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If The Shoe Fits: Another Silicon Valley Myth

Friday, July 21st, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mDo you believe that Silicon Valley is the best (only?) place to start a company? That there is some almost magical ingredient that isn’t duplicated anywhere else?

Many people do and more did back in 2010.

Demis Hassabis, co-founder of high-flying DeepMind didn’t believe the myth.

“I was born in London and I’m a proud born and bred Londoner. I obviously visited Silicon Valley and knew people out there and also I’d been to MIT and Harvard and seen the East Coast. There is this view over there that these kind of deep technology companies can only be created in Silicon Valley. Certainly back in 2010 that was definitely the prevailing view. I felt that that just wasn’t true.”

Investor Peter Thiel was one of the true believers.

“At that time he’d never invested outside of the US, maybe not even outside of the West Coast. He felt the power of Silicon Valley was sort of mythical, that you couldn’t create a successful big technology company anywhere else. Eventually we convinced him that there were good reasons to be in London.”

Hassabis convinced Thiel to invest; Google acquired it for $400 million, and DeepMind is still making AI history.

One of the major reasons Hassabis wanted to stay in London was the availability of incredible talent.

“One of the things was I thought it [staying in London] was going to be a competitive advantage in terms of talent acquisition,” said Hassabis. He went on to claim that there weren’t that many intellectually stimulating jobs for physics PhDs out of Cambridge at the time that didn’t want to work for a hedge fund in the city.

Unlike Silicon Valley which, in addition to its normal talent shortage, suffers a severe talent crunch in whatever tech is hottest.

Silicon Valley may be a great place to start a company if you are connected, but for the majority who aren’t there are plenty of locations that are just as good, if not better.

Of course, that depends on whether your goal is to found a company valued for funds raised, which is best done in Silicon Valley, or to found a company that is valued on actual revenue, which can be done anywhere.

In fact, for the latter, anywhere could even be preferable to Silicon Valley.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Power, Control And Insecure Male Egos

Friday, July 14th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAssuming you don’t live in a different galaxy, you’ve followed the aftermath at Uber, since Susan Fowler posted her experiences there.

You just saw the co-founder of Binary Capital resign after women founders claimed harassment and a woman who works at Tesla called the factory a “predator zone.”

So many women coming forward has led to headlines that the Silicon Valley old boy power elite is being toppled.

Ha! Not going to happen in my lifetime — and probably not in yours.

Especially when the bias is so ingrained that even the funding questions, including from women, carry that bias, as do professors of both sexes on college admission evaluations.

And consider this comment on a NYT article.

Laura Castaneda
WA July 1, 2017
These women do themselves a disservice by choosing to appear bare legged, in shorts and casual clothing for this article. Rather, all three ought to have posed in business professional clothing. Women say they want to be accepted as professionals and peers while simultaneously choosing to participate in age old ways of competing: showing some skin. They have even chosen to do it for this article which is about the very acts photos like these encourage. Women who want to be treated equally should hide their sexuality (skin) in the business setting. It’s always been accepted that women who stoop to short skirts and low cut blouses at work are not to be taken seriously. What has changed to make that untrue today, exactly? Magical thinking?

What skin? One woman has on cutoffs? Her partners are in jeans and a skirt (no stockings) and all have on T-shirts. Typical Silicon Valley startup garb.

The comment reminds me of the ageless rape defense: dressed like that she was asking for it.

An op-ed piece in Bloomberg makes a telling point.

But do the people with the least power have to shoulder responsibility for weeding out misconduct by people with the most?

Ryan Pew, who writes Ryan’s Journal here on Thursday, is a former Marine and a millennial father of three girls. I asked him what he thought.

As a father of girls, by my very nature I want them to succeed without their gender being an issue. I understand the differences between the sexes but do see us as equal. However I have also seen how, as a man, you see other men who believe otherwise and are not afraid of speaking to a woman a certain way. One of these posts talks about how one of the VC’s was pushing alcohol and then used that as leverage when he tried his moves. Sounds very frat boy to me. 

