Nara day!

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Tom, Nathan and I goofing in our hallway

Years ago, I used to sign off email with Happy day! I don’t recall how it started or even how it stopped, like most things it was gradual. I do know I missed it being “my” signature. There was something about typing it that reminded me — and hopefully the recipient — to smile a bit more.

I was quite far into discussions regarding signing on as president of Nara Logics when I found out Nara has the Greek meaning of happy. So while I will share all the logical reasons I’ve joined the team, like the trend to practice gratitude, I know the practice of wishing happiness works. I’m looking forward to many Nara days ahead!

Now that you know I am smiling broadly, let me fill you in on why it is not just my heart, but my head leading this. About a year ago, it was time for me to take a step back and a breath, and figure out Jana++. I spent the time learning, both from the perspective of what was happening in the industry and what aspects in my career were missing. About a week after I declared to a few of my mentors that a role “where science meets business” was a likely focus for me, a headhunter called and said, “I found your next role.” I chuckled when he described the MIT neuroscience that is the basis of the company, thinking, wow, sometimes when you throw something out into the universe it comes back to you FAST.

I had been dabbling in a bit of research on the state of artificial intelligence, and felt about it how Kevin Kelly does in “You are not late” — we are at the early stages with great opportunity. Talking to Nathan, Nara’s co-founder and CTO (who is not only brilliant but a kind and delightful person), I got an understanding of how Nara’s approach is different, being based on the latest understandings of how our brain works. I called one of my buddies from my days at Los Alamos National Laboratory, who has stayed on the research side of life, having a successful and fascinating career in cognitive sciences. He gave me the “these guys are legit” thumbs up on Nathan’s background. (Actually, it was quite a bit stronger than this; the words “world class”, “best”, “leaders”, “amazing” were used, but I know how humble Nathan is.) And, the more I talked with Nathan, the more I learned about how we think, and how Nara is representing that in a technology platform.

Oh, I see I’ve gone on too long without stating what Nara actually does. Nara Logics uses neuroscience-based artificial intelligence and machine learning to take the loads of data we have in life today and help you take smart actions from it. As humans, we can’t process as much information as machines can. And machines can’t process that information in more refined ways we do. The “neural” part of what Nara is doing is mimicking the way we store information in our brains with many different links to that information. Based on different stimulus, like say being in a neighborhood or being served a certain dish, we can recall the name of a restaurant for example. We have loads of information stored and the stimuli that are applied helps us recall the right piece of information. Now, imagine if we applied that stimuli and our brains could tell us not only that one thing, but also others that have those same attributes? We get recall AND learning!

Where can this go? The possibilities are vast, likely endless. Think of all of the decisions we make each day. What if we did have support for making them, but not only based on the information our brains have, but all the information available on that topic? For me, this is an opportunity to take another giant leap towards making technology work for us, versus us working at technology.

…Which leads me to Tom, the visionary and entrepreneur behind Nara Logics. Tom started off with a vision of removing friction from people’s lives. He had done this already literally with one of his ventures, BodyGlide — as a triathlete I LOVE him for this product! This time he wanted to focus on the growing amount of information we are trying to process and how difficult the technology we have to solve this remained. On his own, Tom began searching for who was doing the leading research in how we think, in an effort to figure out how we can make technology work more like us. Long story short, this led him to MIT, which led him to Nathan, and four years later, there’s a revenue-generating company. You can tell from this snippet that Tom’s a remarkable person — a visionary who relentlessly pursues his vision to make it a reality, an entrepreneur who has already delivered ground breaking products, and someone who finds the right people to support his ventures, but it doesn’t tell you what a fantastic person he is. He is one of the most, if not the most, self aware people I have ever known. It is fabulous to be around.

I have so much more to say about Nara, but that will come. What I wanted to add to this note, in the words of J. Cole “I’m coming home… Back where I belong … I’ve never felt so strong”. While I thought for awhile I would end up in Silicon Valley, I can’t tell you how delighted I am to be headed back to Boston. So what’s on my shirt today? Can’t resist it…

617 > 650

My Sunday muse: a browser share graph




This week Adobe released some browser share stats. I saw the graph and saved the article, thinking it was tweetworthy. The big news was Chrome/Android passing IE for browsing dominance. And I agree, that’s newsworthy. But as I thought about my precious 140 characters and the message that was useful to convey, I realized there was a more-than-140-characters story to tell.

