Archive for the ‘Tech Business’ Category

Making Sense of Change

We all live in perpetual information overload and a swirl of new technologies.  Continuous learning is no longer an option.  Learn or be  lost.  Keeping track of it all, fitting pieces together, is a challenge that seems to become increasingly impenetrable.  Now Brian Solis of Altimeter has given us a structure to help us sort through the emerging digital universe.  Thank you, Brian!

Cloud-based social, mobile and real-time technologies are the hub of the Brian Solis Wheel of Disruption.

In the first circle around the three core themes are the following seven emergent technologies and sectors:

  • Big Data
  • Apps
  • Ephemeral (content that disappears in a short time)
  • Geo-location
  • Messaging
  • Gamification
  • 2d Screen

The second circle contains seven more:

  • Wearables
  • Makers
  • Beacons
  • Internet of Things
  • Sharing
  • Virtual AI – AR (Artificial Intelligence & Augmented Reality)
  • Payments

Alongside the wheel are six themes implemented by these technologies::

  • Platforms
  • Alternative Currencies
  • Mass Personalization
  • Crowd Funding/Lending (and I would add, Sourcing)
  • Anonymous/Private web
  • Instant Gratification

Here’s Brian’s marvelous infographic: http://www.briansolis.com/2014/12/digital-transformation-year-review/

My head already feels clearer!  I hope yours will as well!

Media Heads Up for 2015: 12 Takeaways

Media visionaries looked to the future at the Gotham Media’s Digital Breakfast at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz and made some predictions about social, mobile, TV and more for 2015 and beyond. Here are some highlights:

1. Ever-faster change – new things rise higher faster and fall faster.

2. Sensors all around that are passively aware of you. All cell phones have omnipresent computing.

3. Mobile payments. Apple’s entry will determine whether they make a difference. Most are safer than plastic, says John Abell, Senior editor, LinkedIn.

4. Continued migration of devices to mobile – even Facebook and video on mobile. Increasing importance of the second screen, though it’s still primitive. Monitors are losing to individual devices. “When the first screen gets boring, people go to the 2d screen,” reports Paul Berry, RebelMouse Founder and CEO

5. The steady growth of Facebook and mobile pose a challenge of how many pages per person can be sustained on your site.

6. Niche social networks will be big – a space for passionate sharing. (ED: Vertical networks were lumped into discussion of the category.) Niche networks will be combined with the 2d screen in the future – but with more than Twitter’s limited characters, predicts Berry.

7. People talking in a real voice as opposed to the institutional voice of mainstream media so that you hear individuals.

8. Infinite choice in content. “The quality level has been raised,” said Lockhart Steele, Editorial Director of Vox Media. “Now you have to do great stuff to get attention because there’s so much choice. . . The biggest challenge to media is the conversion to mobile. A lot of journalists are still writing in newspaper style.”

9. “Content is still king. It’s entirely defined by great talent,” according to Eric Wattenberg, Co- Head of Alternative Television at CAA.

10.“Traditional ads aren’t working. Only bots click. Millennials don’t even see the ads,” says Berry. At Vox, an in-house creative agency helps advertisers create native advertising. “The agency relationship is broken,” adds Steele. Every company has the opportunity and responsibility to be a media company, continues Berry. You need a product to be worth someone’s obsessing about it. Then put your money behind them. How do you measure social media effectiveness? Do viewers click? Share?

11 “But then we still don’t know how to measure TV,” Abell reminds us. “Yet, I don’t see how anything can supplant anything as unifying as TV.”

12.“The challenge for TV is how to get and keep an audience and grow it. It may be a combination of traditional TV with live elements in other forms of entertainment so that every week you’ll have to tune in and it’ll be fun and exciting to see what happens,” speculates Wattenberg.

Provenance: Gotham Media’s Digital Breakfast at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz 12.9.14. Alan Sacks, moderator – Counsel, Frankfurt Kurnit Klein I& Selz PC Panelists: John Abell, Sr. Editor, LinkedIn Paul Berry, Founder and CEO, RebelMouse; Lockhart Steele, editorial Director, Vox Media, and Eric Wattenberg, Co-Head of Alternative television, CAA

More About Brains Than Bucks!

Andy Sernovitz’s holiday newsletter speaks to customer service, something that may be the secret sauce to achieving and holding a competitive edge.. These three examples are about e-commerce, but they exemplify a mindset applicable to any business:

From Andy Sernovitz’s Damn I Wish I’d Thought of That – Unusually Useful Ideas for Smart marketers 12.26.13

1. Help them make room

IKEA knows that one of the biggest reasons people don’t buy new furniture is the hassle of getting rid of their old furniture. So the company offered to sell it for them. For their Second Hand campaign, IKEA featured their customers’ actual names, numbers, and old furniture in their ads. Then, they opened their Facebook page for other customers to sell their stuff online in a “virtual flea market” on Sundays.

The lesson: That’s doing much more than just making room for a new couch — it’s creating an amazing customer service story for everyone who sells something through IKEA.

2. Help them make a decision

It’s a pain to exchange a treadmill. So when you buy one, you want to make sure it’s exactly what you want. At Fitness in Motion in Austin, they don’t think the couple minutes you typically spend testing out a machine at other stores is enough to help you make a decision. So they tell potential customers to use their store like a gym: Come by whenever, do their normal workout, and find the machine that works for them before they buy it.

The lesson: This helps customers feel better about their purchase. But more importantly, it gives Fitness in Motion a chance to build relationships and trust with the customers coming in day after day.

3. Help give them peace of mind

If you’ve ever bought a prom dress (disclosure: I’ve bought zero), you know that showing up to prom with the same dress as someone else is a big fear. At some formal wear shops, they help girls avoid this high school nightmare by asking each customer which event they’re wearing the dress to and checking their database for repeats. That way, their customers can be much more confident about pulling the trigger and buying the dress.

The lesson: You already keep a lot of data about your customers for market research, product development, and ordering — why not use it to help them too?

The Future is Internet Access. not Devices

Frugal innovation that’s just good enough to enable free mobile Internet access in order to supports a focus on education for billions of low-income people. That’s both the personal and business mission of Suneet Singh Tuli, CEO, Datawind. The outcome? The first $40 tablet computer – the Aakash – launched first by the president of India, then by the UN Secretary General and today in use by thousands of students in India.

Suneet’s business goal is to create a low-price product that impacts people’s lives and, yes, make money from it. “I am not a charity,” he declaims. The Datawind business model is to forgo most of the company’s hardware margins and to focus instead on recurring revenue from content and apps in order to go after and, in time, own the price-sensitive consumer.

He believes everyone should focus on education. Education corrects everything, he says. No, the low-cost computer is not intended to replace teachers but to supplement what they can do. His sons get answers to all the questions they have after school from YouTube! And Forbes International recently recognized Suneet in its annual impact 15 list of education innovators.

Lesson No. 1 for US entrepreneurs: “just good enough” should be part of innovation. It’s not disruptive technology that wins; it’s the one the gorilla ignores – as we learned from Clayton Christiansen. Large companies, such as Apple and Samsung, could own the low-cost tablet market but it would dilute their brands to say nothing of their margins. Their business model is based on creating and producing high-quality, highly profitable hardware. Suneet’s, on the other hand, is to use hardware as a customer acquisition tool.

Lesson No. 2: the future is Internet access, not devices, in Suneet’s view – with money coming not from devices but from content, apps and advertising. In fact, Suneet’s next goal, in addition to bringing the cost of the Aakash down to $25, is to spark a global ecosystem of socially positive apps that empower women.

Extreme Customer Development

Staying ahead of the curve. That’s the challenge in the Innovation Economy, where knowledge, technology, entrepreneurship and innovation are at the center of the model, driving growth. It’s also the only possible basis for sustainable differentiation in a time of accelerated change – and commoditization. Without it, you’re just another me-too company. With it, you have a chance – if you play the rest of the cards right – to win big.

For start-ups, the No. 1 secret for this, according to Promod Haque, Senior Managing Partner, Norwest Venture Partners, is bringing product marketing and product development together from Day 1. It’s not that difficult to build anything, he said in an interview at a recent TiE event. The right engineer can do it. But does anyone care? Is the market large enough?

Even beyond this, the company needs a top sales person who can give the new business access to, say, 50 customers in three months in an effort to validate the product from the customer perspective –or pivot if, in the end, that’s what you learn is needed from customers.

The No. 2 Haque secret is to network your way to people who understand your industry, get to know them, not just meet them, build relationships, seek real feedback and take it seriously. Many people learn from their own mistakes but the smart ones learn from mistakes others make as well!

So, how does a penniless start-up compensate a strategic marketing person – and that’s what we’re talking about here, not marketing communications? Haque’s suggestion is to find the right consultant, put them on an advisory board and compensate them with options that vest at intervals.

If you’re familiar with Steve Blank’s customer development process, endorsed by Eric Ries as part of his lean start-up approach, you’ll notice striking parallels. Steve’s “4 epiphanies” of customer discovery, customer validation, customer creation and company building fit right in. But here’s the thing. The Haque approach is extreme customer development because it combines marketing and product development at the outset. Not something many engineers will be comfortable with – and some will fail as a result – but probably essential in today’s environment if you want to stay ahead of the curve.

