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Entrepreneurs: Ryan Grepper and the Coolest

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Ryan Grepper’s Coolest is proof that necessity is the father of invention.

Not that his invention is a necessity and it won’t save the world or even a little bit of it, but it will make your summer fun easier.

The original galvanized metal cooler was patented in 1954.

Coleman introduced a plastic liner in 1957 and wheels were added a couple of decades later.

But nothing, including the fancy electric versions, even comes close to Grepper’s Coolest.

There are far more moving parts to manufacturing a complicated product such as Coolest, which Grepper seems to understand.

It’s also nice to see a “real” product from a twenty-something that while focused on fun will generate revenue through sales, not ads.

Obviously, others agree. Coolest has raised over $5.5 million dollars from more than 29,000 people—and the campaign still has 42 days to run.

Coolest is definitely a global business in the making.

I’m sure it won’t be long before he will have to choose between building a company and selling or licensing his technology.

What would you do?

Image credit: Coolest on Kickstarter

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Ducks in a Row: is Solitude a Lost Art?

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/alicepopkorn/3994131468

A month after I started this blog in 2006 I focused on the magic found in silence; magic that allows you to think, dream and innovate.

Silence is a requirement to get to know oneself. In 2007 I wrote, “My own anecdotal evidence shows that while most people are uncomfortable with silence, others are actually terrified by it.”

Two years ago I cited Edward do Bono, a giant in the world of creative thinking, who believes that boredom is the springboard of creativity.

Last year research found that the constant time spent with today’s ubiquitous screens not only affects the brain, but also reduces capacity for connection, friendship and empathy.

Now, eight years later, people’s need for distraction and abhorrence of silence have been proved.

A recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek details an experiment just how far people will go to escape solitude.

Being alone with no distractions was so distasteful to two-thirds of men and a quarter of women that they elected to give themselves mild electric shocks rather than sit quietly in a room with nothing but the thoughts in their heads.

Is this you?

Flickr image credit: Alice Popkorn

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If the Shoe Fits: Scott Adams on Pivots

Friday, June 27th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn the dim past (1980s on) when I started working with startups they were carefully thought out, market sensitive/smart, with much of the effort focused on being able to sell the product, AKA, generate revenue, whether hardware or software.

They rarely needed to pivot.

The rise of the Internet/web/cloud/mobile and the falling cost of software development, with a focus on iterations and eyeballs, created a different approach and pivoting became the name of the game.

While ‘pivot’ has many definitions, the one that seems most accurate in many cases is “throw it up and see what sticks.”

According to Dilbert’s Scott Adams, this is how to do a startup today.

Here’s the system:
1. Form a team
2. Slap together an idea and put it on the Internet.
3. Collect data on user behavior.
4. Adjust, pivot, and try again.

Thanks to Google Analytics, Optimizely, Bitly, and other tools for measuring customer behavior in real time, a smart team can try different approaches and different products until something works out. A start-up in 2014 is a guess-testing machine.

Adams says this is why good founders have to be good psychologists.

Every entrepreneur is now a psychologist by trade. The ONLY thing that matters to success in our anything-is-buildable Internet world is psychology. How does the customer perceive this product? What causes someone to share? What makes virality happen? What makes something sticky?

Much of what Adams says makes sense, but are these the ideas or solutions that can recharge our economy, juice the job market or solve humanities ills?

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Hello Flo: Hilarious = Sales (Second Edition)

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Every so often I see an ad campaign that I find truly impressive; when I do I like to share them with you.

One of the best was the initial ad for a very old product, tampons, sold in a brand new way, subscription, and perfectly focused on new (in every sense) customers.

Even the product name, Hello Flo, evokes laughter.

The first ad was hilarious and the follow up is even better.

I have others worth sharing and will do so on and off on future Wednesdays.

Image credit: Hello Flo

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Entrepreneurs: Are Investors Watering Down Innovation?

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hikingartist/3514537597/Innovation isn’t nearly as mind-boggling today when compared to what startups were doing in the late Seventies/early Eighties when I started working with them.

