Archive for February, 2014
Friday, February 28th, 2014
A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here
Craig and Randy Rubin are married entrepreneurs who built a $50 million, 130-employee company that was acquired in January by Nanotex.
20 years ago they saw a giant, although relatively mundane, need that you probably remember complaining about (assuming you’re old enough).
It was almost impossible to have a decorative fabric that would stand up to the abuse of people coming to a restaurant and spilling on it. What was used was a vinylized fabric that would crack and peel.
Craig knew textiles and had an inventive streak, so he set out to solve the problem.
They patented their space-age material, called it Crypton (more on the name in a moment) — and their first customer was McDonald’s.
Randy Rubin summed up successful entrepreneurship this way,
“If you want to become an entrepreneur, make sure you have something that fills a need or solves a problem. Someone will always pay for something if it brings value.”
Perhaps the reason so many Internet businesses are dependent on ads for all or most of their revenue is because it requires real value to charge for your product.
Image credit: HikingArtist
Thursday, February 27th, 2014
I’ve worked with hundreds of bosses and entrepreneurs over the years and there are two concepts I do my best to indoctrinate them with.
The first is a basic principle without which you can’t lead.
- Leadership outside-the-box starts inside your head.
The second is a corollary and acts as a guide anytime change is necessary.
- To change what they do, change how you think.
The point is that every boss in every organization at every level will lead/manage based on the way they think, what they think, how they think, and what they believe.
In other words, they will be guided by their MAP.
So if a boss wants her people to think/act/do things differently, then the way to accomplish that is for the boss to change first.
Flickr image credit: svilen001
Wednesday, February 26th, 2014
Cut through all the noise about how fast the world is changing, how to stay competitive, constant learning, retraining, etc. and one message comes through loud and clear.
Whatever the entity or organization he/she/it needs to know how to transform in order to stay relevant.
Transformation is a must whether you’re a bookstore or an author who believes there’s a need for them.
A men’s retailer, a woman’s or the mannequin supplier dealing with human non-uniformity.
Or a record store.
Not just relevant, but happy.
A person growing or a person doing a 180 pivot.
Whether entity or organization transformation is accomplished by changing MAP (mindset, attitude philosophy™).
But transformation itself starts by choosing to do it.
Flickr image credit: DaveHuth
Tuesday, February 25th, 2014
Microsoft has done a lot of dumb things over the years and they haven’t stopped yet.
A recent ad campaign for Windows Azure implied it was “so easy, even an older woman can do it.”
This on top of an earlier tweet from @WindowsAzure.
“What do you do when your 68-year-old secretary needs Active Directory Multi-Factor Authentication? Ask Dear Azure.”
Social media wasn’t happy and Microsoft ended up apologizing for its “poor judgment.”***
However, Microsoft’s apology doesn’t cut much ice when viewed in light of the dynamics that drove/are driving the development of Windows 8.
According to a person who claims to be on the Windows 8 design team this is the thinking behind Metro.
It’s designed for your computer illiterate little sister, for grandpas who don’t know how to use that computer dofangle thingy, and for mom who just wants to look up apple pie recipes.
I have a low opinion of Win8 based on hearsay and the bad reviews I’ve read, but that’s beside the point.
Assuming what the programmer shared is even relatively accurate it shows that the ad was more business as usual than an error in judgment.
It reflects a corporate MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) grounded in the C suite and begs the question of whether it will continue in a world sans Ballmer and Gates.
***In fairness, Geek Feminism says this gaff is common.
No phrase expresses the meme of female technical ineptitude more neatly than “So simple, even your [grand]mother could do it.” This is a very commonly encountered form of condescension.
Flickr image credit: Metassus
Monday, February 24th, 2014
Did you know that the sixth point of Google’s 10-point corporate philosophy is “You can make money without doing evil?”
But ‘evil’ is a fluid term when it comes to making money.
And if Google is into anything it is into making money.
Take Google Plus. Google isn’t trying to displace Facebook and doesn’t even care if you use it.
That’s not really the point.
Google Plus may not be much of a competitor to Facebook as a social network, but it is central to Google’s future — a lens that allows the company to peer more broadly into people’s digital life, and to gather an ever-richer trove of the personal information that advertisers covet.
Plus is now so important to Google that the company requires people to sign up to use some Google services, like commenting on YouTube.
Some people have no problem being tracked and their personal information being shared to the enrichment of the sharing parties.
To millions of others, stalking in the name of better ad targeting smacks of evil.
Of course, when world domination is your long-term goal you need to keep those definitions fluid.
Friday, February 21st, 2014
A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here
Passion is good.
But passion unchecked yields freely to fanaticism.
Fanaticism paves the road to a closed mind.
Fanaticism in business leads directly to ‘not invented here’ syndrome.
Software giant SAP is known for its passion; not for its ability to play well with others, especially startups.
An attitude that is coming home to roost and motivating co-founder Hasso Plattner to change.
It was “jealousy,” he said, and a “not-invented-here” mentality. “We always worked with other companies, but when they did not do exactly what we wanted them to do, then we developed all kinds of animosities.”
Now, the growing popularity of HANA, SAP’s new database, along with realization that the world has changed is driving change at the software giant.
Along with the normal things large corporations do to connect with startup—venture arm, pitching forums, hacking contests—Plattner is opening a 24-hour café complete with food, coffee, alcohol and even stand-up comedy.
“You know University Drive … the main drag … in Palo Alto [Calif.]? We have acquired a nice location there and we will open the HANA Cafe by [our tech conference] Sapphire, so in three months.
“… We created it for these [startup] companies. They can come in. They can connect there. We’ll have all the electronic connections to 1,250 companies in the world. They want to have contact to Beijing, they can. … Startup companies can collaborate there. … This is what we want to support.”
