Archive for October, 2006

JotSpot Dissolves Into Google Business Model

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Startups

As a Jotspot customer I am not at all excited by the portents around Jot’s announcement that they had been acquired by Google for an undisclosed sum and that, for the moment, no new accounts could be created. From Jot’s Home Page

New users:
We’ve closed off new account registrations while we focus on migrating to Google’s systems. If you’d like to be notified when we re-open registration, enter your email address below.

Why when you would probably have the most interest in your service would you not allow me to add any accounts or allow anyone new to signup. Because it’s going to pull a Writely and dissolve indistinguishably into Google Docs & Spreadsheets. I don’t think this is a good reason to add new clients into a GoogleSpot workspace. This is an experiment on Google’s part. Their business model is advertising driven, and private workspaces for confidential work with clients–which is our use case–are not amenable to having a crawler come through to generate context specific advertising. I certainly agree with the three challenges that Jot faced as outlined by Scott McMullan in their developer blog:

  1. Startups fail all the time — will you be around next year?
  2. This will be mission critical for us — do you have the manpower to support your service?
  3. We need fast, reliable, and scalable access — are you up to snuff?

This looks to me like an experiment on Google’s part, and large companies abandon experiments all the time, especially since they haven’t announced an acquisition price. Mission critical doesn’t require Google scale to succeed (in fact a wiki service based on Amazon’s EC3 would be as rock solid, something for some of the remaining 100+ players to consider). Not only that but Amazon’s business model is more conducive to charging me a small amount for good service on a pay as you go basis. There are other grid alternatives as well worth considering,more on that later.

Peter Thoeney, speaking from the Twiki perspective, believes that this is a good thing because it eliminates them as a competitor in the enterprise space:

I believe this is good news for the open source TWiki project because:

  1. It further boosts the awareness of wikis in the general public; and with this will bring more recognition to TWikis running at the workplace.
  2. With JotSpot moving to hosted only solution and staying away from software packages and appliances, other enterprise level wikis will get more traffic, such as TWiki, Socialtext and Confluence. I have not seen many large companies that entrust their mission critical wiki data to be hosted by a third party.

I am more sanguine about the possibility for hosted wikis penetrating the enterprise, but I do think it’s good news for Twiki.

Ross Mayfield offers a way to “Get Yourself out of a Spot” We may take him up on it, if only to reduce some of the uncertainty for existing clients. Atlassian has also announced a migration path for JotSpot Wiki Server customers (but not folks like me who I think Zoli characterized correctly as preferring to pay rather than have Google analyze all of my shared work product with a client; it would be an interesting exclusion in the non-disclosure agreement: we allow the Google advertising context spider to read everything we work on together).

I will have to browse through the http://www.wikimatrix.org/ and investigate some alternatives. We also use Socialtext and EditMe with existing clients. We also use WebEx Office, which now looks like it should add/acquire a wiki (without raising prices).

I am not knocking the execution and delivery of Google’s Docs & Spreadsheets (see for example an Oct-17-2006 PC Mag Review) I was an early Writely user (but wouldn’t commit to any customers when they wouldn’t give me a monthly fee I could pay to guarantee service) and we have experimented with Google Spreadsheets and was extremely impressed. It’s the alignment of the Google business model with my business needs that has me the most concerned for this application.

End Note: while researching this I was surprised to learn that the San Jose Mercury was podcasting. They posted a Feb 2006 interview with Joe Kraus to add context to their Nov 1 news story.

Carole Edman, HR Manager To Go

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Startups

I have had the pleasure of meeting Carole Edman at a number of networking events and been impressed with professionalism and expertise. She started consulting in 1986 as Carole Edman & Associates, and has been offering the following services to small and mid-size companies:

  • High quality interim, on-call, or part-time Human Resources Management consulting services, to prevent or resolve tough issues in hiring, retaining, and managing employees
  • Human Resources training, coaching, and guidance for HR team members, CEO’s, senior and mid-level managers, first-line supervisors, and employees
  • Development and implementation of employee handbooks, benefits, compensation, and performance management programs.

Her website has a rich set of resources on HR questions, one question that came up recently that she was very helpful with was how to determine whether a worker should be treated as an independent contractor or an employee. Here are some references to both Federal and CA rules that are with reviewing before you make this decision.

Carole offered the following advice

The FED & CA rules are not the same and many companies (including Microsoft, FedEx, many others) have had to pay huge fines for misclassifying workers as independent contractors (ICs). Audits occur when ICs who should have been employees make a claim for unemployment or state disability or are unhappy that you terminated their services, or just at random.  They also occur when the IC has only one client and one 1099 in a year, or gets a W2 and 1099 from the same company in the same tax year.  Several small clients of mine have been audited and it is a time-consuming, expensive process, to be avoided if at all possible. The EDD has become very aggressive in auditing for non-compliance, as it is a way for them to bring in $$ with fines and back taxes (payable by the employer, regardless of whether the employee/IC already paid them; they are double collected).

Carole has been very helpful to a number of folks I know. If you are a Silicon Valley startup I would encourage you to keep her HR Manager To Go website on your list of resources for when those thorny employment and human resources issues come up (or if you want to prevent problems consider being pro-active about an employee handbook).

Administrivia in Startups

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Startups

I had lunch with Sylvia Nessan, a veteran of Synopsys, CoWare, and several high tech startups and she made an observation that I thought was worth writing down: the founding team, and CEO in particular, don’t pay enough attention to how much time they waste on administrivia. Hiring an admin or other outside service providers to take care of the four to eight hours a week of work that they really don’t need to do–basic e-mail networking, taxes, finances, office management / operational issues–reduces the number of different balls they have to juggle at once and increases your effectiveness by 25-40% when you take into account that, although it’s an important set of tasks that must be done, the founders don’t have to do it.

