Lawsuit Waiting to Happen

More from TechCrunch:

Monster Dare is a social network where you can wager money on daring your friends or the general public….When a dare is declared, members can donate to a money pot to entice anyone or a specific person to carry it out.

I hope these guys keep their liability insurance up-to-date because the only people getting rich from this are the lawyers.

Seriously?

TechCrunch today points to Mizpee:

Using MizPee is as simple as surfing to mizpee.com via a mobile device browser. Users simply enter their location and MizPee delivers a list of nearby toilets, how far away the toilet is, a rating and whether it requires payment.

Obviously, this will be a local advertising play. My question is, how effective can advertising delivery via this site be? Let’s say you’re so desperate to find a bathroom that you need to turn to an online tool versus asking the nearest human, are you really going to spend time perusing the ad links presented alongside the results of your request?

File this as away as evidence that things are getting a bit ridiculous on the new venture creation front.

Non-Geeks Managing Tech Companies

Whether or not non-geeks can manage tech companies is a great subject for debate. I’d argue that Lou Gerstner, a non-geek, did a pretty good job managing IBM.

Fake Steve Jobs comments on this as it relates to Terry Semel’s departure from Yahoo.

Another issue is that it’s tough to run a tech shop when you’re not a techie yourself, or at least, as in my case, you’ve been around techies long enough to know when they’re bullshitting you. From what I’m told the engineers at Yahoo had a running contest to see who could tell Semel the most outrageous lie and get away with it.

Personally, I think it is possible for a non-geek to run a tech shop, but he needs a really strong technical adviser that he can lean on. If not, you’d run risk that your engineers would run all over you.

PowerPoint: “Format Over Content”

PowerPoint turns twenty this week and this column in the WSJ [subscription] is spot on in so many ways.

When used incorrectly, PowerPoint can be the worst thing to happen to a business. I’ve seen complex analysis that fits neatly on a single sheet of Excel expanded to fill 12 PowerPoint slides but somehow still lose all of the critical detail.

One of the creators of PowerPoint states, accurately:

“a lot of people in business have given up writing the documents. They just write the presentations, which are summaries without the detail, without the backup. A lot of people don’t like the intellectual rigor of actually doing the work.”

The column also contains a joke that is far to close to home:

[T]he best way to paralyze an opposition army is to ship it PowerPoint and, thus, contaminate its decision making.

Baby Pictures

The folks at TechCrunch covered item a while ago but it has become particularly relevant to me as a brand new father who’s sending out tons of pictures.

Presto has a seemingly perfect solution for sending pictures to a segment of the market that aren’t users of technology but places a high premium on receiving pictures. Since most pictures these days are shared digitally, grandparents seem to be the perfect target market for a solution that allows them to easily receive pictures without a PC.

The problem to me is the pricing. The price for the hardware is reasonable at $150 but $9.99 per month for the service is a bit pricey, particularly when you factor in that a high percentage of that market is on a fixed income.

Full blown dial-up up can be had for $9.95. You’d think it a service like this with a more limited application would be cheaper, no?

Presto is placing a value on simplicity, but part of the issue could be in the cost structure. Presto likely has to buy and resell dial-up access from a wholesaler and can’t make margins without charging rates that are comparable to full dial-up. So, they have a cost structure comparable to providers of full access, but only need to offer a small fraction of the functionality. They charge rates comparable to full access and position the limited functionality as a positive due to increased simplicity.

I wonder how well its working?

Are the Best and the Brightest Heard?

David Halberstam’s “The Best and the Brightest” describes how John F. Kennedy and his advisers made the decisions that led the US to Vietnam. Early in the the book, Kennedy is talking to his Secretary of Labor, Arthur Goldberg, after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion where irregular troops attempted to topple Castro’s Cuba. Goldberg complained to Kennedy that Kennedy was limiting himself to a small group of advisers and it was leading to some poor decisions.

Kennedy said that he meant no offense but although Goldberg was a good man, a friend, he was in labor, not in foreign policy.

“You’re wrong,” Goldberg replied, “you’re making the mistake of compartmentalizing your cabinet…I was in OSS during the war [WWII] and I ran guerrilla operations and I know something about guerrillas. That they are terrific at certain things. Sabotage and intelligence, nothing like them at that. But they’re no good at all in confronting regular units. Whenever we used them like that, we’d always lose all our people…But you didn’t think of that – and you put me in the category of just a Secretary of Labor.

This compartmentalization must happen all the time in business too.

Seth Godin on Pricing

Seth Godin posts some thoughts on pricing that would probably make a microeconomics professor cry. But I get the point he’s trying to make. The problem with his thesis is that while pricing is a marketing decision, it is also fundamental to how a business architects itself.

There are two generic competitive strategies that a business can pursue; do it cheaper or do it better. If you do it cheaper, you architect your business for operational efficiency and generate profits through higher turnover. If you do it better, you invest in creating differentiators that can that can justify a price premium and make profits through higher margins.

Seth rightly points at Walmart as the classic example of doing things cheaper. They strive for operational efficiency and make a fortune by selling lots of low margin products. Starbucks, who Seth also seems to respect, is a great example of doing things better. They’ve created a customer experience that allows them to charge twice as much as Seven Eleven next door and reap higher margins.

Very few companies are able to “create a blend” of high and low prices as Seth suggests. In fact there are numerous examples of companies who have tried and failed.

Pricing in College Applications

TechCruch reports on a service from Usphere that makes it easy for college applicants to apply to multiple schools using a common web form and one $65 fee.

Usphere advertises the service as an opportunity to apply and be accepted to schools “off the beaten path” that students may not have thought about before. They doesn’t openly publish the schools in its directory, but one can guess it consists of niche schools who need the extra applicants and that applicants might not know a lot about.

I wonder if the administrators of these schools have considered the full cost burden that this program will place on them. They may see Usphere as a great way to get “free” applicants but a program like this will have a real costs. Every application will need to be evaluated in some way regardless of how seriously the student is considering the school.

Since each additional school has a marginal cost of zero for the applicant, there is no incenetive for them to limit the number of schools they apply to. This situation will lead to high costs for the school and lower yield rates in terms of accepted applicants to matriculated students.

Jobs on Partnering

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates meet yesterday for a joint interview at the Wall Street Journal’s All Things Digital conference. The excerpts are fascinating to read [subscription required].

Given all the public bickering and bad blood it is interesting to read about the extent to which Apple and Microsoft cooperated in the early days, and still do.

When they were both asked what they wished they had learned earlier from the other, Jobs’ said:

You know, because Woz and I started the company based on doing the whole banana, we weren’t so good at partnering with people. And, you know, actually, the funny thing is, Microsoft’s one of the few companies we were able to partner with that actually worked for both companies. And we weren’t so good at that, where Bill and Microsoft were really good at it because they didn’t make the whole thing in the early days and they learned how to partner with people really well.

And I think if Apple could have had a little more of that in its DNA, it would have served it extremely well. And I don’t think Apple learned that until, you know, a few decades later.

Here you have the leader of one of the most notorious “do-it-all-ourselves” companies recognizing that partnering earlier could’ve helped.

Very interesting

[some excerpts are available without subscription but not the Jobs quote above.]