Friday, December 20, 2013

An Evening with Angels

By Wyn Lydecker

It’s holiday season, so when I was invited to spend an evening with angels, how could it pass it up? Here’s the catch -- the angels I’m talking about are not celestial beings. They are investors in startup and early stage ventures, and they were all on a panel at Ultra Light Startups Investor Feedback Forum in New York.

I haven’t been to an entrepreneur pitching event in over a year, so I was really looking forward to it. I was not disappointed. Eight creative entrepreneurs gave a two-minute pitch to the panel of seasoned investors and an audience of over 200 at Microsoft’s New York offices. (Full disclosure: I was invited by one of the pitching entrepreneurs, Jim Medalia, owner of 225AM.) The panel asked questions and made insightful comments to each presenter. It was very interesting to hear the questions the panelists asked and the advice they gave not only to 225AM, but also to the other presenters. The investors saw the companies from such different perspectives than the founders.I could see how some of the comments gave new ideas to the presenters.

I was amused that during the advice portion, the hosts took the microphone away from the presenter. That forced the entrepreneur to listen and not use up time commenting on the advice. I’ve never seen that done before. Very good!

One thing that really struck me about the event was the number of women in the audience & in the mix of pitchers. In Connecticut, I only see a handful of women showing up at such events. And articles in the media would have you thinking that there’s a dearth of women entrepreneurs in the tech space. Not so last week. In fact, the entrepreneur who was chosen as the best presenter by the audience was a woman who had used technology to create new way for hard-to-fit women (ones who wear size 18+) to choose and buy custom-fit clothing. (Cynthia SchamesAbbeyPost)

Each presenter had developed an innovative solution to a genuine problem. Jim Medalia’s company, , provides an online service to help college and graduate students find full-time employment. Although the panelists joked about the name of the company, it captures the difficulty college students have today to fit job hunting into their demanding schedules. They only have time to work on their job search at 2:25 AM.

The need for help with finding employment is very real for college and grad students. Only 50% of college students graduate with a full-time job. 225AM acts like a mentor, guiding them through the process, organizing them, prompting them to take the actions they need to, and helping them connect to a network of referrals they didn’t even realize they had. If the student doesn’t know what they want to do when they graduate, the software helps them narrow it down. The placement offices at the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers, the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford have all signed up to do beta tests with their students.

The other presenters had equally interesting businesses filling an incredible variety of needs:
·        Cynthia SchamesAbbeyPost
·        Raphael
·        Benjamin Bergsma - SeatAdvance
·        Jim Medalia –
·        Adam Stein-Sapir – LiveAce
·        Graham Clarke – Insight Replay
·        Pam Cooper – Boosterville
·        Kaiyi Chu – Votopin

I left feeling really excited about all the incredible energy that is going into the creation of new businesses in the New York Metro area. As a bonus, I got to see the angels and the tree at Rockefeller Center on my walk to Grand Central from Microsoft’s offices on 6th Avenue. This made for a perfect ending to the evening.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Entrepreneurs, Women and Industry

When is a handmade good no longer considered handmade? Elizabeth Wayland Barber took up that question in her recent Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, "Etsy's Industrial Revolution." As I read her essay, I realized that she was bringing up topics much broader than the definition of handmade goods. She was also addressing the issue of women starting and running businesses.

Etsy, the site where artisans can sell their hand-crafted goods, has loosened its rules on the definition of handmade. Too many of its participants are finding it impossible to keep up with the demand for their goods, so they agitated to be allowed to start manufacturing their handcrafts. This change is running afoul of the Etsy ethos in some people's minds. Where do you draw the line?

Barber then draws upon history to make a point, women have been turning to machinery -- and inventing their own machines -- to allow themselves to create handcrafts to sell in order to feed and clothe their families. The drop spindle and the loom are both machines used for millennia all over the world to spin thread and make cloth. Would these machines be blocked by Etsy?

