Marti Nyman is “director of global innovation networks” for Best Buy. This means that his job is to find leading-edge, cool stuff for Best Buy—and yes, he gets paid to do this. Marti has held a diverse array of positions in strategic alliances, business development, mergers and acquisitions, business-unit leadership, sales and marketing, manufacturing, and international market development at a number of companies including General Electric, Ericsson, and ADC Telecommunications.

  1. Question: Why do you spend so much time in Silicon Valley?

    Answer: The Valley has always been a great source of great innovation—semiconductors, enterprise software, internet, communications, etc. Now we’re seeing more of the investment activities are shifting towards the consumer sector and for good reason: all the traditional barriers to entry are gone and key technologies such as processors, custom silicon, memory, storage, software development, etc., are all relatively easy to access and cost attractive.

    As for Best Buy, there’s the reality that the commoditization pressures facing our industry are getting greater every year, with no real end in sight. So we have to approach these challenges differently than we have in the past: that is, to engage with the venture capital community and those promising startups to continue to find new and better ways of serving the customer. And don’t forget the fact that no one makes a better breakfast burrito than Buck’s.

  2. Question: But what are the odds that a product from “two guys in a garage”
    is going to make it onto a Best Buy shelf?

    Answer: Very tricky question. If those “two guys” have a great idea, that has real benefit and a unique value proposition, and they have a solid understanding on who the customer is, the odds are getting better. It’s still not as easy as I’d like it, but we’re working hard to make the process better. If you look at one of our recent successes, Sling Media, it actually was two guys, Jason and Blake Krikorian, who conceived of the idea and made it happen though I’m not sure what size garage they had.

  3. Question: Then what’s your advice to startups who want to sell their
    product through Best Buy?

    Answer: There are four things:

    • Have an exceptionally clear understanding of who the customer is and what specific problem you’re solving of theirs. To be sure, it’ll evolve as the business evolves, but you have to start somewhere or no one will get it.

    • Be far more aware of existing and/or competitive solutions— and deeply understand why they work or don’t work. Talk to their customers and get the real insight as to what they love or don’t love about the product.

    • Don’t fall in love with your technology; instead, fall in love with getting customers to dig your solution so much that they actually may establish an emotional bond to your company.

    • Finally, it always helps to shop our stores to understand the environment we’re trying to work in.

  4. Question: But how can startups hope to compete with the likes of Cisco, Sony, HP in price, brand awareness, staying power, etc?

    Answer: If a startup seeks to compete where these companies currently play it’ll be tough for the reasons you cite—not insurmountable but challenging nevertheless. But the size of these players can also make it difficult for them to be fast or agile enough to hit an unserved gap in the market. It reinforces my earlier point about having an extremely solid grasp for what you’re developing and for whom it’s targeted.

  5. Question: Do venture capitalists have a clue about makes a successful
    consumer electronic product?

    Answer: The venture capital community is going through a phase in which they’re learning to become more comfortable as well as knowledgeable about the consumer electronic market. For very good reasons like high customer acquisition and channel costs, they’ve tended to stay on the sidelines of the consumer electronics market. But given the explosive growth in devices, digital media, Web 2.0 experiences, etc., it’s a large and growing opportunity that merits exploration and some investment.

  6. Question: How has the Internet made Best Buy shoppers more informed?

    Answer: Undoubtedly. As the products and technologies continue to get more and more complex the Internet has provided customers with an abundance of resources to help deal with this. But with abundance also comes complexity and unfortunately, confusion, so while the Internet has gotten more information into shopper’s hands, it’s also presented them with more choices, facts and opinions, many of which contradict each other.

    Therefore, the work of helping to provide the best choice for each customer’s unique needs is still a critical part of the role our store associates play. Also, the same customer that’s comfortable buying shoes and digital music online may also strongly prefer shopping the store to see, touch and compare the performance of 42” plasma TV’s.

  7. Question: I thought the world has gone to online stores for buying digital
    content: Why is so much physical space dedicated to CDs and DVDs?

    Answer: At last count, digital music sales only accounted for 11% of total music sales, and movies were even less. As contemporary and popular as buying digital music is, there is still a lot of people buying CDs and DVDs. However, there’s no denying that digitally delivered media is going to continue to grow on all fronts. As validation, we recently launched the Best Buy Digital Music store, to provide customers with a Best Buy branded digital music service.

  8. Question: How is Geek Squad doing?

    Answer: The Geek Squad is a tremendous part of Best Buy’s growth and strategy. Nationwide, we’ve got roughly 11,000 agents working in our stores as well as stand alone “precincts”. With the growth in PC’s as well as networked homes, the Geek Squad is playing a critical role in not only helping to fix problems when they occur but also to help our customers’ get the most out of their devices and digital media. Looking forward, as our home becomes even more “connected,” there will be continued need for folks like the Geeks to help our customers get the most out of their investment.

  9. Question: How does Best Buy find knowledgeable geeks to work the floor?

    Answer: They find us. When The Geek Squad was started, it had no money for marketing – so everything it did was used as advertising. The Geekmobiles, the uniforms, our culture, and our reputation all were meant to help attract and retain talent.

  10. Question: Eleven thousand is an amazing number—is this proof that
    computer manufacturers are doing a crappy jobs with product design, customer
    support, and documentation?

    Answer: On the positive side, if you look at the power of desktop and mobile computing today, as well as networking, there’s some serious technology at our fingertips. Wireless networking was once the sole domain of large enterprises, and now 108Mbs data rates are available in an $80 router. A gigabyte of computer memory cost $7,700 in 1990 and today it costs $129.00.

    On the downside, with the complexity of hundreds of different applications, peripherals and increasingly complex operating systems, to ensure everything works smoothly, all the time, is unrealistic, at least today. But we’re working on both sides of the divide—customers and suppliers—to make this part of the world a better place.