Friday, March 14, 2014

Microsoft's Self-Imposed Tax

This is the tax MSFT has to pay for entering the mobile hardware business (Surface, etc.) - particularly painful since they aren't doing it well either. They can't release Office for iOS as they view it as their main (only?) selling point for their tablets, cannibalizing their MS Office sales for tablet sales that don't exist. This is why you stay in your lane.

Why is it Software companies always want to become Hardware companies and vice versa? Same with Products and Services.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Disrupting: Higher Education

Chris Dixon gave a phenomenal talk where, among other things, he discussed the concept of 'unbundling'.  Essentially, the disruption for an industry like newspapers doesn't happen as a whole with a single new platform, product, or service.  Instead, these entrenched institutions get disrupted when they are disassembled and their value proposition disappears bit by bit.

In the case of the newspaper industry, the web allowed authors to create their own brand and publish their work on a variety of platforms.  Communities like Facebook and Twitter, and tech like RSS feeds allowed users to easily discover quality content.  Sites like Craigslist and eBay replace the classifieds.  Brand name doesn't mean very much anymore.  If it did, WhatsApp wouldn't be worth ~10x the New York Times.

Brick and Mortar Higher Education needs to take a serious look in the mirror.  These well established institutions feel like they are moving with the winds of technology.  After all, practically every university has an online course management tool (typically BlackBoard), and has a mobile app (which is mostly static data that no one uses).

However, if the internet/mobile has truly disrupted the industry, why does the cost of college continue to increase faster than inflation.  The entire point of technology is to provide the same product or service for a lower cost.  Why isn't the cost going down?

News of 2U going public is the true momentum shift of this true disruption.  Myopic critics deep in the higher ed system will laugh and say MOOCS (or purely online courses in general) could never replace to the actual 'college experience.'  They are right, but that really isn't the point.  Higher ed is a bundle of services:

  • Coursework
  • Curriculum
  • Credentialing
  • Job Placement
  • Social outlet amongst pre-vetted, equally ambitious young kids of relatively equivalent intelligence
2U handles the coursework.  Udemy,, Coursera handle that along with the curriculum.  Programs like Dev Bootcamp, Avenues: The World School focus on credentialing and job placement.  The pre-vetted social circle is really all that's left.  And is that worth the crippling debt and chronic under-employment that most undergraduates are left with as they leave their 4-year college experience?

If higher ed institutions do not adapt - by lowering their cost structure by truly embracing the new wave of disruption to greater align with their value proposition - I don't see how they can avoid the same fate of the Washington Post.  Once proud institutions with loads of brand equity getting sold off for pieces to Silicon Valley tech billionaires as their latest toy.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

iOS 7 - A great shade of pig lipstick

iOS 7 was announced yesterday, and almost all of the hoopla has been around the new flat design - attempting to rid itself of any fingerprints of the long-gone Scott Forstall and his skeuomorphic design elements.  There were also some really great usability upgrades like better multi-tasking, AirDrop for file sharing, and Control Center.  Supposedly some of these things have been seen for a while in other applications or OS's, but as the saying goes 'Amateurs borrow and professionals steal.'

Yes, there will be ripple effects through the streaming radio market with their new iRadio service.  Apple is finally a company that has enough historical user data (through customer purchase data on iTunes) to fine-tune musical preferences to suit each consumer to effectively compete with Pandora.  Startups like Spotify and Rdio have to build that database from scratch which takes a long time and is very expensive. Ultimately, this will probably hurt Pandora a lot more than it will help Apple since Pandora's entire market cap ( is less than 0.5% of Apple's (  So while it is a great app and I'm excited to try it, it will not make this a valuable upgrade in and of itself for Apple.

What actually bothered me was what always made the new OS announcements so exciting in the first place.  Not because of the new applications that Apple now bakes in, but the new APIs they released in their developer SDK that opened up entire new ecosystems for developers to play. On that front, this release left me wholly uninspired.

Whenever Apple released a big OS update in the past, they used to parade big application developers across the stage.  Often times they would demo new applications they said weren't possible on any device until Apple created the revolutionary new OS that enabled new graphics engines, or mapping capabilities, or deeper social integration, or access to device components like the camera, music library, and contacts list.  While the new look calendar and photo apps and the flashlight app are cool, I don't see any transformational new markets forming as a result of iOS 7.  As always, time will tell but this feels like a v6.2 that they needed to market as a v7.0 to appease the Street and their own seemingly self-imposed annual release schedule.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

TAG Trailer for GBTC "Hottest Tech in Town"

I love how we have the phenomenally talented people in our org to put something like this together so quickly.  viaPlace was nominated this fall for Baltimore's "Hottest Tech in Town", and we made this video to both clarify what TAG is all about, and give people more of a reason to vote for us (link to come when it opens).  Please pardon me for the small pat on our back, and would love any feedback on our trailer if you want to check it out!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Response to O'Reilly's Opinion on Internet Sales Tax

Article here:

My first company was an internet retail business, so I feel I have an experienced eye on the industry from the "little guy's" perspective.  Here are my $0.02.

