Data-Driven Government

 

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We all know that President Obama had a strong advantage over his opponents because of “big data” and the hordes of programmers hired to cultivate and curate the analytics.  Now that the election is over it also has become quite evident that the information gathered over the past years is valuable in another way: governing.

I saw the movie ‘Lincoln’ the other day and noticed how important and powerful representative government works.  It is also inefficient and (potentially) corrupt.  “WHAT IF” we could each have a voice in our daily government activities directly, without need for representation?  Why have a representative travel to Washington when my voice can be heard directly?  I have access, you have my data. Why should my representative filter out what I have to say when I can say it directly to the government and politicians can reach out to me without that filter?

Oh wait, isn’t that what President Obama’s doing right now?  Taking governing ‘to the people’, much like campaigning?  Get used to it.

Think about these enabling changes in technology these days.  Then go see the movie and consider what the world ‘would have been’ without the wheeling and dealing of representative government.  Change is coming fast, and technologists and entrepreneurs need to move faster.
P-Cz

The Most Famous Lean Startup – EVER!

 

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Detroit; We got our Ford, Dodge, Durant and Chrysler.  We got our Strohs, Illitch, Karmanos & Gilbert.  We got a whole slew of up-and-comers, most all had modest upbringing and rose to success through vision, risk, and hard work.  True entrepreneurs.
However, my favorite Detroiter-turned-entrepreneur of all time is the one-and-only Berry Gordy.

I am fortunate to have grown up in Detroit listening to Motown music.  I am even more fortunate to sit on the Board of Trustees for the Motown Museum and experience first-hand the history of this American icon.    I am most fortunate to experience in person the culmination of a fifty-year mutual-respect relationship between Motown and The Beatles.  I am also blessed to be able to play these great songs myself for my personal enjoyment and fun.

There are many books and articles written about Berry Gordy and Motown which you yourself can read, so let me get to my point.

Berry Gordy was an entrepreneur extraordinaire who knew the rules of the game before they were even written:

  • He understood his target audience – Everyone.  That was risky, especially when the market was becoming fragmented.
  • He mastered the compelling reason to buy, which was songs with a first-person perspective.
  • He completely understood whole product – songwriters, the ‘sound’, quality-control, talent, the ‘look’, etc…
  • He negotiated like crazy with his partners and allies, including Brian Epstein, who negotiated great royalties for the Beatles but in the end was a winning collaboration for Motown.
  • His distribution model was expansive, he knew how to make hits and get vinyl to the masses.
  • Competition?  If he couldn’t beat them, he hired them!
  • He knew that his talent had to be positioned to present themselves in a classy, professional manner.
  • He priced his product to sell and was an extremely shrewd salesman.
  • Next Target?  Do you know how many labels he started so that he could have multiples of hit records?  Check it out!

He was also a genius at running a “Lean Startup“.

  • He ran iterative sprints for the development of his agile product.
  • He constantly built MVP‘s to preview songs under production.
  • He hosted, literally, demo days which presented product to his staff for review.
  • He ran customer validation processes with his target audiences.  He gave customers what they wanted.
  • He begged to get funding and made sure that his investors, which also happened to be his family, governed their investment and got the proper return.
  • He surrounded himself not only with music talent, but also business talent, no matter what color or gender.
  • He hit the road to sell, sell, sell!
  • He pivoted.  This is where I don’t always agree with his vision.  By leaving Detroit for California, he may have enabled new relationships and opportunities, but he left ‘the sound’ behind, and it never was the same again.  Financially it may have made sense, but a lot of people, me included, were disappointed.

Want to know more?  Come visit the Motown Museum and discover for yourself!


