The Product Loop

product loop circle roles

Early on in my career, I decided to play a hand at entrepreneurial poker.  I launched an online retail startup called  It was an online marketplace for cellphones.  Today, I can tell you that this was a commodity business with few barriers to entry and a saturated market.  However, at the time, cellphones were just picking up traction and rarely sold online (and never by carriers themselves).  The opportunity to monopolize this market early on with an accessible, simple storefront inclusive of all major carriers had an undebatable value proposition.

I embarked on this journey alone.  I could write code, I could understand the business, and I had a keen eye for design.  From a lens shaded by naivety and hubris, I thought I had everything it would take to build a successful company, alone.  I built the product from the ground up, the business plan, the design, development, affiliate partnerships, online marketing, search engine optimization, the whole nine yards.  The launch and first few months thereafter surprisingly coincided with my ambitions. was initially a success; it drove traffic and sales at a rising growth rate over the first six months.  The downside was that the rise in usage led to a variety of maintenance and operations issues.  This balance between growth and maintenance became a key challenge.  Operations took away time to focus on business partnerships, marketing, and growth.  But without operational reliability, attrition would have risen, creating a sizable offset to growth.

The site remained reliable but growth began to plateau.  Before long, other players entered the cellphone retail market, some with significant financial backing.  As the competition grew, the threshold of relevancy quadrupled over night; it became a race.  To keep up with venture-backed small-to-mid-sized competitors, I was working nearly twenty hours a day.  It got to a point where, as an individual, I was stretched thin and losing focus.  I was forced to choose between development, design, partnerships, marketing, and seo – a choice no product or company owner should ever have to make.  While I could have done them all individually, it was not possible to do them all at the same time.  This was the first grand epiphany of my professional career.  Speed is a critical constraint inherently present in product development, and to mitigate this constraint, one needs to have a team surrounding a product or idea.

These learnings led to my formation of The Product Loop (or ‘the product circle’ or ‘the product wheel’): a perpetual set of product organization guidelines that have taken me nearly twelve years to refine.  If you’ve worked in my org before, you’ve heard ad nauseam about the product circle.  The loop represents the cross-functional roles needed in a healthy product development environment.  While these roles are not necessary in every stage of a product, they are all critical across the full lifecycle of a product.  Without further adieu …

Starting from the top, clockwise:

PO – Product Owner (Product Manager) – responsible for defining product vision, roadmap, customer relationships, cross-functional management, and accountability for the success of the product
PA – Product Analytics – responsible for checking the pulse of the product and enabling data-driven decision making
TL – Test & Learn/Experimentation – responsible for enabling live A/B and multivariate testing to allow rapid decision-making on product/feature ideas
BE+ – Back-end/Platform Engineering – responsible for non-customer facing architecture, infrastructure, and behind-the-scenes engineering that powers the client
FE+ – Front-end/UI Engineering – responsible for customer-facing architecture, infrastructure, and UI/UX driven engineering that powers the customer’s experience
EM – Engagement Management – responsible for the request pipeline from partners and key stakeholders across the company and organizing/aligning the requests to product priorities, eliminating misaligned requests early on, and passing on relevant requests to the product owners for prioritization
PM – Program Management – responsible for streamlining the execution of the product development, including but not limited to facilitating scrum ceremonies, legal/compliance approval requests, capacity, velocity, and reporting
UI – User Interface – responsible for the converting functional applications into polished, easy to use visual design for the customer’s experience
UX – User Experience – responsible for converting business requirements and user requirements into simple experiences for the customer
UXr – User Experience Research – responsible for qualitative testing of customers to determine wants and needs and validate concepts and prototypes, responsible for confirming user requirements
MK – Marketing – responsible for cross-channel marketing and streamlining content within the product

A key footnote here is that all of these roles may not be required in your organization.    Some roles are only needed in large organizations, some in small, some can be dual roles, some are only needed for mature products, and some for early stage products.  These roles are meant to be a benchmark or even a bank that you can withdraw from when the need arises (which it inevitably will). These roles will materialize throughout the shifting contexts and phases of your products, and a key lesson you can take away is to evolve with the product and try to hire the right team to surround your product.  Without appropriate resourcing and planning, time and velocity will catch up, as I reluctantly learned.

