Friday, December 21, 2012

Apple - The Great Innovator Or a Bully And a Con?

Check the below article reprinted from  
Apple's glorious "pinch and zoom" patent just got invalidated.  Only a company with the deep pockets of Samsung could pursue the fight all the way to "invalidation", and even after paying Apple about $1 billion awarded by an incompetent jury.Something is profoundly wrong.  Ask yourself how many smaller companies have been put out of business by similar Apple tactics? The irony is that consumers have been bamboozled into believing that Apple is the great innovator on account of these cons.  Was Jobs brilliant at seeing value in other people's ideas and make something of it with brilliant repackaging? Yes absolutely, all the way back to the mid 80's when he ripped off Xerox PARC's mouse, icons and windows UI (Gates and others that saw exactly the same stuff, could also have done the same, but did not "get it" for a few years longer than Jobs).  Unfortunately Apple's deep pockets also allowed it to become a destructive IP bully for which all consumers pay a price.  Small startup innovators cannot defend, they just get put out of business.  The optimist in me likes to think "all cons come to an end", to wit some companies like GM sold junk and lost shareholders value for years but eventually came to their deserved end (unfortunately we also bailed it out and now taxpayers are losing 1/2 their investment thanks to Treasury's decision to unload the stock - but that's another story).
Next time you hear that Apple is king of innovation, remember the story below and ask how many true innovators have been squashed by their con.

Another Apple Patent Gets Smacked Down, And Its 'Thermonuclear War' Becomes Even More Of A Farce

Dan Lyons yesterday

This time it's the so-called "pinch and zoom" patent getting rejected by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and this is a big deal since that patent was one that Apple used to achieve that huge $1 billion verdict against Samsung in a California kangaroo court last summer.
Now what happens? Does the court in California go back and subtract all the damages that the jury awarded to Apple based on this patent that Apple should never have been granted?
Apple took a big victory lap after that ruling but it's looking like maybe it popped the champagne too early.
The ruling by the USPTO is not final, and no doubt Apple will appeal the decision, but suddenly Apple isn't looking so powerful. In fact, it is looking a bit, well, ridiculous. (And  that's the kind word for it.)
The patent was struck down because the USPTO found prior art. Meaning Apple didn't actually invent the stuff it claimed to have invented. It copied it from others, then went and got a patent on it anyway, and then used that bogus patent to sue rivals.
Worse yet for Apple, this new ruling from the USPTO comes just two weeks after the USPTO smacked down another of Apple's patents, one that related to multitouch and was known as the "Steve Jobs" patent.
I wrote at the time that Apple's "thermonuclear patent war" was a farce. Now that farce seems even sillier.

These Ideas Were Around Long Before Apple 'Invented' Them

Monday, October 29, 2012

Killing Your Startup

The post below should be required reading for any entrepreneurship class or prospective entrepreneur.  I've lived it this more than once but did not write it so poignantly about the experience. Anyone who starts "up" is more likely to end here than on top of the mountain simply because there are fewer black swans than we think and we can know only post facto.  The reality is even more grim, because after the difficult and seemingly heroic decision and the catharsis of thank-yous, the drudgery of closing takes months of endurance, one day at a time without the excitement of a dream in the making. It is not for everyone.

Some crazy dreamers have it in their DNA to do it more than once, learn from the experience, try again until they succeed (my bet is that Lucas Rayala is one of them). When they do they will value their success the more knowing how rare it is, but the pain he feels is very real nonetheless.
A note for students: in this shutdown, in the ashes, there may be the seed of  the phoenix's rebirth - If you go to the original post below and read the comments, you'll see that there is one entrepreneur, a stranger, that sees the value of Lucas' dream and efforts.  He offers to discuss collaboration to try and keep Lucas' dream alive. Always keep dreaming, the night is darkest just before the dawn starts.

Killing Your Startup on a Thursday Night

Lucas Rayala (Founder of Altsie)
This is what you do when you close down your startup: you call Rackspace and cancel the Windows SQL server plan. You email SendGrid and give them notice on your Silver SMTP Service Package. You close down your Wells Fargo Business Checking account and your Paypal Merchant account. Glamorous stuff. Harder than that: you email your cofounders and tell them you’re jumping into the deadpool. Your fingers will hover over the keyboard for a long time as you decide what to say. Because now shit is getting real.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Entrepreneurship, Not for Everyone, Salesmanship Is for Everyone

It may be because of where and with whom I hang out, but these days Entrepreneurship seems to be the magic word of the day. Policy makers and economists tell us that with more of it the country will be more competitive, jobs will be created, we will stand up to China, we'll fix the national debt, we'll have a credible national medical insurance, etc. If only we had a Steve Jobs at every corner, the American Dream will be assured. It is all true, but it does not follow that it is true for all.

The message to high school and college grads these days seems to be: it's easy, be an entrepreneur, be a Jobs, or a Zuckerberg, or a Gates,  have an idea and make it a Google. All true and as possible like winning Olympic medals, entering the NBA, winning the lottery, but let's be honest with the youngsters who struggle with figuring out how make a living for their future.  The odds of all of that are pretty low and it takes much more than an idea.

To keep the discussion short, I developed the roadmap below as a way to look at the principles and the details of what I think is in play. As in some of my other posts, I try to synthesize the issues and the logical relationships to be considered to reach a clearer understanding.  The objective is to not waste energy in impossible quests (see "Working Backwards" and "Angelcalc" for when not to bother seeking funding from angel investors, or "Should I Get a Patent?", etc.)

This roadmap, as in other cases has no absolute answers or recommended solutions, only considerations to be explored and used in seeking a best answer for oneself (notice ONEself not ALLself). 

