Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Startup Fundraising Idea

I heard an interesting startup fundraising idea from a well know VC. He made the point that he always takes at least 20% of a company. This has led to long discussions with entrepreneurs who, at times, had fought hard for the difference between 19% and 21%. He highlighted that most CEOs, looking to raise funds frequently show up at his door with two other cofounders, each with 33% of the company. His point: You've already given away two-thirds of your company and now you're fighting me over a 2% difference. Instead, consider keeping 100% and then give 10% to the first few people you hire for key positions. They might not technically be cofounders, but they're getting an excellent deal.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Puppy Leadership: Advice to USNA Class of '16

Those hats fly high at graduation.
Today, the US Naval Academy Class of 2016 graduated. A year ago, I gave my tidbit of advice to the Class of 2015. In keeping with that tradition, I am offering a piece of advice to the Class of 2016 on leadership that comes from experience. This advice touches on a pet peeve of mine I call Puppy Leadership.

Puppy Leadership is where we all start when we first have direct reports in our charge. When we were new people managers we were overly excited like a young puppy. The key is to learn quickly from your leadership mistakes. Since leaving the military, I've taken for granted the experiences I had. Unfortunately, in Corporate America, I'm too frequently reminded that not everyone has had the same opportunities I had in my 20s to lead many dozens of direct reports. Specifically, I'm referring to being a calm, thoughtful, and, most importantly, an outwardly focused leader.

Several times, I have been a manager's first direct report. This has been especially painful for me when my new manager has spent more than a decade as a career individual contributor. Individual contributors are the people in the trenches. They're the ones doing the real work such as software engineers, copywriters, graphic artists, sales account managers, etc. Individual contributors are knowledge workers who need quiet working conditions to create and get things done. Individual contributors need to focus inward, on their work, which is great for what they do. However, in my experience, it becomes a problem when a long time individual contributor moves up into people management without proper training. Proper training starts with the dos and don'ts of good leadership practices. Leaders set the example, more so by their actions than their words. My list of dos and don'ts focuses more on the don'ts, as in don't do this or don't do that. Over the years, I've complied this list of bad leadership practices I've experienced and I've made some of these mistakes, myself. There are many more traits of a bad leader that you can add to this list, in the comments section. In the mean time, read and learn quickly, young grasshopper. Do not make the same mistake twice.

A poor leader will frequently...

0. Not supervise, which is the most important leadership step.

1. Tell a direct report to do something urgent, and then interrupt with either other tasks or asking for unnecessary status updates that impede progress.

2. Micromange, meaning they will tell a direct report how to do their job. Save the how for training sessions and don't confuse supervision with micromanagement.

3. Not inspect subordinate's work before passing it along and then blame the subordinate when their work is rejected. A leader must inspect what they expect.

4. Send an e-mail on a non-pressing issue and then immediately followup with an interruptive text or phone call asking, "Did you receive my e-mail?" Equally annoying is sending multiple messages as a stream of consciousness instead of taking a minute or two to think things through.

5. Fail to keep track of both their own tasks and of the tasks they've delegated. Since they're not tracking delegated tasks, they can't effectively supervise to ensure that tasks are completed.

6. Dump tasks on subordinates, instead of delegating. The poor leader will task subordinates when items pop into their head, regardless if it's in the hallway, lunch room, or at the bar over a beer. Set your subordinates up for success by delegating to them when they're best poised to receive and write down your tasks.

7. Fail to clearly define and prioritize tasks they've delegated with deadlines. It's best to get confirmation from a subordinate that a deadline is reasonable.

8. Make busy work when stressed and mistaken activity for progress.

9. Go first when leading a staff meeting. When a leader runs a staff meeting, they should hear from all of their subordinates before delegating tasks since the work of a staff member may already address an issue.

10. Show up first to eat free food at a corporate event and do very little to contribute to the event.

11. Think a subordinate's on-call, day and night, to be tasked at any moment, regardless of a task's urgency. A poor leader does this because they're afraid of forgetting the task and they want to get it off their plate.

12. Explain the same thing repeatedly, over and over again, frequently, time and time again; both in e-mail and when speaking. It's redundant and wastes people's time, needlessly. (Yes, there is an intentional redundant pun in this item.)

13. Make a plan. Tell it to you. Then change the plan for a non-obvious, trivia reason and not relay the changes.

14. Interrupts productivity by calling for meetings at the last minute, with little notice and no agenda.

15. Delegate tasks while borrowing a senior manager’s authority (Damn XO), then they fail to see why their own tasks aren’t carried out by direct reports.