But this got me thinking of how hard women in all countries and in all economic levels find ways to start businesses to give themselves more control over their lives. The glory right now is going to tech startups. And Silicon Valley is being chastised for the lack of women-owned tech startups and women-owned venture-capital-backed businesses. Why are people so worried about women getting venture capital? 75% of venture-capital-backed startups fail.

The the small, manageable, low-tech businesses -- like making and selling handcrafts -- are more successful. These startups grow. And many of them are women-owned. Women are the unsung heroes of entrepreneurship. They are creative. They form businesses that create jobs and inject money into the economy. They manage their families and their businesses. Does it matter that they don't create million-dollar or billion-dollar companies?

We need to get away from lauding the male-dominated tech startups and start looking around at the entrepreneurial vigor in our own communities, particularly the women-owned startups.

Here are some choice quotes about women-owned businesses from the National Business Women's Council:

"Even as the nation’s economic growth slowed, employment in women-owned firms continued to expand while men-owned firms were contracting.1 Furthermore, projections indicate that the trend in employment growth among women-owned firms will continue. The Guardian Small Business Research Institute projects that women-owned businesses will create 5 to 5.5 million new jobs by 2018 – more than half the 9.7 million new small business jobs expected to be created and about one-third of the 15.3 million total new jobs anticipated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics by 2018.2

"Women-owned businesses already are serious players in this nation’s economy. An economic impact study conducted by the Center for Women’s Business Research and the National Women’s Business Council documented that majority women-owned firms today are driving more than 23 million jobs – both directly and indirectly."

Let's understand what's really happening out there. Women: stand up and be counted for your contributions to the economy.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Funding the "Affordable" Care Act (aka Obamacare)

When Obama was elected president, he said he wanted to spread the wealth around. The Affordable Care Act, which some people are calling the "Unaffordable Care Act," is making good on Obama's goal.

I heard the best explanation of how the redistribution of wealth is taking place on NPR in their broadcast on November 7, 2013. The title of the piece was "How the Affordable Care Act Pays for Insurance Subsidies."
People who have had very expensive health insurance or no insurance, but relatively low incomes, can now get affordable health insurance plans because the government is subsidizing the plans. The subsidies are paid for in part from a higher Medicare tax on high-income earners ($250,000+ in annual income). That's a clear redistribution of income. Funding for the system also comes from lower Medicare payments to providers and taxes on medical-device and drug companies.

Read or listen to the whole NPR piece. Everything fell into place for me when I heard it.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of unintended (but easily foreseen) consequences from Obamacare -- consequences that Obama has actually apologized for. (Hear interview with Obama on NPR.) Individuals, sole proprietors and small business owners are getting slammed with much higher insurance premiums. Virtually every small business owner I know has had their current health insurance plan cancelled. And they can only find new plans that have 40% to 100% higher premiums, and in many cases lower benefits and higher deductibles and co-pays. Small and new businesses are the engines of economic growth and job creation in this country. These new, more expensive policies are surely going to hurt that engine.

We were supposed to be able to keep the plans we had, if we liked them. Will this problem get solved? Who knows? Obama claims he'll try to get this fixed along with the glitch-filled software running the Federal exchanges.

If I were in charge, I'd expand Medicare to cover everyone. The system is already set up. Businesses would no longer have to pay for health insurance. They'd improve their bottom lines. They would be able to hire more workers and pay them more. Yes, we would have to cover the cost with new taxes. But the benefits would be enormous. And with everyone enrolled, I suspect the taxes would not be as high as the premiums we now pay. People could always buy supplemental plans, just as they do with Medicare. We are the only industrialized nation without universal health coverage. Time to catch up with the rest of the world and stop trying to jury-rig a system that is not working the way it was intended.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"Give and Take" - a Review

There are far too many useful business and nonfiction books are the market for any one person to read. But Give and Take - A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant (Viking) is one I believe is well worth the time. Grant has looked at empirical evidence from many sources and discovered a novel idea: Givers can become wildly successful.