Nancy Blachman’s Google Guide

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events

I’m late to the party on GoogleGuide, based on who else has written about it, this blog entry was triggered by Nancy Blachman’s upcoming talk, “What Google Can Do For Your Business,” Tuesday, November 21, 2006 7:00 PM, at the IEEE-CNSV meeting at KeyPoint Credit Union, 2805 Bowers Ave., Santa Clara, CA.

This looks to be a good talk, but if you can’t make that Nancy has a schedule posted for other upcoming talks. And you can always just consult her Google Guide directly. Two sections I found particularly useful were on adwords and advanced commands. And as the Pandia Post Newsletter observed in January 2004

Take a look at her GoogleGuide web site. There she gives away a lot of web search information for free. Actually, if you print out the printer-friendly version of her site, you end up with a very useful book containing some 114 pages of Google tips and information.

Actually, as of Oct-23-2006, the Google Guide PDF is now 149 pages, so Nancy hasn’t been idle in keeping up with Google’s new features. With her very impressive resume (an MS from Berkeley in Operations Research and an MS in Computer Science from Stanford) she should be working at Google..say on an easy-to-use constantly updated guide to how to use Google for novices and experienced users alike. But she may happier running Variable Symbols and letting her husband work there–since 1999 according to this interview.

If you are a technical consultant in Silicon Valley, the IEEE Consulting Network for Silicon Valley frequently runs useful and informative events and is an organization you should consider joining.

 

Nusym De-cloaks 2

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in EDA, Startups

Some follow-ups to yesterday’s post on Nusym

  • Why de-cloak? Don’t most stealth startups emerge? Yes, at least according to Google and EET. But a good Star Trek allusion (or is it Harry Potter?) always enriches a blog post and the Duke “invisibility cloakdemonstration announcement had recently gone out over the mojo wire, so it was fresh in my mind. Technically I think you have a cloak of invisibility and boots of stealth, so a stealthy start would de-boot (debut?).
    • you might wonder how they could have been “on my radar” if they were in stealth, but think Jorn.
  • Quiet mode (stealth mode): I am normally in favor of this, but if you are advertising jobs for folks and identifying yourself as associated with the startup in public forums it can’t hurt to to at least talk about the problem you plan to solve. Other opinions on “stealth mode startups”
  • Other “stealth mode startups” that have emerged in 20006 according to EE Times:
    • Gear6 (FYI their news page allows you to enter your E-mail to be notified of new developments).
    • Takumi Technology (they “emerge from stealth” here).
    • Micro Magic (reborn in stealth after being acquired by Juniper; their CEO believes “What separates Micro Magic from other EDA companies is that we are actually designers.”)
  • The Company page contains a paragraph that looks to be more appropriate for B round solicitation than a customer oriented briefing:
    • The company’s technology is based upon ground-breaking research done at Stanford combined with 60+ years of design and verification experience of the founders. The company has attracted funding from individuals that are legends in the EDA industry and Silicon Valley and from venture capital firms prominent in the EDA industry. We have assembled a team of outstanding technologists and a seasoned management team.
    • You have to be careful that you don’t base your customer briefing on your funding pitch and instead work from scratch on customer pain points. I guess the counter-argument is that it establishes their financial viability.
  • I got an e-mail from Howard Landman (he of the Law and Lemma) that pointed out Patterson’s Precept was coined by “David Patterson, co-author of Patterson and Hennessy computer architecture book, professor at U.C. Berkeley.” I have amended the original post to reflect this.

Details as they frolic in plain view but beyond understanding, like the invisible ineffable cues that a school of fish use to synchronize their movements.

Nusym De-cloaks

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in EDA, Startups

Nusym has been on my radar screen ever since Venk Shukla came to a SIPA dinner on April 26, 2006 and joined their advisory board. Venk has been associated with a number of successful EDA companies (e.g. Cadence, Ambit, Magma Design, and Emulation and Verification Engineering (EVE)), a charter member of TiE, and definitely someone to watch. So I did…for a long time their home page read like this:

“Nusym is focused on functional verification area of Electronic Design Automation. The company is a well-funded Bay Area startup with seasoned EDA management and luminary technical advisory board. The company was founded by hardware design engineers with decades of experience in chip-design. Our technology automates much of the tedious functional verification tasks and enables design verification team’s precious resources to focus on what is important to verify. User will get much higher verification coverage in less time with less efforts.”

I thought it a little odd that they would hide their light under a bushel basket, so to speak, since Venk had included the fact that he was CEO in his bio for SIPA, but so be it. Sometime yesterday that changed, so when I checked the Home page this morning (Oct 20-2006) it read:

The most significant breakthrough in functional verification in a decade

Nusym Technology is an EDA software company that provides order of magnitude improvement in verification productivity while leveraging existing infrastructure of test bench environment and checkers.
We are currently operating in “quiet” mode engaging with a very limited number of potential customers. We encourage you to visit this site often for updates on our progress.

Observations

  • I am surprised that they don’t talk about either Venk or Chris Wilson who lists his affiliation with Nusym on the International Conference on Computer Design’s (ICCD) verification and test track co-chair page.
  • And why does Jayant Nagda languish in the comments in the HTML?
  • An HTML title tag of “Webpage” means that the page bookmarks as “Webpage”. Probably better as “Nusym Technology.”
  • They might want to ask for my e-mail address to notify me when things are updated (or offer an RSS feed).
  • What happened a decade ago that they are using for a benchmark? Cycle Based Simulation?
  • Normally the “quiet period” refers to a pre-IPO state, and “stealth mode” is used for companies that haven’t announced.
  • Where is their blog? Their website has no dial tone.

