Category Archives: Startups

Understanding Bitcoin might mean accepting it

Last week, one of Silicon Valley’s most respected venture capitalists wrote in a blog post for THE NEW YORK TIMES an explanation of why he’s so excited about Bitcoin, the virtual currency.  Marc Andreessen is actively seeking startups to fund in this area.  The creator of the world’s first computer browser, Netscape, Andreessen makes a strong case for going virtual.

Andreessen’s essay is good reading — as is the ebook, “Conversational Bitcoin,” by Christopher Carfi.  Chris makes Bitcoin easy to understand.  It’s free to download here.

pennyThis week’s coverage of illegal activity by Bitcoin buyers and sellers is making it easy for some to reject the emergence of virtual currency.  Yet things like a black market and theft have always stained the human condition.  Look at the banking industry’s 2008 doings.  Or think about how the island of Manhattan was “purchased” from Native Americans.

Corporate executives, political activists and private citizens are debating the nature of personal wealth in America.  It’s a good time to explore anything that might make us all think about our financial reach.  And what we can be doing with it.  Namely, being open to new means of financial transaction that might enfranchise every human being.

Captains and floozies

On Monday, I wrote in the weekly newsbrief about how we can find talent on our teams in the unlikeliest places.  How project leaders who discover and promote talent can trust them to take work to innovative places.

These project leaders generally have the foresight, strength and confidence that equip them to let those they lead to excel — to enter and capture the spotlight — to extend the project message in other interesting, often unplanned ways.  The story of Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi serves as the case study.  The man was selected without any acting experience by a director who taught him as well as hired him and knew a good line when he heard it.  The ad-lib heard around the world is showing all of us, not just Hollywood, how to be delighted by the unexpected.  Not threatened by it.

By Tuesday evening, I was enduring the remarks of a so-called expert in talent who fretted that “token floozies” in companies like Twitter are not truly women of the tech workforce.  Who then refused to explain what he meant.  For two days now.

You see, he expects only to pontificate.  To not answer questions unless they are posed in a way that flatters his ego and sustains his superiority, both in the asking and the answering.  Should this man be challenged, watch out.  He cites Duke University, Stanford University, Singularity University, WASHINGTON POST, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and startup Trove as the stars in his CV, and so far, they see no need to call for an explanation, either.  Rumor has it he has a book coming out about how women are leaving tech employers in droves.

If tech women are leaving anywhere in droves, it’s for two reasons.  First, for being expected to behave, code and program in the manner of the teen tech stars who have captivated Silicon Valley for the first decade of this century.  Second, women leave because guys like this appoint themselves gurus of all things female and feminine without working — hard — with the founders and teams who are actually building companies, products, services and customer lists.  There is not a conspiracy to prevent women from succeeding.  But there is money to be made selling books that tell us there is.

Guys like this think the only good women are the ones who have multiple degrees in engineering related disciplines.  Guys like this think that women who write stories or build customer communities are not really women of tech.  Guys like this believe Minimum Viable Products spring forth unaided from engineers who need marketing, accounting, sales and legal experts only to serve them, not advise them or stand beside them as founders.

At least this is what I assume.  Because in the absence of a real clarification from Mr-Women-in-the-Tech-Workforce, I can only conclude he’s like a few, not the majority, of the guys I’ve encountered in my decades of experience:  suspicious of anyone in heels, assumptive that mascara and brains do not go together, and convinced he knows better than anyone else, including women, what they need and want from a career.  He’s a misogynist.  And the only woman he can begin to trust is one with a pure engineering pedigree.

Well, even the women with those kinds of pedigrees don’t tend to believe that.  In fact, one of the great things about women in the workforce is that we understand the importance of being open to the possibilities, wherever they emerge and from whatever corner.  I’d rather see this guy write about that than feather his own nest with nasty diatribes against the producers — like Twitter, Facebook and Google — who are hiring women and creating open opportunities based on merit, not gender.

Whether the talent was once a limousine driver or is a woman with a BA, we have to celebrate the people who are inviting them to the talent pool.  And we have to celebrate the talent.  Because even the business-side floozies deserve their moment in the sun when they engage users and customers in technological marvels.

By the way.  First rule of PR:  acknowledge your own missteps.  Second:  assume the questioner is sincere and respond with clarification, even if you think it’s a “mindless rant” [his words, not mine].  That’s the only way you get in front of your own mistake.  Own it and explain it or you’ll never move beyond it.

The next generation of Internet startups

In March 2012, I read about a new startup called BrandYourself and signed up.  Inspired by one of its founder’s negative search engine results — he was being confused with a drug dealer — BrandYourself is nonetheless about much more than deleting bad search results.  The company is one of several new startups that enable regular people to optimize their online activities and/or make their lives easier.  I am so impressed with BrandYourself that I talked with CBS Interactive about it.

There are plenty of so-called reputation management plays out there, well-funded, in fact, but BrandYourself represents a super-important shift in technology — what I see as the next generation of startups.  It is one of a bunch of companies that were born where their customers live, and they enable customers to manage and optimize their content — giving them a bit of control they did not have.  In BrandYourself’s case, you tell them what you want turning up in a search, so the Internet is not just happening to you.

