Tag Archive for Business

Why FB is worth just a fraction of GOOG

“Privacy Fix”:https://www.privacyfix.com/start is instructive. Who knows how accurate it is, but I bet it is directionally correct. And it says that FB makes about 5 cents a year off ads delivered to me, whereas GOOG makes about $32. I have most of my privacy settings cranked up (on both GOOG and FB), so maybe FB does a lot better with other people, but that is a factor of a 1000.

And when you consider that GOOG has other emergent revenue streams (mobile, enterprise), well I am surprised the gap in valuation isn’t even greater.

I’d love to see more features from Privacy Fix. Who exactly is paying GOOG $32? When I visit a particular page, say SI.COM, who is paying for my eyeballs there? WHat exactly does GOOG know about me and are they telling people about me?

Is healthcare the greatest limiter on startups?

@shanselman has been sharing a lot of tweets today on the topic of healthcare and startups. For example:

* https://twitter.com/lobrien/status/247408555651645440
* https://twitter.com/doozerblake/status/247407834130690048
* https://twitter.com/shanselman/status/247403381012975616
* https://twitter.com/timsonofsteve/status/247413105750077440

The shared assertion is — the lack of easily available health insurance is preventing a lot of people from joining or creating startups. Nothing scientific about this data, it is all anecdotal, but I certainly empathize with the view. Health insurance has certainly been a factor in my personal career decisions over the last decade. I know a half dozen people who have wrestled with the issue as they have considered startup opportunities. My sense is that people are willing to take a lot of salary and equity risk, but they can’t put their family’s healthcare at risk, particularly if they are starting young families.

The current US system is certainly biased towards employment with large established employers. I wonder if the upcoming legislated changes will help to create more movement to small businesses and startups. I wonder if we couldn’t do even more to a) make movement to startups easy, and b) provide coverage in the event of startup failure, so that personal risk is minimized.

There is a lot of wailing and teeth gnashing about our patent system and how that is an impediment to entrepreneurs, but I can’t help but wonder if access to healthcare and health insurance is an even greater impediment.

Update: Marcello wrote a “very reasoned piece”:http://www.geekwire.com/2012/healthcare-reform-todays-ruling-great-news-startups/ on this topic in June, worth a look.

Pixar story rules — relevant for us all

At “Ritholtz”:http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2012/04/21-pixar-story-rules/, who lifted them from “Pixar TOuch”:http://www.pixartouchbook.com/blog/2011/5/15/pixar-story-rules-one-version.html who in turn lifted them from “Emma Coats”:https://twitter.com/#!/lawnrocket.

Great stuff, relevant for so much more than movie making. We all have stories to tell every day, many of these tips are relevant in so many settings —

* “Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle.”
* “Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it.”
* “Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way.”
* “Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of?”
* “What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character.”
* “Simplify. Focus.”

Dealing with business documents on my Windows Phone

I am starting to fill out my apps on my Nokia Lumia 900. The first class of apps I need are the apps to handle all the documents in my job/life — text documents, pdfs, office documents, etc.

* PDFs. Adobe Reader downloads by default the first time you need it, and it seems to be solid, renders well, no obvious problems. I haven’t tried it on huge docs yet but happy so far. Check this one off.
* PDF annotations. There are many apps to view and annotate PDFs on iOS. I am not seeing an obvious choice on WP. I do have the Kindle app and so I guess I could pop them into that as I believe it supports annotations, but that seems convoluted. Is there another choice?
* Signing docs. This is totally lacking as near as I can tell. I can use the web interface of Docusign or Echosign but that is clumsy for an inbound email. Is there a solution?
* Evernote — the evernote app is great, so I have all my text notes. Check this one off too.
* and Boxfiles for Dropbox seems to work well, can fully navigate all my Dropbox content, edit notes. And I can view PPTX, DOCX, etc files. Check.
* As I’ve previously mentioned, I lack a good Markdown editor targetting Dropbox, there are a dozen of these on iOS. Any choices? Does the built-in boxfiles editor support Markdown? I mean of course yes is supports editing Markdown content since that is just regular text with some conventions, but will it render the content into HTML?
* Office Mobile is also on the phone and I can do some things with it — I can create new word docs and edit them, create new xl docs and edit them. I seem to not be able to create new PPTs but can view and edit existing. I can save docs to Skydrive, to the phone. And also to Office365 tho I don’t have an active account for that.

So part way there, some holes to fill. Probably really important to fill these for tablets since I would expect people to do even more document work on tablets.

I am tired of being used by the web.

Jerry Michalski just published a “nice article on big data”:http://www.forbes.com/sites/jerrymichalski/2012/03/10/big-data-stalker-economy/ and how we are all being stalked online by commercial entities seeking to extract value from us. Everytime we hit a web page, tens and hundreds of companies and organizations are learning about us and making money off us.

