Saturday, May 23, 2009

Appreciating volunteers

In general, wherever you live, you are presented with numerous options for getting involved in your community. None of us are in an island. We depend on each other for survival and getting through our daily lives. The gap between communities and societies is ever increasing. This gap can be effectively bridged through volunteering. Each of us has skills in certain areas that others can benefit from. Volunteering is all about sharing these skills with the community. This allows us to connect with the community and give something back. There is also the benefit of learning group dynamics and team facilitation. While it is easier to "get things done" as a manager at work, it is not as easy to work with a diverse range of people with varied backgrounds that one encounters in a community and still complete tasks.

I have been involved in the Technology Committee of Weibel Elementary School for the last 11 years. The mission of the Technology Committee is to enable the Teachers to implement/use technology in their day-to-day activities. I still remember starting off with wiring all the class rooms with CAT-5 cables. Now, the school is blanketed with Wireless; most teachers have laptops and are not "afraid" to use Technology to improve the dissemination of information and assist them with curriculum development. As I had mentioned in an earlier posting on "25 Random Facts about me", I generally volunteer in the activities that my kids are involved in. Initially, I drew inspiration from people like Trish & John Caruso; John Mitchell and West Kurihara. They would tirelessly volunteer  despite having hectic schedules. Often people would ask me, "How do you find the time?" My response would be, "It is not a question of finding time. It is about making time."

Every year, the teachers at Weibel celebrate a "Volunteer Appreciation Day" where all the volunteers get together at Best House in the verdant Palmdale Estates. This year's celebration was on Thursday, May 21st. At this event the PTO awards certificates to the Board members and a few others to recognize their contributions. In addition, it is an opportunity for parents to talk to the teachers in a casual environment. The ambience of the place, the food and the people all make it a memorable, enjoyable evening. The evening's entertainment is provided by a High School choir/band. Usually, the participating students would have graduated from Weibel - thus giving the parents and teachers additional impetus to cheer/encourage them.

At the end of the evening the PTO gives one "TOP" award for "Thoroughly Outstanding
Performance". I was the recipient of this year's TOP award. I am humbled by the award and feel privileged that my kids belong to an Elementary School District with such a high caliber of parents, teachers and administrators. I am probably not the most deserving of this award. I am aware of many "unsung" parents who spend countless hours on a daily basis keeping the kids safe and healthy. Nevertheless, I would like to avail the "opportunity" to urge other parents to volunteer more. The school and the kids are the better for it. Besides, it is your way of "giving back".

Saturday, May 16, 2009

TiEcon, Day 2

The opening keynote on Day 2 was delivered by Tony Hseih, CEO of Zappos. Tony sold his first (straight out of Harvard) company, LinkExchange, to Microsoft for $265m. He started off as an investor in Zappos and soon became its CEO. Today Zappos has $1B in gross merchandise sales, a 24x7 call center, 365-day return policy and free shipping both ways. Their pervasive values of "Bring top notch customer service and deliver the very best customer experience" came across in every fiber of Tony's talk.

He talked about the importance of having a strong culture and core values for your company. The Zappos core values are:
  • Deliver WOW through service
  • Embrace and drive change
  • Create fun and a little weirdness
  • Be adventurous, creative and open-minded
  • Pursue growth and learning
  • Open and honest relationship with communication
  • Build a positive team and family spirit
  • Do more with less
  • Be passionate and determined
  • Be humble
It is important to build a brand that matters. The seven steps to do this are:
  1. DECIDE to build a long-term, sustainable brand.
  2. Figure out values and culture. Alignment is important. Live the brand.
  3. Commit to transparency.
    • Extranet for vendors
    • "Ask anything" newsletter
    • Tours and reporter visits
    • - you need to subscribe to this to get inside access to Zappos management
  4. Vision. Whatever you are thinking, think bigger. Choose the vision, not the money.
  5. Build relationships, not "networking". Be INTERESTED, rather than be INTERESTING.
  6. Build your Team. "If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together," by Al Gore is applicable here.
  7. Think long term. There is no "get rich quick" formula. "Overnight successes" take years to build.
He transitioned to talk about the topic that he has been recently studying - the science of Happiness. In general, people are bad at predicting what will bring them (sustained) happiness. He asked everyone to see how the science of happiness can help your business, your brand and yourself.

At the conclusion of his talk, he was given a standing ovation - indicating how the audience resonated with his simple, yet compelling and inspiring thoughts.

The afternoon keynote was given by Reid Hoffman, CEO of LinkedIn. This followed the format of a fireside chat with Mike Malone.

