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Archive for April, 2012

Entrepreneurs: Alexey Semeney’s AtContent

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

As many of you know, Nick Mikhailovsky, my long-term Russian business partner, is a successful entrepreneur and active in the Russian startup community. He introduced me to his circle and working with these Russian entrepreneurs is an ongoing pleasure.

I worked with Alex and besides loving the idea of AtContent I found his story of how to get hired as an expert team when you have neither expertise nor a team creative and hilarious.

These days Alex lives in San Jose; here’s the story in his own words…

One day Alex and Nikita agreed to create one of the largest and powerful information companies in the world!

To achieve this goal they understood they had to solve a huge problem. They looked at the traditional publishing industry – publishing houses, existing Internet services, newspaper websites, etc., and current solutions of legal distribution.

They understood the publishing and content distribution market had problems with tracking content copies, copyright and legal distribution.

They decided to create a new technology service which would revolutionize publishing and content distribution.

At that moment, neither Nikita nor Alex had a job (they retired), no team, only $1500 in their pockets, fantastic idea and a coffeehouse between their homes where they met every day and ordered glasses of water.

They understood they should start with something and decided to become a partner of AnyChart (the company has a developer’s office in Irkutsk) by creating a Microsoft Silverlight based visual stock component for them.

Nikita called them and said, “Hey guys, we can do it for you because we have a great team with Silverlight experience which you don’t have.”

The AnyChart guys answered, “Deal! But please show us your team!”

The problem was that Alex and Nikita had no team and nobody in Irkutsk knew Silverlight platform…

But they found the solution; they decided to call all the programmers they knew and ask them to play the roles of members of this great Silverlight team!

After two day of phone calls Nikita and Alex found not only actors but really good programmers who wanted to learn Silverlight and work with them to build a great company!

So, during that one week of October Alex and Nikita got the contract with AnyChart, built a first team with Dmitriy and Aleksey (they still work with Alex and Nikita) and started to build future IFFace and AtContent.


Be the Thursday feature – Entrepreneurs: [your company name]
Share the story of your startup today.
Send it along with your contact information and I’ll be in touch.
Questions? Email or call me at 360.335.8054 Pacific time.

Flickr image credit: AtContent

Miki’s Rules to Live by: Jargon Incites Violence

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Salvor Harding, a character in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, states a great truth when he says, “Violence is the last refuge of incompetence.

I plagiarized that line and applied it to the business world, especially networking events and came up with this…

Jargon is the next-to-last refuge of incompetence.


But I have to say, people who break my rule sometimes leave me feeling incompetent enough to resort to violence to shut them up.


Flickr image credit: Gavin Llewellyn

Ducks in a Row: Culture I/O

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Culture is today’s focus; it is considered the reason that companies succeed or fail and whether innovation will flourish or wither.

Culture is researched, dissected, written about and discussed; is culture a set of specific rules or a moving target, amorphous and difficult to pin down?

Perhaps it’s more like a computer, with core hardware and constantly changing software.

In computing, the term I/O refers to input, whatever is received by the system, and output, that which results when the input if processed.

Programmers know that if the input if bad what comes out of the computer won’t be any better, a phenomenon known as “garbage in/garbage out.”

GI/GO applies to culture and, for that matter, everything else in life.

29171423_7be4bac0d3_mWhat comes out is a function of what you put in.

Blindly accepting everything offered by even the most brilliant source will result in garbage out at some point.

Creating and sustaining good culture requires more than studying what’s worked elsewhere and best practice benchmarks; it requires critical thinking on your part.

No one person, past, present or future, has all the answers. No company has tried every possible combination of every approach conceivable.

Plus, they are not you, while your culture is you.

That means being your own computer—gathering input from all available sources, applying it to your situation, processing it—absorbing, reworking and rejecting.

The result will be at least slightly different from what you started with, because you’ve added the flavor of your own life experiences, knowledge and MAP to the mix—and that’s good, it shouldn’t be an exact copy.

Flickr image credit: John D

More than Money

Monday, April 16th, 2012

3236677121_fc8711b629_mI’ve often cited Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers regarding right time/right place luck—often an accident of birth. For example Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Jobs, Bill Joy and Scott McNealy were all born between 1953 and 1955

Another example of right time/right place is found in Harvard’s MBA class of 1974 as chronicled by Laurence Shames in The Big Time: The Harvard Business School’s Most Successful Class & How It Shaped America, originally published in 1986 and being republished now.

