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"You can buy cars but you can't buy respect in the hood" - Curtis Jackson



Updated: 2016-01-11T12:42:29.4286581-08:00

 



Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

2016-01-11T12:42:29.4286581-08:00

Every product or business leader understands the importance of having the right strategy. This includes being deeply aware of your competitive landscape, understanding your customers and how they use your product and ensuring you have the right plan to continue to make your customers happy while moving your business forward. However few take into account the importance of the alignment of your current strategy and your organization’s culture. This is especially important as strategies may evolve time as the marketplace changes while organizational cultures are fairly stagnant. In today’s technology landscape the only constant is change. Companies that are impervious one day are dwarfed by upstarts seemingly the next day. Whether it is Uber leading to the bankruptcy of Yellow Cab in San Francisco, Netflix eclipsing Blockbuster or Apple’s iPhone leading to the decline Blackberry there are multiple examples in recent memory of established products that seemed to be a permanent fixture of the world that were bested by others that gave customers a better experience. In all of these cases, there are examples of the incumbent struggling and failing to adapt to the new world. Yellow Cab companies created mobile apps like YoTaxi and Blockbuster tried offering DVDs by mail and Blackberry eventually offered touch screen phones like the Storm. A key problem for all of these disrupted companies was that they tried to switch strategies but could not surmount the handicaps of their organizational cultures and fundamental approach to doing business. Culture Shock: How Blackberry Failed to Respond to the iPhone There is a great overview of the downfall of Blackberry in the Globe & Mail article titled Inside the fall of BlackBerry: How the smartphone inventor failed to adapt which is excerpted below RIM executives figured they had time to reinvent the company. For years they had successfully fended off a host of challengers. Apple’s aggressive negotiating tactics had alienated many carriers, and the iPhone didn’t seem like a threat to RIM’s most loyal base of customers – businesses and governments. They would sustain RIM while it fixed its technology issues. But smartphone users were rapidly shifting their focus to software applications, rather than choosing devices based solely on hardware. RIM found it difficult to make the transition, said Neeraj Monga, director of research with Veritas Investment Research Corp. The company’s engineering culture had served it well when it delivered efficient, low-power devices to enterprise customers. But features that suited corporate chief information officers weren’t what appealed to the general public. “The problem wasn’t that we stopped listening to customers,” said one former RIM insider. “We believed we knew better what customers needed long term than they did. Consumers would say, ‘I want a faster browser.’ We might say, ‘You might think you want a faster browser, but you don’t want to pay overage on your bill.’ ‘Well, I want a super big very responsive touchscreen.’ ‘Well, you might think you want that, but you don’t want your phone to die at 2 p.m.’ “We would say, ‘We know better, and they’ll eventually figure it out.’ ” In reading the article it is clear that at that the Blackberry leadership decided that it was important for them strategically to address the rise of the iPhone. However as the unnamed insider makes clear above, their organizational culture was simply not set up to make the mental shift to view their product and needs customers differently after the iPhone launched. There is a great quote from Upton Sinclair “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Black[...]



Some Thoughts on Paul Graham’s Essay on Income Inequality

2016-01-04T07:11:01.6569965-08:00

I recently read Paul Graham’s essay on economic inequality and struggling to fit some of my thoughts into 140 characters on Twitter decided to write a more detailed perspective especially given the article’s core premise is a straw man argument. The core of Paul Graham’s message is captured in the introduction and Since the 1970s, economic inequality in the US has increased dramatically. And in particular, the rich have gotten a lot richer. Some worry this is a sign the country is broken. I'm interested in the topic because I am a manufacturer of economic inequality. I was one of the founders of a company called Y Combinator that helps people start startups. Almost by definition, if a startup succeeds its founders become rich. And while getting rich is not the only goal of most startup founders, few would do it if one couldn't. ... You can't end economic inequality without preventing people from getting rich, and you can't do that without preventing them from starting startups. With the above sentences, Paul Graham frames any complaints about income inequality in the United States as an attack on the culture and economic processes which have given us companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon which while minting a bunch of super-rich billionaires have also greatly improved the lives of their customers and employees. Since I work in the tech industry this sort of argument should naturally appeal to me but things are never that simple. Paul Graham has attacked a straw man and never really talks about why income inequality has been described as a problem. Income Inequality: The Pie Fallacy One part I did find particularly eloquent in Paul Graham’s essay was his description of the pie fallacy of income inequality which is excerpted below The most common mistake people make about economic inequality is to treat it as a single phenomenon. The most naive version of which is the one based on the pie fallacy: that the rich get rich by taking money from the poor. Usually this is an assumption people start from rather than a conclusion they arrive at by examining the evidence. Sometimes the pie fallacy is stated explicitly: ...those at the top are grabbing an increasing fraction of the nation's income—so much of a larger share that what's left over for the rest is diminished.... [ 1 ] Other times it's more unconscious. But the unconscious form is very widespread. I think because we grow up in a world where the pie fallacy is actually true. To kids, wealth is a fixed pie that's shared out, and if one person gets more it's at the expense of another. It takes a conscious effort to remind oneself that the real world doesn't work that way. He’s right, income inequality isn’t occurring because the rich are stealing a larger slice of the economic pie from the middle class and the poor. Growing income inequality is a natural aspect of the way capitalism works. This recently has come to the forefront of current economic thinking due to the book Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty which spends hundreds of pages providing details of how this has occurred over the past few decades. The chart below shows the savings rate of various income levels in the US broken into 20% buckets (i.e. quintiles). The thing to note here is that the bottom 40% of earners in the US saved about a tenth of a percent of their income. Given that the median income in the US is about $50,000 it is unsurprising that people making less than that ba[...]



How Facebook Knows Who You’re Talking to on Tinder and OKCupid

2015-10-24T07:45:59.4789294-07:00

Recently I was reading an article titled When Facebook Knows You Better Than You Know Yourself which talks about all of the ways Facebook could predict our behavior thanks to to all of the information we have shared with the site with our likes, shared links and the various websites & apps we use that are connected to Facebook. This article then links off to Why Does Facebook Keep Suggesting You Friend Your Tinder Matches? which seems to present a conundrum Maria Ledbetter has noticed six people she has met on Tinder in her Facebook suggested friends within the last few months, including one match who showed up so late to their date that she left. She said the suggested friends from Tinder often pop up within a week of getting her number, usually in cases where she hasn’t spoken with them since. “It’s always people I don’t even talk to, have deleted their number, and have no friends in common,” she said. “It’s really frustrating.” Emilio Ferrara, a data science and machine learning professor at Indiana University who studies social networks said the most obvious answer would be that these apps are collecting and sharing your information. “It is likely that these social network companies are buying data from one another, which means that Facebook can acquire some information on user activity from other platforms,” he said.“If that’s the case, it would be very easy to cross match.” “It could also be a coincidence,” he added. “But I don't believe very much in coincidences.” The article goes on with a number of theories and quotes from other experts trying to understand the magic behind how Facebook seems to know who you’re talking to in dating apps when you’ve not added them as a contact on your phone nor have any friends in common. The answer is actually quite simple; your Tinder/OKCupid/Grindr dates have your phone number. A long standing capability of Facebook is that it creates shadow profiles of its users. For example, if my email address known to Facebook was dare@example.com and phone number 555-1212 then when someone joins Facebook with that email address or phone number as a contact then Facebook knows that they know me. So Facebook has a “shadow” friend list of people who have my email address and phone number even if I haven’t added them as a friend nor have mutual friends in common with them.  Since there are lots of people who sync their phone contacts with Facebook there are likely dozens of people that Facebook knows you know even if you’ve not added them as friends. Mystery solved.  Now Playing: Chris Brown – New Flame (feat. Usher & Rick Ross) [...]



Fabric: Why Developers Can Trust Twitter Won’t Screw Them This Time

2014-10-23T07:46:42.6941063-07:00

Yesterday Twitter announced Fabric, a new mobile SDK for Android and iOS composed of four distinct pieces Crashlytics – an application analytics package that gives developers tools to measure how their apps are being used and measure app quality in the wild (i.e. crashes). Twitter Kit – an SDK that makes it add Twitter integration such as signing in with Twitter, embedding tweets or posting tweets from your app MoPub Kit – makes it easy to embed ads from Twitter’s ad network in your app so you can make money Digits – makes it easy for any app to build phone number based sign-in similar to what Skype Qik and WhatsApp have. This is quite frankly a game changer. The response to this release I’ve seen online have swung between two extremes, fawning adoration from the tech press proclaiming that Twitter has moved beyond tweets into mobile services and skepticism from developers who don’t trust Twitter as represented in this tweet below Did Twitter address in any way their platform trust issues today? Innovation in guaranteeing long term trustworthiness would be fascinating. — kellan (@kellan) October 23, 2014 As part of my day job at Microsoft, I've begun to learn more about how advertising across the internet works on a technical level and it is quite interesting to learn how an image of a some head phones I looked at an e-commerce site ended up staring back at me from an ad on Facebook later that day. The fundamental technology that makes this possible is Facebook Exchange (FBX). The infographic below provides an overview of how it enables ads from ecommerce sites to show up on Facebook and I’ll follow that up with a slightly more technical explanation. Source: Business Insider Facebook Exchange is a Real-Time Bidding platform which enables Facebook to sell ad slots on their page to the highest bidding advertisers in fractions of a second. Typically advertisers and publishers who own the pages where ads show up end up working together through an intermediary called a Demand Side Platform (DSP). A DSP such as AdRoll provides one of their retail partners such as American Apparel or Skull Candy with code to put tracking pixels on their site which allows the user to be identified and context such as what pages they’ve visited to be recorded. The retail partner then goes into AdRoll’s interface and decides how much they are willing to pay to show ads on various networks such as Facebook (via FBX) if a user who has visited one of their pages is shown an ad. AdRoll then provides data to Facebook that allows the user to be uniquely identified within Facebook’s network. Later when that same user goes to Facebook, Facebook puts out a request on its Ad Exchange saying “Here’s a user who you might be interested in, how much are you willing to pay to show them an ad?”, AdRoll then cross-references that user’s opaque identifier with the behavioral data they have (i.e. what pages they were looking at on an advertiser’s site) and if there is a match they make a bid which will also include their ad for the page that piqued their interest. If the retailer wins the auction, then their ad is chosen and either rendered in the news feed or on the right hand side on Facebook’s desktop website. Each of these pieces needs to happen in fractions of a second but is still slow enough that rendering ads tends to noticeably be the slowest part of rendering the webpage. In fact, there was a grand example of retargeting in action while I was researching this blog post. When I started writing this blog post I checked out AdRoll’s web page on how to use their service to retarget ads on Facebook. A few minutes later, this showed up in my news feed. You can tell if an ad [...]