From the Company page

Nusym is an EDA company developing software solutions that will revolutionize functional verification – just as introduction of logic synthesis in the late 80’s revolutionized logic design.
The company’s technology is based upon ground-breaking research done at Stanford combined with 60+ years of design and verification experience of the founders. The company has attracted funding from individuals that are legends in the EDA industry and Silicon Valley and from venture capital firms prominent in the EDA industry. We have assembled a team of outstanding technologists and a seasoned management team.
The company is founded on the following set of core beliefs:

  1. Simulation continues to be the most potent bug finding tool and will remain so for a long period of time.
  2. Tools that require a lot of effort to learn and need a lot of work upfront to get any benefit from them will never become the tools of choice for hardware designers and verification engineers.
  3. Productivity begets quality. If the tools enable the engineers to become dramatically more productive, quality of the design will improve. Tools that focus on improving the quality without regard to improving the productivity of the engineer are not likely to be adopted.

Stay tuned for the most significant breakthrough in functional verification in a decade!

Observations

  • Logic synthesis in the late 80’s Maybe they really meant to benchmark themselves against the biggest jump in design productivity in 20 years, Synopsys Design Compiler.
  • The company has attracted funding Remembering to Google, I learned that the Woodside fund (OK they don’t list it directly, but they point to this Aug/2005 Economic Times article and Ashish Gupta’s bio does), Draper Richards, and Draper Fisher Jurvetson (again not in their portfolio list but found in their 20 Year Anniversary Book) all had invested. Also some of the Silicom Ventures folks.
  • Simulation continues to be the most potent bug finding tool I think design reviews are probably more potent. But this is probably meant to argue against formal techniques.
  • Tools that require a lot of effort to learn There are very few easy to learn breakthroughs for any engineer wrestling with Moore’s Law. I remember taking an experienced logic designer to a demo of Design Compiler in 1998, before Synopsys figured out “Gates to Gates” (read in your current design as gates and output another gate level netlist that was smaller or faster) and was still trying to sell folks on top down design. The demo concluded and he told me “the future is not now.”
  • Productivity begets quality. Automated checking begets quality.
    • Patterson’s Precept: Inexperience coupled with ambition leads to very large designs.
    • Landman’s Law: In any sufficiently large design, if there is a type of error for which you have no automatic way of checking, then the final design will contain at least one error of that type.
    • Landman’s Lemma: All designs are now sufficiently large. See Patterson’s Precept.
  • I wonder if Nusym had a graphical logo instead of a text treatment ( nu · sym ) they might be listed in more VC portfolio pages. I have come around on this one from a few years ago: spend the money on a simple logo.
  • Why not list all of the engineering and management talent associated with the team.

From the Products page

If you are a potential customer looking for more information, please send an email to info@nusym.com

Observations:

  • It’s odd they list a phone number on the Contact page but just email here. Some description of at least the problem, with some specific symptoms, that they can help address and an e-mail sign-up box. Don’t know, this feels too minimal.

From the Careers page

If you wish to participate in the most exciting EDA opportunity in a decade, please send your resume to jobs@nusym.com We are looking for bright, highly motivated and performance oriented engineers. Nuysm has multiple openings for the following positions.

Application Engineer @ Los Gatos, California

Job Responsibilities:

  • Customer Deployment: Demonstrate value of verification automation tools to customers. Develop and deliver product and verification methodology trainings to customer’s design teams
  • Pre-sale Customer support: Provide technical guidance to customers to effectively and successfully use verification EDA tools. Responsible to develop and help verification environments at various customers.

Job Requirements:

  • BS with 5 years of relevant experience, MS with 3+ years of relevant experience experience in functional verification.
  • Functional verification experience in design verification or consulting environment working with latest EDA tools.
  • Good understanding of verification methodologies including usage of coverage driven test bench automation techniques or formal methods.
  • Ability to understand functional specifications of network protocols and processor buses to connect with design and verification team.
  • Good communication, presentation and customer interaction skills

Sr. Software Engineer @ Bangalore India

We are looking for bright, highly motivated and performance oriented software developers who understand computer language based compilers and hardware description language simulators.

Job Responsibilities:

  • Person in this position will be responsible for design and development of tools based on Hardware Description Languages like Verilog, Vera and SystemVerilog.
  • Responsible for designing, developing and debugging software programs for the EDA verification technology. This involves working with Hardware Description Languages (Verilog, SystemVerilog, VERA) in Front end compilers, Simulation kernel, Optimizations, Debug, Constraint Solvers and Test bench automation techniques.
  • The technology involves understanding of compilers and simulation techniques to implement innovative verification automation tools.
  • This challenging and rewarding opportunity involves working with the top talent in the industry.

Job Requirements:

  • 3+ Years of EDA software development experience in simulation or test bench tools.

Application Engineer @ Bangalore India

Job Responsibilities:

  • Customer Deployment: Demonstrate value of verification automation tools to customers.
  • Pre-sale Customer support: Provide technical guidance to customers to effectively and successfully use verification EDA tools. Responsible to develop and help verification environments at various customers.

Job Requirements:

  • BE or B.Tech. with 3+ years of relevant experience in functional verification.
  • Functional verification experience in design verification or consulting environment working with latest EDA tools.
  • Good understanding of verification methodologies including usage of coverage driven test bench automation techniques.
  • Ability to understand functional specifications of network protocols and processor buses to connect with design and verification team.
  • Good communication, presentation and customer interaction skills

Observations

  • experience experience I caught this in the “Application Engineer @ Los Gatos, California” description when I ran my blog post through a spell checker. Something you should probably do for your own job postings (will they be as tolerant of errors in inbound resumes).
  • Only the senior software engineers in Bangalore get the opportunity of “working with the top talent in the industry” ?
  • Hiring an application engineer in Bangalore: further evidence of the tidal shift of design work offshore. I wonder what fraction of verification work is now offshore? One challenge Nusym may face in increasing the productivity of engineers by a factor of 10 (just for the sake of argument) is that, according to Frost & Sullivan, most Indian design houses compete on cost. That means you have many fewer hours to sell unless you can re-configure your business model to promise (and sell) a result.
  • VERA is about ten years old. I wonder if that’s the benchmark. And what is Daniel Chapiro up to these days?

