Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Lean on Me

(picture: Circus De Soleil)

This week marks one of the most significant milestones of starting a company – solidifying a relationship with a partner who is amazingly talented and completely compliments your weaknesses. But most importantly, it is finding someone you can lean on when the start-up journey gets tough. A buddy who adds laughter to the somewhat solitary entrepreneurial process and someone who is always there to listen and contribute to the rollercoaster process of invention and execution.

This week, Yossi Pik and I joined forces. We, together with a few of the most talented people who have worked with us in the past, are in the process of creating a new service offering (more on this at a later time). While the idea we have for our venture will continuously evolve and could even change, we at least have the partnership foundation to guide us through the journey.

Our five year overlapping history at SAP where we both served in the roles of Vice President has given us the benefit of seeing each other in action. Our partnership is built on the roots of trust and the respect we have for one another.

This week marks one of the most significant milestones for us in creating the next new thing.

For those of you interested in frameworks to consider when building co-founding teams, check out Noam’s blog (Harvard Prof).


Show and Tell

My first grade teacher would gather the class and have each of us show and tell the group something we did over the weekend. We were prompted to be very open and expressive and share a piece of our experience with the class.

The generation that grew up with the Internet plays a version of show and tell through their online social networks. They unlock their diaries and broadcast their lives on blogs. They don’t think twice about uploading private photos or twittering their most recent emotional sensation.

Just a few years ago people were paranoid to have their private information exposed on the Internet, terrified that their identity would be abused. A movie called “The Net”, released in 1995, is a great artifact which represents our fears at the time. For those who don’t remember this average movie, see the below movie trailer.

In the last ten years there has been a significant behavioral shift regarding what people are willing to share with their online “friends” and what private information they are willing to expose to Internet sites. Society is redefining the social contract around online privacy. While there are many risks regarding the misuse of our identities the benefits of revealing yourself online are now too great to turn back the clocks.

We will continue to see innovation around the use of personal information to deliver better customized product offerings on the Internet. There will be room for companies that figure out more sophisticated ways to protect our privacy but the real leap will be in figuring out how to make use of shared privacy to better serve our own needs and desires.

Check out the below clip by Mozilla Labs. They do a great job of showing how the future Internet experience might look in the context of sharing our personal preferences.

No Second Best

(Photo: Jerry Lampen / Reuters)

This year I was hypnotized by the Olympics. Normally I don’t enjoy watching sports. Maybe this year I have too much time on my hands. Or maybe I have become so addicted to tennis that I am now fantasizing about competing in the 2012 Olympics. I now have the same tennis racket as Rafael Nadal (now ranked number one in men’s singles), play with sweat bands on my wrists which I once said I would never do, and dream about my net volley at night. I find that my empathy towards world class athletes has peaked. I feel much closer to their emotions when they win/lose points and admire their nerves of steel as they compete.

Even those that were not watching the Olympics closely could not escape the drama around Michael Phelps beating the world record of 8 gold medals in an Olympic event. But the most amazing part of it was that his gold medal victory of the 100-meter butterfly event at 58.58 was won by one one-hundreds of a second. In one week most of us will not remember Milorad Cavic (finished 2nd at 58.59 seconds) who would have won had his finger nails been a little longer. Training for the Olympics is a full time job, seven days a week for four years. To lose by a fraction of a fraction of a second is heart wrenching.

The clip below shows Jerry Seinfeld’s stand-up on winning the Silver medal. Watch the first 2 minutes. It is hysterically funny and sadly true.

I started thinking about the parallels in the competitive world of hi-tech start-ups. In many respects I don’t think it is much different from the Olympics. Hi-tech and especially Internet start-ups compete in a winner takes all environment. Second place companies wither away fairly quickly. You probably cannot list the second place competitors of Amazon, eBay, or YouTube. We are a blockbuster society. And in many cases the difference between first and second place is determined by a fraction of a fraction.

This realization is very difficult if you are just starting to build your start-up that will compete in the next Olympics. First off, work your hardest to come in first place. Don’t compromise on second place and never lower your scope to victory. Second, try to redefine the market place so that you set the rules of the game as opposed to trying to play catch-up in an event that has long started.  Third, figure out how to break the race into mini marathons (or smaller market segments). Smaller victories are needed to build momentum, moral, and provide the longevity needed to become first in your market.  

Information Overload

Sorting through all the information coming our way has become harder not easier. Search technology is a huge improvement in helping us proactively find useful items. But search is not always effective or timely to help us deal with the overwhelming growth of user generated content (photos, blogs, emails, SMSs, Twitters, FriendFeeds, and videos). As we add real time anywhere access via our mobile devises, information overload problems will become amplified.

I think we will start to see a new breed of businesses that will give us a break from the everyday information overload. Here are some directions:

  • Coffee shops that block cell phone and wireless access and that don’t allow working on a computer (“no computers or cell phones” will appear next to the “no smoking” sign)
  • Vacation destinations will market themselves as secluded resorts without connection to the information world
  • Technology services that help us filter and block information overload – that push to us what we need when we need it so that we don’t constantly have to be patrolling our various information sources for updates in fear that we will be left out of the loop

I have this concern that one day my kids will read this post and say “my old man just didn’t get the new information age”. But there is also the possibility that they won’t ever read it since they will be out having fun in the real world assured that anything important that they need to know will find their way to them.

Achieving Childhood Dreams

[illustration above by: Vered Ronen]

If you haven’t seen Dr. Randy Pausch’s last lecture on “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” then I strongly suggest you watch it. It is moving and inspiring. He passed away today from cancer but leaves an honorable legacy behind him.

