Highlights of 2015 TiECon Part III – IoT Track

Introduction & Backgrounder:

This is the third and final article on this year’s TiECon conference. It covers the Internet of Things (IoT) track with emphasis on Cisco’s closing Keynote presentation. The first two articles on TiECon 2015, as well as others by this author can be read here.

Gartner Research defines the Internet of Things as “the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states of the external environment.”

For years, the biggest issues for IoT have been worries about security and privacy. Despite lots of hype, there is no definitive set of standards and connectivity options for various IoT industry verticals. That includes the identification of MAC/PHY, protocol stacks and message formats.

In an excellent blog post, Chris Kocher- Founder and Managing Director of Grey Heron identifies five key IoT issues that are said to be challenges areas: Security; Trust and Privacy; Complexity, confusion and integration issues; Evolving architectures, protocol wars and competing standards; Concrete use cases and compelling value propositions.

Compliance will continue to be a major issue in medical and assisted-living applications, which could have life and death ramifications. New compliance frameworks to address the IoT’s unique issues will evolve. Social and political concerns in this area may also hinder IoT adoption. Related to entrepreneurs:

“Slower adoption and unanticipated development resource requirements will likely slip schedules and slow time to revenues, which will require additional funding for IoT projects and longer ‘runways’ for startups.”

Battle of IoT Platforms & Protocols:

This TiECon session promised to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of different IoT platforms and protocols that are available to build successful products. Three panelists from semiconductor companies (Intel, Marvell and MediaTek) described their own hardware/software portfolio without relating them to ongoing work in the various IoT consortiums and alliances. Representatives from Amazon Web Services (AWS) and WSO2 provided perspectives from a cloud service provider and middleware provider point of view, respectively.


  • Dr. Manas Saksena, Sr. Director of Technology & Marketing, Platform Solutions Group at Marvell Semiconductor
  • Geetha Dabir, Vice President, Internet of Things at Intel
  • Marc Naddell, Vice President MediaTek Labs at MediaTek
  • Jinesh Varia, Technology Evangelist at Amazon Web Services
  • John Mathon, Vice President of Enterprise Evangelism at WSO2

Mr. Mathon said that IoT value will be created by the integration of new devices with information from them analyzed in the cloud. Mr. Varia opined that would not always be the case as there might very well be on premises servers that provide control and data analytics for devices. There’s also the issue of IoT device to device communications as envisioned by the AllSeen Alliance.

Ms. Dabir noted that Intel’s IoT platform was not just silicon, but also included “intelligence analytics” that was being developed by Intel Labs. The goal is to understand the hardware environment of things (e.g. motors, sensors, etc), record status and do predictive maintenance¹ (the ability to accurately diagnose and prevent failures in real-time is a major advantage for companies and might be vital for critical infrastructure applications). Intel uses its WindRiver subsidiary’s Operating System as part of the company’s IoT platform.

Note 1. An example of predictive maintenance for a wind turbine farm for renewable energy production: A wind on-site sensor-equipped systems could collect data from multiple turbines, not just a single turbine, enabling failure analysis to be performed to predict when a system or component is likely to malfunction due to stress or overheating, and thereby enabling better operator or autonomous decision making for maintenance.

For example, if there is a high likelihood of the gearbox breaking down within a turbine, then switching to a lower performance mode and a reduced mechanical load, while still delivering 80 percent efficiency, could mean continued operation and further electricity generation for several weeks. This would allow scheduled maintenance that combines the repair and maintenance of more than just one turbine.

IoT Track Closing Keynote by Anand Oswal (VP Engineering, Cisco):

Here are the key points made by Mr. Oswal about IoT/IoE:

  • The pace of change is accelerating through digital content, the Internet and the mobile economy.
  • Disrupting tech trends are coming from social, mobile, big data/analytics, cloud and now IoT.
  • The Internet of Everything (IoE) includes: people, processes, things and data.
  • IoE is characterized by: cheap and reliable sensors/devices, ubiquitous wireless connectivity (which standard: 2G/3G/4G, WiFi, Zigbee, BlueTooth, Near Field Communications, other?)
  • Industries to be impacted by IoE include: aviation, rail, oil & gas, heavy machinery, power generation, health care, and smart cities.
  • The IoE future will bring: self refilling bottles, crop harvest alerts, smart carts, and driver-less cars.
  • IoE can be equated to the impact that the Industrial Revolution had on the world (post TiECon comment – a very bold statement in this author’s opinion).

