An illustrator’s homage to Mr. Jobs

This is the most exquisite and moving tribute to Mr. Jobs. Well done.

If you think social is not affecting you – think again.

Just saw this very funny image. Look carefully – but if this doesn’t speak to how social media is changing us – think again.


 

The Surprised Entrepreneur – Why Me?

These posts about my journey with this new venture are often characterized as a surprise. In fact, it’s a surprise on so many levels that the unlikeliness of this enterprise is, in itself, a pretty big surprise.

So in this sea of surprises – the biggest surprise rests in the unlikeliness of me as the one to coalesce this vision; only useful to ponder so that we know what makes us different from many other marketing tech companies out there today.

Clearly I am an outlier given my age, gender, training and temperament causing even the casual observer to wonder: “Why me?”

On the surface, one could point to my diversity of experience spanning B2B and B2C marketing. I’ve been fortunate to have worked in a diversity of industries spanning advertising (NWAyer), technology (Bell Labs, CloudLinux), software (CA, Comodo) and telecommunications (AT&T, Lucent, and Paltalk). The combination means I have a quirky understanding of how to look at a marketing situation from the brand point of view as well as the end-user perspective at the same time.

O.K. – That begins to answer the question but doesn’t wholly get at it since many of my colleagues are tech savvy too. While they express curiosity about the new marketing technology, they aren’t going off and creating new businesses.  Instead, most of my friends leading marketing agencies or marketing departments (like I was) are banging their heads against the marketing brick wall trying to figure out how to incorporate the “new” technologies into the “old” system profitably. In the chaos of “creative destruction” (a term coined by economist Joseph Schumpeter), my peers can’t see the marketing forest for the financial trees.

So again I ask; Why me?

In digging deeper, I then realize that my experience with communications networks gave me a unique understanding about social networks. Both types of networks serve a similar purpose – the efficient transport of a call or a marketing message from the network edge (the initiation point) through the switching stations along its way to its ultimate destination.

Side by Side Comparison: Telecom vs Social Media Network

It also became clear to me that as social networks evolved into a powerful marketing network – it urgently needed system architects. But I saw no hint of any serious understanding of the issue or how to address it – not at the agencies or the social network companies or even the armies of consultants who offer insights but few tactical road maps.

When at first I noted this architecture gap back in 2010, I wondered out loud in Ad Age about the impracticality of integrating new technologies into existing marketing systems in posts like “Five Trends That Marked TechCrunch Disrupt Conference 2010.”  Then, my wonderment continued unabated at the lack of system attention when I wrote: “Has Facebook jumped the Shark”. Actually, I was writing mostly in the hopes of uncovering the technology companies that were focused on solving this system gap. I knew someone had to it…

But all I heard was deafening silence. I seemed rather alone in recognizing the utter futility of trying to retro-fit the older marketing system with the newer technologies. The sheer tonnage of all these new marketing “platforms;” so defined because they incorporated some combination of the mighty  local, social, mobile triad; were built by technologists (usually under 30) and not marketers. This meant they were long on cool but pathetically short on practicality. Yet as slim as many of these businesses seemed, they were getting valuations disproportionate to their real world usefulness (think Groupon), further highlighting the underlying weakening of the business of marketing.  It was an ominous echo from a decade ago.

This explains “Why me.” It takes depth of experience to see beyond the buzz to the potent marketing model evolving. I wanted a role in that evolution largely because it seemed few of us with any real world marketing experience were doing the heavy lifting of operationalizing the brilliance of all this new technology.

The journey to understand “Why me” is useful in that it defines the business we are in – creating the system upon which the rich marketing innovation engine can flourish.  It’s a surprise that it is me – but perhaps, this is the sweetest surprise of all.

Judy Shapiro

The surprised entrepreneur – I’m having the time of my life.

I am not sure what I expected to be doing at this point in my career. I have been blessed to have been at the center of the changing, blossoming technology landscape of the last 20+ years.  My earliest days were at an advertising agency called NW Ayer which gave me a broad perspective on Corporate America’s practices, problems and possibilities for triumph. I then gracefully made my way into the tech stars of Corporate America itself with stints at AT&T, Bell Labs, Lucent Technologies and Computer Associates. I also had the great good fortune of working at small innovative technology companies led by visionary innovative leaders. Two prime examples include Melih Abdulhayoglu, CEO of Comodo and Jason Katz, CEO of Paltalk.

This unusual combination of corporate marketing experience coupled with the feet on the streets training born of working at tech startups, gave me a balanced perspective of how the marketing business is evolving in this technology driven world.

So here we are.

The marketing business is going through a fundamental shift that throws into question almost every tactical practice built over the last 20 years. And, amazingly, it seems that just as marketing becomes this new discipline that weaves creativity into an interactive user experience that is tech heavy – it’s a perfect fit for my peculiar type of networking meets technology marketer experience.  

This seems nothing short of extraordinary. Which is why I am all the more stunned at the work I am doing today. I had not planned on any such seismic move in marketing, so I certainly did not plan on launching a marketing tech venture.

But here I am.

My journey has been one of surprising excitement at the possibilities in marketing excellence that was simply not possible before. The vision of this venture, therefore, is to take advantage of these new trends to deliver a sustainable and productive “marketing machine” (a phrase I attribute to Melih) that can turn the tables on how marketing gets done.

In our vision, we don’t approach monetization like Google or Facebook’s who are about pushing more accurate marketing messages to consumers. We are looking to deliver a marketing platform that lets consumers decide what content they see, what ads they see, how their social networks are managed, how they conduct commerce, even how they communicate within the social networks. The organizing principle for this platform is not ad-driven monetization but oriented around Judy Consumer. Our vision is to create the kind of system that we want to live with for the next 10 years . In effect, we want to give Judy Consumer the tech power to create her own personal “Trust Web.”

To the few friends we have shared our vision with – all have come to a similar conclusion – it is an ambitious (maybe too ambitious) vision. They are correct. But as I entered marketing in the 1980s most of marketing at first was human powered with marketing systems emerging later on.  

And here we are – again.

This next generation collection of marketing technologies is rich in creativity but is not organized for sustainable marketing programs for brands. This is work that I, among others, are focused on – creating v1.0 systems to operationalize the business of social marketing.  

We are all at just at the beginning of this journey and it’s a journey I didn’t expect to be taking at this point.

But here I am – and much to my surprise – I am having the time of my life.

Judy Shapiro

The surprised entrepreneur (entry #5):

The great talent hunt yields an unexpected gift that keeps giving. 

Hiring is tough on all companies.

Hiring is brutal for new companies.

One bad hire could spell irrevocable disaster.  You have to pick people who can get the job done today, have a passion for the work we are doing, be a mensche, be creative and be just quirky enough to add to the color of our community. But I also know enough though to know, practically speaking, there’s a thin line between a “quirky” and a high maintenance team member.

No wonder it scares me to death.  No wonder I put if off. I’d rather have oral surgery. Honest.

But in the past few weeks, I could avoid the truth no longer. I needed to balance out our team and I needed to find the perfect tech architect. In my view, every tech venture needs three architects – the vision architect,  the business architect and the tech/ product architect. Sometimes this is all one person, but not in our case.

So with a deep breath  – I began what I thought would be a painful process.  I was wrong.  In fact, I’ve learned much to my surprise, that the hiring process was the best gift I could give my business because I got to learn about the very essence of my venture itself.

I began the process hesitantly knowing that the type of talent I wanted can be highly selective about where they go. Quickly, I was lucky enough to get the chance to chat with the head product guy at a large, very cool social media company. He was thinking of leaving and he graciously agreed to hear my story. Then a few days later through another contact, I was put in touch with an “ex-Microsoft guy who was looking for his next project.”   I talked my heart out to convince him to see the vision.

Both of them gave generously of their time and advice. Both reminded me how much I love to talk to developers. I love how their individual creativity is reflected in their choice of languages. I love the quirky, binary-colored way they see the world.

But in talking to them during this process, I also realized I could not really express my vision with the technological crispness to satisfy these folks. I was horrified and I knew from experience, any hint of uncertainty would send the best talented developers running from the virtual room.

It was a surprisingly painful lesson I needed to learn. I thought I had created the elevator pitch suitable to satisfy any audience. I was wrong. I thought long about how they reacted and it was then I had a breakthrough. All of a sudden I could see where I had gone wrong in how I described the platform, and thus the venture. Through my openly sharing with talented people during this process, I vastly improved our architectural vision.

I confess. I would never achieved this revelation on my own or even with the team I have now.  My aversion to hiring could have deprived the company of this precious gift of clarity of technological vision.

I’ll end with a note of gratitude. To any candidate we are talking to now – my deepest thanks. To all future candidates – I can’t wait to meet :).

Judy Shapiro

P.S. – Wanna help architect the next big gig – (hey – optimism is part of job req’s :). We are working on creating The Trust Web. Interested? Drop me a line.

 

Trust, authenticity and transparency in the online world.

Why definitions matter.

A few minutes a day, I indulge in a Tweet treat where I scan my relatively small network (I only follow about 75 people) to see what’s going on. In barely five minutes I can get a clear snapshot of the topics both broad and specific to my work.

Yesterday (March 7), during my mid-day Twitter snack, I catch this tweet from Klout’s PhilipHotchkiss -“@Scobleizer unleashes on Steve Cheney in strong defense that FB Comments promotes authenticity http://scoble.it/fkicaJ

Kinda of provocative since I’ve never heard Robert Scoble (well respected tech blogger) “unleashing” on anyone. He will disagree with folks – but “unleash!”  Well that’s another kettle of fish so I checked it out. The more I read, the more I wanted to respond thoughtfully – not just scream and shout.

The “unleashing” it seems was prompted by a blog posting from Steve Cheney  entitled; How Facebook is Killing Your Authenticity. It provocatively opens: “Facebook’s sheer scale is pushing it in a new direction, one that encroaches on your authenticity.” He explains that since more and more sites are using Facebook’s commenting platform it is likely to blunt people’s authenticity because they will naturally censor themselves given the broad audience. “The problem with tying internet-wide identity to a broadcast network like Facebook is that people don’t want one normalized identity, either in real life, or virtually.”

So far – I was agreeing with Mr Cheney.

But then he states: “A uniform identity defies us.” And this is where I must jump off the bandwagon because that’s just not the case. In the real world, we have one identity with all the attributes in there which we naturally adjust to the situation. Some attributes we apply to our legal ID, other attributes for social situations and so on. One identity – just different expressions of it.

The trouble is, in fact, we have few technologies to achieve this layered equivalent in the binary, digital world where we can only have one identity. It’s not that Facebook is bad for looking to be the singular identity but it is a mismatch between how we want to live and what technology can let us do – especially given Facebook’s reach.

IMHO Cheney confuses “authenticity” (as in a “real and unbiased POV”) with a verified identity which is an entirely a different point.

Scoble then disagreed utterly with Cheney with his opening salvo: “Steve Cheney has never written something that so pissed me off than the blog he wrote today stating that Techcrunch’s switch to Facebook comments has killed authenticity.” Tough words indeed (hence Hotchkiss’ “unleashing” reference).

He goes on to explain that today “authenticity” means being identifiable and having the courage to go public with your opinions – no matter the cost. I found myself agreeing with Scoble here especially when he highlighted the idea that the medium and the message are merging in the social/ digital space. He explains quite correctly that the exact same message can be uttered by two different people which makes all the difference as to its “authenticity.” This is very true and a point many marketers continue to miss.

But despite the fact that, generally speaking, I agree with Scoble’s mandate to have the courage to be “authentic,” IMHO he seems to argue the wrong point. “Being truly anonymous and untrackable on the Web is very difficult.” is one reason why he argues everyone should be authentic.  Also true but that argument speaks to the notion of transparency not authenticity which was Cheney’s point.  Scoble’s heartfelt lengthy explanation about how people should be “authentic” by using their real name is really important but frankly not really about authenticity.  You can be “authentic” and still not be transparent.

Then, as read ALL the comments and the cross comments, I could see this general confusion around terms like trust, authenticity, transparency. Everyone seemed to toss these terms around as though they were synonyms – they are not. And with so much unleashing going on largely because everyone was cross talking – there little possibility of understanding.

