Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sergey Brin's Is The Right Stand

Sergey's family had to flee Russia when Sergey was less than 10 years old. They fled political persecution. Memories like that never go away.

The Google leadership might present it like a group decision, but it has been so obvious to me Sergey has taken the lead on this one.

I grew up in a country that only recently became a republic. The country was a monarchy with a rubber stamp parliament - no political parties allowed - for most of my time. Democracy to me is as concrete as a brick wall. There is free speech, and there is no free speech, and the difference is stark. There are very real consequences.

My first reaction to the Google blog post of threatening to move out of China was unequivocal. No, this is not Google saying sour grapes to not being able to dominate search in China like it does elsewhere. This was a principled stand. And I admired it. I put it down in writing, I think as a comment on Facebook. I have always been fascinated by Google. I had it displayed on my personal homepage not long after the search engine showed up late in the 1990s before they had done any serious fundraising. But I never admired Google more until now. This Google-China standoff speaks to me at many levels.

What Google is doing is the right thing to do, and it is also going to prove to be a great business decision down the line.

To many Chinese the Chinese Communist Party is what the NAACP had been for the blacks. The CCP is going to bring back their ancient glory. Less than 1,000 years ago China was the leading country on earth. America did not even exist as a country.

China's economic growth these past few decades has been amazing. I have said it before and I will say it again, China needs to teach the rest of the Global South how to grow like China.

I want John Liu to at some point become Mayor of New York City. I do have the Asian pride thing going on. But it is that same pride that makes me firmly conclude China can not remain a one party dictatorship forever.

Free speech is the most fundamental of human rights on which all the other human rights rest.

And John Liu was born in Taiwan. And I am a Buddhist like the Tibetans.

A dictatorship is more likely to go to war, or more likely to engage in saber rattling. Iran's intransigence would go away if the democracy movement in that country were to succeed. China's border problems with India are in a big part to do with the fact that China is not a democracy. The idea of two nuclear powers going to war over pieces of rocks in the barren Himalayas is not exactly 21st century.

The future for China is one where both Taiwan and Tibet stay part of China, but that China is federal and democratic. Tibet and Taiwan are states inside a federal China. There is multi-party democracy. Human rights are respected.

But it does not have to be a democracy like America. It can opt to be a multi-party democracy of state-funded parties. The nature of democracy can be even more refined than what America has, but free speech is more fundamental. Human rights are elemental.

And a country that is not democratic, that does not accept human rights as a basic value can grow fast only when it is playing catch up, but it will stall once it is done catching up, and it has to depend on human creativity to create new industries, and come up with new inventions.

Manmohan Singh in India has proven a large, poor democracy can also achieve China-like growth rates. So it is not like democracy gets in the way.

I greatly admire Sergey's stand. Free speech is so basic. And until this stand it looked like the world was in a mood to stay in permanent peace with the idea of a one party dictatorship in China. The Chinese inside China could not do it. The foreign powers would not do it. Who would take the stand? Who will tie the bell around the cat's neck?

This stand by Google might be the beginning of the end for the one party dictatorship in China. And if it is, Sergey will be remembered as much for this as for his algorithms more than a decade ago. This is not an anti-China stand. This is an anti-persecution stand.

Sergey had to flee when he was young. This is him going back into that same arena. He is going to fight back with all he's got. And he has a lot.

Technology does not exist in a vacuum. Innovation does not happen in a vacuum. People are the purpose for technological innovation. Political and social issues matter. You want to organize the world's information because that will better people's lives. That is the only reason. People matter. People are at the core. People everywhere.

Sergey's stand is a pro-China stand.

Every tussle between democracy and dictatorship in history has been bloody. Fascism's defeat was bloody. Communism's defeat in Europe was bloody over decades, and across the world. Islamists are bloody in their ways. But one day all Arab countries will become democratic. That leaves China as the last bastion. Maybe we can make that confrontation not bloody. And Google is showing the way.