Cisco is working with partner companies on several real world IoE examples, which include:

  1. Mining precious metals: WiFi network combined with sensors on both workers and equipment; video surveillance of miners and engineers working underground.
  2. Asset monitoring: Tire company increases its efficiency in real-time.
  3. IoE ready retailer: Dynamic optimization of store staffing based on check-out line monitoring throughout the store. Big Data/ Analytics at the retail store combines the power of mobile, social, data and cloud.

IoE poses new challenges and opportunities for industries such as manufacturing, transportation, and smart cities. What’s needed for IoE includes:

  • A converged, managed network that might include both a closed proprietary network (vertical industry dependent) and an open IP-based network.
  • Operations and resilience at scale, including self management of devices/processes & automated self-healing/failure recovery.
  • Security for all industries and applications.
  • Distributed intelligence, especially at the edge of the network (oil & gas).
  • Application enablement (Cisco IoX was provided as an example).
  • Big data – geographically distributed with real time actions that affect business processes.

Cisco is a charter member of the IoT World Forum which is “an annual event that brings together the best and brightest thinkers, practitioners, and innovators from business, government, and academia to accelerate the market adoption of the Internet of Things.”

Cisco is working with entrepreneurs globally through a variety of new funds and initiatives – Entrepreneurship Residence Program, Startup Accelerators and IoE Innovation Centers. The company has funded² six IoT/IoE related start-ups in 2014 and has allocated $150M for early stage start-up investments.

The IoT start-ups funded by Cisco include:

  • Ayla Networks: “Agile IoT platform end-to-end solutions that allow manufacturers to turn home controls, HVAC, appliances, lighting and other everyday products into intelligent devices.”
  • Pawaa: “SecureCARE software for data leak prevention.”
  • ParStream: “Analytics platform built for large-scale IoT solutions utilizing massively parallel processing technologies.”
  • DGLogik: “Innovative software solutions that enable, drive and visualize the IoT; connecting and visualizing all things IoT”

Authors Note: “..” descriptions of the above start-ups was taken from their websites.

Note 2. Gartner Group has estimated that IoT companies will generate $309 billion in revenue per year by 2020, half of which will come from startups. A lot of that money will find its way back to companies like Cisco (Qualcomm, and Intel are also investing in this space) as IoT drives up demand for hardware components and network equipment. It certainly makes business sense for established tech companies to help the IoT/IoE market lift off and gain critical mass.

Cisco has started an Incubation Program Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIR) which supports early-stage business-to-business companies. This new entity will collaborate with Cisco and its global partner ecosystem to build IoE, Big Data/ Analytics and Smart City solutions. Anand said that start-ups Cisco has invested in are “paired with a business unit/group,” assumingly to work together on a combined solution for their IoE deliverables.

End Note:  We hope you enjoyed this comprehensive and detailed three part series on TiECon 2015. Please leave a comment in the box below this article and email me any questions you might have on the material covered:  alan@viodi.com.


Video interview at TiE TV lounge with Anand Oswal:

Highlights of "How Google Works" at the Commonwealth Club of Silicon Valley

Google book
Google book


Google is well-known for its unique philosophy, culture and innovative spirit. From Android smart phones/tablets, wearable devices to self-driving cars, Google continues to push the boundaries of what is possible with technology.

On October 2, 2014, Eric Schmidt, Google Executive Chairman and Former CEO, joined co-author and Google Advisor Jonathan Rosenberg to discuss How Google Works“-  the title of their new book. The two Google executives engaged in conversation with Sal Khan, Founder of the Khan Academy. The dialog took place at a Commonwealth Club of Silicon Valley event in Santa Clara, CA, in front of a full room of approximately 400 attendees.

Discussion then Q &A:

For sure, Google is a very different kind of company. Schmidt said he recognized that his first day on the job. Rosenberg took a bit longer- within his first 90 days at the company.

Hired as the new CEO, Eric knew he couldn’t teach Google employees how to think, as they were already very bright. But he could teach them how to manage the work environment.

“It’s important to know who the owners are. Founder led companies (e.g. Google, Apple, Facebook, etc) are a great strength of Silicon Valley,” Eric opined.  Schmidt believed he was in a partnership with Google founders (Larry Page and Sergey Brin) to help them achieve their vision for the company.

“If you’re helping someone else to achieve their vision, it’s going to be a great partnership,” Eric said.  “Manage to what’s possible is a better way to lead,” he added.

What is a “smart creative” and how is that different from what we imagined the Silicon Valley tech worker in the past?

The “How Google Works book was started after Eric told Jonathan “there’s some kind of a problem here.”

