Thursday, May 31, 2012


So Google thinks it will be cool to morph everything into Google Plus. But I don't. From now on you can find all my past stuff (including TypePad archives) at my new digs:

Oops - I guess that means I need to start posting stuff again :)

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Make (or take) the meeting

When you are growing either your business or your career (and increasingly, the two are inextricably linked), it's tempting to focus your time on activities that directly lead to either revenue or job opportunities. The Sirens of Dwindling Bandwidth and The Refrain of Anxious Spouses can easily drive you to flee exploratory, undefined activities, viewing them as luxuries you simply cannot afford.

But these open-ended activities are precisely the things you should be doing. In fact, the greater the degree of turmoil, flux and transition your company (or you) are in, the greater "allocation" you should make to pursuits that may not yield obvious outcomes at the outset.

This is because phases of transition bring ambiguity with them as part of the territory. You are creating a new market or product that doesn't exist...or you are writing a job description for something you (nor anyone) has done before. Therefore, it's time to create rather than transact. And creativity requires exploration of things - and people - who know what you don't.

Specifically, this means you should be intentionally making (or taking) meetings with interesting people, even if you don't know what will come of it. If someone has a good track record, an interesting background and good connections, something good is bound to come of it at some point (long-term thinking often liberates you to enjoy and explore more freely and authentically).

Some guidelines to increase your odds of making a non-specific agenda meeting effective:
  • Be face-to-face. Email and even phone calls are limited in the amount of information that is exchanged. It's amazing how much more you can glean over a cup of coffee, which by nature will reveal even the "small stuff" (like where the person just came from, where they got the fancy laptop bag, etc.) that can bring forth other connecting points. If you fear they may not meet with you if you lack a specific agenda, make one: come up with a few ideas of how you may help him / her out (or vice versa or both), and allocate a bit of time for this. But be sure to save some time for additional exploration that may yield something surprising and even better.
  • Prepare. Not knowing the outcome does not equate not preparing. Research who you are meeting with: where did s/he go to school and work? Do you have mutual relationships or interests? Have they invested in something that you can provide assistance with or input on? Basically you increase your chances of connection by doing some groundwork. It's fun if you embrace a curious approach.
  • Ask questions. Some recent sage wisdom came from my current boss: "people perceive meetings where they are being asked (questions) as more valuable & memorable: Human nature is to help other humans." So despite doing lots of research in advance (see above), your goal is not to demonstrate how much you know, but rather have them share all that THEY know. Not only will they enjoy and value the process, but it will help you uncover areas of collaboration (either now or in the future).
  • Follow up. If someone is courteous enough to spend time with you, acknowledge it with a thank you note. Refer to something you discussed during your meeting to show you really paid attention and found the time to be valuable.
  • Help them. To paraphrase Guy Kawasaki (whose Art of The Start's final chapter addresses "Being a Mensch"), the most enlightened people pay it forward without thinking about the payback. Because it is the right thing to do. 
Meaning that all of this goes both ways: if someone wants to meet with you, do it. Follow all the steps above - still research them and ask them questions even when they ask you to meet. And if they need your help, help them. Because that is all part of mensch-hood, which is way more important than an exit or a bullet point on a resume.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

G+ Deja Vu All Over Again?

A quick Google search on "Pinterest growth" emits the latest Silicon Valley effervescence (yeah, recommended Googling that too ;). It's true that rarely a day passes when I am not notified of at least 2 or 3 new "followers" on the service. And for some reason, I feel compelled to "follow back" out of courtesy. At least, I used to. Now the follows come so furiously that I've lost track.

Which feels like Google+ Deja Vu All Over Again. After the whackamole frenzy of adding G+ Followers my own Circles, I also soon stopped, exhausted and scratching my head at why it was even meaningful.  But Google was quick to assure the world that in its first month, it attained 40 million users.

Um, and...what is usage? Turns out this can constitute simply clicking +1 at the end of any story. Because this feeds back to your Google+ page, this means you are a Google+ "user." At least, to Google+ and the blogging that perpetuates these frothy myths.

Back to Pinterest. Despite claims that it's "2012's Hottest Startup," I'm hard-pressed to be impressed. Like Google+, its users are dramatically skewed towards one demographic (male engineers in G+ case, and women in Pinterest's). But I could stand teh imbalance if the actual significance merited the jubilee. But even some bubbly articles with titles like "Holy SMOKES! Pinterest is the fastest-growing site ever" also include disqualifiers at the end like, "Users aren't spending that much time at the site -- about 90 minutes a month, compared with 7 hours for Facebook."

No matter: it's far more fun to just talk about numbers in abstract; even if out of context, stats make for some sexy infographics. Like, "Over 1/5 of Facebook Connected Users are on Pinterest Daily." Does this  mean the server that hosts my (primarily untouched) Pinterest boards is sending server hits back to this count? And "Daily Users have Increased by 145% Since the Beginning of 2012". Same question as before and added to that is, what was the baseline at the start of 2012 anyway? Let's never forget the so-impressive "Raised $37.5M in funding since October 2011" stat in our list of business fundamentals.