So, let’s try and nail down some basic, common definitions of key terms (these definitions are grounded in my years spent in security software at AT&T, Bell Labs, Lucent, Computer Associates and Comodo. You may quibble with my terms – so feel free to suggest alternatives):

Transparency – Typically, this is used to describe a lack of “cloaking” where we hide behind a fake persona. When we let people see our identity, we say our identity is “transparent.” The rub here though is that there is no “standard” identity that we can use to simultaneously enable transparency, allow us to adapt our identity to the situation and do it safely while balancing desire/ need for privacy. Just ask Facebook. This is easy to say –but hard to achieve technologically.

One approach is around creating a “transparency layer” where a single signon (SSO) platform could apply. Lots of people are in this space actually (FB notwithstanding) but I would argue that Twitter has emerged as the most effective version of SSO today. I can control (sorta) what Twitter has about me and thus manage what percolates out there about me. Not ideal by a long shot but the other contenders are still quite early in their development (e.g. Diaspora).

Authenticity – Ah this is a tar pit of interpretation, a mucky business altogether. It usually means that a person can be vetted or an opinion is real and unbiased. Well, that is certainly riddled with subjective interpretation further complicated by time and context. Within this bucket, we encounter challenges of author disclosures, planted “customer” feedback and the trolls who are hired by competitors to disrupt user forums.

The technologies to address this are diverse and fragmented and include encryption, digital authentication, e.g. digital signatures, SSL security and  two factor authentication typically used in banking security. Common to this “authenticity layer” is that it would be activated when interactions “on the edge” have a high transactional or information risk factor. Given its relative high infrastructure cost, these technologies are reserved for relatively high requirements authentication requirements as would be needed in ecommerce.

Trust - This is the hardest to achieve in the online world because many of the cues we instinctively use in the real world are gone. If we see a store in a mall versus a stand on the side of the road – it utterly shapes how much we are willing to risk in the transaction. That’s what makes trust so hard to duplicate in the online world since the online world is very “flat” – just a bunch of pixels on a screen – little context or other reference points we normally use.

Here is where we can create a “Trust layer” to fill the context void – a middleware layer (Cloud based or not) that delivers trust indicators – digital identity management, content verification, real time feedback and social connectivity vetting at the precise moment of need. This is a sophisticated level of interaction that has a way to go before we can create this type of online trust.

At this point, you may be tempted to dismiss this whole post as a semantic exercise. But that would be a mistake because with proper framing of the problem – we can begin to see solutions.  We also can see how our gaps are impacting how all this connectivity technology is evolving today.

So what’s the real prize here beyond the English lesson?

For me the end goal is something I call The Trust Web.  Trust is the foundation of any productive civilization and this concept must apply meaningfully in our digital world too. Today we do not approach this topic systematically nor do we consider carefully how can we confer trust – in all its rich meanings and nuances – to the digital world, in some measure, because we do not frame the questions clearly (this whole unleashing makes my point).

If there is any “unleashing” to be done – let’s unleash the technologists to crack the code on transparency, trust and authenticity.  How do we coordinate all the fragmented pieces of the trust puzzle being worked on by many companies … from content verification technologies to rich, semantic based technology to deliver more trusted content. From intelligent agents who will scour the internet for verified, trusted ecommerce sites to new approaches to digital identities.

I wish it were as simple as throwing a single powerhouse company to push a single solution through. I almost wish I could wave a magic wand and Facebook could drive this question forward. But that is daydreaming especially since TBH Facebook has not yet demonstrated the business maturity to go down this road. In fact, most moves lately have been antithetical toward helping shape a Trust Web.

I’ll end by hoping I’ve made one clear point – language matters, definitions matter because without clarify we can’t imagine another vision.

And then we have to hear a lot of unleashing without a lot of traction.

Judy Shapiro

Author’s disclosure: I have been tracking Facebook’s evolution from communications platform to an uber social hub in Ad Age for just over a year now. My latest article in Ad Age “Has Facebook Jumped the Shark?” is the basis for an upcoming panel discussion at SXSWi.


The Surprised Entrepreneur-Diary of new venture (Entry #4): A tale of two VC meetings.

