Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Traditional media suffer - new business quests emerging

Interesting article posted on Digg about the reduction in circulation of major newspapers in the US. Here's the link to the article itself.

Trends showing reduced circulation of traditional media abound. Every quarter they are being confirmed with fresh data. This is yet abother example. To me it speaks about the following:
1. dramatic increase in production and dissemination of content on the web as a result of improved penetration of tools enabling the production and reuse of digital content
2. growing access to information sources online
3. collaborative creation and communication of interesting content
4. the advent of virtual media networks challenging established players (blogs being just one example)
5. a need for citizens and business decision makers to change their way of consuming information because no source can be safely considered as completely trustworthy today

Some people will derive catastrophic conclusions from that, calling for repressive actions aimed at maintaining artificial scarcity (à la RIAA) to preserve the oligopoly of traditional mass media. That will not work. The new context call for new models. That's fascinating and likely to put a lot more people on the trail to their own very personal business quests in the media & communication space... which as you can imagine I enjoy quite a lot :-)

Friday, October 27, 2006

Soul of a business

The performance of a business is undoubtedly a matter of doing the right things in the right way: making sure that you do what needs to get done, that you don't waste time and energy on stuff that is not relevant and that you do things right. Simple, or is it? That's actually a very "robotic" way of looking at a business. To achieve high performance a business must have a soul, an inner strength stemming from several key components.

Everywhere I look, true performance is not only supported by good management, adequate processes and proper metrics. These are vital requirements to simply survive in today's competitive environment. Here are a few of the things I find in businesses that perform exceptionally well:

  1. people's commitment, the deep involvement of individuals in a business, because ultimately it is because people are with a company with the energy of their hearts (not only with the motivation of the pocket) that true progress is achieved. Progress is for a company in terms of business prosperity and it is for individuals in terms of professional and personal growth;

  2. total engagement in projects because there are no boring projects that can be left in a dark corner: either a project is required for a business and then it must be given proper care or it is not and then nobody should be wasting time with it;

  3. they leave the ego outside the company's walls. Serving the larger purpose of a team instead in a way that transcends and includes the goals of an individual is an absolute must. That is true in business as it is in successful teams in sports for example. Trouble happens when individuals sacrifice the interests of the business on the altar of their personal agendas, more often than not jeopardizing the former and failing in the latter;

  4. careful selection of partners and employees. That's actually a direct consequence of the above three points and it does not mean that a business should choose only "standard products", i.e. conventional profiles that comply with criteria that are theoretically interesting but practically either not applicable or mere components of a masquerade in which employers fake to look for only "perfect" candidates and candidates fake to be exactly that. Now, anybody who has embarked on a job search at any point in time in their lives will tell you that this is the recruitment game in most cases. Some companies try to address that with background checks and private investigations into people's lives, but that is not the point. Again, the way to pick someone to be part of a team is a matter of technique as it is a matter of heart and intuition. A good match will happen not only at the level of capabilities, but first and foremost at the level of values: to what extent does the person share the values of a business? How consistent are they with their stated values? These are questions no private investigation will be able to answer in a meaningful way;

  5. the drive to strike deals when required. Deals between people provide the foundation to create a business; deals between companies provide the foundation to create a value system. This point is closely related to the point about leaving all egos outside the company's walls. One of my customers became a group of companies in the media & marketing business through the sheer power of their deal-making capability, their respect for the community created by the deal and their skill in protecting their deal and in making it thrive by adjusting it to changes in their environment. Their companies became stronger and started growing at amazing speeds as a result of their agreement; today like yesterday they impress me with their genuine desire to make the deal as valuable as it can possibly be and I think that's a great capability.

Aside from "technical" capability (expertise, processes, management discipline, scorecards...), these are only a few of the things a business needs to thrive. I believe them to be extremely important because they are essential ingredients of the soul of a business. A business that has a soul is virtually unbeatable and the essence of it is in the hearts and minds of its people.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Support Creative Commons

As you know there are a couple of issues that I care about in a very intense way. Two of them are free enterprise and autonomy of individuals. I consider a few US based organizations to be essential instruments serving those values: the ACLU, the IEEE, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge and Creative Commons. I support a couple of those every year.

