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December 2007

Complimenting and Complementing: Great Management through Praising and Partnering

Firstbreakalltherules I recently finished “First Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently”, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, in which they emphasize the importance of discovering each individual’s unique constellation of talents – the things he/she cannot help but do (and do well) – and aligning those with appropriate roles – where doing those things add value – within an organization. They also emphasize the importance of offering positive feedback at frequent and regular intervals, and managing around “weaknesses” by establishing effective partnerships - within the team itself and among the management – with others who have complementary talents.

This approach emphasizes discovering, developing and capitalizing on people’s natural strengths, rather than the conventional “wisdom” of creating “well-rounded” employees (what I might call "rounding errors") by “fixing” their weaknesses or, more euphemistically, addressing their “areas for development” (I found myself ruminating on the “spay” or "castrate" meanings of "fix") and/or instituting detailed processes intended to ensure desired outcomes (rather than empowering employees to engage their talents and natural creativity to achieve those outcomes).

The book defines talent as “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied”, and differentiates talent from skill (ability to follow steps) and knowledge (awareness of facts and practices). Talent typically involves skill and knowledge, but most importantly, it is something we are inexorably drawn toward … something we have a deep passion for (reminding me of Rumi’s maxim, and my former email signature quotation: “Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you truly love”). Buckingham and Coffman go on to distinguish three types of talent – striving (the why of a person), thinking (the how of a person) and relating (the who of a person) – and offer a dozen or so more specific examples of each type of talent in an appendix. I must confess that I do not appear to have a talent for understanding the specificity of these distinctions.

The authors, who are (or were?) leaders in the Gallup organization’s 25-year effort to understand attitudes, opinions and behaviors in work settings, offer 12 questions that represent “the simplest and most accurate way to measure the strength of a workplace”:

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

In polling over one million employees with these questions, Gallup found that the proportions of employees who “strongly agree” (a “5” on a 5-point scale) with these statements is highly correlated with their group’s productivity, profitability, retention and customer satisfaction.

Gallup also interviewed eighty thousand managers to better understand what the great managers did differently from the good (and bad) managers. They found that great managers are able to both identify an employee’s true talents, and capitalize on them by aligning those talents with roles in the organization. The authors share a mantra that was shared with them (in various forms) by great managers:

People don’t change that much.
Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out.
Try to draw out what was left in.
That is hard enough.

They also shared their view of manager as a catalyst rather than a controller, which can be summarized in three passages in the book:

The manager role is to reach inside each employee and release his unique talents into performance … one employee at a time.
...
You can’t make things happen. All you can do is influence, motivate, berate, or cajole, in the hope that most of your people will do what you ask of them.
...
Identify a person’s strengths. Define outcomes that play to those strengths. Find a way to count, rate, or rank those outcomes. And then let the person run.

Great managers accomplish this alignment of talents and roles through four key activities:

  • Select people for talent (not simply skills, knowledge and experience)
  • Define right outcomes (not precise steps or processes to achieve outcomes)
  • Focus on people’s strengths (not their weaknesses)
  • Help people find the right fit (possibly in another group or company)

Other insights shared by great managers include:

  • You’re always on stage (we are always modeling by example)
  • Every role performed at excellence deserves respect (reminding me of a recent Wall Street Journal article on Joie de Vivre Hospitality's practice of buying hotel housekeepers new vacuum cleaners every year)
  • Unrestrained empowerment can be a value killer (“Allowing each person to make all of his own decisions may well result in a team of fully self-actualized employees, but it may not be a very productive team”)

The authors use the analogy of sports, invoking the wisdom of a great sports coach in promoting the primacy of people over pre-defined procedures (or plays):

Bud Grant, stone-faced Hall of Fame coach of the Minnesota Vikings described it this way: "You can’t draw up plays and then just plug your players in. No matter how well you have designed your play book, it’s useless if you don’t know which plays your players can run. When I draw up my play book, I always go from the players to the play."

This, in turn, brings up an issue about which I’ve been ruminating lately – the idea of a “player / coach” in the business world. There are very few examples of people who have excelled in both roles (simultaneously). Most great coaches are / were former players … but I don’t believe most great coaches were great players. Management is a talent – or, perhaps, a collection of talents. Having skills, knowledge and experience with the types of activities, people and organizations in which great performance is to be achieved can be very helpful in practicing great management. However, the best players rarely make the best coaches. There are, of course, exceptions – after all, as the book notes, everyone is exceptional – but organizational structures in which managers are also expected to be significant individual contributors may not offer the highest probability for optimal success on any level.

The book offers insights and observations about “managing around weaknesses” that I believe apply equally well to managers and employees. Noting that “no one possesses all of the talents needed to excel in a particular role”, the authors suggest three strategies that can be used to promote performance: devise a support system, find a complementary partner or find an alternative role. The first focuses on logistics – arranging physical or procedural aspects of work so that individual weaknesses can be compensated through other dimensions. The second strategy focuses on the specific dimension of other people, and this notion of complementary partnership reminds me of Starbucks' founder Howard Schultz' insights into passion, perseverance and partnership, and that all successful teams are really partnerships [I've written before that everyone's a customer, and it appears that Starbucks already recognizes and celebrates a corollary - everyone's a partner.]

The third strategy is consonant with more poetic treatments of the issue I’ve encountered (or re-discovered) recently  –the notion that “self-discovery is the driving, guiding force for a healthy career”. The book includes several references to the metaphor of a mirror, emphasizing that great managers help guide their employees to discover – and accept – themselves and their unique talents, and to work with them to apply those talents in ways that are optimally productive for the employee and the organization. This process – or journey – unfolds through regular meetings and discussions, where mutual awareness and trust can be cultivated ... ideally amounting to at least one hour every quarter (vs. the more conventional half hour or hour ever year or half year).

Of course, it may turn out, in some cases, that a productive channeling of an employee’s talents can not be found or created within a group or organization, in which case the best course is for the employee to change jobs. The key here is not to take anything personally – the problem is simply miscasting, not a defect in the character of either the manager or employee.

The book was published in 1999. I bought it in 2004, when I actively entertained ambitions for growing and managing a high performance team for designing and deploying technologies to “help people relate” – the dream, and erstwhile business, of Interrelativity (my now-defunct start-up). After a brief burst of activity as a team of 2, we soon became a team of one, and so the book sat on my shelf for the next three years. Toward the end of a recent presentation I gave at the SDForum on our new generation of proactive displays (which I entitled “Friendsters @ Work”), someone asked me whether I thought our proactive displays – which provide large, ambient windows into personal digital media (e.g., photos from an online photo sharing service like Flickr) in a professional physical workplace (our lab) to promote awareness, interactions and community – were, in effect, manifestations of the Gallup management philosophy. I had to admit I hadn’t thought about it, but in continuing our conversation after the presentation session, he mentioned the “First Break All the Rules” book, and helped me recognize that the design of the proactive display application (the “Context, Content and Community Collage”) was, in fact, very well aligned with the Gallup management philosophy … which I recognized as also being reflected in another book I’ve read (and blogged about): “How Full Is Your Bucket: Positive Strategies for Life and Work” by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton (also with the Gallup management organization).

The Buckingham and Coffman book and has two sequels, "Now Discover Your Strengths" (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001) and "Go Put Your Strengths to Work" (Buckingham, 2007). I have not read these yet, but I have taken the Clifton StrengthsFinder test - referenced in all of the above - which suggested that my five top talents (or strengths) are:

  • Woo (Win Others Over)
    People strong in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with another person.
  • Connectedness
    People strong in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.
  • Relator
    People strong in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.
  • Ideation
    People strong in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between disparate phenomena.
  • Adaptability
    People strong in the Adaptability theme prefer to "go with the flow". They tend to be "now" people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.

I like to think of myself as someone who is willing to break rules, aware of my strengths, and willing and able to put them to work ... hopefully in complimentary and complementary ways.


Unconcerned About Privacy: The Pew Internet Report on Digital Footprints

Pew_logo The recent report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project on "Digital Footprints: Online identity management and search in the age of transparency" presents some interesting statistics and analysis regarding people's awareness and use of digital information about themselves and others on the Internet (their "digital footprints"). The most interesting result, to me, was the revelation that "60% of Internet users say they are not worried about how much information is available about them online."

