Tag Archives: Huffington Post

Why Steve Strauss Hires English Majors

By the way, did I say I was an English major for my BA? Yes, software entrepreneur, yes, business planner, erstwhile programmer, and MBA … but I carry around a degree in English Literature. I don’t push that up a lot in my bio, but it’s there in the fine print.

English Major hired

So I like what Steve Strauss, Mr. Small Business, USA Today expert, says in his post Why I Hire English Majors in yesterday’s Huffington Post. Here’s some reasons he likes us. He starts with (you can see why I like this post) “smarts:” 

They are taught to think critically, and that is exactly what I want in my business. … They know how to think, to think for themselves, and how to analyze a problem. Business majors are fine, but they are preoccupied with theory, proving themselves, and doing it “right.” But the English majors are used to getting a tough assignment, figuring it out, and getting it done, (usually) on time.

Yup. That’s me. 

And how about this one: boldness. Wait. What? Steve says: 

… these folks have to be bold simply to make such a choice of majors at a time when everyone is advising them to think about making themselves as practical as possible in this shrinking, global job market, but the nature of their gig is that they have to be bold. Reading Chaucer, making sense of it, writing a term paper on it, and then being able to defend it, takes far more bravery than, say, analyzing the fall of the Soviet Union.

Well, that’s maybe a stretch. 

Then his third point is writing ability. Of course. One of my favorite clients in business plan consulting told me his group liked me more for readable communications than for anything else. I think that was only half a compliment. 

And his last point:

Easy to work with: This is an underrated trait that I think many people applying for a job don’t get or appreciate. People like working with people they like. I find that, usually, English majors are interesting, well spoken, can take a position and defend it with logic and reason, are (obviously) well read, and are, well, pleasant to be around.

Who could argue with that? 

(Image: istockphoto.com)

Is Yahoo!’s ‘Come Home’ Policy Save the Buzz or a Buzz Killer?

Last week Marissa Mayer, new CEO of Yahoo!, issued a memo telling employees they aren’t to work from home anymore. Starting in June. Apparently a lot of Yahoo! employees are unhappy about it. So the confidential memo was forwarded to media. Often. (click here for the memo at AllThingsD.)

Marissa Mayer CEO of Yahoo Huffington Post

According to David Heinemeier Hansson, partner at 37 Signals, in No more remote work at Yahoo:  

What this reveals more than anything is that Yahoo management doesn’t have a clue as to who’s actually productive and who’s not.

Sad. Yahoo ruled the web-search world in the middle 1990s, in the days before Google. It’s been through a lot. And Marissa Mayer has a great track record in the industry. And maybe she needs to pull things back together. But is this one going to work?

The memo proclaims the reasons for keeping together: 

From Sunnyvale to Santa Monica, Bangalore to Beijing — I think we can all feel the energy and buzz in our offices. To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side.

But this is 2013. The world is flat. Productivity isn’t a matter of keeping seats warm. Productivity needs leadership, motivation, metrics, accountability, and — especially as companies grow — management. Managing expectations and feedback. 

The buzz that followed the memo was far from the energy and buzz in Yahoo! offices. It was much more the buzz from disgruntled employees. Kara Swisher reported in her piece in AllThingsD:

The tone and tactics have infuriated some at the company. Wrote one impacted Yahoo employee to me: ‘Even if that was what was previously agreed to with managers and HR, or was a part of the package to take a position, tough … It’s outrageous and a morale killer.’

This reminds methat larger companies struggle with structure and the management they require. I’m glad the business world is splintering into smaller units, much more individuals, much more freedom. What do you think? 

Good News for Local Journalism — I Hope

Eugene Register Guard newspaper journalism

This week what my local (Eugene, Oregon) newspaper is doing with an iPad app makes me feel better about the future of journalism in the new online age.

I’ve got a newspaper habit. I begin my day with the local paper. While I make my coffee and gather a breakfast, a browse the headlines, and read the stories that appeal to me.

So what’s changed? This morning instead of going downstairs and grabbing the paper outside of my front door, I turned to my iPad beside my bed and had the paper in front of me five minutes earlier, and in a much more convenient format.

The app itself isn’t the news. It does about the same thing the majors (New York Times, Huffington Post, USA Today, etc.) do: it puts the paper in its real layout onto my iPad. I can scroll around the page with my finger, pinch it to enlarge portions, tap an arrow to go to the next section.

What is a big deal, to me, is that this is a local paper. My local newspaper, the Register Guard. In a town of about 150,000, in a metropolitan area of about 250,000 maximum. And its iPad app. And it is covering local news, as you can see in the illustration: That day’s front page included a governor’s visit to local schools. I would not have gotten that news from any of the majors.