From the Contact Page

Nusym Technology, Inc.
101 Albright Way, Suite E
Los Gatos, CA 95032

Phone: 408-583-0980
Fax: 408-583-0985

Observations

  • They should consider a skype address, given that 2 of the three open positions are in Bangalore (or perhaps even their Bangalore facility coordinates).

Hopefully you will find some useful advice in this entry if you are working on the first or second web site for your startup.

Diane Greene’s Fireside Chat at TiE Oct 19

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events

Diane Greene, VMware’s CEO, gave a fireside chat at TiE Silicon Valley tonight. It was outstanding. I had never heard her speak before. I was encouraged by two folks who knew her and she did not disappoint. She was the founding CEO of VMware, which was acquired by EMC in January 2004, and still runs it as a wholly owned subsidiary.

I got a real sense of her as a genuinely caring leader (what Jim Collins would call a “Level 5 Leader” ). She cited at various points in her talk, or in response to questions, several key lessons learned from the last few years at the helm of VMware:

  • Users evangelize users, at several key points in its history, VMware has seen it’s growth hit a new take-off point because its users cared enough to make it happen. 6,000 users have signed up for VMworld.
  • Open communication keeps everyone on the same page (and moving forward): every Wednesday the company would buy lunch and have an open communication forum to cover recent events, plans, and allow employees to air concerns and issues.
  • If your technology isn’t evolving fast enough, give it away. In particular when you are in a deathmatch market with Microsoft, neutralize one of their common tactics of giving away technology by giving away your products that are not moving fast enough.
  • Continually invest in high quality IT infrastructure: it’s the basis for communication, coordination, and collaboration in any high technology firm.
  • Server Virtualization (consolidating many applications onto one server by leveraging virtualization technology) is more about cutting power consumption and saving floorspace than saving hardware cost. Power has  become the single largest component of the total cost of ownership of hardware.

Asked a question about “what was your blackest day, and how did your prevail” she answered that there had been two: when Microsoft acquired Connectix, many in the company assumed that they were approaching their Netscape Moment and would soon transition from high growth promising startup to roadkill (she never believed that this would happen); when VMware was acquired by EMC (she convinced EMC management that they would make them more money as an independent subsidiary).

Oddly Netscape Moment can refer to either the IPO (a good thing) or Microsoft launching IE for free. Diane’s meaning was more at “This is their Netscape Moment, when it becomes clear they are not really in the vanguard for the next wave.”

Nov 5 follow-up: the VMTM Blog (“Veni Vidi Virtualizavi”) picked up my summary of Diane’s key points to entice VMworld attendees into attending her Tue Nov 7 keynote.

Tue-Oct-27 update: this VMTM link works  http://blogs.vmware.com/vmtn/2006/11/diane_greens_fi.html

A WACI Track at DAC

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in EDA

From the Call for Papers for the WACI track

Wild and Crazy Ideas (WACI) at DAC 2007
Submit a paper to the new WACI track at DAC and demonstrate your long-term vision! The WACI track will feature novel (and even unproven) technical ideas that create a buzz and get people talking. The aim of WACI is to promote revolutionary and way-out ideas that inspire and generate discussion among conference attendees.

a quick perusal of the submission form shows the following areas of interest:

  • System-Level Design and Co-Design
  • System-Level Communication and Networks on Chip
  • Embedded HW Design and Applications
  • Embedded SW Tools and Design
  • Power Analysis and Low-Power Design
  • Verification
  • High-Level Synthesis
  • Beyond Die-Integration and Package Design
  • Logic Synthesis and Circuit Optimization
  • Circuit Simulation and Interconnect Analysis
  • Timing Analysis and Design for Manufacturability
  • Physical Design and Manufacturability
  • Signal Integrity and Design Reliability
  • Analog/Mixed-Signal and RF
  • FPGA Design Tools and Applications
  • Testing
  • New or Emerging or Specialized Design Technologies
  • Automotive Electronics

In fact, “Automotive Electronics” is a special theme of the show. Proof that a near death experience, in this case for the automobile industry in the US, can re-awaken a desire for innovation, or at least lower internal barriers against risk taking. Judging from his rather wacky website, the WACI track must be the brainchild of Sachin Sapatnekar, 2007 DAC technical program co-chair, who is quoted in announcing it:

“The DAC community is instrumental in enabling the development of all of the latest innovations in electronics and bringing the latest ideas to reality, enhancing all aspects of life. We are excited to provide a forum for the truly revolutionary and controversial ideas at DAC 2007 with this new WACI track.”

The submission deadline for regular papers and WACI submissions is Monday, November 20, at 5 p.m. MST. This looks like a good opportunity to submit some innovative ideas and trigger some fruitful discussions in San Diego next June.

Quotes on Foresight (Understanding the Future)

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes

“Never mistake a clear view for a short distance.”
Paul Saffo

“The future has arrived; it’s just not evenly distributed.”
William Gibson

“This London City, with all of its houses, palaces, steam-engines, cathedrals, and huge immeasurable traffic an tumult, what is it but a Thought, but millions of Thoughts made into One–a huge immeasurable Spirit of a Thought, embodied in brick, in iron, smoke, dust, Palaces, Parliaments, Hackney Coaches, Katherine Docks, and the rest of it! Not a brick was made but some man had to think of the making of that brick.”
Thomas Carlyle

“In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned find themselves equipped to live in a world which no longer exists.”
Eric Hoffer

“Technology today is the campfire around which we tell our stories. There’s this attraction to light and to this kind of power, which is both warm and destructive. We’re especially drawn to the power. Many of the images of technology are about making us more powerful, extending what we can do. Unfortunately, 95 percent of this is hype, because I think we’re powerful without it.”
Laurie Anderson

“I shall tell you a great secret, my friend.
Do not wait for the last judgment.
It takes place every day.”
Albert Camus

