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Apple. It seems like they are the darling of the technology world. Just this week, they announced the iPad — the next thing that will revolutionize our world. Apple is a very divisive company. People either love them or hate them. The lovers are passionate and evangelical. The haters are passionate and focused.
Until recently, I was a hater. I have been on the PC platform since my first PC in 1984, with one 5.25 floppy drive, since I couldn’t afford the 5 MB (yes MB) hard drive. My resolve broke down when I saw the iPhone. Here finally was a phone that I could use as a single device for all my needs. The fact that it could sync with Outlook and keep all my music and run apps was (pardon the pun) beautiful music to me. So last June, when the iPhone 3GS was announced, I overcame my trepidation and bought the phone. I really love the phone. It is easy to use, rock solid, has the huge App Store and just works well. Yes, of course, there are things that I wish it could do, like multi-tasking and more detailed profile settings, but in general I am pleased with my iPhone purchase. I am still not on the Mac bandwagon. That is going to take a whole lot more magic.
The Apple store is another great story. I love the Apple store. Everyone in the store is enabled to make a your customer experience the best. Want to buy something? Any Apple employee can make a sale — no waiting on line; heck they will even email a receipt to you. The Genius bar is terrific for solving problems. You get the feeling that everything that they do is focused on you. I can’t think of another retail environment that makes me feel like that, with the possible exception of Disney (topic for another blog post).
But, while Apple can make you feel like the smartest consumer ever for choosing to work with their products and their people, it seems to me that in their own way, they also treat you like the stupidest consumer. How can that be? Well, they severely limit the types of applications that developers can offer. Somebody reasonably smart can write a solid profile manager for the App Store, but Apple won’t allow it because it violates what they think should be available. How about a way to automatically expand text typed into an input field — something like tyvm should be able to be automatically expanded to Thank you very much? Both of these features are standard on the competing Blackberry platform, but even if someone wanted to write these applications, Apple would not allow them.
It gets worse. Say you lost your iPhone charger. How much would you expect Apple to charge you to replace it? Remember that the 8 GB iPhone can be bought for $99. According to Apple website, they want $29.00 for the replacement. 30% of the purchase price for a power charger? That is crazy. Yes, I know that you can find a third party charger almost anywhere for $10 or $15, but what does Apple take us for? Here is an even worse case. The iPhone allows you to store movies for remote watching. No problem, unless you want to plug your iPhone into your home television so that you can watch on the big screen. Then you can buy the video cables from Apple for $49. Too rich for your blood? OK, find some third party cables and buy them for $10. I did. When I hooked them up, the picture showed up on my tv for about 2 seconds then went blank. I got a message that said that since I wasn’t using the approved Apple cables, they had disabled the video output. Remember that I did get a picture for a short bit, so it isn’t a technical issue. Ouch. Starting to make me feel like less of that smartest consumer ever.
They have continued these policies with the iPad. What a wonderful media player. But no HDMI output. Too bad that you will need a (you guessed it) proprietary plug to get video output. Well, I am sure that it must have a USB output. All real devices have a USB output. Um, not so much with the iPad. The answer is that it will be available with an accessory kit. I have heard that Apple believes that they want to serve the non-technical crowd and don’t want to make things too complicated for that marketplace. Well, it seems to me that the PC marketplace hasn’t done too badly by giving people options. If only someone could develop a “gorgeous” device that was open to be customized to our needs.
I guess that my experience has shown that it is possible to be in the middle on the topic of Apple. I love the customer service and I love the device. I just wish that the company had the foresight to help me make this my device, at a reasonable cost. Then I could confidently move into the ranks of the lovers.
Last week, I was so bold as to call out the entire airline industry. Not enough innovation, too much nickle and diming, poor customer service. You have heard it all before, but my mistake was to assume (you know how that ends) that the airline industry was acting as a unified block. In most cases, they are. If American raises prices, Continental and United follow along the next day. If United adds a new “cost option”, the rest act like sheep or more likely, lemmings to offer the new selection.