1) O'Reilly seemingly has no experience in administering AR (Accounts Receivable) for an online retail.  Even on a small scale organizing finances for sales tax by county for only a single state is a monumental task with a ton of oversight required, especially for a public company.  It's all well and good to say "these guys have built scalable processes for handling mundane tasks before, they can just do it again", but in practice it's an entirely different story.

And more importantly...

2) Even if amazon could pull it off with a huge multi-million dollar investment in software and ongoing recurring expenses beefing up human resources, the smaller vendors won't be able to.  These are the same "local" businesses that O'Reilly is hoping to shield from the big, bad, Amazon.  These same local businesses are the people setting up online stores with larger reaches than when they started, and the national sales tax would shut them down before they can get off the ground.  If anything it would extend the barrier to entry of small market retailers hoping to set up an online presence vs already entrenched and well capitalized businesses, like Walmart and Amazon, who may be able to withstand the bloated HR depts and clunky enterprise software the tax would require everyone to use.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Book Review (Part 2): “Crush It!” and “The Thank You Economy” by Gary Vaynerchuk

If you didn’t read Part 1 of this post, you can find it here about my review of Gary Vaynerchuk’s book “Crush It!”

Part 2: The Thank You Economy

This is going to be less of a book review, and more of a “Hallelujah!”  The book is fantastic in relaying it’s overall goal of convincing brands both big and small that change is here and customer service is not just a choice anymore.  With the transparency that Social Media provides consumers, it is crucial to every business to create the meaningful relationships with all potential customers to build brand equity, as this will be the main driver in purchasing decisions from here on out.

Of the many great results of the wide spread adoption of Social media, the key point I grasped on to was the power in engagement.  This concept is still being lost on most brands and is why most of their campaigns that begin so well intentioned, never take advantage of the true value this new media platform can offer.  

A lot of Social Media campaigns aim to grab the most Twitter followers or Facebook Likes as possible.  While this can be a good start to a campaign, it can not be the end goal.  It is not in the quantity of the relationships, but the quality of the engagement that drives the value in Social Media.  We preach this at our company to all clients that ask us how to market the new product or website or widget we just built for them.  We tell them over and over again to focus on engagement of users.  These are the future customers, or even better, friends with many other potential customers.  Push marketing by spamming specials or coupons in exchange for a like or a follow is exactly that – spam.

I’m very proud that at Mindgrub we have always taken this to heart.  People ask me how we have marketed/positioned the company, and how we’ve grown so quickly in the past year.  I’m always proud to say we haven’t spent a dime on any digital marketing.  We engage with our community (and potential client-base) by participating in any networking events we can find, or speak at any event that will let us, or heck, even try to host our own.  We also try to seek out interesting technological debates and engage our community on Twitter and Facebook.  

Starting conversations about technology, provide advice and feedback to those searching for information on mobile technologies and we have valuable insight is all part of the package.  We could definitely be doing better, but without a doubt I can say we’ve grown to this point because of the Social Media efforts we’ve made so far - and will only keep growing at our current pace if we find bigger and better ways to engage with more people and create more of these types of relationships.

I think everyone and anyone needs to read this book ( and understand the new age of commerce we are living in.  As Vaynerchuk says, it provides boundless opportunity for those willing to take advantage of the gift Social Media has to offer.  It will also leave behind those unwilling to adapt to the changing mindset of the consumer driven market.  Transparency, honesty, authenticity, and caring will win out every time.  That I do believe and can get behind.


You can read Part 1 of this post here about my review of Gary Vaynerchuk’s book “Crush It!”

Book Review (Part 1): “Crush It!” and “The Thank You Economy” by Gary Vaynerchuk

I read both of these books last weekend, which is why I am reviewing them together.  They are very different books with different messages, but a common theme of the importance to use new social media platforms to build brand identity (either personal or corporate) and connect/engage/build relationships with people.  In short, they are very interesting, quick, and informative reads and I recommend them both to anyone interested in building a brand, and/or entrepreneurship, on any level within any industry.  

I’d also like to say I’m embarrassed it has taken me this long to read these books.  They have flashed on my radar over and over and there is no excuse for me to have delayed in taking the initiative to read these books (and others that I am working through now) that are so crucial to what I do and consult about on an everyday basis.

With all that being said, here are my opinions on each book in two parts, starting with “Crush It!” (You can read Part 2: The Thank You Economy here).

Part 1: Crush It!

‘Crush It!’ is about following your passion; making your job what you love doing, and getting paid to do it.  I love this message and it mirrors the most powerful lesson I ever learned from my parents - that you will never be completely happy if you don’t wake up in the morning and absolutely LOVE what you do for a living.  In fact, you love it so much that you would do it for free. I absolutely agree with this idea in principle.  However, I think Vaynerchuk has taken several difficult assumptions for granted, which won’t allow me to take the leap with him in assuming anyone can quit their day job and make a living by creating a personal brand around their burning passion. 

First, he says working on your passion means you will be happy to work harder than you ever have in your life. I think there is a reason people don’t like to mix business with pleasure.  They don’t want to turn their hobby, the thing they are truly passionate about, into a livelihood.  One’s hobby may lose its luster when you feel required to write a blog about it, or tweet about it, and then get scrutinized over it, instead of sitting back and enjoying it.  Gary may then argue that it may not be your true passion to begin with, but I disagree.  People have the capacity to be truly passionate and excited about a topic that they may not want to pursue for a living.  There is nothing I love more than baseball, and I have worked in the industry in the past.  As much as I hate to admit it, there were definitely times while working I wished I could go off the clock and simply watch my favorite team for the love of the game – no more, no less.

Second, not everyone is wired, or as Vaynerchuk would put it, have it in their DNA to work 18 hours a day to get their personal brand surrounding their passion off the ground.  This is an internal motivation/work ethic issue, and not a passion issue.  Working hard, being patient through the slow times, doubling up your efforts when you don’t see results, and foregoing a stable, steady income is a lifestyle choice that not everyone can live with.  Someone who wishes they could talk about stamps for a living, and they want to leave their job in PR to do it; and they say they have the blueprint from ‘ Crush It!’ scares me more than a bit.  This book inspires, no doubt, but also gives users just enough information to make a poorly infomred decision.  A decision without fully understanding what their potential life choice will entail.  Some people are built for the entrepreneurial, risk-seeking, career life choice, and many aren’t.  Some may view anything more than a 9-5 job as working harder than they ever had, and not truly grasp living and breathing your job every second you are awake is what that life choice will require for a chance at success.  I’m nervous of the somewhat false promises that readers may perceive to be a very straightforward path to walk - which is you can just talk about what you love to ‘Crush It!’

Third, Vaynerchuk references this in his book, but in my opinion, does not drastically enough describe how difficult it is to create best-in-class content.  He notes how if you are truly passionate about something, you will be able to create first class content.  Are you not comfortable in front of the camera?  Then do a podcast!  Don’t like your voice?  Write a witty blog!  Well, what if you’re not a good writer either?  Or a creative person by nature?  Telling people all they have to do to live the life they always wanted by simply following their one true passion by creating amazing content sounds a bit like describing steps 1 and 10 in a process without saying how difficult it is or lucky you need to be to get from 2 to 9 first.

He couches his arguments and is careful not to speak in direct absolutes about this, but creating amazing content is really hard!  There’s a reason some people are magnetic on camera, or have a voice you can’t stop listening to on the radio, or write witty blog posts/columns that you can’t stop reading.  Those people have endless amounts of talent (and training, and practice) that separate them from the crowd.  Even if someone is truly passionate about their one topic and has the DNA of an entrepreneur, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can be creative enough or interesting enough to make a living out of their personal brand.  Vaynerchuk may truly believe this to be the case, or maybe I interpreted his message incorrectly, but I think it is dangerous to tell everyone and anyone that their passion can be their payday simply by using a little elbow grease and flexing some social media muscles.

To summarize, I think the message behind the book is phenomenal, and I agree with it 100%.  I also love the inspiring nature of loving what you do for a living, and the importance of building a personal brand  (*Note: He is definitely correct that one's web presence will become, if it hasn't already, the resume of the 21st century).  However, I caution some of the readers to be wary that it is rare to become a Perez Hilton, or a Deadspin, or a Wine Library TV.  To truly take that leap requires talent, dedication, belief in oneself, and incredibly risk-seeking entrepreneurial DNA that isn’t for everyone.  And on top of that, you need to get lucky.  Really lucky.

Part 2: The Thank You Economy here