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Ducks in a Row: Anything—As Long As It Pays…

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pimkie_fotos/2673197411/Edward Snowden’s revelations made people hyper-conscious of government snooping, while the proliferation of mobile and connected devices has made snooping easier, not to mention very profitable.

And profit is what’s behind the rise of global cyber-arms dealers that sell human suffering and death as surely as their real-world counterparts sell weapons.

Last summer, Bill Marczak stumbled across a program that could spy on your iPhone’s contact list and messages—and even record your calls. Illuminating shadowy firms that sell spyware to corrupt governments across the globe, Marczak’s story reveals the new arena of cyber-warfare.

Marczak’s stumble revealed three zero-day exploits (“Zero days” refers to the amount of time—i.e., none—a target has to fix an entirely new kind of hack before damage can be done.).

It’s called a jailbreak and the ability to do it remotely is every hacker’s dream.

… the ability to hack remotely into the digital brains of the world’s most popular hardware—the desktops, laptops, tablets, and especially the mobile phones made by Apple. And not just break into Apple devices but actually take control of them. It was a hacker’s dream: the ability to monitor a user’s communications in real time and also to turn on his microphone and record his conversations.

In a superhuman effort, Apple patched all three exploits in just 10 days.

It’s an uplifting story, but the fact is Apple and other computer-makers are fighting a losing battle. As long as there are hackers, they will continue to find ways to hack any device that interfaces with them. These dangers were highlighted this fall when a New England company found itself the target of a mass denial-of-service attack from millions of non-computer “zombie devices” connected to the Internet—most notably baby monitors.

“What these cyber-arms dealers have done is democratize digital surveillance,” says the A.C.L.U.’s Chris Soghoian. “The surveillance tools once only used by big governments are now available to anyone with a couple hundred grand to spend.” In fact, they may be coming to your iPhone sometime soon.

Hat tip to KG for sharing the Vanity Fair article about Marczak.

Flickr image credit: Pimkie

Entrepreneurs: What Leadership Looks Like

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

KG emailed me this cartoon and asked what I thought.

leader-bossI responded that I had a better image of leadership, only mine was drawn with words.

I’ve shared them here before, but a reminder never hurts.

As for the best leaders,
the people do not notice their existence.

The next best,
the people honor and praise.

The next, the people fear;
and the next, the people hate—

When the best leader’s work is done,
the people say, “We did it ourselves!”

To lead the people, walk behind them.

–Lao Tzu

Now that’s what I consider a beautiful image.

Image credit: Anonymous via the Internet

Entrepreneurs: KG, Quarrio and the Salesforce Incubator

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

KG Charles-Harris is a serial entrepreneur whose current startup, Quarrio, is involved in big data using AI.

As longtime readers know, KG writes here whenever he has time, which he hasn’t had much of lately. His most recent post on leadership was a two-parter (you can read it here and here in case you missed it).

Today, I need to share some great news about KG and his startup Quarrio. (KG would be writing this, but he’s sick.)

Quarrio is a business intelligence product built on top of Salesforces’ platform.

What we do is Business Intelligence for Salesforce. How we do it is quite a bit different. With Quarrio we make it simple to analyze Salesforce by using conversations. We help you understand what’s happening to your opportunities, leads, accounts – just about anything in Salesforce — by simply having conversations.

Simply put, you ask questions in plain English and immediately answers in plain English, along with graphs, charts, etc., if apropos.

That ability will be a little slice of heaven for anyone who needs to get information from the dashboard.

Now for the great news.

Salesforce opened a new incubator today.

The new space, called the Salesforce Incubator, finally opened on Wednesday. Located in San Francisco’s SOMA district, where a lot of startups open shop these days, Salesforce Incubator will house 14 startups for the next 5 months for free.

And Quarrio is one of the chosen!

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“Freemium” isn’t a winning strategy for enterprise software, as Dropbox can attest.

In general, incubators are useful, but, for an enterprise startup using Salesforce’s platform, the focus, connections and access of the Salesforce incubator are unparalleled.

Obviously, it will be an intense five months.