The Pew study groups U.S. adult Internet users (which I will refer to as "Internet users" from this point on, to simplify exposition and reduce redundancy) into four categories, with respect to their privacy perceptions and actions:

  • Confident Creatives are the smallest of the four groups, comprising 17% of online adults. They say they do not worry about the availability of their online data, and actively upload content, but still take steps to limit their personal information. Young adults are most likely to fall into this group.
  • The Concerned and Careful fret about the personal information available about them online and take steps to proactively limit their own online data. One in five online adults (21%) fall into this category.
  • Despite being anxious about how much information is available about them, members of the Worried by the Wayside group do not actively limit their online information. This group contains 18% of online adults.
  • The Unfazed and Inactive group is the largest of the four groups—43% of online adults fall into this category. They neither worry about their personal information nor take steps to limit the amount of information that can be found out about them online.

This large number of people being unconcerned (not worrying) about privacy - the 60% of Internet users who are "confident creatives" or "unfazed and inactive" - contrasts sharply with previous reports on privacy concerns. One of the things that is interesting about the Pew survey is that it distinguishes between perceptions and actions - who is worried about privacy, and who is actually doing  something about it. It's also interesting to note that 54% of the people who say they are worried about how much information is available about them have not taken any steps to limit the amount of information available about them ... reminding me of people who complain about politicians but don't vote in elections (which I estimate to be at least 36%, based on recent U.S. census figures about voting).

These differences between perceptions and actions with respect to privacy been conflated in earlier studies. For example, a 2003 Harris poll conducted by Dr. Alan Westin used a different three-tier categorization, and was based on sampling all Americans, not just Internet users, and asked about privacy in general, not just online privacy (though both distinctions are eroding over time, e.g., Pew estimates that 71% of the U.S. adult population is now online, i.e., use the Internet, and I suspect most people who are concerned about privacy are most concerned about online, vs. offline, information ... though today's recent Wall Street Journal report on IRS employees "browsing" through tax returns raises some privacy concerns for me):

  • Privacy Fundamentalists: Some people feel very strongly about privacy matters. They tend to feel that they have lost a lot of their privacy and are strongly resistant to any further erosion of it (26% of the American public)
  • Privacy Unconcerned: At the other extreme there are people who have no real concerns about privacy and who have far less anxiety about how other people and organizations are using information about them (10% of the American public)
  • Privacy Pragmatists: who have strong feelings about privacy and are very concerned to protect themselves from the abuse or misuse of their personal information by companies or government agencies (64% of the American public)

There are a number of issues that have been raised about the methodology, labels and conclusions of this poll - Ponnurangam Kumaraguru and Lorrie Faith Cranor provide an in-depth survey of privacy polls conducted for Harris by Dr. Alan Westin - who, interestingly, does not appear to have a homepage - over the past 30 years, including this one (which appears to be the most recent) - but it does suggest very different perceptions (if not actions) with respect to privacy.

I'm not sure how much of the appearance of fewer concerns about privacy reflects actual changes in perceptions or changes in sampling methodologies (or analysis), but it suggests to me that many concerns about privacy concerns have been overstated. And personally, I feel a little less like an outlier now that I've moved from a tiny minority (one of the 10% of privacy unconcerned) to a slightly larger minority (one of the 17% of creative confidents).

In addition to labeling four quadrants of privacy perceptions and actions, the report also distinguishes between an active and passive digital footprints:

  • a passive digital footprint is personal data made accessible online with no deliberate intervention from an individual
  • an active digital footprint is personal data made accessible online through deliberate posting or sharing of information by the user

There are, of course, some grey areas, e.g., data made available through unanticipated effects of privacy policy changes in online social networking services, but I think this distinction offers useful handles for categorizing participation on the web.

There were a number of other interesting findings in the report:

  • 47% of Internet users have searched for information about themselves online, up from just 22% five years ago.
    This may be a significant increase, but I'm still surprised at such a low number, which may be primarily (or entirely) a symptom of my standard assumption that most people are like me in most respects. [FWIW, googling Joe McCarthy turns up this blog (Gumption) in the #9 spot ... with 8 of the other 9 entries on page 1 being references to my much more famous (IRL) namesakes, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin whose un-American activities on the ironically named House Committee on Un-American Activities (taking authoritarian actions in the name of anti-communism) gave us the term "McCarthyism", and the other page 1 "hit" a link to the former Hall of Fame baseball player and manager.]
  • 11% of Internet users have a job that requires them to self-promote or market their name online.
    Now, I'm not sure how "requires" means, especially in the age of The Brand You (first articulated over 10 years ago!), but this, too, seems like a surprisingly low number. FWIW, the report also defines public personae as "adult Internet users who have jobs that require self-presentation or self-marketing online" ... a label that strikes me as considerably more arbitrary than the others (e.g., would someone who has a prominent public digital representation of self that is not strictly required by one's job be excluded from this class? I would consider myself in this class, since a large number of my colleagues at Nokia Research Center have no personal or professional web pages (that I'm aware of). Am I a "public personae"?).
  • 68% of public personae have searched for information about themselves online.
    Some quick math suggests that 32% of public personae are therefore not being accountable for some portion of their job descriptions.
  • 25% of public personae have created an SNS profile.
    What?! This may be yet another symptom of the small sample (and/or large assumption) issue noted above, but it much more often the case that I find a LinkedIn profile for someone I can find no other information about than I find other information about someone who does not have a LinkedIn profile. I would consider LinkedIn to be the training wheels for public personae (though increasingly, as I noted with respect to a straw poll conducted at the most recent Nokia Mobile Mashup, Facebook seems to be the new business networking weapon of choice)
  • 35% of Internet users believe their home address is available online.
    So 65% of Internet users are either not aware of WhitePages.com, Anywho reverse lookup, and similar services, or have taken steps to ensure their home address is not available online. I would be inclined the former category is larger than the latter category.
  • 73% of Internet users say their company or employer maintains a web site.
    So 27% of Internet users are either unemployed or work for a company that does not have a web site. It would have been helpful to know what proportion of this group are employed. The most recently updated Pew chart of Internet Demographics shows 32% of U.S. adults age 65+ (retirement and post-retirement age) use the Internet, but it's not clear what proportion of Internet users are in this demographic. I imagine that nearly every employer in the U.S. has a web site by this time.
  • 33% of Internet users have posted some kind of creative content online; 22% have shared something online that they personally created.
    So this means that 11% have only posted creative content that others have created? I know YouTube has a large number of videos that represent potential copyright violations, but it seems unlikely that this use case could account for that proportion of users. I know there are professionals who create online content for others, but I would think that most of them have also created their own content (and posted it online).

One of the most interesting and surprising results was who people look for online - or, more precisely, who people don't look for online. A table on page 24 of the study summarizes who looks for who:

Peoplesearch

There are several figures in this table that strike me as astoundingly low:

  • 19% of all Internet users search for co-workers, professional colleagues or business competitors; 11% of all Internet users search for someone they are thinking about hiring or working with.
    Wow! I always search for information about any person I plan to call, contact by email or meet face-to-face with for the first time, and I conduct very thorough searches for anyone I'm thinking about hiring or working with. It's hard to imagine that the vast majority of people have never done this.
  • 12% of all Internet users search for someone they just met or someone they were about to meet for the first time; 9% of all Internet users search for someone they are dating or in a relationship with.
    First of all, I'm a little confused about meeting someone vs. thinking about hiring or working with someone ... if the former subsumes the latter, then only 1% of Internet users search for someone they are thinking about meeting for personal (vs. professional) reasons. Given the immense popularity of online dating services - most of which include search functionality - I find this number to be the most surprising in the entire survey. Even if 12% of the population of adult Internet users is searching for information about prospective dates, this still seems low, given that 60% of U.S. males and 57% of U.S. women are married. Obviously, there are many people in relationships who are not married, but I would still expect that at least 24% of the adult population is "open" to new relationships (and perhaps a considerably higher percentage, if we include adulterers) ... which means at most half of them are searching online for information about potential partners. In any case, it's been a long time since I was not in a primary committed relationship - I've been happily married for almost 20 years (I'm not sure what proportion of that time my wife would claim to be happily married) - but if I were to become part of the singles scene today (flying spaghetti monster forbid), I would be even more committed to searching for information about anyone I was going to meet for personal reasons than for professional reasons.

I received yet another email announcement from Pew yesterday notifying me that a new study - an update on Teens and Social Media - has just been released. I wrote about the last Pew study on Teens, Privacy and Online Social Media when I was ranting blogging about the overestimation of risk in teens' use of MySpace. I look forward to reading - and blogging  - about the new study, but will save that for a separate post.


I've been Schmapped!

91047254_2ded286bb9_o

Or rather, one of my Flickr photos - of the large photoboard at the Hopvine Pub on Capitol Hill in Seattle - has been schmapped. Schmap appears to be a not-so-new (founded 2004) travel guide mashup that combines information on points of interest (from Wcities, an online travel information aggregator), e.g., restaurant reviews, with photos of the those places (from Flickr), and a map (from Google, Yahoo! or Microsoft). [My Flickr photo was included with my explicit permission.] Another friend had a Flickr photo that was selected for use in the Schmap review of Place Pigalle (an example of Flickr helping to make the world seem smaller and more connected).

