readings: April 14-21

21 04 2010
So I think I’m finally getting the hang of this.  I hope you enjoy my favorite articles from the past week.

Just Doing It – Thomas L. Friedman in Op-Ed Section of New York Times, April 17

Mr. Friedman’s post is on the new type of startup – completely mobile and geographically disparate.  It’s another side of the lean startup movement – doing more with almost nothing.  Starting a business with exactly what you have to begin with (in this case, a few laptops, phones, and connections).  This model works really well as long as the founders are also very good at judging and outsourcing talent.  Picking the wrong supplier or manufacturer can completely tank your offerings, and open the door to competitors.  Since they can see how little capital investment is necessary, what’s to stop them from entering?  So long-term contracts with top talent are important.  
Next, the founders must be either have extensive business experience or have access to it.  With very little VC-type funding, another thing lean startups are missing is the incredible experience and connections that come with investors.  In this case, that currently seems unnecessary – this is an excellent organic startup idea that may solve a real problem for millions.  But what if Merck comes along and makes an offer?  When is the right time to sell?  Without experienced and knowledgeable investors, it might be hard for founders to sort this type of thing out!

A very interesting question – Apple, why won’t you get involved in the Internet’s conversations?  My take: Apple has way too much on the table and wayyy too much up it’s sleeve.  I do believe the pipeline is relatively packed for Apple, and there is too much at stake if an employee or PR person lets something slip.  Competitors are watching Apple so closely, and Apple is moving into so many areas, that losing the advantage on a product because of a feature slip or a full product slip is hugely damaging.  
Second, investors have such lofty expectations for Apple, I was surprised to see the stock go up despite their incredible earnings statements today.  Anytime that Steve or a top employee would schedule an event, the market would be awaiting a new product or service with baited breath.  If it actually turned out to be just an open discussion of battery life issues and the steps Apple was taking to increase that battery life, their stock would tumble quickly.  Steve is, in his own way, being responsible to investors by staying out of the way unless he has something he wants to tell them.  
Finally, that mystique.  That mystique may not show on a financial statement, but it’s worth millions and millions in sales.
I have a feeling Steve’s response to John’s invitation would be: “Sorry, No.”
By the way, if you haven’t read John Battelle’s book, The Search, I definitely recommend it.  Great insight on Google, the startup company.

The Secret Coach – Jennifer Reingold for Fortune Magazine, July 21 2008
This was an article I really enjoyed.  I got a chance to sit in a small room at Intuit this year and hear Bill Campbell speak.  I also got the chance to down several beers at his bar, The Old Pro, in Palo Alto.  Both opportunities showed me how good things can be when you have a clear understanding of the goal and how your audience wants it (the one-way mirror in The Old Pro was worth hours of comedy).  Please give this article a read if you are interested in leadership and it’s great affect on management.  Bill is trusted by ALL of the top names in Silicon Valley, and his lessons are very simple.  I’ve always thought about it like this: if someone extremely intelligent came to this planet from say, Mars, and you asked them how business should be run, they would say to do it the way Bill Campbell does it.  Take care of your employees, chase the very best, never let go of your integrity, and cut the bullshit.  Oh, and you can’t run a business without the money!
I thanked Bill for his amazing talk, but I don’t think I could ever thank him enough.

Narratives Over Numbers – Fred Wilson on his blog, A VC
Just another great post by Fred Wilson on business, selling, and presentations.  He says you have to be a good illustrator of the vision in order to convince others to follow.  If you can “paint” the numbers in a way that is easy for the audience to digest and take away, they will remember them much better and clearer than simply a slide deck with calculations.

An Open Mind – Katie Hafner for the New York Times, April 8 2010
Ms. Hafner outlines the backstory and options available for free University lessons online.  Having lectures in digital format is something I’m extremely interested in as an idea, after all, we are learning there is a limit to the number of great teachers we can produce at once, so we have to find a way to make teaching scale.  Internet and digital format seems to be the answer for me.  What also interested me is how long MIT has been involved with this and how they position it as an investment in their overall brand.  The “Open Educational Resources” movement is a good thing for all of us, so the new efforts and business models associated with it should be watched closely!  

A great post by Zachary Burt on how conscious capitalism could work and some “cliff notes” on what John Mackey meant in his essay.  Having read the essay and several articles on the topic, I think this is one of the articles that best illustrates how it differs from the current model, how Mackey could be right, and how it could affect all the business we do in the future.

I’ve been reading Ahead of The Curve by Phillip Broughton, and the idea of business student ethics is a very popular topic in the book (excellent book by the way, I totally recommend to any MBAs).  Claudio makes some excellent points in this article.  He says hard-working students can easily turn their academics from middle of the pack to stellar as MBAs, while values are pretty fixed and personalities are near impossible to change.  His argument is values and personality might even be looked at ahead of stellar academics when choosing applicants.  While I agree with this to a certain extent, I find two issues there.  First, it would be very difficult to convince any school of this, and Secondly, lower academic background yet higher value-oriented MBAs will not be quick to get jobs.  There is no short-term financial incentive for many companies to choose a value-based MBA as an employee over one who is stellar academically and has the stronger professional background yet is iffy in the values department.  While there may be long-term issues with hiring such an individual, it is easy to ignore that and simply pick from the best resume.
I would love to hear more of Claudio’s ideas on how to not only integrate ethics into admissions, but also get those students hired at the back end!

Posted via email from the Jeff Vincent blog

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One response

21 04 2010
Zachary Burt

Hi Jeff, thanks for the kind words. I’m also in New York City. Send me an email if you’d like to grab coffee or lunch some time. -Zack

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