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I need some time to ease my mind February 6, 2010

Posted by David Gillespie in Uncategorized.
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When I was writing Digital Strangelove, it was born largely out of work being so busy that I didn’t have time to write semi-daily about the things I was thinking, and I’m starting to feel like I’m all clogged up again in my head – a week where one of your days runs over the course of 18 hours will do that to you.

Anyway, enough of my complaining, I’ve wanted to write this for a couple weeks, and I’m excited to now as I feel really strongly about it. Your friend and mine Fred Wilson was interviewed in January and one of the questions asked was “What common mistakes do start-ups make?” He responds with this:

One mistake  see people make is that they hire out the development of the technology…I think that’s a huge mistake. I think the companies need to have the engineers as part of the core founding team…and a company needs to own its engineering and product in a way that you could never own it if you hire somebody else to build it.

Back in March 2008,  wrote the following:

I’m a big believer in a business being free to focus on its core product(s). If it ain’t what you do, then it ain’t what you do! Far too many times I’ve seen companies get distracted by an interesting piece of technology or an idea outside their scope or ability to act on. When that happens, your core product suffers, and your competitors who may have been running a distant second seem to close the gap over night.

At the time I was thinking about the future of a start-up I was working in at the time, Hippo Jobs. Hippo had made a range of decisions ranging from ones I agreed with to ones I didn’t agree with at all, but that is going to be the case in any workplace where you are an employee and not an owner, and I don’t pretend for a moment to fully comprehend the situations that lead to some of those decisions.

What I believed then and believe now however is exactly what Fred said; a company needs to be in control of its lifeblood and make everything else someone else’s problem. When Yahoo! finally outsourced its search to Microsoft, it acknowledged what everyone else had long known – they were not a search company. Mind you, neither is Microsoft, which is why I can’t see them taking that battle to Google in a meaningful way.

Hippo had chosen to work with Areeba, an innovative and talented dev shop in Melbourne, Australia. The issue was never the quality of the work, it was a team that cared about the product in a way that was more than a job. Where Fred says “a company needs to own its engineering and product in a way that you could never own it if you hire somebody else to build it“, listen to it. He also says the key engineer(s) need to be founding members of the company, which again I agree with.

At the end of the day, ideas are a dime a dozen, and you need the people who can execute to have as much skin in the game as you have; anything less is a recipe for disaster.

See video below, quote begins at 4:48.

posted with vodpod
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Someday soon this will all be someone else’s dream January 7, 2010

Posted by David Gillespie in technology.
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I was watching Steve Ballmer‘s keynote at CES last night, thinking to myself “This sort of address has its days numbered.” My penchant for drama would have me state we’re witnessing an empire in decline, but I don’t really think that would arrive as news to anyone.

I have a few good close friends who work at Microsoft, and it’s a source of endless debate. At the heart of the issue for me is the lack of clear, single-minded purpose, of intent to do anything other than compete. See “compete” isn’t a strategy, it’s aimless and has you swinging in the direction of anyone who looks like they might do what you do, instead of focussing on the way forward, staring blatantly and openly back infront of you.

A good portion of the talk was spent showing off what other people are going to do with Microsoft’s platform, but devices designed in different ways isn’t really a sexy story. The compelling work, and in my opinion the jewel in Microsoft’s crown (in the same way the Playstation became everything Sony lived for) is the Xbox 360. It is, to my mind, the only space where they are clearly innovating and driving their own path forward, backing it up with an impressive lineup of content. In Xbox they really appear as masters of their own destiny; everywhere else they seem callous, and forever peering over their shoulders at what someone else might be doing.

I highlight Xbox and specifically avoid their much-hyped Project Natal. A tech demo in very controlled environments does not a product make, and having spent a previous life making games for consoles, if the software isn’t there to drive the thing when it launches, it simply won’t matter. There’s also an issue of adoption; I haven’t seen recent figures but traditionally the percentage that even owns a second controller is well below 50%; recent success with music-based games requiring plastic guitars and microphones has surely begun changing that behaviour, though thaty category as a whole is starting to wane.

As for other categories, the less said the better. Microsoft needs a new vision, and it being the media centre of the family home is as good a move as any. Your friend and mine Vik twittered this during the keynote:

Agreed Win7 is a popular & well built OS. But as netbooks become more prevalent, is this what customers will want on their machines?