But then I read this story about three guys who came up with a new way to skip a lot of the nonsense that is associated with flying. This is an entrepreneurial story that makes my heart sing, because these three non-aviation experts were able to think outside the box and come up with an entirely new aviation model in SeaPort Airlines.
The idea of getting around the FAA’s rules about security screenings by using planes that are under the legally mandated size is genius. They have started small, flying between two heavily trafficked cities, Portland and Seattle in business turboprops outfitted for commuter use. They fly into in-city airports, saving commute times on both ends. There are 10 scheduled round trip flights each weekday, so customers have plenty of options. Recently they have added some additional destinations both in the Northwest and in MidSouth as part of the FAA’s Essential Air Service Program.
From this we can learn a couple of key lessons. The first is that the entrepreneurial spirit does not limit itself to technology companies. Second, even the most moribund industry with the tightest controls can be attacked by a nimble competitor who is focused on serving a niche. Don’t lo0k at the Facebooks and YouTubes of the world as the only example of exemplary entrepreneurship — that is the lottery, a one in several million chance. Rather, find a place where people are unhappy with their options and give them something better. Be the best in your niche and you will reap the rewards.
Sorry for the time between posts, but summer intruded and must take precedence. I will try to get back on a better schedule, but can make no promises since I still have another month or so of summer. But on to more meaty topics…
So many entrepreneurs (me included sometimes) have said that they would love to start up a new venture if only they had a great idea. But is that really the case?
While I was researching a new venture idea, I came upon the thought that there were really two kinds of risk in the entrepreneurial world. The first is Idea Risk. That is, is the idea good enough to base a viable business upon? The second is Management Risk, or can the team that the entrepreneur has assembled pull it off? Of these, Management Risk seemed to be the most likely to be able to be ameliorated through judicious use of mentors, incubators and trusted service providers. The Idea Risk seemed to be a binary decision – either it was a good idea or not. But the more that I have thought about it, the more that I find that Idea Risk has more facets.
I have a friend who, over the past year, has met with various people and has generated at least 7 or 8 actionable ideas. Not just “Oh you should start up a new-age car dealership” kind of wacky ideas. But full blown creative ideas, ideally suited to the person that he was talking with, with some sense of market potential, revenue sources… the real deal. In only one of those cases, has the person taken the idea and run with it. And she didn’t do it until she was goaded into it and provided some incentives that reduced her risk.
And therein lies the real rub. It is not the lack of ideas. There are tons of ideas out there. If you are looking for a great idea, check out this list of 999. It may not even be the quality of the idea, although the new age car dealership doesn’t rock my boat. The real reason that people don’t start ventures is the risk factor. They are worried that they will not make enough money. They are worried that their mother-in-law will not like them. They are worried that they will lose the house. They are worried that their friends will think them crazy for leaving a perfectly good job as a manager at IBM.
My advice to you is that if you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to get over the fear of what everyone else has to say. If you find an idea that you are passionate about, think Bill Gates “A computer on every desktop running Windows” or Anita Roddick‘s “To dedicate our business to the pursuit of social and environmental change.” at the Body Shop, go for it with all your heart and all your soul.
I truly believe that the key word in Idea Risk is Risk, not Idea.
Follow-Up: Last week I wrote about Technological Innovation, where I talked about Microsoft’s introduction of the search engine Bing. I was interested in seeing how the world reacted to Bing after the introduction. Microsoft has chosen to push shopping and decision making as the key aspects of Bing’s success. The screens are colorful and the sample searches that I completed were fine. The media has generally been pretty favorable to Bing’s introduction. But you can make your own determination with a visit to a site called Blind Search which will compare your search results through the use of Google, Bing and Yahoo.
Microsoft has also made good on its promise to advertise the heck out of Bing. There are banner ads, newspaper ads, television ads, keyword ads, blog post ads and even, dare I say it, Google AdWords. They have increased their influence on buyers with the Bing Cashback program which like a combination of the Google Checkout program and the Discovercard’s Cashback program.
