Would you like access to unlimited retention of your data within your Amazon S3, which costs far less than online storage on disc? Well, the next time you’re at re:Invent, visit CHAOSSEARCH’s booth.
Today, we’re talking to Pete Cheslock, vice president of products at CHAOSSEARCH and former vice president of operations at Threat Stack. CHAOSSEARCH helps people get access to their login event data using Amazon S3.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
re:Invent - Year of the Pin: People go nuts for conference swag and were collecting pins as if they were gold
Scan Your Badge and Drip Emails: Annoying and passive-aggressive marketing trends meant to be spontaneous and interesting
Need a job? Corey’s looking to hire a “Quinntern” to use a tag email address to gather conference swag at the next re:invent; if interested, contact him
Corey and Pete’s Swag Rules: Something you want or can use, continues to be valuable, no sizes, no socks
Densify Drama: Conference flyer to generate leads failed, created complaints
Track and analyze data, but don’t use it to invade privacy or become creepy
Las Vegas: Right place for conferences, such as re:Invent?
Rather than focusing on going to conference sessions, make meeting and talking to people doing interesting things your priority
Midnight Madness Event: Only place Corey could do stand-up Cloud comedy
re:Invent 2019: Plan appropriately, identify what you want to get out of it, register ASAP to get a nearby hotel, and schedule meetings with AWS staff
Full Episode Transcript:
Corey: This week’s episode is sponsored by Datadog. Datadog is a monitoring and analytics platform that integrates with more than 250 different technologies, including AWS, Kubernetes, Lambda, and Slack. They do it all: visualisations, APM, and distributed tracing. Datadog unites metrics, traces, and logs all into one platform so that you and your team can get full visibility into your infrastructure and applications. With a rich dashboard, algorithmic alerts, and collaboration tools Datadog can help your team to learn to troubleshoot and optimize modern applications. If you give it a try, they’ll send you a free t-shirt. I’ve got to say I love mine. It’s comfortable and my toddler points at it and yells, “Dog!” every time that I wear it. It’s endearing when she does it and I’ve been told I need a leave their booth in re:Invent when I do it. To get yours, go to screaminginthecloud.com/datadog. Thanks to Datadog for their support of this podcast.
Corey: All right, let's get into this here. Hello and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I'm Corey Quinn. For the first time in the course of this show, we have a guest returning. I'm joined today by Pete Cheslock. Welcome to the show, Pete.
Pete: Hey. Thanks for having me back. This is quite an honor.
Corey: If it helps anything, you're a different person now than you were back then. Now, the first time around, you were, I believe, the director of engineering at Threat Stack.
Pete: I was. Technically, I think, the last title I held before I left was VP of Operations. I was kind of focused on that side.
Corey: My apologies. I've accidentally demoted you.
Pete: I know. How dare you. I joke that I traded in my PagerDuty for my HubSpot account as I'm now in the product's side of the house.
Corey: Exactly, and you changed companies that, for some reason, you insist on spelling entirely in capital letters. This is Screaming in the Cloud, so why not? What do you do now at CHAOSSEARCH?
Pete: Yes, CHAOSSEARCH. At CHAOSSEARCH, we are a new company. We actually just closed our Series A about a month ago.
Pete: Yeah, thank you. For anyone that's ever been through a fundraising event, for years and years, I always used to–whenever I see people get a fundraise and people would celebrate it, I always thought to myself, "What's the big deal raising money?" Then, you actually go through the process of asking people to give you millions of dollars, and that's a very hard thing to do. Definitely, you should always celebrate anyone out there who raises money, I think, because it's something that was a new experience for me being that close to, as I say, watching the sausage getting made.
At CHAOSSEARCH, what we do is we are essentially helping people get access to the long tale of their log and event data, leveraging the power of Amazon S3. We have a really innovative, new way of storing data on Amazon S3, specifically, actually, the customer's S3 bucket, which I think is what's really cool, and that allows us to expose APIs like Elasticsearch API that you can now use to query your data even though it's all sitting on S3. What I always like to say is you get access to unlimited retention of your log and event data or, really, any kind of data, all within your own Amazon S3.
Corey: Of course, S3 charges far, far, far less than online storage on disc such as Elasticsearch.
Pete: Yeah. Amazon's Elasticsearch service is pretty expensive. Obviously, they pass a premium for the management and the setup of those servers. Of course, you still have to size out a cluster and shard your indexes and all that other stuff, but even compared to EDS, obviously, S3 is very cheap. Of course, a lot of people say, "Well, S3 is really slow," but, due to our technology, what we've built–we call the beta edge technology–when you do thousands of parallel gets on a query, S3 can actually very fast.
That's some of the really interesting things that we've been doing. It's really a technology that's been in process and being built for many years now. We're now just coming to the market and just starting to show a lot of different companies what we've been doing. I always like to say–I've ran Elasticsearch for many years. I was a very early Elasticsearch user, and whenever I can help people run less Elasticsearch, I feel like I'm giving a nice, warm hug to all these operators out there that just are getting paged every night because Elasticsearch is falling over yet again for them.
Corey: For clarity, you folks aren't sponsoring the show at all. I never have the guests sponsored. That would be weird and lead to strange messaging, but I did take a look at what you're doing and I like it. It's something I intend to spend more time on in the coming year. Of course, I say that every year about all kinds of things and then life happens instead.
Pete: Exactly. I know. I feel like I have just a list of books on my Kindle that I've yet to read. It's like a list of blog posts to read, podcasts to listen to, and then life gets in the way.
Corey: The real reason I wanted to have you on the show is I ran into you and 500,000 other people at re:Invent, buy you and I go back-a-ways, back before I my ridiculous newsletter, back before I ran my own company, back when I was one of the people who sat on the curb and clapped as you go by. Let's not kid ourselves; I still do. It's fun talking to you and getting your perspective on these things, and I wanted to a little bit of a re:Invent wrap-up.
