Ready, Fire, Aim! - Mihail's Public Blog

Saturday, August 17, 2002

CarSharing / European leisure ethic

Since I don't have a garage, and parking around Alamo Square can be next to impossible by evening, I joined City CarShare which allows me to reserve either online or via phone a VW Jetta station wagon whenever I need it. Never thought I'd get into driving a station wagon but this one drives great and I love the blue light...OK, I'm blanking, what do you call the control panel thingi in front of you and behind the steering wheel with the odometer and other gauges etc.

It seems to be a great nonprofit that's been modeled after other car sharing organizations. Since each car is a very effective moving billboard which stands out now that all the dotcom wrapped cars are gone...except for the new T-Mobile cabs....which is selling the multipurpose handheld from Danger. What a name!

It felt great to drive around San Francisco yesterday. Traffic was very light everywhere -- Financial District, Union Square, Potrero Hill. It was strange. As if most of the had adopted the Europeans' prized leisure life.

Sebastiao Salgado, photographer

I was at the Hosfelt Gallery this past weekend and came across an incredible photograph that the owner Todd Hosfelt has hanging at the back.

Sebastiao Salgado - Brazil / France

This is a thumbnail that shows the mass of humanity at "Church Gate [which] is the terminus station of the Western Railroad line, which brings 2.7 million commuters into Bombay every day. Bombay, India, 1995."

The two trains are in focus and provide the framing (aged with dirt and use) with the blur of mostly white-clothed people, thousands of them, streaming down the platforms towards the photographer. This photograph gives me an amazing sense of place and will be one that I'll always remember -- I feel like Salgado has given me a glimpse, a slice if you will, of the chaos and beauty and flow of life.

Friday, August 16, 2002

End of dotcom era / 6 billion people

In his Field of Dreams column, David Lidsky writes a tongue and cheek article on CMGI taking its name off of the new Boston football stadium, finally ending the dot-com era in Fortune Small Business, August 12, 2002. The Internet holding company was once synonymous with smart investing in the Internet gold rush with a peak value in January 2000 of $56 billion. Yes, billion. That's 56,000 million*. Today its value has sunk to a mere $141 million.
 
But hey at least they're still around although as Lidsky puts it, their companies such as "UBid.com, the No. 2 auction site to eBay, which is kind of like being the No. 2 sun in our solar system." Can't even say that about most of the rest of us who were caught up in the implosion! :)
 
*The earth reached a population of 6 billion on October 12, 1999 according to Musee de l'Homme site which gives the UN credit for tracking this. How they do that when they can't seem to convince the US to pay a few million in fees, I'm not sure. But they seem to also know that 5 people are born every second and 2 die for a net gain of 3 people per second which means, they say, that the earth's population is doubling every 40 years and will reach 48 billion by 3019 or so. That's still a number smaller than the number of dollars CMGI was once worth...In fact, CMGI could have given close to $10 to every person alive on the planet at the time it reached its peak value (more than many people's monthly...maybe annual...salary).

Donor fatique

In this last week I've received 7 or 8 different pitches/invitations from 3 different nonprofits and 1 PAC for donations and/or participation on host committees.

If I'm considered the equivalent of a venture funder or customer then these organizations aren't doing something right -- I suppose they have prequalified me well since I am interested in supporting all four organizations but their timing is terrible. I just don't have the funds or the time to deal with all of the requests.

Is there anything they could have done about it? Well, the one that's sent 3 or 4 pitches could definitely have. Maybe it is time for these organizations in San Francisco coordinate their efforts.

Controlling your own success factors

Intuit seems to be doing well as it focuses on its core businesses according to the WSJ yesterday but it is not home free yet since Microsoft continues to breathe down its neck especially since the Redmond giant acquired Great Plains.

The renewed focus on small business represents a bit of a back-to-basics approach for Intuit and Mr. Bennett. When the CEO was recruited from GE's GE Capital unit two and a half years ago, Mr. Bennett recalls telling Intuit executives, "I don't know what e-finance is."

So Mr. Bennett set about instituting more discipline and focus in Intuit's core businesses and dismantling or selling off unprofitable Internet businesses, such as the online-mortgage business, which he calls a "disaster." Similarly, the online-insurance business was generating sales of $5 million a year but losing $10 million.