There’s an increasingly rapid transition going on to web services and away from non-core applications. A friend who came to visit me in Toronto recently only traveled with his iPhone, saying it negated the need for him to have a laptop with him at all. If we entertain the notion for a moment that that is the start of a larger trend, lauding last year’s operating system starts to look less like a success story, and more like a fossil somehow reanimated.

For a brief and fleeting moment I suspect.

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This is what I sound like December 9, 2009

Posted by David Gillespie in business strategy, digital strategy, social media.
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I had the pleasure yesterday of joining Scott Hoffman on his Cliqology podcast to talk about all the madness around Digital Strangelove, and the ideas contained in it.

We talk about the presentation itself, the response it received, and how some of the ideas contained within are going to play out over the next few years, while also looking at some things that are emerging now that weren’t obvious when I first made the deck. WordPress is being difficult and not letting me embed the player, but Tumblr is giving me no such issues, so please go here to listen to it. I’d love to hear what you think, what you thought was on the money and even more so what you think completely missed the mark.

Regardless, I had a great time doing it, and will be rejoining Scott in the new year to do a special look at how small businesses can apply some of the thinking to what they do.

Hope you enjoy it, and thanks again to Scott for having me!

**Update**

I totally forgot to mention Digital Strangelove has been nominated for Slideshare’s Zeitgeist Awards. To vote for my presentation, all you need to do is go to the page, and click the Nominate just next to my picture. Your vote is greatly appreciated, I promise to lower taxes and serve cold beer at a reasonable price.

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When honour is at stake, this vow I will make November 29, 2009

Posted by David Gillespie in advertising, business strategy.
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I’ve been thinking a lot about The Three Musketeers – my framework for business models which places them (perhaps overly simply, but simply none the less) into two baskets: All-For-One (self-serving pursuit of value) or One-For-All (pursuit of value for an ecosystem). The former is business as usual up until the advent of Google, at which point things seem to turn, and we see more and more businesses cropping up and being successful by creating value

I had, for the longest time, felt uneasy about Facebook. My sense was that it was founded with All-For-One principles, and I have a hard time viewing it as a business that seeks to create value for an eco-system; it is, to my mind, the second coming of Microsoft rather than the second coming of Google.

I say that, but I also now can’t help but acknowledge the market they have developed for small and local businesses to target customers, and the platform they have provided for brands to interact on a more personal level with fans. In some ways, it lessens the role of the ad industry, which to my mind has a hard time justifying itself as even remotely One-For-All, and so can only be viewed as a good thing.

Your friend and mine Umair Haque takes aim at Facebook in a recent Harvard Business blog: over the Farmville debacle

Once, banks held debt till maturity. The great unnovation was being able to sell it to the next guy, who sold it to the next guy, and on and on and on. What was once a simple, short value chain lengthened to the point of absurdity. Exactly the same value chain pattern is surfacing in media. Ads used to be bought and sold through a short value chain. Facebook ended up serving toxic ads because they were sold through lengthening chains of intermediaries — each of whom shifts the buck to the next guy.

The argument does and doesn’t hold water in places – to my mind it swerves dangerously close in places to the kind of opinion that states ISPs are responsible for their customer’s illegally downloading music. The overall point stands however, which is sacrificing the end-user for the man with money is a short-sighted strategy.

We need to spend more time creating things that user wants in the first place.

That is what One-For-All is all about.

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Smoke on the water October 31, 2009

Posted by David Gillespie in business strategy, technology.
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Image representing Biz Stone as depicted in Cr...
Twitter’s Biz Stone (via CrunchBase)

At the recent Web 2.0 conference, Twitter search deals were announced with both Microsoft and Google, something I was pleased to see given about a week earlier I had made the prediction in Digital Strangelove (slide 178) that a deal was imminent with one of them – turns out it was both.

Twitter’s Biz Stone has gone on the record saying of all the options they are considering for a revenue model, advertising is the least appealing. My feeling on that statement is this: either they changed their minds, or they’ve done a deal to monetise the most natural part of their business while they think about the avenues they’re truly interested in pursuing. It’s akin to having a field of lavender and making a deal with local photographers to let them take pictures, all the while trying to figure out what you really want to do with all that crop.

