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March 2006

Co-promotional Considerations: Customerization and The Brand "Us"

Peter van Stolk, founder, president and CEO of Jones Soda, gave an energetic, inspiring and irreverent presentation at this month's NWEN Venture Breakfast on being relevant and real to, for and with your customers. The official title was "Creating Meaningful Relationships with Customers", but the unofficial title might be better expressed as "Marketing in a time when no one cares". [Note: The MP3 and slides from Peter's NWEN talk are not yet available, but much of the content -- and spirit -- of his talk can be found in the Fast Company article Jonesing for Soda.]

Jones Soda doesn't play by the usual rules of market competition: instead of choosing battlefields where their competitors might be defeated, they look for where their competitors ain't, and channel their energies into those fields of play ... an interesting variation of guerilla marketing, but more aligned with the art of play than the art of war. They particularly seek out people who are passionate about what they do -- musicians, extreme sports athletes, spelling bee competitors -- and sponsor their events and/or set up Jones Soda display cases in businesses that support those kinds of people (e.g., surf shops).

Peter shared a number of ways that Jones Soda creates and maintains emotional connections with its customers.  The one that I found most innovative and relevant was the Jones Soda Photo Gallery, which contains 786,000 of the over 4.5 million photos that Jones Soda customers have submitted as candidates for inclusion on a future Jones Soda bottle label (see an example above, from the January 2006 run). As Peter said, "you don't tell people you're cool, you let others tell people you're cool" ... and what better way to motivate customers to tell people how cool Jones Soda is than to put their photos on the labels?

Jonessodacreamsoda

I don't drink soda, and so while Jones Soda has been customerizing its labels since 2001, this was news to me. I also don't eat snack bars, so when I got home from the breakfast, and told my wife about how cool Jones Soda was, I was surprised when she showed me a Luna Bar that offered a slightly different variation of customerization -- using words instead of photos -- to enable customers to share "a dedication to a special woman in your life".

Lunabar

Lunadedication

Yana Kushner, director of Luna equity and advanced product development at Clif Bar (who makes Luna Bars), also invoked the concepts of passion, excitement and connection in a Fast Company article about Brands We Love [note to self: subscribe to Fast Company again]:

A couple of years ago, we started something on the back of the bar called "Luna Dedication," where the women of Luna wrote personal dedications to women who have touched their lives in some way. By giving them a piece of ourselves, they feel part of the Luna family. It's a two-way street. It keeps them excited and passionate, and it also keeps us internally passionate.

I had earlier speculated on the evolving nature of promotional considerations as new social marketing channels arise, noting possible conflicts of interest that may diminish the potential impact of some of these channels (e.g., how much can we trust reviews by people who may derive direct financial benefit from the products or services they are reviewing). What I particularly like about the Jones and Luna customerization techniques is that they are really co-promotional: customers whose visual or verbal content is co-opted for use on labels can promote themselves (and/or their loved ones) along with the product(s) they are telling people about. Neither Jones nor Luna offers any financial incentive to people whose content is chosen for co-promotion on their labels; the wealth they are sharing is attentional rather than financial.

A few days after the NWEN breakfast, Biznik co-founder Dan McComb implemented a new feature on the Biznik web site that might be viewed as offering attention in return for attendance: showing photos of bizniks who were at an event (e.g., the Biznik Happy Hour). Although he could have simply listed the names of people who were there, showing the photos adds an extra dimension of recognition and acknowledgment, and I suspect this will provide more incentive for bizniks to both attend an event and to go back and review the events. It would be interesting to study the motivational differences between listing people's names and listing their names + photos in different contexts.

Biznikwhowasthere

And, speaking of promotion, motivation and photos, I would be remiss not to comment on how Interrelativity offers a mechanism for co-promotion through our proactive display application -- most recently deployed at the Biznik Happy Hour -- which provides new opportunities for people to connect with one another by showing content from people's profiles on a large computer display when they are detected nearby. We interleave the display of sponsor profiles with attendee profiles -- providing each sponsor and attendee 10 seconds of fame in a revolving window of attention -- so that people can learn more about sponsors while they are learning about each other (examples of sponsor profiles for the BalMar and Biznik, with an attendee profile for me in between, are shown below).

Balmar_1 Joe_1 Biznik_1

Each time we have deployed our system, surveys have shown that people have learned new things about both people they hadn't met as well as people they already know. And, although we haven't explicitly asked this question, observations and informal interviews suggest that people enjoy seeing their own profiles shown on the big plasma display as much as they enjoy seeing other profiles. Our latest surveys have also been investigating whether people are also learning things about the sponsors ... who, at least in the current business model, are the ones who will be paying for the co-promotional considerations.


