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If The Shoe Fits: Yea vs. Nay

Friday, May 19th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mBill “Badger Bill” Whyte, founder of W.S. Badger, with $16 million in revenue and 100 employees, is an excellent role model for any entrepreneur who wants to grow and run a successful, socially responsible business that treats its people fairly. His thoughts on the subject are succinct and simple.

“You can be financially successful and be a big jerk, or you can be financially successful and be a contributor to making the world better. I know which way I’d like Badger to move.”

Other great founder role models include Anand Sanwal of CB Insights and Marc Benioff of Salesforce, among many others.

However, if you are looking instead for a role model that represents the worst of Silicon Valley look no further than Evan Spiegel.

Spiegel’s boundless arrogance was on full show in the company’s first earnings call with analysts.

During the event, many analysts’ questions about the company were dismissed by Mr. Spiegel. None of the executives made a particularly impassioned case for why the business would be a success over the long term.

But what else would you expect from founders who already dumped much of their stock?

Spiegel, his co-founder Bobby Murphy and Snap’s largest venture investor, Benchmark, sold significant amounts of their stock when the company went public

Along with the current $2.2 billion loss is the whistleblower lawsuit claiming the pre-IPO metrics were inflated.

Malcolm Berko provided the best comment I’ve seen regarding all those who ignored the warnings in the prospectus, bought the stock, and are complaining.

When greed succeeds, everyone smiles. When greed fails, everyone wails.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Tech And Responsibility

Friday, May 12th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAlthough I rarely get comments, I would really appreciate any insights you can offer on this subject.

KG sent a press release he thought would interest me; it should interest you, too.

The Montreal-based artificial intelligence startup Lyrebird today unveils its voice imitation algorithm.
With this innovation, Lyrebird is going a step further in the development of AI applications by offering to companies and developers new speech synthesis solutions. Users will be able to generate entire dialogs with the voice of their choice or design from scratch completely new and unique voices tailored for their needs.

First, a quick story.

Years ago a friend got in trouble when someone spoofed his email, catfished him and made a bomb threat to a local school.  Fortunately, he was able to prove it wasn’t him.

It turned out that it was a kid who was mad at his teacher.

People are catfished all the time. Usually it’s not a big deal, but sometimes, as with my friend, potential repercussions can be very serious.

Nobody likes being catfished, but think of the damage that could be done using Lyrebird’s algorithm.

How could you explain a threatening or obscene phone call in your voice?

Lyrebird talks about benign uses, such as “personal assistants, for reading of audio books with famous voices, for connected devices of any kind, for speech synthesis for people with disabilities, for animation movies or for video game studios“ and shows off audio examples, including Donald Trump.

Now think what the outcome could be from a highly inflammatory call to Kim Jong-un mimicking Trump’s voice.

Tech people talk all the time about how they are “changing the world” and making it better, but they seem far more focused on enhancing their personal brand and making money, while turning a blind eye to any potential negative effects.

Are they truly amoral?

Or do they even owe humanity at least some consideration of the possible negatives?

What am I missing?

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Expediency Is The New Core Value

Friday, May 5th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThere is much talk these days about ‘values’ and how companies need to base their cultures on them.

Many say that “cultural fit” is used to discriminate against older candidates, people of color, and women.

And that’s likely true if the company doesn’t included diversity and meritocracy as an integral part of their core values.

One recently added core value that isn’t talked about is expediency.

Here’s a great example from Facebook.

On May First, Facebook was accused of sharing information on how/when to reach “emotionally “insecure” and vulnerable teens on its network.” Naturally, the company denied doing it, but just the fact that they can should be very disturbing.

Even if Facebook hasn’t allowed advertisers to target young people based on their emotions, its sharing of related research highlights the kind of data the company collects about its nearly 2 billion users.

Also on May first Facebook announced a new effort to fight fake news — definitely expedient considering how angry people are — better late than never.

Facebook has appointed a veteran from The New York Times to lead its news products division, which is responsible for stopping the spread of fake news and helping publishers make money.

Making money is the number one priority — no matter how often a company says otherwise.

That’s what underlies expediency.

And I doubt it will change any time soon.

Image credit: QuotesEverlasting

If The Shoe Fits: Today’s CEO Cowboys

Friday, April 28th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWay back in 2009 I wrote Leaders Should NOT Be Cowboys. While the advice was accurate at the time, it made the basic assumption that founders were adults.

I suppose it was naïve to assume that anybody starting a company, let alone being handed millions of dollars to do it, would have a certain level of mental and emotional maturity — or at least know when to shut up.

But the world has changed drastically.

