Paying For The Perception Of Choice

exploding-tvFinally took the plunge and dropped my DirecTV subscription – I’ve been a subscriber of some manner of broadcast TV for, oh, I don’t know, forever, since I moved out of my parents house. Over the years, I’ve probably spent in excess of $30,000 for broadcast TV, assuming $500 per year when I first started paying for it, and $1500 per year today. Sure, the amount of programming has probably tripled, the costs have tripled, but the time I spend watching TV hasn’t. In fact, its much less.

So took a look at exactly what our family watched and went to iTunes and calculated it all out. Buying 2 Apple TV’s and programming for the year cost us $450. A $1000 saving over DirecTV. A $1200 saving next year once the AppleTVs are paid off.

A no-brainer, right? Yet people are still locked into the all-you-can-eat model. It really compelling, isn’t it? It’s hard to break away from a model where you pay one price, albeit a high one, to get way more than you ever need, just so you can have the choice.

Same goes for buffets! Even though you spend way more than you ever need to, the fact that you can spend $15 to walk up to a huge array of foods and eat maybe $5 worth of it, makes it worthwhile, doesn’t it. I’m sure that maybe some folks can eat up to $8 worth. Either way, you’re paying a premium for a perceived increased choice.

The choices are real for your local buffet, but its not the same for broadcast TV. It really is 500 channels with nothing on. Except of course for Duck Dynasty, mysteriously the hottest show on TV.

We’re only missing two things, which if you ask me are real opportunities for startups in this space:

  1. Ads: which makes product placement all the more important. Watching Person Of Interest last week (love how kick-ass Jim Caviezel’s character is in this show) the dating app Tinder (a real app) and Angler (not a real app). As more and more people drop broadcast TV, product placement will skyrocket.
  2. Discovery: Previews for other new shows often spurred watching them. There are some attempts to make this happen, but it needs a lot more work. I can see a huge opportunity here.

I’m still looking for a good discovery app. If anyone can suggest one, please drop a line in the comments below. Let me know if you’ve decided to drop broadcast TV as well. I’d be interested to know your reasons.

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Greece & Grand Canyon: Thoughts & Meanderings

portaraWe recently got back from a few family trips, which is why you haven’t heard from me for a while – we spent 2 weeks in Greece, visiting family and roaming around, then 4 days at the Grand Canyon, hiking and generally sightseeing. Great time was had by all and I made some interesting observations en route:

Greece is not as bad as it looks: We noticed that there were very few American tourists in Greece, probably all scared off by all of the negative press around what has been happening there. Things seemed pretty calm when we were there, although there was one night when we walked past an array of Greek police shock troops who were specifically policing a particular area as it was the anniversary of a killing in that area. Business seemed to be booming, prices were down from the last time we were there 2 years ago, although the people themselves told a different tale.

Pretty much everyone we talked to agreed that the days of profligate spending were over and that it was time to pay the price. Greece is a perfect example of government gone wild, running for years and years with no restraints. The civil service grows huge on the back of the taxpayers, which are getting fewer and fewer every year, either due to their businesses shutting down or them switching to the underground economy. Those who have made the switch are doing well, I met business people and entrepreneurs who are doing just fine, as long as they don’t have to be beholden to the state. It’s an extension of an idea I had a while back – as the state gets more expensive and less relevant, people will opt-out of dealing with the state and you end up with two countries – one of people who follow the state and look for government solutions doggedly, and the other who try to minimize all of their dealings with the state.

Of course, the latter is doing much, much better, despite the attempts of the state to tears them down. You see the future of America in Greece, where success if punished, great success double so, lest things seem unfair.

Its a perfect case study of how the more government you have, the less successful you are. Greece desperately needs tax-free and low-regulation economic zones in order for young people to decide to create startups and jumpstart the economy. It’s not like the Greeks are not industrious, they have simply gotten so used to be taken care of, that they have forgotten that work sometimes equals success more often than sitting on your ass collecting from the state.

I met an amazing entrepreneur there who immediately started talking to me about his startup idea – I’m researching it now and hope to go into a joint venture with him shortly. It’s not that the desire is not there – its just that the barriers are so high. Despite that – there are many success stories you just don’t hear about.

Seems to me that there is great opportunity in Greece for startups and entrepreneurship – but until the government gets out of the way, the barriers to startups flourishing there is still a very tall one. You have to think, as an investor and possible entrepreneur, would you go to and invest in a startup in Greece right now? There are many other countries higher on the list.

