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As we all pause to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I thought I would share some of the tech innovations that I’m thankful for this year. The services, products, and apps in the list below have helped my work be more productive, efficient, and enjoyable. Hopefully, you’ll find something useful on this list. Do you have a favorite that I missed? Let me know by adding a comment to this post.
1. Internet access on the go: When I travel for work, I try to stay productive even as I’m traveling. The fact that I can sit on a plane or a train and be connected to the Internet is incredible. Think about it — a plane is a giant metal tube flying through the air at speeds of up to 600 mph. And you can send emails and documents through the air. Even pictures! (How does it even work? AMAZING!) I will never take it for granted. In addition, I have an iPad mini which has Internet service for $30 per month through Verizon. I’ve been in several situations over the past year where I needed to be online, and my iPad with a Verizon hotspot saved the day.
2. Skype: We have a couple of employees at Punchbowl who work remotely. One had been in our Framingham, MA office before a recent move landed her in Philadelphia. To stay connected with the team, she offered to setup an iPad at her home office and be on Skype all day. It’s amazing how it feels like she is still in the office. Anyone can easily walk over to her and have a conversation as if she was in the office — the video and audio quality is great. And she can see and hear what’s going on even though she’s not physically here. I’ve been incredibly impressed at how few technical difficulties we’ve had with Skype even though we use it all day long. If you have remote employees, try setting them up on Skype for a day to see how much more connected you feel.
3. NEST Camera: A few weeks ago, the security alarm in our office was tripped on a Saturday (when no employees were working). I had to scramble to figure out what was going on, and had several phone calls with employees, the alarm company, and the police department. If I could have actually seen inside the office, I would have been able to quickly figure out that the landscaper had inadvertently set off the alarm. Now we have Nest camera set up for security that is only on during hours we’re away from the office. That’s peace of mind, enabled by technology.
4. LinkedIn iOS app: Like most executives, I use Linkedin on a regular basis to find the right contacts. And most of the time I use it on my laptop. However, more and more I find myself using the LinkedIn iOS app. They have done a great job at adapting the best parts of LinkedIn for a smaller screen device. And I love how they utilize notifications to speed up the interactions when someone accepts your LinkedIn request. In the past, I waited until I got an email to take action on a new contact. Now, I use the iOS app and connect with people faster. I highly recommend you download the app.
5. Google Calendar: My life revolves around Google Calendar. I have multiple calendars, and I love how I can show and hide each calendar independently. At Punchbowl, we have Google Calendars for our email marketing campaigns, seasonality changes on the site, and even one for finance/reporting. On my phone, I use the Sunrise app, which connects seamlessly to my calendar, and offers most of the same functionality. It’s also worth noting that the iOS app for Google Calendar has vastly improved in the past year, so worth checking out if you use Google Calendar.
6. Boomerang Calendar for Gmail: Ok, this one is an absolute game-changer for anyone that uses Gmail. I absolutely love Boomerang Calendar. The service allows me to embed my calendar in an email so that the recipient can easily see what times I’m available. The best part? It updates in real-time. So if my calendar changes before the recipient views my email, they will see my updated availability. Using Boomerang has reduced the time it takes me to schedule a meeting by 5x. If you are using Gmail + Google Calendar and don’t use Boomerang, you are wasting a lot of time.
7. Highrise app: At Punchbowl, we use Highrise for our Sales & Marketing database as well as our Press Relations database. Since Nathan Kontny took over the product, they have improved the iOS app for Highrise tremendously. For me, this means I can keep up with the activities in each of these databases without having to be in front of my laptop. It’s really helped us be more efficient as an organization, because I’m almost always up-to-date on what’s going on with important deals. Bravo to Nathan and his team.
8. Fujitsu ScanSnap: As a digital guy, I don’t like paper. I would much rather have a digital copy of document or contract. So any technology that makes it easy for me to get rid of paper is a winner in my book. The ScanSnap is a great little scanner than helps me take large documents and easily turn it into a PDF. This device sits on my desk, and I use it several times a week. In addition, our Finance team has one and they digitize everything from contracts to receipts and expense reports. Next up: getting our partners and vendors to accommodate e-signatures.
9. Evernote: Only a couple of years ago, I still brought a notebook and pencil into every meeting. On the shelf in my office, I have a collection of these notebooks from years past. Now I take notes 100% digitally. I love how Evernote lets me sync between my devices so I can take notes on my desktop, tablet, or phone. For example, for my weekly all-hands meeting at Punchbowl, I prepare my notes on my laptop ahead of time and then read off of my iPad during the meeting. I also love how it lets me search old notes. If I’ve met with a company in the past, I can remind myself of our previous meetings by searching my notes. And that means I’m more prepared for the meeting. If you haven’t made the transition from paper notes to digital, it’s never been easier. Go for it, you’ll be happy you did.
10. Sonos + Spotify (for the office): At my office, we have a Sonos music system and we use Spotify to stream music through it. I love having music in the office for a couple of reasons. First, it’s nice to have music on in the office once in a while. It helps add some energy when people are working, and it’s nice to have music on when visitors arrive. Second, it’s fantastic comedy relief — it’s great to play a song that makes everyone laugh (or roll their eyes). For our all-hands meeting every week, I use a song to set the tone or connect it to what we’re discussing. I love having Sonos + Spotify in the office.
11. Dark Sky Weather App: It may seem like just another weather app, but Dark Sky has helped me avoid bad weather more than once in the past year. It uses state-of-the-art technology called Forecast to predict when it will rain (or snow), with a focus on the short-term forecast. For me, that means when I want to walk my dog Roxxee (and skies are threatening), I just pop open the app and check the forecast for the next 60 minutes. It’s remarkably accurate. If you are in a business that requires you to know the weather (or if you have a dog), I highly recommend you get the app.
So, what’s the one technology I’m not thankful for? The Apple Watch. I was very excited when I heard that Apple was making a watch, and I thought my childhood Dick Tracy visions would finally be realized. And then I saw it. In my opinion, it’s ugly. Very ugly. To me the form factor of the Apple Watch looks like a small iPad stuck on a crappy watch band. It’s bulky, not sleek, and a far cry from what I think Apple is capable of designing. I was reminded how much I don’t like the Apple Watch this past weekend when I saw an ad for the Samsung Gear S2. That’s a nice looking watch, and I can imagine wearing it everyday. However, I don’t want an Android-based watch — I want an iOS-based watch that works with all of the devices I already own. It’s a shame that Apple shipped such a poor design, and I’m hopeful that the next generation will be much, much better.
So there you have it — 11 tech innovations I’m very thankful for this year (and one I’m not). Did I miss your favorite? Please leave a comment below. Thanks for reading — have a wonderful Thanksgiving.