Archive for November, 2007

For a startup company, “every day has meaning”

A couple of days ago I had coffee with Tim Wolters, one of Bouder’s thought leaders. We discussed several topics including the startup life.  During our conversation he used a phrase to sum up life in the startup lane, “every day has meaning”. For those of you who have been asking me about my take on life in the startup lane, I’d say that is the most accurate phrase to sum it all up. 

“Every day has meaning”, what does it really mean?  

Well, here is a reality check for you: An early stage startup is characterized by the abundance of scarcity. Everywhere you look around you there is a scarcity of one resource or another: just enough capital to last till the next funding round, paychecks that flirt with the poverty line, not enough engineers to write code, not enough servers, not enough hours in the day….not enough of almost everything. To maximize your scarce resources you make sure that you use your resources wisely, especially your time.  Time is allocated such that you get the most out of the time you spend on each task with what ever little you have.  Unlike in a large company, the consequences of not putting your time to good use in a startup are amplified because, in a startup company, YOU are the company. YOU are the impact. A startup’s survival depends on how much YOU put into it from day to day. Every day is a difference between fulfilling your startup ambition and life in a cubicle. Every day has meaning.

November 15, 2007 at 7:45 am 2 comments

Thoughts on Enterprise 2.0

I was at the Defrag Conference in Denver today.  There was a lot of talk around Enterprise 2.0 and Web 2.0. Here is a comment that I made last week on Brad Feld’s great post (More Thoughts on Consumer Internet Innovations Migrating to the Enterprise)  which discussed a lot of the Enterprise 2.0/Web 2.0 issues that were discussed at Defrag today:

The successful migration of Web 2.0 to the enterprise hinges on the successful adoption of the Web 2.0 concepts into the enterprise. I will go into some specific application examples here to help move this discussion forward:

Supply Chain Management: Most enterprise software has an event notification system of some sort. Most of the events are in proprietary formats, thus are only consumable from a specific vendor’s software. RSS can move the enterprise towards client agnostic event notifications. For example, if database triggers on an inventory control table, generate RSS, an inventory manager can be notified on their mobile e-mail client or RSS reader of choice whenever the stock unit re-order level is reached. RSS provides more choices for the consumption of event notifications beyond the e-mail and app notifications that are generally used today.

Sales and Marketing: The sales and marketing organization within the enterprise is the best example of a candidate for an application that implements social networking concepts because the interaction patterns between the members of this organization mirror the social networking that occurs outside the enterprise. At a previous job, I would often venture to the sales and marketing department’s section of the company intranet; I noticed that they used any tool they could get their hands on in order to communicate. This included bulletin boards (to announce deals), threaded discussions (to discuss strategy for prospects) and good old e-mail blasts (to find out if anyone know anything about a prospect). The current hodge-podge of tools used by sales and marketing organizations can benefit from applications that aggregate social networking concepts around information sharing.

Human Resources: An enterprise’s human resources organization can benefit from the concept of a “social graph”. Social graph concept enhance the traditional org chart. For example, an application that implements an HR social graph that describes relationships between employees such as ” employed A worked with employee B under the management of employee C on project X in year ZZZZ” is very valuable to a member of the organization that is looking to put together a team for a new project. By examining an employee’s historical social graph, the organization can better assess an employee’s experience and it also helps the employee in career planning.

Customer Relationship Management: The implementation of Web 2.0 in CRM is pretty obvious and has been well articulated. CRM is an example of case where complete Web 2.0 applications can be transplanted into the enterprise e.g. a LinkeIn-like application provides the same benefits as part of a CRM suite as-is.

Here are some of my thoughts around enterprise technology:

Widgets: While widgets have really taken off in the Web 2.0 world, the major enterprise vendors have been traditionally strong in this space through the concept of portlets. Ironically this is concept that came about from the Web 1.0 days. However, there is still some opportunity around the delivery and integration.