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Other Motown Resources:

Hopefully, I can tell more of the story someday at Detroit’s Lean Startup Circle! http://www.meetup.com/Detroit-Lean-Startup-Circle/


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And for some real fun, check out this Twitter-Map!! : http://www.mibazaar.com/motown.html

P-Cz

Top-10 Things I’m Thinking About When ‘Catching’ Your Startup Pitch

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When I was a kid in little-league baseball, I played the position of catcher.  I loved being a catcher because it kept me in the action of the game.  I knew that the catcher was a very powerful position and important because I was not only evaluating the competition, but also the performance of the pitcher.  My job was to evaluate, mentor, collaborate and consult.  Don’t believe in the power of the catcher?  Just watch the movie Bull Durham!

OK. We’re today’s ‘battery’ and you’re about to throw your first pitch. I hope you find me attentive, focused and friendly.  But there are things about your strategy that you should remember  when you give your pitch because they’re the  things running through my mind as you talk.

Here we go:

  1. Target Customer – Who is the person who is going to pay you money for your solution?  Many people only have a vague concept of who is going to write a check, pull out their credit card, or use their Paypal account to send you money.  You better not balk on this!
  2. Compelling Reason to Buy – Are you solving a problem or providing obvious value to your customers?  No curve balls here, I want 100mph fastballs!
  3. Whole Product – Is there a complete whole-product?  Have you considered EVERYTHING there is to build, sell, market and deliver your product?  Many people do not realize all the moving-parts necessary to have a successful product. There is more to your product than balls & strikes.
  4. Partner Strategy – The key to success in business is relationships.  Do you have the relationships in place, or even the skill to make those relationships happen?  Business, like baseball, is a team sport!
  5. Distribution – How are you going to sell your product?  Online? Direct-sales? Franchise? Service?  Distribution decisions are critical to understand.  Don’t telegraph that pitch, control every aspect of your game.
  6. Pricing – The hardest decisions you are going to make, based on everything else in this list.  Is your price too high for the marketplace or too low to express value?  What are your profits needs and the return required to your investors?  A good ERA is nothing if you don’t win.
  7. Competition – A surprising number of times I have done a simple internet search which exposed competitors that weren’t even known to exist.  How embarrassing!  You better know every single one of your customers and understand them thoroughly.  No intentional walks, please!
  8. Positioning – What is your ‘elevator pitch’?  Is it succinct, clear and easy to grasp?  If not, your solution may be too complex or just not solving the right problem.   Sometimes you just got to be aggressive and throw a little ‘chin music’ to get their attention!
  9. What’s Next? – How will you grow?  What other adjacent markets are there available for you to exploit with your product?  Have you thought about your ‘exit-strategy’?  It is hard to focus only on the current batter, but make sure that you have enough energy for the entire game!
  10. Performance – Will your product perform?  Is it scalable?  Will YOU perform?  Are YOU scalable?  How about your partners?  Are they reliable and will work as hard as you will?  Business is a team-sport and you need to be fit to succeed.  Compuware is THE PERFORMANCE COMPANY and application, machine and human performance is always top-of-mind.  And winning!!!

So, good luck and let’s get started!
P-Cz

Data, Data Everywhere and Not a Thought to Think! (redux)

 

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OK, I’ve blogged about this before.  I wrote that application-performance-data-aggregation was the answer to ‘too much data’.  I was wr…um,  I was wro…uh, I wasn’t exactly right.  In my defense I was young and naive and I’ve learned from my mistakes.Data Smog.  Signal-to-Noise Ratio.  Data Glut. We call it many things.  In a world where data has started consuming us, how do we sift through it all and extract meaningful information?  Merely aggregating the data into two-dimensions of visualization isn’t enough and it’s just too much work.

Yesterday I drilled down into an application performance alert, trying to make sense of the data, only to find, eventually, that it was a false alarm.  If I don’t trust the alert, I either turn it off or ignore it.  Or cover it with electrician’s tape.

Some people solve the problem of too much data by implementing “Business Intelligence” software.  This typically is  simple, visualized mashups of the different datasets.  Pretty charts; little value.  Others attempt a more comprehensive data-analytics approach, but I haven’t seen any of them cross the 80% probability threshold.

80% probability that it will rain today may make me take my umbrella to work, but I’m not going to cancel a golf-outing based on 80% confidence.

