MikeP-Color1
W. Mike Presz
1626964172887
IAC
  • M&A/Senior Advisor
  • SVP/GM International
  • Chief Technology Officer

Harvard University
B.A., Computer Science · (1983 – 1987)
Activities and Societies: Harvard Varsity Baseball, 1983-1987. Single Season Pitching Record Holder, 7-0, 1984, Harvard Varsity Club.

Harvard
A journey from sports, to an elite college, to one of the most influential internet brands, yields lessons that only an insider can provide…
New Book by W. Mike Presz

CHAPTER 4

TEAM CHEMISTRY…

In sports, team chemistry is often characterized by teams that play harder, play unselfishly, put team goals ahead of individual goals, refuse to quit, support teammates, and work for the benefit of the team and the organization. Often, “chemistry” is cited when teams with lesser talent “on paper” play and beat teams with more talent. As in sports, business teams can have or lack chemistry. So, good leaders need to develop team chemistry.
Match had both talent and chemistry. We went over two big events at Match in the last chapter where everyone at Match worked together for the greater good of the company. While these were two of the larger examples, everyone working together as a team wasn’t uncommon. It takes special people and an environment of trust to enable this type of behavior. This includes hiring the right people, setting expectations, building trust, and building respect, among other things. It doesn’t “just happen”. There are many things that can kill a culture. Unfortunately, these things are like a cancer. The symptoms may be minor at first. Maybe they are tolerated or people assume that they will go away. Maybe they aren’t even recognized. Often, it’s too late before any action is taken, the culture is already poisoned. Good leaders need to work hard to keep the cancer out. And, if it’s found, it needs to be cut out fast. No playing around. No maybe it’ll change. Cut it out. Good principles to follow:

  1. Take preventative action – always be on the lookout.
  2. Don’t ignore symptoms even if they are minor.  Don’t look the other way when you see something wrong.
  3. Recognize your own involvement in the situation. Don’t contribute directly or indirectly to the spread.

This is all easier said than done.  And, if you are not in a leadership role, it’s just as important that you help make the culture positive.  It’s often human nature to dwell on the negatives or to join in on the gossip train.  Don’t. 

Fortunately, given my background in sports, I was very successful in building a good culture at Match.  Ultimately, the employees made the environment what it was.  However, I was passionate about developing the people and culture sides of my teams.  I loved doing it and worked relentlessly at it.  I spent as much time on the people side as I did on the business and technology sides.  Because, at the end of the day, I was more of a coach than a player on most days.  And, nobody, neither a player or a coach, can win by themselves.  You’ll hear me repeat this many times.  If your team gives up on you, whether it’s your players or your teammates, you aren’t going to be successful.  And, they won’t be either if they try doing it alone.  So, the reverse is also true, you can’t give up on them.  Business is no different.

Different coaches like to play different systems in sports.  In the NFL, you could be a “west-coast” offense and this is an air attack.  Or, “ground and pound” that relies more on the running game.  In the NBA, there are “3 and D” teams built around three-point shooting or other teams that like to pound it through the paint.  All sports have different systems and teams employ them differently.  Some are unique.  Some become revolutionary.  Some don’t work very well and must be changed.  We could probably argue all day about which ones are better.  However, what I believe is indisputable, is that in order to win, your players need to buy into the system and their talents need to align with that system.  If you play a west coast offense you need a great quarterback and fast receivers.   In addition, you need players that want to play on the team and in that system, not ones that are questioning everything.  The system permeates the entire organization from recruiting, to coaching, to player evaluation, to player training, to player development, to game planning, to game execution, and everything else.  And, if you get all of these things: talent, commitment, and buy-in, you are likely to win with most systems.

Business is no different.  You should have a system.  I did.  Over the years, I have adjusted and refined my system based on actual experiences.   This chapter will take you through how Match’s culture was established early on and the important takeaways that I’d like to share.  First, however, I will explain the history of my early days.  Team chemistry helped set the stage for major growth at the company, probably more so than many on the outside would believe.  In order to help you understand more, I’ll start by taking you back to the very beginning of my tenure at Match.

The Early Days

My journey with Match started in late 2000.  I received an email from Sean Moriarty, then CIO of Ticketmaster Online-Citysearch (TMCS) and eventual CEO of Ticketmaster.  In Sean’s own special way, the email stated that TMCS was looking for a highly motivated, highly skilled, cigar-smoking, Harvard pitcher to come in and be the CTO of Match.  Sean is a brilliant, high integrity guy who I had known for a long time.   Shortly after the email, he called me to explain things.  He was looking for technical help at Match.  TMCS was a publicly traded company controlled by USA Networks.  In May and June of 1999, TMCS had acquired Match.com and The One & Only Network.  Match.com was a branded product run by a small team of consultants out of San Francisco.  One & Only was an affiliate-based product and had an employee base run out of Dallas.  The strategy for the combination of both acquisitions was to retain Match.com as the branding for the company but leverage the One & Only employee base in Dallas to remain under TMCS installed senior management.  The consultants in San Francisco moved on after the acquisition and the Match.com product was transitioned to the Dallas team in 2000 prior to my arrival.  This effort was not going well and by September 2000 revenue fell by over 50% due do major system problems.  In October of 2000 refunds grew by 800% and management at TMCS had seen enough. The existing team was able to get the system back up hobbling but the damage was already done.  The business impacts were substantial.  Confidence in the Dallas tech team was lost and the acquisition decision was put into question. I remember on my arrival the head of finance reflecting and telling me that they “thought that they had lost the Match business forever”.  In hindsight, it seems dramatic but when you are in the middle of chaos with the site down, cancellations skyrocketing, revenue plummeting and billing shut off for two months, it’s easy to feel that way.  TMCS management had already tried to insert internal tech help to Dallas but this hadn’t gone well either.  So, they decided to look outside the company for technical help.  And, that’s why Sean called me.