1974 was probably the most successful single group of MBAs ever graduated from any school; further, this class actually did stuff and built things, as opposed to shuffling money around.

But they also worked their tails off. They didn’t expect anything to be handed to them. They always asked for more work, not less. They were a very competitive, driven group. But, again, not only for their own monetary gains. They wanted to excel. They wanted to be leaders.

When the ’49ers graduated, I think there were 653 graduates. Only six guys went to Wall Street –less than one percent of the class. It just wasn’t considered where the action was or considered a place where you could make a meaningful difference.

Learning about that class makes you wonder what happened. Where did the drive for more than money go?

What happened between 1974 and 2008 that so changed the attitude of our best and brightest? Why did money gain primacy as the only thing that matters?

The funny thing is that if you ask the folks who actually are changing our world, such as Larry Page, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg or Kevin Systrom, they’ll all say the same thing—they didn’t do it for the money.

Flickr image credit: Patricia Drury

Quotable Quotes: Taxes

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

6869765923_307afdd67c_mApril 15; day of dread—or not, depending on whether you’re due a refund or not. And believe it or not, I even managed to avoid blah blah tax quotes from politicians. Are you impressed?

Taxes go way back as does the difference between who pays; as Plato said, “Where there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income.”

Ben Franklin’s words are probably the most famous and repeated tax commentary ever said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Arthur Godfrey summed up most of our feelings when he said, “I am proud to be paying taxes in the United States. The only thing is—I could be just as proud for half the money.”

According to common wisdom, “People who complain about taxes can be divided into two classes: men and women.”

John Maynard Keynes seems to have a philosophical view of tax cheats, “The avoidance of taxes is the only intellectual pursuit that still carries any reward.”

Whereas Jean Baptiste Colbert perfectly defines the politics of taxation, “The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of squawking.”

Russell B. Long was a U.S. Senator and offers the only perfect, non-partisan description of the loopholes that riddle the US tax code, “A tax loophole is “something that benefits the other guy. If it benefits you, it is tax reform.”

Finally, Leona Helmsley’s comment perfectly describes many of the 1%, as well as the Dirty Thirty, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”

Image credit: 401K

Expand Your Mind: Who Pays Taxes?

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

Tomorrow is T day (if you aren’t prepared I hope you have filed your extension), so it seemed like a good time to look at who pays what.

No new books meant President Obama’s income is down nearly a million, but he still paid 20%.

President Obama and his wife, Michelle, reported adjusted gross income of $789,674 in 2011 and paid just over 20 percent of it to the federal government in taxes.

Whereas Mitt Romney is paying 6% less tax on approximately 27 times more income.

He paid 13.9 percent in taxes on income of $21.7 million for 2010 and about the same rate for the not fully completed 2011 returns.

The current tax code is 5,296 pages long vs. 27 when it was written. The majority of the additional 5,969 pages are descriptions and explanations of how to legally cheat on your taxes.

If economists ran the tax system, there would be virtually no exemptions or loopholes. Instead, businesses, rich people, Congressmen and attorneys spend a shockingly large amount of time lobbying for tax breaks or exploiting the ones that exist.

For those who are seriously wealthy, like Ronald S. Lauder, an Estée Lauder heir worth more than $3.1 billion, beating the tax man while indulging your passions is an ongoing effort.

As is often the case with his activities, just beneath the surface was a shrewd use of the United States tax code.

Just in case you are wondering, here’s some intel on what catches the eye of those who pay in the 15% tax bracket.

Neiman Marcus sold out of pewter-color Ferraris (luggage set matching the interior included) at $395,000 each within 50 minutes of making 10 of them available through its “fantasy” holiday catalog late last month.

But in the great scheme of US taxation, Romney’s 14% is still significantly higher than many of our large corporations pay, especially those in the so-called “Dirty Thirty.”

In January, the two organizations identified 30 corporations whose cumulative profit was $164 billion from 2008 to 2011. These corporations didn’t just avoid paying taxes — they actually collected $10.6 billion in tax rebates, according to the groups. They were dubbed the “Dirty Thirty.”

