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This is my personal & professional blog.  It's a place for me to think out loud and learn. I'll sometimes talk about things I don't understand as a way to begin to understand them. I'll often be wrong, short sighted, and unclear. When you see this happening, please point it out!

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Saturday
Mar132010

Obama's 2004 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address

In 2004, then first-term Illinois Senator Barack Obama delivered the Keynote Address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention.  In case you forgot, as I did, John Kerry had just won the Democratic Nomination.

I'm not sure how he managed to get the gig.  I'm not sure how much scheming and "what if-ing" he had in mind when he wrote the speech.  I'm not sure if even he, in his wildest dreams, could have foretold what the following decade would bring him.

If you take out any mention of "John Kerry", this speech is Barack Obama running for President in 2004.  In fact, the fundamental themes of Obama's 2008 Presidential campaign are set forth in this speech, 4 years prior: his unlikely story, the power of Hope, that there is one undivided United Sates of America.  Wow!  These themes were already established in his mind, had nothing to do with national polling or what was making news in post-Bush 2008!  What vision!  The question "is America ready for a black President" is nowhere to be found; in 2004, Obama and his vision have already moved past that.

I can't imagine the surprise of the Democratic Leadership or the American People when hearing such a speech.  Did the Democratic Leadership know what was coming?  Could even Obama appreciate the irony of the following line in his speech?

In this election, we offer that choice. Our Party has chosen a man to lead us who embodies the best this country has to offer. And that man is John Kerry.

It's crazy to, as Steve Jobs would say, connect the dots looking back.

The audience absolutely loses it when Obama says the following:

Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us -- the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of "anything goes." Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America -- there’s the United States of America.

The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an "awesome God" in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

 

Thursday
Mar112010

The New Dork

Tuesday
Mar092010

Don't Leave before You're Actually Pregnant!

This is great advice.  From Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook.  

If I thought it would be effective, I would sing this from the rooftops.  Being happy in your career is a pivotal part of happiness.  And working diligently to create and pursue opportunities is REQUIRED.  Needless to say, this isn't advice just for women.  Humans all too often checkout in all aspects of life instead of aggressively making shit happen. 

Last week at work I had a conversation with a woman I will call Jamie. We have a new project, and I offered her the opportunity to be its leader.  She seemed flattered to be asked but then quickly became very hesitant. She told me she wasn’t sure she should take on more right now. Just before she got up to leave, I looked at her and quietly asked, “Are you worried about taking this on because you are considering getting pregnant sometime soon?”

A few years ago I would have been afraid to ask such a direct and personal question. Nothing is more private than the decision to have a child. Bringing up that topic in the workplace feels like a dangerous thing to do.  We are not supposed to show any bias or take childbearing plans into account as we manage people. But after watching talented woman after talented woman let her career go before she actually leaves it, I now ask this question and I ask it directly.

I always give people the option of not answering, but so far, everyone has appeared grateful for a chance to talk.  There is just one reason why I ask–to make sure people aren’t leaving before they leave.

Here is what happens.  An ambitious and successful woman starts considering having children, typically once she finds a domestic partner. She thinks hard about how busy she is and realizes that finding time for a child means something will have to give. As soon as that thinking process starts, she is already looking for ways to scale back. She no longer searches for new opportunities; if any are presented to her, she is likely to decline or offer the kind of hesitant “yes” that gets the project assigned to someone else, just like “Jamie” did last week in my office.

The problem is that even if she gets pregnant immediately, she still has nine months of pregnancy ahead of her, months of maternity leave and then another lengthy period after returning to work to even catch her breath. And since women usually start the thinking process before even trying to conceive, often several years actually pass. By the time she is back to focusing on her career, she is in a radically different place than she was before.

She was always a top performer–always on par with her peers in responsibility, opportunity, and pay. But now she is not. By not finding ways to stretch herself during the years before she has a child, she has fallen behind.

While I don’t believe that the choice to work fulltime and be a parent is the right choice for everyone, it is a wonderful–and often necessary–choice for many people. I also believe that once you have a child, it becomes necessary to make real changes, including potentially deemphasizing your career. But slowing down too early is a mistake that too many women make today, often without even realizing it. Because they sincerely want to stay in the workforce, they try to make room for everything and they slow down–or unconsciously pull back–well before their circumstances actually change. By the time they fully return, they are in jobs that no longer challenge or reward them enough to hold their attention.

I don’t know any women–or men for that matter–who do not have days when they wonder if leaving their children in someone else’s care for their careers is the right thing to do. I know I do. If your job feels less fulfilling because you have been in the same role for too long or are no longer paid comparably to your peers, that choice becomes a hard one to make day after day. One of the tragic ironies for working women today is that the very desire to stay in the workforce leads to decisions that eventually cause them to leave.

No one can know in advance the choices they will make after going through a life change as profound as becoming a parent. But if you want to preserve the option of staying in the workforce and building a career, my advice is simple.  Stay fully engaged, take on new and interesting challenges, and do so until you have a child. Keep your foot on the gas pedal until your life actually changes. Then you can make the decision to keep driving quickly, slow down, or step out of the car.

I joined Facebook as its COO when I had just returned to work from having my second child. The timing was far from ideal. As many people had told me–but I had not believed–having two children was more than double the work of having one. At the time I was not looking for a new opportunity but rather trying to get through each day. But both my husband and I recognized that if I waited until the time was exactly right, the opportunity would be gone. So I jumped in.

I can’t say it was easy. The first six months were a struggle both at work and at home. But now I am settled in, finding just enough balance to make it work, and learning and growing with new responsibilities and challenges.  Looking back, if I hadn’t taken on something new, I might easily have left the workforce by now, because it would not have been worth making the daily tradeoffs to continue in the job I’d held for the previous six years.

There is a broader lesson here that applies not just to women contemplating starting a family, but to anyone trying to plan for the future. Making decisions too early, trying to plan life too carefully, can close doors rather than keep them open. Any time you make a plan, you do it with imperfect information; the further in advance you make that plan, the less information you have. You never know how you will feel or what choices you might face.  Take life one step at a time and don’t make decisions before you have to.

A few months ago we were interviewing a fantastic woman to join Facebook’s Business Development team. After we extended an offer, she came in to ask some follow-up questions about the role. She did not mention lifestyle or hours. But she was the typical age of the people who leave before they leave.  So I shocked her by asking the question no one asks. “Priti,” I said, “I’m sorry for bringing up something so personal, and feel free to tell me you don’t want to discuss it. But just in case you are thinking that you might want to have a child sometime soon and need to stay where you are to have room to slow down, I’d love a chance to tell you why that makes it even more important that you change jobs now.”

Priti accepted our offer. And just a few weeks later, she found out she was pregnant. Her timing could not have been better.

via Elsa Chang and Fortune Blog

Sunday
Mar072010

Hard Decisions are actually Easy!

via Wayne Mak

Thursday
Feb252010

Bloom Energy--Magic or Black Magic?

Watch this!

Is this real?  Or is it magic?  I'm too stupid to know!  What I want to know most of all is this: how did Colin Powell get in on this?  He joined the Board last year!

More links if you're a know-it-all:

Bloom Energy's Website
Bloom Energy on Wikipedia
Bloom Energy on TechCrunch

Monday
Feb152010

Smile, it's Fun-day Monday!

Sunday
Feb142010

Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy

Sunday
Feb142010

IF AIR TRAVEL WORKED LIKE HEALTH CARE

Saturday
Feb132010

Let's Build an Internet Treasure!

Internet treasures are the skyscrapers of the 21st century.  Let's build some!  Everything else is fool's gold.

via Stanford University's Entrepreneurship Corner

Friday
Feb122010

Marketing the Georgia Tech Career Fair

My alma mater, Georgia Tech, is having it's 27th Annual Career Fair.  How awesome!  I thought I'd check out the Career Fair website to explore recruiting GT engineers for my company. 

I land on the Career Fair website and see a heading that says "What Other Employers Have Said" in bold letters.  "Oh yay!", I think, "I wonder what the likes of Google and Boeing and Bose think of GT engineers."  Then I discover the following:

"The Georgia Tech Alumni Career Fair has proven year after year to be one of the best recruiting events in Atlanta for our organization. We have recruited top quality individuals that have outstanding educational and professional experience. Additionally, the career fair is well organized and the GT Event Staff is great at maximizing the experience of face to face interaction with the career seekers. It is the one recruiting event that we don't miss!"
Iris Jackson, Area People Director Waffle House, Inc.

Uhhhhh, whaaat?  Georgia Tech is using testimonials from Waffle House to tout GT engineers?  WAFFLE HOUSE, really?  And even Waffle House puts in a couple qualifiers when describing the utility of the GT Career Fair: "one of the best recruiting events in Atlanta for our organization".  Does that mean the Emory Career Fair is even more fruitful?  And that, outside Atlanta, when the Waffle House heads to MIT, it finds even better engineers?

Thursday
Feb112010

Jim & Pam of The Office

I study the love affair between Jim and Pam of The Office with curious intensity.  I think it’s real.  Or at least, I use it as a proxy for what that stage of love is like.  How are you suppose to feel, think, and behave when you’re getting married?  You’re suppose to get the world’s tiniest Bluetooth headset and listen to your lover’s every conversation?  Ok!  I replay what Jim and Pam say to each other.  I plan out the next steps in their relationship.  I look for my own Dwight Shrute to befriend and prank on a daily basis.  I speculate about potential sources of conflict (you do know that Pam wants to go back to NYC and that Jim will go with her, don’t ya?).  I measure my own relationships against this make believe world.  Pam and Jim have off-days, so can I!

Jim and Pam are in love.  I love how they got there: they fell in love gradually without drama or artifice.  It wasn't love at first sight; it was love built over lots of boring and semi-fun days at the Dunder Mifflin office.

Jim & Pam's passsion for each other is well grounded in reality.  No boob jobs here!  They love each other because they share the same sense of humor and love to make each other laugh!  Jim supports Pam in her aspirations.  Pam supports Jim.  Jim worries about what Pam will think of him buying his parents house.  Jim wants to buy Pam a house.  It's awesome.  It's what two people acting as a single unit is all about.

But honestly, I want more from them.  Once they've realized that the world can give life to their love, how can they live without that same magic, intensity, and joy in other aspects of life?  Now, they don't need to write each other love peoms or adopt an Ethopian orphan and name it Zahara.  Or do anything out of character.  But I do want them to do more.  I want them to have friends that they like and enjoy socializing with.  I want them to thwart the daily lives they find so dumb and boring.  I want Jim to exercise his god-given ability to lead and lead something.  Anything really.  A troupe of girl scouts would do.  I want Pam to give in to her desire for boldness.  I want Pam to admit her love for the big city, move to NYC, and make a go of an art career.  Or at least try to sell her doodles on Etsy.com.  (And, for god sakes Pam, puhlease stop wearing cardigans!)

This post would be remiss without a link to Hulu, so here it is!

Wednesday
Feb102010

Yelp and FourSquare: Is Yelp Cloning the Wrong Company?

Yelp is pretty cool.  And certainly pretty valuable.  Google threw $500 million at it.  Apparently, founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman threw it back.  Instead, Yelp opted for a up-to-$100 million investment from Elevation Partners followed, presumably, by an IPO.

Anyhoo, Yelp has been around for a couple years at this point.  But, as far as I can tell, Yelp has been horribly slow at innovating.  So much so that I assumed Jeremy and his grandma were the only people at Yelp!  But no!  They've got pplz.  Recently, Yelp abashedly or unabashedly cloned FourSquare, enabling users to check-in at restaurants, gyms and OBGYNs.  At first, I thought, "oh awesome, I can check-in when at my OBGYN!" and "Yelp is making shit happen; Go Jeremy's Grandma!"  Then I realized that of the litany of things I wish Yelp did better, none of them was clone FourSquare.

Yelp, you're good at cloning stuff!  That's a great skill to have.  But please clone any of the following companies!  Because they actually make money.

  • GrubHub/SeamlessWeb.  Um, this is so obvious, I feel like a moron for saying it outloud.  One of the most popular uses of Yelp is "ME HUNGRY, FIND RESTAURANT".  How about you add a "GET FOOD HERE" to the end of that?  And while you're at it, make some money on each order?  Grandma gotta get paid.
  • OpenTable.  Um again, so obvious, don't think less of me for suggesting it.  This adds a "GET FOOD THERE" to the end of "ME HUNGRY, FIND RESTAURANT".  OpenTable already IPO'ed.  So you know it's fo real.
  • ZocDoc.  This one may be easy to miss.  But if you talk to my homey Aaron Blackledge at Care Practice (see their awesome blog), you'll get the dilly.  Yelp is the primary source of new patients for him.  ZocDoc adds the "GET DOCTOR'S APPOINTMENT" to the end of "ME HURT, FIND MEDICAL CARE".
  • Groupon.  I love Groupon.  I think it's one of the best businesses I learned about in 2009.  Groupon is "YOU HUNGRY? EAT HERE!".  A great fit for what Yelp has done well (build a trustworthy brand for consumers, build awareness/relationships with tens of thousands of small businesses that they can effectively sell to).

Oh, and if cloning is too hard, how about you use that overvalued stock to buy one of these companies?

PS Osha Thai on 2nd Street=5 stars!

 

UPDATE on 6/3/2010: Yelp agrees with me (well, sort of)!  Yelp hasn't quite cloned OpenTable, but they did decide to outsource to OpenTable.  This isn't quite as good, Yelp!  You'll miss out on the majority of revenue and miss the opportunity to build relationships with restauranters, relationships you can use to extract more money and create more value for them in the future.

Wednesday
Feb032010

Obama--The First Year

About one year ago, I spent a couple days in DC for Obama's Inaguaration.  The event changed me forever.  Because I watched the debates closely, rooted for Obama, and attended the Inaguaration, Obama's story feels to me like I own a piece of it.

Obama's meteoric rise to power is THE entrepreneurial story of 2008.  Right Team + Right Offering + Right Timing = POTUS.  POTUS good god!

Check out the following photos from the past year.  All photos are Official White House photos and by Pete Souza.  Also see photos from the Presidential Campaign.

 

Jan. 20, 2009
“We were on a freight elevator headed to one of the Inaugural Balls. It was quite chilly, so the President removed his tuxedo jacket and put it over the shoulders of his wife. Then they had a semi-private moment as staff member and Secret Service agents tried not to look.”

 

Jan. 21, 2009
“This was his first morning in the Oval Office as President of the United States. He was reading some briefing material before a meeting.”


Jan. 23, 2009
“The President meets with his national security and intelligence team in the Situation Room of the White House for the first time.”

 

July 11, 2009
“When I tell people this is the departure ceremony from Ghana, they ask ‘why is he walking away from the plane.’ His motorcade had just brought him to the airport, and the First Family was walking to the stage where he was to give his farewell remarks."


Nov. 16, 2009
“The President listens during a meeting aboard Air Force One as we flew to Beijing, China.”


Dec. 1, 2009
“The President delivers remarks on Afghanistan before cadets at West Point.”

 

Dec. 9, 2009
“The day we were leaving for Oslo, the President’s first meeting of the morning was with his speechwriting team. He said he had stayed up most of the night writing. I was surprised to see that he had handwritten the entire speech so I made a few close-up pictures as he went over the speech with his aides in the Oval Office.”


Jan. 16, 2010
“President Obama had called on the two former Presidents to help with the situation in Haiti. During their public remarks in the Rose Garden, President Clinton had said about President Bush, ‘I’ve already figured out how I can get him to do some things that he didn’t sign on for.’ Later, back in the Oval, President Bush is jokingly asking President Clinton what were those things he had in mind.”

Wednesday
Feb032010

Let's Be Stupid

Watch this video:

Tuesday
Feb022010

The iPad is Revolutionary, Period.

The Apple iPad is awesome.  And it's going to be a success.  I'm shocked and disappointed in Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, for saying "You might want to tell me the difference between a large phone and a tablet."  Apparently he hasn't seen the video of Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, laughing at the iPhone on launch

Undoubtedly, there's a team at Google, under Eric Schmidt's purview, cloning the iPad right now!

The iPad is NOT evolutionary.  The iPad is revolutionary.  It's transformative.  Here's why:

Number 1:  Touch.  Using a mouse and keyboard is silly and, frankly, arcane.  I feel like a moron doing it.  Have you seen how Data of Star Trek interacts with the Computer?  Touch! 

With the iPhone and iPad, Steve Jobs has transformed computer interfaces forever.  The iPad is internet in your hands.  And you use the internet using your human fingers.  No mouse and keyboard, no stylus.  Apple has bet its future on touch.

This doesn't sound awesome yet.  It didn't even look that awesome when Steve demo'ed surfing NYTimes.com.  But that's because all computer interfaces have been designed to use a keyboard and mouse.  Imagine what multi-touch makes possible on the internet.  You've got 10 mice you can use at the same time!

Number 2: Developers, Developers, Developers.  Apple has built an incredibly talented and vibrant developer ecosystem.  Forget eBooks; this ecosystem will innovate and build killer apps on the iPad.  Here's how they've built this ecosystem:

(1) Stories of developers succeeding are ubiquitous (Max Levchin suggested Facebook get the word out about such stories; he was right, Apple proved it).  This excites developers about building apps for iPhone and, now, the iPad.

(2) There's money to be made.  There's a vibrant advertising market (as demonstrated by Google's acquisition of AdMob and Apple's purchase of Quattro).  More importantly, Apple's marketing of paid apps and seamless integration of payments has shifted user's expectations.  Users expect to pay for iPhone apps that they're unwilling and don't expect to pay for on the Web.

