Monday, July 18, 2011

Harry Potter 7.2 - a fabulous finale

After the first installment of Harry Potter 7, I had blogged that it was long and boring. We went to the second, and final, installment over the weekend. As incipient as 7.1 was, the second was a fitting climax to the series that began over a decade ago.

The intensity of action that swirls around Harry includes a roller-coaster ride down to Gringotts vaults; a dragon-back ride up from the vault; a besieged and aflame Hogwarts; and so much more. At one point, during the intense battle at Hogwarts, Harry asks, "Is it real? Or is it happening inside my head". It was certainly happening inside all our heads. The dazzling spectacle, the fantastic imagery, the superlative computerized animation all combined to deliver a fabulous finale to this series.

When Neville Longbottom slayed Nagini, Voldemorts final Horcrux, the whole theater (Century 20, Great Mall) broke into a spontaneous, thunderous applause. They could well have been applauding J.K. Rowling for creating the magical characters; David Yates for capturing the story so well on film; Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane and co. for bringing the characters to life.

Friday, July 15, 2011

TieCon 2011. Day 2 - May 14th

Here is the second installment of my blog on TiECon 2011 on Day 2, May 14th.

Drew Houston:

The second day began with a conversation between Jai Rawat, Convener of TiECon 2011, and Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox - which has grown to over 20 million users saving 1 million files every five minutes! Drew provided some interesting anecdotes and tidbits from his experiences in growing Dropbox:
  • Create a product that everyone loves to use. This will provide you a natural tail wind. "Build the right thing", he said.
  • Have good engineering under the hood to create something really useful for people. "Build things right."
  • He encouraged startups to create a short video to provide a quick elevator pitch - that is address the pain point that is being solved.
  • Don't get bogged down by big players. Every investor will ask the question, "Why can't Google put 10 engineers on the job and get this done in 3 months?" In his case Google already had a similar offering.
  • Is the end point something that really excites you? He cited his own example of creating online SAT prep classes. Even he became the King of Online SAT prep, he did not see himself getting excited about that.
  • Do fewer things really, really well. There is always the temptation to do everything for everybody. You will have customers pulling you in different directions. You should have the ability to say NO.
  • Startups usually die from self inflicted wounds.
Social Panel:

I attended the Social Panel that discussed the intersection of trends in mobile, social and local. Mike Cassidy, Business Editor of San Jose Mercury News moderated the panel. The new, emerging revolution is SoLoMo - where Social Media, Local Search and Mobile Search collide - or, as one of the panelists described, the "whereabouts and the whoabouts". The panelists were Siva Kumar of TheFind and Rob Mishev of Living Social and Vikram Sharma of ShopLocal.

Darwinism is at its peak in the consumer internet space. Since the barrier to entry is quite low, the risk is higher as is the reward. The objective is to make the store experience more engaging and to make offers interesting and exciting. It is certainly becoming more and more challenging for physical retail. Blockbuster, Borders and Circuit City are all casualties of this shifting consumer trend.

Salman Khan:

The "Breakthrough Thinkers" session on the second day was delivered by Salman Khan of the Khan Academy fame. Over 2 million students are using on a regular basis. Sal's motto was to stay focussed on what what got them to this point - the student. At the end of his talk, he was joined on stage by Raj Mathai - NBC Bay Area's News Anchor. This provided some good entertainment value - as Sal and Raj bantered about Sal's various experiences. I liked TiE's format this year of having key note speaker's joined on stage by other "celebrities". This is in contrast to last year's disastrous conversation between Gary Gauba and Reid Hoffman. It does not help the conversation if the interrogator is sycophantic about the speaker.