I could be over-complicating things, an activity that is a favourite of mine as many an ex-girlfriend will attest. Apple CEO Steve Jobs is famous for saying he had little interest in a feature, such as video on an iPod, before revealing it the next quarter. I can’t help but feel the web is so eager to answer Twitter’s revenue question for them that they’ve jumped on the first clue that appeared and cried “Case closed!”

Call me paranoid, this one stays open in my book.

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Everyone wants to be the man at the top (Commented on “Howard Lindzon”) October 26, 2009

Posted by David Gillespie in philosophy, storytelling, strategy.
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The conversation taking place around the web about Digital Strangelove is truly blowing my mind. All I wanted to do was move the conversation forward a little, the fact so many people have taken the time to work through it, comment on it, think about it and share it means the absolute world, and it’s great getting to visit a bunch of new blogs and engage with different audiences I would never have had the chance to find out about.

Below is a response I wrote to one post in particular on Howard Lindzon’s blog to an anonymous comment that had said (and I paraphrase) “The ultimate goal is to give people what they NEED”, to which I responded:

“Name” – appreciate your thoughts. And for saying I was smart, I wish my high school teachers could see! ;]

I would suggest the ultimate goal is not to give people anything, except for an easier way to spread their own message. It is entirely unquantifiable, but I would love to know how many people with no prior experience just had a stab at recording some music because of how easy it was to use Garage Band.

At the end of the day, I don’t think you should aim to give your customer something meaningful, you should create an environment where they can give something meaningful to you. To use the Apple/Microsoft example, MS is launching a campaign for Win7 based around having listened to its users, whereas I believe it is arguable Apple’s platform tries to facilitate being able to listen to each other. A subtle but crucial difference.

Now, off to find a cushy job in a Think Tank!

(Written, for the record, on a PC. With a Mac to my left.)

Originally posted as a comment
by David Gillespie
on Howard Lindzon using DISQUS.

The Think Tank comment was due to a wry observation on the part of the poster than I had taken so many slides to say something they thought was blatantly obvious. Maybe they’re right, though other comments had come in stating how concise it was.

Each to their own.

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Let me see you do that switch-a-roo May 29, 2009

Posted by David Gillespie in business strategy, technology.
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This week: Microsoft unveiled a new search engine, and Google unveiled a new approach to email. This is akin to Cadbury launching softdrink and Coca-Cola creating chocolate bars.

Microsoft’s Bing

Google’s Wave

Ok maybe not that drastic, as Microsoft and Google already play in each other’s spaces, what I find interesting is each company’s desire to innovate in the other’s space, potentially at the expense of the things that got them to where they are.

I have a number of clients at Microsoft and I like to think I challenge them regularly to try and build new markets as opposed to steal other people’s; if Google is going down the same path then that disappoints me greatly. What I do find interesting about the above scenario though is Google’s new email idea, called Wave, doesn’t seem to have monetisation built into it beyond advertising, whereas Microsoft are obviously making a big bet on increasing search revenue via Bing, their new search engine.

Google’s play seems to be closer to an idea where everything is contained in a single space, a move I like, away from distinct destinations. Much like Facebook, they’re seeking a single dashboard from which they can control a user’s experience. Microsoft meanwhile are chasing a better mouse trap. It could potentially be a more lucrative mouse trap, but I don’t think it aligns with where user bahviour is going.

And as we all know now, disruption is never about a better mouse trap.

Go see Tim O’Reilly for more on Wave.

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Saddle up your horses, we got a trail to blaze May 27, 2009

Posted by David Gillespie in business strategy, technology.
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Over at Mashable I caught site of a service called RT2Buy (from company Twitpay) which is hooked into Twitter and PayPal, allowing purchasing and money transfer over the space of 140 characters. In exposing platform upon which people could build services early on, Twitter made a very savvy move which puts it head to head with the likes of Facebook, Microsoft etc. in more ways than one.

While people continue to duke it out at a site level, I’m super-bullish on the browser-as-platform. Instead of waiting for traffic to reach a site before it is meaningful, the experience remains with you regardless of where you travel to online.

I commented over at AVC acknowledging the barrier to entry that exists for browser extensions, and said perhaps application developers for Facebook, Twitter and other platforms will find interesting ways to extend the experience into the browser.

My thinking is a popular game on Facebook could potentially be extended into the browser and played when not actually on the site. Yes it is the long way around, but I think the fix will arrive via a combination of it being relatively easy to do AND having it heavily incentivised. Games, photo-sharings apps etc. already with a large audience on Facebook seem to be like the most direct path at this point.