The Art, Science, Business and Politics of Happiness

The Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled "Happiness, Inc." in this week's Weekend Edition, which described how research into happiness is being applied in business contexts.  I've encountered a whole bunch of happiness-related pieces recently, and this one prompted me to weave them together.

The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, by His Holyness the Dalai Lama, has long been on my reading list.  I haven't read it yet, but I have several friends who have recommended it, and its the kind of book that I want to have on my bookshelf almost for the title alone.  I have read -- and highly recommend -- the two top-rated books in the Amazon.com "happiness" category: The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, by Don Miguel Ruiz, and How Full is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life, by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton (which I review in more detail here).  What I believe all these books have in common is the notion that, like an artist, one has to follow one's instincts and natural inclinations to find and express one's truth, regardless of what the critics might say.

Happiness is increasingly the purview of science, as well.  The late Donald Clifton, a co-author of the How Full is Your Bucket? book I noted above, was one of the early proponents of positive psychology -- the study and promotion of positive rather than negative ways of thinking -- but Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness : Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, appears to be its chief spokesperson, at least with respect to the popular press.  His approach to focusing on things that bring people joy was mentioned in the WSJ article as a sales strategy adopted by employees of David's Bridal stores in their interactions with joyful yet highly stressed customers.

The article also mentions a number of new ways to measure happiness.  Brian Knutson, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Stanford University, uses brain imaging technology to measure a subject's neurophysiological processes -- such as oxygen flow through the brain -- while playing a videogame.  Sensory Logic videotapes people when they are exposed to a new product, then slices the videotapes into segments of 1/30th of a second, and analyzes several dimensions of facial expressions to distinguish true smiles from social smiles, to help determine whether prospective customers are being truthful or just being nice [leading me to wonder how happiness researchers would answer the question "Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?"].

These approaches seem more likely to yield useful information than many of the surveys I've read about over the years that are based on people's self-reporting of happiness.  The article mentions two studies reported by David Blanchflower. an economics professor at Dartmouth College, which attempt to determine the monetary value of a healthy, stable relationship.  One suggests that, all else being equal, single or unhappily married people have to earn $100,000 more than happily married people to achieve a similar level of happiness; another suggests that someone having sex on a monthly basis would have to earn $50,000 more than someone having weekly sex with a monogamous partner to be as happy.  The article then goes on to speculate about how such findings may figure into divorce settlements.

The Pew Research Center published a report entitled Are We Happy Yet?, in which 3,014 U.S. adults were asked how happy they were, and the results suggests a population that is happier than I would have expected, based on the facial expressions and interactions I have observed:

  • 34%: "very happy"
  • 50%: "pretty happy"
  • 15%: "not too happy"

In slicing and dicing the data, they found a number of interesting correlations:

and a number of interesting non-correlations:

These are interesting, but I have doubts about the self-reporting of happiness (the common exchange "How are you doing?" / "Good, thanks" comes to mind).  I remember a study I heard about years ago reporting that 85% of U.S. adult males rate themselves "above-average" drivers; I can't find a reference now, but I did discover a study of 50,000 business leaders that reported that 85% of leaders rate themselves in the "top 20%" in comparison to their peers.  Perhaps a happiness survey that was combined with some of the other types of measurement (brain waves and/or facial expressions) would yield more convincing results.  Of course, I have my own bias, based in part on the books I mentioned at the outset: I believe the most important factor in happiness is attitude, which is difficult to measure ... I imagine asking "How would you rate your attitude?" would be as nebulous as asking "How happy are you?" (or "How good a driver / leader are you?").

There are a variety of other studies that show that money can buy happiness, that money can't buy happiness (the latter of which was published on the same day as the Pew study ... which, as noted above, showed that money can buy happiness), and that the correlation between money and happiness varies considerably across differerent countries.

One country, Bhutan, has placed Gross National Happiness as a cornerstone of its national policy, articulating four pillars through which to promote this goal:

  • good governance
  • cultural preservation
  • environmental conservation
  • economic development

An insightful article by Jeff Greenwald in Yoga Journal, entitled Happy Land, explores these four dimensions, the implicit and explicit tradeoffs they entail, and the challenges Bhutan faces as it struggles to maintain its focus on happiness in the face of increasing exposure to western perspectives on happiness.  The article concludes with a question of priorities that resonates with issues that I have raised in several posts ... and brings this back full circle again to the Dalai Lama:

How might the United States change if our government and people set aside the mantle of a superpower and focused on happiness as the ultimate goal of our national and individual lives? It's a frustrating subject, as the resources to create such a society are clearly within our means. But resources are not enough. The crucial thing, as the Dalai Lama has pointed out, is motivation—and ours has been compromised by decades of corporate greed, personal materialism, and sitcom reruns.


