Friday, August 31, 2007

Chad Ruble, Reuters Vlogger, is Funny

Chad Ruble is funny.

(Full disclosure - Chad is one of my great friends)

Chad hosts a weekly internet video show, And Finally, on highlighting wild and wacky news stories from around the world.

On this week's episode, Chad visits a professional stunt school in NYC.

The show reminds me of Keith Olberman's Countdown segment "Let's Play Oddball" and it is well worth subscribing to via RSS.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Psychology of SaaS and Web 2.0 Persuasion (and Selling)

One of the cool things about blogging is that it fosters the cross-pollination of ideas. Often, moreover, the derivative idea is much better then its source.

Bob Warfield's post, The Psychology of SaaS and Web 2.0 Persuasion (and Selling), is a great example.

He picked up on my post regarding Cialdini and the psychology of compliance and wrote a very thoughtful piece on how Cialdini's work can be applied to SaaS and Web companies.

It is well worth reading.

Beginner's Mind

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."

-Shunryo Suzuki-Roshi

I am coming to believe that the comfort to say "I don't know" is fundamental to being a good investor. Intellectual curiosity, being open to new ideas, and the willingness to momentarily suspend disbelief in the face of unorthodox approaches are vital preconditions to being able to reward disruption.

Ideas, opinions, and expertise get in the way of knowing what we don't know. Given that venture is premised on funding innovation, refusal to admit ignorance, unwillingness to ask for clarification, to avoid learning can blind one to the clarity and creativity that exist in a beginner's mind. "Knowing" does not allow us anything new, no surprises, no insights, no discoveries.

When I worked for Art Samberg, a brilliant investor and founder of Pequot Capital, I was consistently impressed by his ability to listen and to learn. He would often ask people for their views; the chance to showcase knowledge to a billionaire investor would drive people into long monologues. When then asked what he thought, he would often say "I don't know enough about it to comment" and walk out of the room. The lesson: there is no shame in admitting you don't know, rather, the real shame lies in making your "intelligence" so much a part of your identity that you are afraid to ask or admit a lack of knowledge.

The concept of beginner's mind is not limited to Buddhism. Frank Herbert said, "The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand.” While Proust wrote, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

Our learnings and experiences often help us process a complex world, however, I believe that it is important that we work to maintain beginner's mind over and over again in order to not let "knowledge" trap us from seeing innovation and possibilities.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Oracle buys Bridgestream

Oracle's acquisition spree continued this month with the purchase of Bridgestream, the leading provider of business role automation solutions.

Role-based access to systems and information is a well understood security paradigm. Importantly, Bridgestream extended the ability of identity access management (IDAM) solutions to map to the complex, ever-changing business relationships that exist within a department, within a division and across the extended enterprise.

Role based automation enables fast, accurate and real-time information about role-based authorizations and enables organizational changes to seamlessly flow through to production IDAM solutions. Modeling complex, ever-changing enterprises via the Bridgestream solution enhances security, improves compliance, and reduces IT costs. The acquisition complements the earlier purchase of Oblix and further pushes Oracle into the security market.

Hummer Winblad's Mitchell Kertzman co-led Bridgestream's A round and congratulations to Mark Tice, CEO, the Bridgestream team, and the Board on a great outcome.

Starmine Acquired by Reuters

Congratulations to Joe Gatto, CEO and founder, and the Starmine team on their sale to Reuters.

Hummer Winblad led Starmine's A round in 1999 with John Hummer serving on the Board.

Starmine is a powerful example of actionable analytics adding value on top of readily available data- the company's algorithms provide independent ratings of securities analysts around the globe by measuring their stock-picking performance and the accuracy of their earnings forecasts.

StarMine helps professional investors extract more value from broker research and fundamental equity data in less time by identifying the analysts that add value, forecasting potential earnings surprises and shortfalls, evaluating earnings quality, and alerting investors to the most important developments on stocks they follow.

Given the Wall St research shenanigans uncovered in the dot com bust and the recent failing of the credit rating agencies in the sub prime mess, it is more important than ever that effective analytics exist as a check and balance against either incompetence and/or malfeasance.

Congratulations to Reuters and Starmine on a great deal.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Influence - The Psychology of Persuasion

I recently read Robert Cialdini's wonderful book, Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion.

Cialdini is an experimental psychologist who studies the psychology of compliance, or why people say yes. In the book, he identifies six universal principles of influence, the psychology behind their effectiveness, and how we are eerily hardwired to succumb to their effect.

