Tag Archive for 'email'

Ripples

I get a lot of  random email, and sometimes, it’s the stuff that makes me sit upright. Question things. But of the kind I’m talking about, usually I just smile. Here’s one from today.

I got back to Australia at the end of January. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the start-up community in Adelaide had a bunch of activity going on. One of my friends had heard about the silicon beach meetups in Sydney so got some sponsorship from Microsoft and started a regular meetup.

This lead to Adelaide having its first start-up weekend, which resulted in a burst of activity and resulted in Adelaide’s first tech co-working space being born. They got more interested than anticipated and quickly needed a bigger space, so the guys knocked on a ton of doors and moved into a huge rundown space in the middle of the city.

After talking to a few people who stayed at start-up house they are now looking at opening up a similar type of hacker accommodation in one of the empty floors above the co-working space.

Just thought you might like to know some of the ripple effects hitting the Adelaide eco-system from your awesome work in the valley. Looking forward to staying at the new start-up house when I move back mid year.

The fact so many people around the world have already copied or flagged that they are doing something similar as StartupBus and StartupHouse (not to mention Silicon Beach, though in the way it’s described above that was by design) is flattering. But that’s not the first reaction I had in each case until I realised a very important fact in life.

I’ve seen everything from outright copying of the brand and concept that’s gotten legal, to working intensely with the “copycats” and seeing first hand what they built — and even seeing friends try to replicate their own versions of the concept. Naturally, it can  be disappointing to see your work being copied without being able to expand on your own business where you benefit, or more to the frustration, the sense of losing control on value you created.  But that’s the nature of the market and competition, and actually, I’m more thrilled than disappointed because I’ve come to learn first hand with each of the above that there  really is secret sauce in your own work. You cannot copy the creativity that led to the original concepts themselves which become more valuable for their future evolution. When you copy an idea, you are simply redrawing a photograph of a moving crowd that has since moved on.

So when you can get over that point to realise it’s not a threat, you realise something cooler. You’re creating a ripple effect. But the thing about ripples is that they can be more than that: add some wind and it leads to a wave. That wave might capsize the boats or at the very least ruffle them — but let’s also remember, it’s that movement from a wave that leads to change in our society. And that, is way cooler than anything you will ever do in your life that’s being copied.

The impact of competition on entrepreneurism

Last May, a new Australian incubator said they were different from StartupBus, the “people accelerator” (which I call a foundry — more on that another time) that we’ve been building for over two years now.

…the Startup Bus concept – which is essentially a start-up competition – is flawed when it comes to women….”The whole approach seems to be based on a kind of testosterone, pump”

It was an interesting point because I’ve often thought about not just how to encourage more female entrepreneurs, but more successful startups. Is a competition a way to do that?

When we ran the StartupBus Americas competition this year (840 applicants, ~270 accepted), we had a lot of upset participants. Several in particular spoke to me personally about how they didn’t understand why their team and product didn’t make the finals. One of the teams who I actually personally believed should have won the competition (but never made it past the semi finals) wrote an email thanking us (I’ve appended it at the end of this blog post, to not distract the point I’m trying to make) which I forwarded to all the participants, to which I added

With emails like this from Raymond (below), the real winner of StartupBus makes me think is Wastebits.

As Greg (Florida conductor) says: StartupBus is harder than a real startup. If you can survive this, you’ll find a real business a walk in the park.

Well done everyone, I was so proud to hear last night how many of you are continuing on with your projects. There’s something to be said true entrepreneurs are ones that break the rules (I actually smiled to hear people ignored some milestones to focus on product) and don’t let stupid things like validation (ie, the competition) get in their way.

Three months on, what’s the verdict? Still too early to tell but this week, a talented designer  Scott (who actually designed the new StartupBus logo) sent me an email saying that he was working with the Wastebits team, which has become a real business. Another team that stood out for their quality (and actually was a business idea I looked into years ago) but didn’t make the semi final — Get Wished — I’ve been hearing how they are still working on their product with serious commitment. And today, Sohail (who I convinced to turn down a job at Google so he would work at a startup) paired up with James (who was on the first StartupBus) had a post on TechCrunch announcing Hiptype who have been part of the current Y-Combinator batch — which other than credibility and exposure, also means a guranteed $150k in funding. The product the post talks about was actually launched on StartupBus this year (original video seems to be down), but they didn’t make the semi finals.