I'm including what I hope will show up as a schmaplet below - Hopvine should roll around in the autoplay sequence (#22 of 32). I'm not sure whether the code was intended to be embedded in the body of a blog post (vs. a widget along the side), and it seems to give TypePad's editor problems ... I hope it doesn't break anyone's browser.

Although I have a number of photos of restaurants and other points of interest on Flickr, I've decided that I'm going to use my public Twango account to represent my self as a "foodie" - uploading old photos from food experiences there, so as to not disrupt the time-sequential nature of my Flickr account, which is more of a general historical record of where I've been and what I've done. Perhaps one of those photos will be candidates for future schmapping.

This co-promotional marketing dimension leads me to wonder whether Schmap's inclusion of user-generated content will help differentiate it from other online travel services. I know that my ability to upload photos to accompany restaurant reviews I write on Yelp is a definite appeal of that Web 2.0 service. On Yelp, though, I get to directly post reviews and photos ... Schmap intermediates this process - someone else writes the reviews, and Schmap appears to select photos rather than enable indiscriminate posting of photos (not that my photos are ever indiscriminate, of course). This will increase the signal-to-noise ratio, but at the potential cost of reduced engagement with the users generating the content ... reminding me of my dilemma regarding the use of Yelp vs. TripAdvisor in sharing some of my experiences during our recent family vacation along the Oregon Coast. Of course, maybe co-promotion was never Schmap's intention, anyway ... another example of my increasing symptoms of apophenia (the condition - "the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data" - not danah's blog ... which I don't read nearly often enough).


Worst Speech Ever: Guy Kawasaki on Stupid Ideas, Indefensibility and Being a Mensch

Guy20 Truemors Guy Kawaski gave a great demonstration of and presentation on entrepreneurship in the Web 2.0 era at yesterday's PARC Forum. His new company, Truemors.com, is "a Web 2.0, User-Generated Content, Citizen Journalism, Long-Tail, Social Media Site" that cost him $12,107.09. The site enables anyone to post, comment on, or rate any breaking rumors or news. Two days after its launch, The Inquirer ("news, reviews, facts and friction") called it "the worst web site ever", which may have been partly responsible for a spike in attention - the site received 246,210 page views that day - leading Guy to wryly note “there's no such thing as bad PR as long as they get the link right” and "we probably got more hits than if we'd been labeled 'the best web site ever'" ... prompting him to ask any bloggers in the audience to label any posts about his talk as "the worst speech ever".

Guy had delivered an amazingly inspiring keynote emphasizing "The Art of the Start" (the book I most frequently recommend to prospective entrepreneurs) at the Northwest Entrepreneur Network's Entrepreneur University in November 2004, a few days after I had veered from the path corporate citizenship and started down the path of entrepreneurship. My notes from the event say he was "stressing the importance of making meaning (vs. making money), trying to change the world for the better; I also like his invitation to "be a mensch" (e.g., help people who cannot help you)." I don't know whether Guy will ever be able to help me, but given the huge boost I got from Guy's talk 3 years ago, I figured the least I could do would be to return the favor and give him a little Google Juice for "the worst speech ever" ... and perhaps driving a wee bit more traffic to his new site ... even though I don't believe it aligns well with his earlier stated maxim of changing the world for the better.

The inspiration for this site came from a CommunityNext panel on web founders who had defied the "venture capital model" that Guy (founder of Garage Technology Ventures) had moderated in February, and which included

  • James Hong, co-founder of HotOrNot, a company / web site that was created to resolve an argument he had with a friend about how attractive a women they'd seen at a party was. He and his co-founder created the web site - which enables users to post photos (um, presumably of themselves) and/or vote on whether people depicted in [other?] photos are hot or not - over the next few days, and sent out emails to 40 friends ... and had 40,000 unique visitors by the end of the week. Photos on the site have now received over 12 billion votes,and  the company has 4 employees and is earning (or yielding) $10 million / year in advertising revenue.
  • Markus Frind (who Guy described as "one guy sitting around in his underwear in Vancouver"), founder and sole proprietor of PlentyOfFish ("100% free. Put away your credit card") - a free (i.e., advertising-supported) online dating web site - created the company / web site because he wanted to study .NET. The site draws 500 million page views per month and $10 million in annual advertising revenue.
  • Drew Curtis, founder of Fark, a web site where he posts 25 interesting news-of-the-weird items per day, which garners 50 million page views per month and several million dollars annually in advertising (I wonder how much Chuck Shepherd makes).