While I did end up bringing on a small team of folks at, the market had already crowned market share to two of the competitors.  The required onboarding process and the rapid growth of the competition solidified the fate of  While it was time to let that product go, these lessons have stayed with me through the many products and companies throughout my career.  As you look to build a product or product organization, it’s critical to keep the product loop in mind to leverage a balanced team of experts to best position yourself in a constantly evolving, high velocity market.

Invisible Payments, Personalization, and the Future of Digital

invisible payments, personalization, and the future of digital

It’s no surprise that digital is different today than it was five years ago, or five months ago, or even five days ago.  Digital is constantly evolving and it can be hard to keep up.  As a result, it’s important to stop chasing the evolution, and understand where it’s going.  Digital is moving to “zero step experiences.”  To better understand this concept, let’s start by understanding the historical drivers behind digital change.

The key driver of digital change surpasses the evolution of technology; digital change is driven by the need for simpler experiences.  If you examine key advances in technology over the past century, you will see that each advance can be traced back to an invention, then decades of new inventions rooted from the facilitation of the existing invention.  Let’s look at photography as an example.  The camera was invented in the early-to-mid 1800s.  Since then we’ve undergone waves of evolution in photography – changes in size, changes in zoom, aperture, light capture capabilities, changes in medium from dark rooms to polaroids to digital, to ultimately eliminating the everyday person’s need for a camera with a smart phone.  Computers are another example.  If we start with supercomputers that occupied entire floors of buildings, we’ve evolved into doing the majority of our computing in the palm of our hands (on the wrist for some).  The key theme here is simplification and ease of use.  Cameras are easier to use now.  Computers are easier to use now.

Let’s apply this logic to payments.  The ability to “make payments” started thousands of years ago as a bartering system.  “I’ll trade you three goats for one cow.”  It evolved to trading raw metals, then gold and silver coins.  Coins were too heavy and inconvenient, so we evolved to cash and lighter coins.  To further relieve the burden, plastic credit cards entered the scene.   Half a century later, we moved to digital payments.  PayPal invented the concept of a digital wallet that has evolved to peer-to-peer payments and the ability to transfer money digitally.  Digital payments has taken off over the last sixteen years, but it’s been circling within its comfort zone with more competitors in the space, and no real innovation.  Tapping to pay is not much simpler than swiping to pay.  It’s time to evolve to the next phase.  If simplification and ease of use are our key axioms, the future of digital payments needs to be more natural – to the point that it’s invisible.  If you’ve ever taken an Uber, you have experienced invisible payments.  You call an Uber, get in, get to your destination, get out – end of transaction, no click, no swipe, no tap, no cash.  Now apply this to every online purchase and every retail purchase.  This is key in the future of digital payments.

The second core focus in the evolution of digital payments is international cross-border payments.  While the ability to pay globally exists through plastic with exchange fees or currency exchange or international remittance firms, it is by no means is the simplest experience.  With the recent invention of Bitcoin and the blockchain, currency can and will evolve into a global standard using a global ledger system.  Currency is currently controlled by individual governing nations and in the case of most of Europe, the European Union.  When currency is transferred between nations, conflicting regulations, fees, exchange policies are surfaced.  Bitcoin, as a digital currency, is not regulated by any individual nation, but by key cryptography and security algorithms put into place to control influx and fraud.  The blockchain is the general ledger that keeps track of every Bitcoin purchase anywhere.  Together, these two inventions have demonstrated the power of a global unregulated currency in the future.  It removes international regulations, shifts censorship and power from government to consumers.  The current roadblocks to evolve to this standard are around trust and regulation.  While powerful, deregulation generates risk that can hinder adoption.  There will need to be an alliance of large financial institutions backing digital currency, and lobbying with international governments, for it to move into the mainstream and mitigate key risks.  Once this occurs, the transfer of currency will be seamless across borders.  Combined with invisible payments, expect a true reinvention and simplification of payments globally.  Invisible digital global payments are the next fifteen years in payments.  Any organization looking to partake and innovate in this arena will need to build strong international capabilities and payment capabilities.