It’s now a world where nothing is private and letting it all hang out has been take to extremes; where sharing all aspects of your life is expected and the resulting personally identifiable data packaged and sold; where sex/sexism in one form or another is prevalent; where anybody can freely and anonymously critique/shame/bully/insult whomever they please; where frat boy culture/attitude/thinking is the new norm, where etc., etc., etc.

Doubt me?

Take a look at Uber, Thinx, Tanium, or the US president; the list goes on even when the actions are well camouflaged, as they are at Google and Facebook.

These new CEOs aren’t necessarily cowboys in the previous sense.

They have moved past that and are more aligned with the back end of their horses.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Hollow Bros and True Brilliance

Friday, April 21st, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI have some great links for you today.

Yes, I realize I’m preaching to the choir and that those who really need to see this won’t.

Unless, of course, you forward it to where it’s most needed.

I’m sure you are tired of my griping (ranting?) about the bro culture, but maybe you’ll feel better knowing that bro culture dates back to ancient Greece, although knowing doesn’t make it any more palatable.

Philosophers are the original, archetypal “brilliant jerks.” And hundreds of years have done little to change that.

It’s not surprising how many brilliant jerks have an “I’m the next Steve Jobs” mentality, which is rarely warrantedtrue genius is all around us, including the urban ghettos — and gravitate to startups.

So what does a life of true brilliance, genius, if you prefer, look like?

It looks like Robert W. Taylor  (died 4/2017) who, in 1968 said, “In a few years,” he wrote, “men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face,” and then proceeded to make sure it happened.

Even more so, it looks like John Goodenough.

In 1946, a 23-year-old Army veteran named John Goodenough headed to the University of Chicago with a dream of studying physics. When he arrived, a professor warned him that he was already too old to succeed in the field.

Recently, Dr. Goodenough recounted that story for me and then laughed uproariously. He ignored the professor’s advice and today, at 94, has just set the tech industry abuzz with his blazing creativity. He and his team at the University of Texas at Austin filed a patent application on a new kind of battery that, if it works as promised, would be so cheap, lightweight and safe that it would revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-fueled vehicles. His announcement has caused a stir, in part, because Dr. Goodenough has done it before. In 1980, at age 57, he coinvented the lithium-ion battery that shrank power into a tiny package.

Stupid professor, along with as all those who believe that creativity is an act reserved for the young.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Founder Love Is Blind

Friday, April 14th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn 1405 Chaucer enlightened us that “love is blind” and it’s been proven through both scientific and anecdotal evidence ever since.

In past centuries this referred to romantic partners and kids, but, as with most things, that, too, has changed in the Twenty-first Century.

Now researchers at Finland’s Aalto University have gone a step further.

(From the abstract) Here we tested the hypothesis that entrepreneurs’ emotional experience and brain responses toward their own firm resemble those of parents toward their own children.

Surprise, surprise — the results show that they are the same.

Anyone who has been around entrepreneurs, especially young entrepreneurs, won’t be surprised.

In my experience the more life experience founders have the more open they are to hearing critism about their startup baby.

However, that statement comes with a caveat.

It’s not just age or experiences that makes the difference, but the kind of experience — specifically raising kids.

Travis Kalanick may be 40, but he hasn’t been responsible for the shaping of a successful human being.

Mark Zukerberg may be raising kids, but they aren’t old enough to know how they’ll turn out, let alone what they will do along the way.

Just as parents believe their kid wouldn’t bully/drink/drug/cheat/steal, founders notoriously won’t listen to criticism of their vision/business model/culture/management.

Some, not all — obviously — but the number seems to be growing

It will be interesting to see if young, data enamored entrepreneurs will embrace this research.

Those whose kids are in their teens or older don’t need data, they have, or are getting, experience.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Founders/Programmers vs. Users

Friday, April 7th, 2017

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

It is said that one picture is worth a thousand words.

This image provides a simple, easy-to-understand explanation of why apps often fail.

http://www.par2.com/ComputerFunnies/computer_funnies.htm

Note to founder/programmers, etc.

Contrary to what you may have heard (or experienced on the receiving end), users are not a necessary evil.

They pay your salary, as well as other incidentals, such as rent, electricity, pizza and beer.

Cherish them.

Image credit: Computer Funnies

If The Shoe Fits: Growth At All Costs — Unsustainable AND Unethical

Friday, March 24th, 2017

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

This is a short post, aside from the quotes, and I honestly don’t care if you skip my part and just read the  main links, especially the last on from DHH.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIt’s exactly two years since I saw a successful lifestyle business founder, Andrew Wilkinson of MetaLab and Flow, loudly and publicly say that he would rather be a horse than a unicorn.