Now is the time to support Creative Commons because thanks to the framework of IP rights the organization is supporting, copyright is more flexible, fairer and better able to support knowledge exchange all of which are essential to progress, also a value that is important to me.

The CC framework is one of the key enablers of open business and I have used it many many times to place content co-developed with customers in a legal context that allows everyone to use it while at the same time respecting the unalienable rights of the creators.

Please support Creative Commons and contribute to their fundraising campaign.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Skype, one step ahead of Jajah

A few months ago I wrote a couple of articles
on this blog about Jajah. Now I still like and enjoy as much as then.
However, there is something that I missed in my analysis back then: the
distribution model.

Usrobotics_skypecertifiedOver the past few months we've seen massive marketing communications by very established brands like US Robotics,  Creative Labs or Polycom about telecoms devices that are "Skype Certified". How huge an indication of success is this? I wonder what the distribution deal between the equipment makers and Skype looks like... What does a manufacturer get in exchange for packaging products in a way that provides massive exposure to a carrier? Beside the "honor" of having products certified I mean... If you are a Business Development pro working for Skype, how do you play on your undeniable assets to convince usually conservative industrialists that a certification for your online service is actually a key benefit for the end customer?

Polycom_skypecertifiedSkype, a brand nobody knew just a couple of years ago is now certifying devices produced by household names for a service that is no longer a geek's tool, having conquered even the most conservative groups on the market. A few weeks ago, I was having coffee at a nice café in the historical center of Brussels and I overheard two ladies in their fifties sitting at the table next to mine who were discussing how great it was to use Skype. That in itself did not impress me that much. The fact that they were using Skype enabled Siemens phones did... Skype managed to crack the riddle of large scale distribution and to perform what Geoffrey Moore calls "crossing the chasm".

Although I still like very much Jajah's service and found it interesting that they are making it possible for people to call straight from a cell phone, the fact is that they are at least one step behind Skype when it comes to distribution and brand awareness. In terms of distribution, using a  Nokia phone to place a call through Jajah does not have the same power as getting a device because it allows you to use Skype. On the other hand, if you do not require any investments in infrastructure, nor any software installation to use a VoIP service, then why bother buying equipment just to use another VoIP service? I guess that's one of the angles Jajah will have to use. Of course, to drive the message out there you need to invest a lot of money in marketing (not only clever buzz marketing as Jajah does, but also more traditional forms of PR and press coverage)... And in my humble opinion that does not beat the power of marcom one gets from a set of major certification-distribution deals with household brands (at least not at an economically acceptable cost), simply because the cost of getting people to pay attention is too big today. In other words, it is easier to drive a message to a consumer when that consumer is more or less actively looking for a device (a headphone, a phone, a sound card...) that it is to beg for their attention when they are busy with something else...

This game is tough. Perhaps these two will be merged some day?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Hell of a week. Balancing life.

It's been a hell of a week and I thank the Universe I am away tomorrow... I've had a lot of stuff to deliver and Excel gave me a rough ride with a big fat formula-rich file that got corrupted to the point of requiring a full reengineering (oops! here's the ugly word again!) Fortunately I just love the client and the challenge they are facing.

Anyway, it's been a lot of very short nights and I found that even though time may be lacking it is of the essence to maintain a balance in my life. So while I was clearly trying to squeeze output out of each instant, I still took the time to go swim and made a point to achieve some progress (don't look for any olympic performance there, but still there is always a limit to beat). I also took time to do something that I find very relaxing too: my weekly session of Taiji Quan.

