Uber & Notifications

Uber has gone from being a gimmick to a utility faster than anything else I’ve used on the Internet. It has made my life as a non-driving person quite comfortable — for a price of course. I visit the doctors often and Uber has made it easier than I could have ever imagined. It has become indispensable to my life and perhaps that’s why I’ve studied it closely. Uber is very similar to Google – data driven, almost devoid of emotion and obsessed with speed.

If Google focuses on returning search results as quickly as possible, then Uber is all about reducing the “time to curb.” The faster the time, the more their system is utilized and more likely we as customers are going to use Uber — something I explained in great detail in a column published in the June 2014 issue of the FastCompany magazine.


All of this makes perfect sense. However, lately I have observed that when I get a notification that “your Uber is arriving now,” the car isn’t anywhere in sight and it’s often even five minutes away. Those five minutes sometimes are seven or ten minutes. It’s as if Uber kidnapped the cable guy, shrunk him into a gremlin and unleashed him into their system. Either way it is causing a level of unpleasantness that degrades their brand perception. I am considering Lyft and Flywheel, which previously has had literally no presence on my phone.

When I tweeted my observation, it became clear that I am not the only one who is experiencing these delays. The reaction on Twitter was decidedly negative, an early sign that something is not right. Hopefully Uber gets to the bottom of this soon, for as Bob Marley sang, “You can fool some people some times but you cant fool all the people all the time.”

Digital Systems of Control

I find it so curious the ways in which the technology we own controls us against our desires, by design.  

When I grew up on computers, owning your own device meant you had total control. Don’t like your OS? Rip it out and install a new one. Want to run faster? Crack the case and start overclocking. 

Increasingly nowadays, it feels Continue reading "Digital Systems of Control"

Digital Systems of Control

I find it so curious the ways in which the technology we own controls us against our desires, by design.  

When I grew up on computers, owning your own device meant you had total control. Don’t like your OS? Rip it out and install a new one. Want to run faster? Crack the case and start overclocking. 

Increasingly nowadays, it feels like “ownership” is really just a license to use hardware in a certain way prescribed by its designers. Some (a minority) of systems of control are obvious attempts by manufacturers to serve their own interests (why can’t I install any software I download on the Internet onto my iPhone?). Most systems of control are set by design to make things easier for users: simplify options through sheer elimination (turning off your Tivo would cripple the end-user experience of passive recording). But even these systems of control with more benevolent intentions feel abrasive to me.  

When I brush up the wrong way against digital systems of control, they feel like a nerfed blunting of an otherwise perfectly useful tool. I’m delighted that every major popular consumer technology has hacking subcultures that are constantly peeling back these nerfed-over surfaces and exposing the messy guts to those who are curious.  These subcultures are always only a google search away, and they make me feel better, just knowing that they are there.

The “Paoparazzi” and Jury Questions — Awaiting a Pao-Kleiner Verdict

Former Kleiner partner Ellen Pao arrives at San Francisco Superior Court earlier this month.

Jurors in the Pao vs. Kleiner Perkins courtroom drama captivating Silicon Valley have zeroed in on the words of a senior partner at the storied venture-capital firm that could prove central to the verdict: Junior partner Ellen Pao lacked the “genetic makeup” to be promoted to investor.

Pao claims she wasn’t promoted at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers because of gender discrimination, and the words of Ted Schlein on the witness stand late last month could be shaping the verdict, which is being considered behind closed doors for a third day.

After disappearing into a room in a courthouse across from San Francisco’s grand City Hall on Wednesday, six men and six women are still determining whether Kleiner discriminated against Pao because she’s a women, then fired her when she spoke out about it.

The jury must work through 14 pages of instructions and a seven-page verdict form with 30 questions to formulate its verdict on two charges of gender discrimination and two charges of retaliation.

The jurors have four weeks of testimony to make their decision, though the lawsuit has gripped Silicon Valley ever since Pao filed it nearly three years ago.

On Thursday afternoon, it appeared the jury might have come to its decision. The San Francisco Superior Court, which has tweeted major developments and announcements in the case, announced that the attorneys and judge were returning to the courtroom because the “jury has sent a request to Judge Kahn.” The “Paoparazzi,” the nickname for a dozen tech journalists covering the trial, swarmed to the courtroom – but it was simply for a jury question.

Juros asked about testimony from Kleiner Perkins relating to Pao’s qualifications as an investor. Then on Friday morning, jurors asked about Schlein’s statement that she lacked traits to be an investor. This could  suggest jurors are weighing the first charge of gender discrimination.

Sexism in tech has been top of mind for many in the culture of Silicon Valley as a string of incidents has played out over the last several years — from a settlement in a sexual harassment claim at dating startup Tinder to “Gamergate,” the sustained online abuse of women in the video game industry. But the three-year saga of the Pao case — involving alleged talk of porn stars by male partners, dinners with Al Gore and trysts real and attempted at the venture capital firm, may have captured public attention more than any other.

“People see much larger themes in this one than in the average dispute,” said Kelly Dermody, a San Francisco attorney who has handled discrimination and other cases against Continue reading "The “Paoparazzi” and Jury Questions — Awaiting a Pao-Kleiner Verdict"

Feature Friday: Archives of Live Broadcasts

I wrote about the live broadcasting craze earlier this week. There are three significant players in this market, YouNow, Twitter/Periscope, and Meerkat. I’m a shareholder in two of them (YouNow is a USV portfolio company and we own a lot of Twitter stock personally). So I’ve been quite interested to see how this market is shaping up and I’ve been using all three apps this week.

I should say that I don’t see myself as a broadcaster. That may change. But I honestly don’t know what parts of my day are interesting enough to broadcast and would be appropriate to broadcast. I’m sure the USV monday meeting would be interesting to broadcast but it would not be fair to all the companies we talk about in that meeting confidentially to broadcast that. I’m sure the SoundCloud board meeting would be interesting to broadcast but I’m equally sure the company would be mortified that I would even dare to think of such a thing. I know that I will get some suggestions in the comments and if any are good, I will reconsider the “I’m not a broadcaster” attitude I have right now.

I did accidentally broadcast two seconds on Meerkat this morning.

That happened because I accidentally pushed a button and went live without realizing it (and tweet spammed almost 400,000 followers) to my great annoyance. That’s a UX fail as far as I’m concerned and I’m not sure I’m going to open that app again.

But I do see myself as a consumer of these broadcasts. We’ve been an investor in YouNow for something like three years and I’ve spent time watching broadcasts on YouNow. It’s a classic Internet content marketplace. There’s brilliance right next to silliness. But when you catch something brilliant on YouNow, it’s kind of magical. Tyler Oakley did a YouNow last night that had 120,000 viewers and he raised $20,000 for his Prizeo challenge during his live broadcast. You can watch Tyler’s broadcast via YouNow’s archive mode.

Which leads me to my feature friday topic – archives of live broadcasts. I’m getting real time mobile notifications on my phone from Periscope and YouNow and Meerkat and I’m also seeing invitations to join these live broadcasts in my Twitter feed. But I’m pretty busy during the day when all of these broadcasts are happening. I realize there’s value in watching live (the chat, the engagement, the favoriting, etc) but honestly I can’t tune in live very often.

What I’d like to be able to do, ideally right from my mobile notifications or the tweet, is to favorite or mark to watch later (I use the favorite button on many platforms as my “read later” button).

Twitter’s Periscope also has archives. I snapped this screenshot today from my Periscope app.


I watched my friend Howard”s broadcasts via this archive screen this morning, further confirming that I (and Howard too) are not interesting enough to be broadcasters :)

But regardless of whether or not that particular archived broadcast was any good, I think ironically archives are an important part of the livestreaming experience and I think the leading apps should support this functionality if they want to reach the broadest user base.

The Most Productive Way to Develop as a Leader


Everybody loves self-improvement. We want to get smarter, network better, be connected, balance our lives, and so on. That’s why we’re such avid consumers of “top 10” lists of things to do to be a more effective, productive, promotable, mindful — you name it — leader. We read all the lists, but we have trouble sticking to the “easy steps” because while we all want the benefits of change, we rarely ever want to do the hard work of change.