So here’s my muse…



And here’s the thinking she inspired in me today…

When we see a graph like this a typical response is “those idiots at Microsoft were fools for not seeing this and doing something about it. Big companies can’t innovate…sigh.” Let me leave the big company bashing and answer why Microsoft didn’t see this. It was because of how they (the browser team) defined themselves. They were likely looking at graphs like this one:


See that IE share is growing? Does that surprise you, especially when you look at the overall graph then this one? Stats can easily mislead us, especially when we want to believe something. Stats can play tricks on our brain. I’m reminded of an awesome painting I saw this weekend at Robert Lange Studios: Embracing the Illusion


An illusion can be subtle. I won’t belabor this point further; I know you all are smart and get it.

The question is how do we combat it? It is so easy to get caught in our illusions — big company, start up, new product, old product, and even in how we define ourselves. How do we not lie to ourselves and become the fabled boiled frog?

I vote for Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle from Start with Why. What if, for example, the Internet Explorer team started with the why of “we ensure people find what’s interesting to them wherever, whenever”, not starting with their “what” of “we are a browser for the internet”?

Apple did not define themselves as a computer company. If they did, would they ever have come up with the iPod, which led to the iPhone and then the iPad. 

Once the IE team started with the idea of ensuring people find what is interesting to them, they might think about how people define what’s interesting to them. Many people view that as recommendations from a friend. And that might have led them to this study from ShareThis that shows that the mobile web is 2x more social than the desktop web. Wow, if I am in a market where I find a channel with 2x the leverage of my traditional channel — note desktop just becomes a channel for interesting stuff versus the product — I’m going to take it!

So now you know how I spent my Sunday… by the pool thinking about how we all limit ourselves, and what are the ways of overcoming that. Inspired by another of Robert Lange’s paintings, my shirt today says:

Aspiring to be,
free from illusions

If Håkon Kornstad can learn opera, I can write a blog post

I am not even going to start on the fact that it has taken me almost 3 months to sit down and write my “first” post. We are just going to move on from here, OK? Together, right?

So, last night, I was running late and almost decided not to attend Håkon’s show because my to do list was behind me mocking my progress. And, being honest, I was solo, which always adds another barrier/excuse. I tell you this, in case you get in that headspace sometimes too in hopes you remember this story and step away from the computer, hold your own hand, and GO!

OK, so why am I so glad I went? It wasn’t the music, which was fabulous. I was intrigued by mixing jazz and opera which is why I chose the tickets. I like mashups and especially ones that make you think… push your boundaries. I was expecting that, and the performance fulfilled that.

What I wasn’t expecting was to find out that he started opera at thirty two with no prior singing experience. Let me tell you why this is exceptional:

  • Most of us don’t reinvent ourselves or our products.
  • Most successful people wouldn’t take the risk once successful.
  • Most of us don’t see opportunities.

I’m not bashing “us”. I think we do amazing things. But I do wonder — actually I admit it — I believe we have lost opportunity in our amazingness. Let me tell you his story, so you really understand what a risk he took and how beautifully it turned out…

After just releasing his second solo album (you don’t get a 2nd if your first isn’t successful), he went to NYC for inspiration. A friend invited him to an opera. He wasn’t excited about going but did. In the opening scene, he cried at the power of the voices. He became a fan. He happened into a gig with an opera singer. They ended up at dinner. He mentioned wanting to learn to sing and a week after seeing his first ever opera, he was in said singer’s instructors house learning to sing. Months later, he was enrolled in opera school in Norway. And now, he’s a celebrated 2x tenor — tenor sax and tenor voice.

Now, what’s key here is NOT that he’s successful. Though I didn’t talk to him about it, I’m pretty sure from hearing him talk and perform, he would have said, even if he hadn’t found he had a fantastic voice, he would have been a better saxophonist for the experience of attending the opera. He would have been richer again for meeting an opera singer. He would have been richer again for the instructor and the school and the opportunity to try.

