Author Archives: Chris Kalaboukis

Do You Share First, Read Later (Or Not At All)?

share

You know you’ve done this – you’ve seen a headline in your news feed, Facebook feed, Twitter feed etc, and think – ooo, that looks interesting – I should forward that on. Which you do, because most of the content you read out there is extremely easy to share – even when you haven’t – even when you especially haven’t read the article that you are passing around at all. Maybe you read it later, but more likely, maybe you don’t.

Think about this for a second. What would this be like in the real world?  You are walking through the bookstore and picking stuff for your friends to read based solely on the title alone. How do you know that the book is any good? You haven’t read it at all – you haven’t even read the summary or the reviews on the back.

Here’s my take – I think that we are in such a time pressed society that a lot of us are like that. We spend a few minutes here and there between other things surfing through our Facebook stream or our Flipboard stream or our SmartNews stream – reading the headlines -then sharing the ones that we like. Who cares if the actual article is any good? Well, you should.

Problem is, our experiences are designed around maximizing sharing of content, not the reading of it. Look at your Facebook app: the Like, Comment & Share are a single button tap, right from the Headline, Photo, some other social proof (how many other people have liked or commented) and maybe, just maybe, a very, very short subtitle, telling you still very little about the article itself. Its super easy to share, but harder to actually read it.

I’m going to challenge you to take the next 10 days and make sure that you actually READ the article before you knee-jerk share it. I’ll bet you anything that you’ll be sharing a whole lot less.  And probably realizing that some of the stuff you have been sharing is pure dreck. I’ll bet your friends will thank you.

photo credit – C… – flickr

Power: The Real Innovation Issue

batteries1

One of the things I’ve keenly been made aware of lately, after having toured the Tesla plant and seeing what they are working, to the devices we have in our pockets and on our wrists, to the Apple Watch and the many upon many little booths at CES hawking solutions for this problem, it seems to me that the biggest elephant in the room that we have yet to address properly is simply, power.

No, not the kind of power that corrupts. The kind of power that you get from a battery, or from the wall, the sun, wind vanes, what have you. The number one most common accessory at CES was some way to extend or expand your devices battery life, to eek a little (or a lot) more juice from your devices battery.

Think about it: everything that we are talking about, be it smartphones (which are getting bigger and more powerful, yet no new battery technology have emerged in order to meet the new demand) wearables (I used to only charge my FitBit once a week, now its every three days – I just got a Charge HR – not to mention how my pebble watch drains my phones battery), Internet of Things devices (I bought the XYFind bluetooth tags over the Tile tags as they have a replaceable battery – the Tiles you simply throw away when they are done) and or course much more – electric cars, etc.

Seems to me that we are somewhat stuck at this level due to our current state of power requirements. What we really need is a breakthrough in battery life and/or some other way to power all of these devices.

There are some that hold promise, like uBeams ultrasonic charger , mini solar devices, wind powered, wind up. There are even sugar powered batteries, heartbeat powered batteries, footstep powered batteries, and even possible mini alcohol fuel cells.

Personally, (and here I put my futurist hat on) I think that the solution is likely not in pure battery storage. We all generate tons of power every day – Matrix style, humans themselves generate a lot of heat and kinetic energy. If we could capture that energy, while at the same time continue to optimize and reduce battery life requirements, maybe one day we’ll never have to worry about that battery low warning and will never again need to sit on the floor near an outlet in the airport.

photo credit – dean johnson – flickr

7 Reasons To Boycott The Listicle

listicle

Ok so this post really isn’t going to have 7 reasons to boycott the listicle, however I will talk about how and why the listicle is so popular. If you ask me, listicles are pure linkbait, and we should boycott them because, simply, they really do not contain any useful content. I would class the listicle as the reality programming of the internet. Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Have you ever actually learned anything from a listicle? I mean, seriously, have you ever actually lost weight by reading “8 Awesome Tips To A Flat Belly” , or built a successful business using “15 Essentials You Need To Know To Build Your Billion Dollar Business”, or even found your true love after reading “3 Way To Find Your Lover, Best Friend & Soulmate” No, I bet you haven’t.