This simplicity model can also be applied to digital web and mobile.  If you examine the evolution of digital experiences over the last ten years, the two key buzzwords have been “mobile” and “big data.”  Both of these terms are within the context of creating easy to access and easy to use experiences.  At the end of the day, digital consumers want what they want as fast and as easy as they can get it.  This principle has originated responsive web design, allowing rapid deployment of optimized experiences agnostic of device (even accommodating new devices like google glass and apple watch); it is getting ahead of change by allowing users the simplest experiences on the latest devices.  The same simplification principle has inspired data-driven experiences.  Data-driven newsfeeds eliminate the need for clicks or search.  They proactively get users the most relevant content on the most convenient platform.  This concept has even driven early phases of personalization, creating personalized content and personalized advertising.  The true evolution in digital over the next five years will take these nascent concepts and expand them to ubiquity across the customer experience.  In the near future, every digital action a user takes will be specific to them.  Every new digital experience created will tap into the user’s data.  Personalization will become the underlying engine behind every view a user sees.  No clicks, no search.  The content seeks out the user instead of the user seeking out the content.  The strongest players know what they know about their customers, and the rest will need to learn.

The lowest common denominator in the future of digital is to get to “zero step experiences.”  In the age of data, we know what a user wants, whether it’s from their banking or credit website, or from a digital payments provider.  They want the simplest experience that technology can enable.  They don’t want five steps, three steps, or even one step; the goal should be to get to zero steps.  The goal is to go invisible.  Present the user with what they want without them having to take any incremental action to achieve it.  Zero step experiences are the future of digital and those who get there first will own the future.

An Open Letter To Digg


Dear Digg,

It’s been over a year since I last thought of you. This morning, I received an email from you asking if I remembered you. Yes, I remember you, but you’re not you anymore. You’ve changed. It’s hard not to fall into the nostalgia of the old days. I remember when you were instrumental in my life, you taught me so much, showed me things no one else had. I remember when you were part of my daily routine. So many hours procrastinated on you. Whether it be studying for exams or work projects, you were always there when I needed you. Digg, you always had what I was looking for. Whether I wanted to travel that day, talk politics, or just see something funny, you had it sorted out and ready. If I was having a bad day, I knew you where there to let me vent. I remember those days fondly … only if everything hadn’t changed.

It was a few years ago that you started to change. You were trying to grow with the times, but only if you knew, you were perfect the way you were. First you changed your look, then you started to change who you were. You started becoming a follower, and you wanted me to follow too. It was weird at first, but our connection was so strong, I tried to make it work. I started following things just like you wanted me to. You kept providing guidance to my life, told me what was cool, what was popular, and I always knew, I had a vote. You never forced me to do what I didn’t want to. You showed me things, new things, things other people liked, but you never forced me to like them. You gave me a choice. You let me pick and choose what I wanted everyday, whether I was in the mood for travel, music, or something offbeat. That’s what made me care so much. You listened to me. I could tell you what I liked and I could comment on why. I always knew where I stood with you. I always knew what was important and what wasn’t. I’m not sure if I can say that anymore.

You sold out (literally). The very essence of everything you stood for is barely visible anymore. I feel like I don’t even matter to you anymore. You just care about being pretty and trendy. Look at yourself – you look so pale; there’s no color in you anymore. Digg, don’t you remember me? Don’t you remember any of us? What happened to your roots? It really feels like it’s a lost cause. It’s like you don’t even care about us anymore. Now when I see you, I don’t even recognize you. You’re lost. You’re ashamed of who you are and where you came from. I can’t even give you my comments anymore, you stopped listening. And now when I’m in the mood for politics or to see something funny, I don’t even know where to start. You don’t even give me a choice anymore. It’s all or nothing with you. You lost all the facets that made you who you are. Now you’re so difficult to navigate. It’s like you sold your soul.

So Digg, to answer your question: I remember who you were, but I don’t know who you are. Our bond is one that I will always remember. I cared for you dearly and I miss you. But maybe it’s time to move on.

Sincerely yours,

Building Profitable Startups In A VC World

Just post the 90s tech bubble bursting, I had a problem. I had to renew my cell phone contract and get a new phone. The phone I wanted was too expensive at the Verizon store so I turned to Google to solve my problem. My search for “free cell phones verizon” introduced me to a world of cell phone retail websites competing for the number one spot on the Google search engine result pages. It didn’t take long for me to figure out three very important facts:

1) All of the cell phone retail sites I found were affiliates of the same company
2) They all relied heavily on search engines and SEO to bring them traffic
3) They all had a poor user interface with an unnecessary amount of steps to get from a-to-b

It was at that point I got an idea for my first internet startup: make my own cell phone retail site. I had all the steps figured out: find an affiliate program, build a website, do some SEO work, and boom! wait for the money to come in. My competitive advantage was going to be a [groundbreaking for that time period] minimalist user interface. The two year plan was to apply my revenue to hire a developer to maintain the site while I set out to build relations directly with the big cell phone carriers to increase my profit margin. I had a self-sustaining business model. It wasn’t perfect (how do you sustain the SEO with Google’s constantly improving search algorithm? how would I deal with black swans? if I hit the tipping point, would my servers scale? would major cell phone carriers want to work directly with a small two person company?), but I had a plan, determination, and most importantly, a profitable business model (revenues > costs). It was a good first shot.

