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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Followup - How Charity Could Help Spread Innovation

A good example of a charity investing in technologies that could lead to a better society is the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and their $22 Million investment in a company called FoldRx. Check out this article in the Boston Globe.

The article talks about how this investment could be a good example of how charity and private enterprise may better be able to collaborate together to undertake development efforts that will help society at large, but may not make sense on paper for bottom-line oriented investors. In this case the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation investment will serve to attract other investments that ultimately will allow for full funding of a research team that might not otherwise exist.

This is but one example of the type of venture philanthropy and social venture capital solutions that are possible when donors, charities, and philanthropists think in new and different ways, innovative ways.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Will the iPhone Come to T-Mobile?

Lost in the noise this week was an announcement of a settlement in a legal dispute in which Sprint agreed to help current and former customers unlock their phones for use on other CDMA networks like Verizon.

At the same time, they agreed to help customers wishing to bring an unlocked phone onto their network. This settlement is limited to the state of California and to Sprint only, but it begs the question: Is the tying of a phone to one network anti-competitive and should companies be required to unlock phones for customers or to sell unlocked phones, should they request one?

This could have huge implications for the industry if this type of settlement and sentiment spread. Currently, it is not exactly easy or obvious on how to bring a compatible, unlocked phone to the network of your choice. Equally difficult is to take your phone to another carrier after you've satisfied your contract, or paid an early exit penalty. To spur innovation in the industry (and competition), people should be able to buy a phone with no contract, and they should be able to easily move their phones between compatible networks once they have satisfied any existing contract.



If people finally revolt against locked phones and terms of this Sprint settlement spread, then in a year and a half, there could be a market opportunity for T-Mobile to entice Apple iPhone owners to leave AT&T for their GSM network. Would this be good for competition? Would all iPhone owners benefit?

If Apple and AT&T were suddenly required to sell unlocked iPhones next to phones with contracts, there would be a natural expansion in the demand for iPhones and an increase in the competition for subscribers. The same would be true for all other new phones and mobile service in general. This effect would be amplified if making switching easier was required as the legions of people with phones no longer under contract finally felt like they had a choice other than giving up the phone that they're comfortable with.

Will consumers rise up to demand easier switching and the sale of unlocked phones? Will state attorney generals or legislatures support them?

What do you think?

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

How Charity could help spread Innovation

Every once in a while innovations come along that offer profitable opportunities for the inventors and business minds that turn them into innovations, but offer even greater possibilities for humanity if widely adopted. I read an article in Fast Company recently that struck me as one of those opportunities. It profiles a mechanic name Jonathan Goodwin and his fuel efficiency exploits.


Traditionally, a potentially market transforming technology will use a skimming price strategy and come into the marketplace priced high and gradually reach lower price points as volume builds and development costs are recouped. This is fine with something like the iPhone or high definition television, but it strikes me that on the other hand there is a loss to society with this price strategy with certain innovations. This includes things like life-saving drugs (AIDS, Cancer, etc.), but also other technologies like Mr. Goodwin's innovation in internal combustion engine design. The article mentions a $5,000 device he co-developed that sells through SAE Energy that can, in general, yield a 100% increase in fuel economy while simultaneously producing 80% fewer emissions.


In general, Mr. Goodwin's engineering feats can double and possibly quadruple the fuel efficiency of vehicles by replacing their gasoline engine with a high efficiency diesel engines, introducing hydrogen into the combustion process, and marrying the engine to a hybrid propulsion system using regenerative braking and batteries. Many examples are given in the article, from creating a 18mpg H1 Hummer (it used to get 9mpg) to a 100mpg Lincoln Continental.


Obviously if X number of people spend the $5,000 for the diesel engine modification and get their payback in one to two years, that is a great benefit to society. But, if a charity like the Sierra Club or even Bill Gates bought the rights to this innovation and worked with an overseas manufacturer to drive the costs of production lower and produced then in mass quantities at a sustaining profit instead of an enriching profit, how low could they be sold for? $3,000? $500? $100?


Social capitalism is an incredibly powerful opportunity for right-minded charities. If a charity did grab onto this and focused on cutting production costs as a way to increase access instead of increasing profits, they could still profitably produce the technology (providing resources to sustain the effort and possibly to fund other efforts) and their success would increase the pressure on the Big Three to take action and possibly could open up a licensing revenue stream if the technology was incorporated into new vehicles as well.


The public relations for a charity taking on such a challenge and approach would be substantial. In addition to delivering on their mission in a tangible way, donations to a charity engineering such a feat would skyrocket. This is a man on the moon kind of opportunity for a charity or philanthropist. Who has the vision and the gusto to grab this bull by the horns and drive it forward?


In the United States, diesel engines predominantly reside in trucks and buses, not automobiles. The article mentions that his company, SAE Energy, is in negotiations with DHL on an 800-vehicle dual-fuel conversion that could get them a 70-cent a gallon offset and reduce their fuel costs by 50%. If we as a society were to take that a step further, what would the impact on society be if instead Mr. Goodwin was recruited to help convert all buses (and possibly trucks) via conversion subsidies to be paid for with an increase in the national gas tax (no matter how big)?

Really, it would be in the interests of national security to do such a thing. There would also be a secondary benefit of such a strategy - public transit ridership would increase as a result of the gas tax increase and fuel consumption would decrease (along with the number of cars on the road). Our nation would be much more secure if we cut our fuel consumption for transportation in half, especially if at the same time the percentage being supplied by home grown Biodiesel and Ethanol went up. And if we get reductions in emissions at the same time? What are we waiting for?

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Commodity Marketplace for Employees

There is a plethora of articles and books out there about how difficult it is to be in a commodity business. Books like "Blue Ocean Strategy" talk about it in terms of swimming away from the red ocean to the blue ocean, or that the blood of fierce competition in a commodity marketplace has turned the ocean red.

Innovation is such a hot topic right now because an increasing number of industries that used to be places where differentiation existed, have suddenly turned into commodity industries. When differences between the offerings of different companies become small, competition increasingly turns to price, and the product is commoditized. The customer becomes ambivalent about which offering they choose - there is a number of choices good enough for their purposes.

Why don't we see the same plethora of articles and books out there about Personal Innovation?

Ah, but you might say the marketplace is full of self-help and personal growth books. Yes, but Personal Innovation is about more than personal growth. Personal Innovation is about self-transformation and in the employee context, about creating a strategy for swimming away from the red ocean.

