Category Archives: Rants

Truth About Women in Startups

Yes. I couldn’t agree more. I just read Alexia Tsotsis’ Stop Telling Women Not To Do Startups on TechCrunch. The key moment:

Because nothing says link bait like “taking on a controversial topic” stupidly, using gross generalizations. The latest in this series is a post by Penelope Trunk, who is either a master at extrapolation or seems to have seriously conflated the word “women” with “Penelope Trunk.” I remember being a young TechCruncher reading her first post, “Women Don’t Want To Run Startups Because They’d Rather Have Children” and thinking, “Wow, this seems deliberate.”

The trouble with link bait like that, as Alexia points out, is that people read it, believe it, and use it, oftentimes use it against a good cause. It becomes justification. Rationalization. Reinforcement.

And I like her conclusion, too:

And here’s a piece of advice to women (or any other minority) in tech — Every time you get worked up over a dumb blog post, you’re wasting time that you could have spent building a world-changing company, writing your own blog post and/or proving pundits like Penelope Trunk wrong. And that starts with voting with your feet (or pen even).

So go, prove her wrong. Because a) This needs to stop b) The future depends on it.


(Image: from the TechCrunch post)

Who Took Sports Out of Spectator Sports?

Monday night I watched the college football national championship game with great interest. My home town team, the Oregon ducks, was in the championship game for the first time ever. And to say “with great interest” is an understatement. I was glued to the couch.

Tuesday morning a 7-year-old grandson asked me about the game. I said:

It was a great game. The ducks played their hearts out and almost won.

He answered:

Why are you happy if they lost?

You do see what’s wrong with that, right? I hope so. Just in case, let me explain. And before I do, it’s not him, nor his parents. He didn’t watch the game, he went to bed. His parents aren’t football fans. He and his mom got the results from me the morning after. I use this story because his reaction is typical. He gets it by osmosis in first grade.

I wasn’t happy that the ducks lost. But they played their hearts out in a great game, came back from behind to tie it up with just a couple minutes left, and then lost on the very last play. Sure, I wanted them to be the national champs, I’ve rooted for them for 40 years. Furthermore, I live in Eugene OR a 5-minute walk from the University of Oregon campus, I have a master’s degree from there, so does one of my daughters, and I’ve taught there as an adjunct for 11 years. Go ducks. But it’s a sport, not real life. And the Auburn Tigers won, fair and square.

I was raised to be what my dad called “a good sport.” That meant playing hard,  winning and losing gracefully, and liking the game.

Am I a fan? Hell yes. I love football. I loved to play football when I was young, always loved watching it with my dad and brothers, and still love a good game, especially when I’m watching it with family members who also care.

But there’s something really wrong with the way we deal with spectator sports these days. This is just my opinion of course, but what I see is …

  • It’s just wrong to watch a great game and be sad because the team you like lost. Not when it was a close game and they played really well. It’s sports. It’s supposed to about the game, not just the win or loss. Be disappointed a bit, okay, and more so if they played badly.
  • I hate it when the stadium boos the visiting team. And it gets worse than booing sometimes, what with the chanting, throwing things, verbal abuse and harassment. That’s so ugly.
  • I hate the fact that stadiums aren’t appropriate places for preteen kids anymore because of all the bad behavior they see.
  • I hate it when fans of the loosing team obsess on some referee call or bad break. Referees and bad bounces are part of the game; it’s called sport, not science. A really bad call that determines the outcome of the game bugs me too, but hey, a sudden gust of wind can determine the outcome too.
  • This whole thing starts way too early. Have you been to a kids’ game lately? Have you seen parents in stands and on sidelines shouting stupid things like idiots? Some parents seem dead set on teaching the opposite of sportsmanship.

Ask yourself this: when your team loses, does that spoil the time you spent watching? Is it no longer entertainment? Is it not fun? Does it spoil your day, evening, week, or what?

Facts, Facts, Everywhere, But Truth is Scarce

I’ve got a new business idea for anyone who wants it: become a paid data liar, by offering to find facts to fit any point of view your clients want to put forth. Call it facts for hire. It would be a bit like the hired gun in the old west, but more suited for today’s times.

For example, your client wants to say that eggs are unhealthy? “Sure,” you say, “I’ll find you facts for that.” You quote a price, clients like it, and off you go. You’ll come back with the story about eggs and cholesterol. And of course you’ll tell just the one side of the story.  Or you can do the same with coffee, milk, most any food or drink.

And don’t think your business would be limited to facts about foods or health. You could easily find facts to justify almost any position about business, the economy, entrepreneurship, and so forth.

