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Archive for March, 2014

UNICEF, Cell Phones and Clean Water

Monday, March 31st, 2014


Generally, people have at least a vague awareness that much of the world suffers from a lack of clean water.

Ask them and they will say that it is a problem that needs solving, but…

There are many ‘buts’, too busy, lack of time, already committed to other causes, don’t know what to do/how to help, etc.

Here is the question.

If you could help solve this problem by doing nothing would you?

Great, because now you can.

Donating requires only one action from you and that is to download an app to your cell phone.

The organization [UNICEF] has created an app that, when downloaded, measures how long users forgo using their phones. And for every 10 minutes you abstain, you’ll provide water to a child in need for one day.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t take much money to make a big difference.

Just $5 can provide clean water to someone for 200 days.

And if you don’t carry a cell (like me), you can donate using a credit card or PayPal.

Just think how much good you can do by forgoing your Starbuck’s fix for a few days.
Image credit: UNICEF

If the Shoe Fits: Do You Respect or Disrespect the Startup Social Contract?

Friday, March 28th, 2014

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


A couple of years ago serial entrepreneur Matt Weeks wrote about the Startup Social Contract founders have with their people, with a focus on stock options.

Having worked with startups since the early Eighties I’m intimately aware of how fragile this contract has become and how often it has been totally disregarded in the last decade.

The result should come as no surprise.

Any time a group of workers feel they are being taken advantage of someone will always step up, marshal resources and organize them, especially when the workers are highly educated.

That’s why founders have only themselves to blame for the uprising among the people they need the most.

Employees at startups are being taken advantage of, said Chris Zaharias, who was joined by rally partner and stock option counsel Mary Russell. Founders and venture capitalists make the negotiations around equity (or how much of the company employees own) intentionally confusing.

Equity fairness and transparency is the reason we developed Option Sanity.

While I don’t agree with all the content in the “Startup Employee Equity Bill of Rights,” it certainly reflects how badly the Startup Social Contract is being abused, if not totally disregarded.

And, as Matt says, “If the workers and/or the exec team come to disrespect, disbelieve or ignore this social contract, the company is lost.”

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: the Shallowness of Youth and the Myth of Age

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

http://www.flickr.com/photos/deryckh/2884858619/On one hand you have Jim Goetz, partner at Sequoia Capital, lamenting the lack of enterprise startups and on the other you have Sequoia’s Michael Moritz, “an incredibly enthusiastic fan of very talented twentysomethings starting companies. They have great passion. They don’t have distractions like families and children and other things that get in the way.”

Other things such as experience.

The shallowness of so many of today’s startups makes a great deal of sense if you remember the advice given to every aspiring writer, i.e., write about the things you know; write from your own life and experiences.

Investors give entrepreneurs similar advice, which is probably why you have an abundance of hook-up apps, gossip apps, games and social time-wasters.

And then there is the question of what purpose our economic growth actually serves. The most common advice V.C.s give entrepreneurs is to solve a problem they encounter in their daily lives. Unfortunately, the problems the average 22-year-old male programmer has experienced are all about being an affluent single guy in Northern California.

Monday we looked at the economic dangers from Silicon Valley’s generational gap highlighting the incredible waste of talent engendered.

But the real stupidity in the rush to fund the young is that their success is a myth and not backed up by any kind of hard data.

A 2005 paper by Benjamin Jones of the National Bureau of Economic Research studied Nobel Prize winners in physics, chemistry, medicine, and economics over the past 100 years, as well as the inventors of revolutionary technologies. Jones found that people in their thirties contributed about 40 percent of the innovations, and those in their forties about 30 percent. People over 50 were responsible for 14 percent, the same share as the twentysomethings. Those under the age of 19 were responsible for exactly nothing. One study found that even over the last ten years—the golden age of the prepubescent coder, the youth-obsessed V.C., and the consumer Internet app—the average age of a founder who could claim paternity for a billion-dollar company was a rickety 34.

Everybody in tech focuses on the importance of “data driven” decisions—until the data doesn’t support the decision they want to make.

That’s when they start talking about the importance of “gut instinct” and “unconscious pattern recognition.”

Data only matters when it supports prevailing prejudice.