Yes, if you choose to be an employee you are choosing to swim in the red ocean. The employee marketplace is an incredibly commoditized industry. A System Administrator job pays x, a Bookkeeper job pays y. Have you ever heard this before - "I'd love to give you a raise, but you're already at the top of the salary range (aka salary band)"?Or maybe you've heard this one - "We think you're the best person for the job, but the money you're asking for...nobody in that role makes that much."

Despite what some people may tell you, the employee marketplace has little room for value-based selling (especially after you are in the door). The Human Resources department in the same way as the Purchasing department, has made sure that every "product" purchased has an approved price. Want to buy a photocopier? It can't cost more than x. Want to hire a finance manager? You can't pay them more than y.

Continuing with our photocopier example, employees who don't know their own value ruin the marketplace for employees who do in the same manner that companies willing to sell their photocopiers for thin or negative margins to build market share ruin the marketplace for other copier companies. So what is an employee to do?

Unionization is one way that employees can improve their lot, but it has its own set of problems in that "stars" or extraordinarily high performers have no way to make above average income on their above exceptional contribution.

Professional athletes are probably the only set of employees that have managed to guarantee themselves a high level of minimum compensation and benefits without eliminating the possibility of stars to earn much more. Professional services (lawyers, consultants, CPA's, etc.), venture capital, and private equity firms with a partner structure offer the potential for "star" compensation, but "stars" are defined not by ability to do the job but their ability to bring in business.

Professional Services independents have the opportunity to generate "star" earnings as well, but again this has more to do with the professional's ability to create business, although it is more closely linked to at least their perceived ability.

So where does this leave the average employee?

In today's reality, if you are a "star" your best investment will be to build yourself into an industry expert within the confines of your existing employment. This is where Personal Innovation comes in. You have to determine how you can achieve differentiation and competitive separation from your peers. First you have to determine why you are a "star" and they are not, and how you can prove to the world that you are a "star" and deserve to be compensated outside the traditional salary range. Creating a "star" quality is all about proving in a tangible way that you deliver extraordinary value beyond that of other employees, and showing that you deserve to be treated differently. It's not good enough to be a strong performer, or the best performer. You must achieve competitive separation and differentiation from your peers.

This can be achieved through the continuous pursuit of industry education, improvement of your public speaking and writing skills, creation of an industy blog, and volunteering to represent your company as a speaker at industry conferences and trade shows. The industry blog and public speaking engagements will expand the perception as a "star" beyond the bounds of your organization. If you combine these efforts with other publishing efforts like magazine or journal articles and possibly even a book, and you will expand your reach even farther and faster. You do need to have something unique and useful to say however, which is why the continuing education is so important. Doing all of these things will not only potentially improve your ability to do your existing job, but will also increase the possibility that another company will become interested in you.

Let's face it, the best hope you have of getting better compensation is to move on to a different company (otherwise you are limited by your salary range) or start your own. If you do manage to get another company interested in you enough to try and entice you away, make sure first that it is not just to be their employee, but that they are recognizing that you are a "star" coming in and need to be compensated in an appropriate manner. CXO's typically manage to negotiate in this way, as do some VP's (particularly Sales VP's). For a "star", being compensated in an appropriate manner means of course a high base salary, but more importantly it means a package that includes things like signing bonuses and a large opportunity to earn via incentive-based compensation and stock options or awards. Negotiating this kind of package is difficult to achieve unless you have risen to the top of the organizational heirarchy and is the reason that most true "stars" end up starting their own company, even if initially it only provides an auxiliary source of income.

So if you believe you have that "star" quality, hopefully your mind is churning out ways that you are going to achieve that competitive separation and differentiation from your peers. If you pursue Personal Innovation with the same or greater gusto than you pursue product or service innovations for your current employer, I'm sure you will find a way to swim away from the bloody waters of the commodity mentality that is the traditional employee marketplace.

It will require unwavering commitment and determination, but those are qualities that all "stars" have. Personally, I am swimming as fast as I can, but I recognize that it is a difficult journey with an uncertain length. I hope you will join me on this journey. Do you have what it takes to be a "star"?

What do you think?

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

How Small is Too Small?

When it comes to a hotel room, how small is too small. There are several new entrants into the hotel market that are promising to shrink not only the price of a room, but the size of it as well. At first it sounds a lot like New York's tiny hotel rooms, but the comparison stops there because those digs have sky high prices.

In contrast, easyHotel offers hotel rooms in central London from 25gbp.

Another recent creation from Philips and CitizenM utilizes pre-fabricated modules that only require four cables to be connected to have the room up and running.

Small rooms aren't so bad if the prices are small, and looking at photos they don't look like they are quite as small as Tokyo's pod hotels.

Would you stay in one of these new small hotel rooms if the price was right?

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Most Successful Loser in History

I came across an interesting branding article on a BusinessWeek blog the other day about Al Gore, and I have to say one thing about Al Gore:

Has there ever been a more successful loser in history?

Al Gore lost or "lost" the 2000 Presidential election (depending on who you're talking to), and since then has gone on to amass a fortune of over $100 million in the business world and win a Nobel Peace Prize. He has created a personal brand so strong that some say that he could waltz into the Democratic primaries at the last minute, win the nomination, and possibly even the White House.

No matter what your party affiliation, you have to admit that Al Gore's turnaround of his personal brand is phenomenal. For most presidential candidates, the loss of an election usually spells the end of their political career, but Al Gore has risen from the ashes. Which brings me back to my original question:

Has there ever been a more successful loser in history?

What do you think?

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Sony's Big Bet on Blu-ray

Sony has probably made its single biggest gamble to date with the Playstation 3. Lost in all of the stories about Sony's recent struggles, is the monumental importance of Blu-ray succeeding. Sony has bet the future of two of its strategic pillars (video playback and video gaming) on Blu-ray's success. These two strategic pillars are out on the table in a high stakes standards battle.

This is not the first standards battle Sony has been in, and not even the first in the video marketplace. Many will remember Sony's loss in the Beta versus VHS battle of the 80's, which they lost despite having the superior technology. This time around they have paired with their nemesis from that standards battle, Matsushita, and the rival is instead Toshiba. Sony currently holds a slight lead over Toshiba's platform, but Sony had a lead in the Beta versus VHS struggle as well, only to find itself blown out of the marketplace.

