I flew approximately 185,000 miles between January and October 2006. That included 5 trips to Europe, 4 trips to Asia, 2 to Canada, and a few hauls back and forth across the States. The purposes of my trips varied, but were all centered around a few recurring themes: go train the CSRs for a new international support center; go speak at an international launch; or go participate in a tradeshow or press/media event.
Launching the Slingbox in Canada was exciting for me personally, as I am from Montreal. For the first time in my life, a product I built was being brought to my home country, and I could tangibly show my family what the heck I do for a living. My parents, inlaws, and other relatives all followed the well-publicized Canadian launch which took place in Toronto. While I enjoyed presenting to the attendees at the event, again my highlight memory was walking into a FutureShop (a Best Buy competitor in Canada. it is owned by… Best Buy) with my Dad and seeing the Slingbox on store shelves. Despite the employee insisting that the product didn’t actually exist, that is…
The UK launch of the PAL Slingbox involved two different trips, the first was to Amsterdam to train the customer service and support department. It was a good trip, especially considering
the location the knowledgeable CSRs there, as it turned out the team had previously supported either media products, networking products, or both. This makes a huge difference; believe it or not there are both good and bad ways to handle even the simplest situations, such as verifying cables are plugged in correctly. The things that seem the most obvious in life typically are anything but that.
The other trip was the actual media launch. The highlight of this story has nothing (well, little) to do with Sling whatsoever, so diehards may want to skip ahead. We were setting up the demos in the bar/club we were using for the event, and they had a few Sky+HD boxes with plasma displays hooked up. Their AV guy informed me they were one of the first HDTV deployments in the UK (HDTV only really launched there weeks after we left) and was showing off the picture quality to me. When I told him it seemed “off” he looked like I had kicked his dog. I asked if he was using HDMI, he said he was. I grabbed the remotes, went through all the settings. All seemed fine. I turned it all off and on again, still crappy looking picture (which, as you recall, they all thought looked great). Finally I went to check the connections myself and found that while he was using HDMI, he had also left a coaxial connector in place, and that was the active input! When I switched inputs to the HDMI, I think he was ready to lick the screen. As I handed back the remote I said “now THAT’s high definition TV.” Looks like a lot of people need some help with HD…
Another good time in Europe was 4 days in Barcelona with Gregg Wilkes, Sling’s outstanding VP of Sales (I think he might know every single CE retailer internationally!), for the RetailVision tradeshow. RV is a “real” industry event in that the only attendees are those who are absolutely part of the CE-retail food chain. Manufacturers, vendors, distributors, etailers, retailers, and channel support people. That’s it. Virtually no press, no consumers. Since the first time Sling Media showed up at a RetailVision the company won an award there, all the way up until the previous year’s RetailVision Europe when, due to too many overlapping events, nobody from the Sales or Marketing departments could attend, though two quite capable senior execs went in their stead. They came home empty handed. Gregg and I talked quite the smack-talk about it, so we had a lot riding on our demonstrations that session. Let me say this: I’d never, ever want to play poker against European retailers. No expressions, no reactions, no smiles, no guffaws. Even as they named us as a nominee, we had absolutely no insight as to whether or not we’d won until the end. When we did. Huzzah. Unfortunately I missed my flight home the next morning and spent about 18 hours in airports. But at least it was spent trophy in hand.
Over the course of the year I also did two 2-day trips to Taiwan, a few days in Japan, less than 48 hours in Sweden (plus the 41 hours of travel), and 2.5 days in Hong Kong. To some people this sounds amazing; to others dreadful. Japan was great, because for one, I love Japan (especially here and here), and also I was able to carve the trip out around a weekend and my wife joined me there (where she learned about the most important things: Shabu Shabu and Ippudo Ramen).
I did get to go to many interesting places last year, but would love a bit more time to actually see them. So it was both amazing and dreadful. I certainly don’t miss the 16-hours flying to Sweden followed by 3.5 hours in a train for less than 2 days’ worth of meetings only to turn around and do it all over again. But I did meet some great people in all these cities and countries, and will keep a lot of those relationships alive for years to come. Plus the miles don’t hurt.