Bizniking at the BalMar with a Proactive Display

Biznik is "an urban tribe for business, a supportive business network that encourages creativity, radical thinking, and community" ...  The BalMar brings "cocktails, conversation and comfort" together in "a unique space with exceptional service and adventurous food and drink" ...  It's hard to imagine a group or place that could be better aligned with the mission of Interrelativity, which is "helping people relate" by using technology to bring the best of online communities into physical spaces.

Bizniklogo

I first met Biznik co-founder Dan McComb through a comment exchange on a blog post about Social Networks and Emergent, Ad Hoc Collaborations by our mutual friend, Shelly Farnham.  Soon afterward, Dan and I had lunch, and discovered many mutual passions, perspectives and principles, and I was excited about checking out his (and co-founder Lara Feltin's) new business networking group.  I joined Biznik, but until recently, my participation was restricted to the Biznik blog, where Dan regularly posts fabulous profiles about members, and other gems of interest and relevance to a progressive businessperson.  I finally got to last month's Biznik Happy Hour (an event to encourage conversations about "combining business with pleasure in a way that's profitable and fun") -- at the BalMar lounge -- but due to other events I was attending that night (including the Dorkbot Seattle Movie Night), did not stay long.  But I was there long enough to confirm that bizniks embody the Biznik philosophy (i.e., they are creative, radical-thinking and community-oriented) ... and that the BalMar is, as advertised, a unique space for cocktails, conversation and comfort.

Balmar_food

I had an additional motivation for attending that particular Biznik Happy Hour: I really wanted to meet Andrea Martin, co-owner of the BalMar and founder of Space City Mixer, "a Seattle social and networking club that plans fun and engaging events for its [12,000] members" (Dan had mentioned Andrea and Space City Mixer in a blog post about BalMar is so Biznik a couple of weeks earlier).  As synchronicity would have it, Andrea was not at the BalMar that night, but I sent her an email, and we were able to get together the next night to talk about our mutual passions, perspectives and principles ... and as with Dan and Biznik, I felt I had found another kindred spirit in Andrea and Space City Mixer ... and the Balmar (which was reinforced during my experience of the Space City Mixer Lock and Key event I attended a short time later).

So, on Sunday night, when I first read that this month's Biznik Happy Hour was coming up on Wednesday, and being held at the Balmar again, I sent an email to Dan and Andrea about deploying a proactive display at the event, and both were very supportive.  After verifying that my friend, Scott Axworthy, would be available to help out again, and visiting the BalMar Tuesday night to verify the wireless network connectivity, we made it a definite plan ... with less lead time (20 hours) than any previous event.

Balmar_parties

Last month's Biznik Happy Hour was held the back area of the upper level of the BalMar (shown above).  One of the biggest challenges we face in each deployment is where to place the proactive display, and its associated radio frequency identification (RFID) antennas, so that we can find a balance between being in the flow of people without interfering with that flow.  We decided to set things up against the back wall, with the display in the middle, and the antennas in each corner.

Ticket2talkbalmar

Over the course of the evening, I estimate there were about 40 bizniks who attended the event, 32 of whom created Interrelativity profiles.  It seemed like the proactive display was having a positive impact, but I also think that bizniks are generally very effective networkers, and so I'm not sure how much room there was for improvement.  One of the Biznik mantras is radical self-promotion, and so the proactive display -- which provides a new channel for self-promotion by showing contents from a person's online profile on a large plasma display when that person is detected nearby (using RFID tags associated with those profiles inserted into name badges) -- was well received. 

Ticket2talkbiznik

Bizniks are very open and candid about providing feedback, so we learned a lot about people's experiences with the proactive display, and the registration process, during the event.  We'll be conducting a followup survey so that we can better assess the impact the technology had on the people and their interactions, and identify areas for ongoing improvement ... and I'm looking forward to continuing the conversation(s) with Andrea, Dan and other bizniks about possible ways that this kind of social technology can lead to both fun and profit!


Chaordic Leadership Principles

In anticipation of the possibility that week's Seattle Times article about Interrelativity might generate increased interest in the company, I updated our web site ... including my curriculum vitae (CV, aka resumé), both the short and long versions.  I decided to include a section in the latter document about my approach to leadership, which I have assembled by consciously and unconsciously adopting the best practices, and avoiding the worst practices, of the leadership I have subjected myself to over the years ... much as I believe my approach to parenting and teaching have evolved (which, I suppose, are simply instances of leadership).

My approach to team building is to bring together people with complementary skills, experiences and perspectives, who share a strong passion and aspiration toward a common goal, provide them with as many resources and as few constraints as possible, and essentially stay out of their way as they engage their creative energies in innovative ways that maximize the positive impact of the entire team.

As I mentioned in my recent post on Intelligence, Advice, Investment and Politics, I remember being inspired by a quote from Dee Hock, the founder of Visa International and co-founder of the Interra Project, that I read about in Guy Kawasaki's book, The Art of the Start:

It is essential to employ, trust, and reward those whose perspective, ability, and judgment are radically different from yours. It is also rare, for it requires uncommon humility, tolerance, and wisdom.

Googling around for the context of this quote led me to an article on The Art of Chaordic Leadership written by Dee in Leader to Leader, 15 (Winter 2000): 20-26.  This is one of the most powerful, succinct and sensible descriptions of how to lead I've ever seen ... and I was happy to see that the approach that I thought I've been making up as I go along had some firmer ground on which to stand.  As with my recent post on entrepreneurial proverbs, I won't go into a more full analysis here, but simply note the bullet points in the summary from the original article:

On Chaordic Leadership

Many convictions about leadership have served me well over the years. Although each of these few examples could benefit from pages of explication, a few words may provide insight to chaordic leadership.

  • Power: True power is never used. If you use power, you never really had it.
  • Human Relations: First, last, and only principle -- when dealing with subordinates, repeat silently to yourself, "You are as great to you as I am to me, therefore, we are equal." When dealing with superiors, repeat silently to yourself, "I am as great to me as you are to you, therefore we are equal."
  • Criticism: Active critics are a great asset. Without the slightest expenditure of time or effort, we have our weakness and error made apparent and alternatives proposed. We need only listen carefully, dismiss that which arises from ignorance, ignore that which arises from envy or malice, and embrace that which has merit.
  • Compensation: Money motivates neither the best people, nor the best in people. It can rent the body and influence the mind but it cannot touch the heart or move the spirit; that is reserved for belief, principle, and ethics.
  • Ego, Envy, Avarice, and Ambition: Four beasts that inevitably devour their keeper. Harbor them at your peril, for although you expect to ride on their back, you will end up in their belly.
  • Position: Subordinates may owe a measure of obedience by virtue of your position, but they owe no respect save that which you earn by your daily conduct. Without their respect, your authority is destructive.
  • Mistakes: Toothless little things, providing you can recognize them, admit them, correct them, learn from them, and rise above them. If not, they grow fangs and strike.
  • Accomplishment: Never confuse activity with productivity. It is not what goes in your end of the pipe that matters, but what comes out the other end. Everything but intense thought, judgment, and action is infected to some degree with meaningless activity. Think! Judge! Act! Free others to do the same!
  • Hiring: Never hire or promote in your own image. It is foolish to replicate your strength. It is stupid to replicate your weakness. Employ, trust, and reward those whose perspective, ability and judgment are radically different from your own and recognize that it requires uncommon humility, tolerance, and wisdom.
  • Creativity: The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a building filled with archaic furniture. Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it.
  • Listening: While you can learn much by listening carefully to what people say, a great deal more is revealed by what they do not say. Listen as carefully to silence as to sound.
  • Judgment: Judgment is a muscle of the mind developed by use. You lose nothing by trusting it. If you trust it and it is bad, you will know quickly and can improve it. If you trust it and it is consistently good, you will succeed, and the sooner the better. If it is consistently good and you don't trust it, you will become the saddest of all creatures; one who could have succeeded but followed the poor judgment of others to failure.
  • Leadership: Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers and free your people to do the same. All else is trivia.

Almost Famous

Kristi Heim wrote a nice article about Interrelativity (and me) in The Seattle Times, entitled Using High-Tech to Help Break Ice, that appeared in today's paper.  As with Kristi's' great article about Amal Graafstra and his RFID agenda, she really captured the essence of what Interrelativity -- and I -- are all about.

I felt quite honored (and, perhaps, somewhat self-important) to be invited in for an interview.  The hour with Kristi flew by, and we spoke about so many interesting topics, I was looking forward to seeing which aspects she would choose to focus on.  When the article came out this morning, I could not have been happier ... except that I [now] recognize that I was looking forward to some "atta boy's" from people who might read the article.  To my surprise, I didn't receive much acknowlegement that anyone I know -- aside from people I'd told about it -- had read the article ... and, as with most surprises, this represents a learning opportunity.

Cindy, a friend in the neighborhood, brought by a copy of the article, but I had seen her yesterday, and mentioned the article, and [so] I am not sure whether she would have noticed the article ... or thought to drop off a copy (though I suspect she would, given that she is an incredibly kind and generous person).  Dan and Scott, other kind and generous friends, sent emails -- as did my mom -- but I had alerted them about the upcoming article, too. I received an email from Anthony, at 3:30am, who had read the online version after it was posted around midnight and had some great suggestions about other potential applications of proactive displays ... and also noted that the email link on the web site was broken (which I hastened to repair). I received another email from Adam, who kindly offered to help me find office space for Interrelativity, an offer I'm not in a good position to take advantage of now, but perhaps will be able to, if / when we grow beyond my home office in the future.

All of these acknowledgements were welcome, but I felt some disappointment that I didn't hear or read from more friends (or acquaintances ... or strangers).  Recognizing this disappointment has, in turn, helped me realize that, despite my best intentions, I have not [yet] succeeded in living without attachments.  I will continue to work on this issue of attachment to outcomes, but I also want to take the opportunity to muse a bit further.

There are several possible explanations to this low level of response, among them:

  • Few people read the article
  • Few people who know [of] me (or Interrelativity) read the article
  • People read the article but were not impressed with the article or its topic (or both)
  • People read the article and thought it was a good article and/or topic, but didn't think it was worth mentioning [to me]

While this seemed like a big deal to me, perhaps it doesn't seem like a big deal to most other people ... not the first time I've experienced mismatch between my perceptions and those of others. It reminded me of Noah Kagan's recent observations about the joy of receiving comments on a blog post , my own observations about filling buckets online and offline, and Don Miguel Ruiz' first agreement to be Impeccable with your Word, as one's words -- or lack thereof -- can exert a strong influence (positive or negative) on others.

I feel a bit self-conscious in writing about this, as one possible outcome is that people might read this blog post and submit comments ackowledging the post and/or the Seattle Times article.  However, one of my explicit goals in maintaining this blog is to detach from any expectation that anyone else is reading it, much less willing to take the time to comment.  I now recognize that I was applying a different perspective to the newspaper article ... and I recognize all the more poignantly the value of detaching from outcomes ... especially those involving [near] fame and fortune.


Awarea: Taking RFID to the Streets

Around 1997, I shifted my research focus from artificial intelligence to ubiquitous computing, and started exploring -- and working with others to create examples of -- what I called active environments: physical spaces that can sense and respond in contextually appropriate ways to their inhabitants.  One of the things I learned from my AI research experience was the importance of constraining a problem to make it [more] tractable.  Ubiquitous Computing has a rather broad scope -- encompassing computer technology permeating [potentially] every facet of our physical environments -- so in order to make progress in this area, I decided to focus on potential future scenarios involving the novel integration of technology into single rooms (such as MusicFX), or subregions within a building (e.g., ActiveMap).  I sometimes affectionately referred to this focus on active environments as "UbiComp in a Box".

Harryhhartiii

Myomni Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting with Harry H. Hart, III, the CEO of Awarea Corporation, who started exploring the idea of activating spaces around the same time that I did, but from an entrepreneurial perspective ... and with a willingness to break out of the box[es] and deploy RFID technology on the streets of Seattle (and soon, Vancouver, BC).  Awarea uses active radio frequency identification (RFID) tags -- called MyOmni's, with a convenient keychain attachment -- and a network of RFID readers and activators -- creating OmniZones -- to sense when users are nearby and respond with a targeted marketing message that takes the form of a text message sent to the user's mobile phone and/or some kind of audio and/or video message broadcast on a speaker or large display.  The left photo here shows Harry with his MyOmni device (a closeup of which is shown in the right photo) standing next to a public telephone booth outside of the Nordstrom flagship store near Westlake Center that has an OmniZone antenna mounted atop a loudspeaker system.

There are currently 16 OmniZones throughout Seattle (browsable via this interactive map), and Awarea has signed up 30 companies on whose behalf it is using the network to send targeted marketing messages to approximately 1000 users.  To sign up for the service, users are required to enter contact information (including a mobile phone email address) on a web site, and then during a followup phone call, are asked about demographic / psychographic data such as

  • Your favorite radio station
  • How often do you dine out
  • How often do you attend movies, sporting events, or other activities
  • What newspaper do you read
  • Your favorite TV shows
  • How often do you shop downtown

There are four classes of OmniZone:

  • Silver: mobile phone text message delivery only
  • Gold: silver level service plus a broadcast audio message (WAV file), as shown in the photo above
  • Platinum: gold level service plus a large display for short video files
  • TItanium: platinum level service plus additional features (TBD)

The MyOmni device -- which, along with most of the other RFID equipment, is manufactured by Axcess, Inc. -- has a single button that can be used to request a targeted message (it can also be programmed by Awarea for other functions).  Harry spends so much time in OmniZones (in fact, he rang in the New Year at the one shown above) that he has set his profile to decline all messages unless / until he specifically requests a message via that button.  He demonstrated a few examples of targeted audio messages at gold OmniZones around Westlake Center (one such message, promoting NetFlix, can be heard in this WAV file; I also heard one promoting The Body Shop ... as we were standing outside the store at 600 Pine Street).