“People coming out of universities are ready to work for creative organizations that could possibly change the world. Yet almost everyone who comes out of undergraduate and graduate school finds the organizations they’re joining to be sclerotic, unchanging, and poorly led. It’s a huge wack to our young professionals. Moreover, it’s a big disconnect between the training/inspiration of our young people and the institutions/organizations they’re joining.”

Smart creative,” a term coined by Jonathan, starts with a person who’s highly technical, but has some level of business savvy with an interest in the business. They’re also passionately curious and savvy with the tools of manipulating data and creating prototypes. “Unlike most technical people, they quickly produce and show you a prototype,” Jonathan said.

How to give the employee autonomy to make them feel they have a voice in decision making and guiding the organization?

Eric: “We don’t want random things occurring at random places.”  A review process was needed. “So we instituted a set of Tuesday Google product strategy meetings, which were brutal.” In the early years, there were a list of top 100 (or 300) things the company was working on. It was maintained by Marissa Mayer- now CEO of Yahoo.

More on Schmidt’s partnerships with Google founders Larry and Sergei and triumvirate of leadership:

“You should judge leadership teams by their accomplishments, not by their rhetoric… The most successful companies – in tech and (suspect) world-wide were more than one person. Even though the media often lionizes a single individual, there are always a few people who collectively have the same incentives.”

Eric mentioned Steve Wozniak complementing Steve Jobs at Apple, even though the latter got almost all of the credit for Apple’s success.

Schmidt continued, “We all knew we were fighting to win. We may have disagreed on a tactic, but it’s a wonderful thing…We knew roughly what the other cared about and we agreed not to surprise the other on something important.”  That partnership model is a good one and scales to three or four people.

Google X (their research organization) is a great business and will change people’s lives,” according to Eric. It’s creation (about five years ago) was a decision of Google’s two founders. The first Google X project was to work on autonomous cars. Contact lenses that help monitor blood sugar is another research area.

The importance of automating the behavior of a refrigerator was a joke by the founders, but the decision to launch Google balloons wasn’t.  It was to facilitate Internet access using existing handsets in third world countries. Many of those people don’t even have access to newspapers, libraries or any printed publications.

The secret to continuing growth at Google was said to be the company’s ability to recruit new leaders, starting with 22 or 23-year-old tech graduates who became product managers. Over a 5 or 10 year period they became executives.

Flexibility to move (to different jobs or assignments within the company) and espouse a model of innovation by proto-typing and experimentation was also key, Jonathan said.  If management stays out-of-the-way, you get a Darwinian process of successful projects, he added.

Medical device monitoring and transdermal patches using mobile phones were said to be a start-up area that’s being well-funded today. The cell phone is used to automatically call a doctor, if the transdermal patch comes off or there’s another type of warning sign.

What will surpise us about Google in the next 10 years?

Jonathan: It may be platforms that other companies will create using Android. For example, there are psychology apps being developed for teenagers to gauge depression tendencies. Other Android based health care applications will be very promising too.

Eric said he has “consistently underestimated the use of software to redo systems.” The ability to mix and match software modules together are going to produce products/services that are very useful. Uber is a great example.  It uses Google maps and Google is an investor in this taxi alternative.   Getting education right for kids will produce a quantum change in learning we’ve never seen before, Schmidt added.

Asked by an audience member who his personal heroes are — in the tech industry and outside it — Schmidt quickly replied: “For me, it’s easy. Steve Jobs…Considering the impact he had on society, we could all aspire to be a small percentage of Steve,” he said of Apple’s late co-founder.  “Exceptional people are worth hanging out with, because there’s a good chance they’ll change the world,” he added. Steve Jobs certainly did that by starting the PC revolution and re-inventing the music and cell phone business, not to mention creating the media tablet.

While Jonathan said he greatly respected Steve Jobs, he selected a personal hero – Milo Medin – who hired him to work @Home- the original ISP to the cable companies – where he worked before joining Google in 2002. Rosenberg’s boss there drew a vision of what broadband access could look like someday.  “Jonathan, with enough thrust, anything could fly,” Medin said. Today, there are 70M people who have cable based broadband Internet access. Comcast is the largest ISP in the U.S.

Are we in a tech bubble or should we be in one?  What advice do you have for start-ups to survive the bust?

Jonathan:  “Look at the Mary Meeker (Kleiner – Perkins) slides and compare the valuations we have now vs what we had then (1998-2000 tech bubble).” People are buying everything online today and soon they’ll be doing that on their mobile phones. When much of e-commerce moves to mobile phones, the valuations (of the e-commerce/web software companies) will be even more justified.