I am a Google person like some people are Apple people. I love Google. I have a feeling my first smartphone is going to be the Nexus One. (The iPhone, Nexus One, Or Droid?)

Jessica Vascellaro, The Wall Street Journal: Brin Drove Google To Pull Back In China Sergey Brin pushed the Internet giant to take the risky step of abandoning its China-based search engine as that country's efforts to censor the Web and suppress dissidents smacked of the "totalitarianism" of his youth in the Soviet Union. .... "One out of five meetings that I attended, there was some component specifically applied to China in a different way than other countries." ...... Mr. Brin and other executives prevailed over Chief Executive Eric Schmidt and others who felt Google ought to stay the course in China ...... Mitch Kapor, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, said Google's moral stand made sense long term, because China will eventually get more open...... "One of the reasons I am glad we are making this move in China is that the China situation was really emboldening other countries to try and implement their own firewalls," Mr. Brin said...... he was moved by growing evidence in China of repressive behavior reminiscent of what he remembered from the Soviet Union. Mr. Brin said memories of that time—having his home visited by Russian police, witnessing anti-Semitic discrimination against his father—bolstered his view that it was time to abandon Google's policy.......... . His father, he said, wanted to be an astrophysicist, but because of discrimination became a mathematician.
John Paczkowski, All Things Digital: Beijing: “Google is Not God” Google’s principled stand in China has very quickly turned into an ugly clash with the country’s government...... "Thinking about the US’ big efforts in recent years to engage in Internet war, perhaps this could be an exploratory pre-dawn battle."..... directing Chinese searches to an uncensored search engine based in Hong Kong, essentially using Beijing’s “one country, two systems” policy against it. ..... indexing Twitter posts on its Chinese search site in open defiance of the country’s ban on the microblogging site.

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Fat Can Work, But Lean More Often Does

Ben Horowitz: The Case For The Fat StartUp
There are only two priorities for a start-up: Winning the market and not running out of cash. Running lean is not an end..... Sometimes running fat is the right thing to do.....Running fat meant that I laid off zero software engineers so that we could keep on investing in our technology, find our product/market fit, and build a lasting technological advantage..... the only thing worse for an entrepreneur than start-up hell (bankruptcy) is start-up purgatory..... Start-up purgatory occurs when you don’t go bankrupt, but you fail to build the No. 1 product in the space.
Fred Wilson: Being Fat Is Not Healthy
Ben and his partner Marc Andreessen. They have started and built multiple successful businesses and all I do is write checks...... I have never, not once, been successful with an investment in a company that raised a boatload of money before it found traction and product market fit with its primary product.....The very best investments that I have been involved in established product market fit before raising a lot of money. That's how Geocities did it. That's how Twitter did it. That's how Zynga did it..... they had significant user or customer adoption before ramping up hiring and spend..... it is very hard to be nimble and quick when you have hundreds (or even dozens) of engineers and other employees....Ben explains that Loudcloud raised $350mm in four rounds of financing (including an IPO) in the first 15 months of its life. Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz can do that. Most of you can not.
Albert Wegner: The Sui Generis Startup
There are extremely few people in the world that can raise money for super high burn businesses on the strength of their vision and reputation.
Ben Horowitz: The Revenge Of The Fat Guy
Fred is one of my favorite VCs .... Product market fit isn’t a one-time, discrete point in time that announces itself with trumpet fanfares....Some companies achieve primary product market fit in one big bang. Most don’t, instead getting there through partial fits, a few false alarms, and a big dollop of perseverance..... I show below that Fred himself didn’t realize that Loudcloud had achieved product market fit even though we had...... We had to rebuild completely and would ultimately find product market fit in a different set of markets altogether....... the best markets are usually the ones in which competition is fierce because the opportunity is big...... Twitter (one of Fred’s brilliant investments) ..... Twitter is more exceptional than Loudcloud or Opsware..... Marc had moved on to found Ning and I was the CEO who nearly ran Loudcloud into the wall.
The real answer to this debate is there is no one size fits all. Fat or thin is right depending on what business cycle the economy is going through, depends on what stage the startup is in, depends on what the eventual size of its market and the startup's share of that market ends up being. There can only be so many Googles, and so many Facebooks. Most startups end up being neither and still succeeding. You can absolutely make the case for fat, but overall it is the lean startup that wins. Fat is few and far between. Some of the fat ones might be some of the biggest winners, but they will still be a numerical minority, a super minority. So if it is about betting, I'd bet on lean. Especially for early stage, definitely go lean. But a startup can start lean and go fat later. There is no one formula.

