For those of you that are visually oriented, here's a link to my photo album for 2016. Ahem... here.
I spent the better part of a week recently at Microsoft's annual Worldwide Partner Conference; "WPC" in Microsoft-speak. I thought I'd try summarizing the week by collecting up my tweets here. Why? First, because I'm lazy. Second, because, you know... social media and all that. Plus, I feel a little sorry that Twitter is getting dumped on. But mostly, I'm being lazy. Or as they call it, "repurposing content."
This year's conference was held in Toronto, a city I visited many times during my days at BNR/Nortel, and during my time at SOMA Networks. It's been about ten years since I was last in Toronto (ask me about the rooftop lounge at Hooters) so I was interested to see what was old and new.
This probably happened the last time I flew to Toronto out of SFO: I'm on a United Airlines flight, but it's operated by Air Canada. Which means I've gone to the wrong terminal. Grrr.
Next stop: the gate. Since my days of holding duper premium elite gold extra-special status are long over, I'm waiting for my "zone" to board when I see a couple of passengers push forward to test whether the gate agents are checking which zone you're in. Turns out, they are.
On the plane now, ready to enter my usual sleep state that's brought on by flight attendant announcements.
It turns out that this year's conference is sold out, for the first time ever. That means I'm in Toronto with 15,999 of my closest friends. And they all made hotel reservations before I did. So I'm staying nowhere near downtown and all the events. But, Toronto now has very nice subway service from the airport to downtown, so that will work. And on my arrival at conference registration, there was this moose...
Free, working, Wi-Fi on comfortable and quiet subway trains. Take notice, CalTrain!
I once had a goal, while working at Nortel, to stay in every Canadian Pacific hotel in the chain; they're all magnificent. I stayed at the Royal York once, when Nortel had their big user association meeting in Toronto and when there was a big Marketing and Product Management pow-wow on what we needed to do next with Nortel's phone system. It was also at this time that Nortel announced quality problems in one part of the manufacturing business (the biggest part), which caused the stock to plummet in value. I thought some of my colleagues, who had left most of their retirement savings in Nortel stock, were going to die right there outside the hotel.
I remember riding in a taxi down to the Billy Bishop City of Toronto airport, on a flight to Ottawa (so much nicer than schlepping out to Pearson). Once you got past the Skydome and the CN Tower, there wasn't much going on. Now, that's completely different. There's the Air Canada Center, the Rogers Convention Center and a ton of condo developments.
On to the conference. Microsoft and GE announce a partnership focused on "Internet of Things." I just liked this quote.
The moose I expected. A Blue Jay wouldn't have surprised me. But... woodpeckers?
How times change. Three years ago, Dropbox was seen as "consumer" and Box was for the enterprise. Now...
CGNET was nominated for a Microsoft partner award. We didn't win, but we're already doing work with the guys that did win. And they have a Tesla as a company car. That's pretty cool.
I was looking for a place to grab a bite when I ended up meeting some new Microsoft partners at another event.
More "keynote" tweets, including an announcement that Facebook has adopted Office 365. I was just around the corner, you guys could have called me!
Back to the convention hall. On the way they're handing out...
"Digital Transformation" was one of the buzzwords of the conference, but there's some truth behind it. Businesses are moving to digital infrastructures, and those that can't support that movement are dying off.
Time now for a happy hour out on Lake Ontario.
Here's a nice picture of the Toronto skyline.
I've already told the story of how I didn't realize the celebrity athletes were real. Until I saw Bill Walton. Trust me, I'm standing next to him.
The next day I had to stay in my hotel room to finish a report. I had TV on for the background noise. Listening to the Canadian version of Guy Fieri and his shtick was...
See, Microsoft's cloud platform is called Azure, so naturally...
A nice quote from the Women in Technology session.
Last party, lots of food options. I chose...
I couldn't leave until I'd listened to Gwen Stefani.
And I leave you with some Canadian humor.
2015 was a year of yin and yang; probably every year is like that. Mostly, this was a year that went by very quickly (where did the time go?) but also very slowly (during rush hour).
The media feed after the ISIS attacks in Paris had a familiar feel to me. People seeking answers. People seeking revenge. People seeking solutions. People feeling like their story was being overlooked.
- What about the massacre in Beirut? Mali? Kenya?
- Ban the refugees!
- It's all ___'s fault!
