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Entrepreneurs: What to Build

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/centralasian/8261449212New year, new ideas — one would hope.

Less ‘me too’ and more ‘me new’, or, as Matt Rosoff puts it, stuff that impresses his 5-year-old son.

By groundbreaking, I mean a technology that changed society, changed every other industry in the world. The World Wide Web was groundbreaking. The internet was groundbreaking. The personal computer was groundbreaking.

And before you write Rosoff off as a know-nothing consider Peter Thiel’s comment.

“We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”

It’s nice to know my nobody-know-nothing opinion is in good company.

In the tech world IoT is supposedly the bright light on the horizon, but don’t hold your breath.

According to a study by Accenture of 28,000 consumers in 28 countries, the world is tired of gadgets and no interest in replacing what they have.

Worse for tech, the public is waking up to the fact that it doesn’t give a damn about people’s privacy, security or even safety as long as they buy — at least not until it’s forced to and then only enough to shut up the noise.

As Accenture puts it, companies must “ignite” the next five years of growth by coming up with products that “offer a compelling value proposition,” “ensure a superior customer experience,” and “build security and trust.” 

Read the article. Digest Accenture results.

Then think about what you can build that would impress a 5-year-old—even a little.

Flickr image credit: centralasian

Katherine Johnson: As Good As, But No Better

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

Assuming you follow the tech news in one way or another you know that 2015 hasn’t been a kind year to women in tech.

Although it didn’t start this year, trolling, bullying, trashing, violence and death threats have become almost everyday occurrences.

As with most haters, they manage to ignore or deny the positive, such as Ada Lovelace, a Countess who wrote the first-ever computer algorithm and dreamed up the idea of artificial intelligence.

So in the spirit of positivity and hope for improvement in 2016, I thought I would share the story of Katherine Johnson, who calculated the trajectory of Alan Shepherd’s 1961 trip into space, which was America’s first, as published by NASA, where she worked for many years.

I wonder how many techies could do something similar today without using a computer or other current tech.

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/langley/news/researchernews/rn_kjohnson.htmlShe Was a Computer When Computers Wore Skirts

By: Jim Hodges 

Katherine Johnson was 90 on Tuesday, an apt date because it also was National Equality Day.

Not that she ever thought she wasn’t equal.

“I didn’t have time for that,” said Johnson in her Hampton home. “My dad taught us ‘you are as good as anybody in this town, but you’re no better.’ I don’t have a feeling of inferiority. Never had. I’m as good as anybody, but no better.”

But probably a lot smarter. She was a “computer” at Langley Research Center “when the computer wore a skirt,” said Johnson. More important, she was living out her life’s goal, though, when it became her goal, she wasn’t sure what it involved.

Johnson was born in White Sulfur Springs, W.Va., where school for African-Americans stopped at eighth grade. Her father, Joshua, was a farmer who drove his family 120 miles to Institute, W. Va., where education continued through high school and then at West Virginia State College. He would get wife Joylette a job as a domestic and leave the family there to be educated while he went back to White Sulfur Springs to make a living.

Katherine skipped though grades to graduate from high school at 14, from college at 18, and her skills at mathematics drew the attention of a young professor, W.W. Schiefflin Claytor.

“He said, ‘You’d make a good research mathematician and I’m going to see that you’re prepared,’ ” she recalled.

“I said, ‘Where will I get a job?’

“And he said, ‘That will be your problem.’

“And I said, ‘What do they do?’

“And he said, ‘You’ll find out.’

“In the back of my mind, I wanted to be a research mathematician.”

It didn’t involve teaching, though she did it for a while, starting at $65 a month. While on vacation from a $100-a-month teaching job in 1952, she was in Newport News. “I heard that Langley was looking for black women computers,” she said.

She was put into a pool, from which she emerged within two weeks to join engineers who, five years later, would become involved in something new called the “Space Task Force.”

That was 1958, when the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
She did the math.

“We wrote our own textbook, because there was no other text about space,” she says. “We just started from what we knew. We had to go back to geometry and figure all of this stuff out. Inasmuch as I was in at the beginning, I was one of those lucky people.”