I had my own technical consulting firm in the Washington DC area.  I had no intention of moving to Dallas.  I told Sean as much on our first call.  However, Sean and I go way back and I respect him a lot.  So, I told him that I would go to Dallas and check it out and at least give him a chance to change my mind.  Sean and I have a similar mentality on recruiting talent so he pulled out all the stops on my visit.  John Pleasants, the CEO of TMCS and Dan Marriott (TMCS’s deal guy) were with Sean in Dallas to talk with me.  John and Dan are both amazing talents and I would learn a lot from both of them over the years.  But, at the time, I didn’t know either of them and I was a bit skeptical about Match’s situation.  I remember Dan telling me that he believed the business could be a $100 million-dollar business (it was about $20M at the time).  And, John was explaining his grand vision while everything tech around us was collapsing.  The tech heavy stock market had just collapsed.  Match had been shut down for weeks due to systems issues.  It was barely limping along on my visit.  The internet back in 2000 after the dot.com collapse was still in question.  It’s not like today.  So, given that I’m a conservative guy, I was not sure of any of it.  I also met with Cindy Hennessey, Match’s CEO, who would become my first CEO boss and who was brought in by TMCS management.  Cindy helped explain her thoughts about the business and the current state of the technology group.  As I learned more, I felt like this was a great opportunity for me.  I wasn’t sure about the outcome but I was pretty sure that this business could be a game changer.  I could be at the center of making this change happen.  You don’t get an opportunity to play in the super bowl every day.  When you do, you’d either have to be scared or be a fool to refuse the chance to play.  I’m certainly no fool but I’d have to admit that I was a little anxious at the time.  It wasn’t just the super bowl.  It was that it was the super bowl and we were huge underdogs.  Like four touchdown underdogs.  If Vegas had odds on it, I would have probably been the longest odds on the board.

After meeting with the management group at TMCS, I met with four leaders of the Match team: the current acting CTO, the head of systems, the head of database and the head of development.   All four of them reported back to TMCS management that I should not be hired.  So, TMCS offered me the job anyways.  That’s how bad things were and how little faith our parent company had in the existing team.  I started in mid-November, 2000.  Let me explain the main reasons why:

—–Original Message—–
From: Jim Safka
To: US Management
Sent: Wednesday, October 11, 2006 6:06 PM

Subject: TIMELY: new leadership on profile project

Team, I have asked Mike Presz, assisted by Clark, to make leading us out of our profile project challenge their #1 priority for the next 30 days and potentially longer if that’s what is required.

In spite of spending millions on advertising in October, our great business momentum has been stalled by this release, and I am quite concerned about further damage to our brand and business. I have asked Mike to provide me (and this broader team) with daily, fact-based updates on progress.

Mike will be reaching out to you shortly to lay out his game plan. Thanks Mike for agreeing to take on this challenge in the midst of your other initiatives…

Best,
–JS

My response:

—–Original Message—–
From: Mike Presz
To: Jim Safka
CC: US Management
Sent: Wed Oct 11 18:39:34 2006

Subject: RE: TIMELY: new leadership on profile project

Jim,

While this is certainly a challenging situation, we will do everything possible to resolve it as quickly as possible. I can assure you that everyone understands the urgency and magnitude of the situation. We have a great team on this but we will need the help of the entire company. We appreciate your support and we will do everything possible to revive the momentum and preserve the brand and business that we’ve worked so hard to create.

I’ve already started working with the team and I am building a game plan. The team will continue to work the problems on current path for the rest of the night. I will have a general game plan out tonight and will follow-up with status and a more-detailed plan in the morning.

Regards,

W. Mike Presz
Chief Technology Officer Match.com

“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” – Vince Lombardi

Jim’s Confirmation:

—–Original Message—–

From: Jim Safka
To: Mike Presz

Subject: Re: TIMELY: new leadership on profile project
Date: Wednesday, October 11, 2006 8:05:31 PM

Thank you.

That night, I remember calling my wife and telling her the same thing that I said on many nights back then: I won’t be home any time soon.  I started working immediately on our game plan.   And, I dug deep into my experiences in technology, in business and in sports to rally the company.  By midnight that same night, I sent out the following game plan:

From: Mike Presz
To: Jim Safka
Cc: ALL Match – Home Office

Subject: US Business Game Plan

Date: Wednesday, October 11, 2006 11:45:00 PM

The Shock and Awe Game Plan

The Shock:

  1. We still have a serious problem with the US domestic site.
  2. All future scheduled production releases are immediately suspended until further notice. If you have any contractually significant issues with this, please bring them directly to me with the supporting case. It better be good. I don’t want any more changes/variables introduced into the equation.
  3.  We’re all in this together. It isn’t just a small team’s responsibility, it’s all of ours. Let’s all do our part regardless of how we got here or why. It doesn’t matter at this moment. All that matters is applying the maximum leverage of the extensive skills at this company to identify and fix this problem. If you think it will easy then you’re not in the right frame of mind. I have no idea whether this is fixable quickly or not. But, I know it won’t be easy.
  4. Nobody should sleep well knowing that we haven’t done everything possible to get things back on track.
  5.  “Everything’s within normal” is an unacceptable answer at this stage.
  6.  Until further notice, nothing props to production without my approval. I want emails to me, cc’d Clark and Tony. I want the complete manifest of what’s included. I won’t be happy if I see anything other than an agreed-to, specific, required modification.

