Author Archives: Chris Kalaboukis

Blogs Are Dead

blogOf course, since this article will also be appearing on my blog at some point, I’m sure that some of you will accuse me of being a hypocrite – I suppose there are still a very few reasons for having a blog.

My contention is that if you are starting a business today, unless it is something which requires an online component, like an app or website, you no longer need a standalone blog, or even a site which you regularly update.

A while back, I wrote a post which was based on an article written by a great science fiction author, Bruce Sterling. In this article, he described that statistically speaking, unlike during the beginning days of the internet, people now only experience the internet via 5 major sites: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft. These are the only gateways people use in order to get to any site on the internet – including YOURS.

If you further narrow it down by stripping out Amazon, Apple and Microsoft – since they are more focused on eCommerce than content, then you only have two major sites left: Google and Facebook.

However, if you looked at the analytics of people coming to your site, your see three main sources:

  1. Google – usually about 20%-30%
  2. Facebook – usually about 20-30%
  3. Everything else – typically unknown, or something we call “dark traffic” – this is routed through the internet in such as way so that the engine can’t really determine where the traffic comes from

There are other sources, but they pale in comparison to these three. Of course YMMV, depending on the kind of site you have, you have have more or less Facebook or Google traffic – maybe a smattering of Reddit or LinkedIn as well. But the majority comes from the above.

So its worth having a blog – since you figure that you have a pretty big portion of traffic coming directly to your blog or through other sources.

However, earlier this month, Chartbeat determined that a huge chunk of the “dark traffic” or “dark social” as they call it – is actually also coming from Facebook – albeit via their mobile apps and various proxies.

What does this mean? It probably means that in reality the majority of the traffic to your website or blog is probably coming from Facebook. Knowing this – is there a point in continuing to run a blog or site? Wouldn’t it just be easier to simply create a Facebook page and post things there?

There are many small businesses who’ve already figured this out – they have a webpage or blog but very rarely change it or post to it (I assume that its still useful in some way as Google searches could drive to it) and most of their communications go direct to Facebook.

Additionally, new publishing tools like LinkedIn publishing offer much more reach than a typical blog – I get much more engagement when I post there than if I do here. I don’t think its a problem with my blog per se – its just that there already is a huge, engaged audience on LinkedIn.

So what do you do if you have a blog? Well, you should continue to update it – but I’d argue that you need to post on LinkedIn, Facebook, and other sites like Medium directly as well.

But if you don’t have a blog or a site – you should think hard about whether you really need one anymore. Now, if you are starting (or running) a business where you are thinking of making money off of AdSense or similar, then you will need a site and a blog. But for everyone else, maybe that answer is no: simply leverage Facebook, LinkedIn and maybe set up a free site on Strikingly to simply redirect people to your LinkedIn posts or Facebook page.

Is the era of the blog over? What are your thoughts?

—> Photo Credit – Owen W Brown – flickr

 

The Future Is Magic

thefuture

The future: looks a lot like the past…

It’s funny – a lot of times when people think about the future – they think about super futuristic cities, super streamlined cars and all sorts of visible technology in the forefront. If I had a penny for all of the videos and images of the future which I think are completely wrong, then I’d definitely be rich.

You see, my vision of the future falls along the same lines of where one of my favorite authors Arthur C. Clarke wrote in his third law:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Our technology is not going to advance so that it is MORE visible in our lives – its going to do the exact opposite, its going to advance to the point where it will be completely invisible to us.

Today, I went to a nearby coffee place, here is my picture of that walk, in my version of the future:

As I stepped out the door, I noticed the complete lack of signage. There are no signs – anywhere. There are no business signs, there are no stop lights, there are no parking signs, there are no parking meters. None of the cars whizzing by have any lights, or make anything but a light humming sound. I didn’t need to press a button or wait for a light to change when I crossed the street – the cars stopped for me as they saw me coming. I walked across the street and past a few folks. I walked into the Starbucks.