- More wiretaps!
- More drone strikes!
- Bomb Raqqa!
And on and on.
I remember, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, a similar dialogue. It was mostly carried out via email then, but the flow was the same. People were hurt. They were afraid. They needed to make sense of something that made no sense at all. And I remember, as I read the back-and-forth, thinking that we needed to cut each other some slack. Someone took the conversation too far down the patriotism road for your liking. OK, you disagree, but have a little patience and understanding. You don't have to agree to feel their pain.
I've spent a good part of the last few weeks in LA, where the media is obsessed with the shootings in San Bernardino. Maybe this is because it's a hot story. I think it's also because people are hurting. How could this happen to us?
Overlay the silly season that is the run-up to Presidential primaries and you have a recipe for extreme "look at me" views as candidates vie for attention and media coverage. These stories further stir the pot, as people debate the talking points on their merits, or debate whether the points have any merit at all.
Through all of this, I suggest attaching a human face to the group you want to address. Think about your Muslim friend, your relative who works in government. Think about families you see that are struggling to find a safe place to live. Would you say the same things to their face? Maybe that should be the test.
I'm sure you've seen--or rather, skimmed past--the Terms of Service that govern services like Facebook, LinkedIn and the like. Similar to End User License Agreements, these are the things you skim over so you can quickly click Accept and move on.
Well I've decided to change my terms of service, at least when it comes to LinkedIn networking. More accurately, I've decided to revert to something closer to my original terms.
When I started on LinkedIn, I took seriously their advice to "only connect with people you know." I even remember an email exchange with a (somewhat distant) co-worker who wanted to make sure he really new me before he accepted my connection request.
This advice from LinkedIn was in contrast to the "LION" (LinkedIn Open Networker) approach, which was much more promiscuous about connecting. Their argument was that you never know who you're going to want to know or be able to help. OK, that's a valid point.
Maybe a year ago, things at LinkedIn seemed to change, in two important ways
- LinkedIn made it much easier (a one-click experience) to request a connection. Click the button and someone receives your connection request, with a stock "I'd like to connect with you on LinkedIn" message.
- LinkedIn seems to have changed its stance on curating connection requests. It seemed (and seems now) that anyone who's a member of a group with me can send me a connection request. There doesn't seem to be any more of the LinkedIn "show me you know this person" hurdles to jump over.
In a fit of pique, I decided to go ahead and accept these connection requests. Hey, if LinkedIn was going to make it that easy, then I was going to oblige them. Often I would notice that the requester would show up on my "who's viewed your profile" list, making me realize they were mass-mailing these connection requests and really weren't even aware that they'd sent me a request. So for a while I would write to them, explain that I wasn't sure if they intended to connect but I was happy to accept. Sometimes people would write back and say that, indeed, they wanted to connect. And I've built some good relationships out of these kinds of blind-date connections.
More and more, however, things have been getting a bit spammy.
- Susan sends me a connection request
- I accept
- Susan sends me a message, pitching me on her/her company's services (lead generation and outsourced software development being the leading examples)
- I explain that I'm not in the market for these services (something they could have surmised had they bothered to check), but hey, good luck with it
- Susan never contacts me again
After a while, people like Susan (and their associates) show up in my news feed, and I have to work to remember: is this someone I have a professional relationship with? As with other social forces, the noise starts to overcome the signal (what?)
So as of today, I've started purging my connection lists of people that seemed to want to treat networking like a one-night-stand. And I'm turning back people that have no connection to me, and haven't included a personal note with their connection request.
I've had some great conversations with people I didn't previously know, so I'm certainly still open to requests from out of the blue. But if it looks like you're just following the LinkedIn Path of Least Resistance, and it looks like you want to sell first and help later, then I can say "it's not you--it's me."
As in, "I have this strange desire to know first and sell later. So find a way to connect with me, show me that your interest is more than transactional, and we'll talk."
Have you heard of Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey? You should check him out.
I "met" Cory online after the last Stanford bowl game. The Stanford kicker shanked a couple of field goal attempts that would have otherwise won the game for Stanford, and what followed was an outpouring of "hang in there, kid" responses via various social media. Cory, a former Stanford football player, was one of the respondents. We traded a few comments after that, and at one point I said something like, "It's not about what you did at Stanford, it's about what you've done since Stanford." Ever since, we've been connected at the Twitter hip.