16. Speak negatively about others, behind their back, rather than addressing the problem with a real solution.

17. Increase assignments without adjusting timelines. Something's "gotta give," either the deadline or the work quality. You can have it good, fast, or cheap. Pick only two.

18. Be overly concerned with using their subordinates to make themselves look good, especially by taking credit for their subordinate's accomplishments while dodging responsibility for their shortcomings.

The bottom line for all leaders is: Do you inspire people to go out of their way for you? If you don't then adjust your leadership style before assuming it's due to poor subordinate performance. You're the leader, so lead. At the end of the day, you're responsible for everything your team does and fails to do. Don't be that overly excited puppy, bouncing off the walls and yelping at everyone.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Apple Car

Apple CEO, Tim Cook and Didi President, Jean Liu in China
When Apple invested $1B in Didi Chuxing, the "Uber" of ride sharing in China, it got me thinking...

What do wrist watches and cars have in common? They've both been around for a hundred years and, in my life time, there hasn't been significant innovation prior to the last decade. Until recently, cars have used internal combustion engines to transport people and wrist watches simply told time.

Over the last dozen years, we've seen automobiles transition from internal combustion engines to hybrid and pure electric cars. While it's still a nascent technology, with single digit market share, it's growing. The same is true for wrist watches which have been simple digital or analog devices with limited functionality beyond telling time. Once a technology has matured, it frequently becomes a fashion item such as clothes, cars, condos, and color choices, to name a few. A $10,000 watch doesn't necessarily tell better time than a $10 watch; and a $110,000 car doesn't get you to your destination faster than a $10,000 car. The inside of a $299 Apple Watch is the same as a $17,000 Apple Watch.

Before the Apple Watch, Apple could choose the form factor for their products. Simply look at the Apple II, Mac, iMac, iPod, etc to see how Apple dictated the industrial design. That changed with the Apple Watch where Apple had to fit the technology into a predefined form factor while making it fashionable. Wearable high tech is hard to make fashionable, as we saw with Google Glass. The key to rapid adoption is packing innovative technology into a familiar form factor.

For years, there's been a long standing rumor that Apple is developing a car. The details are secret and many Apple R&D products never see the light of day. But it seems clear that Apple's working on something automotive related, whether it's an entire electric car or merely software for a car.

Perhaps, Apple can bring to market a self-driving electric car, which is the holy grail of personal transportation. Now, imagine if you produced a self-driving car and you owned a transportation network company?

Friday, May 6, 2016

Beautiful Danger

Yesterday's enthusiastic delegation from China
Yesterday, I gave a speaking engagement called The Apple Way. I usually give it in Cupertino to business people from China. But yesterday's group was close to 50 people, so I used another venue about 12 minutes from the Infinite Loop campus in San Jose. The core of the two hour presentation is about what makes Apple unique when it comes to design and marketing. 

My plan was to fly up on Wednesday, give the talk on Thursday morning, have lunch at Apple with a buddy, and then fly home Thursday afternoon. Everything worked out, except my flight back. The weather turned bad by the time I reached the southern part of California's Central Valley and I had to divert to Meadows Airport in Bakersfield. It was cloudy and raining and I was flying a few thousand feet above the freezing level. My small plane doesn't have ice protection like the big boys. I could see ice building up on my wing after flying through the clouds, which can quickly become dangerous. As ice builds up, it changes the shape of the airfoil and compromises the wing's aerodynamic lift.

At 11,000', the temperate was well below freezing
Air traffic control was very helpful in suggesting that I land at Meadows Field Airport in Bakersfield since that airport had a precision approach. A precision approach guides a pilot into an airport when the runway can't be seen until only a couple hundred feet above the ground. This is accomplished by sending out a radio beacon that keeps the plane lined up with the runway and on the proper glide slope. This was the first time I've ever diverted, overnight, and it worked out nicely.

Once I landed, I needed to find a place to stay for the night. Airbnb to the rescue with a $36 room. But the weather's still too bad, today, so it looks like I'll be spending another night in Bakersfield.

To add to the inconvenience, I left my iPhone charging cable in the presentation classroom. Also, there are no restaurants within walking distance of my Airbnb. So, it was off to Walmart for food and a cable. The walk to Walmart was nice, but it started raining while I shopped. So, I "Lyfted" back to my Airbnb.

Hopefully, I'll fly out tomorrow. It's always something. But, better safe than sorry. In the mean time, I keep watching this beautiful danger:

Monday, April 25, 2016

Suicide Prevention: The One Question to Ask

As a military officer, I received frequent training to make me a more effective leader. We started off as second lieutenants (or ensigns, in the Navy) and we were young and green. As twenty-something year-olds, we're assigned dozens of direct reports and we quickly learn how to motivate those in our charge. The training is important, but it's not until we face the actual experience that we learn how to deal with different situations.