I thought about my startup as a business. Businesses are profitable.  They don’t have to be huge, they don’t have to be disruptive, they have to be profitable.  I wanted to make a business. The same way I did when I was in middle school selling juice boxes to my peers. I would take my profits, get a wholesale sized pack, and start all over again. I eventually expanded to pop-ice packets to increase my business. It wasn’t about raising capital, or having a cool office, or disrupting whatever. It was about happy kids and profitability. It was plain and simple: make it work, which meant, make it profitable. It’s such a simple concept, yet it’s so much more than what you see in startups from the past few years.

I have followed the second rise of tech religiously and gonzo for nearly a decade. From what I have seen, four out of five startups have no clear business model. They put something out, run prototypes or try to get traffic, then go get funding. But funding for what? An underdeveloped idea? When did that become a business? It seems like everyone I talk to aims to get funding for their idea, even before they figure out how to make their idea profitable. Sure, there are cases where funding makes sense and is the right thing to do – if you are growing too quickly or need a boost to sustain you to tip your revenues or need to invest in very expensive technology.  But how many well-funded startups can you think of that are not in these categories?  So why do so many people do it? It’s because there’s a certain romance around it. Fund culture is exciting and interesting, it’s something to be a part of, it’s a culture. I read about all these companies getting funding, seed funding, series a, series b, etc, and admire them. Funding is marketed as a success, a milestone, but also, indirectly, as an end. Over the last few years, I misguidedly joined the school of thought that getting funding is the only path to success. And, believe it or not, it was reinforced by everything I read, every interview I watched, and everything expert word that was spoken. It’s hard to not believe something you hear everywhere all the time.

Not too long after my cell phone retail startup, I found myself completely engulfed in fund culture. Fundability became my core principle. Every subsequent idea I got, I approached from a funding perspective: which one is most likely to get funded? I did this for years – using my free time to strategize business plans and pitch decks, while I could have been using that time to build the product and market it. Almost everything I read made getting funded the holy grail, and it took me a long time to figure out that it wasn’t. In actuality, funding is an obstacle. More cooks in the kitchen, less equity, and too much comfort to feel the fire that leads to profitability.  Why would that be the end goal? It took me a while, but somewhere along the line, I found the answer – it’s not.  I reverted to my old school of thought. A startup is a business. “I don’t need funding to start a business! I just need to figure out how to make the world better and make money.” It was a refreshing epiphany and it sparked my curiosity. When and why did my goal go from ‘being profitable’ to ‘being fundable‘?

Profitability and fundability aren’t the same. If you are profitable you will most likely be fundable. If you are fundable, you may never become profitable, no matter how much money you raised, the underlying business model determines profitability. But it’s the culture. It’s the kids who never studied business but are consumed by the media. All the late teens early twenty-year olds highlighted in the media in their plaid shirts, uber-confidence, and a very clique-y network – it’s a lifestyle. Startups are synonymous with this image. VCs and investors say they can recognize a successful entrepreneur within the first few minutes of chatting with him. Sure – as long as he is a young, cool, confident guy with a plaid shirt, big ego, and an idea, he’s gonna be successful. It’s the cultural imprint that the media has left in our minds. Once you’re in and you have funding, boom! you’re the cool kid in town. But whatever happened to having a successful business?

Forget the romanticism and mainstream depiction of startup culture. Profitability should supersede fundability in budding startups. I feel like when I got the funding bug, it completely undermined my startup plans. It was like I had been on hold for the past few years. I had been waiting for funding, but I completely forgot that I could start a business without funding. Many potential founders know how to code and are pretty damn good at it. They can build their product from the ground up. They have the vision and drive.  So why are they thinking so single-mindedly about funding? It’s the startup culture. It’s distracting. Everyone wants to be one of the cool kids fitting the media image. That’s not what business is about. It’s about profitability. Profit, profit, profit. That’s the mantra business owners need to have. It’s time to go back to your roots and follow a strict timeline for execution without funding. Get funding when you need it, but for now, focus on the business.

