Category Archives: business

Givanchy and Collaboration

Hubert de Givenchy had a great go of it. He was renowned as a fashion designer, rich and famous. And now that he has passed on at the ripe old age of 91, we might celebrate his great success.

I like this picture of Givenchy with Audrey Hepburn

Image result for Hubert de Givenchy

I like it because it brings out an important factor in Givenchy’s great success. He became famous because of his great collaborations with celebrities like Audrey Hepburn. She genuinely liked and admired him. This quote brings that out

Her genuine friendship with Givenchy stemmed from his warm, gentleman’s persona and refined elegance, something they shared unequivocally. It’s quite rare this day and age to point out a designer-celebrity ambassador relationship that’s not tied to exclusive dealings and multimillion-dollar contracts.

So sure, Givenchy was a brilliant fashion designer. More important, he was brilliant in creating great collaborations. And this is a more rare feat!



What is Holding Productivity Back?

Roughly speaking, productivity is the amount of economic gain we get from an hour of work. And going back several hundred years, it is staggering how much more productive the average worker is.

But in  recent years, productivity has slowed.  Why? At least one economist thinks that is because we have already gotten all we will get out of the major innovations of the twentieth century. He discounts gains from digital technology. It has not delivered massive gains the way the automobile did.

It is too early to tell if he is right. But one thing does appear to be true. We are still waiting for the digital revolution to translate into massive increases in productivity.

Getting Decentralized – Why it Matters

The ongoing discussion about the relative value or lack of value in the crypto markets has brought us a new concept: decentralization.

Initially, the idea was trotted out as a justification for crypto-currencies themselves. Crypto would be free of centralized government control. That idea appeals to libertarians and other folks who feel that governments cannot be trusted for whatever reason  (for example, corruption).

As it turns out, this is not the main motivation behind decentralization. That motivation has more to do with problems that we experience with centralized platforms like Facebook, Google, etc. Those problems are well described by Chris Dixon. Both users and rd party collaborators get screwed at a certain point in the platform growth cycle.

Decentralizing may offer paths for growing networks that avoid these problems. Let’s see!

How to Make a Million with Shared Learning

The idea is very simple. Create a platform where people can create “flashcards” to test how well they have learned something. That is the idea that 15 year old Andrew Sutherland had a while back, and he created “Quizlet“.

How did it work out?  Fred Wilson writes

Over the last twelve and a half years, users have posted over 200 million study sets to Quizlet.

And things are getting more interesting

Take 200+ million study sets and 30+ million monthly users and you have a ton of data about what people are learning, how they are learning, and how their learning evolves over time on Quizlet. From that data (machine learning experts) will (develop) new modes of learning on Quizlet and a  (produce) lot of help figuring out what study sets are best to learn something.

And that is not all

The other place Quizlet plans to invest in is expanding Quizlet internationally. Over the last year, the Quizlet team has localized into 18 languages. Now, over 90% of the world’s population can use Quizlet. And because Quizlet is free to use for everyone, that means this user powered learning model can be used by students all over the world. Quizlet intends to aggressively expand its content base and user base internationally in the next few years.

Quizlet makes money through advertising and subscription services.

Such a simple idea! And such a useful simple idea! I love it!


You Probably Missed This

Did you know?

… the contingent workforce market really exploded in 2016 and 2017.

From Fred Wilson.

Why is that important? The “contingent workforce” is the freelance workforce – folks who offer skills but not full time work. These folks used to be on the margins of the labor force. They are becoming more mainstream, and big companies are starting to budget for using them more frequently for a wider range of services.  Read Fred’s post if you want to learn more.

So why is that important? Unemployment and underemployment are big ticket policy issues. They are caused by mismatches between what people can do and what they can get paid to do. Those mismatches are more common when employers have fixed regimes for hiring. Folks then compete for a limited supply of ready made jobs. If folks can focus more on building skills that are useful beyond a single employer, they are better off, and the market for work is more efficient.

They cannot do that as full time workers. They might be able to do it if they can plug into a market for freelance work. that rewards them for upgrading.

This is very cool!


Thinking about the Crypto Correction

I have been having exchanges tonight over the correction in crypto markets. Make no mistake, it is a big correction. And it has got a lot of attention from crypto optimists. Market makers are trying to calm everyone down by saying

  • the correction was expected for months, and
  • the correction is caused by uncertainty in the regulation of crypto  that will pass

There is some merit to both points. And I think there is one other thing going on. Last year,  lots of people heard about blockchain and crypto for the first time. It had an exotic quality, and presented great new possibilities. This waking up led to  some initial euphoria about the market. It was very sudden. The complexity of the technology underlying crypto was an added benefit. But stories about folks raising millions in ICO rounds in minutes were very sexy.

But this euphoria can only be sustained when the initial idea gets backed up by an amazing new success story. We have not seen that just yet, and so people are starting to listen more to “risk” metrics than “potential” metrics.

There are lots of historical parallels. For example, we tend to forget that people had pretty much given up on the automobile as a practical invention until Henry Ford came around and demonstrated that Ford could build affordable and reliable cars. After he did that, the market went wild. Not just to buy Fords, but to copy what Ford was doing. That gave the backers of GM the opportunity to pour big money into a new business model that “one upp’ed” Ford.  GM became the most successful company in the world when cars took center stage in daily life.

