Double down? Spin in? New questions for a new economy » VentureBeat
Spin-in = company founded by a parent, which is ‘spun in’ (reabsorbed) is things go well.
(tags: spin-in investment vc)
I have commented recently on the newly-commonplace coldbloodedness that all the gung ho entrepreneurs and investors are spouting, where an eagerness to cut the throats of employees is now seen as a mandate from heaven and a civic virtue. As I twittered a few weeks ago:
@khartline I am sick of the macho ‘shoot the stragglers’ rhetoric the VC/CEO cult is chanting now, like there is virtue in coldbloodedness.
The indominable Halley Suitt takes exception to a recent post by Glenn Kelman, in which he has internalized the bloodthirsty self-congratulatory tone that is endemic in Silicon Valley these days — ‘hire slow, fire fast’ — while never mentioning taking a pay cut himself:
[from The First-Time CEO’s Recession Survival Guide by Glenn Helman, comment by Halley Suitt
CEO’s who earn 5x the salary of the guys they are firing should also figure out something about loyalty — the CEO should be the FIRST ONE to step up to the plate to take a cut in pay.
If you earn $250K annual and you’re going to show your board how macho you are by firing 5 people who earn $50K and not taking a pay cut yourself, you’re a jerk, and so are the people on your board — why not rethink it — save at least four of the best people by cutting your own salary to $50K and retaining your staff. The ROI in tough times by staff loyalty and your increased “good guy” reputation will be impressive. Be a mensch.
I don’t see much of THAT type of courage in Silicon Valley lately. All this bravado about cutting back and getting ready for hard times rarely includes the leader taking a hit … prove me wrong if this is not the case.
Another woman bucking the trend is Mary Hodder, who likewise jumped in on the guest post by Helman:
After you are a first time CEO (you can only be that once) you never look at employees the same way again. You may have had employees report to you before, but you weren’t in charge of all aspects of the company before the CEO position, as well as their livelyhoods.
People are relying on you to pay the bills, and make things stable enough that they can focus on their jobs.
I agree with Halley about CEOs having the courage to take a pay cut to retain people. When CEOs gloat publicly about laying people off as though they are doing something great for the company, I have the same reaction: did you take a pay cut, to help the company, the economy and your people along by being able to retain one or two of the staff you were going to lay off?
I find those announcements about layoffs by startups appalling because they don’t come with the CEO announcing his or her own paycut and explanation that they managed to keep one more person employed in a tough economy. There is balance and morality, where we need to staff as leanly as possible, but also think about how the economy grinds to a halt with high unemployment? For many of the startups that Techcrunch covers, who rely to some degree on ads/pageviews and consumer revenues to create their businesses, they are actually contributing to the economic problem when they lay people off.
Laying people off is not something to gloat about. It’s something to take seriously and show balance. morality and thoughtfulness for the company, the employees, and the economy going forward, as well as your own sacrifice.
To be fair to Helman, he never discusses a paycut, one way or the other. What Suitt and Hodder suggest is that before firing people, the CEO should look to make whatever cuts can be made — in expenses, salaries, investments — first.
There is a certain cavalier and MBAish attitude in tech — and perhaps throughout American business as a whole — where the senior execs are viewed as the stars of startups, and the engineers and other staff are considered dancers in the chorus line that can be swapped in and out like so many interchangeable pieces in an assembly line. Economy falters? Turn the dial down. Upturn in fortune? Turn the dial up.
What has been lost is the social contract between a business leader and the people that work for the business. Start-up CEOs believe that their primary social contract is with the investors, and maybe a small circle of founders. The other employees are treated like Aeron chairs or conference tchotchkes. A necessary expense; a means to an end.
A sharp downturn in the economy — like crises in general — can certainly bring people’s core psychological beliefs out into the open. In the Valley, we are seeing a surge in social darwinist rhetoric, with the implicit message being that this new underclass — those poor schlubs being laid off from panicked, cash poor start-ups — have no one to blame but themselves. After all, they are picking the underperformers, right?
But the back story is the story. While the VCs and CEOs spin out interviews and panel sessions in which a sharp knife and a clean conscience read like a Greek morality play with the executives and investors as the heroes, the reality is much bigger. The gyrations of the managerial class — and the efforts they take to deaden their feelings — are just as much a tragedy as the outcome of their actions.
Me.dium, the social search plugin (see Social Search: Google And Me.dium), has relaunched its technology and branding as OneRiot. They have dropped the plugin part, and are using the base technology to support a search page, with results based on the actions of all the folks who are using their new browser search bar. Basically, they are now scouring the web for the most sensationalist breaking news. They have ‘gone Las Vegas’, churning up all the paparazzi news about Madonna and Hulk Hogan’s divorces, three headed kittens, Walmart employees trampled on Black Friday, and a girl injured by a dropped electric saw:
OneRiot.com - electric saw dropped on girl, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.
I look at OneRiot with a certain sick fascination.
Kimbal Musk of OneRiot and I spoke last week. I said basically that I didn’t get it: there’s a million places to find hot breaking news stories on the web. Musk maintains that people want to know what is hot right now, not getting Google links to old info about Madonna, but the new stuff.
Maybe. But I think that this could just be a feature that Google could whomp into search over the weekend. A search option: show me the stuff getting the most attention right now.
PS Along the same lines, Cuil.com’s numbers are plummeting from a record 2M in July down to 250k in October.
Meanwhile, I don’t see anyone complaining that the old Me.dium is gone. That radar screen metaphor just didn’t work. So we add Me.dium to the deadpool, and put OneRiot on deathwatch.
I was wandering through my applications folder, trying to take out the trash. I couldn’t even remember what Chirp was. I clicked and it opened up, and started by displaying a spinning arrow. Nothing happened.
A quick search led me to discover that Chrip was a social networking based app, a screensaver that would display Flickr pictures and Facebook posts from friends. It is dead now, shut down by Comcast who cannibalized some of its technology:
While Chirp has launched applications that combine social networking with media consumption, thePlatform said it will not continue Chirp’s existing services, but will instead build new community and content discovery features using Chirp technology into its media publishing system.
This happened in the summer and I missed it all.
Marko Ahtisaari pinged me the other day, letting me know that the public tips in Dopplr are now being displayed as a sort of social atlas:
DOPPLR: San Francisco, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.
Here’s what they say at the Dopplr blog:
A few weeks ago we mailed everyone who had contributed a tip to Dopplr and asked if they would prefer to keep what they had posted private to only Dopplr members, and we’re happy to say no-one chose to - so the collective intelligence of Dopplr is available to everyone on the web to help them travel smarter.
Of course, this works both ways, and we hope of course that more people find Dopplr this way and choose to participate to make our social atlas more comprehensive.
So that’s the useful stuff, but perhaps the most noticeable, eyecatching thing about the new pages is the inclusion of Creative-Commons-licenced photography of the world’s cities powered by Flickr.
I recently stumbled upon Edmodo, which is a clever and lean microstreaming application designed for education. The basic premise is that teachers can signup, and invite students to ‘groups’ (which should be called ‘classes’, I guess).
One of the things that is attractive about Edmodo is that there is not very much you can do. Teachers can create groups (presumably equivalent to classes), and then, in the context of groups, they can create events (tests, etc.), assignments, upload files, create links, and post notes, replies, and alerts. Students have more limited capabilies: they can post notes, send messages, upload files, and create links. Oh, and respond to assignments created by teachers.
These posts all stream by in the group, and in the personal stream of all the participants who have access to them.
A Shallow Dive
Here’s an assignment I created in a teacher account for a group called ‘/Message’. Note that only students can take on and complete assignments, and as a result, a teacher can’t use assignments as a way to track tasks for themselves.
edmodo | home, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.
I think Edmodo should incorporate a task or to-do post, since there are other things that need to be tracked, not just assignments to be turned in. Students and teachers alike could then create tasks for themselves to help plan and accomplish work.
Here’s an example of how the simple ‘reply-to’ feature allows groups to coordinate:
edmodo | home, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.
Teacher invite the students by sending a code, presumably by email, which the students use to join the assigned groups. Then the students sign up with the code, or join the group if they already have an account.
Direct messaging between individuals is supported, and teachers can alert groups: basically a group dm.
But another limitation is that only teachers can create events. That might be alright if students can create tasks for themselves, but otherwise the benefit of a calendar in the application is really diminished if only teachers can add items to the calendar. Here’s the calendar view:
edmodo | calendar, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.
Edmodo supports making posts within groups public, which then are published as completely accessible HTML pages on the web, but only the creator of the group can mark posts as public. Likewise, there is an RSS feed associated with the public posts from each group.
I admit I have some self-interested notions to consider the application of Edmodo outside the educational context it so carefully has been designed for. Imagine its use in the slapdash world I live in. I really want a lightweight microstreaming application to coordinate with others, and not for the purposes of education. And I think Edmodo could serve.
I experimented with having multiple ‘teacher’ accounts, and teachers can join groups created by other teachers. And in that context, all the teachers can do everything: post notes, direct message others, create events, make assignments, and send alerts. The only thing missing are tasks, and/or the ability to assign work to yourself. And again, only the creator of a group can mark something as public.
To use Edmodo instead of something like Basecamp or Backpack (the latter is what I have been using most recently) seems feasible, but I really want tasks, and a little text styling.
In recent months, I did a deep dive into Drop.io, which I had to drop: I returned to using Backpack, but the lack of replies to posted notes in Backpack is simply crazy, as is the chronological display of posts. I am going to give Edmodo a test, and see where it leads.
So, in essence, Edmodo — when all the members of a group are ‘teachers’ — provides a simple, lightweight, and free microstreaming application that is designed for education, but can be redirected to more general purposes.
The ripples from my recent stolen Mac episode continuing to spread. I changed a number of passwords, including to Typepad, just in case. And it was only today, when I noticed that Delicious didn’t seem to be posting my bookmarks to Typepad, that I remembered that I had to update the password in the Delicious settings. Of course, Delicious didn’t alert me to the fact that posts were failing, either.
I know it’s my fault, but it’s just dumb not to alert the user. Whoever is managing Delicious these days should note this down. Having a message like the following buried deep in the bowels of Delicious is not enough:
[11/27/08 09:00:03 AM -0800] Creating blog post at http://www.typepad.com/t/api …ERROR: Failed due to General Exception: Curl returned non-null errno 52:Empty reply from server
And, oh, by the way: when I enter the new password, that would be a good time to verify if it works, not in the middle of the night 12 hours later.
I wish my stolen Mac had a program like this on it:
[from Notebook Security]
Known as the Lenovo Constant Secure Remote Disable, it was a joint effort with Phoenix Technologies, and sending the text message “lockdown PC now” or “PC shut off” to the PC’s onboard mobile broadband service will automatically prevent unauthorized access to the computer’s data. Should the notebook be off when the disable command is sent, it will automatically shut down the next time it is powered on. The moment the notebook enters protection mode, users can receive a confirmation text message.
Why couldn’t a simple, inconspicuous app do a similar thing? Every time a PC starts up, it could poll a web service to see if it should incapacitate the system, or change the password, or any number of things. Would be a nice backup in case of theft.
The project management site, MyQuire, is being acquired and shut down, I was informed today by email from “David, Michael, and the MyQuire Team”.
Looks like 7tasks, a ‘free lightweight simple to use to do list application’ (eHub) has joined the deadpool.
Apparently, the now ancient discussions between Yahoo and Time Warner about the possible acquisition of AOL by Yahoo are still moving along, glacially. Kara Swisher reports that the deal is stalled by a gap of a billion in price:
Yahoo wants to pay about $3 billion to $4 billion dollars, while Time Warner wants $5 billion to $6 billion.
As for AOL, it is continuing to make cuts of lots of stuff that has not worked and streamline itself for what most expect will be an eventual sale, including lopping off its money-generating access business from its advertising, content and communications one.
The Thing With Two Heads, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.
So, if it is a good fit, why doesn’t Yahoo make the move? Are they afraid that it will be a thing with two heads, as opposed to an integrated whole? Time Warner definitely wants out. Shouldn’t they be able to split the difference? I am predicting this will happen.
Brian Solis is announcing our MicroPR project, which is intended to make things easier — and more concise — for bloggers, analysts, and journalists who are trying to collaborate and coordinate. We are harnessing Twitter as the premier microstreaming platform.
As Brian explains it:
[from Introducing MicroPR, A PR Resource for Journalists, Analysts and Bloggers on Twitter]
Bloggers, journalists, analysts, when you need help with a story:
1. Send a public message on twitter to @MicroPR.
2. Your tweet will automatically retweet from the MicroPR account to the PR and communications professionals monitoring the stream or the feed.
3. A knowledgeable PR person following the #MicroPR feed will see your individual request and respond directly via your preferred channel.
Basically, you’re inviting the community to help crowdsource elements of your story to streamline the process of story development, reducing research time and improving its quality and accuracy.
Tip: try to keep your request under 140 characters as the Twitter community may also retweet your request through their personal accounts.
Tip #2: Share @micropr with your entire editorial department and community. The process will only improve the more you use it.
Public Relations, either follow #MicroPR or subscribe to the RSS feed on Twitter. You can also run active searches for “@MicroPR” on Search.Twitter.com or TweetScan.
This approach builds on the ad hoc #twitpitch technique I began advocating next year, but turns it into more of an open dialogue, with the greater community. I think we still need a similar process for twitpitches. Hey, Brian? Can we get on that, please?
Ben Rattray, the CEO of Change.org, asked me to submit a proposal for the Ideas For Change In America that will be delivered to President-elect Obama is some fashion. My proposal is an outgrowth of something I wrote the other day at /Ground, the sister blog to /Message, about Slow Money (see The Slow Money Movement: Demassifying Retail). Here’s the proposal:
Many economists have researched the way that major chains impact local economies. When people buy local, they not only have the opportunity for a direct interaction with owners that live in their communities, but their dollars circulate in the local economy three or four times before being dispersed in the larger economic net: slow money. Local stores and services rely on other local businesses more than chains do, so this is a virtuous cycle that enriches the local economy, creating social capital as well as reinforcing economic and social relationships, and leading to stronger, resilient, and more diverse communities.
President-elect Obama should carefully structure his economic stimulus package so that it builds on slow money basics. Specifically, he should consider providing tens of thousands of small, kickstart grants to small businesses — to winterize homes, start local food initiatives, and repair infrastructure — and these grants should have added incentives to use other small businesses when needed. He should avoid large block projects handed to large multinationals, like GE or Bechtel. We need a bottom-up slow money revolution
- Stowe Boyd (Front Man for The /Messengers), San Francisco, CA Nov 24 @ 01:23PM PST
I thought the community at /Message would be interested in both the topic as well as the way that Change.org is handling the aggregation and filtering of the many proposals being offered up. They have incorporated a voting system, where people can — once they have registered with Change.org — vote on ideas in various categories.
They are planning multiple rounds, and at this moment, Slow Money is in the running to make it to the second round. Go take a look, and please vote for Slow Money“>Slow Money if you are inclined.
The word is that Apple is planning a big discount on Apple product this Black Friday, starting at midnight Thursday. I am in the market for a replacement for my new Macbook unibody, since the last one was nabbed in Paris two weeks ago.
Apple’s Black Friday, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.
I wonder though: what are the deals going to be like after Christmas, if the economy doesn’t bounce back? I will have to weigh that carefully when I finally hear what the deal is. The Bestbuy offer this week wasn’t that aggressive, after all.
Fred Wilson mentioned a real breakthrough in the use of Twitter — and by extension, other microstreaming applications. The guys at Stocktwits (see Twitter Is The New Bloomberg) have created a Firefox extension that makes ‘tickers’ — the acronyms associated with stocks — active links pointing to the corresponding pages at Stocktwits.
As Fred puts it, this makes Twitter smarter:
[from Making Twitter Smarter]
This gets me excited. Because someone could do so much more with this idea. We have a few companies that are trying to extract meaning out of content on the web.
What if they and others put out similar extensions? Then twitter would get smarter. The links that people send around on twitter are one of the best things about the service. It’s like a live collaborative RSS reader. But if every tweet had links in that were added semantically, then we’d really have something.
Yes, that would be great.
But this is a rickety approach: people don’t want to add a plugin for every possible use of links within Twitter, and not everyone uses Firefox. And many people get their tweets from a client on the desktop.
The real solution is for Twitter to add this functionality into the platform, and allow members of the ecosystem to collaborate around this metaphor. This opens a big door for Twitter’s business model, because those partners would be willing to pay for the links to lead people from the open discourse on Twitter to their websites, These ‘hot tags’ could be a huge source of value to the community, and a way to make serious money for Twitter.
Also note that the same mechanism could be used for benign sorts of advertising. For example, I could be live twittering a conference, and the hashtag could be sponsored by the event, and could point to the event’s website instead of to hashtags.org, or whatever.
I have recently been bumping into all sorts of new parenting tools, and not because I am a parent myself. My sons, Keenan and Conrad, are pretty far along: Keenan is in college in Chicago, and Conrad is in his senior year of high school. While I have indulged in a moderate among of parental frenzy over the years — six years of soccer coaching, karate lessons, innumerable photographs — my kids early days were really before the Web 2.0 revolution had started. So when I look over various offerings around today, it is as a knowledgeable outsider, rather than as a young parent wondering what to name little Junior who is on the way.
What A Lovely Name
I bumped into What A Lovely Name only today, which turns out not to be very social, but worthy of a quick mention, because naming babies is one of the first things we all have to grapple with in parenting.
Keenan | What a Lovely Name, The perfect name for your baby., originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.
I discovered that my older son Keenan is not bearing a name of Irish tradition (which it is), but is firmly in the African-American side of things. Hmmm. He’s not going to be mistaken for a brother, and considering we were thinking of Keenan Wynn, it’s funny. Perhaps if he switched to the more Irish spelling of Cianán?
The only thing that WALN does aside from a tag-based narrowing down on names — choosing ‘wise’, ‘leader’, ‘strong’, ‘intelligent’ led to 1 name, Guaresh, for example? — is a connection to Zazzle to allow parents to buy stuff with Junior’s name on it. Thud.
I was hoping for a way to share the naming ideas with friends, to socialize it.
L’il Grams, developed by my close friend Greg Narain, starts up immediately after the baby is born, or close to it. But there doesn’t seem to be a way to mull over Junior’s name with friends. You in fact use the baby’s name as the subdomain in the site. But, everything after that is captured in a Tumblr blog fashion, the baby’s firsts, measurements, photos, videos, different foods, and stories from the child’s early days.
Lil’Grams, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.
You can see that this product is designed for young parents sharing baby’s earliest days with friends and family. The various post types make it easier to keep up with baby’s doings. Here’s a First post:
Lil’Grams: Your Baby’s Memories In Real Time, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.
And you can sense the easy migration into a subsequent product, for kids heading for toddler stage, or school years, with post types for classes, athletics, theater, friends, pets. Greg is on to something here.
I am glad I didn’t continue in my attempts to make Rael Dornfest’s Stikkit personal organizer work, because he’s joining Twitter, and Ev Williams and company are retiring Stikkit and Ask Sandy, an email tool, that Rael’s Values of N company had developed.
Rael has a strange genius about the tinkery edges of personal productivity, so I bet he’ll be cooking up some magic streamflow at Twitter.
Lars Hinrich, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.
Some of you may recall my ‘experiential marketing’ project with Xing a few years ago, where i tried — week after week, for two months — to use Xing as a social networking tool. I was stymied by both the bureaucratic mindset of the company and the poor design of the site. Check out a few of my posts about the experience, which started before OpenBC changed its name to Xing (search page here).
At the time, it seemed to be a very German-oriented experience, and to some extent, the project I was involved in was intended to get more awareness in the US market, but when 90% of the user base is in Europe, and many were communicating in other languages, it was a hard hard sell, considering the notion is business networking.
All of that is a fitting prelude to the news that Lars Hinrich is stepping down as CEO, and that he will be replaced by Stefan Gross-Selbeck, now head of eBay Germany.
I wonder if Gross-Selbeck’s appointment means that they are finally going to wake up to what is happening outside Germany, or will they take a defensive approach, and try to hold onto Germany from depredations by others, specifically Linkedin? Perhaps it is step one in a plan to sell the company?
I hope that Obama’s financial advisors can carve out some time to think about the future — once they tackle the enormous slag heap that the financial markets are today — and invite forward looking brainiacs like Fred Wilson to sit at the table. He recently suggested that the regulations that block individual investors from investing in innovative startups are the same ones that led to the market disaster we are suffering right now. We need some new thinking.
[from Getting A Piece Of My Action by Fred Wilson]
I’ve written extensively that we need a secondary market for privately held shares of venture backed companies that want or need to stay private. This is already happening with Facebook shares and it’s going to happen with the shares of other privately held companies going forward. The public markets have failed to solve this problem so it’s going to get solved in some other way.
We also really ought to find a way for small investors who know what they are doing to place a small bet on a company they really like. And companies like Boxee and Twitter could really benefit from that too.
This is the year that the banking and brokerage industries have completely let us down. They have failed to invest our money wisely. And the regulators who set the rules, the very regulators who make sure that no reader of this blog can invest in one of our deals, have allowed that to happen.
I am pining for a new regulatory regime. One that values small over big, individual decision making over institutional decision making, and innovation and the future over protecting the past. [emphasis mine] And a test for that new regulatory regime is whether the people who are participating in the creation of a new technology and industry can actually profit from it without having to do what I do.
I am baffled with all the Six Apart restructuring — launching an ad network, building Blogs.com — that basic stupidities in the Typepad UI never seem to get fixed.
Consider the Typelists, so-called, that are provided so users can ‘easily’ add information to their sidebars. I have one called Events, and I would like to be able to update events that I will be attending. However, there is no way to reorder elements in a Typelist, so the ‘ease of use’ is a fallacy.
All Records | Events | Your Lists | TypePad, originally uploaded by Stowe Boyd.
Imagine I have created an entry for events in Feb 08. It is automatically posted on the site, so that much is easy. If I then want to add, say a week later, entries for Jan 09, I can create a new entry, but I can’t reorder them. If I want a different order, I have to manually move the contents of the entries around. This is insane in 2008.
Hey guys, there’s this thing called Ajax?
Along these lines, the company has announced Typepad Connect, which is an effort to compete with Disqus and IntenseDebate, which I applaud. However, users like me who have abandoned Typepad’s native commenting system can’t experiment in the beta test of Connect, because Six Apart hasn’t yet developed the ability to transition from Disqus to Connect. While converting from native Typepad comments is ‘only a few clicks’ for me it is likely to require hacking my templates and using some as yet unavailable import/export tool.