Apr 17 2012

Fundraising Communications

Published by jl under AngelPad

Be concise, not precise.

Fundraising talk is hard. It’s a special combination of lingo, body language, and force of personality. The above advice is from one of the speakers at AngelPad. You can’t get wordy with investors early on, no matter how complex or nuanced the business, because if you get tuned out quickly you don’t recover. End of meeting. Despite the analogy being beaten to death, but it bears repeating: talking to investors is like hitting on girls. Since the investors (girls) hear over thousands of pitches (pick up lines) every year, they’ve developed shortcuts to quickly weed people out. It’s a matter of efficiency and some evolutionary thing I can’t explain.
 
Understanding the situation, many entrepreneurs still feel frustrated. Investors, professionals and angels, are generally intelligent people. So it’s not that they are unable to discern subtle differences. They just can’t afford to sit down for 30 minutes to pick out the gems from your verbal diarrhea. The key is selling the idea in the shortest amount of time. From there, if you pique interest, the investor will naturally ask the questions that get down to the nitty gritty. He/she may even figure out what you’re really doing.
 
The other problem is what I call the pigeon hole dilemma. Investors and media love to draw “X for Y” comparisons, like AirBnb for pets, or Match.com for basketball players. Again, it’s a quick shortcut that condenses your business into a neat soundbite. You probably hate it. Even though often inaccurate, it’s powerful because the person doesn’t have to spend much time processing your idea. Our AngelPad friend Brett (of Source Ninja fame) says it doesn’t matter how or what you say, you WILL get pigeon holed until you create that awesome billion dollar category of your own. You’re not XYZ until you’re XYZ.
 
This may all sound a little nutty for those not in the business. As for me, I’m in full acceptance phase. Time is valuable and if you can’t practice your pitch enough to capture attention of people who are writing you checks for huge sums of money, then how can you succeed building a valuable business out of scratch? One that requires projecting your vision and passion to bring on customers, employees, and partners? It’s a tricky song and dance, but one’s gotta learn it. Remember not to blow chunks.

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Mar 21 2012

Pizzas and Pivots

Published by jl under AngelPad,Main Page

Allow me to tap into consulting lingo and introduce the two P’s of AngelPad: pizzas and pivots. We do a lot of both, perhaps obsessively so.
 
One of the differences to previous classes here is the mentors’ deliberate push to validate and fine tune, more relentlessly than other cohorts. The main reason for us in the same space is to engage each other, not to hide behind monitors and code in silence. The network effect has been a powerful way for us to talk to potential customers we otherwise might not have the opportunity to. Internally, we discuss and challenge each other’s assumptions frequently and openly, resulting in either fine tuning or in some rare cases, complete abandonment of ideas. The latter usually brought upon by determining lack of demand, indirect way to tackle problem, or simply too small of a market to scale. Either way, a lot of pivoting.
 
The other P is pizza. I can’t recall the last time I had so much pizza. Thomas loves keeping things simple, so he orders pizza from the same local joint for meeting days, the most consistent one being our weekly Tuesday meetings. I quite like the structure of these informal all hands. We kick off with several product demos, where we see what other teams are doing and provide feedback. Then Thomas leads an active discussion about some topic while we chow down on pizza and beer (Tecate and PBR in case you’re wondering). While the meal being totally un-paleo, the content is lean and rich.



 
While we work in uncertainty, as every startup should, we can rely on the constant 2P’s here at AngelPad.

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Mar 13 2012

Validating Startup Assumptions

Published by jl under AngelPad,Main Page

Last week I mentioned getting challenged on assumption validation. What better way to begin than with Steve Blank‘s favorite saying:

Get out of the building.

Smart people have a tendency to make assumptions about too many important variables, such as how customers will react to their products, how big the market can be, how to sell, etc. But the really smart people know better than to not test these assumptions in the real world. There simply isn’t a good way to do that short of leaving the office and talking to real customers who you’re trying to solve problems for.
 
At AngelPad, the mentors push very hard for us to do things systematically. Gokul likes to tell us the story of one of his favorite AngelPad company founders. The guy would start or end every sentence with “my customer said.” He essentially talked completely in customer demands and left out any personal assumptions. While I believe that is indeed the holy grail, it doesn’t work for every type of product. For instance consumer apps such as games or websites.
 
Investors obviously prefer the solution to hair-on-fire problems; they’re less excited about what they call vitamins instead of cancer cures. Solving an acute pain is the surest way to build a revenue generating business, thus greatly reducing investment risk. That said, without these vitamins, Twitter or Instagram wouldn’t exist today. The mentors are smart enough to recognize that, as evidenced by our diverse group of founders building companies spanning the spectrum of product ideas.
 