You are probably wondering how I knew that I was walking into a Starbucks when there are no business signs. Everyone (including myself) is wearing fashionable glasses and headphones with a built in microphone. These glasses are projecting images onto my eyeball of the logo of the store I’m walking into. I look around the room, no one was looking at or using a smartphone, computers, laptops, smartphones or tablets. Some people are talking to each other, others are sitting silently. I look towards the counter.

My drink is sitting there. It was being made while I was walking towards the building. I know its my drink as I can see an overlay in my vision pointing to it. I pick it up, take a sip, noting that its the perfect temperature. I walk out – the transaction taking place in the background as I walk out the door. I sit on a bench nearby and put my glasses into “do not disturb” mode.

Peace and quiet. No futuristic sounds, futuristic buildings. If anything. I feel like I’m back in nature. As I look around I see trees, grass, buildings. I see autonomous vehicles whizzing by with a hum. There is very little technology to be seen. After a few minutes, a vehicle stops in front of me and the door opens.

I turn my glasses back on. It seems that I have an appointment across town, so a car showed up to take me there. I feel a bit tired, so the car dimmed its lights and automatically reclined my seat. I take a coffee power nap, as the car takes me across town.

If you ask me – instead of the future being more futuristic, the future will be more like the past. The tech will advance to the point that it will literally disappear – and be fully ingrained into the world. We will finally get our natural world back – and it will take more tech and more advanced tech to do it.

I can’t image why anyone would not want this kind of future to happen. If you ask me – this is our real future – not the cold, unrelenting, passionless, horrific future like you see in typical sci-fi. Of course, this kind of future is not very photogenic, so you might not see it in movies.

No, our Skynet will not create killing machines, but live to improve the world and the human race. Our Skynet will help us to deal with the little things and let us focus on the big thoughts. Our Skynet will keep us fit and healthy, will help us improve the world and the human condition. Our Skynet will connect all humans together so that we can all benefit from each others knowledge.

Ironically, our Skynet will allow us to be more human. Tech will save the world, not kill it. Then disappear.

Exponential Organizations: A Book Review

expo

I think I must have recommended this book to at least 15 people, and that’s only in the last few days. I can’t remember the last time I did that for any book.

I used to work at Yahoo! during Salim’s tenure at Brickhouse (I ran the internal innovation group, shepherding ideas from employees to product or patent ) and in this book, he and his co-authors hit the nail on the head. Even though they don’t say that this is a blueprint to envisioning, developing and launching an exponential organization like Uber, AirBnB it may as well be one.

This is a powerful book. I read it non-stop on a flight to from Dublin – I could not put it down and it left me motivated with tons of ideas on building my own exponential startup – and helping others to do the same.

One of the best things about this book is that it crystallized a lot of the thinking that I’ve been doing lately about those kinds of organizations that seemed to grow huge and super profitable overnight, and what were their key attributes, and those attributes were validated here.

For example, for a while I was thinking that individually, things like crowdification (utilizing customers for everything from new product definition, to development, to funding, to support and more) and platformization (realizing the potential of leveraging companies as platforms opening up new sales channels which never existed before) were key to the growth of these firms. In this book, the key initial aspect is crowdification. Once the business reaches a certain inflection point, it introduces itself as a platform, and IMHO eventually, moves down in the stack, allowing others to be the last mile to the customer.

The only aspect which I’ve talked about which is not given as much consideration (which is what Uber does very well), is seamlessness, creating seamless, magical experiences by intersecting big data, the internet of things and automation. IMHO, this is coming sooner than you think.

A must read. If you are interested in building an exponential organization, whether you’re a startup, mid-size company or large enterprise, this book is for you.

Kennedy Goes Back To The Future

kennedyhoverboardDoes anyone here remember when President Kennedy announced that we would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade? Probably not – was before most of our time:

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced before a special joint session of Congress the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade.

and what happened? We got a man on the moon before the end of the decade…

Apollo 11 was the spaceflight that landed the first humans on the Moon, Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, on July 20, 1969, at 20:18 UTC. Armstrong became the first to step onto the lunar surface six hours later on July 21 at 02:56 UTC.

