Everyone knows Moore’s Law, that semiprocessor power doubles every 18 months. I asked if there was a similar law for solar panel efficiency. George Davis said no, mainly because his product is dependent on outside conditions like the weather. Solar panels are more effective in California than in Germany.
Some speakers are very good and know how to be interesting. They will take whatever question you ask and run with it. With these speakers, you want to ask a general question and let them run with it. These types of speakers are also good at ignoring the question you asked and answering the question you probably should have asked, or the question they want to answer.
Other speakers will stick to generalities, like “We worked hard and we had a lot of success.” Faced with this type of speaker it’s best to get very specific about what you want to hear about. “Could you tell us about the single biggest mistake you’ve made during your time here?” George Roberts, while brilliant, falls into the second category of speaker.
The BusinessWeek article about their plan to emulate Berkshire Hathaway was based off of one comment they made; while it would be great to be Berkshire, that’s not really their plan.
KKR is going public because the only way to grow their business is through growing the amount of assets they control. They can get more money if they go public. They’ve tried to go public four different times but failed; if your idea makes sense, be persistent.
One of their biggest mistakes was not changing management quickly enough. It’s hard to fire someone.
I asked Mr. Roberts if it was true that he used to spend lots of time proposing acquisitions while he was in school. He said yes; he would look up companies in an industry magazine and then write proposals. If the company didn’t write him back, it only cost a postage stamp. That’s a great attitude. Now it’s even cheaper, because of email. While striking a deal or getting someone important to write back is low, the cost of sending email or a letter is lower.
Another student asked his opinion on the financial crisis. Roberts in turn asked the student what he thought. The student said he didn’t know, so Roberts asked him what his gut told him. I thought that was interesting, because a lot of times your gut reaction is misleading. Consider most people’s gut reaction to a minimum wage, to a bubble or to free trade.
Roberts told us to go work for a company that sells a product, so that we can learn how businesses work. You can’t really learn about that on Wall Street.
I asked Roberts how he negotiates. He said most of all people do business with people that they like and trust. And that you need to be able to listen to what other people want. Good advice, I guess.
It’s important to have good chairs. Without further ado:
3. Applied Materials
5. Meebo (excellent chairs, but lose points for only having six)
The trip started off with a very nice young lawyer showing us the campus and telling us about all of the Google perks and quirks. For example, every worker must be within 150 feet of free food, the building numbers start at 42, some guy built a vending machine that displays prices based on how healthy things are, we take lots of awesome trips, here’s a screen that shows what people are searching for in real time, etc. These are traps. The message that everyone should have taken from all of this is, We are fucking good at selling ads. They only afford all of the perks because the people that work there are unbelievably talented, and they don’t want those people worrying about anything besides organizing and archiving all of the world’s information, and otherwise doing really cool shit. All of the perks are like flashy traps. Never forget that Google is really good at making money.
Google is also very good at a meta level; they’re not only good at delivering relevant search results and selling ads but they’re also good at being a company. Everything at Google is well thought through, and works well. While you’re on the toilet, you can read a daily 1-page tutorial on good coding practice. The company is constantly re-evaluating what they are doing and the sort of proceses they use. The word several employees used is “It’s a mess around here right now.” It was a similar to the practice of the best teachers in the Atlantic article on great teachers from a few days ago – when evaluators want to come see them, they all say that the evaluator can’t come in right now, because they’re revamping their whole math curriculum or implementing a new module. The theme is constant improvement. Google is trying desperately hard to stay nimble and maintain the ethos of a small startup.
I observed that Google employees are very good at getting things done. When something should be done, like the chairs are uncomfortable or the recycling program stinks, Google people are very likely to just do it. Respect.
When you assemble the world’s greatest talent in one area and create an amazing culture, you can do unbelievable things. Most of the world’s greatest works of art were produced in two Italian towns in a period of about 100 years, during the Renaissance. The University of Chicago had pretty much every good economist and finance professor in the 70′s and 80′s – Fama, French, Coase, Milton Friedman, Gary Becker, Black and Scholes, Harry Markowitz, Kenneth Arrow and Friedrich Hayek were all there. I would argue there’s a similar concentration of talent in Silicon Valley right now.