In the VHS versus Beta showdown, Sony had no movie studios on its side. In fact the movie studios sued Sony to remove the Betamax from the marketplace. This time around, not only does Sony own a movie studio, and so have at least guaranteed initial support, but they have lined up several other movie studios as well. Sony has learned from its previous mistakes in other ways as well, including recognizing the importance of the movie rental market. Sony has locked up Blockbuster to promote Blu-ray ahead of the holiday buying season, which promises to possibly decide once and for all which format will win.

Whichever new video format sells the fewest players this holiday season will likely lose all access to the video rental market and all hope of widespread success. At stake are the ongoing royalty payments from video player manufacturers incorporating their technology into their consumer units. This has led to key players in the industry (retailers and movie studios alike) demanding payment from Sony and Toshiba for their exclusive support.

The second strategic pillar Sony has bet in the standards battle is its video game platform (Sony Playstation 3). If Blu-ray loses this holiday season then Blu-ray will become marginalized to use only for Playstation 3 games and possibly some computer backups (the disks hold up to 15GB of information). If Blu-ray wins then this fate is bestowed upon Toshiba's platform - being marginalized to use only for Xbox 360 games and possibly some computer backups (the disks hold XXX GB). If Blu-ray loses this holiday season, Sony's Playstation 3 will remain the number 3 console for the remainder of this console wave.

A Blu-ray victory could catapult the Playstation 3 to the top of the video game marketplace by virtue of its secondary benefit, acting as a BluRay player. Given the cost of a standalone Blu-ray player, a Blu-ray victory will greatly increase the chances of husbands and children being able to convince others in the household that buying a Playstation 3 is a good purchase. Booming Playstation 3 adoption might just accelerate the possibility of it being adopted as the digital center of the living room. Sony will soon begin rolling out digital video recording (DVR) capabilities for Playstation 3's in Europe and possibly a video download store for American Playstation 3's to try and solidify a position in the center of the digital living room. Blu-ray may secure this position for Sony or leave the door open for Microsoft and Apple.

All their chips are out on the table, will Sony's bet pay off this time?

What do you think?

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Designing Innovation - Can Government Help?

Can government help companies innovate, or do they tend to get in the way instead?

The answer is that often regulations tend to impede innovation and progress. Other key aspects of a country's ability to innovate are the relative risk tolerance of its citizenry and whether it is culturally accepted to try and fail at something.

The United States leads the world in innovation because it has created the perfect storm of a risk tolerant citizenry, where failure is sometimes a badge of honor, and a government that invests in basic research, helps to commercialize it, and for the most part tends to go out of the way from a regulatory standpoint.

Other countries have looked to America with envy, often as some of their most innovative citizens were leaving to realize their visions in the New World. That is now starting to change, however. Some of the best and brightest are returning to their home countries from America and other governments are looking to replicate, or even improve upon, some of the factors that have led to success in America.

One of those countries is now Britain. Britain has been home to some phenomenal inventors over the past several centuries, but in the recent past the Brits have not been as successful at turning invention into innovation as the Americans. They are now working to change that.

When I was living there I saw several initiatives to spur innovation and new industries, and I also saw a growing innovative spirit. One of the top innovation agencies in the world, WhatIf?! (primary focus on product/service innovations), is located there and the country is full of design talent to go with its heritage of invention. This is allowing the creation of new global leaders like Dyson and Tesco with the right stuff to become leaders across the globe instead of only across Britain.

There is an interesting article on how Britain jumpstarts design. America was the innovation leader in the last century. Who will be the innovation leader in this century? Will it be Britain, America, or someone else?

Who do you think it will be?

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Digital Photos Go Wireless

There was an interesting piece of news last month from a company called Eye-Fi that has come up with technology to enable digital cameras using SD memory cards to transfer photos wirelessly.

The company has engineered a solution that combines 2GB of memory and WiFi in an SD memory card format. No more fumbling for cables. My camera doesn't use that format, but what a great idea!

I would definitely say this is an innovation, but unfortunately for the company, their shelf life will be short unless they figure out another product to offer. The reason I say this is that their own success will kill them. If they are successful, then all camera manufacturers will build WiFi into their cameras sooner rather than later. If they are not successful, then digital camera manufacturers will integrate WiFi functionality more slowly.

Will this product be a hit? What do you think?

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Innovate Thyself (aka Personal Innovation)

Many people have written previously about how difficult it is to innovate within an established organization. Trying to transform oneself can be just as incredibly difficult. I wouldn't call it a re-invention, per se, because of the distinction I draw between invention and innovation.

The distinction is that invention is all about coming up with useful products and services, while innovation truly occurs when a person or group of people take that useful invention the last mile to make it truly valuable. As a result, I like to call this incredibly difficult transformation "Personal Innovation" instead, because transforming oneself is also about more than coming up with a useful idea. Personal Innovation is more about creating a new existence that is even more valuable to you and those around you. So, why is Personal Innovation so incredibly difficult?

Well, it is difficult for the exact same reasons that innovation in established organizations is difficult:

1. Limited Resources (money and time)
2. Existing Jobs/Interests
3. Resistance to Change

To achieve a Personal Innovation in the realm of employment, you first have to overcome the time and financial limitations caused by your current employment. We'll talk about employment in the broad sense, so it incorporates starting a business. This is because in both cases someone owns the job and pays you to do it. In the case of starting a business, you own the job and pay yourself to do the job of running the business.

The challenge begins with finding the time to move yourself towards your dream job or business. Obviously you have to spend a lot of your time on the existing job or business just to keep the lights on. If you have a have a family finding the time to pursue your Personal Innovation is even more difficult (because, after all, you do want to spend time with them). If your new direction requires acquiring new knowledge (formally or informally), then that has to squeeze into the limited time available and may take a long time to complete as a result.

Quitting your existing job or selling your existing business will condense the time needed to acquire the new knowledge, but of course this comes at a financial cost. If your transformation involves starting a business then you also have to wait to begin until you can save or raise the funds necessary to get your venture off the ground.

If all of this isn't difficult enough, then there is also the challenge you will face of truly moving away from the current job or interests that are the subject of your transformation. The job or interests you are pursuing now always have some kind of payoff, otherwise you would have transformed yourself before now. Maybe your current job pays better than the job you think you might want to do or the business you might want to run. Maybe your current job doesn't pay enough and so you have to work two jobs to make ends meet (further reducing your time available to make a transition). You may also have to face the enticement of a future payoff in terms of a promotion (in the case of a job), or the temptation of delaying the transformation to some future date when it might be more "convenient" for you or your family.

