Book Review: Small Giants by Bo Burlingham

519jtUnq-eL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_I’m glad I read the 10th Anniversary Edition of the book because I think the extra chapters or modifications make for a much different book. Throughout the book, as he was describing what the small giants do to be giants, without disparaging what they do, I was thinking: “that only works if your profit margins are big, very big”. The new chapters follows up on some companies and what happened to them when those margins become smaller. Long story short: it’s not pretty.

The range of covered companies surprised me. I knew this was not about big companies, so, no Apples, Googles, Microsofts or Facebooks. But still, the range of employee size was from 1, yes, 1, a single person company, to a over-1000 employee company. It’s clear that towards the extreme of the scale, many of the ideas and principles don’t work as well and it might be a stretch to call them small giants but it is exactly that that makes them interesting on this book as it shows the boundaries you could expect if you try to create a small giant.

Reading this book made me think that maybe I don’t want my own companies to be small giants. Maybe I want one of my companies to be one but not the others, I’m not sure yet. I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with or without being a small giant but if you expect your company to behave like one when it’s not, you’ll be thoroughly disappointing; and for me, that’s the big lesson.

★★★☆☆

Buy Small Giants  in USA
Buy Small Giants in the UK
Buy Small Giants in Canada

 

 

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Book Review: The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War by Robert J. Gordon

the-rise-and-fall-of-american-growth-2I read it as an audiobook and it doesn’t make a good one. It’s full of figures, numbers, charts, diagrams, etc which get lost in the audio version. This might cause a bias on my review.

The book feels thoroughly researched. I caught a couple of small errors but most time when I thought “What about this or that” the book answered my objection a couple or paragraphs earlier.

The first two parts cycle between a dry list of numbers and little stories or descriptions that are very interesting. It is, as the title suggest, very American centric but every now and then it compares USA with Europe.

The last part is different, specially the last two or three chapters, which talk about the present and the future. I was heavily entrenched in what this books call techno-optimisim. Techno-optimists believe progress is happening and it will accelerate. AI will solve all problems and destroy all jobs. We also believe robots are the biggest source of unemployment today. This book made me challenge these assumptions. I’m not sure what to believe. Some of the conclusions that you may arrive at from the information here can be very xenophobic/protectionist.

The postscript, America’s Growth Achievement and the Path Ahead is great and concise. I think it should be mandatory reading to be a politician of any kind. Actually, the US should elect Robert J. Gordon as their president.

★★★★☆

Buy The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War in USA
Buy The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War in UK
Buy The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil Warin Canada

An idea for a cinema company

I doubt any cinemas are going to implement this, because like airlines and banks, they seem to be very bad at making software. Nothing surprising there.

A few months ago I was searching for a room in London. There are about 4 big sites to do that, so I posted ads on all of them, and searched on all of them. Only one provided a web application that allowed me to see whether I contacted someone already or whether I marked a flat as not-suitable. It made searching so much easier that soon I was using that and only that site. The ads weren’t better per se, but the software was.

I like going to the movies with friends but I dread having to organize it. It’s such a pain because you have to balance the available time of each people, the timetable of the cinema, the shows in which there are still good seats, the fact that the seats might be going unavailable, and handling the money (I tend to pick the cool but expensive theaters).

If I was in charge of a cinema, I would make a built-in Doodle. Doodle is an awesome application that helps you organize an event. You select all the desirable dates and times, invite the people, and they respond yes or no to each slot. At the end you pick one and go for it. I thought of setting up a Doodle to organize going to see The Dark Knight, but I ended just picking a date and time that was convenient for me and inviting people. It didn’t work.

The built-in Doodle could work like this:

  1. I go to the cinemas website.
  2. I buy my ticket.
  3. I pick all the shows I can go to.
  4. Set a deadline (maybe, optional).
  5. I send the invite to all the people that might want to join me.

Notice that I paid for my ticket before picking the date and time. I’m not sure whether that’s a good idea, I would be okay with that but maybe not everybody. What do you think?

Then each person that I invited goes to the web site and:

  1. Look at all the dates and times I and others picked.
  2. Buy their ticket or tickets.
  3. Pick the dates and times they can.