Think through all those steps and realize what it took for him to get there. Many little steps following an opportunity. None were guaranteed to work, but each was guaranteed to move him closer to a found passion. Remember when he first went to the opera, he wasn’t going to find a passion. And when he met the opera singer, he wasn’t thinking he would find a teacher from that. All of these things happened because he felt AND observed AND took a step forward. Not a giant leap each time, right? A step following an inspiration, not a plan.

I always encourage folks to fall in love with their customer’s problems, not their solution to those problems. This is such a beautiful example of that… he fell in love with opera, not being an opera singer. But he saw steps along the way to get closer to opera and he took them. Yes, he ended up an artist that mashes up opera and jazz, successfully as a career. He could have hated opera. He could have ended up an opera fan. He could have ended up marrying an opera singer. He could have used it as inspiration for his jazz. So many opportunities from one little problem of missing inspiration. The way it turned out is just one success that was possible!

So, when I first started, I thought what was on my shirt was “inch by inch, life’s a cinch”. But as I wrote I changed shirts, I’m now wearing:

❤ problems

w/o them, we’d have fewer, if any, opportunities for success!

But how do you feel about your own performance?

Something that has been bouncing around my head since an interview during the Olympics by Matt Lauer with Bode Miller. (I think this is the interview, but since I’m in Germany now, I can’t verify.) Matt asked Bode about a comment that he made regarding the gold not mattering to him. Matt was pushing about whether this was true, and from what I remember if it was disrespectful to the gold or not. Bode made a great point, and I relate to what he said. He does not judge himself by whether he wins the gold or not, it is how he performs compared to how he believes he should have performed.

It is easy to say that Bode is pretending to be above the medal. It isn’t that though. He values the gold, but he values his own judgement of his performance more. No one knows better than you how you could have performed. You know the conditions of the hill, better than you think, even. Yes, there are things out of your control, but that’s part of the sport. It is how you handle yourself on the hill. Did you respond the way you could, or did you hit snooze? This is exactly what Bode meant. Only he knows when he’s performed to his potential … 1 gold, 8 golds, or none. Do you regularly think about how you performed by your own standards?

I do and I find it frustrating. Bode has me on his Zen approach to this. What I love about it is that I do think it holds me to a higher standard overall. I know better than anyone what I can accomplish. However, as Bode points out, winning or losing takes on a different scope. When there is a mismatch between your beliefs on performance and the world’s, it is unsatisfying. Either you feel not worthy of praise because you could have done better, or you feel cheated because you did your best, and it wasn’t recognized.

So, what is the take away? Judge yourself by your own standards, but make sure you hold those standards high. Benchmark yourself with others, still staying true to you.

And why do you want to do it? Because ultimately for you, you do know best. Trust yourself, and challenge yourself.

Be Bode!

So what’s on my shirt today? This is from the Adam Bryant’s interview of Wolters Kluwer CEO, Nancy McKinstry, in the Corner Office column of the New York Times.

Every day, advance the ball

I am proud to announce a €10 million investment that establishes Spreadshirt at a new stage: we’ve outgrown venture financing and are on to growth financing! For those of you not wrapped up in financing stages of companies, this is like leaving your parents’ home after high school, and heading off to college — paid for with loans your parents didn’t co-sign.

Our decision was similar to that of a college decision. First, we had to decide to go to college. Spreadshirt has strong business fundamentals, including great growth. We’ve been investing profits back into the business. An example: we have 50 more people working for us now than we did this time last year. (I’m proud we’ve been able to create these jobs in this economy.) We discussed the option of moving forward without additional financing. As with college, we decided it was best for our future to take a second round of financing to build a stronger company.

Next, we had to decide which college. There is no guide to financing, like Peterson’s for colleges. We were lucky to have Accel, our current investor to help us find the right partner. We defined three main criteria: growth stage investors, strong European and US presence, and complementary network and experience to ours and Accel’s. Kennet Partners fit this, and more. Max Bleyleben and the Kennet team showed us a partnership mentality from the beginning. One example: one of their first steps was to come to our HQ and production facility in Leipzig, Germany.

Max will join Spreadshirt’s board, and has already attended his first board meeting, just 2 days after we closed the investment. He contributed as if he was a long-time member, fitting right into the team, and providing the thoughtful judgment he shows on his blog, Technofile Europe. He has strong business experience across Europe, and speaks four languages fluently — German, Spanish, French and English.