Trusting APM alerts requires that the information has a high probability of accuracy.  We compile a lot of data with intelligent analytics, but the output still needs validation and corroboration.  So, how do you raise the probability level of analytics to an answer you can trust?

Humans!  HA!  Humans have an amazing ability at solving complex problems.  We just don’t scale very well.

Computer weather-models may only give us 80% probability but add in knowledge and realtime analysis from sky-watchers and storm-chasers and you now have a model with a probability level that allows you to plan your outdoor activities.  Some of us may love to play “amateur meteorologist” and dig through all those statistics, but all I want to know is if I can go outside at recess today.  The same goes for application monitoring.  Just tell me what the problem is so that I can get it resolved quickly.

To solve this problem, we need BIG DATA to store every object we can, grind through complex analytics to discover what is truly worth noticing.   Once noticed, we need a correlation engine that will help us decide what the problem is that we need to act upon.  Once the decision to act is trusted, we need a collaboration platform that will help us crowd-source the problem, finding the technicians, subject-matter-experts and decision-makers required to solve the problem.   And once we solve the problem, we need to capture the knowledge that solved the problem so that the correlation and collaboration technologies can leverage that intelligence for future reference.

The interesting thing about this solution is that it crosses many use-cases.  A couple of startups I am working with are solving their particular problems in very much the same way.  Make their digital analytics smarter with human intelligence that allow the answer to be achieved quickly and with confidence.

So, Mr Kurzweil, until we achieve the Singularity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity), we simple humans still have relevance.  We just need to invent technology that scales our domain knowledge so that we don’t have to ‘redo’ our analysis over and over.

Yay us!

P-Cz

What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

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I am THE Venture Technologist.  Nice, maybe I should start referring to myself in the third-person.

Thirty-six years programming, testing, architecting, operating, managing…

After thirty-six years working for startups, founding startups, performing due-diligence for M&A work, and now mentoring startups and doing due-diligence and consulting for private-equity investments, I have finally defined myself.   Funk Brother, Rock-&-Roll genius.  No, wait, those dreams will have to wait a while.

What we do at Compuware Ventures that is different from most VCs is focus on technology delivery models that give us insight into higher probability for success.  Apps are important, great programmers and designers are critical, the right mix of technology and management are key, but it’s the mix of all-of-the-above and the balance of business acumen that makes a startup successful.  I love taking a technical approach to evaluate a business plan because the technical DNA of a company, no matter how large or small, expresses a lot about the company, their people, and their probability for future growth and success.

CODE DOESN’T LIE.When I was a young pup at programming, almost all of my peers hated to work on someone else’s code.  Mostly because there were a lot of different technical complexities  that we had to contend with and many times the code was difficult to decipher.  I always prided myself  on my ability to ‘decode’ another programmer’s program and understand every ‘moving part’ of the system.  I made it fun and tried to imagine what someone was thinking when they put together their solution.  The coding, design, quality control, testing, source-code repositories, architecture, operations, support; all are critical to a whole-product solution and each can break a system’s integrity if not put together properly.  We can do a complete code and process review of any system, and material weaknesses, as well as value, are exposed very quickly,  We can also find weaknesses and strengths simply by talking to the technical folks involved.

PROGRAMMERS DON’T LIE.Maybe I should state that as “PROGRAMMERS CAN’T LIE”.  I don’t know if it’s because we’re inherently ethical or we’re just bad liars!  In any case, technical people are very transparent and talking to them always gives us the best insight and evaluation of an organization.  In addition to the knowledge we acquire about the company’s technology, we also understand how well they work as a team and communicate with their customers and stakeholders.  Great ideas and technology can’t succeed if the organization is dysfunctional.

There are many things to look at when evaluating these opportunities, and the technology of any venture is a critical component to the probabilityof success.  I’ve finally grown up, I’m Mr. venture Technologist.  So, when you give your pitch, run the numbers, tell your story, remember, I’m waiting to talk to the techie behind the scenes.

