The Problem of Wanna

Scott Karp is a famous blogger. I am not. But, his post on the struggles of the newspaper industry, and how this relates to GM‘s last ditch effort to innovate with their Volt project, is very good reading.

That’s a long sentence. I’m not a good general writer, I’m more of a technical marketing and research type. The article, however, grabbed me, because I once worked in the electric vehicle industry. My experiences at a small, secretive Israeli EV startup, was very similar to my misadventures in trying to raise capital in Sillyclone Valley for a faltering independent mobile dispatch venture called, ThruDispatch.

Mr. Karp conjoins GM’s monumental myopia (ignoring anything having to do with advanced drive trains) with the newspaper business’ total lack of a new media game plan. I see the common thread – It’s called, “Wanna“.

Over the past 10 years, a parade of inventors and young alternative drive train companies signed NDA’s with GM, hoping to get a foothold. They came from all sectors of the component, engine, and fuels industry, with patents galore, and some of them were indeed astounding; hopefully one day a book will be written. One company had a a fully tested AC drive train that could also power your house or sell back excess power to the utility grid. But we never heard about them, because GM didn’t wanna.

In the midst of the Web20 semi-bubble of 2005-06, I wrapped up a six month contract at a Sillyclone Valley R&D lab, and took to the road to pitch a plan for a really innovative, user driven, mobile dispatch venture for independent automotive servicers. Thousands of potential Nextel subscribers were surveyed, all had agreed to pay a decent monthly fee, and a prototype had been in place for a while.

But, if the business plan or pitch didn’t have the words “social network, video, or Facebook App”, there was no getting past the gates of Sandhill road. They didn’t wanna.

Now that we are on the threshold of what will surely be a blood bath of failed, ad-supported YAVSS and YASN ventures, in the midst of an IPO desert, will the equity come around to wanna?

Will they wanna invest in services that working people of the middle class will pay to use, rather than the chimera of free and ad supported services that are doomed?

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What happened to the ThruDispatch Articles??

The business plan and slides for Thrudispatch, the intelligent mobile work order scheduler and virtual AI Dispatcher for Self-employed independent service  businesses, like Towing and mobile locksmiths, etc. can be found on Scribd.com

 

Techno Reality Dame Confidential

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

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

After the last troubling meeting with the tech-slackers, I had to see Tabbatha again. She stood out as the one with understated elegance, and showed no need to tear down the idea as a knee jerk response.

Indeed, the response I have come to expect when presenting ThruDispatch was not a cool refusal, but a vehement castigation of the idea in its essence. These exchanges were often punctuated with an assault on my character, resume, acumen, and motives. You could almost certainly identify which coast the critique originated from – bile and personal attacks generally came from the Bay area, cool refusals and weak advice from the Yankees.

Tabbatha agreed to see me at her workplace conference room. She was a partner in a prominent design studio, and highly placed, at that. It made me wonder why she was hanging with the slacker programmers at that Mission District hole of an apartment? So I asked, “what gives, Tabbatha, you have a really prominent design job, are technically very savvy, and I see you now dressed in a very sharp and conservative getup. Hmmmm?”, and I gestured at her designer business outfit. Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

A Father’s Love Shall Not Be Leveraged

From the series, “Down and Out in Silicon Valley, the Chronicles of ThruDispatch”. (Names and locations are changed to protect the privacy of the parties).

I was called to the palatial Atherton home of Hiryu Watanabe, father of Hiroshi (Hank Watanabe). A rich man beyond the dreams of even the Valley’s moneyed, he retired from the board of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries after a distinguished career of 40 years. Estimated net worth: 800 Million.

We had spoken on the phone briefly about his troubled son; he spoke and I listened about the all too common meltdown that occurred when Hank got tied up in a software project. Hank’s love was his poison. The father had been dealing with this since Hank started the downward spiral, shortly after gathering his doctorate from Standford.

I didn’t quite know what to expect, or what the subject of our conversation would be. I halfway assumed that maybe, maybe Mr. Watanabe Senior had gone through Hank’s things and found the ThruDispatch code. But, I had written it off already, and I didn’t want to personally pursue it like a vulture; at any rate it was very preliminary and useless to me, for now. I was mystified at the invitation. Continue reading

Ejected from Business Incubator: Part Two: Working with a Congenial Genius

Continued from part 1. From the Series, “Down and Out in Silicon Valley” by,  Alan Wilensky

“Hiroshi?”, I said in a rising, non-threatening voice. I wanted a combination Mr. Rogers and benevolent older brother tone. “How you doin’, man, we really didn’t have a chance to formally introduce ourselves, I’m Alan Wilensky, I am so sorry about getting involved at the incubator and getting you…..hospit…al…ized, er…ah…I mean…I didn’t know who you…” I was sputtering.

Hiroshi chimed right in over me, “what you talking about”. This was the first time I actually heard his speaking voice, which was a fully Americanized accent. Hiroshi was, as I later found out, of Japanese and American descent, and preferred being called, Hank. We are getting way ahead of the game, however.

“What involved, what hospital, what are you talkin’ about man?”, he was off to the races, although one can’t actually blame the man if he remembered nothing of the incident!

(internal whisper to self: whoa, big fella, lets not let things spiral into incivility so soon and so blunderingly)

“You know”, I said as I drew closer, a little, “with Claudia, that Thursday? You were crashed out in the Networking lab?”. Where was this conversation going?

“huh..uh, yup. Crap man, I was just napping there ’cause I don’t like my room at the group house, but…,” he raked his hand through his longish hair and followed with, “..but I don’t recall leaving…..”….his voice trailed off in a suspended thought.

I needed to get the conversation back on track, so I gave him the only thing I had, my best Monty Python lines, “Well, what of that, Roight! Roight!”. “To Business!”, I punctuated.

Continue reading