ASICS as a platform

Recently, a Google employee called Steve Yegge posted a very long message about a few things his former employer, Amazon, does better than Google. It was intended to be an internal message, not something public, and he therefore made statements he probably would have avoided otherwise. But he published it to the whole world by mistake, and the quality of his observations ensured instant popularity for his post.

Yegge’s key point is that Amazon approaches its business with the ambition of building a platform, while Google is focused on the development of individual (and discrete) products. And the problem with this approach is that very few people, in computing, have ever been very good at reliably predicting what products consumers want. Many companies create a couple of very popular products, but very few can reproduce this outside of their initial business, or maintain that business in the face of changing conditions.

Working for a manufacturer of physical products, I could not help but wonder how we stack up, however distant software development may seem.
Continue reading

Posted in Commentary | Comments Off on ASICS as a platform

Security of a corporate web infrastructure

When our competitors get hacked, we take notice. For some reason, the Playstation Network breach made people less worried than the Adidas event yesterday. So I wrote a quick response which I’d like to share here.

Preliminary reports about Adidas suggest their sites may have been serving malicious content following a security breach that gave attackers access to the sites’ HTML but not to the databases (no user information has been exposed).

Their response has been praised by security experts as prompt and appropriate. They’ve basically done the right thing.

Continue reading

Posted in Commentary | Comments Off on Security of a corporate web infrastructure

DO Lectures 2011: bringing about a better life

Held in west Wales, the 2011 DO Lectures brought together an array of goodness, and I’d like to share a bit of that experience. (Please note I’ve killed all raving superlatives, as they were cluttering the text, but consider them implied everywhere.)

  • the speakers presented original points of view, through stuff they’ve done, are working on, or have unique knowledge of, and that is either at the forefront or on the exciting margins of what is being done right now
  • topics were juxtaposed just so they could spark a richer understanding (I got called out for using the word “parallax” to describe this)
  • different degrees of involvement of the speakers: small, affordable ideas as well as huge, world-impacting projects, but most of them enthusiastic and passionate, with skin in the game
  • professional and consistent emceeing that summarized key issues at different points, brought cohesion, and kept the proceedings moving smoothly
  • the common motivation of attendees, and their caliber, ensured lunch-time conversations were substantial and earnest, freed of the petty concerns of profit-making or industrial optimization
  • the friendly and respectful atmosphere made us sometimes shy of tough challenges (I think Zach and the Chief Juicer got off easy), but provided the right environment for a wealth of new or unfamiliar ideas to be considered
  • Wales isn’t merely the venue: its geography and political climate are integral to the purpose of the lectures, and provides a frame of reference to welcome international input
  • the weather, landscape, accommodation, camping, food, entertainment, all were conducive to a sustained mental effort and if anything, I found the intensity of people’s involvement actually increasing over the course of the 4 days

Overall, deliberate variety brought welcome complexity to the event, giving depth to the exchanges, on stage or off. The conversations I participated in at DO will keep on giving, as I ruminate through the material I’ve had access to.

Continue reading

Posted in Commentary | Comments Off on DO Lectures 2011: bringing about a better life

Recruiting a product manager for digital running service My ASICS

As part of its new Digital Marketing team, a unit of the Global Sales and Marketing division, ASICS is looking for a Product Lead, Digital Running Services and Partnerships, to take care of our My ASICS running training programs service. A product manager with a passion for awesome user experience, you’ll be responsible for the success of our services.

[Update 1 February 2012: through the Adaptive Path alumni network, we found an awesome product manager, Alex Mrvaljevich, from Venzuela by way of Croatia. He has a beard.] [PPS. I am actually only posting this on 9 April, but sue me.]

Continue reading

Posted in Ongoing | Comments Off on Recruiting a product manager for digital running service My ASICS

Learning to let go

Over the past 8 months, we’ve launched the new My ASICS service to help runners train for marathons and other races, and it achieved a reasonable level of success. This has been my priority project for over a year, and I have invested a lot of my experience, skills, and energy into its production. I’ve had a decisive influence on a large number of the choices we’ve made throughout the project. In many ways, the project is my baby: not only picking key vendors, but also guiding their work to a fairly advanced degree of detail.

However, the launch of this new version in January was only one step along a journey (started almost a decade ago by some of my colleagues and an innovative vendor). Since the launch, we’ve moved on to yet another step, where I must let go of many decisions, for the good of the project. On running, Mairéad has more sense and experience. On features, interface design and user experience, we’ve hired several specialists because they do a better job than me. On graphic design, Ryan has more taste.

It’s not about being passive or indifferent, but it’s about creating the conditions for a larger team of professionals to do awesome work. My strongly-held opinions haven’t vanished, but I need to be very selective about where I bring them to bear: in understanding the business context of the product, in developing the case for it internally and to the world, in fighting for resource and mindshare, in helping the team gel around a common goal, in ensuring we’re always faithful to the brand. But increasingly rarely in helping cut through tangled opinions by making product decisions myself.