Are There Too Many Startups?

That was a question put to Albert Wenger, Managing Partner at Union Square Ventures (USV), after his remarks last week at the BMW I Born Electric event.  Might this be a fad – like doing a band in the 70s? No, no and no, says Wenger.  We’re at the beginning of a transformation as big as the one from agriculture to industrial, he explained.  We need a lot of experimentation.  Even failures have social benefits in terms of the experience gained in taking risks, making decisions, etc.  This can benefit both large and small companies.

And today’s startups have a higher potential for life expectancy.  A lot of historical investing was binary, win-lose.  Now a small team with low capital expenditures can keep on going even if the business is not really hitting.

A significant outcome of seeing startups from the long-term perspective of sweeping transformation is USV’s “thesis-driven investing” – putting more emphasis on the principles of large-scale change than on traditional investing criteria, like market size, competitive situation, etc. No. 1 among these principles is the insight that networks will replace old hierarchies, with the unbundling of traditional services – single purpose services replacing all-in-one traditional newspapers, for example.  Classified ads went to Craig’s List.  Commentary went to blogs.  Breaking news went to Twitter.  People can find the other pieces just one click away, with no need for a single source.  All the companies in USVs investment portfolio exemplify this – among them, Lending Club, Pollenware and Edmodo, two in finance, one in education.  But no sector will escape.  Healthcare and government are just down the line..

In transportation, Wenger sees cars doing three things:  delivering transportation on demand, self-expression and fun and alone time.  Transportation, in turn, can mean delivering my body from point to point or solving an information problem.  Startups like Buzz Car and GetAround are examples of early peer networks that make it unnecessary to control your own car or where it goes.  Online shopping and delivery services can replace the need to get information by going to the grocery store.

Of course, as one audience member commented, industries under siege go to the government for help.  The hotel industry is opposing Airnb’s travel guides to staying in people’s apartments with regulations against renting out spare rooms.  The Taxi & Limousine Commission got a cease-and-desist against Uber, NYC’s on-demand car service. So then we have the inaugural peer network summit in San Francisco.  The battle is engaged:  yesterday vs. tomorrow!

First cousin to the notion of too many startups is the meme that social media are all frivolous.  But social is also becoming the enabling glue for how ideas are shared and funded. Hierarchical research journals and funding processes (NIH) are beginning to lose ground to innovations like Mendeley, a peer-network blog for sharing scientific research, and Kickstarter and others, which are extending their scope to research.  A huge flowering of research can be expected as a result.

What Difference Does it Make?

By Eleanor Haas

What differences does it make?  That’s the first question for every entrepreneur and innovator.  

The country – and the world for that matter – is buzzing with new start ups.  Most of them will fail of course and it won't matter because most really don’t makd a difference for anyone.

How does your product differentiate itself?  That’s what the investor will ask – because being different from other products that serve similar purposes is fundamental to being marketable.

But isn’t it time for new companies and new products to make a difference as well as differentiate?  We live in a time when every product category is already saturated with options.  That’s why branding has become hot.  Creating a distinctive image in the minds of customers is the sine qua non of differentiation.  Now some entrepreneurs and innovators are adding an important new dimension to differentiating.  They are creating new ways to improve the quality of life.

Arshad Chowdhury did that to create Cleargears, a startup that promises to make a difference for employees of any company sufficiently enlightened to deploy it.  What it delivers is a system for real-time performance review by everyone of everyone.   Unlike the traditional process – and that hasn’t changed for years – where performance review occurs in huge chunks once a year from the narrow perspective of people at the top, Clearview delivers ongoing feedback in bite-sized chunks from the 360-degree perspective of everyone you work with – anonymously. The vision of Arshad and his early customers alike is that companies can perform better if they help everyone on the team perform better as well

Sandy Heck, MD, is making a difference with Reach Bionics, a start up that is developing technology to help paraplegics wirelessly control electronic devices by activating vestigial muscles around the ears.  

Michael Huerta and his partners at BrightPath Energy are making a difference by applying their skills in providing capital and deal infrastructure to the renewable energy sector.  One of their first projects is Power.ly, an angel-stage product company that solves cost and logistical problems for remote electricity – such as post-disaster, rural areas, the battlefield, or anywhere the grid is limited – with a truly portable generator that uses solar power. 

When I’m lucky enough to discover start ups like these, I hear Stevie Wonder’s lyrics echo in my head: “And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”

It Takes Two To Tango!