One, and only one of many conclusions, is that a temperament for risk-taking is mandatory for entrepreneurship. Salesmanship on the other hand is a skill fundamental to entrepreneurship, BUT also applicable to all other activities in human activity and commerce.

So, the question for which unfortunately I have no answer is: Why salesmanship is not a primary skill taught at all high schools, colleges and graduate schools?  Why as a society we leave it to Xerox, IBM, Proctor & Gamble and similar companies or to multi-level marketing companies to impart that training with a planned and focused process?  The Introduction to Dale Carnegie 's How to Make Friends and Influence People pointed out that tragic circumstance decades ago.  Why are we still at the same point?
Why is it so hard to find a high school or college grad with even only a cursory idea of how to sell an honest product to a respected customer that has a need?
Perhaps it is time for some bright entrepreneur to design and roll out an effective online sales training program for all those recent grads that are not finding the job they trained for or the countless unemployed displaced by technological change.

Marco Messina

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Thoughts on Carl Schramm's "On Expanding The Entrepreneur Class"

Carl Schramm On Expanding The Entrepreneur Class - Business Insider:

Carl Schramm, the former long-time president of the Kauffman Foundation, isn't satisfied with the state of American entrepreneurship. It's not because people aren't getting into it — it's because they're not being taught correctly.
And it's society's fault, he says.
"The world needs more entrepreneurs: They make innovation real and advance what Brink Lindsey, of the Kauffman Foundation, has called the 'frontier economy,' he wrote in a recent column at Harvard Business Review.
"If their ranks are too thin, it is a failure of society—particularly because the knowledge and skills of a successful entrepreneur can be taught."
Schramm's theory is that leaving the education of entrepreneurs to schoolteachers is "inherently weak." Why? Because their choice of profession shows that they don't take risks — at least not economic ones. Plus, the material taught in college-level courses doesn't fit with what entrepreneurs need to succeed. You don't learn what it really takes the get a business started.
"The need is particularly acute in the United States," he writes. "Much economic success in the rest of the world has occurred through “catch-up growth” that leverages innovations hatched by U.S. entrepreneurs. If America falters in this, its economic advantage withers—and the rest of the world suffers, too."
What do you think about Schramm's theory? Let us know in the comments.


Interesting argument and I would agree.  We can certainly point the finger at ourselves, the Baby Boom Generation, for not having done the best job, as a whole, of teaching the generation that follows the values many of our parents taught us.

Entrepreneurial success comes from belief, tenacity, hard work not only from creativity and surely not just from an MBA (I have one) that deludes you you are smarter than everyone else.  That training works well for Wall Street trading, or investment banking but it is poor training for testing ideas in the market.
The first step toward entrepreneurship is to go "sell" something to somebody - It is miserably hard work, one's ego is exposed to more rejection than a High School dance, but it is where one finds out what the real world thinks of that brilliant idea or of the shining prototype or that finished product you bet the company on. There you see what the market wants not what you want, and there is no fancy PowerPoint deck to hide behind.  It is you in the market and it is brutal  - no thin skins need applying.

Since the days of Netscape youngsters have been incessantly drilled with the idea that a "brilliant idea" is the key to rapid growth and financial success: a browser, an online auction, a Facebook, an iPod.  The reality is that all those brilliant ideas, first and through their development had to be incessantly "sold" to someone. Concepts have to be sold to partners and family and friends that share the earliest funding burden ; product development plans and ability to scale operations must be sold to seed funders; products have to be sold to consumers; the prospects for explosive growth has to be sold to VCs; the rationale for continued growth must be sold to the public in an IPO, or to a management team in a M&A exit.

Selling seems to be pretty fundamental to a business career and, for that matter, with different settings and nuances, to engineering, scientific and political careers. Yet, how many high schools curricula even mention it let alone teach the basics? How many business schools have specific courses on the subject, let alone curriculum requirements? Teaching "Selling" has been left to few private companies that developed formal training and a sterling reputation for it: Xerox, IBM, P&G, or to sales training consultants occasionally hired by big institutions. The curious and self driven can help themselves to an endless library including Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Stephen Covey, Zig Ziglar and hundreds more. In the last twenty years multi-level marketing organizations have done perhaps more than anyone to promote and standardize training, at least of techniques appropriate for their products.

In the end effective "selling" depends on the skills of: listening with a genuine interest, rapid organization of what is learned, ability to identify points of consonance dissonance between parties, clear and effective written and verbal communications, valuing honest long term relationship over expedient quick deals, the individual initiative to get into the market and play the game. Creativity alone generates only ideas. Implementation is key and selling is the first step to implementation.  

Unless we can honestly say we have been effective teaching the above skills to the coming generations, Carl Schramm is correct: as a society we have failed at a very achievable task.

Marco Messina

Monday, March 5, 2012

Knowledge Navigator Market Research

Welcome to my Market Research project.

This page is designed to seek feedback from potential users using minimum function prototypes of my patent pending tool called Knowledge Navigator or KnowNav™.Roadmaps

KnowNav™ was developed on the following premises which, with your help, I am trying to validate:
  1. Since the publication of In Search Of Excellence (Tom Peters) in the early 80's, countless business managers and  professionals have desired (or are pressed by employers and clients) to read many best-practices business books. Because of lack of time, countless books are bought to be read ASAP but remain unread.  (Question 1: Are there enough such people to constitute a MARKET?)
  2. For these professionals, not keeping up with reading creates a discomfort of not knowing what one thinks they are expected to know and to be able to articulate. ( Question 2: Is their need strong enough to be a PAIN that they would pay to fix?)
  3. Is KnowNav, as presently prototyped, or suitably modified, a tool that can relieve a significant pain in the market (Question 3)? In your view what are its benefits if any? What the limitations?  How would you fix them? Does the pain perhaps not exist at all? Is the potential market so small not to make it worth bothering with?
The objective of KnowNav are: