The Most Recent Egalitarian Entrepreneur Posts

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Interlude and Transition #1

After a few years at Sony, things were really heating up in the high-tech field in general and in the Silicon Valley in particular. It was a boom time for the economy, too. I now had 15 years of experience at 3 major league players in the high-tech field. So I decided to be adventuresome, step out of my comfort zone and be a risk taker. Opportunities abounded for me. In fairly quick succession, I became a director of software engineering at a multinational company (made my first business trip to Paris, way cool!), then VP of product development at an internet music appliance startup company (precursor of the iTunes business, we were a five years ahead of the market), and finally VP of engineering at a B2B ecommerce startup company. With dizzying speed I had accomplished my career objective, and was having so much fun and hard work developing software, hardware, and systems products with talented staff at a breakneck pace.

Looking back in 20/20 hindsight, I guess I knew in the back of my mind that it couldn't last forever. What goes up, must come down as the Newtonian physicists always like to remind us. And so it was with the tech-fueled boom times at the turn of the last century. Everything seemed to fall like a house of cards - venture capital money dried up, the economy slowed into a recession, and hundreds of thousands of displaced engineers started showing up on the unemployment roles.....

So what did I do? I did what any self-respecting, experienced, degreed computer scientist would do in troubled economic times - I went to work for Microsoft! When I first arrived at Microsoft, it was an awesome place to work. Cool projects, cool people, and a cool work environment - life didn't get any better than this! I was on cloud nine, having the time of my life. For the first couple of years there, I kept wondering why I hadn't sought out Microsoft as an employer earlier in my career. Life was good.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Tiger Team

Working at Sony was a lot of fun, and there was remarkable synergy between divisions. Nowhere was this more evident than during the time Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) was getting ready to release the latest Godzilla blockbuster movie, and my division, Sony Information Technologies of America (ITA) was getting ready to release the first generation of the VAIO 505 laptop computer. Many newer Sony movies have exceeded Godzilla's popularity and box-office appeal, and many newer computers have exceeded the original VAIO 505's technical specifications, performance and sex-appeal, but back in the day, this was an exquisite opportunity for cross-marketing and leveraging Sony properties.

Minds much greater than mine came up with the idea that linking Godzilla (BIG!) and the VAIO 505 (small!) would allow both Sony divisions to leverage the marketing muscle of each other. My division formed a Tiger Team to bring all the different disciplines together to pull this off. I was selected as the engineering representative on the Tiger Team. At this point in my career, I was managing a team of over twenty software engineers as well as personally functioning as the program manager for the VAIO 505's software development and integration in the U.S. I was so busy I rarely had time to sit at my desk and answer emails! But I was having the time of my life.....

The Tiger Team was headed up by an advisor to the division's president. He was a personable chap from India with over twenty years experience in the Silicon Valley at world-class technology companies in senior executive marketing roles. He and I hit it off very well, and during this project we became good friends. Other members of the Tiger Team included staff from product marketing, public relations, business development, sales, marketing communications, and operations. We met once a week for several months, and as we closed in on the launch date we started meeting more frequently......

As with most projects of this nature, where the pay-off is huge and the visibility is high, tempers would flare and disagreements would be hashed out, but it is a testament to the leader of this Tiger Team that everything was executed flawlessly. No scent-marking territoriality, ego-building pomposity, overwraught personality, overworked people, or just plain stress was going to get in the way of making this product launch the most successful in our division's short history. And so it was..... and so it came to be.....

On the engineering side my team executed flawlessly, and delivered a quality product on spec and on schedule. On the marketing side, they too executed flawlessly, and delivered one of the best marketing campaigns ever. All the other disciplines also came through with their deliverables - there were product placements, and advertisements, and commercials, cross-promotions with the movie, a favorable writeup in the Wall Street Journal by Walt Mossberg, and even a spot on some morning TV show in the gadget section. In fact, some of my favorite T-shirts still hanging in my closet are from this effort. On the front, the T-shirt has the big green Godzilla monster foot with the word "GODZILLA", and on the back the T-shirt has the dimunitive VAIO 505 laptop with the words "SIZE DOES MATTER"......

But my favorite memorabilia from the Tiger Team remains something very special. The Tiger Team leader had it made as a token of his gratitude for all the members, for the time we spent together realizing the vision, making it happen. The plaque looks something like this:

Tiger Team
Special Recognition

Jeff Phillips

Your trailblazing creativity, dedication and spirit of teamwork paved the way for an innovative U.S. launch of the VAIO 505 SuperSlim Notebook.

With sincere gratitude and appreciation,
Sony Information Technology Company

Kunitake Ando is currently President of Sony Corporation in Japan. I was invited to a dinner with him once, about a year later, and was happily surprised that he recognized and remembered my name. I felt honored yet humbled at the same time.....

I cherish these recollections, the T-shirts, the plaque..... they bring back fond memories of this time in my life, this project, the first generation of the VAIO 505 laptop computer, the Godzilla blockbuster movie, and the Tiger Team I served on..... I still keep the plaque on my desk, where I can be reminded of the experience everyday and it will bring a sparkle to my eye. It sits right next to my Microsoft Ship-It Award, with a Bill Gates inscription - but that's a different project and yet another anecdote or two.....

Beginning in June 2004 with TransformTec, Inc. (my product development and technology broker company) , I now bring together technical teams and acquiring companies to monetize intellectual property. I have a passion for engineering new products and creating new markets, turning ideas into reality, and transforming technology concepts into products. No time like the present - if you have a product idea and need help with engineering design, development, and/or product launch, contact TranformTec, Inc. for a free preliminary consultation.