I think of the iPhone app ads. State a position, about any issue, and there’s a fact for that.

There was a time when good information was worth money because it was hard to find. Now good information is abundant, so much so that every view that’s possible to be imagined can be supported with charts and graphs. William Blake wrote:

Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth.

Now you can add: and we can find facts to prove it.

If you don’t believe me, consider all those claims in the political ads we heard during the recent election season; or global warming. And in the areas I normally follow, such as entrepreneurship education, or the cost of startups, or the prospects of venture capital, or the rise of angel investment, facts are just as easy to find.

So, if you’re running a business, what do you do with the analytics? How many decisions do you make based on the research? Good luck with that.

I Hate the Small Biz Political Sleaze

Damn, elections are heating up again. So we’re going to listen to an endlessly insulting harangue of politicians claiming to speak for “small business.” As if anybody could speak for small business, given that just about the only thing business owners have in common with each other is that they have nothing in common with each other.

Every politician claims to support small business. Have you ever heard one say no to that? Is it anything different from the American flag, apple pie, and motherhood? Damn!

And what does that mean?  They pause just a second, and then lash into supporting small business means voting for them. Everybody speaks for the supposed little guy. Right?

I just took one of those after-dinner calls to the home phone that has a recording talking at me when I lift up the receiver. Does anybody actually listen to those trumped-up supposed surveys?

This one was after business owners. I say that because the annoying recorded announcer’s voice started immediately pandering to me as my friend because, whoever set this robot into operation assumed my wife and I own a business. Then the humanoid voice assault moved quickly into asking me to join a poll of business owners, clearly designed to serve as fodder for one of the two main parties.

These polls are so enormously cheap: slanted and loaded questions spun instead of delivered, obviously intended to give some politician numbers to use as background to misleading claims and distorted ideas.

So one of the political parties has a trumped-up small business association gathering slanted data to support its biased political agenda. There’s business as usual.

What bugs me a lot about politics and small business, particularly around election time, is how many people claim to speak for small business when, in fact, really, nobody does. And the numbers they spout, along with the self righteousness of it all.

Business owners don’t fit into categories and generalizations. We are as unlike, one from the other, as any other random group of people pulled together for the common factor of owning a business. We don’t have the same opinions, and we don’t need or want the same things.

Think about what we have in common: jumping off the path, maybe, doing things differently, doing our own wheels instead of being cogs in bigger wheels. Does it make sense to assume we’re all in favor of one thing or the other? I don’t think so.

(Image credit: The flag, apple pie, and motherhood. From Truback, Mindstorm, and Boris Ryaposov, respectively, on Shutterstock)

Is Personal Branding Really Impersonal Faking?

Don’t get me wrong: I think the thinking behind it, the advice wrapped around the idea of personal branding, is excellent. I’ve recommended, for example, Dan Schawbel’s personal branding book Me 2.0 and I’m sticking to it. Dan has a great collection of real-world suggestions in that book. But I’m beginning to think I hate the term. And maybe some of what’s behind it.

Last Friday I read Personal Branding is Bullsh*t (cowardly * by me, not her) by Arienne Holland, communications director of Raven Tools. She writes:

A person doesn’t need a brand. A person is a person whether or not there is paperwork filed with the government. A child doesn’t create a personality, she has one.

She also objects to a magazine article recommending personal branding for employees of large companies:

If you want to travel between companies, you don’t need a personal brand, you need skills and character and friends.

This was already on my mind before reading that because of a conversation I’d had a few weeks ago with my daughter Megan, marketing manager at At the time I was talking about some of Dan Schawbel’s recommendations, and Megan shared that she didn’t like the term. She explained that recently in Why I Hate the Term “Personal Branding” on her blog:

“Worse yet, there’s the idea that this is something new. Personal branding is just a new way to talk about reputation. Well, you know what? Reputation is a much better word for that.

Personal branding implies you should be fake to make it (if you disagree, do let me know). Before you tweet, interact, blog, or walk down the street you need to think if it fits with the image you want to portray. Well, you know what, if there’s only one facet to your personality you’re not an excellent brand, you’re boring.”

She’s not objecting to the things we do as personal branding, at least not if it isn’t faked; instead, she is objecting to the term we use to describe it.

There’s a lot that I like about the whole field of personal branding, particularly the emphasis on actual people and authenticity and humans communicating with humans. But I admit, I hadn’t thought of the underlying meaning of the term “brand.” It does carry a sense of artificial to it, doesn’t it? It makes us think of Mad Men, advertising, consumer opinion research, and expensive image advertising like insurance companies and such, on a very large scale.

Are you the same thing as your brand? If so, then what’s the point?

The Problem With Crowd Sourcing is Crowds

Crowd sourcing sounds good to me, but then I remember, we humans are a difficult bunch. We like complaining more than praising. We post nasty, negative, and aggressively personal comments on blogs. We’re easily swayed by a few bad apples. Anonymity makes us really mean. Revenge makes us happy.

And we behave particularly badly in crowds. Don’t we?

For example, think of reviews. Remember when we were able to depend on popular reviews to figure out which books to read, movies to see, and products to buy? I say “not so much,” at least not any more. Coming off of a tough marathon of business travel, no more than a week at home since late March, I’m disappointed with how poorly review sites are working for me. I’ve been using Trip Advisor to help me book hotels and, with the gracious help of Trip Advisor reviews, ended up in a particularly unpleasant hotel with particularly pleasant reviews. Somebody’s been gaming the system.

Take a good look at reviews these days. On Yelp, TripAdvisor,, Google, or whatever. Weed out the ones that are obvious plants by self-interested people, like the owners or friends of owners. Weed out the disgruntled people pushing grudges, like one I saw recently who hated the restaurant that kicked her out because she was drunk (and she says so in her review). What’s left?

And then there’s the problem of nasty or meaningless comments on blog posts. Another problem of crowds. Not on this blog, of course – and thank you all for that – but I just read Website Editors Strive to Rein in Nasty Comments from NPR’s All Things Considered. Should comments be moderated? Does it cut into the interest level or authenticity of a site? Here’s a quote:

Clifford Nass, a communications professor at Stanford University, says when you have an environment where thousands of people are vying for attention, people know intuitively that it’s the nasty stuff that jumps out.

“Ironically and tragically, if you want people to respond to what you say, say something outrageously negative,” says Nass.

The Web, while it’s obviously a powerful possibility for crowd sourcing, brings out the worst in us. This is also from that NPR story:

It’s easy to lose your temper on the Internet. Anyone who reads — or writes — comments on blogs and news sites knows that the conversation can quickly stray from civil discourse to scathing personal attacks. For years, many websites just let users go at it, and free speech reigned. But now editors are rethinking just how open their sites should be.

The story goes on to suggest some ways to moderate comments and manage the conversation better. While controversy can build traffic and content, scathing attacks are just ugly; not really interesting to anybody, but quite common. And when it does turn personal, kind of creepy too. Anonymity seems to increase the nastiness level, for obvious reasons; but signing and adding an email address doesn’t make much difference.

And then there’s this new rash of annoyingly automated blog comments. If you moderate a blog you know what I mean. Lately there’s been a flood of inane generic comments placed by Web robots for some obscure SEO gains. Things like “nice post, food for thought, I’ve bookmarked this” that can be applied indiscriminately to thousands of posts.

Question: is this dark side of crowds part of the reason that celebrity gossip is so overvalued in news and media these days? We’d rather read silly celebrity stories than darkly disturbing stories of political chaos and environmental disasters. Or so it seems.

Because we humans are difficult. We like to be negative. And we often behave badly in a crowd.

(Image: by Philippe Leroyer via Flickr CC)

Rejecting Rationalizations for Racism

I rarely post about politics or current affairs on this blog but today I can’t resist. Yesterday I read a column in the Wall Street Journal highlighting how a group of religious fanatics, all ethnically Arabs, threatens our country. And last month Arizona enacted a law that openly discriminates against Hispanics. Rationalizations run rampant. It seems like we’re prepared to stomp on minorities, Constitutional or not, equal protection or not, as long as we can rationalize. Pakistanis might be terrorists. Mexicans might be illegal immigrants.

Excuse me, but what are we protecting here? Is it a set of ideals? A way of life? Maybe a Constitution, and a Bill of Rights? So is it okay, as long as we have a rationalization, to squash whole ethnic groups in this country? Citizens or not?

I hate the new Arizona law. It has police and other public officials checking citizenship papers during routine interactions, like traffic stops. So I go to Arizona and I’m fine, because I’m an old white guy; but my Mexican friend, just as American as I am, has to carry extra documentation. All the Hispanic-looking Americans living in Arizona have to carry extra documentation around, just in case.

Isn’t this a lot like what Nazi Germany did to Jews in the early 1930s, first requiring them to carry extra papers around, then later the yellow stars, and, sadly, the horrors that followed. Whatever the problems this Arizona law supposedly solves, it’s just plain unacceptable.

