April 2007 Archives

iPod/iTunes is cool until you lose everything...Part II

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The saga continues..(from Part I)...

So after many weeks of going cold turkey and doing some research, I finally found my answer on About.com. I used a program called iPodRip which was well worth the $14.95 I paid for it. I downloaded this program, ran it, opened up all the music (and videos!) on my iPod and copied it all back onto a new external hard drive I bought.

This took many hours but was finally done. It was thankfully in the right format, so then I pointed my iTunes music folder to that folder and imported it all to its library, which again took many hours. But it was mostly back.

All my videos were gone, but like I said it was unlikely that I would go back and watch all those episodes of Lost or Battlestar Galactica. If I wanted to watch them again, I resigned myself to buying the whole season again, since our nice friends at Apple decided that upon losing your copy of the music or videos, you'll have to buy them again (wonderful).

So being Mr. Paranoid, I bought two other 750 GB hard drives on which I wanted to copy all my music, for a total of 3 copies of my iTunes folder. I figure, what's the chance of all 3 hard drives dying at once? So after a few days delay, I finally decided to do that late last week when....my Mac mini decided to crash on me.

This story is never going to end. I tried Data Rescue on it, but didn't want to retrieve the files; I wanted it back up and running! So tonight, I am bringing it to the Genius Bar at the Apple Store to see if they have suggestions. Ideally I could just reinstall Mac OS X again on the hard drive and everything would be fine...theoretically.

At least I'm not crying over this. I didn't keep critical data on the Mac Mini hard drive. It'll be a pain to reinstall everything but better than losing data....Sigh....

Drinking the Kool-Aid Ain't So Good

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When I worked at frogdesign, I remember our team going to a PC client and getting reprimanded for not using their company's PCs If we were going to work for them, then shouldn't we be using their products and getting to know how "great" their products were by living with them day to day?

The same thing happened at Yahoo!. I remember a sales rep who had a major PC manufacturer as a client and he immediately went out and bought a laptop made by that company to show solidarity and support for the client. I don't know if he used it when he got back to the office, but definitely he brought it with him to client meetings. He even switched his cellphone to that company's brand (maybe you can figure out who this company was now heh). It was all to show that he was in full support of the manufacturer as client and supported them so much that he lived and breathed their products, as much as what he did with them at Yahoo!.

I drank the Kool-Aid too. When we worked on Yahoo! products, we were told to always use them. It kind of made sense at the time. If you lived and breathed the products, you could make them better. You could spot problems, make suggestions, and overall show the world that a company who uses its own products must obviously have the highest confidence in them to do so.

After observing and experiencing this behavior for many years, I'm going to take the contrarian view. I am going to suggest that using solely your company's products is not so good as people claim.

I reached this conclusion just now, almost 3 years out of Yahoo! and have been out there using whatever it was that made my life easier, instead of just using Yahoo! products only. I found that there were a huge number of products out there that were really great, and often much better than what Yahoo! could offer. I even took Yahoo.com off my home page button, which had occupied that button since 1995. Drinking too much Kool-Aid too long made me miss out.

If you are constantly using your own products, I would put forth that it's the best way to put blinders on. Sure, your company's products may be the best there is when they come out, but they may not be at some time in the future. With Web development happening so fast, it could happen sooner than you think.

In today's Web, things move so fast. People come up with stuff that you personally would not have dreamed of. The more you focus on your own products, the more the likelihood that you fall into that comfortable place where you don't need to change, you don't look for something better, and you just don't feel like learning something new. You get complacent and feel that what you have is good enough, or you think it's world class because you worked on it and people have told you so. How can it not be? You take pride in what you've done and nobody can knock you off the mountain. Everyone tells you to research and look at competitors' products, but yet nobody finds the time to do so. It is a small number of people who actually have their own personal curiosity to go out and try somebody elses products. It's too freakin' busy to go and do this in your spare time!

I would put forth that the blindness that happens with being comfortable and focusing on yourself and your own company is precisely the way you get blindsided by some fast moving kids out of college developing something that is so cool and compelling and you see them gaining traction only after you've fallen behind.

What's the best way to combat this?

