Elite Camp Estonia, Analytics Hell and Redemption
What a week.
This time last week, I had arrived in Tallinn, Estonia, for a conference called EliitLaager (http://eliitlaager.ee/
) - which sounds brilliant in English. Like some sort brewery conference in the mountains with suits, powerpoints and a painful hangover - but it wasn't like that at all. Apart from the hangovers <grins ferociously>.
It's been going for a few years now and the attendees are an excellent mix of marketers, techies, analysts, growth hackers, investors, startup folks and curious people. It's nice to see a wide age range and mixture of backgrounds. And the companies involved serve markets that I've been involved with but many countries that I've never worked with. Very interesting to hear about new projects, brands, startups and their different challenges working across western and eastern european markets through to Russia, China and the USA.
It's also interesting to see many key decision makers avoid the fate of similar western startup failures - by having customers and data at the bloody heart of everything. I'm never a fan of copying models - you're always one step behind - but taking, understanding and adapting things to make them better? This is a nice way of thinking that I heard a lot when I was in Estonia.
I met some fearsomely smart people - if you're building a new tech business for local markets or for the world - then this is a pretty good place to start.
I'm always interested in economic differences between the places that I visit and that starts with the cost of things. I like looking in estate agents, recruitment agencies, corner shops and figuring out the cost of everything - and where odd differences stick out. And I love trying new food - a pathetically great excuse to eat out.
And my rough conclusion is that:(a)
salary versus life quality is very high in Estonia, at least for tech and web stuff(b)
Talent is very good and a whole raft of young people (early twenties) is coming through and(c)
They're completely clued up about working across timezones, countries and languages. C'mon - where do you think Skype came from eh?
See this for info on the taxation structure in Estonia, which is broad, low and involves different handling for capital gains. Seems like very reasonable employee flat rate taxes and low costs for unemployment and employee pension contributions. What a riveting read this was:http://www.slideshare.net/rahamin/estonian-taxes-and-tax-structure-2012-13681611
And in many places in Eastern Europe, conferences, communities and groups of tech people are finding that there's a local market for their skills. More importantly, there's an international market too.
For the Xenophobic amongst you, this doesn't mean hordes of imaginary Estonian people in your head coming to visit you in England. You've been reading the Daily Mail too much.
They're actually more than happy to keep a high quality of life and lower costs by staying where they are! There is also a sense of building something local - investing in their own future. I actually quite fancy working there for a while myself, it's so darned nice.
But here is an interesting point - costs begin to factor in here. An example of an economic shift might be if South Africa manages to get improved telecoms infrastructure sorted. If that happened, it might well be the next call centre growth area, moving business from India. With a ready population of english speakers and a european timezone, it should be a natural for locating stuff there.
And for Estonia, I think it's an ace place to meet a growing band of people creating new services and companies. It's also going to be a bunch of people who can afford to work for less and live better than you too.
I've been working with virtual teams around the globe for a few years and I'd certainly try Estonia if I wanted to hire people to help on a project.
Be aware of macroeconomic trends too - the tools and software we're using these days means it doesn't matter where the team are. And if you can earn good day rates for remote work and stay and build your own thing, in your own country - isn't that the best of both worlds? Yes - according to a few people I talked to.
Memory of Soviet occupation and it's shadow are never far away. There is a hotel in Tallinn that hid a secret - an entire floor dedicated to the KGB, now restyled as a museum. I missed getting on the tour and am gutted - so this is on my list for the next trip.
Ironic comments about the past were occasionally muttered sotto voce by those old enough to remember that time. Estonia lost independence in 1940 and finally regained independence in 1991, after the breakup of the USSR, joining the EU in 2004. I spent some time reading about over half a century of occupation (by
Germany and Russia) and the destruction and horror it caused - pretty sobering stuff.
The one thing that stuck in my mind was the organised demolition of graveyards, gravestones and also monuments from the first world war - many of them being blown up and sometimes re-used by the Soviets. A chilling quote from the orders given out:
Võrumaa Committee, Tamm, No. 101/s to 1st secretary Nikolai Karotamm. 06.04.1945. ERAF Archives
"In order to carry out demolition works, 15 Party activists and 275 persons from the Destruction Battalion must be mobilised. 15 workers are needed for the execution of each demolition and 10 people are needed for protection.... In order to carry out demolition works, 225 kg of TNT, 150 metres of rope/fuse and 100 primers are needed, since there is no demolition material on the spot. 11 lorries, which are available but which lack petrol, are needed for carrying the ruins away."
in the UK, our geography as an island may have spared us from many of the deprivations that befell our continental European cousins during the 20th century wars. As much as our parents and grandparents sacrificed for our freedoms today we were at least spared from occupation and loss of liberty.