HTML5: An Introduction To Next Generation Web Development

I was just going through my ‘Documents’ folder and I found an old presentation I gave about HTML5 mid-last year at NASA. I’d like to think it’s a pretty comprehensive introduction. The target audience should have an understanding of web development, javascript, and previous standards of HTML. The presentation contains a brief background on the language and an overview of the most popular features. Features covered include native audio/video support, geolocation, canvas, drawing API, web forms 2.0, drag and drop, and more. Also covered is backwards compatibility and section 508 compliance. Extras include polyfills, modernizr, and a brief introduction to CSS3.



Pinterest: A ‘Niche Social Network’ Success Story

pinterest niche social network

Last June, my fiancé discovered Pinterest: a new social networking site where you pin images of things you like for others to see.  It’s a sharing site for clothes, quotes, pictures, cooking, decoration, weddings, etc.  By the end of that week, her sister and mom were both on Pinterest.  Soon after, my mom followed.  Six months later, in December 2011, the total unique visits hit 11 million.  It grew 4000% in just 6 months.  If you haven’t heard of it, ask any girl you know.  Chances are, she’s heard of it!

Why? Well, Pinterest, whether intentional or not, has content that caters to a niche: women.  The content on the site is dominated by images featuring home décor, crafts, fashion, and food.  Although there are no limitations on what you can upload, because the site is dominated by a certain theme of content, it attracts a certain demographic.  According to the marketing intelligence firm: Hitwise, visitors to the site in the 12 rolling weeks ending December 17th skewed female (58%) and between the ages of 25 and 44 (59%).  The concept is simple.  Like Facebook, Twitter, or Digg, you upload/share something you like, and other people can ‘re-pin’ it and/or comment on it.  So why did Pinterest break through to the mainstream?  If the capabilities are not much more than Facebook, Twitter, and thousands of other competitors, how did Pinterest make it into the 10 most visited social networks?  The answer is simple: the content targeted a niche.

Niche content breeds an environment of exclusivity, privacy, and a sense of community.  Supported by the ‘Social Identity Theory‘ in sociology, and the popular marketing strategies of ‘exclusivity’ and ‘scarcity’, Pinterest, intentionally or unintentionally, appeals to the niche market of women.  Derived desirability from the niche market and the power of word-of-mouth marketing makes Pinterest a haven for women to share.  Women tell their friends of Pinterest, their friends visit Pinterest, see something they like, become users, then spread the word to their friends.  Pinterest has become a community housing the interests of women.  And looking forward, when Pinterest inevitably initiates an advertisement-based business model, the refined majority demographic will attract exclusive advertisers targeting women.

As the market for social networks begins to get saturated, niche networks like Pinterest will begin to prevail.  Social networks adding value to a niche are perfect candidates for word-of-mouth marketing.  Supported by Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point: with a high ‘stickiness factor’ and context within the demographic, a few powerful connectors and salesmen can turn the social network into a social epidemic. Complimented with advertisers seeking niche marketing, these networks will have a sustaining revenue base.  Pinterest is one of the first niche social network successes, and as the market matures, and the demand for niche social networks rises, it will be considered a pioneer in its industry.

What SOPA Teaches Us About Social Media and Politics

The online censorship act, otherwise known as the ‘Stop Online Piracy Act’ (SOPA), intends to provide authority to the Department of Justice (DoJ), to mandate removal of websites engaging in activities deemed as primarily infringement related. This is the first government legislation of this nature and has technology heavyweights and industry experts headlining the opposition.

The bill would allow the DoJ to force DNS providers to block domains, mandate removal from search engines, and force removal from social networking sites based on loosely defined criteria. Without specific predefined guidelines, this bill would allow subjective censorship of the Internet by the government. SOPA gives the government the power to censor the Internet: 1984, Clockwork Orange … the modern day United States? Not if we can help it! Internet heavyweights Google, Facebook, Twitter, the founders of Twitter and Square, founders of YouTube, and many more are in vehement defense of the first amendment and in opposition of the first bill to censor the internet. Twitter buzz from industry experts like Fred Wilson, Anil Dash, Vivek Wadhwa, Michael Arrington, and more, has spread the word throughout the technology community, but has yet to reach the doors of Congress. With hundreds of thousands of tweets against #SOPA, numerous blog posts, and online boycotting of SOPA supporters (like GoDaddy) one would expect a much larger-scale impact.

The surprising truth is that these rumblings go largely unheard on Capital Hill. Even with significant efforts to close the gap, the technology gap between the private and public sector still exists. Current efforts to bring Congress online, although thorough, are very limiting in requiring constituents’ to communicate solely via government-run websites. One of the major issues is that online communication cannot be contained on Congress websites. Communication currently circulates via all major social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. There is limited effort, by Congress, to engage on government legislation issues via social networking sites. Engaging via social media or a ‘social networking customer service’ model, that is becoming prevalent in private organizations, is still largely missing in government. There are some pioneers in government like the White House, and select politicians (i.e. Bloomberg) that are bridging the technology gap by engaging via social networking websites, but the majority of politicians and Congress remain unaware.

Another major contributor to the communication gap between the Internet and Congress is the lack of constituency statistics. Because most incumbent politicians only recognize feedback from constituents, and location information is not always readily available in many forms of social media, politicians are unsure of whether any buzz they hear is from their constituents. This exacerbates the ongoing issue with unheard opposition to SOPA.

As the culture continues to change and communication continues to gravitate towards social networking sites, government engagement via social networks with the intent of gauging public/constituent opinion on legislation and political issues will inevitably become a standard practice. Until this happens, however, alternate methods of communication need to be applied to communicate with the respective incumbents.

how to talk to congress about sopaImage Source: Information Diet

CNN Black In America 4 Review

cnn black in america silicon valley reviewThe controversial, highly anticipated, race-driven, Silicon Valley CNN special, Black In America 4, hosted by Soledad O’Brien, aired Sunday evening providing a climax to the diversity debates and accusations that flooded the Twittersphere and Blogosphere over the past few weeks. Having closely followed the race debates since the release of my now popularized write-up of the firestorm that took place on Twitter a few weeks ago, it is difficult to ignore disappointment with the supposedly climactic CNN documentary. Though there were dashes of enlightenment and brief moments of truth, the majority of the final product was overshadowed with dramatics and manufactured controversy.

Prior to delving into the heavily biased editing of the documentary and the journalistic irresponsibility of CNN, I do want to highlight some brief moments of truth and enlightenment. The documentary provides aspiring entrepreneurs with an insider perspective of Silicon Valley: the stress, the struggle, the pitch, the competitiveness, and the intimidation. The cutthroat nature of the industry is presented effectively. The documentary rightfully demonstrates lessons of practice and teamwork as pivotal to success as an entrepreneur. In addition to providing a structured glimpse into Silicon Valley, the documentary also introduces a wide range of entrepreneurial personalities, from down-to-earth and likeable (Wayne Sutton), to focused and sometimes abrasive (Angela Benton). Succeeding as a guide to aspiring entrepreneurs on what to expect and how to prepare for the transition between bootstrapping and Series A, the documentary revives some credibility lost from its diverted focus on theatrics.

An irritating motif of the documentary is the vilification of influential figures in Silicon Valley. A major difficulty in critiquing such a controversial documentary is the assumed disagreement to the journalist’s perspective. I want to make clear that I am not debating the validity of racism and discrimination in Silicon Valley, but am rather critiquing its presentation in the proposed documentary. The narrative of the documentary presents Silicon Valley as a “no man’s land” for minorities and women with reigning bigotry from some of the most influential figures in the industry. Soundbites like “I don’t know a single black entrepreneur” and “I don’t even know where to find those people” taken from Michael Arrington and Ron Conway respectively, are used largely out of context. With the former quote, it is not apparent, until reading Arrington’s “Uncrunched” blog, that his words are taken out of context. Per Arrington’s perspective, he was unaware of the subject matter of the interview, and therefore, was reliant on memory, at best, while on the hot seat. And during the interview, when the question is relayed back to the host, she is identically unable to answer, even though ironically, she is aware of the subject matter of the interview and contrarily, had an opportunity to conduct any due diligence required. Further cementing Arrington’s argument, once the opportunity availed to conduct due diligence, Arrington was able to name African American entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Alternatively, with regard to the latter quote taken from Ron Conway, it becomes apparent within the documentary that his words are taken out of context. His usage of the pronoun “those people” references individuals outside the exclusive entrepreneurial networks that define Silicon Valley, rather than any specific demographic. I am a firm believer that levels of racism and discrimination are present in nearly every industry in the US, but attribute much of the vilification in the documentary to the editing staff and well-placed soundbites.

