Constancy of Vision – Clarity of Values. The Character of One Effective Leader

Loren Data Corp, a small, fiercely competitive VAN (a Value Added Network, operating under the ECGrid® Trademark), has emerged from a nightmare.

Todd Gould, President of Loren Data, successfully guided his company through the B2B IT sector’s most active period of consolidation, and emerged with the company intact. The increased visibility came unbidden to Todd, who simply persevered to resolve a high-stakes network routing dispute with GXS (now OpenText). The dispute became an issue of great concern to all companies depending on VANs for the reliable routing of electronic supply chain (EDI) transactions.

Competing against larger organizations is routine for Loren Data Corp; Todd had refined a reliable formula for delivering targeted EDI communications services for service providers and B2B cloud applications. One can appreciate the challenges of balancing the risk of meeting such a dispute head-on, while maintaining ECGrid’s operational standards of  near-perfection.

Throughout this extraordinary time, Loren Data never faltered in its technical operations, providing critical network messaging services for a professional subscriber population composed of supply chain service providers, enterprise software OEMs, and virtual VANs. The Company maintains very collegial inter provider relationships with its interconnected peers; such relationships are critical for keeping EDI message traffic flowing around the globe. ECGrid processes tens of thousands of EDI messages daily, the Netops team covers three shifts of support, and Todd, in the role of CTO, pushes forward on delivering the next generation of transactional messaging and supplier community management. Reason enough for Todd to enjoy a fleeting moment of industry recognition? In a busy, lean operation, there might be exactly one minute to reflect. If community is any indicator, a brief read of the forums covering the industry indicate that Loren Data Corp’s founder is respected as a competent and multifaceted leader. A visionary perhaps? A Thought Leader, most definitely.

Here are a few of my notes and observations about the company, Loren Data Corp, and its President: Continue reading

The Socialization of the Supplier Integration Sector

In my daily work as an Industry Analyst and Solutions Advocate, I am finding that the terms, “social supply chain”, and “supplier collaboration” are showing up with increasing frequency. However,  the inclusion of  opportunistic communications supplementing a supply chain infrastructure (these include EDI-based systems such as ordering automation, e-Invoicing, and generic supplier enabling); needs to be well understood and carefully implemented. I am  emphatically a proponent of fresh ideas, and  firmly in favor of  enhancing supplier autonomy.  However,  many B2B platforms, even those developed by experienced companies, fall victim to featuritis – the addition of functions without a concomitant understanding of what or who they serve.  If the industry as a whole simply must conceptualize the benefits of social media on supply chain IT, let’s at least think it through, together. Here are some elementary concepts in brief:

Today, we practice top down supplier management – something that  looks and feels inflexible to most suppliers –

cloudap

“thou shalt use this Implementation Guide”, thou shalt use X12 850 or EDIFACT ###,  with these modifications”. – – -well…that seems at odds with any vendor’s ideal model. The VANs, as a group, have offered communications and connection to ERP and order + shipping. That’s nice. Continue reading

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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Sacramento – the sacred place where no tech gets done.

None that you have heard of, anyway. That’s because what goes in the valley, behind the funding, the side deals, the dirty deeds, is profane. Just like a David Lynch film title, town monikers such as Sunnyvale, conjure a veil of hidden evil. Sand Hill Road, envisions a den of vipers hiding in the obviously gritty substance.

The Bay Area will garner fame yet again for the redundant capital placed in YAVSS and YASN. Yet Another Video Sharing Site and Yet Another Social Network will be our legacy for this upcoming foul year of our lord 2008.

The vortex of financial woes in the larger economy, which thankfully shall not be repeated here, will extend inexorably toward the cherished technology forges of Silicon Valley and the Bay Area tech shops, crammed full of ‘Silicon Valley Undertakers’; men and, increasingly women who have developed a serial reputation of raising, burning, and selling off half started technology properties, many of the last round, clones of YAVSS, and YASN.

So Sacramento may have an exalted name and no tech credentials, but the Silicon Valley is unholy altogether in it’s capitalization practices of late.