But back to Elite Camp:
There's a good vibe in Estonia and the Camp got excellent feedback from the participants. Having a less formal setup where everyone stayed in small cabins nearby was pretty different and much nicer than a hotel - right near the beach and miles away from town.
In terms of the sessions, the formats were pretty interactive and the venue would shame most places in the UK for having great interior design, light and space. Props to Peep and the team for having a different and better kind of event, in a high quality venue.
Most people are excited about the future, particularly for tech, analytics, startups, marketing and small agencies - it's a zeal for the freedom and the sheer possibilities of tomorrow that I admire so much.
Tallinn is a wonderful city to stay in if you can visit - the old town was fascinating and you can experience a dizzying range of architecture in a short walk. The food was superb. Away from the usual tourist haunts you can sample fine fresh ingredients, top of the line cooking and excellent service. It's much better value than London and the quality of fish and variety of cuisines adds to the mix.
So - analytics hell:
I don't know if you've experienced this but I began to question the very data I was seeing for the last four months. The only explanations were that our market had been impacted or that the analytics config or collection had been completely borked in the past.
I'd looked at it with a few people and we had various theories - none of which solidly checked out. It was all about a huge flip in traffic patterns which happened around the time of launching a mobile site.
It was a head scratcher and I'll write more later about it. I was
determined to work out what it was and although I can't prove it, I have very strong evidence for the reason after much help.
I was actually feeling pretty good about the week at that point. Then the site broke, we found another bug in our call tracking analytics and another two analytics holes surfaced.
I was ready to implode. Disappear into a puff of data denial. The numbers not making sense for 3 weeks of digging finally came to a head.
I took a break and looked at a charity site instead for a day. Sometimes this is the best way to put something in perspective but I'm lucky to have this variety.
I recently read an article about someone who deliberately designed their work projects to be more exciting! How? Well they always carved a few niches in the product design that were not part of their core work. So you might be redesigning the overall funnel but on the side, you've picked two small or gnarly little problems to keep on ice.
When things get tough, turn to some puzzles you can
fix and volunteer for or include these in your work. At least you get to have the pleasure of fixing something rather than worrying about HOW to fix something else.
When you return to the core task later, your heart and spirits may be lifted a little! Having 10-15% of your time AWAY from your main project can be a psychologically useful tool to keep you fresh on your main gig.
Asking other people is usually a good idea and several did look at my analytics hell, some deeply and completely so that the answers surfaced. Not only that, they looked at the data differently, tried other tools and segmented it across more
dimensions. Evidence was crystallised.
People sometimes think based on my slide decks that I can solve all these optimisation projects single handedly. What they don't realise is I get stuck or need a fresh viewpoint just like anyone. Most of what I've learned has come from other people and most of what I continue to learn comes from looking at smarter people than me figure stuff out.
Having the humility to understand how limited one's knowledge is - in the face of the sheer variety and difference of millions of customers - may come to you from usability testing, split testing or just trying harder to inhabit your customers shoes.
Without some humble, your overconfidence means you think you know more than you actually do. Most of us if asked to design a web page would have a high degree of confidence about the improvements we're making. Testing shows me that this isn't reliable - even for the best optimisers or split testing genuises out there.
One of my biggest insights from the last 3 years is that there is no expert here. There isn't a CRO genius out there who can magically fix or know the problems on your site - it all depends on your customers, team, tools and mentality of how you approach the task. The secret sauce is not in the parts but in the connection between the parts. Like an Orchestra.
Think of the worlds best Orchestra as a CRO programme you've seen at another company. You could just buy all the instruments - every Stradivarius in town - just copy everything they own?
An Orchestra simply wouldn't work without the right quality of musicians to use the tools (instruments) would it? So you need the musicians, the instruments and the music and you're done? No - you still need the orchestration.
The conductor. Their job isn't to be the best musician or tool user - their role is to support and weave the constituent parts into a musical cohesive whole.
So when you're building your optimisation plan, think about the outcome - the music you're playing. Look at the parts and also at the whole machine. And be humble - acknowledge your lack of knowledge and then act to fill this gap and improve the orchestration as well as every group of instruments.
And if you're acting at your limits or know you're getting stuck? Phone a friend. Always ask someone else to look over your shoulder, share a problem, pore over something together. You know who you are. Thank you.