Once everybody is in or I’m done waiting, I pick a day and time and I get all the seats assigned together in one action (even though the action of committing to the movie was individual and asynchronous). For those that didn’t get a ticket or those that changed their mind, they get their money back and/or the option to arrange the same movie, another day, with some of the same group and/or adding other people to it.

For the cinema it’s a revenue booster. It makes it easier for people to commit to going to the cinema. And even people than don’t manage to go one day are compeled to go another because they already paid.

Build it with nice Facebook and Twitter integration and that’s it, you’ll be the most popular cinema in town.

What is a "startup project"?

I’m (hopefully) creating a term: “startup project”. A startup project is a project done on the side, not setting up a company, with or without partners, with the intention of one day becoming a startup.

I don’t have a startup, but I have many startup projects. Many silly little ideas with great aspirations. I need a term to separate that from non-startup project (like writing free software or build a house for the dog).

My startup projects are:

Many of them are dead or inactive. With .gitignore and .hgignore I believe I’m already getting as many visits as I possible can and it’s not that many (understandably, it’s extremely nichy).

RadioControlPedia is there, providing the information it has and open to anyone to contribute. I have some plans for it in the future but for now, I’m putting my time in other ideas. I really want to stay away from content for now.

Restraq and Hear a Blog deserve posts of their own, so wait for it.

Meanwhile, what do you think about the term “startup project”?

Idea: selling beauty products for males online

The beauty industry is made by women, for women. They learn everything very young and for most of them, it’s just natural. For most males it’s intimidating and confusing.

I had a very hilarious episode when I asked for “a beauty product” and my wife was tanding next to me and even though I was dead clear that it was me asking for a product for me, the sales rep would not speak to me. She directed all her answers to my wife, she was looking at her, almost ignoring me, while my wife never said a single word.

Anyway, I had an idea how to sell those kind of products to males. First, you have to do it online, because apparently males are more comfortable buying online and they are definitely not comfortable buying retail beauty products. Second, you have to make it simple, because we don’t know anything about it.

To make it simple my idea is this: you take a picture of yourself, or a couple, specifically of the problem you want to fix and upload it. Five minutes later you get a list of products that you could use for that. Boom! Sale guaranteed!

A mistake for Nokia

I think this partnership with Microsoft was a mistake for Nokia. It was great for Microsoft though.

Every time you show an old Nokia phone you get the same comment: “Oh, those phones were built to last, I went through 3 iPhones and the Nokia still works…” or “That is the only phone that will not blend”.

But Nokia’s obsolete software is killing it. They need to provide truly smartphones. They had three options:

  • build their own
  • use Android
  • use Windows

I think they already tried to build their own and failed. That’s very hard. A giant like Microsoft tried to build their own and failed. It’s very hard to build a software platform.

Apple did it by being the first ones and providing the coolest product ever. Google did it by doing it for free. They are both a success because they have thousands and thousands of applications on their platform by now.

Microsoft haven’t done it. As powerful as Microsoft is, they still haven’t cracked the smartphone market, and it’s very likely they’ll never do. They are up against Apple and Google and both of them have years of advantage now (previous efforts by Microsoft are useless today).

Now Microsoft has a chance to do it because of the deal with Nokia. Nokia is likely going to put Windows 7 Phone whatever on the hands of many people. Those people will get use to Windows, but not to Nokia and may switch to HTC or another provider in a blink of an eye. Microsoft wins, Nokia loses.

I think Nokia should have done with Android. I know it’s hard to differentiate yourself with Android (what’s the different between a Samsung and a Sony/Ericson phone these days? They both run Angry Birds), but Nokia could have done it by making a tough phone. There’s a lot of people today not using smartphones because they won’t last in their pockets. Nokia could build a smartphone for them.

Maybe Nokia decided against Android because of their past mistakes with Open Source projects and companies. At any rate, I think they are making a mistake right now.

If I were in charge of Adobe

Clearly, Adobe is losing the battle with Apple. There’s no Flash on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad and there’s no sign that there will ever be.

Apple is not a company that can be easily influenced. They do things the way they think is right even when everybody else disagrees. Even when everybody predicts is going to cost sales. They’ve been doing it for more than 10 years and it’s working very well for them, they are not going to stop now. For Adobe, Apple is a lost cause.