Flickr image credit: pedroelcarvalho

If the Shoe Fits: Startup Passion vs. Specific Passion

Friday, April 13th, 2012

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWho do you want to hire?

The person who passionately wants to work for a startup or the person who passionately wants to work for your startup?

Think about it.

Who will contribute more?

  • The person who always wanted to work in a startup; whose passion is engaged by the mere thought of working in the startup environment; or
  • the person who craves the solution your startup proposes even if she never recognized the problem; whose passion is engaged specifically by the idea of contributing to that particular solution no matter where it is done.

Some experts will tell you that it is the drive to work in a startup—any startup—that is most important.

I disagree.

Just as the person who joins a company for money will leave for more money the person who joins because it’s a startup will leave for a sexier startup.

But the person who joins because of a deep, driving passion to be part of that specific solution will stay and fight the good fight long past the time that Hell freezes over.

Option Sanity™ engages the deeply driven.

Come visit Option Sanity for an easy-to-understand, simple-to-implement stock allocation system.  It’s so easy a CEO can do it.

Do not attempt to use Option Sanity™ without a strong commitment to business planning, financial controls, honesty, ethics, and “doing the right thing.”
Use only as directed.
Users of Option Sanity may experience sudden increases in team cohesion and worker satisfaction. In cases where team productivity, retention and company success is greater than typical, expect media interest and invitations as keynote speaker.

Flickr image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: It Takes a Village

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Branson says, “Do well by doing good.”

Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

The women of Water Valley, Mississippi have embraced both attitudes.

But why limit your entrepreneurial energy to just a business when you can save a town at the same time?

What does it take to change the world or at least your little corner of it?

Desire and belief.

A passionate desire to push the change and a deep belief that you can make it happen.

What isn’t required is a no-holds-barred, do-anything-to-make-it-happen desire that rejects 1188949_almish_working_the_farminput from others and stomps on their ideas.

Because no matter how brilliant you are; no matter how amazing your vision; no matter how deep your belief and passionate your desire…

You can’t do it alone.


Be the Thursday feature – Entrepreneurs: [your company name]
Share the story of your startup!
Send it along with your contact information.
I’ll be in touch.
Questions? Email or call me at 360.335.8054 Pacific time.

Sxc.hu image credit: merlin1075


Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

3203922211_0d55195a4f_mI know this sounds like a joke, but it really happened.

The comments below were part of a larger discussion regarding role, responsibilities and expectations.

The discussion was at the request of a boss as a final effort to turn a new hire around before the end of his probationary period.

It takes a lot to get to me, but 40 minutes into the conversation the words I uttered were pure sarcasm.

I said, “The world does not revolve around you.”

His response was real, honest and sincere.

After ten seconds of silence he said, “Oh.”

I said, “You as you are special to your parents, your love and some friends. Beyond that you must earn special status through your actions with each individual you meet and in every new situation throughout your life.”

This time the silence lasted closer to 20 seconds.

And then he again said, “Oh.”

Flickr image credit: Michelle Tribe

Ducks in a Row: Rudeness

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

440623582_77c0d5a0d3_mI have little tolerance for what I perceive as rudeness.

However, a jam-packed, always-on, socially-enabled lifestyle combined to varying degrees with a me-centric view of the world appears to be driving a rising tide of rudeness in people of all ages.

Is there anything else going on beyond the obvious?

Perhaps part of what comes across as rudeness is merely misunderstanding.

Perhaps the difference between such actions as “acknowledgment” and “feedback,” which is a different animal altogether, have blurred to the point of merger—for the record, feedback requires thought, while acknowledgement doesn’t.

Ask anybody in resume limbo how much they would appreciate some form of acknowledgement that their resume had been received.

There was a time when companies sent form letters acknowledging receipt, as well as thanks/no thanks rejections on hard copy and actually paid postage to do it.

These days they can’t even bother with programming an auto-response that costs them nothing, but gains good will.

Many (most?) individuals are even worse; screening their responses to calls and email through a what’s-in-it-for-me filter or are so busy checking Facebook and playing Angry Birds that they don’t have time for the niceties.

Yet, as with most things, the rudeness is not one-sided.

Resumes sent and contacts initiated based on the premise that if you throw enough something will stick also deserve the rudeness label.

Then, of course, there is always the possibility that my definition is archaic and what I see as rude has become acceptable.

Flickr image credit: Ronald Saunders

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