AJAX: When enterprise software vendors moved from the desktop app model to the web app model, their customers clamored for the same rich user experience that they had on the desktop. The experience on the desktop was enhanced by a better UI event model. As a result, for the past several years most UI teams at major enterprise software vendors have been dedicated to re-capturing the desktop experience. They primarily achieved this by hacking some AJAX-like functionality well before the AJAX that we know of today. In my assessment, the user wants the desktop experience, so it is highly unlikely that vendors will invest their UI teams’ development cycles in AJAX, instead they are more likely to spend their cycles porting their code to RIA frameworks instead.

Data: There is a wealth of data that is very useful to the enterprise, especially to marketing organizations, that resides outside the enterprise (on the web). However, enterprise software vendors mostly build applications that access and manipulate data that has been gathered and structured in their databases (and most preferably using their apps).This traditional reluctance of the enterprise software vendors to go outside the firewall provides an opportunity for Web 2.0 applications that gather, structure (and store) data resident outside the enterprise for use within the enterprise.

Semantic Web: In this case, I prefer to call it the Semantic Enterprise. Enterprise applications from the major vendors come with a heavy dose of semantic information both for the application itself and the data that it generates in the form of meta-data. Content Management systems from enterprise vendors usually provide a lot of meta-data (not necessarily RDF but XML nonetheless) to describe the content. This meta-data is a great starting point for Web 2.0 applications that implement semantic web concepts.

Meta data: Enterprise software systems are heavily meta-data driven (for reasons that I will not go into here). This means user interfaces, application interfaces, data sources and data are all described using meta-data. The implementation partners of the vendors have access to metadata generators and sometimes the meta-data spec itself. If one wants to develop Web 2.0 applications for the enterprise, approach the vendor for the meta-data generators or the spec itself and you should be ready to go. Most vendors are working on SOA frameworks, so you should have no problem integrating your application.

In short, the Enterprise 2.0 approach that I am advocating here is first understanding how the current enterprise systems work before judiciously determining where to apply concepts vs. products. Obviously other people have other approaches and it would be great if they can chime in.

Lastly, let me take a stab at the Facebook-type application question from your reader. I think a Facebook-type of application can be adopted for an enterprise – with some restrictions. One has to realize that “social” networks in an enterprise are not organic. The nature of the enterprise does not lend itself to organic networks similar to those that form outside the enterprise. In an enterprise you may not be able to choose your “friends”. Your “friends” were chosen for you when you accepted that job offer. So an implementation of a Facebook-type of application may have to use a different granularity for its “users”. For example, it may have to be a group oriented Facebook –type application rather than a user oriented Facebook-type application. 

November 6, 2007 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Enterprise 2.0 in an “anti social” enterprise world

There has been a lot of talk regarding Enterprise 2.0 a.k.a Enterprise Social Software recently but there seems to be a dearth of vision for Enterprise 2.0. As a person who spent many years engineering software for the enterprise, here is my two cents: 

Today, the words “enterprise” and “social”,  convey two contradictory notions. The enterprise today is characterized by its emphasis on the productivity of the individual employee. For the 8+ hours that an employee is at work, they are supposed to be 100% productive (even though we all know that this rarely happens).  “Social” is  a word that does not really exist in the vernacular of the productivity oriented enterprise especially as it relates to software.  Everything in the enterprise is geared towards productivity, thus every enterprise software vendor attempts  to tag their software with the phrase “productivity tool”. With all this obsession with productivity, the enterprise is very “anti social”. Thus, the perception of social computing in the enterprise is not really the same as that of the people outside the enterprise.   While those outside the enterprise harness the variety of benefits of social software for variety of business needs on a daily basis, to some in the enterprise, social software still carries the stigma of being a non productive, time wasting web based consumer applications that you use at home (not at work).  Unlike those who believe that the terms “enterprise” and “social” are contradictory, I believe otherwise.  I think that there is a lot of social software that can be very beneficial to the enterprise but the enterprise will not fully embrace it until three things happen: 

  1. Social software companies need to leverage concepts that being applied by web-based consumer applications rather than try to implement these application the enterprise as they are.  Trying to implement a Facebook in an enterprise is not necessarily the right approach, however, applying the concept of a “social graph” for a Sales Department or “implicit web” concepts for lead qualification and cross selling will have a better shot of being successful in the enterprise.