Unlike some books about success, this one is not full of hyperbole. And unlike some business books by professors -- Grant is a management professor at Wharton,-- this one does not drone on. In fact, Grant builds his case in an intriguing way, drawing the reader in with stories, surprising the reader with unusual outcomes, then explaining the paradoxical theory and supporting it with academic research. I wanted to keep reading to find out how Grant would turn each story on its head.

Give and Take really opened my eyes and got me looking at situations from a new perspective. The more I read the book, the more I recognized types of people I know and started to appreciate the Givers in my life even more. I also saw more opportunities to be helpful to others at random times. Now, I'm inspired to figure out how to start a Reciprocity Ring at my church. (Read the book to find out what a Reciprocity Ring is.)

The author does not just dwell on business and management. He uses examples from sports, education, grassroots dot-coms like Freecycle and Craigslist, finance, health care, and nonprofits, and he introduces several really fascinating concepts:

1. There are three types of people: Takers, Matchers, and Givers. Within those groups are subgroups. The Givers can wind up on the bottom, never getting ahead, or they can succeed so much that they wind up at the top.
2.  Givers who get ahead build loyalty and high-quality teams. Takers can be so self-centered that they drive support away.
3. Givers can help others to realize their full potential.
4. Givers who succeed use time wisely and do ask for help occasionally. Grant calls this being Otherish.
5. Givers who fail don't use their giving time wisely and never ask for help for themselves.
5. There's a myth about Giver burnout.
6. Takers can be generous.

But wait, there's more! Give and Take is worth reading simply to discover how Grant came to all these conclusions and to figure out how you can be more of a giver.

Full disclosure, I read this book for many selfish reasons:
1. I went to Wharton, and Grant teaches at Wharton (a little alumna loyalty).
2. I'm co-writing a business book and want to read other business books to see what will hold my interest and how principles can evolve out of anecdote. I wanted to analyze what made me like(or not like) the writing. (I really liked Grant's writing. Why?)
3.  I am on a nonprofit board for At Home in Darien, a nonprofit that helps seniors staying their homes. But seniors don't call us for help, transportation or handyman services. Why? They're all Givers. How can we get them to be Takers? (Adam Grant, if you read this review, please take on this question for further research.)
4. I've been on the pledge and the finance committees at my church, and I have often wondered why some people in the congregation give generously, while other don't. What's going on in their minds? How could we change the non-givers into Givers? I was searching for an answer. 

Not all of my questions were answered. But I came away from Give and Take with enlightenment and inspiration. The book was a complete pleasure to read, even on beautiful summer afternoons.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Entrepreneurs Come in All Ages

When people typically think of entrepreneurs, they think of 20-somethings starting a tech company. But that stereotype is not quite right. Entrepreneurs come in all ages and start businesses in all industries.

A new study sponsored by Babson and Baruch Colleges and the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Consortium shows that 42.7% of people over 65 work for themselves. Over 25% of Americans over 55 own their own businesses. Compare that with 30.5% of 18 to 24-year-olds who have "entrepreneurial intention."

I'm co-writing a book on entrepreneurship right now with a highly successful entrepreneur who started his business when he was in his 30s. So I was quite excited to see these stats. You do have more at stake when starting a businesses at a more mature age, but you also have years of solid business experience on which you can base your venture.

No matter your age or business background, if you have the entrepreneurial spirit in you, listen to it. When our book is closer to publication, I'll start posting some of the principles from our book that can help you achieve success in your new venture.

You can read more about the study in question at:

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bootstrap or Raise Outside Funding?

The New York Times Small Business Column in the Thursday, June 20, 2013, Business Section ran a great article on "Self-Finance or Raise Money? A Quandary for Start-Ups".

Since I've been working with entrepreneurs on developing business plans to raise capital since 1999, you'd expect me to be on the side of raising outside funding. But I'm not most of the time. Sometimes, I even counsel my clients to bootstrap and grow organically. (Organic growth is anathema in Silicon Valley.)

I believe bootstrapping is better. I'm even co-writing a book with a really successful entrepreneur which includes content on how bootstrapping can work in your favor.

For now, read the NY Times article and think about the two sides for yourself.

The founders of GoodData and RJMetrics took different approaches to starting their data analysis businesses.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Hearing Bob Dorf at Startup Weekend

When I learned that Bob Dorf was going to speak at Startup Weekend at the Stamford Innovation Center, I was excited. I'd been hearing about Bob Dorf as an entrepreneur, investor and business guru for years. Not only that, I had recently read much of his book, The Startup Owner's Manual, Clearly, I had to attend this event, which happened last Friday, April 26, 2013.

I was not disappointed. Dorf speaks at Startup Weekends all over the world, from the US to Brazil to Russia. In Stamford he spent an hour outlining the essential elements that you must have lined up to launch a new business. He illustrated the points with war stories of successes and failures. Here are a few of the points Dorf  made:

  • It's brutally hard to achieve success. Out of the 650,000 businesses that get going annually, only about 12 will go on to become great companies that are wildly successful.
  • You do not need a business plan - just a Minimum Viable Plan "MVP"), which can boil down the essentials: value proposition, customer relationships, revenue model, and plan of execution.Get real facts to back up your assertions and assumptions.
  • Your business needs to be repeatable, profitable and sustainable.
  • Get out of the building! Go out and talk to customers and potential customers to learn if you have a viable idea. Listen to them.
  • Pivot if customers are not interested in your product or service or if they suggest modifications. More new businesses fail because they lack customers than for any other reason.
  • Put together a team. Every startup needs "a hacker, a hustler and an artiste."
  • Come up with a way to make money -- your business model.
I agree with everything Dorf said, probably because I've been saying similar things to my own clients for over a decade. While I am a business plan developer, I haven't written a full business plan since 2005. No one wants to read one, write one or pay for one. What I do now is very close to an MVP -- a three to seven page summary or a one-page angel summary. But what is more important is the planning process -- addressing the points made above, plus a few more.  

Unfortunately, I could not stay to participate in the entire weekend due to family and client obligations. I wish I could have heard the final presentations. But Friday evening was well worth it.

Note: If you live in the Stamford, CT, area, check out the Stamford Innovation Center. They have a lot going on to support new businesses and entrepreneurs.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The 10,000 Hour Rule

Malcolm Gladwell and Nick Bayliss have both written about the 10,000 hour rule -- it takes 10,000 hours of practice doing something to become really competent. Bill Gates discusses this in a video. The point Bill Gates makes is that it takes more than 10,000 hours of doing something. It takes several winnowing cycles, so only the best and most dedicated are left. I agree with his insight. But I also believe in innate talent having a role in the mix.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Review of "The Lean Startup"

Jim, who is a serial entrepreneur, long-time client and friend, called me up excitedly. "Guess what they're teaching at Princeton? Not to write a business plan. Now, they're teaching kids to just start their businesses." Jim had just been at a session with the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, where Jim was a mentor to a team of students. The topic that day was Eric Reis's book, The Lean Startup. Jim went on to tell me that Stanford, Berkeley and Harvard have all jumped on The Lean Startup bandwagon. My curiosity was piqued. I had to read it. 

I was surprised by the book.  The Lean Startup – How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Reis (2011, Crown), is clearly targeted to brilliant computer engineers and inventors who are in love with their code and their idea, without regard to the real needs of the marketplace. The book teaches them that they need to fill their customers’ needs – a very basic concept from Marketing 101 – and use sound management practices. 

Reis’s principles come out of the lessons learned in the dot-com meltdown and also from management theory. Here's where I got confused. Reis starts out saying that entrepreneurial ventures need to follow sound management principles. But then, he proposes that businesses experiment their way to success, which seems to us to be antithetical to what I learned in my management and marketing classes at Wharton. 