The Awe:

  1. Non QA Personnel – Production testing. Lead: Everyone. I want every available resource in the company to test the production system. Test the production site like a real user. Register, create profiles, upload photos, run searches, crawl every cranny and don’t stop until you’ve exhausted all possible paths. If you are unsure whether you are available then you are available. If you are unsure if you’ve found a problem, it’s a problem, report it. Start now and show no mercy.
  • Please capture screen shots, URLs and paths of the problem.
  • Provide comments as to what you think the problem is.
  • Report all problems to Rebecca
  • Rebecca will weed out real issues from the submissions
  1.  QA Personnel – Production testing. Lead: Kerri. I want dedicated QA resources going through production. QA resources have specific skills and talents other than the brute force method. Kerri – I want at least 2 names dedicated to doing nothing but this. Please have these names to me and whether you can spare additional resources (without stopping fix testing) by 10 am tomorrow.
  2.  Key Metric Analytics. Lead: Jim. Regs and Subs are down. Jim, you are the key man and are responsible for solving this problem with the rest of us. I need you in the war room (9D). Bring your laptop and be prepared. We need real time analytics. I would like the first order of business to be an analysis of the drop in regs by brandid. Second, is the drop in subs by brandid. If you need additional clarification, please talk to me directly. Please give me all other info that you already have. I’ll have more for you tomorrow.
  3.  Analytics – Site Flow. Lead: Anna. Anna, I need to understand what the page view data tells us or doesn’t tell us. Grab whomever you need and let’s start cranking. I’d like to review your findings by EOD tomorrow.
  4. Session Analysis. Lead: Randy. I need to understand whether we see any irregularities in the session. Fred just joined and he also knows the session data. I want you and Fred to crush the session and tell me what’s wrong or whether everything is ok. Come prepared with compelling data to convince me if nothing is wrong, I don’t believe it. I want an initial read by EOD tomorrow unless you find something sooner.
  5.  Customer Care. Lead: Tony. You represent the customer. I want the top 20 customer care complaints in my inbox by 12 noon tomorrow.
  6.  Architecture/Code Review. Lead: Clark. Clark will lead a review of the code and architecture with Tony. I need an update of current findings at 9 am tomorrow. We’ll meet every day at 9 am, 1 pm and 5 pm with input of your findings and that of analytics. We’ll then decide on daily direction/changes at this meeting.
  7.  Lead: Rebecca. I want regular updates to go to senior management and all related parties at 12 noon and 5 pm. Ad-hoc updates need to go on any significant event. Rebecca, I will grab you tomorrow to talk more about this.
  8.  Contact Availability. Lead: Venitra. Please email Venitra with your home, cell numbers and Messenger Handle (email) so we can reach you (product and technical).

Regards,
W. Mike Presz
Chief Technology Officer Match.com

“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” – Vince Lombardi

After the email was sent, I received a few responses immediately even though it was after midnight.  More came pouring in the following morning.  Everyone in the company wanted to help.   We had a cafeteria that we called the Grand Lounge at the time.  We moved all of the key resources (10-12 initially) to the Grand Lounge, desks and all, so that we could all communicate better and quicker.  I sat right in the middle of it all.  I viewed the Grand lounge as our command center.  We had white boards, computers, flip charts, projectors, and just about anything else that we needed.  The message to the company was clear.  The response was overwhelming.  Nobody went home.  Nobody complained.   In fact, more people asked to move into the Grand Lounge so they could be a part of the experience and be closer to the action.  We held stand-ups three times a day and updated management twice a day.  Everyone in the company contributed in some way.  Five days later we had the business back on a good trajectory.

From: Mike Presz
To: ALL Match – Home Office
Subject: US Game Plan – Monday, 10/16/2006
Date: Monday, October 16, 2006 8:47:00 AM

Good morning everyone. I know that you all have been watching the US business. We’ve had two small PMC gain days (Friday and Saturday) followed by a big Sunday gain in PMC. Thank you for all your help – you have made a significant contribution and should feel pride of ownership in the progress that we are making. However, the battle is far from over. In fact, we are accelerating our efforts not slowing them down. We’ve done a great job in company-wide testing, detailed fact-based analytics, customer care review/input, and problem identification/fix. This week, we need to “close the deal” and get back to the regular schedule of delivering for the business. Our goal for this week isn’t to “get back”, it’s to go for the jugular – we want to come out stronger than ever before. With continued execution, this is achievable based on all the testing, analytics and problem identification/fixes that we’ve done and can do.

 We have put all of the analytics on the R: drive in the \ShockAndAwe directory. The full details on how to access this directory are at the end of this note. It is very important to maintain a central understanding of what is happening in the business. So, check it out.

 I would ask all of you that have knowledge of material events/schedules to come to the Grand Lounge and get your events on our events calendar white board for everyone to see. I’m specifically asking for our CRM schedule and our Media schedule. Please put related documentation in the analytics folder or send it to Rebecca who’ll work with Brett to get it copied. If there are other significant events, please come to the Grand Lounge so we can make it visible. If you don’t find us, well find you. Thanks.

 Ok, today’s game plan:

Immediate Plan for Monday 10/16/2006

 At the 9 am status meeting

1) Confirm prop status for the approved “message brain” change to profile display for redirection (Clark)

a. Has it been QA’d?
b. What time will it go?
c. Is it 100% READY?

2) Confirm status of fix search results script (Clark)

a. Why was it stopped?
b. Will existing script overlay new changes since launch?
c. Who will lead effort to come back at 1 pm for “approval” of item and timeframe of release to production
d. Care issue – #10, no discernable impact to Venus, but no saved search PNE (M,W,F)

3) Confirm status of script to rebuild search index (Clark)

a. Impacts photo count and multiple-selection interests
b. Were two lists pulled (photo count only and re-run everyone)?
c. Who will lead effort to come back at 1pm for “approval” of item and timeframe of release to production (and, whether full rebuild or photo count only)

4) Discuss results of Profile care complaint details/investigation (Clark)

a. What have we found?
b. What new items need to be added to the “under consideration” list?
c. Next steps

5) Discuss results of Search Results details/investigation (Tony)

a. What have we found?

i. Number of Searches returned
ii. I/O duration of Searches
iii. # of different types of searches (post vs pre)

b. What new items need to be added to the “under consideration” list?
c. Next steps

6) New top 20 care list (Jennifer)

a. What’s the current status?
b. Get the list into the analytics directory

7) General business findings from analytics review (Jim)

a. Top line analytics
b. Point people to the analytics directory

8) Mandatory business items for this week

a. Discuss list (Chapman, MSN header, etc.)
b. Who’s on point?
c. Tentative target of transition back to schedule (next week) – assuming we close the deal as expected.