I don’t remember the announcement (wasn’t born yet) but I do remember vaguely something about the US landing on the moon (I was pretty young at the time). If you ever go to Florida and tour these actual ships, you won’t believe that we actually sent people up into space on these rickety things. I for one am surprised by the guts that these people had to push themselves to be able to actually get people to the Moon. The technology seems so backwards now.

Fast forward to 1989, and the movie Back To The Future II, where our intrepid Marty McFly travels to the year 2015 (yep, that’s next year folks) in order to save his kids from, well, I forget the plot. But what everyone remembers is the hoverboard.

Apparently, in the year 2015, we will have figured out anti-gravity to the point where we can build hoverboards which allow us to float over surfaces. While I’m sensing that the technology for a true hoverboard is a little further off, I’m seeing all sorts of interesting products just coming out now, starting to see very early, somewhat functioning prototypes of a true hoverboard. Like this one:

A California startup just built a real, working hoverboard. Arx Pax is attempting to crowdfund the Hendo Hoverboard as a proof of concept for its hover engine technology — it’s not quite the floating skateboard Marty McFly rode through Hill Valley (and the Wild West), but it’s an obvious precursor to the imagined ridable: a self-powered, levitating platform with enough power to lift a fully grown adult.

When I saw this I thought – this is very cool. Its almost like the space race of the 60s, but instead of gaining inspiration from our head of state, we are getting inspiration, (and the drive to build this in time for 2015), from popular media.

It almost makes me think – we should do more stuff like this – present cool, slightly futuristic things in movies and set a REAL date, so that when we start getting close to the date, some enterprising humans take the initiative and try to build the real stuff for the deadline. The deadline is the thing: without the deadline, would people still be dreaming about hoverboards and not trying to build them today?

Just goes to show you: you can get your inspiration and ideas (and deadlines) from any source. You can even set your own.

Google Is Your Dad

Flickr / Prupert

Flickr / Prupert

Do you remember the days when you used to go to your dad – or your mom – or your extended older family – in order to get advice and information on things? Your dad seemed to know everything, right? If you had a question on almost everything – why is the sky blue – why is the grass green – all of those how and why questions, he knew the answer. Weren’t we always in awe of his seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of everything?  He’d teach you how to iron shirts and shine your shoes (do people still do that?), barbecue meat, and not just the manly things. Dad was your go-to guy for, well, most anything.

How often did your parents say “I don’t know” when you asked them a question? They were always your first line of defense against ignorance.

But that’s not the case anymore. Your dad doesn’t know everything, your mom doesn’t know everything. Does that mean the the parents of today gotten dumber? I can’t tell you that – I guess its possible. Maybe for the same reason, too.

Knowing stuff is not as important as knowing where to go to get the knowledge. Knowing the fastest way to get the answer, instead of knowing the answer itself, has nearly become knowing.

That right folks: Google is your dad.

The other day I walked into the living room and my kids were talking about something I know about. They were asking each other a question, and just I was I about to answer the question, they both said “Let’s just Google it” and walked right past me into my younger sons room to go Google it…

Not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, Google does know more than me. So there is really no question Google can’t answer. And in some near future seamless world, where our wearable devices can listen to our surroundings and just answer our questions as soon as we ask them (or eventually even think them). So on the one hand, this is a good, and likely inevitable thing. We can’t stop it. But on the other hand, not being the “first line” of knowledge feels a bit weird. It’s the transition: have we already moved from a world where knowing something is less important than being able to Google it?

This is the future: the just-in-time delivery of knowledge, by vast machine “intelligences”. Soon enough, we won’t even need to know how to find the information we need to know – it will just come to us – as we need it, when we need it.

Is this simply a natural progression into a world where all the world’s knowledge is accessible by anyone, anytime, with a smartphone, or a horrible dumbing down of our society?

Discuss.

The Future Of Work

 

futureofwork

Are you still working in a company where everyone comes into the same office, Monday to Friday, generally from 9-5? Does your CEO frown on telecommuting or outsourcing? Are you clinging to outmoded ways of working, since its what you’ve always done?