Although much of the advice in this book tends to the very academic – developing and studying cohorts, for example –  Eric Reis has become the darling of Silicon Valley and has excited entrepreneurs with the idea that they do not need business plans, just the willingness to “continuously innovate” and “pivot” when things don’t go according to expectations. He tells readers to start lean and keep learning as you go.

Companies all over Silicon Valley and beyond are embracing Reis's theories for product development and management. For that reason alone, the book is worth reading. If you don't want to read it, then just watch Reis's video telling you about the book and the theory. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

An Entrepreneur's Quote of the Day

"If you want to be a great entrepreneur, you’re going to have to burn your résumé and stop worrying about your reputation, because you’re probably going to go through long periods of people calling you stupid." -- Mark Pincus, founder of Zynga.

I love this quote from Mark's recent interview in The New York Times Magazine ("I Don't Think It's Rotting Their Brains," April 7, 2008). It captures so well the mindset you have to have to succeed as an entrepreneur. You are putting your ideas out there for others to judge. The public, businesses, and your investors are going to making their feelings known by voting with their dollars. Your friends and family are going to be telling you what they think.

But if you have the vision, the fire and the perseverance, you will probably overcome the odds and make it. 

The interview is short and worth a read...
The founder of Zynga on games, management and his relationship with Mark Zuckerberg.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Review of "LEAN IN - Women, Work and the Will to Lead"

My first reaction to Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “LEAN IN – Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” was, I’ve read this before. Back in the late 1970s, I had just gotten out of Wharton with an MBA and was starting my first job in the corporate world. Anxious to prove myself in what was then truly a man’s world, I read book after book on how to negotiate corporate politics and get ahead. That’s why Sandberg’s words were sounding so familiar.  

But as I read on, I realized that Sandberg had a lot of good advice to impart to whole new generations of women and girls who hadn't read the books I had. She also rebutted some of the advice I had followed -- like trying to act like a man. Even better, she delivered much of it by telling stories from her own life and by giving tips from other women of achievement. Thank goodness for the human touch and the humor she has injected, like trying to quickly get to the far end of the parking lot at Google when she was pregnant or attempting to hide the fact that she was leaving at a normal hour to see her kids.

I loved that she started to wake up and just ask for special parking spots for pregnant workers and that she felt she could have a personal life and a chance to be home for dinner. At the same time, I was thinking about how tough the corporate world is on both men and women. Look at how Marissa Mayer has issued an edict that everyone must now work at the office. Face time still seems to matter as much as it did in the last century.

There is a mixed message however. In some cases Sandberg is teaching women to be more true to their feminine selves. In other cases, she is urging women and girls to have more spine, more confidence and ambition and be less true to their female cultural training. She is telling them not to be too nice and self-effacing and to grab the opportunities when they happen. She quotes Eric Schmidt telling her, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.” Eric's statement made her take the job offer from Google.

But as an older person who left the corporate fold to start my own business and raise my kids without someone clocking me in or judging me, I began to wonder: Is rising to the top of a large institution really the best way to define success? It clearly is for Sheryl Sandberg. But I would bet it’s not for many women and men, particularly today where loyalty and hard work are not necessarily rewarded by large institutions of any kind. Plus, it's really expensive to rise to the top. You have to invest time, your personal self, and lots of money to get there. That takes a tremendous amount of gumption and willpower. But it's also expensive to drop out and raise kids. (I don't really like the way Sheryl bashes well-educated women who do raise kids and volunteer their time. Nonprofits need volunteers desperately. And there's nothing wrong with doing good -- or investing in your family --  in my opinion.)

Still, Lean In is worth reading, if for no other reason than to wake yourself up to the fact that the world of work is still not fair and that women still do not have equality. 

The answer to how to achieve equality, however, is not totally answered in the book. But if you want to rise in government, academia or in someone else’s business, Sandberg’s advice is quite good. 

In fact, I’ve found myself giving similar advice many times to both my daughter and my son as they grow in their chosen careers: You have to ask for raises. You have to ask for promotions. You have to negotiate good deals for yourself.  You have to toot your own horn. It’s just harder for women to do these things and not be criticized for it. Sandberg says, never mind. Take your place at the table.  