Guy, a veteran evangelist, entrepreneur and VC - under the traditional model(s) - was inspired by these successful, though deviant, entrepreneurs. Now a 53-year-old father of 4, he would like to sit around in his underwear making millions - or even hundreds of thousands - of dollars per year from a web site. And so, in practicing what he preaches in The Art of the Start - entrepreneurship is more about doing than thinking - he decided to launch a web [2.0] site of his own.

Guy claims is goal is to continue a proud history of information democratization through technological advances, including the printing press, personal computing and desktop publishing: "I wanted to create a web site where anyone could post any information that thousands of people could read." So, he assembled a variety of resources - monetary and non-monetary - and founded Truemors. In his Powerpoint presentation, he offered some numbers on this process:

  • 0 business plans (you don't need a business plan for a $12K investment)
  • 0 number of pitches (you don't need investors - this is within the scale of manageable credit card debt)
  • 7.5 weeks from registration to launch
  • $4,500 in software development ("offshored" – to Electric Pulp, headquartered in South Dakota) vs. the $1M it would have required 3 years ago
  • $4,824.13 in legal fees (incorporate new company, secure trademarks, investigate liability ... especially for libel) vs. $500 for "my uncle, the divorce lawyer" ... or $50K for Wilson Sonsini (his advice: don't skimp on good legal counsel, it makes future acquisition much easier)
  • $399 for a logo (from LogoWorks) vs. the "butt ugly" London Olympics logo, which cost $400K
  • $1,115.05 for domain registrations, including domains to “surround” truemors.com (Network Solutions) vs. $400 for GoDaddy, which he was boycotting due to a Superbowl commercial that he labeled as "sexist" ... which I found ironic, given his admiration of HotOrNot, and some of the use cases he offered or his own site. He bought 55 domains with various misspellings and top-level domain names (TLDs) - far less expensive than the $25K it cost to evict a cybersquatter in the future.
  • 1.5 Full-Time Equivalents (FTEs) - he has one partner ... not sure which one is part-time
  • 3 mentions in TechCrunch (first leak, second leak + screenshot, official launch)
  • 261,214 page views on first day
  • 14,052 unique visitors first day
  • $0 marketing budget – Guy called in a lot of favors ("I spent 24 years [being a mensch] to make a $0 budget possible")
  • 405 truemors posted on the first day
  • 218 truemors deleted on the first day (junk, spam, or otherwise inappropriate) - according to Guy, half of the blogosphere complained there was nothing but crap on the site (which, by the way, does have a crap category (which Guy included in his later demonstration)), and the other half complained that Guy is a censor.
  • 3 hours before site was hacked (he wasn’t offended, but rather was flattered "at least we were worth hacking")
  • 36 hours before the Yahoo! Small Businesss hosting service recommended they move somewhere else
  • $29.95 initial monthly fee for Yahoo! Small Business
  • $150 was the new monthly fee when they moved to an ISP
  • $3000 is the current monthly break-even point (they now include paid content for text - written by Truemorists - and photos - taken or found (on wikipedia, wikimania or iStockPhoto) by Truemorazzi)
  • 2 days before Truemors was labeled the “the worst website ever” (by The Inquirer)
  • 246,210 page views that day ("we probably got more page views than if we were labeled 'best website ever'")

Before demonstrating Truemors, Guy concluded his presentation with 4 observations:

  • The blogosphere is full of angry people (essentially accusing Truemors of being "a stupid idea, poorly implemented"), leaving Guy with a newfound disrespect for the blogosphere, which he [in turn] accused of being composed mostly of 15 year-olds and 50 year-olds who live with their parents and have never French-kissed (hmmm, perhaps this could be a juicy truemor (for the record, none of those attributes apply to this blogger)).
  • $12,000 goea a very long way these days
  • You can work with a team that is thousands of miles away
  • Life is good for entrepreneurs these days

Having been initially inspired by the panel of Web 2.0 entrepreneurs he moderated, he said that he would like to stop traveling and giving speeches, and ideally, someone in the audience at the PARC Forum would be recursively follow in his footsteps and be at the podium a year from now giving a speech starting out with "I saw Guy Kawasaki give a talk about making a million dollars sitting around in his underwear..."