But what if we didn’t think of self-improvement as work? What if we thought of it as play — specifically, as playing with our sense of self?

Let’s say an executive we’ll call John lacks empathy in his dealings with people. For example, he’s overly blunt when he gives feedback to others and he’s not a very good listener. Thanks to a recent promotion, he needs to be less of a task-master and more people-oriented. He wants to improve on the leadership skills he’s been told are vital for his future success but, unfortunately, they are alien to him. What can he do?

John has two options. He can work on himself, committing to do everything in his power to change his leadership style from model A to model B. Or he can play with his self-concept by “flirting” with a diverse array of styles and approaches and withholding allegiance to a favored result until he is better informed. The difference between these two approaches is both nuanced and instructive for anyone striving to transform how they lead.

Let’s first imagine John working on himself. The adjectives that come to mind include diligent, serious, thorough, methodical, reasonable, and disciplined. The notion of “work” evokes diligence, efficiency, and duty — focusing on what you should do, especially as others see it, as opposed to what you want to do. I imagine John making a systematic assessment of his strengths and weaknesses, collecting feedback on areas for improvement, setting concrete SMART goals, devising a timetable and strategies for achieving them, possibly engaging a coach psychologist to dig deeper into the root causes of his poor people skills, monitoring his progress, and so on. With a clear end in mind, he proceeds in a logical, step-by-step manner, striving for progress. There is one right answer. Success or failure is the outcome. We judge ourselves.

Now, let’s imagine John being playful with his sense of self. What adjectives come to mind now? The words lively, good-humored, spirited, irreverent, divergent, amused, and full of fun and life now spring to mind. The notion of “play” evokes an element of fantasy and potential — the “possible self,” as Stanford psychologist Hazel Markus calls

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Reassess Millennials’ Social Sharing Habits


Millennials are often maligned for their constant technology use and obsession with the social approval signaled by likes, shares, and retweets. But organizations need to start recognizing the benefits of such behavior and harnessing it. This generational cohort will, by some estimates, account for nearly 75% of the workforce by 2025. And, according to a recent Deloitte survey of 7,800 people from 29 countries, only 28% of currently employed Millennials feel their companies are fully using their skills.

How can smart leaders better leverage the talents of these future leaders? As organizational consultants, we tell our clients to consider what makes them tick and to see the value in those interests. Two points are of particular note:

First, social sharing. Neuroscientists have shown that any kind of positive personal interaction lights up a part of the brain called the temporoparietal junction, which stimulates the production of oxytocin, “the feel-good hormone.” Millennials, who have grown up interacting online, are able to get that same high, more often, though technology, by posting, messaging, forwarding and favoriting multiple times a day. They crave that connection and are therefore natural team players.

Second, constant, complex data flow. Research tells us that multitasking is impossible: people can only do two things at once if one of those things is routine. Also, those who regularly use multiple forms of media are more prone to distraction than those who don’t. But, according to Nielson Neurofocus, EEG readings suggest that younger brains have higher multi-sensory processing capacity than older ones and are most stimulated – that its more engaged with and more likely to pay attention to and remember – dynamic messages. Millennials probably aren’t more effective multitaskers, in the strict sense of the world, but, in their current stage of brain development, they seem better able to tolerate and integrate multiple streams of information.

Angela Ahrendts, the former CEO of Burberry, recognized that she could turn these two hallmarks of Millennial behavior into an asset for the fashion brand. In 2006, she hired a large number of “digital natives,” as she called them, to do what they do best: socialize through technology. As she explains in this video, they created an expansive digital platform, which transformed the company’s image and dramatically accelerated its growth. One highlight was “Tweet Walk,” which turned Burberry’s traditional runway show into a live web broadcast.