Why are these thing so popular, attractive and sharable? Not a day goes by when someone I know throws one of these onto my Facebook stream, or shows up in my news feed. Is this what journalism has descended to? No wonder no one reads the news anymore.

They really are little bon-mots of useless information.

The reason these are so attractive is that people are lazy. We are always looking for a short cut, a way out, some tip or trick so that we can just get to the result without all that hard work. When we read those headlines, which promise so much for so little, our interest is piqued, we need to know how to “Become A Millionaire In 6 Months Using These 8 Steps”

The reality is that none of these “tips” or “tricks” or “ways” are really a substitute for pure hard work and persistence.

But then we read the listicle, and we we may agree with it, enough to share it. We may be disappointed enough to not share it, and just shake our heads. But if you think about it, is there really any useful information in a listicle? Have you ever said, now that I know the “7 Secrets To A Happy Marriage” will I apply those to my life? Likely not.

You see, even though we are eager to read the quick tip, we never seem to really get anything out of it, and are usually disappointed by it. But, for some reason, we forget that when we are sucked in by the next one.

So I say, lets all boycott listicles in favor of the good stuff, the real stuff. Maybe then we might get some REAL USEFUL CONTENT.

photo credit – Jeremy Tarling – flickr

Startups Fail Too, You Know

fail

I’ve been listening to a number of startup podcasts lately after seeing a listicle (can’t believe that that is a real word now) on the top startup podcasts you should be listening to, and the tone is just so optimistic on all of them. Everyone is wonderfully successful, has just the right partners, has great traction, awesome investors, money in the bank, and seeing exponential growth. Funny thing, it makes it sound like startups are great, just come up with an idea, build it, launch it and boom, near instant success.

There is very little to no mention of failure, even though the reality is that 80% of startups fail. 8 out of 10. Why do we never hear about the failures? Where are the failures on the startup blogs, on the tech blogs, on the startup and tech podcasts? There seems to be very little talk of failure. Sure, maybe once a year, they might do a retrospective of what they did wrong the last year. but 9 out of 10 articles are about the amazing successes, not the dismal failures. Pretty much an inverse proportion.

Even those startups with a modest success, and then fail, are rarely talked about.

I guess in the tech and startup press, if it doesn’t bleed, it leads.

I’ve been toying with the idea for a podcast interviewing the founders of those startups that failed. Or maybe I should just add a weekly feature to my current show, talking to startup founders who failed. After all, don’t we usually say that failure is not really failure, its more of a learning experience? Don’t worry, if you’re embarrassed, I won’t mention your name or startup, and I’ll even disguise your voice if you like. I’m serious about this – contact me if you have helmed a startup that has failed and want to come on the show.

Why is the startup world depicted so optimistically? Even when you dig into the successes, it almost seems like app A won over app B simply due to a lucky break. Why does no one download and talk about app B?

Seems like the current startup mythology goes like this:

  1. Come up with idea – month 1
  2. Build it, either by yourself or with a co-founder – month 2
  3. Launch it – month 3
  4. Get tons of traction from users who just can’t live without your product – month 4
  5. Make tons of money from those same users who are simply throwing money at you – month 5
  6. Get tons of money from investors clamoring to give it to you – month 6
  7. Buy giant house in Atherton – month 7
  8. Eventually go public, become a billionaire, write a book on the above, talking about how your genius made you successful

When in reality its more like:

  1. Come up with idea – month 1
  2. Build it, either by yourself or with a co-founder – month 2
  3. Launch it – month 3
  4. Attempt to promote your business and gain traction to no avail – months 4-7
  5. Get a small bit of traction and paying customers but not enough to cover costs – months 5-8
  6. Empty your bank account attempting to get traction – months 4-12
  7. Give up, bank account empty, shut it down – month 12
  8. Try to get a job

On the other hand, if the startup world was depicted as-is, then who knows how many of those founders who were successes would never have started their startups at all? Maybe there is some sort of silver lining to this – maybe founding a startup allows people to actualize themselves, to really live their dream. Maybe if the press wasn’t so positive about startups, there would be less of them. And I personally think we really need a good, healthy batch of startups to keep the engine of commerce running.