“Master plans have two additional unhealthy characteristics.
To begin with, the existence of a master plan alienates the users… After all, the very existence of a master plan means, by definition, that the members of the community can have little impact on the future shape of their community, because most of the important decisions have already been made. In a sense, under a master plan people are living with a frozen future, able to affect only relatively trivial details. When people lose the sense of responsibility for the environment they live in, and realize that they are merely cogs in someone else’s machine, how can they feel any sense of identification with the community, or any sense of purpose there?”
Christopher Alexander (from The Oregon Experiment)

“Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”
John Lennon

“For each human being there is an optimum ratio between change and stasis. Too little change, he grows bored. Too little stability, he panics and loses his ability to adapt. One who marries six times in ten years won’t change jobs. One who moves often to serve his company will maintain a stable marriage. A woman chained to one home and family may redecorate frantically or take a lover or go to many costume parties.”
Larry Niven, “Flash Crowd

“The key journalist of the future must be able to relate today’s event to yesterday’s fact in a way that helps indicate tomorrow’s meaning.”
Edward Barrett, founder Columbia Journalism Review

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas.
If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”
Howard Aiken (1900-1973) American mathematician

“Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad with power;
The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small;
The bee fertilizes the flower it robs;
When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”
Charles Beard (1874-1948) American historian
Summary of human history, in reply to George S. Counts

“I had an immense advantage over many others dealing with the problem inasmuch as I had no fixed ideas derived from long-established practice to control and bias my mind, and did not suffer from the general belief that whatever is, is right.”
Sir Henry Bessemer (1813-1898) English engineer and inventor
An Autobiography, ch. 6 (on the development of the cane press)

“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance
–it is the illusion of knowledge.”
Daniel J. Boorstin (b. 1914) American historian, educator, writer

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
Peter F. Drucker

“What is life’s heaviest burden?” asked the child.
“To have nothing to carry,” answered the old man.
Anonymous (source unknown)

Bill Trenchard at SDForum Startup SIG Oct 16, 2006

Written by Francis Adanza. Posted in Events, Startups

Last night, I attended an SDForum Startup SIG featuring Bill Trenchard, CEO of LiveOps.  Bill is a prime example of a serial entrepreneur.  In 10 years he has been a founder and CEO of three successful start ups.  One of which was Jump Networks, Inc., that was acquired by Microsoft in April 1999.

Bill said that he had learned to do the following things routinely:

  1. Do not be afraid to ask for help
  2. Learn from failure
  3. Understand your limitations

One experience Bill shared was from when Jump Networks started taking off.  He received a call from Microsoft stating they were interested in buying his company.  At the time, Bill had very little experience with negotiating.  He turned to his advisory board for help.  The most important thing he learned was, “no matter how big the deal is, sometimes it is best to walk away.”

Another experience Bill shared was trying to start a company that provides software for PDA’s.  After designing the software, he realized that the market did not exist.  The problem was, at this time, there were only 1 million PDA users.  Essentially, Bill had never failed before and he became depressed.  Bothered by thoughts of being a one hit wonder, he evaluated his experience, learned from his mistakes, and tried again.

“When you start a new company as an entrepreneur or a founder, you need to recognize that they are building something bigger than yourself.”  Good CEO’s can handle pressure and have experience in many aspects of business: Marketing, Finance, Sales, Engineering, etc.  CEO’s must have the ability to multi-task and make decisions.  “You need to ask yourself if you truly believe you are the one for the job, it is okay to be the inventor and not the entrepreneur.”

For more background: Bill has an extensive video clip set in the Cornell eClips collection (registration required, but this transcript matches last night’s talk pretty closely if you are interested); he was recently profiled by BusinessWeek as one of dozen technology entrepreneurs under 30.

Born with a Face Made for Podcasting

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging, Events

So we were up at Office 2.0 last week and Mike Masnick from Techdirt announced that a new offering, the Techdirt Insight Community, was in beta.

I stopped by their booth pedestal in the exhibit area and was surprised to see that I had been selected as a spokesmodel for their new service as I have only been blogging on business topics for two weeks. And yet there I was in the picture on the front cover of their brochure.

Mike assured me that I would be in the “Special Highly Interactive Techdirt” section of the community. I was taken aback because my mother had always assured me that I had a face for podcasting and I assumed that it was there I would ultimately be able to make my mark. It wasn’t until I was in the bar a little later drinking some ice tea, imported from Long Island of all places, that I was able to summon my marketing imagination and jot down captions that Techdirt should consider adding to the flyer when they exit beta. I put them in an e-mail to Mike and then realized I should share them with the four of you reading this blog:

Techdirt Version SKMurphy Version
Take part in interesting discussions with your peers “Maybe if this guy had written this monologue in a blog we might have had the last 30 minutes of our lives back.”
Interact with companies who want your opinion “Is this you, holding forth to a roomful of three people on an arcane topic? If so, you can join our blogging network and double your audience.”
Get paid for your insight “Ever feel like the guy at the whiteboard isn’t really capturing the depth and breadth of your insights? Our blogging network allows you to capture and expose all of your thoughts on a topic.”

Mike offered some clarifications on the program and it’s structure in the comments in response to some speculation by Anne Zelenka.

Details as they are stored in some post-Apocalyptic reliquary whose display case for the 20th century might house a fist sized chunk of the Berlin Wall, a charred fragment from Skylab, and the test tube that contains Edison’s last breath.

Mark Duncan on “New Tools for Increasing Marketing Productivity”

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, skmurphy, Tools for Startups

Mark Duncan gave an excellent guided tour at the October 9 SDForum Marketing SIG of several web based applications that marketing teams should consider taking advantage of in addition to (or even instead of) Microsoft Office. He opened with the observation that

The applications bundled into Microsoft Office—word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, calendar, and mail–are the only software tools that many marketing professionals have learned.