However, they did make one interesting move recently to attract investors – they have one of the lowest cost resident visas in the world. Probably early days yet, but it might be worth a look – Greece will turnaround, the question is when.

gcGrand Canyon: Awesome views & hike – terrible food! – One of the things about the Grand Canyon that I didn’t realize was how remote it is from everywhere. We flew into Phoenix and drove 3 plus hours to get there – I was told that it would have been about the same from Vegas. We passed through Flagstaff on the way and that town seemed like a microcosm of hipsterness (the Simpsons did a hilarious sendup of ex-Portlanders “invading” a town and making it all trendy, only to move on when it got too trendy) like I’m assuming other places who have been invaded by ex-Californians fleeing from the state thinking it had already been “played out” (like Austin, Portland, Seattle etc) – Flagstaff seemed a cool town, would have liked to spend more time there – I sensed there was some startup energy there as well.

Once we got the the Grand Canyon, we were greeted with fantastic scenery and great hikes, but the food was absolutely awful, both inside and outside the park. Inside the park, all of the concessions were likely handed to a single company and according to the reviews, uniformly bad across the board, no matter if you were buying a pizza or dining in the upscale “El Tovar”. The nearest town, Tusayan, was no better. The closest analogy was that you were eating airport food – the nearest town was an hours drive away so the places in Tusayan seemed to compete against each other for the most mediocre. I guess location, in some cases, is still important.

It’s an interesting mindset that one can let the quality of a product drop once you have a captive audience to purchase that product. If you ask me, this is an interesting opportunity – if you parachuted into a place like Tusayan, and I’ll bet that there are probably a lot of places like that, where the remoteness of the location allows the businesses to serve sub-par products, change a few of those parameters and you can clean up. Provide a better service to a semi-captive group and you should be flooded with customers. Customer loyalty is not as much of  factor anymore.

Once we left Tusayan, and the choices got broader, the food got better: perfect example of competition breeding excellence: a captive group of customers to a small group of businesses trends to poorer product, while a freer moving, larger competitive base creates better product. Gotta love capitalism.

BTW, we didn’t visit many of these places at all – it was their Yelp reviews which gave us the go/nogo indications. So once again, social media and crowdsourcing can kill your business, or let it flourish.

 

Journalism Is Dead : Can We Revive It Via The Crowd?

Journalism-is-deadI few months ago, I discovered what I thought was a really cool new newsmagazine site called Quartz at qz.com. At first I was drawn in by the cool design, interesting tech articles etc so I decided to subscribe in order to keep up with the site. They had a “daily brief” which summarized all of the top stories in various categories. I thought it was pretty cool.

So I started reading the emails as they came in – interesting enough – but they all have that same slant which has wrecked journalism: the authors political beliefs slant the articles. At first it wasn’t so bad – I was able to read past the cringe worthy political talk. But at some point they stopped reporting facts and started reporting opinion as fact, that’s when they lost me. As with most, if not all journalism nowadays, the writers opinion colored the analysis. Worst of all, they didn’t even try to be balanced, they seemed to take pride in the fact that they were feeding you propaganda. I suppose that maybe they believe it themselves, but as a real journalism, your job is not to convince me that your opinion is right.

True journalism means “we report, you decide”. Now it means “we tell you only what you need to know to make a decision which mimics my opinion” – There is very little factual reporting of anything which is true. When was the last time you ever read anything in any kind of media, yes even blogs, which is real? True journalism is dead: we can’t get the truth from anyone anymore.

Or can we? When you look at the events unfolding in Egypt, Greece and other hotspots around the world, who is the most reliable source of the truth? People on the ground, emitting raw, unedited reports from the scene. If you ask me, Twitter, Facebook & YouTube have become the new source of truth. True journalism comes directly from individuals experiencing events as they occur.

But still, there is no solution which properly distills the huge hosepipe of information into anything truly useful – most of the time “journalists” pick and choose the tweets they’d like to feature in their articles and once again, color the news to their political beliefs.

Sounds to me that there is a startup idea here: how can we properly analyze and process the hosepipe of data in real time to provide stream of pure journalism, direct from the crowd to you. Something that side steps the editors and the writers so desperate to change your mind instead of give you the facts, and feeds the truth directly to you. A news and mobile site which specifically does not bring you the news from news sites, but from real people, in real places, in real time.

 

Are We Seeing A 3D Backlash?