I learned how to recognize the signs of problems outside of the workplace. How do you deal with domestic violence, depression, suicide, and death? Death was obviously the most serious, so we did everything possible to avoid it with safety briefs before long weekends and getting help to those who needed it.

One area that's always tricky is depression, which can lead to suicide. This has become more common over the last dozen years due to PTSD. Distinguishing between a suicidal gesture and a suicidal act is semantic hair splitting since both require immediate attention.

One Simple Question

But, when people are depressed, it's hard to know how bad they truly feel. How do you find out if someone's suicidal? Simple... ask them, "Are you thinking of hurting yourself?" Phrase your question exactly like this and then wait for their answer. Don't fill in the awkward silence with anything but quietness until they answer your question. You'll want the answer to be, "No," but don't lead them there if that's not where they're headed. They won't lie if they have suicidal thoughts – they want to feel better. If the answer is, "Yes," you'll need to consult with a mental health professional. Don't leave them alone, thinking that you somehow talked them out of it. Suicide watch is the immediate next step.

This is a simple, yet direct question, to ask if suicide or self-harm is suspected. In all the times I've asked it, I've never offended anyone. The Semicolon Project, which has been around since 2013, is a great resource to turn to if you, a coworker, or loved one needs help. Why a semicolon? Because a semicolon is used when an author could’ve ended a sentence but chose not to. You are the author and the sentence is your life.

Your story; it isn't over yet.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Celebrity Server Overload

On June 25, 2009, I listen to Guy Kawasaki speak in San Diego. About half way through his presentation of demos on social media he gave a shout out to the audience of 500 about me and my company, Adjix. Everyone seated at my table turned and looked at me, "Who's this guy?" I was feeling great after leaving that breakfast presentation until I got home and learned that Michael Jackson had died. I wasn't a big fan of MJ, but his music is... powerful art. What quickly got my attention was that a customer had used Adjix to link to the news of MJ's death creating a huge load on the Adjix app servers. The web and database servers were humming along, without a problem; but the apps were bottlenecked by REST calls across the Internet. With the CPU cores pegged at 100%, I began manually spinning up more app instances to balance the celebrity server overload – which lived up to my expectations.

This morning, Prince died. Prince and the Revolution were my first rock concert when I was a kid. Prince wasn't suppose to be my first... Styx was... but Tommy Shaw hurt his hand, as it was reported in the news, and the Styx concert was cancelled (not postponed).

To confirm the news of Prince's death, I went to but their servers were down, "503 Service Unavailable." That HTML error code simply means, "No more! Uncle! I'm temporarily overloaded."

After giving a little time, their servers were handling requests, again. "Damn it. Prince is dead. And he's young, too young to die this soon."

1984 and Purple Rain had a powerful impact on me. Prince was a key soundtrack to my youth. ❖

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
2 get through this thing called life

Electric word life
It means forever and that's a mighty long time
But I'm here 2 tell u
There's something else
The afterworld

A world of never ending happiness
U can always see the sun, day or night

So when u call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
U know the one - Dr Everything'll Be Alright
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby

'Cuz in this life
Things are much harder than in the afterworld
In this life
You're on your own

And if de-elevator tries 2 bring u down
Go crazy - punch a higher floor

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Accepting the Challenge

"That's the challenge," said Sugar Jones as she raised her drink.
When I was in high school, I considered joining the Air Force. "Aim High." It seemed to be a natural fit for my high tech interests. At school, one of my classmates began sporting a military style crewcut – he'd signed up to join the Army after graduation. Shortly after that, I saw a Marine Corps recruiting ad in a magazine. The only thing I knew about the Marines was that they had, inarguably, the toughest and longest boot camp training in any of the Armed Forces. I asked my father, who had served in the Army, "Why would someone join the Marines?"

"Some men want a challenge," he said.

Some men want a challenge... that resonated with me, which I've written about in Six Four One. As a kid, it resonated like, "You did a good thing for a bad man," from a Bronx Tale. Since then, I've loved the challenge of boot camp, plebe year, OCS, jump school, and overseas deployments. Now, in my more seasoned years, I find myself seeking more conveniences and complaints than challenges and commendations. Every so often I need a refresher.

A couple weeks ago, Sugar Jones and I were discussing Instagram. Instagram has been around since 2010. In 2012, with only 13 employees, it was purchased by Facebook for about $1B. It's only grown in popularity since then. Instagram's key differentiator was two fold. It was simple to post and photographers could apply filters. Since cameras on smartphones, back then, weren't as good as today, applying a filter helped distract from the graininess by adding an artistic spin.

