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Archive for August, 2014

If the Shoe Fits: What Would You Do?

Friday, August 29th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mCisco CEO John Chambers constantly amazes me.

It’s not his 19 years of reinventing Cisco and keeping it on top, but for other stuff, such as Cisco’s disaster-focused Tactical Operations team.

They just did another very neat thing.

Read the article for the full story, but here’s the short version.

Connectify is a successful startup.

It makes a networking product called Connectify Hotspot that lets you turn any Windows computer into a Wi-Fi hotspot to share your internet connection. It’s been downloaded 65 million times and used for over 500 million hotspots.

Cisco is the world’s largest maker of hotspot equipment.

Connectify had been trying to buy the connectify.com domain since its founding (long story; read article).

Turned out that Cisco had acquired the domain as part of a long ago deal.

When the story came to light Cisco’s reaction was swift.

It immediately turned the domain over to Connectify at no cost.

Connectify publicly expressed its thanks.

Connectify’s CEO Alex Gizis was so thrilled that he wrote a public thank you post to Cisco and called Cisco the “hero” of the story. He then offered a free year of its hotspot service to all of Cisco’s 75,000 employees.

Here’s the question.

Under similar circumstances—hot startup/competing technology—how many of the CEOs at Google, Oracle, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, GE, 3M, HP, VMware, etc. would do the same thing?

What would you do?

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: a Look at What’s Up

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

A look at what entrepreneurial minds are doing, whether they are starting a company or work at an innovative enterprise.

In May I wrote that graphene has the potential to change the world and it seems that Elon Musk plans to take advantage of it.

Tesla could soon achieve this 500-mile battery thanks to a development in graphene-based anodes, which can reportedly quadruple the density and output of lithium-ion batteries.

When I wrote about Ryan Grepper’s Kickestarter campaign to fund his reinvention of the lowly cooler in July he had raised $5M and counting. It ends tomorrow and is the most highly funded campaign ever.

However, with the financial support of 48,971 backers, Coolest Cooler has raised a whopping $10,362,461 — making it 20,721% funded. And the campaign doesn’t end until Friday.

The reinvention of the boring, unsexy butter knife is cool enough to attract boring non-shoppers with no little-to-no interest in the trendy—such as my sister. The attraction comes from the fact that it solves an annoying problem—something entrepreneurs should give more thought to doing.

The Stupendous Splendiferous ButterUp, a butter knife developed by Australia’s DM Initiatives, has a built-in grater that is designed to soften butter and make it easier to spread. 

Four college guys have developed a solution for women to a problem created by guys. It’s a badly needed product that gives women a simple way to know if their drink has been doctored.

The polish — called “Undercover Colors” — will change shades if it becomes exposed to a drugged drink. (…) Simply dip your finger in the liquid. If the polish changes colors, you’ll know not to keep sipping.

When it comes to large company innovation, I’m not sure who is more impressive.

The giant that re-imagined one of the most necessary and embarrassing products on the market today or the ad agency that created a hip way to get the word out.

The company is Kimberly Clark, the product is adult diapers and the agency is Ogilvy & Mather”s New York office.

Adult diapers are used by all ages, often due to injury, and the younger the user the greater the embarrassment at the check stand.

Nearly half of those who experience some form of urinary incontinence are under 50, according the brand. Among the causes are, for women, weakened pelvic muscles that can stem from pregnancy and childbirth and, for men, prostate cancer.

Here’s the ad.

YouTube credit: Depends

Proactive Beats Reactive

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014


Years ago when I bought a hardware firewall an engineer friend told me that it would cost around a nickel (or it may have been 25 cents) to add the feature to a computer’s motherboard.

However, doing that would disrupt the hardware business, so it was/is easier to leave users as easy prey to hackers.

Which brings us to California Governor Jerry Brown, who just signed a law requiring all smartphones to have a kill switch by July, 2015.

CTIA, a trade organization for the wireless industry, thinks the legislation is a terrible idea.

“Uniformity in the wireless industry created tremendous benefits for wireless consumers, including lower costs and phenomenal innovation,” said Jamie Hastings, vice president of external and state affairs for CTIA, in a statement. “State by state technology mandates, such as this one, stifle those benefits and are detrimental to wireless consumers.”

Here’s a simple solution to the annoyance of uneven legislation.

Add “anti-theft technology turned on by default,” as required by the California law, to all phones wherever they are being sold.

Of course, if Apple, Samsung and Motorola Mobility, etc., had responded proactively to calls for a kill switch new laws wouldn’t be necessary.

Flickr image credit: One Way Stock

Ducks in a Row: Private vs. Public

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014


Ask people what they do in private and you’ll probably hear far more detail than you want, but ask what they earn and they’ll either freak out at the question or be very insulted.

What they probably won’t do is tell you.

Sex used to be personal, but these days it is often broadcast to anyone who will listen, but not finances—although older workers are less likely to discuss either of them.

Companies are even more paranoid about keeping salaries confidential—sharing compensation information is a firing offense in many of them.