USE THE BEST PRODUCT OUT THERE FOR WHATEVER IT IS YOU DO.

Force yourself to always try new things, even when your boss is telling you to use the company's products. Fake using Gmail when you go to a client meeting, but return back to what you think is the best product for email when you're out of that meeting. Use the best cellphone for you, but when you go back to work carry your Sony-Ericsson.

You can't learn about a product by just trying it; you really need to live with it and become a real user of that product and internalize why it is great.

Always ask your friends what they use. Read magazines and blogs about what they recommend. Collect your insight and feed it back to your own development process for your own products.

Don't get complacent about your own products by missing what's happening in the greater world. This is more than just being "innovative". It is experiencing and acknowledging the world is a bigger place than just you, your product and your company. Broaden your horizons and you'll be a superior product person for it. Truly in today's Web, the best product does win.

POSTSCRIPT:
When you realize that you are practically using none of your company's products because your competitors' products are so much better, and you can't get your company to realize this, I think it's time to leave.

POSTSCRIPT Part II:
If you're a boss, don't be an ass and make everyone on your team use your own products, if they aren't as good as your competitors'. That should be motivation enough to make your own stuff better.

Changed My Home Page on Firefox, New Portals

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I never thought I'd see the day. Today I changed my home page from the venerable Yahoo.com to Netvibes.

If you've never tried Netvibes, it's basically what My Yahoo! should have evolved to. Lots of cool Web 2.0 features like dragging modules around, in-page DHTML adding/removing of feeds. It just makes the personalized page experience that much better.

I used to open up Firefox to the familiar view of the Yahoo front page. But I find that it isn't all that useful for me anymore. Occasionally, I enjoy the interesting headline that shows up, like today's headline on how much Bush paid in taxes since it is the tax return deadline today. But usually, I don't even try to read what is on the page. Previously, I also enjoyed seeing the cool ads that popped up. But none of those show up in Firefox and only in IE, which I almost never use.

So today, I resigned myself to switching out my home page to Netvibes, which is a page I look at multiple times a day and has great use for me. Now why not My Yahoo? I used to use My Yahoo, but never set my home page to it. Somehow it just didn't fit the bill and was too Yahoo content focused. Sure, you can now add RSS feeds. But it wasn't as nice to work with as Netvibes and I just abandoned it after using it for years as a second home page.

As I pulled up Preferences in Firefox and hit the "Use Current" button for setting the home page, I ruminated on the fact that all the old portals had barely changed: Yahoo!, AOL, MSN, Google. All were just rehashes of the same old thing. Just a Web page, some flash, but lots of links, and not feeling very useful to the Web world beyond their own boundaries; I could only get at Yahoo! stuff on the Yahoo! front page.

It brought back some thoughts I had about a year ago regarding portals. None of them had taken into the account the changes in Web surfing behavior; they all basically stayed the same. I thought of all the issues they face, like legacy issues in technology, thinking, politics, fear of change, commitments to partners and advertisers, lack of innovative thinking, closed door protectionist attitudes towards driving traffic to their own services. These are real barriers to what a portal really could be in today's world. But it also meant for me an opportunity.

If you were to remove all those barriers and start building a portal for today's Web, what would it look like?

What If I Advise But Don't Invest?

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When I started David Shen Ventures, LLC, I originally thought I could advise only or advise and invest. The latter would be a form of watching my investment by helping the startup in a formal fashion. I also thought that in certain cases, I might only advise but not invest.

So far, I have not invested in all of the companies I am involved with. In most of these cases, I just missed the opportunity to invest because I could not get in on the series A, or that opportunity had already passed. But there is the case where I could invest but choose not to.

Originally, I had just started up with entrepreneurs and signed up as advisor whenever the opportunity arose. I had not given much thought to points at which they would get to raise funds, but only to make my involvement formal by completing the paperwork. But now I am wondering about whether I should continue this method of operating or change it.

Why would I not invest but still advise?

One big one now is that I am coming to the end of my allocation of funds for this purpose in my budget. I had originally set aside some money out of my own pocket for angel investing as a means of diversifying my overall portfolio while making a new career out of it. I was planning to stop when I reached the end of that block of money and take stock of my operations and investments to see how I was doing. I near that limit now.

