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August 25, 2007

Real-Life Kwik-E-Mart

While in Seattle last month for the Casual Games Association conference, my colleague Rett and I made a side trip to one of the few 7-Elevens in the country that was redecorated as a Kwik-E-Mart to commemorate the release of The Simpsons Movie. I have to say, it was well done:

Kwik-E-Mart 1

The exterior.

Kwik-E-Mart 2

Kwik-E-Mart.

"They're Not Called Don't-Nuts"

"Go ahead! They're not called don't-nuts."

"...Your Money Begrudgingly Refunded"

"Every item guaranteed fresh or your money begrudgingly refunded."

August 18, 2007

Bucking the Offshore Trend

I hope this article in The New York Times describes a sign of things to come -- a new call center opened by Netflix in Hillsboro, OR, with 200 customer service representatives, in an attempt to stay ahead of Blockbuster:

Netflix set up shop here a year ago, shunning other lower-cost places in the United States and overseas, because it thought that Oregonians would present a friendlier voice to its customers. Then in July, Netflix took an unusual step for a Web-based company: it eliminated e-mail-based customer service inquiries. Now all questions, complaints and suggestions go to the Hillsboro call center, which is open 24 hours a day. The company's toll-free number, previously buried on the Web site, is now prominently displayed.

Netflix is bucking several trends in customer service. Booz Allen Hamilton, a management consulting firm, and Duke University studied 600 companies last year and found a continued increase not just in outsourcing, but also offshoring, in which call centers are moved overseas...

Netflix's decision to greet anxious consumers with a human voice, not an e-mail, is also unusual in corporate customer service. "It's very interesting and counter to everything anybody else is doing," said Tom Adams, the president of Adams Media Research, a market research firm in Carmel, Calif. "Everyone else is making it almost impossible to find a human."

In contrast, Blockbuster outsources a portion of its customer service, and when people do call, they are encouraged to use the Web site instead. Its call center is open only during business hours, said Shane Evangelist, senior vice president and general manager for Blockbuster Online, because the majority of customers prefer e-mail support, which is available 24 hours a day. "Our online customers are comfortable using e-mail to communicate," he said.

Over the past decade or so, Corporate America has been relentlessly improving its efficiency. In general, this is a great thing, because it means we get better goods for less money. But it's easy for firms to take these steps too far. Netflix is making a bet that by spending more in order to treat their customers better, their profits will ultimately rise. I sincerely hope they're right.

August 17, 2007

Lockheed Martin Acquires 3Dsolve

I'm pleased to be able to blog about the acquisition of 3Dsolve, the firm I co-founded and for which I've served as COO, by Lockheed Martin. The news broke about an hour ago, which means at last I can talk about something we've been working on for months now.

From the press release:

Lockheed Martin Corporation announced it has acquired 3Dsolve, Inc. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. 3Dsolve is a privately held company that creates simulation-based learning solutions for government, military and corporate applications. The company's innovative software tools assist clients with collaborative training utilizing interactive 3D graphics (aka, "serious games")...

"The acquisition of 3Dsolve will strengthen our ongoing initiatives in the rapidly growing training and simulation market, allowing us to provide a broader array of solutions and services to our expanding customer base," said Dale Bennett, President, Lockheed Martin Simulation, Training & Support (LM STS). "This transaction represents a solid strategic fit for our business and will enable us to strengthen our core competencies, leverage the talents of our employee base and support Lockheed Martin Corporation's long-term strategy of value expansion." ...

"We are very pleased to join LM STS to address exciting opportunities. With our experience in gaming, visualization and training combined with Lockheed Martin's expertise and resources, we intend to be the leader in simulation-based learning," said Richard Boyd, CEO of 3Dsolve, now Director of the Lockheed Martin 3D Learning Systems.

This acquisition is exciting for my teammates and me. We've always felt like we had superior technology. Now we get to see what we can do when that technology is backed up by the world's largest defense contractor. I'm interested to start learning about the depth and breadth of resources we'll be able to call on.

On a personal note, this is validation for a tremendous amount of work and sacrifice put in by a dedicated group of people. The startup life isn't the easiest career path to follow, but the rewards are tremendous -- not just when your company is purchased, which is great, but more from the daily experience of working with people whom you like, trust, and respect (to borrow a phrase from Alex Osadzinski).

For those of you wondering why I haven't blogged in over three weeks, I hope this explains it. The negotiations and due diligence were a tremendous amount of work for a number of people -- at 3Dsolve, Lockheed Martin, and our respective law firms. My days consisted mostly of working on the acquisition until the evening, coming home to rest for an hour or two, heading out to the gym, returning home to crawl into bed, and sleeping a few hours before starting the process over again the next day. Blogging fell off the list. I'm hopeful that now I'll be able to get back to a more regular schedule.