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I’m in the Little Rock airport on my way home. After having an abysmal travel day yesterday that started off at 5:30am with me being detained By U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the Toronto airport, I finally got to Little Rock around 4pm, made it to the Startup Arkansas event around 5:30pm, and did two hours of open office hours, a Startup Communities talk, and general Q&A. When I got back to my hotel room around 10:30pm and crawled into bed after hanging around with the entrepreneurs at a great after party, the crappy US CBP experience had been washed off of me. I had a great evening, and, like entrepreneurs everywhere, the people I got to hang out with in Arkansas are optimistic, fun, excited about what they are doing, and building the future. And they like beer, which I needed after a very long day.
I had two separate bad dreams last night about being detained. The first was a strange, complex one that is now fuzzy in my head, but happened in a futuristic, very dark setting. The second is still fresh – I was with Dick Costolo (Twitter CEO) somewhere in San Francisco and we were detained by military people who put us in a room, took away our iPhones because they were afraid Dick would start a revolution since he controlled Twitter, and made us sit silently back to back. I woke up before that dream resolved.
When I woke up from my second dream, I realized I was wondering why you are forbidden from using your iPhone in US Immigration areas. I notice this all the time when I enter the US – you go through a door into where the giant immigration room is and you are bombarded with the universal “no phone” sign. Then, when you break this rule and tweet a photo of the “no phone” sign, one of the CBP people inevitably comes over to you and tells you that you can’t use your phone there.
Yesterday, after I ended up in what I have been told is called the “secondary” room, I quickly sent Amy and Kelly an email telling them where I was. I then tweeted that I had been detained by CBP. This took about 30 seconds, at which point one of the CBP agents very aggressively told me that I couldn’t use my phone in this room.
I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask why, nor do I think it would have been particularly helpful. I’m sure the formal reason is something like “you are on government property and we get to set the rules on what you do” and then there is – if pushed – some separate justification about security. But I’ve used my iPhone when I was in the White House, I’ve taken a photos of Obama with it, I check in on FourSquare at various government buildings, and I have spent many mindless minutes waiting on a line for some government service somewhere using my iPhone. And some very creative people have videoed their own experience with CPB and DHS agents doing ridiculous things, making absurd statements, and demonstrating what happens when they don’t understand civil liberties and our constitution as well as the people they are trying to question.
Why am I forbidden from using it in an Immigration facility? Are they afraid of people videoing what they are doing? Are they worried that I’ll rally a twitter mob to break me out of the secondary detention area. Or are they just enjoying exercising their ability to eliminate my ability to communicate with the outside world?
I’m clearly still riled up about yesterday, although I’m mostly just sad about it. It’s horrifying to me how, as a government, we treat non-US citizens who are legally in this country. It’s also disgusting to me how difficult we make it for people to come into this country and startup businesses, which ironically is the foundation on which much of this country has been built. And now that I had a very direct and minor taste of it, I’m sad that we’ve let things get to this point.
I’m mid 2011 I wrote a post titled Competition. Things in my universe had heated up and many of the companies I was an investor in were facing lots of competition. It’s 18 months later and there’s 10x the amount of competitive dynamics going on, some because of the maturity, scale, and market leadership of some of the companies I’m an investor in; some because of the increased number of companies in each market segment, and some based on the heat and intensity of our business right now.
I wrote a few more posts about competition but then drifted on to other things. But I came back to it this morning as I find myself thinking about competition every day. Yesterday, I was at the Silicon Flatirons Broadband Migration Conference hosted by my friend Phil Weiser. I go every year because it’s a good chance for me to see how several of the parallel universes I interact with, namely government, academics, broadband and mobile carriers, incumbent technology providers, and policy people think about innovation in the context of the Internet.
News flash – most of them think about it very differently than I do.
One thing that came up was the idea of creating the best product. This has been an on and off cliche in the tech business for a long time. For periods of time, people get obsessed about how “the best product will win.” Then, some strategy consultants, or larger incumbents, use their market power to try to create defenses around innovation, and suddenly the conversation shifts away from “build the best product.” And then the entrepreneurial cycle heats up again and the battle cry of the new entrepreneur is “build the best product.”
This isn’t just a startup vs. big company issue. I remember clearly, with amazement, the first time I got my hands on an iPhone. Up to that point I was using an HTC Dash running Windows Mobile 6.5. It was fine, but not awesome. I remember Steve Ballmer in a video mocking the iPhone.
