Monthly Archives: August 2006

Okay, i’m late with this.

Okay, i’m late with this. The TechCrunch Meetup7 party was last Friday night, and the au courant bloggers have already gone on to the next event. They spent the evening with 500 other people just like themselves, largely men in their 30s, photographing each other and videocapturing each other podcasting to and about each other. It was Web 2.0 at its finest hour — just before the end.

Yes, Silicon Valley’s brightest people were partying like it was 1999. It reminded me of commercial real estate guys in Arizona, each wave just young enough to have missed the last downturn and to think the good times will last forever.

Just the place to understand what’s great about a place like the Bay Area: the resilience of the infrastructure and its ability to keep attracting new groups of talented, smart people just as the last generation is deserting Mecca for the arid countries in which they were born, where it’s still possible to afford a home and get a babysitter.

So it has been the summer of ‘mashups,’ bits and pieces of software combined as services: a social network combined with photo sharing, or a blog joined with video. I�ve learned a lot, for which I am always thankful. But I have the sense that I�ve seen it all before, somehow.

Not the technologies � they are getting better and better. My daughter just bought a cell phone that connects to iTunes. She�s a corporate attorney, and this doesn�t replace her Blackberry; it augments it. Then I went to San Diego, visited a friend of mine in the same demographic, and she had the same phone. Perhaps that�s the phone for the female 30-somethings who want to be hip and trendy. I think all the men had Blackberries.

Myself, I just got the Nike+iPod workout kit: the shoes, the sensor, the transmitter, the Nano, the armband. If you put the sensor in the shoe, connect the Nano to the transmitter, wear the Nano on your arm, and then sync it aftwards to the Nike+iPod site, you can track your workouts and create training programs with their own customized music.

Actually, some friends gave me the kit as a house gift, leaving me to buy the shoes. Kind of like getting the floor mats for a Rolls Royce; these are not cheap shoes. And they�re not good shoes, either. Nike makes much better running shoes than what they sell with iPod compatibility. Not that I wasn�t grateful for the house gift; I�m just tellin� it like it is.

More important, the Nike+iPod is only for running and walking. It�s just an impact sensor. That means all of us who cross-train �swimming, biking, even using the elliptical cross trainer � still can�t track our workout information in one place. I finally figured out that Nike is selling the world�s most expensive pedometer.

Or the world�s first high tech/high touch mashup. Perhaps Nike+iPod 2.0 will have a more complicated sensor, or a different monitoring system.

No, the technologies have really been fun. It�s the (how do I avoid using this overused word?) bubble I worry about. Each of these bubbles, whether they be in tulips, real estate or technology, whipsaws a new generation, causing it to lose faith in the American dream. Back in the day, it was �turn on, tune in, drop out.� That was only a slogan then, but if you watch people in the gym, on the airplane, on the street, with the white earbuds in their ears or the Bluetooth headset dangling from their cheeks, you realize it�s more true now than ever.

Perhaps that has always happened throughout history, and I�m just old enough to see it in a broader perspective. Perhaps a certain amount of reality has to be injected into the worlds of the ValleyWag, TechMeme, TechCrunch set to help them evolve into the creative entrepreneurs they really can be when they get over producing and consuming gossip about each other. Or maybe what I�m not seeing is the next generation of Enquirers and Stars � media with the information people really wish to consume rather than what is served up to them by generations like my own.

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Last week, I attended a

Last week, I attended a presentation on innovation presented by the Churchill Club, moderated by John Markoff, and featuring the author of a new book on innovation, Curtis Carlson. Carlson is also the CEO of SRI, an organization that began its existence as the Stanford Research Institute. In its heyday, SRI’s research was instrumental in many of the major advances in Silicon Valley, including the computer mouse and the entire idea of the PC. But like all organizations, SRI suffered a period of decline, from which I gather it has recently emerged.

Carlson’s research into the process of innovation seems to be one of the reasons SRI, which is fifty years old, got back on its feet. If you want to read the book, it’s called “Innovation.” I admit I haven’t read it (yet). But one thing Carlson said really hit home for me: he tells the corporate executives that come to SRI for training in innovation that it’s really important to begin by knowing the problems of your customers.

Then, to produce really successful innovation, you try to solve the IMPORTANT problems. This strikes me as huge, after eight years of watching entrepreneurs dream up products that either solve non-existent problems, or trivial problems.

Let me give you an example of a product I think could be the solution to an important problem.