Reid mentioned that LinkedIn has 40m users world wide and are growing at 1m every 17 days. "Entrepreneurs jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down. You make decisions by doing it and not prepping for it." I could totally relate to that from my own experience!

Reid was asked about the areas of focus for LinkedIn over the next few years. He said that they would love to power, "who should I meet when I go to TiEcon". I see this as a perfect opportunity for LinkedIn to partner with Micello - which has the ability to deliver on this vision within our DNA.

Reid concluded saying that the "future is sooner and stranger than you think"

I had the opportunity to meet numerous people over the last few days. I met with potential users, partners, investors, journalists/bloggers/analysts. I hope to see some of those connections materialize into meaningful, long term relationships.

Friday, May 15, 2009

TiEcon, Day 1

The Micello Team was at TiEcon today. Our attorneys are one of the sponsors of TiEcon and were generous enough to allow us to use their booth. This gave us presence on the floor and the ability to demo the application to the attendees. With over 3600 attendees, there was a lot of energy. We demoed to 100+ folks and recieved positive feedback from all.

The opening keynote was given by Intuit CEO, Brad Smith. This talk certainly allowed the conference to start on a high note. He urged the audience to play offence, and not defence because "the clouds will part and the sun will shine ultimately".

He talked about four structural shifts taking place in the industry:
  1. User demographic shifts. Increasingly Gen Yers are using technologies and entering the work force. The baby boomers (46-64 year olds) are still a force to contend with. Momtrepreneurs, Careerpreneurs and Immigrants complete the demography shift.
  2. Value creation shift. User contribution and social interactions are huge and must not be ignored.
  3. Technology shift. Mobile is growing at a CAGR of 30%. This is far outpacing other technologies.
  4. Structural shift. There are geographic shifts taking place.
He said that Innovation is a Team Sport:
  • Customers - engage with them. Find out what they love about your product and what they hate. There are things that you can do to change and recognize that there are things that cannot change. Get the roughest, roughest prototype out to customers ASAP. Failing fast will allow you to succeed faster.
  • Employees - when they gave employees unstructured time, productivity and employee satisfaction improved.
  • Networks - tap partners to dramatically increase market potential and customer value.
Later, I attended a panel on "Wireless. What is working and Why". The panel was moderated by Levi Shapiro of Hiro Media. Bernard Gershon, Gershon Media; Atif Hussein, Nokia; Yves Maitre, Orange and Dilip Venkatachari, NEA were on the panel. The following is a quote that Dilip made in his opening remarks, "There are numerous innovative technologies that are coming out in the mobile space. Check out Micello. They are bringing the conference to your phone and allowing you to locate and network with friends and associates easily." Atif Hussein mentioned, "Mobile applications should connect people with where they are right now. The data presented to users should be location aware and time sensitive. No sense in letting people know of an event that has concluded." Atif just articulated Micello's value proposition. This is exactly what we do!

The afternoon's keynote was given by TIBCO CEO, Vivek Ranadive. Vivek said that the 20th century did not dawn until 1908 - the year Henry Ford introduced the Model-T. In a similar vein, the 21st century dawned in 2009. He mentioned the following highlights in 2009:
  • America has a black President
  • More homes with cell phones than land lines
  • Micello launches its application - ok, he did not say this ;)
Vivek talked about the evolution from Enterprise 1.0 to Enterprise 2.0. Moving from mainframe to client server. From software running on bare metal to software running on databases. We are now in the Enterprise 3.0 era - where the architecture is cloud facilitated and all the processes are virtualized. The architecture is event driven and transactions are in-memory.

He peppered his talk with anecdotes from his personal life. When he beat out Reuters in a high profile bidding war for the trading floor application at Shearson Lehman, he got invited to a Reuters event (in the U.K.) where he was the guest of honor. At a cocktail party, he was talking to one of the directors at Reuters about "TIB" being The Information Bus when he responded, "Oh! they told me that it stood for That Indian Bast**d".

I am certainly looking forward to Day 2 on Saturday.

Widget to download the Micello mobile application

We are going to be previewing the Micello app at TiECon on Friday, May 15th. He is a widget that will send you (by SMS to the phone number provided) a device specific link to download the application.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Cat is out of the bag ...

I have said earlier that my startup, Micello, is working in stealth mode. Last Friday, we were invited to James Gosling's bash at the Sun Menlo Park campus. Here, Sun recorded short videos of their partners talking about their startup and how they use Sun technologies. You can view my video here:

You can also view this video on the Sun blog here. I will provide additional updates as we are getting ready with our Beta.