While Baby Boomers might see phones, tablets, and other devices as distractions, Millennials use them to collaborate and innovate in real time. While Gen-Xers may view aggressive social sharing as an unhealthy mix of the personal and professional, Millennials see it as a way to gather input and learn from others. Millennials understand, embrace and are evolving with

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Waygum Raises $1.5M to Mobilize the Industrial Internet of Things

Waygum Inc., whose name is derived from the Tamil word for “speed,” has raised about $1.5 million so far for technology that is helping to build the industrial Internet of Things by enabling mobile devices to control hard-to-reach machines.

Investors include the corporate venture arm of Tyco International Ltd., which makes electronic security systems, along with Navitas Capital.

Last year, Waygum graduated from Alchemist Accelerator, a Bay Area incubator focused on business-software startups, and won $75,000 in the Cisco Internet of Things Innovation Grand Challenge, placing second out of more than 850 companies.

Waygum Inc. Chief Executive Sundar Krish
Waygum Inc.

“They focused on a problem that we see a lot in industry, which is how do we connect the devices into the networks in places where you can’t run the wired infrastructure,” said Maciej Kranz, vice president of Cisco Systems Inc.’s corporate technology group. “…When you build a refinery, you can’t retrofit these environments.”

Waygum was founded in 2013 by Sundar Krish, who left his job as a senior software architect at Cisco for the startup. At one point he worked on Cisco’s mobile strategy, he said, and saw “all these enterprise mobile platforms and nobody using them. I thought I could build a better platform.”

Industrial automation isn’t new, but the technology building blocks that are emerging to handle it are new, Mr. Krish said, with software frameworks and open-source technologies that will be easier for developers to use.

Also, some very large companies, including Siemens AG, General Electric Co., Intel Corp. and several others, are trying to figure out their place in the industrial Internet, he said. Waygum has partnerships with some and is in discussions with others.

The idea of using mobile apps to control huge machines that are hard for humans to reach physically is exciting, he said–one manufacturer in Germany is considering offering a whole factory as an online service.

“It’s futuristic, but we could get to that place,” he said.

Waygum has a team of about five people, along with an offshore development center in India, and it is working on its technology platform, which is offered as a subscription. One plan is to enable developers in a couple of years to use the platform to create mobile apps.

Mr. Krish figures mobile is a good entry point for his company because it is a technology layer that any customer who wants to connect things to an industrial Internet is going to need, and it is also something that most would have trouble building themselves.

“A very software-centric enterprise, like one in Silicon Valley, can maybe work with 10 different vendors and get a Continue reading "Waygum Raises $1.5M to Mobilize the Industrial Internet of Things"

How to Run a Great Virtual Meeting


Virtual meetings don’t have to be seen as a waste of time. In fact, they can be more valuable than traditional face-to-face meetings. Beyond the fact that they’re inexpensive ways to get people together – think: no travel costs and readily available technology – they’re also great opportunities to build engagement, trust and candor among teams.

Several years ago, my company’s Research Institute embarked on an exploration of the “New People Rules in a Virtual World” to explore how technology is shaping our relationships and how we collaborate. This multiyear journey also evolved my thinking on the subject, helping me recognize that virtual is not the enemy of the physical if key rules and processes are maintained and respected.

Going back through that research now, I’ve put together a comprehensive list of some simple do’s and don’ts to help you get the most out of your next virtual meeting.

Before the meeting:

Turn the video on. Since everyone on the call is separated by distance, the best thing you can do to make everyone at least feel like they’re in the same room is to use video. There are many options to choose from, such as WebEx and Skype. Video makes people feel more engaged because it allows team members to see each other’s emotions and reactions, which immediately humanizes the room. No longer are they just voices on a phone line; they’re the faces of your co-workers together, interacting. Without video, you’ll never know if the dead silence in a virtual meeting is happening because somebody is not paying attention, because he’s rolling his eyes in exasperation or nodding his head in agreement. Facial expressions matter.

Cut out report-outs. Too many meetings, virtual and otherwise, are reminiscent of a bunch of fifth graders reading to each other around the table – and that’s a waste of the valuable time and opportunity of having people in a room together. The solution is to send out a simple half-page in advance to report on key agenda items – and then only spend time on it in the meeting if people need to ask questions or want to comment.