Why do I care? Precisely because it’s not one of the majors. It’s a local newspaper. Its very existence solves some of my long-term concerns:

  • I’ve worried that people think social media somehow replaces journalism. Bad idea. Useful for breaking news, of course (there are lots of examples). But investigative journalism? No. Local news? No.
  • I’ve worried that major nationwide media (New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Huffington Post) unintentionally overwhelm the economics local coverage.
  • I’ve worried that the advertising model, particularly the classifieds, is threatened by the efficiency and functionality of online ads. And Craig’s List and friends.
  • And I’ve worried that investigative journalism, valuable as it is, is hard to do, takes training and experience, and doesn’t happen with the economics of social media. Huffington and NYTimes and friends will hold that up for major issues, but not for local.

They — the owners of the local paper — do charge money for it. The iPad edition is $1.99 per week as an introductory price, and free to subscribers of the physical paper, who pay $16.50 per month. That seems perfectly fair to me. In fact, I approve, because I want them to make enough money to stay in business. And if I subscribe to just the iPad version, it’s cheaper than the physical newspaper. If it were just me, I’d be iPad-only, but I’m not the only newspaper reader in my household.

So this is good news. And with this development, it looks like maybe local coverage in our area will continue even as newsprint becomes scarce and expensive and the physical paper dies out. For more on that local stuff, the illustration below shows the front page of the regional/local section, which is all local news. So there is hope.

The New JOBS Act, Crowdfunding, and Shoes Waiting to Drop

It’s less than three weeks since the new JOBS act opened the door to exciting new crowdfunding initiatives. This could be a sweeping change, an end to antiquated laws requiring startups to get investment mainly from so-called accredited investors. And it could be another deregulation causing a lot more problems than it solves. 

For the curious, here’s a quick reading list I’ve compiled, full of excitement, eager anticipation, fears, contradictions, and contention.  

  1. Gene Marks has a good summary in Drilling Down: What Small Business Should Know About Crowdfunding on the New York Times. This one is positive and optimistic. 
  2. For a scathing indictment of the whole idea, how it’s actually more of the deregulation that caused the great recession, try Why Obama’s JOBS Act Couldn’t Suck Worse, by Matt Taibbi on Rolling Stone. (Don’t you love the title? Nothing ambiguous about that.)
  3. For a more long-term academic/intellectual view, try Yale Professor Robert Shiller’s Democratize Wall Street, for Social Good, also on the New York Times. 
  4. Jason Calacanis, founder of Mahalo.com and a very well-known and vocal successful entrepreneur, raves about the underlying idea of crowdfunding in The Two Most Important Startups in the World, posted a couple of months ago, before the new bill passed. 
  5. Bob Rice, New York venture capitalist, posted Forget Crowdfunding: Why JOBS Matters on the gust.com blog. A couple other posts on the subject on that blog — which is the major platform for angel investment — are Antone Johnson’s train wreck post, in which he fears the worst from crowdfunding before the bill passed;  and then his somewhat-relieved revision in his back on track post a week later. 
  6. Last but not least (since we’re on my blog at the moment) is my What Worries Me About Crowdfunding on the Huffington Post. What worried me then, before the bill passed, still worries me now. 

I could go on with the reading list, but it’s already too long. 

So which is it? All hail the new era of startups let loose from the nasty bureaucratic constraints? Or the opposite, run for the hills because chaos is coming? Obviously somewhere in between the two. Also obviously, a lot will depend on who does what in crowdfunding, and how quickly, and how well. If this new world starts with some very visible unsuccessful but popular deals, for which a lot of people lose money, that’s one scenario. If the regulations manage to control the scams and somebody builds a good crowdfunding site with some reasonable precautions, then that’s another scenario. 

So I’m waiting for that the shoe to drop. 

Is The Very Idea of Designing Tech Products for Women Insulting?

(note: I posted this on the Huffington Post first, just about 10 minutes ago)

Maybe it’s because I’m father to four daughters, maybe because of simple fair play, but if you read my stuff I’ve been a chronic complainer about the relatively low numbers of women in high tech and tech in general. And I don’t believe it’s because the women like it that way, either. So why then does Don’t Be Afraid To Go Pink: Designing Great Tech Products For Women on TechCrunch today make me nervous?

My answer starts with a true story: in the late 1990s, at Palo Alto Software, we had a team brainstorming session to deal with the problem of under representation of women in among our Business Plan Pro users. The team at the time was half women, and for the record, our company is 49% women owned.pink tech

But that brainstorming session turned up nothing but bad ideas. Business planning is a great example of something that has no gender specificity. Most of the suggestions made were unintentionally insulting to women, as if being female means you plan your numbers less, or are more intuitive or less rigorous, which is a crock. Pink packaging? We did take it to heart with our packaging, putting the image of a happy female user all over the back of the box. But that was it. Business planning has no gender component.

The TechCrunch post has five suggestions, starting with don’t be afraid to go pink. Say what? Here’s how post authors Sarah Paiji and Sanby Lee explain that point:

We don’t mean that your product literally has to be pink. However, you shouldn’t be afraid to make a product that is only for women, and to signal this through your aesthetic and branding. For our mobile shopping app, we chose a name and color scheme that was decidedly feminine. We had men complain that they didn’t feel comfortable using the app, or posting in a community dominated by women. But that’s the point — we didn’t want men as our initial audience.

That bothers me. I think we have to make some logical distinctions here.

First, some products have gender specificity. Clothes, sporting goods, personal hygiene for example: of course they’re different for men or women.

Second, some content has gender specificity. Obviously some television programming, movies, magazines and other media have gender behaviors built into them.

So if you put these two assumptions together, then there’s absolutely nothing troublesome to me about gender-specific products where there are gender differences, and gender specific marketing that takes advantage of those differences, whether for gender-specific product or not, to focus market dollars more effectively. Sure, they advertise beer on football games and tampons on soap operas. So what?

But I really don’t like trying to build gender specifics into products that don’t have them. Very few tech products are inherently gender specific. Maybe the authors’ shopping app is, but if so, it’s one of a very few. And for the most part, trying to design tech for women ends up, well meaning or not, assuming women are dumber than men. Which is a dumb assumption.

Which I think we see in that post. After making that first point, the authors follow with 2.) resist feature overload, 3.) find the key influencers, and 4.) enable discovery. How are those factors gender specific? I’m a man, and I don’t want feature overload, I get influenced and I influence, and discover is good for me. How are those points women centric?

Then, finally, fifth of five: have women on your team. Doh! Of course! The work force is 50-50-ish, then so too should be every team on every company that isn’t doing gender-specific product. And I don’t mean by law, or forced by anybody; but rather, just common sense and a natural process over time.

(Image: istockphoto.com)

 

Concept Meets Code: 10 Tips for Dealing With Developers

I’ve seen it too many times: starry-eyed would-be Internet entrepreneur meets real developer, dream in hand. This is culture clash. More often than not, it ends up with wasted time, wasted money and dashed dreams. Concept meets computer code.

In 30+ years in the software business I’ve been a developer, a dreamer, a consultant to the dreamers and an employer to the developers. So maybe I can help. With thanks to several contributors (below), here are 10 tips for the dreamer side of the equation:

  1. Software is usually a compromise between the dream scenario, on the one hand, and what’s actually do-able in software. Think of whatever your favorite productivity software, or app and how, as you learn to work with it, you learn to accept its way of doing things instead of your way. Everybody hates their accounting software, right? But you make do because it’s easier than balancing your checkbook with a pencil and a calculator. Real development takes compromising what’s ideal for what’s actually possible.
  2. You have to listen. Developers think and talk in code (double meaning intended.) Most of the time, as you explain to them what you want, they’re trying to translate between what you imagine and what software code will actually let them do. They are not necessarily articulate, tactful, or very good at explaining. You have to shut up and listen. Catch the clues. Don’t think they’re not understanding you. They probably are, and they’re jumping ahead of you to what they can implement in code.
  3. Understand critical relationship factors. Figure out whether your developer is a partner or just a vendor. It’s really hard to succeed in software, especially at the early stages, without brainstorming, collaboration and excitement about ideas. If you want a developer to just shut up and write code you’re probably doomed from the start. Please re-read points 1 and 2 above.
  4. Who owns the product? You can’t get around this sticking point. The road to startup success is littered with the carcasses of failure caused by disputes over ownership of ideas, ownership of code and points in between. You have to talk about it. Painful, maybe; awkward, maybe, but establish with your developer that you own the work, or that it’s shared. My suggestion: own the work, but listen, collaborate, own it legally and technically (because you’re the one writing checks) but not emotionally or creatively.
  5. Pay for results, not hours. I learned that the hard way, and from both sides of the table. Don’t pay too much in advance. Set milestones together. Pay for achievements. Programmer hours are more volatile than Midwestern summer weather. They’re like airplane seats, where one passenger pays 20 times what it cost the passenger across the aisle.
  6. Identify which developer personality is which. Developers are often multiple people, like schizophrenics. They want security, steady income, power, big entrepreneurial jackpots, ownership, and days off without worrying about anything. They’re geniuses in good moments and pains in the royal ass in bad moments. Which makes them a lot like the rest of us. Try to figure out which personality is which, so you can let the genius soar at the right times, and avoid the pains. Careful with egos. It’s really stupid to shut down creativity with discipline.
  7. Know your developer. Check references before hiring. Call some past relationships. We all work with the assumption that programmers are super smart and eclectic, but some pseudo-programmers are smart as scammers. Ideas get stolen and it’s not illegal. Watch the movie Social Network and realize that the law supports the Mark Zuckerberg character in that script. The twins might have thought of it, but he did it. And keep in mind that most developers are good at some things, but not all things. Some focus on interface, some on system back end and so on.
  8. Design an early check-in point into the project. Never contract a whole project from the start. Instead, find a quick first step that can also be an abandonment point. It’s like in a personal relationship, meeting new people, you want to get a cup of coffee first, before jumping into bed together.
  9. Get the key points in writing. No, I don’t mean some big fat contract, or expensive legal work; but have your developer sign a short letter — in English, not legalese — that establishes who owns what, when the money changes hands and what you’re agreeing to.
  10. Remember the dragons. One of my favorite programmers compared software development to Columbus setting out from the Canary Islands sailing west:

    He hoped he’d end up on the coast of India, but I bet he still feared falling off the end of the Earth into the mouths of the dragons. Software development is like that. You think you’re going to reach land, but you might not.

    And good luck. Enjoy the journey. And may you reach the other shore.

(Note: I posted this on Huffington Post this morning; I’m reposting it here becuse  this is my main blog.)

(image: istockphoto.com)

Do You Know The Luxury of Not Having to Know Everything?

Never underestimate the luxury of being able to not know something.

For example, you’re in a business meeting and somebody asks about some acronym you’ve never heard of. The right answer is:

I don’t know what that acronym means. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it before. Maybe you can tell me, or give me some context?

Too often, though, people think something they don’t know is something they are supposed to know. So they fake it. They work around it, pretend to know, guess, or stumble.

I learned years after getting an MBA degree that one of the unexpected benefits was the luxury of not knowing something. Which leads to the luxury of being able to just ask. “I don’t know” is very freeing.

tour busHere’s another way of explaining it. When I was young I guided two around-the-world groups for a travel agency.

The first time around, I feared having one of the tourists ask me something I didn’t know. I was supposed to have been to these places before, and with most of them, I hadn’t. And that was nerve wracking. There are about 50 churches between the airport and the hotel in any European city. People would start asking names of churches as soon as we got off the highway into town. And I didn’t know.

The second time around, when we’d go through the neighborhoods towards the hotel , I had the luxury of saying “I don’t know” when I was asked about some random church along the way. “It’s not one of the major ones,” I would add, knowing at least that it wasn’t on the tour.

I was reminded of this last week when I read a good post called 5 Surprising Traits Of Successful Entrepreneurs by Adelaide Lancaster on Huffington Post. Number one on that list is:

Ability to admit (comfortably and openly) what they don’t know.

Amen to that. Occasionally I run into one of those people who seems pressured to know everything. They can never just exhale and not know. I’m sure that’s a hard way to live.

(Image: lierne via Flickr CC)

You Can’t Eat Truth Either … But it Still Matters

As blogger, former full-time journalist, and long-term entrepreneur, I’m offended from all three sides by journalists complaining that bloggers don’t get paid on the Huffington Post.

I’m offended by the envy. The money Arianna Huffington and her investors made on the sale of Huffington Post to AOL was classic entrepreneurship, earned by taking risks. They risked their time, money, health, and reputations. They established a business, hired people, rented offices, bought computers, bought server space, and all that. So when they make something happen, they deserve the dollars.

I’m also offended by the distortion. Huffington Post does have journalists on staff, and they get paid as journalists. If you don’t get it, you should probably read this explanation from one of them. And Huffington Post also publishes posts from thousands of bloggers, me included, who post there voluntarily, as self expression, mostly opinion, with no expectation of being paid for it. They want an audience. The distortion on the poster (in the illustration here) makes me angry. “You can’t eat prestige” is pure sensationalism, complete distortion.

Is Twitter exploiting people who tweet? Is Facebook exploiting its users?

The house painter gets paid. The landscape painter doesn’t.

The passport photographer gets paid. The news photographer gets paid. The art photographer doesn’t.

The journalist gets paid. The reporter gets paid. The investigative journalist gets paid. The author of the letter to the editor doesn’t.