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After making it the default setting to always see the 3D version of any big budget sci-fi, superhero, big bang bang action movies if its available, I’ve made the decision to stop – after seeing Avengers, Iron Man 3 and Star Trek: Into Darkness in 3D, and planning on seeing Pacific Rim, I don’t think its really worth it. Being a huge Star Trek fan, I watched Into Darkness in both 2 and 3D and I can safely say that the 3D did not add anything to the experience. I’m finding that with nearly everything out there, that when the 3D is added post production, that it simply does not add anything to the film.

I read lately that the latest 3D Doctor Who special didn’t go over very well and that the BBC was going to shelve any more 3D stuff for at least a few years. Plus I hear that ESPN is dumping their 3D feed.

Here’s my thinking – not only has 3D not really been properly utilized, there really is no compelling reason for 3D unless the environment is more fully immersive, ala the holodeck. 3D works great when you are fully immersed in the experience, like with VR, but not if the 3D is simply popping out of a screen, unless that screen is huge.

I saw Avatar in an IMAX theater in 3D. While I didn’t like the premise of the film (just another Dancing With Wolves, tech & capitalism bad, natives & nature good), that was a great 3D experience, due to the real thought put into the 3D experience AND the immersive effect of the giant screen.

While it sounds like a great idea on the surface, its not there yet and if you’re planning on seeing any 3D films soon I say save your money and check out the 2D versions instead. Although, I’m wondering what they might look like through an Oculus Rift

How To Annoy Your Customers, FedEx Style

fedex

Hot on the heels of my last post on annoying your customers, here’s another good one. So we finally received our FitBit Flex devices on Monday, but they were in our city on Friday, but just sitting, cooling their heels. Here we are, after waiting for months, with FedEx now teasing us that the devices are here, but not here. This is what we saw when we checked on Friday:

Location: SAN JOSE, Not Scheduled For Delivery

Yup. Our long awaited devices were sitting in a Fedex warehouse but because they hadn’t scheduled delivery for the day they actually arrived in town. So in Fedex’s infinite wisdom, they decided to “neener neener” us by telling us that our stuff was here, we just couldn’t have it yet.

Multiple things wrong here. First, when you tell a customer that you are going to deliver on X date, and the package does actually arrive in the destination city on X-3 date, then you should just deliver it. The customer does not care about when it was scheduled to arrive, he just wants it, yesterday. This is just bad policy, IMHO. Oh, and BTW, for those of you who think it missed the delivery window, it actually arrived the night before. So whats the rule? ALWAYS BEAT EXPECTATIONS, if you can.

At the very least, the whole way in which things were communicated needs to be revised. Sure, in the interests of transparency, they should tell us where our packages are at every moment. But on the flipside, this information could expose issues in your operation. Even status updates should be written with care. If you ask me, a customer might forgive one indiscretion like this, but pile them up and they can easily move to another carrier. The second rule : ALWAYS TELL THE CUSTOMER WHATS GOING ON, but make sure that the way you say it doesn’t hurt your brand. Fedex’s brand is SPEED, and your package sitting in a warehouse over a weekend isn’t speed, its a old guy behind the counter telling you he’ll get to you when he gets to you.

Anyways, we have our Fitbit Flex’s now, and are very happy with them – but the experience of purchase and shipping left much to be desired. Your customer might be ok with this is they are waiting for a cool, new, unique product, but treatment like that gets old fast.

Its Not Who You Know, Its Who Knows You

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As a student of the “success marketplace” (otherwise known as reading a ton of success books over the course of my life) I came to one revelation last week which of course is probably blindingly obvious to almost everyone. Everyone, and I mean everyone, who is successful, got a lucky break at one point in their life. It may have even happened before they were born – their parents may have gotten their lucky break for them. But for those who are successful now, they went from a poor or regular existence to one of wealth and riches, got there by some lucky break.

A lot of success books which talk about the value of hard work – that if you simply do the work – over and over – eventually you will succeed. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who worked extremely hard all of their lives and are no more successful than anyone else. Same goes for talent. The human race is filled with talent. There are literally millions of talented singers who will never be on the Voice, or dancers who will never see So You Think You Can Dance. Those ones who leapfrogged into the upper echelons of whatever they are successful at, caught that lucky break. Talent and hard work MAY have helped, but they are not a given.

