Monthly Archives: September 2007

Improvisation

I was hanging out with two of my more intellectually stimulating friends the past couple weeks at different times.  Ironically, in both conversations, we hit a very similar discussion topic.  Both of these gents are current entrepreneurs and both confessed to me that, even with age, life is one, large improvisation.  Hence, one’s success in life is largely dictated by how well they bob, weave and tumble through the continual adventures they face. 

I was in the midst of some serious packing today (I’m moving) so had some time to ponder the thought further.  It’s so simple, eloquent and amazing.  We’re all just improvising.  Among other things, that means that, even with age and experience, we often times don’t and won’t know what we’re doing before a situation actually arises.  There are not certain and magic answers; there are not absolute truths.  It’s a deep thought as it relates to parenthood, working with bosses, managing, coaching and generally handling life. 

I also appreciate this thought in the context of entrepreneurialism.  A famous VC once said, “everything is always impossible before it works.”  I think this quote also ties nicely to the subject matter: “The young do not know enough to be prudent, therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it, generation after generation.”  Via the transitive property, if we can agree that life is an improvisation, and we can also agree that youthful people are more likely to persevere through challenges (due to ignorance, boldness and likely less risk), it makes sense that young people are likely to do well in entrepreneurial ventures.  OK, that might be stretching things a bit.  🙂

I love this thought.  The more I consider it, the more I realize how peaceful it can help make life.  It encourages more empathy for others, more patience at difficult moments, and a more chill approach to living life in general.  

Kandinsky Print     

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Filed under Business, Entreprenuerialism, Management, Random

Rationalizing Apple – Part Deux

I posted last week about a crazy few days in the world of Apple and the iCon, Steve Jobs. 

I have two updates since that time:

1) Do NOT rush to an Apple retailer to redeem your $100 credit yet:  I made the mistake of printing my iPhone receipt from July tonight and heading over to a retailer in the University Village area of Seattle.  I compounded the error by selecting a nice assortment of iPhone accessories over a half hour timeframe.  Wherin lies the mistake you ask?  “Did you read Steve Jobs’ open letter?” an Apple store “Genius” inquired of me at the cash register as I laid down my items and printed iPhone receipt.  (I actually don’t think she was technically a store Genius but I’m humored by that concept and it helps the anecdote.)  Apparently, the lesson is that one cannot do anything about the credit until the iCon says “go.”  It’s not as simple as taking your receipt back and getting the credit.  There are more details (the current open letter is super vague) and we must all wait for those mysterious details to unfold.  I wasn’t particularly irked about any of this last week–I’m a bit more so now after tonight’s experience.

2) Watch the Steve Jobs’ Keynote From Last Week:  I got a chance to sit through most of the lengthy video presentation over the weekend.   It’s really an inspiring piece of work.  As a quick aside, I loved the presentation slides used by Jobs.  They reminded me of something Guy Kawasaki would preach about how to make PPT slides succint, direct and effective.  That’s not surprising though considering Kawasaki was at Apple for years.  Secondly, I really enjoyed the walk-through of many of the new developments, particularly the iPod Touch capabilities and potential as well as the Starbucks deal.  My friend, Dave Schappell, blogged about his perspectives on the iPod Touch the other day and he’s also linked to the video from his post. 

In summary, I don’t double Apple will successfully and easily overcome any “blips” from last week’s activities and the next several months should be very strong on iPhone sales, iPod Touch sales and more.  That said, in a manner similar to the famous quote from Better Off Dead, it’s not my $2 that I want so much–I want my $100 rebate!    

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The Facts of Lifecasting

Justin.TV logo 

As digital video has become more consumerized over the past year, there is now increasing discussion regarding the evolutionary process.  Live video is certainly considered one of the next steps.  Here is a great piece from TechCrunch a few months back about the live video landscape.   

One of the discussed areas of interest within live video is “lifecasting.”  This form of digital video has the potential to be transformational in many regards.  It is, potentially, a critical  next step in social media, broadcasting, blogging, chat, podcasting and, according to lifecasters.tv, the complete decentralization of media.   

What is lifecasting?  Think Blair Witch Project from the summer hype of 1999 and, to a different degree, Truman Show .  Lifecasting is literally the practice of walking through one’s daily life with a camera in hand, or strapped to one’s head.  It is the informal, unedited visual documentation of life from the individual’s perspective. 

