Category Archives: Culture

Hiatus from Facebook and Twitter

Last week I closed my browser windows with Facebook and Twitter in them, and shut down the same apps on my iPhone.
I was fed up. I found myself staring aimlessly at the feeds, scrolling and scanning updates from friends and links to stuff somebody thought I should read. I would waste tens of minutes out of my day, just doing nothing but scanning.
Nice to see what my friends were doing, but I also realized that FB and Twitter also minimized the need to actually see them in real life. I felt like I knew what they were doing, so why bother to try to meet up and catch up when I already knew what they were up to?
The links being sent around were getting more and more purposeless – many were just linkbait, trying to get me to take a look at some fantastic thing, which once you dug deeper was pretty inane and really meant nothing for my knowledge, but only sucked up more of my valuable time to go take a look.
So I left. It’s been a week and an interesting one. There is a bit of withdrawal symptoms there but nothing I can’t handle. But now I find myself doing more real world stuff to fill my time. Stuff like just getting up from sitting in front of my Mac and moving around. Practicing my movement skills: posture, sitting, standing, squatting, sometimes doing some pull ups or push ups, maybe a few one legged squats. Being not confined to the chair is truly refreshing.
I get on the floor and mess around with my kids. They don’t see me in front of the Mac or staring mindlessly at my phone any more. I interact with them, let them climb all over me. There is nothing more satisfying than hearing the triumphant giggles of a child who has climbed from the floor all the way to sit on top of your head!
I read the stack of virtual books in my Kindle – stuff I wasn’t reading because I was mindlessly staring at status updates. How nice to read real writing and not the quick stuff that people just pump out there to get you to click and then make money off your ads…and your valuable attention.
Still I find that while I have not been to either site, I think there is still some value that may make me return. These would be:
1. Friends still message me on FB and DM me on Twitter. If that happens, I should go back to answer.
2. On FB pages, there are the equivalent of groups where I am a member. I may still need to go back to ask a question or reply.
3. Asking for advice is helpful on either platform. I may need to do that from time to time.
4. If I blog, like this post, I can get readership by posting there – assuming that after this post people still want to hear from me even though I’ve largely forsaken these two sites. I have a Socialflow account and can use that to find the optimal time to post a link. So as a distribution mechanism for blog posts, FB and Twitter still work well.
5. The one thing I have not found a great solution for is real news recommender. I went back to Netvibes to see if that would work but so many of the feeds were dead. And there is no filtering there. I am hoping my friends at Digg will revive and get better at news delivery…and not linkbait delivery.
Yes I may go back for some things, but largely, I will not be mindlessly staring at feeds any more, but instead going out there and doing things I really need to be doing, spending time with real people, and enjoying the real world.

Nexus One First Impressions

About two weeks ago I managed to score a Nexus One. Having been an iPhone user now through 3 iterations, I was curious to see what Android was like and whether or not it would kill my iPhone love.
I started playing with my Nexus One without a SIM card. I just turned on WIFI because I was most curious about the app and operating system experience; I assumed that calling would be about the same as another mobile phone, which would probably mean that was better than my crappy AT&T iPhone experience.
Although I did not perform an exhaustive use of the phone, I did form some pretty quick impressions that I’d thought I’d share:
1. Their app store didn’t connect when I tried to buy something while connected through WIFI. My expectations through 3G would have been much less as connectivity could have hampered a purchase, but through WIFI it shouldn’t have had a problem. On my iPhone, I’ve purchased many things and it has never failed to connect.
2. Surfing through their app store, it is clearly early and the amount of apps available here is growing but nowhere near the breadth of Apple’s app store. Until their app store catches up, this is going to be a huge hinderance in my adopting the Nexus One.
3. I couldn’t figure out how to sync with anything on my Mac. IPhone shines here of course being an Apple product.
4. All Google related services were very nicely integrated. But annoyingly like the mail app on the iPhone, they don’t cache messages. This is something I hate from the iPhone and they haven’t fixed it here. This is also something I loved about my old Treo 680 where I could download and hold cached email and read/access it offline.
5. The Nexus One touch screen doesn’t seem as responsive as the iPhone. Many times I have to multi-hit an icon to get it to respond. This is annoying.
6. As far as the UI is concerned, I don’t see anything that stands out so much that would make it more or less usable. It is elegant in its own way, and I think that while the differences are a bit disconcerting now due to my unfamiliarity with it, I think that I would get used to the small differences between the iPhone and Android and be OK with it.
This is not like Windows and OS X where the differences and issues are so glaring despite the similarities that I find myself constantly wondering why Windows sucks and OS X is just better.
The back button is pretty cool though. Sometimes I wish the iPhone had one.
However, I think my biggest issues are the lack of integration with a desktop platform and the brand value of owning Apple.
The iPhone’s easy integration with my Mac and OS X is of tremendous value to me. I remember spending an incredible amount of time figuring out how to sync my Treo 680 to whatever I was using. It sort of worked eventually, but it also just seemed very Borg-like and not an elegant integration. I suppose if I lived completely in the cloud, maybe Android might be OK. But, being a stodgy old timer in the computing space, I don’t trust the cloud and like backing up to my desktop, which is further backed up elsewhere.
The other big thing is brand value. It’s about owning a device that is beautiful and calls attention to not only it, but me also. Apple has done an amazing job creating products that are not only usable and useful, but beautiful and objects of desire. Somehow the Nexus One just falls short in this area in a big way. I don’t feel brand connected to anything with this device. Should I be connected to Google in that way? But Google doesn’t have that kind of brand that Apple has, which is fashionable, sexy, techie but easy and elegant to use. Google is pure tech and geek to me, which is fine but I think getting geek and high fashion is better.
I expect the Nexus One and their app store to catch up to the iPhone in many ways, but the brand value is something that Apple owns and that Steve Jobs and his team have done an amazing job of cultivating, and is one that unfortunately I can’t see Google matching in the same way, assuming they even want to.
In the world of feature parity for any kind of product, what else is left to compete on? Style and brand.

