Cheap, Plentiful Tools Don't Ease Startup Pain

Published in Online Spin, January 24 2014

Every time I meet an entrepreneur, I ask them how they’re doing. I do my best to make it clear I’m genuinely interested in the answer: looking into their eyes, giving them time to formulate a response, implying in my tone that the answer may well be lengthy, complicated, and full of despair -- the way you ask people who have suffered a recent bereavement how they’re doing. Without exception -- and regardless of the real or apparent success of the endeavor -- the answer is the same: some variation of, “It’s hard work. I’m exhausted, anxiety-ridden, and full of doubt. If I had known before I started…”

The entrepreneurs I meet seem to find it cathartic to talk about their challenges, with good reason. It’s a lonely job at the helm of a fledgling organization, and it’s often a huge relief to know that all your concerns mean you’re normal, not crazy.

But the universality of these concerns bespeaks a bigger truth: namely, that entrepreneurship is hard work, work that tends to leave you exhausted, anxiety-ridden, and full of doubt.

You might not guess this from the public image of entrepreneurship. Last week, The Economist published a

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Can Venture Capitalists Not Be Evil?

Published in Online Spin, January 17 2014

“I think I’m just going to become an asshole,” David said. “It’s obvious girls actually prefer it.”

“NO!” I yelled -- didn't mean to, but I couldn’t help my immediate and urgent reaction. Softening my tone, I added, “Look, it’s true some girls respond to guys who treat them badly. But is that the kind of girl you want? Someone who doesn’t value herself and who puts your sorry ass on a pedestal? And do you want to be the one who reinforces to this girl that she is in fact worthless and doesn’t deserve a healthy relationship? Don’t you dare.”

It seemed so obvious to me -- and yet, he hesitated. David’s dilemma came down to a choice between two worldviews. One says it’s more important to win the girl, the other says it’s more important to do the right thing.

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Will Technology Turn Job Creators Into Job Erasers?

Published in Online Spin, January 10 2014

I had always bought the story that Henry Ford paid his workers enough to buy the cars they made.

Looks like I was wrong.

Turns out his real motivation had more to do with reducing turnover than with building a middle class. Altruism myth busted.

The thing is, it doesn’t really matter why he did it. What matters is the effect of the decision: the fact that other manufacturers had to increase their wages in order to compete, the fact that a growing middle class was good for the entire economy, and the fact that Ford ultimately benefited from paying a fair wage rather than a minimum wage.

Regardless of motivation, the reason Ford was able to afford to pay such

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The Pirate Bay, The U.S., And North Korea -- Or, Catch Me Online If You Can

Published in Online Spin, December 20 2013

The Pirate Bay is once again leading governments on a merry chase around the world. In the past week, it has migrated from Sint Maarten to Ascension Island to Peru to Guyana, where it sits as of the time of this writing.

I would say it was under attack, but it’s kind of unfair to call it an attack when it’s so destined to fail. While The Defenders of Copyright pursue myriad legal actions to withdraw domain names from the peer-to-peer torrenting site, its owners simply shift to a new top-level domain with a few clicks. If you’re having trouble accessing the site -- either because they’ve moved or because they’re blocked for you -- simply use one of the many proxy lists to connect immediately. And if you’re in one of the countries that require ISPs to block The Pirate Bay, just download the Pirate Bay Browser to circumvent the restrictions. It’s even working on a “domain-irrelevant” browser that will make the entire domain chase a thing of the past.

The imbalance in capabilities between The Pirate Bay and those who want it gone is almost comical. But The Pirate Bay, like Wikileaks, is activist Internetting at its best: a few crusaders, leading the charge to actually make the world’s information universally accessible.