Not the typical sort that you'll see in blogposts, think pieces scattered across the internet, and not the comprehensive roundup that I put on my newsletter–I'll throw a link to that in the show notes–where I wound up doing all the releases to the tune of Yakko's Countries of the World from Animaniacs. In this case, I want to talk to you more about how it felt. I don't know how many re:Invent-s you've been to, but this was my second, and it was a radically different experience than last year's.
Pete: Yeah, so I've actually had the pleasure of going to almost every single re:Invent. There was one year where I worked for an unnamed DNS company now owned by an unnamed database company, where they didn't use any Amazon so going to re:Invent that year didn't seem to make a lot of sense. A company that I worked at a very long time ago called Sonian, which was an email archiving company–for some reason, we sponsored re:Invent the very first year.
Why? I have no idea. The attendees of re:Invent don't traditionally have a need for archiving, since but we were, Amazon User, one of the largest at the time–we felt like it made sense to sponsor it. We were there for that first one, and I just kept going back except for that one year I missed it. I kind of feel bad that I can't say I've been to them all.
Corey: With the release of Timestream, you might be able to back and fix that one of these days, but we'll get there.
I interviewed you for the first time of several times over the course of that re:Invent week on the expo floor where you were standing at your booth and I, of course, immediately proceeded to, as I do, stupid open-mouth selfie with you, which worked out recently well.
I think there were 61 of those that I made over the course of the week. which was fun. I think that probably the gimmick has runts it course and I'm not going to be do that a lot, but it was fun. Effectively, the trick to a good selfie is happy and with your mouth open. It seemed to work out, and then I immediately began insulting how you capitalize the name of your company because picking stupid linguistic, nomenclature and spelling arguments is really how I get my kicks. Anyone who's heard my whole shtick on AMI Has Three Syllables knows exactly what I'm talking about.
Pete: I think I remember speaking of the AMI thing. I remember someone maybe had a pin of "AMI Rhymes with Something".
Corey: "Butterfly." It was Ben Britz, and he gave me one of them. I cherished it.
Pete: It's the only way to live, is with an AMI.
Corey: Absolutely, and you mentioned pins. It seemed like, as you mentioned in the preshow when we were talking, it was like Disneyland where you're collecting pins left and right. Someone from A Cloud Guru posted a list of all the pins that they had, and there were well over a hundred of them. Some were official. Some were from vendors. I was giving out a few of my own for the newsletter with this logo. It lets you know what it is, and it gives absolutely no clue for the context.
Pro tip: I have not much marketing; who knew? It's important to bear in mind the context of this that people are collecting these things like they're gold. When I was walking around the expo hall, it was bizarre to me, like there were lines that were easily 45 minutes long for some people's boots. I don't know what they were giving away for swag. I can only assume it was $10,000 because that's the kind of line you had queueing for.
I see them walking away with these small, cheap toys, and I get–and the context of the conference sounds fun, but it's something I would throw away if someone gave it to me at home. What is it about conferences that makes people go nuts for swag?
Pete: I still don't understand it. I definitely watch people walk around with large bags. Of course, the bags were swag in itself, but large bags just full of stuff. I really wonder if there's actually people out there–and I'm sure there is. Of course, there has to be–that actually bring multiple suitcases with them just to have a suitcase of swag that goes back home with them after the fact. Of course, obviously, you and I are outliers in the conference world because we often go to so many to do our work and our business and things of that nature.
Of course, I'm sure, just like you, I rarely take the swag, and the pins really blew me away. Pins, I think, came out of nowhere as the new it swag. You had socks if you rewind back to, really–Monitorama, I think, was the first conference that I'd ever seen socks at. They did a classic pun on words of "monitor in socks" instead of "monitoring sucks", which was the Twitter hashtag people would follow.
I started seeing pins, obviously, with your pin, which I thought was pretty cool. Then, a friend of mine started up Cloud Zero. They had a pin. I kept on thinking to myself, "This is such a great swag idea." As the product person for CHAOSSEARCH, I also wear my marketing hat, and what I hate more than anything else are t-shirts because, logistically, it's complicated. You need multiple sizes. You want to have men's cut, women's cut, and so it's just a lot of different boxes of shirts.
I thought to myself, "You know what? Pins have no sizes, no anything. They're just pins, and so they're cheap, and who doesn't like pins?" I thought we were going to be this thought leader in the pin swag space and, lo and behold, everyone did pins. My question here, really, was, "Was there a memo that was sent out for re:Invent?" because I don't think I've ever seen a swag idea like this just come out of nowhere but be so pervasive at the same time. It was really mind-blowing to see.
Corey: I had mine done eight or nine month ago, and I just had a limited run of 200 made as an experiment mostly because I wanted to give them to people who guested on the podcast. I read into it and I knew, and I saw a pile of them. It was something that I tweeted about when I did it, and so I'm just going to absolutely claim credit for the entire movement. That is how you thought-lead, Pete.
Pete: Yeah, claim victory loudly enough, and it's also why CHAOSSEARCH is in bold and caps. We're just claiming victory very loudly. I think that's a good model to follow.
Corey: I've liked that quite a bit. Did you manage to go to a lot of other vendor booths or were you too busy chained to your own?
Pete: I was definitely at my booth a majority of the time. We were in the back as–at the time when we registered, we were a seeded funded startup, and a re:Invent booth, being a majority of our cost of running a business, we were basically one of the last people to actually register. We were way in the back, but I did get a chance to walk around booth […]. I'm always curious to see who's there, and who's exhibiting, and are there products that I should be using or looking into. It was a spectacle as always, and I always get blown away as to just how much bigger it gets every year.
Corey: One thing that I wanted to do this year–and I had some good results with it so far–is, anytime you walk within 10 feet of some booths, you're basically besieged by people who don't walk up to you; they materialize in front of you with, "Hi, can I scan your badge?" The first time I was in a conference, that was sort of a foreign concept. "Scan my badge? Sure, why not?" For those who don't spend their lives going to conferences, what happens is it winds up giving what information you've given the conference and giving a subset of that to people when they scan your badge.
You're signing up for vendor emailing lists, and further outreach, and conversations about what they do and, in return, they give you a pair of socks, a pin or an ill-fitting t-shirt or something. That's fun. The problem is, is people don't expect it and they wind up giving their actual email address and they wind up, as a result, getting besieged by marketing stuff. Relatively, there's a new marketing trend that I think is awful where people have these drip campaigns that keep relying and getting increasingly passive-aggressive until you respond, which I don't love. Have you seen those?
Pete: Yeah, where they–after maybe three or four emails, they'll be like, "I haven't heard from you. Please respond with one of the following of this multiple-choice question," and it's like, "#1. You were attacked by wolves and dragged into the forest. #2. Here's an animated .gif that I found on Tumblr." What's funny is how they're all meant to be oh-so-spontaneous and interesting, but they all follow the same ridiculous template.
Corey: And have unsubscribe links, and it's very clear this is not a human sending this?
Pete: Yeah, exactly. There's the tracker inside of it, and there's all this other stuff. I don't know what they're trying to aim for here, but I've received the same, quirky email 10 times in the last week. Maybe it's time to move on.
Corey: I'm looking to weaponize this personally because it turns out that sponsoring a booth at re:Invent is super expensive. I don't know if the actual prices are public so I'm not going to state them, but, regardless, it's a lot of money. What I wound up doing–because I do try to reach out for people. Sure, I'm a consultant by day where I fix AWS bills but, in the context of re:Invent, what I generally like to sell are sponsorships for this podcast and, for the last week, an AWS newsletter.
Those sponsorships cost orders of magnitude less money than a booth at re:Invent, and they have a reach that is the same ballpark as that conference these days. It's turning into something that seems to be resonating with my target audience. What I do at conferences is I give a tagged email address. Whenever someone emails that, "Hi, we met at the booth. Thank you for coming by to try to win a pony. Unfortunately, you didn't because it turns out we can't ship them." They get an auto-response, "Hey, thanks for emailing. I enjoyed your booth. Here's my sponsorship prospectus."
The goal I have is how to get scanned by the most number of people that I didn't do that good of a job this year. My plan for next year–and listeners of this podcast can get in early on this–I am going to be hiring a paid Quinn-tern to go around, and use a tagged email address, and get all the swag a the conference. If that sounds like something you might want to do next year at re:Invent in Las Vegas, reach out and let me know. I'm email@example.com.
Pete: On that idea, one of the most amazing things that we saw–we scan people as well, and the nice thing is that the prospectus for re:Invent is online. Just Google for re:Invent 2018 and you'll see how much it costs, and those booth prices are–for some of the booths, it's just for the–they call them burner booths or the booths that are prebuilt for you. Some of the other booths are actually–you're just buying the location, like the square footage, and then you still have to build a booth and spend $100,000 on that as well.
You're not wrong in that you might spend, for example, let's say $100,000 for a booth location, maybe $120,000 for a booth location, and maybe your goal is to scan 1000 or 2000 people. For $100,000, of course, now you have to add in all your swag, travel and everything else. Let's say your all-in is $150,000 for this event.
Corey: Which, in many cases, is low.
Pete: Which is very low. If you saw those 20x20 booths, those are $200,000, I think, and up. Even the 10x10s are $50,000 and up, and that's just for being there. You still have to fly there. You still have to have swag.
Corey: I talked to one of them there and I asked them over drinks what the booth costs, and their answer was, "It's irrelevant." I just stared at them. I said, "How is it possibly irrelevant?" They said, "We have 200 employees here." "Yeah, compared to that, the booth cost is who-cares."
Pete: Yeah, and if you think of it, too, and your target market are Amazon users–for CHAOSSEARCH, we had to go. Why would we not go? It's a no-brainer. We have a service that is designed for Amazon S3. Therefore, at least right now until we build for other clouds, our target market are Amazon S3 users. It's a no-brainer for us to go and, of course, we're not the only people that are like that. There's a lot of other people who are really focused on marketing to Amazon people solely.
When you start doing the math in that perspective, it is pretty small, but the best thing that I saw was we scanned a few hundred people as part of our outreach as well. We only scanned people that we actually wanted to follow up individually because there's really no point in just scanning for the sake of lead count, goal and stuff like that.
Corey: And me because I forced my badge on you with, "Scan this."
Pete: Yeah, exactly. You'll get a nice email from our biz-dev folks over here.
Corey: Now, you can get a sponsorship prospectus.
Pete: One of the phone numbers that we called was an automated message basically selling whatever service. It was like kind of what you said. It's a really interesting way of looking around.
Corey: I did that, too. Now, thank you to Trilyo for their help getting that set up.
Pete: It's like weaponizing your lead. It now turns into that selling game. I thought that was a good idea, but I love where you're going with this one. If I'm not doing anything next re:Invent, let me know and I'll take on an honorary role as a Quinn-tern, mostly just so I could call myself a Quinn-tern because I think that's pretty awesome.
Corey: Absolutely and, yeah, this is something I actually was hoping to give to someone relatively early in their career, not just for the exposure, which is horrifying, but maybe I'll either pay them or cover their trip to re:Invent or something like that. There are a few ways that can unfold, but it's sort of a way of giving back and getting someone new to the industry out and in front of people because, frankly, when I was new to the industry, people reached out and did me favors, including you, and that's one of those things that's super-hard to pay back, you can only ever pay forward. I've hit on that theme in a few episodes so far, but it's one of the ways I live my life.
Pete: I'm the same way. Boston's a small town. I'm sending messages in LinkedIn, saying, "I'd love to chat with you." "I'd love to grab a coffee." I am happy to have any conversation, and I was like […] when it comes to even recruiting. Friends of mine, they come to me and say, "Hey." I'm like, "Do you know anyone who's looking? Are you looking to hire?" If I'm not hiring, I pass on friends of mine to local companies who are looking to hire and give them the back channel and say, "This is what this company is up to, and they're doing some pretty cool stuff, and you should check them out and stuff."