This type of pre-work prepares participants to take full advantage of the meeting by thinking ahead about the content, formulating ideas or getting to know others in the group, which can help keep team members engaged, says business consultant Nancy M. Settle-Murphy in her book Leading Effective Virtual Teams. But one thing is critical: It has to be assumed that everyone has read the pre-read. Not doing so becomes an ethical violation against the team. I

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The Sales Director Who Turned Work into a Fantasy Sports Competition


Now that everything we do at work can be observed, measured, tracked, and reported — thanks to sensing technologies and cheap processing power — more organizations are relying heavily on “the data” to manage employees’ performance. They’re striving to assess people strictly on merit: how productive they are, how well they collaborate, how much value they create.

As human beings, we’re naturally biased in how we perceive others’ competence and worth. Analytics can help correct that problem, but sometimes even the data doesn’t seem fair. When we feel it doesn’t sufficiently account for our contributions, we lose confidence in it, feeling trapped by its failure to “understand” us. So then we explain the metrics away rather than using them to learn what’s working and improve the things that aren’t.

How do we fix that? Sports organizations have taken some of the apparent bias out of talent analytics by incorporating several factors into performance assessment, synthesizing numerous observable metrics into one “uber” number. In baseball, we have Sabermetrics, a set of stats that measure in-game activity; in football, the Total QBR, which captures the quarterback’s various contributions; and in basketball, the PER (player efficiency rating), an all-in-one measure of individual productivity. Though each rating system has its limits, the idea is to prevent recruiters and managers from assigning too much significance to some factors and not enough to others.

But does creating one synthetic score to manage performance make sense in non-sports organizations, as well? David Schwall, a director who heads up inside sales at Clayton Homes (a Berkshire Hathaway company that builds homes in the United States), says it’s working there. He implemented it last year with an interesting twist.

Schwall was looking for a way to improve his unit’s performance. The operation was the epitome of transparency — via Salesforce CRM integration, leaderboards displayed the top reps’ progress. People were rewarded for sustained performance and paid an additional bonus for each of their leads who visited a retail store.

Insight Center

Still, Schwall thought his team could achieve more. Eager to try something different, he partnered with Ambition, a Y Combinator start-up that has created a platform to turn sales teams’ work into a fantasy sports competition. In fantasy sports leagues, which attracted over 41 million Americans in 2014, participants create their own imaginary teams with actual players, scoring points according to how those players perform that season. In the summer of 2014, Schwall turned his managers into team owners, who then drafted all the reps in Clayton’s inside sales unit into five fantasy football teams. (The unit itself served as the “league.”) Individuals scored points against a single, synthetic “Ambition” score according to their sales performance in three critical areas — how many calls they made to high-potential leads, what percentage of those calls resulted in a confirmed appointment at one of about 1,000 retail stores,

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The Daily Startup: Dating Apps, Investors Continue to Connect

dailystartup_D_20090806101628.jpgArt by Mike Lucas

Venture investors don’t appear to have yet fallen out of love with dating apps. The latest to pick up angel funding is JSwipe, a Tinder-like service that aims to connect young Jewish singles, Timothy Hay reports for Dow Jones VentureWire. The funding is the latest in a string of hookups between investors and companies.  Last month, Coffee Meets Bagel, which promises users a dating match within a day, raised $7.8 million, while The League, another dating application aimed at exclusivity, raised $2.1 million in February. In December, dating apps Happn and Hinge raised $8 million and $12 million, respectively.

ALSO IN TODAY’S VENTUREWIRE (subscription required):

Aryaka, which provides networking in the cloud, raised $16 million led by Nexus Venture Partner. The round included current investors InterWest Partners, Mohr Davidow Ventures, Presidio Ventures and Trinity Ventures. The company’s valuation is more than $100 million.

NGM Biopharmaceuticals, which recently secured $200 million in equity and cash through an alliance with Merck & Co., said it has raised $57.5 million in Series D financing. Investors participating include return backers Column Group, Prospect Venture Partners, Tichenor Ventures and Topspin Partners. NGM held an initial closing in October and a final closing in February. The new investors in the Series D round are undisclosed.