Flickr image credit: Deryck Hodge

How to Handle Disrespect with Class and Confidence

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014


I am frequently asked how to deal with arrogance, disrespect and other antisocial behavior.

Often, the people asking are looking for approaches that echo the classy insults post from 2009.

KG Charles-Harris recently provided a brilliant example of how to handle such comments, with class and amiable good will—although the recipient might not agree.

While I doubt that the following actually happened, that doesn’t change the intelligence and elegance behind the responses.

When Gandhi was studying law at the University College of London, there was a professor, whose last name was Peters, who felt animosity for Gandhi, and because Gandhi never lowered his head towards him, their “arguments” were very common.

One day, Mr. Peters was having lunch at the dining room of the University and Gandhi came along with his tray and sat next to the professor. The professor, in his arrogance, said, “Mr Gandhi: you do not understand… a pig and a bird do not sit together to eat,” to which Gandhi replies, “You do not worry professor, I’ll fly away ,” and he went and sat at another table.

Mr. Peters, green of rage, decides to take revenge on the next test, but Gandhi responds brilliantly to all questions. Then, Mr. Peters asked him the following question: “Mr Gandhi, if you are walking down the street and find a package, and within it there is a bag of wisdom and another bag with a lot of money; which one will you take?”

Without hesitating, Gandhi responded, “The one with the money, of course.”

Mr. Peters, smiling, said, “I, in your place, would have taken the wisdom, don’t you think?”

“Each one takes what one doesn’t have,” responded Gandhi indifferently.

Mr. Peters, already hysteric, writes on the exam sheet the word “idiot” and gives it to Gandhi. Gandhi takes the exam sheet and sits down.

A few minutes later, Gandhi goes to the professor and says, “Mr. Peters, you signed the sheet, but you did not give me the grade.”

The ‘trick’ is responding to the actual content, rather than the intent, and turning the put-downs back on the speaker.

A good lesson for us all.

Flickr image credit: Okinawa Soba

Ducks in a Row: It’s About Culture, Stupid

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014


Lou Gerstner (IBM) says it best, “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game.”

Dick Clark (Merk), Rex Tillerson (ExxonMobil), Robert Iger (Disney) and Steve Jobs (Pixar) all agree, as do a host of other bosses.

There’s no getting around it—everything comes down to culture.

The millions of dollars spent developing strategy provide no value unless the strategy is implemented.

“I wouldn’t say that their strategies are useless, but if they added a separate ‘people’ process on the strategy process they would be a lot more effective.” That process is execution, which many consultants and academics have largely ignored because it is seen as merely tedious detail.

Culture embodies more than a company’s values; it embodies the company’s ability to execute.

Too many bosses treat building culture also as tedious detail—exciting to visualize and discuss, but procrastinating the hard work required to create and sustain it.

Bosses who ignore the tedious details jeopardize their careers and put their companies at risk.

Flickr image credit: Max Klingensmith

A Dangerous Generational Split

Monday, March 24th, 2014


Generational splits are nothing new; throughout time those under X have clashed with those over X.

While the typical under/over split is alive and well, there is a new dimension in the world of technology and it’s clearly on view in Silicon Valley.

In pursuing the latest and the coolest, young engineers ignore opportunities in less-sexy areas of tech like semiconductors, data storage and networking, the products that form the foundation on which all of Web 2.0 rests.

This is far more serious than differences in fashion and music; this split has serious implications for the economic future of our country. (Read the article; it’s important)

Building the latest, greatest app might make the creator rich, but even a few Google’s and Facebook’s aren’t going to do much to rebuild the middle class.

Doing that takes thousands of jobs at a multitude of skills and levels

The kind of jobs created by breakthrough technologies that create entire new industries as did semiconductors.

But that kind of innovation requires focus and time—not just a few months to a fast cash out and bragging rights.

So what’s the answer?

Somehow we need to find a way to make that kind of work cool.

Flickr image credit: opensourceway

If the Shoe Fits: Security? Who Needs It?

Friday, March 21st, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mLaunching an app is all about speed, often because there is so little difference they need to grab users before similar app gains traction.

So, like the construction company that cuts corners and in doing so delivers an unsafe structure, consumer apps are often launched with little regard to security.