Appropriately enough talk was titled “Beyond Microsoft Office: New Tools for Increasing Marketing Productivity.” His slides were done in the “beyond bullet points style” that very effectively complemented his spoken presentation but would be hard to follow without his spoken linkage and counterpoint. So he also created an article to act as the stand-alone representation of his talk (see http://www.askmar.com/Marketing/Beyond%20Office.pdf )

It’s definitely worth a read. Three good ideas I picked up from the talk:

  1. Many marketing activities and deliverables involve collaborating on a document to reach a working consensus by a deadline. While Microsoft Office applications can make you productive as an individual, they don’t help you to leverage the Internet in gathering information or facilitate review and discussion at a team level. Once there are three people involved it’s no longer clear who has the most recent version of the slides or the pitch or the datasheet. Wiki and on-line workspace tools can offer a team dramatically lower friction and the ability to operate much more rapidly against a deadline.
  2. Read Merlin Mann‘s “43 Folders” blog and the group blog at “LifeHack.Org” regularly for practical personal productivity tips and tricks (christened “life hacks” by Denny O’Brien in a famous O’Reilly Etech talk). These are a gold mine of information for knowledge worker productivity.
  3. Two good sites for low cost digital stock photography: istockphoto.com and Lucky Oliver. Mark’s slides made good use of stock photography to complement his talk.

Mark is a marketing consultant who focuses on emerging technologies, assisting companies in entering new markets and developing new business opportunities.

Referrals

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in checklist, Consulting Business

Building a strong referral base is critical to every entrepreneur. Three things you can do today to build referrals:

  1. Make a list of 30 people you have had a shared success with, go back to school, first job, etc.
  2. Contact those people tell them:
    • What you have been up to
    • Here’s what I am looking for, please refer me to people if they are looking for my services.
    • Please let me know what you have been up to and call if there is anything I can do to help.
  3. Write 2 testimonials for people you’ve had a shared success with in LinkedIn

“Tell everyone what you want to do and someone will want to help you do it.”
W. Clement Stone

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Office 2.0 Tools for Consultants

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Consulting Business, Events, Startups, Tools for Startups

Attending Office 2.0[1] in San Francisco, we discovered some useful tools for consultants and small teams.

What is Office 2.0? Office 2.0 tools are collaboration tools that you can connect to from anywhere. They are perfect for virtual businesses or small teams. Most are sold as software as a service (SaaS) and for a low monthly fee you get web access to the tools. All that is needed on your machine is a web browser.

Here’s what I found interesting:

  • Site Kreator – pick a template and get a basic website up and running very quickly. You don’t need to get a web designer or know HTML, Java, etc. It supports wiki, blogs, and forms. Everything is click and point.
  • Another way (and the one we selected) is WordPress. We did use a web designer, Dave Horner from Silicon Ridge. But we picked a template and he quickly built our website. I can build new pages, changes pages, or add blog post without coding.
  • Invoicing might be a consultant’s least favorite thing, but it’s impossible to get paid without it; check out FreshBooks.
  • Do you need a part time admin to put together conference material? Work on your website? Virtual admins are a great way to go. They charge by the hour and can answer your phone or perform other tasks you need.
  • One area we have been hunting for quite a while is a shareable calender. Our team is virtual and scheduling appointment used to take many emails. We have been using with WebEx WebOffice and quite happy with it. It is more expensive than many we tried but it fits us the best, so far.
  • Podcast/RSS for e-newsletters or training. Podcast and voice in general allows you to make an emotional connection with your audience or prospect. This one is still under construction for us.
  • We use wikis (e.g. from Central Desktop, EditMe, Jotspot, and Socialtext among others) with all of our clients. A wiki provides a private work space which we can leave behind after our engagement is over and they cut down considerably on having to e-mail attachments. We have used it for collaborating on datasheets, web site mock-up, backgrounder and other strategy and planning documents.

[1] Update Jan-18-2011: Office 2.0 website www.office20con.com has been taken over by spammers, links deleted.

Blogging from Office 2.0 Conference

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events

I will be blogging from the Office 2.0 Conference[1] for the next two days.

It’s a set of tools that I have been interested in for a while–blogs, wikis, content management systems, chat/IM, VoIP–with a focus on enabling small teams to work more effectively against a deadline. This is the challenge that software startups need to surmount if they are to win the battle of maneuver against their larger, better funded, and more established competitors. I think one of the primary benefits these newer tools offer is that a small team can maintain a shared situational awareness in complex and rapidly evolving environments/markets.

I had the pleasure of sitting next to Ori Weinroth from Microsoft, during the morning sessions. I was surprised to learn that they also had a product family called Office, because they were not listed as an participant.

[1] Update Jan-18-2011: Office 2.0 website www.office20con.com has been taken over by spammers, links deleted.

Continuing Education In Entrepreneurship

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, Rules of Thumb

I was sitting in one of the nice conference rooms over at Fenwick & West earlier this year at a TVC half day seminar on “Entering the Entrepreneurial World” (TVC offers great seminars by the way, and they rotate the speakers so that the material doesn’t go stale)and I had a strong sense of deja vu for freshman year in college. Normally when I dream of being back in college I am in an exam for a course I haven’t really studied for–although in my case these are more accurately termed “recovered memories”–but this felt like freshman year again, where I slept spent a lot of time in a large lecture halls.

I had this epiphany that I had spent the last dozen years or so, since I started attending Software Entrepreneur Forum (now SDForum now SVForum) and Churchill Club meetings, in this ad hoc program in continuing entrepreneurial education. Books are valuable, and not enough entrepreneurs do enough reading, but there is also a category of knowledge that hasn’t been written down yet. And you can gain wisdom from listening to someone who has played the game–even if it’s just their mistakes–that you would otherwise have to gain from your mistakes experience.

