business, Uncategorized

On Sexy

As someone that’s been in the start-up space for a while, I understand the allure of technology start-ups and why there seems to be so much hype around building a “unicorn” (That reminds me… Can we leave the term “unicorn” in 2015?) and becoming the next Steve Jobs or Marky Mark.

It’s sexy. The thought of tech start-ups is sexy. The thought of bootstrapping and building the next Twitter sounds alluring. However, the problem with sexy is its based on rather superficial criteria, always empty at its core, and is somewhat fleeting. If there is one thing that’s true above all, it is that sexy is in a constant state of change.

Things deemed to be sexy sneak in to conversations as silver bullets to solve major problems. (Getting more people to build apps will solve economic inequality, for example) This is far from the case. Sexy attempts to simplify rather complex issues so it’s digestible and palatable.

This is especially enlightening to me as I travel to places like Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, and Kenya. There’s so much hype around sexy start-ups. I understand the low barrier to entry. It takes less money and less specialized skill to begin a sexy start-up. I see the why. But I also see the bigger opportunity.

The bigger opportunity, to me, is in disrupting already established industries with new business models enabled by new technology and innovative thinking. For example, Hello Tractor  , one of my favorite start-ups of all time, leverages technology and an on demand based business model to provide tractors to small and medium sized farmers in Nigeria. Agriculture isn’t as sexy as a web based company or a cool app, but I would argue industries like agriculture are the foundation for any thriving market.

I’m looking for more companies, especially from developing markets, that attack these already existing industries. Particularly, waste management, transportation, agriculture, and real estate.

 

 

 

 

#productideas, product, Uncategorized

All Products Go To Heaven

Earlier today, Dropbox announced on their blog (here) they would retire Carousel and Mailbox, two products part of the Dropbox family. Dropbox acquired Mailbox for $100 million and made several acquisitions to improve the Carousel product.

From a user perspective, I understand the anger that comes from people who used either of the products. Mailbox, an IOS only email client, had a huge user base before the acquisition. Carousel was a great way to manage photos already stored on Dropbox and uploaded pictures from my phone gallery. The essence of Mailbox and Carousel will live on in new products Dropbox develops.

The product/ strategy guy in me knows Dropbox is shifting away from mass consumer products to more enterprise collaboration tools. Products like the newly minted Paper are the future of Dropbox’s enterprise strategy. It will allow them to compete with the likes of Google, Microsoft, Box and other enterprise companies.

Products phased out in large companies never really die. They often live on as core features within new projects. Product teams diffuse onto other projects and bring their experiences. Distressed users go on product hunt to find replacement products that solve their particular pain point. All products do make it to heaven. Its just a matter of how they get there.

Politics, Uncategorized

Donald Trump and George Orwell Walk into a Bar…

Most liberal arts majors are familiar with the essay “Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell. For those who haven’t read it, here’s the link to the short essay here. It’s not that long but for those who don’t want to read… Here are some of the key rules he discussed in his short essay.

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Orwell thought complexity and obtuse language equated to smoke and mirrors, hiding the reader or listener from the real point at hand. “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.” His essay was an attempt to provide a set of guidelines to increase the accessibility of  topics discussed in political discourse.

As an undergrad, I was a total champion of Orwell and his teachings. I thought academic writing was too complex, policy wonks used technical jargon to keep their jobs, and simplicity was the ultimate measure of intelligence. In all honesty, a majority of my resentment for complexity and complicated stemmed from my hatred of the unreasonably long research papers I had to read and write…But I digress. In theory, yes, less is more in the political sphere, but what we’ve seen in recent years is the deliberate use of simplistic thoughts and talking points to create false and sometimes dangerous arguments for political benefit.

To be clear, both sides of the political isle use simplistic frameworks, analogies, plain talking points, and basic language to shape and frame their positions. This election cycle, we’re exposed to a great case study of how simple language can be detrimental to political discourse.

Exhibit A:

At 4:02- Donald Trump begins to discuss one of the central parts of his immigration policy…building a wall between Mexico and the Southern Boarder of the United States. Politics and practicality aside, listen for the words he uses. “We’re going to build a big wall… and its going to be beautiful.” Using Orwell’s set of rules, this passes for great rhetoric. He uses short and straight to the point words to define that he’s building a wall. Its going to be a big wall and it will be beautiful. From a listeners point of view, it leaves a lot to interpretation but it also assures the listener that it will cover their requirements… Big and beautiful. Take a step back for a moment at the implications. How many states does the wall go through? What is its height? How beautiful are we talking about here? I used this as an elementary example of Mr. Trumps word selection in policy and his speech. They are simple words but they leave leeway for creativity when put in the position to execute.