The six principles are:
  1. reciprocation
    1. securing compliance from people can be greatly increased by doing them a "favor," whether they ask for it, like it, etc or not...the simple act of a gift triggers an obligation to comply, within reason, to the gift giver's request
  2. commitment and consistency
    1. we have a nearly obsessive desire to be and to appear to be consistent with what we have already committed to. Once we have taken a stand and made a choice, we behave in ways that justify our earlier decision and commitment.
    2. The desire to be seen as consistent holds even when the cost, value, state of the original commitment evolves or changes
    3. Public verbal or written commitments drive intense desires to comply
  3. social proof
    1. we tend to determine what is correct, or not, by what other people think is correct
    2. this proof is most powerful with people of our own age and background
  4. liking
    1. we tend to say yes to people we like
    2. research shows we say yes to people who are good looking, feed us, who we are friends with, are famous, etc
    3. Tupperware uses friends to sell to other friends --the success rate is amazing as people simply cannot say no to people they are close to
    4. this is also why referrals from friends work - think about the difference in efficacy in trying to set up a sales call or pitch through a friend of the target rather than directly
  5. authority
    1. we feel a deep-seated sense of duty to authority figures
    2. see Milgram's reserach which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience
    3. titles, uniforms, clothes, offices reinforce authority and lead to almost universal compliance, even to requests that conflict with our values and conscience
  6. scarcity
    1. opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited
    2. people appear to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value - stressing loss versus gain is instrumental in positive response rate and compliance
    3. deadlines, limited supplies, the cost of being left out
A core thesis of the book is that we rely on automated cues and heuristics to make decisions in a world too complex, busy, and fast to ever truly think through every decision.

Smart marketers and con men know that we leverage rules of decision making to streamline our choices and actions - by understanding the core principles of compliance and the psychology that drives automated responses we can vastly improve response rates.

While we all "know" these principles exist and none are radically new, the level of his analysis in understanding why they work is powerful indeed. It is definitely worth reading - both to apply in life and to use in order to defend yourself from marketers and others who are masters in using them to get you to OBEY!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Company Culture and Politics - Survival of the Savvy

Business school alums often come back to campus and tell students that Organizational behavior proved to be the most valuable course(s) they took. When I studied at Kellogg, I never understood why.

I often meet with people who ruefully state, "my company is too political;" "there is no transparency where I work, things happen, people come and go, and no one knows why;" "I don't understand how decisions get made, things seem so random."

Politics, as we all know, is not something that just happens in Washington DC. All companies, be they start-ups or GM, are political. Politics are informal, unofficial, and sometimes behind-the-scenes efforts to sell ideas, influence an organization, increase power, and achieve other targeted objectives.

Politics have a truly pejorative connotation and being accused of being a political animal is most often meant to be an insult. Since I left business school in 1999, however, I have come to appreciate the fact that to ignore the realities of organizational life and decision making is certain to reduce your effectiveness and influence at work. I believe people often join start-ups to escape the crushing politics of large companies. The reality is that organizational politics are a constant, while start-ups may be lower on the political spectrum/continuum than larger companies, they remain organizations populated by people.

I recently read a book that provided a model with respect to understanding the organizational political continuum. The book, Survival of the Savvy, argues there are two contrasting styles and hence models of people and companies.

The first model is idea-centric. Idea-centric people and companies are driven by the power of an idea. They view power as residing in facts, logic, analysis, and innovation. These companies are often flat, meritocracies where the best ideas win and the way to win is to make the most cogent, objectively correct arguments. These people believe in substance, in doing the right (logically speaking) thing, open agendas and transparency, and the belief that ideas speak for themselves. Ie, if the ideas are well stated, why wouldn't someone agree? I fall into this camp and often believe that if I make a logically consistent argument (ie axiomatic) then it should be clear what to do.

The second model is person-centric. Person-centric people and companies are driven by the power of hierarchy. The merit of an idea is not driven by the cogency of the logic but by the power, position, and political support for the speaker. In this world, ideas definitely do not speak for themselves, but rather image and the perception of support (who supports this, what does the VP/CEO, etc think about it).

In these companies, people often don't do what's right but rather what works. Decisions, given they are not based on logic, are far from transparent and meetings are fait accomplis rather than opportunities for genuine discussion and feedback. Relationships drive support, not ideas and merit appears to lose out to coalitions and sponsorship. Loyalty, alliances, and working the system outweigh doing whats right and trusting the system to pick the "best" outcome.

In my experience, companies land somewhere along a continuum of the two models. The challenge for all of us is to understand the type of company we work in and what style we will need to adopt to be successful, or rather to quit and leave. Often the most frustrated people are idea-centric people working in people-centric companies who simply don't realize it and cannot understand why their brilliant ideas find no support or traction.

We owe it to ourselves to be self-aware. I believe this is the message the alums were bringing to students - don't be naive, calibrate your company's culture and style, and recognize that merit alone, unfortunately, is often not enough to get things done. The key is to always maintain integrity, avoid ugly ethical compromises, while working within the political constraints of your employer.