I could talk about Max’s business credentials, but you know what is important to me… does he get our customer, and what they want to accomplish? Well, he proved to me that he did. For Valentine’s Day, he ordered a Spreadshirt hoodie for his wife. It had a heart on it with a message below it that said, “Fire it up!” Max gets us, and we are lucky to get him and Kennet on board!

And if that wasn’t enough good news to share, I also get to add that Accel showed their continued support for our business and invested in this round as well. When I joined Spreadshirt, I had not worked with Accel. I asked around about them, and heard nothing but positive reviews from entrepreneurs. (I’m generally somewhat suspicious of VCs.) After working with them, I cannot say enough good things about working with Accel, and our partner, Harry Nelis.

This investment would not have been possible without the work and dedication of our founders, Lukasz Gadowski and Matthias Spiess, our motivated and smart management team, and our creative and hard working execution team. I am grateful today and each day for all they do to grow Spreadshirt and me!

Please watch Max’s blog and Gründerszene (German) tomorrow for more. I know you’ll enjoy reading these perspectives. After that (and after my head clears a bit from the pneumonia-curing drugs), I’ll share a bit more about Spreadshirt moving forward.

What’s on my shirt today?

    It’s kind of fun
    to do the impossible
    — Walt Disney

P.S. OK, I have to tell you. It’s an up round. Yep, in this economy. I ❤ Spreadshirt!

Things I'm thinking: Mean people suck and things can change

I admit it, I have not been a fan of TechCrunch or Michael Arrington. I found the site (led by Arrington) tended to be bubble-ish on hype, post-bubble-ish cynicism, and FoA biased. That said, NO ONE SHOULD SPIT ON MICHAEL ARRINGTON, much less threaten his life. It disturbed me to read Michael’s post about taking a break, particularly because the final straw took place in Germany — my second home.

I’ve seen some spiteful actions related to Spreadshirt’s founder, Lukasz Gadowski. It rarely impacts us at all, just an annoyance. Luckily, Lukasz, Matthias and the team they recruited built a strong company that can withstand spitting like this. It has made me think several times though… why do people spend time and energy trying to tear something down. What is in it for them? Like with Arrington, what was gained by spitting on him?

I know I’ve done some mean things when I was tired or frustrated. I also know I’ve stopped myself from doing them too by taking a breath and remembering, “mean people suck”. Yes, it is human nature to get frustrated and angry. But we can all take that breath too. Spend that energy building something up, take that responsibility, make things better. It is that simple.

Michael, I hope you come back.

Some people would say to the above that things can’t change. I’m going to give you two examples now of how they have.

David Henderson, former CBS news correspondent, posted a quick note today on how crisis management is changing. I loved his first line:

Web 2.0 has changed crisis response in the world of PR from “announcements” by an organization to a “conversation.”

While it hasn’t taken the world over, as it takes change on both the side of the journalists and corporations, it is happening. In 10 years, crisis management will be nothing like it was for the last 30 years, and the direction towards conversation is a positive direction, because few crises are black and white. There is always more story, and we learn more from conversations than sound bites.

Somewhat similarly, SuperBowl ads are changing to conversations. The water cooler chatter is extending to before the Super Bowl, and the driving force after. I look at what is happening is a transition from brand image implantation to brand experience. As Brian Carr pointed out in his post about “after the ad”, it is becoming less about the brand image being burned in with follow-up ads, and more about the conversations before and after the Super Bowl.

Both of these changes point to conversations with your customers being increasingly important. Social media strategies — real, interactive, aggressive strategies — must be on your list. And this shouldn’t be just to “be there”, but to converse. Who are your examples of companies that do this well? Who is from the old economy who has made the transition?

And to add some fun to the end of this serious post, check out this great watch I found today:
Faceless Watch
Found on Geek & Hype.

What does my shirt say today? What else…


How tech cycles and Microsoft launching tees relate

Dave Winer, the father of RSS [insert humble bow here], wrote a great post this week: Soon it will be time to start over, again. It is about the tech industry and how we get lost in our own complexity, and can’t break that direction easily. So younger folks — the ones who chose not to follow the current leaders — come in and re-write the tech in a simpler way, and thus begin a new tech cycle. These young folks will in 5-10 years be replaced by another group who don’t want to get mired in the spaghetti code of years past, and bring another level of innovation.

