One-hour Meeting

Lunch together, it’s only an hour.
For me, this meal is regularly sour.
We’ll chat and ideate, maybe we’ll create.
It is the journey home that will turn one into eight.

I run into the cafe. He serves me a double shot.
The coffee is inside me. I dream it will hit the spot.
He sees the cup empty. I’m asleep on the table.
Confused, he double checks the caffeine label.

He wakes me up and sets me free,
I have a problem the world cannot see,
He assumes I’ve had a late night.
as I fell asleep before the fight.

I fight for wakefulness. My eyes are bloodshot, my tears fall.
I try to resist. I’m against a brick wall.
I take a train to bed, but I collapse again.
Moving fast underground. I wake in zone ten.

End of the line, I change side and return to the city.
This conductor knows me, he holds back his pity.
I’ve visited that station before, but only the station.
I go there in error, while others take their vacation.

I’m back in the centre. It happened again.
I just want to go home and lie down in my den.
The taxi arrives, this option is immune.
I can barely afford it, one hour for lunch and I’ll be home by moon.

Kevin Spacey on TV Pilots and Startup MVP’s

When Kevin Spacey and the House of Cards team pitched the idea for their show to every major network, the networks were all interested but required a pilot which is the norm for American networks.

House of Cards wanted to create a sophisticated story with complicated characters that would establish itself over time. A series that begins with a pilot must establish chartacters quickly, reveal cliffhangers quickly and prove themselves within forty-five minutes. A pilot is a ‘minimal viable product’ by startup jargon.  The point made here is that many great stories will not reveal themselves in a short period of time and that both methods work for different scenarios. If we only allow tv shows that make pilots and startups that make MVP’s to progress to the next step, we are going to miss some blockbuster hits.

“They (audience) want stories. They’re dying for them. They are rooting for us to give them the right thing, and they will talk about it, binge on it, carry it with them on the bus, and to the hairdresser, force it on their friends, tweet, blog, facebook, make fan pages, silly gifs and god knows what else about it. They will engage with it, with a passion and an intimacy that a blockbuster movie could only dream of. All we have to do is give it to them.”

“I hate television, I hate it as much as peanuts. But I just can’t stop eating peanuts.”

Orson Wells

What does a CEO do?

In my effort to further understand corporate raiding / activist shareholders, I came across a webcam lecture given by Carl Icann at Yale. He has built his career on the single assumption that most management teams are bad at management. A corporate CEO does not want a ‘number-two’ that is smarter than they are, as they would be at risk of being overthrown. When the CEO does eventually change, the job is generally passed to that selectively chosen, lesser ability assistant. As a company moves from CEO #1 to CEO #2 to CEO #3, the passing of the baton is going to get progressively worse as each CEO insists on someone less smarter than themself. Later in the talk during the questions, Icann advises the student as a young investor that his first move should almost always be to fire the CEO, primarily as the majority are not used to accountability.

Would Icann be excited about startup culture as they are completely the opposite? Instead of trying to protect their place by hiring someone worse than themselves, founders hire smarter people than themselves to build out their vision and rarely feel at risk doing so. They hustle their way from zero, directly accountable to customers in a close relationship at an early stage. When they raise investment at any level, they are accountable to those investors. Both scenarios insist on accountability from a young age where the previous generation of CEO’s would be ‘climbing the corporate ladder avoiding any controversy and personal accountability. Have we done a 180 degree change?

Brian Chesky described his job as CEO of Airbnb having three core responsibilities during their explosive growth.

i) The vision of the company

ii) Building the core team.

iii) Making sure there is always money in the bank.

When Steve Jobs was fired, Apple lost their vision, upsetting their core team which affected how much was left in the bank, the three core CEO duties were destabilised by this change in management. However, an analytical mind which most investors seem to be, prefer this option of replacing the CEO as soon as those three tasks seem stable. If the founder is to remain CEO, they must reinvent themself to address the challenges of a later stage business. This point is argued by A16Z in their blogpost “Why We Prefer Founding CEO’s”. My question that I would like to learn more about is, ‘what do CEO’s do?’ in three to five points at the different stages below.

– pre-investment start-up

– post-investment start-up

– speed-up

– scale-up

– pre-IPO

– post-IPO

Thanks for reading, please contribute a response to the question.

Icann reads ‘Rudyard Kipling – If’ every so often.  Link to Poetry Genius explains the poem line by line.

1000 Users

The myth of “we had 25,000 users sign up on our first day” or the line “we told our friends and they told their friends,” are both likely to have been backed up by a smart strategy. I am still figuring out the plan with www.fabsie.com and researching other playbooks for inspiration. All of the startups below have a great product which is central to their success, but beyond that are some very important findings that led to their growth.

Add any other companies or additional information to discussion on Hacker News

Instagram

  1. The founders weren’t scared of letting people try it before launch. They just kept showing it to people and taking feedback.
  2. They got everyone they talked to be a brand ambassador.
  3. Early adopters used the product extensively.
  4. Users posted their photos to twitter attracting new users, (many early adopters had ‘000’s of followers.)
  5. Early users became huge advocates and pushed it on blogs and in reviews on app store.
  6. Showed it to influencers. (Robert Scoble, Kevin Rose, Leo Laporte and MG Siegler)

LinkedIn

  1. Reid Hoffman seeded the product with successful friends and connections. (The company would have been doomed if there had been massive adoption of have-nots, instead of people who were hiring, recruiting etc.)
  2. He refused to meet with potential investors until they adopted LinkedIn.  Entrepreneurs and aspiring executives would follow their lead.
  3. Deployed an Outlook contact uploader (very painful to build/support) to allow viral spread among professionals.
  4. Deferred any features related to revenue or engagement until after the growth path was established, which took nearly 1.5 years.
  5. Invitation reminders that expired after two weeks were another key feature.

Etsy

  1. The original founders built forums and started reading through the conversations people were having. The overwhelming topic was, “I wish there was a place I could sell my crafts! Ebay sucks – it’s hard to use, doesn’t care about us, and charges high fees.”
  2. Craftspeople buy crafts in other sectors than their own trade. Sellers were also buyers and brand advocates.
  3. They told their friends at even larger crafting community forums about Etsy, which brought even more sellers.
  4. Sellers previously had no e-commerce presence, so for them to accept any online transactions at all, they had to send customers to Etsy.

Airbnb

  1. Mentored by Justin.tv
  2. Found spikes in demand and tried to cover those events (from SXSW to London Olympics.)
  3. Went to bloggers with CNN keywords, then local news with CNN keywords. CNN searching their keywords covered them.
  4. Spammed Craigslist. (See Blogpost by Dave Gooden)
  5. Went door-to-door.
  6. David (Barry Manilow’s drummer) rented out his full apartment, as opposed to just bedrooms which they met in person.
  7. Video by Brian Chesky

Pinterest

  1. Email Marketing: “I think I personally wrote to the first 5,000 users.” Silbermann
  2. Psychology of the invite-only beta.
  3. Engaging and frequent notifications.
  4. Design demographic = design blogs coverage.

Facebook

  1. Emailed friends and sent emails to several mailing lists.
  2. College Newspaper
  3. Cross-school friends connections and artificial scarcity.
  4. At a time when camera phones were just taking off.
  5. Hub strategy, take on strongest competitors first (startup at Columbia), then expand to where no competition exists.
  6. Aggressive use of email notifications to acquire, engage, and retain users. Defaulting users to receive comment updates was especially clever.

Dropbox

  1. Posting demo video to Digg.com that moved from 5,000 to 75,000 signups.
  2. Many failed experiments.
  3. Word of mouth / Social worked for Dropbox much more so than search.

Warby Parker

  1. Hired a Fashion PR agency (Bradbury Lewis) that landed them in GQ, hit their annual sales target in three weeks.
  2. Made the office into a store.
  3. Co-branded with other stores – the readery.
  4. Took the store on the road – the schoolbus.
  5. Held a bazaar.

Continue reading “1000 Users”

Gangnam Style

If you’ve followed my tweets, you can tell I’m big fan of internet culture and the spread of the Gangnam style video and various remakes/parodies. The original video is at 590 million hits as of October 2012. Below is a list of some of my favourite Gangnam Style videos.

From Wikipedia

“Gangnam Style” is a Korean neologism that refers to a lifestyle associated with the Gangnam district of Seoul, where people are trendy, hip and exude a certain supposed “class”. The term was listed in Times weekly vocabulary list as a manner associated with lavish lifestyles in Seoul’s Gangnam district. PSY likened the Gangnam District to Beverly HillsCalifornia, and said in an interview that he intended a twisted sense of humor by claiming himself to be “Gangnam Style” when everything about the song, dance, looks, and the music video is far from being high class.

People who are actually from Gangnam never proclaim that they are – it’s only the posers and wannabes that put on these airs and say that they are “Gangnam Style”- so this song is actually poking fun at those kinds of people who are trying so hard to be something that they’re not.
– PSY

During an interview with The New York Times, PSY revealed that his Korean fans have very large expectations about his dancing, so he felt a lot of pressure. In order to keep up with expectations, he studied hard to find something new and stayed up late for about 30 nights to come up with the “Gangnam Style” dance. Along the way, he had tested various “cheesy” animal-inspired dance moves with his choreographer, including panda and kangaroo moves, before settling for the horse trot, which involves pretending to ride a horse, alternately holding the reins and spinning a lasso, and moving into a legs-shuffling side gallop.

Original

Spin-off Music Video with HYUNA

Ai Wei Wei

Continue reading “Gangnam Style”

Swimming in the English Channel (First Attempt)

Unfortunately, I didn’t make it.

Despite waking every morning for months with the dream of powering through to Cap de Griz Nez in arguably the world’s toughest swim, this dream will have to wait. I feel extremely lucky to have met Ned Denison (Channel Swim 2005)  and Donal Buckley (Channel Swim 2010) whom have kindly pointed out the many mistakes that I made and have been a goldmine of knowledge on open-water swimming, I only wish I had of met them one year ago.  Both swim in Sandycove, Co. Cork and have aided more swimmers to successfully cross the channel than anywhere in the world outside of Dover itself and the Serpentine Swimming Club in London.

I didn’t get off to a good start with the weather delaying the swim, Hurricane Irene turned up on the English coast with even Dover Castle closing due to high winds. I was due to swim in the first week of September 2011, but finally got out on the 26th September 2011. It was the wrong day for a channel swim attempt of which even worse I had picked up a cold and cough. Ned said “Pilots want to sail and swimmers want to swim, despite unfavourable conditions.” My first mistake was not cancelling the swim and waiting for another year as I wasn’t prepared to battle through the tough conditions that awaited me. Even worse, I wasn’t aware. A channel swim on the day would have taken 20+hours.

 

I boarded the boat ‘Pathfinder’ piloted by Eric Hartley in Dover Harbour at 7am. After loading onto the boat, we sailed out to the starting point of which I swam to the beach, waved to start and the clock began. I started strong with a stroke rate of 62. Time passed extremely quickly as my crew called me over for the first feed. I spent most of my time looking at the boat on each breath allowing me navigate.

Not too long into the swim, I started to feel sick that could have been from not feeling well before the swim, from the waves shaking me like a bronco horse causing sea sickness or possibly from swallowing too much of the lovely channel water on my feeds that didn’t seem to work too well. My stroke rate dipped to 50, (a dangerously low level). I emptied my stomach in the sea and took two Ibruprofen, but was already way off course. After five hours swimming, I had covered 25km making it into the shipping lane, but was dragged too far north towards Holland. The white cliffs of Dover faded behind me and large ferries and tankers appeared in front. An estimate was made at 20+hrs as we were off course and realistically not going to make it to France. I swam for another hour increasing my pace as I did not want to get out, but the pilot repeated his words on the next feed that I stood no chance in reaching France in these conditions. Extremely disappointed, I boarded the boat.

  
Two other swimmers attempted yesterday, the first giving up two hours before me also dragged north and the other from Zimbabwe ‘Bryan Tate’who despite being dragged north, completed the swim after 19hrs23mins, a colossal swim of more that 60km. I have plenty to do before I make another attempt with alot of open water-experience to gain.

James.

TEDxLondonBusinessSchool – Disruption

I have become obsessed with the term disruption since attending this event as my own projects can be described as extremely disruptive.  See Wikipedia‘s defintion of the term as put forward by Harvard Professor of Business Administration Clayton M. Christensen. Below are my five favourites talks from the event: Andy Stefanovich for the most energy I have ever seen in a presentation, Luke Downey for brand values that actually mean something, Tom Hulme for introducing me to ‘Constant Beta’ and ‘Continuous Innovation’ (Another topic I have taken an interest to.), Brian Forde on Failure in social enterprise and finally Kevin Eyres on career.

Note Brian Forde doesn’t explain why his project failed of which I discussed with him after his talk and posted in OpenIDEO.  Locals did not want to make phone calls to chat with their pals or ask who wanted to go see a film, they wanted to spread the news of death or give money to their family, relatives and friends whom had left the country. The bike for the public square did not address the required privacy, and thus the project failed.

IDEAS on Airport Design

Notes for www.airport2040.com.

SPEED

I would strongly recommend “The Harvard Guide to Shopping,” specifically the section on Airports. (Amazon) The book details the business model of airports and shows how profit generated from retail space is essential to keep airport taxes down. Having worked on a $6bn airport, I can say that the number one requirement by the client was to make everything far apart and encourage as much retail as possible.

Two models can be identified: Slow + Lots of retail / Fast + No retail

Slow

Heathrow – Many shops – 2 hours to get through – Taxes £45 per flight
Stansted – Many Shops – 2 hours to get through – Taxes £30 per flight

Fast

City Airport – One shop – 15 minutes to get through – Taxes £85 per flight.

FLOW
Most airlines have seat numbers and board planes with passengers disordered. If the plane waiting area resembled the interior of the plane, staff could immediately see if the plane is ready ahead of time and identify which passengers have yet to arrive by looking at empty seats. More importantly, the plane could be boarded faster due to better organisation – passengers at the back of the plane would sit at the front of the waiting area; they enter first with all passengers moving in order from lounge to plane as a continuous wave without interruption.

FORM
How does a building meet a plane? Airport by OMA below.

Could the airport’s roof be the runway that sends passengers upstairs?

HUMAN CENTERED.

The train station goodbye  used to be running along the platform waving goodbye to a loved one that accelerates into the horizon. For me it is the perfect goodbye, but unfortunately we put a barrier today and have deleted this moment of interaction. I spent a lot of time in airports as a child, my favorite is King Khalid Airport Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The airport splits into two routes early on, those traveling, and those leaving people off. Both travel on non-intersecting routes to the airport gate, I used to wave goodbye to my mother and father directly from the gate as I returned to Boarding School each holiday season. In the photo below, the gates are to the left and in the middle is a sandstone plinth where my parents would wait. I waved goodbye alike the old train station goodbye’s above.

SIMULATOR

Have you played Airport Inc. ?? Great little simcity like game to get into detail of how airports work. (Amazon)