(3) Companies want their own branded iPhone app.  Thousands of companies out there have commissioned iPhone apps.  These are companies that have no business building iPhone apps, companies that often don't have mobile versions of their website.  They just want iPhone apps for the glory!  Even the White House has it's own iPhone app.

I expect this outpouring of resources and cash to continue to fund innovation on the iPad.

 

I really do hope Steve Jobs lives forever.

Saturday
Jan302010

The Story of a Succesful iPhone App

Loren Brichter made Tweetie, a Twitter iPhone client.  It started as a 2 week side project.  And exploded into his focus for 5 months of his life.  Tweetie is a paid only $2.99 iPhone App.

My favorite parts of the video:

There were a couple inflection points in sales:

  1. Press from the Introduction of PEE to Tweetie (Tweetie Fart sounds)
  2. Being featured in iTunes as a Featured App of the Week
  3. Press around the Tweetie 1.3 App being rejected by Apple
  4. Featured on Twitter.com as a Featured App
  5. Press around Tweetie for Mac

(Press is powerful, Large companies like Apple and Twitter discover and support applications by individuals!)

Q: Why did you do it when there were so many competitors?

"Loren: It was stupid in hindsight.  It was ridiculously stupid. I never shouldn't have done it.  But i didn't like anything elset that was out there.  And I thought, crazily enough, that I could do a better job.  I think I got lucky."

Q: What do you do about analytics?

"Loren: I don't do anything.  I don't do any analytics.  I know people do...I don't really feel comfortable with it.  For the iPhone app, all I really know is how many people have bought it."

Kudos to Stanford University for having a class that gets students to build and publish iPhone apps, for inviting Loren to speak, and for posting this on YouTube.

What do you think Loren should do next to take Tweetie/his company to the next level?

Wednesday
Jan272010

The Queen gets All the Good Stuff

Tuesday
Jan262010

Craigslist Slowly being Killed

I've long disliked Craigslist's celebrated approach to running their business and providing value to the world.  I'm inspired to watch startups systematically taking users away from Craigslist and providing better service.

made by Andrew Parker

Monday
Jan252010

The History of Great Men

Every high school in the country should have a course called "The History of Great Men".  This course should pick a handful of men whose achievements are profound.  Men from a variety of disciplines and arts.  And, of course, by "Men", I mean women too.

The course would have these simple goals:

NUMBER 1: Inspire every student to want to make greatness the pursuit of their life. 

Too many high schoolers and Americans and people in general don't know what to do with themselves.  That's good, of course.  How else do you throw off your bowlines and experiment with ideas, arts, possibilities?  But what's UNACCEPTABLE is that too many people do not make greatness the pursuit of their life.  You may not know what you want to do, but you should know you want to make it great.

NUMBER 2: Identify patterns in thinking, behavior, and circumstance among these great men.  That you can emulate them.

In this way, the course would not focus on these men's historical achievements or significance, like so many history courses attempt to.  NO, fuck that!  That doesn't actual teach you how to do anything*.  Rather, the course would give students practical advice about what patterns of behavior lead to what outcome.

This blog post was inspired by Adam Gries who forced me to read Think and Grow Rich.  Every human being who aspires to do anything should read that book.  Buy it here.

*OK, that's hyperbole.

Sunday
Jan242010

A Better IRS. Or at least a Better Intuit.

Why Can't the IRS Help Fill in the Blanks? is an awesome NYTimes Article.  Read it immediately if you haven't already.  I've emailed the author congratulating and thanking him!

Incidentally, I was thinking this exact thing yesterday morning.  As I gather my various 1099s and W2s to put my tax return together, I wonder why the IRS is making all this so hard.  Why isn't the IRS leveraging technology to make filing tax returns cheaper, faster, more accurate, and better prevent tax evasion?

The article also mentions that the tax-preparation software lobby is styming improvements to the process and perpetuating the status quo.  That certainly stinks for the rest of us.  But I wish the folks at Intuit would couple their political activism to maintain their market with some innovation to grow their market and business

Specifically, I wish Intuit would approach Fortune 500 companies, file their W2s to the IRS for them, and then market "60 second tax returns" to the employees of those Fortune 500 companies.  This would make it cheaper for Intuit to acquire customers (those Fortune 500 companies could market to their employees through corporate channels), get more customers (more Fortune 500 company employees will sign up), increase barriers to entry, and perhaps increase their margins (they could charge more for faster returns?). 

If Intuit isn't going to let the IRS become the clearinghouse for information, I wish it would become one.