SAP plans two more, in Berlin and Shanghai, all running 24 hours a day and fully connected.
New world. New product. New attitude.
The results won’t be in for months, but if stogy SAP does change it will be proof positive that any company can.
In the meantime you have a great, new place to work and hangout.
Image credit: HikingArtist
Thursday, February 20th, 2014
There is so much noise these days about how to build companies, especially in the technology industry. Each time building companies is mentioned, venture capital figures prominently, and it seems as if it is impossible to create great companies without VCs.
I live in the greater Silicon Valley and am an entrepreneur who has started several companies, some successful. I started my first company while living in Scandinavia, together with a friend from graduate school and a work-mate of his. After the introduction and decision to start the company, we very quickly got down to starting to architect the product – a phase that I had very little understanding of as I wasn’t particularly interested in computers at that time. As they were defining the features and building the architectural framework, I was largely left on my own and wondered what my role in creating the company was.
The two gentlemen in question were both technologist and computer programmers, and very bright. I, however, was more of a jack-of-all-trades who had studied several subjects, traveled widely and had too many interests. In short, I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up.
All of us had left our jobs and were focusing on our startup – working literally day and night. Or at least they were – I had no idea what I should be doing so I did a lot of coffee making and getting pizza.
Once we had an understanding of what the product would be and had programmed a VERY light prototype, we immediately tried to get projects where we could use the skeleton we had created to garner revenue. The reason for this was not because we understood the Lean Startup methodology, but simply that we were in an area where there was no venture capital available, and especially not for software startups that had no inventory or fixed assets.
It was very difficult to get our first couple of customers and we had to lean heavily on our relationships as they were purchasing something that didn’t exist. We made it, however, and managed to grow the business to around 200 employees before exiting.
The reason I’m telling you this story is because I now reside and work in an area that has hundreds of venture capital funds, angel investors and ecosystems devoted to entrepreneurial activity. Yet, I’m not sure that it’s a good environment for launching a company.
There is a consequence of having access to capital, and that is that there is less of a need to truly align oneself with what the customer actually needs until much later in the process. One can have a good idea, raise capital to execute on the idea and create a viable product without ever having to interact with a real customer willing to pay full price for the product. This leads to misalignment with customers, missed product-market fit and expensive pivots.
This means that a non-trivial amount of the allocated capital is wasted within the startup ecosystem. I’m not sure, but it may actually be good to start a company in a cash constrained environment – though the experience is actually so tough that it defies description.
Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
My readers, my clients and my friends are all pretty driven.
They are goal oriented high achievers; the kind who always see past their current project to the next and the next and the next…
They are fully wired, very social (on and off line) and heavily involved in numerous projects.
They rarely disconnect or step away and are deaf to the sound of silence.
But Sid Caesar, who made the world laugh half a century ago, has some great advice for them—and you.
“Everybody wants to have a goal: I gotta get to that goal, I gotta get to that goal, I gotta get to that goal. Then you get to that goal, and then you gotta get to another goal. But in-between goals is a thing called life that has to be lived and enjoyed — and if you don’t, you’re a fool.”
So don’t be a fool; go after your life with the same tenacity you go after your goals.
Flickr image credit: Jochen Frey
Tuesday, February 18th, 2014
When chatting over dinner the conversation often takes on a more philosophical turn; this happened recently in a discussion of good places to work.
One mid-level manager commented wistfully that while he understood that business was a game, he wished it could be a bit more gentlemanly—like chess.
While we understood what he meant, the example was a source of amusement.
Chess is the last game to use as an example of function over dysfunction.
The latest intrigue revolves around corruption allegations by the two candidates for the federation’s presidency, Garry Kasparov, the former champion and Russian opposition figure, and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the incumbent president and self-described space-alien abductee.
Such charges would normally hardly raise an eyebrow in the world of organized chess, which has been rife with rumors of corruption for decades.
This time there are smoking guns, although each side claims theirs is being misinterpreted.
As Lady Macduff said, “things are not always as they seem,” but, at times, we all attribute certain qualities or abilities based on assumptions.
We think of chess being a scholar’s game and scholars are usually gentlemen, therefore the world of chess must lack the typical nasty interactions of other human organizations.
An assumption that is obviously false—as most assumptions usually are.
Flickr image credit: M.J. Ambriola
Monday, February 17th, 2014
People who find stupid actions a source of amusement usually focus on celebrities, real or faux, and politicians.
Not me; I focus on the business world.
The first of two standouts this week is AOL, which decided to change the 401K matching plan to save money.
Moreover, CEO Tim Armstrong moved his foot from his mouth to deep in his throat by blaming the needed cost savings on Obamacare and supporting unusual cases like two women with complicated pregnancies.
When the employees screamed and the poop hit the media fan Armstrong and AOL swiftly backpedaled and reinstated the old policy.
A few years ago occasional contributor Matt Weeks wrote about the “startup social contract” and the repercussions when it’s broken.
If the workers and/or the exec team come to disrespect, disbelieve or ignore this social contract, the company is lost.
Although Matt wrote about the contract in terms of startups, it applies to enterprises of all sizes and ages.
While AOL’s actions were ill-advised, Goldman Sachs was just plain stupid, although they were encouraged by the sponsoring student group.
The conference, Women Engineers Code, or WECode, which was organized by an undergraduate student group at Harvard, featured stacks of cosmetic mirrors with the Goldman Sachs logo, a photograph posted to Instagram shows. The Instagram user also said that the bank brought nail files to the event.
One of the attendees wondered if the swag represented “sexyfeminism or gender stereotyping”
I can assure her it didn’t.
To quote a senior manager I’ve known for years, “given the choice between stupidity and malice aforethought the cause is almost always stupidity.”
Flickr image credit: The Columbian
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