Eric doesn’t believe there’s a tech bubble even though valuations are high:

“There’s always an argument that ‘it’s different this time.’ If you want to make that argument it goes something like this:…First, the NASDAQ isn’t as high as it was in 2000.

Valuations have been going up, because if you have an Internet-based product (or service) you can achieve global distribution (scale) very quickly…The market is rewarding those companies that get scale with higher valuations.”  [Presumably, the higher valuations apply to both publicly traded and private/start-up companies]

What was the challenge of building Google and its culture? Could it have been done in another country (i.e. other than the U.S.)?

Eric:  “The culture of the company is set at the top (presumably by the founders and chief executives).”  Sometimes it misses the mark, like Enron.

Jonathan:  “Enron had a famous slogan:  ‘to build unrivaled partnerships, perseverance, and hard work, etc…to generate shareholder value for their investors.'”

Eric: “That was not real (and neither was Enron). Companies have real cultures and the employees will tell you what it really is….”  If you are a new hire, ask existing employees what the corporate culture is and then try to make it better.  “Today, you have an opportunity to change the corporate culture, person by person, by changing your hiring practices and tell people who your company expects something different.”  Evidently, that was one way Google maintained its culture of tech innovation.

For more details and to hear Schmidt and Rosenberg address more questions from the audience, please play the audio at:


Closing Comment:

Personally, I learned a great deal from this lively conversation.  Complements to the Commonwealth Club for hosting it and to the moderator and panelists.

Peter Thiel – the Ultimate Enigma- at Commonwealth Club Event

Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, VC/hedge fund manager and author of Zero to One, was interviewed by NY Times’ Quentin Hardy on Sept 30, 2014 at the Commonwealth Club of Silicon Valley event in Santa Clara, CA.   While I agreed with several things Mr. Thiel said, he seems to be a man of many contradictions.  Hardy said that Thiel “very richly embraces intellectual curiosity and combat.”   But who is he fighting- himself?

For example, Thiel is a steadfast libertarian.  But he relishes bygone eras of government-funded moon shots and super-highways.  He’s a free market capitalist, but loves monopolies and disdains competition, while championing risk taking and bold thinking entrepreneurs.

Thiel says that the best businesses are monopolies, because they have profit power. With competition, businesses are forced to compete with many rivals and therefore end up with smaller profits.  Yet he is strongly in favor of “big idea” entrepreneurs, risk taking, and innovation.  He believes in taking risks to not only build wealth, but to build courage, rekindle yourself, and have larger visions of what society might become.

OK, how can such entrepreneurs flourish if there’s no competition?  Answer:  They must create totally new markets and take a commanding share.

Successful companies are built upon rare insights, which he dubs “secrets,” that most outsiders don’t appreciate.   Such secrets lead to the creation of totally new markets, where the start-up can grab a significant market share.   The successful entrepreneur should attempt to do something that no one else has ever done before- like building a “flying car.”  Copying a Facebook, Twitter or Google – or even doing an add on- is a huge mistake, according to Thiel.  He highlighted his investment in SpaceX as an example of a totally new market- space transportation in the form of launch vehicles and spacecraft.  While it was very unpopular among his VC fund investors and potential investors, it’s turned out very well, he said.

Hardy:  “How would you answer this question: What do I believe that everyone else thinks is true?”

Thiel:  “People need the courage component.   A good answer is the one the person asking the question won’t agree with.  People have some answers they don’t want to share.”

Here’s an eye opener from Thiel:  “Competition and capitalism are antonyms (opposites) not synonyms.”   The impression left was that competition is bad, but capitalism is good.  Thiel sees the intense competitiveness often associated with entrepreneurship as more of a burden than an asset.   He related his own experiences:

“When I look back on my younger self, I was extremely competitive….(graduating early from Stanford with a Law Degree; going to work for a prestigious Wall Street law firm, etc)…..when you’re very competitive, you get good at the thing you’re competing with people on, but it comes at the expense of many other things……..I think every day it’s something to reflect on and think about how do I become less competitive in order that I become more successful?”

Thiel on monopolies:

“Creative monopolists give customers more choices by adding entirely new categories of abundance to the world. Creative monopolies aren’t just good for the rest of society; they’re powerful engines for making it better,” he writes in his Zero to One book. It’s a lesson he believes companies as well as individuals should follow if they truly want to push society forward.

Google is a monopoly, according to Thiel (and most people).  The company hasn’t competed in the search business since it significantly surpassed Microsoft, Yahoo and Alta Vista in the late early 2000s.   It was like Google had “sub-machine guns while its search rivals had bows and arrows,” he said.