I told Sugar that I didn't like Instagram. Sugar responded with a small look of silent disbelief. "I prefer Flickr," I said, explaining that I was begrudgingly moving to Instagram.

"Why don't you like Instagram?" asked Sugar.

"Every photo has to be square," I said with disdain. I pompously believed that the artist should choose the aspect ratio.

"That's the challenge," said Sugar.

That's the challenge... Ah-ha! Those three words, which she so profoundly said, instantly sunk in.

One hundred and forty characters is the challenge of Twitter; that's what makes Twitter unique and the haiku of a new millennium. How could I have missed a similar challenge with Instagram?

To hijack and repurpose from Breaking Bad...
When I heard the learn'd Sugar.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Protecting Notes in iOS 9.3 with Touch ID

For years, I've been storing sensitive information in the Notes app on my iPhone. At today's Apple Keynote, it was announced that individual notes can now be protected (locked) with either a password or Touch ID. It's fairly simple to use, but not intuitively obvious to set up since it requires a few steps which I've outlined, below.

0. Update your iPhone to iOS 9.3.

1. Settings → Notes → Password → Enable Touch ID and enter a password to protect your notes.

2. To password (or Touch ID) protect a note, you'll need to click on the Share icon when the note is open 

You must manually lock or unlock a note. It seems, though, that unlocking a single note will unlock all of the notes (or at least it appears that unlocking a single note unlocks all the notes that were locked with the same password). I'll post updates, here, if I discover anything new.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

43 Years Ago, Today

On Saturday, March 17, 1973 my family moved from 179 8th Street, in Brooklyn, to Huntington, Long Island. My dad had friends from work help us load the moving truck. One of my dad's friends, who was on the street, loading the truck, was very special. He used to fly up to the North Pole, every December, to help Santa Claus make his toys. He told me I could go with him if my dad said it was OK.

I ran upstairs, to the fourth floor, where my dad was packing and asked, "Dad, can I go with him to the North Pole?"

"Joe, he's kidding. He doesn't really go to the North Pole," said my dad with a laugh.

I ran back downstairs to the moving truck. "My dad says you're joking."

"No, I really help Santa. Sometimes I help him feed his reindeer, too," said the guy.

This was too much. Help Santa make toys and feed the reindeer!?!

As I ran back and forth between the guy and my dad the story kept growing. Help Santa figure out who's naughty or nice. Review the "Dear Santa" letters, go for rides on Santa's sleigh, and so on. Eventually, I finally gave up. But I was so excited on that day, 43 years ago. I have yet to make the trip to the North Pole to help Santa. One day. In the mean time, I try to not take myself too seriously.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Kopi luwak: World's Most Exotic Coffee

The world's most exotic coffee, Kopi Luwak aka civet.
Two years ago, today, I took a trip to Jones Coffee Roasters in Pasadena to try the world's most exotic coffee, called kopi luwak, after seeing it on TV. It turned out that Jones' doesn't actually sell it. Since then, I've been keeping my eye out for an opportunity to try it. A few days ago, I bought some kopi luwak coffee beans, also known as civet coffee. I called on a friend, Isaac, who is a coffee aficionado, to prepare it for me. He had never tried it and he didn't have high expectations for it; he felt is was overpriced, much like Kona coffee. Kona coffee is expensive because it's the only coffee grown in the US. Kona workers are paid much higher wages than workers in developing countries, where most coffee comes from. Civet coffee isn't expensive because it's so tastily, rather it's expensive because of the bean preparation process.

I brought the beans over to Isaac's home. He was pleasantly surprised when he opened the bag and saw that the beans were a slightly roasted to a light brown color instead of black. A lighter roasted coffee bean tends to retain more flavor and more caffeine (by volume). Isaac weighed out 35 grams of beans, ground them up, placed them in a paper filter in a ceramic V60 coffee dripper, and poured hot water through the ground beans, while agitating them, as the coffee drained into his Chemex coffee maker.

Tools of the trade, including a "Breaking Bad" vacuum siphon.
We sampled the civet coffee without adding any cream or sweater. The only thing we did, to enhance the flavor, was lick a little butter before sipping the coffee. Isaac said that the fat in butter helps brings out a coffee's flavor in the same way that strawberries bring out the flavor in champagne. That's the reason why coffee goes so well with donuts.

I thought the coffee was tasty. Isaac's final verdict was, "The quality of coffee we tasted is good, professional grade. But you can get the same quality for 1/10th of the price."

If you've reached this point without understanding what makes kopi luwak so exotic, then you probably shouldn't ask. But, if you really must know.