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Mar 07 2012

AngelPad Weekly

Published by jl under AngelPad,Main Page

I’m announcing a new weekly series on this blog covering my startup UbiSocio. Since launching last year, the hardest aspect writing about it is sharing details when the state of the company or product isn’t ready for the public. However, with the honor of joining the AngelPad program started last week, I think it’ll be valuable to share our experiences and chronicle the 10 week journey.
 
For the uninitiated, the tech startup world has seen numerous accelerator programs from all over world in recent years. They generally entail mentorship, some funding, and a goal to help companies develop their businesses, where the next step is usually a larger round of funding to scale. In the SF Bay Area, AngelPad is one of the premier programs that emphasizes a close group of companies per cohort, and high levels of interaction with the mentors. The founder Thomas Korte is a high energy, big vision kind of guy. I’ll cover all the mentors in subsequent weeks as I get to know them better. So far they’ve been an impressive group that doesn’t shy away from challenging all of us.
 
One thing I’ve been very happy with so far is the camaraderie between the companies. My experience at INSEAD being such a great one, I was looking for an environment where the cohorts are actively engaged. Working in a common space out here in San Francisco results in shared meals and random discussions that produce tight relationships. The program’s structured feedback and agenda has given us common ground to commiserate.
 
Next week I’ll share more of the assumption validation and pivots that AngelPad has pushed hard on us.
 

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Jul 17 2011

How Google+ Turned the Tide on the War for Talent

Published by jl under Tech

Cross posted from my Google Plus profile.

Could Google+ be a turning point for Google against its competitors? Not in the product or revenue sense, but in the human capital arena? While everyone has focused on the typical measures of success for Google+, metrics like number of users or activities, I think we’re overlooking how positively this affects the company morale, keeping those smart people in place.

Only months ago we were reading about how the company bled talent. People were leaving in droves to either start their own companies or join the darling tech startup du jour, be it Facebook or Foursquare. Techcrunch posted confirmed news on Google offering individuals millions of dollars to counter these departures. Despite those outlandish offers, many were still turned down.

In the meanwhile, startups in the valley (and NYC) has been flush with investment cash, pouring rocket fuel on the war for tech talent on an order unseen since the first Internet bubble. Companies are still raising cash in bullish valuations at early stages.

Google+ has been a decisive coup for Google in this respect. Let’s face it, the tech echo chamber in its praise for G+ has been deafening. Although the average Internet user may not care, in the valley, tech people still care very much about what the likes of Robert Scoble are saying. If I were working at Google, I’d feel that sense of redemption after suffering from all the defection talks and product missteps repeated ad nauseum. The new product shows the world that the company is still capable of pushing out amazing technology that users can see and touch.

I don’t know how successful G+ will ultimately become, whether it will supplant any of the competitors out there. I doubt anybody can predict markets and user behavior, but that’s beyond the point. I am saying that the tech media approval translates to an immense win for retaining the company’s talent. Assume some engineers who considered fat offers now decide to stick around for a while longer. It’s fun, it gets attention, and everyone’s curious how it plays out. And perhaps they stay long enough for the market to cool off and external options start looking a lot less attractive. That outcome alone should be praised for.

[Not that I have not talked to any Google employee directly about my speculations above. This is purely my conjecture as an outsider to the company and insider to the G+ echo chamber.]

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May 07 2011

Startup Launch

Published by jl under Main Page

I am happy to announce the launch of our young new tech startup. While not quite ready to report on our product, I can say that we’ve set up shop and are ready to go. So why this particular venture and why now?
 
Timing
It’s exciting times in the world of technology, where we’re at the cusp of seeing drastic, disruptive changes in the relationship between people and computing. One of my favorite VCs, Fred Wilson talks about now being a intersection of several megatrends. Being somebody passionate about technology, I simply couldn’t sit on the sidelines waiting for the next wave.
 
Personality
I’ll admit to the difficulty of a startups. Not only challenging on the business front, but also on the life front too. This recent post from a fellow entrepreneur on how Startups Are Hard really portrays these difficulties. Many of my classmates and friends are enjoying comfortable salaries and making babies. And yet here I am grinding it out. I admit, it’s part of who I am. As Steve Blank would attest, “founding CEOs have a certain set of personalities“, and they come from dysfunctional families.
 