So Cory's something of a Twitter personality (what's the Twitterverse word for that?). He's also received some press as a kind of up-and-coming Obama protégé. Maybe; I don't really know about that stuff. What fascinates me, though, is the way that Cory uses Twitter to connect with his constituents and maintain a human "face" for Newark government. With the unfortunate devastation of New Jersey by Hurricane/Tropical Storm/Superstorm/it-was-big-as-hell/ Sandy, Cory's been amazing to observe. Here's a clip from a recent Twitter stream.
What do you see here?
- Cory is repeatedly delivering the message, "we're doing all we can for you." I've often had to explain to support engineers that it's not enough to work on the problem, you have to let people know that you're working on it. And so all these municipal departments, which are working their butts off to restore power and the like, could be excused if they said, "we don't have time to acknowledge you, we're trying to fix things!" But Cory takes the time. He doesn't over-promise or blame others. He just repeats his message: "we're working on it."
- Cory's telling you what he (and the rest of the city's employees) is/are doing. He's not bragging. He's not creating the Twitter equivalent of a photo-opp. He's just stating the facts: we have to get power to these seniors or we'll have to move them.
- Cory answers every tweet, and treats every tweeter with respect. Someone says he's favoring one part of the city over another? He respectfully disagrees. Someone mockingly says he needs food because he's running out of hot pockets to eat? Cory suggests he's big enough to solve that problem himself. Someone needs encouragement? Cory offers it. Someone asks why Cory's house has power when theirs (down the street) doesn't? Cory offers his home. And he seems to mean it.
- Cory seems to create his own tweets. Follow a few CEO's or other people in positions of authority, and you can quickly figure out who has handed the Twitter account over to some communications director. Maybe Cory has as well, but it sure doesn't sound like it.
I'm not sure why Cory first decided to use Twitter, but whatever the reason I can tell you that it's done a lot to build his brand. What is your perception of Cory in reading through these tweets?
- He's someone who cares about me.
- He's responsive to my needs.
- He's working hard to marshal the resources needed to resolve this emergency.
Regardless of your politics, isn't that the kind of person you'd like to have representing you?
What This Means for Managers
One aspect of leadership is being—and being seen as—out in front; of the market, the technology, the problem, etc. And Twitter certainly helps communicate that position. Billy Crystal once said, "a writer writes, always." I've adapted that saying as "as a leader leads, always."
But there is a danger here, especially if you're a manager responsible for a large organization. The danger is that this kind of transparency and over-communication can make you look like a superhero, as though you're personally responsible for the actions of your entire organization.
Setting yourself up as the face of your organization is great. But you want to make sure you're not seen as being the entire organization. The people in your organization may feel that you're enhancing your brand at their expense. They may feel like they're redundant or disempowered to take action. At its extreme, being perceived as the one (and only) person in your organization that can get stuff done can cause the rest of your team to sink into a passive "I just do what I'm told" attitude—not what you want from them.
So the key is to find the right balance: get out front and lead when appropriate, and step back and let others take the lead when that feels like the right thing to do.
Cory's a bright guy, and I'm sure he understands this. We can learn a lot by observing the way he's embraced Twitter and social media. We can also learn by watching him walk that line between speaking for City of Newark employees and allowing them do get credit for the work they do. Have a look at what Cory is doing with Twitter and ask yourself: "how could I apply this to communicating with my employees? partners? customers?
What is the Emerging Character of Today's Silicon Valley?
I happened upon some posts recently that share a common theme—the current reinvention of Silicon Valley. Change is nothing new in these parts—it's what defines the place. And while it's easy to bemoan the changes that are occurring (and conversely, to celebrate what's new as if it was invented for the first time) that kind of discussion is pointless. The discussion that does have merit is represented by these posts. You could title them collectively as "Is this what we want to become?"
The first post is by Steve Blank, one of my heroes. He writes that social media is crowding out all other sectors for venture capital investment, because its (potential) returns are so large and realized so quickly. He notes that other investment sectors, such as clean-tech and life sciences, are being passed over in favor of "Web 2.0" (even that term seems dated now) startups such as Facebook, Google, Zynga and others. 30 years ago, a venture capital firm would invest multiple millions of dollars in a semiconductor company and not expect to see a return for ten years or more. Today, a VC invests a few hundred thousand dollars (at early stages) in a social media startup and might see a payoff in two or three years.
The second post, by William Davidow (another hero) notes the culture change occurring, as the CEO's setting the values for Silicon Valley shift from the likes of William Hewlett and David Packard to Mark Zuckerberg, Marc Pincus, and Larry Page. Where Hewlett and Packard built a business focused on pristine customer service, the new breed of CEO's are building businesses based on the exploitation of customers (more specifically, their data). It wouldn't be fair to imply that these current CEO's don't care about customer service. It's just that their businesses operate (to varying degrees) with a "free" model that focuses on attracting users and mining their data, with the paying customers being the companies that buy targeted advertising on these sites.
These commentators share a common theme—build your company to last, build it to change the world—because they come from a shared history and experience with "the Valley." Their sentiments are more (much more) than mere nostalgia for the Valley as they once knew it. They've given voice to feelings people like me have had as we've witnessed the emergence of these new style startups, requiring us to reinvent ourselves to remain relevant and valuable to today's startup community.
And Not That
These writers, and those of us who have been here since the 1990's, remember the "dot bomb" era of the late 1990's/early 2000's. At that time you had companies with no proven business model being valued and sold at incredible prices. It was a common joke that you could drive up your company's market capitalization by simply adding a leading "e" or "i" or a trailing ".com" to the company name. I remember taking calls from Internet companies trying to sell me advertising: the callers had no knowledge of what my company was about and couldn't tell me why I needed their advertising. I also remember interviewing a new college graduate for a Business Development role. He had no experience, but was confident that he could command an $80K starting salary. Such were the times.
Bubble? Or No Bubble?
And so those (especially in the media) who witnessed this implosion as it happened now play the parlor game of "Bubble? Or No Bubble?" as they observe the multi-billion dollar valuation of companies like Box, Dropbox, Groupon and others. One difference with today's hot startups is that these companies tend to have an identified and validated business model. They often aren't cash flow positive as yet, but are trending in the right direction. The "Bubble!" crowd wrings their hands and wags a finger at today's startup CEO's: "Just wait! You'll get your just reward!" The "No Bubble!" crowd smoothes their hoodies and says "Wait! This time it's different!" The audience voting falls along the lines of who thinks they will profit from or get crushed by any such bubble.
The discussion of economic implications has largely been theoretical. That changed with the recent news regarding Zynga's secondary stock offering and subsequent earnings dive. To torture a phrase, there may not have been any fire here, but there sure is a lot of smoke.
What Really Matters
But I'm not so interested in the "Bubble? Or No Bubble?" discussion. These are the questions that are worth asking.
- How can a startup leverage the knowledge and experience of a Silicon Valley veteran?
- How can such a veteran embrace new ways of thinking and working?
Let's take the first question. I was talking about this over coffee recently with a colleague and former manager. He's younger than me, but still would be seen as outside the age demographic for today's startup founders. His perspective was that today's company founders are running so fast, they haven't figured out what they don't yet know. A few will learn without doing lasting damage to their companies. Some will realize that this is the point where they need to bring in some experienced help. And others… let's just say it won't be pretty. Remember, some of the "dot bomb" disasters were failures of execution (WebVan) as much as failed business models.
My advice to today's startup community would be this.
- Figure out—quickly—what it is that you don't know, but need to know. Then discover who does have that knowledge, and ask for their help. If your software company finds itself manufacturing devices to run the software, realize that you're now faced with manufacturing and supply chain questions… and you'll get to market faster by engaging with someone who's already solved those problems.
- Remember that humility is a survival strategy. Your success so far is as much about luck as it has been about your idea and the execution of that idea. Acknowledging that fact will make it easier to ask the "what do I need to know?" question.
Regarding the second question, what does it take for a Valley veteran to succeed in today's startup environment?
- It's likely that those who could use your knowledge and skills aren't fully aware of their need. So while it might be obvious to you, it's not to those who would hire and pay you. I recall the moment that I realized I had knowledge of how hardware, software and firmware combined to form a "system" and that was exactly the knowledge needed to solve the logistics and design problems faced by our startup. I had to explain the problem to the founders before I could go on to solve it.
- Humility is valuable here as well. Don't expect the respect of others on the basis of your experience or knowledge. It's all about what you do with that experience and knowledge that will earn you respect. I knew all about setting up 3rd-party interoperability programs, but that's not what mattered. Acting on that knowledge to set up an interoperability program and show people how it helped us move more quickly with fewer Engineering resources required for the task--that's what mattered.