I’m planning a conference, the First Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference. It’s on Nov. 8 in Phoenix at the Ritz, and I’m planning it remotely because I’ve been in California all summer. I decided to produce this conference because Arizona thinks of itself as without sufficient resources for entrepreneurs. Depending on who you speak to, the state lacks 1)venture capital 2)experienced management 3)support groups 4)an entrepreneurial mindset. This in a state that has enjoyed the benefits of Motorola, Intel, Honeywell…you get it; we have tons of management, and many good ideas. We can also put our hands on venture capital at the right time. We’re part of the Wild West, and we were settled by entrepreneurs who thought outside the box (agriculture in the desert, canals, dams, planned communities). We also have support groups. What we don’t have is the connection among all these resources, and that’s the point of the conference.

Let’s put everyone in one room and introduce them to each other, I thought one day. And thus began a task that became more and more complex. Most events are planned by either professional staffs or large volunteer committees, I have neither. I have one partner and one friend that have been pressed into service. This could quickly get out of control. Especially since I also plan to be in Italy in September.

Enter Ephibian (www.ephibian.com). a Tucson-based company that has been around for a while, and whose tag line is “Technology in Your Hands, and Not in Your Way.” How novel. Ephibian is launching a new product, and for this customer it solves a very important problem: managing the event.

TreeFrog, which is still in beta, allows you to plan your events and online registration quickly, easily and economically. TreeFrog is designed using the latest technology – you can easily build your event and web site welcome page by dragging and dropping events, text, images, and surveys. For event planning and online registration setup, an Event Wizard steps you through all the needed tasks, including those to collect online payments from registrants via shopping carts (if needed). Comprehensive contact management, email marketing, and report building modules are also included. TreeFrog is 100% web-based, you only need an internet connection, and there is no requirement for web or IT expertise on your part.

To me, TreeFrog is an innovation; Ephibian isn’t really a product-development company, but they found this to be an important problem for their customers. Luckily, they’re willing to debut this product by donating it to our conference! It’s as my yoga teacher always says, “everything you need comes to you.” That’s how software products should be.

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I lost a dear friend

I lost a dear friend this week, to a situation that never should have happened. Although, if I were to ask him, he would tell me otherwise. He would say his life’s journey was over. I would say the ignorance and arrogance of his adopted country’s medical system killed him.

N.S. (Sri) Sidharan was a retired technologist from Intel who devoted his life to peaceful causes. He travelled frequently to and from Bodh Gaya, India (the place where Buddha received enlightenment) to visit Dwarko Sundrani, one of the last active followers of Ghandi. Dwarko runs the Samanway Ashram, a school for village childen in the Bihar province of India, far from the Bangalores and Hyderabads. Bihar is poor. Not only can’t people afford to educate their children; they don’t even understand why education is necessary. Some of the children Dwarko-ji cares for are tribal. They only come to school because he feeds them, and he teaches them only farming. With oxen.

Dwarko-ji is 85, and has no succession plan for the Ashram. Sri spent his retirement years trying to raise money for the school and figure out a way for it to go on after Dwarko-ji passes. Between trips to India, he helped a bunch of start-up companies in Arizona, including one that has a new method for diagnosing heart disease, participated in several meditation groups, and began a business called Technology Initiatives for Peace. He was a big proponent of trust.

Sri was my friend, and I admired him. I went to India with Sri three years ago, when Dwarko-ji was travelling from Bodh Gaya to Dharamshala for an audience with the Dalai Lama. We flew to Delhi, took an overnight train to Pathamkot, stayed in an ashram that served as a retreat center for the people who run other, more public ashrams, and then went to Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile. Not one touristy thing did I see.

Although I didn’t personally meet His Holiness, I did meet Dwarko-ji, and see the Dalai Lama and the chanting monks from afar. It was a life-changing experience. Sri took incredible care of me.

I went back to India last November, to meet him in Bodh Gaya for Dwarko-ji’s “eye camp”, an annual event in which tens of thousands of blind Indians are restored to vision by cataract surgery in a week-long surgical marathon that takes place in tents on a dirt field. In the years since the eye camp began, they have never had a fatality, and rarely an infection, despite the sheer numbers of surgeries and the dusty, hot, crowded conditions. Volunteer doctors come from all over to participate.

Sri wanted to spread the good will of the eye camp from India to Africa, and this July he went to Ghana to try to scope out the situation and set things up. He was very excited.

And then I never heard from him again. Two days ago, I awoke in the morning, opened my email, and saw this message: “NS Sidharan died last evening in Good Samaritan Hospital. He had recently returned from Ghana. Details to follow.”