Loudcloud/Opsware is clearly a fat success story, but that does not make it the norm. The number of lean success stories far outnumber the fat success stories.

Ben and Fred come across as two large size figures in the tech industry who both have much respect for each other. That makes this debate extra interesting. There is this with-all-due-respect deference from both sides. You could argue this whole debate was masterminded by two heavyweights to pay compliments to each other.

Both are right. There is no one formula. The disagreement is in nuances. Ben has done fat well. Fred has done lean well, and many, many times. Can't argue with track records of success. Or maybe you can. Hence the blog posts and counter blog posts.

Ben saying "Twitter is more exceptional than Loudcloud or Opsware" had me chuckling. The statement is so very true.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Who Is Andrew Parker?

Blog Daily is Fred Wilson's mantra. Many people know him as a venture capitalist. I know him primarily as a blogger. He is my favorite solo blogger by far. So a few minutes back I showed up at his blog, and this is what I saw.

Fred Wilson: Bidding Andrew Goodbye

That blog post linked over to this one, also written by Fred Wilson.

Union Square Ventures: Bidding Goodbye To Andrew

By the time I was going through the comments at that blog post, I realized I was already following this guy on Tumblr without realizing he worked for Union Square Ventures. I found him through Nina who I found through Scoble.

Andrew Parker: ... Boston Bound, Leaving USV And Next Steps

Fred Wilson, July 2006: Looking For The Right Person
Brad Burnham, August 2006: Welcome Andrew Parker
Charlie O'Donnell, July 2006: Leaving Union Square Ventures: My Other Name Is An Avatar ....

Right now I am in a mood to do round 1 work for my startup part time while working a job. I have sent out a few feelers seeking a social media job of some kind. But that might feel like a deviation from my path. I am not aspiring to be a media guy, social or otherwise. This USV job might be a dream job for someone with my aspirations, but I am not sure they might go for me. And, curiously, I would like to start out by giving them some reasons why they should not hire me.
  1. I am going to be working on my startup idea part time, on the side. I am not walking away from it.
  2. I might stick around for about a year max. So if you are looking for someone who will be with you at least two years, I am not your guy. But when I leave it will be because I have decided to go full time with my startup, there will be no other reason. I'd give you a month's notice.
  3. I don't have a good track record of putting up with authority. I have never really had a corporate job. Even a job has to feel entrepreneurial to me. Can't be a cog.
  4. I am not a white male. There was this group photo somewhere I saw last year, or maybe before, it had all the top young tech entrepreneurs in town. The first thing I noticed was every single one of them was a white guy. I recognized only one, the MeetUp CEO Scott, a friend. Now that I also know Sam Lessin, the Dropio guy, I am pretty sure he was also in there. I have a pretty sophisticated understanding of race. I was one of Obama's earliest people in the city, and I got to become friends with many of the top Obama volunteers in town in all five boroughs, many of them white. But then I am used to not being part of groups with total cultural overlaps with me since I was 10. Makes me very individualistic as a result. I am big on personal space in my own way. In Nepal it was ethnicity in a boarding school environment - talk about The Other, in Kentucky it was race.
Some of the reasons I might like the job:
  1. I a-m looking for a job. If I get it, round 1 feels like so much less pressure. I am not having to pay myself a salary, however low, through my startup. I might even save some money and pump that into my startup. I don't need much.
  2. This would be a dream job.
  3. Going to tech events in town is not cutting it for me no more. I need something stronger.
  4. This USV experience might be the detox I need after a few years of hard core, cutting edge political work.
  5. The tech startup ambience, the people you will meet, the expanded personal network.
  6. Getting a better feel for the NY tech  ecosystem.
  7. Fred Wilson. If I so enjoy interacting with him at his blog, that enjoyment must be greater by so many degrees in person. This guy is as good as they come. In the world of movies, they have Scorsese. In the world of venture capital, they got AVC. This guy is a legend in the making. I have higher regard for him than VCs with more money than him. He is really good at what he does. He was born to be a VC. (Fred Wilson's Insight)
  8. I am on the L line. They are on the L line. It only struck me a few days back that USV is perhaps named after Union Square. For the longest time I thought, so the Square is the square like in geometry, what is Union?
  9. I like it that they are a small team. Three is the Google number. Three seems to be the USV number. Google works on the premise that three is as big as a team should get. 
  10. I absolutely am loving it that they are asking not for a resume but a blog. This blog will do it for them. Well then, here goes. You have this blog. And you can click over to all my social media presences from this blog itself. Give me a job, if not at least give me some page hits. :-) Best, make me an offer. 
This is what I looked like when I showed up in town summer of 2005.