Hey, Ryan, it IS frat-boy, AKA, bro culture.

What I’ve never understood, and I’ve asked directly, is why these jerks think what they do is “NBD, business as usual,” but condemn anyone who treats their wife/mother/daughter/friend/etc. the same way.

One more thing. For some phenomenal satire on the subject out Sarah Cooper on Medium, especially Why Do All These Women Keep Accusing Me of Sexual Harassment?

Hi. My name is Brad. You may not have heard of me before, but don’t worry, I’m rich. (…)  Obviously I’m a smart guy, but one thing I can’t for the life of me understand is: why do all these women keep accusing me of sexual harassment? (…) And yeah, I use my position of power to get laid, but who wouldn’t?  (…)  Do I want them to fuck me? Sure I do. Will it affect whether or not I fund their company? Yes, it will. Does that mean I don’t respect them? No! Well yes. But it’s not personal, it’s business.

From ‘77 to ‘97 I was a tech recruiter and can’t count the times I was hit on by VCs and managers. I’m here to tell you that harassment isn’t about sex any more than rape is.

It’s about power, control, money, and insecure male egos that are terrified of women who dare.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: A Golden Product For A Golden Market

Friday, July 7th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mLooking for a product idea?

One that has a targeted market of 100 million, with proven disposable income?

Saturday Night Live has a suggestion, but, since Jeff Bezos is aging, Amazon will probably beat you to it.

Image credit: HikingArtist, video: SNL

If The Shoe Fits: The Stupidity Of Always On

Friday, June 30th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mBack in the distant 1980s, when startups were valued for what they did, as opposed to the cash they raised, a founder made a casual comment that has stuck with me all these years.

He said, “There will be times when my team has to pull all-nighters, but if it happens often it is a failure of management to correctly schedule the work and set viable deadlines, as opposed to an unexpected emergency.”

Boy, has that changed. These days founders brag about their 80-120-always-on-hour-weeks and expect their team to do the same.

And they do.

It’s the new techie status symbol.

And not just in tech land.

The gig economy not only brags about it, they base their recruiting on it.

 “You eat a coffee for lunch,” the [Fiverr] ad proclaims. “You follow through on your follow through. Sleep deprivation is your drug of choice. You might be a doer.”

Doer? Or exploitee?

Or, more accurately, stupid, with a capital S.

“A culture of overwork is damaging because it turns brief binges of hard work into a long-term strategy, and, worse still, an expectation. When managers start measuring the worth of their employees according to how quickly they return emails at 3 a.m., that particular work culture is broken,” Adam Alter, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, told Business Insider in an email. (He wrote a book about how technology keeps us “always on.”)

Stupid because 80-100+ hour weeks lowers creativity and productivity, while increasing coding and other errors. Not to mention lost sales and misunderstandings.

Founders take note. Not of me, but of the research, crunch the numbers, and analyze the data.

Then think twice, send your team home and go yourself and get some sleep.

Even Uber is planning on that.

“Uber is a data-driven company, and the data shows unequivocally that when you work longer, you are not working smarter,” Uber board member Arianna Huffington told the company’s employees during an all-hands meeting last week, according to leaked audio obtained by Yahoo.
Huffington also added that employees won’t have to be “always on” and responsive to whatever is going on at the office, no matter where they are. Because “when you’re always on you’re depleted, you are distracted,” and “not as creative” as you are when you’re well-rested, Huffington also said, channeling the thesis of her new pro-sleep startup Thrive.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Glassdoor’s Most Loved CEOs

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThe last thing you need today is yet another autopsy of Travis Kalanick. If you indulge in any form of media you know TK isn’t the first to founder to go down in flames (and he won’t be the last)for creating a rotten culture.

A larger question is where was the adult oversight that kept other young founders from similar shenanigans?