Thiel is not impressed with our technology age and thinks we’re deeply lacking in vision.  His asserts that outside of computing and information technology (IT), we’ve not had a lot of innovation in “the world of atoms” over the last 40 years.  Examples cited of areas with little innovation were: energy, transportation, and bio-medical.  Many other areas have been relatively stagnant over the last 40 years, he added.

Author’s Note:  Thiel neglects or doesn’t realize that the great progress he cites for computing, storage and the mobile Internet are all driven by making components and modules.  IT progress has been due to the advances in material science, physics, chemistry and semiconductor fabrication, rather than new IT architectures or systems design.  So there really has been tremendous progress in “atoms” (making things), that has given rise to advances in IT!

Thiel says there’s hope that the world of information technology will be integrated into the world of atoms.  We could be doing a lot more in bio-tech and life sciences, he said.  For example, it would be desirable for people to live longer and healthier lives.  “There’s hope that we can make somewhat more progress on fighting cancer and dementia,” he added.

Thiel says the negativity we have about the future now is greater than we had 40 – 50 years ago.   Star Trek and the Jetsons were optimistic shows.  They clearly belong to a bygone era.

Hardy asked: You have challenged the education system.  Is it preparing people for the future?”

Thiel:  “It’s no longer controversial to say we’re in an education bubble.”

Comments on a Tech Crunch article where Thiel was quoted on education:

“There’s too much student debt, people aren’t really learning real world things.  The education bubble kept going, because we (universities and students) had no idea what else to do.  People had deep misgivings.  Costs (tuition) have gone up 400% since 1980.  There’s a trillion dollars of student debt in the U.S.  (Repeat) It keeps going because people don’t know what else to do.”

As far as getting VC funding, Thiel said, “Sales pitches don’t really matter that much at all.  Team questions and the history of the team are much more important.  Convictions are also very important. Without them, you’ll get lost.”

On Steve Jobs and leadership:

“Steve Jobs inspired people and that’s why Apple succeeded,” Thiel opined.  “At what point do companies mature?  You want to have a visionary, charismatic founder as long as you’re building new things.” he added.  Apple’s focus on brand (PC) in 1985 was wrong.  There was lots of innovation possible in 1997, when Apple’s Board of Directors brought back Steve Jobs to run Apple. (Jobs certainly proved that by re-inventing the PC, music, cell phone businesses and creating the tablet computer market.)

Biology is an area that Thiel is interested in for future investments.  However, he says that “science driven companies tend to be catastrophic on the business side.  They are delusional by thinking science will sell itself and the world will beat a path to your doorstep.  For hard-core science companies, it’s far more critical to have a strong business person on the staff.”

Hardy:  “Viral growth is tied to product excellence, which deeply reflects the company’s vision of how the world ought to be. That resonates with other people.  Google is an example of that (for Internet search).  They didn’t advertise for years, except in ways that were very attractive to hard-core engineers. It reinforced the engineering driven aspect of the company.”

Thiel:  “The (sales) distribution question is incredibly hard.  If you build it will they come?  How do you get people excited about your product?  Sales work best when advertisements are hidden. Mass posters on billboards for engineering positions at your company, might be far more effective than Super Bowl ads.  You want to maintain (your company’s) focus on substance.”

On the relevance of a mentor for an entrepreneur:  “I’m a bit skeptical of mentors.  Not sure how ‘well-defined’ mentors are for successful entrepreneurs.  Great friendships, certain people you learn various things are important.  If you are trying to copy a mentor, you’re not learning from him or her.  We’re too often looking for a scientific formula to build a successful company.  There really isn’t one.”

Hardy:  “What areas or fields are ripe for disruption?”

Thiel:  “I’m always skeptical of the theme of (product or service) categories that are poorly defined:  education software, health care IT, cloud computing, big data – which I think are borderline fraudulent themes; or fast computing, mobile Internet.  Those are (also) poorly defined.  When you end up doing them, you’re doing things that other people are also doing.”  In other words, it’s pretty hard to explain what your value add is for poorly defined markets.  That makes it very difficult to differentiate your company from the many others in that same category.

For a broken company:  “Fix what you do really well. The Internet has disrupted the business model for print newspapers.  The NY Times had a great monopoly for many years.  How do you get back to a monopoly.  The NY Times is doing it mostly correctly by leveraging the brand with its aim to become the establishment newspaper for the United States.”

Hardy:  “Are you still encouraging kids (think he meant college students) to drop out of school (and become entrepreneurs)?”