I always think to myself that I didn't get to where I got in my career on my own. There was a great network of people who really helped me along the way. Just like you said, the only way to really do this is to pay it forward, like you can't go back other than say, "Hey, thanks for helping me along the way, but I can help out a dozen more people or more." That's a huge win for everyone.
Corey: It absolutely is. One last observation on the expo hub before we move on, conversationally, is I have a couple of rules for swag when I'm looking at buying something to put my lug on, and I wish more people thought this way. My golden rules are, first, it has to be something that I would want and would use even if it had another company's logo on it. If I just love it because it's my own logo and I fall in love with that–and, sure, it's an ill-fitting t-shirt that's in the wrong size and it looks like it's made mostly of burlap mixed with straw, but it's my logo so I'll wear it. Great, no one else in the planet will.
The second rule is that it has to continue to be valuable once I pick it up for the third time from a different company. Those two together rule out most of what people do. Pins qualify, depending on what the pin looks like. T-shirts generally fail. Socks? Okay, great, I have 50 pairs of tech socks and only two feet. There's a problem here, as well as a whole marketing story of, "No one looks at their socks except when they put them on in the morning, and then they're hidden for the most part." Even some of the best swag I've gotten–I got a speaker gift once from USENIX's Lisa that was phenomenal. It was a portable travel power adapter. I use that thing constantly, but I don't need three of them.
Pete: Finding useful swag was a challenge that I had. My requirements for swag for CHAOSSEARCH for re:Invent was it had to be something that didn't have sizes to it because, logistically, that's a challenge. We didn't want to do socks just for a lot of the reasons like you said, which is everyone does them and no one really sees my socks so what's the point there? I wanted it to be actually useful to a person, so we ended up doing battery packs.
Again, the challenge there that you said, which is, "When you have one, do you need two? Do you need three?" What we did find was a lot of people really were digging the battery packs. It turns out not a lot of people had re:Invent battery packs and, of course, everyone burns through their batteries there. It was a cornucopia of swag at re:Invent. I saw all kinds of stuff that I would never have expected.
Corey: Not to criticize your swag or anything like that, but I've seen enough dodgy reports of crappy battery backs. Let's not kid ourselves. When purchasing departments buy 5,000 of these things and get their logo slapped on it, they negotiate to get the best deal possible, which means cutting corners rather than the best quality. If I'm plugging–what are they now? $1500 in some cases for the latest, top-of-the-line iPhone?
If I'm plugging my $1500-supercomputer into the cheapest thing that will hold the charge without probably starting a fire, it feels to me like that's just sort of an unacceptable risk. From my perspective, I always carry a battery pack with me because, again, I eat, sleep, breathe and travel the world, but for people who are not used to that, it absolutely has value. I'm just one of those nervous types where, if I was looking to give away swag, I would be worried on some level about the liability story.
Pete: Honestly, when it comes to swag, my next idea is–and this is because I'm in Boston and it's cold, and I'm called all the time–is like a scarf, like a really nice knit scarf with CHAOSSEARCH, obviously, with bold, screaming letters that you'll just see. But, also, the usefulness, right? It will keep my neck warm. Boston is cold literally all the time.
Corey: I grew up a bit north of there, yeah. It's not the most useful thing if you're doing this at a conference in Los Angeles because, even if people are going home to something that's cold, they aren't thinking cold when they're there. In Las Vegas, it feels almost like a non-starter except the hotels are pretty cold.
Pete: Yeah, the hotels are cold. I felt like I was cold, and then I'd go outside and it was cold, although it was 60 so I guess it's not–that's like SF warm, I think. Not for me; too cold.
Corey: One other thing that I've been thinking about–this jogged my memory. Did you hear about the Densify drama?
Pete: Densify? I did not. I love a good drama, though.
Corey: Oh, yes. This went around on Twitter, and I'm sympathetic to all sides on this one. I was staying in The Venetian and someone knocked on my door. I said, "Come back later please." They ignored that and opened the door–obviously, a hotel employee–and dropped off–"I've got a delivery for you." It was a flyer from Densify and a key to their booth that–there were 10 winning keys that would win a switch or something. "Okay, great."
I was irked. Then, I started seeing on Twitter a lot of people had the same reaction. One woman had been walked in while she was in the bathroom and came out to this thing sitting under her desk. She had the "do not disturb" sign up so it was one of those. This was awful, and an invasion of privacy, and they tried to do some damage control in DMs and whatnot. On the one hand, it strikes me as an incredible lapse in judgment on their part but, on the other, I can understand it because getting these two people through the hotel–because they have the master list.
They won't necessarily tell the company where it's going. At that point, it winds up getting in front of people where they don't expect it. Worse for marketing, right up until the first complaint comes through–and by then, it's far too late. It's one of those, "It seems like a great idea," until you see how it can fail. It sounds like something someone relatively junior would come up with as a creative marketing approach. Believe me, I'm sympathetic to that, but the execution on that was not terrific.
Pete: Yeah, that definitely does not sound great. That's the challenge, too, I think, in a lot of these times where you'll have–basically, they're like lead count goals. "Hey, we're going to re:Invent. Here's your budget. You've got to get a thousand leads," and what's kind of funny in a lot of those things–and you'll see it, too, where people just scan you for nothing, like come by our booth–we were next to a booth that had–at one point, they were giving out mixed drinks.
It was like, "Great, people came by the booth," but what are the odds that any of those scans, any of those leads, are of value at all? For the people at the booth, they don't even care because they're separated from the quality of the leads; they just were told to get a thousand leads. If I had that kind of goal, then, sure, I would do something probably equally stupid because it's like, "Get a thousand leads or you're fired." Things are cutthroat in that game. It shouldn't have to be, but it's sad to hear that. That's definitely–that is a very questionable way of marketing your wares.