The same can be said about web search. Yahoo’s initial search platform was cool, but after a while it looked like a commodity. Google’s search engine was better, but Google did not really take off — and fundamentally change web business — until Google demonstrated that you could monetize web use with ad revenue. That demonstration opened the door to huge new investment in web services. Google became hugely rich, and we now have lots of web business models based on maximizing traffic to generate ad revenue.

And then there is the IPhone. Before Jobs brought this out, mobile phones were starting to look like commodities. It was fun to be available all the time, but all mobile phones essentially did the same thing. Nokia won huge market share by recognizing this, and producing upgraded efficiency in designs at lower cost. And then Jobs demonstrated that a mobile device could do a lot more than just support phone conversations. Once that was demonstrated huge new investments in mobile tech were made and we have lots of mobile devices connecting us to lots of services. Not just from the Iphone, but from competing mobile devices and new mobile devices.

It will be interesting to see if we get a demonstration like this for blockchain and crypto. Not just stuff about the future, but a concrete demonstration of new value added that can be copied.  If we get that, I think crypto valuations may take off. Until then, the markets will continue to be highly volatile.

Let’s see if that happens!

Understanding the Opportunity of Decentralized Web Services

If you are like me, web services still feel pretty new. I can remember, for example, when EBay, YouTube, and Apple Music first came out. Each offered something that seemed revolutionary at the time. Except that in one way, they were just the opposite. They each  make money by being gatekeepers. In other words, you have to go to them and through them in order to do what you want to do. You cannot go elsewhere.

Over the last few years, I have been getting used to the new idea that web gatekeeper services are archaic. Any time I have to go to a web location to do something I ask myself, “why can’t I do this on my own? Other than being a gatekeeper, what value added does this service give me?” The reason I am getting so bold is that blockchain technology enables us to get the same or better services without gatekeepers.

You might ask, why is that better? The reason is that each time that I have to go to a gatekeeper, I have to reward the gatekeeper for accessing its service. That reward might be in the form of a transaction fee, or just handing over my data so that the gatekeeper can use it for its own purposes (like Google, using my data to get advertising revenue).  I get less value out of the transactions that I do. The gatekeepers get a slice of the value added without doing anything for it other than opening the door to it.  Think of it like a balance of power. When we all give a little power to a gatekeeper for access, the gatekeeper becomes huge and rich — like Google — and we do not.

Let’s take EBay as an example. It is nice to be able to buy and sell stuff online. But why should I have to go to EBay and submit to EBay’s rules to do this? Why can’t I list what I want to sell everywhere? Answer – up until now, it would be difficult to stop double and triple and quadruple sales. EBay can do this. But Blockchain can do it  without the gatekeeping aspect of the service.

This link tells that story. It  tells a parallel story with respect to YouTube and Apple Music. And there are many more web services that are primarily gatekeepers. In a few years these will look pretty silly.

Here is a historical analogy. There was a time when the single most valuable thing in the world was almost totally controlled by gatekeepers. Those gatekeepers managed access to, and value added from this incredibly valuable thing. They were incredibly rich and powerful.  The rest of us were less so.

That incredibly valuable thing was land and the gatekeepers to land were the kings, barons and dukes, etc.. Land was incredibly valuable because all value came from it. Food, clothing, building materials, shelter, etc.  That was the way things were before the industrial revolution. But the power of the aristocracy was broken when land fell in relative value compared to factory produced goods. Folks could make do without being tied to the land. “Making do” got a lot better when universal education provided a path to white collar jobs! Suddenly, millions of folks could bypass the gatekeepers, and they did. Now, most of us can pursue our lives without having to go through an aristocrat to access and use land.

Are we better off?  We are certainly better off in financial terms. The relative share of wealth controlled by the aristocracy diminished compared to the share the rest of us have. The balance of power shifted. And we can use our added wealth to invest in other wealth generating activities — if we choose to do so. The result is not perfect. But would we want to go back? I don’t think so … errrr … unless we could be guaranteed to be placed at the top of the heap (and definitely not a serf or slave).

The argument goes that decentralization of web services will bring about a similar type of power and wealth shift from web gatekeepers to the rest of us. Will it be as big? No one knows yet. And that is the fun part.

But the folks trying to make this happen are saying things like this

(Our mission) is to create simplified and automated decentralized applications (dApps) to facilitate peer-to-peer transactions and exchanges.

Translation: We get rid of gatekeepers! Errr … of course, if you have to go to an individual firm to get rid of a gatekeeper, you are dealing with a new type of gatekeeper — at least on a one off basis. It would be cool if we could develop that stuff on our own!

How would that look? Imagine a time when each and everything you do could be rewarded via the web by micro-payments (like getting paid for blogging without having to blog). And those things that you put on offer would become part of a distributed ledger (a living data base) that could be accessed by anyone and everyone over time as well as updated with new value added (thread building). So learning from you, and your learning from others who use what you offer becomes mutually rewarding and seamless.  If you could do this, your relative power to add value and gain from the value added of others would be multiplied. You would need fewer corporate giants to empower you. You could empower yourself and your community on your own on an ongoing basis. Very cool!

As you read that, you might say “But we do that now by exchanging information on the web. You are doing that now by blogging!” True. And the ability to do this offers a major improvement in our lives. But the exchange opportunities are not seamless, the activity is not mutually rewarding,  and it does not enable us to build learning threads — yet.