Motivation
Thinking back on how I missed the Internet tidal wave in the late 90′s, I simply can’t pass on today’s opportunity and sit on the sidelines. This quote from Seth Godin’s Linchpin sums it all up:



Courtesy of @GapingVoid

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Apr 12 2011

Tablet Wars Round 1 – iPad2 Beats Up Xoom

Published by jl under Main Page,Mobile Tech

It’s not much of a war when one side gets pummeled in its first skirmish. To be fair, I see this first battle as one between Google’s 1st gen tablet versus Apple’s 1.5 version of its successful iPad. While not a perfect matchup in terms of each product’s stage in its lifespan, their close release dates simply beg me to compare and share my thoughts. I will focus on tablet specific comparisons instead of getting into the whole Apple iOS versus Android mobile debate – both have been around long enough for you to figure out which serves you best. My motivation is fueled by a curiosity in how/if/when tablets will dramatically change people’s computing habits. This desire to see how these toys can shape the future means that I’d be quite disappointed if these devices were simply a big iPod or netbook replacement. Thankfully that is not the case.



 
Apps Apps Apps Apps and Platform Fail
The most important thing in considering how one uses a tablet differently than a computer (or smartphone) is what you can do with it. And that depends on the underlying software and its orbital apps. That said, Honeycomb (Google’s tablet version of Android) can be at best described as a slick prototype for Android enthusiasts. For the remaining 98+ percent of the population out there today, the Xoom grossly under-delivers for its price point. The rumor gnomes claim that Google and Motorola rushed it out to beat the iPad2 announcement. Shortly after the release Google locked it away to work on until it’s really ready. Quite frankly, it shows. Basic apps like email and browser crash consistently. And the app marketplace doesn’t offer enough tablet specific apps to showcase a need for the tablet. Even many of the good mobile Android apps refused to run or install properly on the Xoom. A few saving graces that warrant commending: app switching – Honeycomb dedicates a softkey to jump between applications seamlessly, useful notification system which works like the mobile platform, and finally, for Google Maps fans, the app runs on the Xoom like Barry Bonds hits homeruns on steroids. It absolutely tears it up. With a data connection, running navigation utterly rocks your Vegas roadtrip. And yet this is a very short list. The promising hardware provides hope that a major software update with improved app inventory will make the Xoom a compelling device down the road. As of today, not so much.
 
iPad2 Setting the Pace
What a difference a year makes. Since my last review of the first iPad, the app store™ has exploded with tablet applications made with emphasis on design. I rarely gush over apps, but Flipboard truly deserves its 5 star rating and then some. In both design and utility, Flipboard demonstrates the beauty of using a tablet device. I am excited by the prospect of applications like that popping up in the future for the tablet platforms. Other newspaper and magazine apps, like the NY Times Reader (pre-paywall) and Economist, work great in my transition for reading the same content in a different format. For someone who consumes an enormous amount of online content, the new device has been truly a pleasure. The only serious deficiency lies in the activities that require input, to be further elaborated below. In short, the iPad2 and its apps make the device a serious threat to your television and time spent in front of monitor doing non-work things. It’s the ultimate Internet consumption device for couch surfing, coffee shops, and travel.
 


Excellent for Media Consumption

 

iPad Swap Story
With some careful planning and luck, I heisted an iPad2 by swapping in my old one and paying only an extra $100. Expecting the announcement of the iPad2, I sold my original iPad in February on Craigslist for $430 cash. (Remember to keep the box.) Then during SXSW in March I started monitoring Twitter for chatter on inventory levels. The first few days at the pop-up Apple store were madhouse and I couldn’t bother with hours in line for a mere chance to buy. But one night while browsing on my Xoom I came across tweets of a re-stocking the next day. I showed up around noon and 15 minutes later picked up the iPad2. My buddy who came along bought three and shipped them to his family in Hong Kong, it’s like Christmas in March. So remember, use Apple’s fairly predictable product roadmap to plan your purchases accordingly.

 
Hardware as in Heavyware
Both tablets sport very nice hardware specs: the display, underlying processor speeds, battery life, and overall finish. You won’t find either underpowered until way past replacement time. The new iPad’s weight loss pays off using over long periods of time. The Xoom feels quite heavy even compared to the original iPad. One big difference on the Xoom is the 1280×800 resolution which changes the aspect ratio (think longer and narrower) making portrait mode a joy for web browsing and reading articles. Nonetheless I want both to shed more heft as hours long book reading is still preferable on the Kindle. As for the cameras (both devices have front and back facing cameras), I found little use for despite being a heavy video Skype user on the computer. I do believe there will be more interesting usages of the cameras down the road, such as for recognizing input gestures.
 