Another new generation startup, Citrus Lane [my client], packages and delivers products for babies and their parents monthly, saving them time and money.  This is great, but Citrus Lane also invites customers into a community of parents who share their experiences and wisdom.  The so-called mommy bloggers are running with it, taking to their sites and YouTube to talk about their experiences with the brands that Citrus Lane packs — and talking about how Citrus Lane covers all their bases:  monthly surprises, good things for their babies, product research.

Wix.com [I use it for my consulting practice], makes it possible for anyone to create  a beautiful, compelling, differentiated website for a small business.  Their designers and programmers work on the art and the underlying engine, giving you templates to follow that extract the content that makes for a good story.  At the same time, you have a creative outlet that gives the world a picture of the real you.  This is essential to strong marketing [something I always tell my clients].

These startups use technology to pull ideas from you to shape your presence and your circles online.  And while BrandYourself and companies like it do have the luxury of following the quirky programming geniuses who perfected web platforms, they are very wisely taking those innovations a step further, not copying them.  They are addressing what regular people need, now that we have Facebook, LinkedIn, et al,  and providing services on top of those platforms that meet real expectations.

The seven business books I believe are right for right now

These books, which I've read or am reading, are works whose content can inform business life. 

The Power of Pull:  How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in MotionJohn Hagel III, John Seely Brown, Lang Davison.  Aptly describes the change that is afoot and how anyone — and any business — can sustain relevance and connection.

Team of Rivals:  The Political Genius of Abraham LincolnDoris Kearns Goodwin.  Shows how competitors can collaborate when their leader is clear about the objective and recognizes how their motives can help reach the goal.  [Side benefit:  I found the description of the actions of biased journalists soothing.  If this country survived a civil war and those reporters, it can survive anything.]

The Divine ComedyDante Alighieri [The John Ciardi Translation].  Amazing that despite every other kind of growth, the human character really never changes.  Very useful.

I Hate People:  Kick Loose from the Overbearing and Underhanded Jerks at Work and Get What You Want Out of Your JobJonathan Littman, Mark Hershon.  The authors do an outstanding job of categorizing every personality you can encounter in the workplace.  The psychology and the comedy of pathological behavior.

Delivering Happiness:  A Path to Profits, Passion and PurposeTony Hsieh.  Sometimes nice works. Here's how to do it and prosper without becoming a patsy.

Power:  Why Some People Have It — and Others Don'tJeffrey Pfeffer.  How to get comfortable with power and decide whether you want it.

Overlook Much, Correct a Little:  99 Sayings by John XXIIIHans-Peter Rothlin, editor.  The musings of an enlightened mind, these thoughts inspire action that benefits every stakeholder in an organization — most especially, oneself.

 

 

 

How to be yourself in 2010

This morning brings massive coverage of the launch of Path, an iPhone app that gives you social networking capability with your fifty closest friends.  Some writers are calling it the anti-social network, but Path is branding itself as a personal network.

The most intriguing line to me, though, comes from the Path's own blog post.

Because your personal network is limited to your 50 closest friends and family, you can always trust that you can post any moment, no matter how personal. Path is a place where you can be yourself.

A place where you can be yourself.

Maybe this means being able to share photographs of yourself in a hot tub on Path so you can refrain from doing so on Facebook, where potential employers might see you.  From what I understand, this is a major concern today.  Being able to share photos of yourself in full bacchanalian vigor without fear of reprisal or unemployment.  So I guess it might be a good thing that we now have a more contained space for doing that.

But.

I want to be the same person on Twitter that I am on LinkedIn that I am in my neighborhood that I am when working.  I might express myself a bit differently in each venue, but essentially, I'm me.  I think that should be the goal.

How to do that — to be one self online, in person, on the job and on the town?

  1. Practice the fine art of holding back.  Do you really have to share that photo or that thought?  Consider whether you are adding to a conversation or merely grandstanding.
  2. Share the thoughts and the pictures that portray the better side of yourself.  If you must share something negative or questionable, make sure it winds up making a positive point.  And watch out for sharing too much information, anywhere.
  3. Understand that you will, in all likelihood, mess up.  Be ready to acknowledge that and move on to the next opportunity.  And do the same for others.
  4. Listen and engage.  Think about what you are reading or seeing and how it might expand your thinking or your understanding of a situation.  Ask questions and converse.  This is one of the best things about online networks — expanding our circles, expanding our perspectives.
  5. Be consistent.  There are people with whom you don't have to hold back — but you should always be the same person.  Otherwise, you'll drive yourself crazy.

 

Become a venture capitalist — play the Startup Bus game

The South by Southwest [SXSW] conference/event/gathering is happening next week, and this year, there's a unique event that occurs on the way to Austin, Texas, where SXSW is held.  It's the Startup Bus.  Six teams are developing a startup idea while they ride the bus to Austin.  Regular folks can use virtual dollars to invest in the startup of their choice.

Daniela Barbosa, the information scientist and Dow Jones exec, writes about the competition on her blog.  Our colleague and recent transplant to the US, Elias Bizannes of vast.com, is the Brain Behind the Bus.  Visit the Startup Bus site.  Become an investor.  It's fun!

About That Twitter: February 24 2010

Lots of folks weighed in today on the subject of how Twitter can be profitable and how to assess its progress.  Here are three of them.