“There’s so much focus on acquiring customers and delivering products and services that security is not top of mind.” –Tripp Jones, a partner at August Capital, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

This isn’t an insider’s secret, but one that is well known to both the industry and those who prey on it.

The result is that as an app’s popularity skyrockets, so does its appeal as a hacking target.

Tinder, the popular dating app, last month acknowledged flaws in its software that would let hackers pinpoint the exact locations of people using the service. Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site, also said last month that hackers had gained access to customer data, including passwords and phone numbers.

Combined with previous hacks, the Target breach in December may have been the final straw for millions of people who are turning back to cash.

“…debit/credit card and personal data has also been reported stolen from Michael’s, Neiman-Marcus, Sally Beauty Supply and kickstarter.com. Plus, there’s the mother of all “oopses:” An Experian -owned database holding a stunning 200 million consumer records was cracked by a Vietnamese identity theft ring, it was revealed earlier this month.”

If people turning to a preference for cash transactions really is the start of a trend as opposed to a short-term fear reaction startups are especially vulnerable.

Even younger users, who seem to care little about privacy, will react negatively if (when) they are subject to identity theft.

More and more people are coming to understand that “secure site” is more oxymoron than fact.

Data security is much like the real-world infrastructure that politicians rarely fund, because the return in votes is too low.

Much like the bridge that needs to fail before people support the money required to upgrade it, sites need to be hacked before management is willing to focus on security.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Is First-Mover Status a Winner?

Thursday, March 20th, 2014


What do Google, Facebook, Amazon and iPods have in common?

None can claim first-mover status, yet all are recognized winners.

First-mover position isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

In fact, it takes a very special mindset beyond what’s mentioned in the article if you are truly in first position.

Let me illustrate.

Way back in late 2009 I worked with an offshore client who had developed a location-based advertising  platform that provided ads, bought through a bidding system, targeted to users’ exact location, context and behavior in applications on mobile phones, portable navigation systems and internet sites.

They had fully developed software and filed for patents overseas and in the US.

Unfortunately, they were years ahead of the market and couldn’t get traction.

As a result of the frustration and the educational effort/cost needed to move the market they chose to pivot and move on to other ideas.

It was a logical choice at the time, although it doesn’t look like it in hind-sight.

First-mover status, especially in consumer tech, equals primary market educator—an effort that makes the actual product development feel like a piece of cake.

That ‘s why it is often second (or even third or fourth)-mover status where you find the big winners.

Flickr image credit: Tom Ray

All You Need to Know to Be a Great Boss

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014


Many in the business world turn to Sun Tzu’s Art of War for guidance in their business dealings and as a basis for their company’s culture.

However, I’ve always preferred the teachings of Lao Tzu to underpin culture, because they provide a more solid platform to attract, motivate and retain the best people for any organization.

My favorite quote describes the perfect mindset and behavior for any boss who wants to be known as a leader.

As for the best leaders,
the people do not notice their existence.

The next best,
the people honor and praise.

The next, the people fear;
and the next, the people hate—

When the best leader’s work is done,
the people say, “We did it ourselves!”

To lead the people, walk behind them.
                                             –Lao Tzu

In case you’re not sure how to put that into practice, Lao Tzu offers this advice.

Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Ducks in a Row: Once Again Old is New

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014


I find it amusing how frequently I read something that is presented as totally new when, in fact, it was done decade(s) previously.

In this case, it was the agreement not to poach each others engineers, supposedly masterminded by Steve Jobs.

Just how far Silicon Valley will go to remove such risks is at the heart of a class-action lawsuit that accuses industry executives of agreeing between 2005 and 2009 not to poach one another’s employees.

The last time I remember this happening was in the late Seventies/early Eighties by the HR organizations in a group of semiconductor firms, including National Semiconductor, AMD and Intel, among others I can’t remember.

The story was broken by a gossipy semiconductor-focused newsletter to which everyone in the Valley subscribed, shared and denied reading. (Sadly, I can’t remember the name, although it was published by an individual who lived near Santa Cruz.)

Word was that being caught reading the newsletter could get you fired.

When the information surfaced it was the EEOC that fined the companies involved.

It was a stupid corporate move then and just as stupid now, but back then the workers affected didn’t do anything; how times have changed.

Flickr image credit: Harold Heindell Tejada

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