This ties back to my whole thing about seeking out great digital work that is uniquely digital; that is to say, taking advantage of the things you can do with digital platforms that you can’t do with any other. There are ways we can open the browsing experience up that will appeal to a mass audience.

Whoever figures that one out is going to have a handle on a wide open space that leapfrogs everyone.

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Image courtesy of Eduardo Amorim with thanks to

Strategy for the next revolution November 26, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in business strategy, digital strategy, strategy, technology, web 2.0.
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At the risk of this becoming a Fred Wilson love-in, I’m catching up on my unread items and he mentioned a conference coming up focused solely on creating add-ons for browsers. I’m a BIG fan of add-ons that make it easier for what I’m trying to do – as I’ve said before this revolution we’re going through is based around making it easier for the majority to express themselves (which is subsequently why there are now businesses around organising information – see what we did?).

What is happening in this space though is people are harnessing the notion of the web as the platform and getting away – slowly but surely), from operating systems as we knew them.

The moves that Microsoft, Google and Mozilla have been making though are ones towards the inevitable (and closer than you think) point where there is no such thing as an offline experience. At that point the browser is the experience, with different plugins and views for different things (word processing, spreadsheets, etc.).

Where we’re also headed is the recovery of our personal data away from the social networks and back to a central repository, one we are in control of. I wrote the following for Marketing back in May this year:

(Facebook are) desperately trying to maintain hold on user data, under the daft assumption it was somehow their’s to play with in the first place.

That idea, and the moves MS, Google and Mozilla are making, brings the online experience back to the user, it takes the data back to the source, rather than downstream where it currently resides. Facebook exists as a repository for personal data, wrapped up in a layer of communications software that shares it with your friends. Nothing more, nothing less. Facebook gambled – and rightfully so – on that information being worth something; they’ve made a fundamental mistake though in attempting to build a business around something they do not own or control: your information.

So, in playing the game of would-be gate-keeper, distracting you long enough with werewolf bites and status updates, Facebook are trying to build a profitable business around supplying access to the owners of the information.

…stop me if you’ve heard this one…

Meanwhile, people innovating in the browser space are building out their own platforms – ones that exist at a pre-site level. By doing this, they will tap the water supply at the source and not down-stream, and while yes we will still be the ones handing over the information, they know we need software to facilitate interaction with the web, that isn’t changing any time soon.

Facebook’s strategic advantage could be in opening up its system and allowing people to build Facebook applications that reside in the browser and not on their website. But in order to do that, they have to make some fundamental shifts in strategy and philosophy, and move from a siloed-mentality, the kind that built businesses in the 90′s, to an open one – the kind that builds businesses today. They have the scale, what I doubt they have is the will to become, almost overnight, one of the largest publishers of web applications on the planet and give a massive boost to the fledgling economies of browser plug-ins. In Facebook Connect they half-heartedly attempted to extend the reach of their platform beyond their own domain, and it plays like it is: an attempt to be a little bit open, but not too much.

Meanwhile companies like Zemanta, and like Adaptive Blue with Glue, are building businesses for the next revolution by creating technologies that do not require something as decidedly old-fashioned as a website to exist. Indeed they more than anyone recognise there is limited value in pushing a destination, but endless value in pushing content.

As soon as the hardware conversation goes away, the website-as-destination will quickly follow as we embrace the distributed web. So too, I imagine, the gross over-valuation that came and went with everyone’s favourite social network.

This year’s one anyway.

Props to Alisa Leondard who got me thinking about this, you should go and read Socialised. Wait, she’s American, so it’s SocialiZed. Dig.

Image courtesy of Digger Digger Dogstar, with thanks to compfight, who’ve just had a facelift. Go tell them they look pretty – they’ll put out. Promise!
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Love & Marketing November 6, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in business strategy, marketing, philosophy, work/life.
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3 comments

So it seems Bob Dylan isn’t the most obvious place for a lot of people when it comes to great marketing quotes and thinking, I however think there are few better places to start (and let’s face it, it’s a hell of a lot more fun than mining the books everybody else is looking at.

There’s a short piece below expanding on why I think “You can’t be wise and in love at the same time” is a great marketing idea.

Also check out:

Love Jones (fast forward to 5:20)

And The HughTrain Manifesto

The Hughtrain Manifesto

The Hughtrain Manifesto

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