Every example, from Bill Gates, to Mark Cuban, to Michael Jordan, to Donald Trump, every rich person, famous, infamous, and not famous at all, caught a lucky break. Could have been being hired to the right company, like say a Google or Facebook, and granted stock prior to IPO. Could have been running a bakery for years until Katie Holmes walks into your store and orders a cupcake. Could have spent years working on a startup, shutting it down, and then 3 weeks into your next one, Ashton Kutcher tweets abouts it, and suddenly you’re front page news.

Yes folks, success always requires pure dumb luck. All you can do is increase the chances of it happening, it can never, ever be guaranteed. 99% of all success and self help books are total crap in this regard – they often leave out the absolute fact that luck is a key factor in all success.

So, should you just give up? Should you just sit there on the couch and wait for luck to strike you? Well, no because that will reduce your chances of success. If you look at all of those examples that I gave you – they all involve making a connection with other people who can either help you directly OR know someone who can help you. You can’t just sit in a dark cave and code the most awesome product in the world, because when you launch it – no one will ever see it.

People. Increasing the odds of success is all about people. Success is all about the maximum amount of people knowing you and what you are doing, not the more commonly heard “its who you know”, its more “who knows you”.

Why the maximum amount, why not the “most effective amount?” – Simple – its a numbers game. Like dating and eventually finding “the one” the more you date, the more you see person after person, eventually you will come across someone you fit just right. Same with success: expose yourself or your product to enough people, eventually an influencer will get you that lucky break.

So stop sitting there and coding up a storm. Get out there and meet, meet, meet as many people as you can, not just online but at meetups and other places in person. Push yourself out of your comfort zone, just hanging out with other coders won’t cut it. Do this all the time that you can. Carve out some time to make those connections, build those relationships, tell people what you are up to.

Who knows – maybe the next person you talk to is the one who can help you succeed. But as the great Wayne Gretzky said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” – so…take the shot.

Do What You Love & The Money Will Follow?

holsteemanifestoBack about 8 years ago, some colleagues and I were discussing this very issue: that many people are very talented in areas in which they can’t really make a living, so they spend time in a “day job” which they may or may not like, but pays the bills while they pursue their true passion. At the time we discussed how there were very few services which addressed this market. Also, at the time, the economy was much healthier, and the fact that millions of “conventional” jobs would disappear was simply not on the horizon. Its a new day, and many people now have no day job to leverage in order to do what they love – services like Gumroad make it possible for people to finally do what they love and with luck, the money does follow.

Gumroad enables creatives to sell directly to their audience — so that they can make a living doing what they love.Writers, designers, game developers, musicians, artists, and filmmakers use Gumroad to earn money off of their creative efforts.

via Gumroad – About.

Bravo On The Whole WFH Thing, Marissa

While I personally do not agree with the whole new stance on working from home that Marissa Mayer is about to implement at Yahoo!, I have to say it was a great publicity stunt. In almost every meeting I’ve been having over that last while the topic of discussion seems to wander over to Marissa’s proclamation. Its definitely had the effect of bringing Yahoo! into  the conversation. So, whether or not that was the intended consequence, that worked.

Mayer defended her decision by first acknowledging that “people are more productive when they’re alone,” and then stressed “but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together.” The shift in policy affects roughly 200 of Yahoos 12,000 employees.

via Marissa Mayer breaks her silence on Yahoos telecommuting policy – Fortune Tech.

Dabbling In Programming? Start Here

women_programmers

My first programming language was BASIC, starting with Turbo Basic, moving on to Visual Basic. I then took a long hiatus, then jumped back in with Ruby on Rails (RoR). Once I made the leap to object oriented programming, it was a breeze. It literally took me 6 weeks to go from zero knowledge of RoR to a shipping application. So for those of you who are thinking of jumping into it, here’s are my recommendations:

  1. First, start with Ruby on Rails. I’ve found that its a great development environment and language to start with. I started by using an integrated development environment (IDE) like Aptana, but I quickly moved on to simply installing the base Ruby on Rails environment on my PC and using a straight up text editor – I use E-Text-Editor personally – in order to code. I found that the IDE really kind of got in the way of learning how to code – I had to learn not only the language and the framework but also the IDE itself.
  2. The first thing I didn’t get was that Ruby is the actual computer language, and Rails is whats known as a framework, a set of standards which someone (namely the people behind 37Signals) developed which uses Ruby in order to more rapidly develop applications. Once you get that, it gets easier.
  3. Rails makes web development super quick, assuming that you understand the way it works – many of the top sites out there today – Twitter for example – is built in RoR and as far as I know the front end web interface still uses it today (I believe that the back end uses Scala)
  4. If you are looking for a book to get you up to speed quickly, I highly recommend Learn Web Development with the Ruby on Rails Tutorial. The full book is online, at the link above. If you are more of a paper person, you can grab it on Amazon. More important books to own: Agile Development with Rails, and for a quick reference guide, I recommend both the Rails Pocket Reference, and the Ruby Pocket Reference
  5. One of the most powerful aspects of Ruby are things called gems. Ruby gems are small chunks of Ruby code which perform a specific function. They allow you to extend the functionality of RoR quickly – for example, lets say that you wanted to write an app to send a tweet. Well, instead of trying to figure out how to write that from scratch, the Twitter gem adds commands to your app to do that in a very simple way. There are literally thousands of gems out there which can really help you to accelerate your development.
  6. Once you’ve got some apps running, and are familiar with Ruby, your next stop should probably be something like C#. You could try to go straight to Java or C++, but personally I think its easier to make the transition to C# once you’ve learned Ruby.
  7. If you are interested in developing mobile apps, for something like iPhone or Android, there is no need to jump directly to Objective C, which I find really tough to understand. Instead use something like Corona Labs or if you want to go straight to applying your Ruby knowledge to mobile apps, check out  RubyMotion MobiRuby or Rhodes

More words of advice:

  • Watch for version numbers! Make sure that you are running the latest version of Ruby and Rails. Some of the reference books describe different code versions. Always consult the docs for the versions you are using
  • A great place to host your stuff for free while you test it out is Heroku. I’ve used them since 2009 and they are great for hosting and testing your apps. Test and demo apps are free, and its easy to scale up if you need to if you decide to launch anything that you are working on.

Good luck on your programming mission, should you choose to accept it.

PS: Now I know that there are a lot of hardcore developers out there who would shun me for recommending something like Rails as a cheat and a shortcut – that everyone should get down and dirty with C++ or Java or something more low-level. I see your point, however, if you ask me, coding is a skill that everyone should develop, and if Ruby is more accessible to people IMHO, why not start there. If they get bitten by the bug, there is no reason they can’t move to more hardcore languages. But if you ask me, this is where the world is going – easier to learn languages and helpful IDEs are the future.

Why Can’t Everyday People Invest In Startups?

jobs-act

This is something that I’ve been wondering for a long time – why do we still, in this day and age – have this insane rule dating from the Great Depression regarding having to be, basically, rich, in order to invest in a company? There are so many exciting startups that are out there that your everyday joe would love to be a part of, but due to some arcane rules from another time, people are simply blocked from investing in businesses they might like to see succeed one day. A huge, whole swath of the population makes less than $250k a year, has less than $1M in assets, but would love to invest a few bucks in something they love.

Just look at Kickstarter and Indiegogo for example. While technically not real crowdfunding, since the “investors” aren’t getting anything back but product or a mention, these sites success is an indicator that there is a huge appetite for true crowdfunding.

One of the few things that this administration has done for the economy that I agree with is the JOBS act, which will, finally, after nearly a century, allows investments by the non-rich into the companies they love, AND possibly get a financial return from. Imagine the massive sea of funding which is out there for these startups to tap, which is being held back by this crazy rule (I know, you guys are thinking – “Boy, Chris, tell us what you really think of the Securities Act of 1933)

Of course, like anything which seems like disruptive change which could actually benefit the economy for the little guy, forces are coalescing to hold this  law back from being implemented. Yes, the law had been in place for a year, but is yet to be rolled out. Why? Well, as usual, under the guise of protecting the “little guy”, they continue to try and work the law so that the little guy is shut out, yet again.

Let’s do what we can to get this law implemented – I wouldn’t be surprised to see a huge upswing in the economy just from something like this finally happening.

One year ago, President Obama signed the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act into law. So, why isn’t “equity crowdfunding” a reality for startups and regular people who want to support them, in the U.S.?For the unfamiliar, equity crowdfunding–under the JOBS Act–allows startups and small businesses to raise up to $1 million in equity funding online, through sites registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.Broader access to capital could help entrepreneurs when loans aren’t favorable, or they lack connections to deep-pocketed angel and venture investors.

via On JOBS Act Anniversary, Why Can’t Everyday People Invest In Startups? – Venture Capital Dispatch – WSJ.