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Archive for 2012

 

The Blog Post Where I Explain When You Should Pivot

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

How do you know when to pivot?

It is never obvious if you should pivot or stay the course. Sometimes you are banging your head against that wall and if you just bang your head one more time, the whole wall will come crumbling down. Sometimes you are banging and banging and if you keep banging all you are going to do is hurt your head. When you are on this side of the wall, you never know which.

The true essence of entrepreneurship, when distilled down to its crystalline core, is that a great entrepreneur is able to tell if they should pivot or if they should keep banging their head against the wall.

Here is the secret: When you pivot, you will still feel like you are banging your head against the wall, it will just be a different wall. Few companies experience some immediate sense of relief when they pivot.

Being an entrepreneur is hard. If it was easy then everyone would have their own companies. Furthermore, most companies don’t work out. It is all just banging your head against the wall. Picking the right wall – one that is hopefully paper thing – is what being an entrepreneur is all about.

(This post was inspired from reading a blog post by Sandy MacPherson (http://quibb.com/links/vision-vs-pivot), whose Quibb is interesting in a very pleasant way for me, but probably doomed to fail. Sandy wondered about what it means to different people to pivot vs. stay the course and I actually know the answer to that question. Rather than helpfully post it on her blog as a comment, I thought, as I long as I was being incredibly unhelpful, I would post it on my oft-neglected blog for the permanent record.)

Top 5 WordPress Plugins for the Easily Frightened

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

I use Media Temple, which means people try to hack my WordPress installation basically all the time.

Here are some key plugins I have used to really improve the situation:

  1. Block Bad Queries: http://perishablepress.com/block-bad-queries/ – This prevents people from trying to do things maliciously with URLs.
  2. Akismet: http://akismet.com/ – Duh. Slam dunk.
  3. Limit Login Attempts: http://devel.kostdoktorn.se/limit-login-attempts – This prevents brute force login attacks.
  4. WordPress File Monitor: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wordpress-file-monitor/ – This is unmaintained at this point, but it does what it does well, which is preventing general Media Temple hackers from hiding files in my file space. Critical stuff.
  5. WP SpamFree: http://www.polepositionmarketing.com/library/wordpress-plugins/wpspam-free/ – Another unmaintained library, but it supplements Akismet well.

What Total Disaster Looks Like or The Philadelphia Eagles

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

I thought someone should write an article saying that Andy Reid should not be fired and I thought that someone should be me. I am not saying that he won’t be fired (he will), but I do think most of this mess is not Andy Reid’s fault. Let’s talk about it:

Everyone universally agrees that Andy Reid is the best coach the Eagles have ever had. This is true in spite of the fact that he may be one of the worst game day coaches in the league. For these two things to be true, Andy Reid must be one of the best “during the week” coaches in the league. And I do believe that is true.

Andy’s strengths are worth enumerating:

  • He is a remarkable developer of QB talent. Donovan McNabb is a middling talent (more on that in a moment) that looked like a superstar to third parties (thank you Dan Snyder!). He made other teams think that players like Bubby Brister, AJ Feeley and Kevin Kolb were not just legitimate starting QBs in the NFL, but guys who should get PAID. He made Michael Vick play in a system. There are probably only 4 or 5 other coaches in the league capable of doing that. This is a fundamental “working with guys during the week” talent that should not be discounted and is not easily replaced.
  • Any Eagles fan will tell you that Donovan had a mechanical issue that caused him to go for weeks throwing the ball into the dirt 5 yards in front of the receiver every play. Yet he went to 6 Pro Bowls because Andy Reid put him (along with all those other guys) in a system where he could be successful.
  • Speaking of which, Andy was a man ahead of his time in recognizing the transition of the game from a balanced offense to one that threw all the time. Of course, he then proceeded to fail to take advantage of great running backs, but there you go.
  • Andy actually gave in and acknowledged that he is a terrible, terrible play caller and turned play calling duty over to his offensive coordinator. That takes a strong man. That is called turning a weakness into a strength.
  • I think the even keel is good. Never too high, never too low. For a coach to have a long tenure, that is difficult.
  • Great manager of personalities (with the exception of TO): Few coaches could bench their starter every 6 or 7 weeks for a few games (A necessity to let Donovan McNabb work out his mechanical flaws) and still keep the team and keep his QB mentally intact.

