“Apple doesn’t give a shit what everyone else is doing. To some, that’s what makes Apple great. To others, it’s what’s wrong with Apple. One side thinks, Why in the world should we have to wait until 2016 to have a smaller, reversible plug? The other side thinks, Why in the world would you want a proprietary, non-standard, expensive plug?”—Future USB Plug to Be Smaller and Reversible (via bryan)
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As of 9:20 am ET, BlackBerry shares were trading at $6.48, down by $1.29. At that price, BlackBerry’s market capitalization will be about $3.4 billion when the markets open for formal trading later this morning. That would be only $1 billion-and-change more than the combined cash and short-term investments it said it had on hand when it reported its latest quarterly results in September. If it were to fall much further, it would be trading at levels near or possibly below the value of its cash holdings, which would imply that the marketplace considers the company essentially worthless.
For whatever it’s worth (and I don’t think very much), I remember working at Apple in 1997 and the financial situation being very similar — we were trading pretty close to the value of our cash on hand.
Then: Steve came back, took a company that had been through rough times but with great DNA, and rebuilt it.
So it’s possible. But tough. And it would help a lot to have Steve Jobs at the helm.
“Maybe Card decided at some point that the price of empathy was better borne by his characters than by himself. It’s hard to hate your enemies when you understand them; it’s much easier to go through life holding on to your prejudices by keeping those with whom you disagree at arm’s length.”—
I’ve written it many times, but during weeks like this week, it just comes in such focus: long term thinking — about our lives and our careers — investing in the people around us more than aiming at the quick win — it’s really everything.
This week I’ve gotten to spend time with 3 different entrepreneurs who I’ve known for a long time. One since my very first class at Stanford 24 years ago. Another who’s been one of my closest friends ever since grad school. And another who worked with me in my own startup nearly 15 years ago. The amazing thing about all of them is that we can pick up our conversations like no time has passed — we’ve been around each other in so many different contexts & in so many different roles — that we just take it for granted sometimes the way we weave in & out of each others’ lives periodically.
But I’ll tell you this: I don’t take it for granted at all. It’s been a lot of work over these many years to stay in touch, to work together — but it never feels like work, and it’s all worth it.
And even more significantly: Kathy & I celebrated our 13th anniversary together — but we’ve actually known each other & been friends for way longer — since we met in 9th grade in San Antonio, back in 1985. Hard to remember life before I knew her, honestly, and why would I want to, really?
The arc of our careers, and our lives, is long. No big insight there, except that some weeks it comes into such sharp relief — it’s so obvious — that it feels good to share it.
“What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”—
My Misfit Shine has mysteriously stopped lighting up, so for the first time in a while, I’m Unquantified. I’ve been wearing a tracker of one sort or another for a couple of years now, and so it’s a little weird not to have one now. (I guess my phone is still doing it, and Argus can tell me.)
Not sure yet if I miss it.
On the upside, I put Automatic into my car, so now my driving is quantified, so there’s that. Now I’ve got driving data that I’m not sure how to make actionable, too!
My partner Reid has a fun metaphor he uses when he’s describing how companies think about their core strategies (which don’t change very much). He says that he thinks about a company’s strategy as a cup of water they’re holding, trying to keep as much water in the cup as possible at all times (and sometimes increasing it), while navigating the landscape around them. Trying not to lose a drop.
Competitors, partners, and other companies are doing the same thing, tending to their own cups of water, navigating their own landscape. Sometimes near where you are, sometimes not in the same zip code.
And added to this, every once in a while as you pass by a competitor, you might want to give a nudge, or a hard push — to make them lose a little of the water in their cup.
So overall you’ve got 3 types of actors here: companies protecting their cups of water; companies trying to knock other companies’ cups of water over; and the landscape that everyone’s navigating.
I love this metaphor, and it’s useful to think about in all sorts of ways.
This week I got to spend some time with Benedict Evans and Ben Bajarin, courtesy of Semil Shah, two extremely sharp, thoughtful & knowledgable analysts of what’s happening today with computing, and that was followed up by Apple’s marketing event the next day, where Apple notably reduced the pricing of OS X Mavericks, iLife and iWork to effectively zero.
Lots of gnashing of teeth, pontificating, blogging about it. Lots of misunderstanding, too. A few folks commented this week that Apple & Google (not to mention Microsoft, Samsung & Amazon) are all highly transparent in their strategies, but not everyone seems to understand them.
Here’s the frame that I use: Apple sells systems. Google sells services. Amazon sells content. Microsoft, in general, sells software, although that’s changing now.
Sometimes people call Apple a hardware company, but that’s not quite right. Others have said they’re a software company, pointing out that it’s the quality of the software experience that really sets them apart, but that’s not quite right either. Having watched Apple for nearly 30 years now, and having worked at 1 Infinite Loop, I really think they think of themselves as a personal computing systems company and always have. They sell systems that work. Samsung, by contrast, sells hardware — they’re not as complete in their systems ambitions as Apple.
Google sells services that help you do things, find things, buy things, learn things. They pay for them, in general, not by charging the consumer but by charging the advertiser. But they sell services.
Amazon, naturally, sells content. Microsoft has always sold software, but they’re clearly exploring each of these models: services (Azure, Office 360, Bing), hardware (Nokia), systems (Xbox, Surface).
So now back to Apple and this week’s price reductions. Pretty easy to see, in your mind’s eye, Apple taking care of their systems business, their cup of water — and thinking that getting people on the most modern versions of their software both increases the quality of the systems they sell and sort of pushes on Microsoft’s software-oriented cup of water. To be crystal clear: I think mostly this move was about Apple’s own cup of water - making their own systems better. But a nice feature, too, that it maybe made other cups wobble a teensy bit.
You can see this dynamic everywhere. In how Google pushes Android & Chrome — not as systems, but as service front ends. In how Amazon sells Kindle at break-even or a loss — to make their content cup of water more stable.
The thing that’s most confusing is that they’re all walking around, with their different cups of water, but in the same landscape (consumer mobile), at a time when human beings’ expectations of that landscape are changing very quickly.
From an interview with designer/artist/soul searcher Elle Luna:
So I was using Uber all the time in San Francisco, even though I hated the design. And then I went to the Crunchies awards ceremony and at a post-ceremony event, where I was in a ball gown, I saw the CEO of Uber, Travis…
There’s a fascinating piece in the New York Times today by Nick Bilton — it’s an excerpt of his upcoming book chronicling the history of Twitter. It’s about Jack, Biz, Ev, and on and on. For the record: all amazing, smart, talented people who’ve very clearly changed our world in many ways over the past few years.
It’s a story of intrigue: lots of twists & turns, betrayals. It’ll be great material for the movie, too, no doubt.
But having seen my fair share of the creation of new companies, I wonder if the lessons here will get a little bit lost in all the drama. From my point of view, here’s the main thing: travels of startups are never purely up & to the right. They’re never a straight line from idea to world changing (and in this case to IPO). They’re never simple stories. They’re never really very clear. They’re never really understandable from any one point of view.
What they are is a lot of work. Hand wringing over whether people will love or even understand what you’re doing. Hustling to find the very best people you can find to build it with you.
What they are is lots of engineers staring at screens & screens of code, on epic hunts to kill their own fail whales. Designers sweating the details of how the things work, how to make it as useful as possible, how to help people grok this new thing at all.
The status quo is the status quo for some set of reasons. By starting up, or joining one, you’re engaging in a creative rebellion. To change the way things are; to upset people who have a vested interest in that status quo. But you’re joyfully jumping into the breach. It’s messy, unclear, hard to see your way through.
The parts of what Nick wrote that spoke most powerfully to me are the ones about the principals not being sure of what they were doing. Of circling around an idea again and again until it had just the right form & context to maybe, sort of, just barely have a shot at working.
But in addition to understanding the huge contributions of the founders, I truly hope that in loving the glitzy spy story, people don’t lose sight of the many, many, many people not named Jack or Biz or Ev who sweated & bled for Twitter, who worked days and nights and weekends and more, who put up this ridiculous little toy (or so everyone thought) that’s changing so much of how we live and communicate and learn today.
Timehop surfaces all sorts of amazing things for me nearly every day, from pictures of fun stuff we did with our kids to SMS convos about companies to hater tweets from Jim Lanzone about how bad Stanford football will be, soon, I guess? Dunno!
But a couple of days ago it resurfaced a tweet from Naval along the lines of “Every time I start to think startups are easy, reality smacks me in the head.”
That’s truth. We start to think they’re easy, because we have massive survivor bias in the press, in the products we use, among our friends. We live & breathe things once they’ve worked, once they’ve become.
It makes us forget that the making is always, always messy. That it’s through a glass, darkly. That you never really know how far you are from home, or how to get back there. That nearly every day, you’re heading off into the unknown, with a plan, but no certainty.
I’ve been blown away this week by a few founders I know as they find their way home, without a map. So much unknown, so much uncharted space, so much TBD. Here be dragons.
But they go. They think and build and try and fail and build some more and win and fail and win. And they keep going. Such determination, such grace.
And that’s the thing. The best founders, they keep sight of what they think the world should be — what they know it can be. And they keep moving.
I’m going to be keenly interested to hear the iPhone 5s versus 5c sales numbers, whenever Apple discloses them. Having played around with both at the Apple Store over the weekend, I found myself pretty convinced that the 5c is the one that will appeal to the widest part of the market. It feels much more approachable, much less precious, and just well put together all around.