Wishlist for Apple
For those unfamiliar with the Apple way, Apple places an iron tight grip on every aspect of user experience, curates its app store, and imposes demanding requirements on all the parties in its ecosystem. It’s perfectly within their right to do so. I don’t hold it against Apple to position its products whichever way and letting consumers vote with their wallets. Yet there are aspects on the more open [sorry for using this loaded term] Android platform that compel mentioning. One of them is ability to change input methods, like Swype and Swiftkey to name a few. If the tablet is ever to transform our computing interaction, then the input method should as well. In a thoughtful Future of Touch Interaction talk at SXSW, (ironically) Microsoft researchers presented that our natural input language for touch devices has much room to evolve. Knowing that existing solutions are far from perfect, companies out there are working hard to improve it. My favorite: Swiftkey’s intuitive thumb type method for Android tablets, reminiscent of my old BlackBerry days, runs on top of a word prediction technology that learns from you. Apple’s current and only text input method is still based on minor refinements of a years old method. To observe an exercise in frustration ask an iPad beginner to type a long email. After 4 iterations of iPhones and a whole year of iPad experience, the best Apple can offer is something that makes people long for hardkeys. This is a serious innovation deficiency because it ignores people who want to create messages over 140 characters or otherwise express their creativity in written form.



Swiftkey’s Double Thumb Tablet Input

 
The other glaring hole is browser choice. Apple plays Saint Peter at the gates to the Internet, granting access only via Safari. All 3rd party browsers are stuck in app store purgatory. This brings us back to the good ole days of Microsoft bludgeoning us with IE. Having run the latest and greatest Firefox and Opera browsers on the Xoom, I would very much welcome having a choice. For users the multiple browser paradigm isn’t exactly new and doesn’t require a PhD to handle. Open it up already, please Steve?
 
What to Buy Today?
I recommend aspiring tablet consumers to wait 6 months for the rumored iPad3 and the next Honeycomb update, especially since both devices are still not 2.0 products yet. If you really need a tablet today, then spring for the iPad2, Android versus iOS debate aside that is.
 
The young tablet market has made good strides over the past year. While Google’s counter has been dismally short, I expect improvements to follow a similar trajectory as Apple’s and its own in the smartphone arena (each successive Android update added huge improvements). As we will certainly see better products coming from the numerous players within the ecosystem, I expect to be wow’ed by ingenuity and utility in features, applications, and overall package.

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Feb 14 2011

Too Late Nokia

Published by jl under Mobile Tech

Unable to grace wonderful Barcelona for the Mobile World Congress, I’ll pontificate from 6000 miles away instead about the latest Nokia Microsoft partnership. Let’s start with a story: 3 years ago at an interview, I was asked about companies I found interesting, and what I’d do as CEO. I immediately answered Nokia, reasoning that with its market share and brand, it’d be a colossal waste to give up the upcoming smartphone market. I viewed it operating without a clear direction and suggested it ditch its failed OS, run with the then immature Android, leaving the OS work to Google and allocating its resources to building the best application market possible on top of its line of sturdy hardware.
 
So what did Nokia accomplish in the past 3 years? It languished in every possible metric: market share, revenue, technology. So after an exodus of failed executives and talent, they finally abandon Symbian and Meego to partner with Microsoft. (Quick refresher for those not up to date, Nokia announced late last week that it would ditch its own mobile OS platform and go with Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.) Too little too late.
 
From a business perspective it makes sense for both companies. Nokia will receive a huge boost in short term profits by taking whatever money and efforts Microsoft throws at them while cutting out its own unproductive development resources. Microsoft leverages Nokia’s remaining brand equity and hardware penetration to buy its way into the mobile platform discussion.
 
Short term gain aside, it’s unclear how and unlikely that Nokia will become a relevant player in the mobile market again. The current competition at the platform level consists of iOS, Android, (my favorite whipping boy) RIM, and HP’s upcoming webOS. Their CEO Stephen Elop is technically correct when saying their “competition isn’t other Windows Phone manufacturers, it’s Android.” Yet while labeling its hardware to battle against the Samsung, Motorola, HTC, Apple, and RIMs of the
world while letting Microsoft fight the platform battle hardly sounds like a winning strategy. Already behind in hardware, Nokia will now compete against some tough leaders on a platform that is also playing catch up to others. Talk about handicapping oneself.
 
