Saturday, October 22, 2005

Where Have You Gone Richard Cory, A Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes To You

Where Have You Gone Richard Cory, A Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes To You
In the poem "Richard Cory," Edward Arlington Robinson describes how a man who seems to have everything may still be just as dissatisfied and alone as the less fortunate.

"Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich - yes, richer than a king -
And admirably schooled in every grace;
In fine we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head."

When I was younger, I thought that the poem was just some BS that the schools had us read to lessen our dissatisfaction with our lot in life. After all, who can be that unhappy if they have money, looks, and fame.

Now that I'm older, I've come to appreciate how getting what one desires doesn't necessarily bring happiness.

Of course being rich is better than being poor. I'm not sympathetic to the "poor little rich girl" act. But beyond a certain basic level of comfort, happiness comes from within.

Dickens famously said, "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result: Happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result: Misery."

Or, if you prefer, I'll quote Sheryl Crow who said, "It's not having what you want/It's wanting what you've got."

Alas, it seems like we seldom remember the lessons of Robinson, Dickens, and Crow as we try to consume our way to happiness.

We Can't Get No...duh duh duh...Satisfaction

We Can't Get No...duh duh duh...Satisfaction
Happiness is like a stock price--increasing it above its current level depends on beating expectations. And yet, each time you beat expectations, it makes it that much harder to beat the numbers the next time out.

I remember when I was still in college, I often said to myself that I would be happy if I had a laptop and a cell phone. Yep, I thought, once I have those two things, I'll have it made. I'll be able to write and talk from wherever I want.

Flash forward 15 years, and I have that laptop and cell phone. In fact, I have three laptops scattered around the house, a high-speed wireless network, a minivan with a DVD player, and enough children's toys to supply a small African nation.

And there is no doubt that I am happy. But am I happier than I was 15 years ago?

Having can't buy happiness. Once we get beyond meeting our basic needs, the additional luxuries may provide a temporary boost, but our expectations inevitably rachet up to make what you only dreamed of yesterday what you take for granted today.

A year after their big win, lottery winners are no happier than they were when they were poor. Unless of course they are millionaire US Senators.

It just doesn't seem fair.

Of course, maybe there's a reason behind our dissatisfaction.

Remember, the goal of evolution is to perpetuate the species, not make individual members happy.

Dissatisfaction drives us onwards.

In the middle ages, the Chinese decided that civilization had advanced enough, thank you, and that things were just fine. Despite a technological lead that could be measured in centuries, they stagnated, and China was forced to open up by the gunboats of the British Empire during the Opium Wars.

If happiness were an evolutionary advantage, we would all be euphoric. Instead, the level of human happiness seems relatively constant.

Just as the relentless drive to beat the numbers pushes our economy forward, our relentless drive towards an unattainable and illusory goal pushes our civilization forward.

So when you feel dissatisfied with your life, you can feel satisfaction that your dissatisfaction is helping to make the world a better place.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Wanted, TV Shows, Cheap

Wanted, TV Shows, Cheap
Of course, if the Parents Television Council objects to Fox's primetime programming, they can always turn to ABC, which has essentially told Hollywood that it is open to airing just about anything on Saturday night, as long as it costs less than $500,000 per episode.

I'm sure you could make some family-friendly programming for less than $500,000 per episode. Heck, I've got a great idea for a new reality show called "The Yehs," where television cameras follow a normal American family as it tries to find a way to spend $500,000 in less than an hour.

TV MA

TV MA

Before the beginning of many television shows, I often see the "TV MA" label, followed by a warning about sex, violence, and language.

I've commented before to my wife, "They might as well just put that in front of every Fox show."

As it turns out, the Parents Television Council agrees, with 60% of their list of "worst prime-time shows for family viewing" coming from Fox.

Leading the way was Fox's Sunday night lineup of "The War At Home," "Family Guy," and "American Dad," with the latter two highlighted for being cartoons:

"Families should not be deceived," he said. "The top three worst shows all contain crude and raunchy dialogue with sex-themed jokes and foul language. Even worse is the fact that Hollywood is peddling its filth to families with cartoons."

Of course, my little three year old actually asks for "Family Guy" by name, although my wife made me cut off his access after he started repeating Stewie Griffin's exclamation of "Dammit!" over and over.

It's A Good Thing He Isn't A Gretzky Fan

It's A Good Thing He Isn't A Gretzky Fan
An Oklahoma city man who was being sentenced to 30 years in prison for a shooting actually asked prosecutors to lengthen his prison term to 33 years to match Larry Bird's jersey number.