The Rise of Small Business on the Net

A few years back I worked on a tiny startup that was attempting to jump on the affiliate marketing/blogging bandwagon. It was all the rage that people were making $100Ks per year just writing articles and doing a good job on driving traffic and purchases to marketers. It was a site about how geeks were cool because they were buying cool products, and so we would write about these really cool products and then drive affiliate traffic to places where you could buy them.
Our venture didn’t get that far, but so many others’ did. And the list is growing.
As everyone working on projects on the Net knows, the cost of building a business has dropped dramatically over the years. It started with blogging software which would could install on our own servers or use the hosted versions. Now, you can go out and find shareware for just about anything; stuff that would have cost a big company millions of dollars and a team of 100 to build in the past could now be found and deployed for a tiny fraction of that cost.
It’s also easier to deploy web applications now. Previously you had to be a computer scientist to do so; now just about anyone can figure out how to deploy it, or using hosted versions just fill out a signup form and point your domain at it and you’re off and running.
So now, just about anyone can throw up a website which has some advanced functionality. And people are doing it too. In the startup world, we see the internet has gotten super crowded over the last few years. Very few truly unique business/product ideas have emerged, and many are just clones of each other. Or once someone puts up a good idea, the clones emerge quickly because it’s so easy and fast to put up a website. Thus, it’s now less about the idea but rather how many customers you can grab and whether you can monetize that traffic to balance out your burn.
Thankfully, the internet crowd is enormous. Grabbing a small slice of that traffic and monetizing it effectively can mean a sustainable business that pays its employees a decent salary. In the past, we called these businesses microbusinesses or lifestyle businesses where a single person could make a decent living managing a website. However, in today’s world, I call this phenomenon the rise of small business on the net.
Many startups we encounter have plans that we know can reach this stage. With great execution and effort, we can easily see many businesses growing to great small businesses. They will have revenue from several $100Ks a year to small millions. They have a small teams and all of them are well compensated for their work. All the employees will have great lives supported by this business.
The effort is comparable to opening up a storefront on your favorite street. In the old days, you’d go find a great physical location with lots of foot traffic. You go get a small business loan from your local bank and open up shop. Then you go and acquire customers and build your business from there. In today’s world, you can do it on the internet without a physical location and tap into customers from around the globe.
From an investor’s standpoint, we’re finding that this creates a number of problems. Our model is dependent on finding those startups which will go big, much bigger than small business size, and find a way to return our investment with large gain through some mechanism like M&A or IPO. However, the ease at which startups can reach small business stage makes our job harder; we’re seeing many businesses reach a certain level of growth and then breaking through that level is tough due to how easy it is for competitors to enter your market, and how hard it is to acquire the attention of users.
Some of us are thinking about change in the way we support some startups. I find parallels in the area of restaurant investing, where the investment is all about cash return and not ownership. What kind of restaurant would go IPO? Highly unlikely. But could we make 10-20% on our investment? Infinitely possible.
I wonder about how the structure of deals we do for internet startups might mimic restaurant investing. Instead of caring so much about ownership, perhaps we should find a way to get a healthy return on capital invested through cash flow, if the startup monetizes efficiently and does it well.
The problem with traditional investing in startups here is that these small businesses may never attract an acquirer and certainly the chance of an IPO is even more remote. Driving these small businesses to activities to return an investors’ capital in that manner may take a healthy sustainable operation and turn it into something unsustainable and problematic as it reinvents itself to attract an M&A event or IPO. That seems dumb; the business is thriving and its employees well paid and happy – why destroy this?
I think the world of investing should think more about the rise of small business on the net. Many more businesses each day are showing up that are great sustainable operations supporting employees and their customers. They are never going to be superstar Googlesque success stories and we should not attempt to turn them into one. In today’s crappy economy, the world needs more small businesses to show up to employ the masses and make them money. We as investors should find a way to invest in and help these companies to grow, and just be comfortable in the fact that they will never be Google but still can help us make a healthy return on our money.

