Steve Jobs Aura

I’ve been watching Steve Jobs keynotes for years now. I’ve marveled at his ability to ahh and wow the audience during his keynotes. I’m not one for public talking and therefore, it’s nice to admire those that do it well.  

For years, I’ve wanted to see the man in action. I’ve heard stories of how he enthralls the room, of how all attendees are sucked into the Steve Jobs reality vortex and transported to Jobsian Nirvana for the 90 minute talk. I wanted to take this little trip with him just once. Today, I finally did.

My impression: It ain’t all that. Now, before all the members of the Steve Jobs Fan Club jump all over me, hear me out. I too am a member, remember? I think the man is a genius! I love the output of both of his companies, Apple and Pixar. However, the Keynote wasn’t as hypnotic as I thought it would be.

Now, granted, I had two distractions. One the guy in front of me who had to keep standing up to take pictures. It wouldn’t have been too bad if each shot didn’t take 10 minutes to take. Then there was the idiot behind me who couldn’t be bothered to either turn down his cell phone’s ringer or just turn it off. You’d think after one call, he’d do something about it. No, instead he was too busy feeling important and wanted, “I’m in the keynote, can you just call back later? [hang up] Geeze, some people.” Yeah, buddy, some people.

Now, without those two distractions, would I have been mystified? I doubt it. Before I rag on Steve, let me comment on his better points:

1. He can relate to the common man. He makes you think he’s just an ordinary schmoe who just happened to be picked to talk about all this new “stuff”. He even calls it “stuff” too, not some technical term, just like Joe Neighbor would call it “stuff”.

2. He’s relaxed in front of the rabid Mac-fans, press, VIPs and countless cameras. I’ve seen very few people who seem generally relaxed in front of crowds. Watching him, you sort of forget how hard it is to public speak, until some other speaker comes on during the show, then it’s obvious.

3. He’s humble…now. I know that wasn’t always the case, but the Steve Jobs of today (literally) gave all the credit for these brilliant products to the engineers that made them a reality. He even made them stand so they could receive their proper accolades from the crowd. And boy did we heap it on them. =) Here’s a little more even: Great job, guys! You rock!

Okay, so there’s some good points for you; Now, onto the criticisms. A lot of you people will think the following, “Well, of course, he’s human, you know.” But that’s my precise point, Steve is not supposed to be human during a keynote, he’s the world’s closest thing to a demi-god to his worshippers in attendance.

1. You don’t know when to clap. A good speaker leads you in the interaction. You should know when to clap and know when you shouldn’t but feel the need to do it anyways. Today’s biggest awkward clap moment was during the .Mac talk. He said, “I’m happy to announce that we now have 1 million subscribers.” He paused…which I suppose was a cue for us to clap so one or two people did. However, since the response wasn’t enthusiastic, he quickly added, “And we expect continued growth in the future.” Another pause. By this time, we all had a clue and applauded. It was just a weird moment and there were several of those.

2. He misspeaks often. The funniest instance of this was when he said “Webshite” instead of “Website”. =) He also seems to get lost in thought sometimes. He never loses focus, but you can tell he tripped over a word or phrase and has to find his way back.

3. The “stuff” is the true magic. What is captivating about his keynotes are the demos and the ads. Now, I know he has a lot of input into those things, so you could say that’s part of his charm. Not really though, it’s the material that knocks your socks off. Whether the material is a new piece of hardware, software or advertisement, Apple has solid “Oh I gotta have that products.” Heck, I even get emotionally misty-eyed during the iLife demos because it usually deals with family themes and I’m a family man.

There you have it. This newbie’s impression of his first Steve Jobs keynote. Maybe he was just off this year. Don’t worry, I’ll give him another chance in June. I’m going to try to make it to the WWDC! =)

Big Plastic’s Online Challenger

I read this piece the other day. It’s about the new payment method set out to kill credit cards. I’m thinking, what? PayPal?

(Now, I am a bit biased because I work for eBay and PayPal is one of our companies. However, I’ve been using paypal for years, whereas I’ve only been at eBay for a little more than a month. In fact, I just had a run in with the patheticness of paper checks and the drudgery it entails. If everyone used paypal [employers, banks, rental offices], life would be easy.)

The article isn’t about PayPal though. It’s about this new fandangled Bill Me Later payment plan. Quick and dirty: Old Credit Card playa tires of the game. (Hate the game, not the playa!) He starts an alternative to credit cards for online payments. With just you birthday, last 4 digits of you social security number, and address, they approve you for the purchase amount. You then receive a bill in the mail and pay at your leisure, however you see fit.

I’m thinking, “Big deal. What’s so special about this?” Those that use it, love it, and tend to spend more. It’s that tend to spend more part retailers like. Plus, these guys charge the merchants 1.5% vs. credit cards 2%. It’s pretty much a no brainer for businesses. Business is all about 2 things: Making money and keeping as much of it as you can.

There’s an article I read in HBR awhile back. It said that change in conditions creates a change in productivity. The change could be for the better or for the worse, that didn’t matter. Just that fact that something changed spurred activity. I think that’s what’s going on here. To quote one of the users, “If you have good credit, you have got to try Bill Me Later. I have quite a few credit cards, and every time I use it(sic) over the Internet I am afraid someone is going to steal my account numbers and use my credit line fraudulently. But with the Bill Me Later option, I feel secure.” Now, I’m missing something here. Those same theives who are after her credit card numbers aren’t after this info? Heck, I’m no expert but with one credit card number stolen that card can be maxed. With all this info stolen, unlimited purchases can be made in your name. Yeah, it sounds *much* safer to me.

What about fraudulent activity though? To quote Bill Me Later, “Does Bill Me Later® protect me from unauthorized charges? Yes, Bill Me Later® provides ‘zero fraud liability’ protection; the same protection provided by most major credit cards. This means you are not responsible for unauthorized charges.” Therefore, even if that girl’s credit card number was stolen, she wouldn’t be responsible. Once again, what’s the point?

People are funny in how they don’t think things though. You place a new thought/method in front of them, and they think, “Oh, this is new. It must be better.”

My biggest gripe with Bill Me Later is that it’s one way. From what I can tell, it’s not two way. In other words, they’re taking the beauty of online, instantaneous payment processing and taking us back in time to before credit cards where only in-store credit existed. I buy something online and the paper trail begins. One of my favorite quotes from the article is from Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru: “It has the potential to open online retail to a whole new segment of customers that wouldn’t have shopped otherwise.” Like who? My grandparents (or sadly enough, my parents who fear the stolen credit card thievery too). No offense, but literally, that segment is a dying breed. Today’s youth couldn’t be bothered about putting every bit of information online, much less a stinkin’ credit card number.

This company is growing and will most likely be bought for lots of cash. Really though, I don’t think they have a lasting business model. Here’s why:

– Who wants a new “credit line” for every single purchase made? (i.e. every $20 order) Hence, this will be a big purchase option only.
– How long can people be fooled? Sure, it’s a new way, but eventually, people have to realize it’s no safer than Credit Cards.
– One way only? Why use a service like this that’s only one way, when PayPal lets you send AND receive money.
– But customers spend more! That’s only because of the “90 day no payment” for purchases over $250. That’s a retail ploy, not a lasting business model.

Well, those are my thoughts. Now, when someone runs up to you and says, “Hey, I just heard of this cool feature called Bill Me Later.” You can tell them, “Thanks, but no thanks. I prefer Bill Me Now, i.e. PayPal.”