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If the Shoe Fits: Silicon Valley Groupthink, Should and You

Friday, January 8th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mOn one of the last days of 2015 I read a great article about the groupthink that pervades Silicon Valley these days.

It reminded me of how teens of every generation display their rebellion against society through their choice of clothes, while simultaneously making sure they “fit in” with their peers.

This is most easily seen in a subgroup like the goths, whose black clothing and makeup sets them apart from other teens, but within which a rigid dress code prevails.

Unlike the Silicon Valley I knew in the 1980s and 90s, today’s Silicon Valley is far more homogenized and undiversified, with little perspective on the “real” world.

The result is that it’s far less creative and exciting than it once was.

Silicon Valley groupthink is also the force behind what Danielle Morrill, CEO & Cofounder of Mattermark, calls the “tyranny of should.”

But sometimes when I am able to quiet that story down, I catch myself listening because it is just so much easier to have someone else figure out what I should do.

In the first days of this new year I urge you to choose between taking the easy road of groupthink and should or following Sam Altman’s path of most resistance.

“You should ignore what your peers are doing or what your peers or parents think is cool. (…) And that’s the hardest part. We’re all so much more susceptible to that than we think.”

Yes, another ‘should’, but not all ‘shoulds’ are created equal.

As always, it’s your choice.

That’s both life’s greatest joy and its greatest fear.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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: How Mature Is Your Company

Friday, March 6th, 2015

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

kg_charles-harrisHave you ever been taken aback by the dichotomy between a company’s excellent product and its amateurish website or product sheets?

If you have, you are face-to-fact with an immature company.

And while important for consumer sales, M&S maturity is absolutely critical when selling to business — no matter the size of the enterprise.

This immaturity has nothing to do with years in business and everything to do with an immature business process with regards to sales and marketing.

If a potential customer meets something that’s immature, i.e., incompetent, in M&S, they will jump to the conclusion that the company is also incompetent in other areas.  

That’s why look & feel are so important — we Americans, unlike most other countries, have grown up in a society where marketing is central, so in many ways looks are more important than substance.

Young companies are often immature; they hire sales people, but turn a blind eye to the need for doing the product marketing work first.

The shrug off lead generation/creation, lead nurturing, sales process, sales collateral that fit the process, key selling points against competitors, target user profile, target influencer profile, etc., and, worst of all, customer service.

These are the real underpinnings for success.

A lot to cover; a lot to do, but the payoff is significant.

After all, you don’t want your target customers to dismiss you because you look immature, do you?

If the Shoe Fits: What is Failure?

Friday, December 19th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWhat is failure?

Is it having a startup/project/marriage go left instead of right?

How many times can a person fail?


Failure in the startup world has essentially become a non-event, since that outcome is more likely than success.

According to research by Shikhar Ghosh, a senior lecturer in the entrepreneurial management unit at Harvard Business School, 30 to 40 percent of venture-backed start-ups blow through most or all of their investors’ money, and 70 to 80 percent do not deliver their projected return on investment.

However, I believe that you can only fail once.

That’s because the only failure I recognize is that of not trying again.

Also known as quitting.


Image credit: HikingArtist
Image credit: BK

If the Shoe Fits: Patience Pays

Friday, September 26th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mFor many founders speed and as-instant-as-possible gratification are their watchwords.

They aim to be a rocket and when it doesn’t happen quickly they are on to the next idea.

Now look at the father and two sons who founded and built Qualtrics.

Two years ago Qualtrics had bootstrapped its way to $50 million in revenue, 200 employees, 3,800 customers and a $500 million acquisition offer.

CEO Ryan Smith is all of 33, which means he was just 23 when the company started just after the dot com crash (dad created the product and his older brother powers the tech.)

He turned the buyout down and took investment instead.

Two years later they have over $100 million in sales, 550 employees, 6,000 customers, a billion dollar valuation and $150 million in a series B round.

It’s said the best time to start a company is during tough times when money is tight.

Qualtrics may not have been built fast, but it was certainly built to last.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If the Shoe Fits: Does the Description Fit Your Startup?

Friday, August 1st, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI’ve been working with entrepreneurs since the 1980s.

Sadly, the mindset has changed significantly—and not for the better.

I’m not the only one who feels that way.

German designer Hartmut Esslinger, who met Steve Jobs in 1982 and told him “Apple’s products were incredibly ugly and wasteful in production,” puts it this way.

“There is a bubble where greed meets hype and fake: Too many want to get rich instead of doing something meaningful for mankind, something for progress, to improve life.”

“Greed meets hype and fake;” what a perfect description of so many apps with billion-plus valuations.

The question you need to ask yourself is, “does it fit mine?”

Image credit: HikingArtist

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

AO OnDemand 2014: BeyondCore

Monday, June 9th, 2014


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.

If the Shoe Fits: Cheating for an Edge

Friday, May 16th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mCheating is rife across the board, so seeing more of it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

I think what does surprise is not how overt it is these days, but the assumption that everyone will participate.

Especially when money is involved.

Recently the CEO of soon-to-go-public Arista Networks offered Fortune Sr. Editor at Large Adam Lashinsky, who had written about the company previously, ““friends and family” shares in Arista’s upcoming initial public offering. The offer was explicit….” (He declined.)

Lashinsky saw similar acts before the last tech bubble burst and sees this as a sign that there is indeed a tech bubble that will soon blow up.

When times are so good that executives are willing to disregard the difference between ethical and unctuous behavior, it’s just one sign that the end, relatively speaking, is near.

I’m not sure unctuous applies as an alternative to unethical, but there is no question about the ethics of trying to bribe anyone in a position to affect an IPO.

It’s cheating, plain and simple and the SEC tends to frown on it. 

Sadly, many don’t see it as an ethical lapse, let alone cheating.

They see it as reasonable business practice.

How do you see it?

Image credit: HikingArtist

If the Shoe Fits: Surviving Your Startup

Friday, April 18th, 2014

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_m Whether you admire Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, or not, you can’t argue with her success.

But it came at a cost, “…seven years ago I collapsed from exhaustion, burnout and sleep deprivation. I broke my cheekbone on the way down and got four stitches on my right eye.”

That incident lead Huffington to add a third metric to success’ standard two metrics of money and power.

…the third metric, which includes our well-being, our wisdom, our capacity to wonder and bring joy into our lives, and our capacity to give. Without these four pillars, life is really reduced to our to-do list.

Too many in the startup community do treat their lives as a to-do list, from starting a company through marriage and kids, with sub to-do lists for each.

They lose sight of the simple; seeing life as a series of competitive challenges.

Which I find hilarious, since that attitude harks back to the much maligned Boomers, whose mantra was “life is a challenge to be overcome.”

Granted, there are many challenges that indeed need to be added to our to-do list until overcome, but there are many others that, although noticed, may be passed by, with nary a ripple in our well-being.

Destroying yourself for the sake of a vision benefits no one—not your team, nor your investors, nor your family/friends and least of all yourself.

Image credit: HikingArtist

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