Join Date: Aug 2006
Derek Brown: A Legacy of Creative Windows Mobile Marketing
A couple of months ago, a big change occurred in the world of Windows Mobile, although few outside Microsoft are aware of it. Derek Brown, Director of Marketing Communications for Microsoft’s Mobile Devices group, left to join the <a href="http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/sbs/default.mspx">Small Business Server</a> group as the Director of Product Management. Derek Brown has been a pivotal force in the world of Windows Mobile for years, and I didn’t want to let this change go unnoticed. <br /><br />To understand what a tremendous impact Derek had on the Pocket PC world, and upon me personally, you need to understand some history (and this is all off the top of my head, so grant me some artistic license here). I should also add that while this might read like a eulogy, it's not – Derek is still very much alive and doing well, just working for a different product group. ;-)<br /><!><br /><b><span>The Roots: Windows CE</b></span><br />Back in 1997, I became a Windows CE MVP due to my enthusiasm for the platform and willingness to answer questions in the public newsgroup. MVPs were given an official point of contact with a Microsoft technical support person in order to give them a route for getting their questions answered. Unfortunately, my contact was in desktop support (Windows 95), and couldn’t answer many questions about Windows CE. It made for a frustrating time, but I enjoyed helping others in the newsgroup, so I didn't mind.<br /><br />Things continued in that vein until 1999, when I heard from another Windows CE MVP (Chris de Herrera) that he had met someone from the Windows CE team at Microsoft while attending a trade show. This person from Microsoft was apparently quite interested in talking to the now five Windows CE MVPs. Someone from Microsoft, wanting to talk to us? 8O It was a shock to us all. That Microsoft employee was Derek Brown, and in that first conference call I had no idea what an impact that enthusiastic voice on the other end would have on my future.<br /><br /><b><span>Getting Connected</b></span><br />The monthly conference calls were a great source of both information and inspiration for us. Derek would tirelessly answer our questions, and if they got too technical, he’d always find out the answer we needed and get back to us. Derek encouraged our efforts to help others in the newsgroups, and listened to us rant about the things that needed improving. Derek knew that we dealt with Microsoft’s customers every day, and if we had to keep helping people with the same problem over and over, it was something that needed fixing.<br /><br />Derek had always been a big believer in the value of community – putting enthusiastic users together and letting them explore every nuance of a product. He launched an online resources called Uplink, and offered the Windows CE MVPs the opportunity to write reviews, columns, and step by step tutorials. The opportunity to write product reviews, work with professional editors, and actually get paid for it was incredible – it was the start of my professional writing career, and I owe it to Derek. It also represented, I believe, the first time a non-Microsoft employee was published on Microsoft.com. Derek has always been a pioneer of communities in the Microsoft space.<br /><br /><i>[Side note: I should point out that we were getting paid for the writing work we were doing, not for being MVPs. There's sometimes confusion about this when someone who is a Microsoft MVP is also doing a project for Microsoft and getting paid for it. Microsoft has never paid MVPs for doing what made them MVPs in the first place - helping others.]</i><br /><br />The monthly conference calls continued, and then Derek decided he wanted to connect us with the product managers who made the decisions that impacted our product use, and give us a sneak peek at something new that was coming out. In September of 1999, all five Windows CE MVPs came to Redmond for an MVP Summit: Craig Peacock, Frank McPherson, Todd Ogasawara, Chris de Herrera, and myself. We were invited to stay for a couple of extra days in order to have briefings with the product teams, which was an experience I'll never forget.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/originalmvps.jpg" alt="User submitted image" title="User submitted image"/><br /><i>The original Windows CE MVPs in Redmond, Washington, September 1999.</i><br /><br /><b><span>In the Land of Oz</b></span><br />I can't overstate how thrilling it was to be in building 117, talking to people that actually worked on the software we were so passionate about. It was at that conference we were shown the new Pocket PC user interface – we brought our <a href="http://images.amazon.com/images/P/B00000J0NG.01.LZZZZZZZ.gif">HP 420 Palm-Sized PCs</a> with us, and they took them away to flash the ROM with the new OS. I can fondly remember us having mixed feelings about it – it sure was faster than the Palm-size PC OS, but it was almost TOO simple. <br /><br />Why couldn't we have customized columns in contacts? Why didn't the "X" actually close the application? Why was there no way to switch from one running application to another? One by one, throughout two 12 hour days of meetings, we poked and prodded this new OS and the product managers who designed it. And through it all, Derek was right there with us, soaking up the feedback we had to offer. Despite our sometimes harsh criticisms of this new product, Derek's support for us never wavered.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/derekwaving.jpg" alt="User submitted image" title="User submitted image"/><br /><i>Derek Brown, enthusiastic as always.