Aside from the obvious tecnnological parallels between Awarea's [platinum] OmniZones and Interrelativity's proactive displays, both of which use RFID technology to sense and respond (in different ways) to people nearby, the systems also share some similar social impacts.  Given the reactions that I observed from people as they heard the "voice from the heavens " (or the phone booths) -- BTW, Harry is the voice talent in all the audio messages -- I imagine that MyOmni users may well spark interesting conversations in OmniZones ("What was that?", "Where did that come from?", "What did he say?", "Where is the Body Shop?", "How much of a discount?").  And Awarea plans to add new features with mobile social software (MoSoSo) capabilities, e.g., the ability for MyOmni users to specify a "buddy list" of other users, and receive notifications whenever their friends are in the same, or nearby, OmniZone.

One of Harry's initial motivations for this work was to aid blind people as they navigate urban areas; unfortunately, while he found receptivity to this idea, he was unable to find a revenue stream to support it (a plight I can identify with, and have heard and read about as being a common challenge for other entrepreneurs), which is why the current focus is on targeted marketing.

I first met Harry at the recent Dorkbot meeting on RFID.  Interestingly, in updating my RFID Resources material for my presentation at the event, I discovered a fabulous, futuristic short film, The Catalogue, by Chris Oakley, that depicts people in a multi-level shopping mall (that looks remarkably like Westlake Center), with overlays depicting the information that might be automatically extracted about those people, the objects they encounter, the places they visit, and the activities in which they engage, if / when RFID technology becomes more pervasive (and accurate) ... highlighting the challenges for companies like Awarea -- and Interrelativity -- to define compelling value propositions in which the benefits to users outweigh the [potential] privacy costs.

[Update, 2008-04-04: My colleague, Nick Chiarulli, at the new MyStrands Labs, NYC, sent me a link to some related work - a short-lived experiment on advertising via directed ultrasonic beams in NYC.]


Entrepreneurial Proverbs

Marc Hedlund, serial entrepreneur and, until very recently, entrepreneur-in-residence at O'Reilly Media, has shared an inspiring -- and inspired -- collection of Entrepreneurial Proverbs from his eTech presentation on Monday on Coding to Co-Founder: How to Move from Engineering to Entrepreneuring ... or, as Marc likes to put it, "Entrepreneuring for Geeks".

The post has such crisp and compelling nuggests of insights and experiences, that I'm tempted to reproduce the whole thing here, but instead will simply list the bullet items and make a mental note to refer back to it [often] ... in part because the comments on Marc's post are also illuminating.

Starting

  • It's good to be king.
  • Losing sucks.
  • Building to flip is building to flop.
  • Prudence becomes procrastination.
  • Momentum builds on itself.
  • Jump when you are more excited than afraid.

The Idea

  • Pay attention to the idea that won't leave you alone.
  • If you keep your secrets from the market, the market will keep its secrets from you.
  • Immediate yes is immediate no.
  • Build what you know.
  • Give people what they need, not what they say they need.
  • Your ideas will get better the more you know about business.

People

  • Three is fine; two, divine [re: number of co-founders]
  • Work only with people you like and believe in.
  • Work with people who like and believe in you, just naturally.
  • Great things are made by people who share a passion, not by those who have been talked into one.

Product

  • Cool ideas are useless without great needs.
  • Build the simplest thing possible.
  • Solve problems, not potential problems.
  • Test everything with real people.

Money

  • Start with nothing, and have nothing for as long as possible.
  • The best investor pitches are plainspoken and entertaining (not in that order).
  • Never let on that you're keeping a secret. [not sure whether how this squares with the admonition to not keep secrets from the market alluded to under "The Idea"]
  • No means maybe and yes means maybe.
  • For investors, the product is nothing.
  • The best way to get investment is not to need it.

Several of these items corroborate wisdom I've been exposed to at other times and places, such as Entrepreneur University and other NWEN events, but this collection of proverbs is the single most comprehensive collection of insights and experiences I've encountered, especially given the compactness of its representation!  I'm sad I've missed eTech, but am glad that Marc, and others, are sharing their wisdom more broadly!

[via BoingBoing]


The Proper Way to Enjoy an Espresso ... and a Cafe

JonatcafefioreI stopped by the original Caffe Fiore (in north Ballard) yesterday afternoon for a double shot of espresso, and was treated to a double shot of expert advice about the right way to drink an espresso ... and the right way to enjoy a café.  As Jon, the barista, was preparing my drink, he asked whether I wanted to enjoy it "the proper way" as he was reaching for a ceramic espresso cup -- suggesting with a raised eyebrow that a paper "to-go" cup would be improper.  I nodded, and he went on to tell me that there is not only a proper way to make and serve espresso, there is a proper way to drink it -- proper meaning "the way they do it in Italy" -- which is to down it in one shot, 8 to 10 seconds after it is served, when the crema is at its height and the temperature is perfect.

Of course, I wanted to experience the espresso properly, and so I tried this method, and I agree that it was a fabulous taste sensation, with the flavor filling my mouth and lingering long afterward, with the kind of subtle shifting of flavor perception I typically associate only with wine.  I have [in the past] tended to sip my espresso, trying to prolong the experience, and yet I have often recognized that after the first sip or two, the drink cools and the flavor and texture is diminished.  I remember being told as a child that the proper way to eat spaghetti, i.e., the way they do it in Italy, is to use a spoon along with a fork in order to "cup" the pasta as it is twirled into a bite-size ball. So now I have a more proper (or more Italian) way of enjoying both spaghetti and espresso.

Interestingly, Jon's advice is very much in keeping with a review of Caffe Fiore's Sumatra:

When hot, a robust, full-bodied dark roast with a pleasantly rough character: chocolate and wine tones in the aroma, in the cup a hint of fruity ferment and musty earth. As the coffee cools, however, the musty earth tones turn bitter and weigh oppressively on the cup.

After I downed my espresso at the counter (no time to carry it back to the table ... which helps explain the prevalence of espresso bars in Italy), I sat down and opened up my laptop, noting aloud to Jon and another customer who had just walked in that there was an access point labelled "Metro King County".  They told me that some Metro King County buses are now offering WiFi and so I was probably picking up the access point of a passing bus.  This, then, led to a discussion about the use of WiFi in cafes, and both of the conversants expressed disdain for the way that WiFi-enabled laptop users have encroached on the social atmosphere some of their favorite coffeehouses ... including the other Caffe Fiore, recently opened in Queen Anne (the Ballard cafe does not offer WiFi).

I have observed -- and written about -- the social impact of WiFi in cafes, and can see both the costs and the benefits.  Using a laptop does seem to diminish one's approachability more than the reading a book or newspaper, and yet, some people seek out third places such as cafes not for conversation but to enjoy the social experience of being alone in a crowd.  I often seek out cafes expressly for the ability to check my email when I'm traveling between local meetings (and a drip coffee or espresso, depending on the time of day).  The problem seems to be related to the proportion of laptop users ... and, of course, how much time -- and money -- they (er, we) spend.  Trevor, a friend and former colleague -- and also a social person who also enjoys using WiFi in cafes -- once suggested that the ideal ratio of laptop to non-laptop users is approximately 1:2 ... enough so that he doesn't feel awkward being the only laptop user, but not so many that the clickety-clack of the keyboards overcomes the hubbub of conversation.

I did not [eventually] find a web site for Caffe Fiore, but in googling around, I discovered that the Seattle Weekly notes that at the Queen Anne cafe, "free Wi-Fi keeps the low-key corner cafe lousy with laptops and gossip on weekday afternoons" [although I wonder whether this article contains a typographical error, where "lousy" was intended to be "busy", given that another description of Caffe Fiore in Seattle Weekly refers to "the pleasantly chic and relaxing atmosphere" ... and, if it is a typographical error, whether it represents a Freudian slip].  At Seattle WiFi Mug (Caffeinated and Unstrung: A Guide to Seattle's Free Wireless Coffee Shops), the page for the Queene Anne café provides an alternate perspective from a [presumed] WiFi laptop user: "until 8:30 it is wonderfull... From then onwards, there is just droves of very loud talking moms, with even louder children".

All of this is very much in keeping with observations Kristi Heim shared with me just yesterday morning about the sense of community at the original Caffe Fiore, the relative lack of community feeling at the Queen Anne cafe, and the role that WiFi likely plays in that difference.  I had never heard of Caffe Fiore before that, and I find it rather synchronistic that I just happened to come upon the cafe yesterday afternoon, after deciding to take the "northern" route home after a late afternoon meeting at Shilshole Bay Beach Club.  I'm not sure whether there are any coincidences, but when I encounter unexpected confluences and convergences, I like to investigate further, and am usually rewarded ... often in multiple ways.


Virtues, Goals, Plans and Aspirations

I recently wrote about goal-free living,  and the value of non-attachment to outcomes ... and in a subsequent comment, how this might apply to plans.  Shortly after making the original post, I read about Benjamin Franklin's 13-point "plan" (via BoingBoing), through which he achieved great happiness throughout his 79-year life. He maintained a weekly chart for how well he adhered to the 13 virtues ... which suggests [to me] a certain amount of attachment.  This reminds me that I only read halfway through Walter Isaakson's book, Benjamin Franklin: Am American Life, before it got submerged under other books ... including Stephen Shapiro's book, Goal-Free Living.  I suspect these two books may offer very different perspectives on the topics of setting and achieving goals.