A classic mistake for start-ups is to ask one name to fly solo. It’s usually the product name. Since entrepreneurs have to be obsessed with their product to start a business, that’s probably to be expected. But then how can you be sure you’re talking about the company when it has the same name as the product? Which brand promise do you want to imply or express?

Apple Computer owes its name to a small apple farm where Steve Jobs spent time each year with friends in the mid-70s. And it was the name of both the product and the company until the Lisa, Mac and other new products came along. That’s the typical pattern for start-ups. It was also a long time ago in terms of today’s marketplace.

Today you need all the brand power you can get to claim and hold a place in customer minds, and you need this the minute you start marketing.

Products can be treated as brands – given proprietary names and a brand platform as the backbone of marketing communications efforts. Or they can be given descriptive names and associated with a brand. But they’re missing out if they are denied the halo effect of a corporate brand.

The corporate brand is the face of a business strategy – what the company wants to be known for. In time, it becomes the organizing principle that simplifies the complexity of multiple products and the umbrella that facilitates new product acceptance.

The cost need be no greater for two than for one if you do it right – and you’ll build a far stronger foundation for ongoing sales and profits with both.

The Best of Times

by Eleanor Haas

What’s great?  The opportunity.  What’s not so great?  The uncertainty.  But then, that’s what makes it great!  So concluded five wise, wise VCs and one very
wise entrepreneur at today’s Digital Breakfast: Venture Capital Forecast 2010.

What does today’s
environment feel like? 

·        
In terms of
technology disruption, 1987.  In terms of
the economy, it’s uncharted territory.

·         
Q2 of 03.  A flattish movement up.  A great time for financial technology.

·         
Late 02/early
03 in terms of the opportunity, with the full contraction of VC yet to come.  Dramatic changes in the cost to launch an
Internet business and how you build the company.  The use of real-time media and social media
to build traffic is much less expensive than search.

 1994-1995 in
terms of the opportunity and the low cost of entry.

Some highlights:

VCs

·         
VCs have
started intersecting with angels and finding they can get further with a
company for less money and then take a smaller exit.  They are also co-investing with other VC
funds.  Some VCs are doing investments as
small as $100K and $250K. This enables them to do smaller exits, which in turn
has implications for the funding model. 
If new investors come in for later rounds, they pay a higher price and
cannot make money with the smaller exits. 
As a result, their interest is no longer aligned with that of the
entrepreneur and early investors.  So, it’s
best for the investor group to remain constant.

·         
The VC
dilemma:  the line between the seed round
and A round Is blurred because of the speed with which things can be done.  Some VCs have moved their fund size down in
order to make efficient use of capital..

Trends of the Moment

·         
Entrepreneurs
are building low-cost web-enabled businesses as vertical layers on top of
Facebook.   The network effect of
Facebook makes it essential that Facebook or a Facebook widget be a component.  Business-to-business sites all have Facebook Connect
today.  You can build businesses like
GolfTripGenius for a few thousand dollars.

·         
Entrepreneurs
have the opportunity to build good technology-enabled businesses – inexpensive
to launch and profitable for the entrepreneur – but they may not necessarily be
investable.

·         
LAMP-plus
infrastructure for hardware with Facebook has brought web site start-up costs
dramatically down.

·         
What’s
important at this moment is “clever” technology as opposed to “proprietary”
technology – technology that’s not necessarily costly and represents something
done in an interesting way with a value proposition.  The package that creates value consists of traction
plus the technology plus the skills of the entrepreneur.

·          
Marketing is as
important as technology – the ability to get customers. 

·         
The value of
patents is lower because they’re too hard to value and take too long to become
effective.

 
Mobile is a
channel, not an investable vertical.  It
will be part of everything, not just apps that are location-based.

The Digital Breakfast was organized
by Gotham Media Ventures. The moderator was Gene DeRose, House Party.  The VCs were Charlie Federman Crossbar
Capital; Howard Morgan, First Round Capital; Lawrence Lenihan Jr., FirstMark
Capital; David Pakman, Venrock and Daniel Schults, DFJ Gotham Ventures.

High-End Computing for General Purposes Becomes an Eco-Friendly Possibility

By Eleanor Haas

How quickly both information
technology and social values are advancing! Bringing supercomputing capabilities down to a general-purpose level where
they can serve consumers, not just advanced scientists – as a new IBM product
does – is a giant leap forward in our ability to access, analyze and manage massive
amounts of information efficiently and cost-effectively. But that alone is no longer sufficient. Today
our society requires that this be done in ways that minimize climate change
effects. Greentech is not just a
fad. It’s here to stay.