Regards,
W. Mike Presz
Chief Technology Officer Match.com

“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” – Vince Lombardi

We continued cleaning up the platform and making enhancements during the next week and the business blew far past where it was prior to the profile project problems.  And, the legend of Shock and Awe was forged… 

Crop ‘Til It Drops

It was August of 2007 and I was in charge of the international platform in addition to being CTO.  We had launched a major release of the international platform (named i6) as part of the Microsoft MSN deal.  The first markets were launched in July of 2006 (tier 1) but we spent the next 6 months rolling out to the other markets (tier 2, tier 3) and the next 6 months after that fixing/enhancing the product at a feverish pace based on launch results.  It was a crazy, crazy time.  By August of 2007, through customer reports and analysis by my product managers, it was determined that many of the photos that were submitted to our site were not getting “cropped”.  One of the earlier changes had caused the functionality to stop working properly.  For context, the process for photos back then was:

  1. A customer uploads a photo through our website
  2. The photo enters a back-end queue for review and processing on our internal systems. One customer photo, usually the first uploaded, is marked as the primary photo for the customer. 
  3. The primary photo is cropped.  To perform this function, a customer care representative (who works for Match) used an internal tool that we built to crop a nice headshot from the photo so the customer profile looks nice and uniform for search results.  If there is no primary photo, a blank silhouette is shown.

Unfortunately, a bug in our system had left 310,000 photos in an “orphaned state” without being processed.   The team had fixed the issue for all new incoming photos once the problem was identified but that still left the 310,000 un-cropped photos sitting on a file server unprocessed.  At the time, I was in charge of customer care so I went to talk with my customer care manager.  I asked how long it would take to process these photos if we dumped them into the live queues and processed them with new photos coming in.  We had hundreds of customer care representatives at the time so I was hoping that it wouldn’t be too big of a deal.  Unfortunately, these photos were “extra” photos since high volumes were normally coming in every day and we were staffed for normal volumes.  So, the expected time to finish all 310,000 photos in parallel at current staff levels was roughly 60-90 days.  Worse, it could delay process times of new photos by a few days for each new photo.  Adding new staff wasn’t instantaneous either, requiring finding the resources, training them, etc.  I wasn’t happy about any of these options and the impacts.

Before I go further, there are a couple of business factors to understand about photos back then: 

  • Profiles with photos generated 4 times the revenue as those without a photo.
  • If a new user didn’t get any action soon after joining the chance of them paying us money dropped drastically. Since almost all searches were run with “photos only”, delaying a profile from being visible for days is an awful user experience.  And it directly affected revenue.

Based on the 310,000 photos, I calculated that the lack of a photo on these profiles represented a loss of at least $400,000.   Most of these people were invisible on the site.  Thomas Enraught-Mooney was the CEO of Match at the time and my direct boss.  I told him that I wanted to ask the company for help and carve out some of the lost revenue as a bonus pool so we could reward people who helped out after hours to get the missed photos processed.  I explained the situation and showed him my data analysis.  And, he agreed to green light and support the effort.  I had no idea how this would be received or how long it would take.  I sent out the following note to everyone at the home office:

From: Mike Presz
To: ALL Match – Home Office
Subject: HELP NEEDED: Please Join Me
Date: Friday, August 10, 2007 12:01:30 PM

We have a situation in i6 that I need volunteers for. We have over 310,000 photos on i6 that need to be re-processed so that these users can be searchable. Yes, it’s a big number. But, the international care team, the GEMs team, and myself will be cranking through these photos starting next week. All it takes is a simple crop and that’s it. I hear that the average photo process rate is 300 per hour. Training is simple, access is simple, but the time commitment isn’t. However, I wouldn’t be asking for help if we didn’t need it. It’s a lot of photos and a lot of money on the line. More importantly, our product is not working for these users as effectively as it could be. These people can’t be found in “photo only” searches. We will change this starting next week! Please contact Michele if you are willing to help. She will get you set up and provide you with additional details. I know that everyone is busy doing their jobs. However, any additional effort that you can give to the cause would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance. I will be keeping a leader board with who has processed the most photos (remember, they still need to be quality crops). Prizes still TBD but they won’t disappoint.

Regards,

W. Mike Presz
Chief Technology Officer Match.com

“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” – Vince Lombardi

The response to my email was overwhelming.  I was reminded of the Shock and Awe response from a year earlier.  I decided to change my signature line with a new Vince Lombardi quote during this effort to one that was more targeted. 

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual” – Vince Lombardi

While we had the organization ready to go, there was a lot of preparation work that was required before we could get started.   Volunteers needed access to our customer care tool and they needed to complete appropriate training on how to crop photos.  The missing photos had to be placed in a special queue just for our volunteers (so they wouldn’t impact new customer photos being processed by the care team).   A spreadsheet of volunteers was needed, including whether each volunteer received access, when they were trained, and how many hours per week they were committing.   I also had to set up the structure for the prize pool for our top croppers and create a plan to communicate the rewards to the company.

My original request for volunteers had been sent on a Friday.   By the following Tuesday another note went out that indicated we were ready to go the following morning.  Access given, training complete, and volunteers set.  We had 75 volunteers offering 400 hours of their own time per week to help.  Based on 300 photos per hour (rough estimate of production), at 400 hours per week, that would be 120,000 photos per week, or about 3 weeks to clear the queues.  That is what the data told me before we started.

From: Mike Presz
Sent: Tuesday, August 14, 2007 6:09 PM
To: ALL Match – Home Office
Subject: Photo Project: “Crop ‘Til It Drops”

We have had an overwhelming response to the project that has now been named “Crop ‘Til It Drops!” (It being the 310,000 photos!) A special thanks to our volunteers who have taken the time out of their schedules to help with a project that will have a significant positive impact to our business. Your commitment and team spirit are greatly acknowledged and appreciated. Tomorrow, at about 10:30 am, 310,000 photos will start rolling back into the queues and the cropping will begin with Al’s signal. Please wait for the signal from Al but get your rectangle-sizing fingers ready for the mouse-work. And…don’t forget the 6 primary “no-no’s” from training. Special thanks to Al for your quick and excellent work preparing and delivering the training sessions and all of the configuration work required to enable our volunteers to help.

