A Subordinated Debenture for the Venture Challenged

From the Series, ‘Down and Out in Silicon Valley’.

(Names and locations changed to preserve the privacy of those involved).

I was daydreaming, as usual, at my desk in San Mateo. I rented a room in a small house with a nice garden tended by a non-antagonistic female room mate. My self employed ways didn’t bother this stalwart member of the technology working class; Victoria worked as an HR / executive assistant at a tech venture in Palo Alto, which gave her regular hours, and gave me leave to scream and curse over the phone, at the walls, and to myself, as the muttering tended to rise in volume as the day wore on.

I could also have meetings at the house, and pretend that I owned it, thus feigning a normal life, i.e., that I was NOT broke, that I have NOT squandered 6 months of lucrative consulting income on the ThruDispatch venture with no progress or code assets to show for it, and finally, I had NOT wasted most of the last nine months (since my last paycheck) either pitching, trying to build a team, or trying to get consulting work. This was all a front; I was, as the title of the series suggests, down and out and selling  my toys and other assets. Thankfully, three months of very lucrative meat and potatoes work came swinging through via a recruiter in integrated manufacturing  – one of my vertical IT standard specialties.

In my work as a product strategy analyst, my fortunes can, and often do, change in a single phone call. But it’s cold here in San Mateo, and my insistence at pushing ThruDispatch down the throat of the selfsame groups who assign value to temporal and ephemeral social media has not served me as well as I had hoped.
There are no warm feelings for the lone visionary, despite the best intentions of the self-styled Business Bootstrapping Blogger Brigade, their ministrations make my end-of-year that much more discouraging.

Back to my erstwhile daydream, more a flashback, for the event took place only six weeks ago:

(Harp Arpeggio….~~~~~)

Why did Arnaud Roland, the Senior Adviser of the Los Altos Technology Incubator, spend so much time trying to get a team of developers interested in ThruDispatch without a chance of recompense (it seemed at the time)? The mezzanine functional requirements of the system were, admittedly, much more complex than a typical bootstrap web startup. Was Roland just an enthusiastic dispatch work-flow groupie? Or, was there a connection with Hiryu Wattanabe, the father of errant  Hank, the troubled software engineer?

I knew that Mr. Nabe (his familiar nickname), was fabulously wealthy, that he had a son in desperate need of place and companion, and this loving dad of dads would spend whatever to deliver happiness to his son. I also knew he was contributing each year to programs tangentially connected to the business incubator programs and various Standford related institutions.

So, I mused, we have:

1) Hank (Hiroshi Watanabe), a troublesome fixture at the Los Altos incubator, ejected multiple times for being disruptive and abusive in a place where real business was trying to get done –

2) Arnaud Roland, possibly a part-time babysitter for Watanabe Sr. He would look the other way when Hank was caught with his bedroll in the lab…..but he couldn’t play full-time social worker without risking his main mission –

3) Roland’s strenuous efforts to fit my black-sheep venture into some hybrid team of young developers resembling the ‘Dirty Dozen’, or the cast of McHale’s Navy.

(Harp Arpeggio….~~~~~)

Something was fishy.
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The Demon Bride of Twitter

The Demon Bride of Twitter

“I am eating”

“I am Going here…”

“I have Come from there”

“I have baked a cake”

“I am happy”

“I am sad”

“I am a Gentile, I am a Jew”

“I am at XYZ place;anyone here want to meet up?”

Phew….I worry about the Demon bride of Twitter – a swinging hip chick with a modern job in the crossover laced techno-branding sphere. Profiles on Flickr, Facebook, Myspace, and umpteen other presence services.

She is, by anyone’s measure, riding the new wave of social media. I’m sure she has a Second Life, if even only as a professional dalliance.

I worry about the Demon bride of Twitter. I worry about the industry as a whole the way I worry about family members. Maybe I need to worry more about my consulting practice? Continue reading

Bedrock Needs, Social Network Fluff

This is a story of un-served and under served markets. This is also a tale of saturated markets that also happen to be speculative in their very nature. Lately, Venture Capital has been flowing into a considerable number of ventures piloted by a dubious mix of characters. There is an oft heard adage quoted many times in the cannon of startup literature, “the team is more important than the product – rather a great team with a ‘meh’ product than a brilliant product with a ‘meh’ team. How can you argue with that?

