of original articles by industry veterans. Our goal for 2008 is to have more original contents and more contributing editors (by starting a paid sponsorship program and by initiating profit sharing among editors). Having laid the cornerstone, 2007 was a very exciting beginning (for me, for Tim and for LoveMyTool). We look forward to building the rest of the platform in 2008 allowing LoveMyTool to live up to its potential. Thank you for everyone's support.