Tag Archives: innovation

Man in the Pi Castle

Pi Day comes but once a year, but what the heck is Pi Day?

March 14th, or 3/14, is the day that all the nerds eat pie (both pizza and dessert), and celebrate our nerd culture. Specifically, we use a tiny inexpensive computer called a Raspberry Pi to build fun, sometimes useful projects. We see everything from weather balloons, to tiny loop pianos, to magic mirrors.

At ReadyTalk, we celebrate this day by giving our engineers two workdays to build these projects followed by the opportunity to demo them to our fellow geeks. Of course, we can spend more time than that on the project, and many of us do. The winning team gets to spend the year lording it over their fellow engineers by displaying this amazing trophy.

Man In The Pi Castle – A Chess Playing Robot

While there was only one named victor (and holder of the trophy), the real winners were everyone who participated. Pi Day celebrates more than just a single winner; it gives everyone a chance to work together and showcase technology in a really fun manner. Those who spectated rather than demoed learn something from the experience as well: a new way to tackle a problem or a new application for a certain aspect of software (and sometimes hardware).

I was part of the team, Man in the Pi Castle, that took the trophy this year with our attempt at building a chess playing robot. This may seem overly ambitious for a two-day project…and it was. The team spent a month of spare time and 200+ hours on three separate 3D printers to get where we did on this project.

While it may not have actually played chess, the robot arm was able to move a piece on the 3D printed board. In addition, it has an AWS hosted UI, and a microservice architecture. You can see a more detailed write-up of the robot and the software in this blog article. The team will be posting additional detailed articles, and you can check out their code on github.

Takeways

ReadyTalk has always taken great pride in its people and culture. The Pi Day celebration was one of the best examples I have seen of that since I joined the team. There were so many amazing projects and almost the entire engineering team participated.

I encourage other companies to consider having a Pi Day celebration. The level of excitement and innovation that it produced at ReadyTalk were unparalleled. Going forward, we plan to have additional days of innovation around other topics, but Pi Day was by far the largest success I have seen from an event like this.

As one of my co-workers once said about a hackathon, “You could cut the synergy in there with a knife.”

2016: a Year of Innovation and Customer Experience

“It’s been a busy year for ReadyTalk.”

Everyone beamed in response to the analyst’s comment. ReadyTalk has had a year of unprecedented product and service expansion. After a decade of offering a single web conferencing platform, in 2016 alone ReadyTalk brought to market a standalone video conferencing product, an accompanying in-room hardware offering and a replay webinar solution. We also announced our entry into the cloud communications market. There’s actually more news, but that’s just for starters.

It’s not that we haven’t been busy other years. But the work released this year is notable as it is a departure from technical innovation and improvements. Instead of aiming to make our products better, we at ReadyTalk spend 2016 firmly aiming to make your experience (as our customer) better.

Formalizing Innovation and CX

Although we were well into 2016 when we formalized our Innovation and Customer Experience departments, the ethos of customer-focused innovation was heartily adopted. ReadyTalk has always been customer-centric, with our devotion to “delivering WOW” via our customer care and account management services. But this year, more than ever, our product and marketing efforts also focused more on better understanding and helping to solve our customers’ problems.

Talk to the customer … and listen

This year we made a concerted effort to embrace design thinking and jobs theory in our innovation and R&D efforts. We spoke to prospective customers to truly understand their activities. And we listened. We found out how things are done now, using which tools. We learned what was most important, what was working and what wasn’t. As an innovation group in particular, we weren’t representing ReadyTalk the cloud communications provider. We didn’t enter the room with a specific product in mind and hope to hear validation for it. Instead, we were focused on a target customer, to understand where they were underserved. This sort of direct insights-gathering is critical: if you wait to buy a market research report from an analyst, you know all your competitors are getting it too. Where’s the opportunity in that?

Most importantly, this type of customer-driven innovation let us take a step back from incremental product improvement and focus more on satisfying the customer. Too often we get focused on a specific task a user is performing with our product, and we don’t consider the overall progress he is seeking to make under those circumstances. What does he do before or after, and how we can aim to provide a single platform or product that satisfies him throughout the job? Tony Ulwick, founder of Strategyn and author of “What Customers Want” and “Jobs to be Done: Theory to Practice” introduces the concept of the 8 stages of a job. A company can succeed by innovating across each of these stages, rather than over-engineering one aspect of it.