That, my friends, is a true fan.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bay Area Home Prices, Sales Down Again

Bay Area Home Prices, Sales Down Again
Is there any doubt now that the housing bubble is starting to deflate?

Of course while we've hit the top of the market, we'll only start heading towards the bottom when all those interest-only ARMs start demanding higher monthly payments. Then, expect a major squeeze.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Death of Distance

The Death of Distance
The Merc has a story in today's paper about the increasing practice of using offshore tutors in India to help American school children with their math and science homework.

I happen to think it's a great idea. I even wrote it down as a possible business concept after I finished reading Friedman's "The World is Flat."

But what I'm really waiting for is online tutoring in a virtual world setting. I've been on the record for some time that education is going to be huge for virtual worlds.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Secret To A Happy Life

The Secret To A Happy Life
It's not that complicated. This Money article, about retirement makes the point, "the key to a dream retirement is to pare life down to what you enjoy and to discard all that is dutiful and dull."

I simply ask, why wait until retirement?
http://money.cnn.com/2005/10/05/retirement/dreamretire_loveit4_0511/index.htm

Link O Rama

Link O Rama
All right folks, I'm tired and need to go to bed, so here's a week's worth of interesting or though-provoking links:


The actual value of star power--apparently, it does pay to sign Tom Hanks to star in your movie...but most of the excess returns actually go to the star.
http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item.jhtml?id=5025&t=marketing

Google's dentist? Alas, just a clever prank. But admit it, you believe it to be possible.
http://googletooth.blogspot.com/

Secrets to being a good boss. Wish I'd read this article when I started my first company.
http://www.management-issues.com/display_page.asp?section=research&id=2654

Take field trips. No, not the school kind--just make sure that you have actual contact with the customer and your business' frontline activity. It's always amazed me how out of touch senior management can be, even at relatively small startups. If JetBlue's CEO can do it, you can too.
http://www.worthwhilemag.com/entry/2005/10/12/take_more_field_trips.php

Jumbo shrimp marketing. If you want to stand out, overdeliver on a smaller set of requirements. Professor Youngme Moon of HBS has done some great academic research in this area.
http://brandautopsy.typepad.com/brandautopsy/on_the_soup_peddler/index.html

Great marketing by Deutsch. A totally viral way to show that they get it. And damned funny.
http://www.theadconceptor.com/

Teens to us old fogies: Skype who? Amazing that folks talk about investing in companies that attack this space without understanding how the kids actually act.
http://www.reemer.com/archives/2005/10/08/web_20_conversation_with_five_teenagers/

Envy is an interesting emotion...when I have time, I'll write about my own struggles with the green-eyed monster--compounded by the fact that so many people I know are centimillionaires.
http://www.fortune.com/fortune/envy/?promoid=cnn

10 words that supposedly help you get into the university of your choice. I'd feel better if so many weren't so, well, BS-y.

Achievement
Active
Developed
Evidence
Experience
Impact
Individual
Involved
Planning
Transferable skills

The bad words are more honest, though overly negative:

Always
Awful
Bad
Fault
Hate
Mistake
Never
Nothing
Panic
Problems
http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/news/story/0,9830,1589617,00.html?gusrc=rss

From Tiny Acorns....

From Tiny Acorns....

Cool article from microISV on CDBaby. The company started with 10 CDs, and when someone placed an order, the order details were emailed to the founder, a professional musician. Today, the indie music service has sold over 1.7 million CDs.

"When I started CD Baby in 1998, I didn’t mean to start a business. It was just a little website I through together as a favor to some friends. I hardly knew HTML.

As it grew, I realized I needed to create a server-side database-driven website, but couldn’t afford a programmer.

So - I went down to the bookstore, got some books on PHP and MySQL, and threw myself into it."

Like writers, entrepreneurs sometimes feel daunted by the seeming impossibility of reaching one's ultimate goals. But every big company started as a small one, with founders that probably weren't any smarter than you.

To borrow a phrase from basketball, my favorite sport, you miss 100% of the shots that you don't take. Take your shot. If a musician with no training could end up coding a massive e-commerce site, you should be able to overcome your own obstacles.

Dream Big

Dream Big

A fantastic quote from the folks at Worthwhile:

The secret of life is to have a task, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is: It must be something you cannot possibly do.
~ Henry Moore

Remember to dream big. Figure out the life you want, and go after it, rather than simply doing what everyone thinks you should do.

Forget $20K naming consultants, just use NameBoy

Forget $20K naming consultants, just use NameBoy

Another cool link from Seth Godin. NameBoy takes two functions, name generation and domain name lookup, and combines them together. No more fiddling around to generate names, then look them up.