I think that showing calm determination in balancing life builds a very healty kind of energy and in fact it may even be far more intense and focused energy than sleeping a bit more. Anyway, that's my two dimes of life balance stuff learned (again) this week.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Why YouTube was worth $1.65bn for Google

Price is what a buyer is willing to pay to acquire something. When it comes to company valuation it is particularly tricky to be sure that the price is right, particularly when the assets are essentially intangible. The situation is even worse when all a company has is "users" and no business model. Many people think Google acquisition of YouTube was a pricey mistake and it's probably worth reconsidering the position in the light of some interesting facts provided in this post that I got from Digg. And in fact it confirms the indications we had so far that one of Google's key strategic objectives is to control as much Internet traffic as possible. Now what remaisn to be seen is what the impact of copyright related legal procedures will be, especially if Google manages them as casually as they managed their recent case against Copiepress in Belgium.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Salon de la micro-entreprise

Well that's it: I went to the first day of the event. It left me largely unimpressed.

Many exhibitors, few of which had something really interesting or even an approach that would be worth mentioning. From online virtual networking tools (nice, but I doubt they can deliver on every benefit they claim: human / direct contact is as priceless as direct experience), to bookkeeping packages, to standard mobile telephony services, to software services all were really plain vanilla stuff. Except perhaps a company called Doop, which sells VoIP subscriptions. Interestingly Skype held a booth at the exhibition, as did Yahoo! I found no other significant presence from the major web companies (Google was represented by a "GoogleAds qualified individual", whatever that means...

Conferences were weak insofar as content was concerned and I believe panels left a hell of a lot to be desired. I attended:

  1. one morning session featuring public and private organizations offering coaching services to businesses. The discussion was not focused, but there were a few interesting remarks by Frédéric Adida, founder of Institut Assaté. He stressed the importance of the human dimension of any business, spoke about the doubts any entrepreneur has to face and gave a couple of interesting insight from his operation. At some point in time the questions from the public became quite aggressive because some of the people were bitterly complaining about their feeling of being excluded from the closed circle of influential Paris-based consultants... The facilitator totally lost control of the session, the vague statement of intention of the session blew-up and the whole thing became unfocused and too political for me. If that type of things is happening even in a conference dealing with a specific aspect of entrepreneurship, then my conclusion is that france is in worse shape than I thought.

  2. part of a session of human resources, which offered nothing very original and at least showed how ill-equipped many entrepreneurs are when it comes to choosing and keeping the right people for their business. I was impressed with the fact that employee empowerment, open communication and collaborative negotiation (as in "Getting to Yes") were news to most of them. So basically the panel members said a few good things there and ended the session without sweating too much.

  3. an afternoon presentation which was supposed to cover the topic "how to boost a consulting business", which was my final hope of seeing something more dynamic and realistic (and who knows, sometimes interesting ideas can emerge in suc sessions). In fact, the presentation was a sequence of mini-presentations made by ten members of a Paris based consultants' organization which was looking to recruit new members. 90% of those presenting were actually reading from a text to the audience and only very few gave meaningful insights, but again nothing spectacular.

I might post a mind-map of useful stuff I got from the fair.

Do I regret taking part? Not at all: it gave me the opportunity to do a reality check, to confirm my opinion that Europe is full of opportunities and togo back to work energized because I see more ways to differentiate my business. I also got a few interesting pieces of information for some of my customers. And by sheer coincidence I met an interesting entrepreneur in Paris, although not at all at the fair... I will tell you about her in one of my future posts.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Direct experience is priceless

Somebody I respect a lot wrote a very candid comment to one of my previous posts, in which he wishes he knew what he knows know before embarking on a couple of "failed start-ups" a few years ago. I had a similar (although most certainly different) experience, so his comment was food for thought for me. This post is about the lessons I learnt and its intention is to humbly serve your own business quests.