What a challenging experience! Previously, I felt that consistently enforcing my opinion was my best guarantee of achieving a better product. As we were throwing away the old product and therefore starting from scratch, my job was to make something new exist out of mere ideas. That’s something I enjoy, and feel I’m pretty good at. It’s also something I believe a single enterprising person can do this quite effectively.

Now, I have to be much more selective about trusting my gut or brains, and must often overrule these to follow the recommendations of other team members. Indeed, we’re now improving what’s already here. It requires a very different instinct. Also, it’s something a team of people is perhaps better suited to achieving.

To continue pursuing the same goal (making the product a success), I must stop doing what’s worked so far (putting more of myself in the project), and start doing the opposite instead (making more room for other people). (Well, okay, perhaps the project would have been even more successful if I’d put less of me in it right from the start — but that’s academic now, obviously.)

Challenging shift, and bitter-sweet: I realize it’s also quite rewarding, because things are getting done that are much better than I’d ever have done them myself. Go team!

Posted in Commentary | 2 Comments

BlackBerry Riots, Twitter Cleanup…

Fascinating incursion of technology choices in the UK riots. With RIM‘s handsets massively popular with the UK youth (#1 brand for 12-15 year olds with 37% of the market to 17% for the iPhone, #1 brand for 16-24 year olds also with 37%, to 25% for the iPhone, which is #1 overall with 32% of the total UK smartphone market), the unrest have been hailed as the BlackBerry riots.

The Guardian does a nice analysis of the 25-year shift from community organizers and open-air meetings to social media, and it’s of course quite interesting to see that the “good citizens” are organizing cleanup on Twitter.

BlackBerry says it is cooperating with the police, but I am quite curious to know what exactly that entails: “firehose” access to BlackBerry Messenger messages (which aren’t public) would be a start. It could help intelligence work and ensure the police know what’s coming (similar to having “ears on the ground” or monitoring Twitter or Facebook). Legal or not, the police have always used such means to be at the right place at the right time.

But will individuals then get identified and prosecuted, based on the messages they’ve sent and received? That’s a trickier question: I’m not sure how UK law works with telecommunications evidence. In The Wire, much is made of how the police ensures the evidence they gather is admissible in court (going through fairly stringent steps to obtain wiretap warrants). However, tighter public-order and terror legislation (much of it fairly recent) now affords the police quite flexible powers.

What’s more, merely having received (or sent) a message calling for riots is in no way conclusive of actual participation. To ascertain that, the police could use mast information (geographical location of that phone’s user based on which antenna the phone was connecting to) and the vast number of surveillance cameras installed on British territory, now getting nearer Enemy of the State.

PS. A huge tip of the hat to UK telecom regulation and research agency Ofcom: their web site is extremely well made and in particular, linking to information is easy. Nice!

Posted in Commentary | 2 Comments

Working on the client side

As I asked my friends and former colleagues if they knew anyone to replace me, a few of them, currently working in advertising or digital agencies, wondered what it felt like to step over to the “client side”.

Having made the switch myself 3.5 years ago, here are my own observations.

First, I found it immensely rewarding to be actually working on brand strategy, rather than merely applying it in various projects. It’s not a question of control: I don’t own the brand and I am but a simple contributor. But the brand is a living asset and as an employee, I have a personal stake in the debate. Because I work here, the ASICS and Onitsuka Tiger brands are different, however microscopically — an influence no vendor can claim to have, however large and valuable their contribution.

Another benefit comes from the longer-term involvement: I get to work on projects all the way from the moment they’re first conceived, through their development and actual implementation, all the way until the activity stops. I feel this gives more opportunities to learn, and it brings the satisfaction of being proven right (or wrong!) by the reality of operations.

Next, a bitter-sweet pleasure: we are primarily answerable to consumers. Of course I have a boss, who has one too, who answers to the company’s board, who pays the salaries. But in the end, each in our role, we are all evaluated by consumers, who are the ultimate judges of our success, and actually foot the bill. Working for intermediaries is not a problem, but I truly appreciate the proximity and brutal honesty of this relation to the people.

At times, I’ve found it frustrating to be kept out of the agencies’ creative process and to be exposed to work only at identified checkpoints. In my previous job as account manager I always felt attracted to the creative team for the exact same reason, but once on the client side it got worse. It’s bearable when presentations kick ass and clear progress is made on a regular basis, but it’s an agony when the agencies struggle a bit.

For me, the least attractive part of the job is having to scavenge budgets. In every project, one of my main roles is to ensure it’s funded appropriately. There actually is significant creativity to this task: accounting rules are fairly sophisticated and rather interesting, and the political aspects can make it a fun game to play, honestly. However, it quickly feels repetitive, and the day-to-day practice is tedious. (Also, I am terrible at negotiating and do not enjoy it at all.)

Job perks are smaller, or at least less aligned with my own aspirations. I really miss the funky, well-appointed, city-center office, and I definitely have way more bureaucracy in my life. On the other hand, my previous employers didn’t fly me in business class either, and with ASICS I’ve been granted the rare honor to run amazing races. Mileage will vary wildly there, just make sure you negotiate your terms properly!