The 5s, by contrast, like the 5 before it, has always felt fragile to me — or rather, that it + my natural clumsiness was going to eventually mean that it would slip out of my hand and dent or shatter. Which, for the record, is more or less true. The innards of the 5s are, very obviously, incredible — I was looking back at how shocked I was by the performance of the 5. The processor, plus LTE, made it feel like the first legitimate computer replacement. (Obviously some issues with input, but for most purposes, quite a capable replacement.) And the 5s just feels a lot, lot snappier. Amazing job. And that’s without considering the camera improvements, which would be worth the upgrade for us parents anyway — you can’t get the years back, and you can’t add sensor data years from now when you’re looking back fondly — or the obviously game changing M7.
So it’s obvious that the high end of the market for Apple folks will be dominated by the 5s. But as I said above, I thought the 5c was the obviously appealing mass market phone.
At the couple of stores that I went to over the weekend, though, the overwhelming demand was for the 5s. That could be a reflection of living in the Bay Area. It could be a reflection of early adopters wanting the higher end (I think this is probably the biggest reason). It could be a reflection of consumers wanting the thing that’s most supply constrained.
For whatever it’s worth, if I could have bought a 5c body with 5s innards, that would have been my preference. It’s a really nice feeling phone.
Who knows. My guess is that over time we’ll see the 5c start to overtake the 5s in terms of unit volume across the board. But I’ll be very very interested to see the real numbers.
“Cryptographers have long suspected that the agency planted vulnerabilities in a standard adopted in 2006 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and later by the International Organization for Standardization, which has 163 countries as members.”—
“Go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”—Kurt Vonnegut (via bijan)
Behind the Investment with Al Lieb, co-founder & CEO of ClearSlide & John Lilly
Here’s an interview we did with Al Lieb and me — goes through a bunch of how we work together. I led our investment in ClearSlide 2 years ago, in my first 6 months at Greylock, and am incredibly happy to be involved. We’re building something pretty special there, and it’s a credit to Al & Jim and how they’ve thought about building the team and the culture.
“Being a ‘natural CEO’ is a funny, intangible asset, but you can’t overstate how important that is. Having a CEO where everybody wants the CEO to win is so important. There are so many companies that are started or run by people who are not very likable people, and you don’t really want them to win.” – John Lilly
“He [John] really cares about ClearSlide and that heart and passion shows through in his relationship with us. Some VCs will smile when they talk to you, but it’s not genuine. You can tell John really cares about us and this comes through in a lot of ways — including when he has to deliver tough messages.” – Al Lieb
In our first BTI, we interview Greylock Partner, John Lilly and ClearSlide co-founder and CEO, Al Lieb, across a range of topics to get a better sense of how they met, decided to work together and how their relationship has developed. One theme that they kept coming back to over and over during their session was that of team: recruiting, growing, and building the right culture for success.
Read on below for some excerpts from the conversation.
Random thought this morning: lots of people in the blogoverse are speculating on Microsoft’s next CEO and a few of them are asking “Who’s Microsoft’s Marissa?” On my drive this morning, seemed to me that the obvious analog here is Scott Forstall, formerly head of products at Apple.
I don’t really know Scott or the Microsoft leadership at all, so this is really just wild speculation, and there are zillions of reasons it doesn’t make sense.
But to answer the “Who’s their Marissa?” question, I don’t think there’s a better answer. Both deep product people. Both at the helm (but maybe not quite in charge of) products that have dominated the decade, and possibly the next. Superficially, both Stanford Symbolic Systems. And both would be coming from the dominant company to the company that they had overtaken and overthrown previously.
Lots and lots of differences for sure — Apple is a simpler & more straightforward company than Microsoft; I think you’d argue that Yahoo has weird complexity, but at a high level it’s smaller & less complicated than Google.
And the rivalry between Google and Yahoo, while intense, never had any of the decades long white hot hatred, not to mention disdain, of Apple & Microsoft.
Anyway, I don’t really think that this would happen in any universe we live in, but interesting to think about the parallels this morning.
“In Congress and across the nation, Americans are engaged in a discussion about the value and appropriateness of the foreign surveillance authorities granted to the Intelligence Community. The discussion will ultimately lead us, as a nation, to make decisions about the future of some foreign surveillance-related laws and practices.
As we make those decisions, it is imperative that we do so with a full understanding of what the existing foreign surveillance authorities allow, what the oversight mechanisms are, and most important of all how they contribute to our safety and security.”
As a starting point, it’s amazing & remarkable that they’ve launched on Tumblr - I can’t help but be excited about that.
But, it’s missing the point a little bit, obviously intentionally. It’s great to have a discussion on the merits of the “lawful foreign surveillance activities” — but that’s obviously not what the real problem is — most Americans can live with (if not be in love with) foreign surveillance.
But it’s a different matter to surveil citizens. Lawfully or not — and I think there is mounting evidence that there have been clear over-reaches (sooner or later with technology, it’s always about what you *can* do, not really you’re *allowed* to do.) With secret programs. That we know officials have lied about, repeatedly. And the way our government has reacted to those facts & lies coming to light.
It’s damaging, and not how a democracy (or any government) should behave. It diminishes us and our society.
So while it’s great that DNI has a blog, it’s just lipstick on a pig for now.