Steve Jobs didn’t want to create a Windows-compatible version of the iPod or an app store for the iPhone; it was his lieutenants who pushed him to do it. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were guided by strong, experienced and extremely sober operators — Sheryl Sandberg and Eric Schmidt, respectively. Mr. Kalanick, meanwhile, was allowed to operate more or less solo, to micromanage a company that grew to enormous scale, and was left alone even when the firm’s problems became plain to see.

In its fifth year, Facebook had net income of $200 million in 2009 on revenue of $777 million; in its seventh year Uber lost $3 billion.

So instead, I thought I’d point you to a Glassdoor’s 2017 list of best CEOs as rated by their employees, so you could find positive role models.

In the large company category the top slot went to Benno Dorer, CEO of The Clorox Company.

“Excellent communication on vision, strategy, and where we are going. Constant access to leadership through round tables and other company events that allow all employees to feel like they are part of our decision making and strategy.”

In the small/medium category it’s Justyn Howard, CEO of Sprout Social.

There are many reasons why Sprout Social is an amazing place to work. Some of the pros include sensible managers that really care about you and your goals, and help you grow and advance your career. The company culture is inclusive, open and friendly. I have honestly not seen this many talented and hardworking people together prior to working here. Both individual and team initiatives are highlighted and praised often, communication is very transparent and you feel like your voice is heard.

Notice that the employee comments all focus on similar things.

They are what people of all ages want from their bosses.

Founders/bosses set the tone and values.

They shouldn’t be surprised when the people they hire have similar views.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Quantitative Data and Self-Deception

Friday, June 16th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThe following post is reprinted in full with Wally’s blessings. I e-met Wally when we both blogged for b5 Media — I think. It’s so long ago I’m not sure, but over the years I’ve read and appreciated Wally for both his insights and independence from accepted leadership-speak. I highly recommend adding his blog to your reading list.

Quantitative Data and Self-Deception

If you need someone to blame this on, it might as well be Rene Descartes. The 23-year-old Descartes was serving in the army when was visited in a dream by the Spirit of Truth who told him that “Conquest of nature is to come through number and measure.”

Numbers were power. That effect was amplified during the Industrial Revolution. That’s when the engineers took charge, measuring and calculating. Soon, Frederick Taylor and the efficiency experts showed up with their stopwatches and clipboards. Now we’re in the Digital Age, where computers spit out numbers by the mountain load.

Today, companies trumpet the claim that they’re “data-driven.” The Economist proclaims that “data is the new oil.” If there is a golden calf to worship today, it’s probably digitized.

We love numbers so much that we don’t think about where they come from or how we’re using them. We can summon them from our vast databases, manipulate them, and turn them into equations that give us “answers. It makes us feel like we’re in control. We’re not, really. We’re only in control of the data.

The map is not the territory and data is not reality

Data is not reality. At best, data can only represent reality. Reality is complex and messy and we can use data to simplify parts of it so we can understand it better. To do that we must leave out part of reality, assign numbers to things that aren’t inherently quantifiable, and approximate relationships with equations.

If, after all that, we treat data like reality we commit what Alfred North Whitehead called “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.” We get lost in the wonder of our calculations and think we’re describing the elephant, when we’ve only got hold of one leg.

It’s a good idea to apply George Box’s observation about models to our data. All are flawed, but some are useful.

Quantitative data is not objective

No matter what you or your boss thinks, quantitative data is no more objective than qualitative data. Someone, somewhere, sometime decided what would be counted and tracked and what would not. Someone, somewhere, sometime decided how and how often data would be gathered and how it would be presented.

That’s obvious when you talk about qualitative data. We usually get qualitative data in the form of a story. This happened when we observed it this way. With quantitative data, the questions, assumptions, and decisions that lie behind the data are usually behind the curtain and invisible to the people who receive and use the data.

Dig into the history of things to find out why you use certain measures and not others, how the raw data is gathered and manipulated, and why it is presented in the way that it is.