Finally, change is scary. The thought of making a big change and moving away from the familiar might be too much stress for some people's systems to keep pursuing the transformation. Those who stay the course will have to overcome criticism and even ridicule from those who they share their current job or interests with. There is also self-doubt to contend with. Sometimes, you will feel that you are not talented enough or smart enough or deserving enough to make the switch. You might find yourself unconsciously sabotaging yourself to avoid making the change. We all sometimes find excuses for why we are not doing the things we should be doing to realize a change. Sometimes we blow an interview because inside we ourselves don't believe we are truly ready for the change.

All of these things that happen in a personal context are very similar to the reasons that innovation is difficult in established organizations. This is why startups sometimes catch established competitors off-guard, allowing them to disrupt entire industries (aka disruptive innovation). But, some established organizations still manage to innovate and stay ahead of the competition however, which begs the question:

What can we do as individuals to achieve the disruptive innovation in our personal lives that we seek?

Well, it all comes down to recognizing our limitations, both personal and circumstantial, and then being determined to succeed in spite of them. By acknowledging the challenges, we simultaneously provide ourselves with excuses, but if committed, also with exciting challenges to find solutions for. It has been proven time and again that difficult situations and daunting constraints often result in the brightest solutions.

Put yourself in the role of the underdog even if you're not, and challenge yourself to find solutions to the things you see as limitations. Share these challenges with those you trust and enlist their help in finding solutions. By putting the message into your universe about the change you are trying to make, the efforts that you are putting forth, and the approaches you are taking to overcome the requisite challenges, you will be surprised by the unexpected answers that you receive from unlikely sources.

Be ready to listen when the answers come, and don't be afraid to go over, under, through, or around any obstacles that get between you and achieving your Personal Innovation. Celebrate the little victories and don't get discouraged if it takes time. In fact, expect it to take longer than you initially imagine. This may sound daunting, but we really are capable of transforming ourselves.

Are you ready to create your own Personal Innovation?

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Followup: Innovation Loves the Early Adopter

Best Buy announced today that it has exited the analog TV business. Of course, this makes it easier for them to promote that all televisions purchased in their store will work in the all-digital future, but buried in the press release was a statement about the availabilty of converter boxes.

Those choosing to be in the late majority and laggard parts of the digital television market will be able to get up to two coupons per household that will allow them to purchase analog-to-digital conversion boxes for the outrageous sum of $40/each.

Of course I am kidding...

$40 is a lot cheaper than buying a new television, and may serve to keep some analog tube televisions out of the landfill.

It might not be a bad business to snap up outdated big screen analog televisions (27" and up) at bargain prices on craigslist and then package them up with a converter box and re-sell them back on craigslist as a digital big screen television. Do you think there is a market out there?

Will you choose to go for a new television in February 2009 or opt for the $40 converter box?

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Free for All - Will Telco's Adapt?

Free phone calls. Will they prove to be a passing fad or will the telecommunications companies have to learn to adapt to a world where people expect to communicate for free (or nearly so)?

First it was Skype, then it was Jajah and iChat, but we also can't forget the impact that Vonage has had despite its financial struggles. The tech savvy are becoming used to phone calls and video chats being extremely cheap, if not free. As this segment of customers grow and consumers of traditional telecommunications services shrinks, what will become of traditional telephony businesses?

People have been exploring the idea of ad-supported mobile phone networks to provide free phones to people willing to listen to advertisements before making calls. So, what is next?

Don't tell anyone, but in one important way, the tech bubble never burst, entrepreneur's enthusiasm to generate the next web business churns forward at a frenetic pace. The big difference between the 90's and now is that the Web 2.0 world allows people to build compelling web franchises with smaller financial inputs.

Enter Pudding, a web business that offers tools that allows IP communications providers (VOIP, etc.) to analyze call content on the fly and serve up relevant information and advertising in real time.

If a customer is talking with a friend about having a pizza party, up pops an advertisement for Pizza Hut on their screen. Use of the word "thirsty" might switch the advertisement to a Jones Soda ad. Conversations are not stored in any way. Privacy advocates take comfort in the fact that conversations are listened to by a machine for the express purpose of serving up information and advertisements only.

The question becomes, if phone calls become free, then what product or service is next? Is your business ready to compete in a world where your product or service might need to be free or have a free option?

What do you think?

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Buttoned-up Innovation - Jajah Buttons

Today's telecommunications world is full of choices. It used to be that if you wanted to call someone, you picked up your landline and made a call. Now you can use a landline, a calling card, a mobile phone, a VOIP phone, Skype, or Jajah. Different options have their own best uses. If I want to dial in to a conference call using a toll-free number, I use my landline. If I want to call a friend long distance within the United States I use my mobile phone on nights/weekends. If I want to call someone internationally I use Jajah or a calling card.

I've been using Jajah for some time and I love the simplicity and the rates. I find Jajah more useful than Skype. There is no software or headset to worry about. You just go to the web site, create an account the first time, type in the phone number you are calling and the phone number you would like to use for the call, and then your landline or mobile phone rings and you're connected.

Now if they could just find a way to route calls to mobile phones so that it was treated as a call within your preferred network - that would be the icing on the cake.

As if Jajah wasn't a useful enough service already, now I've just learned about Jajah Buttons. This new feature enables people to call you at a low cost (possibly even no charge) by clicking on a button in places such as blogs, email signatures, Facebook profiles, MySpace pages, and Web sites.


This could be a very useful way to make it easier for customers, relatives, and friends to call. What do you think?

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Innovation Loves the Early Adopter

Where would our technology industries be without the early adopters?

Our technology industries thrive on those people and companies who are willing to pay high prices for the latest in entertainment technology or business solutions. Personally, I don't have the time to beta test new technologies, either as public betas or as newly released products, so I am very happy that the early adopters are so eager and ready to do so.

Because it interests me and because it is part of my job to identify where we are headed, I stay up on the latest technology; but, when it comes to parting with my hard-earned cash, there has to be a rational reason to do so.

Case in point, digital television. Starting in 2009, all television signals will be digital, so there is this big push in the marketplace to sell people hi-definition digital-capable televisions. At the same time there is a standards war underway in the Digital Video Disc marketplace between Sony and Toshiba for control of the next generation movie distribution platform. Sony has the lead, and whoever is ahead in the market share race after this winter holiday selling season, will be the victor (this is likely to be Sony).