That’s not surprising when you consider who gets funded these days.

A recent Reuters report found that the majority of Silicon Valley startup founders that receive Series A funding come from the same pedigreed cohort: either they previously worked at a large, well-known tech firm, a well-connected smaller tech company, they previously created a successful startup, or they come from one of three universities—Stanford, Harvard, or MIT.

Not surprising when you consider the attitude of Valley stalwarts like Paul Graham of Y Combinator, who publically stated that he would be unlikely to fund someone with a strong accent or a woman.

It’s been 15 years since I first wrote about the proclivity of managers to hire people like themselves and more over the years showing it leads to homophily and the negative impact that has on a company.

It seems it’s no different for investors.

They are funding people like themselves who were raised, educated and worked along paths similar to their own who they either know or are introduced to them by a friend.

“Like a lot of the investments [Instacart] that have come our way, a friend of a friend talked to us about it, and told us about it, and encouraged the founder and the CEO to come and chat with us. One thing led to another.” –Sequoia partner Mike Moritz

When you fund from a homogenous group, no matter where they are, creativity and innovation are watered down, because those groups tend to be insular and badly interbred talking mostly to each other.

If you’re fishing from a pond of rich white guys, you’re only going to get ideas that address the needs of rich white guys.

AKA, people like themselves.

Flickr image credit: HikingArtist

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AO OnDemand 2014: BeyondCore

Monday, June 9th, 2014

kg_charles-harris

This week I attended AO OnDemand 2014—a good conference for understanding how the enterprise SaaS ecosystem and its up-and-coming young companies are developing.  The conference also details market changes that are happening around mergers and acquisitions and the strategic moves that large enterprise software players are making to position themselves.

As usual there was an interesting group of people there, everything from startup executives to representatives from EMC, SAP, Oracle and others, which made for good networking with a variety of people from interesting companies.

What I’d like to highlight today is BeyondCore, a very interesting data analytics company I’ve been following on the Internet for more than a year.  Since I’m in the big data analytics market myself, I spend a lot of time getting to know the environment and make it a point to follow the most interesting new companies. 

I had the pleasure of meeting the newly hired VP Marketing Sandra Peterson and their CEO Arijit Sengupta.  They’ve created a brilliant piece of software that truly solves some of the problems in the data analytics world—especially when directed at the business user.  Not only does it automatically look for what’s interesting in the data and present it to you, but it also provides you with an automated analysis to help you better understand the relevant points in the data. 

These are exactly the types of functionality that Sandra highlighted when I asked her why she joined the company.  She had only come on board three days prior, so of course it was interesting to understand why an experienced senior marketing executive would join a young company (other than the options package and pay, of course…).

What she brought up was the unique combination of personal characteristics of Arijit, the founder.  His tenacity as a technology visionary to struggle with the problems of building a company against all odds and his infectious communication of the advantages in the product he’d created in a way that average people could understand were clear attractions for her beyond the technology itself.  I certainly saw both when he briefly demoed the product for me.

BeyondCore has an impressive product with a good team; I wish them good fortune and will continue to follow their development and successes.

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Entrepreneurs: Medical Breakthroughs

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Cerviscope

Cerviscope

Not all entrepreneurs start companies and develop apps, just as most world-changing breakthroughs are not software-based.

Many of the most inventive idea that will affect millions of people around the world are being done in giant corporations, academia and non-profits.

This is especially true when it comes to medical breakthroughs that are truly the stuff of humanity’s dreams.

20 years ago Dr. David Walmer went to Haiti to help paint a church. What he saw was so appalling he spent the next twenty years developing the CerviScope, an affordable tool to diagnose cervical cancer.

In the United States, cervical cancer is considered a preventable disease. “You have 10 years to detect this disease before it becomes untreatable,” Walmer says. “And it’s easy to detect. It develops on the outside of the cervix, which you can see.”

For those who watch Gray’s Anatomy this story about using modified HIV may seem a bit familiar.