Now let’s look for a moment at the things that have gone wrong this season:

  • The offense is terrible. But the answer is not remotely to fire the offensive coordinator. It is not his fault. The real fault lies with injury, the lurking menace to every NFL team. Think about this: 2 years ago the Eagles had 5 offensive players go to the Pro Bowl as starters or first alternates:
    • Michael Vick – injured most of this season
    • DeSean Jackson – injured most of this season
    • LeSean McCoy – knocked into next week two weeks ago
    • Todd Herremans – injured most of this season
    • Jason Peters – injured for the entire season

Jason Kelce, starting center and OL signal caller is out as well. Think about that. A team that 2 years ago had 5 pro bowlers on offense, last night played with less than half of their “starters” and none of their “good players”. If I told you a team could lose the 6 best players on their offense and still score 30 points, you would find that utterly amazing. It is amazing they score any points at all.

A team cannot be very good without 3 offensive linemen, a pro bowl quarterback, a pro bowl WR, and a pro bowl RB. Take Gronkowski, Welker, Brady, and three offensive linemen off the Patriots and see how good they are. Take Schaub, Johnson, Foster, and half the offensive line off the Texans and see how they play.

  • The defense is terrible. But let’s be frank, the defense has been terrible since Jimmy Johnson died. Johnson was a brilliant defensive mind who always got the most out of his talent. Defense relies hugely on scheme and having a great schemer is critical. Imagine Pittsburgh without Dick LeBeau. Andy Reid has tried desperately to replace Johnson and has failed. I must admit, I liked the idea of bringing in Washburn and trying Wide 9. We needed an innovator and Andy Reid was going to let Washburn bring that innovation to the defense channeling it through his administrator Castillo. It turns out lots of defensive line schemes work when you have Albert Haynesworth and he is motivated. Washburn is not the guy. Asomugha had lost a step. Brutal defensive breakdowns. I credit Andy for trying to fix the airplane in mid-flight rather than just playing out the string, it is a shame that it was already crashing.

Now let’s talk about the bigger picture:

  • The Quarterback position has gone terribly wrong: I don’t blame Andy for this, he played the hand he was dealt. Think about it: Vick was the backup to McNabb and Kolb. He traded McNabb when McNabb had no gas left in the tank (right decision), thinking Kolb would take over (wrong decision) and planning to have Vick back him up because Vick was not good enough (mechanical problems). He quickly realized Kolb would not cut it and gave Vick a chance and Vick succeeded beyond his wildest expectations. Now maybe I am projecting because I was never really a Vick believer, but I assume Andy was not either yet said, “What am I going to do, the guy is playing like an MVP, I can’t take him out.” You get to the end of the season and you can’t trade your MVP-caliber QB. Particularly given that you have no alternative. If you traded him and started Kolb, you are an idiot and you are fired, so Reid does the only thing he can do: Sign Vick to some big dollars and then have Vick disappoint him again and again. The only thing that would have made all this better is drafting someone besides Kolb. Sadly, the 2007 draft was one of the worst QB drafts ever. Kolb was actually the best QB in the draft. Alternatives include: JaMarcus Russel, Drew Stanton, Troy Smith, and Brady Quinn. So Reid recognized that it was time to draft the future, picked the best QB available, he just turned out to stink.
  • Needed to find that new defensive coordinator. It is hard. It is as hard as finding a coach better than Andy Reid will be. There is an element of magical luck to the equation and he never struck gold.
  • Namdi Asomugha: It turns out that was a reach for a corner that had lost a step. But Jimmy Johnson had always believed in having great corners so you could blitz and feel good. Think about the corners they had: Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Lito Shephard, Asante Samuel: That is a lot of pro bowls. Lock down corners simplify the defense and you want as many as you can get. Almost no one thought this was a bad pick up. No one had thrown a ball at Asomugha in years. Tough break for Andy, hard to hold him responsible.

Does this sound like a coach that deserves to be fired? What is amazing is it seems like he has not lost his team despite an 8 game losing streak and an unrecognizable offensive line-up week to week. They come out and fight hard every week in spite of this awfulness.

Great job, Andy. It is hard to imagine the next Eagles coach could do better in similar circumstances. But I will predict this: With a health offensive line (particularly Jason Peters, a top 5 NFL lineman last year) and a healthy LeSean McCoy, I bet that the next guy could win more games pretty easily – he just has to pick a better defensive coordinator.

When Advertising Goes Wrong

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

I am on the record as being a fan of viewable impressions. Similarly, I am a fan of fewer units to make more money. I am also on the record as recognizing that there is an element of prisoners dilemma in the programmatic sale of ad space in that if you constrain supply and someone else doesn’t, your creation of value may inadvertently create value for them in a way that hurts you at some level.