  2. Elimination of the word “social”. While this may sound silly, I think I may be onto to something here. Words like “productivity” and “collaboration” mean something in the enterprise.  Take for example, del.icio.us concepts can be very useful in an enterprise intranet; however, calling that concept  “social classification” will not carry as much weight in the enterprise as “collaborative classification” So, instead of “social networking” maybe start using “productive networking” or “collaborative networking”. No more “social graph”, it’s now a “collaborative graph” J A good example is IM/Chat which was renamed to “Real Time Communications Suite” by some enterprise vendors (well, you guessed it, the word “Chat” is too social); it is quickly becoming a staple within the enterprise.

  3. The enterprise needs to make a mind shift from its current notion of “productivity tools”.  The enterprise is beginning to absorb a generation of employees who are proficient with “social” tools. Why not leverage the social tools to make them even more “productive”?

The perception of the gap between “enterprise” and “social” exists only at a semantic level. The convergence of the enterprise space and the social space is inevitable; however for some of the more popular applications, it’s not a matter of simply transplanting the application as-is but rather, transplanting the concept. 

I believe Enterprise Social Software/Enterprise 2.0 is here to stay. Recall several years ago many companies resisted employee access to the web in the enterprise because it would affect “productivity”.  Looks like a similar battle brewing here.

November 2, 2007 at 8:40 am Leave a comment

The startup advisor

David Cohen has a great article on finding and engaging great mentors.  I read this article about three times because I am currently a technical advisor to a couple of local startups. I gladly accepted the role of technical advisor for three reasons:

1.  my passion is around developing  software from concept to product and I just could not pass up the chance to be part of that action

2.  it gives me an opportunity to solidify my experience  as an advisor to startup companies specializing in technical aspects of the product and

3.  to give back to other aspiring entrepreneurs because the local community has been more than generous with its advice whenever I have needed it. 

I can’t say enough about the last point, the local entrepreneurs’ generosity with advice; my involvement with the Boulder entrepreneur community started when I walked into on the local uber-entrepreneur/investor’s offices to run my idea by him. An hour later I left his office with a several notebook pages full of constructive and critical advice for my idea.  We emailed a few times after that and the rest is history. My experience with great, generous advisors did not end there.  During TechStars, each team was introduced to an advisor. Our advisor was not only a source of great wealth of information that has undoubtedly been instrumental to our success today but he was also a great example of an advisor who possesses some of the latent qualities of an advisor that I, as a technical advisor,  hope to develop over time. I also hope that aspiring entrepreneurs will look for these qualities in their advisors. These qualities are: 

Commitment

Our advisor met with us once a week. He was usually the first one at the meetings and the last one to leave. He made sure that he gave us 100% of his time and attention. In addition, we could call or email him anytime. 

Interest/Excitement

I was sold on our advisor when he started to use the word “we” on the second meeting.  By using the word “we”, it opened up the communication door immensely. We were able to communicate in a two way conversational manner because he was part of the team and we felt like we were all collaborating towards the same goal.  He showed the same excitement for our product as we had. 

Educational

During our weekly meeting, I hardly lifted my pen of the page because I was busy writing everything that he was saying because he presented all the advice and information in a very educational manner. I left the meeting feeling like I could go and teach a class on whatever subject we had discussed that day.  

Product knowledge

Our advisor took time to educate himself the concept of our product.  We did not have to constantly have to remind him of the terms that we use in our product or the names of our components because during the first couple of meetings he took time to learn about or product and how it worked. And not only our product but our market and the various players in the market and how their products work. 

Evangelist

As an entrepreneur, it helps if you have a person who can help you tell your story.  Our advisor helped us a great deal as an ambassador for our product to third parties. 

Needless to say, these are some of the qualities of our TechStars  advisor that remarkably enriched my experience.  In my capacity as the technical advisor for the local startups that I mentioned earlier,  I am hoping to take a page out of our TechStars advisor’s book so that I can also deliver a remarkably enriching experience while imparting valuable advice.

November 1, 2007 at 7:15 am Leave a comment


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