Corey: It is, and this is one of the problems that I tend to have with marketing, is–and I made fun of Oracle for this a little bit, too, where they slapped, "Cut your AWS in half guaranteed," on a bunch of Teslas and drove them around the conference, giving people free rides. First, if you choose Oracle in order to save money, you are probably the dumbest person on the planet. Good for you. Secondly, in that scenario, it kills me because they have an incredible budget for this sort of stuff and absolutely no creativity, whatsoever.
My line at the time was, "If I had a $20 million-marketing budget, I don't know how I'd do it, but I'd do my best to rename the conference re:Quinnvent," and I wouldn't bet against me with that kind of capital to fall back on. Instead, I went out there with a budget that more or less looked like a bus pass and was able to do some interesting business and get in front of some interesting people. It just seems that there's a lack of creativity and a lack of vision.
I get that it's hard and I get that it's cutthroat, but there's a reason that the way I do sponsorships is very non-aggressive. I have no demographic information that I'm aware of on people who read my newsletter or listen to my podcast, so the answer is, "Yeah, I have roughly this number of subscribers or listeners," and, based upon the content, I assume these are people who are actively involved with AWS, with cloud computing, with focusing on this sort of problem.
If that's your market, great, let's give it a shot, but it isn't something that I start offering in-depth insight into because that's where you run into trouble. People say that, "Oh, it's not marketing that bothers people; it's marketing that isn't relevant." We know that's not true because when you buy something or look at something online and then ads for it follow you around the internet for a week, you don't feel, "Oh, thank goodness, that's relevant," you feel, "That's creepy."
Pete: Yeah, I get constant ads usually after I buy a thing. It's like I bought a thing on Amazon and then, like you said, a few days later, it's like, "Hey, would you like 10 more of the exact same thing you just bought?" If this is the future of AI and NL marketing, I don't worry about the robots taking over at any point soon.
Corey: My link tracker for the newsletter spits out aggregate information for me. It shows percentages of people that open the newsletter, which has been relatively steady at about 50% since its inception because a lot of people block trackers, and it ranks the lists of links I include by popularity. That helps me inform future issues. I have a friend who also runs a newsletter–and I will not name them on this podcast–but they reached out to me at one point and said, "Yeah, I saw that you clicked this link in this newsletter. What do you think about it?"
This is just someone I'm friends with, and my response was, "That is profoundly creepy." Even if you have that information, one, don't look at it and, two, don't tell someone you have it because then it makes them question everything they do. I understand that I probably have a very 1920s naïve view of how marketing could be, but my business is relatively small in the context that I only have a handful of clients or want a handful of clients. I'm not trying to sell something to 8000 companies at the same time.
Pete: Yeah, I'm not a marketer by nature or experience. My last job, as we talked about earlier in the show, was technical operations. I run applications and help other people run applications, specifically, in the last 10 years in the cloud. Flipping over to the product side, I also wear the marketer hat quite more now, and I see much like you see, which is, "What's the actual value of some of these marketing campaigns?"
More so, when I think about doing something or some sort of campaign, this is my operator side coming out in that I want to see metrics. If I did a Twitter ad for a thing, then I want to see, "Did people actually click on it?" because if they didn't, why would I keep spending my money on that or even like a re:Invent. Re:Invent's tricky for us because we really need to be there and have a good relationship with Amazon and get in front of that community, but I've worked at places where they didn't need to sell specifically to Amazon customers.
If you go to a re:Invent or one of those Amazon summits, you're going to have to spend tends and thousands of dollars, are you actually making that money back? Is there a return on that investment? If there's not, then why waste your time if there's no value to it? I often wonder if people are actually tracking some of that stuff of if, really, it's just like, "Get visible. Get out there. Get noticed." It's an interesting state we're in today.
Corey: Something I try and tell my sponsors is that it helps to view this as brand advertising, not a direct call to action. Very few people, for example, are going to be listening to this podcast while driving, immediately pull over and whip out their phone and go buy something because it's advertised here, but if it takes 15 to 20 impressions where someone does business with something or with some company, there's a distinct sense that the first 15 are useless but #16 gets all of the credits so that's the only one we're going to buy.
Look at airport enterprise software ads. There's no call to action, there's no "buy here", but by seeing that when you're traveling, you suddenly become accustomed to seeing that company's name and when a salesperson shows up to talk to you, you don't ask who they are, and that is the sole purpose of it. Being able to look at it in that light makes us look a lot more sensible from some perspectives. I've had some sponsors in past months who have always wanted to know exactly how many sign-ups are directly attributable to this podcast, or this issue, or whatever it was that came out, and others are, "Okay, we're tracking that, but we want to see it more in an aggregate sense and see what happens."
I'm always surprised on some level when a sponsor comes back and renews for more. Credit where due, almost all of my sponsors do. It tells me it is working; I just don't think like a marketer, and that's something that I find to be relatively interesting and something that I need to improve. Before I sit here telling marketing people how they should do their jobs, I need to spend more time practicing this.
Pete: It's funny. I remember at a previous company, we went to re:Invent, and we spent a lot of money for a big booth. We were right in the center so we had a ton of people coming by, and it was absolutely mobbed. I think I lost my voice because I had so many conversations, but it was so busy that there were the people that stopped–we talked to. We did a demo and we scanned them because we wanted to follow up, but then there was a whole class of people who walked by, looked at the messaging, the logo, whatever, and just said, "Huh, okay," and then, the next week, when they back to their office, they said, "Yeah, remember we stopped by so-and-so? We should give them a call because they're doing stuff that we need."
We closed one of our biggest deals. They never stopped at the booth. They walked by, they saw it, and they said, "Cool, I'll follow up later." I think much what you're saying is that operators–especially if you're selling to operators, they're busy. DevOps, operators, technical folks, they're busy. They have an outage. Someone leaves, they have to hire someone. There's not enough people with too much to do, and so if you can always just be out there, out and about, generating content that actually people want to consume–I really give a lot of credit to a lot of the companies out there, companies like Datadog.