WestJet Santa Stunt Leaves Sour Taste

Published in Online Spin, December 13 2013

We’ve all had that moment: the moment when you go against the grain, when you don’t get the joke, when you refuse to go along with the meme or you’re the only one pointing out that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

I had that moment this week, when I finally watched the now-famous WestJet Santa video tearing up my NewsFeed – currently sitting on 15 million views and counting. The premise is simple: Before they board, passengers on a WestJet flight get asked by a digital Santa what they want for Christmas. While they’re in the air, teams from WestJet procure all the gifts, which are wrapped, individually addressed, and distributed via the baggage carousel at the destination.

Almost everyone I know loves it, and the comments are overwhelmingly favorable, including here on MediaPost. It’s a gorgeous bit of kitsch. It pulls the heartstrings. It’s a brilliant marketing ploy. I LOLed. But it made me uncomfortable.

Our Lives, Reduced To Data

Published in Online Spin, December 6 2013

It may or may not be true that, in 1899, the commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” But surely by now, technological innovations can no longer surprise.

We have landed on the moon and had cars cover half a million miles with no drivers. Amazon is planning to deliver packages via drone, and Google will do it with robots. Our phones contain the computing power of 2,500 Apollo 11s, and we’ve invented a mind-controlled communication device for people paralyzed by ALS.

So what does the future hold when everything is possible?

The Value Of Doing Nothing

Published in Online Spin, November 22 2013

I spent a few hours today talking with someone whose job is to do nothing. Let’s call him James.

To be honest, James’ job isn’t to do nothing, exactly. Just not something. Which is totally different, if you think about it.

When people in James’ community are having a hard time, he listens to what they have to say, finds out what they need, and then connects them with the right people or agencies.

He doesn’t just give them the phone number, either. He actively makes the introduction, ensuring people actually make it through the maze of bureaucracy and get the help they need.

The nonprofit he

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A Plea To UX Designers: Make My Old Age Easy

Published in Online Spin, 15th November 2013

This is what it’s like when I Skype my grandma:

I see she’s online. I dial. It rings. She hangs up on me.

I dial again. She picks up. She says, “Hello?” She hangs up on me.

I dial again. She picks up. She says, “Hello?” Her video is not on. I ask, “Can you turn your video on so I can see your pretty face?” She hangs up on me.

I dial again. She picks up. “Hello?” I see the spinning icon; video is on its way. Her face appears. “Don’t click anything!” I yell. She hangs up on me.

It’s not her fault. Skype is not particularly user-friendly, and video Skype even less so. It’s impossible to know

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The Non-User-Centric World Of Facebook Messaging

Published in Online Spin, 8th November 2013

In November 2010, the then-26-year-old Mark Zuckerberg sounded the death knell for email. Email was too slow, he said, and too formal. The youths don’t like it.

What they would like, apparently, was Facebook’s new messaging service. This magic system would work with email, direct messages, and texts so that people communicated through a single channel, yet used whatever method they chose.

Nothing like an upstart billionaire attacking a venerable institution to spawn a media frenzy. Was the service going to be a Gmail killer? Was email at death’s door, or had it actually crossed the threshold into the hereafter?

Zuck’s proclamations notwithstanding, email is still looking rather healthy. A year after the announcement, Visible Gains posted an infographic that calculated the number of email accounts at 2.9 billion (almost four times the then number of Facebook accounts). The number of emails sent in 2010 was 107 trillion, a 19% increase

IT People: A Call For Compassion

Published in Online Spin, 1st November 2013

Imagine for a moment that you are a magician. You have worked hard to become an expert in your craft: making bunnies disappear, sawing ladies in half, reaching your hand through a glass display case to grab a watch.

People are awed by your performances. They have no idea how you do it. They want more. Thinking you are capable of anything, they start making unreasonable requests: Walk on water! Through a brick wall! Jump out of a plane with no parachute!

You begin to resist. Just because you can levitate a few inches doesn’t mean you can fly. But your fans don’t understand this. They start to become angry with you. They accuse you of intransigence, of unreasonableness, of saying no to every simple request. To them it seems obvious that you should be capable of these feats. After all, you work magic. That’s your job, right?

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