In any event, here is his plan ... or goals ... or aspirations:

1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness and drink not to elevation.

2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.

3. Order: Let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time.

4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.

5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e. Waste nothing.

6. Industry: Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.

7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

8. Justice: Wrong none, by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

9. Moderation: Avoid extremes. Forebear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes or habitation.

11. Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring; Never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.

12. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

[The title of this post is intended as a riff on Schank and Abelson's book, Scripts, Goals, Plans and Understanding ... which was one of the first books I read about artificial intelligence ... Franklin's plan might be a regarded as a recipe for emotional intelligence ... which may be something noted in Daniel Goleman's book on Emotional Intelligence ... which is even further down in my book stack.]


The Practicalities, Perils and Promise of RFID

Dorkbot Seattle offered a multidimensional opportunity to learn about and experience different facets of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology last night, under the provocative title "RFID - Identity That Gets Under your Skin".  There were three presentations and two types of opportunities for participation by attendees ... each requiring a significantly different level of commitment.

I led things off with a presentation entitled "The Practicalities, Perils and Promise of RFID" [embedded below], providing a high-level overview of how RFID works, a whirlwind tour of a number of its applications, and finishing off with a focus on one particular application near and dear to my heart: proactive displays.  I didn't focus too much on the "perils" part, because Doug Klunder, Privacy Project Director of the ACLU of Washington, was next up, and he did a great job in presenting some concerns that he and his organization are raising before the public and the legislature, highlighting how this new technology can threaten privacy and present new risks to our liberties.

Amalgraafstra

Amal Graafstra, CEO of txtGroups, Inc., and author of RFID Toys, went third, and was the headliner for the evening (Kristi Heim, of the Seattle Times, wrote an excellent article about Amal -- "Man grips future with microchip implants in hands" -- that was printed yesterday morning).  Before his presentation, Amal, who has RFID chips implanted in each hand, narrated a live RFID implantation procedure performed by Dr. Virginia Stevens, M.D., a cosmetic surgeon with Seattle Health and Beauty, on Phillip Beynon, a college student and robotics -- and RFID -- enthusiast from Vancouver, B.C.  There were local three television affiliates -- KPCQ (Fox), KING (NBC) and KOMO (ABC) -- and Jenny Asarnow of local public radio station KUOW, on hand to cover this event.  The reporters and camerapersons were also there earlier, and although the cameras and audio recorders were rolling during the earlier presentations, and I saw some other interviews taking place before the main event -- and even participated in a brief, impromptu interview with Darren Dedo of Q13 Fox News -- I suspect all the media coverage will have focused on the live implant procedure ... which, I have to say, was pretty interesting to watch.  [I'll post a link to any photos / videos I discover later. Here are some links to a video of the implant procedure on the Make blog (thanks, Scott!), audio and transcript of the KUOW report, and Phillip's notes on the event.]

Unfortunately, though, the media all left before Amal's presentation, and he had alot of interesting information to share about how and why he selected the RFID chips he has implanted in his hands (an EM4102 in his left hand and a Philips HITAG 2048 S in his right hand), why he would never use VeriChip tags (due to the ease with which they can be hacked), and how he uses his RFID implants to unlock his computer, his house and his car.  He also raised a number of serious concerns about the security of RFID technology (not just Verichip ... although they were the primary target of criticism), while also downplaying some privacy concerns -- at least with respect to their RFID-specificity -- noting that RFID technology is not so different from other technologies used to identify people ... all of which can be used to track people if data is collected from different sites and/or stored over a period of time.

T2tatdorkbot
[Photo above is courtesy of Dan McComb]

Philip Beynon was not the only one to have an opportunity to gain a first-hand [pun partially intended] experience of RFID.  We also deployed a proactive display at the event, and had over thirty people create profiles and wear RFID tags -- inserted into their name badges rather than their hands.  Dorkbot is a loose-knit organization whose membership includes some of the most creative and curious people I've ever encountered; their tag line is "people doing strange things with electricity" and their monthly meetings include electronic artists of all stripes (sound/image/ movement/whatever), designers, engineers, students and other interested parties ... and the events are "free to all ages and species".  The images that people chose to share in their Interrelativity profiles were some of the most unusual and provocative of any I've seen in any previous deployment.  It was an honor and a pleasure to have an opportunity to share some knowledge and technology with these folks ... and to enjoy the content they shared, both on the proactive display and in the great questions and comments they made (during my presentation and afterward).

RFID Dorkbot Seattle 2006-03-01