I've been to Datadog's website a ton, and I'm not saying this is sponsored, just someone who's seen the content that Datadog creates in that it's like, "Hey, how do you monitor Cassandra?" I went to the Datadog website to figure out how to monitor Cassandra in 2014 when I was running Cassandra and I had no idea what I was doing. At some point, if I ever used Datadog, is it because I went to their site earlier? Maybe, but it's that kind of marketing which is about that–and this is kind of a classic inbound marketing where there is no specific call to action. It's just like, "Hey, we're going to generate some content."
DigitalOcean does a great job at that, too, which was like, "Hey, here's how you set up WordPress. Sure, you could run WordPress on our DigitalOcean drop-off but you don't have to and we're not forcing you to do it, but we just want to teach you how to do something." I kind of like that model of marketing that we've seen more recently where it's just, "Let me just teach you how to do a thing and, if it just so happens that I can solve your problem, maybe we can exchange money for goods and services in the future."
Corey: Absolutely. Most of my initial outreach from people trying to get me to consult in their AWS bill is me explaining to them exactly why that's not the thing to focus on or I'm not the right fit for it. I have a relatively narrow customer profile that I target and, outside of that, I'm thrilled to have a conversation with someone and point them in another direction. The vast majority of people reaching out are told very politely, "I am not able to help you with the problem that you have as it stands today, and here's why."
I'm polite about it, but, by being able to say no, it lets me focus on the things I'm good at. I found that when I became a consultant, being able to be very focused on a single expensive problem let me get very good at that one thing very rapidly because people don't hire consultants to be generalists; they hire them for a specialty problem.
Pete: Yeah, exactly. You hire them to solve the biggest pain that you have right now because, clearly, you don't have that expertise. You've got the general expertise that maybe could execute on a vision, but if you don't have that person that's been in that step, that problem before, you may never solve it yourself.
Corey: Absolutely. Let's talk a little bit about, I guess, a tiny retrospective on re:Invent 2018 for any Amazonians who happen to be listening and planning for re:Invent 2019. What do you think went well this year? What do you think needs to be improved?
Pete: I absolutely love the fact that they really put all of the big events in the Venetian, keeping those in one place. Last year, Werner Vogels' keynote was at the MGM and then the earlier keynote, I think, was Wednesday, Andy Jassy's keynote was in the Venetian so you had these split locations. Anyone who has not been to Vegas, even though it might only be a mile away, it would take you an hour to get there. It's just too big of a city and everything is just too far away. I think that was fantastic that they kind of standardized that. That was probably the biggest thing that I noticed, and then it kept people from having to move all over the city.
Corey: I agree. I still think one of the problems you have is that it's in Las Vegas and it's spread out across seven or eight properties so no matter what you're into, you're missing more stuff than you're seeing. That feels like a very difficult problem to solve for, but I've never been a big fan. One thing that I started noticing this year as, I guess, I've become more aware of these things is Las Vegas as a city is incredibly off-putting to women.
You have a city that is built around exploiting people, full stop. There are billboards everywhere that are advertising for a variety of–let's just say nothing that would ever wind up passing any remote form of code of conduct. The entire city just sort of has this air of desperation to it. It isn't welcoming for a diverse audience, and I think that this is a problem we're going to continue to see manifest itself as society shifts.
I don't feel comfortable in this city. I've never been a big Las Vegas fan even when I was a young, stupid and in my 20s and thought I knew everything. Now, I just find myself that my skin crawls every time I'm there. You have casinos that are built specifically to keep people from getting out, it takes forever to get anywhere. You wind up in a scenario where there are entire companies there built around separating you from your money in return for no gain other than a brief endorphin rush.
You see people throwing their life savings into slot machines, and it's a sad place, in many respects. I get that it is compelling to host conventions there, but I have to believe that there's a better place for it than there. I don't expect to convince anyone on that, but that is something that I've seen enough, and I can't be silent about that anymore.
Pete: Yeah, I totally agree. It is a sad place, and even as someone who definitely enjoys parts of what Las Vegas can offer, there's lots of parts of it that are just tiresome, and draining, and send off the range message in a lot of ways for a professional conference. I understand the complexity much like you said, which is, "How do you find a location that can house 67,000 people for this kind of event?" I remember VMware for years used to be in Las Vegas and then they had moved to San Francisco.
I know DreamBox is much larger than re:Invent and kind of takes over San Francisco, so I don't think that re:Invent should go to San Francisco because if you thought Las Vegas was expensive to be in, San Francisco changes that dramatically. Like you, I do wonder if there's a better place that could kind of support this type of venue. It'll be interesting to see if that changes at all in the future.
Corey: Yeah, and I'm curious to see what happens. I've been the first to say I don't have a good answer to this, but I just know that I think that we can do better and I think, for a large swathe of their customers, Amazon has to do better than that. I just don't know what that looks like.
Pete: Luckily, they have a lot of people and a lot of money that they could probably try to solve that problem or solve that problem. They could at least give it the old college try, I suppose.
Corey: Credit where due, I didn't really notice that until someone reached out and pointed that out to me. It's one of those, "Once you see it, you can't unsee it." If you are at re:Invent and you're listening to this show and didn't notice any of that, that's not necessarily your fault. I was exactly where you are until someone said it to me, and then it sort of flipped the switch that I can't turn off. This is one of those ongoing awareness types of things that might be worth evaluating. Other things that you would wind up changing for re:Invent if you had a magic wand?
Pete: Oh, if I had a magic wand. Last year was probably the first year that I had a chance to go to a lot of the sessions. This year, unfortunately, I didn't get to go to any. I was at booth duty the whole time, but I would be curious to hear how the session selection and things of that nature went this year. It did seem like there were a lot of repeat sessions and things of that nature so that people could still go, but I often say, too, that if your ultimate goal at re:Invent is to just go to sessions, honestly, you should just stay home and watch the videos online or listen to the videos online.
