Thursday, February 4, 2016

Zero Fixed Cost Mass Transit

I published this post on Medium as an experiment. You can find it here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Startups and Small Businesses: Stop Focusing on Bandwidth

Most people focus on bandwidth when they think about internet connections, but speed is only one metric for measuring internet performance. Often it's not even the right one. For example, for real-time applications such as voice and video calling, what matters most is reliability. VoIP conversations (including Skype, WhatsApp, and Google Hangout voice calls) take up minimal bandwidth - much less than 1Mb - but bandwidth has to be consistent. Even a momentary dip in bandwidth - or a couple of seconds of downtime - can make conversation impossible.

With residential internet technologies, such as cable, DSL, or Fios - even though the physical medium for Fios is fiber, its architecture is effectively still residential-grade - your actual bandwidth is constantly fluctuating and rarely if ever reaches 100% of your advertised bandwidth. It may even drop to zero at points. That's because you are also sharing that bandwidth with your neighbors in your building, and possibly your block.

I've tried to illustrate this with the image below:

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Who Owns Technology Spend?

I was listening to an a16z podcast on the way home about legacy businesses navigating the digital world, and I was struck by the following statistic: according to 2015 PwC's Digital IQ survey, 68% of enterprise tech spending this year is happening outside of the the IT organization. Even more striking, this number was only 32% in 2013. That's a 45% CAGR; the percentages controlled by the IT org and the rest of the business have flipped in only two years.

Since total tech spending can't be shrinking, there are two explanations.  Either the IT organization's budget is being shifted to other parts of the business; or the growth in the tech spend outside of IT must be growing even faster than 45% yoy. That's an insane growth rate and if it is correct, an insane opportunity.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

One Simple Customer Service Fix

Have you ever noticed that e-commerce receipts and online reservations tend to come from an email address in the form of "", followed by a message at the bottom of the email reminding you not to reply to that email? There's such an easy fix to this that it's embarrassing the customer service industry hasn't caught on.

Here's one that I got from Enterprise Car Share, a ZipCar competitor (red highlights mine; personal information removed):

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Don't Guess, Learn

I'm currently building a product for WiredScore. We're not talking about the product publicly, so that's all I'm going to say about it.

To continue learning to be a better product manager, even while I'm practicing, I've been immersing myself in the best talks and videos on product management I can find. This morning while getting ready I watched this great video by Tom Chi on Rapid Prototyping at Google X. And Tom did really rapid prototyping; the first prototype of Google X took him about an hour, and they produced 15 hardware prototypes a week.

If there's one line to take away from Tom's talk it's, "Don't guess, learn." (link goes to a two-minute clip of just that section). Most meetings are "big guessathons." "I think the customer will want this." "I think they'll want that." "Stop guessing, go build the thing, and learn," Tom says. It's good advice. Most of us won't have access to the tools, brainpower, and endless test subjects that Tom had at Google, but I'm going to do my best to stay in this ethos.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Buzzfeed Explained

I think it's safe to say that Buzzfeed remains an enigma to most people, even in the digital media industry. They do things so differently than everyone else [1] and in such a non-obvious way [2], and yet how is it that they are worth so much [3]?

There's been a lot of talk about their internal tools and platforms, but since no one outside the company uses them, they remain shrouded in speculation. How else can you explain Episode 40 of The Exponent podcast by Ben Thompson and James Allworth, two of the most respected tech and digital media analysts out there. At around 16:55 of the episode, James asks Ben, "Have you seen any of their tools? ... There's all this talk about the tools and the learning organization. I understand it conceptually, but if you're a writer sitting down to write one day at Buzzfeed ... what is it that the system gives you that gives you an edge over the competition?" Ben then hypothesizes that it's about making it easier to create a listicle, and then makes some other highly abstract conjectures about the tools, what works, what channels to use, ending with, "quite frankly I don't see how that's any different than a newspaper sharing its actual page with an advertiser. They're just sharing the tool, and the canvas. They're not sharing the actual writers ... " [4]

But Chris Dixon and Jonah Peretti sat down last August for a podcast, and did a pretty good job of explaining exactly how and why Buzzfeed works, in concrete enough terms that I feel like I finally get it. There's no need to explain how listicles and adorable cat pictures work, but I'll do my best to try and unpack the three parts of Buzzfeed that are perhaps less obvious based on what I've heard other say about them:

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Rise of the New Edtech

Edtech used to be this sleepy, backwards corner of the technology industry where idealistic entrepreneurs with fantastic ideas and even fantastic products would try to make enterprise sales to impossible educational bureaucracies – I saw this firsthand when I sat on the Wharton Technology Advisory Board, and we were relatively one of the best technology organizations out there - only to burn out or sell for disappointing outcomes in the best cases. 

In recent years though a couple of factors have pushed ed-tech forward to the point where LinkedIn would pay $1.5Bn to acquire