November 28, 2010

social media: impotent or important?

i love this article from paul carr about the pros and cons of social media. i find myself feeling similarly torn between social media's exciting power to connect people and ideas and its proliferation as an impotent buzzword. especially in my work doing fund- and awareness-raising events for charities, i so often see "social media campaigns" that, in the end, amount to a whole lot of buzz with little substance to show for it.

money quote: "...for every idea like Twestival...there are a thousand Facebook groups and 'please RT' campaigns perpetuating the lie that clicking a button and thus 'raising awareness' of an issue is the same as volunteering or donating money or – you know – doing anything even slightly meaningful."

yes, social media facilitates the spread of information, and it greatly lowers barriers to participation. but i'm very interested in incentives -- how does a social media campaign convert excitement into action? definitely something i'm going to keep thinking about...

November 23, 2010

is business school hard?

business school has a reputation for being a non-stop party. our facebook documentation of the experience doesn't do much to change that stereotype.

as a student at stanford's graduate school of business (the GSB), i'm here to say that, yes, the business school experience includes lots of parties. building a network is an important part of the gig. but there's a lot more to it than that. our facebook photos don't capture every moment, so here's a peek into how we fill our days:

classes can be challenging, and there's literally more academic work, reading, paper writing, and studying than you can actually complete. i'm told it's designed that way so you're forced to set priorities to decide how you want to spend your time. recruiting hits you like a wall of bricks in late october, when companies start pouring onto campus. students cruise around in suits, prepping for interviews, and hob-nobbing with company reps. stanford is home to scores of student clubs and organizations, all of which have events all week. lunch is usually double, triple, quadruple booked with BBLs (brown bag lunches) featuring speakers, panels, workshops, and info sessions for different jobs, classes, industries, clubs, and activities. then there's general relationship-building: taking a professor to lunch, grabbing coffee with a friend, and attending small group dinners at classmates' homes. the hyper-proliferation of events and activities actually spurs an affliction we at the GSB affectionately call FOMO: the fear of missing out. new students are particularly susceptible to this disorder. layer on outside professional development: connecting with alums, talking to people who work in your target industry, attending conferences. some students also make time for outside work, like starting a company, curating a blog, volunteering, or serving on a board of directors. if you want to maintain some semblance of health, you're also trying to squeeze in some exercise with team sports, athletic classes, or the occasional trip to the gym. and let's not forget about maintaining relationships with people outside the GSB -- significant others (SOs, as we call them), family, friends, former colleagues.

all of these activities lead to a calendar that looks a lot like this:

this is an actual screenshot of my calendar from last week...after i did some triage and declined events i was only marginally interested in. yes, i occasionally have to schedule my showers.

now, let's be clear: my calendar doesn't look like this because i'm ragingly popular. my calendar looks like this because this is what the business school experience is all about: learning, exploring, and building relationships. i'm sure most stanford MBAs would produce a similar schedule. it's fun. it's awesome. and it's totally and completely exhausting. i'm constantly asked by aspiring applicants if business school is hard. my answer is yes. business school is an endurance event, and i'm exceedingly grateful to have the opportunity to be here for it.

i don't speak for every single student. some students already know exactly what they want to do so they can narrow their focus and skip events and classes. and i can't say there aren't a few kids just using this as a $200,000 vacation from their grueling finance job. but, by and large, i'd say most students at the GSB are busy trying to get as much out of the experience as possible.

yes, there are parties at business school. if you're facebook friends with a b-school student, it will look like a non-stop festival of beer pong tournaments, costume parties, human pyramidschartered buses, and mustachioed photo shoots. don't let the photos fool you. there's a serious selection bias on facebook. sometimes, business school looks like this:

November 22, 2010

November 18, 2010

November 16, 2010

too soon to hate on path

i loved this blog post by dan stuart about why it's short-sighted to hate on path, the new social networking platform from dave morin, et al. i joined today, and i have to admit, i'm feeling a bit like i did when i first joined twitter -- sort of unsure how this new platform is going to add value to my life. but, i'm optimistic, so i was stoked to see dan's post.

although you can't go wrong with a two door cinema club track, i'm not sure path's demo video really describes the product's best attributes. frankly, it makes it seem like a product for people who want to obsess about their own lives, which is not how i see it being used. i wish they'd done more to incorporate a few of the guy's "50 closest friends" into his interaction with the app so it's clear that the value comes from the intimate sharing, not necessarily the obsessive documentation of one's life. that said, the story line tugs at the heart strings. i mean, it's not like the proposal involves a private jet on a tropical island, but it's cute...