You can learn more of the Lean In philosophy at the Lean In organization:
Listen to Sheryl Sandberg's TED talk:

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Review: APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur

If you are thinking of writing and publishing your own book, stop right now. Go online and buy Guy Kawasaki's and Shawn Welch's new book, "APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur -- How to Publish a Book".

After reading Guy's book, I've learned that the process of writing and publishing is far harder and more complicated than I had ever imagined. At the same time, I am grateful to Guy for letting me know what is in front of me and how to make my journey as an author easier, more productive and potentially more successful. 

Guy has convinced me that self-publishing, or "Artisanal Publishing" as he calls it, is the smartest way to go in this digital age. Traditional publishers are still operating the old fashioned way, acting as gatekeepers and drastically slowing down the publishing process. They do bring a lot to the party: editing, designing, printing, and distributing. But from what I gather from APE and from my author friends, the established publishers really fall down when it comes to marketing today.

As a writer, business owner and consultant who has worked with entrepreneurs for 20 years, the entrepreneurial orientation of APE particularly appealed to me. If you are a person who doesn't want to wait for a secret empire like the traditional publishers to decide your fate, then APE should appeal to you. 

APE empowers the reader/author by breaking down the process of producing a book:
  • Author -- how to write and edit a book well, complete with tips on how to set things up on your computer from the get-go to make the process easier later, how to get people to help you edit and how to hire professionals to help even more.
  • Publisher -- how to design, print, e-publish and distribute a book using the myriad services that are out there to help you. Again, Guy gives you a huge list of the programs, professionals and services that you can use.
  • Entrepreneur -- how to use entrepreneurial or guerrilla marketing to let the your audience know your book exists and then to cajole them into buying it. (I really like that Guy calls this part "Entrepreneur", rather than selling or marketing, as it appeals to my entrepreneurial spirit.)
Following Guy's advice, I read through the entire book quickly. Now, I'm going to go back and use it as a reference manual as I make my way through the nitty gritty of book creation. Since I'm co-writing my book, I'm going to share what I learned with my co-writer.

Guy Kawasaki                                                              Shawn Welch

Got a book in your brain? Get APE, and get going writing. Available on Amazon. (You'll learn why when you read the book.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Review: The $100 Startup

The title is what made me want to read the book: THE $100 STARTUP - Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future. Author Chris Guillebeau has made a living himself by starting one business after another while traveling the world. He wondered how many other people had created microbusinesses, using a modest investment, typically no more than $100 to get started, to earn $50,000 or more (the average income in the U.S.). He set out to discover these people and tell their stories and the reasons for their success. 

Guillebeau interviewed 1,500 such entrepreneurs and turned the results of his research into his book. The $100 Startup focuses on 50 case studies. The stories are brief, and Guillebeau writes in an easy style that I could read and digest quickly. His book is definitely not a textbook, yet it contains many of the principles that I was taught in business school and also throughout my career:
  • Create value
  • Fill a need
  • Offer a real benefit -- not just features
  • Know who your audience is
Like me, the author is a huge fan of microbusinesses. He tells good stories about them and gives tips on what it takes to make them successful. The stories, however, never get very deep. While the premise of his book is to follow your passion and turn it into a business, he gives the reader the practical advice on how to do that and make money at the same time.

The irony of the book is that it starts with the example of a person laid off from a job starting a mattress-selling business. Given the deals that man had to swing to start the business, I sincerely doubt it was started for $100 or less. My other problem with the book is the funny quote that begins Chapter 2: "Catch a man a fish, and you can sell it to him. Teach a man to fish, and you ruin a wonderful business opportunity." Guillebeau attributes the quote to Karl Marx. I've read Karl Marx, and he did not write that way. (No one wrote that way in 1848, the date The Communist Manifesto was published. Marx's other book,  Capital, was written in 1867–1894.) I tried searching for the quote and discovered that some people attribute it to Groucho Marx, which makes more sense. Anyway, this made me wonder about the fact-checking behind the $100 Startup.  