The final straw that eliminated any last ounce of credibility I held for the service was when I learned that Pinterest is "quietly" making money from affiliate revenue. A partner fittingly called "Skimlinks" has helped it create a scheme where Pins that are clicked send an affiliate fee from the content provider straight to Pinterest.

So, in addition to lots of fluffy usage numbers, Pinterest is hiding how it's benefiting from the (few?) women actually taking the time to post stuff to their boards.

Well, at least it's not ALL women. there any reason we don't use metrics like DAU and ARPU here? Tell me I'm missing something...
 I'd Pin this if I trusted the service more...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

If it's been said already... may still merit saying!

So much has been said about doing email introductions properly ... and so much of it feels like common sense. So the only amazing thing is that people continue to do it so badly. And perhaps one of the worst parts of this phenomena is that the people making the poorly-formed requests tend to blame the person asked for not responding, when the responsibility really falls on them to make the entire process effective.

How can we eliminate this ill will and save lots of people time? It's hard to top these posts by the prolific VC, Mark I'll just underscore some of these points with my own twist in the hopes that this in some small way reduces some frustration and wasted time for all in the future.

(1) Make it Forwardable: This is my ongoing mantra and listed as Suster's #4 here. I've lost count of how many long email threads I have with friends or contacts sussing out how well I know someone, how I suggest reaching out to them, etc, only to end in, "Thanks!" The expectation is then for me to package up all the thinking (and whatever attachments) were embedded in the previous emails to create a version that is digestable by the prospective intro. Making me realize my friend etc. is absolutely clueless or zero in the empathic category.

(2) Short Does Not Equal Focused: Point #1 above does presuppose that the person packaging up the request understands what is useful for someone getting the intro.  Which is why it's helpful to also read the "Short" and "Focused" top 2 points in Suster's post.

But don't be tempted to think "short" necessarily translates into "focused." Today I got a hugely general intro from someone I know saying I "should meet" this other person because they are doing something vaguely pertaining to what I'm currently working on. Worse, the reply from the person being introduced only mentioned wanting to "network" to raise money. No elaboration on or links to what his project is and even worse: no mention of why I specifically am someone he wants to meet. Does he know anything about me, or can he identify whetherwe have something in common, etc. that would make "networking" a truly valuable endeavor?

(3) Do The Work. In the examples above, a common theme is that it's on me to either package things up or devise a useful connecting point. Why me? If you are asking for an intro, you should have done your research on me (or whoever you want me to introduce you to), and laid out some specifics on exactly why an introduction would be valuable. As in, make it clear on what your ask is and what tangible next step you propose: Coffee? Meeting at an event? A brief answer to a question or two?

However, if your goal is to simply want to "get connected" and "network," I encourage you to rethink your definition of networking in an era where time is becoming one of the rarest commodities.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

It's like a Mach piece, really.

It's hard to disagree that This is Spinal Tap is one of the best comedies made (but if you do disagree, I will be too flabbergasted to even argue with you).

What I wonder is, just how many rock 'n roll bands Rob Reiner observed before being inspired to write this opus? So much of this film's beauty is how insanely well it identifies common themes among rock bands.... truly making this phenomenon stranger than fiction [a small sampling; (1) the ridiculous lyrics; (2) the frustrated manager; (3) the absurd outfits; (4) the divisive spouse].

I propose that we are at that point with technology entrepreneurs. This month alone has featured a preponderance of stories on two well-known Silicon Valley founders and it's easy to see some common themes emerge...: a genius since childhood....a few failed projects early in the insane dedication to the incredible vision. When I read the latest in today's New York Times, featuring a photo of the entrepreneur as a 5 year-old, I had two thoughts: (1) Why in the world do I care what this person did at age 5?; and (2) This proves it: the time has come to create a Spinal Tap for Geeks.

I'm not sure we can ever match the brilliance from 1984's epic piece but....kind of curious what Rob would think....

And, if you don't know what this headline means....

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

This Koolaid is Tasty

Last month I had the privilege of joining WebFWD, the new accelerator from Mozilla. When I first learned of the opportunity, Mozilla was to me one thing: "makers of Firefox."

Boy did I have a lot to learn (and still do). At this point, while my brain is still somewhat fresh with the "business" (as in, non-open source) way of thinking, I've identified some key areas that many businesses seek to excel at...and what Mozilla has been building on for years already:

Coming from the non-open source side of business, I've been involved in a lot of efforts focused on both employee and customer engagement. In technology, both are key: creating and transferring knowledge require a high degree of information sharing and engagement, both among the developers and the consumers of the software.

