May 3rd, 2013
leadership image
A leader is bestwhen people barely know he exists;
Not so good when people obey and acclaim him;
Worse when they despise him.
But of a good leader,
Who talks little when his work is done,
His aim fulfilled, they will say:
We did it ourselves.         
                  ~Lao Tsu

May your parachute always open.

May 3rd, 2013

dalai lama freedom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well that was fun…

May 2nd, 2013

dead tiredA little more than three years ago, I took on yet another start-up gig. This time, I asked my family for permission before embarking on the adventure. While I was given three enthusiastic thumbs up at the time, there is no doubt that at least my wife regrets urging me onward.

Livemocha was a blessing and a curse. I never felt more proud of a product or service. The newest version we built is revolutionary in design and implementation. You can in fact learn a language with this service – we have some evidence to back up that claim. And in the hands of a teacher, the service works magic. But Livemocha was probably the worst business experience of my nearly 30 year career. Sales growth was anemic – in consumer and institutional markets. Profits were impossible to achieve without massive capitalization or catastrophic cost reduction. Neither were ever a realistic option.

So we sold our venture to Rosetta Stone, which arguably needed Livemocha’s platform and product team more than any other company in the world.

So now I am in the last few days of transition – our product, sales, and finance teams are settling into new roles in the much larger parent company. And I’m ready to finally take a break. At the moment, it is unclear if my marriage has survived the past three years. But it is clear that my 51 year-old body, is a bit wiped but will recover quickly. For a little while, I will rest on this beach. And then – it will be time to stop lolly-gagging around and find what else might be fun to work on…

Today is the Feast of Crispian – Steel yourself and never give up!

October 25th, 2011

Kenneth Branagh as Henry V

This day is called the Feast of Crispian. For nearly 600 years, October 25th has been an annual shout out to the underdog; for those with insufficient resources, already exhausted from the slog, yet happily steeling themselves for another round of battle, hoping against hope for success.

That’s life in any technology start-up and we have excellent historical company in this seemingly hopeless pursuit of victory despite insurmountable odds.

At the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, a vastly outnumbered and nearly exhausted English force led by King Henry V defeated the heavily armored and well-rested veteran French army of nearly fifty thousand. The French nobles led the attack with hubris, fully expecting a brief and glorious rout of their English foes. Using a shrewd, rapid sequence of longbow and hand-to-hand tactics, Henry’s Englishmen took aim at the lumbering French mounted nobility. This left the remaining French foot soldiers in disarray, arguing with each other about the next move, while the English continued to wreak havoc. On October 25, 1415, the English won the battle. They lost only five hundred men while the French suffered massive casualties. It was more than a victory. It was a crushing blow by a tiny force of unyielding soldiers.

Shakespeare created a rousing motivational speech in which Harry the King exhorts his tired English troops on the morning before this historic battle. It’s one of my favorite speeches in all of Shakespeare’s plays. Every startup has moments like this – a tiny team pitted against giant, well funded adversaries; yet somehow that small band musters up the courage to press onward and win the day. We few, we happy few, we band of entrepreneurs, today is the Feast of Crispian – Steel yourself and never give up!

Enjoy Kenneth Branagh’s perfect performance of this soliloquy (…and check out the obvious inspiration for Mel Gibson’s rallying cry in Braveheart filmed six years later…)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRj01LShXN8&feature=youtube_gdata_player

For those without a multimedia setup, read the glorious Shakespeare text here…and happy St. Crispin’s day!

GLOUCESTER
Where is the king?

BEDFORD
The king himself is rode to view their battle.

WESTMORELAND
Of fighting men they have full three score thousand.

EXETER
There’s five to one; besides, they all are fresh.

SALISBURY
God’s arm strike with us! ’tis a fearful odds.

WESTMORELAND
O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

KING HENRY V
What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin:
If we are mark’d to die, we are enough
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Soliloquy: I want to share a walk with you

June 17th, 2011

A recent biz trip to Brazil lasted about ten days away from home. Coming on the heels of more than a year of slogging as CEO at livemocha. Startups can be a grind. This one is no exception. So on my return flight home, I was moved to write a soliloquy for my wife, Cari. She liked it, so I decided to share it out to inspire you to write your own for someone you love.

 

I’d like to share a walk with you. On a lingering beach – with a dog on a leash.  Clasping pinkies because my palms are too warm for you. Wondering if a kiss is called for – or even fancied. Hesitating just long enough to be sure and then reluctantly letting the missed moment pass. Not a word as you glance warily at noisy gulls flitting about. They are fiercely alive. Wings of ardent vibration. Beaks gasp. Eyes flash. Our wanton companion barks and breaks away in hot pursuit. Yet suddenly abandons the evasive winged apparition, lured away by a most excellent and more desirable objective – a fragrance lurking in a bush nearby. The sea air gently bathes me with the perfume of your hair and skin and salt. Shaman drums beat in my ears with biological reverb as I study the sunlight imposing furrows softly edging your eyes. Pleats in a rose petal. Folds of mystery enclosing intelligent pupils that see me as I am. Not as I want to be seen – by most. Longing for your gifted gaze as it now drifts away, I ask what lies within that distracted contemplation.  My only purchase a smirky shrugged nothing. I consider the denial and pensively let it pass. Makes me less a dog sniffing for a treat than a precarious monkey on a bowed branch, pondering the ripe mango just out of reach. Saying a word now, even a whisper, feels incongruous. A brick tossed onto a glass table. And so instead, I just grin and squeeze your hand, hoping it conveys enough.

 

Twitter as History – The Library of Congress Signs Up – NYTimes.com

April 14th, 2010

Fascinating development.  Have really enjoyed the acerbic wit and crude comments of the more popular cynics on twitter.  wonder if they will be as prolific or honest when they realize that EVERY tweet will be available for our great-great-grandchildren to evaluate.  On the other hand, what a treasure trove for future linguists and sociologists to study the fabric of millions of stories woven together. Wish we had something this full and rich to read from Sumer or Egypt or Greece.

Twitter as History – The Library of Congress Signs Up – NYTimes.com.

Generation Gap 2010: boomers not retiring

April 7th, 2010

Check out this factoid from recent EPI survey:  In the last two years, the size of the labor force

- fell over 6 percent for young workers

YET

- grew almost 9 percent for workers 55 years and older

Several years ago, Jeff Taylor (founder of Monster.com) used to point at the boomer population bubble and speculated that by 2020 we will suffer one of the greatest labor shortages ever as the boomer generation retires. Yet this new stat shows that due to the recent economic downturn, older workers are not retiring. My own father-in-law worked happily until he turned 75 a few years ago. With so many feeling less inclined to retire, the competition among younger workers will get stiff in the years to come, at least until Jeff’s forecast finally comes true and the boomers retire. Of course, by then the Chinese and Indian labor surplus will have more fully impacted our domestic workforce even more. So who knows; we may see unemployment hovering near 10% for years to come…

Good article on this at Older, young U.S. workers jostle for scarce jobs | Reuters.

Complacent Electorate

March 10th, 2010

Reuters published today results of a poll claiming nearly 70% of NY voters want Gov Patterson to stay in office. Yet the same article claims that 60% of NY voters also think he is and will be ineffective in office. So it’s come to this. We expect nothing of our elected officials. We don’t expect ethical behavior. We don’t expect good judgment. We don’t expect results.

We are a sad, complacent lot.

Full story here:  NY voters dislike governor, want to keep him | Reuters.

Apple vs Amazon – which is the better bet?

February 25th, 2010

Just read a Reuters article about Apple v Amazon – addressing the question of who is going to “win”.

It’s an interesting question. The article conflates stock price growth potential with e-reader market share competition. Although stock price is somewhat correlated with e-reader sales, the two variables are not causal. Still, it’s an intriguing debate.

Apple is trading at 17X earnings. Amazon is trading at 40X earnings. Apple is a manufacturer whose success is tied to creating hit products. Amazon is a retailer whose success is tied to managing a portfolio of products. No brainer calculus in my opinion:  if you believe Apple has at least one more monster hit like iPod or iPhone in it’s future, then 17X seems like a bargain compared to 40X.

As for Kindle v iPad, this is a silly debate imho. Kindle is a single purpose device and it does its thing very well. The iPad hopes to replace my netbook and kindle. It will have to be brilliant for me convert. The jury is out for now. But I am betting that apple will win. Maybe not in 2010 but soon.

Why? Who is more likely to create a monster successful consumer electronics device – a retailer competing with walmart or the inventor of the iPod and iPhone – the two most iconic devices since the Sony Walkman?

Simple math IMHO.

Full reuters article:

Apple vs Amazon – which is the better bet? | Reuters.

Power to the People = Bloom Energy

February 24th, 2010

founder of Bloom energy with power brickCheck out this Reuters post on Bloom Energy, a well funded start-up that hopes to change the way electrical power is generated and distributed. They make a hydrogen powered fuel cell that powers your building (or eventually your home…)

Is Bloom Energy the next GE? | Analysis & Opinion | Reuters.

It’s worth noting, imho, that Bloom does not reduce our dependence on fossil fuel sources. Although it’s a “personal power plant” it still needs hydrogen to run it.  Hydrogen that you get most cheaply from Natural Gas. In that respect, this is an evolutionary not a revolutionary shift in power supply.

However, the personal printer industry gives us a sneak peek into the potential that Bloom (and the many other innovative new power companies in start-up mode) represents. In the mid 1980′s companies like HP / IBM / Okidata / et al brought the power of printing to the consumer. Futurists declared that the combination of personal printing and innovations like email would make for a radical reduction in paper consumption.

The opposite happened.  We consume more paper than ever. However, we have the shifted power of communication from a few companies to many individuals and companies. And as personal computing (and the internet) matured, we have seen an even more radical shift in power of communication from a few media companies to bloggers, tweeters, etc.

While Bloom will not change the dependence on fossil fuel any more than the personal printer reduced the consumption of paper, Bloom (and it’s sibling start-ups) radically shift the political and economic landscape of power generation and distribution – from a few regulated monopolies to the individuals and companies that need the power.

This shift alone will almost certainly lead to more interesting innovation.