Many of you will be tackling this project amid your daily routines. However, we are setting up a command center in the Grand Lounge after normal hours for group interaction. All of the volunteers are invited, but not required, to join us in the Command Center at 5:00pm for snacks and fun. You can bring your laptops and join fellow croppers for a group crop session!

Your efforts will not go unnoticed. We will be posting our “Top Croppers” list on our Match Leader Board for all to view with either envy or pride. Prizes (TBD) will be awarded to our Top Croppers.

Attached is a list of volunteers and your hours committed. Please review and update with Michele as needed. Thanks again for your time and commitment.
Regards,

W. Mike Presz SVP, International Match.com

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual” – Vince Lombardi

It took a little longer than expected to get everything ready but around 2 pm on August 15, 2007, 310,000 photos hit the processing queue. 

From: Al
Sent: Wednesday, August 15, 2007 1:53 PM
Subject: Project “Crop ‘Til It Drops” is a GO!
Importance: High

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Start your iCare engines!

The photos for re-processing have entered the queue and await your skilled attention! Remember to focus your attention on the Standard Primary Photo queue.

If you need assistance, contact me via email and I will get to you as quickly as I can.

Al
Manager, Process & Training International Customer Care Match.com International
#1 Online Dating Site in the World!
Love is complicated. Match.com is simple.

And then…all hell broke loose.   The thing that I remember out of the gate was how many people jumped in to help.   I was cropping as many photos as I could.  At cropping breaks, I was running SQL queries on the database to get crop counts and they were rising incredibly fast.  Emails were flying.  People on instant messenger were balancing messaging with cropping.  At every delay, people were fearful of dropping down on the leaderboard.  Issues started popping up almost immediately with the care cropping tool.  Jerome, our care development manager was taking heat and having his team fix issues on the fly, as they surfaced:

From: Mike Presz
Subject: RE: Project “Crop “Til It Drops” is a GO!
Date: Wednesday, August 15, 2007 2:16:35 PM

I was atop the leader board when a conspiracy to stop me set in….Jerome?

Regards,

W. Mike Presz SVP, International Match.com

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual” – Vince Lombardi

From: Stuart H
Sent: Wednesday, August 15, 2007 2:15 PM
Subject: RE: Project “Crop ‘Til It Drops” is a GO!

Same here –I was on a roll 😉

From: Benoit B
Sent: Wednesday, August 15, 2007 2:12 PM
Subject: RE: Project “Crop ‘Til It Drops” is a GO!

What are we supposed to do when it says “no photo in the queue”?

By evening, more volunteers freed up from their normal work to jump in to help, and the customer care tool started to crawl.  Duplicate photos started showing up due to delays caused by volume and poor performance.  A few photos also slipped by approval. 

From: Michele
Sent: Wednesday, August 15, 2007 8:25 PM
Subject: Slow down race fans……..
Importance: High

Okay, looks like someone needs to come in for a brief pit stop….

As we’re all reving our engines and peeling out off the block, we must remember our safety precautions and follow the rules while we maneuver the course…..

The photo below was just brought to my attention by a caring race fan who doesn’t want to see the other drivers penalized for unsafe actions. Please make sure you follow the rules and crop your photo in a manner where another race fan can actually tell what our member looks like. I mean… the part you can see looks good, but alas, it is not enough to be considered a primary photo.

Okay, remember to look over your right shoulder when coming out of Pit Row!!! Nobody’s going to slow down for you!

Michele
International Customer Care Sr. Director

From: Benoit B
Sent: Wednesday, August 15, 2007 8:26 PM
Subject: RE: Slow down race fans……..

It’s modern photography…you can’t understand!

From: Pamela D
Sent: Wednesday, August 15, 2007 8:29 PM
Subject: RE: Slow down race fans……..

That one looks terrifyingly familiar. We’re all seeing lots and lots of duplicates, yes? But whatever we see in the cropped image is what shows up in searches, right?

From: Michele W
Subject: RE: Slow down race fans……..
Date: Wednesday, August 15, 2007 8:33:14 PM

Yup…..

The photo mover is moving very slowly under the pressure you guys have applied to it (poor baby wasn’t too stable to begin with and now she’s gone into hiding and will only speak to Jerome)! That may be why you are seeing duplicates – taking some time to hit the server and someone else is picking it up before it does. I may be totally off base here, but that’s what we’ve seen in the past.

Jerome can correct me if I’m wrong (he seems to take great pleasure in doing so…). 😉

Our developers had to continue to make improvements to the customer care tool all night to help performance and keep unhappy croppers at bay.  Volunteers were begging for the changes to be made quicker so they could up their counts.  And, many of them cropped all night long.  I tried to maintain my lead but started slipping overnight since some of my team didn’t even sleep.   It was an absolute cropping frenzy.  By 8 am the next day, the dust had settled a little.

From: Mike Presz
To: ALL Match – Home Office
Subject: Official 8 am Leader Board – Top Croppers
Date: Thursday, August 16, 2007 8:23:05 AM

All I can say about yesterday is: “what a day!!.” The numbers posted by our volunteer group are truly staggering. After a few early bumps, the cropping was feverish and relentless. Did any of you sleep? The volunteer group has processed 59,000 photos and added 42,000 primary photos (and people) back to the search pool. Below is the top 10 cropper list as it stands after 1 day. Remember, we still have a long way to go. There are a lot of photos left but our opening day pace far, far exceeded expectations by our group. For all of you concerned (or envious), you still have plenty of time to catch me. Prizes are for final counts and my efficiency is sorely lacking. Thanks to all for what you have done and what you will do to help. This is truly a team effort and highlights the kind of people that we have working at Match. Al and Michele will be keeping everyone informed as we learn more. And, we’ll get the real time report to show totals (not by day). Let’s focus on community service today and then we can get back to cropping once our very important community commitment has been made.