Think about every company employing thousands today: Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Alibaba, HP, IBM, they were all startups at one point. What if those founders knew the reality and didn’t take the risk. Where would be be today?

My point is – if you want to run a startup – you should be able to go into it with your eyes wide open – you will likely get to do what you have always wanted to do, and get away from your dead-end, soul sucking job. But on the other hand, let’s not minimize or belittle the downsides to running a startup.

So here’s my challenge: startup media, please let’s try to be a little more “fair and balanced”. Since featuring things in the proper proportion would probably be kinda depressing (who wants to hear negative news 80% of the time) let’s at least strive for a 50/50 balance. Interview one successful founder, then interview an unsuccessful one. I’m sure that we can all learn from both of them.

If you are interested in coming onto my show, I’m accepting applications via [email protected]. Just pop me an email with your contact info, the name/concept of your startup, and we’ll go from there. No need to be deep, deep in the heart of Silicon Valley, I can just interview you for my show over Skype.

Photo Credit – Jeremy Page – flickr

 

 

No Business Card? Seriously?

popupology / flickr

popupology / flickr

After navigating for 3 whole days the innards and outards of CES this year, I ended up with a nice stack of business cards from people who I talked to who built interesting technologies and services who I wanted to follow up with. Even though the show was huge and I made sure to hit every building, I noticed that my stack this year was much smaller than previous years.

I don’t think it was because I’m more discerning now (I think I must have visited at least 20 drone booths) but that people are no longer carrying cards (or as many cards – since a lot of folks had run out) anymore. There were plenty of cases where I was talking to someone in their booth and I asked for a card, only to be told that they’d run out, or that they would take my card and get back to me or something. Sure, I understand maybe not wanting to give your information to someone who might bother you, but in my case, everyone I talked to I was interested in partnering with, as in helping them to bring their product to possible new customers. Yet, business cards seemed to be in short supply.

I got to talking to someone in a booth about this and they told me that they had some people not even walk into the booth – they’d just take a picture of the booth and walk on, guessing they’d just look them up later.

Prior to this, I went to a networking event, and less than half of the people I talked to had business cards. Some of them were even looking for work – you’d think at least those guys would make sure that they had enough. But no.

Whats going on here? Is the business card really dead – or dying? Maybe its a Silicon Valley thing, but I’ve just seen the use of them go way down around here – people seem to prefer to connect immediately on LinkedIn (not a fast and easy process) or text each other phone numbers (like you’re dating or something) instead of simply handing over a very small piece of card.

If you ask me, there is something elegant and simple about a business card. Its small, its handy, and if its a good card, it will jog the memory of the person you gave it to. It’s something that may never go away, even once we have all sorts of seamless networking available to us. (I’m working on it.)

Until then, please, if you don’t have cards, get some. Vistaprint has them free or very cheap. They could be the difference between that investor calling you up later to talk about funding your business and them going – who was that guy again? Or the recruiter who has the perfect job for you, but can’t find your contact information on her phone. Or that prospect who thought your services sounded interesting, but alas no business came of it since you didn’t have a card on you.

So get some cards! Or if you are out – please make sure that you have enough. I came back from CES with hundreds, but at least I knew that everyone I’d given my card to had my information, if they needed it.

photo credit – popupology / flickr

 

Droning About Drones

drone

Something that was in huge supply at CES were drones – little itty-bitty drones which can fit in the palm of your hand (the Nixie and the ZANO) all the way to huge drones which could deliver packages (I wonder if Amazon will be shipping via drone anyways, even though they said they weren’t – its super efficient) While I can’t compare it to previous years, its seemed that they are finally coming into their own as “gotta have” devices. Which is great.

Do you remember a few years ago when there was a company in San Francisco who wanted to deliver Mexican food via drone (Tacocopter, of course)? I think that the moment they announced that burritos were going to be flying over the heads of the fair citizens of the city, the government immediately banned (or actually, it had already been banned) drone food delivery, thus stopping them in their tracks before they even launched. I think that they did the same thing when the Segway was launched, they may have bent the rules a bit in order to allow for a few people to have them, including tour groups etc, but the issue is the same: every time some cool new innovation comes along to make our lives better, someone else freaks out and tries to shut it down.

