Steven Sinofsky Profile picture
ॐ • Subscribe to https://t.co/vcfesJIIuX • investing • advising • writing • w/@a16z @boxhq @tanium @everlaw… • 📷•🧘🏻‍♂️• tweets kept for 90 days
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10 Jun
Debates over work from home v hybrid v HQ are becoming increasingly polarized (duh). It seems either one gets it, or not, with little room to disagree. There's a reason for this and it is rooted in how disruptive forces take hold. A long 🧵 General Motors HQ
2/ Change in work is part of broader change which is _disruption_ of how companies operate. The structure and design of Corps are rooted in *everything* that happened after WWII from an influx of labor, growth in housing, rise of computing, and even the military.
3/ Whole essays can be written about any one of those. For example, it should be no surprise that those schooled in WWII (literally) and came to run corporations would run those corporations like the military (see smile.amazon.com/Whiz-Kids-Foun…) Book The Whiz Kids
Read 46 tweets
8 Jun
With so much talk about “breaking up” companies, it is interesting to take a different perspective—what is it like to be on the receiving end of a court order to break up the company you work for? This week in June 2000, in US v. Microsoft the breakup was ordered. 1/4
2/ Microsoft was ordered to break up into two companies, Applications and Operating Systems. As with many remedy orders, there were a lot of questions (like what is an operating system or an application??). But mostly what problem was this solving? Court order.
3/ The separation of Windows and Office wasn’t at the heart of the complaint, which came about because of the pricing/licensing of Windows and what features go in Windows. So many people thought Office came with Windows and benefitted from some secret information.
Read 4 tweets
7 Jun
031. Synchronizing Windows and Office (the First Time) [Chapter V], by @stevesi …rdcoresoftware.learningbyshipping.com/p/031-synchron…
2/ The spring/summer of 1994 was a weird time at Microsoft. Business was going gangbusters. It appeared as though we would make a "remarkable" pivot to the internet (though the story would not be told for 2 years). BUT strategically and culturally there was a lot of confusion.
3/ We were selling tons of Windows 3.x but all attention was on the delayed release of Chicago (Win95). We were selling tons of Office 4.x but Office had "dribbled out" one new product at a time. Lotus even made fun of us in an ad. Lotus SmartSuite. Five Blue Chip Windows Applications. No IO
Read 7 tweets
4 Jun
Twitter launches its first subscription service // Whenever a company pivots to subscription, we can assume teams spent inordinate amount of decks/whiteboards drafting “subscriber only” features. It is easy to second guess all this or … 1/ cnbc.com/2021/06/03/twi…
2/ quickly arrive at come your own favorite subscription offering. There’s always a chance company missed/s an idea, but given the consternation, it is unlikely. What’s missing is a longer term context for the offer (goals, features) v. immediate goal of pivot/transition.
3/ Along with features, the team will endlessly debate price points, number of offerings, and upsell strategies. If you use the 4 P’s framework, this pivot is literally the stuff dreams (and stress) are made of. It takes time to play out. // END
Read 4 tweets
4 Jun
“My Performance Review (and An Expense Report)”— How do you figure out if you’re doing a good job in a staff role like the one I had when I was billg’s technical assistant. It is more difficult than it might seem. New post in “Hardcore Software” 1/ …rdcoresoftware.learningbyshipping.com/p/030-my-perfo…
2/ Tempting to think you sit down with the CEO, talk through specific goals, then measure progress during 1:1s and so on.

But all of that is very high overhead for a CEO, especially one not pre-disposed to management :-)

As a staff person you want to amplify performance…
3/ But if doing so takes a lot of time and effort from the principle it might be costly. So you have to adapt your work style to their style and just “deal with it”.