November 12, 2010

TEDxConstitutionDrive: trust

i spent the day in menlo park at TEDxConstitutionDrive, a great event hosted by my friend and former colleague tam pham. the theme of the day was trust, and it was an especially interesting topic for a silicon valley crew to explore.

cantaloupe systems co-founder anant agrawal kicked off the morning with a talk about the importance of trust (in partners, systems, mentors, and capabilities) for a start up. in particular, he talked about how the entrepreneur's biggest challenge may appear to be getting investors and customers to trust him as a leader of the organization, but in reality, the more important challenge is transferring that trust to the company from the individual founder(s). money quote: "'bootstrapping' is a fancy term for 'we have no money, and no one trusts us enough to give it to us.'"

marine-turned-angel investor paige craig was really excited about the role of trust in online information sharing. he posed a question about where leaders currently get their information: focus groups, consumer surveys, sketchy peddlers of questionably-procured personal data. he then cited blippy, foursquare, twitter, and facebook as excellent sources of honest information about consumers. paige's opinion is that participatory, opt-in information sharing platforms have a lot of potential to "improve the world." for example, social networking sites can accelerate the get-to-know-you phase and speed up the rate at which relationships become high-quality. he's a thematic investor, and he wants to start a transparency fund that invests in getting people to (voluntarily) share their secrets. he challenged the audience to think about "what information exists today that i can share and make the world better?" he provocatively suggested phone numbers and personal health records as private information that's currently taboo to share, but that maybe we should. he acknowledged the trade-offs in making these "secrets" public, but had an infectious excitement about the aggregated societal benefits of sharing that type of information. overall, a really thought-provoking talk, which led us to a fun coffee break chat about other crazy information-sharing ideas, like a linkedin-style recommendation system for former lovers.

fran maier, founder of and CEO of TRUSTe, refuted 2010's popular refrain, "privacy is dead." she described privacy not as a condition but as a system that provides transparency, choices, and accountability. much like my mom, fran is a big evangelist for facebook as a platform for staying connected with her family. she talked about the day her son added her as a friend on facebook, and how it has helped form her opinions about the role of choice and proactive management in online privacy controls. her most interesting story was about her digital camera, which she lost during a vacation in europe. months later, photos of another family started to trickle onto her personal computer because she'd linked her camera to automatically download. not only did she have photos of the people who had her camera, but she knew exactly where the photos were taken. it was in intriguing cautionary tale about personal information and how it is everywhere.

paul zak, the so-called love doctor, talked about the neuroeconomics of trust in the context of his research on oxytocin. in his research, they've identified non-sexual activities that release oxytocin, and it turns out, they're situations that involve trust. he would administer oxytocin to test subjects (through a nasal inhaler) and then measure their levels of trust displayed in lab games involving giving money to other subjects. "it's vampire economics," he said. "you make choices while we take your blood." he found that the presence of oxytocin more than doubled the likelihood that a subject would trust someone else. his most provocative point related to the 5% of subjects who do not appear to respond to oxytocin (verifiable by a blood test). he warned that these individuals can be dangerous because they do not reciprocate human trust behaviors and may be more likely to take advantage of others. he brought a little vial of oxytocin as a prop:

colt briner, a professor of magic at santa rosa junior college (this is apparently a job), talked briefly about polynesian fire dancing, and how he longed to perform indoors. consequently, he invented a street light product that allows for a modernized (and fire-safe) version of the traditional dance.

after lunch, rebecca mercuri skyped in for a talk about online voting. she lamented the erroneous association between transparency and trust, explaining that transparency is a component of trust, but it does not necessary provide trust. she was particularly critical of the relationship between open source platforms and assumed trustworthiness, and she criticized the "open kimono system" of building trust when she said, "it doesn't make sense to say, 'you see us naked, so you should trust us.'"