It sometimes happens that vertical markets with proven business models in the old economy, primed to take advantage of the new Web 20 technologies that have sometimes languished in consumer ventures, are slapped down good’o, by those who should know better. These smaller, saner markets deserve a hearing, but are often shut out by the noise of the YAVSS and YASN. The unholy gatekeepers? Please – the VC partners. The blood of the valley will ultimately be on their hands by way of their closing every avenue to some of the best blue-collar mobile ventures.

And, no, I’m not just speaking of ThruDispatch, my errant venture. I’m speaking of tales of woe gleaned from entrepreneurs with much better credentials and curriculum vitae than myself.

This article shall be extended when I cool down.

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

Ejected from Business Incubator: Brilliant, Bipolar Hiroshi – Part One

So, you want to start a small, services based mobile messaging venture to serve the independent automotive trades-people. Fine, you will need a J2ME client for the Nextel platform (90% of towing and auto trades are Nextel accounts with 1 or 2 phones). Then you need a server and portal architecture, etc.

I started all of this with an actual system that I built in Salem NH where the focus was a Fax to Nextel gateway and a Web dispatch console. What I needed was a new architecture for automated ‘flow-through’ dispatch. I didn’t think my personal (dwindling) resources would be enough to bootstrap the venture (I should have  done so a year ago), so I went in search of capital.

Never mind being employed as a freelance analyst for product sector research. As someone who occasionally contracts for institutional investors –  I was unable to get traction on the dilution path. I had moved from Boston, working on the Peninsula for six months and venture campaigning for six months (wow, a year).

I’m a little worn out, I’ll tell ya. What is it gonna take to get a sane venture off the ground? I need an enthusiastic programmer / engineer that believes in the business’ potential, or one who is bored and needs a project to sink teeth into in order for us to get to functional prototype. Where oh where?

Back to the incubator to track down a guy I met briefly, but who seemed suited to my strategy: the brilliant, bi-polar, Hiroshi – the man who dreams in code.

Like everything else connected to the launch of ThruDispatch, this was to be somewhat of a fiasco. But dear reader, believe me, ThruDispatch is a good, solid idea that will foster a sustainable, Web-based business that shall truly serve its users with a real, not imagined, business oriented social networking service.

Read on:

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

A Fairy Tale of Mountain View

It was a silent 4:00PM in Mountain View, CA, the artificial city of the Silicon Peninsula. I ended my funding pitch with a quote from Jonathan Swift. I had no idea it would be so poorly received:
“When a true genius enters the world, you may know him by this sign: the Dunces are all aligned in confederacy against him.”

So I quoted with a smile at the VC meeting where my baby, ThruDispatch, was pitched.

One of the Senior Partners hurled a stentorian barb in my direction.”You are calling yourself a genius and we are the Dunces? ”

“Not at all. I am merely saying that many valley equity investors seem to be throwing capital at just so many duplicate social media and video sharing plans”, I said, almost ready to mace these suits if it wasn’t for the consequences. Don’t they see the mess in cloned business models ruining this wonderful valley?

One of the Juniors looked at me with withering scorn and vomited his invective in my general direction, “Everyone in this room makes seven figures, we are placing the next sub-round in Facebook Apps…good day Mr. Wilensky and, good luck with your….plan”.

As I left, I passed a famous ‘Silicon Valley undertaker’, a reaper of VC capital, walking confidently into the conference room. He had a track record of raising capital and burning down (so to speak) any number of here and gone startups, few of which ever became profitable. Indeed, he seemed more notorious for NOT making equity pay. What was his secret?

“How do you do it?”. I hissed, “how, how?” He barely glanced backwards at me as his Patek Philipe Minute Repeating watch chimed a quarter past the hour.

“I hire friends, I am hired by friends, I make sure that the first order of business when receiving a placement of equity is to find a way to compensate the VC partners”, he said, his suit was impeccable.

Hmm, leather sandals with a suit in such Bay Area cold.

Clammy and faint, I staggered towards the elevator – Ping….Bing…bong..softer as the conference room door clicked closed….fainter voices from behind…”hey guys…good to see you again….(Ping!)

It was 4:30PM in Mountainview.

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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….