Are You Evil or Are You Just Lucky?

Last night I attended the Startup2Startup"s CeWebrity DeathMatch: Jason Calacanis vs Guy Kawasaki on "Is Apple Becoming Big Brother?" and it was a hoot. Watching Guy and Jason rag on each other was pretty hilarious and Dave McClure did a great job keeping the action going all night.
After the main feature, Startup2Startup dinners have a discussion at our dinner tables around a topic, which, tonight, was based on the concept of being evil and whether it was necessary or not. One question that circulated around the table was whether or not doing evil things in our lives was justifiable or not. In a funny way, I was glad that we did not get around to me answering this question because I really didn’t have an evil example in my work past to give.
How can that be? Well I’ll tell you. I thought back through my work history and could not think of a single evil event I’ve ever done. Not in business, not in politics of corporation, not in management. Now perhaps some of my former team may think of evil things I’ve done, especially like during layoffs, but that wasn’t really self orchestrated but rather forced on me by the corporation.
I’ve always tried to live my life to a higher moral standard and in dealing with people as human beings. I’ve never been great at lying, and thus corporate politics totally are out of my realm and I have seen many instances where I would have been totally outclassed in dealing with manipulation and backstabbing of others. I’m also not very talkative during meetings, which I believe has sunk my career because I’ve always let others take the limelight and not myself. The unfortunate by product of this is that if you don’t say something in meetings, people tend to view you as having nothing to contribute and thus are not worthy of attending further meetings or advancement in the company.
This, my readers, is the reason why I got about as high as I could up the corporate ladder and then could go no further. Because I’m an honest guy, don’t play corporate politics well, and just do my job well, that’s unfortunately not a formula for success in organizations.
I thought back to this lack of evil and wondered how I came to be at this point in my life. And I came on one big factor which has carried me to this day – that is LUCK.
In looking back to people I’ve worked for, the companies I’ve been at, the people who took a chance on me when I was just a dumb out of college guy, and then somehow being buddies with right two guys at Stanford leading to me joining the right internet startup at the right time – these coincidences were incredible instances in chance.
Looking back at this path I’ve taken through my career, I could have just taken the wrong step in a multitude of places and gone off totally into another place. But yet I ended up here.
Intelligence had an effect? Perhaps, but a lot of smart people do some smart things, or what they think is smart and don’t get anywhere. And I’m not particularly a genius either. I don’t think I went around and did anything special but just happened on these people as I walked through life. So that couldn’t be it.
While a lot of people poo-poo luck, I’m a big believer in it. The big problem is, how the heck do you find luck? I also think that some people are naturally lucky, and there are people who seem to have no luck at all. To that end, I have some suggestions as to how to increase your luck:
1. If you’re a lucky person, you’ve made it!
2. If you’re totally unlucky, I don’t think you’ll instantly be lucky. However, there could be hope for you. Read on.
3. Hang out with lucky people. Don’t you hate it when some of these people always seem to have great things happen to them and it doesn’t seem like they do anything? These are the people you need to find and become BFFs with. The downside is that lucky people want to also increase their luck, so they will try to find luckier people to hang out with. So you may not be successful in becoming BFFs with these people because they may spot your lucklessness.
4. Get rid of unlucky people around you. These people will be a drag on your life. Don’t hang out with them. Something bad that happens to them may also happen to you despite your luckiness. Increase your luck by hanging out with lucky people.
5. Generally, lucky people are happy, and unlucky people are not. I think that your general outlook in life can help add lucky points to your life, or at least fake it.
6. Don’t go putting yourself in risky situations. Why walk around in the middle of the night wearing expensive jewelry in the bad part of town? Duh. Reduce the chance that your unluckiness might manifest itself. Or don’t use up your lucky quotient for the day by doing inherently risky and stupid things.
7. Place yourself in situations where you can shine. So instead of walking around in the middle of the night wearing expensive jewelry in the bad part of town, go to Startup2Startup and meet some smart people, maybe some VC who takes a liking to you and funds you.
As an entrepreneur or investor, I cannot under emphasize the importance of luck. Meeting the right founder at the right time, being in the marketplace and finding some product that consumers love and it takes off, finding the right business partner who ultimately buys your company, or discovering that in a crowded marketplace that you backed the right entrepreneur (like me joining Yahoo, instead of Excite, Infoseek, or Lycos).
Luck is one of those unexplainable forces in the universe. All I can say is do things to increase your luck as one of those things you can do to help you be successful in life or business….and be very wary of when your luck runs out.