Usually, the more a company insists that the numbers are private the more likely people are to assume that something is rotten—or unfair.

After all, gossip tends to exaggerate things. Professor Lawler says studies show that when pay is confidential, workers often believe the salary distributions are more unfair than they really are.

That’s why Dane Atkinson, chief executive of SumAll, a data analytics company, does things differently.

When he helped found the company about three years ago, a decision was made to disclose all salaries and equity shares. (…) “In this way, more money goes not to those who negotiate better, but those who work the hardest,” he said. The people who resist making salaries more transparent, he said, “are usually those who think they’re making too much.”

The other people who resist are the bosses who are playing games with compensation.

You know, the ones who make the lowest offers possible and/or play favorites.

Compensation, whether salary or stock, should make sense to everyone; it should be plausible and accurately reflect the person’s contribution to the company’s success—not their charm, personality, looks or threats to leave.

Flickr image credit: Derek Keats

Class Failure

Monday, August 25th, 2014


Did you know there is a luxury condo called Riverside South in New York City that has separate doors for those who pay market rate and those who rent the planning-mandated affordable units?

Not only separate doors, but a separate affordable wing—heaven forbid the wealthy should have to share an elevator with “them.”

Some bosses run their organizations the same way.

The “stars” are lavished with money, stock, perks, visibility and praise, while the rest are ignored or worse, treated as disposable.

There’s an old saying that 90% of the work is done by 10% of the people, but that doesn’t hold true for any company.

If you don’t believe me create a fantasy company with just 10% of your staff and see how far you get.

If you choose to split your company into “stars” and “the rest” then you probably should consider separate entrances like Riverside South, because you will be creating separate accommodations even if they share a desk.

Dividing a company into “stars” and “the rest” was a prescription for failure.

People aren’t stupid; they know when they’re being treated like second class and will usually vote with their feet.

Flickr image credit: Adam Conlon

Entrepreneurs: Copying Success

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

What a joke.

The US startup ecosystem is complaining (more like ranting) that Rocket Internet is a copycat/cloner/, even scamster, because they are successfully creating new businesses in various parts of the world mimicking the business process of successful US companies.

But, as the Inc article and Rocket Internet’s CEO Oliver Samwer point out, copying is as old as business.

Samwer says he doesn’t mind being called a copycat. “Most innovations come on top of other innovations, if you really look at it,” he says. To Samwer, Airbnb’s suggestion that Wimdu is a “scam” is as silly as the idea of Samsung’s alerting customers about a Vizio scam of developing a similar flat-screen television and selling it for less money. “There’s always competition,” he says. “We win because we take our work very seriously.”

Let’s get serious, folks.

  • Ford didn’t invent automobiles.
  • Boeing didn’t invent airplanes.
  • Apple didn’t invent computers, MP3 players or mobile phones.
  • Google didn’t invent the search engine.

The idea that most Silicon Valley startups are original is hilarious.

In fact, many of the current service darlings were done on Craig’s List long before they were a twinkle in their founder’s eye.


There’s also a small company started by Jack Ma called Alibaba.com, which has many parts that mimic the same companies that Rocket does.

Not only that, but many of Rocket Internet startups are tailored for developing countries.

What I think has infuriates entrepreneurs is three-fold.

  1. They didn’t think of doing it first;
  2. even if they did funding wasn’t available in the US and finally,
  3. Rocket Internet is a German startup and Germany, as we all know, is highly risk adverse.

It’s also incredibly successful.

Since its founding in 2007 by Oliver Samwer, and his two younger brothers, Marc and Alex, Rocket Internet has helped launch over 70 companies across 50 countries, generating a combined revenue of $4 billion.

Note that the $4 billion is revenue, not valuation.

It’s called success—whether you approve of it or not.

Image credit: Andrew Parker/The Gong Show


Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/cheezepix/4933836639Tech currently has a high profile for arrogance, not to mention chauvinism and bigotry, with Google, Apple and Facebook are its most public whipping boys.

However, their comeuppance came with the intense media focus that will likely force them to at least put some effort into cleaning up their respective acts.

Not like their psychological brethren on Wall Street.

And while tech has a modicum of excuse that stems from age—its frat house culture has gotten worse as entrepreneurs have gotten younger—proven by the numbers, i.e., more women entered tech in the 1980s than do today—Wall Street has none.

The investment banking world has always been a bastion of white, male elitists; and hardcore harassment—an old boys group that didn’t give a damn what anybody thought.

Arrogance has been synonymous with investment bankers for decades, so seeing it kicked in the teeth by upstart tech arrogance was exhilarating.

Google’s Larry Page created his own acquisition yard stick,

The toothbrush test: Is it something you will use once or twice a day, and does it make your life better? …The esoteric criterion shuns traditional measures of valuing a company like earnings, discounted cash flow or even sales.

Page, for example, is looking for “usefulness above profitability, and long-term potential over near-term financial gain.”

Potential and usefulness are esoteric concepts to most bankers and “long-term” isn’t even in their vocabulary.