Meaning, he would rather build his businesses organically and self-funded than take outside investment.

I wondered if his attitude was a harbinger of returning sanity.

Ha! Wilkinson’s attitude was an outlier, as opposed to a trend.

However, early as he was I see more successful founders following a similar path.

A few days ago I read a Medium post from Mara Zepeda, Co-founder and CEO of Switchboard, and Jennifer Brandel Co-founder and CEO of Hearken, coining a new term, zebra, to denote a sustainable approach to growth.

A year ago we wrote “Sex & Startups.” The premise was this: The current technology and venture capital structure is broken. It rewards quantity over quality, consumption over creation, quick exits over sustainable growth, and shareholder profit over shared prosperity. It chases after “unicorn” companies bent on “disruption” rather than supporting businesses that repair, cultivate, and connect. After publishing the essay, we heard from hundreds of founders, investors, and advocates who agreed: “We cannot win at this game.”

Adam Eskin, founder and CEO of expanding restaurant chain Dig Inn and a former private equity associate at Wexford Capital puts it this way,

“Having a background in private equity, we don’t just want to grow this business for growth’s sake, lose passion for what we do, or the reasons why we’re here. I think that’s what some folks can end up doing when they raise this kind of capital.”

As a tech person, who has been seduced into believing that valuation is everything, why should you listen to an outlier or non-tech founder, let alone a couple of women?

Perhaps you’ll be more inclined to listening to the guy whose tech generates raves and may even be the source code of your company.

DHH (David Heinemeier Hansson), creator of Ruby on Rails, Founder & CTO at Basecamp (formerly 37signals), writer of best-selling books and winning LeMans racecar driver.

There is no higher God in Silicon Valley than growth. No sacrifice too big for its craving altar. As long as you keep your curve exponential, all your sins will be forgotten at the exit. (…)  The solution isn’t simple, but we’re in dire need of a strong counter culture, some mass infusion of the 1960s spirit. To offer realistic, ethical alternatives to the exponential growth logic. Ones that’ll benefit not just a gilded few, but all of us. The future literally depends on it.

Image credit: HikingArtist

 

If The Shoe Fits: Channel Nintendo

Friday, March 10th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mLast week we looked at what companies are doing about product security — which is little-to-nothing in most cases.

Unlike Nintendo.

Nintendo’s new Switch console — think Zelda — is making news, but its unique security effort should be in the limelight, too.

Unlike Tide, Nintendo realized the console’s tiny, SD-sized game cartridges would be irresistible to kids — so its designers came up with the perfect solution.

They didn’t wait for a curious kid (and the resulting lawsuit) to choke or even die from swallowing one, before addressing it.

They thought it through and spent the needed time and money to assure that kids wouldn’t eat the cartridges in the first place.

And they succeeded.

The cartridges are coated with something that makes them taste terrible.

Terrible as in spitting them out.

To avoid the possibility of accidental ingestion, keep the game card away from young children,” a Nintendo spokesperson told Kotaku. “A bittering agent (denatonium benzoate) has also been applied to the game card.” (The agent is non-toxic.)

Adults, too. Hilariously, it was an adult game reviewer who decided to lick the cartridge.

I put that Switch cart in my mouth and I’m not sure what those things are made of but I can still taste it. Do not try this at home.

— Jeff Gerstmann (@jeffgerstmann) February 25, 2017

No question, it’s a brilliant solution — the only kind that really works, since it requires absolutely no effort from consumers.

Three cheers for Nintendo.

Wouldn’t it be nice if founders and full-blown enterprises followed Nintendo’s lead before something happened?

Image credit: HikingArtist

If the Shoe Fits: A Continuing Train Wreck Called Uber

Friday, February 24th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mMost of the tech/business/news-consuming world has been hearing about Uber’s latest, but doubtfully its last, scandal.

Uber showcases a culture where anything goes: sexual harassment; managerial threats, including physical violence.

A culture based on the overweening arrogance and MAP of CEO Travis Kalanick and fully supported by his top management and a subservient/ineffective/actively resistant HR.

So Kalanick did what all CEOs (and politicians) do when someone shines a light in their rat hole — he announced an internal investigation led by external, high profile lawyers and made promises at an all-hands meeting.

“What I can promise you is that I will get better every day. I can tell you that I am authentically and fully dedicated to getting to the bottom of this.”

This from the guy who two short years ago called his company “Boob-er” in GQ, because it was a chick magnet.

There’s an old joke that you should never trust anyone who says “trust me.”

The same can be said about the person who proclaims their authenticity.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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