Another reason is that I have, at the time of this posting, 8 companies I am working with. Being an advisor allows me to increase the number of companies I am involved with, but potentially lower my exposure to investment in too many companies that I could effectively watch over as advisor AND be investor in. My model is to not be a passive investor at this point, but be active only (I may change this strategy later). But I do have A.D.D. and love to be involved in more companies than less, so I know I can sign up as advisor in more companies than I could be investor in.

But sometimes, I work with the entrepreneur a bit and just come to a point where I think I can help the company but my funds are better deployed elsewhere. It's a hard choice to make as you think you can help anyone, but sometimes you can and sometimes you can't help them in a way to make the company take off on a super positive trajectory.

That doesn't mean that the company has no chance (in my view) but just means that I can't help them as much as I'd like to be helping them, whereas for other companies I am adding a tremendous amount of value and seem to be making a huge difference in their trajectories.

So in deploying my own funds, I have to make that hard choice in deploying money in the companies with the maximum trajectories and me helping them. And not everyone is on the same slope of trajectory. It's a really hard to choice to make.

Recently, there was an unanticipated effect. Because I have decided not to invest, other investors have begun to ask why I have not invested. This is naive in my view, as they just assume I would invest in everything I'm involved in, which is not true.

Seeing as how I may not be able to fully explain my operational model to everyone, this unanticipated effect has me re-thinking about whether I should advise a pre-money company but not invest. I do not want to inadvertently reduce a company's chances for investment by putting doubt in other investors' minds about a company's prospects.

No particular solution comes to mind as of yet, but it is something I am working on more fully now. I may slightly change my operating model with entrepreneurs to not officially sign up as advisor until much later and until a lot of the business and product plan as been set. At this point, I can really evaluate whether I will feel comfortable investing and advising or just not continue my involvement. If I sign up as advisor too soon, then I may get myself in a situation where I am advising but when the first funding round comes, I decide not to invest.

Site Takeover of USPS.GOV!

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This is amazing to see:


Visit usps.gov - Enlarge image

When I started working on online ads, it was acknowledged that c|net.com was one of the most innovative in online advertising. Then came the portals, and pushed by all the advertising technology companies like Eyeblaster.com and Pointroll.com. We'd all be doing floating ads and site takeovers, popups and popunders, expanding ads, video ads and wondering what our users were thinking about all these things flying around on their pages.

However, it was only those companies that were innovative and daring enough, and desperate enough for revenue, that would try these ideas. Some worked, some didn't. But pretty much everything generated revenue. Some of the older institutions would never try these ideas. They worried about annoying users or creating experiences that would degrade trust of their users. For the most part, they were right. But sometimes we found they were wrong.

It's hard to predict what users think. The world keeps changing and users' preferences and tolerances change as the internet presents experiences that, in the beginning, are unique and potentially shocking, but then over time become commonplace.

What does this say about the internet when a venerable organization such as the United States Post Office joins the online advertising revolution-now-become-commonplace and places a site takeover on their top page?

Stemming the Introductions Frenzy

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Definitely connections is one of the most important parts of my involvement with startups. I introduce them to people I know in other companies for potential partnerships, I help them hire people (although I have to admit my record here is abysmal), and I try to meet more new people in case they may present opportunities for investment, partnership, or acquisitions later.

So I try to meet as many people as possible. But I've learned a lot about this introduction and meeting thing. Some thoughts about it:

1. In general, I try to meet as many people as possible, and as many as will meet with me.

2. I have discovered that it is impossible to meet everyone that you want to meet. It sucks but it's true. More on why in a sec.

3. Time is a so precious. Filling up your day with meet and greets is tough and it doesn't give you time to get your other work done. So I have to limit these kinds of meetings as much as possible.