Gelesis, a biotechnology company developing an oral capsule to induce weight loss, said it has closed a $22 million financing from undislcosed investors.

Venture fund news: Ignition Partners is raising up to $200 million for its next fund for investments in early-stage enterprise software companies…New investor Bespoke is seeking up to $150 million for first fund…Incubator AKT IP Ventures is targeting up to $20 million for new intellectual property fund.

(VentureWire is a daily newsletter with comprehensive analysis of all the investments, deals and personnel moves involving startups and their venture backers. For a two-week trial, visit http://on.wsj.com/DJPEVCNews, scroll to the bottom and click “try for free.”)


Slack’s Valuation More Than Doubles to $2.8 Billion in Five Months. The workplace collaboration tool Slack has lined up funding that values the startup at $2.76 billion, which is more than double the $1.12 billion it was valued five months ago, The Wall Street Journal’s Douglas MacMillan reports. The investors in the new round, accord to people familiar with the matter, include Institutional Venture Partners, Horizons Ventures, Index Ventures and DST Global. The round in expected to close within the next few weeks.

Meerkat Raises Funding as It Takes on Twitter’s Periscope. The live-streaming app Meerkat, which set Continue reading "The Daily Startup: Dating Apps, Investors Continue to Connect"

“Spotify with Jimmy Juice”

"Spotify with Jimmy Juice":

Ben Sisario and Brian X. Chen:

In a sign of how important Beats is in reshaping Apple’s digital music, the company has made a musician a point man for overhauling the iPhone’s music app to include the streaming music service, as opposed to an engineer. Trent Reznor, the Nine Inch Nails frontman who was the chief creative officer for Beats, is playing a major role in redesigning the music app, according to two Apple employees familiar with the product, who spoke on the condition they not be named because the plans are private.

My teenage self still can’t quite wrap my head (like a hole?) around this. From my understanding, the app is completely different — including in name. A total reboot.

Mr. Iovine has set the tone of the transformation of Apple’s music plans, according to music executives. Mr. Iovine, who reports to Eddy Cue, Apple’s head of software and Internet services, has been leading aggressive talks to secure prominent album releases that will be exclusive to Apple, akin to what Beyoncé did when she released her self-titled album on iTunes in December 2013. One music executive involved in the negotiations described this part of the new iTunes as “Spotify with Jimmy juice.”

This, on the other hand, makes perfect sense to me. Still hoping they go with this last bit as the official name. It has such a nice ring to it.

Case Study: Is It Teasing or Harassment?


“My, my, how tiny you are! You must be the smallest woman on earth. Hello, Dot!”

These were the first words Jack Matthews spoke to Sema Isaura-Mans.

Editor’s Note

  • This fictionalized case study will appear in a forthcoming issue of Harvard Business Review, along with commentary from experts and readers. If you’d like your comment to be considered for publication, please be sure to include your full name, company or university affiliation, and e-mail address.

Sema, an accounts manager at the Dutch-British financial services consultancy Dirksen-Hall, had recently transferred from its Ankara office to its headquarters, in Amsterdam. Jack, the executive vice president for special projects, was her new boss. He’d also just relocated—from Manchester, where he’d been a VP of sales. They were meeting for the first time at the kickoff for a big project to which they’d both been assigned.

Sema was completely taken aback by Jack’s remark. Though she was barely five feet tall and weighed just under 45 kilos, she had never given her petite build a second thought at the office. For a few seconds, as Jack and the others around the table chuckled, she sat speechless. But then she looked the six-foot-five, potbellied Englishman in the eye and, without really thinking, replied, “Hello, Big Dot,” which made everyone laugh even louder.

“Well, she’s got a sense of humor—nice one!” Jack said, clapping his large hands. “I’m dead chuffed you’re on our team, Sema. I’ve heard only good things about you.”