That last sentence being key. James in particular was upset in how he didn’t make it the semi finals, and caused quite a dilema for me personally because I liked their product, I knew the team members well, and I wanted them to succeed. A dilemma because we had to create a process to bring down the 50+ products to ultimately one winner and it made me question our approach which was entirely my responsibility. But the dynamics of the competition forced outcomes that even I didn’t necessarily agree with.

Is a competition the best way to select winners? Nope. But is a competition process, whereby people miss out and they want to prove something, the best way to create winners?

Time will tell, but something tells me yes. True entrepreneurs break rules, want to prove people wrong, and don’t give up. As it was explained to me by my previous boss: ruthless ambition is what creates entrepreneurial success. And the resentment of not being selected, may ironically be the best way to feed that ambition.

On a related note consider this: I’ve been observing how some of the best entrepreneurs I respect (admittedly, only men but then again there’s only a few people I truly respect) all seem to have what I call ‘daddy issues’ that they acknowledge as what drives them. Not big family problems, but just didn’t see eye to eye and a sense of having to prove themselves.

Addendum: As promised, the email from the Wastebits team this March that I forwarded to all participants. There’s a lesson in there for what incubators really should be doing.

Elias
Thank you and the StartupBus team for an incredible experience. In my humble opinion, StartupBus has innovated THE new model for entrepreneurs.
StartupBus is the epitomy of iterative adaptation and flexibility…adaptation–>the single most important factor in determining the survival of a species (adapted from Darwin).
StartupBus IS the MBA for entrepreneurs!
StartupBus creates a unique immersive experience for entrepreneurs to LEARN THROUGH DOING. There are no bystanders!
Plain and simple, graduates of StartupBus (*hint* *hint*) are well prepared to be successful bootstrappers. And even more importantly, these graduates are well informed to spread the StartupBus aspirational philosphy AND continue building that sense of community.
Wastebits came into being BECAUSE of StartupBus … it was nothing more than an un-named idea two weeks ago. StartupBus provided the environment and super-charge for a team of aspirational entrepreneurs to breath life into that idea. And now today, a meer 7 days since last Tuesday’s kickoff…Wastebits is an incorporated company, with an awesome brand, a team of senior developers, a team of industry veterans committed to forming the management structure, scaling and supply chain partners (Blackberry expressed high interest just yesterday to support Wastebits premiering via a mobile rollout), AND, most importantly, a bonefied base of PAYING CUSTOMERS (we received our 3rd Letter of Intent this morning!).
StartupBus is what enabled this to happen…happen in less than a week!
THAT is a story.
And yet, I find myself highly curious how we as the StartupBus community will achieve EVEN MORE for 2013?!?
The future is ours to envision and create. Everything is possible when the right people are connected! That is what StartupBus re-affirmed for me.
Thank you for the experience and the opportunity to join such an incredible community.
I look forward to being a part of creating the vision for StartupBus 2013!
Humbly appreciative,
ray

Another scandal about data breaches shows the unrealised potential of the Internet as a network

The headlines today show a data breach of the Gawker media group.

Separately, I today received an email from a web service that I once signed up to but don’t use. The notice says my data has been compromised.

Deviant Art community breach

In this case, a partner of deviantART.COM had been shared information of users and it was compromised. Thankfully, I used one of my disposable email addresses so I will not be affected by the spammers. (I create unique email addresses for sites I don’t know or trust, so that I can shut them off if need be.)

But this once again raises the question: why did this happen? Or rather, how did we let this happen?

Delegated authentication and identity management
What was interesting about the Gawker incident was this comment that “if you logged in via Facebook Connect, in which case you’ll be safe.”

Why safe? For the simple reason that when you connect with Facebook Connect, your password details are not exchanged and used as a login. Instead, Facebook will authenticate you and notify the site of your identity. This is the basis of the OpenID innovation, and related to what I said nearly two years ago that it’s time to criminalise the password anti-pattern. You trust one company to store your identity, and you reuse your identity in other companies who provide value if they have access to your identity.

It’s scandals like this remind us for the need of data interoperability and building out the information value chain. I should be able to store certain data with certain companies; have certain companies access certains types of my data; and have the ability to control the usage of my data should I decide so. Gawker and deviantART don’t need my email: they need the ability to communicate with me. They are media companies wanting to market themselves, not technology companies that can innovate on how they protect my data. And they are especially not entitled for some things, like “sharing” data with a partner who I don’t know or can trust, and that subsequently puts me at risk.

Facebook connect is not perfect. But it’s a step in the right direction and we need to propel the thinking of OpenID and its cousin oAuth. That’s it, simple. (At least, until the next scandal.)

Unfollow people on Twitter: it’s good for you

Since my first Tweet in April 2007, I’ve been using the service in different ways. In that time, my career has changed; the people using it are now beyond the early-adopted tech crowd which dominated when I first started using it; and more significantly, Twitter has added new functionality that has changed the pattern of usage.

In other words, I’ve changed; the people around me have changed; and the service has changed. So with that in mind, I’m asking myself now how should I use Twitter now? It’s become a new communications paradigm, and so our personal evolution in using it is an interesting thing to consider for the future of communications.

What has Twitter become
Put simply, people and companies use it to connect with other people. Not only that, but its become a means to discover information and people. The discussions on it have allowed communities to emerge (and organise), trends to be noticed, and people to be identified. Its created the social melebrity – the term I give to the trend of “micro-celebrities” – and created a new avenue to the consultant (online self-promotion), researcher (uncovering trends and breaking information), and business development manager (discovery of opportunities), among others

What’s different about Twitter now
Twitter was implicitly designed to encourage a gaming of human psychology based on the number of followers you had. The more followers, the more perceived status an account had and by extension a person or company. This status created perceived influence and authority – which in some ways was true, but true or not is not the point: it was enough of a motivator to get people thinking constantly “how can I get more followers”, a brilliant state of mind from the perspective of a profit-making company benefiting from usage.

Several new features have since emerged, one of which is lists. Lists themselves have become another way Twitter, inc has been able to game its user-base as it implies a sense of status. But from a user point of view, its also become a great new way to track people stream’s, which at core is what Twitter is meant to be about.

Foe anyone that follows a lot of people, tracking every Tweet can be impossible. I now hover around the 500 mark of people that I ‘follow’, but the reality is, I don’t actually follow them in the true sense of the world: only in the off-chance I check-into Twitter to see what’s happening. ‘Following’ these days is not a reflection of my engagement with that person, but simply, my interest (once upon a time).

Thinking about value
With all the above in mind, let’s now answer the question of who should you follow. Should it be people you’re interested in following, like how it’s always been no? I say nope to that, and here’s why.

I get no benefit following someone who is not following me back, other than the initial notification someone gets that I’ve followed them (and which I know can be quite successful as a marketing tool). The value we get, is if they follow us back, is the fact we can directly message each other. And this has real value: I know people who are impossible to reach via email, myself included sometimes, because of email overload. But, if someone sends you a direct message via Twitter – it can come to you via email, IM and SMS. And the conciseness of the message makes the communication more direct and pointed (a benefit in itself). It’s an efficient way of reaching busy people.

On the other hand, there is a real cost following someone who doesn’t follow you back. If you have an account where you follow more people than follow you, you are considered a spam account in the eyes of other users. If you follow more than a certain amount of people – say a few hundred – then you are not considered (rightfully) engaged in that person. And let’s not forget the cost to your attention: you get more value out of the Twitter stream when you can consume more of it – meaning, the less accounts you follow, the more engaged you are.

So what’s my point? Unfollow people and start using lists. Don’t be gamed by the Twitter communications platform, and start thinking about what value it can provide to you in your life.

Google Wave will take a generation

google wave logoChris Saad used to ask me questions about tech in enterprise due to my history (I’ve got the battle scars rolling out web2.0 at PwC), but he asked me after he wrote this post. So instead of telling him he’s wrong by email (ironic given the topic), I’m going to shame him to the world!