4. Filtering becomes super important. As you can imagine, those with immediate purpose and importance come first.

5. Making introductions is also an important skill. Here is my process and thoughts:

a. I identify a possible introduction that should be made. In general, I try not to do more social type meets but want them to have at least a purpose. Think of it as a courtesy on peoples' time demands and not wasting them, and also it gives them something to talk about which will reduce awkwardness.

b. I hold my contacts close and don't frivolously make introductions. I am keenly aware of not creating an image where Dave Shen sends frivolous introductions around. That would reduce the possibility of someone responding to an introduction. My goal is to have a 100% response and connection rate, so I think deeply about whether to make the introduction or not.

c. Timing on the introduction has come up often. When to make it is important as you don't want to intro too early and want to do it when both parties are ready.

For example, if a startup is working very hard and if I judge their resources to be strained too far, I won't make another business development intro until they get more resources or some brain space frees up. The worst thing is you send them the intro and then nothing happens until much later. Or if the startup has nothing to show yet, then I don't want the intro-ed party to feel like it was a wasted meeting because it was too early to talk about their product since there was no demo.

d. While I do not bill myself as a fund raiser, the few investor contacts I do have are important to me. Asking for money raises the stakes of an introduction. Thus I will not make an introduction to an investor until I feel the company is at a place to put a really good foot forward. I do not want to make it unless they will look good at the meeting. If they look bad, then I will look bad for sending an unprepared company to that investor contact. I also won't make an introduction unless I have put my own money in. I feel it is the ultimate vote of confidence for a company when you have your own skin in the game. I do not want to come off as sending what may be perceived as random companies to them. There are plenty of people who are professional fund raisers who do this and do not have any skin in the game. I want to operate with bit more confidence than these guys.

e. I try not to deluge someone with introductions. For example, at a recent meeting with a media company executive, we discussed many of my startups who may be potential partners of theirs. He got excited about all of them. But I did not want to throw all the introductions at him at once for fear that he may not get to them, or they may get lost in email, etc. So as a courtesy to both introducees (is that a word?), I think about the tide of introductions racing at them and try not to overdo it, and space them out.

f. I always try to follow up on introductions. I want to see how they went, and pass feedback back to either or both parties. I also want to double check my introduction methods and make sure I am hitting as close to 100% response and connection rate as possible. I also want to address potential problems on the rare occasion that they occur.

6. Getting deluged myself with introductions is bad. If I meet someone who can intro me to several people, I tell them to slow it down a bit. I do not want to drop one or two because they get lost in email or from my brain. Sometimes, I am scheduling out many months and my calendar is super-important to me. As a personal goal, I try to get to 99% of my emails and always try to get back to those whom I say I will meet up with. I like saying I'll do something, and then actually do it. I don't like it when someone says they'll meet up with me but don't mean it. I intend to be as clear as possible, which unfortunately is really hard. Better to head it off with the introducer and be clear with them before they send the introduction email.

7. I have found there are many who are not what I would call socializers, which enjoy meeting for the sake of meeting with no particular goal for the meeting other than to connect. There are those who don't seem to meet anyone who does not have a particular purpose for them. Whether this is good or bad I cannot be the judge, as everybody has their own way of working and time demands.

8. I always confirm a meeting the day before. You never know when someone else may drop you off their calendar. It's always good to remind them that you're meeting with them, again as a courtesy and also it's a good time to remind them of why you're meeting.

9. By the way, I always space travel time between meetings. I try not to pack them so closely together time-wise. This also goes for how many of these types of meetings I can do in one day. Generally, I try to space them out across days as well. Going through a whole day of meetings with people you haven't met before is tough for a guy like me (call me an introvert with extroverted tendencies!).

10. Some people network solely for work purposes. There is almost no notion of personal relationship they build. You can tell by what they ask you about, what the conversation is about, and reasons for contacting you later. You never go out for a coffee with these people, or grab a brew. It's kind of cold, sometimes empty. It creates this feeling that you are only useful to them for one thing, which is business. I prefer to look for opportunities to create a relationship that goes beyond that of business only. I think this creates a richer relationship than just for work alone. If they know and feel you are a good person and you connect with each other at that level, I think you'll find that the relationship tends to work better and have more opportunities than less. Who wants to work with someone who isn't cool to hang out with?

Bottom line: introductions, connecting, and meeting are important parts of my work. I do my best to try and not waste the relationships I have built with these people, and create value with each relationship I have.

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This page is an archive of entries from April 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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