Heading into 2011, I decided to shake things up a little bit here on Return On Now. Most of my topics have been national or global in nature. However, living in Austin, I’ve been rather active among the social media and marketing communities. So I decided to highlight some of the more interesting companies and people in town for others to get a little insight into what makes us “weirdos” tick.
My first taker was Russ Somers, the Director of Marketing for local video commerce startup Invodo. First, to familiarize you with the value proposition that Invodo offers, here is an excerpt from their What We Do page:
Invodo helps businesses sell more online through the power of video. We improve the way online retailers sell, brands communicate product value, and consumers shop.
This excerpt is very much in line with how Russ described the company to me (guess who managed website messaging?). During our discussion, however, Russ elaborated, “Our goal is to bring the visuals and the experience of a live retail environment to you via eCommerce. Since visuals are an an important component of that experience, video is the natural answer.”
Based on those two statements alone, you can start to imagine the possibilities of how the company’s services and technologies can really impact online sales. If you can’t see the product firsthand, how about a 3-D treatment that allows you to view from any angle? Or maybe a quick overview of the benefits and key features of the product? What if the speaker on the video just so happens to be part of the target demographic? I guess you can tell I think they are onto something here.
With a clear understanding of the offering, I was interested in hearing why Russ enjoys working at Invodo so much.
Russ outlined the company’s cultural mantras, and I must say, they were great! The leadership team is focused on creating careers for the employees, evangelizing the idea that this not merely a “stop” on your path to greatness. Specifically, he shared several key operating principles that the company stands for (paraphrased in my own words):
- Customers First
- Our Team Rocks
- Humans Not Resources
- Build an Amazing Company
My initial thought was, “What a company!” Of course, every great company finds a way to keep the customers happy. If that’s not part of the mission, the risk of failure is much higher, right? The rest of the concepts, though, are excellent. “Our Team Rocks” is about establishing pride and camaraderie among the employees. Some companies use the family analogy, but Invodo cuts straight to the point. Russ shared some nice stories about the whole team pitching in on all sorts of things in the early days (e.g. moving several large appliances over a weekend, where nearly everyone showed up to help).
I must say, though, “Humans, not resources” really piqued my interest. You see, I’ve always taken issue with the phrase “Human Resources”. The term is rather dehumanizing, grouping you and me together with things like computers, machinery, and materials used for manufacturing products. Invodo got it right…we’re all people who deserve equal respect regardless of position, experience, etc.
Building a Great Company is something that all leadership teams want, but not all are able to sell properly to the entire company. The above mantras surely help set them
up for success with this objective, as does the fact that they encourage their employees to read the classic business book Good to Great. If you haven’t read it yourself, I strongly encourage you to do so.
Finally, Russ made it clear that the whole company embraces Austin as a city. “Quirky” was a word he used for something they consider a part of the company as well as the city. I must say, I’m in complete agreement!
After a nice walk through of Invodo, we delved into some other topics of interest.
Online vs. Offline vs. Mobile
I have very strong opinions about where I think the various mediums should interplay. When I asked Russ about his take, we generally agreed. Online will continue to be online, albeit with improvements such as the Invodo offering to help improve the experience. On the other hand, offline and mobile are due to merge in the future, at least partially if not completely. Geo-based social media services have opened a lot of doors that we are only beginning to peek through, and with the growing popularity of QR codes, you can now integrate all three touchpoints in new and different ways.
Social Media: Where Is It Heading?
In digging into one of my favorite topics, social media, I learned that Russ is truly “old school”. He was getting social on usenet groups before many of today’s adults were even exposed to the Internet! Heck, I’ve been online for years and he even beat me to it. Impressive, to say the least.
We both agreed that we are already in a period focused on content. The phrase “content economy” came up at least a couple of times. What does that mean? Ask Demand Media if you’re unsure of what to think. They’ve just lined up 151M reasons to believe in the content economy.
We discussed newcomer Quora briefly, and both agreed that it really needs some structure introduced into the experience. While it is great to get answers to questions from heavy hitters like Evan Williams of Twitter, finding it can be a challenge. I asked Russ if he thought a service like Quora might threaten blogging, and he didn’t buy it. His great analogy was that a blog is like your “home base”, while all the other social sites are great ways to extend the conversation. I must say, we were in complete agreement.
I really enjoyed the visit with Russ Somers. He had great insights and is a generally interesting guy. I wish both Russ and Invodo the best of luck in their ongoing endeavors.
Now a question for you – Who in Austin do you think would make a good interviewee for Return On Now? I already have quite a few folks in mind, but I want to hear from my readers directly. Thanks for reading!
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