Why Google Wave will take over ten years to turn into a trending wave
As I previously wrote when the news of Google’s new technology was announced, there is a hidden detail Google hasn’t announced to the world: it requires massive computational power to pull off. It doesn’t take a brain to realise it either – anyone thats used a bloated Instant Messenger (like Lotus Same Time) probably understands this. All that rich media, group chat, real time – Jesus, how many fans are we going to need now to blow the steam generated by our computer processors? Mozilla pioneered tabbed browsing – and it’s still trying to pioneer on the same idea – from your computer crashing when you have more than a few tabs open!

Don’t get me wrong, Google Wave is phenomenal. But it’s only the beginning. The fact Google has opened this up to the world is a good thing. But we need to be realistic, because even if this technology is distributed (like how email is), the question I want to know is how many users can one server support? I’d be surprised at these early stages if it’s more than a dozen (the demo itself showed there’s still a lot of work to be done). Do I have inside knowledge? No – just common sense and experience with every other technology I’ve used to date.

Why Google Wave won’t hit the enterprise in the next 12 months
Now to the point where Saad is *really* wrong. “20% of enterprise users will be using wave in the first 12 months for more than 50% of their comms (replacing email and wiki)“.

chris saad google wave

Yeah right. It’s going to take at least three years, with a stable and mature technology, for this to work. Email sucks, but it also works. IT departments, especially in this economy, are not going to try a new form of communication that’s half working and is not a mass adopted technology (wiki’s are a new thing – there’s a cultural battle still being fought within enterprises).

The real time nature potentially might even scare communications departments. Entire divisions exist in firms like mine, to control the message sent to employees. If you are revealing a message before the final message has been crafted, you’ve given away control to that message – the process now becomes just as important as the final message. I understand this functionality can be turned off, but I’m raising it to highlight how enterprises think.

Google Wave rocks
Again, don’t get me wrong. Google Wave blows my mind. But let’s be realistic here – big ideas take time. It took a while for Google the search engine to domiante. Heck, Gmail has taken nearly a decade to get to the point of being called dominant. And you can fix bugs, deploy software, and roll out sales teams – but sometimes with big ideas, it’s a generational thing.

Wave will dominate our world communications – one day. But not for a while.

Google Wave’s dirty little secret

google wave logoGoogle has announced a new technology that is arguably the boldest invention and most innovative idea to come out in recent years for the Internet (full announcement here).

It has the potential to replace email, instant messenging, and create a new technical category for collaboration and interactivity in the broadest sense. However hidden in the details, is a dirty little secret about the practicality of this project.

Google Wave is transformative, but it also is a technical challenge. If adopted, it will entrench cloud computing and ultimately Google’s fate as the most dominant company in the world.

The challenge in its development
For the last two years, the Google Sydney office has been working on a “secret project”. It got to the stage where the office – which runs the Google Maps product (another Sydney invention) – was competing for resources and had half the office dedicated to developing it. So secret was the project, that only the highest level of Google’s management team in Mountain View knew about it. Googler’s in other parts of the world either didn’t know about it, or people like me in the local tech scene, knew it was something big but didn’t know what exactly.

However although I didn’t know what exactly it was, I was aware of the challenge. And basically, it boils down to this: it’s a difficult engineering feat to pull off. The real time collaboration, which is at the core of what this technology provides, requires computationally a huge amount of resources for it to work.

It needs everyone to use it
Although we are all digging into the details, one thing I know for a fact, is that Google wants to make this as open as possible. It wants competitors like Microsoft, Yahoo and the entire development community to not just use it – but be a big driver in its adoption. For collaboration to work, you need people – and it makes little sense to restrict it to only a segment of the Internet population (much the same like email). Google’s openness isn’t being driven out of charity, but pure economic sense: it needs broad-based market adoption for this to work.

federation_diagram_fixed2

Only few can do it
However, with lots of people using it comes another fact: only those with massive cloud computing capabilities will be able to do this. Google practically invented and popularised the most important trend in computing right now. A trend where the industrial age’s economies of scale has come to play – reminding us that there are aspects of the Information Economy that are not entirely different from the past. What Google’s Wave technology does, is give a practical application that relies on cloud computing for its execution. And if the Wave protocol becomes as ubiquitous as email and Instant Messaging – and goes further to become core to global communications – then we will see the final innings to who now runs this world.

Wave is an amazing technology, and I am excited to see it evolve. But mark my words: this open technology requires a very expensive setup behind the scenes. And those that will meet this setup, will be our masters of tomorrow. Google has come to own us due to its innovation in information management – now watch Act II as it does the same for communications.

Best error message ever (for Data Portability in action)

As we were preparing for the upgrade of DataPortability Project’s website, we realised we needed to close off some of our legacy mailing lists…but we didn’t want to lose the hundreds of people already on these mailing lists. So we decide to export the emails and paste them into the new Google group as subscribers.

I then got this error message.

email permissions

The has to be one of the best error messages I have ever seen. Yes I’m happy that I could port the data from a legacy system/group to a new one, using an open standard (CSV). Yes, I was impressed that the Google Groups team supports this functionality (who I am told is just one Google engineer and are completely understaffed). But what blew me away was the fact Google was able to recognise how to treat these emails.

These particular people have opted to not allow someone to reuse their e-mail, other than the intended purpose for which they submitted it (which was to be subscribed to this legacy Group). Google recognised that and told me I wasn’t allowed to do it as part of my batch add.

That’s Google respecting their users, while making life a hell of a lot easier for me as an administrator of these mailing lists.

I’m happy to be helped out like that, because I don’t want to step on any toes. And these people are happy, because they have control of the way their data is used. That’s what I call “Awesome”.

Search, email and wikis are the catalysts for innovation

A colleague added me to their network of trust on spock, one of the new people search engines, and so I had a play around. Spock and its competitors have come about on the premise that a large amount of search engine traffic is purely due to people: about 7% of all searches are for a person’s name, estimates search engine Ask.com. One percent of the search market is estimated to be worth a billion dollars, so this is a significant market opportunity.

Now take a step back into my mind this year. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about e-mail this past year: first as I explained to people why wikis and blogs are a better way to collaborate than via e-mail; and more recently, as I prepare a whitepaper for January 2008 proposing we replace using e-mail for our corporate communications with RSS. E-mail is the default tool at my firm and its opened up doors to do things we couldn’t do before, but it’s also why we have e-mail overload, as e-mail wasn’t designed to do this.

Can you now see something I am noticing? Established general technologies like search and e-mail – now being replaced by more specific functions. Some would say you are defining a previously unrecognised niche. That is afterall, what is means to be an entrepreneur.

Traditional Search and traditional e-mail are powerful tools. People over-use them to do all sorts of things that they couldn’t do before. As these general tools were adopted, people could experiment and push boundary’s in ways the inventors of the technologies never thought before. And bam – that’s why we have a love hate relationship with e-mail; and why search has become the default industry underlying the web economy. They are doing something we now need; but because they weren’t invented to deal with that specific need, it is more like a blunt tool being used when all is needed is a glass pick.

Innovation is coming
I’ve been told repeatedly that technology should not drive strategy. I agree to some extent. However, I’ve also proved the management at my firm wrong on that point by results. When I proposed a firm wiki, and it was approved, it was taken as a risk. All I needed was that gateway to get in behind the door, and just let it do its magic. I have witnessed first hand when you give people a wiki – or probably better said a mashup enabler – you will see them take to it because they can now do things they never imagined. A general tool like the wiki in its freedom to manipulate the structure, has allowed staff members to create new ways of satisfying their painpoints. Technology should not drive strategy – I agree. But one thing I am convinced of, is that you need to just drop a technology onto a userbase, and let them experiment. Give them the potential to do something – things you never thought they needed – and watch them take to it like honey to a bee. Technology can help drive innovation through (accidental) imagination, which in turn can drive strategy

How does this link with innovation? MacManus has lamented on the lack of innovation on the web. I’m thinking something else. As these general technology tools have been adopted by people, new niches are being discovered. As I responded to MacManus’s article: the guy that invented the wheel was brilliant; but the guy that attached another three was a genius.

Think innovation on the web is dead? I think it’s just starting.