While there are some good ideas for Nokia out there, like Cringely’s rushing the net strategy, I couldn’t come up with one that gives me a warm fuzzy. At the higher level of the stack, the application layer that drives consumer adoption, I believe over the next few years fragmentation will be one of the biggest hurdles for mobile app developers. But what can Nokia realistically accomplish on that front, given it’s Microsoft who controls the platform?
 
Consumers having options is usually a good thing. For those who choose Windows as their mobile valentine, another hardware manufacturer in the game helps too. As for Nokia, I’ll take a pass. Like most of my friends, the last time I owned a Nokia handset was eons ago and won’t likely in the future.
 

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Jan 28 2011

eReader’s Digest

Published by jl under Book Reviews,Main Page

Since I have been harping on the value of reading the works of significant effort, instead of 140 character tweets and FB postings, I list here a several articles that should well serve your intellectual appetites. Culled through (ironically) Twitter mentions and blog posts, they cover a wide breadth of topics with a geeky bent. Each of them are relatively long and combined make an eclectic grab-bag of reading for the weekend over your favorite cup of caffeine.
 
Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds by Michael Lewis:
Lewis continues his international investigation on the fallout of the financial crises. This time he looks into Greece and describes how that country has processed the credit run up and its aftermath. Fascinating and scathing commentary on the Greek society and its levels of corruption.
 


 
Defying the Longevity Odds by Bill Simmons:
Simmons talks about several NBA stars, such as Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, who have extended their professional careers through better science, training, and diets. What’s unusual is the fact that they maintain their level of performance without perceptible drops in output that typically comes with age. The result is an realignment of career statistical expectations – all of a sudden the 30k career points milestone becomes the new 20k milestone.
 

 
The Hot Spotters by Atul Gawande:
Gawande, of “The Cost Conundrum” fame, reports on several doctors using a combination of statistical analysis and intensive patient outreach to drastically reduce health care costs. The stats reveal that a minority of patients account for a majority of the overall costs. And the most effective way to reduce those costs often requires more human interaction to ensure that people stay on their meds and encouraging them to exercise and quit poor habits. Seemingly obvious yet antithetical to how our system operates, the article reveals an interesting approach to solving the difficult cost problem.
 

 
Undressing Groupon by Ahmadali Arabshahi:
A deeper look into the economic model of Groupon from two perspectives, the subscriber base (you and me who buy the deals) and the merchants, shows how Groupon increases overall societal value while extracting a nice chunk of revenue for itself as the middle man. Arabshahi believes Google is well positioned to create a better model and prove a worthy competitor. Comments from LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman on the Power of Data collected by Groupon reinforces Arabshahi’s argument on how Google can use its strength in data algorithms to create a stronger model.
 
Dealing With Assange and the WikiLeaks Secrets by Bill Keller:
NY Times editor discusses from a journalist’s perspective on how they dealt with WikiLeaks’ Assange. Great insight on the newspaper’s processes. I was also quite intrigued by their view on how the different administrations dealt with them during public revelations of government activities.
 

 

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Jan 17 2011

Solitude and Leadership

Published by jl under Main Page,Talks

I feel compelled to share with you the lecture “Solitude and Leadership” by William Deresiewicz. One of my best friends forwarded it to me a few months ago, and I’ve re-read it many times, thinking about its main argument. Some background first. The lecture was given to the plebe class (freshman cadets) at the prestigious United States Army Military Academy at West Point. The lecture itself focuses on the the importance of thinking to push oneself beyond today’s valued characteristics of commonplace and conformity. While Deresiewicz gave the lecture within the context of the real world and the military, most of the lecture and its key point are applicable to all of us who aspire to something more.
 
One of the main points is that our entire system, from education to corporation, has generated an incredible class of high performing conformists. This was a point echoed by Seth Godin in Linchpin, which I reiterated in a separate post about becoming drones. I quote Deresiewcz below as he talks about young people from the perspective of a Yale admissions officer a few years ago. It’s particularly telling because it spares none of the top professions today:

So what I saw around me were great kids who had been trained to be world-class hoop jumpers. Any goal you set them, they could achieve. Any test you gave them, they could pass with flying colors. They were, as one of them put it herself, “excellent sheep.” I had no doubt that they would continue to jump through hoops and ace tests and go on to Harvard Business School, or Michigan Law School, or Johns Hopkins Medical School, or Goldman Sachs, or McKinsey consulting, or whatever. And this approach would indeed take them far in life. They would come back for their 25th reunion as a partner at White & Case, or an attending physician at Mass General, or an assistant secretary in the Department of State.