Cognitive Surplus

My Mother, a clinical psychologist, is making a strong case to put my entrepreneurial passions to work educating our next generation of kids. Her fear is that many children are mentally rotting away behind TV screens as they become alienated from society. And so she is advocating to utilize technology as a means of fostering the creativity and curiosity of children while providing a fun experience. It’s a great pitch and one that I have been exploring.

There is a positive transformation with the Internet already in the works that I believe will alleviate some of the problems my Mother is witnessing. Clay Shirky says it best with his theory of “Cognitive Surplus” but I will try to paraphrase. Media in the 20th century was based on consumption. We passively laid back on our couches and watched TV during our spare time. The Internet has made a media paradigm shift. We are now actively leaning forward producing and sharing content. These two new dimensions (producing and sharing) have been added to our traditional dose of media consumption. This is a non trivial shift that is enabling our next generation to be far more proactive with their spare time than we were with ours.

We are just starting to experience a new wave of Internet initiatives that are filling our cognitive surplus (Wikipedia, Facebook, Rock Band). I agree with my Mother that we need to do a better job educating our kids. I also believe that this new generation is lucky to be growing into an environment of self media production and sharing that will stretch their creativity and curiosity far beyond the radio and TV that shadowed both my Mother and my childhoods. With our without me, we will see the formation of new educational tools for kids that result in magnified abilities of self expression, and growth.

[See Clay Shirky’s presentation below (part 1 and 2) on Cognitive Surplus]

Question Reality

I have spent the last few weeks looking into alternative energy (also see post “World of Constraints“). I am invigorated by the amazing minds thinking about dramatically different and cleaner ways to solve our basic needs. Below are two very different short clips (2 and 6 minutes) that will rock your world. Enjoy.

[big thanks to Ari for sending this first clip. I suggest you watch it twice for full effect.]

What do you do?

I am thinking about printing the above business card. It might save me a lot of time answering the following question which I get at least four times a week;

“so, what are you doing now?”

Most people do not understand how I could leave an amazing job without having my next step completely planned out. What does one do in order to come up with an idea worth building a company around? There is no formula I know of nor do I know how long it will take. I just have the confidence that I have done it before and will do it again.

I spend most of my time learning about completely new areas and meeting interesting people. My laboratory takes on different environments from: walking in the park or on the beach, having coffee with a colleague, reading, surfing the Internet, interviewing folks, and attending conferences. I can’t really point to one activity that makes me most productive during this phase. But if you are able to put the fear of failure aside, then this phase of entrepreneurship is one of the most enjoyable.

So don’t be surprised if next time you ask me what I do, I respond with a business card that says

Best Israeli Coffee Shops

In the past few months I have become quite the expert in Israeli coffee shops. After all, “start-up research” is a good excuse to spend countless hours socializing with other entrepreneurs in cool coffee shops. The coffee shop owners are probably wondering how a tall lanky guy has so much time to meet so many different people in their coffee shop. And the coffee association is probably trying to provide them with remedies for the low return on investment of someone spending hours sipping a measly cappuccino.

My hope is that this post is some consolation for the coffee shops that have been “funding” my journey. Keep in mind that my criteria for the best coffee shop probably varies from the happy go lucky person who just wants his/her caffeine fix. I look for easy access, adequate parking, and a good desert menu. Here is what hopefully won’t be the only legacy I leave behind from my entrepreneurial journey.

The Best Israeli Coffee House List (by location):

Ramat Hasharon Reviva & Silya (bonus: very easy parking, great service)

Tel-AvivYogo (bonus; serves the best yogurt in the area, enjoyable outside seating along Rothchild Avenue)

Hertzilia PituachArCafe (bonus: unquestionably the best place to run into the start-up “in” crowd)

RaananaSalta (bonus: San Francisco atmosphere, great food)

Ramat GanAnna (bonus: walking distance from my house)

Airport CityAirCafe (bonus: no other choices in the area)

World of Constraints 

I am a true believer that innovation is born out of constraints. Limited resources cause people to take new approaches to solving problems.

The innovations we see from start-ups are derived from their lack of resources and very limited market power. Start-ups have no choice but to find radically different solutions to existing problems so that they can compete with the Goliaths of the industry. If a person, company, or nation is able to find new opportunities from the constraints that they face then something wonderful usually happens.

Our awareness that our planet’s resources are diminishing has reached an all time high. The convergence of educational initiatives such as Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth”, the rapidly escalating prices of natural resources (oil, water), food crisis, and the booming population growth have reached a tipping point. Our planets’ constraints are spurring a magnitude of creativity and innovation to fix our situation. It is now clear to enough people that we cannot continue to create and consume energy, food and water in the same manner we have done so to date. These constraints are causing us to invent new solutions to these challenges.

Academic thought leaders that have been researching our diminishing natural resources are finally being joined by entrepreneurs and the backing of large financial institutions. In addition, we are also seeing governments setting up the appropriate regulations that will create healthy constraints and incentives to spur new solutions.

This week, on June 2nd, the Israel government published a new incentives program for private solar photo-voltaic (PV) systems. The program includes feed in tariffs of 2.01 NIS per KWh produced which is four times what we currently pay the electrical company. This creates the financial incentives for consumers, corporations and a commercial ecosystem to install PV systems around the country. Finally, Israel is joining the ranks of Germany, Denmark, and California to spur the growth of alternative energy solutions. After attending the CleanTech conference in Israel this past week, I have no doubt that we will see many new Israeli start-ups creating innovative solutions to solve the biggest constraint we have ever faced – our planet.