Google is not taking their leading market position for granted. It is interesting to me is that Google has started to ramp up their advertising engine for the first time. Both adwords and blog ads have become much more prevalent. For a time, Google even changed their normally sparse home page to include a link to Explore Google Search to help people understand the wealth of options that Google provides for finding stuff.
In the early weeks of June, since the introduction of Bing, Microsoft’s share of the search market has grown a bit. Much of this can be attributed to searchers taking Bing out for a test ride. The real question wil be whether people continue to utilize Bing or if the honeymoon ends as people go back to their first loves.
Innovation: Allan Young writes a great article on the virtues of the Pareto Principle as it relates to your career. You probably remember the Pareto Principle as the 80-20 rule. In this article he also talks about the venture capitalist’s issue with the Pareto Principle.
Chicago: I have been thinking about the Chicago Entrepreneurial environment lately for a new idea and one of the big issues is that we, here in Chicago, have this notion that the financing folks (angels, VC, private equity) are socially conditioned to be risk averse and thus new start-ups don’t start or prosper here at the same rate as on the coasts. This post by Micah titled competitive cooperation, after you get past his illness description, talks about how the tech community in Boulder works to support each other, while striving for personal success. It would be great to get some of this thinking going in Chicago.
Entrepreneurship: For some reason, I am in a teaching mood today. Here is a long post by Mark Cuban about success and motivation.
Big Picture: It is always interesting to me to see how founders think about their companies. Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, writes this annual report. And while we are on the subject of Google, Jim Spanfeller, CEO of Forbes.com, wrote a scathing indictment of Google and their role in the demise of the publishing business. A much more fun read is the response by Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand in a point-counterpoint post.
Innovation: Scott Adams of Dilbert fame talks about information flow using a time based methodology. He envisions a world where our calendars will become much more intelligent, personal and useful. I like this vision of the future.
Ideas: If you have never seen Seth Godin speak, you now have the opportunity to view this talk on Tribes from the 2009 TED Conference. And for a little historical Seth, here is his riff on Purple Cows from 2003.
Big Picture: Malcolm Gladwell writes in The New Yorker about how David can beat Goliath. In many cases, it is thinking outside the box and not falling to conventional wisdom.
New Inventions: From the pages of Harry Potter, along comes an invention that we can all see merit in (or not) – the cloak of invisibility.
Behavior: Have you ever wanted to understand how a con-man was able to work his magic? Read a lesson in How to Cheat from The Economist.
Graphics: I recently pointed to the Seth Godin graphics lens which talked about getting better at graphic design. To go one better, Kristin pointed me to this site with 50 totally free lessons on graphics.
Big Idea: Ever wondered what it would take to become a blog writer? I am living that life, but was intrigued by the manifesto posted by Chris Guillebeau.
Economy: Mike Rowe, of Dirty Jobs fame, talks about work in general in this entertaining TED Talk.
Innovation: When entrepreneurs get together in Chicago, a common topic of conversation is how the city fares in terms of new business. A lot of entrepreneurs look longingly to either coast and the greener fields (in many respects ) that beckon. McKinsey talks about innovation (not venture financing, alas), but Chicago fares pretty well in the diversity of companies that have been granted patents. We are third in the world, behind only Silicon Valley and Toyko in one measure of developing a diversified business base. I have always felt that this was a hidden gem in the Chicago economy, compared to the boom and bust cycles of mono-industry cities like Detroit, Houston, Denver or Hartford.
Leadership: A friend pointed me to this article on entrepreneurial leadership in this economy. (Hat Tip: BF)
Healthcare: Should America have universal healthcare? According to the experts, 50 million of us are not covered by health insurance. We pay significantly more for healthcare on a per capita basis, have less access to advanced technologies and actually have worse outcomes than most other countries. Joe Conason, writes about the issue in Salon today.
Entrepreneurship: Paul Graham‘s new rallying cry is “Be Relentlessly Resourceful“.
Economy: Wonder why the prices of groceries haven’t been going down, as raw materials prices have? So have the big grocery chains.