He moved to the head of the table and asked all the others in the room to introduce themselves. Then he outlined the task that lay ahead. Their goal was to create a common platform for all the various back-office and client-facing computer and network systems used by the company’s international offices. This would both improve service provision globally and greatly enhance Dirksen-Hall’s ability to manage enterprise risk. Code-named “Samen,” the Dutch word for “together,” the project would affect some 600 employees in 40 offices across the 28 countries where Dirksen-Hall had a presence. It was a gigantic undertaking. However, Jack

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Relearning the Art of Asking Questions


Proper questioning has become a lost art. The curious four-year-old asks a lot of questions — incessant streams of “Why?” and “Why not?” might sound familiar — but as we grow older, our questioning decreases. In a recent poll of more than 200 of our clients, we found that those with children estimated that 70-80% of their kids’ dialogues with others were comprised of questions. But those same clients said that only 15-25% of their own interactions consisted of questions. Why the drop off?

Think back to your time growing up and in school. Chances are you received the most recognition or reward when you got the correct answers. Later in life, that incentive continues. At work, we often reward those who answer questions, not those who ask them. Questioning conventional wisdom can even lead to being sidelined, isolated, or considered a threat.

Because expectations for decision-making have gone from “get it done soon” to “get it done now” to “it should have been done yesterday,” we tend to jump to conclusions instead of asking more questions. And the unfortunate side effect of not asking enough questions is poor decision-making. That’s why it’s imperative that we slow down and take the time to ask more — and better — questions. At best, we’ll arrive at better conclusions. At worst, we’ll avoid a lot of rework later on.

Aside from not speaking up enough, many professionals don’t think about how different types of questions can lead to different outcomes. You should steer a conversation by asking the right kinds of questions, based on the problem you’re trying to solve. In some cases, you’ll want to expand your view of the problem, rather than keeping it narrowly focused. In others, you may want to challenge basic assumptions or affirm your understanding in order to feel more confident in your conclusions.

Consider these four types of questions — Clarifying, Adjoining, Funneling, and Elevating — each aimed at achieving a different goal:


Clarifying questions help us better understand what has been said. In many conversations, people speak past one another. Asking clarifying questions can help uncover the real intent behind what is said. These help us understand each other better and lead us toward relevant follow-up questions. “Can you tell me more?” and “Why do you say so?” both fall into this category. People often don’t ask these questions, because they tend to make assumptions and complete any missing parts themselves.

Adjoining questions are used to explore related aspects of the problem that are ignored in the conversation. Questions such as, “How would this concept apply in a different context?” or “What are the related uses of this technology?” fall into this category. For example, asking “How would these insights apply in Canada?” during a discussion on customer life-time value in the U.S. can open a useful discussion on behavioral differences between customers in the U.S. and Canada. Our laser-like focus on immediate tasks often

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The Smallest Possible Leads to Biggest Possible

Hypergrowth.  Every startup wants it.  Every investor in a startup wants it too.  It means success.  It means money.  Hypergrowth also signifies that the startup idea is meaningful for the customers that are using it.  That’s the core reason to startup the company in the first place…it’s not about the material things.

Seth Godin’s blog today is great because it gives a general path to hypergrowth.  He says, “Fast growth comes from overwhelming the smallest possible audience with a product or service that so delights that they insist that their friends and colleagues use it.”

That is true.  You should read the rest of his blog to see how he explains his point.

Finding product market fit with a small audience that is a proxy for a much larger audience is a great way to grow.  When investors examine a company, we start extrapolating about where this company might potentially go.  If we think it can get big enough and that the team can execute, we write a check.

Founders have to sell a road map to investors about how big they can be.  Markets are never measured in millions they are always measured in billions.  But, the first market that is the most crucial might be the one that takes you to $100,000.

I was talking to a startup the other day.  We were talking about the future and my remark was, “Do one thing really really well.”  In the short term, do one thing really great.  The rest will come in time.  But, in early days resources are scarce.  Concentrate your energy on doing one thing great and you will find that you will do a lot of things great.


Option Value and False Hopes

Ever had this response to a pitch meeting? “Really exciting stuff, would love to work with you, please come back and see me when you’re formally fundraising.”

As many of you probably know by now, a VC gives that response to founders all the time.  It’s extremely common.  It’s really the only answer that makes sense for a VC to give to a founder.  The reason is VCs give that answer is to preserve option value. We at least recognize that we are wrong a lot, and there is always a chance of breakout success, and therefore when we see something that has potential but hasn’t broken out yet, we’ll try to preserve option value and make sure we get a chance to invest at a later date.  