Introducing FoxDen, FoxDen Connect, ReadyTalk Illuminate and ReadyTalk Hosted Voice

A key example is our FoxDen Connect product. This elegant product lets you walk in a room, start your video conference on the in-room equipment and connect with remote participants, all from a single click on your smartphone. This device and its interaction dramatically simplifies and speeds up the “meeting start” experience. Instead of spend minutes dialing in and entering codes, you can begin a meeting in the proverbial click of a button. It knocks significant time off the nonsense and enables people to get down to business. This was ReadyTalk’s first foray into selling hardware, and it makes sense to extend the solution we offer our customers to what they need to start using our software.

ReadyTalk Hosted Voice is another interesting example: ReadyTalk offers audio, video and web conferencing. So why would we offer what could be considered a competing product? Well, conferencing meets enables individuals to connect with a group of people at once: one-to-many. But people also need to communicate with people one-to-one, so rather than drawing a line and saying “we only provide certain types of communications to our customers,” ReadyTalk is expanding to better provide for our customers. By being a provider of both 1:1 and 1:many communications, we can improve the experience so people don’t need to swap out systems to perform what is essentially the same task.

A final example is ReadyTalk Illuminate – Replay. We’ve offered a webinar platform for marketers for years, and in 2016 we took a step back to really understand what challenges they were facing for lead generation activities. We heard loud and clear they needed a solution that gave them confidence as well as control in their outreach to prospects. That’s why we prioritized our exciting Replay feature in our Illuminate webinar platform. It’s also why we’ll continue to add exciting new features to support marketers in all their most critical activities in the upcoming year.

As we wind down the year, I revel in the progress we have made as an organization. Through design sprints and customer interviews, we were able to design and bring to market products that met our customers ever evolving needs.

Calculating the Value of Innovation

Innovation is critical. But in a world of finite resources, how do you decide when to invest in a speculative project?

impact-effort matrix
The “Effort and Impact” matrix isn’t enough for some decision-makers. Some folks need to see numbers!

I was first introduced to the concept of Innovation Accounting by David Binetti at the Lean Startup Conference in 2014. In 2015, he introduced a means to calculate ROI and Risk of Pre-growth initiatives with his Innovation Options Framework.

This summer, Dan Behr from the Innovation team developed a version for our own portfolio management here at ReadyTalk. I asked Dan, a self-professed “excel hound”, what drew him to this project.

“I’m fascinated by the challenge of quantifying value and risk, especially when there is no historical data to base these estimates off of. This challenge is intriguing because it addresses a fundamental problem all businesses face: how do you make a good decision under uncertainty?” — Dan Behr, ReadyTalk

While I initially mentioned this approach to Dan as a way for us to compare our own initiatives within the innovation team, he quickly made a case for this to be used across our existing lines of business as well. This enabled us to compare projects that were already in flight with those our team was proposing for funding.


At ReadyTalk, we have two lines of business, and an innovation team charged with exploring alternatives: new products, new markets, new business models.

It’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to come up with possibilities than to execute on them, so the Innovation Options framework helps us with decision-making. It lets the numbers tell the story, so we aren’t always biased towards what we know and ‘less-risky’ bets.

The framework helps project leaders make their initial request for investigatory funding.

  • What is the eventual market potential
  • What funding are you requesting now
  • What will you need if this investigation goes well
  • How long is the investigation period
  • How frequently will you provide update/check progress

This level of funding helps get things off the ground: it helps move things forward. As progress is made (positive, negative or inconclusive), the future value of the project is updated, so it is clear whether further investments should be made or not.
Dan cautioned me that his model has some flaws, but it’s a great starting point to help inform our decision-making and investment process.


As the summer draws to a close, we’re eager to kick off using Innovation options to help us weigh what we work on next.
As for Dan and his own take-aways from this project?

“I was most surprised by how big the problem [valuing a new idea] I was addressing truly is. Upon reflection, I should have known that there would be many answers to this question, all of which have strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately though, the depth and breadth of this question only makes it more interesting. That’s why I hope to continue looking into solutions to this problem.”

I’m pretty sure Dan was contemplating trinomial trees during this hike.
I’m pretty sure Dan was contemplating trinomial trees during this hike.

I Want to Own Time

Retro alarm clock on wooden table

I want to own time.

It’s not the first time that phrase has ever been said, but we’re getting closer to making that statement a reality.

Generation 1: Saving time

If we take a look at ReadyTalk’s beginnings back in 2001, we created a way to be really productive and share ideas — all without having to be physically together — with our audio and web conferencing services. Using our services, people had the ability to get together to communicate something without the inconvenience of having to be there. Since then, we’ve been iterating on that idea. You know, we’ve been improving it incrementally to continue to save time and enable people to be more productive. In other words, by freeing you to work where and when you want, we’ve helped you control time.