Marissa Mayer:

The closing keynote of the conference was provided by Google's Marissa Mayer. While what she said in her talk was "common sense", her delivery was impactful and made the audience sit up and pay attention. She spoke about 3 S's: Starting, Scaling and Structuring a business.
Starting: She asked to focus on problems that matter - having a deep, social impact. Hiring the right people is critical too. Hire folks who are smart and can get things done.
Structuring: Focus on being user-centric. User's are every one's job. Google users OKRs - Objectives, Keys, Results to measure milestones and accomplishments. They also maintain dashboards on installs, users and usage. There are two approaches to releasing product: "Castle Building" (as done by Apple) vs "Bird Walking" (Launch and Iterate).
Scaling: Data is both the back bone and the gas pedal. You need to constantly re-invent yourself. Failure is okay as long as you learn from your mistakes. She gave two examples of Madonna - who re-invented herself after a series of disastrous albums and Apple - people had given up on them after the Newton disaster.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

TieCon 2011. Day 1 - May 13th.

It has been over two months since TieCon 2011 and I had been meaning to write this post for a long time. Unfortunately, numerous other activities took priority. I will publish this in two posts, Day 1 and Day 2.

Steve Case:

The Opening Keynote featured Steve Case, Co-founder of AOL and Chair of Startup America Partnership. Rich Karlgaard, Publisher of Forbes magazine hosted this keynote. Rich walked Steve through the initial days of AOL - until they were sold to Time Warner in 2000 when they had 200m users and a market cap of $150b. Big ideas, Steve said, take a decade or more to mature. In the first 25 years of the internet, the idea is to get every one online, mobile and make it ubiquitous. In the next 25 years, the Internet will transform and disrupt every aspect of life.

Rich then moved to what Steve was doing these days - which is lead Here Steve's goal is to celebrate and accelerate entrepreneurship. He said that there are two models that investors adopt. One is the Kleiner Perkins approach of working with an "A" team that can successfully take a "B" product to market. The other is the Sequoia approach of looking for the next explosive new idea. In both cases execution is key - because, after all, as Thomas Edison said, "Vision without execution is Hallucination". When asked about his predictions for the next big hit, Steve stated that we are witnessing the early days of Local, Social Commerce. Healthcare, he said, will be transformed.

Rich asked Steve about the ability of Startups to survive the uncertain economic times that prevail these days. Steve said that similar conditions in the 1970s led to a very healthy entrepreneurial environment. FedEx, SouthWest Airlines, Microsoft, Apple and Oracle are all companies founded in this turbulent decade.

Mobility Panel:

I attended the Enterprise Mobility panel that discussed how Enterprises will adopt Mobility. Matt Marshall, Venture Beat, was the moderator. The panel had two Enterprise folks: a VP from Cisco (Tom Gillis) and a VP from Sybase (Raj Nathan); a VC (Sumant Mandal, Clearstone Ventures) and an Entrepreneur (David Sacks, Yammer CEO). There was general consensus that mobile is a very hard place for investors to make money.

There was fierce debate was on whether to get into the Enterprise at the grass roots vs work your way from the top. The arguments in favor of working from the CIO down is to have a more controlled, predictable, deterministic way of deploying your solution. On the other hand, getting in at the grass roots will result in the pipeline getting filled by people using the free, viral product and cause IT to be "dragged in kicking and screaming". In the end, getting in at the grass root won the debate. It is invaluable to rely on their experience in using the product. It is important to create tools and technologies to put policies in place for these "un-managed" end points.

David Ferruci:

In the "Breakthrough Thinkers" session, David Ferruci, an IBM Fellow, gave one of the best keynotes I have heard in years. Dr. Ferruci is the lead researcher and Principal Investigator for IBM's Watson/Jeopardy! project. The keynote was replete with engineering insights into the Watson's Unstructured Information Management Architecture (UIMA).

Vinod Khosla:

I was disappointed by Vinod Khosla's keynote. Perhaps I went in with very high expectations. He stated some very well known facts (on predictions that experts make) and arrived at some well understood conclusions (that these predictions are made by extrapolating past facts). He then went on to pitch ventures in which he has funded - on why they will succeed. Admittedly, some of them were accomplishing pretty lofty goals:
  • Calera - sequestering Carbon dioxide
  • Soraa - with 800% more efficient, pay for itself lighting
  • Caitin - with new thermodynamic cycles for cooling