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Measuring Your Twitter Influence

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase
My Relationship With Ashton Kutcher
  1. How many people follow you?
  2. How often they retweet you?
  3. How often is your name mentioned?
Those are the three measures being pointed out by this research paper. In my case, (2) and (3) are the same. My first name is my Twitter name. When you retweet me, when you reply to me, you mention my name.

Just when I am getting in a mood to increase my interaction levels on the Twitter platform, this research paper came my way. I am surprised they did not list a fourth metric: (4) How many times have you been listed? A subset of that item might be: (5) How many people are following those lists?

Twitter Visualization: Reading Many Tweets At Once
New Yorker, New York Times Style, Twitter And Me
Finally, Twitter Ads
Twitter Should Go For A Netscape-Like IPO
I Have Access To Twitter Lists
Jeff Jarvis, Me And Twitter
I Must Be Following A Lot Of People On Twitter
NYC Twitter Elite: Number 12
Twitter Top 100 NYC: I Am In
Twitter Top 100 NYC
Make Money On Twitter
Twitter Top 0.1%
Twitter Should Hand Over Search To Google
Twitter Number 115 In New York City
Twitter, TechCrunch, And The Stolen Docs
The Best Follow Friday I Ever Received On Twitter
Space, Time And Twitter: Are There Plant Twitters?
My Twitter Suspension Lifted
Can Tweet Google, Can't Tweet Twitter
Monetizing Twitter: A Few Ideas
How To Increase Your Following On Twitter
Is Google Wave Social Enough To Challenge Facebook, Twitter?
Real Time Search: Twitter Is Not Doing It
Google Falling Behind Twitter?
Eminem: The Relapse: Twitter
Converting To The Mass Follow Formula On Twitter
NewsDesk: China, Twitter, Hawking, Obama
Digg Button, Twitter Button For Your Blog Posts
Twitter Is Not Micro
The Depth Of Your Friendships At Twitter
Goal: A Billion People On Twitter
Fractals: Apple, Windows 95, Netscape, Google, Facebook, Twitter
I Talked To Google Through Twitter And It Worked Like Magic
Twitter And The Time Dimension
TweetDeck, Power Twitter, Twitter Globe, Better Than Facebook
TCC: Twitter Community College
Twitter Tips: It's A Bird, It's A Bird
Mitch Kapor Now Following Me On Twitter
I Get Twitter

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I Share Mark Cuban's Passion On The FCC Broadband Plan

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 29:  (FILE PHOTO...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
The FCC Needs to Set Its Sights Higher.. Much Higher (Mark Cuban)

The recent FCC broadband plan has been the talk of the town in the tech blogosphere. (Broader Broadband) There seems to be broad agreement in liking what the FCC has come up with. Some key people have come out saying it is not enough. But nobody seems to be saying what I said in one of Fred Wilson's comments sections: The American people need to revolt like they revolted against the British.