Thiel:  “I’m encouraging people to think.  There’s nothing wrong with education, but it’s always worth asking “why are you doing this.”  (One should) never use education as a substitute for thinking about what you’re going to do with your future….If we think of our lives as endlessly option generating as a way of avoiding thinking in concrete terms, it’s not the best way to do it.”

Hardy:  “How to prepare for the world involves luck.  How much of your own outcome to you ascribe to luck?”

Thiel: “The politically correct answer:  There’s a huge amount of luck involved.  But it’s very hard to know.  You can’t run the experiment twice.  It’s very hard to figure out how much luck is involved. My own contrarian bias is to push back a bit on how much of one’s success is due to luck. When we attribute something to luck, are we actually making a statement of the deep nature of reality or are we too lazy to think about things right now?  It’s as if luck is an atheistic word for God.  I’m more interested in what we can do about the future and if that is dominated by luck.  I always think its best to push back again on luck.  We can’t do anything about the past; what can we do about the future is important question. How much of that is within our control vs random chance?”

Hardy:  “As globalization continues, will there be more opportunity in developing countries like China, or less opportunity?

Thiel:  “There will be more opportunity in China (he shares the conventional view this time). There might not be much more opportunity for the technology sector in China (very unconventional view, considering the advances Chinese companies have made in network equipment, PCs, and smart phones).  globalization is copying things that work – going from 1 to n- extensive horizontal growth.  China still has done a phenomenal job of that, but there’s a lot of room left for that.”

“In the developed world, technology is critical.  We need to go from zero to one to do new things. Vertical and intensive progress is (urgently) needed.”

“Technology and globalization are different things…(historical evidence was then presented over the last 200 years).  Over the last 40 years we’ve had massive globalization, but (outside of computers) more limited progress in technology….. ”

“There’s now an anti-technology dichotomy.  When we say we’re living in the developed world, we’re implicitly saying we’re living in that part of the world that’s finished, done, where nothing new is going to happen, stagnant, etc.   That’s wrong. We should not accept that label.  Instead, we should ask how we can take steps to further develop the developing world.”

Theil ended the provocative conversation by wishing the audience “more than good luck.”


Abolishing the Fear of Failure- Do What You're Afraid to Do!


On June 26th, Stanford Education & Psychology Professor John D. Krumboltz told a sold out Commonwealth Club-Silicon Valley audience to “stop being afraid of failure. Learn to accept and even enjoy it,” he said in his opening remarks. Prof Krumboltz is the co-author of the book, Fail Fast, Fail Often- How Losing Can Help You Win.  It was Oprah Winfrey’s favorite book for 2014.

The highlights of his short talk, along with answers to a few questions from the moderator (Alison van Diggelen) are summarized in this article. The points noted are relevant to start-up companies, entrepreneurs, job seekers, and people of all ages in managing their personal lives.

Key Messages from Prof. Krumboltz:

  • Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s how you feel about failure that matters.
  • Do what you are afraid of. Don’t let someone talk you out of doing that which you are afraid of.
  • Make failure a low cost proposition.
  • Learn from failures as well as successes.
  • If you learn something from trying, you did not fail.
  • What if you are rejected or criticized for failing? “People that reject or criticize you are NOT those you’d want to be with anyway.” Common Goals we should strive for:
    • Help others so that they don’t fail. [A film clip of Portland Trailblazers coach Mo Cheeks helping a 12 year old girl who had temporarily forgotten the words to the National Anthem was cited as an example of this.]
    • Learn to create more meaningful, satisfying lives. [Happy and successful people spend less time planning and more time acting. They get out into the world, try new things, and make mistakes, and in doing so, they benefit from unexpected experiences and opportunities.]
    • Listen to others concerns, then help them take the appropriate action(s). Recognize that people often need your help and with that, they can be successful.
    • Get people to take actions likely to generate unplanned opportunities.
    • Do what you fear and you will overcome that fear. Don’t just talk or read about it. Do it! “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” he said.
    • Overcome unrealistic fears. [Prof. didn’t say how to do this]

Fears of Taking Risks when looking for a job:

  • Applicant is perceived to be over qualified.
  • If I fail (to get the job), others might refuse to talk to me.
  • Even if fear comes true (and you don’t get the job), you are no worse off.


Try to get over procrastination or avoidance of doing what you fear. Instead, go out and try it. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Focus on opportunities, not problems.

Selected Q & A:

1.  When is it OK to “call it quits” after numerous failures?

Answer: It’s OK to quit, but then try something else. Learn from your failure(s).

2.  When is it too soon to try again after a huge failure? [The question actually asked: “When is it too soon to get back on the horse after you’ve fallen off it several times?”].