And I pity the programmer who tries to fool me!

P-Cz

Startups and Beer

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    It seems that if you’re from Detroit, everyone expects you to write about cars, comparing your topic to the history of the automobile industry.

Looking at the number of auto startups that existed in Detroit a hundred years ago, it’s easy to see similarities to today’s startups.   The auto industry is a good example of what happens where there’s a lot of competition, consolidation, and near-extinction.  Been there, done that.

So, let’s talk about beer, instead!  Few people know that Detroit was a beer mecca before Milwaukee took the crown. It seemed like all that was needed was desire, a recipe and a little marketing savvy.  My personal experience was limited to my cousin Walter who worked at the Stroh’s Brewery in downtown Detroit.  He told stories of  being allowed to drink beer while on the job!

This sparked my interest to read a great book (see picture) about the history of Detroit breweries.  As I read this book, I kept thinking about similarities to software startups.

Folks who started beer companies loved to drink beer, enjoyed experimenting with their own recipes, and wanted others to share in their passion.  Why else would anyone start a beer company in Detroit when there were already dozens of companies already competing?

Let’s explore:

  • First, as a startup, they had to understand their customer.  Beer was very much in-demand after Prohibition, so there was a large market.  Many startups  targeted specific preferences such as lager, ale, hefeweizen, stouts, porters, schwarzbiers, grains; there was a beer for every taste!    When it comes to technology startups, do you know exactly who is going to download and use your app?  Have you focused on your target customer?  Will they come back for more?
  • Secondly, what would compel someone to buy a new brand of beer over another, already established, brand.  The trick was sometimes a bit of street marketing, literally driving around providing samples.   Similarly, you need to differentiate your value by providing a model that will make it easy for prospective customers to evaluate and use  your product.  Compelling design, ‘freemium’ licensing model, super-fast performance.  Get them in cheap and sell up!
  • Next, the product itself and everything that goes into it.  Quality ingredients, bottling, marketing, sales; there’s a lot to consider going from one to ninety-nine bottles of beer! (I had to say that).
  • Employees – Brewers, like programmers, were in high demand and owners went to great lengths to steal a master brewer from a competitor.  They also tried to lock them up with equity and loyalty tactics.  Take good care of your key employees!
  • Partners & Allies – Ingredient providers, bottle-makers, designers, taverns, they (and you) have to be good at relationships and negotiations.
  • Distribution – Well, at least you don’t need a horse-and-carriage to deliver your app to your customers.
  • Pricing – Sounds easy, right?  By the barrel?  The keg?  The pint?  Pricing is the toughest decision you’ll make.
  • Next Target – This is always interesting.  Non-alcoholic beer, soda-pop, even ice-cream has been adjacencies that beer companies have explored.  Be ready to move in any direction, but every time you do, you have to re-evaluate every part of your strategy, especially competition.

So, there you have it, whether it’s software or beer, business challenges are similar for any startup.  Unless, of course, you are going to write a ‘beer-goggles’ app.  Ummm, I have to defer comment, but feel free to look it up for yourself!

Cheers!

P-Cz


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A Plethora of Programmers

“Well, you told me I have a plethora. And I just would like to know if you know what a plethora is. I would not like to think that a person would tell someone he has a plethora, and then find out that that person has no idea what it means to have a plethora.”

Thank you, El Guapo, for setting me up on my mission for 2012.

But I’m talking about programmers, not piñatas.  And right now, there is NOT a plethora of programmers, in fact it’s just the opposite – there is a ‘dearth of developers’.

I’ve talked about this in the past but now it’s all very clear.  WE have an awesome opportunity to create an educated, no, a  trained workforce that  can address the technical challenges faced by Detroit, Michigan, the USA and the world.