Regards,

W. Mike Presz SVP, International Match.com

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual” – Vince Lombardi

The first leaderboard fueled interest.  A real time leaderboard was developed so people could see who was leading the effort as every photo was cropped.  By 2 pm that same day, we passed 100,000 photos.

From: Mike Presz
To: ALL Match – Home Office
Subject: Volunteer Group – We just passed 100,000 photos processed
Date: Thursday, August 16, 2007 2:43:46 PM

In less than 24 hours, the volunteer group has processed over 100,000 photos. We’ve added over 73,000 primary photos (people) to the search pool. Unbelievable! At this rate, 310,000 will fall hard and fast. Keep it up…
Regards,

W. Mike Presz SVP, International Match.com

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual” – Vince Lombardi

The pace never slowed down.  The effort never waned.  If anything, people worked harder through the finish line.  I can’t describe the atmosphere in our building.  You had to be there.   In less than 3 days, the unthinkable had happened.

From: Mike Presz
Subject: Crop “Til It Drops – It HAS Dropped
Date: Saturday, August 18, 2007 5:11:20 AM

I have just verified the list and that the primary photo queues are empty. Michele set the noon deadline and the team went after it with a vengeance. And, as with this effort from the start, everyone exceeded expectations. A special rule official (me) was brought in to evaluate the situation and I’ve done that. It’s officially over. The list below is final. Words can’t explain what happened in the last 3 days but numbers don’t lie. The volunteer group processed 286,956 photos. 215,022 users were added to the search pool with a primary photo from the volunteer group alone. Ideas of months of processing time and auto approving the queue (after seeing the photos we all know that option would not have been ideal) disappeared in less than 72 hours. 310,000 photos, GONE.

Thank you to all involved. There is a lot more coming: prizes, shirts, war stories, improvements to the care tool (yes!), revenue (a bigger yes), and memories of an unbelievable 3 days (priceless). I know that everyone wanted to be on top of the leader board. But, I also know that the primary reason for the effort was, as Jacob told me, “every click is cash for our business”. Nothing drives our business like inventory and inventory means happy users, with primary photos, being “in the game” with emails, winks, etc. You have made that happen for 215,022 people. And, you did it like a champion.

Sleep well. Thanks again. More to come…
Regards,

W. Mike Presz SVP, International Match.com

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual” – Vince Lombardi

Here is the top 10 list of croppers.

Nine people cropped over 10,000 photos each in less than 3 days.  91 volunteers participated in total.  I had shirts made for every single volunteer with a logo and their individual cropping count total on the back.  I still wear mine proudly on occasion.

We handed out about 50 prizes with the top ten receiving individual gifts specifically for them.

  • 46 Inch Sony TV
  • Toshiba Laptop & iPhone
  • Expedia Trip-Caribbean
  • Expedia Trip-Israel
  • Video Camera + Gift Card
  • Expedia-Vegas
  • Laptop/Best Buy
  • Visa Gift Card
  • 1 iPhone + Visa Card
  • Expedia Trip & Expresso Machine

Beyond the top 10, we gave out about 20 iPhones and 20 gift cards.  In the end, we calculated that it cost us an additional $40,000 to get the all the photos done so quickly (as opposed to additional staffing through our care team that could have taken many months).  It may seem like a lot but the team building at the company level was staggering.  We had spent more than this on other events. The time to market was also much, much better than any alternative and this was great for our customers.   I continued to monitor the users that we had cropped for a while after the effort.  After 6 months we were already at our projected goal.

From: Mike Presz
Subject: 6 Month Anniversary – Crop “Til It Drops – Wear Your Shirts Tuesday
Date: Thursday, February 14, 2008 5:34:00 PM

This Tuesday we will celebrate the 6 month anniversary of Crop ‘Til it Drops! I can hardly believe that it has already been 6 months! So, on Tuesday, February 19, we should commemorate the tremendous Crop ‘Til It Drops efforts by wearing our official Crop ‘Til it Drops shirts. Thanks to those of you whose time and energy helped the company process 291,150 photos in a record 72 hours. Now that 6 months have passed, I’ve gone back and summed up the ACTUAL CASH collected from this effort (instead of using an LTV projection). We have “banked” an incremental $323,419.24 from the effort (almost to the $400K in just 6 months). Thanks again for your commitment and effort. Don’t forget, wear your Crop ‘Til It Drops shirts on Tuesday, February 19!
Regards,

W. Mike Presz SVP, International Match.com

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual” – Vince Lombardi

I remember the number going over $700,000 a few years after.  Now that you have the general context of these two events, I’ll share with you some additional thoughts and lessons that stay with me to this day.

There Is Nothing Like Game Day

I don’t care how much you practice or prepare in advance the truth is that it will never be the same as when you do it live.  Yes, practice.  Yes, prepare.  But, also understand that going live is a completely different animal.  When you step on that field with thousands of people in the stands, when your opponents are playing for real, and when the game actually counts, everything is different.  Football teams blast stadium speakers to simulate crowd noise.  They play against simulated defenses.  This helps.  However, it’s not the real thing.  Remember that.  We test our product in development and test environments.  We even load tested our systems, trying to simulate production traffic.  Nothing is like the real thing.  When we put our system into live user traffic then that is when the true results show.  That is when it counts.  Our care tool in Crop ‘Til You Drop is just one example.  Every single launch that we ever did at Match showed how different real user traffic at scale is than every other test.

So, on game day, be prepared.  Be confident that you have practiced.  Understand that all of your research, testing and simulations will help.  However, have a healthy respect for the difference of going live versus all this preparation.  It will be different.  More volume.  More variation.  More money on the line.  More pressure.  Some people perform better under the lights on game day.  Some don’t.  The more you experience live action the better you’ll be.  However, preparing mentally for the differences and being ready for unexpected events, not surprised by them, is critical.