Same for Uber, etc. The best, most interesting innovations, are dangerous to the status quo, which is why someone is always desperate to shut them down. If you think about it, most of the innovations are not just threats to the current status quo, but in reality liberate customers. For example, just like using Uber or Lyft liberate you from using taxi services, drones give typical human beings the ability to expand their sphere of influence.

And of course for some, this is bad. God forbid we let people have the tools to take pictures of themselves from further away than a selfie stick can do. Of course, you can use drones to fly over and spy on your neighbors too, but why go there first and shut them down? Let’s let the drones fly and see what we can do with them.

Of course, there could be an issue if they are too successful, imagine thousands and thousands of drones out there performing different tasks for different people, will even the smallest and cheapest drones be intelligent enough not to bump into each other? They will have to be.

Also, there’s another issue which all of these devices still have – and if you ask me this is a huge issue even outside the drone space but for everything kind of internet of things and wearable device, its battery life. That a topic for another post, but battery life is really holding us back as well.

At some point, I can see drones as our personal helpers, floating by our heads and helping us out when we need them. Kind of like Navi from Ocarina of Time, but less annoying. Imagine being in a store and asking your drone to check on which checkout line in the shortest. Or sending our drone to watch your kids walk home from school. Or when you are stuck in traffic, you open your window and send your drone on ahead to check out why there’s so much traffic, when it is clears up, or even get an even higher view to let you know which route is better.

Drones will make our lives better, if you ask me. I wonder if they will get the chance?

photo credit – don mcullough – flickr

 

Big Brothering Ourselves At CES

bigbrother

Specifically looking for interesting examples of internet of things (IoT) implementations at CES, I was struck by all of the devices that basically allow to us watch ourselves, take pictures of ourselves and video ourselves.

Ultimate donut selfie, anyone?

There seemed to be a huge undertone of “security” all over the place – there were plenty of crowd-funded devices (like Homeboy) that we could use to feel more secure by watching over our homes (higher tech versions of the camera in the teddy bear which people used to use to watch over their nannies to make sure that they were treating their kids properly).

Some didn’t look like cameras, but most did, so we are now seemingly perfectly comfortable with cameras sitting on our bookshelves, keeping an eye on our living rooms, whether we are there or not. In comparison, I saw maybe two or three companies who were interested in allowing less of this – seems that being watched is now part of life. Personal surveillance might be the correct term for this one.

Even most of the drones I saw – and there are plenty of them – from tiny little drone implementations that you can launch off of your wrist (cool tech from my friends over at Nixie Labs) to delivery drones and everything in between, pretty much all of these things are cameras on our lives.

On the home automation side – tons of virtual locks, virtual peepholes, controllable bulbs etc – but really just a more high tech version of the same old X10 style stuff – the controls are now in your smartphone instead of some clunky control unit. There were a few companies that were working towards some kind of platformization of the IoT, but so far – all of these seemed standalone and proprietary. This must changes for there to be real rapid movement – we need some sort of open source platform to take the lead here.

One thing I did notice was the the amount of sensors in the IoT devices was kept purpose built in most cases, and to a bare minimum. Unfortunately, this won’t help to enrich the big data that we will need eventually in order to create a seamless world. Multi sensor devices, like the Thingsee or the Apollo were in very short supply, I feel that we need more of those kinds of devices to fully realize the internet of things.

An example: a French company called Sen.se had a very interesting device called Mother, which allowed to you track various things that its “cookies” (remote sensors) could do – thought that had a lot of promise – but when I asked about the capabilities of the cookies, they told me that they only had motion and temperature sensors – which is great when you are tracking if someone is home or not, or if they’ve brushed their teeth, or if its warm in the room. Its a good start, and I hope that we’ll see even more sensors built into friendly form factors like this.

Some key directions if you are interested in getting into the space:

  • Stay open source – try to build or attach to a platform – either make the standard or help to identify one. Keep your platforms open and build or leverage a developer ecosystem
  • Add more sensors – give your devices the ability to collect more data that they need for their purpose built task – opening the door for more and more uses
  • Go beyond security – most of the IoT solutions currently focus on that – think more about higher level “life improvement”
  • Tie things together : right now, your door could automatically sense your presence and unlock. Imagine if it could also start playing your favorite song, cue up a recipe for dinner, alert your spouse that you are home, and announce their ETA as well.