The Promise of Broadband is Muddied by Complexity

The other day I met with a startup who was doing work in the real time video streaming space. We were at a restaurant with WIFI attempting to demo the application but saw many of the difficulties in running an application that depended on the availability of high speed internet. We were able to test the broadband connection at which provided some of its own servers to do speed tests and found it was ok, but also talked about the other touchpoints which slowed the application down, such as the distance one was from the server on Earth.
I went home and thought to test my own connection and…found it was unbelievably slow. Geez. What was wrong? I had seen problems before with the wireless connection and thought that maybe it was the building, or electromagnetic waves interfering. The walls were definitely a problem as they were thick concrete, and I think there was a lot of sheet metal in there too.
A few months before I had called the company who supported the internet into my building. Supposedly the pipe into my building is a dedicated fiber optic connection; tons of bandwidth for everyone here, even those who were running businesses out of their apartment and all of those hungry iTunes downloaders, or Youtube/Hulu consumers (one of which was me). They tested the connection on their end and found that to my condo, there was no blockage or lessening of bandwidth. I just wrote it off as the weirdness of my condo and its walls and electromagnetic makeup.
But then I saw problems in my other systems. My AppleTV was unbelievably slow in syncing. Downloading from iTunes was super slow. The connection to my Time Capsule was constantly interrupted. Something else was amiss.
So not wanting to waste time diagnosing, I went and bought a new wireless N router and some 10/100 switches to replace all my equipment, which was probably around 2 years old now. All of a sudden, the network jumped in performance. Somewhere between my old wireless G router and the ethernet switches, it had crapped out and caused the wireless and the internal network to slow to a trickle of what it was supposed to be. Now I was back up to speeds that matched the claims of the fiber optic internet connection running to the building!
These experiences have taught me how to spot troubles and diagnose problems in my home network by myself and fix problems. But there are way too many points at which the system can fail. Over time, age, power surges, whatever – all can toast my equipment one by one, robbing my internet enabled equipment to crawl to a stop. I can’t imagine the layperson being able to spot, diagnose, and fix their internet problems by themselves. It’s an incredibly complex system from where the internet enters my condo and gets to all my internet enabled equipment.
I can only hope that someday all this will become simpler and more stable….

Party Like Its 1999

Every Monday, I have jazz piano lessons. Today, I went to my lessons and asked my piano teacher whether or not he was feeling the bad economy’s effects.
He said it was exactly the opposite. Over the last few weeks, he’s been overbooked on playing private parties all over LA. He’s had to turn away business and refer people to friends. It’s been almost too much to handle but he takes the work when he can get it. It’s cash in the bank and you can’t ignore that.
We talked about the fact that there was a glut of private parties happening all over LA. It seemed to him that people were partying in the middle of all this bad news, and the fact that many a rich LA person was down millions of dollars in their portfolios. So in the midst of all this gloom, they have started throwing big ass parties – we guessed it was to drown their sorrows in big happy, drunken, piano playing filled moments.
We watch our portfolios drop in big ways. We get depressed. So we throw a big party and live it up. Party like its 1999 – don’t know what happens when the clock turns to 2000. World might explode. Better drink up and have a great time now before it’s too late.