On that Forbes page with Jerry’s article, for instance, looking at the page source reveals explicit references to Omniture, Gigya.com, Doubleclick, Facebook, Buysub.com, Googlesyndication.com, a tremendous number of Forbes subdomains, Truste.com, Sharethis.com, loading scripts from most of these. And who knows what all those scripts do, some of them may pull in other companies and ad networks. All these orgs are collecting data about our page views and making money off that data — selling it to advertisers, etc.

Looking at another example page, “College Football News”:http://cfn.scout.com/, there are visible ads from Fox Sports, H&R Block, Microsoft, Bing, MSN, McDonald’s, Chase, HTC, Lancome, ESPN, Canon. Digging into the page source, there are a whole slew of companies that are tracking and noting activity: Advertising.com, Comotionmedia.com, Realmedia.com, Doubleclick.net, Googlesyndication.com, Footballfanatics.com, Cloudfront.net, decipherinc.com, imrworldwide.com.

Now look at the cookies stored by the browser, there is a huge list of advertisers and trackers, in fact the list of cookies is dominated by ad serving and tracking companies: 123count.com, 247realmedia.com, 2o7.net (adobe), 33across.com, adbrite.com, adelixir.com, admeld.com (google), adnxs.com, adsrvr.org, adsymptotic.com (drawbrid.ge), advertising.com, adxpose.com, AEG Digital Media, afy11.net (Adify), and so on. Hundreds of these things. (Prompting me to clear the cookie cache and turn off 3rd party cookies, but how many users know to do this, and why do I have to go do this?)

None of this is new, this is the way the web has worked for years. But every year the ads and tracking just seems to get a little more invasive, a little more pervasive, a little creepier. Through all this, no one is really acting as the representative for our interests. Obviously the ad networks are not acting in our interest — and the fact that they hide their actions under a profusion of cookies with a profusion of obscure brand names suggests that they are actively working to obscure their actions. Web sites aren’t acting in our interest, they don’t inform us up front who is tracking us, they let all these tracking cookies be placed. Our browsers aren’t acting in our interest — yes we can go twiddle cookie settings but it is not default or obvious.

Here is what we need from someone, anyone: a sidebar in browser that shows

* For the current page, a list of all the advertisers, of all the ad networks and trackers, and the ability to opt out, block the ad or cookie right there, not deep in some preferences dialog.
* Also, an imputed value — what did that advertiser pay to the website for that ad? How much did the ad network/tracker sell our visit for?
* And for each tracker — exactly what data did they collect, what have they collected over time? What do they know about us?
* For the day/week/month, a summary across all our browsing — how much data has been collected, how much total $ has been made by who for our data

No one is acting in our interest today, the advertisers and web sites and ad networks and browsers are all complicit in extracting our attention and monetizing it, without disclosure to us. At the very least it is not respectful; and it feels much more odious than that. It is doubtful that MSFT or Google or Apple will lead in solving this, they are too involved in the advertising $ flow. We need to look to smaller creative independents.

This month’s advice for B&N — put those Nook dudes to work

Scene yesterday afternoon at the Local Barnes & Noble — 5 of us in line waiting to pay for books; 1 sales clerk working hard (and telephoning back for help that never came), and the Nook salesperson at the Nook counter waiting sadly for someone to ask him about Nooks, straightening and dusting all his Nook accessories. The line moved so slowly that I called the store — someone picked up — I said “hey you need help up front checking people out” — the person on the other end said everyone was busy helping customers.

A simple proposal — get a payment app working on a Nook with a card reader. If the Nook salesperson isn’t helping anyone, have him wave over a retail customer and check him out on a Nook. For the customers, a win — they get thru the line faster and aren’t annoyed by seeing the Nook guy just stand there doing nothing. For the Nook sales effort, a win — you get a customer over at the Nook counter and you can softly sell him on the attributes of the Nook while checking out.

Last month I whined about in-store presentation. This month checkout. I’d really love to see B&N thrive, I love books and I like bookstores. So I will keep tilting at the windmill.

How many cupcakes do they expect us to eat?

We now have 3 cupcake stores in downtown Bellevue — stores that feature cupcake in their name, and sell primarily cupcakes. In addition to all the bakeries and other establishments that offer cupcakes, and the giant cupcake display counter now at QFC.