Bankers are fine with the hard stuff revolving around money, but are often useless on human side.

But often, when big tech companies are looking to grow through acquisitions, it is the culture and vision, not the earnings and revenue, that are of paramount importance.

Of course, investment banks need to lose a lot for it to really start mattering, but it looks like they are.

The acquiring company did not use an investment bank in 69 percent of American technology acquisitions worth more than $100 million this year, according to Dealogic.

All I can say is that it couldn’t happen to a more deserving group of guys—their comeuppance was a long time coming and it’s hitting the only place they might notice—their bank balance.

Flickr image credit: Chris Hartman

Ducks in a Row: To Die For…

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014


Last year I suggested creating the SMIA (Social Media Idiot Award) as a way to honor all those who assist in their own arrests via social media.

But that was then…

Smart phones have enabled great leaps to previously unreached levels of stupidity.

Last month I shared the selfie stupidity exhibited by spectators at the Tour de France.

I now believe the SMIAs have achieved Darwin Award status.

For the innocents among you, Darwins are given posthumously to people for removing themselves from the gene pool, i.e., their death is the result of their own overwhelming stupidity, such as the couple that went past a barrier set up to keep people off the cliff edge at Cabo de Roca and slipped while trying to take a selfie—and did it in front of their kids.

Here are other recent entrants.

Last week a man in Mexico was taking a selfie when he accidentally shot himself in the head. Others have sustained injuries while taking selfies: A man was trampled by a bull in France while trying to take a photo in front of it, and a reporter was nearly hit in the head by a stray baseball while snapping a photo of herself.

Culture and societal norms change.

Starting in the Elizabethan era people longed to be a “nine days’ wonder.”

Since the Sixties people hoped for “15 minutes of fame.”

These days they are willing to die for 15 seconds of social media fame.

Who said “change equals progress?”

Flickr image credit: Gidzy

Friends, Colleagues and Acquaintances

Monday, August 18th, 2014

I have two best friends, although according to the sign one of them gave me last Christmas I actually have a ‘Good’ friend and a ‘True’ friend.


My friendships with them are unilateral— they have met only once and it’s doubtful they will ever meet again.

The sign-giver is the true friend, while the other prefers good friend status, although she offered to bail us both out, which should count for something.

The sign hangs by my desk and I look at it frequently.

It is a constant reminder of all we have shared; all we have helped each other get through; all the stuff, both good and bad, that is coming down the future.

The sign has taken on even more meaning since I read Adam Grant’s post You’re Not My Friend. Grant is Wharton’s top-rated professor and the author of Give And Take (I wrote about the research for it here) and a very smart guy when it comes to human interaction.

Grant takes note of people who claim him as a friend, let alone those who have asked to friend him on Facebook.

Judging from recent friend requests, my friends apparently include a person who ignored me in grad school, a second cousin’s high school classmate, a colleague’s mentee, a peewee soccer teammate I vaguely remember, and some guy who sat at a table near me at a restaurant once.

He then helpfully provides seven criteria with which to judge whether you are a colleague, an acquaintance or a friend.

I should also note that Grant is under 40, so you can’t consider him an old fogey who doesn’t understand today’s social world.

If you number your friends in double or triple digits, let alone as a cast of thousands, you’re probably in for a letdown.

While Facebook uses ‘friends’ as a catch-all term you shouldn’t do the same, it’s highly unlikely that many of them are ‘good’, let alone ‘true’ friends.

Image credit: WishUponASign on Etsy

If the Shoe Fits: Seeing the Forrest, but not the Trees

Friday, August 15th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mSince Spring the media has been sharing stories and statistics about the rampant sexism, ageism and general bigotry in tech, its self-proclaimed “meritocracy” and the amazing male hyperopia (farsightedness) that seems almost incapable of recognizing bigotry in themselves or those close to them.

Y Combinator President Sam Altman and founder Paul Graham are a good example.

Last month Altman posted the importance of eliminating the gender bias in tech and Silicon Valley in particular, and that people need to stop pretending.

“One of the most insidious things happening in the debate is people claiming versions of ‘other industries may have problems with sexism, but our industry doesn’t.'”

He cited Y Combinator’s track record of accepting women founders into the incubator as proof that it isn’t sexist.

He did not, however, explain Graham’s statements in May that he doesn’t fund founders with strong accents or women who have/want kids.

Altman thinks HR can be a solution.

“Our sense is that many will benefit by doing it [human resources infrastructure] earlier. Traditionally, startups have thought of HR as a drag on moving fast and openness, but a well-running team is one of the best assets a company can ever have.”

However, the dozens of women who work for established companies with plenty of human resource infrastructure and have shared horrific stories on platforms from Whisper to Fortune are proof that rules don’t work.

The real solution in any company, from startup to Fortune 50 is a founder/CEO who backs a culture that is blind to gender, age and color and, most importantly, walks the talk, both professionally and personally.

This puts you, as a founder, in a position to truly change the working world.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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