I was reminded of this as we contemplate attending about a half dozen conferences in the next six weeks. Stay tuned: we will blog them as we go. Some closing quotes on education:

“Get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study. Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life.”
Henry L. Doherty

“Learning is what most adults will do for a living in the 21st Century.”
Sydney Joseph Perelman

“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”
Epictetus

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
Alvin Toffler

“Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win.”
Bobby Knight

Mr. Garrity and the Ciphers from High Cap Companies

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes

Tom Perkins–the one with his name on the door over at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers–resigned from the board of Hewlett Packard on May 18, 2006. Initially the circumstances of his resignation were characterized as a personal decision by HP, but Mr. Perkins persevered until the true reason for his departure came to light.

I had been following the story, along with most people in high tech in Silicon Valley, and was struck by the phrase “ciphers from high cap companies” when I read it in Rob Preston’s story in InformationWeek titled “Down to Business, What They Didn’t Say at the HP Hearings

It was from an e-mail Perkins wrote to Mark Hurd, H-P’s current CEO, which his attorney, Viet Dinh, included in an Op Ed entitled “Dunn and Dusted” in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, September 26, 2006. I have included the full text of the e-mail but have bolded a phrase I want to explore further:

Dear Mark: A while back I promised you that we directors would clean up our act, and free you from worries about the H-P board. I am really sorry that I didn’t deliver on this, and I apologize for the necessity of raising the issue of illegal activity by the board chairman in today’s email to the board. But, it’s an extremely serious matter, and I have legal obligations.

Aside from this, I worry that Pattie, as new chair of N&G, will ‘pack’ the board with the kind of directors she so admires — ciphers from high cap companies, with no fast-cycle technology background, and certainly no Valley entrepreneurial genes.

I worry that you will wind up with a ‘blue ribbon’ board that will be of zero, or even negative, value to you when the going gets tough. I don’t wish you bad luck — but life eventually delivers tough scenarios to CEOs of big companies — and I doubt if H-P will prove to be the exception.

Anyway, I am rooting for you still, and I hope everything works out as you wish best.

Sincerely, — Tom.

Let’s unpack that phrase: ciphers from high cap companies, with no fast-cycle technology background, and certainly no Valley entrepreneurial genes.

  • Ciphers: the meaning here is a none-entity, a zero; this was a term my father and grandfather would use as a strong insult.
  • High Cap Companies: high market capitalization, i.e. Fortune 50/100/500 (I suppose “Fools from the Fortune 500″ doesn’t have the same zing).
  • Fast-Cycle: in this context I believe it’s a reference to being able to make decisions rapidly, to execute the OODA cycle (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) but it also has been applied to product development by Preston Smith and Don Reinertsen among others, to indicate the value of cutting time to market for new products
  • Technology Background: comfortable wrestling with Moore’s Law
  • Valley Entrepreneurial Genes: possibly overrated, except insofar as there is a higher tolerance for failure in the presence of learning, and a celebration of prudent risk taking (vs. rewarding success).

In this succinct phrase is a warning to startups: be wary of “large company advisors” who lack an appreciation for Moore’s Law, don’t understand that delaying a decision is deciding to delay, and who are motivated more by–or perhaps only by–money than a desire to change the world.

To watch HP’s current management team attempt to demean and intimidate someone like Tom Perkins strikes me as stupidity of the first order. I was reminded of the gypsies in the George V. Higgins’ story “A Small Matter of Consumer Protection” (reprinted in chapter 6 of his excellent “On Writing“) who attempt to con and intimidate a nameless silver-haired 70 year old one Saturday morning, only to discover too late he is a retired–well mostly retired–Mafia don.

But the moral dry rot that has set in at H-P that would allow these stupid (my operating principle is that everything you do will ultimately get found out, and the more the effort you make to keep it secret, the deeper the hole you are digging for yourself)–if not illegal–acts, doesn’t appear to stop with Patricia Dunn. Don Tennant, editor in Chief at Computerworld, wrote about A Culture of Evasion detailing Mr. Hurd’s lost opportunity to answer any tough questions at a public forum while the story was breaking:

The entire episode made me think of the irony of a particular line in Hurd’s keynote — the one in which he said that HP is “trying to build a culture of execution and accountability.” Accountability? That’s going to be awfully difficult as long as the company’s CEO demonstrates by his example a culture of dissemblance and evasion.

Witnessing the ongoing disintegration of a Silicon Valley icon like HP gives me a strange Twilight Zone sensation. If only a Jed Garrity could be found to arrange a meeting between the current and former management.

Philipp Lenssen’s Tips For Crafting a Linkable Blog Post

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging

The prolific Phillip Lenssen has leveraged his Googleblogoscope experience to create an extremely useful diagnostic quiz for assessing how likely it is that other bloggers will link to your blog post. He advises that

Linkability shouldn’t be your main goal when blogging, but it’s a good indicator of how approachable and interesting your writing is.

Some of his key points that I find useful to remember are:

  • Make sure you write something original, and not just a few sentences. Write about what you know.
  • A small illustrative or explanatory image can go a long way to improve your post. This is great advice that I have yet to follow. I am continually impressed by Dave Pollard’s ability to express his business insights in graphics:
  • Blog daily. I still struggle with this, but I am discovering that forcing myself to write every day, even if I don’t get is finished enough to post, forces me to clarify my thinking on an issue, which is valuable in itself.
  • Re-read and revise for clarity and offer a perspective for someone new to a topic.

The best thing about the http://www.howlinkable.com/ quiz is that it prioritizes it’s advice to offer the top ten add suggestions for improvement; once you have addressed the basics you see more. Also, not everything you can check off will improve your score (something Fleming Funch overlooked); sometimes you need stop doing something to improve. My current linkability is 45% and I need to blog daily, use more illustrative examples and images, and add my photo to my about page to get it to 54%.