So, my television is going to be obsolete soon, along with my DVD player. My innovation side is happy about this, while the rational side of me is going to hold out until the very last moment in order to get more for less. I'll be very interested to see what I can get in two years for how little. I just hope that some steadfast entrepreneurs figure out a profitable way to gather a significant portion of the old tube televisions being replaced and ship them to other countries instead of the landfill.

What do you think? Have you already justified the purchase of a digital television to yourself (or significant other) or do you refuse to throw out a perfectly good television?

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Six Sigma versus Innovation

Are Six Sigma and Innovation inherent enemies or powerful allies?

Some would say that Six Sigma and innovation are diametrically opposed goals for an organization to pursue. Some say that organizations cannot excel at both and would point to the issues that 3M has run into with its ability to innovate after a CEO James McNerny came in and introduced Six Sigma into the organization.

I disagree that it is not possible to pursue a dedication to continuous improvement and reduction in variability while also challenging the organization to identify ways to deliver greater value to customers through innovation.

I am happy to take the opposite position and say that Six Sigma can in fact accelerate an organization's ability to innovate. How can this be?

Well, given the cost cutting efforts throughout organizations across all industries of the past couple of decades, most employees are incredibly overworked and struggling to keep their heads above water. American employees work more hours per year and take fewer days off than any employees in the world. The result is that employees often do not have the time to devote to activities related to innovation because they are buried in the execution of administrative and other urgent tasks. Why is this important?

Creative thinking requires the mind to explore different perspectives and possibilities in order to come up with innovative approaches to solutions. This requires time, usually blocks of uninterrupted time. If workers don't have the time to devote to innovation pursuit, then organizations will struggle to deliver anything other than incremental improvements.

The power that Six Sigma holds to accelerate innovation is through its inherent focus on continuous improvement. By a disciplined approach to Six Sigma methodologies, efforts can be focused on identifying the heat sinks in employee workloads (those activities that require a large time investment but deliver low return). Projects can then be prioritized for maximum employee workload reduction. Utilizing Six Sigma methodologies, organizations have the potential of reducing employee frustration while simultaneously increasing the employee energy available to focus on innovation.

Despite most people's contentions that Six Sigma and innovation are natural enemies, I believe they can be the best of friends, but it would take a disciplined, integrated approach on behalf of the organization. Does your organization have the discipline, vision and commitment?

If so, I'd like to work with you to make it happen!

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Confirmation Advertising - Strategic or annoying?

I finally got around to setting up a Facebook profile yesterday and first I must say that Facebook is going to kick Myspace's you know what. Myspace may not all but disappear off the planet like Friendster, but Facebook will soon be number one from what I've seen.

First off, the Friendster application is infinitely easier to use, and I don't seem to be getting friend requests from random people I don't know. Facebook is also making the genius move of setting itself up as an application platform and opening itself up to the innovation of third party developers. Facebook has had the wisdom to create an advertising revenue sharing model for these applications, enabling both itself and the developer to profit from the creation of a richer, infinitely customizable user experience. I'm even entertaining the idea of dropping off Myspace in protest of what I see to be a hard to use, prescriptive and flat environment. Seeing the difference between Facebook and Myspace, I wonder how many of Myspace's superior user numbers could be attributed to people like me who have a Myspace page but don't really use it and haven't bothered to kill it off?

I did see one thing in particular on Facebook that the marketing and branding part of my brain latched onto. It was a security mechanism commonly used to fight automated submissions on web sites, obscured text that appears when you request to add a friend. It said "fontenont financial" and I thought "Wow! What an interesting way of helping companies increase their brand awareness!" Of course I then went to live.com and searched for "fontenont financial", assuming that this was a revenue stream that Facebook had dreamt up, only to find out that the company doesn't exist. It brings up a question though:

Should web sites using obscured text verification systems allow other companies the opportunity to pay to have their brand or their tagline featured?

This could be a particularly useful advertising medium for security software companies like Computer Associates, Symantec, and McAfee, or physical security companies like Brinks. On Facebook in particular, a mechanism like this could also be a good place for companies like Harry & David and Teleflora to bring their brand top of mind when people are thinking about their friends and pending gifts for birthdays and special occasions.

Would this kind of advertising be impactful or annoying? What do you think?

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Innovation in Motion

Why is it so hard for airlines to innovate?

I just came across a site called flightaware.com that shows you the exact location of all airline flights. Why is this so great?

Well, as a business traveller, knowing about flight delays ahead of the masses (even before the airline is likely to alert you), allows you to jump the queue to switch flights before it becomes a stampede. This is an incredibly powerful tool that may just get you home in time for your daughter's piano recital.

So, why didn't the airlines launch this first? They've got IT budgets, hundreds or probably thousands of times larger than this startup, plus decades of industry knowledge. They should have unparalleled insights into the mind of the air traveller, yet they missed this. For sure they have access to this same data, if not even better sources, yet they have not been able to envision the consumers' desire for such a solution. Instead, we sit there in the dark at the gate waiting for new information about whether we will be home in time for our son's soccer game or our wife's birthday, only to receive a text message about a delay once we're on the plane and shutting off our phone for takeoff.

Why is air travel getting worse not better? Shouldn't we be making progress? Instead we're stuck with dirty airplanes, bathrooms that smell like outhouses, shrinking legroom, and airlines gaming the statistics, resulting in passengers being imprisoned on the tarmac for hours to ensure an "on time" departure. The free market is failing the consumer so badly that the consumer has asked Congress to step in and legislate a passenger bill of rights. There is growing support for re-regulating the industry. I heard a conversation just the other day of people complaining about United and how difficult it is for them to redeem their hard-earned miles and how it is souring them on the airline. A loyalty program that makes your customers upset doesn't sound like a very good investment to me. Don't airlines want to delight customers and win customer loyalty? Why is competition not leading to innovation?

What do you think?

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Invention or Innovation? - 300 MPG Car

Engadget has an article on a 300 MPG car that Aptera is now beginning to accept pre-orders for. Apparently, they intend to deliver it in twelve months.

I would contend that this automobile is an invention not an innovation, because there are already hybrid cars in the marketplace and this automobile will likely prove more useful than valuable. I believe it will be a niche player rather than a truly transformational product introduction, but I guess we will see. Toyota and other hybrid manufactures will be introducing plug-in varieties in the next few years along with better capacity batteries, improving MPG on both fronts.