My conclusion is that direct experience is priceless, although as the Chinese proverb goes "a fool learns by his own mistakes, a wise man by those of others". At least I have tried my best in the past 3 years to be a good fool while trying to also become wiser. Here's what my take is on "failed start-ups":

  1. we humans are experiential beings and everything we learn is through experience. Actually going out to build a start-up is genuine and precious business experience, much more precious than the experience of the regular visitors of networking events where people speak about start-ups to a crowd that has the desire but not the guts and which will no longer attend these gatherings once "being involved with start-ups is no longer fashionable"... So if I read a book, I have no direct experience of the subject matter but I have good experience of the book on the subject matter... which is why degrees are only as good as the actual practical experience they provide in the topic they cover;

  2. from the previous point follows the assertion that the quality of a civilization is defined by the degree of application of what it preaches. For example, having read everything Porter and Kotler ever wrote will not necessarily make you contribute to the "practice of business", whereas actually trying to market a basic proposition like food to a local market will. I believe civilization is about things that happen within human communities in practice. Another example, taken from current affairs, would be this: giving lessons on democracy while opening Guantanamo is not only inconsistent but also barbaric / non-civilized at least for those of us who do not believe that a goal justifies the use of any and all means (let alone a poor goal);

  3. speaking of goals and means, in the context of a start-up it is of the essence to set proper goals and to use acceptable means. By this I mean that:
    • goals should be formulated adequately (and to do that you can use the SMART framework for setting project objectives or the outcome well-formedness conditions of NLP or something else that works for you),

    • as an entrepreneur you are careful to distinguish between your personal welfare and the venture's outcome,

    • as a business owner you make sure to recruit the most adequate resources for your business and by that I mean that you should be able to define requirements of technical skill and personality traits,

    • as a recruiter, stick to your requirements and implement a thorough process to assess the fit between the venture and each candidate, to build an opinion about strengths and weaknesses of each individual you are considering for the business and to do your utmost to estimate what group dynamics are likely to develop between the people of your team each time you recruit a new person in any capacity (business partner, employee, trainee...) Today, I think that a variation of these principles should also be applied to the venture investors you choose for your business, because at the end of the day the single most critical factor of success is people, something even VCs acknowledge implicitly today when stating that they are investing in a team more than in an idea, a prototype or a business concept,

    • as a leader you make sure the people working in the new business do not bear a weight that does not belong to them (in particular by being careful to motivate for the business to get the best contributions but only insofar as it does not jeopardize the rest of the employee's life (even though a start-up environment is demanding and work-hours are undoubtedly long,

    • as a person you make sure to respect all values that matter to you. This also means that you'd better think carefully before accepting to do something that goes against your values to serve a business goal that may be "good" or "bad": if the goal is a bad one, then why do anything at all to reach it, let alone something that violates your values and if the goal is good, then why pollute it by using the wrong means?

  4. a failed start-up is like manure: it stinks but it is a great ingredient for your next endeavor, whatever that may be, from artistic creation, to humanitarian aid, to an employee position or to another risky new venture. So in essence, failure does not exist although the feedback from something that does not do as planned may be costly;

  5. the good old recipe of the path of immediate and humble action works very well in the context of a start-up: "start where you are, use what you have and do what you can". The deeper meaning of this sentence is this:
    • "start where you are" implies self-consciousness, awareness of
      the business environment and an
      ability to measure the difference between now and the dream situation
      you have in mind. It is all about being able to combine realism and vision in a way that is actionable and does not become wishful thinking,

    • "use what you have", speaks of a realistic assessment of resources and of the imperative to use existing resources in the best possible manner. I believe it also says something about the lack of relevance of seeking what we don't have before doing what we are meant to do: it's use what you have, which also translates in "don't use what you don't have". That is particularly true of venture funding. If you don't have venture funding, then don't build a plan to proceed as though you did or with the assumption that you will get what you don't have: start with what you have, else it is like building skyscrapers on weak and shifting sand;

    • "do what you can" is an invitation to do your best, a reminder of your obligation to do what is possible (and hence a statement that you are not held to accomplish what is not possible), something that should prompt some introspection about who you really are and what you can actually do now and therefore a great way to identify the strengths on which to play.

  6. for a start-up being able to think, say and act on "forever is
    instead of "now is forever" is the key to being creative and in
    forward motion;

  7. start-ups that develop and grow are keenly aware of what they
    will do if their plans do not work out
    and start-ups that do not
    take-off only dream about all they will do when success comes, as
    though success were something that befalls on one rather than an
    outcome intended and built by people. Gandhi said that "a small body of
    determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can
    alter the course of history." and I believe that it is also true for
    business history.