Guy noted the the difficulty in predicting which startup companies will succeed - "I’m almost wiling to say that some of the stupidest ideas turned into the greatest companies" ... examples of which include Apple (whose initial customer base was homebrew computer clubs with 10 people), eBay (founded to sell used printers), Google (the 12th search engine), YouTube (a web site for people to post videos of putting Mentos in Coke bottles). In what seemed like an interesting mashup of Darwinism and Social Darwinism - perhaps Sociotechnical Darwinism (?) - he suggested that with Web 2.0, more people can try more stupid ideas for less money, and since you can never tell which stupid ideas will be successful, the world will become a better place.

During the Truemors demonstration, Guy gave a few "use cases" about people using Truemors to find conversation material prior to a date. Interestingly, given his purported objection to sexism, I found his use cases rather sexist: a PARC hardware engineer reading up on health truemors before a date with a woman he'd met on Match.com (or perhaps PlentyOfFish?), or a woman reading truemors on autos or sports before a date with a guy she'd met on an online dating site.

When asked "What’s to stop anyone else from doing this?", Guy replied "Nothing ... except that everyone in the blogosphere is saying this is stupid. Why would someone copy something stupid?" He then went on to observe tha there are very few things that are truly defensible. When a VC asks an entrepreneur "what makes this venture defensible?", "patents" is the wrong answer. If you're planning to spend time and money litigating patents, you're going to fail (although patents can be valuable for future acquisition prospects). The right answer is "Nothing. We're just going to implement better and faster".

Art_of_the_start_cover When asked about the estimated value of all the favors he cashed in, Guy admitted it probably ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But he also noted that "entrepreneurship is not about a level playing field, it’s about about tilting the field to you." He then went on to say a little more about karma and being a mensch, which reflected the foundations of menschood he'd earlier noted (in The Art of the Start):

  1. Helping lots of people, especially those who cannot help you (although I personally believe it's impossible to determine in advance who can and can't help you ... in fact, I actually believe that everyone has something of value to offer, even when it's not immediately obvious).
  2. Do what's right (not what's easy, expedient, money-saving or possible to get away with)
  3. Pay back society, for such gifts as
    • family and friends
    • spiritual fulfillment
    • good health
    • beautiful surroundings
    • economic success
    • a hat trick every once in a while

After 24 years of helping people, it looks to me like Guy is more interested now in making money vs. making meaning. Although the examples of "stupid ideas" that grew into successful businesses may have been questionable at the outset, many of them at least had grand visions. As I'd noted in one of many references to The Art of the Start - in an earlier post on social entrepreneurship as doing well by doing right - he [had once] espoused a socially responsible motivation to starting things:

[T]he best reason to start an organization is to make meaning – to create a product or service that makes the world a better place

  • Increase the quality of life
  • Right a terrible wrong
  • Prevent the end of something good

... making meaning is the most powerful motivator there is ... [and] if you fail, at least you failed doing something worthwhile.

Guy did talk about failure, and what it would take to succeed: even if someone buys Truemors for $50K, he will doubled his investment on "the worst web site ever". His ultimate goal is to make at least $1M annually in advertising revenue, and spend more time at home. Providing for and spending more time with one's family are, of course, worthy goals, but I do not believe that labeling Truemors as a venture that will make the world a better place is defensible ... and I see it as incompatible with the second principle of being a mensch: "doing what's right (not what's easy, expedient, money-saving or possible to get away with)".

During the Truemors demo, Guy suggested that Truemors was intended as "NPR for the eyes" and that its redeeming value is that "If you read truemors every day, you would be a more interesting person". I'm reminded of the Chinese proverb "may you live in interesting times". We certainly do live (and venture forth) in interesting times, and I do believe that on a certain level, we're all interesting people (though this is not always immediately obvious to all observers / participants). I will be interested to see whether Truemors holds my interest ... or makes me a more interesting person ... or makes the world a better place.

[Update: there is a Google video if Guy's talk.]

[Update: Guy Kawasaki sold Truemors to NowPublic and is now chairman of the board at the parent company. Terms were not disclosed, so it is not clear whether he achieved his sales goal of $50K.]