It's so simple, yet it's so right. Plus you gotta love the $15 cartoon logo.

Go For The Jugular

Go For The Jugular
A fascinating observation by the redoubtable Joel Spolsky on how tough competitors get into certain businesses in order to take away their enemies' ability to compete.

Spolsky's point is that low-cost players like Dell and JetBlue can respond to attacks from competitors like IBM, HP, and Delta by going after their cash cows. In Dell's case, by entering the server market, it was able to trigger a price war that prevented IBM and HP from using the profits they made on servers to offset selling PCs as loss leaders.

Similarly, Spolsky believes that JetBlue's entrance into the lucrative Boston/New York shuttle market represents a direct attack on one of the main sources of profits for Delta and USAirways. (I can testify to this, having spent all too much money and time flying on those shuttles. Many of us kept an extra shuttle ticket of each type on hand for last-minute trips.)

This strategy is a more subtle and refined version of the famous Microsoft cashectomy. Can your business benefit by finding a way to destroy your competitors' margins?

Web 2.0: An Entrepreneurship Bubble?

Web 2.0: An Entrepreneurship Bubble?

I guess today is a banner day for cross-posted commentary on Web 2.0!

Peter Rip at Leapfrog Ventures wrote a very insightful post on how Web 2.0 is an entrepreneurship bubble--too many similar companies thanks to a lack of barriers to entry.

To some extent, I agree, but I also feel that lowering the barriers to entry is ultimately a positive for entrepreneurs and the world as a whole. Here is what I wrote:

Peter,

Your post is extremely insightful--it does an excellent job of highlighting the differences between the current bubble and the last one. However, one thing which I think it doesn't take into account (and I can understand how difficult it is to stuff more than one thought into a post and keep it coherent--a problem I face all the time) is the fact that lowering the barriers to entry and cost to serve actually increases the size of the pie.

When product development becomes dramatically cheaper, it becomes possible to serve new markets that the older, more expensive approach could not. There are certainly more AJAX calendars being developed than the market could ever support, but that's a case of entrepreneurs who lack imagination.

If entrepreneurs avoid the pitfall of the last bubble (pile into whatever is hot and hope to get bought--see the Webmail wars of Web 1.0), they will see that the entrepreneurship bubble allows them to profitably serve niches that a venture-funded organization could never target, due to the need for a larger liquidity event.

This to me is the true power of another hideously overused cliche, the long tail. That is, instead of launching yet more broad social networking applications, entrepreneurs find specific niches that are completely unserved and cure those pains.

It may not build billion-dollar companies, but if you don't need VCs, you don't need a billion-dollar exit.

The Whitewashing of Web 2.0

The Whitewashing of Web 2.0

Anil Dash of SixApart has posted a provocative observation:
Why are all the attendees of Web 2.0 white males?

The result has been considerable commentary:

I couldn't resist adding a few of my own scattered thoughts, and, hopefully, insights.

1. While a conference is worse off for representing a monoculture, some topics draw an inherently homogenous audience. If I were to attend a slightly different kind of conference, say, a science fiction fan conference, I would also expect to find an audience composed primarily of white males.

If a conference organizer can't come up with a more interesting bunch of people to invite, that just means that there may be an opportunity for an alternate sort of conference (take BlogHer, for example).

2. I agree that the whole Web 2.0 enterprise feels insular, self-referential, and excessively consumer-oriented. But wasn't that also the case with Web 1.0 during its early days? Again, a lack of diversity means opportunity for those who recognize it. Just as with Web 1.0, I would expect the technologies being developed to eventually seep into B2B and other uses.

3. When I was a design student at Stanford, our instructors warned us against the classic fallacy of assuming that we represented the target market. There's a reason there are so many designer mountain bikes and accessories--it's because many designers love mountain biking! Too many of today's new services represent things designed for the designers' own use.

Not only are these matters of race, they are matters of culture as well. I would hazard a guess that only a small percentage of residents of major metros like the Bay Area and NYC vote Republican or consider themselves born-again. Yet a majority of this country re-elected George W. Bush precisely for these reasons.

To believe that our little Valley is a good proxy for the rest of the world is highest folly.

4. Ultimately, the appeal of the Internet has been its ability to, for lack of a better word, empower the traditionally less powerful.

Think of how many businesses are now started by women, or non-white immigrants. The beauty of the combination of the Long Tail and Web 2.0 is that you can successfully serve much smaller niches with products that meet their particular needs. Sometimes, the combination of two cliches can produce something of value.

At any rate, we should all thank Anil for writing about the elephant in the room, and facilitating all of this discussion!