There was nothing else to try. Nothing except a crazy experimental treatment never before given to a child: Blood was taken out of 6-year-old Emily’s body, passed through a machine to remove her white cells and put back in. Then scientists at the University of Pennsylvania used a modified HIV virus to genetically reprogram those white cells so that they would attack her cancer, and reinjected them. (…) [When the reaction almost killed her] Doctors gave Emily a rheumatoid arthritis drug that stopped the immune system storm–without protecting the cancer. Emily awoke on her 7th birthday and slowly recovered. A week later her bone marrow was checked. Emily’s father, an electrical lineman named Tom Whitehead, remembers getting the call from her doctor, Stephan Grupp: “It worked. She’s cancer free.”

Another approach is to tweak the body’s own immune system to stop cancer.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute sequenced the genome of her cancer and identified cells from her immune system that attacked a specific mutation in the malignant cells. Then they grew those immune cells in the laboratory and infused billions of them back into her bloodstream.

Yet another effort uses genetically modified bacteria to target a specific protein found in most brain cancers.

The vaccine, known as ADU-623, uses a genetically modified version of the bacterium listeria monocytogenes — the bacterium that in its native form causes the listeria infection — and a specific mutated protein found only in cancer cells, said Keith Bahjat, a researcher at Providence Cancer Center in Portland. The protein used is found in more than half of brain cancers (…) The idea is to provoke an immune response to the bacterium, assuming the immune system will then also target the proteins found in the cancer cells. The goal is to wipe out the pieces of tumor that are so intertwined with brain tissue they cannot be completely removed by surgery.

Also to be noted, cancer diagnostics are going to the dogs.

Tsunami, a regal-looking dog with attentive eyes and an enthusiastic tail wag for her trainer friends. University of Pennsylvania researchers say she is more than 90 percent successful in identifying the scent of ovarian cancer in tissue samples, (…)  The largest study ever done on cancer-sniffing dogs found they can detect prostate cancer by smelling urine samples with 98 percent accuracy. At least one application is in the works seeking U.S. approval of a kit using breath samples to find breast cancer.

Pretty cool, and a friend/researcher in the industry tells me that rats are used to do diagnostic testing of sickle cell anemia.

On another front,  paralysis isn’t being ignored, either, leading to an amazing discovery.

But now, scientists are developing technology that can read signals directly from the brain and restore motion to a paralyzed hand — no healthy spine required.

Last, but not least, a look at how dentistry has seen the light in a way that could change a lot more than tooth replacement.

A Harvard-led team just successfully used low-powered lasers to activate stem cells and stimulate the growth of teeth in rats and human dental tissue in a lab. (…)  The ability to naturally regrow dental tissue could transform dentistry, making it possible to regrow teeth instead of replacing them with a substitute like porcelain. But even more amazingly, once it’s better understood, this same technique could potentially be used to heal wounds and regenerate bone, skin, and muscle.

Truly amazing, life-changing innovation happening in our lifetime.

Flickr image credit: Family HM

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Entrepreneurs: Graphene will Change the World

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dullhunk/10296922025Ever noticed that most discussion and commentary about entrepreneurs center on innovation and little-to-none of it will, in fact, change the world.

Mostly they are about finding and rating personal and businesses services, locating partners, whether for hook-ups or long-term, and other such weighty matters.

Additionally, other than the bio-X stuff, innovation is dominated by software.

But software, including the giants like Facebook and Google haven’t fundamentally changed things as much as is stated—and both could be easily replaced relative to something as basic to our modern civilization as silicon.

Is there anything happening that does have the potential to fundamentally change our world?

Yes, there is and its name is graphene.

The American Chemical Society said in 2012 that graphene was discovered to be 200 times stronger than steel and so thin that a single ounce of it could cover 28 football fields. Chinese scientists have created a graphene aerogel, an ultralight material derived from a gel, that is one-seventh the weight of air. A cubic inch of the material could balance on one blade of grass.