Those caveats aside, I really enjoyed The $100 Startup. And having worked with hundreds of passionate entrepreneurs myself, I know how hard it is to take that leap of faith, turn the personal passion into a business and then monetize the idea well enough to make a living. Guillebeau has done this himself and has 50 examples of others who've done it, too. If you have a passion and want to try being an entrepreneur, The $100 Startup is worth reading.

Friday, March 8, 2013

I'm One of the 61%

I'm one of the 61% of the Facebook users who have taken a sabbatical. It all started about a year ago when I took a vacation with no internet access. Despite the fact that I had glorious photos of tropical sunsets and hardened lava fields by the sea, I suddenly had no desire to fire up Facebook and share them. The week away from going online made me realize what a time-sink Facebook had become. Sure, I missed interacting with my cousins and friends who lived far away, but I had a ton of work to do, and Facebook fell by the wayside.

I took it back up again for awhile in the late fall after reconnecting in person with my far-flung cousins. But dropped out one more time after reading, yet again, how Facebook would be sharing more of my life with advertisers. I also abhorred the new Timeline.

Now that I've heard the latest news about Facebook's face-lift (aka latest redesign), I may drop out completely. Fully 20% of Facebook's users have dropped out, erasing their profiles completely.

Today (March 8, 2013), I read in The New York Times that: "Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s co-founder and chief executive, said at a news conference that he wanted Facebook to be “the best personalized newspaper in the world.” And like a newspaper editor, he wants the “front page” of Facebook to be more engaging — in particular on the smaller screens of mobile devices."

If I want a newspaper, I'm going to read the New York Times. If I want big pictures, videos and information about celebrities, artists or authors to appear on my "front page", then I'm going to use a personalized Yahoo! Ironically, I dropped Yahoo! as my starting homepage when it got too cheesy, frivolous and ad-oriented. (And Marissa Mayer hasn't improved it much.) If I want to watch video ads, I'm going to watch TV or YouTube. That is not why I used Facebook.

Furthermore, I've been reading that professional sites (like the ones many entrepreneurs and authors have) only get shown to all their friends/fans if they pay for advertising. Facebook denies this, but I've heard the complaint one too many times. (See New York Times, March 7)

As far as I'm concerned, Zuck is ruining his baby. He's turned this really cool, fun way to interact with friends and family and into a blatant commercial venture designed to send me more ads. (It's like taking a pretty girl and making her up for a kiddie beauty pageant.) That's not my idea of a social network. Zuck's original idea was to create a place that was exclusive. You could only connect with people who invited you. That's what set it apart from MySpace. That was the thing that separated his idea from the one the Winklevosses thought of. That feeling will is now be all gone.

Usually, it take professional management to destroy a great entrepreneurial vision. This time, I believe the founder is doing it all by himself.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Social Media Used Brilliantly for 'Fast & Furious'

I know it's a little late for me to be writing about the Super Bowl. But the news of how intelligently some corporations used social media to further their brands' images during the game just keeps on coming. I'm not talking about Oreo and their swift pivot with social media copy right after the lights went out.

I am talking about Universal's intelligent use of social media to build excitement for the upcoming film "Fast and Furious". Universal Studios has figured out how to break out of the mold. A lot of marketers have no clue how to use social media to build excitement about their brand. But Universal understands the alchemy. Read this really informative article in the New York Times, "'Fast & Furious' Stresses Social Side of Fandom."

I am frequently dismayed to see how lame most big marketers appear when they attempt to be cool on social media. They come across as trying too hard. Even worse, the copy reads as if it were written by a committee or a PR drone who is in the groove of writing boilerplate. Corporate marketers seem to love to hear themselves talk. That's why their copy reads as if they were talking to themselves.

Universal is a breath of fresh air. They are letting their fans lead and ensuring that the engagement builds.