Friday, June 16, 2006

Hitting The Big Time / Comment Spam

Hitting The Big Time / Comment Spam
Over the years that I've been an active blog reader, I've noticed that one of the signs of a blog "hitting the big time" is when the author is forced to turn on comment moderation and other tools to prevent comment spam.

Well, looks like I've hit the big time, because starting last night, I got hit with a string of comment spam! I've turned on the CAPTCHA verification to prevent it.

Alas, this will add an extra five seconds to the time it takes to post your comments, but I hope that won't dissuade you!

Quote Of The Day: "Boldness Has Genius"

Quote Of The Day: "Boldness Has Genius"

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.


Jay-Z, Cristal, and Emergent Strategies

Jay-Z, Cristal, and Emergent Strategies

Louis Roederer, the makers of Cristal champagne, are facing their worst nightmare: A boycott by rap artists.

Remember, it's these same artists that have made Cristal the 8th most mentioned brand in Top 20 songs, behind stalwarts such as Mercedes, Bentley, Nike, and Rolls Royce (pretty good company, one would think!).

In the most recent issue of The Economist, Frederic Rouzaud, the managing director of Roederer, was asked if he thought that the association between his high-end champagne and endless rap lyrics and videos could be detrimental to his brand.

His response?

"That's a good question, but what can we do? We can't forbid people from buying it. I'm sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business."

I'm not sure if it would be possible to create a worse response without using ethnic slurs. Let's review:

1) I've basically said that I don't like my best customers.
2) I've implied that I would like to forbid them from buying it.
3) I've told them that they should go to my competitors, then I mentioned their brands.

Jay-Z probably fell out of his diamond-encrusted executive chair when he read the article, and wasted no time in responding:

"It has come to my attention that the managing director of Cristal, Frederic Rouzaud views the 'hip-hop' culture as 'unwelcome attention,"' Jay-Z said in a statement released Wednesday. "I view his comments as racist and will no longer support any of his products through any of my various brands including The 40/40 Club nor in my personal life."

This is a classic example of a business refusing to recognize an emergent strategy. Roederer didn't plan on selling to black rap stars, but once that market opened up, they should have jumped in with two feet. Instead, Rouzaud made it clear that he found the market faintly distasteful.

What he should have said was, "We at Louis Roederer couldn't be happier that Cristal is enjoyed so widely by the hip hop community. These artists are discerning consumers and the fact that they choose Cristal is an indication of its quality. Cristal is the kind of drink that every consumer can enjoy. Holla!"

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Bill Hangs 'Em Up

Bill Hangs 'Em Up

Bill Gates has announced that he will be retiring from Microsoft. The ironic juxtaposition of this news with my post on Marissa Mayer's work habits is not lost on me.

While there's no doubt that Bill and Microsoft have done some bad things in their time (okay, a lot of bad things), there's also no question that Bill will go down in history as one of the titans of business, as important and controversial as Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford.

I also believe that we can admire Bill for his philanthropy, and for his willingness to finally walk away from the company he started and ran for decades to focus on improving the lot of mankind (about time, his critics would content).

I can easily believe that in 100 years, Bill might be better known for his philanthropy than his business activities--after all, what percentage of people actually remember what John D. Rockefeller (oil) and Andrew Carnegie (steel) did to make their fortunes?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Chill Out, Marissa

Chill Out, Marissa

I don't think it's right to hate on someone just because she's blonde and has more fame and money than me. Heck, that describes most of the female population of Southern California. But I can blame her for perpetuating the cult of workoholism.

In this latest piece of media coverage, Marissa reveals her daily schedule:

8:00 a.m. Wake-up, get ready for work
9:00 a.m. Arrive at work, take conference call about a new technology
10:00 a.m. Meeting with Udi Manber, VP of engineering to discuss search, engineering staffing, etc.
10:30 a.m. Meet with Associate Product Managers to brief and prepare for upcoming international business trip
12:00 noon Product review with Larry and Sergey; review product direction and strategy and potential future collaborations
1:00 p.m. UI (User Interface) review to review/approve user interface designs/changes for multiple products
3:00 p.m. Meet with a new member of my team to welcome him and discuss career goals/trajectory
3:30 p.m. Meeting with Google Video product manager
4:00 p.m. Google Product Strategy meeting with Eric, Larry, Sergey, and other executives to go over weekly site traffic and a few special topics
5:00 p.m. Executive strategy meeting on Google China
6:00 p.m. Office Hours
8:30 p.m. Catch up on the day's e-mail
11:15 p.m. Visit to the Google Gym to run
12:00 p.m. Go home
12:30 a.m. Watch TV, do e-mail
3:00 a.m. Go to bed

Let's see...that's 14.25 hours of work and 5 hours of sleep per day.

Of course, that may be an underestimate...if Marissa thinks about work during the time it takes her to get ready and get into the office, during her run, and while watching TV and email at home, that's a 19 hour workday.

As I've noted in the past, I question the wisdom of taking the best years of our lives and devoting them solely to work--especially if you already have hundreds of millions in the bank.

So while I won't hate on Marissa, I'll reserve my admiration for the folks who set a better example, like my friend who sold his company for a 9-figure payday and now lists his position as "Chief Dad Officer."

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Can The Global Business Leader Balance Work And Family?

This post originally appeared as a comment on Vinnie Mirchandani's deal architect blog. Vinnie wrote about how Ray Lane was enjoying his new relaxed lifestyle at KP, and was unlikely to take a CEO position.

I met Ray Lane at dinner one time. Just us and a couple of other entrepreneurs around a table.

The questions I asked him were:
1) What do you wish that you had done that you didn’t?
2) What do you wish that you hadn’t done that you did?
3) What is your day like? What activities do you do on a daily basis?

Ray was very candid about how his choices had impacted his family life. As he put it, "I wasn't a good husband or a good father. I got divorced, and I barely saw my daughter until she turned 16."

Now, he lives his life very differently. He described how he never gets into the office before 9, never stays past 6, and goes to all of his young kids' plays and events.

And he wouldn't change it for anything. I'd be shocked if Ray accepted a high-stress CEO gig.

What is perhaps most interesting is that Ray also said he didn't regret the choice that he made, and that he made them again. He judged that the success he had achieved more than compensated him for the cost he paid in terms of his family life. Not sure if I would agree, but perhaps that's why I'm not running a Fortune 500 company!

I actually wrote a post about this a few weeks ago:

The question I asked was, "When your professional life is going well, is that the time to put the pedal to the metal, or to take advantage of your leading position and ease up on the accelerator?"

What do you think?

Since then, Ben Casnocha wrote about how Shai Agassi of SAP travels 29 weeks per year:

He travels 29 weeks a year. How does he have a family? Through his answers his attitude seems to be, "I know I'm not around enough, but they'll learn the value of hard work through my example." I like this better than people who say, "No, I really am home enough! I go to Johnny's games!"

I could swear that I've posted about precisely this issue before, but Google swears I haven't, so I'll say my usual piece.

As a husband, father, son, and friend, I wrestle with the concept of balancing work and family quite a bit.

When I was younger, I thought that success was the most important thing, and I had a hard time drawing boundaries to protect my personal life.

The worst incident was when a strategic planning meeting for my first startup ran over, and I dashed off to a dinner with friends, forgetting that my wife was still waiting for me in our hotel, and had no transportation to get to the dinner. Let me tell you, that led to a pretty uncomfortable evening, and a rapid re-prioritization of the things in my life.

I'm prouder of the time earlier in my career when I was asked by my new division GM and a managing director and the #2 man of our parent company to attend a planning meeting. That time, I told them that while I wanted to attend, I had previously signed up for a ballroom dance class with my fiancee, and I was not about to stand her up.

Fortunately for me, and to the surprise of the entire staff, the managing director was himself a ballroom dancer during his college days, and he just smiled and told me to get to the class, and punctuated his comment with a twirl. This had jaws dropping around the room, since he was perhaps the most ruthless and feared man in the entire firm.

And I had a great time at my dance class.

The point is that while great achievements often require great sacrifices, you still have the choice as to what sacrifices you will make.

Not long after I had my dinner with Ray Lane, I ended up corresponding with Bill George, the longtime CEO of Medtronic who is now teaching at my alma mater, HBS.

Bill's perspective was very different. In his own life, despite being the successful CEO of a Fortune 500 company (during his time as CEO, he grew the company's market cap from $1.1 to $60 billion, a CAGR of 35% per year), he made time for his family, including coaching his sons soccer teams. I'll let his eloquence speak for itself:

I strongly support your belief in balance. I used to take my son to day care as well. He may seem young now, but he will grow up very quickly. The time you spend with him now is very formative in your relationship, and cannot be replaced by spending more time with him when he is 20+.

When my younger son graduated from high school, I felt very proud that I had never missed an important event in their lives due to business. Now at 30 and 27 1/2, my sons feel like very close friends: we talk over everything and have great times together. Both boys are very proud that I coached their soccer teams for a total of 13 years.

At the end of the day, what is more important to you, your family or your money? One is a lasting legacy, the other just disappears when you die.

You CAN have a successful career and a successful family life - you just have to work at balancing the two every day. More hours on the job do not make you a better executive or a better leader.

I've mentioned my talk with Bill to other folks in the valley, who commented that it was easier to achieve this balance outside of the high-tech industry. Maybe.

As for me, I believe that it's your choice whom to believe--Ray or Bill. I've chosen the latter path, and I'm willing to live with the consequences, whatever they may be.