Some bloggers are journalists, and should be paid. Reporters for Mashable, Engadget, TechCrunch and Read/Write Web, to cite some well-known examples, are journalists, and they get paid. Guest posters aren’t journalists usually, and they don’t usually get paid.

Summary: entrepreneurship is big risk, and big money if you make something that succeeds. Journalism is work and there is expectation of pay. Some blogging is work with expectation of pay, and some is self expression, which is its own reward.

(Disclosure: I blog on the Huffington Post and my son is CTO. I was also a member of the Newspaper Guild as a professional journalist, on salary with United Press International, a correspondent for McGraw-Hill World News, and a freelancer.)

Congratulations to the Huffington Post Team

Blogs are supposed to be personal, right? This post is more so than most.

Today I can’t help celebrating the Huffington Post big deal today. @huffpo got acquired by AOL for $315 million.

I’ve been watching the rise of the Huffington Post for several years now — (and here’s where it’s personal) since my son started  as CTO about three years ago — and what a ride.

Many big wins seem simple after the fact. Few are, and this one no more than any. It might seem obvious now but when they started in 2005, it was a matter of huge risks and a million ways to go wrong. They’ve been working like mad, paying attention to every detail, leading a new media world step by step, but with a lot of ups and downs. When you look back at it now, they changed blogging and journalism both.

Congratulations to Arianna Huffington, Ken Lerer, Jonah Paretti, Eric Hippeau, and so many others who played a part in it. And of course to my son Paul, too — but he doesn’t need a blog post to know how I feel.

(Image: copied from Huffington Post)

Who Speaks for Small Business?

As a small business owner who was once a journalist, when I read Taking Mom And Pop To The Cleaners on the Huffington Post, I think I know how that happens, why it’s bad, and why it’s also unlikely to change.

(Aside: I’m happy to see Huffington Post and reporters Zach Carter and Ryan Griffin are out there generating investigative journalism, actively researching and reporting on this topic. This may be one answer to what happens to investigative journalism as the print media declines.)

The story is about how the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), has become the voice of one side of the political spectrum:

… for the past two years, the NFIB has been less an advocate for small businesses than an arm of the Republican Party. When the interests of the GOP and the needs of small firms have collided, the NFIB has repeatedly sided with Republicans, jeopardizing billions of dollars in credit, tax benefits and other federal subsidies that are critical to the small enterprises that form the backbone of the U.S. economy … the NFIB has maintained a lower national profile, and is still routinely referred to in the media as “the small business lobby.”

No group actually knows what small business thinks or wants because small business doesn’t exist as a group. The thing small business owners have most in common is not having very much in common. By definition, they are nonconformists. They did their own thing when they started that business. My anecdotal sense is that they don’t join groups unless they have to. They’re busy. They’re focused on the business. And they are an extremely diverse group.

Journalists, meanwhile, aren’t supposed to have opinions; they have to ask for opinions. And politicians even more so. Therefore, when they look for what small business thinks, they look for a spokesperson. You or I might be that spokesperson, maybe; but then it’s hard to find just anybody; so they go for somebody. And end up with the somebody they called last time. Somebody who sounds like he or she represents small business. And that ends up as NFIB, and the like (see below: the Huffington story, to its credit, also points to groups representing the opposite point of view, like Main Street Alliance)

Nobody’s really to blame for it. It’s just the way it happens.

What annoys me about it is all the people supposedly talking about it are grinding their own political axes. They define what small business wants as constant whining about taxes and regulations and very little else. What about the bigger picture? What about looking up at what the government can do for the economy in general, like regulating the financial chaos, funding education, sponsoring innovation, and hey, maybe just infrastructure, like fibre cable and freeway bridges? Is it bad to protect employees from predatory employer practices? Not to me? Would we be better off with more open policy towards immigration? I think so.

But the journalists are going to ask the groups that turn up first on their speed dials, cell phones, and google searches. Not you and me.

Does anybody care? Well, they had 3,661 comments on that post by this morning. Hmmm …

And I have to make two late additions to this post:

  1. Over at SmallBiz Labs Steve King has an interesting take on the same Huffington Post story, noting that there’s another group, Main Street Alliance, that is as identified with the Democratic Party as the NFIB is with the Republicans.
  2. Meanwhile, and probably much more important, the Obama White House announced its Startup America Partnership yesterday with some very slick online video streaming, some serious financial commitments, and the good sense to lead with real entrepreneurs including Steve Case and Brad Feld, and real information provided by the Small Business Administration and the Kauffman Foundation. That was a great start.