That’s what I did. So we met almost never even though we shared a wall—we used email/ writing.
Read 5 tweets
2 Jun
In Peter Drucker's 1954 classic "The Practice of Management" he described the role of the CEO as being a combination of the right level of outside, inside, and action focus arrived at through management by objectives. 1/ excerpt.
In a later work this is refined (American CEO series in WSJ) he described the importance of an outside role and then a bridge to inside. 2/ wsj.com/articles/SB110… CEOs have ultimate responsibility for the work of everybody
This is a great framework but the problem is finding all of these in one person can be daunting or impossible resulting in disappointment/failure.

Also holds not just for CEO but for any sort of divisional or business leadership role (eg in charge of a whole biz). 3/
Read 5 tweets
1 Jun
With the excitement over the "Friends" reunion, I wanted to share this video, "The Windows 95 Video Guide" which was released with Windows 95 in August 1995. It aged just about as well as Friends. 1/

Windows 95 Video Guide (1995)
2/ If you're curious about just how much "crap" people went through to use a computer 25 years ago then this is a wonderful time capsule.

There's a section on 20 FAQs and each one is a tech support nightmare. Also, constant reminders about tech support in general.

Example: How does Windows 95 connect to the internet?Three option: The Microsoft Network, Microsoft PlusManually connect: obtain and internet PPP or SLIP account Us
3/ There are other fantastic questions such as "Can Windows 95 run Macintosh software" tl;dr, NO.
Read 6 tweets
31 May
The list of things people repeat as if they are evil or some secret plan continues to surprise me: “ads”, private label, loss leaders, loyalty cards/benefits, price incentives…Amazon generational innovation is in distribution and efficiency, like every mass market retailer ever.
October 2003. What did Walmart do? Focus on distribution and efficiency. Everything they did had been done before, just not as well.
Set in 1990 -- Walmart competing with legendary K-Mart.
Read 10 tweets
31 May
Telling the Untold Story in "Hardcore Software" (inside the rise and fall of the PC revolution) tells the story of Microsoft's famous pivot to the Internet. Writing on @substack draws out fun stories from a community of readers adding even more. Example: …rdcoresoftware.learningbyshipping.com/p/029-telling-…
2/ Shared the behind the scenes details of a cover story in July '96 BusinessWeek magazine giving a timeline of events leading to Microsoft's big bet on open internet technologies (aka "embrace and extend"). Story opened with this quote from the employee newsletter, _MicroNews_. Magazine cover of businessweekFirst page of article. Has "Inside Microsoft: The untol
3/ I got a note from former Microsoftie Dean Ballard, former developer on the TrueType team (and among other things named Trebuchet typeface). Turns out DeanBal authored "Battle Hymn" which he documents here including a fun series of MicroNews letters. deanbal.net/hymn/hymn.htm Full text of Battle Hymn reproduced from the original MicroN
Read 8 tweets
27 May
Narratives are a powerful concept that make difficult concepts easy (and even fun, interesting) for us to understand. BUT they also come with some rish—risk from abstracting out important details and context that might diverge from facts. This happens quite a bit… 1/
2/ I want to talk about this in context of business because there's a lot going on where compelling narratives are taking hold, which sound like big problems or a lesson from business history but might hold us back collectively from finding solutions or understnading challenges.
3/ This is not a new problem and to be clear it isn't one to ascribe to malice. In fact it is most always a simple form of confirmation bias or "that just makes sense" combined with a bit of "if that's true it fits super well with a broader narrative." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmat…
Read 23 tweets
25 May
What did a corporate network look like in 1994? Here are some slides I made in the summer of 1994 for the interns. MS had 35,000 PCs sending 12.2 million email messages a month. Also, MS had 23 mini computers and a mainframe with 3.2 terabytes of disk space. 1/ End user stats such as 35,000 PCsOperations includes 22,000 batch jobsThe network itself has 35,000 nodes and 80km of fiber.The network topology is a hub and spoke from redmond.
2/ Why is this so interesting? Because companies around the world were building out networks like this right when the Internet arrived. The Internet upended how to think about connectivity. A BigCo connected to the internet versus making its own Intranet.
3/ Many of us were incredibly excited by the opportunity the Internet brought us. Sitting in a hallway outside a the TCP/IP Dev Manager's office was Microsoft's FTP server. No demand gen. Spontaneous usage! FTP Server usage 65000 users every week downloading 280000 f
Read 7 tweets
22 May
What is it like to experience disruption? Is it a bolt of lightning or does it happen in slow motion? Is it obvious and if it is, who thinks that?

In "Hardcore Software" I'm telling the story of how Microsoft was confronted by the internet in 1994. 1/ …rdcoresoftware.learningbyshipping.com/p/026-blue-sue…
2/ The phrase "disruption" wasn't even around in 1994. In fact the original paper was months away before the language it created came to define the internet. (not yet "Innovator's Dilemma") HBR: Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave
3/ When we first saw breadth of internet technologies all at once, it was still easy to dismiss for the reasons one can imagine. They didn't work as well, they were free, and so on.

I had to become an "evangelist" for the internet. I learned very valuable lessons very quickly.
Read 15 tweets
19 May
Transforming from app/service to platform often (not always) involves adding extensibility (API) for other companies or customers to use. Using extensibility aside from solving a missing capability, is sticky and good for biz. Some patterns, traps, pitfalls & lessons 1/
2/ Most SaaS can be thought of as "mostly about data", "mostly about experience", or "mostly about an API", especially early. Over time most apps will naturally expand to be more of what it isn't, normal. To speed expansion and feature coverage, extensibility to the rescue.
3/ An app that is mostly about storing data will often expand to both ingest more data but to also display/report/synthesize data. Early on exposing an API that allows more data to be ingested or allows other tools to serve as front ends is natural.
Read 23 tweets
12 May
New "Hardcore Software" post - "Trapped" …rdcoresoftware.learningbyshipping.com/p/025-trapped?…

Microsoft has a master plan, riding a wave of unprecedented success. We're going to build the roads for the information superhighway.

Then I got trapped in the snow at Cornell. 1/

Maybe subscribe. It's fun!
2/ We had big plans for how to link up computers and share information. We called that strategy "Information At Your Fingertips" or IAYF.

We were going to build that strategy in the next release of Windows codename Chicago and Windows NT.

We had a fancy vision brochure. Scan from brochure highlighting multimedia capabilities.
3/ Then I got trapped by a snowstorm at my alma mater, Cornell.

I did what every alum 5 years out does and retraced my years, visiting the computer center I used to work.

