When I was first told that I would be going on an ‘analyst tour’ all that concerned me was the fact that I would be away from home for a few days. I didn’t stop to think what analysts really were. Coming from a long trail of product demonstrations with customer prospects, I assumed that this would be one more set of engagements where I would be required to make our company’s ‘revolutionary system design software’ look its best in spite of its early-version flaws. The flaws in the software did not bother me as I knew I could navigate my way through them and could sell the power of the technology to anyone who had an understanding of the problem that our software solves. It took a week of flying and driving around the New England country side to teach me that there is an entirely different breed of people who are not at all interested in the problem that one has solved. These people are interested in what they will be able to say about how you solved a problem in a manner that paints them in the aura of visionaries. These people are called ‘analysts’.
Analysts are actually journalists who rather than actively search for news about technology innovations, hide in the woods and wait for news to come to them. They dwell as far away from civilization as possible, and wait for representatives from industry giants as well as tiny startups like ourselves to make the messianic journey to their doorstep. When we get there they expect us to allow them to tell us what it is that we are doing or should be doing so that they would be correct when they talk about us. This peculiar behavior comes from the special social status that analysts have in the industry. It is a sub-culture that nurtures itself and exists thanks to an allure that no company dares to challenge.
Analysts exist at the fringes of the high tech industry as a special marketing cult. They live differently, interact differently and pay attention to aspects of technology which are completely different from the aspects that we, the creators are aware of. It is this unique and insightful view of the prospects that we have been made to believe is essential and yet beyond our grasp that lures us to analysts. Their views are so unique that each analyst has their own distorted view of the technical world around them. No two analysts share the same distortion and they compete aggressively for ownership of the most compelling twists of the truth. Some have honed this ability to a level of expertise that can actually convince companies to build new products based on nothing but the analyst’s fantasies.
Analysts know that the confusion regarding many complex high tech solution is a boon to mine forever. All this confusion is easy to cultivate because in the case of many products it really doesn’t matter if they work like the vendor intended or like the analyst intended. In fact the farther away a product is pointed from a useful direction the more opportunities and analyst would have to recommend a new product that would bridge the gap between where the right product is no longer going, and the right direction where the wrong product will never get.
Analysts do not allow the axioms of mathematics or the rules of physics to bother them. When confronted with a logical statement that counters their view of the world an analyst has the privilege of saying ‘I don’t see that in your slides!’ It took me three days to understand this statement is a final verdict and there is nothing on this earth that will help you make an analyst back-off when confronted with logic. One could argue that ‘logic’ is somewhat weak grounds to substantiate a technical argument. After becoming aware of this limitation of logic I tried approaches that were based on facts in order to win some support. It turns out that analysts are not necessarily deterred by facts either. When confronted with a conflicting argument that is substantiated by fact an analyst can claim ‘whatever’ and that too immediately exonerates them from having to support the facts. As it turns out one of the ways to gauge the better analysts is by the level of fact distortions that they allow themselves. The bigger the distortions the better the analysts.
The ‘storage networking’ market is seventh heaven for analysts. It has all the characteristics of a market where they can thrive. It’s a market where customers are totally lost and are completely at the mercy of the manufacturers and their channels. The latter, however, are also lost and are petrified of the customers ever finding that out. Nothing stages a better ground for analyst cultures to cultivate than a confused environment such as this.
Analysts know that the best way to keep an industry confused is by setting goals which the industry cannot achieve. There are quite a few examples of this. The first is the effort to force everyone in the industry to focus on ‘management’, ‘operations’ and ‘monitoring’. With all due respect there isn’t a single analyst out there who really understands any of these terms, but apparently that is their point exactly Seeing that their attempts to create ‘network management’ as a misleading goal for the networking industry has lost its momentum in the past few years, they have now shifted their efforts to ‘storage management’. While they know all too well that such a thing does not exist they consistently point every innovation that attempts to work around the ‘management black hole’ directly at it.
A common tactic is to stir your company towards ‘integration’ and ‘collaboration’ preferably with another startup who like yourself has no customers yet. The collaboration will ensure that both companies will go down in flames and that’s two innovators that the analysts need not worry about As a software professional I find it appalling to contemplate the prospects of attempting to merge the business strategies of two products that have not been honed by market testing. However this is an exercise in logic which is irrelevant to an analyst.