In short, help build the tools we need to build the (hopefully near) future seamless world.

photo credit – mike mozart – flickr

Most Disruptive Tech : The Internet Of Things

theinternet

I was honored to be asked to be a panelist at the SIME conference in Miami a month ago – it was a very cool conference – a bit like a mini TED, where I shared the stage with a group as amazing and diverse as UFC fighter Royce Gracie, considered by some as the most influential figure in MMA & North Korean activist Yeonmi Park, who escaped North Korea with her family by making her way across the Gobi desert, into Mongolia, China and eventually back to South Korea. Some amazing stories and incredible people.

I appeared on a panel discussing Managing Exponential Growth with two other CTOs, Renaud Visage, the founding technical architect and CTO of leading online event management company Eventbrite, and Hans-Christian “Chris” Boos of Arago, one of the leaders in automation and machine based processing – we talked about some very interesting stuff. One of the most interesting questions our moderator, the fantastic Ola Ahlvarsson asked was – what was the most disruptive technology out there today?

Great question. A lot of the time when you think about disruptive technologies, people immediately think of super futuristic stuff, like artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printers, replicators and the like. Funnily enough, they think Star Trek (although I do use science-fiction sometimes for innovative ideas) But If you ask me – the most disruptive technology is..

The Internet Of Things

Yep – boring old internet of things. I’ve even heard some people say that its already passe – the IoT is just getting to the fat point of the hype cycle – its no big deal. If you ask me – this is the biggest deal after the internet itself. If you think about how the internet not only disrupted the world, destroying and creating millions of new jobs and industries, we have yet to even see the full potential of connecting every living soul with every other living soul. The disruption that is the internet (connecting every human to every other human) hasn’t even been realized yet, and there are only 7 billion (or so) of us. The magic happens when we go beyond ourselves.

In the foundation, its all about big data. A while back, I wrote about how big data could eventually, conceivably, answer every questions. With enough information, we can answer near every question that has ever been asked. In fact, I firmly believe that one of the key things which will allow for truly seamless experiences, we need the internet of things to fully flesh out all of the data that we need in order to make this future a reality.

One of the hazards of being a futurist: its a bit similar to being a weatherman. You are either:

  • very, very wrong (sometimes)
  • right (rarely)
  • right, but at the wrong time (usually)

Looks like the world is catching up – we are finally seeing the first crop of internet of things devices – and the promise of a seamless world has never been brighter.

I’m heading to CES today and plan to report back anything I see which looks like its going to take us forward into the seamless world. Even though some people are concerned about the dangers of this technology – even luminaries like Hawking and Musk, I feel that the positives of a life surrounded by magical technology will improve our lives and experiences, not diminish it. Maybe I’m too much of an optimist, but you know, YOLO. Let’s try.

Photo Credit – Martin Deutsch

2015: The Year Of YOLO

Mary Ly / flickr

Maria Ly / flickr

I love the term YOLO*, of course, not before you do some kind of physically dangerous thing like jumping off your roof with an umbrella to see if you can fly. (Everyone knows you need a cape for that.)

No, I mean more like a mentally or psychically dangerous thing.

I love thinking YOLO because its a fact that we seem to forget from time to time. We seem to forget that YOLO when we are spending time doing something we don’t enjoy or that moves us forward in our careers or life. We also seem to forget that YOLO when an opportunity to do something which may only happen once in a lifetime comes up, you come up with excuses of not to do that thing, then later live to regret it.

For example, a friend of mine was once offered a likely life changing (or at least an incredibly amazing) experience, but he turned it down because he didn’t have the airfare to go. But with a little effort, he could have. Since YOLO, he’ll probably never get that opportunity ever again.

If you think about it, how many times in your life have you come up with an idea, but not done anything about it, then saw that exact same idea become a huge business success (especially sucks when you came up with the idea like 15 years ago and this guy went from 0 to millionaire in 2 years, plus he’s younger than you to boot). I’ve seen that, more than once. Not thinking YOLO stopped you from taking the risk: with some money, time or co-founders, maybe you’d be the millionaire now.