On Monday, December 19th, the MEDC hosted their information night for their Ann-Arbor “Shifting Code” initiative.  I was concerned about the classes selected and became very concerned when over seven-hundred people signed up for the information night.  My concerns escalated when I saw for myself the demand for the few slots available BUT I was won over when I saw the passion that everyone brought to the event.  The passion to “teach” and the passion”to be taught”.  The numbers only underline the opportunity and if we don’t figure out how to train thousands of folks to join the technical communities in Michigan, then SHAME ON US!

OK, off my soapbox. 

I’ve absorbed so much during the last month and it’s all very clear to me.  I thought I was ‘so smrt’ but I discovered that everyone saw the same thing.  We urgently need technical people in Michigan and we need them quick!  Government, business and education leaders have all stepped up.  There is a ton of FREE material available for those who are motivated to educate themselves but what also is needed is trainers, mentors and communities to teach, guide and encourage our fellow Michiganders on their journey.  In the early weeks of January, there are already meetings on my calendar to address these very issues.

There will not be one, easy answer, but there will be a lot of brainpower figuring this out in a collaborative, non-competitive, selfless-serving way.  I can clearly remember a conversation I had with my colleague Linglong He from Quicken: “Let’s not compete for technical talent; if we solve the shortage, we’ll all win”.   OK, the conversation probably wasn’t exactly like that, but that spirit of cooperation now exists with organizations such as the US and Michigan governments, Compuware, Quicken Loans, Detroit Labs, GalaxE Solutions, BizdomU, MEDC, PureMichigan, AnnArbor Spark, MTAM, WCC, W3C,  OCC, WSU, UM,  Compuware Ventures, Detroit Ventures, and the list goes on and on.  If we can figure out how to do this under one umbrella, that would be fine, but the reality is that we all are running fast at different cadences.  If the end result is a skilled workforce, WHO CARES?  Right?  Jobs, in Michigan, in Detroit, in Copper-Harbor and AuGres, everywhere.

SKILLED PEOPLE = JOBS = INNOVATION = COMPANIES = REVENUES = TAXES

My formula above proves that you don’t need math skills to be successful in technology skills.  Hear that, educators!?!  Stop discouraging young people with your “math-demands”.

APTITUDE & ATTITUDE.  I know that somewhere in Detroit there is a youngster who has the intelligence, passion and desire to be a programmer, but not the means.  It BREAKS MY HEART if we don’t find this person.  I know this for a fact because in 1976 I WAS THAT young person.  I got lucky, I backed into my career and don’t take anything for granted.

At the information meeting, I invited everyone to send me an e-mail and tell me their “story”.  Understanding this will help us to make sure that we’re serving everyone who wants to learn.  As Bill Wagner of SRT Solutions said “it’s a great job and a rewarding career”.  Or something like that, I really need to write these things down!

A “Plethora of Programmers”?  A very Happy New Year!!!  

P-Cz

“Well, we really don’t have a plan B. We didn’t expect for the first plan to work. Sometimes you can overplan these things.”

If you don’t recognize my quotes, SHAME ON YOU!

 About Paul Czarnik

Paul the former CTO of Compuware, a venture-technologist and programmer. His hands-on experience and technical diligence model help with M&A activities and incubator/startups. Contact him at @PaulCzrnk to chat about IT Transformation (even though he hates that word), agile delivery, lean startup methodologies or music.

Paul serves on the boards of, iRule, the Motown Museum and the Admission/Retention Committee for Wayne State University.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

 

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It’s Thanksgiving time in the United States and, while reflecting on what I should be thankful for, it occurred to me that a corporation is much like a family.  It’s very obvious in the picture who the chairman is, the CEO is obviously to his right. If you look closely you can also spot the CFO, COO, Chief Counsel, Chief Administrative Officer, CTO, VPs of Product Development & Strategy…. but where’s the CIO????  Shouldn’t the CIO have a seat at the ‘big corporate table’?

Oh no…

Sitting at the ‘kids table’, with the VP of Marketing who obvious blames YOU for her problems (they’re always very angry) and the VP of HR, who just wants everyone to get along.