Delaying decisions as long as possible is a clear strategy in gambling.  People want to gain as much information as possible before making a bet.   That’s why the dealer declares “no more bets” at the roulette wheel once the ball starts slowing down.  

This behavior can be misinterpreted by the recipient of the feedback.  When a founder has a bunch of meetings and receives a universal “this is really interesting, would love to see you again in a few months,” answer — it can be misleading.  It can lead founders to thinking that the next fundraising process is going to be easy.  It can lead to false hopes

This dynamic also plays out in many other areas besides the VC / Founder relationship.  It happens in enterprise sales when big companies have lots of different pilot projects going on to see if anything pans out.  It happens in personal dating sites where a user might like 1,000 profiles.  And guess what — it happens to VCs all the time when we have to go out and pitch big LPs (limited partners).  Obtaining and leveraging option value is a common theme across many different areas.

For the individual, be aware why people are responding to you the way they are.  Don’t read too much into positive replies from meetings that have no real commitment from the other person.  My advice would be to get people to put skin in the game early.   Don’t let people coast along preserving option value and wasting your precious time.  

What Young vs. UPS Means for Pregnant Workers and Their Bosses


The U.S. Supreme Court case decided this week makes it significantly more likely that pregnant women denied workplace accommodations will succeed in their legal claims against the employers who denied them.

The Court’s decision in Young v. UPS holds that there may be some situations in which employers can accommodate some groups of employees, without also accommodating pregnant employees, but then creates a test so strict that it in effect eliminates employers’ ability to do just that.

Peggy Young, the plaintiff in the case, worked for UPS as a pickup and delivery driver. When she became pregnant in 2006, her doctor restricted her from lifting more than 20 pounds during her first 20 weeks of pregnancy and 10 pounds for the remainder. UPS informed Young that she could not work because the company required drivers in her position to be able to lift parcels weighing up to 70 pounds. As a result, Young was placed on leave without pay and subsequently lost her employee medical coverage.

Young claims that her co-workers were willing to help her lift any packages weighing over 20 pounds and that UPS had a policy of accommodating other, non-pregnant drivers. At the time, UPS accommodated (1) drivers who were injured on the job; (2) drivers who lost their Department of Transportation certifications; and (3) drivers who suffered from a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Young brought a federal lawsuit against UPS under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1987.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to clarify that Title VII’s longstanding prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex includes a prohibition of discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. Central to Young’s case, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act also requires that employers treat pregnant women “the same for all employment-related purposes . . . as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” It is this clause that the Supreme Court’s decision in Young v. UPS interprets.

UPS argued that its decision not to provide an accommodation to Young was non-discriminatory because it followed a company policy that does not take pregnancy into account — a so-called “pregnancy-blind” policy. The Supreme Court disagreed, finding in Young’s favor after two lower courts had taken UPS’s side.

But as it turns out, despite finding in her favor — with Justice Breyer writing an opinion that was joined be all three female justices, and Chief Justice Roberts — the Supreme Court didn’t agree with Young’s interpretation of the law either. Young said that employers are required to accommodate pregnant women when they provide an accommodation to any other non-pregnant employee who is similar in ability to work. Breyer’s decision (and a separate concurrence written by Alito) did not buy into this analysis. However, that may not have much effect on the practical implications of the decision. The Court articulated a high legal burden employers will have to meet in order to justify

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20 VC 022: Letting go of the life we planned and the Power of the Female Narrative with Matthew McCall


Matthew McCall is a Partner at Pritzker Group Venture Capital and was previously a Partner with DFJ Portage. He has been involved with investments with Feedburner (acquired by Google), Playdom (acquired by Disney) and EverDream (acquired by Dell), just to name a few. Matt has been named in Chicago’s ’40 under 40′ and their Top Tech 25 list. He has been named as one of the Top 100 VCs in the US, a Media 100 and a Hollywood 100 Power Player.

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