Deciphering iPhone Emails

With all of my buddies on iPhones and also seeing them being way too busy and typing at lightspeed, I’ve seen a plethora of emails with what seems to be…gibberish words…in between readable text.
It took me a minute, but I figured out that it was the fact that the senders were super busy iPhone users and trying to type emails super fast, but unfortunately typing too fast to react to the iPhone’s auto-correct dictionary, or even caring what the auto-correct comes up with.
The auto-correct function is cool in some ways, but it takes some getting used to, and especially if you have big fingers, you tend to blur over to the adjacent keys more often.
To me, it’s an interesting solution to typing on tiny keys on a flat touchscreen. However, I find it’s hard to adjust to, even when I’m consciously looking for it. I hope the rumors of a foldout keyboard are true, as I think that learning this new style may not be quick enough for even the most impatient, quick typers.
But it does generate sometimes amusing emails which produce a WTF from me as I read them!

Guitar Hero III, Physical Therapy for Video Game Ailments

I just bought Guitar Hero III for my XBox 360. Wow, I was supremely impressed especially as a user interface person, having worked on physical products back in my Apple and frogdesign days.
The controller really gives the feeling of being a true head banger rocker with distortion guitar (since it’s shaped like a guitar). You hit keys which simulate the fingering on strings, and then you strum on this switch. I am barely through the tutorial now but can’t wait to get into Rock and Roll All Nite and Barracuda.
It’s an interesting device from the perspective of an user interface person. How novel is it to create controllers which mimic real life devices – we already have driving games where you can buy a whole steering wheel console plus accelerator pedals. The experience is that more enhanced when we change out the generic controller for something whose physical makeup enhances the whole playing experience. I love the fact that there are games like Rock Band out, and the impossible to get Wii with its wireless controller that you can use to simulate all sorts of real life objects.
One thing stood out. As I went through the tutorial, I felt some pain in my left thumb. Gripping the guitar and trying to hit the buttons was cramping it up! I had to constantly take breaks and stretch it out. Wow, I need training to play Guitar Hero III!
I went to my physical therapist last night for my usual triathlon fixup and remarked to him that Guitar Hero III was bugging my thumb. He then told me that he has seen an increase in patients with injuries caused by the Nintendo Wii, especially bowling and tennis!
How funny that people are now trying sports in the virtual sense, and getting injured because of that. Couch potatoes now have similar ailments as real athletes!

The Early Adopter’s Dilemma

I’ve been cleaning house and I just found this in one of my closets:

Sometime around year 2000, this service came into being by Motient, who used one of the first RIM Blackberrys to allow users to connect to Yahoo! Messenger IM via this device. It also allowed me to read/write Yahoo! Mail.
I bought one as soon as it came out. It was fantastic. We Yahoos depended on IM so much in our work day and I was now connected wherever I was. It was at a time when SMS wasn’t so prevalent in the US and there was no connection between a computer based IM product and a device. So now I could be pinged on Yahoo! IM anytime and anywhere! This percursor to SMS was a fantastic breakthrough in showing how being connected in real time could be an incredibly useful thing.
But alas, about a year or so later, Motient closed down and the money I paid for the device and steep monthly charges were all down the tube. It would be many years before SMS really gained traction in the US enough to where enough people would be contact-able via SMS, and this would have supplanted the Motient product and service.
It’s the dilemma of the early adopter. You see a real cool product and/or service from a brand new company, and you see enough value in it to actually buy one and use it. It’s so useful, so typically expensive, and so freakin’ cool; all of these factors drive the early adopter to get one simply to have one before everyone else does. But the risk of having the company, product, or service close down is super-high.
I bought an iPhone on the first day it came out. But it could have been a dud. Luckily it was not. I also bought an Apple TV and sweated through about 8+ months of whether Apple would close down that product line or not, despite its incredibly utility. Thankfully, that product has been rejuvenated as well.
Last winter, I bought myself an Amazon Kindle. It’s definitely on that high risk list of products that could just disappear by the end of the year if its business model doesn’t prove out. I’ve grown to love it thoroughly but keep wondering if Amazon will just close it down at some point.
Sony is probably the worst early adopter product creator. They keep products going for years and years before they really should be shut down. Their strategy is to brute force a new technology into the marketplace and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. At least you might enjoy it for a few years though, as it dies a slow, unpopular death.
It’s the dilemma of an early adopter. You can’t resist taking the leap of getting one but you also take the risk of wasting tons of money if it shuts down. All that to be the first one on the block and maintain that early adopter mystique…