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Book review: Thank you for disrupting

August 15, 2019

Some individuals have a large impact on society and Thank you for disrupting is about their big ideas and underlying thinking.

Disruption is a well defined term now but many decades ago when it was introduced by Jean-Marie Dru that was not the case. The business culture was still wowed by continuous improvement methodology, and disruption had a negative connotation.

Lee Clow was Steve Job’s dedicated advertising partner and a friend from the very beginning of Apple. He was behind the famous 1984 “Think different” ad as well as the 66 “Mac versus PC” commercials.

According to Clow ideas accelerate change: they rule the world. He is not a believer of good ads but big ideas. Brands should associate themselves with powerful ideas that state what the brand stands for.  A big idea works as a source of inspiration but also as a filter. They focus and provide consistency to the digitally disperse and fragmented marketing space.

Previously advertising was about producing creative messages to the audience. Now it’s about strong stories that create audiences from scattered media: users want to share the message to each other. Only the strong ideas and stories survive.

And they also have the best results. According to McKinsey the more creative the campaign the higher the likelihood that the featured product will sell. Creatively awarded campaigns seem to ensure also better returns with a less risk.

One of the leading trails between different persons from Steve Jobs, Lee Clow and Bernard Arnault (of LVMH) to Oprah Winfrey is their dedication to pay careful attention to detail. They are very involved with every aspect of the brand experience and how it is presented in the everyday mundane business aspects. Everything represents the brand and therefore it’s important.

Herb Kelleher is a legend in the airline industry. His Southwest Airlines broke the assumption that low cost equals low quality. Southwest puts its employees first and hires on attitude vs. skills. With a right company culture it has achieved revenues of over 35 billion and it has never laid off a single employee since its foundation in 1971. The staff is also the best compensated in the industry. Kelleher has stated his vision and strategy simply as low cost, superior service and people first.

Leading entrepreneurs consider their organisation to be in a continuous state of flux. A decentralised decision-making combined with a strong vision can drive a large number of people in a coordinated but yet agile fashion towards ambitious business goals. Organisations become vulnerable to disruption the moment they start to protect their turf and focus on incremental improvements.

Great companies create markets instead of focus on gaining market share. They keep their attention on business models and not just on products.

Big ideas and strong values move people.

Book review: Total rethink

August 13, 2019

Entrepreneurs disrupt the status quo! David McCourt embraces entrepreneurial revolution that results beneficial change for the majority and disrupts the status quo for the incumbent players.

Technology allows for everyone to become new revolutionaries yet few realises and acts upon this realisation. As in history, it’s very likely that the biggest innovators come from the have-nots that have very little to lose and a higher tolerance for risk taking.

Historically this was the case with European immigrants coming to America and escaping dire conditions back at home. This time it’s the 5 billion people who are not as well off as the 2.5 billion enjoying the best lifestyle the planet has to offer.

McCourt describes his story coming from a large family and finding his way into entrepreneurial adventures from early age up to this day. During those years he have managed to be part of the cable television as well as fiber optics industry disruption and providing cheaper services for consumers at the expense of the oligopolistic competitors.

The book is full of colourful stories and mission impossibles where McCourt jumps to the water first and figures out later how to swim. This results him to learn quickly and unearth large opportunities that have enabled him to publicly list and sell many companies.

Berkshire Hathaway’s board member Walter Scott is McCourt’s mentor and he shares some of his wisdom and philosophies. For example, “never mistake a fad for a trend” and “take care of your people and your equipment”. The latter means that you can ruin your capex investment by not having the right people taking care of your equipment.

McCourt is a big believer in fair and honest relationships where business is made for the long term and this is reflected in the partnership deals as well.

As a curiosity McCourt mentions that he managed to raise $6.1 billion for his RCN Corp making that the world record for a start-up funding into any single project. He also managed to raise $1.65 billion from a single individual (i.e. Paul Allen).

Tellingly New York magazine ranked Allen’s investment the “best deal of the millennium” and the “worst deal of the millennium” in the same issue. The dot com bubble crashed capital markets and resulted Allen to take a deep hair cut in his investment.