One suggestion that Lenssen didn’t make directly that I think is a useful perspective comes from Useful Saheli S.R. Datta’s article “7 Habits of Highly Effective Blogger

Think of your blog as database, not a newspaper-like collection of dispatches. your archived posts should be easy to find through Google and Technorati, so cite authors and publications by name, and use tags, categories, and keywords consistently.

Mr. Aridewa at the Moojik Times  also has a excellent summary and elaboration of Lenssen’s advice.

Here is a list of the questions courtesy of Fleming Funch, for clarity I have added “[Negative]” to those practices that detract:

  1. My post title includes a pun [Negative]
  2. My post title includes more than 10 words
  3. I start off by explaining the post’s core idea
  4. My post contains more than 3 paragraphs of my own writing
  5. I spell-checked my post
  6. The post’s idea was “sleeping” inside my head for several weeks before I wrote it down
  7. I was the first to report on this (as far as I know)
  8. This post might have profound implications for a company, celebrity, or politican
  9. This post might have profound implications for my readers
  10. This post is in-tune with the overall topic of my blog
  11. I illustrated my post with screenshots, drawings, or cliparts
  12. I end the post with a “bang”
  13. I use the Creative Commons license to share my content
  14. I emailed friends to let them know about my article
  15. I validated my blog’s HTML after posting
  16. I use a standard blog template
  17. I read my own post for clarity at least twice
  18. I use links, bold/ italics, or lists
  19. I’m blogging daily
  20. My blog is read by many people
  21. My post is English
  22. I’m reporting on first-hand experiences
  23. The subject I’m writing about is close to my heart
  24. My post includes a video, audio file or ZIP download
  25. Readers can comment on my post
  26. I submitted the post to Digg
  27. I submitted the post to Metafilter
  28. I submitted the post to Boing Boing
  29. I sent the post to a mainstream news source
  30. My post is above 250 KB (including images) [Negative]
  31. I checked my blog’s appearance in at least 2 browsers
  32. I include a large ad on top of the main content [Negative]
  33. My ad colors resemble my main content [Negative]
  34. I decrease the font-size quite a bit to make the layout look better [Negative]
  35. I’m citing my sources and delivering proof for what I say
  36. I’m using affiliate links inside my post’s content [Negative]
  37. My post might be considered controversial by many
  38. Some parts of my post make people laugh
  39. My server is fast to deliver pages, even under heavy traffic
  40. My full name is included at the beginning or end of the post
  41. My “About” page is linked in the navigation
  42. My “About” page includes my bio and photo
  43. I’m using several JavaScript widgets (like counters) in my blog [Negative]
  44. I’m checking my blog statistics every few days
  45. I consider myself an expert on this post’s topic
  46. My page includes animated ads [Negative]
  47. My page includes an ad that pops up or is overlaid on the content [Negative]

Krishna Kolluri at KASE’s Success Stories from Serial Entrepreneurs

Written by Francis Adanza. Posted in Startups

Last Tuesday, October 3, was the first of four seminars in the KASE Entrepreneurship Academy.  One of the featured speakers of the evening was a serial entrepreneur by the name of Krishna “Kittu” Kolluri.   Kittu was Co-Founder of Healtheon/WebMD, an on-line resource for heath information.  While at WebMD he was responsible for key operational and business development roles. Kittu was CEO of Neoteris, the leader of SSL-based Application Security Gateway market.  Under Kittu’s leadership, Neoteris excelled and grew considerably despite adverse market conditions.  Neoteris was acquired by Netscreen and Kittu became GM of Netscreen’s Secure Access Products.  Subsequently Netscreen was acquired by Juniper Networks and Kittu became VP and GM for the Security Products Group at Juniper Networks.

From Kittu’s presentation, I learned:

  1. The Importance of a Strong Vision & Values
  2. The Value of Marketing
  3. Understanding Your Customer’s Needs

The Importance of a Strong Vision & Values

In order to succeed, start ups must develop and follow a sustainable, strategic vision, and they must offer compelling value to customers.  All technology driven companies need a compelling value proposition.  Compelling value is determined if your technology is revenue enhancing or cost cutting.  Furthermore, you must deliver a “must have” solution and demonstrable return on investment.  Three questions that can help you determine if you solution is compelling is:

  • What is your benefit?
  • Can you give your customer a reason to believe?
  • What is the dramatic difference?

The Value of Marketing

Most people think marketing is designing colorful fliers and brochures.  Collateral is an important aspect of marketing, but start ups need to understand that strategic marketing is mostly about trial and error.  Kittu asks, “where do you add value and how will you evolve?”  Often start ups try to sell to Fortune 500 companies, but they lack credibility.  Put yourself in your customers shoes.  They fear you will not be around the following year.  Furthermore, they know that nothing new ever works, so they want validation from another customer who can verify your technology.

You can overcome the challenges of building credibility by influencing the influencers.  Influencers are analyst, trade press, business press.  Talk to start ups in your target market.  You will most likely find people intrigued by new technology and that are willing to help you refine your product.  It might be that you are targeting the wrong people in the company.  If you are not getting the traction you anticipate don’t give up on the company, try the actual end user.

Understanding Your Customer’s Needs

How will you best service your target markets? Take care of the customer. Give them what they need, a product that works on its own and seamlessly with other applications.  World class customer care is vital, make customers feel like they got more than what they paid for. Kittu states “customers will tolerate mediocre technology, but will not tolerate mediocre service.”  The customer is the ultimate stakeholder.  You must have a clear channel of communication within the company.  This means vertically within teams, and horizontally across them.  Make it easy for the customer to contact appropriate team members and obtain accurate information.

It is hard to take criticism about your baby.  Inventors pour hours into developing technology trying to make the perfect application and forget to talk to prospects.  Instead of designing something you think some one will buy, go and ask potential customers what they want to buy.  Entrepreneurs, you can’t fall in love with the technology and ignore the marketing.  Get out there, talk to strangers, and focus on customer care.

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