Back in 2002, I read a book called “Free Agent Nation” by Dan Pink. In this book, he predicted that the typical corporate job would disappear over time and that in its stead, everyone would become an independent contractor who would work for themselves. There was no more conception of working for a company as an employee – everyone would contract for everything and everyone would likely work multiple jobs for multiple employers for the same time.

In essence, everyone would become a “parallel entrepreneur” working for companies that would loosely form for the duration of the creation of a product, them disband once the product was created. Sure, there would still be some people left on the project to support the product ongoing, but those resources would only need to be called on if required. The concept of a monolithic corporate entity would disappear.

In a sense, its very similar to the model which Hollywood uses today in order to make films – a film is green lighted by a producer, this producer creates a company just for the film, then uses that company to raise funds, hire all of the staff required (including the actors) and then once the film is completed, everyone disbands. Everyone on the film is an independent contractor – no one is actually employed by the company in the typical corporate way.

This model is now stretching into other worlds. In fact, there are plenty of companies just like this now – they form when an entrepreneur gets an idea for a business, raises funding, then hires a number of contractors in order to realize this vision. Then if the product is successful, they can hire the contractors full time, or they just stay that way, leaving them free to pursue multiple projects at the same time.

A number of factors have come into play in order to realize this vision: the latest recession erased a number of corporate jobs. At the same time, sites like elance, odesk and more recently fiverr have provided marketplaces where those displaced by the recession have been able to find work. In fact, some people have found much greater personal success, both financially and in quality of life, by moving their skills to marketplaces like this. At the same time, the improvement of internet speeds and access to most every country in the world, and the increasing levels of education available to anyone, anywhere, anytime, has increased the skill sets of people generally.

These trends are global – no matter where you are in the world, you can work from anywhere, for anyone, at anytime, and the reach of the internet and these marketplaces are facilitating it.

The future of work is loosely connected atomic units of individuals who come together for projects, then disband when required. This gives people more autonomy over both their work and personal lives, not to mention the ability to locate anywhere in the world. With the ability to locate in lower cost locations around the world, work will travel to where the cost is the lowest and the quality is the highest. Additionally, with the ability to tie together teams of geographically distributed individuals, using agile development methodologies, work can continue around the clock, resulting in a faster time to market.

So are you sitting in front of your computer, working on multiple projects, for multiple clients, being able to take a break mostly whenever you like, and you’ve never met anyone you work with on a regular basis in person? Or are you using globally disbursed remote workers to rapidly develop, deploy and support your products?

If so, congrats – you’re already ahead of the curve. Welcome to the world of tomorrow!

Photo Credit – Giorgio Montersino

 

Does Hyperpersonalization Impede Innovation?

 

fedup

I was at a conference the other day about the future of the enterprise. Of course, my crazy futurist side kept on talking about how the enterprise itself is an outmoded concept of work, and in the not too distant future, all types of work will be carried out by more loosely connected individuals, who come together for a project, then disband. But that’s a topic for another post.

One of the speakers at the panel prior to mine mentioned something about hyperpersonalization – which of course is completely on its way – with more and more data collected about what one does from every source, from your actions on your laptop, smartphone, fitness wearables, Apple Watch, and various internet of things devices, like your Nest thermostats and such, being able to determine an exact profile of your needs and wants at any given point in time, it wont be long before we know that cat pictures in your Facebook feed in the morning make you more likely to buy things rather than dog pictures. Our feeds from all sources (although if you think about it, our connections to the internet have really been constrained to only a few sites – Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc) will provide us a never ending stream of stuff completely personalized not only to our personality, but also to the time of day and the place we are at.

Unfortunately, in this world, there will be no room for surprise. You will rarely get anything new fed to you, or anything which pushes the boundaries of your experience, lest you get uncomfortable. And that is the last thing they want.

Back when I worked at Yahoo, I remember the human curators at Yahoo! Music who came up with playlists in specific genres purposely throwing in random tracks which pushed the listener slightly out of their comfort zone, so that they can experience something new – not radical, but new. But nowadays, we think that something is wrong with our feeds when we get something weird and jarring in it. Like a rabid liberal or conservative, we don’t like hearing about things we disagree with. And the feeds reflect that, giving us the safe pablum.

Unfortunately, if you ask me, this chokes off innovation. How can you innovate if you are lying in a safe cocoon of content, never venturing out – never challenging yourself and your world view. Where is the surprise – the little shock that makes you think? In a hyperpersonalized world, it will be gone.

So as my challenge to you – if you want to innovate – break out of the mainstream websites. Stop using Facebook and surf randomly around the internet. Search Google but go down to the 10th+ page, and roam around in there.

Stop being fed. Feed yourself for a change. You’ll never know what innovation you’ll find.

Photo Credit – Sherman Geronimo-Tan / Flickr

Apple Watch: A Triumph Of Incremental Innovation

apple-watchAlways interested in bold new innovation, I watched with bated breath as the new Apple products were revealed this week – once again I was disappointed that Apple took the super safe, non-innovative route to simply copy their Android competitors and simply release a larger version of more or less the same thing, for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus that is. If you ask me, there is no real new ground broken here – yes, even Apple Pay – which so many people are now lauding as the “insert_payment_solution_here killer” doesn’t really innovate. Android phones have had this capacity for a while. Yes, it is now in an Apple designed product, and the start of an infrastructure is there, but innovation? I’ve been paying for things with my Galaxy S4 for years now. So, when it comes to disruptive innovation for the next iPhone – it falls flat.

Actually, I didn’t expect anything very innovative in the new iPhone – its a straight line progression of a lack of innovation from iPhone v1, on – everything has been incremental, and very slow to change. The only thing that seems to be addressed in 6 is the size – the market is clamoring for bigger phones with better displays. People were leaving Apple in droves to get those better displays, and I’m sure that this will bring them back. It’s not innovation. its a response to market. Not something Steve Jobs would have done. Remember, he was the one who famously said “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”. People wanted bigger phones. So Tim Cook gave them to them.

Now on to the Apple Watch. When I first saw the watch I thought – hmm that’s cool. For about ten, fifteen minutes, I too was mesmerized by the design, the magnetic straps, all of that superficial stuff which I thought was cool. And then I took a step back and looked at it again.

The Apple Watch is simply a shrunk down iPhone subset, in almost all ways. It’s like you took an earlier rev of the iPhone, put it in a copier set to shrink, and squared it off a bit. Where are all those amazing designs with the curved screens and all sorts of cool, interesting form factors? Gone. In the Apple Watch design, we simply see a tiny iPhone. In the exact same way we see a large iPhone in the iPad. If you ask me taking something and making it bigger or making it smaller doesn’t make for innovation. You’ve taken the tried and true formula and just re-sized it.

So you say – ok maybe the hardware form factor is not too exciting, What about the dial? What about the button? The original iPod had a dial, as do watches, so this has a dial. The iPhone has a button, so this has a button. It’s not mind-blowing new design, its just an extension of what they have already done. Where is the truly new, ground breaking stuff which hit the market with the first iPhone? Nowhere to be found. Apple is now a very safe player in the space, and they don’t feel that they need to bring any more disruptive innovation to the table.

Let move to the software. Some of the demos did not look too exciting, sure you have a million beautifully designed clock faces. Great. Some of the apps which apply to that are great. But the photo viewing app, as confused jumble of your pictures which you have to zoom into to really see – what the heck it that? Seemed junked in at the last minute, and maybe it was.

Finally, lets go back over my “3 Things The Apple iWatch Must Be” to see if they fulfilled their promises:

1. Fantastically designed. This one is a tough one – there are those who feel that anything Apple produces is amazing, no questions asked. Its true that this is a really nice and refined design, but I wouldn’t say “fantastically” designed. Maybe well designed. So I give this a half point.

2. Amazingly useful: This one they got right – its got a full suite of all sorts of sensors, the first real multipurpose wearable. Full point here.

3. Standalone. Nope. Its not going to replace your iPhone. But like all of the Android Wear, its not meant to. So zero points there.

So is it innovative? I give is 1.5 points out of 3, so partially. That won’t stop droves of loyal Apple fan boys and girls from buying one and adding oh, probably about another $300B to Apple’s valuation. Is this the triumph of incremental innovation?