As I thought about these things and put all these pieces together—the kind of students I had, the kind of leadership they were being trained for, the kind of leaders I saw in my own institution—I realized that this is a national problem. We have a crisis of leadership in this country, in every institution. Not just in government. Look at what happened to American corporations in recent decades, as all the old dinosaurs like General Motors or TWA or U.S. Steel fell apart. Look at what happened to Wall Street in just the last couple of years.

We live in a system that churns out intelligent drones who create massive societal problems. Instead of generating true value for the world, they’ve destroyed economies in the name of creating shareholder value or personal gain. In essence we’ve trained generations of bright people on how to game the system to maximize their own gain (again, our own fault for elevating wealth as an aspirational value system) at the huge detriment of those who cannot. Yes, the Goldman’s and Carly’s of the world are labeled as leaders in the sense that they are so successful at fleecing their way to unimaginable personal wealth while creating so little, if not outright negative, real world value.
 
Deresiewicz argues that thinking and reflection, what he loosely labels as solitude, as a major way to develop personal leadership. While I explicitly warned against the distractions of thoughtless media in the previous mentioned posting, a year later things have become harder with the explosion of social media. My identity as a technologist, pits using these tools in trying to understand and improve against falling to their addictive cheap calories to the brain. It’s easy to slip between experimentation and mindless consumption. I must keep reminding myself that ideas or thoughts of deep value, require a level of thought and work that cannot be generated quickly.

Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.

I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn’t turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing.

I/we often succumb to mistaking conventional wisdom for original thought. After reading the same convincing argument from multiple sources over a period of time, it’s easy to assimilate it and claim as my own, without performing the sufficient work to challenge that thought, testing it with real research, and deeper thinking. The scariest part of this process is how unconsciously it occurs.
 
Along the same lines, my personal challenge in thinking about technology’s place in the world is rising above all that input and generating original ideas that sprout from the varied connections. As efficiently as I consume ideas from the best (which is absolutely necessary), the hardest step is still that of origination, inception if I may loosely borrow that term.
 
To close, if you’ve missed the essay, I highly recommend spending a chunk of time and reading it in one session. And then practice the introspection it touts. It will help you figure something out, either about the world, or yourself.
 

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Dec 18 2010

Year End Startup

Published by jl under Main Page

It’s been an interesting year for my personal ventures. While business has been humming along, I’ve been working on several early stage projects, partnered with various people. And even though nothing has officially launched yet, I’ve learned a tremendous amount in the process, specifically thinking hard about customer discovery (and business model discovery), technology, emerging markets, software lead generation, startup founders, and handling getting backstabbed in a startup deal. (More details on the last one in a separate post.)
 
A great book that helped me put all this in perspective has been Founders at Work. The book consists of a series of interviews with famous founding members of tech startups, like Steve Wozniak from Apple and Max Levchin from PayPal, presented in their own voice. They tell the stories of their struggles and successes. Quarter through the book so far as an entrepreneur I can’t praise it enough. So many late nights recently, as I nodded through sections where I commiserate experiences, gain insight from their thinking, I always closed the chapter inspired. There really exists that unique character that puts them in their position today.
 
Speaking of startups, a b-school classmate and good friend of mine is at one of them: Lattice Engines. They provide software for large companies like Dell and HP for sales intelligence and B2B Marketing. The reason I bring up their work is the way he described how their product analyzes large amounts of data and providing recommendations reminded me of the social media sentiment analysis space. As the way businesses and consumers operate change so quickly, it is really hard to build something in anticipation of these disruptions and being in place in the right time. Since I started researching social media analysis and online marketing efforts, I appreciate how truly hard it can be. All in all, great technology that while half a step ahead of the curve, is still trying to create a market to validate itself. (Not that Lattice Engine needs that much more validation.)
 
As my year wraps up, I look back on my learnings with fondness and look forward to the upcoming intensity of work to follow. On a self-serving note in hoping for my own progress, I wish that your ventures, personal or otherwise, come to fruition. Savor the journey and assume upon yourself as much responsibility as possible the outcome of your work.
 

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Nov 11 2010

Mobile World at Our Fingertips

Published by jl under Main Page

I’ve been thinking hard about the mobile world and its future. Watching smartphone adoption growing without abandon while dragging along an entire ecosystem of new startups reminds me of the excitement of the Internet heydays a decade ago. Right now everyone is trying to figure out where the opportunities are and guessing the new usage patterns. And so far, the speed of these shifts in user behavior and rate of new ideas being implemented feels much faster than 1999.
 
