Tour of one of best Silicon Valley service companies: Tiny Prints

What makes great service?

It’s something I’ve cared about a long time, since helping run consumer electronics stores in the 1980s to working at Rackspace (which regularly wins awards and praise for its quality of service).

I keep hearing about six-year-old Tiny Prints and how awesome its service is and have tried it myself. Their products are of the highest quality and the service I (and my wife, and other people I know who’ve tried Tiny Prints) get on the phone is exemplary.

What does it do? It makes custom stationery, greeting cards, and other printed goods.

Anyway, when I find a company that’s doing something extraordinary I want to find out more about them so I asked Ed Han, CEO, to give me a tour to learn more.

What did I find?

1. They are bootstrapped. They didn’t take venture capital, but started the company with $10,000 of their savings.
2. They hire carefully. I’ve seen this over and over again at great companies like Zappos or other companies (even Microsoft and Google hired very carefully at first and only got looser over time).
3. They have a mission statement.
4. They use technology ruthlessly. “We like to use technology,” Ed Han says.
5. They care about user experience before technology.
6. They, like Amazon, took on a business that’s existed for many many years before. Amazon took on books, Tiny Prints took on greeting cards and wedding invitations.
7. The management knows everyone (or seems like it). At Rackspace the Chairman Graham Weston walked me around the company and, despite having 2,000 employees, he knew something about every employee we met and personally greeted them. It’s an amazing skill I wish I had, but it said volumes about how the company is managed. I found the same when walking around with Ed. He obviously is fond of his employees and takes the time to get to know them on a personal level.
8. Their offices are open, no walls. Many of the world’s great companies are run this way. HP, for instance, had doors on the founders offices but they were never closed and were permanently open. At Zappos the CEO sits right in the middle of the building in a cube where everyone can meet him and say hi (his cube is even on the public tour, he encouraged us to sit down with him and eat peanuts).
9. They constantly learn and keep their skills and market understanding up to date.
10. They look for the best people and companies to partner with.

Anyway, watch the 30 minute tour and learn the details behind all of these points.

Oh, and Tiny Prints are having a 20% off cyber Monday sale today, so if you want some Holiday Cards now is a great time to try them out and see their great service for yourself.

Finally, thanks to Rich Bucich who both is a great photographer but also helped arrange this tour.


Dying career: traffic helicopter pilot

I still like listening to KGO Radio (AM 810 San Francisco) but on there they still make a big deal about having a traffic helicopter and a team that covers traffic. Every day they put on air someone caught in traffic too, mostly on the Bay Bridge, to report how long it takes him to drive from SF to Oakland, among other places.

This job skill is dying very quickly, according to the Associated Press. Why? Well, you only need to see Waze, a new crowd-sourced traffic app for mobile phones, to see just how lame this method of reporting the traffic is.

Here, let’s go for a ride around Palo Alto with Waze’s .

I’ve been using it and already I’ve found that the reports I’m getting are more complete than others (including the traffic reports in my 2010 Toyota Prius that I pay a lot of money every year to receive) and even include things like speed traps. Why? Because they are reported by other drivers on the ground. This system is even better than the Google Maps traffic on my Android phone (which is better than my iPhone).

This is a VERY disruptive company and one of my favorites to use. Get it now, it’ll save you a lot of time driving around. We’ll have to figure out something else for those traffic helicopter pilots and reporters to do, though.

The rush to socialize the Enterprise continues with Blogtronix

When Salesforce copied Facebook a week ago and put social information into its service with a new service called Chatter it got me to look around at what else was out there for Enterprises. Companies like SocialText, Jive, Yammer and others are out there. But Blogtronix was showing up on my Twitter feed a lot and people told me to take a fresh look at the company’s offerings, which had been updated in the past week too.

So, I invited Blogtronix founder Vassil Mladjov over for a chat about what’s happening in the enterprise space. We spend 30 minutes talking about the competition and getting a look at Blogtronix’ latest offerings. Good chat about how the way we’re working together is changing quite a bit thanks to innovation in the consumer space from Twitter and Facebook.