Finally, the people: you meet great and not-so-great people in every job. In agencies, there is perhaps a higher proportion of extraordinary people, because extraordinary is a good advertisement for what the agency sells. But there can also be a higher proportion of ego and short-term mentality, of which I have seen less on the client side. Also, I’ve seen a bit more variety of backgrounds and attitudes here. Win some, lose some, for me it’s a toss-up on this point.

Overall, I feel the switch was overwhelmingly positive. But of course it may very well have to do with the particular “client” I joined… Want a job at ASICS?

Posted in Commentary | 3 Comments

Recruiting a Digital Communications Manager

Later this summer, I will be joining the global team at headquarters, and my current team needs at ASICS Europe needs a new boss. Are you the colleague we’re looking to hire?

The job is Digital Communications Manager, and the responsibility is for the Europe, Middle-East and Africa business. Reporting to the Marketing director (a digital enthusiast who created this position in the first place) and to the global Digital Marketing manager (that would be me…), you’ll be in charge of the online team, projects, properties and budgets.

Our primary focus is on running, and one of our major projects is My ASICS, training plans to help you achieve your racing goals. My colleague Mairéad van Gils is working on a major push around ASICS-sponsored running events, and we’re trying to support online retailers do good business with our brand. And with the help of our colleagues across Europe and a few good agencies, we manage 31 ASICS country web sites in 23 languages.

Are you already a long-distance runner, or willing to give it a try? Extremely knowledgeable about the digital domain? A people person, with a head for numbers and a synthetic mind? Interested in working in an international environment at a growing and profitable company? Do you think you can do better than this?

Well, what are you waiting for? Have a look at the LinkedIn job listing and Apply now!

=== update 5 July, added LinkedIn job description ===

=== update 20 September: Camilla Crabbe will start tomorrow!! ===

Posted in Ongoing | Comments Off on Recruiting a Digital Communications Manager

Unintended internet success

Something funny happened to one of the pages of the ASICS UK web site: it became really, really popular overnight.

By “really popular”, I mean that over the past week, two days of traffic of this page represent over 25% of the total page views of the overall European sites, or a whopping 90% of our UK traffic over the two days it really made the rounds, with 215,071 view on Thursday, vs. 5 views on Monday:

I only became aware of the situation today because of a tweet that was kind enough to notify us: the product image on this page describing our Running Backpack Mini is very small. The “zoom” image is no larger. And people have been poking fun at that.

We got a bunch of tongue-in-the-cheek product reviews, where people talk about how the backpack fits their pets…

So: what do we do? This is really funny, and drove traffic to the site. How do we recover gracefully from this?

Posted in Commentary | 2 Comments

US government guidelines to prepare for a zombie attack

This week, the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (“your online source for credible health information”) posted a notice on preparing for a zombie apocalypse.

Such a piece will spread online wonderfully, because of the discrepancy between the host (a government agency) and the topic (a fictitious thread of popular culture). I read about it through a tweet by Maître Éolas, a French lawyer who sports over 35,000 followers, because of his witty tone and informative choice of topics. In the context of heightened anti-American sentiment in France (always present, but exacerbated because of the DSK episode), Éolas’s pointer is hugely topical. No French ministry would condone such a fun approach.

The CDC’s web traffic probably jumped. A quick look at’s aggregate stats for the page show nearly 43,000 clicks through’s own links, 15,600 tweets, nearly 134,000 shares, 82,000 “likes” and 123,000 comments on Facebook — not bad at all for a piece of content that’s been up for just a week. And of course it’s done PR wonders (906 news articles picked up by Google news, and both positive and negative video reports).

Does it work? I would think so: the standards of government reliability are upheld, as the copy is tongue-in-the-cheek, and quotes Wikipedia and movies as sources of inspiration. But the payload is there: a compact version of the CDC’s emergency preparedness kit. This is a nice example of dual-purpose content: one layer to attract people and get them to talk and share, one layer of serious stuff that piggybacks on the controversial or humorous topic. All news stories dutifully pick up on the actual message.

I’m less convinced by the social media campaign where people are asked to create videos or to use badges. It’s a bit too complicated, the call to action is not very decisive and the instructions are confused — I think that part will not work. A quick look at Twitter mentions lists only buzz about the article, no video contribution. Same over at YouTube.

An issue that comes back regularly in people’s comments: the Rapture. Whoever planned this zombie campaign at the CDC either didn’t think of, or didn’t have the guts to ride on this actual existing topic. It could have been much more powerful because it’s topical, and even a Doonesbury cartoon would then have echoed the CDC’s message. It could also have drowned out the message in the mass of other humorous takes on the issue. And of course it could have totally back-fired if religious nuts had taken offense: zombies were perhaps the safer choice!

Posted in Commentary | Comments Off on US government guidelines to prepare for a zombie attack