That luck came in large part because she was no stranger to geometry. It was only natural that she calculate the trajectory of Alan Shepherd’s 1961 trip into space, America’s first.

“The early trajectory was a parabola, and it was easy to predict where it would be at any point,” Johnson says. “Early on, when they said they wanted the capsule to come down at a certain place, they were trying to compute when it should start. I said, ‘Let me do it.

You tell me when you want it and where you want it to land, and I’ll do it backwards and tell you when to take off.’ That was my forte.”

More flights became more complicated, with more variables involving place and rotation of Earth and the moon for orbiting. By the time John Glenn was to go up to orbit the Earth, NASA had gone to computers.

“You could do much more, much faster on computer,” Johnson says. “But when they went to computers, they called over and said, ‘tell her to check and see if the computer trajectory they had calculated was correct.’ So I checked it and it was correct.”

So the “computer” began using a computer. And in 1969, while at a sorority meeting in the Pocono Mountains, she gathered with others around a small television set to see Neil Armstrong land on the moon and take the first step by a human there. There was some marveling, but not much.

“It all seemed routine to people by then,” Johnson said.

But there was an extremely nervous “computer.”

“I had done the calculations and knew they were correct,” said Johnson. “But just like driving (to Hampton in traffic) from Williamsburg this morning, anything could happen. I didn’t want anything to happen and it didn’t.”

Her work at Langley spanned from 1953 to 1986. She is still involved in math, tutoring youngsters, and she remembers where NASA’s space program was, even as she watches where it is now on television.

“I found what I was looking for at Langley,” she says. “This was what a research mathematician did. I went to work every day for 33 years happy. Never did I get up and say I don’t want to go to work.”

Johnson also spends time talking with children, making sure that they know of the opportunities that can be had through mathematics and science. She laughs when she talks of being interviewed long distance by a fourth-grade class in Florida.

“Each of them had their questions, and one asked, ‘are you still living?'” Johnson says. “They see your picture in a textbook and think you’re supposed to be dead.”

Far from it. Instead, she’s celebrating yet another birthday on Women’s Equality Day, without admitting that there was a time when she didn’t feel equal.

Her father wouldn’t allow it.

Image credit: NASA

Amazing Augmented Reality

Monday, December 28th, 2015

I’m not sure how many people are reading blogs this week, so, to be honest, I didn’t want to “waste” my wisdom (that’s a joke).

Instead of a Monday Golden Oldie, I thought I would share something I learned this weekend that shifted an attitude I had.

I’ve read a lot about virtual reality and the changes it will wrought.

But most of those changes seemed to be in areas that seemed frivolous, such as gaming.

Additionally, I couldn’t see people running around with VR headsets in the real world; perhaps in classrooms…

And I didn’t have much (any?) sense of ‘augmented reality’, other than the meaning of each word, or how it differed from virtual reality.

Then I saw this video from Magic Leap and at least part of the hoopla made a lot more sense.

Even I think it’s pretty cool.

Maybe it will even be used for more weighty things than games.

Lean, Diversity and NOLA

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015


Today we welcome Janelle R. Alexander, a new voice at MAPping Company Success. Janelle is a successful entrepreneur and one of the smartest and most fun people I’ve met in a long time. (Click About Janelle to learn more.)

I had the opportunity to attend the 2015 Lean Startup Conference a couple of weeks ago. While I had read and embraced the writings in The Lean Startup years ago, this was my first occasion to attend the now-iconic startup event. The environment there was buzzing with startup geekiness and I loved every minute of it. My takeaways from the event are 3 key learnings and one confession. First the confession: I missed the point when The Lean Startup went from methodology to movement.