The Professor didn’t answer this question. Instead, he recounted a horseback riding incident from his youth. He also reminisced about asking a 15 year old girl for a kiss when he was 14. That was a big risk for him at the time. She said that if they were to kiss, she was afraid they’d never stop. Even though, they didn’t kiss, the young John felt joyful and cherished that moment for the rest of his life.

Excerpt from the book Fail Fast- Fail Often:

Failing quickly in order to learn fast—or what Silicon Valley entrepreneurs commonly call failing forward—is at the heart of many innovative businesses. The idea is to push ahead with a product as soon as possible to gather feedback and learn about opportunities and constraints so that you can take the next step.

This mind-set is at the heart of the brilliant work of Pixar Animation Studios. When Ed Catmull, the cofounder and president of Pixar, describes Pixar’s creative work, he says it involves a process of going from “suck” to “non-suck.” The moviemaking process begins with rough story boards where a few good ideas are buried amid tons of half-baked concepts and outright stinkers. The animation team then works its way through thousands of corrections and revisions before they arrive at a final cut. By giving themselves permission to fail again and again, animators weed out the bad ideas as quickly as possible and get to the place where real work can occur.

As Andrew Stanton, the director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E , describes, “My strategy has always been: Be wrong as fast as we can. Which basically means, we’re gonna screw up, let’s just admit that. Let’s not be afraid of that. But let’s do it as fast as we can so we can get to the answer. You can’t get to adulthood before you go through puberty. I won’t get it right the first time, but I will get it wrong really soon, really quickly.”

Giving yourself permission to make a mess of things is particularly important if you do any sort of creative work. (We should note that all people are creative—which is to say that they live in the real world, form ideas, come up with solutions to problems, have dreams, and forge their own path; your own life is your ultimate creation.)

The DTV Transition – At What Cost?

[Author’s Note:  Thank you very much to David Irwin, Director of the Communications Law Institute at The Catholic University of America, for his review and suggestions for this article]

Click here to learn the detail of the DTV Transition from the official government web siteMuch has been made about the recent 700 MHz spectrum auction and the potentially billions of dollars raised for the U.S. Treasury, but this is just one part of a complex equation related to spectrum management and economics that may be implicitly costing U.S. citizens much more than they are receiving.

For example, there is the opportunity cost of the new, digital broadcast spectrum, given away to existing broadcasters by the government that is worth untold billions of dollars. Unfortunately, this article is probably about 10 years too late to affect a change, but maybe it will serve as a warning for future generations.

Prior to auctions, back in the early days of the FCC, spectrum was regarded almost like land during the homestead days of the eighteen hundreds.  That is, entities were given spectrum in exchange for building out the infrastructure, providing certain public goods and accepting regulations and restrictions.  Where more than one entity sought spectrum in a given locale, each spectrum application being mutually exclusive to the other, evidentiary-type hearings were held to determine which applicant would best serve the “public interest;” but, at the end of the hearing process a spectrum license was simply awarded by the government to the winner.

Much like homesteading, this policy lessened the risk for entrepreneurs and was a catalyst that expedited the build-out of the radio, television and original cellular infrastructures. These build-outs evidenced the inherent value of the spectrum and, as result, Congress turned to spectrum auctions as the prevalent way to ensure that the public received a return on its spectrum assets; that is, except for the give-away of digital television broadcast spectrum.

Giving away spectrum may have made sense in the 1990s when Congress and the FCC began laying the foundation for what what has become known as the 2009 digital television transition. In February 2009, all legacy television stations (with the exception of low-power stations) will turn off their analog transmitters and thereafter only broadcast digital signals; this may include high-definition TV.

The intent of Congress, heavily lobbied by the broadcast industry, was to free up the analog spectrum for other uses, as well as ensure that the U.S. remained competitive with other nations by having a digital broadcast infrastructure that supported HDTV. Like in the 1940s, the Federal Government essentially gave away spectrum to broadcasters in return for a digital build-out and exchange of bandwidth that had been used for analog signals. There have been significant and unanticipated changes since the DTV legislation was passed in the 90s, including:

  • The continued growth of cable, telco video distribution via fiber optics and copper DSL and DBS operators, such that the number of households receiving off-air broadcasts is estimated by Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC-Universal at 10%.  He suggested at NATPE 2008 that the number of households receiving off-air only will drop to approximately 5% after the transition.
  • The transition of the Internet into a video distribution medium is a true unknown — a “sleeper” in this equation.  Broadcasters and television networks are “re-inventing” themselves, embracing the internet, proving by their own actions and plans that broadband is a viable distribution outlet for video.
  • The success of unlicensed WiFi spectrum also indicates that spectrum does not have to be licensed in order to have value.  On the horizon is WiMax, which may be thought of as WiFi on steriods; WiMax is a potential threat to cable, satellite and telcos.  In all events, it appears that the concept of device-regulated spectrum (the devices are network-aware and transmit data accordingly, minimizing interference), instead of the traditional agency-licensed and regulated spectrum.
  • Improvements in video compression, which frees up bandwidth for uses that were probably never anticipated by Congress.
  • The success of auctions in allocating spectrum.