But we are seeing a flood of money being poured into ventures that, in all honesty, can’t be called serious. If it was merely the duplication of existing and unproven models, then you might argue that the cadre of privileged VC fund partners who are responsible for the Pilate-like ‘thumbs-up-down”, then maybe the funds are just playing the odds. They feel the need to play in the space, and dare not be left out of the madness.

Obviously, I wasted much time as a lone wolf trying to pitch ThruDispatch to these funds; I’m not even sure I want to be the CEO, CFO, CTO amalgam that the grant of such benevolent dilution confers.

But again, what can you say when the attributes of a real, recession-proof, service-based venture is proffered and rejected so…summarily. Here we have an under served market, a real business, even a modest one, that is based on real, preexisting client constituency who has been well surveyed and who are eager to pay subscriber fees to use such a system.

It must be ….me? Fine. No academic credentials, bootstrap career through the trades, and now, very modestly self-employed. I have a few nice recommendations and one or two marquee clients. Im not VC material.

And as of now, I don’t want it anymore. They don’t want me, I don’t want them. Lesson learned.

So if it only took me since 2005 to learn this, and there is still absolutely no competition in the hosted mobile dispatch for independent automotive services space?

I will persevere by seeking partners in the conventional mobile workforce management space, and keep trying to find a small development team that might take this on the cuff for equity, while I work the marketing and field build-out.

Social Networks: New Age Solution to Problems of the Old Economy

I’m a curmudgeon, a hard headed analyst. I compete with much larger agencies to help companies find alternative product strategies when first efforts are running out of steam. I point out weaknesses and overlooked opportunities, find partners, and debunk shoddy market volume figures proffered by staff in order to keep projects funded, or to justify their existence of such. My advice is often ignored – until much later after my contract is long over. That’s when they dredge up my reports and presentations and go over them with a highlighter.

Strategies for Social Media, in particular, have been a challenge when soft pedaling my services in the outreach phase. Companies want to just jump in and create systems from whole cloth, offer white box services, or create Facebook apps – all without a thought as to what interactions they are trying to foster, who they are endeavoring to connect or enable, or what model they are trying to exploit. Forget any reality checks for monetization, even in the soft sense of labor savings or process streamlining.

No, when an organization has made up its mind, the strategic issues are often put aside, and the project proceeds apace to implementation. Bad for me, good for the latest crop of Social Media systems designers; all power to them. We will see how it shakes out, long term.

But I am a staunch advocate of applying New Age solutions to Old Economy problems. Continue reading

Jerry Yang, don’t do it !

Jerry, do not buy Facebook. Do not squander billions on a platform that has not yet delivered its mission critical use case.

Mr. Yang, you have one of the most talented developer corps in North America, use the billions that would otherwise be squandered in the acquisition, not to mention the potentially horrible management entanglements, to build a superior product.

Social networking, as it is today embodied by the very immature early platforms, including Facebook, have a long way to go in providing bedrock value, especially in the B2B applications area. There is much good work to be done in really creating a credible, useful and enduring model for social networks, beyond the buzz.

I know that work done to date by Facebook and MySpace is worthy of much applause in the consumer space, and is a potential horizontal advertising and market bonanza, yet I implore you to take a fresh look at the space and innovate with that special Yahoo Voodoo sauce that has, in the past, executed so well.

Here is a chance to do things right, to set a new agenda, and exceed the state of the art.

Just ask H. Hoffman, the shadow CEO of Yahoo, what she thinks….

Limited Time – 30 day Product Strategy Critical Review

I am offering two 30 day review periods to company’s desiring an outside, critical review of their product strategies. I have worked for some very prestigious clients, including France Telecom, and have several recommendations on my Linkedin profile (see my Linkedin badge on this page).