</i><br /><br />Derek has a story he's fond of telling around that first meeting. At the end of the second day of meetings, we were all weary, and somewhat frustrated because this new "Pocket PC" operating system had some problems, but it was too late for out input to make any difference – in the spring of 2000, new devices would be shipping. As we were leaving the main conference room, Harel Kodesh, Vice President of Consumer Appliances, happened to be in the hallway. Derek Brown enthusiastically introduced us to Harel, and Harel cheerily asked us what we thought of the new Pocket PC product his team had been working on. <br /><br />Derek paled slightly as five MVPs proceeded to tell this senior executive that none of us would use this new product, because it was inferior to the powerful Palm-sized PCs in so many ways. Still, Derek stepped back and let us talk to Harel, and Harel accepted our feedback as valuable - he even argued back! You have to see Microsoft's corporate culture in action to understand how much they value health criticism of their products. Derek believed that product feedback was vital to improvement, and that belief guided everything he did.<br /> <PAGEBREAK> <br /><b><span>Creativity in Marketing</b></span><br />The next few years saw many changes in PDA landscape, but Derek was always at the forefront of connecting and learning from users of his company's product. Derek was the pinnacle of a product evangelist – he used Pocket PCs daily, and often turned to his team of MVPs for help when things weren't working quite right. The accounts payable department can vouch for how high Derek's GPRS bill was - he was fanatical about going wireless at every opportunity, because he understood the coming paradigm shift with wireless. Derek always seemed to love his job, and he had fun with everything he did.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/doctorbrown.jpg" alt="User submitted image" title="User submitted image"/><br /><i>When the advertising agency needed someone for their Pocket PC photo shoot, several Microsoft employees were tapped for the roles, including Derek. He played the role of a medical doctor, ready to use a wireless Pocket PC to reduce paperwork and devote more time to his patients. He looks the part, doesn't he?</i><br /><br />Derek is one of the most creative people I know, and he was always coming up with new ways of engaging the community of users, whether it was Pocket PC Fanfests, a stretch Hummer skinned with the Pocket PC branding, or launching PocketPC.com and making it a driving force in the Pocket PC community for nearly two years. And let's not forget Derek's idea to hire a truck that transforms into a mobile presentation theater, then go to eleven cities across the USA in twelve weeks, showing people what Pocket PCs and the then-nascent Smartphones could do. The man was tireless!<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/beamfest.jpg" alt="User submitted image" title="User submitted image"/><br /><i>One of the events at an early Pocket PC Fanfest – it was a infrared beaming scavenger hunt where Pocket PC users collected things from each other.</i><br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/hummer.jpg" alt="User submitted image" title="User submitted image"/><br /><i>The massive stretch HumVee was sheathed in the Pocket PC colours and logos. Riding from a Las Vegas trade show in that thing was great! :-)</i><br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/mobiletruck.jpg" alt="User submitted image" title="User submitted image"/><br /><i>The Mobile Experience Tour truck was a modern-day Transformer – this truck went from a normal 18-wheeler to a full theater with 50" plasma monitors and capable of seating 60+ people, all within a few hours.</i><br /><br />Few people know this, but my work as a writer and managing editor for PocketPC.com gave me the financial freedom to dedicate a great deal of time to Pocket PC Thoughts in the first two years of its existence. So in a very tangible way, Derek is responsible for what Pocket PC Thoughts has become – as if I didn't owe the guy enough already! ;-)<br /><br /><b><span>An Eye To The Future</b></span><br />Derek also had an eye for talented, passionate people who could help him carry the torch – Beth Goza's enthusiasm built upon Derek's foundation of community, and she continued the work he started by engaging opinion leaders from around the world with the Mobius conference that continues to this day, led by Jason Gordon. As Derek rose in rank within Microsoft, he always remained approachable and willing to listen to Pocket PC users, even going where angels fear to treat: online forums. I'm sure many of you remember reading messages from Derek at various Web sites and newsgroups. Derek never shied away from engaging with Pocket PC users, even when they were angrily frothing at the mouth over hot issues like the close button, price level, or eBook DRM (just ask our own Ed Hansberry how he first met Derek).<br /><br />Derek was always focused on one thing: growing the platform, making it succeed. I remember contacting him and asking him to send a developer the Pocket PC SDK, because this developer was very interested in developing applications for the Pocket PC, but didn't have access to a credit card in order to pay the $15 shipping charge. Within a few days, that developer had the SDK, and <a href="http://www.cebeans.com/">let's just say he's been quite productive ever since.</a> :lol: Derek didn't have to care about things like that, but he did, and I believe that the success Windows Mobile has achieved today was heavily contributed to by Derek Brown.<br /><br /><b><span>A Mentor, A Teacher, A Friend</b></span><br />Throughout the past several years, Derek has been many things to me: a mentor, friend, employer, and teacher. I learned much from Derek, both in my successes and failures at the tasks he gave me. Perhaps the most important lesson of all is the tremendous value of online communities of like-minded individuals. That lesson forms the core mission of <a href="http://www.thoughtsmedia.com">Thoughts Media Inc.</a>, and serves as the basis for the career that I have today. <br /><br />Although Derek has moved to a different product group, I have no doubt that the Small Business Server world will be as transformed by Derek's enthusiasm, creativity, and sheer energy as the Pocket PC world has been. Derek, your contributions to the world of Mobile Devices will be missed, but not forgotten. I wish you the very best in your new career field! :way to go:<br /><br />Now I’d like to turn it over to you, our readers: what are your memories of Derek’s involvement in the Pocket PC and Smartphone world? Did you meet him at an event, or see him give a presentation? Do you have a favourite story about Derek and his work in the mobile devices world? Let's hear them!