I only disagree with one point in Dave’s article, and I do so humbly. Dave attributes the complexity to engineers, and their love of complexity. I disagree. I think the problem is that humans suck at change, particularly when that change involves thinking differently and destroying what we built before. We have pride in what we thought and built for the most part. It is difficult to deconstruct that without blaming ourselves, so we try to improve on what we’ve done, rather than re-doing.

And of course, there is the fear of not being successful with the “new way”, and thus destroying the “old way” revenue in the process. So, I am not saying it is “simple”, just that it is not due to engineers liking complexity. Most engineers I know actually really appreciate simplicity. They crave it, and often see they aren’t achieving it, but don’t see the path to how to achieve it from where they are.

I believe this is one of the reasons that Apple continues to post wins. Imagine how Apple changed their thinking with the ipod. “We build Macs. We don’t build Walkmans — a lower life form.” I can hear it being said. Steve Jobs is one of those thinkers/learners with the credibility to back him up, that gives you a company that does evolve — and even he and Apple have had their challenges.

On how he does it, I believe one key aspect is self-criticism. If you accept that you will make some wrong decisions — despite how smart you are, and how much you work — then you can rethink in new ways. The focus becomes one of learning, and I see Steve Jobs as being great at that. One simple example, after MobileMe got panned, what was Steve Job’s response? A note to the entire company that said (quoted from a Heise Online article):

“It was a mistake to launch MobileMe at the same time as iPhone 3G, iPhone 2.0 software and the App Store. We all had more than enough to do, and MobileMe could have been delayed without consequence”.

Jobs wrote, in his self critical email, that the MobileMe problems showed that Apple needed to “learn more about Internet services. And learn we will.”

I don’t think this challenge in responding to new capabilities/technologies is true just of tech companies. I wish I could say that one of my fav companies, Southwest, has made a “cycle shift”, but they haven’t. P&G made a shift about 5 years ago to focus more on bringing outside innovation in and has posted incredible success with their program. I would use them as a great example of a company that can overcome “cycle shifts” in some of their many industries. I agree with Dave that Google hasn’t shown an ability to shift yet. What companies do you think are examples that can make “cycle shifts”?

And now back to the title, an example of a company that continues to try to make a shift, but it doesn’t seem to work. I know we all have our favorite MS blunder example: my personal ones are MS’s push into push technology and the fizzle of MS Live, because I was related to both of these launches and saw them more from the inside. New is that MS is lauching a t-shirt line, which I learned from Harry McCracken’s Technologizer: Microsoft’s Latest Innovation… T-Shirts!

My fav part: They are delivering it on December 15th, which is two weeks after the Christmas selling season starts — late on shipping even their t-shirts.

My fav shirt: I’m a fan of the greenscreen … it’s simple! 😉

Microsoft Softwear Greenscreen T-shirt

Microsoft has ridden many tech cycles and they are still a significant player in our industry, so you can be successful without riding the tech cycles, but you have to be big to do it. Now, I am not thinking Microsoft wants to become a t-shirt company. They clearly have seen that t-shirts are great for brand promotion. [Aside: I love that they get that!] However, to get the brand promotion, people have to love the shirts and wear them. Here Microsoft is not playing to their strengths, like Apple did with the ipod — there was a need for good design, simplicity in that market, and most important, their customers were the type that would use the product. Microsoft is not good at hip and stylish, and their customer group isn’t known for wearing t-shirts proudly. Partnering with a rapper doesn’t get you there, but rather it confuses people.

I might buy “I used to love her”, but I need to learn more about Common’s song and make sure that’s a message I can wear. Of course, I think I’ll wait until the after Christmas sale. 😉

So, what is a message I know I can wear on my shirt today?

For every dilemma, there is an epigram
For every epigram, there is a t-shirt

Inspired by this quote: “Somewhere in the world there is an epigram fro every dilemma”, by Hendrik Willem Van Loon.