Why would you want me to take an outside look and generate an analysis of your sector and strategy? Well, let me tell you:

  1. Your product strategy might have alternate channels that you may already be aware of. I can provide cost effective methodology to exploit and evangelize new markets with a small or zero incremental cost.
  2. I almost always find alternate channels or vertical strategies that my clients were unaware of.
  3. I deliver a complete section on exploiting these alternate channels. This has proven especially fecund in the Web Applications arena – many horizontal web services have vertical and B2B potential.
  4. You may feel that your sector is in slower uptake for a new product or service than originally expected; I can often generate avenues for OEM, Partnership, and Licensing Opportunities.
  5. You may have considered alternate channels and ran out of time, steam or resources. I can supply a road map that may be used for planning the appropriate delegation of a market evangelism campaign.

I am currently negotiating several long term contacts, and until these major engagements strike, I am offering these two 30 day engagements for the highly discounted rate of $7,500.00, I include all costs of materials and communications.

This offer might be withdrawn with my next call or courier; however, once I accept your engagement, it will take priority of order and will be completed on schedule. To see an example of my work, please see:


Technical Product Service Demands Social Networks

Technical Product Service is a fancy name for anything that requires a skilled technician or engineer to effect a product repair. In the grand old days of consumer electronics, when the Hi-Fidelity system was the center of home entertainment, skilled, lab-coated technicians would troubleshoot your amplifier, receiver, or tape deck (!) to the component level. I was one such skilled technical servicer. I have come to the conclusion, based on my past experience as a professional trainer of technical specialists, and in my current experience as an IT industry product strategy sector analyst, that the current upheaval and innovation in Social Networking may be poised to have a huge impact on the way professionals get things fixed, how they apply their trade, and how laypeople get complex issues resolved.

In those days, as fast as technology was changing in the late 1970’s, even the most advanced and innovative new technologies, such as the VCR, were based on discreet components. Even the first, very expensive CD Audio players had only a modicum of customized integrated circuitry. It was very much the case that any repair one might effect, from that time in to the mid 1980’s, was a case study of one’s education and skill as a technical journeyman.

I used to teach national service classes for thousands of consumer and commercial electronic technicians; the stakes were high, as productivity depended on fast and accurate diagnostics. This was before the advent of the internet, and collective knowledge was typically dispensed via bulletins, national convocations, and the very nascent electronic pre=PC era BBS systems. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

All of my instruction during those years always included basic tracks on electronics, as revealed by the Horowitz and Hill reference book for electronic education, “The Art of Electronics”. Many of my colleagues subtly berated me for wasting precious time in regional and national trade events, as to my covering remedial ground. I always pointed out that I was not merely reviewing the standard syllabus, but I was gathering a body of collective mythology that often permeates complicated subjects, like electronics and its applied science, troubleshooting.

What does this have to do with today’s sexy, topical issue, i.e., Social Media and Social Networking? If you will bear with me and read on for one more minute, please. Continue reading

Social Networks Await a Renaissance in Real Applications

Facebook is a good example of a technology seeking its mission critical use case; true, such systems extend the interaction model between people in the online world, but would we all be that much worse off without a Facebook profile? Thousands of almost useless or inconsequential Facebook apps and  extensions only serve to underline this revelation.

But, there is an entirely untapped, mission critical application space that could showcase social media engines: technical service  applications that foster interactions and mutual support among users of complex products ranging from consumer electronics to industrial and professional equipments.

Currently, high-end durable goods  enthusiasts  (take motor sports for example) use  typical text-based user forums to communicate with one another; this has been a great boon for folks like me, (a scooter enthusiast), who can post technical issues and observations among my forum members. The kind of forums that I frequent allows for a (fairly inelegant) posting of images, links, etc. There is also the typical conversation threading, some have tags, etc. This is where the depth of information and interactivity stop.

So much more could be done through a Facebook paradigm. Users of technical equipment, whether HD video technicians or motorcyclists, could potentially avail themselves of a much deeper, richer, and interactive collaborative experience.

What would such an add-on Facebook app look like for a motor sports enthusiast interaction model? Well, I’ll throw some things off the cuff without even thinking it through, and  towards the end of this article, I will try and  extrapolate the  lesson for more mission critical technical product support services that might make use of these social media engines.

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