One of the persisting messages of the book is how to provide solutions and value for the less connected and powerful (and quoted in the book):

”Those capable of channeling the power of the crowd must turn their energies to something more fundamental: redesigning society’s systems and structures to meaningfully include and empower more people. The greatest test for the conductors of new power will be their willingness to engage with the challenges of the least powerful”

The future is all about cooperation, win-win solutions, peer-to-peer and crowdsourcing. Corporations, nations and incumbent structures have too much to lose and therefore they are most of the time unable to renew adequately leading them to be disrupted and replaced. Entrepreneurs the world is yours!

Book reviews: Blockchain, Ethereum and Cryptocurrency Investing for dummies

August 9, 2019

Sometimes it’s good to go back to basics. Crypto field is getting too large to follow it all by any single person. In the early years it was easy to have an overview of the most significant ventures but those days are long gone. There’s simply too much happening.

Blockchain for dummies (2nd edition) is a good intro for the basics and general overview. It explains the essential structures and concepts in an easily digestible format. Bitcoin, Ethereum, Waves, Factom and EOS are used as special cases that each have their own chapter.

The book works as a hands-on guide that allows you to actually do things as well. Some of the examples are simple and easy for everyone to follow and others require a bit more prior IT knowledge.

Industry impacts section provides examples in various industries and recent developments that are emerging within private and public sector initiatives.

If your main concern is to understand the basics of Blockchain this is the book for you.

Ethereum for dummies focuses purely on the Ethereum and its ecosystem. You can even build your own simple smart contract following the step-by-step instructions and screen captures.

The detailed format of actually doing concrete exercises helps to keep the narrative in enough detailed level to provide useful information. Sometimes the devil is in the details and this may be missed in more theoretical treatments.

Cryptocurrency Investing for dummies dedicates almost half of the book to explaining the Blockchain concepts and how to acquire some tokens in your wallet. The other half is divided between regular trading and hedging strategies and giving some considerations for acting in a volatile new environment. If you expect to find some good analysis and evaluation of different cryptocurrencies or practical insights how to find the ones to trade out of thousands of cryptos this book may not be for you. Maybe that’s why the title says investing and not trading.

Overall I liked the Blockchain for dummies the most but each book has their own audience and niche. I’m too biased to give them a fair treatment since my days of discovering the wonders of Blockchain and cryptos for the first time are way behind me. The last time I had some more profound excitement of the field may have been when helping Tim Swanson to write his book in 2013-2014.

Book review: Secrets of Sand Hill Road

August 7, 2019

Over the years VC industry has become more developed and accessible. The mysteries of first decades are gone and most of the industry practices are already common knowledge.

Yet, they may still not be evenly distributed among entrepreneurs.

Scott Kupor’s new book belongs to the must-read category for every founder who needs venture funding. Secrets of Sand Hill Road complements John Nesheim’s classic High tech start up together with a more recent Venture Deals by Brad Feld & Jason Mendelson and The Hard thing about hard things by Ben Horowitz.

The book walks through the funding process step-by-step and explains the logic and pitfalls along the way. The topic is broad so there are only so many things one can tell in a chapter or two.

Kupor manages to explain the basics and still keep it interesting for more advanced readers. Andreessen Horowitz is in the exact epicentre of venture funding and over the course of ten years they have become one if not the leading VC company in the world.

This provides some insights and views to the thinking and processes for non-Silicon Valley investors and entrepreneurs. If the fundraising is already bread-and-butter for many the latter part of the process is something that may interest industry players: discussion about exits. Most of them are acquisitions, and IPOs can be put off for 10-15 years if not forever thanks to regulations and large later stage funds.

Kupor puts his legal background in good use by explaining some legal cases that have direct impact on practical startup life and company governance. Board member rights and especially duties are something seldom thought about before the actual circumstances are already in motion. There may not be perfect solutions for conflict of interest situations but certainly one can be prepared and acknowledge the risks in advance.

VC industry is very much ruled by power law results. The best performing funds reap most of the industry profits and it is more or less self-perpetuating force in action. The best deal flow and investors flock together making diversification a bad idea among VC funds.

A very small industry by numbers have a disproportionally large impact on society. VC-backed companies shine in net jobs created and money invested in R&D among all companies, and especially vis-à-vis publicly listed ones in the States.

The role of the entrepreneur is not something to be too envious about. Secrets of Sand Hill Road shine some light on the minefields waiting for entrepreneurs before their glorious exit event in 7-15 years ahead. The gold pot may be there at the end of the rainbow together with unicorns but who gets most of it is the billion-dollar question.