For the more detail-oriented reader, my favorite definition of epigram is an epigram itself:

What is an Epigram? A dwarfish whole;
Its body brevity, and wit its soul.
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The impact of timing: why this financial crisis is our biggest break

Yesterday the Guardian posted an excerpt from Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, Outliers: The Story Of Success. I enjoy reading Gladwell’s work, even though I find it a bit rambling and missing some structure that woud improve impact. Maybe he means it that way?

The main part of the excerpt is about how “genius” can be tracked to practice/hard work, specifically narrowing to about 10,000 hours of practice being required. Good, interesting information with several fun studies and stories to back it up.

Another (more dispersed) piece of the excerpt is about timing. Here are the two points made about the “timing” of genius:

  • Take ice hockey in Canada: look at any team and you will find that a disproportionate number of players will have been born in the first three months of the year. This, it turns out, is because the cut-off date for children eligible for the nine-year-old, 10-year-old, 11-year-old league and so on is January 1. Boys who are oldest and biggest at the beginning of the hockey season are inevitably the best. And so they get the most coaching and practice, and they get chosen for the all-star team, and so their advantage increases – on into the professional game.
  • …an astonishing 14 on the [Forbes 75 richest people in history] list are Americans born within nine years of each other… [snip, snip]… almost 20% of the names come from a single generation – born between 1831 and 1840 in a single country. The list includes industrialists and financiers who are still household names today: John Rockefeller, born in 1839 (the richest of the lot); Andrew Carnegie, 1835; Jay Gould, 1836; and JP Morgan, 1837.

    [snip, snip] It was when all the rules by which the traditional economy functioned were broken and remade. What that list says is that it was absolutely critical, if you were going to take advantage of those opportunities, to be in your 20s when that transformation was happening.

    If you were born in the late 1840s, you missed it – you were too young to take advantage of that moment. If you were born in the 1820s, you were too old – your mindset was shaped by the old, pre-civil war ways.

Today, many of us are feeling limited by timining — specifically, why did this financial crisis have to hit now, just as we were hitting a stride. Re-read this sentence about why 20% of the 75 richest people in history come from one country and one period:

It was when all the rules by which the traditional economy functioned were broken and remade.

While it is scary, this financial crisis is the breaking of our traditional economy. What is amazing is that this is happening on a global scale. It isn’t just about one country, but about one large global economy that is being broken. Now, it is our time to remake it.

Since many of you reading my blog are near my age, you will also be thinking about the next sentence that said you had to be in your 20s to take advantage of that. But read the next paragraph: This is your choice. Don’t be stuck in your mindset that was shaped by the old, pre-global economy, pre-financial correction days. You can look at our situation as Sequoia did in their famous RIP Good Times session for their entrepreneurs, or you can look at this as a new economy. How will it be remade? What do you know now that will be wrong for the future? What will be right?

When I read Titan, I thought I could learn a great deal from Mr. Rockefeller, but I never imagined I would be living in similar times as him. This excerpt is making me think differently on this, and I am feeling excited and ready for the challenge — even though you have to divide by 2 to get me to 20.

What is on my shirt today? A quote from Madeline Albright at a recent Wellesley dinner (see #3):

 Be confident
but not certain

I would add a third important point to Mr. Gladwell’s points: practice, timing, and support. Mr. Gladwell mentions this too in passing. For the hockey players, it is the ones that go the most coaching. In speaking of Mr. Gates and Mr. Joy it was access to computers (and specifically the people who gave them that access). Remember to support each other!

What's in my bag?

I have a heavy briefcase-backpack. Everyone asks me why. My reason is that I have an overwhelming need to be prepared. So, if you want to check out the contents of a workaholic, overly prepared, frequent global traveler, check out my annotated picture on flickr:

[Stinky IE won’t show the picture embedded with annotations. You can see it on flickr here.]

My top 5:

Important technology for me:

  • A microphone and speakers for good quality conference calls.
  • An Apple Airport so I always have my own wireless network.
  • Bluetooth headsets for my phone and my computer. I pace while I talk.
  • An extra battery for my laptop.
  • My camera with Eye-Fi wireless SD card.

There isn’t a lot of room for anything else, but sometimes I do carry an umbrella!

What’s on my shirt today? One of my favorite CNN shirts:

This flight’s late 92.3% of the time

You can buy it here. I will tell you that your fellow passengers will like it, but the gate agents do not!