These are the lessons I learnt from direct experience and I don't believe I could have reached tose conclusions otherwise. May they serve in your (next) business quest!

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Top ten geek business myths

This post captures many of the typical mistakes of rookie entrepreneurs (and I don't think it has much to do with the "geekness" of an entrepreneur because I made some of those mistakes without being a geek, so...).

It's an interesting list of what entrepreneurs should NOT be doing... Now I am quite keen for a VC out there to actually produce a meaningful list of what entrepreneurs SHOULD be doing. Not the standard BS that we get on web sites stating what the "evaluation process" is, but the real stuff of informal networking, long term contacts with investors, quality of team & personal networks...

One of the things this post shows very well is the state of mind of venture investors, which is to eliminate applications instead of spotting what is positive about an entrepreneur. I think this is because these guys are absolutely overwhelmed with the volume of business plans and contacts they are getting, which is also why it's probably a good idea for them to be working with independent consultants and business professionals who will pre-assess cases and only then submit them. To a certain extent that is what is going on and it looks a bit like the insurance business in which companies do not deal with retail customers direct... And perhaps there is an opportunity here to enable direct dealings between investors and entrepreneurs pretty much like Dell made it possible to buy direct. I don't know, it's just an idea...

read more | digg story

Monday, October 2, 2006

Salon des micro-entreprises

Meet me at Salon des micro-entreprises on 10-OCT-2006.

One of the things I just love doing in this life is helping companies
in their business quests. A business quest is always an entrepreneurial
challenge, be it for a start-up or for a more established company.
Whether the issue is about growing a business or reinventing an
existing operation, there is a challenge and a quest. So, whenever I get an opportunity to go meet people on a business quest I try to do it; not always easy because of time constraints...

Next week, I will be at a fair targeted on very small companies; it's taking place in Paris. I am quite curious to see what is being offered to the different types of entrepreneurs who start in business. From companies of one to early stage start-ups, from meeting potential partners (and competitors) to discussing entrepreneurship with experts, this seems to be an interesting place to visit for those who are interested in serving small and medium businesses in Europe. In fact this fair is very focused on France. Interestingly the people who organize the event mention that very small businesses account for 34% of the workforce in France and 97% of companies in existence. What the press release does not say is what share of GDP these companies produce: that's where I think there is quite an opportunity.


I guess one of the things that strike me most with really excellent people in business is how modest and humble they are. Guy Kawasaki is one such example and I was impressed with his recent facilitation of a panel aimed at understanding what young people actually do with technology. He started by saying he is a venture investor in technologies that target young people and quickly proceeded to explaining that he and his partners do not consider they know much about how young people actually use tech products. That's humility.

Guy's conclusion is that something pretty radical is happening to advertising (and I agree with him on that). He mentions amazing facts like a teenager sending 4000 text messages per month or non mainstream (and very cool) sites used by young poeple. The post is wort reading and the video from the panel worth viewing for the following customers:

  1. BuzzParadise, because it gives trends in the US that basically confirm those we are seeing in Europe in the business of advertising, public relation and marketing services;

  2. Jamendo, because it speaks volumes about the massive differences in behaviour from marketing segment to marketing segment. In fact it's really group dynamics that prevail and segments are in fact tribes these days (which is one of the reasons why the social Internet is so hot);

  3. those of my customers who target customers in specific age groups, because the very practical approach Guy Kawasaki has about marketing research is really worth using to actually adapt product offerings to the needs and lives of actual customers;

  4. business partners involved in the field of helping start-up or high-growth companies, because this material actually shows how successful ventrue capitalists work and therefore how the same VCs will actually proceed to build expertise on the focus field of their funds;

  5. virtually all of the companies hosted at Technoport, a very dynamic business incubator for tech innovative companies in Luxembourg, because of some of the conclusions one can derive from the panel.