after rebecca, i was asked to do some storytelling for the audience, and i shared a version of my story "bear necessities." (this is the same story i performed for snap judgement in october, which, i'm told, will air on NPR in the next couple weeks.)

rob fuggetta mostly pitched services offered by his company, zuberance, as he rattled off statistics about what sources consumers trust. laura slezinger of girls in tech used a story about her cousin falling ill to discuss trusting your own ability to handle breaches of trust and recover. sri arthan talked about trust gaps in business and how he's trying to address that through fair trade certification in the market for food. barak kassar finished up the afternoon with a talk about trust and media, citing the need for media literacy.

the highlight of the afternoon was bluesy vocalist katilin mcgraw who performed four beautiful songs inspired by her own experiences with trust, heartbreak, and changing her path. check her out.

November 8, 2010

philanthropy. our way.

on saturday, november 13, my non-profit event production company, philanthro productions, will host a groundbreaking multi-city event to support pencils of promise, a next-generation non-profit creating real solutions to educational challenges in the developing world.  if you want to know how generation Y is changing the philanthropy landscape, come check out this eye-opening nightlife experience.  both philanthro and pencils of promise were founded by twentysomethings looking for innovative new ways to solve problems, and our 7-city event will showcase the power of our generation.

through a movement that harnesses generation Y's passion, energy, and social networks, we're going to build a school in one night.  be there.

los angeles
san francisco
san diego
new york city

November 2, 2010

bump it

just returned from the stanford GSB after a great talk by david lieb, co-founder of bump, the iconic iphone app.  he shared the fascinating story of bump's founding -- as a student at chicago's business school (before it was booth, it was "the other GSB") he noticed that students were still trading contact information in low-tech verbal ways.  he and his buddies created the app and grew it through word of mouth, aggressive cold-emailing of tech journalists, and a lucky break as the billionth iphone app downloaded.  with over 20 million downloads, he had some interesting thoughts on marketing considering they've spent a grand total of $45.00 on marketing efforts.

since i've seen several different options at conference i've attended, i asked him about high-density information-sharing events and whether they're interested in private label bump platforms.  he said it was actually paypal early on that encouraged them to spin out their API and allow others to build proprietary platforms.

he candidly shared his experiences raising series A funding with venture capital firms in silicon valley.  "we don't plan to achieve profitability any time soon," he said as he explained that most of their business models are "at scale," so they plan to build it big and then roll out some of the money-making game changers.  it sounds like their partnership with paypal is just the beginning of opportunities for the bump platform.  money quote:  when asked how bump makes money he laughed and replied, "we sell preferred shares in our company to venture capitalists."

key takeaways:

  • "if you don't look back and think your first product sucked, you launched too late."
  • start your company is an Inc. (rather than an LLC) if you ever plan do any fundraising
  • valuation during series A funding is more art than science -- VCs are checking if you pass the bullsh*t test
  • y combinator changed the game for him, but it's very engineer-friendly and MBA-hostile
  • on a mobile platform, share of mind is really small, so everything has be super simple. "no disrespect," he said, "but users have the attention span of drunk idiots."
  • focus on what's going to kill you today, not the stuff that's a pain in your butt
  • android will be the ubiquitous lower-end platform within a few years

November 1, 2010

storytelling with a beat

last week, i was invited to perform in a live storytelling show in san francisco, and i shared (a version of) this story. the show is an NPR production called snap judgment. my #1 celebrity crush, ira glass, called it "insanely great."  the brilliant host, glynn washington, brings a young flavor to the scene with his diverse take on storytelling with a beat.  i'm biased, but i thought the show was superb to the power of awesome.  can't wait to share more details when it airs.

our rowdy live audience at the brava theater in the mission:

glynn prepping backstage:

in the dressing room after getting my hair and makeup did:

huge shout out to the lovely crew and to my fellow storytellers: spoken word diva joyce lee, british starlet katharine mcewan, renaissance woman kate ascott-evans, lawyer-turned-actor erol dolen, animationist scott kravitz, caribbean goddess tabitha christopher, and summit series buddy thayer walker.  this gang is legit.

the lovely katharine:

erol catches a quick cat nap between sets:

joyce's makeup is fierce:

thayer tears it up on stage:

tabi getting ready for her close up:

dressing room love with kate: