Here is a cool article about the top 10 geek business myths. Here is my favorite one:
Myth #3: Someone will steal your idea if you don’t protect it.
Reality: No one gives a damn about your idea until you actually succeed and by then it’s too late. Even on the off chance that you do manage to stumble across someone who is as excited about your idea as you are, if they have any brains they will join you rather than try to beat you. (And if they don’t have any brains then it doesn’t matter what they do.)
This also applies to newbie science fiction writers, who are concerned about someone lifting their brilliant high concept ideas. Great, you’ve got a cool idea. That plus a year spent writing 100,000 words equals a novel. People that think the idea is a thing worth protecting don’t seem to understand that 99.44% of the value is in the execution. There are very few ideas so compelling and world changing that just knowing it changes the game. In fact, sometimes you see people with a great idea rolling out an execution so crappy that it kills the idea and someone later has to rehabilitate the value of the original premise.
As of last Friday, I work for the third largest MSSP (managed security services provider.) It’s the largest “pure play” company now, meaning that we are the biggest company not in any other business but this. It’s not a sidelight, it’s the only thing we do and we focus on doing it well. Thus far, the customers seem to agree with us.
I found out about this Monday as did all the employees of the former LURHQ, but it was embargoed until today. I’m not sucking up when I say that I’ve seen a lot of mergers and buyouts of companies I’ve been involved with, and this is the one that makes the most sense of any of them. SecureWorks and LURHQ had complementary strengths that are so complementary as to be nearly disjoint. They focussed on customers of different sizes, on different technologies of protection and monitoring. The thing where they (now we) do line up is on culture, specifically the focus on customer service. That’s really the heart of this whole game. You might think it’s all about whizzy technology but it’s mostly about a timely and professional phone call from a calm sounding person that knows what they are talking about.
Like I said, the clientele is almost completely complementary. Of the combined customer list, only four or so were ones that the two companies would have previously been in competition for. That’s less than 0.5%. It can always be awkward when you have a merger of two fierce competitors and suddenly your enemies are your best friends. That’s not the case here. The former companies worked sufficiently different ecological niches as to have been in almost no direct competition.
I’m excited about the future. I had no idea something like this was on the horizon when I joined up a few months ago but I’m looking forward to seeing it out.
This post complies with my work blogging rules of the road.
I mostly agree with this article from the Podcast NYC blog – killing podcasting one VC dollar at a time. I’ll admit that I have a pretty strong hard-off for Odeo, because I’m still bugged at all the fawning “Oh, here comes Evan to save podcasting” bullshit with folks talking about how wonderful they were as a company months before they released anything. Even now, a year and a half later, I don’t see that they have brought that much to the table.
My stand on VC money in any startup comes from years of firsthand experience. I worked for Web 1.0 companies whose primary business turned out to be getting VC capital, and the nominal business of the company turned out to be a sideline. I think after years of seeing VC money flow in, and zero positive outcomes from any company I have been closely associated with, I can boil this down to a sound bite:
VC money is to a business what chemotherapy is to a patient. You only use it when the recipient would die otherwise, and you have to be prepared that the treatment will wreak terrible changes and possibly be as bad as the disease.
I heard an interesting talk on IT Conversations, Thomas Malone on the future of work. The basic thesis is that democracy is a function of the cost of communication, and that as communication costs dropped in society democracy emerged in governance. He posits that we will see democracy in business governance in the same sort of way. I can tell you that I’m a beneficiary of that sort of work organization, where cheap communications obviate my having to sit in an office with everyone else.
I have a magic phone on my desk, where I can dial an extension that rings hundreds of miles away, the main number can rollover to me if so desired, and my voicemails get emailed to me as an attachment. The majority of communication with my coworkers actually occurs via instant message. To me, the idea that less of our energy of the workday (human and chemical and mechanical) goes into moving our atoms from home to work and back and more goes into moving ideas and electrons is a win for everyone.
And in a barely related topic, somewhere around here is the five year anniversary of the only layoff of my career. Now there’s an event that changed my relationship with work permanently. When a company that asked so much of me professionally and personally threw me overboard for their own convenience, it forever altered how I look at such requests.
I’ve decided that anytime the phrase “our call is important to us” is uttered to me, unless a live human being is actually speaking it to me, I am going to interpret it as antagonistic bullshit that is self-evidently a lie. If my call actually was more important than keeping call center headcount down, I wouldn’t be listening to your recording in the first place. Do what you have to, but don’t lie to me so transparently as if I don’t understand what is going on. It makes me madder hearing that phrase from a recording than nothing at all.
This thought occurred to me the other day, as the sales of the stuff packages have led to a little buildup of money in my Paypal account that I have not yet converted to actual folding money. How much money sits in the Paypal system in steady state? They charge for some of their services, but I wonder how much money they make from the interest on the float of the cash that sits in their system before you take it out. If you have 10 million users that have an average of $100 sitting in their accounts, that’s a billion dollars. Now you are starting to talk about real money, kids.
Here’s an interesting post from Mark Cuban (whose blog I have just started reading regularly.) He wants to compile statistics on how file-sharing has affected industries to test the RIAA’s claims that it has hurt their business. He points out that DVDs, photographs and video games have all seen their sales go way up. He then points out:
The RIAA claims that sales of the top 100 CDs sold 195mm units in 1999, materially above the 154mm units sold in 2004. Which leads to a question. Are sales down due to filesharing, or have RIAA members just lost marketshare ?
I contend RIAA sales are down because they lost marketshare. There are more CDs being self published or released by non RIAA members than ever before. Sales from websites, concerts and car trunks are taking away sales from traditional labels. Access and awareness of that music has exploded through webradio, websites, p2p, satellite radio and tours
Right on Mark Cuban! What kind of knucklehead uses those stats anyway – the top 100 CDs have seen their sales go down? That is indistinguishable from just changing the mix away from blockbuster sellers. These folks are book-cooking, number-fudging, disingenuous bastards with their math, and no statistic they trot out should ever be taken at face value. If they tell me that the day is 24 hours long, I want to see the raw data before I’ll believe it.
Cuban is right when he says they are incorrect to claim that the RIAA is the music business. They have no way of knowing how many CDs were sold, just how many they sold through Soundscan. All those CDs that Michelle Malone and Michelle Shocked sell through their websites, those don’t get added in. All the CDs I’m selling for the Gentle Readers, they don’t know about that. All the sales happening in ways other than reporting retailers, those are off the radar. Don’t believe them when they say it is raining, that’s just them pissing away their business.
Earlier this week, I recieved this email:
Thank you for your recent priceline.com Hotel purchase. Now that you’re back, we’d love to hear about your stay at the Rickeys, A Hyatt Hotel in Palo Alto.
We’ve put together a very brief survey that will only take about 2 minutes of your time to complete. Your feedback will be used to ensure the quality of future hotel stays for you and other priceline.com customers. Click on the button below to take our quick survey now!
Thank you for your participation,
The priceline Hotel Team
I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve pretty much hit the end of my line with this sort of thing. First, none of these things is ever as quick as they say. If they say 2 minutes, you’d be lucky for 5. But more importantly, why do I give a shit? Filling out web surveys is slightly less appealing to me than a trip to the dentist. I’ve stopped getting subscriptions to computer magazines when the only cost was filling one out every 6 months. I don’t like them. Appealing to me that my effort will “ensure the quality of future hotel stays for you and other priceline.com customers” is a losing strategy. That’s baseline. Should the service stop being quality, I stop using you. Helping that happen is your job, not mine.
If you are waiting for me to feel so altruistic that I’ll be delighted to give Priceline my time for free, set the alarm for a quarter past hell-frozen-over. If you want to draw on my good time, bribe me for god’s sake! Make it worth my time. Obviously if I used Priceline to get this hotel room, I’m already a cheap bastard, so maybe I don’t feel like doing your work unpaid. Give me a coupon for a download at the iTunes music store or an Audible download or a Fictionwise ebook. You don’t have to bribe me with a lot, but do something. Otherwise, your appeal goes straight to the bin.