Invention or innovation? Niche or mass acceptance? What do you think?

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Widget Way to Innovation

The online world is changing, are you ready to change with it?

The web is all about trying to drive as many visitors to your site as possible and then "converting" them once they arrive. The only problem is that every site has the same goal. As a result, sites are reluctant to do anything that might reduce the length of time a visitor spends on their site or to lead traffic away from their site. This has deterred some sites from accepting advertising or content that might otherwise enhance their site.

In the Web 2.0 world it is less necessary for advertising or content to link out, and this opens up tremendous opportunities for companies and entrepreneurs with vision. Web 2.0 site designs reduce some of the resistance of site owners to allowing external content on their site. This is because external content providers can now build widgets that bring additional valuable content to the site owner's site without having to draw visitors away.

Widgets allow you to bring your site to users instead of having to bring users to to your site. Widgets create incredible opportunities for site owners to provide richer content experiences and to increase revenue through advertising without seeing their visitors click away to other sites. Widgets can serve up content and allow the user to interact with branding experiences on the site without requiring the user to click away. People can even buy from online stores from within the widget.

Web 2.0 requires every business to re-think how they engage with consumers online.

What kind of content could you provide to other sites that would add value while also expanding your brand presence. How can you take your online shopping experience to other sites in a way that will make them want to give you prime placement. What interesting and valuable branding experiences can you create to better engage your customers?

Are you ready to think beyond the confines of your own site?

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Why Record Companies are Afraid

It must be incredibly stressful to be a record company executive these days. The record companies have had immense control over their environment the several decades of their existence, sitting at the top of the mountain, but now they look down and a plethora of new challengers that have nearly reached the summit.

The most notable challenger, the one that everyone is talking about, is the digital download market, both legal and illegal. But in my book, the strongest contender to upset the balance of power in the music industry crown is the artist, with revolutionary vehicles to self promote. But, even the artists are looking over their shoulder. While the artists are counting on technology to liberate them from the clutches of the record companies, other technology tools threaten to put them back in the box.

In classic old guard fashion, record companies are trying to legislate and litigate their way to maintenance of the status quo by killing off (or at least containing) the burgeoning digital download market, particularly the illegal download market. Across town the movie studio executives' peaceful slumber is about to be disrupted by this same battle as increasing broadband penetration and terabyte storage devices put illegal movie downloads within the reach of the masses.

Lost on record company executives, seems to be the fact that people have a choice of which music they choose to consume, and that decisions by other industry players could make their "valuable" content worthless. After all, something only has "value" if someone is willing to trade you something else of "value" for it. Assuming that people are inherently good, the growth of the illegal download market shows that people currently feel that music is too expensive, otherwise the ethical cost of illegal downloads would be higher than the benefit they gained from doing so, and so people would choose to purchase music instead. It is hard for people to reconcile the ability to purchase a blank CD for pennies and the $20 cost of purchasing a new music CD.

But it's not just in the physical music market where music executives seem to be missing the plot. Today there was an article in the paper talking about Amazon's Digital Rights Management (DRM) free music that they are now selling on their site. People are quite used to selling CD's into the used market or lending their CD's to friends or even to Grandma to listen to. But, apparently even though Amazon's DRM-free music may be free of copy protection, the terms and conditions will actually make it illegal to sell the music on when you tire of it, or even to share it with Grandma. This is supposed to curb the illegal download market?

If the artists and record companies want to all but eliminate the illegal download market, they need to bring the price down to free (or close to it) for those who can't or don't want to pay for it. Very soon, every offering on YouTube will have advertising, and a lot of the legal and illegal content there is original or fan-created music videos available for free. Artists could easily offer their music for free on their web sites in both audio and video versions with embedded links to purchase the music commercial free either in a CD, DVD, or downloadable format. If people could go to an artists' web site and listen to their music for free, suddenly the artists' web site becomes a sticky destination that people will return to again and again, opening up possibilities for additional advertising revenue, community, and increases in memorabilia and tour revenue as well. Suddenly free music becomes revenue generating and has the potential to expand an artist's fan base profitably. Why are artists not doing this?

Let's look more at the artist, and their rising power. Let's take an act like U2. They started out playing in the clubs in Dublin before one day being "discovered" by record company executives. The record company then helps promote them and they become international superstars. Now what use does U2 have for the record company anymore?

Doesn't the balance of power in this relationship suddenly flip as soon as their contract runs out?In the recent movie "Ray" you see Ray Charles negotiate a much better deal after he achieves success. Technology today takes negotiations to a whole new level for superstars, enabling them to force record companies to compete just to make a commodity margin on manufacturing/distributing the CD and fight against agencies for marketing and promotions fees.

And it is not just superstars like U2 that are threatening the music industry's balance of power. You've also got bands like the Arctic Monkeys in the UK with two fingers up to the industry and Moe with one finger up to the Americans, choosing to self promote themselves. Could record companies be reduced to commodity manufacturers or pushed into the role of niche marketing agencies?

But it is not all rosy for the artists in this new era. There is something that artists should be scared of if they are not already. Software exists that mathematically decomposes music and can forecast with some degree of accuracy whether a song will be a hit or not. If this software improves in its capabilities, radio stations and music services like Rhapsody and Yahoo! Music could significantly reduce the influence of record companies (and even artists) on what new music gets played or recommended. This kind of software could lead to artists having to fight their way through the software gatekeepers instead of trying to fight or bribe their way through disc jockeys or radio station executives to get airplay.

Taken altogether, that is a lot for a record company executive to ponder in the middle of a sleepless night. It's either an exciting or scary time to be in the music business.

What do you think?

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Innovative Software That Writes Itself

According to an article in the now defunct Business 2.0 magazine, Charles Simonyi of Microsoft Word and Excel fame, has begun a startup designed to sell innovative software that writes software. The company is focused on helping organizations reduce the financial impact of software errors (estimated to cost U.S. companies $60 billion a year). What's next toast that butters itself?

The intention of Intentional Software is to make software development easier, cheaper, better, and less error prone. The easier part comes from increased reusability. The cheaper part comes from the requirement of fewer programmer and testing hours to complete a project. The better part comes from letting the business people make their needs even clearer up front. The software is less error prone as a result of all of these things together and the capturing of best practices from each completed project being fed back into the system to make the starting point for the next project even better than the last.