There are a few players in this emerging space but Justin.TV appears to be getting the most notice thus far.  Justin.TV, started by a recent Yale grad literally named Justin, has several hundred “viewers” at this point–camera-ladden individuals roaming the earth.  It’s a different version of sites like Stickam or Break.com which are more about UGC and live social media.  The live social media arena is dangerous space to tread when YouTube controls 60% of the marketplace and has steadily maintained that place for nearly 18 months now.  I have generally negative perspectives on Justin.TV today (see below) but at least it’s differentiating itself from many other digital video players today. 

I liked Jim Carrey’s Truman Show from the summer of 1998 and the concepts behind the film.  I hated Blair Witch Project despite the originality.  The difference between those flics, which reflects a similar issue here, is structure, editing and editorialization.  Lifecasting today is generally producing random, low-budget and low-quality programming.  I’ve gone directly to Justin at Justin.TV’s viewing camera several times the past few days–often times, his camera is perched in a still position on his desktop at work looking at empty space.  Only Beavis and Butthead would derive enjoyment from such an experience.  I, personally, had to journey away from the site the other day when I found myself watching someone vacuuming a room for more than 20 seconds. (I will admit that Beavis and Butthead would have laughed alongside me as I just watched a guy nearly spewing as he downed hot mayonnaise.)     

However, with some structure to it, and some engaging personalities, I’m starting to envision the potential to lifecasting.  Real World, which shockingly has been successful on MTV for nearly 20 years, is lifecasting to a degree with structure.  Stories are woven to make it flow better.  It also hasn’t hurt the Real World’s popularity to increasingly have voyeuristic sub-plots riddled throughout the season.  It’s a natural to assume a similar development occuring, with the right set of personalities in place, for lifecasting sites.  Over time, if the practice or certain websites got popular, it’s not too far fetched to envision celebrities partaking in some capacity.  I can imagine there would be many folks interested in a lifecast from Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton or a Will Ferrell as they wander through their lives.         

In my opinion, for lifecasting to work, it has to be more Truman Show and less Blair Witch.  The paradoxical question essentially becomes, can lifecasting decentralize media but simultaneously provide sufficient structure to keep the programming interesting?  I could see lifecasting becoming transcendant but, on the other hand, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it become a mildly trendy, cutesy thing, just as the Blair Witch project was back in 1999.        

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Rationalizing Apple

Rotten Apple 

There was a compelling editorial that ran today on the Digital Media Wire about some of Apple’s challenges this week:

http://www.dmwmedia.com/news/2007/09/07/waiter-the-iphone-tastes-a-little-fishy 

It certainly has been an interesting and unusual past week for Apple–significant video content provider challenges and then fall-out from some evolutionary steps in their product and pricing offerings.  The ed piece raises some good questions and issues.

First, I do believe Apple was fully prepared to offer the rebate to early iPhone customers. There is no way they would have made a potential $100M decision within 24 hours without foresight. The Apple words about “listening to customers who complained” is marketing spin…and, prudent. But, hopefully for Apple, there are no further steps taken from here. As the expression goes, if you find yourself in a hole, it’s typically best to stop digging.

The last week, by and large, has been a perplexing one for Apple and the market.  I don’t fully comprehend some of the thinking behind the NBC negotiations.  And, I am still struggling with why Apple did an exclusive deal with AT&T (although I admittedly don’t know the term length or other key exclusivity facets of the deal.)  I don’t grasp the advantages to the company of introducing the iPod Touch, a device so similar to the iPhone, and I struggle to fully understand why a 66% price discount was necessary at such an early stage.   

All that said, the Company should be just fine here–and, this statement is not coming from a long-time Apple snob. Most iPhone consumers in the past few months (including myself) understand the product and price risks associated with being an early adopter.  As an example, this USA Today article from today notes that the price of Motorola Razr’s have repeatedly dropped since it’s launch. Further, the new price offering is highly compelling for such a damn good phone. If the price point was an issue before for someone, it certainly shouldn’t be anymore–the current iPhone is well worth it.

Further, Apple still maintains the best digital media players, digital media store and smartphone in the market…by far. And, despite the looming Google phone (which makes zero sense to me), I think their competitive advantages are safe for the near term future at least.  The iPhone is already the best selling smartphone in the market and it puts previous such efforts from folks like Nokia and Microsoft to shame.  Also, the new iPods have wi-fi capabilities and the Starbucks deal is smart–both advancements are the beginning of very cool things that can make the iPod/iPhone even more ubiquitous in the future.  And, lest we forget, the iPhone should sell 1 million total phones by month end–I may be wrong on this but I’m not sure T-Mobile sold that many Sidekicks in the history of the product line.  Apple is clearly “suffering” in part here from the challenge of massive expectations.   