Silicon Valley remains a relatively new industry, and because the quantity of minority applicants is significantly lower than their counterparts, a one to one comparison cannot yet be made. It becomes difficult to measure a statistically significant diversity gap that can be compared to other industries. There are no references to these limitations and uncertainties in the documentary. In the documentary, of the 8 young African American entrepreneurs selected to make pitches, (Spoiler Alert!) 2 actually get funding for their projects: Hank Williams for and Pius Uzamere for BeCouply. This is 25% of the selected sample. In failing to address limitations and uncertainties of this statistic, the conclusion the documentary implies is very misleading. This statistic, ironically, dismisses any accusations of discrimination in Silicon Valley because it exceeds the 18% counterpart for the general sample (regardless of ethnicity or gender). However, in reality, there are very few minority founders and CEOs in Silicon Valley. Instead of pressing focus on statistical inadequacy and causes and resolutions, the documentary focuses on catharsis and dramatics.

One major issue prohibiting minorities in Silicon Valley are the exclusive entrepreneurial networks present. As Ron Conway attempts to relay, it is easier for VCs and investors in Silicon Valley to find entrepreneurs within these organizations and networks as they themselves associate with these organizations and networks. The cause of the diversity gap is in the demographic imbalance in these organizations. This does not necessarily make them discriminatory, but it does serve as a barrier to entry for minorities and women. As reputable minority-driven entrepreneurial networks emerge, and integrate with existing networks, this gap will significantly decrease. This is one of many issues. Unawareness in underprivileged communities of Silicon Valley as a path to success, encouragement from underprivileged communities to study STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Math), and access to enabling programs are a some of the other issues contributing to the diversity gap. Black In America 4 should have delved down into all of these issues. More focus should have been put on unawareness, incubators, and entrepreneurial organizations (for aspiring entrepreneurs to look towards for help). Instead of using the entirety of the special to manufacture a ‘good vs. evil’ theme, this public stage should have been used to address a wide range of problems and brought attention to possible solutions.

Given the reach and influence of the CNN documentary, it is the civic responsibility of CNN, journalists, and editing staff to elucidate all aspects of the diversity conflict in Silicon Valley and relay possible resolutions to these conflicts. Alternatively, CNN focuses more on theatrics, and declares absolute statements without providing biases, limitations, and uncertainties in their argument. Many major outlying issues affecting minorities in Silicon Valley are lost in the dramatics. As for the “silver lining”, the documentary did experience brief moments of success. Black In America 4 is an excellent source for those who want to learn more about entrepreneurship, pitching, and Silicon Valley. However, for those concerned about the diversity gap in Silicon Valley: the hurdles and the solutions, Black In America will leave you unsatisfied, at best.

Is Google Losing Its Edge?

When you hear the word ‘Google‘, what do you think of? Search, Gmail, Maps, Android? or maybe innovation, trust, reliability? or is it … ‘do a barrel roll’? For many, it’s all of the above. Google has held the benchmark for technology innovation and is renowned as the creator of modern trends throughout the past decade. And with hit after hit since its origination in the late 90s, Google has gained our trust and made its way into our homes and our daily routines. We rely on Google. So when you start hearing bad press about new costs, unsuccessful redesigns, and failed launches, you begin to ask: “Is Google Losing Its Edge?”

Search “Google” in … well, Google, and you’ll see that over the past month, they have made significant changes to some of their products, resulting in extensive bad press:

The first being the redesign of Google Reader. In an attempt to save further market Google Plus, Google decided to integrate it with Reader. Reader is an RSS client and one of Google’s prior home-runs with a large user base. To the disappointment of many current users, this new release requires Google Reader users to also use Google Plus. Serving as a catalyst to this disappointment, the user interface redesign accompanying this release was poorly received and contributed to widespread dissatisfaction with the product.

Furthering their descent in the public eye, Google, soon after, announced plans to charge for Google Maps API beginning in 2012. The additional charges would only apply to those users that exceed 25,000 page views in a day. Although Google maintains that this change would affect only 0.35% of current users, the implications of this action will avert an exponentially higher number of users from using Google products. Google has, since its inception, offered free services, relying on their highly successful ad-based business model for revenue. A change in this business model signals a huge red flag to users and will, over time, result in a loss of trust.

