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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
I like this attitude. Build something you can sell rather than build something just because you can build it. But, the visionaries will not agree to it. And any product that is far ahead of its time is considered to be pure magic or worthless.
As a recent colleague of Marti’s at Best Buy in looking for emerging companies, I wanted to add to his suggestion about shopping Best Buy stores to understand the environment in which a new product or service would fit. While shopping a Best Buy store it’s important to realize that most customer are in-and-out of the stores in a surprisely short amount of time, and that most people when they encounter a new product from an unknown company maybe read the packaging for mere seconds and rarely seek out a sales associate to ask questions. That’s why the packaging must be superior, and the company must do aggressive PR and marketing to get customers into Best Buy stores to seek the product, versus expecting that a lot of the store traffic within the stores is going to discover the breakthrough products.
No offense meant, but this entry is a waste of electrons. It’s as canned and as sanitized as you’d read on ZDnet.
Quotes like: “A gigabyte of computer memory cost $7,700 in 1990 and today it costs $129.00.” Getting in facts like this sound so contrived, it’s painful to read.
I would have liked more details on how the small guys get product on the floor, like more info on how Sling made it. That would be interesting.
And at least throw them one ‘annoyed-customer’ question…like pushing their over-priced PSP.
Now excuse me, I got a sudden urge to go outside and play softball ;)
The dearth of comments on this post on the usually bustling Kawasaki blog probably shows that the post did not so much raise questions in the readers’ brains as it reminded them to get to Best Buy and do some last minute Christmas shopping… 8-)
Craig – electrons can’t be wasted.
Hi Guy Kawasaki..
Nice blog… :-)
“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?”
“On the positive side…” is such a BS round about way of denying the fact that the geek squad is analogous of the devil’s minions!
In heaven, it’s called Apple-Care and it’s 36 months of immunity for $249.
i actually feel quite inspired by question #3, as a small business owner. it reminds me not to be content and keep propelling forward to make my small business stronger by digging and discovering innovations anyway i can and make my customers happier by serving them better.
There are still occasional opportunities of vast consumer confusion to exploit. Look at HDTV this Christmas. Untold tens of thousands picked up Vizio sets from Costco and Sam’s for $1000-$1500. They have nice case styling and great picture compared to standard sets. But they are not nearly as nice as the high-end 1080p sets starting at $2500 and up. Vizio figured out what was good enough now at a price point accessible to many more. And they cleaned up.
Why are so people caught up about getting into Best Buy. Look, if your product is worth a damn then it would have already been talked and raved about on the internet/blogosphere.
When your product reaches that point then Best Buy will come on knocking. That’s how Slingbox did it.
More than just chips
Screaming Circuits serves small business, large business and everything in between. Most of our business comes from companies in the United States, but we do have customers in many parts of the world other than North America. While, for the
Making a good product which fills the Gap is very Imp, further creating Buzz by using Corporate Bloggers like Noah Kagan, Lee Wilkins is more then enough and its more value for your each dolloar you will spend
If you get Michael Arrington, Oliver starr, Robert Scoble, Noah Kagan to talk abt it you have been blessed already (most of this people are very good humans and approcahbale too)
Sell it on Amazon, auction t on ebay firstf wpieces for like 10% of the actual price and you have a grt word make sure you let te actuionerr froma targetd Geo location win, if you don’t know how send me a mial will explain u for free
Give it free to 50 crazily hyper active kids on mySpace, frindster, Zorpia, Orkut, Facebook tell them to talk abt it for atleast a week or two…
Go to the busiest Pub / club around Bay / SF and make friends with DJ / Bar Tender tell them to offer to most active customer on a Sat night for free…
There are million ways, if nothing works then work on creating a better product when you are ready come back to Guy Kawasaki or his blog :)
A very Happy 2007 to everyone and especially to innovators / invetors / entrepreneurs no matter what Don’t give up :)
Nice post. Best Buy is a really interesting company not just in this sense but also in terms of the energy it is putting into using analytics in its store design and customer-centricity program. Check out my post on customer-centricity for some links to Best Buy stories.