I relate the Arizona law to the terrorism problems because of the way rationalizations for racism grow. And how easy is it to crack down on ethnically Arab people now that we have the problem of religious fanatics who tend to be Arab? It’s already happening. Ask your Arab friends how they feel when they go to the airport. Is it racist? No, they say, it’s just logistics, law of averages, and all. But we didn’t crack down on rednecks when Timothy McVeigh bombed Oklahoma City. And we’re not cracking down on illegal immigrants who don’t look Hispanic.

Sure there are rationalizations. There are always rationalizations. Terrorism, illegal immigration, those are real problems. But however serious those problems are, this country doesn’t solve them by ranking and categorizing and downgrading some of its citizens. That’s not what we’re about. Do the ends justify the means?

There are always rationalizations for racism. They don’t make it okay.

Why I Hate Those Huge Market Numbers

It happens way too often: entrepreneurs proud of some huge completely unattainable market numbers. They show us billions of dollars. They think that’s a good thing, like it’s important. I hate it.

As an investor, as a business plan contest judge, or as a teacher, I don’t really care how many billions of dollars are spent on this or that or the next thing when I’m reading a business plan. That number is too big. It tells me nothing. Startups don’t reach multi-billion dollar markets.

If it makes you feel better to give me that number in passing, okay, go ahead, but don’t put any emphasis on it. Instead, give me the details on how you’re going to make your sales, and to whom, on the first day, the first quarter, and the first year. Give me granularity.

If you’re a Web-based startup, for example, show me how many unique visitors you think you can get in the beginning, and what you’re using for an estimated conversion rate (buyers to browsers). Show me how much each unique visitor is going to cost you in search engine optimization and pay-per-click search engine expense.

If you’re a restaurant, for example, show me how many chairs and tables lead to what assumptions for first-day, first-month, and first-year meals served, drinks served, and at what average price. Show me how you’re going to bring those people in the door.

I guess what this means is that I like forecasts that build from the details up to the larger numbers.

And I know that I’m in the majority, among people who read business plans, in really disliking the top-down, billions and billions kind of forecasts. When they start talking about getting only a very small percentage of an enormous market, they lose me. Those huge markets don’t split down into millions of pieces.

Immigrants, Job Creation, Good and Bad Politics

It’s about time. In the midst of cloudy partisan politics and shouting on both sides, with small business often in the middle like the foil for the arguments, here’s a federal government move that makes sense. TechCrunch has a good summary, called The Startup Visa: Create Jobs, Get A Green Card. As we used to say in the 60s, “right on!” Here’s a quick summary:

The Startup Visa Act of 2010 would create a two year visa for immigrant entrepreneurs who are able to raise a minimum of $250,000, with $100,000 coming from a qualified U.S. angel or venture investor. After two years, if the immigrant entrepreneur is able to create five or more jobs (not including their children or spouse), attract an additional $1 million in investment, or produce $1 million in revenues, he or she will become a legal resident.

Immigrants are by definition people who move themselves from where they were to where we are to improve their lives. I’m very glad to welcome them into our society and our economy with open arms. And entrepreneurs in the mix are good for all of us. More competition, sure, but bring it on. New customs, new languages, more mix, that’s great too. We all win. Variety is the spice of life, and xenophobia is pretty much a euphemism for some ugly bigotry.

If the merits of this idea aren’t completely obvious to you, I suggest you search Google for “immigrants create jobs” and read the first four or five hits that come up, as shown in my illustration here.

For the record, I don’t like writing about government small business policies in this blog. Almost all of it is just partisan politics, divided in the ugly and thoughtless way so much of our discourse is in this country. First you take sides, then you think. Put forth talking points instead of discussion. If I say something good about the current SBA it’s because I’m pro-Obama. If I criticize it’s because I’m against Obama. And so forth.

But this one seems so obviously good for all that I can’t resist posting about it. I hope they don’t screw it up with the politics around it.

Note to MBAs: Drop the comma MBA, Please!

imageI just got another email from somebody whose email signature is “So-and-so, MBA.” Which reminds me of the business cards, and letters, and promotional material I see where people brandish those three letters after their name.

I don’t think that “MBA” thing behind your name works out for you.

imageHave you heard the joke about how to create a small business? The answer is take a medium business and put an MBA in charge. And the magic MBA investment formula for guaranteed profit? The answer is buy MBAs for what they’re worth and sell them for what they think they’re worth. Do you know how many people blame MBAs in general for the current financial disaster?

It’s not a matter of licensing and regulation, like MD or CPA. It’s just a master’s degree. In this country alone, accredited institutions grant several hundred thousand masters degrees every year. That’s not including the fake degrees.

So that MBA you earned? Put it on your resume, put it on your blog’s “About” page, and put it in the management team section of your business plan when seeking loans or investment. Use it to know what you’re talking about. But leave it off your name.