In my reasonably recent past, I had a job I hated. I was far from the only person who hated this job – pretty much every coworker did too. One of those people asked me today, “are we the watercooler gang?” Sadly, I think we were.
We spent a lot of time complaining about how bad things were, but we did better than that. We spent a fair amount of time – sometimes disobeying direct orders not to – building tools and infrastructure to not just stomp the fire but effect a lasting change that would solve this problem not once, but always forevermore. We create build automation when the situation presented to us was “If you want your stuff to go into this version of the product, move your compiled binaries to this folder.” We found we couldn’t live like that, and we pitched fits but more than that we built real solutions to those problems. Slowly, they moved the company from a garage operation to an actual business that could do things like match versions of the released product to the source that built it, standard everyday stuff that should be there in a grown up operation but wasn’t.
If I had it to do all over again, I’m not sure I would. We did an awful lot of complaining, spent a lot of time and energy and emotion raging against the machine. Demonstrably, the company was better off for us having done it but were we? I don’t know. Neither I nor any of my coworkers feel like we ever were or ever will be paid back for the pieces of ourselves that we put into that place. I think my heuristic moving forward is that when presented with thse sorts of problems and after proposing solutions, does the management and structure of the company fight the solution? If so, maybe you shouldn’t put a lot of yourself into this fight. The failure of the joint is a done deal, and you are merely prolonging the inevitable by helping them limp along better. Perhaps it is better to let the situation get worse, such that either they don’t fight your solution or the people fighting it get fired (as did happen at this company eventually.) It is hard, though, for motivated people who want to make things better to sit by and allow them to fester. I do know that the complaining didn’t really help, even though it seemed like a necessary thing to do or else suffering an embolism every day. I wish I had taken all that fire and energy and turned it into something that mattered, though.
We still talk about writing a business book based on the amazing example in how to do nearly everything wrong in an organization. It really was quite amazing. When the VCs gave the company money, I was surprised and frankly disappointed in their shoddy due diligence. My recommendation would have been to keep their cash in their pockets, because this bet ain’t ever paying off. Said book would be a case study for how to take a good idea in a business space with a booming market and a group of smart, motivated developers and parlay that into nothing. My proposed title: “How to Fuck Up a Wet Dream Without Hardly Trying: Case Studies in Destroying Start Ups ”
Just in time for my leaving the company, Orbitz put out a little press release about the seatmap work I did for them. Pretty cool, no? When I first saw this, I thought it was some kind of reportage until I realized it was something Orbitz paid to put on the PR newswire. I do like the headline they have on it – “The End of the Middle Seat Blues”. It was a relatively straightforward thing to do technically, but it seems to have really rocked the world of folks within the company. It’s nice to have done some work that excites people.
Sometimes Dilbert really creeps me out by ceasing to be a comic strip and becoming a documentary of previous jobs I have had.
Here’s what my friend and sometimes programming partner Darin has learned about work from a bad job we have both suffered through together. There is a lot of bitter wisdom in this very short post, all of it learned the hard way.
Today’s Dilbert hits hard. “Never listen to your customers. They were dumb enough to buy your product, so they have no credibility.”
Here’s a story that I really don’t understand. Monsanto, which makes the hormones frequently given to milk cows, is suing a Maine dairy for labeling their milk “hormone free”.