Well, here comes along Mark Cuban saying what the FCC is proposing is not entirely enough. And he is saying it with some passion. Yeah, why stop at 100 megabits per second? That might look a lot now, but not long back 5 megabits per second looked like a lot.

A parallel story is Gmail. Gmail storage looked like a lot when it came out. But soon people started running out of space, at least the power users did.

High speed internet to Cuban is less about video and more about Internet 2. Ride on.

Google has its sights on 1 gigabits per second. And although Mark Cuban is on record wanting to upend the Google search business, here he seems to be in agreement with Google's bandwidth goals.

Mark Cuban is worried about applications that might not show up even when speeds go up. I am not. I think it is inevitable that new applications will show up when super high speed is everywhere.

Cuban, passionate plenty, still does not match my talk. Revolt. Free up the spectrum for the people. There Cuban and I seem to have some disagreements. He is more cautious than I'd like.

Free Is The Future: Picking A Fight With Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban: A Quick Thought on the Viacom/Youtube Lawsuit Disclosures
Don’t Waste the Internet on TV – Protect the Future of the Internet
Should the FCC Reclaim Broadcast Spectrum

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

The New York City Subway

This train could take me anywhere it wants
And I would not complain
Because I am in New York City
And I love it so

I had her number, so I called her
"Who is this?" she said
I called her again weeks later
"Who is this?" she said
It is the city I love

The people who make it hard
For me to get into the jampacked train
Fascinate me
Were Central Park to have
Such congregation
I might never leave

Friday, March 19, 2010

The iPhone, Nexus One, Or Droid?

(Matt Asay is responsible for this blog post. This was a comment I left at his CNet blog post. I have added a few lines.)

So what is the best smartphone to buy? The iPhone, Nexus One, or Motorola Droid? Is it fair to say those three are the top contenders? Is Nexus One the best Android phone out there? If not, which is? Is Droid better than the Nexus One? Is it a plus that the Droid is on the Verizon network?

I have never bought an Apple product in my life. I think the world of Steve Jobs as a tech icon, but my prejudices and business instincts are more in the direction of Sam Walton, Michael Dell and the 99 cent pizza people.

But if the Nexus One is to the iPhone what Bing is to search - I never seriously tried Bing - is one better off sticking to the iPhone? On the other hand, is the iPhone the Mac, and is Android the Windows, the one for the masses? My instinct says go for the masses.

So far I have stayed out the smartphone welcome. Heck, I don't even have a regular cellphone. I have a prepaid. I hardly ever make or receive calls - most communication happens over email, like Mark Cuban says, "If you can say it to me over the phone, you can say it to me over email" - and the prepaid baby is good enough for sending out Twitter updates, which I don't anymore since I do FourSquare check ins, perfectly possible on the prepaid text. Text it to 50500.

But I might have to give in soon and get me a smartphone. What should I get?

A friend livestreamed a video of him hanging out from across the world in Asia. He was using a Ustream application on his iPhone. That was the first time I felt like I could really use a smartphone. If I can take and upload photos and videos in real time from wherever, that would be cool, I thought. Also on the iPhone you can exchange contact info wirelessly. Bye bye business cards. A smartphone can turn you into a power networker.

On the other hand, photo and video editing has not completely migrated to the browser environment yet. That time will come, but that time is not now.

My Gmail is my primary, but I still log into my Yahoo Mail once in a while. It is good to be looking at the competition. An iPhone would be my way to stay a Google person, and still stay in touch with the competition.

Otherwise I am online for so many hours each day, when I am offline, I like to smell the roses, or the subway stench when that is what comes my way, which I compare to roses because I love the city so.