In both of the previous examples, I had a plan.  I had data that guided likely outcomes, especially in Crop ‘Til You Drop.  We had a general strategy to our execution.  Yet, when the game started, the course of events took over.  We had to react and adjust in real time.  Things didn’t go perfectly as planned.  They never do.  The difference between reacting in these situations versus freezing is the difference between success and failure.  Understand that unexpected events will happen.  Embrace them.  They don’t mean that you are doing things wrong.  In fact, if everything is going exactly as planned, you should worry.  Ultimately, what will define success is how well you perform on game day.  Once the game starts, don’t look back.  Trust your preparations, your skills and execute looking forward.  Keep your focus on the events that are happening in front of you.  See what is coming.   When the game is over you can look back.  You can have a post-mortem and see how you might be able to prepare better the next time.  Until then, all of your focus needs to be on executing and completing the task at hand.

I’ll make an analogy here to live speeches that I hope will help.  After a few times, I never memorized my speeches because I always found that I would miss a word or sentence from the exact wording when I spoke.  My brain would then wander into the worry that I missed a few words or changed a sentence.  This would then cause me to lose focus on the rest of my speech because I found myself focused on the fact that I veered off.  So, I stopped memorizing speeches because I knew that when I performed them live with an audience, I wouldn’t stick to the exact wording.  I would create bullet points for my speeches.  I would practice them over and over again with mostly the same wording.  However, if I substituted a word for another or changed a sentence, it was no big deal.  I expected that. 

In summary, you can’t memorize your way through life.  There is no script that you can follow ahead of time.  Practice and preparation are required but can only get you so far.  Ultimately, you have to get on the field and play the game.   This is where you must react.  You must make real time decisions.  Put the fear aside.  Handle things as they come.  Make decisions.  Execute.  For competitors, there is nothing like game day.  It’s why we play.  Both Shock and Awe and Crop ‘Til You Drop were successful because of the team’s ability to execute in real time when things mattered most.

Marketing And Motivation Matter

I spent a lot of time on the emails, both in format and in content, that were sent to my teams during these efforts.  In each case, I wanted to communicate the severity of the situations.  I wanted everyone to be mentally prepared for embracing a tough challenge.  But, above all, I wanted them to know that I had confidence in them and that we would solve the problem.   We moved people into the Grand Lounge as a visible sign of the seriousness of the situation.  Everyone in the home office walked by us.  My desk was set up there just like everyone else’s desk.  When you lead, lead from the front.  Don’t stand on a hill behind your troops and tell them to charge while you watch them advance into battle in front of you while you safely stay out of harm’s way.  Grab a tool of choice, start running and turn to them, waiving your hands for them to come join you as you advance from the front.  Never, ever, ask your team to do something that you aren’t willing to do yourself.  If you aren’t willing to charge into battle then why would your team be?  Your words and actions matter, especially when encountering a very difficult challenge.  Fear of failure is present in all of us.  However, pride of performing great feats is as well.  Most teams don’t want to avoid the fight.  They’d rather embrace it.  However, you have to give them a reason, a cause, to believe in.  You have to join and support them.  You need to inspire them and bring out their best.  This can often be the difference between success and failure.

Don’t Underestimate The Power Of Team Identity

In sports, team identity is often represented by the uniform.  A uniform is a visible symbol of something bigger than ourselves.  It also means that you “belong” to something.  When you put on a uniform you are representing a team and you are part of that team.  Most times, it brings pride in knowing that you are part of something unique.  You have group characteristics and responsibilities as part of the team since the team operates as a unit.  Often, the team is branded with a team logo and there is power in having the team uniform to symbolize this unit.  However, you are also an individual on the team and bring your own unique contributions.  So, I believe that a uniform is even more meaningful when it also contains personalization.  In sports, your name and number are often on the back.  The combination of team and self is so very powerful when represented this way.  I was proud to put on my #25 baseball jersey at Harvard.  And, while I never pulled a professional jersey over my head, I can only imagine the special feeling for those that have, especially for the first time.   Standard shirts off the sales rack can never inspire the wearer like a game uniform with the combination of team and self.  This can only be earned by playing on the team.

A sports-like uniform is only one way to develop team identity.  There are other ways to incorporate the uniform concept in business.  In Crop ‘Til You Drop, we gave out shirts at the end with everyone’s individual crop total on the back of the neck.   I still have mine and know that many of the participants do as well.  My crop count was 3008.  It’s forever documented on my shirt with my name and our team logo.  For Shock and Awe, we didn’t have shirts.  However, I did develop a logo.  I spent a lot of time on coming up with a name for the effort that would resonate.  We moved the team to the grand lounge – sort of like our own “war room” for the team.  Most of all, we functioned as a team with everyone part of the team and contributing individually.

There are lots of other ways to develop and represent team identity.  And, this alone is great.  However, if you can combine it with self-identity within the team, that’s even better.  Imagine if sports teams didn’t have logos or standardized uniforms.  These team names have history.  They have branded colors.  It’s part of their identity.  There is a reason for all of this – it works.  In business, you need to take the time to think about these things and find ways to implement the concepts. Most people don’t. 

Eat Your Own Dogfood

This is a phrase that I picked up from Microsoft during my interactions with them.  I spent a lot of time with the MSN teams and with the Microsoft product teams.  Eating your own dogfood means that you use your own products. 

As I mentioned earlier, I was in charge of customer care for years at Match.  This included both the care representatives and the developers that built the customer care tools that our care representatives used.  Prior to Crop ‘Til It Drops, I received many, many complaints about the customer care tool from my care manager.  Every time that I talked to the developers, the answer was the same.  The care tool was great.  It must be operator error.  Well, during the cropping, the developers had to use the care tool that they developed.  And, they didn’t like it so much then.  It was slow.  It performed poorly.  They couldn’t get the photos cropped fast enough and this was hurting their ability to win prizes.  I have never seen so many changes happen to the care tool so quickly.  Never.

Make sure that you are using your own products in real world situations.  Not in the test lab.  Not on test data.  Use the products like all of your users.  Once you do, you’ll understand what I am saying.  If you are a manager, make sure you require your team to do so as well.  Don’t just dismiss continued complaints as “operator error” or finicky users.  Look into it.  There is likely a real problem there that can be fixed.