Job titles are irrelevant. No one at the company does exactly the same thing for very long – people get shifted around within the company, they work on different projects, they learn about new things. The needs of a company change rapidly, so the idea of training people for specific tasks (or even trying to centrally manage an economy) is a little silly.
Monetary compensation isn’t as high as at other companies but Google outspends everyone else on perks, and rewards its top talent very well (In the range of baseball player salaries, according to Jonathan Rosenberg). Most people in SV are very focused on work-life balance; short commutes, and doing a job that doesn’t drive you up a wall with boredom or frustration. SV people recognize the importance of quality of life.
Jonathan Rosenberg is one of the top people at Google. He compared career hunting to surfing; your goal is to catch a big wave and ride it. Rosenberg continually tried to figure out what the next new thing in technology was, from creating information systems within companies, to helping companies collect outside information, to creating fast Internet connections, and finally search, moving from company to company as the hot new product changed. Larry Page and Sergey Brin convinced him of the money in search when they said, “Search is the moment that the user tells the computer what you’re looking for.”
It’s interesting to see how companies divide up the workspace. At Meebo, everyone was out in the open, with three or four people all facing each other in clusters. Same at Atlassian. At Google and EA, most people had three-person cubicles. EMC had tall individual cubicles you couldn’t see over, and corner offices. Google also had these cool yurt things that blocked out sound and had individual temperature control. Pretty cool.
Everyone has at least two screens, usually giant ones. Those aren’t cheap; companies must realize that having so many screens helps productivity.
The question ramble: In the face of silence, people get nervous. I love when someone asks a question and then starts to ramble on and on, trying to fill the silence. Often they provide a justificat
When you’re sitting around a conference table, you need to pick your seat well. The best seats are closest to the speaker, on the sides of the table. The next best seats are at the other end of the table, directly facing the speaker. The next best seat is in front of the speaker, so that if you were facing the table your back would be to the speaker (if chairs are there). The worst is on the sides, away from the speaker. Often the speaker takes the side of the table closest to the door. It’s a tactical mistake to walk all the way into the room and take the furthest seat; you want to take the best seat and leave the stragglers in the worst spots.
The opposite strategy applies for sitting in the backseat of a crowded car. The last person in the car never sits in the middle seat. Thus, delay moving towards the car by all possible means.
Google Labs are a way of telling employees that there aren’t any rules about which products get chosen; if you have a product you can put it in Labs. To get a product out of Labs, it needs to get used a lot. Google doesn’t care much about profitability for their products, because they make so much from ads. They have the luxury of time that many other startups don’t.
Rosenberg told a great story about how an internship he applied for came down to the final two applicants, himself and Mr. Perfect, who was tall and handsome and beat him at everything. Rosenberg hit it off with the employer’s administrative assistant and Mr. Perfect didn’t, and Rosenberg got the job. “If you want to know which first-year bankers are going to make it, ask the assistants which ones they like. The ones they like are the ones who are successful.” The lesson is be nice to the people that set your schedule; they work harder and for lower pay.
Youtube – Steve Grove ’00
Steve Grove is a great example of someone who gets stuff done. He proposed to the Kennedy School of Government that he would fly around the world and film their graduates doing all of these amazing things, and they agreed to fund him. So he got to go around the world for free and get some experience filming people.
Grove also wrote up YouTube and pitched a politics channel to them. He pretty much built the Youtube politics division from the ground up, and has interviewed many candidates. He took initiative and landed two really cool jobs.
It’s pretty cheap to generate video and post it on Youtube. How long until we have 24-hour coverage of a candidate? The Barack Obama Youtube channel, giving you 24 hours of Barack, commentary on Barack, testimony from voters, donor drives, etc.
Youtube’s starting to transcribe videos. This allows you to get an idea of the speech, and then read the rest of the transcription. You can also search within the video by keyword.
Before the JK Wedding video, Chris Brown’s “Forever” was #270 on the Billboard charts. After the video it shot to #4. Youtube begged UMG not to pull the video, now they share the revenues from ads based on the video. There’s money to be made there, instead of pulling content that you produced.
Lockheed Martin’s only customer is the government, and they don’t have much competition, so I knew their facilities and company paraphernalia were going to be outdated and corny, but I didn’t expect them to be so outdated and corny. Walking into Lockheed Martin was like walking into a time machine. I doubt anyone at the company will ever check this blog, so I’ll say what I feel.
At the start of our visit we were ushered into a conference room, where a woman named Connie joked with us about acronyms. “What does POS mean?” she asked. The adults volunteered point-of-sale. “What else?” We all think it means “piece of shit,” but we weren’t about to say that. Connie says, “Parent over shouder! Right?” I thought this was funny, but we’d soon realize Connie had no idea of the other meaning of POS.
We then were played a series of Powerpoint slides with a voice-over. The voice over said things like, “At Lockheed we care about freedom, integrity, and ethics. We uphold the highest ethics and work to keep America free.” Clearly, Lockheed missed the presentation in third grade that explained you need to show that these things are true, instead of telling people about them. Hell, Soviet Russia wrote all sorts of beautiful things about the proletariat and the values of socialism, but when it comes down to it, Stalin killed over 30 million people through mismanagement. My point is that actions speak much, much louder than words. If you want to convince us you’re an ethical company tell us a story about some government official who wanted you to do something slightly unethical, and how LM refused to do it, or how LM debates the morality behind every new project it takes, or relate to your colleagues in a way that exudes trust and confidence. Don’t put that shit on a Powerpoint slide, because no one believes it.
Connie started talking about how she left the company but came back to it because of its superior ethics. I asked her to be more specific about the ethics involved at Lockheed Martin, because I was curious about the answer, considering that many people would consider it unethical to have an inherent interest in the growth of the defense industry, the placement of production facilities in many different politically states, and the production of weapons and systems that are used to kill innocent people. I’m not kidding, Connie was unable to produce an answer better than “The ethics here are good,” and this is the person you put in the front of the room to introduce the company to prospective hires? I just checked out their website, which is significantly better, but the whole thing reeked of a company that hasn’t faced much competitive pressure in some time.
We were taken on a tour of two separate facilities. The first was a giant room that tests optics for giant lenses like the kind that get put in telescopes like the Hubble. Pretty technologically impressive although I wondered about the cost and other things and the questions could not be answered, of course, because of confidentiality.
The second one was a facility that makes solar panels of the sort that get put on the wings of the Space Station and most satellites. I was amazed to learn that one panel, 15 feet x 5 feet, produces about 1000 watts, or slightly more than enough power for the average lightbulb. Power in space is at an extreme premium. Apparently you can’t just load the ship with lots of batteries, because they’re heavy and don’t last as long as the satellite’s expected life. The technology here was impressive as well.
Almost all of the CMC alums we’ve met so far have been white, and the vast majority have been men. The successful alums will mirror the composition of the school 20 to 30 years ago, which was overwhelmingly white and male. This doesn’t look so good today but I don’t know a good way around the problem. Hopefully people will understand that change is slow.
One CMC alum at LM spoke very slowly and idiosyncratically, which affected the way we thought about the things he was saying, and probably our initial opinion of his competence. I wonder why people like that do not hire speech coaches. Perhaps they are unaware of the problem, or the way they come off to others? Obtaining reliable feedback is difficult. He may be doing fine with his current speech patterns but he could be doing much better if he learned to speak in a natural way, pausing in appropriate places, putting the accents on the right words and raising and lowering his voice appropriately. Marshall McLuhan is still alive.
In the Q&A I tried to ask about the competition, to get the execs to speak about their business and the inherent inefficiencies, and Chris Jones asked about fixed-rate contracts vs. cost-plus contracts. The principal agent problem is alive and well in government contracting, and many rationalizations were floated, from providing a quality product for a high price to protecting America to being a ’boutique’ client, who charges high prices but delivers a quality product as well. Currently government officials cannot do fixed-price contracts because they make too many changes to the products they ask for. This is unfortunate.
I could never work for Lockheed Martin.
EMC brought a bunch of employees from all different areas of the business in front of us to tell their story and answer questions. While it’s entertaining to hear about people’s life stories, they only had a short amount of time in front of us and I wish we could have made more of it. For example, one sales executive started talking about how he set the record in Nordstrom single-day shoe sales with more than $10K in sales in one day. That’s outstanding, and since we’ve figured out the most interesting conversation we can have, let’s discuss sales for the next 20 minutes; I don’t need to hear about three other companies that you went to where you also were outstanding at selling products. Unfortunately most of my colleagues disagreed with me.
It was nice to hear from a bunch of different employees about what they did at EMC and what their jobs entailed. However it’s difficult to get a sense of how someone is as a manager from listening to them speak. Some people are good at speaking and could be bad bosses. Others are probably not very good public speakers but know exactly how to motivate people. I’m not sure the halo effect applies here – if being good at speaking means you’re probably also an effective manager.
Marketing differed by the age of the company, throughout the week. The newest companies we went to were the most interested and the most effective at using Twitter and Facebook to put their message out. Other companies were not able to do this so much. This could also be because the old companies are generally bigger companies.
There’s no such thing as a common acquisition; each acquisition is unique and each company is unique.
Are Australians really cooler than the rest of us or is a selection bias at play? Maybe all of the boring, uncouth Australians don’t make it offshore.
Repeating Peter Diamandis’s theme from yesterday, one of the key ways to contribute as a young person is to be extraordinarily enthusiastic. You need to give people a reason to recommend you and being enthusiastic is the best way to do it. If you do every task assigned to you extremely well, and ask for more work and do that extremely well then you’re someone that people are going to recommend to future employers. At our young age, we don’t know much about anything. Enthusiasm is key.
Several people at EMC told us that we should engage in more informational interviews. Hardly anyone says no to an informational interview (if you frame it in terms of “I need your help”), and you get to advertise yourself for free, plus I really like talking to people about what they do and what types of problems they solve.
One executive told a story about an acquisition that was almost complete, until the EMC execs and the company’s execs had a party, and it went “like a junior high dance, with all the EMC people on one side and the other company’s people on the other.” This emphasizes the importance of being likable, and selling yourself to people. If you are likable, and you can make other people feel good when they’re around you, doors are going to open. If not, you might succeed by sheer force but the odds are strongly not in your favor.
More good advice was to be extremely flexible. Prove you can do the work they assign you to and then you’ll be given better work and more responsibility. The key is to get in the door.
EMC gets points for staying away from slides and telling stories. Most of the speakers were very good at telling stories. Almost all said “That’s a good question” after the question asker wrapped up. I don’t know if they practiced that sort of thing but it makes the question asker feel very good, and it’s a good habit to develop.
It’s important to develop mentors that are outside of your direct company line, so that you have someone to turn to when you have an ethical decision that does not have a vested interest in the answer.
EMC had high cubicles and corner offices. I understand the company’s big but I think the open office is a much better solution. Cubicles serve mostly to preserve and reaffirm the status of the cubicle dweller.
One person who came and spoke to us found every single job he’d been at because a friend recommended him to the boss. Nepotism is alive and well. Networking is an important skill; everyone needs to get people in their corner, who would be willing to go to war for them. This is much harder than getting good grades.
Electronic Arts had by far the best presentation of any of the companies we’ve been to so far. This is partly because they have excellent facilities, including a gym and fitness room (and gave us a product we wanted, a free EA game from the company store) and because as a large company that hires lots of college grads, they’re clearly used to showing college kids around.
What’s the most interesting conversation that we can have? That’s what I want to know and what I’m trying to talk to people about, especially because we don’t have that much time to talk to any one person. I would rather not waste time talking about what my favorite EA titles are. Today I tried to jump in by asking people what they are thinking about or working on right now, with good results. However,
I need to be careful because people expect me not to know anything. Silicon Valley execs were once young college students, and then they graduated and learned everything they needed to about how to run things, be effective, make good decisions and create value for a company. Currently I am a young college student; my role is to be a sponge. Tomorrow I will ask for advice instead.
An executive at EA repeated the line we heard yesterday about Wii bowling tournaments at retirement homes.
The number of different skills required to successfully produce a game is astounding. EA needs a great story, great engineers, great artists, and managers that can make eighty people work together and get a complex product out the door, when everyone’s going to want to stuff more features into it.
EA is currently producing a game called Dante’s Inferno, with nine levels based on the nine circles of hell. One member of our group wanted more stories based on classic stories. The developer pointed out the problem, which is that in good stories, not very much actually happens. Most storytelling involves setting the scene, describing the relations of the characters to each other and the changes in status that arise from events in the story. But in a videogame, especially an action game like the type the developer makes, you need lots of action and bad guys, all of the time. Video sequences in between the action can only tell so much of the story and give the player so much accomplishment. For a further dramatization of this point compare the fight sequences in Star Wars Episode 5 between Darth Vader and Luke (lots of conversation and emotion; little sword play), which are excellent, with the fight sequences in Star Wars Episode 1 after Qui-Gon is killed (lots of choreographed sword play, which is easy for video games to reproduce, but little passion and little story).
In Dante’s Inferno the main character is a pretty evil guy, with a dark history who does evil things throughout the game. We can root for this character in a video game but not in a movie; why? Off the top of my head, the audience is different, we are playing up the differences between protagonists in movies and video games, when we are the one controlling the character we think differently, or we think video games are “less real” than movies.
An EA executive mentioned his current project was to get his engineers to be more accepting of change. This point is echoed in FP2P by one of the interviewers, who points out how hard it is for any country to stay at the forefront of technological progress. To reach the bleeding edge a country must be willing to accept rapid and uncomfortable change, but once it experiences success the vested interests and the technology that got the country to the top begin to try to protect their interests against future upstarts, through legislation or by discouraging the competition. If I have five engineers that are using Maya, they’re going to compare themselves based on how good they are at using Maya. The best Maya programmer doesn’t want to switch to a new, better technology because he’s already the best.
In my opinion, EA still has a significant problem allowing users to share stories between game players and non-game players. Obviously they are excellent at developing a story within a game and allowing collaboration, competition and networking between players of that game. But if I spend three hours playing Madden and then my girlfriend asks me what I’ve been up to, what kind of story can I tell her? “I was down 14 points in the fourth quarter and then came back and won the game” is not compelling to a person who’s never played the game. In that sense while games offer utility to the people who play them, they don’t give players a story they can tell to non-players. When everyone in your network plays the same game, this isn’t a problem.
Just like every five year old wants to be Spiderman or a pro sports player, every high school and college kid looking to work in the Valley wants to work for Apple, Google, or start the next Twitter. Atlassian isn’t the sort of place college kids dream about working it’s where Silicon Valley bread is buttered; creating a good product that businesses and developers need, even if it has no flash to it.
Atlassian was profitable from day one and took no VC funding. Outstanding.
Because the developers were Australian, they had to do all of their sales over the web, which isn’t common for enterprise software. This led them to keep the product cheap, and make it absolutely exceptional. Both of those steps were crucial to their business.
Everyone at Atlassian said how much they enjoyed working there. The benefits are good and everyone works out in the open in the same office.
Atlassian’s in an extremely competitive industry; there are over 50 difference corporate wiki products, many issue/bug trackers and Atlassian competes both with enterprise giants like Oracle and Microsoft and with free products. It’s not hard to be cheaper than the large clients but the software also has to be good enough to justify paying about $1000 for a license. They are thus extremely sensitive to quality, making their issue tracker public, and allowing everyone to see feature requests.
I asked whether people steal the product, considering that Atlassian gives away the source code with every license. The company said yes, and that they don’t do anything about it because people who want to steal the product are going to steal it. Businesses don’t really want to steal things though, so they get enough paying customers.
