Friday, September 26, 2003

Convergence Redux Redux

Every couple of years, the mania for "convergence" returns. Somehow, we keep forgetting the hideous losses and failures of each previous convergence wave, be it video-on-demand, picture phones, or what have you.

This time, though, I think it's going to stick. While the first phone/PDA combos were bricks reminiscent of the famous Iridium satellite phone, which prompted its incoming CEO to ask his management team, "What business traveller did you think would buy this sh*t!," the latest phones are small, slim, and increasingly stylish.

Nokia just released this fashion-forward beauty, the 7600. It's a 3G phone with built in digital camera, MP3 player, and Web browser.

I wouldn't buy it, because a) I'm a cheapskate, and b) I always let someone else pioneer the bleeding edge, but I'm sure that my old buddy Justin Kromelow is lusting after one right now.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

For the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grades, I went to the Mirman School for Academically Gifted Children. I had to take an IQ test to get in and be interviewed by a psychologist!

It was a truly unique experience, which, incidentally, left me completely unprepared for the harsher world of public junior high and high school, and led directly to my skipping the 8th and 9th grades, and ending up at Stanford at 15. Of course, at the time, none of us thought that our lives were unusual.

It's been close to 20 years since then (I'm 28), and we've gone our separate ways. Nonetheless, I think that the roll call of our alumni and their doings since leaving Mirman show that 1) Yes, we were an unusual bunch, and 2) Success comes in all shapes and sizes. From entrepreneurs to chefs to singers to actors to animators, we've ended up living fairly unconventional but ultimately happy lives.
I Spent $10 Million And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

I met with a potential vendor yesterday and really hit it off. One of the main reasons is that we had both started venture-backed companies during the boom, and had failed to get rich. Ryan had actually raised much more than I had ($10 million versus $6 million), but at the end of the day, had ended up where he had started, albeit wiser for the wear.

There's probably a large number of us ex-dot-com founders running around, and what may be surprising to some people is that we're generally doing pretty well. Some, like Ryan, are still working for themselves, albeit in bootstrap mode; others are playing an important non-CEO role, like my friend Bob at OQO, or Ranjan at SAP. And some, like my friend Frans, have taken advantage of the last couple of years to actually write a book for HBS Press.

The point is, we're probably better off for having taken the plunge, than if we had simply gone to work for big companies (even if we hadn't been laid off). I suspect that one of the underappreciated effects of the bubble will be a surge in innovation and entrepreneurship for the next 20-30 years, much like the Baby Boom's lasting effects on American demographics.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

And now, for your delectation, the poetry of Donald Rumsfeld.
Sometimes, I run across a Web site that is so brilliant that I have to share it with the world. Today's winner is Losers.org.

I urge you to check out this most excellent list of freakish Web sites. I am ashamed to admit that I spent 10 minutes reading one fellow's detailed quantitative comparison of Star Trek vs. Star Wars technology.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

More on the Social Networking bubble:

More thanks to Noah Mercer of Tribe.Net for pointing out that the Howard Dean campaign has its own Social Networking service!

Good Lord, when the crash comes, it's going to be brutal.
Another Social Networking startup crawls out of the primordial ooze:

"Sona is an online environment for meeting new people, connecting with friends, and sharing ideas. We noticed that online services have become overly specialized. For example, many services focus on a singular purpose such as dating, connecting classmates, or organizing by interest groups. But, people are soical beings and don’t like being forced into separate buckets for different things. So Sona has understood that need and taken a more broad approach, we want to make the Internet more comfortable and enjoyable for everyone. For a Sona member, purpose can evolve over time and expand in unexpected directions – from reconnecting with old friends, just casually meeting new friends, or to finding someone that you might want to date."

I must admit, I'm pretty skeptical of a "me-too" service that has typos and believes in being less specialized than its competition!
Systematic, with high tolerances

Being a good marketer/entrepreneur depends on being systematic, but with high tolerances. I came to this conclusion after examining times when I've been successful in the past.

Whenever I need to solve a business problem, I try to take a systematic approach. Being systematic gives me a clear set of tasks, and minimizes the chances that I'll overlook some glaring issue.

For example, if I need to do something I haven't done before, like come up with a positioning statement for an enterprise software product, I start by asking my friends what's worked for them in the past. By sifting through the varying responses, I can craft a compromise plan that (hopefully) is superior to the individual responses. This takes advantage of the general principal that groups are often smarter than individuals, as proven by the classic Subarctic Survival exercise.

Once I have a plan, I follow each step, and proceed systematically towards my goal. Here's where the second part kicks in:

Even though I'm being systematic, I need to have high tolerances. In engineering, when I was machining metal parts, I needed to keep my tolerances to within 1/10,000th of an inch. In marketing and entrepreneurship, I have to have a much bigger tolerance for imprecision and ambiguity. Or, as Guy Kawasaki puts it, I have to be willing to be crappy.

Applying the engineering mentality to marketing (be systematic and have low tolerances) simply doesn't work--the raw materials lack the necessary precision to support those kinds of tolerances. On the other hand, applying a lazy man's mentality (be disorganized and have high tolerances) doesn't give you enough structure to be successful.

You have to balance the two extremes of organization and be systematic with high tolerances.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Blog/Not a Blog

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about blogs:

"A weblog (often web log, also known as a blog, see below) is a website that tracks headlines and articles from other websites. They are frequently maintained by volunteers and are typically devoted to a specific audience or topic.

Blog usually means a personal web log, a type of online diary, or journal (LiveJournal is a good, popular example) run by special blog software. Blog sites make it possible for users without much experience to create, format, and post entries with ease. People write their day-to-day experiences, complaints, poems, prose, illicit thoughts and more, often allowing others to contribute, fulfilling to a certain extent Tim Berners-Lee's original view of the World Wide Web as a collaborative medium. In 2001, the popularity of blogs increased dramatically.

The word blog was coined by Peter Merholz who in April or May of 1999 broke the word weblog into the phrase "wee' blog" in the sidebar of his weblog [3]. This was interpreted as a short form of the noun [4] and also as a verb, to blog, meaning "to edit one's weblog or a post to one's weblog". Usage spread during 1999 and the word was popularized by Pyra's creation of their weblog service Blogger. The Oxford English Dictionary has considered including it in their dictionary (see the editorial). "

A couple of random thoughts:

1. Back in 1993, as part of a class project for Product Design, I proposed the need for a new kind of computer-aided art form that would allow ordinary people without artistic training to express themselves and share that expression with others. At the time, I didn't know how to achieve these aims. In retrospect, it's clear that the blog is this new art form, and its exploding popularity reflects the very needs I outlined in 1993.

2. Peter Merholz and I went to SAMOHI together back in the late '80s. He had more hair back then. We both worked on the school's literary magazine, where Peter was the Editor-in-Chief who published my gruesome and bloodthirsty allegories.

At any rate, let us consider the two criteria that Wikipedia lists: 1) linking to other Web sites and articles, and 2) acting as an online diary or journal. While I agree in general with these criteria, I think that a better way of stating them is:

"A blog is an art form which draws readers in with its own content, directs them to potentially interesting external content, and presents the author as the main character."

This definition makes three important points:

1. Blogging *is* an art form, and will continue to increase its role in self-expression, entertainment, and inspiration.

2. Blogging is an increasingly important means of distributing and searching for content.

3. Blogging is ultimately an egotistical endeavor, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Otherwise why would so many people do it, despite the vanishingly small chance of actually becoming a blogosphere celebrity?