For the last 3 months I have been very focused on sales of our Interaction Engine system and we are doing well on that score. As a result, though, I have not really shaped the business plan and the structure of our company for the inevitable VC round to come. Getting funding has not been an urgent requirement and it seemed far better to generate real revenue and then go for funding.

So as we are chugging along, our work has gotten the attention of two VCs who reached out for a meeting. This was my first introduction to the world of VCs and I confess, the meetings were startling and sobering; leaving me strangely ambivalent about the journey ahead on this front.

VC meeting number 1.

It was a rainy, NY winter day and we decided to meet at a coffee shop. I knew that this fund was more an incubator type which offered me the potential of being part of a startup community. It seemed like a good idea that I perhaps become part of the NY “Tech/ CEO club” since now, I am an outlier. I don’t hang out in Meetup sessions and I am not trekking across the country chasing the cool tech conferences (OK – I confess I am going to SXSW but only because they asked me to speak).

I enter the coffee shop with only the vaguest sense of what the VC looked like (his Twitter pix was decidedly not very useful). It took me a solid 8 minutes to spot him. As I approach I see this 30ish guy with a quirky winter cone hat that was just 2 degrees “off” – IMO wandering into “silly land.” It was hard not to laugh out loud at the effect – but I held my composure.

I sit down and we start chatting.  I was curious to understand his investing philosophy. His focus decidedly was on individual technologies – why Foursquare will be huge or how this new app model will revolutionize some trend or other. When I wondered with him about the lack of a clear business model which limits their practical use for marketers, he dismissed that concern with a wave of the hand. “Well, that’s won’t be a problem for long – once the old guard is gone.”

Wow. Clearly that meant me. I took his comment to mean that only the “newer” generation have the depth to understand new marketing technologies. I was dumbfounded and I was shaken. The gap between us was, technologically speaking, generational – perhaps never to be bridged. But mostly I was stunned at how immature his thinking was about how the business of marketing really works. I was shaken knowing his company was helping drive the evolution of marketing without a clue about what marketers really need.

The rest of the conversation was a haze TBH. I left traumatized and angry at how dismissive he was of the impracticality of his vision of marketing technology evolution.

VC meeting number 2

This CEO leads a well-respected large VC shop that does $2- 5MM deals. I had been introduced to this VC through a mutual colleague and we met at his office one snowy day.  He sat down in comfortable business casual attire that was in keeping with his experienced CEO role.

We started by talking about his company which was relocating to the East Coast from the West Coast. Interesting move and I asked him why. “Increasingly the smart money is coming to NY as this where many of the major new media and marketing operating business trends are evolving,” he said.

This was my dream VC – he understood the space and the problem my company was trying to solve – how to practically create the “many to many” marketing model. We compared notes on how the technology in this space was similar to CRM in the 1990s – full of possibility but lacking in coordinated systems to activate the technology. I suggested that we are a bit like what Siebel who, at the time, integrated all the telemarketing technologies into the system we now know as CRM. I feel that is what we are doing for the emerging “many to many” marketing model. We met for a solid 90 minutes at which point he asked me “What next?” Shockingly, I had no “ask.” I had been so traumatized by the first VC, that I had not really expected a question like that. I stumbled around and just admitted – “I don’t know.”

But then I turned it around and asked him: “How would you categorize my company? We are part system integrator, part content and media company. We are a “creative shop” in that we create customer interactions with technology. Are we a tech company, a services company?”

I could see he was sensitive to the dilemma of my question. Finally, he said, “I would put you in the digital media space.” I was shocked until he hastened to add: “You need to be defined somehow so people know to work with you and help you.” But in his gentle smile I could see his answer left him unsatisfied as well.

We parted agreeing to keeping up the dialogue. As I walked out of his office, I felt cautiously optimistic that the work we are doing is needed in the market.

One thing I learned from both meetings – the journey of starting a company will continue to be a journey of surprise. I never expected to have so dramatically divergent experiences as I tentatively start down the path of funding my company – even if I don’t know exactly what type of company I am creating.

All I know is that the “smart investment money is going towards the business operating companies” and that’s me. Cool – right?

Judy Shapiro

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