It seems a bit overkill to go all the way there just to go to some sessions where the value, I think, really is far more in the conversations. If you're trying to find vendors for a specific problem, anyone could do it without having to spend a month looking up stuff online or, if you like meeting with Amazon folks, obviously, they're all there, so that's a good one, too.
Corey: I confess I didn't go to a single session this year other than–I walked live during the keynotes and then gave two talks in the expo hall two hours after them to do, basically, a snarky takedown of everything that was announced. It was a question of, "How quickly can I turn around a slide decked in sarcasm?" It turns out, quickly, but I'm right there with you. I averaged 15 meetings a day for 8 straight days–pro-tip, don't do that–I just got back from a 10-day vacation to detox from that.
My goal was to meet people who were doing interesting things. In six months, when I had a problem using a particular service, if the talk would have answered the question, those talks are going to be on YouTube. Far more valuable is the conversation I have with one of the people on those teams, that I can reach out and say, "I don't understand how this thing works," and they can, because they're Amazon and they're extremely customer-focused, politely tell me to read Page 2 of the documentation where it's very clearly answered and then I'm embarrassed and have to buy them a cup of coffee for wasting their time.
Those relationships tend to be what drives how I operate, and I get that not everyone works that way. I also, to be honest, have attention span issues. I can't sit there and focus on the talk for 45 minutes without getting itchy. I want to move around. I want to have a different conversation. I want to focus on something else. Given how hard it is to get into some of the sessions, I think there are people who'd benefit from those talks more than I would. Me taking someone to spot doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense.
Pete: Yeah, I agree. Even last year when I went to, predominantly, talks, I still can only really make it to maybe two talks a day, just given time constraints and the sessions that I even wanted to see minus the keynote, which you definitely would want to watch. If your only aim is to go to sessions, getting to more than two sessions, you'd have to be a machine to do that. It's hard to get into or even get into. Yeah, for something that's online later, I think it's a tiny little overkill, but there's definitely a lot of value.
The biggest value I get from the event is checking out what other people are doing. Pretty much every venture capitalist is out there. Those are all conversations I want to have. Of course, I work in startups so that's important, but also I have friends who work in Amazon that I really only get to see once a year out there. It's kind of fun to be in the same city as friends of mine and just catch up and hear about cool stuff that they're doing and chat about some of the announcements after they happen.
Even something announced this year when I chat with people, I just say, "Oh, yeah, the last one. What do you think of this announcement?" I'm like, "It's pretty interesting," or, "It's totally crazy and I'm not sure why you would spend money on building that but you're also Amazon so you can just build whatever you want."
Corey: Exactly. It's an interesting, sort of weird dynamic where, because it doesn't really know what it wants to be yet, it ends up being a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and that's fantastic. I do have one more item that I would change if it were up to me. Midnight Madness is the first event. It kicks off on Sunday night at 10:00 and then they do the first launch at midnight, and they usually have a celebrity DJ, or a standup comedian, or something like that headline that event.
Those have been hit or miss over the years. I want to headline Midnight Madness at re:Invent because, if you think about it, there is nowhere else on the planet that I can go and do cloud standup comedy. It just doesn't work. You can't go to the Laugh Factory and do a bit on the Amazon followership principles or talk about how, "It's a two-pizza team. That means you can't be on the team unless you can eat two entire pizzas yourself in a single sitting." Those jokes don't work in the general population. The only place that they work is at a conference like re:Invent where everyone is at least borderline familiar with what's going on.
If I start screaming in public that AMI has there syllables and it's not pronounced "ah-mi", they're going to have the police do a welfare check on me because I sound deranged. In a cloud context, it makes sense. I don't know who I have to talk to, to make that happen, but I'd love to see that. If you talk about bucket-list items, that's one of mine.
Pete: I think we need to start one of those, online little voting things of which I can't remember the word for right now, to try to convince anybody about that.
Corey: A petition?
Pete: That's what they're called, right? Petitions. Interesting. Yeah, absolutely. I think we should do something like that. The one thing that I'd be very curious, though, is let's say this dream of yours happens–and I'm all for it. I think this would be hilarious. I would actually go to Midnight Madness if that were the case because I've gone in previous years and find myself underwhelmed continually. I would be curious. Would you have to write up all the jokes in advance for Amazon legal to review? My guess is yeah. Then, I almost actually would rather be in the room as you are sitting there with an Amazon legal representative, I think, as they are reviewing these jokes. I think actually that is the performance piece I want to see more than anything else.
Corey: Funny you say that. First, I don't know what that would look like. I would absolutely be amenable to doing it. I already send a lot of what I write through a legal review process. My wife is a corporate attorney, and I'd run things by her to ask about my risk exposure, about whether something is going to land correctly, about whether I'm inadvertently punching down in ways I don't see. There's more care and diligence that goes into most of my jokes than I think people realize.
Just because I know vaguely where the lines are, but every time it gets a little close, I want someone to weigh in on it just to get another perspective, and it turns out attorneys are great at that. I'm well-accustomed to the legal review process, but it's always interesting watching other lawyers look through what I do and just have a boat-load of questions that a normal human being might have. You write a newsletter that makes fun of them, and you're here to, what? Help me defend you when they sue you? They like it? What?
It becomes a very surreal conversation as we go through that process. It's fun. Credit where due, I do feel the need to say here that I have never had anything but pleasant interactions with AWS. I've never received a communication from one of their attorneys with the exception of a couple of friends of mine who are in their legal group who have reached out with various comments about things I'm working on with a, "I like that," or, "That was funny. Thanks."
They've never sent me a cease-and-desist. They've never asked me to write a retraction for something I've published. I think that Amazon, in some ways, has an unfair reputation. They're very brand-sensitive as far as potential reputational risk goes, but they've also been extremely human when I've worked with them. I've had a guest from AWS on this podcast before. I hope to have more in the New Year. That's always difficult and challenging, but it's never been on a basis of, "Well, we don't know. Corey might say something unfortunate and then we're screwed."