The new IBM iDataPlex
line of server products does both. It
seems to me to represent an historic break-through: It enables cloud computing that supports Web
2.0 applications as well as the high performance computing (HPC) requirements
of life science researchers, engineers, petroleum exploration, financial
services, and government and academic research. But perhaps the most important attribute of the new hardware design is
that it requires 40 percent less electrical power to run than alternatives with
comparable computing power and can eliminate air conditioning when outfitted
with a water-cooled wall.

As Web sites evolve, they
add features that impose new demands on the infrastructure and challenge
performance standards critical to the user experience. Web 2.0 applications empower users to do a
great deal more than just retrieve information. Now users can activate interactive features inherent in Web 1.0 at a
higher level and exercise new degrees of control over data, even add value to
applications as they use them. These new
capabilities drive enterprises to scale capacity in a secure, reliable and
cost-effective way in order to deliver a satisfactory user experience. Cloud computing is one of the most important
new concepts that is emerging to make this possible.

Cloud computing is
computing done at a remote location, which is to say, out in the clouds. It is computing on a massive scale in terms
of both computing power and the range of computing tasks.

Supercomputers were mainframes
invented to enable advanced scientists to handle enormously complex
calculations. Then Google and others
started locating the data storage and processing power of supercomputers on
vast banks of computer servers in remote data centers – Google called these
distant servers “the cloud” – instead
of on mainframe computers or a network of multiple processors on the Google
campus. And Amazon and others started providing
cloud computing services – remote
computing services, also called web services – delivered over the Internet. And so cloud computing was born.

Cloud computing is hugely important but still nascent. A recent report
by Forrester Research said in
its executive summary that: "Cloud computing is a new IT outsourcing model
that doesn’t yet meet the criteria of enterprise IT and isn’t supported by most
of the key corporate vendors.  It’s wildly popular with startups, exactly
fits the way small businesses like to buy things, and has the potential to
completely upend IT as we know it.”

Cloud computing represents a fundamental shift in how we
handle information, according to BusinessWeek, because it enables companies to
write their own programs to run on a cloud provider’s servers. Irving Wladawsky-Berger, Chairman Emeritus,
IBM Academy of Technology and Visiting Professor of Engineering Systems, MIT,
sees two major factors that make cloud computing qualitatively different from
all IT concepts to date: One is massive
scalability. The other is the much
higher quality of experience it can provide for users. “As with the Web in the
mid-‘90s, every enterprise will have to develop its own cloud-like
capabilities, or work closely with partners that do.” he writes on his blog.

But cloud computing can be no more than a vision until
something is done about the data centers on which it relies. In general, today’s data centers can be
described as massive, sprawling and pushing the limits of power and space
available to them. Many have grown
through mergers and acquisitions, with different departments having their own
servers and a proliferation of small and mid-size servers. As a result, they are inefficient, expensive
to operate and have high energy requirements. Worse, they cannot be scaled effectively.

The new IBM iDataPlex system represents a solution, a basis
for the data center of the future. It
reduces the cost per server by approximately 20 percent to 25 per cent by using
off-the-shelf components and open source software, fits 138 percent more
servers in the same floor space and, best of all, as we said, requires 40 percent
less power to run. It is intended both
for enterprise cloud computing initiatives and clouds designed to host Web 2.0
applications.

Not a lot of iDataPlex systems will be sold. The target universe contains only 1,000
prospects, each valued at upwards of $20 million, and each system will be
custom-built. But it’s already clear that cloud computing builds on itself, as
large companies become suppliers for smaller ones. And IBM has the pieces in place to help
customers acquire new data centers conveniently. IBM Global Financing will
offer them lending and leasing opportunities, IBM Global Asset Recovery
Services can manage the disposal of equipment in accordance with environmental
regulations, and IBM will team with third party technology companies to drive a
product ecosystem around iDataPlex..

That’s smart of IBM
because iDataPlex has the markings of a hot product. According to Forrester, “Cloud computing . .
. has all the earmarks of a disruptive innovation: It is enterprise technology packaged to best
fit the needs of small businesses and start-ups – not the enterprise.”
 An eco-friendly cloud computing system.  What a thought!

What do you think about all this?  Where do you see it going?

Some Resources:

http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/23991.wss

http://www-03.ibm.com/systems/x/hardware/idataplex/index.html

             

               
             
 

   

 

 

   

   

   

 

 

   

 

      
               
               
             
 

   

 

 

   

   

PDF documents
Pund-IT Research Report: IBM System x iDataPlex – Enabling Web 2.0 with Internet-Scale Solutions (133 KB)
      
 
Cabot
Partners White Paper: IBM System x iDataPlex: The Newest Economical
Workhorse in the Computing Cloud for Next Generation HPC Data Centers
(1 MB)