Maybe 2015 is your YOLO year. This year, whenever you come up with a new idea for a business, or have a decision to make between doing nothing, the same old thing, or something new which you’ve never done before, think YOLO.

  1. You are offered a job in a foreign city. Same wage, bigger market. They’ll pay for your move. YOLO. Take the job, its a springboard to new things.
  2. You can go to your regular bar, or try that new one. YOLO. You meet your future spouse.
  3. You’re laid off, and you read an article about “Mobile Is Eating The World” YOLO. You learn iOS programming in 3 months and land a telecommute job working from home for roughly what you were paid before, or more.
  4. You stay home and watch TV or go to a meetup. YOLO. You meet your next co-founder and build an amazing business with her.
  5. You come up with a great business idea but don’t have the cash to build it. YOLO. You learn to program it yourself, or borrow against your credit cards to fund it. Boom – billion dollar startup. Or not. You will never know unless you take the risk.

Next time there’s a decision to make, think YOLO. Will you regret taking that risk? Remember, as The Great One said – “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

So take the shot. YOLO.

* YOLO : You Only Live Once.

– Photo Credit – Maria Ly – flickr

 

 

Just Learn It

learn

Back in 2009 after I left Yahoo!, I joined a startup which was focused on developing new ideas specifically for patent. The idea was that we would work with companies and help them to build out their patent portfolio in order to protect themselves from other companies and patent trolls. We started off thinking that this was a great idea – but after a while we realized that the timing was off – instead of increasing their patent spend the market was decreasing their patent spend due to the tail end of the great recession, so here we were, great idea, but no customers.

At the time Twitter had just exploded with popularity and there was a lot of interest in this new tool – everyone was talking about it as a brand new medium, and there were a lot of ideas around capturing the value from the unceasing stream of data. The three of us were looking to pivot, and this was an interesting space. So we decided to brainstorm something around capturing the most important stuff in that stream of user generated content.

We came up with a great idea, but none of us had coded in ages (i don’t recall but I think myself and one of the other co-founders had coded) I hadn’t coded for at least 10 years, mostly functional stuff using (yes) Cold Fusion, Turbo Basic and Visual Basic. So we had two choices:

  1. Use our quickly dwindling funds to hire a developer to build the idea into a prototype
  2. One of us would have to take up the reins and start coding

We decided on the latter course of action, and since I’d had the most past coding experience, I volunteered to build the app. Of course, since I hadn’t coded anything in years, I needed to get up to speed, fast. Our cash was draining and we needed to get a product up and running quickly.

I never learned object oriented programming. Like I said, I worked in Basic and ASP, but didn’t know where to start. At the time Ruby on Rails seemed hot – and most startups of the time were able to use it to crank out rapid prototypes and get to market. So I figured, I’d better learn it.

I went to the library and took out a stack of books on Rails, Ruby, Object Oriented Programming, Java, C++ etc. I started reading until my head hurt. I downloaded IDEs and all sorts of code samples. I had a real tough time conceptualizing object oriented code.

But slowly, it started coming to me. Eventually, I had a breakthrough and I not only did I figure out OOP, I started coding like mad.

6 weeks later, we launched.

Why am I telling you this? Simple. I didn’t know how to do something, so I learned it. So many people I know, once they hit their 30s, or get out of school, basically say, I’m done. I don’t need to learn anymore. Or my skills are still good, I can still get the job I want. They aren’t willing to learn.

You have the ability to learn – just not the desire to learn. And you can drive yourself to learn.

Right now, there is a HUGE demand for iOS developers. Becoming an iOS developer from scratch is not rocket science. Its tough, but it can be done. And you don’t need years and years of teaching and a degree to become one. You just need to learn it. Books, internet, boot camps, online training. Its all there.

A few months from now, you could have a few apps in the app store, and BAM you ARE an iOS developer with a portfolio. And BAM, you get hired. Or BAM, you finally do that startup that you always wanted to.

You don’t need 4 year degree. Heck, some of these technologies will be outdated in less time than it would take to go through a typical college program. Get online, teach yourself, and you can do (almost) anything

— Photo Credit – *Psycho Delia* – flickr