But it’s just one piece of the big picture. Let’s call it “Generation 1”; you don’t have to be there, so you’ve saved time.

Okay, so what’s next?

Generation 2: Time-shifting

Similar to how the consumption of television toward on-demand has changed over the course of time, we want to use that same principle in the workplace. The consumption of content happens when and wherever people want, using whatever device they want.

We’re taking a similar approach, freeing organizations from wasting time monitoring the minor details of employees’ routines. We believe that when and how you do things don’t matter, just as long as you achieve the same objectives. In other words, workers can really telecommute faster and easier.

While that’s good — ReadyTalk is going beyond that to truly time shift.

  • What if you could consume content on-demand just like you do Game of Thrones or your other favorite television show?
  • What if you could be bi-locate, be in two places at once?
  • What if you could consume that information in a third of the time?  
  • What if you could focus on just the information you wanted — fast-forwarding past the stuff that just gets in the way?
  • What if your meeting was smart — doing things that you found mundane, like sending out notes and emails?
  • What if your meeting was spun into other on-demand content like slides and blog posts for your audience to consume in addition?

That’s controlling time!

We’re exploring all the ways that make it possible to truly “own time.” From voice recognition to artificial intelligence (AI) and more … we aren’t leaving any possibilities behind.

Stay-tuned for more to come.

5 Reasons Why ReadyTalk Loves Startup Weeks and Weekends

In an age where companies are fearful their most dedicated, passionate employees may be drawn to the exciting world of startups, ReadyTalk actively recruited and paid for some of its employees to attend Denver Startup Weekend IoT (Internet of Things) 2016.

As the Manager of Innovation Strategy, I had a few goals for the initiative. Chatting with the attendees after the weekend, I’ve compiled this list of the very best reasons to support your employees attending your next local Startup Weekend event.

1. Connect with smart people outside your company walls.

When you’re only exposed to members of your own organization, your view on the world becomes perilously narrow. Working with others from different companies, industries, stages of life, etc. can dramatically broaden your view on things. In my first Startup Weekend team as a participant, my team’s ages varied from 20s to 60s, and we had dramatically different educational and professional backgrounds. I’ve remained in contact with several people I met over that weekend, including someone who I now consider my professional mentor.

Startup

2. Hear really cool (okay and not so cool) ideas.

Before the pitches Friday night, about 8 attendees had plans to pitch. After the speech by Matthew Bailey and some ice-breaker activities, we had over 20 participants stand up in front of the crowd to pitch an idea they wanted to work on. From parking apps to lucid dreaming to asynchronous communication with Grandma, it can just be inspiring to hear the different ideas people have rattling around in their brains. At the Global Startup Battle Startup Weekend in Boulder last November, the winning team was an idea that the founder came up with while listening to other pitches! Even if a particular idea doesn’t move forward, it can spark other ideas.

3. Focus on what’s really critical.

With only 54 hours to work within, a startup weekend team needs to be laser-focused on impactful work. Having time as such a limited resource forces some difficult discussions and decisions. The team needs to (rapidly) break down their assumptions to ensure they’re going in the right direction .What’s the key problem we’re solving for people? Do they know it’s a problem? (How) are they trying to solve it now?
How much time should we devote to getting customer validation? Building a prototype? Preparing for our pitch?

4. Get sh*t done.

At a Startup Weekend event, trying and learning is preferred over deliberating. Everyone pitches in, regardless of background or experience. Compare this to a hierarchical workplace, where junior employees may tend to defer to “more experienced” co-workers.

brainstorm

5. Get feedback, including from mentors.

Two of our employee attendees said their favorite part of the weekend was the feedback they got from the mentors and judges. I attribute some of this to the fact that the mentors and judges had no reason to sugar-coat information. Our attendees craved this honest feedback.

Now that we’re back in the office and things have settled down, I’ve been asked if I feel we can recreate the magic of a Startup Weekend here at work. And I’m not sure we can. Sure, we can create cross-functional teams and give people a lot of caffeine and an aggressive timeline. But unless we can cultivate a whole network of amazing external people to come in, I don’t know if we can achieve the same level of Startup Weekend euphoria. So as long as we have fantastic employees who are willing to “give up” a weekend of their time to gain this sort of experience, we’ll continue to send them to events like this.

How about you?

Have you tried to recreate a Startup Weekend environment in your workplace? What was your experience?