We all know how this story has played out.
I remember a world when Microsoft and RIM were dominant. When Apple and Google didn’t have a product. And when people talked about “handsets”, WAP, and we squinted at our screens while pounding on keyboards that were too small for our fingers. Next time you are in a room full of people, just look around at the different phones, tables, and laptops that you see.
In my startup world, the same dynamics play out. Building the “best product” doesn’t only mean the best physical product (or digital product). It doesn’t just mean the best UI. Or the best UX. It includes the best distribution. The best supply chain. The best customer experience. The best support. The best partner channel. The best interface to a prospective customer. I’m sure I’ve left categories out – think about the idea of “the best complete product.”
This is getting more complicated by the day as technologies and products increase in interoperability with each other at both the data, network, application, and physical level. That’s part of the fun of it. And being great at it can help you dominate your competition.
Give me the best product to work with any day of the week. But make sure you are defining “product” correctly.
I love Scott Kveton, the CEO of Urban Airship. He and his team are building an amazing company in Portland. If you do anything mobile-related and use push notifications of any sort, or real-time location targeting, you need to be talking to them. But even more impressive is how Scott leads his company.
The other day, I got an email from my partner Jason with a photo of the Urban Airship Meeting Rules posted on the wall. They are so logical as to be rules that should apply to every meeting at every startup from now until forever.
0. Do we really need to meet?
1. Schedule a start, not an end to your meeting – its over when its over, even if that’s just 5 minutes.
2. Be on time!
3. No multi-tasking … no device usage unless necessary for meeting
4. If you’re not getting anything out of the meeting, leave
5. Meetings are not for information sharing – that should be done before the meeting via email and/or agenda
6. Who really needs to be at this meeting?
7. Agree to action items, if any, at the conclusion of the meeting
8. Don’t feel bad about calling people out on any of the above; it’s the right thing to do.
I particularly love 0, 1, and 4. I rarely walk out of a meeting when I’m not getting anything out of it. I’m going to start paying more attention to this one.
I’m finding myself using Google+ more and more. I recently decided that the long game Google is playing is absolutely brilliant. They are being understated about it but doing exactly what business strategists talk about when they describe the long game as the one to play.
Rather than making a bunch of sweeping pronouncements, struggling to jam together a bunch of random crap in a big bang release, and then worry about staying involved in a feature race with a competitor, Google is continually experimenting with new functionality, rolling it out broadly in a fully integrated fashion on a continuous basis, and providing it as a core part of an ever expanding thing that is getting more and more useful by the week.
By now I hope you are saying something like “What the fuck is he talking about – Facebook is crushing Google+” or something like that. Yeah, whatever. That’s why it’s the long game that they are playing.
Here are some examples.
I live in Gmail. Suddenly, I found this magical thing called Circles to be useful. When I get behind on my email, I simply go through a few of the circles (Foundry, Foundry Ents) and clear the email from my partners, my assistant Kelly, and the CEOs I work with. I have persistent chat up – I find that 80% of my chats now go through Gchat (the other 20% are Skype, and they are almost always requested by someone else.) And now that there are Hangouts integrated, many of these are videos.
Google Voice is my Phone Number. I used to have desktop phones. I don’t anymore – I have a Google voice # and an iPhone. I give everyone my Google voice #. It works everywhere. I never think about what phone I’m using anymore. And I do many calls via the computer.
Google Hangouts is my new Calendar Invite. I hate the telephone. Hate hate hate. But I don’t mind chat. And I don’t mind a Google Hangout / video call. All of a sudden I can make invites from Google Calendar that are Hangout invites. Done – every phone call / conference call is now a Hangout.
I live in Chrome. I have several computers. I never notice the difference between them. I’m downstairs at my place in Keystone right now on my Macbook Air. When I go up into my office, I’ll be on my treadputer with a different Macbook Air (an older one) connected to a 27″ monitor. I switch regularly between the two throughout the day and don’t even notice.
Now you are thinking “Ok Brad, but other than the Hangouts, Circles within email, and Hangouts within Calendar, what are you using Google+ for?” Just those three things have completely changed my workflow massively for the better. And they just showed up for me one day – I didn’t have to do anything.