I was more than pleased to attend the PayPal X Innovate conference in San Francisco last month. Aside from being fun (and in the city during the exciting World Series atmosphere), I witnessed first hand what entrepreneurs are working on. From apps that help you order food and beer at ball games, to impulse mobile shopping, the conference never lacked in ideas or diversity. After all, how could it claim to be about “Mobile, Social, Local” without covering pretty much the entire segment of growth markets.
 
Been almost a year since I got my Nexus 1 and I will say that I am a happy user. With the frequent software updates and my heavy usage of Google services, the Android is the ideal platform for me. Luckily through work, I also carry an iPhone 4. You may call me lucky, but trust me when I say it’s real work to forcibly use more than one phone device, trying new applications, on a daily basis. That said, I’m tempted to plunk down $99 for a BlackBerry Torch, so I can experience myself RIM’s shortcomings that draw the pundits prediction of its demise.
 
On the subject of the BlackBerry, one of the things I always talked about RIM doing was to release BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) to all platforms. For whatever reason they feel that keeping one of the flagship apps exclusively on their platform, I never believed it was sufficient to lock in users. Why not open it up to everyone, so existing BB users can communicate with friends not on BB? Well, looks like somebody did it – Kik, a text messaging app that works on all major platforms. Goodbye BBM.
 
Another area of mobile I’m looking into has been emerging markets. Some of them have higher mobile penetration rates than Internet. That logic follows the same infrastructure (more precisely, lack thereof) driven situation where mobile penetration is higher than landlines. Once the social and location based elements are mixed in there, it’s an explosion of new usage and functionality never seen before. And that is truly exciting.
 
As the year wraps up, I’m looking forward to the early 2011 when several events will bring about mobile device Armageddon: iPhone on Verizon, true second generation Android devices, increased smartphone penetration that drives the value of social apps even higher. We’re hitting that curve in the hockey stick growth. Enjoy the ride.

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Jun 17 2010

European Reprieve

Published by jl under Main Page

What a treat. I’m posting from the BA lounge at London Heathrow, watching the world cup, en route to a wedding in Norway.

Hard to believe it’s been nearly 3 years since I was last in Europe, where did time fly? Even harder to believe that it’s been over a year since I attended a wedding.

Having been so occupied with work and life, this long planned trip snuck up on me. And even though at the last minute I was still resisting the notion of breaking away from work, now that I am in Europe and transiting through 5 airports (LAX-JFK-LHR-OSL-TRD), I’m now immersed in this mini-adventure. 2 days in, I already feel like it’s too short.

Look forward to catching up with some friends and celebrating this wondrous occasion.

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Apr 06 2010

iPad Um-Impressions

Published by jl under Main Page

While the basketball gods hate me, the tech gods tend to take a kinder view on me; I lucked out with a loaner iPad so I gave it a good spin for the past 24 hours. My verdict so far: Apple’s marketing department is pure genius. To win me over, it has to either be a netbook with the perfect form factor or run a truly killer application.
 
Some background to establish my point of view. As you know, I’ve been using the Nexus One for over 3 months now, so you can call me a touch screen smart phone user. I can also boast my credentials as a hardcore reading device user since I read avidly on my Kindle DX, the large eReader from Amazon. Finally, I’ve been using a tablet laptop, the X61 Thinkpad, for more than 2 years now, so computing with a touch interface isn’t a brand new experience to me. From the Apple universe, the only Apple products I’ve ever owned are the last 3 generations of the iPod. You could hardly call me an Apple fanboy.
 
The iPad’s functionality clearly overlaps all of the above and is designed to be a multifunction device. Unfortunately it doesn’t stand to replace any of them for me, with the exception of the laptop for short trips, as I do see the iPad as a fantastic airplane device.
 
My largest source of complaint and disappointment comes from the iPad’s inability to run applications in the background. I envisioned it to do most of what I need while sitting in a coffee shop or watching a game, simple things like chatting, Twitter, web browsing, you know, teenager stuff. So imagine my disappointment when I tried to replicate those activities while watching the evil NCAA tournament final. As a computing device, due to its inability to multitask, it’s really a joke. Since I’m not your average grandma, my usage patterns for a computing device are much more stringent. Still, what I wanted to do wasn’t remotely demanding. The moment I switched away from Safari browser, say to play the next round of scrabble with my friends, I’m logged out of Google Chat. I really cannot understand the thinking behind this handicap. The moment of truth this past weekend: As I helped navigate while my friend was driving using my Nexus One maps, I used Yelp concurrently to find some interesting spots nearby, and right then I realized the iPhone couldn’t do that, and neither can the iPad.
 