One Owner Per Task

Speaking of dogs, have you ever heard about the dog with two owners?  It died.  Each owner thought the other owner was feeding their dog.  When you look at my Shock and Awe task list, there is only one lead.  There is no question about who is ultimately responsible.  I do not like co-chairs, co-owners, co-leads, co-ANYTHING.  It just leads to more confusion and often finger pointing and/or unnecessary contention.  If you truly have two people that you want to put in charge, separate out the task into two tasks and give them each one.  The lesson here: put only one person in charge of something, make it clear that they are in charge, and support them.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

Make sure that you can measure everything that you do.  Without measurement, you may not know you have problems.  And, even if you do know that you have issues, all that you’ll do is guess at why (since you can’t measure at a detailed level).  If you are measuring everything, listen to the numbers.  If they drop, you have a problem.   When they rise, things are getting better.  Bank on it.

Use Visible Scoreboards

Since the numbers don’t lie, make sure everyone in your organization sees the numbers.  Imagine watching a sports game without a scoreboard.  What’s the score?  How much time is left in the game?  Crazy.  So, don’t execute without a scoreboard in business.  We had TVs hung on the walls that showed real time KPIs so that everyone could see.  And, during Crop ‘Til You Drop, we employed a real time leaderboard for cropping totals.  It’s amazing the difference that it creates.  When people can tie results to their actions, it motivates them.  Nobody wants to work hard and then wonder if it was all for naught.

Facilitate Cross Team Communication

For both of these efforts, I moved everyone to the Grand Lounge common area.  This included employees of all skill sets.  We sat together, interacted with each other, shared whiteboards, and a variety of other information since we were in close proximity.  We operated in real time.  Most companies sit people by skill set.  Developers sit with developers. QA personnel sit with other QA.  Finance with finance.  I absolutely hate this.  In order to execute, all skill sets have to work together.  I like the concept of project-based seating.  Think of it like a baseball dugout.  Each team has their own dugout.  Or, a bench in other sports.  Players of all positions are interacting in real time about what is happening in the game.  And, the coaches sit there as well.  Imagine game execution if only the guards sat together and the forwards sat across the court.  Or the coach was working from home.  Sounds silly?  It is silly.  So why in the world would different employees, all of whom need to work together to deliver a product, be sitting on different floors?  Email and texts are no match in efficiency to face to face interaction in real time. 

There will be natural and financial forces/realities that push you to separation of employees by functional skills.  In baseball, pitchers go out to the bullpen during the game.  It’s not ideal but they can’t warm up in the dugout area.  However, there is a phone between the dugout and bullpen.  Some coaches go with the pitchers.  In business, you need to find ways to get employees together for projects.  This could be through providing “war rooms”, project spaces, or, yes, even a cafeteria like our Grand Lounge.  Spend the money to equip these spaces.   Link the spaces together with video.  Encourage usage.  You won’t regret it.

Performance Based Pay Works

It’s amazing what incentives can do.   There is no way that Crop ‘Til It Drops happens without the prizes and the real time leaderboards.  We had 9 people crop over 10,000 photos each.  I was told (and mentioned it in my emails before we started) that we could expect 300 photos per hour per cropper.  I figured that it would be lower because the Match volunteers were not trained experts.  The 300/hr was based on customer care staff.  Well, our volunteers crushed that rate.  This opened the door for me to question how we paid our care agents.  Were they really working hard?  Or, were they “just doing enough” to not get fired?  They weren’t paid by the photo or by the email or by the phone call.  They were paid by the hour.

I won’t go into all the details of how we leveraged the crop rate information but we changed some things in how our care team was incentivized.  Honestly, I couldn’t care less if we paid croppers $100,000/year, or more, if they cropped photos at a cheaper per photo rate and maintained quality.  In the purest sense, everything should be paid by performance.  If you do more, you should make more.  It’s the fairest system.  Unfortunately, it’s very complex and not practical to implement all pay this way.  Still, I was reminded of its power during the effort.  Managers need to be diligent on finding ways to create incentive-based pay on top of normal pay structures like salary or hourly rates.

Everyone Counts – Make Sure They Know It

There is not a single employee that doesn’t count.  Whether you are in management or just starting out, please remember this and treat your team members accordingly.  Someday, your fate may be in their hands.  Think about a “pinch hitter” in baseball.  This is a player who is not an everyday player.  They don’t make the same money as the starters.  They typically aren’t as skilled as everyday players, not as well rounded.  They usually have a specialized skill – maybe they hit left-handed pitching better, maybe they are good under pressure, or maybe it’s just a timing thing.  Often, they come in late in the game, with the outcome on the line, and they have a short-term job to do, get a hit, drive in a run.  They don’t play in many games.  Their names aren’t etched in fan’s memories.  Well, not until they do something memorable.  What’s important here is when they step to the plate with the game on the line, maybe a playoff game, maybe the World Series title, everyone else on the team’s fate is impacted by what they do.  And, what they do is often a culmination of how they were prepared for that moment. No coach and no player can win alone.  The same is true in business.  As a coach, you need to include everyone in everything.  Don’t let them sit at the end of the bench alone.  Don’t let other players alienate them.  Don’t treat them as “lesser” than everyone else.  Don’t tolerate others that do.  Make it clear that everyone is equal as far as the team goes.  Sure, there are different skills, pay levels, responsibilities, etc.  But, as team members and for the status of a team, everyone is equal.  No-one gets special treatment, no-one is above the rules, no-one is “that” special.  Make this understood to the players.  As a player, you need to respect this.  Support the pinch hitter and treat them accordingly.  One day, your fate may rest on what they do in the moment.  Now, apply these principles to managers and employees because I believe that business is no different.

For both efforts in this chapter, I reached out to the entire company for help.  There were no requirements to help for most of the people that did.  Yet, every single contribution that every employee made, no matter their pay level, helped determine the outcome.   I operate by this rule in all teams that I manage.  I think it also helps with team chemistry which is the subject of the next chapter…