The Confession

It’s brave of me to admit this. I espouse passions for early-stage companies, inclusive innovation (a.k.a. diversity in entrepreneurship) and positioning New Orleans as a leading startup hub—Lean Startup methodology provides a clinical process to power all 3 missions. I’m not sure under which rock I was sleeping. I understand the genesis of the movement—the wisdom of Eric Ries’s continuous innovation, minimum viable product and validated learning warrants a loyal following. And yet I still marveled whenever I met yet another devotee who had flown from Australia or Sweden or Ireland, all speaking in a shared Leansian language (“…it’s a lean startup company,” “by then they’d developed their MVP,” “then we iterated,” etc.).

Realization #1: Lean Startup methodology could be a pivotal force in fostering diversity and inclusive innovation

There are real barriers to entry for startups founded by women entrepreneurs and those of color. One of them is a disproportionate lack of access to resources—e.g. capital, networks, influencers, anchor customers. When these resources are markedly low or missing entirely, the nefarious runway becomes shorter; the importance of eliminating uncertainty and working smarter not harder becomes decisive. In short, adopting Lean Startup methodology is obligatory for underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Realization #2: Data is the equalizer that makes innovation truly inclusive

I sat listening to Alistair Croll Lean Analytics talk. Nearly every seat had a laptop open, and, from what I could tell, every monitor was showing Slack. Mr. Croll’s talk drove home the measure and learn parts of the methodology. His Street Smart Tactics were distilled for maximum relevance and insight which rang true (and were a delight to hear).

At its core, Lean Startup methodology is powered by data. Data is the new abundant resource for diverse entrepreneurs, which will offset the historical obstructions to the old school forms of capital.

Some Quotes to Remember from his talk:

“Archimedes had taken a bath before.” Meaning: The old tale of Archimedes’ displacement discovery in the bathtub was used to show that it was the king asking the right question which led to the discovery, and more importantly, the new data.

“Business plans are a lot like drawing a map before you’ve gone exploring”

Realization #3: New Orleans is the perfect environment for Lean Startup methodology

New Orleans is quickly establishing itself as an emerging startup hub. Collision is coming here. Mega companies have relocated here. Forbes thinks we’re great. The energy surrounding entrepreneurship in this city is palpable, and New Orleanians embrace this new focus with their usual delight and fervor. I heard Steve Case say about New Orleans that it’s a model for community connectivity and inclusiveness. It is in such an environment that Lean Startup methodology can thrive. Here we support our entrepreneurs in a way this native New Yorker never anticipated when I first moved to the Crescent City. Here, the community organically does what it can to minimize the entrepreneur’s time through the loop that is the Lean Startup process.

I came back ready to spread the word, and excited that I had another tool in the toolbox.

Entrepreneurs: Pay Attention — Or Not

Thursday, November 5th, 2015


Have you ever considered that the comments and musings of so-called influencers and thought leaders carry more weight than they should.

Insider anecdotes from tech often show just how wrong those at the top can be.

Steve Jobs didn’t believe anyone would buy big phones.

Or the mindset of Jim Clark, as revealed by Michael Lewis, author of The New New Thing, a book about the tech industry in the late ’90s.

“At the end of The New New Thing, Jim Clark, who has made a fortune out of the internet bubble, says he’s getting out because he’s scared. Why’s he scared? Kleiner Perkins, the VC firm, has given $25 million to this startup called Google, which he thinks is outrageous. Why would anyone give $25 million to Google? A search engine is just a commodity, everybody knows that, it’s a silly name.”

There are always experts who will tell you why whatever won’t work.

I’m not recommending that you just ignore or dismiss them.

What I am saying is that you need to take everything with a grain of skepticism and not buy it because of who says it.

Flickr image credit: MSLGROUP Global

Recreating Mom and Dad

Monday, October 5th, 2015


Do you ever wonder why so many consumer startups are similar?

Not in terms of the products or services, but the similarity of what each accomplishes.

Each is aimed at providing the wherewithal to accomplish a basic function of living.

From locomotion to meals to dates or just sex; from cleaning to shopping to errands to child/parent/pet care.

They are developed for a generation that is used to having everything done for them.

And then adopted by generations used to doing things for themselves.

No, that is inaccurate.

They are adopted by those of whatever age who can afford to pay.