Face time is important, street time is important. It is also important to sometimes waste time. You have to make room for the random thought, for the muse to strike you. And people are all the rage for me, people I know, people I don't know, contacts and perfect strangers.

But I might cave in. What would be the smartphone to go for? Does the Nexus One have that Ustream application? I bet it does. Or should I get an iPhone in my first nod to Steve Jobs? At the risk of being called slick? I have a few weeks before I really might have to decide.

What do you think? What do you recommend?  

TechCrunch: Flurry: More Droid Devices Than iPhones Sold In First 74 Days On The Market

Reblog this post [with Zemanta] More Thoughts

Image representing AnyClip as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase Second Thoughts
AnyClip Is Live Now

Did launch recently? Because I have been having a stream of thoughts about the site. My latest thoughts are to do with the bottleneck the site is facing. How do you get the movie studios to play along?

You have to start by acknowledging that they are nervous. Nervous as nervous can be. You have to acknowledge that. To them. There has to be some I feel your pain talk.
Time: Cisco's New Router: Trouble For Hollywood The CRS-3, a network routing system, is able to stream every film ever made, from Hollywood to Bombay, in under four minutes...... the business equivalent of an earthquake for the likes of Universal Studios and Paramount Pictures....... the MPAA, whose members include Disney and Universal, attacked the VCR in congressional hearings in the 1980s with a Darth Vader–like zeal, predicting box-office receipts would collapse if consumers were allowed to freely share and copy VHS tapes of Hollywood movies. A decade later, the MPAA fought to block the DVD revolution, mainly because digital media could be copied and distributed even more easily than videocassettes....... The prospect of tying their future success to online distribution scares them because it means they will need to develop new distribution and pricing models....... both the MPAA and the RIAA continue to fight emerging technologies like peer-to-peer file sharing with costly court battles rather than figuring out how to appeal to the next generation of movie enthusiasts and still make a buck..... the latest developments at Cisco, Google and elsewhere may do more than kill the DVD and CD and further upset entertainment-business models that have changed little since the Mesozoic Era. With superfast streaming and downloading, indie filmmakers will soon be able to effectively distribute feature films online and promote them using social media such as Facebook and Twitter....... the high castle walls built over the past 100 years by the film industry to establish privilege and protect monopolistic profits may soon come tumbling down, just as they have for the music industry
Then you have to suggest you can't fight new technology. What you can do is come up with new business models so you make more money than ever before, and new technology feels like a friend, not an enemy. Steve Jobs was able to convince the music people, AnyClip needs to be able to convince the movie people. No small undertaking, but it can be done.

Then you have to start with what they are offering. They are offering 12,000 clips to the rival You take that. That can be the starting point. It can't be everything or nothing. You have to pass the 12,000 mark on your way to the 120,000 mark. You have to first show to them that the 12,000 clips were able to generate revenue. More movies got rented and bought as a result. More clips got embedded across the web. Movies as a category rose in the search results. They are big as they are. 2% of all searches are for 8,000 movies and 1,000 actors, right?

Sure the AnyClip promise is to make available any clip from any movie ever made. But then Google's promise is to organize all the world's information. But that does not mean Google stayed in hiding until they organized all the world's information. You release, you iterate, you take the site through a few different incarnations.

It is okay to have 120 clips, then 1,200 clips, then 12,000, then 120,000.

And maybe starting with the big names in the movie business, the big studios, is not the best of ideas. Maybe independent movie makers will feed the AnyClip database for, forget the old movies, all their new releases for all the free marketing and word of mouth they will get. Mark Cuban has a thought or two on this one. That guy is not just in the sports business. He is one restless entrepreneur. He is also in the movie business.

Maybe I should seek a consulting gig with AnyClip to put a few hours into helping AnyClip get over this hurdle that seems to come in the form of intransigence from the big movie studios.

AnyClip is an ambitious undertaking. This is not the last major hurdle it will face. Got to brace for the long haul.

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