Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hello, goodbye

Yesterday, the CEO of a fast growing fashion site, Polyvore, (which the team at Plumwillow closely watches) announced she was leaving the Company. She led the organization for all of 7 months.

Well connected and experienced in managing fast growing operations, on paper she must have been an ideal fit. As was the former president of Google's Asia/Pac and Latin American operations she must have been vetted by such well respected Polyvore VC's as Matrix and Benchmark, it makes you wonder how did this happen?

I've made this type of mistake before too. In my case, the error was in placing too much emphasis on background and experience, and not enough weight on fit with the current culture and team. I have found that when an 'outsider' is brought into a leadership role in a fast growing situation, it's so tempting to come with a perspective that the growth is 'in spite of doing so much wrong'. Rather than embracing the things that are going well, arch focus is turned to being a change agent. Lacking context, this can be a dangerous approach to having the founding team follow your vision and execution. It leads to a growing cancer which must be excised. Either the founders, or the new recruit must go.

In Apple's case, they fired Steve Jobs. Eric Schmidt deserves great kudos for navigating this dynamic at Google. John Shirley did the same at Microsoft.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

MobilEco Summit

I attended/spoke at this series of round tables put on by Plugged In Ventures. Speakers from Google, MSFT, the WSJ, Time, and Hot Potato were there too. Following are some of my recollections of interesting observations:

Mobile adoption by brands is being slowed by lack of access to reliable data which is compounded by the difficulty of combining with legacy CRM systems into a holistic data store.

Mobile ad spending is still in the 'experimental' bucket for major brands. Initial euphoria over landing a major brand should be tempered by the fact that today, thousands of mobile vendors are now vying for less than 5% of the budget.

Mobile, is the 'connective tissue'. For advertisers, the promise of combining buys across multi-mediums is alluring (e.g. per Time, Inc, 2/3 of their sales invoices involve cross platform buys:

*in store promotions

Google says that 1 in 5 searches from computers are location related; 1 in 3 on mobile devices.

The tablet is a wild card, participants were split as to whether behavior is more like a phone or a computer. The WSJ says that its tablet subscriber behavior is most similar to physical reading, than the phone.

For corporations building a mobile application is a fraction of the cost commitment to maintaining, tracking and updating the ecosystem associated with it.

With the recent debate over whether the web is dead (supplanted by the resurrection of applications) many comments were made about the role of applications. As expected, with nearly 300,000 applications in Apple's application store, distribution/discovery were cited as real issues. This discussion brought me back 10 years to early internet and debates on how will people find your site....probably the same solutions.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Steve Jobs is right to not pollute the iPhone with Verizon

I have had second thoughts about moving to the Android based Samsung Galaxy phone on Verizon. In fact, I made a mistake and will soon drop it and am destined to become yet another iPhone fan boy. Let me explain why.

For the past 9 years I have been a Blackberry user but as my usage moved from one centered around inputting data (email) and towards consumption of information (the web), it was time to move to a device with a modern browser, a robust application store, and a screen supportive of reading average web sites without performing unnatural contortions.

I watched the Android's market share explode as they steadily improved their OS and was enthralled by the Samsung Galaxy demo where they showed the Avatar movie in great splendor. With all that love, however, I was brought face to face with the Verizon UI monster. It takes three separate steps to reach your first main application screen, there you are greeted with a 4x4 of 16 icons, none requested by you, and none removable by you. For me, only 4 had any relevance.

Tetris, at one point was of keen interest to me, however, to have a free to play and pay to version on my page one...with no option to kill it is far worse than Dell loading my PC with removable 'crapware'. Joining Tetris, is ThinkFreeOffice, VCast Music, NFS Shift and other 'essential' applications that are designed to make Verizon money, while polluting my experience. People may not like Apple for deciding what's good for you by denying companies permission to post in the Application Store, however, I contend that it's far worse to have someone dictate your applications and leave you with no recourse.

I won't even get into the reality that Bing is the default browser and you have no obvious way to switch providers. This is sorta counter to what Android is all about; open software, choice, the bazaar over the cathedral. Android's freedom to customize met it's Master.

While writing this, I received a call from ATT wireless, it was a survey about why I left. In the midst of answering the questions, I interrupted the surveyor and asked her to refer me to a salesperson as I have reconsidered and want to reinstate my standing. Well, to no surprise, it was not her department and I was given an 800 number to reach a rep.

Sigh, back to the frying pan from the fire.

Monday, September 13, 2010


While the number of venture capital firms shrink, and a double whammy is upon the industry as the dollars allocated to the asset class are reduced at a greater amount, we seem to be in the midst of a profound change in the Information technology industry which is poised to create great value for users and shareholders too. As the micro revolution dwarfed the mainframe market, and the internet blew the doors off the micro software equity returns, the shift to mobile and social seem predestined to greatly eclipse its ancestors.

Here's some data from Morgan Stanley Research to support the magnitude of the shift:

The tablet forecast for '11 was just raised from 37mm to 50mm units; this is a market that really did not exist 6 months ago.

Tablets are slowly cannibalizing PC's in the consumer market and vitualization is attacking the enterprise numbers (albeit with 375mm units expected to ship in '11). Importantly, iPad users view 3x the page views of iPhone users, a rate which is nearly equal to the page views presented to desktops.

Bberry internet usage is 10% of iPhone usage...

Daily Android phone activations have reached 200,000 worldwide, Yes, daily.
Daily iPhone activations have reached 150,000 worldwide...daily iPad shipments are near 100,000

Per IDC:

In the past 7 quarters, Android's mobile market share has gone from zero to 16%; Blackberry is 18%;Apple is 15% (They are the only folk only on one network.....it's really hurting them now and the opening of the platform to Flash and other applications is but a minor course change).
Symbian (Nokia) is the leader with a 40% market share....but it's in free fall.

Oh, MSFT is mired at a 7% market share. Worse than that, I can't imagine folk are downloading a host of their applications or web properties to non-msft devices. Despite massive internal investments, they've lagged for 5 years and, if they don't act, will lose the window (hehehe). Therefore, I really expect them to use their capital to change the game, and to do it quickly; and smartly.

The platform changes predestine application shifts that are even greater. Today's New York Times speaks to the shift from the web back to applications. Mining location, relationships and history to deliver relevance is a real win for all. Exposing the 'implicit' web is scary, yet energizing. I suppose you don't have to look much deeper than Coca Cola's page on Facebook to see the unrealized potential. 13mm 'friends', and a whole new challenge how to create a win/win for these relationships to thrive.