The label, used by Oakhurst Dairy in Portland, states: “Our farmers’ pledge: no artificial growth hormones.” Monsanto sued Oakhurst in July, saying its label implies the dairy’s milk is somehow better than milk from cows treated with recombinant bovine somatotropin , or rBST, a hormone sold by the company under the brand name Posilac. About 17 percent of dairy farmers use rBST, injecting 32 percent of all cows in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Call me stupid, but I don’t see how labeling milk “hormone free” when it is from cows who were given no hormones is actionable. Monsanto isn’t arguing the truth of the claim, just that this implies their hormones are bad. The article says the dairy might settle. I’m no lawyer, but it seems like they might have stood a good chance of prevailing. This strikes me as petulant on Monsanto’s part. They sell their hormones to a lot of dairies in the country, and they want to even prohibit the ones that don’t use hormones from using that as a differentiator. That doesn’t seem right to me. Are they going to sue farmers that label produce “pesticide free” as well?
First, a CNET commentary about IT jobs going offshore entitled “Where did my IT job go?” Next, comes a post from Jeremy Zawodny wondering why CFO jobs aren’t outsourced to India and China? It’s a mostly clerical position. If you can save 70% of the price of a $80K programmer and think that’s just great, how about saving 70 or 80% of of a $700K or $2M CFO? If the labor pool over there is so fucking great, let’s do it! CEO’s, ship your CFO jobs to India! Let’s get a short-term gain in shareholder value and pop champagne! It will be just like when you fire the rank and file, except firing this one guy is like 15 of us! How efficient for everyone.
Here’s a post from Incipient Thoughts on management Panzaism, or the belief that real problems don’t exist and how it cycles with Quixotism. Haven’t we all been in these workplaces?
In another post by Esther Derby, she points to this article in Industry Week by John Brandt about unhappy companies. Here is one of his ways he thinks unhappy companies are all alike:
A belief that employees are dangerous and lazy.
Unhappy companies invariably believe that their employees are out to sabotage the business, and they manage accordingly. All decisions — whether on strategy or coffee for the break room — have to be signed by three layers of management. What unhappy companies fail to understand is that if you treat people as if they’re worthless long enough, eventually they’ll either believe you (and behave accordingly) or they’ll spend all their energy trying to build a paper case that you’re wrong. Either way, your customers (and you) lose. ŽÂŽ
Yowch, I’ve worked in a number of places like this, like practically everyone. There is a lot of wisdom in his observation above about treating people as if they are worthless.
Every so often, I’ll have a window open tailing my apache logs for this weblogs’ server and notice something going nuts. This morning, I saw umpty hundreds hits from the “Waypath Scout v2 (beta)” user agent, all from the same IP address. It was making so many requests in a short period of time that I added its IP to my Deny list. I think 70 in 4 minutes is too many, don’t you? I see that they have some kind of weblog searching service but they really need a lesson in robot etiquette in the worst way. Not a good way to enter the field, friends. I imagine you’ll run across this one day (although not from your own service!) and I left you a feedback on your site. Leave me a writeback if you cleaned up your act and I’ll unblock you.
Here is the official Libertarian Party response to the Rush Limbaugh drug charges. This is strong stuff, and I hope they are right that now that the hypocrisy and double standards of the drug war are so blatantly obvious, policy will change for the better. An excerpt:
“Republican and Democratic politicians have written laws that have condemned more than 400,000 Americans to prison for committing the same ‘crime’ as Rush Limbaugh,” Seehusen pointed out. “If this pill-popping pontificator deserves a get-out-of-jail-free card, these drug warriors had better explain why.” Given their longstanding support for the Drug War, it’s fair to ask:
Why haven’t President George Bush or his tough-on-crime attorney general, John Ashcroft, uttered a word criticizing Limbaugh’s law-breaking? Why aren’t drug czar John P. Walters or his predecessor, Barry McCaffrey, lambasting Limbaugh as a menace to society and a threat to “our children?” Why aren’t federal DEA agents storming Limbaugh’s $30 million Florida mansion in a frantic search for criminal evidence? Why haven’t federal, state, and local police agencies seized the celebrity’s homes and luxury cars under asset-forfeiture laws? Finally, why aren’t bloviating blabbermouths like William Bennett publicly explaining how America would be better off if Limbaugh were prosecuted, locked in a steel cage and forced to abandon his wife, his friends, and his career?
Found this link via Mark Evanier’s News from ME.