Tag Archives: startups

Money and startup success: Why venture capital needs fixing

I'm still not used to how the current generation of venture capitalists is content to throw money at a startup without spending much time with it.  Before arriving in Silicon Valley, my impression was that there is a difference between VCs and bankers.  Wrong. 

Here's an excellent perspective on what venture capital needs, by Jason Pontin of MIT's TECHNOLOGY REVIEW. 

Cuil. Too cool for words?

Richard MacManus of ReadWriteWeb wrote a post last night about the big coverage of Cuil, thought and/or hoped by many to be the Google killer.

The MacManus post muses about the coverage of the new search engine and the major criticism that followed its debut.  A lot of expectations mismanaged.  So MacManus cites the echo chamber and the hyperbole that stokes it.

But let’s not blame the PR people, people.  Yes, I find much of the language, elitist and cozy, too much to bear.  But somebody’s swallowing it.  And it’s not just the TechCrunches and the Valleywags.  It’s our highly trained, self-proclaimed highly professional mainstream media.

Here are the suggestions I just shared in a comment to MacManus’s post.  Let’s start stripping away the hype.  Ultimately, it’s the best thing for all concerned.

Lots of insightful comments on your interesting post.  This is not a criticism of Cuil, either.  Time will tell.

I do have comments to the press, bloggers, all the new media types “covering” startups, Silicon Valley, tech money:

1  You are part of the echo chamber.  Think before you write.  Choose your words carefully and wisely.

2  Talk with the potential enemies as well as the pals and coterie of the founders and the VCs.

3  Recognize that not everyone tells the truth.

4  If you don’t understand the technology, find someone neutral who does.  Neutral = doesn’t have an ax to grind.

5  In comparing products, rely on your own instincts and that of a true expert to unearth key points of differentiation between products and services.  Don’t just reprint what you’re being fed.

6  Start looking for the real stories of Silicon Valley.  Yes, you’re busy.  But when you take on the responsibility of distilling facts for others, you take on the responsibility to dig.  If you don’t have the work ethic for this role, find something else to do.  We’re sick of the hyperbole.  The real stories of Silicon Valley are not that far beneath the superficial surface on which you skate.

This is coming to you from someone who helps to craft and tell the stories of startups and corporations that are in this for the joy as well as the payoff — and who wouldn’t dream of yanking your chains.  Wake up.

Out of the mouths of babes, the key success factor for social media success

Social media startups are giving people, and soon, companies, new and sometimes startling ways to strengthen their communities.  These startups are introducing what I believe is an entirely new age, as influential and society-changing as the Industrial Age.

But first.  There is a great deal we can learn from studying history and the factors essential to success in rolling out new technology.  Remember, there were a lot of wacky inventions that lasted just a few days in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution.  We're going to see the same in our day.

One of the success factors:  make sure your invention not only works but is relevant to the people you want using it.  And accept when people don't find it relevant.

It was a great pleasure to read Jessica Mah's blog post today about this very subject.  Jessica is an entrepreneur stepping out of early fame without losing her balance.  She's someone to watch.  And not just because she's so young and a woman.  She is using her head.

Read this post.  You'll enjoy it.


Johnny Depp: Three for three

  • Johnny Depp, the brand:  Puts his talent to serving the character he portrays — authentically.
  • Johnny Depp, the player:  Builds upon his track record — skillfully.
  • Johnny Depp, the startup:  Tries something new with every role [this time, it’s singing] — fearlessly. 

And this morning, he’s nominated for an Academy Award.

Is this just an excuse to make my first post of the new year about Hollywood doings and the very fine movie, Sweeney Todd:  The Demon Barber of Fleet Street?  No.

But I realized as I sat through the movie [eyes shut during the authentic blood spurts] that efforts like Mr Depp’s — as well as the vision of Timothy Burton and the prowess of his entire cast — inject our lives with the artistic version of what every one of us should do and find in our own work.  Not how to get rid of annoying colleagues under the guise of a haircut and a shave or deal with competitors by turning them into pot pies.  I mean how Burton & Co look at their work and how they deliver.

The whole brand thing has been overdone when it comes to personal branding, but there is something to knowing who you are and immersing it in the task at hand.  The personality part — for people and companies — comes to how you choose to build a relationship with your stakeholders. 

In Mr Depp’s case, his stakeholders are diverse.  The camera, the scriptwriter, the composer, the director, the cast, the audience.  When you go for the truth, it’s much easier to perform — and the more you find new ways to convey the truth, the more powerful the message for all the stakeholders.

Many experts would say that players and startups have a long way to go, as groups, with striking upon a true brand for themselves.  Let’s say those experts are correct.  Seems to me the one thing that bears trying is learning from each other.

For players, it would be shedding the years of tired, cliche marketing to get back to the original idea behind the company.  For startups, it’s realizing that the patina of experience and being part of the system doesn’t have to mean old or old school.

For both, it is recognizing that brands begin with the desire to create something that works for the organization and for the community — and they end when things start getting phony, lazy, complacent or too expensive.

The next time you go to the movies and feel that the exorbitant ticket price was completely justified, think about the factors that made it so.  Those very same elements have parallels in every other kind of business, not just "the pictures."  A desire to dedicate oneself to the story and its characters.  An interest in community, not just quarterly stats and whipping the competition.  The capacity to innovate and act like a startup every day.

A leader that has the talent and focus of Johnny Depp?  Couldn’t hurt.

Valleywag’s job

A lot of people complain about Valleywag being a muckraking, patently unfair, inaccurate, just plain mean source of behind-the-scenes technology news.  [Which means people are complaining about a mainstream source of entertainment in the industry, particularly here in northern California.] The site is decried as a parasite that would not exist without the success of visionary entrepreneurs, their investors and the people behind the scenes.

That said, Valleywag’s team would have very little to shovel if it weren’t surrounded by excrement.  It’s Valleywag’s chosen role to sift through the waste and report the dark side of the technology culture.  [Calm down, every industry has one.]  And this actually serves a purpose.  We are inundated with hyperbole at impossibly higher levels of absurdity every day.  If we’re not going to tell the truth, somebody should be trying to uncover it.

It’s said that Valleywag draws some outlandish conclusions at times and deliberately puts things in a bad, if not salacious, light.  But as long as there has been a media, there have been players who’ve taken this role and run with it.  So any company that decides to build awareness via the media must accept that there are all kinds of media and devise a way to deal with them.  Not play them, deal with them.

Of course, the best way to manage one’s image is to operate transparently, admitting that errors in judgment and mistakes are part of the drill.  It’s become clear that the biggest obstacle to transparency is human nature.  You can have the most sophisticated branding, public relations and product marketing armies at your beck and call, but unless the honchos check ugly tendencies such as narcissism, arrogance, nepotism and elitism at the front door each morning, you are sunk.  Because when the foibles hit, and they will, you’re going to need an uncluttered perspective to explain them and convince stakeholders — including all those people who bought your stock — that you’re running a business, not a 24/7 funhouse.  Otherwise, all that bravado is only going to convince one person:  the one looking back at you from the mirror.

Unfortunately for companies in any industry with a lot of resources to throw around, financial success does weird things.  When it’s stratospheric success, the beast becomes really unreasonable. 

So, read one of today’s posts from Valleywag.  It’s a case study in comprehending just how wacky you can become when you have nothing to lose but a job you don’t need anymore and a reputation that you think counts only with your kind, dear.