At Schwab, we developed a number of programs to engage our IT employees: contests, rewards, events, newsletters, feedback loops, "fun budgets" - any trick short of bribery our HR was ok with, we did it. We monitored, we measured the results, we reported back to senior management.

Flash to the world of Open Source...where, in shock, I learn things like:
  • More than 1,000 volunteers contribute code to Firefox, accounting for roughly 40% of its code. Yes, volunteers: as in, voluntarily.
  • 400,000 people contribute to Mozilla through its project tracking system Bugzilla
So um yes, these are volunteers, people. Unlike the highly-paid IT professionals we had to cajole with "fun budgets," these people willingly give of their time and their talents. There's no better engagement than that which is not engineered. It's internalized. It sticks.

Social Enterprise
When I was at Haas, the Global Social Venture competition was just starting and the "triple bottom line" was emerging as a paradigm for businesses to deliver value on social as well as commercial fronts. This is becoming pretty pervasive today, thanks in part to social media adding an unprecedented level of transparency to consumer decision making, allowing them to select - and switch - vendors using simple scorecards, and spread the word prolifically. Social good is a huge brand asset

When I encountered this huge phenomenon of Open Source volunteerism, I had to know ...why? Why would these talented professionals give their long-developed skills over for free to an open project? I'm learning that, while there are many reasons, the primary ones are the desire of dedicated people wishing to make things better: for themselves through better tools that solve their problems, and for others through increased competition. This results in a different kind of economy: one predicated less on transacting money for labor, and more on exchanging goodwill and knowledge to improve things. It's allowed social enterprise to extend beyond fair labor practices and health products and into the world of technology. It's very cool.

If you've had even one baby toe dipped in the realm of social media over the past 5ish years (and really, who hasn't?), you'll know that "community" is a huge deal. It's the way brands and firms engage (that word again) with their customers. It's Facebook groups. It's Twitter followers. It's Google+ Circles. It's something else next week. But it's important, because it's a way for organizations to draw in and retain customers and influence.

It's so important that brands paid big bucks to firms like the company I consulted with prior to joining Mozilla to create programs to get people to simply click "Like" on Facebook. 

Then I join Mozilla where I learn things like:
  • SUMO, Mozilla’s community-powered support site, helps an average of 10,000 Firefox users per week.
  • Students from more than 600 institutions in 57 countries spread Firefox as Mozilla Campus Representatives
This is community of the best kind: galvanized around a mission that extends beyond their individual needs, and not dependent on any one person or leader and as such, is highly sustainable and durable.

At Schwab we had another initiative: decentralize its workforce (which at the time was concentrated in San Francisco which was perceived as cost-prohibitive), and develop best practices and infrastructure to support this. Remote working policies and technology had to be developed, deployed and broadly adopted. It posed a fundamental shift in how people worked together. Schwab of course is not alone in this endeavor.

At Mozilla, the organization is already global at its core. A few data points that underscore this nicely:
  • Firefox is available in more than 75 languages (covering more than 97% of the world’s online population)
  • Firefox is used in every country in the world
  • Almost every non-English version of Firefox is localized by community volunteers
  • More than 50% of global Firefox users use non-English versions 
 ...and you can read the Mozilla Manifesto in 33 languages. But what really drove this home for me was the crazy corners of the earth I hear Mozillians operate from (most recent being Hanoi). Often in their own homes, leveraging the video and real-time conferencing technologies used by volunteers, staffers and community members alike. What many corporations are trying to build are merely the stuff daily Mozilla life is made of, as well as that of many other open source projects (check out GitHub, which supports over 1 million people sharing code around the world).
Small wonder, then, that Mozilla Chair Mitchell Baker recently encouraged Mozillians confronting an increasingly competitive browser market (thanks largely to Mozilla itself) to "be more Mozilla then ever." Whether they know it or not, it's what most companies want, too.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Da Art of Storytellin'

Not many would argue that publicists/PR types/communications professionals are all about storytelling: weaving together the right angles, sound-bites and talking points to advance their agenda in the media and influence spheres of their choosing.

What many people don't realize is that the to be effective, these professionals often have to tell a parallel internal story as a precursor to telling that external story. For example, consider the inside sale that has to happen when a bunch of....
  • Harvard PhDs want to start a dating site and need "a marketing person." That marketing person - likely intrinsically far more fun than the algorithm-coding founders - has to somehow *convey* fun to them in order to bring it to the rest of the world.
  • Enterprise software boys who never use half the social media tools themselves suddenly learn that there's money in "being social" and want to talk that up.
The marketer must translate the levity of dating to geeks....and the organic, peer-to-peer elements of social to hierarchical, conventional thinkers, in order to bring the message back to ROW. This isn't simply telling the external story to them first for approval. It's repackaging it into what matters to them: convincing the geeks that your message leads to quantifiable things like user acquisition, and convincing the enterprise dudes that your messages will lead to cash.

So next time you see a really good message, remember: there were probably some other stories that had to happen first.