I like baked goods as well as anyone, and I estimate that, prior to the flood of cupcake stores, I ate cupcakes about once every 5 years. This does not bode well for the cupcake retailers. I feel badly for the store owners who have sunk a lot of money into their efforts, but my gosh, with a little forethought you might have anticipated that a cupcake store was not a great idea. When I walk thru the grocery store, before the current cupcake craze, I saw darn little in the way of cupcakes, which is a hint that people just don’t eat that many cupcakes. Contrast with the amount of space in the grocery dedicated to ice cream or to sandwich makings, and you can see why sandwich shops and ice cream shops might endure (though we are awash in frozen yogurt places at the moment as well).

Maybe the theory was that the cupcake’s time had arrived, that we were going to see a massive increase in the consumption rate of cupcakes. You would have to assume that something fundamental had changed about cupcakes or about human nature to believe this. As near as I can tell there has been no breakthrough in cupcake science or cupcake production costs.

I will try to do my part, I might even double my cupcake consumption rate and buy one every couple of years. But the first rule for a business should be — try to target a frequent and durable need of your customers.

Do you want to be right, or do you want to be effective?

Relating to my post about effective business communication the other day, here’s a “great post on being right vs. being effective.”:http://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2012/02/do-you-want-to-be-right-or-do-you-want-to-be-effective/. Of course it is best to be effective AND be right — being wrong and effective leads to epic disasters.

Reminds me of the classic 4 quadrant chart of ambition vs competence. Being competent is good, but you need to have a dollop of ambition. And you have to get the ambitious and incompetent people out of your org as quickly as possible.

You might want to develop a weapon besides the bazooka

In my first job after grad school, I was giving a client presentation when a junior staffer at the client asked me a question that I felt was dumb. And so during the presentation, in front of his boss and his boss’s boss, I ripped his question apart.

After the meeting, my mentor and manager pulled me aside and said “You know, you might want to develop a weapon besides the bazooka.” And pointed out how I had humiliated the client staffer, and that I was unlikely to get a lot of cooperation from him in the future. Oops.

I’ve gotten better at this over the years, but I was reminded of this recently when one of my partners and I sat through a pitch. At the end of the pitch, I pointed out a number of flaws in very terse fashion. My partner shared his own experiences, mentioned some challenges, and asked some gently-pointed questions. The team likely left the room thinking that my partner was really wise, and that they’d like to sit down with him. In contrast, they probably thought I was a d*$k.

I have to keep reminding myself — the goal of business communication is to make yourself understood, and to hopefully effect positive change. If you communicate in such a way that people write you off, well, hard to make progress from that point on.

Ifttt.com and platform reminiscing

I’m playing around with ifttt.com and it is intriguing. I remember an earlier effort, yubnub, that I always found compelling. A general script interface to all my Internet data and services so that I can do interesting things across sites seems good.

I remember the evolution of Lotus Notes. A super general collab platform that let you store anything, write nice scripts and forms on top of it. The generalness of the platform was appealing and a certain set of early adopters went for it. But there were many more customers who didn’t want to create their own collaboration apps, but needed some pre-built apps. And so then Lotus made the “nifty fifty” most popular apps available — email, calendaring, candidate tracking, simple CRM, etc etc etc. And that was good, and more customers bought it. But ultimately Notes got washed out of the market by Microsoft Exchange, for many many reasons. But one simple view is that, while Exchange was a collab platform too (although terrible to code against), Exchange really focused on the high volume apps of mail and scheduling and just made those apps work. And that is all most people really needed.

Competitively the ifttt.com guys need to be very cognizant of cherry picking. While it is great they have hundreds or thousands of canned scripts, I don’t need hundreds, I only need a couple. And that is probably true for most users. And if the couple that people need a common across large groups of users, then some competitor can sweep in and just do those couple scenarios really really well and ifttt.com will remain a niche tool. I’d bet that they will have to build a lot more code on top of their platform to make sure that the top scenarios are really slick and easy to use, to avoid losing users to alternatives.

For instance I can already pretty easily use a wordpress plugin to MIRV content over to twitter and then to facebook. Will I flip over to ifttt.com for this or will I keep using the solution that someone has polished and made fit into wordpress? I suspect I’ll use the one that fits really well in wordpress. Now if the ifttt.com guys wrote the code to provide an ifttt.com plugin for wordpress, that would be interesting…

Apple is the new Honda

Nice writeup of “Apple’s manufacturing/supply advantage vs the PC OEMs”:http://daringfireball.net/2011/09/new_apple_advantage. Reminds me very much of the way Honda and Toyota crushed the American car manufacturers in the 70’s and 80’s — GM in particular had overly complex product lines, cars with a gajillion options. Honda came in with a simple model, no options, and great great quality, and just crushed GM in core markets. Product line complexity comes at a huge cost, Apple is playing this hand well.

Business Models and Evil

Some interesting commentary on “Google’s business model by Gruber”:http://daringfireball.net/linked/2011/08/23/swartz-google-evil — a total Apple fan, doesn’t view ads as inherently evil, but says you need to be very respectful of your users. And referring to “an original article by Aaron Swartz”:http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/googevil who says you can’t make things worse for users just to make money.

I don’t know what evil is when applied to technology business models. I do know that I feel very comfortable with my Apple transactions — they ask me for a lot of money, in return they give me a product that is mine to own completely. They give me the option of signing up for services for more money, services where they keep data about me, but it is up to me. It feels like a transparent and respectful model. Similarly, I feel good about my Microsoft transactions — they ask me for money, in return I get a software or hardware product that is mine to do what I want with (excluding Bing which I rarely use, and excluding some of their new online service offerings).

I feel somewhat less good about my Google relationship. I do like and use their products. But the fact that they are “free” is bothering, I know that Google is making money off me somehow, but there is very little transparency around it. Who is looking at my data, what are they paying for it, are there certain things I do that are very high value, are there people using info about me that I would rather not, ?

I don’t know any of this and it makes me kind of queasy. Enough to abandon products that are actually useful? Well not yet — and for search,it is not like there are alternatives that are more respectful of me. But I can’t imagine ever having the kind of respect for and attachment to Google products that I have to products from companies with more straightforward business models.

Why didn’t I buy VMWare stock when Paul Maritz stepped into leadership role?

Kicking myself totally on this one, “VMWare”:http://www.google.com/finance?client=ob&q=NYSE:VMW has been on a tear. Paul is a great guy, he has been hiring great guys (who wouldn’t want to work with Paul?), they’ve been acquiring lots of interesting assets.

And fundamentally they are on the right side of history. Paul has always been insightful and articulate on strategy and he says it well in this “techcrunch piece”:http://www.techflash.com/seattle/2010/09/paul_maritz_microsoft_vet_and_vmware_ceo_spars_with_his_former_self.html : “The innovation in how hardware is coordinated today and the innovation in how services are provided to applications is no longer happening inside the operating system.”

This is dead on. You can debate whether VMWare will be the primary beneficiary of this trend versus other cloud providers, but the shift is undeniable.

Amazon vs Macmillan vs You

OK so Amazon’s “move against Macmillan”:http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/02/01/all-the-many-ways-amazon-so-very-failed-the-weekend/ was seriously ham-handed and Amazon is “still caught up in their own undershorts”:http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/02/01/seriously-now-theyre-just-being-dicks/. Some Amazonians deserve some serious reprimands, this is just not the way these things are handled. Now Amazon has created even more problems for itself.

That said — we are talking about 4-5 days of inconvenience Amazon has caused readers and authors. Stupid but fixable.

As “Charles points out”:http://www.platformonomics.com/PricelessIndeed.aspx, Macmillan is trying to put the screws to all of us big time and for the long run. They are grabbing for more dollars out of out pockets at a time when book costs are heading down. Now, if Macmillan was passing all this on to authors, I might be OK with it, but I suspect it is being absorbed by a bunch of corporate suits.

Who is our real friend here? Shame on Amazon for being so clumsy, but greater shame on Macmillan.

Linkfest

* My Favorite Things Mars. Amusing and entertaining
* Why Nokia and Sony are failing. Succinct. Complexity is a killer.
* Inflatable buttons. Cool, not sure practical.
* Computer Hardware Chart. Periodic table of connectors
* W* house. Your portal for great looking expensive sh$t.
* Ford developing laser ignition. Nice, car engines with laser beams!
* WarrantyElephant. Idea is promising but site useless. I need something that will automatically find the warranty policy for my products and summarize my rights for me — without me having to punch in the data myself. IE something akin to ManualsOnline but for warranty info

Contrasting Quarters — Apple, MSFT

Apple’s quarter (NYTimes): “We’re making our most innovative products ever and our customers are responding”…”unexpectedly strong sales of Macintosh computers and a surge in iPhone purchases pushed Apple’s profit up 15 percent in the third quarter”…”PC shipments for the industry fell 3 to 5 percent over the last three months. But Apple said it sold 2.6 million Macs in the quarter, up about 18 percent from the 2.2 million it sold in the previous quarter”…”overall gross profit margin grew to 36.3 percent, from 34.8 percent in the year-ago quarter”…”Revenue rose to $8.34 billion, from $7.46 billion last year”.

MSFT’s quarter (NYTimes): “has been humbled, both by the recession and by problems of its own making”…”Year-over-year revenue and full-year sales of Microsoft’s flagship Windows software dropped for the first time”…”29 percent drop in net income”…”17 percent drop in quarterly revenue”…”warned that people should not expect a major bounce-back in technology spending when the economy recovers.”

Hmm. Apparently the economic downturn is worse among PC buyers than among non-PC buyers.