"I hate businesses where I can't control my own success* factors," says Mr. Bennett. Now, "I like our strategy."

*Random Note: Yes, www.success.org is the website for the...wait for it...The American Success Institute. Must enroll ASAP.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

S...ROI

Just like companies deal with ROI, nonprofits (and in fact, businesses) should be looking at SROI or Social Return on Investment is a very interesting concept that was brought to my attention by the newly formed MIT Club of Northern California SEI or Social Entrepreneurship Initiative that organized a workshop on just that:

Corporations, foundations, and individuals donate to charitable causes for many reasons - because it feels good, because it's tax-deductible, because we believe in the cause. The recent trend in philanthropy, however, has been towards accountability in donation. Just as venture capitalists demand to know what is the return on their investment, the new "venture philanthropists" are asking the same question: What is the social impact of every dollar we donate to a cause? In other words, what is the social return on investment, or SROI?

The Roberts Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) has some great documents on this and other issues available for downloading.

Venture philanthropy

The Internet generation is bringing the principles of venture capital to philanthropy. It's innovative--but is it effective? questions David Whitford in The New Shape of Philanthropy, Business 2.0, 6/02

Launched in 1997 by software entrepreneur Paul Brainerd, founder of Aldus Corp., SVP [Social Venture Partners] is a pioneer in the hot new arena of venture philanthropy. Essentially, outfits like SVP try to be for nonprofits what venture capitalists are for businesses: funders, yes, but also strategy consultants, media advisors, tech experts, headhunters--whatever it takes to build more effective organizations....The VC metaphor isn't perfect. There's never an IPO, for one thing, and the question of what constitutes an appropriate exit strategy hasn't really been worked out. Still, the metaphor resonates with SVP's target demographic....

The site for the Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund (SV2) includes some good resources and reports. For example,

Venture Philanthropy Partners (Washington, DC) - is an initiative of the Morino Institute to take advantage of unprecedented wealth creation of the New Economy and an Internet-enabled transformation in organizational effectiveness by establishing a new philanthropic fund to improve services to youth living in low-income areas in the region. Their site includes some excellent documents and speeches, including Venture Philanthropy: Landscape and Expectations.

Geoffrey Colvin writes in Business 2.0 (12/01 issue) in The Gift of Arrogance:

"It remains too early to demonstrate that venture philanthropy results in more effective outcomes or more powerful social change in ways that distinguish it from traditional philanthropy."

...One, the attitude most becoming to a giver is humility. And two, as Tom Reis of the Kellogg Foundation says--and as a few new philanthropists might even agree--giving money effectively can actually be harder than making it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Strategy in Pictures

Trying to put together a company strategy is often complicated because there's so much extraneous stuff -- an interesting article in Harvard Business Review suggests you draw a strategy picture to better illustrate what your company or organization is about. And to ensure that a plan/strategy turns into action rather than paralysis.

Here's their example of how Southwest found the Big Picture -- note how Southwest's profile has more in common with a car than the other airlines.

Chart: The Strategy Canvas of the Short-Haul Airline Industry

This illustration is from the HBS Working Knowledge site

Every great strategy has focus, and a company's strategic profile, or value curve, should clearly show it. Looking at Southwest's profile, for example, you can see at once that the company emphasizes just three factors: friendly service, speed, and frequent point-to-point departures. By focusing in this way, Southwest has been able to price against car transportation; it doesn't make extra investments in meals, lounges, and seating choices.

...The final test of a good strategy picture is how well it lends itself to a tag line. "The speed of the plane at the price of the car—whenever you need it." That's the tag line of Southwest Airlines, or at least it could be...A good tag line must not only deliver a clear message but also advertise an offering truthfully, or else customers will lose trust and interest. If you can't come up with a strong and authentic tag line, chances are you don't have a strong strategy, either.

Monday, August 12, 2002

Why

This is my blog on the strategy and business of startups -- Internet/techology startups as well as nonprofit startups since I believe they face the same challenges and issues, and because I'm deeply interested in both!

The name of my blog comes from a saying that became famous during the go-go dotcom days. One was expected to fire first and then aim because things were changing so fast and you didn't have a chance in hell to plan everything perfectly. While the pace of business has slowed significantly it is still true that you can't overplan things or get "planning paralysis" otherwise one's still liable to miss an opportunity.

Enjoy! And let me know what you think.

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