Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Is anyone REALLY launching at Techcrunch50?

So like a lot of people, I've been trying to check out a few of the companies that are launching at Techcrunch50. Unfortunately, what I've discovered is that anything I'm interested in is still in "private beta", which in laymen's terms means "screw you unless you know someone here or get lucky".  For some of these companies, the one time I really hear about you or even think about you will be as a result of your participation in this conference.  It severely bums me out (as an average joe) that I can't actually give your product a spin and see for myself the beauty of what you just spent a ton of time and prep selling to a huge audience.

Is there any better way to do this?  It just feels really disappointing though I can understand that it may be necessary for the company in a number of ways.  At least release some screenshots or a demo or something.  Is anyone else bothered by this?  Just doesn't exactly seem like a "launch" as much as an announcement.  The companies I'm interested in looking at include:  
Grockit and OtherInbox.  If anyone out there can hook a brother up, please let me know.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Don't be stupid, it's just one ad!

As many people may already know, Microsoft has kicked off a huge new marketing campaign aimed at trying to "spark a new conversation about Windows".  The first ad came out and you can see a copy on Techcrunch here.  I actually felt the commercial wasn't as funny as it should be considering that they didn't have to talk about anything really significant.  IMO, Bill Gates was actually funnier than Seinfeld, but I guess that's beside the point.  The general response that I've seen has been mixed and there's been some fairly harsh criticism of the ads in comparison to the long standing Apple campaign with Justin Long as "Mac Guy".  I have to admit, the "Mac Guy" stuff is pretty good, but it's the FIRST DAMN COMMERCIAL!  Give MSFT a chance, they've got $300mm behind it and seems dumb to write the entire thing off because the first commercial didn't say much.  They're trying to make some big changes and like anything it's going to take some time.  

The commercial actually reminded me of a conversation I had with a recruiter at MSFT about five years ago when I was interviewing for an internship.  She asked me the following question:

"Let's say you're working at MSFT and on your first day you step into an elevator and Bill Gates is there.  He turns to you and says, "Hey Albert, if there is one thing that we should focus on to change our business (at MSFT), what should it be?  How would you respond to that question?"  My first answer was, "I'd probably say, 'Bill, how the hell do you know my name?'".  Absolutely, no response from the recruiter, not even a smile.  So my second answer was, "I'd do whatever I can to change the perception of MSFT as a business".

I elaborated a little further, but my point at the time was that even people that generally like and accept MSFT products (there are a lot of these folks) still view MSFT negatively as a business.  For whatever reason, Apple has been hugely successful at making all of us feel like they care about us.  Ever since the anti-trust fiasco, people have been pretty wary and although the average joe may not remember that particular thing, if you asked them to describe how they feel about MSFT they probably wouldn't respond with a ton of positives.  I still see this as being a big issue for MSFT and perhaps the ad campaign is not about "our product is better than yours" but is more about "we've changed and we're focused on making you feel good and delivering you something that you value".   If that's the case, it's going to take a long time and a lot of effort, but if they can be successful it'll go a long, long way.  We've only seen one ad so far, so at the least, let's wait for 2-3 more before we pass judgement.  Even if it fails, I'll still pretty happy to watch the new humble Bill Gates clowning around in a few more spots...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Switching to Linux for the Desktop? Who are You Talking to?

I noticed an interesting story on Lifehacker, regarding an announcement by Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttlesworth that they're focusing on making Linux into a better looking OS than Mac OSX in 2 years.  I'm not sure that I interpreted Mark's remarks the same way that Lifehacker did as he mentioned the goal is " lift the experience of the Linux desktop from something stable and usable and not pretty, to something that's art,...".  In my opinion, the "experience" that Mark's referring to is obviously much more than the look and feel of the software.  The comments on the article seem to indicate that changing the look and feel would not be a strong enough factor to get the Lifehacker readers to switch, but my question is,...are they asking the right question to the right people?

Asking the Lifehacker crowd may get an interesting reaction, but the responses seemed pretty skewed to tech savvy users who've already tried Linux.  If you've already tried Linux, I can't imagine the look and feel was the reason you abandoned it.  Hardware incompatibility, lack of software, etc...  This is what the commenters noted and they probably don't even represent the average customer well.  When I think of Linux, I think, "business, servers, incompatibility and geeky".  If Ubuntu is looking to make big headway in the world of desktop computing, I don't think those associations serve them very well.  Addressing the look and feel of the software may help to change the "geeky" impression, but certainly won't do much else for the others.

I wonder if the Ubuntu folks have tried just putting a bunch of Ubuntu computers in the hands of some current (average) Windows users or students.  Load them up with the apps you think they need (office stuff, music software, etc...) and then let 'em run with it.  Survey them afterwards and even if the information is skewed, you'll probably get a pretty good read on what some of the critical issues are.  They might even tell you that the software just didn't feel cool enough, supporting the look and feel approach and totally shooting down my earlier assumptions.  I can't imagine this would actually cost that much to try and at the least you'll probably get closer to discovering what the main problem is with using Linux for everyday computing life.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Call me bitter, but this just seems really lame