So, I guess I’m supposed to write something pithy and thought-provoking but, all I can say is, if you’re not at the big-table either you’re not providing value or you’re not being recognized for the value you provide.

OK, pass the pumpkin pie!

P-Cz


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Ten reasons why a mobile-startup is like a garage-band

Not THE Garage Band by Apple but all the garage-bands I played in the 70′s.  

During my ‘missing years’ I played in a lot of rock-bands.  We all talked about what life would be like when we ‘made it’, meaning signing a BIG record contract.   If you measure success by how many friends I had, I did pretty good.  If you measure success by how much money I made, well…

Pretty much the same goes today for technical start-ups, minus the fame.  A lot of people LOVE to be in a start-up, and many even think that getting VC-money means that they ‘made it’.  Well, the roles may have changed, but it’s the same-old, same-old.  Let me try to explain:

  1. The Lead Guitarist – Self-trained and plays by ear.  This is your designer, the person who thinks they’re the rock-star and doesn’t need anyone else.  Are they in for a surprise!
  2. The Drummer – This is your cloud architect.  Brilliant technologist, plays all the riffs but can’t keep a steady beat!  More interested in practicing his thirteen-minute drum solo.  Drum solo?  This isn’t 1972, dude!
  3. The Rhythm Guitarist – Trained by listening to Allman Brothers.  Great backend systems programmer who knows how to create a fast-performing server/database implementation.  Solid, but not very creative.
  4. The Keyboardist – ‘Classically-trained’, solid performing programmer who tries to hold everything together.  Gets distracted easily but can be counted on to deliver.
  5. The Lead Singer – He/She is your marketing person.  Overly optimistic with a big ego, but is willing to push everyone else to success.  Or else!
  6. The Brass Section – No one knows what they do or how they do it, but they’re fun to have around and they’re awesome at delivering key integration services.
  7. The Bass-Player – How do you get a bass-player off your porch?  Pay him for the pizza!  ’nuff said.  Every start-up has a bass-player!
  8. The Manager – This is your angel-investor person who tells you that you’re going to be rich, you just need to work harder.  If that’s the case, why is he driving the BMW and you the VW?
  9. The Recording Technician – QA and Operations.  They hate you!  But they’re necessary to make sure that your performance is superb.
  10. The Songs – ahhh, finally, these are the Apps!  They are the inspiration, the result of every muse you have ever mused.  No matter how many people, no matter how much the stress, the apps are what you strive for.  These creations will make you happy, no matter how much off the top the app-stores take from you.   Because whether you’re writing songs or apps, the app-stores always takes their share.  Sigh.

Enough silliness.  Whether you’re in a rock-band or a technology start-up, it all comes down to RELATIONSHIPS.  You better understand how it is to lead a team of developers or musicians, because they’re all really the same.

When we at C-PoWeR evaluate start-up companies, those relationships are at the top of our priority list to evaluate.  Because there are very few solo-singer-songwriters out there.  And if there are, they don’t need VC help.

… and my joke about bass-players?   Here’s one more:

A rock-band is playing a concert.  As they’re playing the lead singer is thinking “Wow, I’m a rock-star, all the girls out there want to be with me, I’m going to meet a beautiful girl and get married”.  The lead-guitarist is thinking “This is the greatest thing in the world!  I’m going to buy my parents a big house to thank them for their support”.  The drummer is thinking “Fantastic, I’m going to use my fame to promote peace around the world”.  The keyboard-player is thinking “I can’t wait to use my celebrity to write my own musical that everyone will sing for years to come”.  The bass-playing is thinking “one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four”…

Rock on!

Filed Under: Tech Talk Tagged With: 
About Paul Czarnik
Paul the former CTO of Compuware, a venture-technologist and programmer. His hands-on experience and technical diligence model help with M&A activities and incubator/startups. Contact him at @PaulCzrnk to chat about IT Transformation (even though he hates that word), agile delivery, lean startup methodologies or music.

Paul serves on the boards of, iRule, the Motown Museum and the Admission/Retention Committee for Wayne State University.