I still remain open minded and made an effort to check out all the new apps. While there were no game changers, I did find some stellar ones. The NPR app for consuming news really shines. The NY Times Editor Select app also has a great interface, but due to its extremely limited content, I can’t see myself using it too much. The iPad version that Google put out for GMail is really superb. Web browsing was also very good, with the exception of not rendering flash, which made many sites and Apple look odd, given how flash has established itself as a web standard for years now. As for the normal iPhone apps running on the iPad, I found them unsatisfying for not utilizing all the extra real estate. The blown up versions looked grainy and unpolished, not to mention some of them, like Facebook in particular, were already bad to begin with. Finally the gem of an app, Marvel Comics, blew me away with its stunning color displays and natural navigation interface. For comic book readers (not collectors) the iPad is truly the perfect device, this is your killer app, hands down.
 



To Die for Comic Reading

Continuing on my content binge, I watched a full length movie via Netflix Streaming and a couple issues cropped up. Halfway through the movie, it stopped on its own, and then quit the app entirely, sending me back to the home screen. (It didn’t appear to be a crash since it seemed to take its natural sequence of exiting the app. I have no idea why that happened.) Despite that, the movie streamed fine enough with minor hiccups on the buffering (Netflix fault). What I did not like about was mostly hardware related: the device is too heavy to hold and watch comfortably on a couch and the glossy screen created too much glare for a movie with relatively dark lighting. I suppose a solution for the weight is to buy an accessory to help the device stand on its own, say on an airplane tray. That and buying extra couch pillows.
 
Both of those problems extend to reading eBooks. I already find the Kindle DX too heavy to hold with one hand. At 1.5 pounds, this is much worse. The glare will make reading under sunlight unpleasant as well. Note I don’t fall under the group who complain about a lack of backlight for the Kindle since I like other light sources, so this isn’t a trade-off I’d be happy with. Granted for some of you who read books for long periods of times on your iPhones, the iPad provides a respectable upgrade in real estate, it may still not be suitable for the subway or gym due to its weight.
 


Same Book on Kindle DX versus iPad

The one hand thing also affects the typing. For those of us used to holding the device with one hand and typing with the other, the larger keyboard doesn’t help much. Having the full qwerty layout is only effective when putting the device down and typing with both hands. Most times I found myself longing for Swype or at a minimum better word completion.
 
And finally onto the dreaded Apps store. For the money gateway for Apple and all the hard working developers, one would expect a much better interface. Searching and navigating on the iPad is not very different than doing it on your computer using iTunes. It really shouldn’t be that difficult. After all, there’s an existing paradigm that works great – it’s called web browsing. And on top of that, I have to constantly log into my iTunes account. It prompts me for my password almost every time I download or update an app, which wouldn’t be so annoying if the input method allowed for numbers and characters without having to invoke the software keyboard swap. (iPhone users, you know what I’m talking about if you have any semblance of a respectable password.)
 
While it sounds like I hate the iPad, I don’t. Apple’s marketing was simply too good and overhyped my usually tempered expectations. At the end of all the hoopla, it’s a giant iPod (and not even an iPhone) with the trade-off of extra real estate for extra weight. Its inability to run multiple apps annoys me to no end because it would otherwise make for a perfect device to accompany tv-watching and casual coffee shop afternoons. I still believe it a great airplane device which I’ll put to the test taking it to Vegas in a couple weekends. Until then, I will protest the hyperbole from the bought off media: revolutionary? Hardly.
 


Brothers of a Pod

 

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Apr 05 2010

Still Scribbling

Published by jl under Main Page

I’ll admit that 5 years ago, when I decided to test the waters of “blogging”, I didn’t know how long that would last. I certainly could not have predicted lasting up until today. While it’s not a themed blog, especially given my diverse interests, this forum still give me the satisfaction of keeping an online journal, collecting my thoughts and experiences over the years.
 
Some random notes: moving over to WordPress from the now defunct Blogware has paid off in spades; if you haven’t noticed from the blogroll, I started another personal blog commenting on sports related topics my usual readers couldn’t care less about; injecting some of the web 2.0 widgets like Google Latitude and my twitter feed was a nice way to modernize the blog, a platform that now firmly established and borderline old given how fast the Internet moves.
 
All in all, my blogging has been hugely gratifying. It’s something I look back at with satisfaction, and look forward to with joy. And of course I want to thank you for caring, reading, and sharing your thoughts with me.
 

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