 

Exhibit B:

Bernie Sanders is known for his progressive politics and hard line stance on Wall Street. Politics aside…Listen to around 1:18…

“We bailed out Wall Street”

A couple of things to think about here. Who are Mr. and Mrs Street and why did they name their child Wall? Is wall street an established entity? If so, can we go talk to them about how they feel about being bailed out? The truth of the matter is that Wall Street and similar labels simplify the complexity of parties involved and the outcomes. Labels make it easier to vilify people or groups and create an us vs them mentality. We all know its way more complicated than we bailed out “Wall Street” but we allow and celebrate rhetoric that makes us feel like we are on the “right” side.

 

I could go on and on. There’s a lot of even better examples that happen everyday on CNN, MSNBC and Fox. We do ourselves a disservice by allowing elected officials (or those aspiring for it) to simplify complex issues so it can fit into sound bite or to hide the actual challenges involved. If Orwell is one extreme on a continuum and politicians today are all the way on the other end, I’m sure everyone would agree we need to move toward the middle ground where we respect the complexity of the issues we face.

Uncategorized

Should Programming Be a National Requirement in US Schools?

The short answer is no… But you didn’t come here for a short answer did you?

Long answer: The cool thing about growing up with people that are a tad older is that they expose you to the world you’ll inherit before you know you will. As a younger Chika, many of my older cousins were learning how to program and developing cool games on MS-DOS. Since we lived with them, I got to see first hand the process of locking yourself in a room and debugging or talking through a process you wanted to code. The experience got me super excited about coding because I wanted to make games and make the computer bend to my will. Yep, I had power complex as a child…but I digress.

Fast forward to my first programming class. I had the opportunity to take Visual Basic in high school as a sophomore. Visual Basic was a great introduction to programming. It was pretty easy to pick up and a lot of things you could do especially within excel. Learning how to program excel scripts was really helpful, especially with Algebra and Pre-calculus. I used Excel to check (and sometimes do) my homework. It was the perfect symbiotic relationship. It only works with a solid foundation in math, curiosity about how to do things easier, and a language to make easy happen. I later went on to learn C++ and python…. but it was never about learning how to program. There were real life problems I wanted to solve, and my curiosity drove the projects I did in class, and the extra work I did on my own.

Earlier this week, Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago, called for national computer programming requirement in schools. Here’s more of what he said here. I disagree 110% (+/- 10%). By putting an emphasis on programming, you detract resources from the building blocks of being an effective programmer. I understand Mayor Emanuel’s thoughts…..We need to make our students competitive for 21st-century jobs. Okay, if we are serious about being competitive, let us create initiatives to take a great leap forward in math and English test scores or increase access to higher education for all.

We see that requirements don’t always yield results. Physical education is a requirement, but we still live in one of the most obese nations in the world. We have Reading, Math, Science requirements too. How do we fair when compared to the rest of the world?

I believe there’s a place to integrate programming into how students interact with already existing curriculum. I think that would be more interesting than requiring programming proficiency. It doesn’t have to be a binary conversation. Making programming a requirement in schools is the equivalent of making calculator proficiency a requirement. Programming is a tool, not the end all be all. Teach students why they need to use said tools and you’ll be surprised the lengths they’ll go to master them.

Uncategorized

What’s Your Jesus Walks?

“I guess they was lookin’ at me crazy cause you know, cause I ain’t have a jersey on or whatever everybody out there listen here. I played them ‘Jesus Walks’ and they didn’t sign me…..”- Last Call, Kanye West

Arguably one of the best endings to a cd … ever… Last Call gives us Kanye’s extended origin story. Kanye guides the listener in an unique blend of lyrics and conversational story telling to understand  the transition and challenges on his quest from a beat maker to a rapper.

One of the pivotal points in the story for the listener is when he talks about his relationships with A&Rs (Artists and repertoire (A&R) is the division of a record label or music publishing company that is responsible for talent scouting and overseeing the artistic development of recording artists and/or songwriters…..thank you Wikipedia.) and how they responded to his unique style. Kanye was trying to persuade the music industry trend setters that he was more than capable of being the rapper they wanted but on his terms. “I played them ‘Jesus Walks'” he states.

Why Jesus Walks? Jesus Walks was one of the boldest songs on College Dropout. It took a taboo topic like religion and put it right in the spotlight of hip-hop. It was such an edgy song….. A song that could be uber successful or fail miserably. Yet, this was the song he led with…. Early in his career, he led with a risky song. College Dropout had a bunch of bangers that he could have easily used instead, but he led with Jesus Walks.

3 big lessons here…

  1. Most gate keepers suck at evaluating talent. They are exceptionally efficient at maintaining status quo.
  2. Succeed amazingly or fail fantastically. It’s a waste of an opportunity to take the middle road on a big gamble.
  3. Believing is really half the battle. Kanye proves this again and again.

When it comes through the wire (you see what I did there?), what’s your Jesus Walks? What character trait, product, or service do you lead with that sets you apart from others? Are you fearless enough to share it?