Image credit: Salesforce

Entrepreneurs: Words of Encouragement

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

kg_charles-harris

I only have time for a quick note before my plane lands, but I wanted to share two quotes that have helped me keep going in rough times.

The first is something we all know from our own experience, but it always helps to hear it from “names” who have already pushed through and succeeded.

Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe. — Sumner Redstone

The second is something that every entrepreneur will swear to, although it would be nice to have summer vacation as we did while actually in school.

There is no education like adversity. –Benjamin Disraeli

Judging from these words of wisdom, I will be phenomenally well educated by the time Quarrio is a huge success.

Plane’s landing; back to work.

More Thoughts on Leadership

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

kg_charles-harris

I’ve seen many definitions of leadership in the course of my career, but none so accurate as the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th US president.

Leadership consists of nothing but taking responsibility for everything that goes wrong and giving your subordinates credit for everything that goes well.

Simple, right?

But harder to implement.

Years ago, in a personal setting, I was acting like a prima donna when someone I respected turned a mirror to my behavior.

Not only did I think my behavior was despicable, but I also learned of the destructive power of ego.

My ego.

It was a wake-up call for me.

To counteract it in the future, I created a little mantra that I repeat to myself relatively often.

“Ego is the enemy that confuses what I want, and destroys what I create.”

Ego is THE enemy.

More dangerous than laziness, ignorance or stupidity.

More perfidious than cowardice or fear.

And, sadly, more common across society with every passing year.

 

Ducks in a Row: KG on leadership strength, vulnerability — and asking questions

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

kg_charles-harris

A couple of days ago KG sent me a link to an article questioning previous research, which found that bosses asking questions engender positive reactions and asked me what I thought.

But a 2015 study suggests that there’s one glaring exception to that phenomenon. According to the findings, men in leadership positions wind up looking less competent when they ask for other people’s help.

As usual, I found KG’s thoughts well worth sharing. I include mine mainly to add clarity to the flow.

Me: With regards to the “clever experiments” I don’t think a bunch of MBA students, who are often all-knowing and judgmental, are a good guide to managing an age-diverse team.

KG: Possibly, but as I’ve remarked in the past, the general culture appreciates “strong” leadership. See Bush II or Trump as examples. Or Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison.

Me: True, but leadership still plays out within each specific culture and doesn’t always travel well. Also, your examples are the top dogs; there are leaders at every level and I don’t believe it plays out the same.

KG: Within a culture, little dogs follow top dogs. If the top dog displays certain behaviors, then the little ones will follow suit — we’ve all seen this in organizations.

The issue is that if it is expected that leaders are more than other humans, then we have a false view of leadership.

It is good for stroking the egos of those who are in leadership positions, but it leaves them exposed and ignorant. It should be unnecessary to appear as a demigod to be an effective leader in any culture.

In certain situations a leader must cut through and make decisions, either with limited visibility or high risk. In addition, there are many situations (especially if the group is in crisis) that a dictatorial style may be necessary. These, however, should be limited both in time and scope, because if they are prolonged they will end up damaging collaboration and initiative.

The truly great leaders, both from history and present day business, are those who are good at asking questions and keep asking questions. Genghis Khan was known for his insatiable curiosity and desire to learn, and he was also the most successful military commander in history.

In effect it is our laziness and fear that makes us want to create demigods — beings who know better, with more power and understanding.

We want them to tell us what to do, rather than having to think ourselves, because thinking takes work and research. It is simply easier to hand it over to someone else who “knows better.”

Having done so, we are surprised when our leaders are corrupt, their promises broken and our lives affected negatively.

Can we continue to absolve ourselves of responsibility? Isn’t a leader just another human being with the same levels of fallibility and constraints that any other?

Maybe they are in different areas, but I have yet to meet another human that is good at everything or sees everything.

And even if these people exist, they will still be constrained by their perspective, which is determined by their position in the organization, background, etc.

Only by humbly asking questions, and daring to do so, will a more complete picture emerge.

This is because everyone has a piece of the puzzle, and sometimes this has to be cajoled out.

This is the true art of leaders, because the great ones then make decisions with better information and achieve better results.

If the Shoe Fits: How Old is an Entrepreneur?

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

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

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Age is more a mental state than a physical one.

I’ve always said that smart people say/do stupid things and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla is proof of that.

“People under 35 are the people who make change happen,” said, “People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.”

The problem is that the data the tech world is so enamored with doesn’t back that up.

Vivek Wadhwa, a Duke University researcher, worked with the Kauffman Foundation in 2009 to explore the anatomy of a successful startup founder. That survey of more than 500 startups in high-growth industries showed that the average founder of a successful company had launched his or her venture at the surprisingly high age of 40. The study also found that people over 55 are almost twice as likely to launch high-growth startups than those aged 20 to 34.

The term “high growth” is key. 2010′s top two fastest-growing tech startups, according to Forbes, were First Solar, founded by a 68-year old, followed by Riverbed Technology, co-founded by entrepreneurs who were 51 and 33 at the time.

He should also inform the Merage Institute, which awards $100K to the top startup by a 45+-year-old founder (more runner-ups at the link).

  • In 2016 it was iSilla – Movement for people with disabilities
  • 2nd Prize –  SonicBone – Bone Age – Ultrasound Device for Bone Age assessment
  • 3rd Prize – Inensto – Aluminum Air Battery

In 2015 they were:

  • 1st Prize – NiNiSpeech
  • 2nd Prize – A new Hydrogen Energy Storage
  • 3rd Prize – Glasses for AMD Macular Degeneration

Brian Acton was 37 when he founded WhatsApp.

Notice that all of them solve a real problem — a problem of which they wouldn’t be aware if they hadn’t faced it directly or indirectly themselves.

Which meant they had real world experience.

Even Mark Zukerberg had real world experience; he wanted an easy way to engage and keep up with his friends. Remember, Facebook was originally started for college kids.

The reason Khosla is so far off base, is that an entrepreneur can only disrupt that with which she is familiar enough to figure out a better way or see a hole and fill it.

Hence young males created Tinder and its clones to hookup and Match and its clones for something more permanent.

If you look at socially oriented startups, many of their founders, both young and old, saw the need first hand, while volunteering and/or traveling, came home and created a solution that answered that need.

It’s not a matter of age.

It’s a matter of three things

  1. See the need/experience the want/desire what isn’t
  2. Think of a way to solve/provide it
  3. Possess the drive, tenaciousness, guts and slight insanity required to turn an idea into a reality and a reality into a company

And those three things can happen to anyone at any age.

My thanks to KG for reminding me of how important it is to help smash these myths.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If the Shoe Fits: from a Founder to Other Founders

Friday, March 11th, 2016

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

kg_charles-harrisWe all need things that inspire us when we are so tired or depressed that we don’t want to get out of bed, let alone put on a happy face.

I’ve found that putting inspiring words in places I don’t expect them lifts me to fight another day.

I thought I’d share one now and them in the hopes they might also lift you.

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” — Paulo Coelho, writer

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Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: Diversity Solution

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Finally!

Arwa Mahdawi (@ArwaM) has come up with a solution to the whole diversity problem.

Isn’t that terrific? Finally, a real solution.

Check out Rent-A-Minority for your next board meeting, conference or media interview.

And while you’re there be sure to read the user Stories.

I’m sure you’ll relate — on one level or another.

rent-a-minority

Hat tip to KG for sharing the site with us.

Ducks in a Row: the Cost of the So-Called Bro Culture

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bonniesducks/4612160187/

There is far more to diversity than gender, but I’ll save my comments on that for another post, although everything I say here applies to the wider exclusions.

Last Friday, in polite language, KG commented on the ignorance/idiocy of not hiring women, since they have to be so much better to achieve the same opportunities/promotions as men.

For proof, you have only to consider GitHub’s treatment of contributors.  

They found that when a woman programmer made a contribution to an open source project, that work was more likely to be accepted by their programming peers than contributions by men as long as those judging the work didn’t know the programmer was a woman.

If they did know the programmer was a woman, the work was more likely to be rejected.