Quantitative data is not enough

Quantitative data is important, it’s just not enough for a successful business or a satisfying life. The most important things in life and business can’t be counted or calculated. Relationships drive much that happens in business. More than half a century ago, Mason Haire demonstrated that emotions influence buying decisions of all kinds. Knowledge workers trade in conversations and tacit knowledge.

There’s one more thing about quantitative data. It’s easy for us to manipulate and “understand” quickly, so we’re likely to pay attention to what we can count and ignore what we can’t. That’s part of the reason why the long term is often sacrificed to the short term and why numerical accounting data gets more attention than “soft” human stuff. As one friend of mine said years ago, “When the pressure’s on to make the numbers, people almost always take a hit.”

Bottom Line

Quantitative data is important. You can’t run a successful operation today without paying attention to it. Remember that quantitative data is always a flawed representation of reality. Look behind the curtain to discover the whys and hows behind the data. Remember that human choices drive quantitative data as much as qualitative data. And, please, remember that the most important things in life and business cannot be force-fit into a dataset.

Copyright © 2017 Wally Bock, All rights reserved.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Your Survival vs. Their Hyperbole

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThe words and images people share through social media have enormous spin.

This is especially true in the startup world where image is everything and perception is key to the next round of funding or investment.

The purpose is to tell the world how world-changing the tech, amazing the team, great the opportunity and how perfectly they are executing.

In other words, they are ‘crushing their goals’, ‘wowing the world’ and ‘killing it’.

Not only that, they are doing it with nary a bump or pothole along the way.

(If you believe that I have a great deal on a lovely orange bridge that would look great in your backyard after you IPO.)

Lee Hower, Co-founder & Partner of NextView Ventures and former entrepreneur at LinkedIn and PayPal, wrote a very needed commentary regarding the hyperbole that irrigates the startup ecosystem.

As he says, “not everybody is killing it and certainly not all the time.”

If anything, the constant social media barrage claiming to be ‘killing it’ is increasing denial, making it harder to admit the challenges, let alone actual problems, and further limiting entrepreneurs ability to talk about it.

Two years ago I wrote about the high incidence of depression and suicide among entrepreneurs and it hasn’t improved.

Entrepreneurs who go public do so after the fact offering useful insights on how they overcame. While this is valuable, it can make it even more difficult for those in the throes, with no one to talk to.

Entrepreneurship is a double-edged sword; while it can be enormously rewarding, it can also destroy and even kill you — or all of the above.

There are two important take-aways in all this.

  1. Don’t believe everything you see/hear about how others are doing.
  2. Never forget that your pursuits won’t thrive unless you survive.

Ttake care of yourself.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: No Such Thing As “Self-Made”

Friday, May 26th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI get so tired of people being labeled “self-made,” whether by the media, their circle or themselves.

There is no such thing.

I can hear your thoughts across the miles. “Who is she to say there’s no such thing as self-made. Just because she didn’t do it doesn’t mean I can’t.”

I agree, I’m nobody, but Arnold Schwarzenegger is a well-known somebody and he says the same thing.

I always tell people that you can call me anything that you want. You can call me Arnold. You can call me Schwarzenegger. You can call me ‘the Austrian Oak.’ You can call me Schwarzy. You can call me Arnie. But don’t ever, ever call me the self‑made man.

It took a lot of help. None of us can make it alone. None of us. (…)  And I have to say that it is important to acknowledge that, because people make it always sound that you did all this yourself.

I didn’t. I did it with a lot of help.

Yes, I was determined. Yes, I never listened to the naysayers. Yes, I had a great vision. Yes, I had the fire in the belly and all of those things, but I didn’t do it without the help.

Here’s the full video in case you think I made it up.

Now stand in front of the mirror and say three times, “I am not self-made.” Repeat twice daily until you believe it.

And if that isn’t enough, add the words whispered in the ear of conquering Roman generals as their chariots paraded through the streets, “You are not infallible; you are not a god.”

Image credit: HikingArtist; video credit: UHmultimedia

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

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