The circle of startup life

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It’s a sad day in a way – today marks the end of Gist, a company I had the pleasure of working for through its evolution from a scrappy startup pioneering new ways to manage social contacts through its acquisition by Research in Motion – the BlackBerry folks. And it’s a happy (albeit bittersweet) day as well. The end of Gist is a great time to reflect on the nature and purpose of startups – how fickle they are, how fragile, and how magical.

I love startups because they strip away the unnecessary parts of corporate america and focus on putting together a team to address a market and (hopefully) to solve a problem that people (and customers) want solved. Asking customers to hire your startup for the job they want solved – and hearing feedback from them that you solved that job well – is a great rush.

The purpose of a startup is – I think – very simple. The goal is to either build a grand, successful business, attract acquisition potential (and culminate in an acquisition), or to fail – as quickly as possible. That sounds a bit harsh when you put it that way but consider it as an efficient use of capital to make more capital. Along the way there are great relationships built, features created, and features (and products thrown away or pivoted because … sometimes … customers don’t think the way that you do.)

Working in a startup can be quite tiring (even if it’s also amazing.) It’s hard because the impetus to get things done is almost certainly self-driven. Customers will ask you to build features and functionality, and the team is the only driver to actually make that happen. There are always constraints, be they money, time, or people. And the reward for working in that startup is most often the reward of a challenge met, a job (sometimes well) done, and the knowledge that “hey, we did that.” is quite cool.

And surviving and thriving in a startup (or in a small, entreprenuerial business unit after that startup has been successfully acquired) is an ongoing process. There are some days when it’s hard to listen to customers ask you about a feature that’s not done yet; or when you’re not sure what to do next; or when you’d just like more sleep. And there are more days when you look at what’s possible to get done in a brief amount of time with small amounts of resources and the result is nothing short of amazing.

Reboot Cable By Making it All Internet, All the Time

Dear Comcast (and other providers): it’s time to change your model. Creative destruction is the way Cable companies can become more than a mere pipe to the Internet.  Wikipedia defines this term, first coined by philosopher Joseph Schumpeter, by stating: “innovative entry by entrepreneurs was the force that sustained long-term economic growth, even as it destroyed the value of established companies and laborers that enjoyed some degree of monopoly power derived from previous technological, organizational, regulatory, and economic paradigms.”  Cable must change by offering a la carte programming to subscribers whereever and whenever they are, or Netflix, Hulu, Apple, or Amazon may leapfrog it by being able to offer the customer choice and convenience.

Having just re-enabled my Netflix subscription after a few years away, I think that the only place Cable companies can compete successfully is in the realm of sports.  Movies, TV shows, and other events have already time-shifted (and paradigm-shifted) to being available on partner web sites or individually available through services like iTunes.  So how can Cable compete? Imagine a world where, NFL Gamepass (not available in the US), and ESPN3 are available for a bundled price along with an Cable Internet package.  Comcast has already stuck a toe in the water here by offering ESPN3 to its subscribers through Single Sign-on (SSO).

The genius of Netflix is that the company uses Single Sign-on (in a very simple way) and builds intelligence into its clients so that the experience is optimized for the platform you choose to use.  Stream content on an iPhone, through a Wii, or through your computer, and the result is not quite perfect, but it’s most of the way there.  As compression algorithms improve, broadband speeds increase, and computer processor speeds grow, Netflix wins.  It’s much easier to use than other methods like BitTorrent (you know all of your content is legal) or iTunes (you don’t have to download the content and it’s a familiar “all-you-can-eat” model.

Cable companies will complain that the quality of service is lousy, that the public won’t like the potential technical challenges, and that the rights management and fees don’t add up to positive economic gain.  Yet events like this year’s World Cup broadcast over Univision and ESPN3 garnered millions of viewers around the world who were clearly engaged enough, technically savvy, and football-crazy to watch whereever they were. And if Comcast is losing a customer like me (I am a technically savvy, lucrative customer, who left because I couldn’t make their Video On Demand (VOD) service work the way I needed it too for my family), it’s not a good sign.

Now’s the time to open up the door to other live channels, yet simply change the transport mechanism so that we can watch the channels we want, at the time we want, and on the devices we want, without having to add the overhead of all of the silly channels no one watches.  Make Cable an actual free market experiment and let the pricing on events float (within a range), offering high-quality replays for less money, and I’m sure that most people will end up spending far more per month than they did under the old, monolithic, “bundling” model.  I’m still using a set-top box: it’s just that now that box is a Wii or a Blu-Ray player, running Netflix.

Will it Blend? Apple Brand Cannibalization and New Opportunities

It’s a crazy internet meme — you’ve probably seen the Blendtec guy already — but when I saw him destroy an iPad today, it gave me an idea. Blendtec’s literal blending of an iPad made me think of the way Apple has aggressively cannibalized its own lucrative markets to provide greater opportunity.

Think about it. Since the iPod launched, Steve Jobs has been on a path of brand destruction. With each successive iteration of the iPod, to the introduction of the iPhone and its variations, the iMac and MacBook Pro computers, and now the iPad, one thing has been in common: make sure the customer buys more of our stuff before they buy more of anybody else’s stuff. Brilliant idea, if you’ve got the product to back it up, and you’ve got the customer trained to believe in planned obsolescence.

Continue reading “Will it Blend? Apple Brand Cannibalization and New Opportunities”

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