I've been quite deliberate in embracing new ways of working (hello, Agile!), new technologies (too many to mention) and most importantly new methods of decision-making (ask me about split tests). I've been careful not to start sentences with "Back in my day…" But I've also been amazed when I realized that some of what I thought "everyone" knew was not nearly so widely known. Ask me about regulatory testing, hardware/software lineups, feature prioritization or user interface design.
So if it feels like a brave new world, maybe that's because it is… again. You can question what values today's startups are embracing. Or you can go out and show them what values will be needed to succeed. Which choice will you make?
Check out this report from the McKinsey Global Institute. It points out something Microsoft (with its purchase of Yammer) and other companies are begnning to understand: that social media can improve productivity of enterprise employees.
We can all still enjoy LOLCats and all the other diversions that social media provides us as consumers. But people are starting to "get" that we don't leave our social instincts at the door when we go to work... and that there's money to be made helping employees engage in meaningful ways to get work done.
I took a sip of coffee yesterday as I sat on the train waiting for it to depart the Gilroy station. Since I had a few minutes and a good cellular signal, I thought I'd check Facebook using my Samsung Galaxy smartphone. After a few minutes of spinning wheels indicating that it was "working" I gave up. I could wait until later. I've had any number of experiences using the Facebook application for Android, and the result has always been disappointment. Sometimes only a few items will load. Often the text will load without any pictures. Most of the time, my phone goes back into sleep mode before anything has loaded.
OK, so maybe Facebook is a bit data-intensive for a smartphone with a cellular connection that varies in signal strength. I'll give it a whirl on my iPad, which (for me) uses Wi-Fi instead of cellular. And the results?
The good news is, Facebook content actually loads fairly quickly. The bad news? Those settings I had on Facebook-the-browser-version haven't carried over. Maybe they're available to be set, or maybe not. All I know is that the filters I had applied (no offense, but I'm not interested in what level of Bedazzled you've reached) aren't in place. So I get to scroll through pages of notifications about which friend has achieved what level with which game.
So why does any of this have to do with "disruption?" Simple. Facebook works best—and was originally designed for—stationary computers. It comes from a time (I hesitate to use the term "era" when it comes to anything involving the Internet) when most people sat down in front of a computer and interacted with a browser.
And what's happening today? Stop by any CalTrain station, coffee shop, checkout line, or movie intermission. What do you see? People on their phones. For many people the phone is their dominant source of social interaction. And you've heard or read about the reports that spending on mobile advertising is ready to jump through the roof. So if Facebook can't solve their (IMHO) cruddy mobile phone experience, they stand to lose that market to someone who does provide an elegant solution.
A burgeoning market, lots of (if I'm any indication) disaffected users, no clear dominant player in the space… sounds like an opportunity for disruption to me.
I remember (from my visits using The Wayback Machine) when certain hit shows like MASH and Friends had their final episode, and people would gather at someone's house to watch together.
Then along came the DVR—Digital Video Recorder, the collective noun version of TiVO—and forevermore we were "time shifting"… recording shows and watching them whenever we wanted, as opposed to when the networks wanted. Media people wrung their hands and worried that this was the end of television advertising, since viewers now had the opportunity to fast-forward past the commercials.
Fast forward to the world of social media. People at an event are "live-tweeting", meaning you're getting a stream of messages that are directly or indirectly telling you what's happening at the event. So for instance, you didn't have to be watching or listening to know how the Stanford-Oklahoma State football game was going… Cheer, groan, cheer, etc.
And if they're not tweeting, they're using Facebook. Or texting. Or using any of a number of other commenting and sharing services. What's happening here is that the community that at one time would have gathered in someone's house, or a bar, or at the event itself, is now gathering in a virtual way. We're all watching, and social media gives us a way of staying connected and sharing the experience.
And here's where the traditional media people should pay attention. The trick is, you can only connect and share as the event is happening. If you recorded the Stanford-Oklahoma State game for later viewing, all this sharing is going to ruin the ending. And if you want to connect and share, you have to do it live. Which means you have to watch the commercials.
So if the traditional media people are on their game, they'll be creating all kinds of opportunities to share their shows, games, tournaments and so on as events.