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How Smart Software is Like a Great Employee

Two Stanford professors, Reeves and Nass wrote a paper in 1996 that is still accurate today.

People treat computers as if they were people.

The study found that people often apply social rules and expectations to their interactions with computers and Phones, even though they know that these devices lack human-like qualities.

For example, we use human-like language and commands when communicating with our devices, such as “Hey Alexa, what’s the weather like today?” as if it’s feelings would get hurt if we were rude.

So we can agree,

  1. Software has feelings (at least that’s what people think)
  2. Software is like an employee, hired to do a job
  3. Good software has a growth mindset, just like a good employee.

If you think that all this sounds crazy, let’s start with point #1.

1. Software has feelings

If a door is programmed to yell “OOOUCH!!!”, when it gets slammed, people will close it gently. However, it’s overkill to put software on a door to solve a door slamming problem when a felt pad can do the job.

Or think about your car’s GPS.

Studies show that women get irritated when their GPS has a dominant male voice because it sounds like it’s mansplaining.

But the GPS doesn’t care. It doesn’t have feelings. But humans think they do.

So if software is like a person, software can be raised in a way that sets it up for success. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Let’s think about point #2 which sounds even more absurd.

2. Software is just like an employee, hired to do a job.

This idea was first floated by Clay Christensen, Harvard Professor and author of The Innovators Dilemma. You hire a product for a job that needs to be done.

Clay used the example of milkshakes (which isn’t software, but it’s a product, so the analogy still works)

McDonald's approached Clay’s team because they were worried the sales of their milkshakes sales were plateauing. They tried everything.

-Improved the flavor.

-Lowered the price.

-Increased the serving size

Nothing worked.

So Clay’s team surveyed people who bought milkshakes “What job are you hiring this milkshake to do?

The real insight the team got from the milkshake consumers was:

“Milkshake keeps them occupied during their commute”

Could a bag of peanuts do the job? Maybe, but peanuts are small and messy.

Granola bars could do the job. But those bars are consumed in minutes. Plus they’re messy.

But Milkshakes. Now milkshakes fill you up slowwwly.

They would keep the drivers occupied during the commute. Drivers have to reach out for the milkshake and slurp it from time to time filling up the tummies and commute at the same time.

Seemed like they were best suited for the job.

So what did McDonald’s do with this insight? They made milkshakes thicker AND raised the price.

Sales went through the roof.

We can use this framework to think about the kind of job every piece of software does.

What do you employ your favorite piece of software to do?

Let’s start with Instagram. What do you think is Instagram’s job? Some may say it’s a photo organizer? A curator? A matchmaker?

Not necessarily. If you really want to know what a software’s job is, you just need to dig up who is paying its salary. Who employs Instagram?

The answer is Advertisers. Instagram doesn’t work for consumers like you and me. Instagram works for the advertiser, the business who pays to use it.

Instagram’s job is Media Buyer.

Instagram takes your post for a fee, and presents it to the right audience.

To find the audience, the media buyer needs to build a profile of its audience. How does Instagram do this? By encouraging the audience to share their birthdays, post their photos, tag their friends, like and comment on stuff.

I’d say Instagram is doing the job really well. And earns a handsome compensation every month.

Similarly email does the job of a messenger boy.

Email is low-wage employee. Taking messages from here and sending them there. That’s why email works for free.

So let’s look at the different jobs software we know actually do:

Instagram — Media Buyer

Spotify — DJ

Email — Messenger Boy

Tesla Self Driving Car— Personal Chauffeur

What about Ribbon?

Ribbon’s main job is to collect leads for exhibitors at trade shows and convert it into a sale.

So Ribbon’s job is a Business Development Representative — A BDR

As your BDR, Ribbon reaches out to buyers, matches them with exhibitors, nudges them to write an order, and pushes for a sale.. The buyers picks are formatted into a PO and sent to the exhibitor.

Ribbon then provides you with a status. At the end of the day, Ribbon sends you a report of the sales. It can also calculate the commission and create reports.

But this is just the beginning.

3. Successful software has a growth mindset

What’s the next for the various software you use?

Good software is like an employee with a growth mindset.

We spoke about email being a messenger boy. A low wage employee moving messages here and there. But in the hope that someday it’ll get promoted to a high paying job. Like a CRM.

Imagine if email starts reading your messages. Starts giving you suggestions on how to respond, when to reply and even what to reply.

Email levels up to a manager job. Email is now a customer relationship manager — CRM

Now people will pay for it. We pay $500 per month for our hubspot CRM. We pay $5 for email.

How would Ribbon get promoted to the next role?

Today Ribbon is a Business Development Rep at Trade Shows.

Tomorrow Ribbon could get more proactive. For example, Ribbon could notice that the buyer had five items in their cart and could suggest two more from a lookalike buyer. Ribbon goes above and beyond the basic BDR and starts recognizing patterns.

Or it could figure out why there’s this one recurring item in every abandoned cart. The supplier is always shipping late that’s why the ten top buyers stopped buying.

That’s business intelligence. BI is huge. Salesforce bought a BI company Tableau for 16 billion!

As long as the employee continues to learn, the employee will get better and help you get better at your job.

With AI and Business Intel, Ribbon’s next role would be your Director of Sales. Seeing the big picture, understanding patterns, and ultimately bringing in an enormous amount of sales from a lot of trade shows.

So let’s recap:

1. Software has feelings

2. Software is like an employee, hired to do a job

3. Good software has a growth mindset, just like a great employee.

With the advent of AI, software is going to grow a lot faster. Just like your best employees.

Vinit Patil is the CEO/ Co-founder of Ribbon, a trade show platform with a mission to make All Fairs Shoppable online.