Graphene is transparent, conductive, flexible and inexpensive.

The heavy lifting to develop graphene and uses for it is being done by old people in stogy, non-entrepreneurial companies, such as IBM, Nokia and SanDisk and especially Samsung along with a number of universities, with nary a twenty-something in sight.

Because the electronics industry so invested in silicon (software, including the cloud and apps run on hardware) it’s doubtful they will move quickly to embrace Graphene, in spite of its ability to truly revolutionize the entire industry.

Not so the Gates Foundation, which already paid to develop a graphene-based condom that is thin, light and impenetrable.

If your dream is to truly change the world, whether now or later, consider graphene.

Who knows, your idea could lead not just to a new company, but to an entirely new industry; not to employing a few thousand, but to jobs for millions.

Flickr image credit: Duncan Hill

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Entrepreneurs: Dean Kamen (Role Model)

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/plural/5412657784

I remember when the Segway was introduced. It was supposed to revolutionize commuting by getting people out of their cars.

Segways are used in a variety of settings, but not in what you would call general use, which isn’t surprising considering new ones cost anywhere from $6,000 to as high as $13,000.

But Dean Kamen, Segway’s inventor, is about a lot more than pricey personal transport.

His latest idea, that just got FDA approval, is another gold star on his “good for humanity” list.

The DEKA limb can provide “near natural upper-arm extremity control” to amputees and the device is modular so that it can be fitted to people who’ve suffered any degree of limb loss, from an entire arm to a hand, Sanchez said. Six “grip patterns” allow wearers to drink a cup of water, hold a cordless drill or pick up a credit card or a grape, among other functions.

The prosthetic looks amazing and could be an enormous boon to soldiers who lost limbs in the wars with Iraq and Afghanistan and thousands of other amputees.

DEKA is looking for a manufacturer.

Kamen is an impressive guy, more inventor than entrepreneur.

“Most people, once they get good at something, they make iterations and make a career out of that. (Think Bezos, Ellison, Gates, Jobs) We’re good at trying to try some crazy idea that probably won’t work.”

But look at the ones that do.

  • the first portable drug delivery device for providing drugs that previously required round-the-clock hospital care.
  • a portable dialysis machine
  • an insulin pump for diabetics
  • a vascular stent
  • the iBOT — a motorized wheelchair that climbs stairs
  • a prosthetic arm for maimed soldiers
  • and a portable energy and water purification device, called Slingshot (amazing story) for the developing world.

It’s unlikely that Kamen will ever join the billionaires club, but he will die richer than any of them.

And guess who will be remembered the longest?

He is proof that one (stubborn) person can truly make a difference and change millions of lives.

Flickr image credit: jason gessner

 

 

 

 

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Women @ Kimberly-Clark

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

kimberly-clark

Personally, I think the only thing dumber than expecting a twenty-something to design a product that resonates with Boomers (the people with money) is to have predominantly men leading, guiding and driving innovation for a corporation whose customer base is 83% female.

Yet, that is what was going on at Kimberly-Clark.

In fact, the situation was dire enough in 2009 that it even caught the eye of the board.

If they wanted to create better products targeted to female shoppers, executives realized, they had to transform into the kind of company that propelled women into higher positions instead of letting their careers stall.

With consultants’ assistance, the company did a wide-ranging survey of what was holding women back.

These ranged from concerns that promotions would lead to putting their families second to eradicating the “mommy track” stigma to the time to commute in China.

Kimberly has moved aggressively to address the roadblocks and has accomplished a great deal over the intervening five years.

By 2013, women at Kimberly-Clark made up 26% of the director-level or higher slots, up from 19% in 2009. Female representation on the board of directors also increased.

That was enough to win Catalyst Inc.’s top award for advancing women in the workplace.

Of course, the prime question is did it pay off in terms that Wall Street could understand?

At the end of 2009, the company’s stock price stood at $63.71. By the end of 2013, it had risen to $104.46.

‘Nuff said; money talks.

Flickr image credit: Kimberly-Clark

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