We got onto the subject of blogs because the marketing team said that blogs are an important part of their marketing strategy, because they have to create and deliver a great experience for their customers. We then were told how blogs let us advertise how we think about things and that a blog is a good landing page for companies trying to find out more about you. Sounds great.
Luck has been another resonant theme of this trip. I spoke to one executive at Atlassian whose first company sold out to Cisco, I think, for $1.2 billion and second company sold to another large SV firm for $300 million. Other people became extremely rich and powerful because they were one of the founding members of a startup, or were in the right place at the right time. Some lucky people are probably not so good and some people that worked at failed companies are good. Of course, by virtue of being a rich white male over six feet tall, I have already hit the jackpot.
We also had a dinner in the city with entrepreneurs, which was fun, but it’s getting late here. Entrepreneurs aren’t very different than the rest of us, or more risky, but they are extremely good at getting things done and running projects. They also prefer to be their own boss. I’ll leave you with this video by Pete Diamandis about energetic fundraising. Tomorrow: Lockheed Martin and EMC.
I’m currently in Silicon Valley on a networking trip sponsored by my school’s Information Technology Advisory Board. Each day, we visit two companies, and each night I will post summaries and thoughts. Here’s the recap of Monday’s action.
A common misconception about people from Silicon Valley is that they don’t care much about their appearance. That’s crap; most people that I’ve seen care very much about their appearance. They just care about it in different ways than we are used to. Case in point: our host, Scott Mauvais ’90, wore a ponytail to his mid-back, which is probably a very credible signal for non-tech types.
At the same time, it quickly became clear that while Mauvais was knowledgeable about Microsoft and cared about the company, his area of expertise was limited to what he worked on, which was very much about enterprise software and very little about competing with Apple or putting together Windows Vista. Many answers started off with “I only know what I’ve been reading in the paper.” Students continued to ask detailed questions about other Microsoft departments.
Many students also enjoy using questions as signaling. If you hear anyone open a question with “I spent last summer doing X” or “I did a computer science assignment on X,” you can stop listening immediately, because they’ve already shared every bit of information that they care about sharing.
Most new Microsoft Stores have clauses in their contract that prohibit the landlord from allowing an Apple Store within a certain perimeter of the Microsoft Store. If an Apple Store moves within that range they have to pay 50% of the Microsoft store’s rent, we were told.
Mauvais had a good insight about the Mac vs. PC debates. For Microsoft, it didn’t make much sense to spend a whole lot of money fighting the Apple campaign, because if Apple increases its market share from 6% to 12% Microsoft’s revenues are not hurt very much. However, the campaign allowed Apple to define Windows in a negative light. Microsoft was not able to define Windows in a positive light.
Microsoft is trying very hard to move people away from keyboards and mice. I have seen the future, and it is a touch interface. Touch interface is more precise and allows for multi-touch and intuitive gestures. Microsoft had some cool demo touch screen interfaces, and a Windows Surface and they were pretty cool. It’s clear that we are just scratching the surface as to the best ways to interact and operate a touch screen computer. Unfortunately only two companies (Microsoft and Apple) are working on improving this interaction. We will see when Apple’s tablet comes out but I bet it will do very well.
Microsoft has bigger fish to fry than personal software; it will continue to lose the public relations debate to Apple, because Apple’s primary focus is on products for personal use. Microsoft has the enterprise market pretty much cornered (and still has an unbelievable edge in desktop computers). It will lose the PR battle but earn lots of money. This was also a constant theme in Mauvais’s responses. “We’re too busy making money,” etc.
Microsoft epitomizes the feature creep problem. When you have half a billion users or so, every single one of the features in their products is used by someone, who will be angry when that feature changes or is removed. Fifty percent of “new-feature” requests for Microsoft Office were for features that were already a part of the product.
Meebo is probably the exact opposite of Microsoft: only 60 employees and the whole company is located on two floors. Our host was Robert Leon ’04, whose appearance was also carefully calculated. Robert pitches Meebo to other companies.