 

Put Down The Mouse And Step Away From The Computer

Jonathan Philips / Flickr

Jonathan Philips / Flickr

As someone who’s been steeped in the culture of innovation most of my career and in Silicon Valley for the last 15 years of my career, I sometimes find that those two ethos’s (ethii?) sometimes compete with each other. After all, the Silicon Valley ethos is one of entrepreneurs sacrificing all sorts of things (social life, time, money) in order to build the next big amazing new thing and change the world. This place is rife with stories of people pulling months and months of all nighters and sleeping under their desks in order to just get world changing things out the door. It surrounds you here.

Innovation, on the other hand, I find doesn’t thrive in that kind of environment. Innovation, new thinking, comes out of breaking away from sitting in front of your computer, stepping away from the online world and stepping into the offline world for a bit. Maybe its because the online experience is becoming less and less about discovery and more and more about relevancy. Since the number of ways we experience the internet seems to be shrinking, and those companies continue to strive to give us a hyper-customized version of the internet, assuming what we want based on where we’ve been and what we do, the internet is becoming less surprising. And surprise, IMHO, is essential for generating new ideas.

Have you found that some of the greatest ideas that you’ve ever had have come to you while you were in the shower, or sitting at a coffee shop nursing a caramel macchiato watching the world go by,  or having an animated ad-hoc conversation with a colleague, usually while you’ve been walking with them? If you go back and think about it – have you gotten most of your best ideas by sitting in front of your computer surfing, or by getting out into the world and experiencing it?

My sense is that our brains fall into patterns when they are looking at a screen all day. They need that fresh interaction with other things – be it people, things, trees, whatever. They need that front-of-brain to relax while the back-of-brain comes up with the cool new stuff.

I find that’s where I get most of my inspiration from – from interacting with people and the world, as opposed to my computer. Make time to take breaks – get out – shake up your environment – do something different. Even a short walk to the corner for a coffee can give you all sorts of inspiration.

So put down that mouse, step away from the computer, and get inspired.

The Top 100 Least Innovative Companies

hlb

Now, you didn’t really think that this was going to be a post with a list of the top 100 least innovative companies in it, did you? I mean, how would I go about doing that anyways – call up companies that I think are not innovating and ask if they want to be on this list? I doubt if anyone would admit to it.

But I’ll bet that when you saw that headline you probably thought to yourself – hmm – I wonder if MY company is on that list? Tell the truth, how many of you clicked on that link thinking that you’d see your company at the top of that list – or at least in the top ten? I’ll bet a lot of you, especially if you are working at a large, established company that has been around for a while. Heck, even if it hasn’t been around for long – size tends to squash innovation.

I understand totally. You are probably an innovator at your company. You probably have a lot of great ideas, but for some reason or another, those ideas just don’t get listened to. Or maybe they do get listened to, but nothing ever happens to them. So after giving up a few ideas, and nothing happens to them, you just shut up and stop giving them your ideas. Why should I, you tell yourself, because they aren’t going to do anything about it anyways, right?

The reality is that that there are a ton of interesting ideas and new innovations locked into the minds of everyone around you. Human beings are naturally curious and creative. They are also natural problem solvers. When they see a problem, they try to fix it. When they see an opportunity, they try to take it. Problem is, when you don’t have the authority or power to make the changes in order to fix the problem or launch that new idea as a product, and those who do, don’t, that opportunity for innovation is lost.

So your company is innovative. It’s people are innovative. So how does that innovation take root?

In my experience, in order to facilitate change from within, you need to be an evangelist. Just like a startup founder on the outside looking for funding, you need to be a startup founder on the inside, looking for the right ear – or ears – to hear your idea. We used to call that “socializing” it. If you believe in the idea, and its a strong enough idea – you just need to get it to the right person – or people – who can help to move it forward. Just like finding the right VC, finding the right champion will help you get your ideas heard. And maybe worked on. And maybe even eventually launched.

If that fails though – you can always take your next idea and start your own company. Who knows, maybe you’ll get acquired – by the place you left. :)