They've been a pleasure and a joy to work with. The challenge, of course, is that, like so many other people at Amazon, they're busy, and it turns out that if you're trying to deal with different groups and different podcasts, my ridiculous nonsense generally takes a priority slot somewhere behind The New York Times so it tends to wind up being handled that way. I don't fault them for that at all. I just want to call out that they are extremely pleasant to deal with in the interactions I've had with them. I've never sat down with someone from Amazon and not come away impressed by them at the end of our conversation.
Pete: That's awesome to hear. You always wonder, a big company and the scope and the power they have, so it's definitely good to hear from that perspective.
Corey: Absolutely. Last question for you, and then we'll probably call it a show: If listeners are debating going to re:Invent in 2019 or re:Inforce, their security conference in Boston that, I think, runs in June, what tips or tricks would you have for them for next year?
Pete: If you're coming to Boston, you should absolutely let me know because I would love to hang out and whatever, grab a coffee, a beer or whatever, because I always like meeting new people that come and visit Boston because I feel like no one ever comes to Boston. As for re:Invent next year, if you do go, plan appropriately. Think about what you want to get out of re:Invent before you go out there, but the best tips I can give you are to, if you're going to go, try to register as early as you can because you want your hotel room to bas close as possible to limit the amount of walking you'll do, whether that's in the Venetian, the Palazzo or even across a street in the Mirage is not too terrible.
Outside of there, it's a lot of walking. I think was averaging 25,000 steps per day out there so it was painful. On that one, obviously, leave your dress shoes at home. No one's going to judge you for wearing sneakers because they're going to be wearing sneakers unless they're totally crazy and they want to just cause damage to their entire lower body. Also, I would say, if you have a decent amount of Amazon usage, you should try to reach out to Amazon folks and schedule meetings with either product owners on specific products that you're using or product managers, at that, because, honestly, they–in my experience at least, they like to get feedback of people that are using it.
Amazon is extremely good about building solutions to customer problems, and they don't know what your problems are unless you tell them. Reach out to your product manager or reach out and say, "Hey, we're going to be there. We want to talk with someone from the Aurora team or someone on the Lambda team to share our concerns," because that's really the power of re:Invent, is being able to be in the same room as some of these folks and share your candid thoughts on how you use Amazon.
Corey: I think that's probably some of the best advice you can give. There's a bunch of logistic stuff, but there are 500 blog posts about that and I'm not interested in rehashing some of that. I think you're right. Have a plan for what you want to get out of it. One thing I've toyed with doing that I thought would be interesting is, as a service, writing trip reports for people customized to what it is they care about so that they can just take that and go.
I don't know if that would be entertaining, but there's always an interesting approach as far as how to think about what success at a conference looks like. The first time you go, expect all your expectations to be dashed. One thing that I try and encourage listeners to do is, if you're curious about any of this stuff, please reach out to me. I'm not hard to find. I'm on Twitter. The link to that is always at the bottom of the webpage, @QuinnyPig.
Feel free to email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, and I am thrilled to talk with you about career stuff, about conference attendance, about what to think about–if you're a company, how to evaluate the–is buying a sponsor booth worth it? Anything in that context, I am thrilled to opine on. It's not just something I do when I have guests on the show. I talk to people about a wide variety of different things and, again, people help me. I am thrilled to pay it forward, but also a caveat that I'm just one person. My opinions are simply that; it may not match to your use case or your constraints so take it with a grain of salt, but I'm thrilled to provide advice.
Pete: I echo that extremely. My Twitter DMs are open so I'm just @PeteCheslock on Twitter. My DMs are open and I'm always happy to answer questions about, really, anything. Find me on LinkedIn, send me a message, get connected. If you have a question about, really, whatever, like what my experience was as a sponsor, this was the first time that I–with a lot of help from some consulting and marketing folks, really kind of ran a company's visit/trip to re:Invent. There's a lot of learning that I did as part of that that I'm more than happy to share with other startups out there. If I can help out anyone, I am definitely more than happy to.
Corey: Absolutely. The few times I reach out to people and ask their advice or their help with something and they say no, I'm always taken aback by it. How do you live and not wind up irritating everyone you engage with? People who treat introductions as this diminishing reserve that they can only give out so many so they hoard them, I've never understood. Helping people means other people help you, and it really does generate some form of return effect. It's almost never from the people you help directly; it just turns into an entire way of launching a career. It's the only way I've ever found to build business success for myself, so I will–believe me, if you had any questions, please reach out. If I can help you, I will.
Pete: Yeah, exactly. I am the same way. I've seen that as well where people, like you said, they hoard in their intros of, "I can't intro you." I make intros to local people in the DC community when someone's like–a friend of mine who was doing a startup had revenue coming in. No VCs would follow up with them because they were these nobodies; no one knew who they were. Of course, I did that soft intro, which is how so many of those VCs operate, and a bunch of VCs respond back.
I'm always happy to open up my network and connect people because I've spent so long to meet people in the area and I still have so many more people I want to meet with. It takes a village. We don't get where we're at by ourselves, so being able to work with other people. Of course, on the recruiting side, I always like to say there's always the people that I meet with that I feel like I'm always recruiting, maybe not today. It may be 10 years from now but, at some point, the timing will work out perfectly and we'll be able to work together.
I even say that for you, Corey, in that, someday, the timing will align and it will create the mega-company of Snark, basically. I think it's probably what it will be. I don't know. We'll still work on that, but it could be tomorrow or it could be 10 years from now.
Corey: If we learned anything from Kubernetes, it's that name it after a Greek word, so sarcastically as it is.
Corey: Pete, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.
Pete: Thanks so much for having me back. Like I said, I feel very honored that you would, A, invite me back after the last one we did. I will only assume that this will be the last podcast for this one. You should definitely get back other, more smarter people than myself in the future.
Corey: You do yourself too little credit, Sir.
Pete: Thank you. I definitely appreciate it.
Corey: Pete Cheslock, VP of Product at CHAOSSEARCH. I'm Corey Quinn, and this is Screaming in the Cloud.