In the meantime, as it all plays out, I’m certainly looking forward to redeeming my iPhone rebate at a minimum.     

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Is Content Still King? Update.

I posted a piece, approximately six weeks ago, around the notion of shifting leverage in the pervasive world of distribution and content:

https://brettgoldberg.wordpress.com/2007/07/10/is-content-still-king/

The topic, as it relates to Apple in particular, continued to heat up this past week.  NBCU announced it is not planning to renew its distribution arrangement with Apple’s iTunes product come December.  Apple then turned around later in the week and suggested it will pull NBC content down altogether in the September timeframe.  Here was one piece I liked on this topic during the week:

http://www.ipdemocracy.com/archives/2007/08/31/#002638

There is obviously some jockeying going on in this case.  NBC content accounts for 40% of the video sales of iTunes.  NBC is in a JV now with Fox to launch a new digital platform called Hulu.  Clearly, some of this relates to the fact that NBC is posturing that Hulu’s presence makes them less reliant on the iTunes distribution platform.  Humorously, a few places including TechCrunch, noted last week that Hulu means “cease and desist” in Swahili.  Some branding and trademark folks clearly didn’t do their homework on that one.    

But, aside from the negotiations, if Apple was to lose NBC content, or jettison NBC content in the coming weeks, it will have little impact on iPhone or iPod sales.  I do question though what happens if this is the beginning of other video content providers going away.  Apple is set to announce some exciting new iPod feature updates this week, which will likely include Wi-Fi integration.  But, the higher priced iPods rely largely on video.  For those reasons in part, here’s betting NBC and Apple have a deal in place come the expiration time of the contract in December. 

So, the answer to my question stands that content is still king when it comes to Internet distribution.  As the article at the beginning of this piece correctly states though, I’m also betting Apple and Steve Jobs start making some more aggressive plays to take control of the content, as was the case with Jobs and Disney last year.  These kinds of negotiations have to be nothing but infuriating to Steve Jobs in this day and age of Apple brilliance.     

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The Tao of Steve

Donal Logue 

There is a movie that arrived in the theaters, and just as quickly, in the video rental stores approximately seven years ago called The Tao of Steve.  For some strange reason, this movie has been in my head the past few weeks and has even seeped in to several conversations I’ve had with friends.  Very few of those people have ever heard of the movie. 

The Tao of Steve is interesting to me not so much for the movie itself, which I have found entertaining in the multiple times I’ve seen it, but more so in the philosophy.  This film is about an overweight, underachieving character named Dex who is an uninspired, drug touting kindergarten teacher in New Mexico.  This character has no business doing well with the ladies and, yet, he does very well for himself.  He frequently waxes intellectual throughout the flic as to why his female conquests occur and the philosophy boils down to a simple taoist-like approach:  be excellent, be desireless, be gone.  The creed refers to the “Steves” of the world (i.e. McQueen, Austin) who epitomized cool, never pursued women aggresively and always got what they wanted.  On the other hand, a “Stu” is a man who is over-eager and awkward in his approach, rarely achieving his desired outcome whether that be women or otherwise.   Humorously, one of my friends noted in a recent conversation that her father is named Steve and boyfriend is named Stu.  Yikes! 

As I’ve contemplated this Steveonian approach of late, it has occurred to me that the philosophy extends beyond this rare recognized film and even approaching women.  It is a prudent mindset for business and negotiation as well.  It taps the direct human characteristics of our need to surround ourselves with that which is cool.  And, we almost always want what we cannot have in life.  In business, where leverage is fundamental to any dealing, the party who is casually and comfortably positioned to walk away from a negotiation is frequently the one to achieve their ultimate, desired goals.  If one is not positioned to be desireless and/or leave the table, the other side has an advantage. 

I’d personally recommend The Tao of Steve.  I like the Canuck Donal Logue’s character in this movie, Dex, the New Mexico scenery and the light-hearted nature of the piece.  But, I particularly enjoy the philosophy underlying the plot of the film.  It speaks well to womanizing, poker playing, business and life in general.   Not bad for a movie virtually no one  has ever heard of at this point.            

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