The mainframe was replaced with Macs. All connected by a bunch of free GNU software (aka open source). A big mainframe computer.students using Macs in hte libraryUser interface screens for getting online.
Read 7 tweets
9 May
Why were word processors $500+ in 1980s (~$1300 2021)? Aside from "seemed right" the packaging and contents were expensive. Here's a leading WP MultiMate. It came with several books, reference cards, keyboard templates, backup disks... The box is a fancy cloth storage box. 1/ Photo of box with 3 books, two reference cards and stickers
2/ Companies were not just teaching their product but had to explain how a PC worked. The "Beginner's Guide" literally explained how a PC worked? Why, because often people were buying a PC to run one software product. How do floppies work? start of beginners manual explaining inserting a floppy.
3/ Products were enormously complex to use. It often took weeks to become kind of proficient. Mostly because usage meant learning essentially arbitrary keyboard "chords". MultiMate was famous for *stickers* you'd put on your keys (talk about commitment). (tough to find these!) Keyboard reference and stickers.
Read 6 tweets
9 May
"Working Backwards" is a very good book for product leaders to read. It builds on 6 core Amazon principles AND tells the story of 4 key amazon projects. Written by @cbryar (12+) and @BillCarr89 (15+ yrs) of Amazon. 1/ smile.amazon.com/Working-Backwa…
2/ My normal caveat is that I tend to like books that tell the story and tools a company used but don't try too hard to tell you that you should do what they did or "use these tools". I'm hardcore about this because I think context, domain, and people make all the difference.
3/ I've seen far too often business leaders adopt the low-friction/readily adoptable part of such expressed lessons, and then get frustrated things don't work. I've even seen this happen when one part of Microsoft tried to lift parts of what another team did.
Read 25 tweets
17 Apr
"BillG the Manager" in _Hardcore Software_ (read and subscribe via this link) …rdcoresoftware.learningbyshipping.com/p/019-billg-th…
2/ From the earliest days the company was uniquely focused on a breadth product line, and only on software. Those were both unique compared to single-product companies or to the vertically integrated likes of IBM captured by this classic video (c. 1981).
3/ As technical assistant I was there to help with product reviews and serve as a form of connective tissue or glue between product groups executing on Bill's vision. In 1993 Microsoft just launched the 'year of Office' and had started the pivot from apps to the suite. Advertisement for Office in 1993
Read 5 tweets
11 Apr
A topic I end up talking about quite a bit is how org structures evolve. In today's "Hardcore Software" I discuss origins of Microsoft's two main cultures--Systems and Apps. "018. Microsoft’s Two Bountiful Gardens" in Hardcore Software on @SubstackInc …rdcoresoftware.learningbyshipping.com/p/018-microsof… 1/
2/ Mike Maples Sr (then head of all World Wide Products) explained the origin of each culture using a folksy story about "two bountiful" gardens at Microsoft. Apps was 58% of revenue but Systems was top of the food chain, so to speak. Excerpt from annual report in 1993. PDF of scanned document.
3/ Many are familiar with this image of different tech company org charts. It always drove me bonkers because I felt it did little to understand how or why companies are structured like they are and presumes it is just lunacy. Yes, I get it was to be funny. Manu Cornet - tech company org charts. https://bonkersworld.
Read 8 tweets
29 Mar
Climate of 'fear' prevents experts fro questioning the handling of the pandemic. express.co.uk/news/uk/141589… // this is super interesting and not at all obvious for a true pandemic in a democracy. 1/
2/ WHO has studied pandemics and worked tirelessly for decades in many countries. They serve in an advisory capacity with varying degrees of involvement depending on country. Lots of history going way back, smallpox, HIV, flu, ebola, SARS, etc.
3/ In 2008 a few years after SARS they published an updated Outbreak Communication and Planning Guide. apps.who.int/iris/bitstream…
Read 7 tweets
29 Mar
016. Filling the Void Left by IBM …rdcoresoftware.learningbyshipping.com/p/016-filling-… // Over 5000 have signed up. Please join in, it is great fun. Many stories--history & strategy. Microsoft is transitioning to enterprise products and building "Chicago", oh and the internet.

Also, my first exec offsite.
2/ The offsite was the first time I was at a meeting with a bunch of executives from across the company. There were 9 execs out of the 25 or so worldwide at the company at the time. Attending scored us a wonderful acrylic block. Microsoft loved acrylic blocks. Acrylic block signifying attending the "Microsoft Manag
3/3 Our breakout had to come up with an answer to "Filling the Void Left by the Demise of IBM" which was days away from insolvency and will appoint a new CEO the following week. This was the earliest days of Microsoft's transition to selling enterprise as discussed. Weird slide🤣
Read 4 tweets
24 Mar
Just posted "Every Group Is Screwed Up" in _Hardcore Software_. This is my interview with billg to become his technical assistant. 👇that's the old fountain you could see outside from our office windows. 1/ …rdcoresoftware.learningbyshipping.com/p/015-every-gr…
2/ Check out the post for the adventure (including me humiliating myself). The most interesting thing though was how the previous technical assistant warned me about the job.

Also, he told me to start looking for my next job right away!
3/ He told me that every group is "screwed up" and that becomes readily apparent as you cycle through meeting after meeting. Projects are late, buggy, missing features, and more. I was intrigued by the idea everything was messed up.
Read 5 tweets