In the old days (and by “old days” I mean several years ago), most people found content by punching in queries to Google and entering sites through Google. Hence companies spent a lot of money on search engine optimization. Now, users are increasingly being driven to content through friends, via Facebook or Twitter or RSS. Thus sharing, and tools for sharing are extremely important. According to Meebo no one (fewer than 0.3% of users) clicks on the “Share This” links at the bottom of blog posts or on most web pages.
The most important lesson from Meebo was listen to your customers. Meebo started out as a chat client that allowed users on various platforms (AIM, Facebook, MSN Messenger etc) to talk to each other. That’s only a small part of their business now; the most profitable part of their business is that they figured out a way to allow people to share links and videos, really easily. Here is a video demo of the sharing software.
So far, the most effective innovation for sharing Web content has been YouTube’s putting the video URL immediately next to the video you are watching. I never thought about that before.
Meebo has over 100 million users (“reach,” in the sales community) so they are a valuable source for businesses like, for example, movie studios, who need to push awareness of their movie and have a big opening weekend.
Robert made the excellent observation that when you are fresh out of college, you do not know anything. So in job interviews, you need to act extremely interested in the company at hand, and also act like someone who people would enjoy hanging out with. Especially at a startup, it’s important to be able to work well with colleagues, and be enthusiastic enough about the product to put in long hours. Robert pointed out that you don’t learn much in a liberal arts college except “how to think.” I would not even argue that much. Robert was, however, the social chair at CMC. Being a social chair is excellent preparation for a career in sales, and for making people feel comfortable around you, probably much more useful at the margin than trying for an excellent GPA.
Meebo subjects all new hires to an extremely extensive interview process. Not only does this show the applicant that Meebo cares but it’s an effective way to vet applicants. They also make every applicant go through a simulation of job tasks, so the sales people have to pitch the product to the hiring committee, or an administrative assistant has to explain what they’d do if the boss’s pager went working. This is excellent practice, as work sample tests are the most effective predictor of whether someone will be good at their job. In a small firm the costs of a bad hire are tremendous; it’s very important to get the position right. In general they like to promote people from within the firm, but if you need a lot of experience quickly they’ll go outside.
Meebo had this cool chart of how people communicate – you have Private and Public on one axis, and Real Time and Asynchronous on the other axis. So this is the breakdown:
Private, Real Time is SMS and Instant Messenger;
Private, Asynchronous is email;
Public, Real Time is Twitter;
Public, Asynchronous is like Facebook walls.
We use all of these technologies. Everything in the industry is moving towards Real Time for everything. I handle SMS and email in the same program. The line between Private and Public is strong. But it’s a reminder that how you choose to communicate with someone is as important as the content. Marshall McLuhan lives!
“Startups either have customers or they have a business plan. Very few have both.” I don’t know enough about startups to say whether or not that’s true.
Static clients like AIM are dead. Everything is moving within other applications like Gmail chat or Facebook chat. That’s why Meebo had to adapt and move into other people’s sites, rather than staying with Meebo.com. Only a small percentage of their traffic is still using Meebo.com.
At dinner I sat next to a very successful executive who sells smart energy and renewable energy products. He also has three houses, one of which is one of about forty properties on a man-made lake in Palm Springs. His wife works at a solar energy company and agreed that lots of the gain people get from generating their own energy is canceled out by increased energy use; it’s not clear whether utility companies are actually substituting out of coal and into renewable energy, or just adding more renewable energy to their ‘portfolio.’ Solar technology is rapidly becoming cheaper.
This is turning into an essay, but I’ll close by saying that I need to work on being less critical. It is way too easy to be critical, especially because a lot of academia demands it; not many teachers ask you to write a complimentary essay. As Mr. Leon pointed out, a lot of your job qualification at this point is just being someone who people enjoy being around. I need to make my business more about making the people around me feel good.
Tomorrow: Electronic Arts, Atlassian and a dinner with entrepreneurs, including the CEO of Scribd. I’ll try to refrain from asking the VP of Marketing when Sim City 5 is going to come out.