But I went to the Philly.com web site for the first time in forever and what I found offended me:

Yow, that is uncomfortable. I count 4 300×250′s and another ad unit across the bottom. Every one of these is Google remnant. So Philly.com is basically becoming a bad actor here. Furthermore, you will notice that the article I was reading they paginated. That’s right, this was one of two pages. So for 500 words, I saw 10 ads. I think that is worse than a regular newspaper. I am virtually ready to get on-board with the ad blocker guys after seeing this. The user experience here is absolutely terrible.

I would love someone at Philly.com to comment on what CPMs are like for these different units and how they justify this user experience. It is hard to imagine that anyone likes visiting their site. Frankly, this is an example, in my mind, of the worst kind of web site. A wave of sharing links, a wave of related articles, the formatting at the end of the article reflects a lack of attention to detail. Bleh.

Questions to ask at a parent teacher conference

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

I have a first grader and I took my parent teacher conference fairly seriously. After reading many, many sites on questions to ask, this was my list. I wanted to record it for the permanent record in case I need it again or it can help other parents.

  • How is my child doing academically in your class?
  • How is my child doing in relation to the rest of the class? (Is my child performing in the top 25 percent? Top 10 percent?
  • What grade level is my student working on?  Is my student at grade level in reading and math?  How about the other subjects?
  • Is my student in different classes or groups for different subjects? Which ones? How are the groups determined?
  • What do you see as my child’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • What subject does my student like most? Least?
  • Is my student working to the best of his ability?
  • Does my child exhibit a good attitude toward learning? Does my child make a good effort on assignments and turn in completed assignments?
  • Do you feel my child is breezing through class assignments with little or no effort?
  • Could you make class assignments that are more challenging for my child?
  • Does my child stay on task well or need frequent reminders? Has my child been developing good work habits?  Does my child finish what he starts? If she asks to make a project, does she complete it or become bored easily? What is his attention span? Can my child follow complex instructions (two or more steps…first this, then that)? Sometimes, children need additional explanation or prefer a certain learning style.
  • How do you view my child’s emotional and social skills?
  • How does my child do with working in groups and working independently?
  • Does my child participate in class? Does my child behave in class?
  • How Does My Child Interact With Other Children? This question is somewhat vague, so you may want to build on it based on the initial answer received. What you really want to know is if and how your child socializes with others. If your child is shy or does more self-play than group-play, follow up with questions about whether this is normal for your child’s age or if there are any special concerns.
  • Who Are My Child’s Friends? Ask about your child’s friend preferences. The information may prove valuable for play dates or parties, but also helps to give parents a better idea of a child’s sociability.
  • Have you noticed any issues that need to be addressed or interests to be encouraged?
  • Have you noticed changes in the way my student acts? For example, have you noticed squinting, tiredness, or moodiness that might be a sign of physical or other problems?

Eagles Game 1 Review

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

Reviewed the game tape of the Eagles game. Couple of observations:

1) Vick made terrible decisions, but that was not all: I hate the mechanics. 2 years ago it seemed like Reid had beaten the sidearm out of him. Now he only shows good mechanics when he is throwing deep.

2) Eagles O-line played terrible. Bad decisions and picks are inevitable with such poor protection. Jason Kelce and King Dunlap played terrible. Team really missed Jason Peters. Big, big problem.

3) Joe Thomas is a man. He stone-walled Trent Cole.

4) LeSean McCoy looked like the best RB in football. Typical Andy Reid terrible play-calling that he did not put it in his hands more. Eagles sprint draw may be best play in football today. Bummer that they could not run behind the left side of Mathis and Peters.

5) Demeco Ryans played great. The rest of the Eagles linebackers played terrible in coverage.

Why You Can’t Have It All.

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

On the other side of the gender divide, there is a conversation that has been going on for decades but has grown louder in the last decade: Can women have it all? People like Sheryl Sandberg talks about how she can have it all by leaving at 5:30 every day. Anne-Marie Slaughter takes the other side of the debate by explaining how she found she could not in a widely read article in The Atlantic.

I want to wade into this debate myself. Let’s start with a simple statement:

I can’t have it all.

These articles all talk about women, but they could be about the human race. The evolution of technology has changed the way we work to a point where work life and home life are a blur. This is not a female problem, it is a people problem. When people can work any time, the expectation becomes one where people are expected to work all the time.

In the 1950′s, when it snowed, people couldn’t go to work and kids couldn’t go to school and the world stopped: There was sledding and snowmen and snowball fights and that was it. In the Snowpocalypse a few years ago, with three feet of snow on my front lawn, my wife and I desperately juggled schedules as the power of the Internet moved every meeting to a conference call and the email became, if anything, even more unrelenting.

I have my kids in day care and picking them up by 6pm is the law of the land. We don’t have a nanny and we joke all the time that this is a key part of our work-life balance. If we had a nanny, we might forget about our children entirely.

The best jobs are fun. That means work is fun. It engages the brain. So people with jobs like Sheryl’s love to work.

But she knows a fundamental truth. As I always tell my wife: “I will never regret skipping that meeting. There will always be another meeting. But going swimming with my kids. If I don’t go swimming with them, I will regret it.”

Every time I go swimming with my kids, they want me to get into the pool. They love to play swim tag – a game that involves them swimming near me and then racing back to “base”, while I hopelessly try to lure them off base far enough for me to get them. I don’t love to play swim tag. I frequently would rather they play in the pool with each other while I read a book. But every time they ask me, I remember how, when I was very young, I wanted my mother and father to play with me in the pool and how frequently they did not – for the exact same reasons I had: it’s boring, I have better things to do, I was planning to leave in 20 minutes, whatever. But I really wish they had. So more often than not, I get in the pool. I will never forget the time I spent with them in the pool. They love it so much. And seeing them happy makes me happy.

I want more of that. I agree with Paul Graham: School is prison. It is a place we send our children when we have to work because we need a place to send them. I would prefer to home school my children. But I am unwilling, due to my own selfishness and materialism, to give up all the things that I would have to surrender to do so. I live in a nice house, I go out to eat at nice places, I buy local, organic food at the farmers market, I go on nice vacations from time to time, and on a day-to-day basis, I feel like I never need more money. And I think all of this benefits my children and in the big picture is a somewhat reasonable trade-off. Of course, in the macro, I could use a lot more money. My car is a piece. We write a huge check for our mortgage every month. I have a day care bill that is unsettling. I can’t retire. I have friends who have start-ups and I would love to give them money but I can’t afford to.

But I have no illusions: My kids would rather be at home than at school. And I drop them off early for school before care. And they stay late at school for after care. And they would rather be with me. And I would rather be with them. But we can’t be.

Why? Because I value my job. I like my job. I want to do a good job at my place of employment. And I work hard at my job. Working hard takes time.

When people talk about the compromises one makes to accomodate work-life balance, that is what they mean. Time taken with children is time taken away from work. In the kind of white collar, knowledge worker jobs that I have – that my peers have – there is always more work. In the time I took to write this blog post, I could have written a deck. So the time we take to raise our children is time that is not invested in work. In modern day parlance, it is time we are performing poorly at our job. Because there are no boundaries. Time we take at work is time I am taking to do something I enjoy (“work”), that makes my children suffer (generally speaking, they spend most of that time in school/prison), albeit the money from my vocation helps them too – it pays for swimming/pool membership, it pays for gummy bears, it pays for…. uh, I think that is all my kids appreciate that money buys.

And I want more. I would say that work is far more about all the things that I want that are not even on this list. Most of them include my kids: Scuba lessons. Fishing trips. I want to take my kids on a trip to the Far East. I want to take my family to France for three months. I want things that there is no possibility I can afford in the near term. I would say that is the real reason that I work. My kids suffer today so that I may strive to make their lives better.

This is the essence of the trade-offs we make. We do things today that we like, hoping it does not screw up our kids in the future. We do things now we don’t like because we hope to make our kids lives better.

The worst part about spending time with kids is when you are thinking of all the other things you should be doing. If I could get rid of all of that and simply live in the moment, every time I successfully do that, I find that I am incredibly happy. But then, that is also true of things I do at work, or when I play basketball.

Live in the moment. Flow.

But remember, you will never regret not working another 15 minutes and going to leave and spend it with your kids.

(This was written very quickly. Excuse the nonsense.)

Why would publishers put ads all over a page? Why? Why! Why?

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Hilarious excerpt from Kirby Winfield Q&A:

Kari Bretschger Presz and CEO IMW Communications: Why would there be a market for a non-viewable ad? It would be a tough sell…Why would publishers offer it?

LOL.

LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL. Why would publishers offer it, indeed! The combination of the race to the bottom and the prisoners dilemma puts publishers squarely at odds with the desire to introduce viewable impressions standards.

This makes me laugh. It implies such incredible ignorance of how display advertising works today.

Because I was chewing through my feeds, it reminded me of a quote highlighted in the eCPM blog from Dalton Caldwell’s Digiday interview:

There’s two ad businesses. There’s the brand ad business and then the dark underbelly of ad networks

This shows how tough it is for a CEO of a general marketing business to understand what is really going on in digital marketing. Kari, call me if you want me to explain how screwed up your media buying practices are.

Agencies are getting exploited on a daily basis by bad actors. Even your performance buys are not working because attribution is a train wreck!

The good news is we are approximately the same screwed up as your TV buys, so just jump right in, the water is warm.

Call Your Stuff a Platform, See If I Care

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Dalton Caldwell is getting a lot of press these days. In some of this press, he said things I disagree with. Like this:

What’s the fundamental flaw of ad-supported platforms like Facebook and Twitter?
“Platform” implies providing a service that others are building on top of. Amazon Web Services provides a platform you can build services on top of. The platform doesn’t reach up and do weird things. In the Amazon example, you can build a competitor to Amazon on top of the platform. You can build anything. They’ll never charge you a percentage of business or threaten to get into your business. That’s a true platform because they’re getting paid to provide a service. There’s not this notion of retribution and reaching through the stack.

Err, so AWS will never get into the business of people that build on their platform? What if I built “management tools for people running AWS” that runs on AWS. They got into that business. What if I got into the “no-SQL database on AWS business”. They started offering data stores also.

Was Windows a platform? They consumed tons of companies. Every platform is constantly negotiating boundaries. To imply otherwise flies in the face of appreciating that customers like to buy complete stacks from single vendors. No one wants to have to cobble together solutions to meet needs, and certainly no company wants to feel dependent on the ecosystem to generate revenue. If you need functionality to create value, build it. That is capitalism.

To imply that Facebook has a “fundamental flaw” is to imply that it is a failure. I think $4 billion in revenue and $1 billion in profit have already proven that statement wrong. This is not some pyramid scheme. This is one of the biggest, most valuable, fastest growing companies in technology history. There are probably only a handful of technology businesses, that if you had to pick one to own, you would choose over Facebook. It is one of the two or three most widely used technologies in the world, fast growing, and wildly profitable.

It wasn’t all bad. The comment he made that I most liked was this:

You need to rely on your U.S., U.K. and European user bases to make enough margin to carry all your worthless foreign traffic. It’s a Faustian bargain. The people you need to keep the most you have to show the most ads.

That is interesting, isn’t it? If you build a global site, you have to be prepared to pay the tax.

Smart Drugs: Coming To Start-ups Near You

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

The New York Times had an excellent article on July 10th entitled “Taking Stimulants Not for a High, but for a Higher SAT Score”. As you probably know, here at CogCentral, we are big followers of the brain drug ecosystem and this was an excellent overview of the creep of brain drugs from college down to high school.

A high school senior said, “These are academic steroids.”

My favorite quote was from a freshman at an Ivy League school talking about her use during high school:

“Do I want only four hours of sleep and be a mess, then underperform on the test and then in field hockey? Or make the teachers happy and the coach happy and get good grades, get into a good college and make my parents happy?”

This is the trick with brain drugs: They make you smarter. This is a trait valued by third parties, so they make you better. This is particular compelling at a young age: A pill that makes people like you more. And not “fake like” like cocaine where you think they like you and then you realize that wasn’t true. Smart pills equal true like. Better performance. Powerful stuff.

I am surprised I have not yet heard stories of widespread abuse of these drugs in the start-up community. It seems like they would be a slam dunk. What engineer doesn’t want to sit down and just churn out code for hours?

A spokesman for a school district made the following naive statement:

“It’s time for a serious wake-up call. Straight A’s and high SAT scores look great on paper, but they aren’t reflective measures of a student’s health and well-being.”

Well h0-ho-ho, Mr. School District. Let me know when Harvard starts admitting kids based on exceptional health. He must really be kicking himself for sounding so dumb in the New York Times. So there is a pill that gives you straight A’s and high SAT scores, but you think it detracts from student health so high school kids shouldn’t take it.

High School was a long time ago, but as I recollect it, jeopardizing one’s health was pretty much par for the course.

How will people resist the call of brain doping? In a world of high performers, what is left for the people that don’t dope?