History teaches us that some of the most revered missionaries had made it a point to make themselves either appear vague, or better yet become quite inaccessible. Vagueness is where the ‘whatever’ statement mentioned above comes from. Funny faces and inappropriate hand gestures complement such statements. I must admit that this combination of deep verbal and distinct bodily expressions do have an initial humbling ‘maybe-I’m-the-idiot’ affect on the person interacting with the analyst. Vagueness works on the sub-conscious personality of engineers. Analysts know that engineers are extremely sensitive to unsupportive feedback. Better yet, they know that unsupportive feedback which is not based on what would appear to be factual statement paralyzes engineers because it robs then of the only true weapons they have to settle an argument: facts. An analyst will rarely make the mistake of stating that ‘ISCSI runs over UDP’, because the engineer would open a book and prove them wrong. However the combination of ‘Your diagram is wrong, but I understand what you are trying to say. Let’s move on’ is a potent analyst trick which is difficult to fight unless one is willing to go for the throat and say something like: ‘look you obnoxious bastard, maybe if you weren’t so full of yourself we could have a founded discussion here!!!’. If you think its worth it, think again. It’s very much like arguing with a recorded message on your answering machine. All that will happen is that the analyst will indeed respond like an answering machine: ‘I have another call in five minutes so we really need to wrap up’. The latter is part of inaccessibility which is our next subject.
Inaccessibility manifests itself in multiple ways. Judging from what I have seen, geographic inaccessibility is practiced by all. Analysts do not live or work next to anything. There are virtually no recognizable landmarks anywhere near or on the way to where an analyst lives or works. In fact since such places are becoming harder and harder to find as the population grows, many analysts have reverted to working where they live, or living where they work. If one does happen to physically find an analyst the analyst will play two more tactics. The first is to make sure that you never get to the point you wanted to make. The second is that you will never ever try to bother the analyst again. I would like to substantiate these statement with facts. The events described below are true and are related to the second of three analyst visits which we had during the past week.
This analysts lived in the woods in hills covered by snow which rests eternally on the swamps which cover that surrounding landscape. In fact these are swamps where the water can somehow remain on the hillsides as well as the lower areas, and the snow does not melt in the summer. The analyst lives at the end of the single road which forks off the only road that led to the fork. The other branches of the fork lead into the swamps from which very few have ever returned. On the way down to the fork in the road we saw two female survivors running in the opposite direction. Michele said they were jogging, but I knew better. Joggers run in shorts and T shirts. These women were dressed in winter clothing. The way to the road which forks to the analyst’s residence is littered with misleading signs which direct you in roundabout ways that waste the valuable time that you had managed to cram into the analyst’s ‘over booked’ schedule.
Michele had somehow managed to allocate an hour and a half of this revered individuals time. Little did we know that revered analysts never have an hour and a half to spare. There real reason is that they do not know enough to talk about the subject matter for more than five minutes. As we would find out they attempt to hide this lack of knowledge by appearing busy. They appear busy by allocating short meetings, or by prematurely terminating longer ones. We left the hotel an hour and fifteen minutes before the meeting, expecting to have fifteen minutes to spare in the event of massive traffic jams. Still we got to the guru’s residence twenty minutes late. During the ride Michele called twice for extra instructions and special apologies so he could not claim ignorance for what happened when we finally got there. He knew that we were on the road for and hour and a half trying to get to his place. The limo driver dropped us off in the back of the house and we made our way around a brick paved path to the main entrances. Michele knocked on the door. Big mistake. We should have relieved our selves in the bushes before knocking The door opened instantly and a five inch white animal rushed from the house into the snow covered front yard. A second later a five foot man dashed into the snow searching for the five inch animal. ‘I think one of them is the one we need to talk too’ I told Michele. Looking from the outside into the hallway we saw a welcome sign. The sign was typed on a sheet of paper and said ‘Welcome Netliant, Larry Crume, Yiftah Porat, Michele [no last name]’
‘I guess you’ve known each other for quite some time is if you’re already having a first name basis relationship’ I told Michele. ‘No, I’ve never met the slob’. Reality had it that this was part of a ‘being rude on purpose’ tactic which only very-very important analysts allow themselves. Before Michele could respond the five foot man, carrying the five inch dog climbed back up the stairs and welcomed us into the house. ‘This is Foo-foo, I’m Mike’, he said. I recognized Foo-foo as a member of the snow-white-light-weight-never-shedding-exhibit-poodles that some breeds of people seem to care for. Personally I prefer a real dog, but then I’m not an analyst. We exchanged the regular fake ‘pleased to meet you’, paying our dues to the fake courtesy gestures which were not practices further.
After being on the road for an hour and a half one would expect only two things to follow the phony happy greetings. First of all one would like to find a bathroom. None was offered. The next thing one would like to hear is ‘Can I offer you something to drink?’. This didn’t happen either. Instead the five foot man stated that he ‘has a hard stop in forty minutes’. The term ‘hard stop’ when you are a guest in ones house is a bit awkward, but it did explain why he did not offer that we use the bathroom. Deep down analysts also have a bladder. They know that an hour and a half in a cold limo in the woods combined with the anxiety of being late fills one’s bladder to 75% of its capacity. Very few people can handle more than an hour of additional conversation with this being the starting point.
With total disregard to biology or courtesy he led us to a table in a side room. We could see the kitchen but we could not access it. We could imagine the bathroom but could not see it. I set up my laptop and prepared to present the company and its product. Twenty minutes gone and only forty left we spent the next ten minutes talking about the dog. ‘Does the dog bother you?’ Mike asked. ‘Oh, no you don’t’ I thought to myself. Bladder and all I have been in the US long enough to know that you never ever admit to being bothered by what appeared to be the ‘dog-of-the-house’. Its well known that its better to make fun of a family’s blind child than to admit the dog bothers you. ‘I love dogs’ I lied without blushing. I know I don’t blush when I say this, because the audience cannot even imagine that I could have it any other way. Seeing my obvious enthusiasm to discuss the animal (why else would I fly all the way from California for a forty minute meeting) the man opened up: ‘This dog is the sixth in the country’ he raved. The engineer in me rebelled against such a totally absurd statement that could not be substantiated in any way, but I kept my mouth shut. ‘The dog was a top competition dog, until one day it refused to perform any more’. I did my best and to cooperate: ‘so what happened?’ ‘The dog’s price dropped from 3000$ to a fraction of that price and we bought it for a rare bargain’. This was getting so ridiculous that it was actually amusing. We fly from California to meet this guy to hear about his bargain deal for two pounds of white non-shedding poodle? I think it was a poodle but I didn’t bother to ask.
Finally I decided that a decisive action was required to switch the subject to Netliant and its product. I picked up the one-of-a-kind animal and held it in my lap so that it could see the slides. Seeing that his pure breed was getting to see the presentation, the five foot man managed to focus his attention for a few seconds. I managed to get from the first slide (which has the name of the company on it) to the second slide which contains the company’s mission statement when the five footer decided to shift into high gear: ‘Its very important that you put the second slide after the first slide’ he said removing his glasses and give me the ‘live-and-learn-my-son’ look expecting me to show some appreciation for the free marketing lesson. I decided to rub the dog as a sign of gratitude for the rare insight. ‘Not all companies do that’ he continued. The animal was licking my fingers, it was eager to go to the next slide so I appeased it by allowing to press the ‘page down’ button. We managed another slide and got another bit of valuable feedback: ‘I like this slide’. ‘And’ I thought to myself. But then I remembered vagueness. There was no way we would get additional feedback about the slide and it didn’t really matter as it was the agenda slide. We had barely thirty minutes left and we were almost ready to begin’Do you know the Galilee?’ was the next question. I didn’t get a chance to answer. ‘Of course you cannot know it all, it’s a big place but I have family in a Kibutz there’. I couldn’t move to the next slide because there was nothing in the next slide about his family so I started strangling the dog gently. ‘They are in Ramat David next to the air base’. Now I got it. It finally dawned on him that we would probably remember the fact that he had not offered us anything to drink, and he was pointing us to relatives that would The dog made a sound which allowed me to flip to the next slide.
‘There is a typo on this slide!’. I should have asked where the bathroom was right then and there. Instead I apologized for the typo. This was a mistake. During the minutes that followed we received on of the most irrelevant lectures on ‘presenting one’s message’ that I had ever heard. By this point in time it was becoming clear to me that there was no way this character would give us a chance to tell him what we do. His focus in life was ‘Foo-foo’ and himself. All five feet and five inches of both of them. His strategy was to use the purchase of the dog in order to prove his prowess as a business man, and to focus on finding typos an means to convince us that he was the most valuable marketing beacon we would ever come across. I guess the latter was true if one considered his neck of the woods. The only thing I considered regarding wood and neck was whether it was worth while to snap Foo-foo’s neck like a twig only to see if he cared about the dog or the opportunity it gave him to talk about himself.
To change the subject I half dropped half threw Foo-foo on the floor. The animal attempted to bounce back, but I kicked it gently to the corner of the room . ‘Fast dog’ I said, ‘must have been a great performer’ ‘Did I tell you what a great bargain he was?’. There was no way I could insult our host by acknowledging that he did. ‘Foo-foo was the sixth dog in the country’ His eyes sparkled and his voice rose as he reached the climatic part where the dog refused to perform and its price dropped so dramatically.
‘Netliant can design in minutes what an expert does in days and weeks’ I tried. ‘I’m afraid we are out of time but what you have is very interesting.’ ‘Could we continue this conversation next week?’. ‘I also have a distant relative who knows some one who used to work at BMC.’ ‘Are you talking to BMC?’. ‘No’ I said, ‘but if your relatives have a bathroom I would love to meet them’. I don’t think he got it. ‘Is there anything else we wanted to talk about?’ he asked. ‘Is there anything we managed to talk about?’ I thought to myself. Michele helped me conclude the protocol with the usual ‘we are very grateful for your time’ crap, and we rose to leave. It was then that our host came to his senses. He finally understood that he had overplayed the bladder card. If he did not offer us the opportunity to use the rest room it was pretty obvious that we would use his lawn no matter what he said. ‘Would you like to use the bathroom?’ ‘Why, thank you dear’ I thought to myself, ‘what ever made you ask?’ but I toned it down: ‘that’s a good idea now that you mentioned it’. He led me to the back of the kitchen. I walked into the bathroom only to bump into Foo-foo’s traveling kit. There were a few plastic traveling cages and some blankets. I really didn’t care for the details, what got my goat was the fact that it seemed quite natural that I continue to share with the dog. For a minute I contemplated whether I should pee on the floor so that I really get to bond with Foo-foo, but decided against it since Michele might have been the next to use the bathroom.
He then threw us out of the house and into the snow, so that we could wait for a cab to pick us up. Michele was livid. She was cold, humiliated and hungry. I felt is was my civic duty to explain that we had just had the rare privilege of experiencing the epitome of ‘inaccessibility’ which makes a truly great analyst. He was rude, inhospitable, never let us get a word in, and used a depreciated poodle to help him lose focus.
It took us eight hours to get to the next neck in the woods where the next analyst lived. The next meeting was much more to the point, but we were not spared our share of ‘whatever’s’ and ‘hard stops’. This analyst replaced the poodle with ‘industry experience’. Since not all analysts have access to the poodle-that-came-in-sixth-in-the-country-but-one-day-refused-to-continue they have to revert to simpler tactics which in this case revolved around pretending to have real industry expertise. This approach makes this type of analyst more irritable and even less comfortable to deal with. Not only is the analyst frustrated because he didn’t get the poodle, he is forced to be on his toes and watch out for technical mistake which would erode his distinguished ‘industry expert’ aura. Indeed expertise is no where near owning the poodle, but there are only so many poodles to go around the analyst community. The reader would certainly pose the question whether it is prudent for an executive in a high tech company in the storage networking market to challenge the authority of the eye-opening analyst church. ‘What would happen if an analyst read this report?’.
We have a conference call scheduled for next Tuesday to hear some more about how Foo-foo had depreciated and whether we had made use of the advice to correct the typo