For the unknowing, the bro culture refers to the culture found in most frat houses (although it exists in several other forms) and has become a hallmark of startups in Silicon Valley.

Jennifer Brandel, co-founder and CEO of Hearken, and Mara Zepeda, co-founder and CEO of Switchboard, wrote a terrific post that starts by depicting the startup ecosystem in sexual terms that perfectly drive the point home with the same class and light touch as Tootsie used to drive its point home back in 1982. (It’s a great read with serious analysis and suggestions for change.)

Startups, like the male anatomy, are designed for liquidity events. Consider the metaphors: “seed” funding, “up and to the right” trajectories, “acceleration,” “exit.” Paul Graham’s seminal essay “Startup = Growth” argues that explosive growth is the only measure of success. “Making it” means one of two things: go public or sell.

The bro culture also manages to turn a blind eye to just how much of their vaunted tech is the result of women.

Hilariously, it was not only a woman who the technology that paved the way for everything from Wi-Fi to GPS, it was film goddess Heddy Lamarr. She invented a secret communications system during World War II for radio-controlling torpedoes.

Dr Grace Murray Hopper invented COBOL, the first business-friendly programming language, in the 1940s. She was a computer scientist, a rear admiral in the U.S. navy and the first person to use the term “bug” in reference to a glitch in a computer system when she literally found a bug (moth) causing problems with her computer.

Then there is Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer who wrote the first algorithm and dreamed up the concept of artificial intelligence; her notes were an essential key to helping Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computers in the 1940s.

Not to forget Dr Shirley Jackson include portable fax, touch tone telephone, solar cells, fibre optic cables, and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting.

Most of male culture runs on pizza and beer, which, according to Beer Historian Jane Peyton was developed, sold and drunk but Mesopotamian women centuries ago.

A few more that guys should be aware of,

  • Nancy Johnson invented and patented the ice cream maker in 1843 and is still in use today.
  • Margaret A Wilcox invented the car heater in 1893, as well as a combined clothes and dishwasher.
  • Elizabeth Magie invented Monopoly in 1904.
  • Anna Connelly invented the fire escape in 1887.
  • Maria Beasely invented life rafts in 1882, as well as a machine that makes barrels.
  • Dr Maria Telkes, a psychiatrist, invented residential solar heating.
  • Letitia Geer invented a one-handed medical syringe in 1899.
  • Florence Parpart invented the electric refrigerator in 1914, along with improving street cleaning machines.
  • Josephine Cochrane invented the dishwasher (where would guys be without it?) in 1887
  • Marie Van Brittan Brown invented CCTV in 1969.
  • Margaret Knight invented a machine that makes square bottomed paper bags in 1871, although Charles Anan tried to steal her work claiming that it wasn’t possible for a woman to create this brilliant invention.  She also invented a safety device for cotton mills when she was 12 that is still being used today.
  • Alice Parker invented a natural gas powered central heater in 1919 that inspired the central heating systems used today.
  • Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar 1965, to which thousands of guys, and more recently gals, owe their lives.

Unwelcoming/disparaging culture goes far beyond the startup world and the pro/con about women is a minefield for companies, as witnessed by the Lands’ End contretemps currently playing itself out on social media.

The catalog had the temerity to feature Gloria Steinem, which brought a strong reaction from a customer.

“This family will not buy one single thing from Lands End ever again unless this drive highlighted by Gloria Steinem is fully retracted. (…) Lauding Gloria Steinem is beyond what I can understand from a company that ‘appears’ to celebrate family.” (Posted to the company’s Facebook page.)

Lands’ End apologized and scrubbed all mentions of Steinem, along with references to the ERA.

This, of course, brought enormous reaction from the other side.

As of midmorning Friday, close to 4,000 people had commented on the company’s Facebook post that addresses the flap.

Oops. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Lands’ End and other companies may lose customers when they end up in the middle of this no-win situation, but the bro culture has a much higher cost.

Talent.

And that can cost them the very breakthroughs that would put them on the road to an IPO.

Then again, with that attitude they don’t deserve great talent.

Which leaves KG and kindred spirits to scoop them up.

Flickr image credit: Duck Lover

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