Just read a story on Techcrunch about how apparently there is an expected second wave of major departures at the management level of the company.  What really bothers me about this story is the fact that large amounts of stock options were given away as a retention vehicle with very generous strike prices as well as an accelerated vesting schedule.  Does this type of tactic really help?  How much worse would things have been if they just let these folks leave?  I honestly believe there are still a lot of great people who would be happy to work at a place like Yahoo.  Big changes are going to happen and that just means more opportunity for those who stay or join now.  At the end of the day it feels like a lot of employees just got unreasonably paid off to stick around in a situation where their morale was still low and they probably produced very little in an uninspired environment.  I might be naive, but I don't see how this really benefited the company or saved them from some more disastrous scenario.  Perhaps I'm bitter, or just a wee bit jealous. Just a tad...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Why Yahoo's Decline Started 12 Years Ago (part 1)

As a former employee, I've been asked the same question many times recently, "What happened to Yahoo?". This question is obviously a response to the large number of news stories and blog posts about the exodus of talent from Yahoo! and the future of the company (or lack thereof). I'm definitely not a fan of the bandwagon of Yahoo! bashers, though I can't say that I completely disagree with popular opinion that recent decisions have forced the company into a pretty uncomfortable position. I still have no clue as to what happens from here, but I think I can shed some light on a few of the things that I believe brought Yahoo to this point.

1. Yahoo! IPO on April 12th, 1996

Yahoo has been public for over 12 years now. In comparison, Google has been public for less than 3 and Facebook is of course, still private. The internet has obviously changed a lot in 12 years and Yahoo has had to weather these changes in the public spotlight with Wall St influencing their every move. I'm certain Yahoo's public status aided it through several tough times, but I think it's also really inhibited Yahoo from being able to react quickly and decisively to big threats from competition.

People have asked me about why Yahoo failed in the auctions business (I worked on the team for 2 years) and why Yahoo continues to lag behind Google in search (I worked on search for 1 year). With regards to auctions, eBay has succeeded where Yahoo failed by addressing the key problem of safety. Keeping the eBay marketplace clean requires a HUGE amount of time, effort and resources. Yahoo did not have the ability to put that level of investment into their auctions effort without making huge sacrifices to other businesses that were making reasonable profit at the time. The financial impact would've been significant and it still would've been a risky bet at best.

Similarly, in the search game, algorithmic search is a battle being fought in the background. Look at Google's investment in infrastructure, it absolutely dwarfs what Yahoo spends in Search and likely exceeds Yahoo's entire infrastructure spending as well. Indexing, organizing and analyzing the enormous amount of data on the web is extremely expensive at a very basic level. For Yahoo to compete on an algorithmic basis will require a huge investment and one that would, once again, have a severe impact on the rest of the company. As Jerry indicated in his
memo to shareholders today, increasing their search monetization is one way to offset an additional investment in their overall search quality and relevancy efforts.

The reasons above are obviously not the only reasons why Yahoo has failed in those areas to date, but certainly it's easy to see that "winning" would require a huge refocusing of resources from areas that still create some meaningful profit. If Yahoo were a private company, it would still be difficult to make these kind of investment decisions, but there would at least be a choice and one which wouldn't necessarilly result in a hostile takeover if the bottom line was temporariliy affected. Google waiting long beyond when they could have to go public was an incredibly smart decision, as well as the way they structured their stock classes to retain as much decision making power as possible within the company. Perhaps this will allow them to weather the numerous attacks they'll see in the next 10 years from promising young upstart companies like Facebook.

This post has gotten a little long. I'll follow up with additional points in subsequent posts...

Friday, June 20, 2008

What's this blog about?

I've worked in the silicon valley for over 9 years now, primarily on the internet, with a short break to go to business school full time. I've been at some big companies and now work for an "internet startup". Most of my big company experience was as a middle manager though I do hold an executive position at my current startup. In general, I believe my experience is pretty similar to many other folks, but it feels like a lot of the commentary out on the web doesn't represent my view or the views of people like me. The more I read on the popular blogs on technology and particularly the internet, the more I feel like I need to put my own opinion out there and see if it resonates with anyone (even just 1 other person!). At the minimum, it's an outlet and a way to keep myself active and writing which is usually a good thing for anyone.

Here are some other things you should know about me:

  • I don't have any kind of technical degree, though I've primarily been a product person during my stint in the valley and I'm familiar with a lot of internet technologies.
  • I've worked in a variety of areas including, search, search engine optimization, affiliate marketing, payment systems, auctions and ecommerce, desktop software and lead generation. However, I wouldn't say I'm an expert in any of these areas.
  • I've worked for some big companies (Yahoo, Ebay, Paypal and even General Electric), though most of my experience on the internet was with Yahoo.
  • I like to try new tools, apps, services on the internet, but I'm busy (and sometimes lazy) so a product really has to help me to become a staple of my online life.
  • I have no equity in any private internet companies with the exception of my current employer (Webjuice).
  • I no longer own Yahoo or eBay stock.
  • I use a Mac and I love it, though I'm still frustrated as a work user (Lack of exchange support on good email clients and no docking station!).
  • I'm fairly highly educated (B.A. Economics, M.B.A., both from Berkeley) but I wouldn't consider myself particularly knowledgeable or aware of politics or world affairs.
There's a lot more I'll share, but that's probably good for now. If you've managed to a) stumble across this blog and b) read through this entire intro, you're probably really bored or a family member of mine, but thanks for reading and I hope you find my future posts entertaining or somehow informative.

- Albert