As for Google’s third deadly sin in recent memory … Google dubiously made the front page of many publications last week with the failed release of the highly anticipated Gmail app for iPhone and iPad. After years of hesitation and delay, Google finally agreed to release a Gmail app for Apple phones and tablets just last Wednesday. Surprisingly, the product was so flawed, that within minutes, it had to be pulled from the Apple’s App Store. Newswires, the blogosphere, and the twittersphere were inflated with dissatisfied customers, bad press, and reevaluations of the mass public faith in Google.

These three events threaten Google’s, once untouchable, throne. Google committed the biggest crime of all, they failed to understand their users. The trust that serves as the foundation of the company has been shaken for many. Not only has Google failed to understand its users, but it changed its ‘free’ business model, and released a broken application. This is highly uncharacteristic of Google. How can you trust a company that you don’t recognize?

Overlooking disappointment in an attempt to understand, the decisions leading to these unfavorable events seem to be a product of the current technological climate. Technology is booming. Silicon Valley has recovered from the burst of the late 90s and is thriving. Innovation is blossoming and many competitors are rising. If there was ever a time for Google to be unsettled by competition, it is now. Google has made unsuccessful attempts to compete with Groupon (with Google Offers), Facebook (with Google Plus), and Twitter (with Google Buzz & Jaiku). Like any king evading an attack on his kingdom, Google is making moves. Unfortunately, “haste” and “reckless” have defined many of these movements.

With a reputation built on fine-tuned, vigorously tested, high quality products (with alpha releases of products into, the now discontinued, Google Labs and multi-year betas), a slip-up of this caliber is unacceptable. Whether this is a result of constrained timelines to stay agile, or lack of control in management, this is unacceptable for a reliable household brand. Google is big enough to absorb all the recent bad press, but what they should be worried about is the direction they are heading in. The innovation and finesse that once described Google is beginning to fade. Google has been the most consistent performer in Silicon Valley over the past decade but recent times make you wonder.

BlackBerry Barely Hanging On: Can BBX Save RIM?

On Tuesday, Research In Motion co-CEO, Mike Laziridis, announced BBX, the future BlackBerry operating system, at the Blackberry Developer Conference in San Francisco, CA. This new operating system is a combination of the current BlackBerry OS with an operating system it purchased last year (QNX). The operating system is said to have a greater focus on multi-media, apps, and is expected to serve as a better competitor to Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. One of the primary benefits to BBX is that it will be backwards compatible with current HTML5 apps, will have Adobe Flash and SDK built-in. It sounds like a worthy competitor in the mobile playing field, but is it too late?

Although RIM released some flattering statistics (one billion app downloads, 40% increase in users from 50 to 70 million active users over the past year), the popularity and growth of both Android and iOS significantly overachieve that of BlackBerry. Since the release iOS and Android, both have reduced BlackBerry’s commanding market share down to 3rd best. As of this month, of the approximately 33% of smart phone owners in America, Android takes the cake at 43.7% market share, with iOS coming in second with 27.3% market share, and BlackBerry trailing with only 19.7% market share. Android increasing its market share nearly 6%, since July 2011, at the expense of BlackBerry, as iOS has remained consistent at 27%. [Source: BGR]. These unsettling statistics for RIM are just the tip of the iceberg of recent issues.

RIM dubiously made the news with their infamous worldwide outage last week. They made even more news by offering customers a refund in apps instead of cash. Unfortunately for RIM, bad press is just the start. This outage coincided with the highly anticipated iPhone 4S release. What is a more convincing reason for you to switch to your phone’s highly anticipated competitor than your current phone ceasing functionality? The successful launch of the iPhone 4S is an indirect indicator of the implications of the bad press for RIM. Additionally, with the release of Android 4.0 (also known as Ice Cream Sandwich) coinciding with the BBX announcement, the likelihood of BBX buzz diminishing rapidly is high. BBX is the product RIM should have released when they announced their App Store (2009). Its two years too late. With market share at an all time low, and the heavy press coverage of the outage, RIM has an uphill battle ahead of them. BBX may be their chance at redemption, but all signs point to ‘no’.

BlackBerry may have buried itself too deep to catch a final breath of fresh air. And while I admire their persistance, Laziridis and the rest of the RIM gang have an extraordinary task ahead of them. Pulling a company out from under this level of debris is rare and nothing short of a miracle. No offense RIM, but I’ve already moved onto Android, so I’m just a spectator, and from my perspective, you’re putting on a great show.

Older posts