If the Shoe Fits: Drizly, Tough Questions and You

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mDid you see the story of Drizly Bear by founder/CEO Nicholas Rellas on LinkedIn?

Rellas wanted to disrupt the way liquor is purchased.

The idea was pure and incredibly simple: Alcohol delivery, connecting consumers to local retailers at the touch of a button to have alcohol delivered in just 20 to 40 minutes.

The problem is that liquor regulation makes the taxi industry look unregulated.

The question, given the amount of regulation and the fact that it differs state-to-state and even city/county-to-city/county within each state, was where to start.

Where many would have chosen to start in the least regulated market to get traction Drizly took the opposite approach.

We started Drizly in Boston, MA, a city steeped in alcohol lore and one that is so tightly regulated that there are no happy hours.

If you think he was crazy, then he was, as they say, crazy like a fox.

The definition of a tough (or hard) question is one of the the most critical things that everybody needs to know.

And it’s incredibly simple, too.

It’s something that every salesperson learns immediately, but it applies to any industry, field, situation or effort.

A tough question is any question that can draw a response of ‘no’.

Rellas believed if Drizly could address every regulation in Boston, then they could address regulations anywhere — and he was right.

What we formed was a cookie cutter model of adding supply to our network that now scales with minimal capital and human investment and has allowed us to expand to over 18 cities in as many months.

Rellas wraps your take-away perfectly.

So ask the hard questions. Answer them upfront. Be truthful about your answers. There are reasons why great ideas won’t, or didn’t, work. We fight those every day. Some are insurmountable, others are not. Knowing which mountain to climb is as much of the challenge as the climbing itself. But by not asking and answering the hard questions, for a new business or a new line of business in an existing one, we’re doomed to fail from the very beginning.

Image credit: HikingArtist


If the Shoe Fits: Innovation vs. Marketing

Friday, September 18th, 2015

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThere is a myth out there that large companies aren’t creative and don’t innovate.

Not only is it a myth, it’s pure BS.

Watch this video for a look at pure innovation as done by Samsung.

So why the persistent myth?

There’s a great answer in the comments.

In two years Apple will come out with the same thing for their semis, call it iPass, and be lauded as innovators. –CommanderCorner

It used to be that if you built a better mousetrap the world would beat a path to your door, but these days the mousetrap matters less than the mystique of the builder and the skill of the marketers.

Image credit: HikingArtist Video credit: Leo Burnett

Entrepreneurs: Think Security from Day One

Thursday, July 30th, 2015


There are dozens of startups working on wiring everyday products to become part of the Internet of Things (IoT) and a few weeks ago I cited an article that raising money in that arena was tied to building security into a product from the beginning.

Security used to be a function to which consumers gave little thought, but that is rapidly changing.

Anything can be hacked, but awareness was heightened recently when security experts hacked a Jeep’s entertainment system and took control of vital driving functions.

The result of their work was a hacking technique—what the security industry calls a zero-day exploit—that can target Jeep Cherokees and give the attacker wireless control, via the Internet, to any of thousands of vehicles. Their code is an automaker’s nightmare: software that lets hackers send commands through the Jeep’s entertainment system to its dashboard functions, steering, brakes, and transmission, all from a laptop that may be across the country.

And if none of this makes IoT startup founders rethink their cavalier attitude towards building tough security into their initial design, perhaps this comment from Colby Moore, a security research engineer at the cybersecurity firm Synack, will make them think twice.

“Really, the state of security on these things right now is pretty atrocious… A lot of these device manufacturers are just not security people and they really just don’t have security people on staff, especially when it comes to IoT start-ups. What they are doing is phenomenal with all of these new uses for technology. But security isn’t a concern for everybody. It’s ship now and patch later mentality.” (…)  If you are worried about it then don’t put yourself at risk. It’s kind of up to us to demand a higher security standard and hold the manufacturers to it.”

Flickr image credit: centralasian

Hacking Colorblindness

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Business Insider published an article today about glasses that let colorblind people see color, including the video below.

I’m sharing it to help along the effort for it to go viral, so more people will learn about this technology.

And also why you should never take anything for granted.

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