Henk Kolk, CTO at Capgemini is a believer because of Domain Workbench's ability to enable businesspeople to express "what they want to do and generate software directly from that."

But will software developers and business people buy into the value of this innovation, or will skepticism kill it in the womb? What do you think?

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Green Innovation from the Inside Out

Adam Werbach used to rail against Wal-Mart when he was the president of the Sierra Club, but now they are his biggest client. Has Adam Werbach sold out by putting his heart and soul into helping the retail giant find ways to be more green?

Fast Company has a nice article examining this change in strategic direction for Adam Werbach, who some might call the "great green hope." Personally, I believe that Werbach has an opportunity to achieve a far greater impact on the environment in working directly with Wal-Mart than as the president of the Sierra Club. Why?

Working as president of the Sierra Club, he would primarily be engaged in working to maintain, or possibly increase charitable donations to the organization, setting strategic direction for the organization, influencing operations, and working to sway public, government, and corporate opinion. Working with Wal-Mart he has the opportunity to create innovative programs and initiatives, see their effects across possibly thousands of stores, and to engage the corporate giant in meaningful dialog as a partner instead of an antagonist. Plus, his leaving the Sierra Club could result in no loss to the green movement because the new guy or gal may be just as good, or possibly even better at furthering the Sierra Club's mission.

Has Adam Werbach increased or decreased his contribution to the green movement? What do you think?

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Look at Me! I'm Drinking Water!

I came across an article in BusinessWeek exploring the pending launch of a new bottled water from the Amazon rainforest called Equa. It's hard to read the story and not roll your eyes. Trucking water halfway across the planet is not exactly good for the environment. When did water become a luxury or aspirational beverage?

It is true that people are always looking for some way to distinguish themselves. Throughout time, beverages have always been one way for people to do so. Drinking Red Bull used to be cool and hip, but now there are a million different energy drinks on the market and the variety is still growing. It is very interesting to me that water has become the next aspirational beverage.

What a coup for the manufacturers given that most other beverages start with water and then add other costly ingredients. Water is the new "look at me" drink. Given all of the externalities in this industry, for me the only real positive is that widespread trading of soda for water might have a slight impact on the obesity and diabetes epidemics.

Equa may be entering the market too late though. It seems to me that we are starting to reach the crescendo in the bottled water market like we did in the energy drink market a few months back, and I would expect that we may be on to the next marketing innovation (possibly Crayons) by fall 2008. So it begs the question, what will the next "look at me" drink be?

What do you think?

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Friday, October 05, 2007

A Strategic Position - Wal-mart and Banking

There was another article in the Seattle Times today about retailers and their desire to move into banking. The article profiled Home Depot and its quest to enter the banking industry, while mentioning the backlash Wal-mart received when they initiated similar moves.

What is it that is so provocative about retailers entering the retail banking business? From a consumer perspective, some extra competition would be a good thing given ever increasing bank fees and core profitability. Bank executives want Wal-mart and other retailers to stay out of the banking the business and if they have to plant public relations stories to stir up a "The communists are coming" type furor, then they will.

Why?

Profits, pure and simple. The banks assume that if retailers get into the banking business that profits will shrink as a result of the competition, and they worry that because of the retailers more frequent relationships with the customer they will lose out. Is the frenzy that is being whipped up in opposition based on a valid concern?

No. In this country, retailers are already allowed to have some limited banking privileges for the purposes of offering store-brand credit cards to provide their customers with revolving lines of credit. To bring in true financing programs, like 0% credit for 36 months, the retailers usually have to bring a finance company into the picture. So in some sense, retailers are acting as pseudo retail banks already. Would giving retailers expanded bank capabilities cause a collapse in the banking industry?

No. If we look to the UK we will see an environment where retailers such as Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury, and ASDA (owned by Wal-mart) offer everything from savings accounts to retirement plans to insurance. Have the banking or insurance industries collapsed in the UK? No, and here's why: internal consumer concerns limit the numbers willing to give retailer's banking and insurance offerings a try. So why can't we let the consumer decide in the U.S.A.?

The problem is that banking executives feel that the retailers will put a squeeze on their profits and revenues, and as a result their bonuses. Scared to death that their bonus might shrink or that they might lose their jobs, they will fight to the death using whatever means to keep the retailers out of banking. But why do retailers actually want to go into banking?

The answer is margins. Banks make much higher margins than a discount retailer or grocery store, and banking offers retail executives the opportunity to improve overall revenues and profits and ultimately increase the size of their own bonuses. So on both sides we have a classical example of motivated self-interest. But do retailers really need to own a bank?

I would argue that retailers are wise to stay out of the banking business. Retailers are better served with allocating a portion of their square footage to a retail bank and charging them escalating rents based on how attractive that location seems to be for their bank tenant and playing one bank off of another to maximize the revenue per square foot of their "banking space." Some grocery stores are already pursuing this strategy. This is what shopping mall landlords have been doing with McDonald's and other food court tenants for years (and for all tenants for that matter). Shopping mall landlords don't get directly into the hamburger business, they instead extract rents from the profitability of the hamburger business given the value of the location they provide.

Retailers do not need to own the bank, they just need to maximize their revenue opportunity in this complementary industry. In the same way that McDonald's burgers are more attractive to people than Shopping Center's burgers, Bank of America will always be more attractive to shoppers than Wal-mart Bank or Home Depot Bank. At the same time, any other financial services opportunity they might profit from should be done through revenue sharing. This is what Tesco does with things like Travel Insurance.

To close, retailers should focus on their classic charge, to maximize revenue per square foot. To me, extracting revenue from a bank makes more sense than becoming the bank. What do you think?

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Is the Post-a-Phone an Innovation?


I came across an article on Engadget about a phone that is so flat you could mail it. Sure it is only a concept at present, but with my direct marketing hat on I thought at first that it seemed like a cool idea. I started to imagine it as a fun way to announce new support hours or some other scenario where you are reaching out to people, encouraging them to call you. In such a scenario, this phone could create a high impact piece. So to me the phone seemed maybe not innovative, but definitely fun.

Then I started to think about it as a product, and I started thinking, what problem is this really solving? Suddenly, it started to seem like a solution in search of a problem. I started to read through the comments on the article, and I landed on a comment that brought to light that many (if not most) households now rely on cordless phones which are rendered useless in a power outage. Suddenly I saw this solution without a problem in a new light - as a low cost, small, and lightweight addition to a household emergency kit that could replace a dead cordless phone in an emergency.

In that light, is this an innovative product or just a silly invention? What do you think?

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Congestion-based Air Travel Pricing

In the United States I think sometimes we place a little too much faith in the laws of supply and demand and too little in the ability of the government to help make our lives better. We as consumers are not very good at imagining the externalities that are not present in the monetary cost of something, but are always present in the true cost of a product or service.

For example, electric cars may be good for the air quality in the city in which they are driven, but people often forget that electric cars still pollute the air (they just pollute the air around the power plant making the electricity to drive them instead) and they have the nasty surprise of battery disposal when the batteries eventually stop holding a decent charge.

Building upon this example of externalities, let's look at an example of where the laws of supply and demand are failing us, delays in the air travel industry. There is more than one factor contributing to the problem of delayed and cancelled flights (airlines over-scheduling peak times, corporate jets and fractional ownership, etc.), but the solution to most, if not all, is the same--congestion-based pricing.

Some may ask why we need to finally implement congestion-based pricing thirty years after it was first suggested. They might suggest that prime time demand will push prime time prices higher and we'll reach a state of equilibrium.

The problem is that although we may reach some sort of premium-priced prime-time equilibrium, the supply and demand are still too high given the capacity of airports, causing unavoidable delays and cancellations, even under blue skies. The result is that airlines and the corporate jet set have introduced externalities into the system (delays, cancellations, sitting on the tarmac) that are much more unpleasant than a higher fare would be, plus it would be your choice whether to pay it or not.

Artificially reducing supply through legislative or regulatory intervention would do nothing to address capacity constraints. Congestion-based pricing through the application of prime-time tariffs would generate a revenue stream that could lead to the capital investments necessary to optimize existing resources and even to fund capacity expansion, and safety standards.

I was living in London when the congestion charge was imposed. The city simultaneously introduced a $10 peak time tariff to drive into central London, taking cars off the rode, and increased fleets of buses on the streets to take the additional load of passengers switching from car transport to mass transit. It was so successful that not only was gridlock removed, but buses could now move about the city much more easily, making the bus riding experience better at the same time. It was so successful that London expanded the coverage area, and now New York is looking at implementing a similar congestion charge.

So, I just want to throw my two cents into the pot in support of congestion-based pricing for air travel. It's the only way to cause the corporate jet set and the airlines to think twice about over running airport capacity and it will encourage both groups to bring some of their flights in just before or just after the peak period, providing the consumer with greater choice and more options to avoid the price surcharge.

It may not be an innovative solution now that thirty years have passed since it was first proposed, but who knows, maybe the skies will become friendly once again.

What do you think?

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Nokia acquires Navteq - Foolish or Strategic?

Nokia announced a $12 Billion acquisition of map provider Navteq yesterday. Only time will tell if this acquisition will prove to be the next Skype (where eBay overpaid and had to write down the value of Skype) or the next MySpace (which looks to be a bargain at $580 million).

My question is this: Does Nokia need to own Navteq?

It is rumored that Google was bidding against Nokia in the acquisition race, so there is no doubt that the price may have been pushed beyond the boundaries of logic. It also didn't help Nokia that the price of Navteq stock has tripled over the last 52 weeks (thanks in part to TomTom's acquisition of TeleAtlas - the provider of Google's maps). Nokia has paid almost five times as much for Navteq than TomTom paid for TeleAtlas.

I'll give Nokia strategy points for location-based services having finally reached the point in time where they will start to be compelling in the market. The timing is now right thanks to the arrival of devices like the iPhone and other 'tween devices that fall somewhere between a mobile phone and a laptop in form factor. At the same time however, I have to wonder whether they really had to acquire the whole Navteq company and all of the bits they don't really care about. I would argue that they would have been better off pursuing Michael Raynor's advice in The Strategy Paradox of deciding several years ago when location-based services became important to them to use a real option strategy and make a strategic investment instead of yesterday's commitment of $12 Billion to an acquisition.

It still remains to be seen whether owning mapping software via the Navteq acquisition will provide Nokia any kind of competitive advantage. It is quite possible that a company like TomTom may decide to license the technology far and wide enough to make these services standard issue across all devices and not a competitive differentiator in the marketplace amongst handset manufacturers.

The way the market is developing, TomTom's core product could be disintermediated by mobile phone handsets and new devices from computer manufacturers. TomTom may be forced to gradually move out of the device business and instead evolve into a software company. It is also not outside the realm of possibility that TomTom could instead morph into a mobile handset manufacturer with the help of someone like HTC, but that is much less likely.

The more likely scenario is that TomTom will provide map and location-based services functionality to Apple, Samsung, HTC, Motorola and others, providing them with a much larger installed base for a smaller investment.

So, is Nokia's acquisition of Navteq foolish or Strategic? What do you think?

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Innovation in Pet Ownership?

Recently I heard a guy telling a story about how he goes out a few times a year on a buddy's boat and that one day his buddy let it slip that he spends $30,000 a year mooring and maintaining his boat. My reaction? Wow! $30,000? In fact his buddy's wife joke's that the only reason she's working is to support the boat. That made me think that if I ever find myself thinking about buying a boat, I'll just rent one instead. I checked quickly online and found the going day rate for a nice ski boat to rent to be about $500 (depending on location). If the guy in the story is like most people who own a boat, he gets out maybe ten days a year, meaning it's costing him $3,000 a day plus the cost of buying the boat. So maybe renting a boat is better than buying after all.

But what about renting a dog? Would someone actually rent a dog rather than buy one?

I came across an article in the now-defunct Business 2.0 magazine profiling a lady who is starting an innovative pet rental business called Flexpetz in San Diego and Los Angeles. Now, I don't own a dog, but my daughter would love nothing better, and so imagine how surprised I was to learn that the average cost of owning a dog in the first year (not including adoption fee or purchase price) is almost $3,000 ($2,885 to be exact). In contrast, for $120 per month Flexpetz will rent you a dog, provided you rent the dog at least twice per month. That $120 per month is a fully loaded cost (doggie bags, leash, food, etc. is all included) which comes to $1,448 for your first year membership versus $2,885 if you buy a dog. No barking in the middle of the night, no surprise veterinary bills, and no rushing home every day to let the dog out before he has an accident. Just a dog to walk and love when you want.

What do you think? Is she on to something, or barking up the wrong tree?

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