Archive for the ‘Insights & Opinions’ Category
A 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…
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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:
Check 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…)
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.
There seems to be a thick fog of delusion obscuring rational conversation on the topic of government spending. Every day I hear another rant or read yet another article by one pundit or another about how we cannot afford to fight the battles that President Obama is waging. Just this morning, I read an article in the October 17 issue of The Economist (p.46) that serves as the perfect foil for my argument. The article paraphrased Democratic fears about the war in Afghanistan as a two-fold anxiety:
“One is that they might pour billions of dollars and hundreds of lives into Afghanistan, and still lose. The other is that a costly war could scuttle their domestic agenda. How will they pay for universal health care, for example, if they keep burning banknotes in the Afghan inferno?”
Indeed. This erstwhile intelligent and insightful publication, written and edited by astute men and women with a keen understanding of finance, did not immediately follow this passage with a clarification of the confusion in these statements. The erroneous language was allowed to stand as though it were complete and correct.
This really bugs the crap out of me because it promulgates noisy fear mongering and averts our mind’s eye from the real issue at hand—where are we investing our wealth?
Although we are in fact spending billions of dollars on the Afghan war, ostensibly to prevent another 9-11 and to ensure that we leave a legacy of productive engagement in the region, we are not “pouring” the money into Afghanistan nor is the money going into some black hole, never to return. Likewise, although this war is indeed costly, it is not a cash furnace “burning banknotes.” These metaphors are often used when decrying Obama’s wide ranging and ambitious agenda. Words like “wasting” or “burning” or “pouring” money imply that the money leaves us. This is simply not the case.
Let’s take a short, simplified walk with some of the dollars we are spending on the Afghan war. According to the same Economist article, it costs $250,000 to deploy each soldier into that operational theater for a year. More expensive than a plumber? Sir, yes sir! Where does that money go? Part of it pays that soldier’s wages. Where does his money go? Very often it pays for his family expenses—diapers, formula, bed sheets, clothes, sneakers, food, beer, toys and trips to the movies. All that stuff is made by companies in which Americans work or invested their money, so the profits accrue to Americans. The $250,000 also pays for the armor, specialized clothing, MREs, and weapons issued to the soldier—all made by American companies. In addition, that soldier is transported in a truck, or plane, or maybe that soldier flies a helicopter or drives an ambulance or a tank. Each of those transport systems and the communication systems that they use to coordinate their activities in Afghanistan are (more often than not) made by American companies, which use that money to pay American workers’ wages. Those American workers use that money to pay for their diapers, formula, bed sheets, clothing, sneakers, food, toys, trips to the movies, maybe an Xbox, a laptop, etc. Who gets that money? Oh yeah, Americans.
By now you can see where I am going with this. We are not burning our cash in Afghanistan. We are allocating a portion of our income and financial assets (in the form of taxes) to an effort we have deemed necessary for our well being—the war in Afghanistan. We pay that money to Americans more often than not, directly and indirectly. Even when we do spend it on Afghans, they often use that money to buy American goods and services.
Do we have the money to pay for the war in Afghanistan? Yes we do. Although it’s a huge expense in absolute dollars, it pales in comparison to what we have allocated to Medicare, Social Security and other programs. And yet even with that pile of cash expended, we still generate more wealth in this country than all of those projects combined. Do we derive economic benefit from the expenditure in Afghanistan? Yes we do. Do we gain political, military, and perhaps even national security from this effort? Historians will argue for decades at least.
The same economic logic applies to healthcare, to education, to infrastructure—in fact to any of the initiatives that President Obama asserts are imperative to our future. The money we spend on those projects comes from you and me in the form of taxes, and it’s paid to you and me for the goods and services we then deliver to ourselves, based on the priorities established by our elected officials, whom we selected to make these allocation decisions for us, on our behalf. In other words, we put money into a jar, from which we pay ourselves to do the work that we asked ourselves to do. Sounds circular? Damn straight it is.
Non-lunatic republicans believe that states are better suited to allocate our taxes than the federal government. Likewise, non-lunatic democrats believe the federal government is better suited to allocate our taxes than the states. The rest of the blue and red flag waving fools are using their party to further their own social agenda. It’s not a question of “burning” or “wasting” or “losing” money. The money doesn’t vanish. That is a spurious argument.
The only important question is—who invests into what projects.
Given the universally abysmal state of our highways, bridges, and public education; given the historically proven need for a strong hand in foreign policy; given the need for stable capital markets to allow inventors and investors to reach amenable terms for creating our future opportunities, I am one republican that believes that for a time, perhaps a long time, we need to spend whatever money we have on projects that help ensure that our nation endures for another 200 years as a significant contributor to the social and economic well being of our planet. A well-fed and well-educated world that can communicate clearly and easily is more likely to result in a peaceful world in which every human being can pursue life, liberty and happiness.
On what better things could we possibly spend our money?