I freaked. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened. Sri returned from Ghana with a fever. He went to the hospital. They diagnosed flu. He told them he had come back from Africa. They suspected malaria. But they didn’t begin treatment. They kept sending him home while they did tests. Some of the tests were “inconclusive” (meaning the pathologist probably didn’t know how to read for malaria).

By the time they got the diagnosis and admitted him to Good Samaritan, his body was overwhelmed by the bacteria. Then they had to use drugs so powerful that he died.

The friends who were with him told me he got good medical care. I beg to differ. I googled malaria. Here’s the CDC web site: “Malaria should be considered a potential medical emergency and should be treated accordingly. Delay in diagnosis and treatment is a leading cause of death in malaria patients in the United States.”

More: “Where malaria is not endemic any more (such as the United States), health care providers are not familiar with the disease. Clinicians seeing a malaria patient may forget to consider malaria among the potential diagnoses and not order the needed diagnostic tests. Laboratorians may lack experience with malaria and fail to detect parasites when examining blood smears under the microscope.”

And the last quote: “This sometimes fatal disease can be prevented and cured. Bednets, insecticides, and antimalarial drugs are effective tools to fight malaria in areas where it is transmitted.”

In other words, if Sri had stayed in Ghana, or any underdeveloped country, he’d probably be alive today. Only in America, where we think we know everything about how everyone “should” live, from what they should eat to how they should vote, is he dead. This teaches me humility. And I grieve.
Tags : ashram, Samanway

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At last week�s AlwaysOn Innovation

At last week�s AlwaysOn Innovation Summit, I learned some things I didn�t expect to learn. For the past five years, I�ve thought I was �teaching� entrepreneurship.

Actually, now I know I�ve been teaching and counseling people who are already on the path. The people who seek Stealthmode Partners out for guidance are already beyond the first steps to becoming entrepreneurs. They just need to know how to make their ideas into businesses.

Tina Seelig, who teaches entrepreneurship in the Engineering College at Stanford, actually �teaches� entrepreneurship. According to her, an entrepreneur sees problems as opportunities, leverages the resources around him/her, and tries to create value. The entrepreneurs I meet have already spotted the problems that will create their opportunities, and are at the point of trying to leverage resources, including ours, to create value.

Unlike us, Tina starts with step one, which is not t easy to teach in a classroom setting, because entrepreneurship is a contact sport, and an extreme sport at that. So Stanford begins by throwing problems at students that have no right answers.

Here�s how she does it: At the beginning of the semester, she gives every team an envelope with seed funding of $5.00. The team has two hours to try to make as much money as possible, and give a three-minute pitch about what they have done. While the average return on the $5.00 was $200.00, the winning team brought in over $600.00. How did they do it?

The best of the students challenged the assumptions of the exercise, leveraged whatever resources were available to them, and got creative.

The big winner sold its 3-minute pitch time to a company that wanted to market to the students in the class for $600.00. Some of the other good ideas included reserving tables at some of the most crowded restaurants in Palo Alto and scalping the reservations for $20 a piece, and standing at a crowded corner and charging $1.00 to pump up student bicycle tires. This team sold the service for a while, and then changed its business model to ask for donations rather than charge a fixed sum. They found that people gave them more in donations than the dollar they were charging, proving the value of the service to the customers.

Seelig�s objective in this �lesson� is to teach her students that problems are everywhere and therefore opportunities were everywhere. All they had to do was look around and find the opportunities that were already there.

Another major outcome from this exercise is to show the students that entrepreneurship requires a team, and that sometimes the right team can find an opportunity where another team wouldn�t.

For this, she made the audience do a communal exercise, in which we were trained how to look at anything we had, and brainstorm for ten minutes what we liked and didn�t like about it. She chose the wallet as the object we had to look at, and its two main uses, purchasing and storage, as issues to evaluate.

Taking responses from the audience, two students mind-mapped all the issues and suggestions. After the mind mapping, which is a version of organized brainstorming, they rapidly prototyped two new and improved wallets, which included such items as GPS and security.

More takeaways: talk to customers first and find out their needs, organize those needs into sweet spots, and then rapidly prototype. Try lots of things and keep what works.

And here is the final lesson: don�t be afraid to fail, as long as you learn from your failure. Guest what else she makes the students do? All her students have to do �failure resumes,� in which they must list the things they have failed at and what they have learned.

You can be sure that going forward, I�ll be learning from my own failures and incorporating these lessons into my future activities. And I sure won�t look at my wallet in the same way ever again.

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