Culture and its effects on the technology Firm.

Historically,  “culture” within an organization has been defined as a  value statement. e.g. IBM, HP, Google OR Yahoo.This is because “culture” drives the behavior and interactions of a firm’s representatives both within and outside.  A culture (or value) statement could be used by employees or other stakeholders as a “frame of reference” when they act on the firm’s behalf.

To make culture as a driver of technology disruption was unheard off, till the early 2000’s. One of the pioneers of the culture movement was Tony Hseih of Zappos. Tony Hseih, the founder differentiated himself from the rest using “Culture” as the pivot. Anyone could look at their awesome  “culture” here. Most employees think so well of their workplace, that it makes you feel jealous.. Read more about this in “Delivering Happiness”  – Tony’s book…

More recently firms such has Hubspot have released more detailed  manifestos (135 slide presentation) of the firm culture.[slideshare id=17415022&w=427&h=356&fb=0&mw=0&mh=0&sc=no]

 In a high growth rate industry with a lucrative compensation structure and a competitive workforce, Culture plays the role of a guiding framework. Defining a culture early on and forcing a firm’s ecosystem – i.e. employee, customer, stakeholders, investors –  to adhere to it,  plays a very important role in increasing the amount of positive perception about the firm in a market.

In recent times several disruptive start-ups such as SnapchatUber, Zynga have been at the receiving side of  unwanted media attention because of incidents completely unrelated to their business  execution.

One of the large parameters everyone talks off while hiring is “cultural-fit” … Several distractions such as unwanted media attention or litigations or cases of dishonesty could be avoided if firms  clearly define their culture. And if these firms  followed up with enforcing a “cultural-fit”  along with a “skill-fit ” for the new employee.

Technology innovation and Legislation

“Atlas Shrugged” – Ayn Rand’s book on capitalists and innovators who get regulated out by politicians – though satirical, seems to put a point across. While legislation affecting businesses bring checks and balances to prevent unscrupulous profiteering,  legislation also curtails innovation, slows adoption and impedes societal progress.

Last week Aereo filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy,

Aereo –  which created the amazing cloud DVR and  the microantenna – was regulated out by the courts. The firm fought the battle all the way till Supreme Court and lost. In this case, the competition ie. big cable operators and network lobbies had deep pockets to make litigation expensive for a startup. Here is a 5 minute video about Aereo’s scenario – about technology created by a startp that wants to transform the cable television industry.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXmNE_EsJ9I?feature=player_detailpage]

  Another  regulated industry is the taxi industry. Taxi operators in cities like San Fransisco and Boston pay upward of 300,000$ to obtain a permit. There is also a  multi-year waiting time to obtain the permit if you have to get it from the city council.  Technology (mobile computing) enabled ridesharing services provides  the alternative – drivers can work  at their time while consumers can get a reliable ride. Ridesharing firms like Uber, Lyft, Hailo and a few others do a great job of filling this gap in society.

Recently Singapore  introduced a law to control mobile app based ride sharing services.  This law though is not as restrictive as the one needing to pay for a permit yet (sic). Is this because taxi operators are not yet powerful lobbies who can pay their way through legislation? OR Is it that taxi operators are not savvy enough to take on big venture funded  corporates?

Tesla motors produces the Model S( and D) electric car.  As ridiculous at it may sound, the best and safest car in the world, cannot be sold  directly in about 28+ states. This is because Tesla motors sells their cars directly to consumers, instead of through a car dealership. This is another instance where regulation slows adoption of new technology by creating roadblocks to adoption.

The Question

When?, How long? and Why? will legislation interfere with technology related innovation..

Uber – the transformative power of software applications and data analytics.

Last week there was a lot of noise about “Uber” – (ref #Ubergate – on twitter)- because an executive spoke something at a private dinner. Also, Taxi drivers formed large roadblocks in San Francisco downtown to protest Uber and other ride sharing services. Two completely unrelated events – highlighted by national and international media, bring Uber right at the center of media attention. Success – a 4 billion $ revenue in 4 years – has its problems and media scrutiny is one of them.

My friend Sangeet Paul (of Platform thinking), has beautifully described the feedback loop which Uber’s business model thrives (ref. simple diagram). Uber has executed on each phase described in the feedback loop with precision. They are super-star executors with a very humble and forward thinking CEO – who publicly apologizes for his exec’s “private dinner” gaffe…..

Uber has got multiple sides of their platform (the  driver’s side, the passenger’s side and payment gateway side) working well and at scale. It is easy to onboard a driver and it is easy to get a customer a car within a few minutes of requesting one. Their backend analytics which allows for dynamic pricing and matches cars to consumers works well. Their payment system integration operates superbly over mobile networks and lets customers travel without credit cards. These in themselves are engineering feats worth credit.

Overall, Uber is a classic product that solves a large societal problem – one pertaining to human transportation. It also gives many people (drivers on Uber(X)) a chance to add  to their income, without imposing time or location restrictions. At least for now, Uber allows markets to decide a fair price – and effectively gives consumers a choice against  taxi driver (or autorickshaw) lobbies, such as the ones in India.

In an economist’s language, Uber as a platform has made several constituents in their network better off (or increased social welfare) i.e.

a) the drivers, because now ordinary people can earn an additional income. b) the consumers (riders), because they have an accessible, reliable and affordable transportation service. c)  the car dealers because they see increased sales of a particular “black car.”d) the taxi industry – because they bring quality and price competition (UberX).

In general, societal welfare increases too – because Uber has enabled net demand in the economy by creating thousands of paid jobs where people earn money.  For me, Uber portrays a shining example of the transformative uses of the mobile internet technology on society.

As a frequent Uber(X) user – I love the service. On many occasions when I have traveled either alone or with my family, I have used it. Even  last week, my colleague and me were stuck at the mist covered Golden Gate bridge at 7:30 am. Uber – at the click of a button on my iPhone- helped us get back to the warmth of our hotel, within 2 minutes of waiting.

Imagine that you get off a train at San Francisco(or any other big city) during peak hours (6pm – 9pm), when it is very cold outside, after a long day of work, and, you find NO taxi waiting. The taxi service number you call  tells you that someone would  pick you up in 25 minutes, but you are not sure where to wait in the cold. Then you will know why Uber Rocks!!!

Steve Jobs Foretold the Downfall of Apple

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBma82g3Uag?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1&origin=http://safe.txmblr.com&wmode=opaque&w=500&h=375]

This 1.42 minute clip epitomizes why Innovation cannot happen in large firms. It summarizes Clay Christensen’s “The Innovator’s dilemma”. As firms become large – sales and marketing take precedence over product.

The classic Timekeeper

The Classic Product – NOT too pricey, serves its purpose well,  while being robust

One of the most classic products which suites its purpose very well as a watch is the Timex IRONMAN digital watch. I have really thought a product as something which just serves its purpose very well, by providing you a service, beyond expectations. In fact as I think about this watch – the only one that I cared to keep safely off the 200+ watches I must have owned (or been gifted in my life) – just serves its purpose very well.

As a watch it keeps time (in fact keeps times from 3 timezones, if you set it), it can set three alarms and also time your laps (if you are an athlete or a swimmer or a biker). It also has a stop watch (counts down) and a timer(which counts up).   It is weather resistant and has worked in subzero temperatures, and also under water when I swim.

The setting of each of the times, alarms , stopwatches and timers are pretty easy. the alarm has just a single ringtone – which makes it easy to recognize..

That’s the sign of a classic product – serves its purpose well, is easy to set/configure and is weather/drop resistant.