In 2012 I used all the normal Google+ stuff. I reposted content there. I followed people. I occasionally chatted, commented, or +1ed. Facebook-like features. But I didn’t care that much about that stuff – yet.
All of a sudden I’ve got Communities. I’ve got Events. I’ve got Pages. And Hangouts, and Circles integrats seamlessly with each of these things. And they are nicely integrated with Gmail and Calendar. And suddenly I can do On Air Hangouts. And, I can record them automatically and save them to my Youtube channel. Keep playing for another few years, user by user, company by company, integrated feature by integrated feature.
Yeah, it drives me batshit that Google still things I’m email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org. Some day they’ll integrate these. And as I approach 25,000 contacts, I’ll probably start bitching about how this limit is ridiculous, just like I did at 10,000. But I can deal with all of that.
Google – thanks for playing the long game here. I wish more companies, especially other tech companies, did this especially when they have massive resources. Sure – some think they are playing the long game, but they are really playing the short game with a bunch of things that take a long time for them to get out the door. Different game.
I spent two weeks without my iPhone. I was completely off the grid for the first week but then spent the second week online, on my MacBook Air and Kindle, but no iPhone. I got home on Sunday and have had my iPhone turned on the past few days. I’ve used it as a phone, but I’ve largely stayed off of the web, email, and twitter with it. Instead, I’m only done this when I’m in front of my computer. I played around a little with the new Gmail iPhone app (which I like) but I’ve been limiting my email to “intentional time” – early in the morning, late at night, and when I have catch up time in between things.
I don’t miss my iPhone at all. It sits in my pocket most of the time. Every now and then I hop on a phone call and do a conference call with MobileDay. I used it for a map. I checked my calendar a few times.
Yesterday, it occurred to me that I was much more mentally engaged throughout the day in the stuff going on (I had a typically packed day). I had dinner with my brother at night. No phones were on the table, no checking in to Foursquare, no quick scanning of Twitter in the bathroom while peeing. When I got home, I hung out with Amy – no email. This morning, I just spent an hour and went through the 200 emails that had piled up since 5:30pm when I’d last checked my email. My inbox is empty.
There’s some magic peace that comes over me when I’m not constantly looking at my iPhone. I really noticed it after two weeks of not doing it. After a few days of withdrawal, the calm appears. My brain is no longer jangly, the dopamine effect of “hey – another email, another tweet” goes away, and I actually am much faster at processing whatever I’ve got on a 27″ screen than on a little tiny thing that my v47 eyes are struggling to read.
Now, I’d love for there to be a way for me to know about high priority interrupts – things that actually are urgent. But my iPhone doesn’t do this at all in any discernable way. There are too many different channels to reach me and they aren’t effectively conditioned – I either have to open them up to everyone (e.g. txtmsg via my phone number) or convince people to use a specific piece of software – many, such as Glassboard – which are very good, but do require intentional behavior on both sides.
I’m suddenly questioning the “mobile first” strategy. Fred Wilson just had two posts about this – yesterday’s (Rethinking Mobile First) and today’s (A Blog Post Written On The Mobile Web). He’s coming at this from a different perspective, but it’s an interesting meme and thought process.
I don’t actually care about the hardware much – it’s going to evolve very rapidly. As is my way, I’m completely focused on the software. And I think the software is badly lacking on many dimensions. Since so much of the software is happening on the backend / in the cloud, we have the potential for radically better user interaction. But we are far from it.
Fred talks in his second post about living in the future. My future, five years from now, has my “compute infrastructure” integrated into my glasses. I no longer have a smart phone – I simply have glasses. I have no idea if I carry a device around in my pocket or have an implant, nor do I care. Again, the hardware will happen. But I don’t want to live my life having all my emails appears in my glasses. And I especially don’t want a tiny keyboard that I can barely see anymore being my input device.
I don’t know the answer here so I’m going to run a bunch of experiments for v47 of me. I’ll spend some months, like this one, with email turned off on my phone. I’m going to dig deeper into “cross channel” software that helps me deal with the flow of information. I may hack together a few things to help me manage it. And I’m continuing to shove more and more communication online – via email or videoconferencing – and away from the phone in the first place.
What’s missing is my control center. I’ve been looking for it for a while and never found anything that’s close, so I end up with a manual control center in my browser. Maybe I’ll stumble upon it – finally – this year. Or maybe I’ll create it. Either way, my smart phone is officially not working for me anymore.