I actually dislike both companies. Apple is building an extremely proprietary environment. They are much worst than Microsoft. Apple’s tax not only includes the operating system, it also includes every third party application. Not only they get a part of everybody’s cake, they decide who have cake and who doesn’t by controlling which applications get approval and which get rejected. If Apple ever dominates the industry, it’ll be the dark ages of computers.

Adobe is not much different with Flash. Flash is a proprietary and it works well on one and only one platform; if it does at all. Everybody else is left out. Flash has been making the web inaccessible for ages. I would be very glad if we can get rid of Flash.

If I were in charge of Adobe I would do something that would help the company remain a leader on the web and at the same time make Flash good: open source it.

I never understood why Adobe hasn’t open sourced Flash already. The specs are more or less open, there are alternative implementations, and they are not making any money by selling Flash. They make money by selling the tools to build Flash web sites and that’s not going to stop if they make Flash itself open source.

Before or while open sourcing I would make agreements with two companies: Google and HP. Make sure Flash is going to be included in Android, Chrome OS and Web OS. I would also put those phones and tablets in the hand of my developers (that is, Adobe’s), for free, as a gift, with the goal of making the Flash experience is absolutely thrilling.

I think that is Flash’s only hope.

iPad, the good and the bad

I consider the iPad a very negative force. Apple is taking the close system of iPhone and moving it up to tablets. What’s the next move? Desktops? That’s very scary! Imagine a world where Steve Jobs is the final word on which programs people can and can’t run. If that happens, the dark ages of computers will have started, and who knows how long they’ll last.

Now there’s a very good side effect to the iPad. People is starting to spend a lot of time on non-Windows computers. No, this is not a rant against Microsoft.

There was a time when we had many operating systems and people use to choose. Different machines came with different operating systems. Then Microsoft dominated the market and there was one and only one operating system. For a time there was even only one browser. That hinders innovation.

Microsoft Windows obviously failed on phones and tablets. Apple, first with the iPhone and now with the iPad, opened those markets. Now people is talking about how great WebOS (Palm’s operating system) would be on a tablet (made by HP). Nobody would have though of a non-Windows tablet if Apple haven’t done it before. Also Android tablets are coming. Microsoft is rebooting its phone efforts, without Windows this time; and maybe they’ll reboot their tablet efforts too. At any rate Microsoft won’t dominate that market and certainly not Windows.

The only company capable of dominating phones and tablets is Apple; and they are not set to dominate it. Apple makes one and only one product, with no variations. If you want something different (a USB port, a memory card reader, a camera, porn, a cheaper product, whatever) you go to a competitor. Apple makes a lot of money by making the luxury products, not by selling it to everybody.

I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch a very competitive market where four players are so will be constantly innovating trying to win users over.

Breaking the Monopoly-design monopoly

monopolyI am talking about the game, you know, Monopoly! There are so many versions of it but the other day I’ve seen the most interesting one. No, not the Esperanto one: Monopolo. A do it yourself Monopoly, or a Make it yourself-opoly.

From that I’m deriving the idea, why can’t you design your Monopoly in a web application, or even in a desktop one but that ultimately submits it to the web and you get the finished game delivered to your home. You add pictures, you pick themes, you pick the title, the language, the currency. It could make a perfect purchase or a magnificent gift.

Why can’t you sell it to other people? Like you do for stuff in CafePress. Hasbro would take some earnings but all the design is ultimately crowd-sourced, the designer also gets some money. I find one reason why that may not work and that’s because most stuff for which is worth it to make a monopoly are also copyrigthed. Average Joe wouldn’t be able to make a Monopoly of his favorite movie without striking a deal with the movie makers, which is not likely for average Joe.

But the movie makers could make them in a self-service way. That’s also unlikely to happen. But an xkcd Monopoly? That’s likely to happen and sell quite a few copies. Companies with a sense of humor or with a good PR would have some employee doing tha. Do you imagine Microsoft or Google Monopoly with each property being a product. Do you want to buy Office? Do you want to buy Chrome? Do you want to play as Bill Gates? Steve Ballmer? Larry Page? I know some geeks would stack them up and have one of each of those.

I thought about starting to make the web application for designing a Monopoly. It could generate PDFs that you download and print and paste in a normal board as an interim while not having any production. But there’s only one company that can legally do this: Hasbro, and having only one company as your potential exit is not a good idea. So it was dropped from the ideas board into here, my blog.