The transition to digital television broadcast required a huge investment by the broadcast industry and probably never would have been justified by better picture quality alone (although, the broadcast industry did make feature upgrades to include color and stereo in earlier days, but these didn’t involve such an extensive infrastructure upgrade).

That is, there is probably no new revenue for the broadcaster who only replaces a standard definition digital signal, albeit better than analog, with HDTV programming.   It is thus understandable why broadcasters are looking for ways to monetize their investments in digital technology including the use of the bandwidth not utilized for their primary digital and/or HDTV signal by:

  • Creating mini-cable systems by developing new content to go along with their primary channel
  • Potentially creating “pay versions” of popular programming (several years ago, one industry pundit suggested networks could create two versions of the same show; a tamer version for general broadcast and a wilder version that people would be willing to pay for as a premium service).
  • Leasing out bandwidth to third-parties that would essentially act as aggregators
  • Offering a mobile video solution that would extend their service offerings onto personal video devices.

Policy makers and broadcasters believe that these new applications of the broadcast bandwidth will have value to some consumers.  But, there are, as noted above, real costs, as well as opportunity costs that need to be considered.  Some of the real costs to the DTV transition include:

  • The $1.8 B in coupons provided by the Federal Government to consumers to pay for digital set-top coversion boxes that will let analog televisions play digital broadcast signals.
  • The costs that my telco friends and others had to spend as a result of an FCC mandate to publicize the digital TV transition.
  • The costs associated with cable systems and telcos having to support standard definition, long after the broadcasters make the switch to digital.
  • The big cost is probably the opportunity cost, as the digital spectrum given away would have value that could be realized explicitly through an auction process or as an unlicensed public good.  Based on the recent $19.6 B expected from the auction of the 700 MHz spectrum, the remaining 200+ MHz of spectrum could be well worth many multiples of the 700 MHz spectrum bids.

As much as I would like to be able to present a silver bullet that would change the situation, I doubt there is anything that could be done politically or practically to improve the value of the DTV transition for the U.S. taxpayer (it is our spectrum).  After making such a huge investment and with rules in place for so long, it simply isn’t fair to the broadcast industry to change the rules of the game at this late date.  Economists will suggest that there is nothing like political uncertainty to impede business investment and it would be bad precedent to make significant changes to DTV.  The time to make changes was 10 years ago.

It will be interesting to see how economic historians view the digital TV transition. Hopefully, they will learn from it and be able to influence politicians and regulators the next time we have the opportunity to make such a historic shift in our communications’ infrastructure.

Mining Data & More in St. Louis

I have found vendor user group meetings can be as every bit as valuable as for-pay conferences. The Entone User’s Group meeting held in the convenient, historic and revitalized downtown St. Louis last week, was extremely valuable for the participants, who included Entone customers, prospects and partners. Entone has been a long-time supporter and sponsor of the Viodi View and ViodiTV and it was an honor to moderate a couple of the panels at this event and I enjoyed the interactive nature of the panels, as well as the openess of the discussions. 

Steve McKay, CEO of Entone, kicked off the conference by suggesting that Triple Play has become a zero sum game and that operators will need to continue to refine their offering to compete. McKay emphasized the importance of a whole-home media offering for operators as they seek to differentiate themselves from CATV and DBS.   Features of this offering include DVR, ability to view over the top videos, inclusion of personal media, in-home distribution and place-shifting tied together with an integrated and easy to use interface that only requires one simple-to-use remote. What McKay is calling for is not trivial and he called on the operators to push the vendor community for these sorts of whole home media devices. 

Colin Dixon of The Diffusion Group gave backed up McKay’s comments with some interesting data, particularly on home networks (going from 150 million in 2010 to 1 billion in 2030). Dixon stated that, "The PC is not and will not be the center of the home entertainment universe. The PC is a disabler." He suggested a much more TV-centric view of where over the top video is going, when he suggeested something like 12% of broadband viewers are watching 5 or more hours of video on the Internet per day and 84% of people who watch video on broadband want it on TV. 

Along these lines, he emphasized, "That the Internet is transitioning from a technology to a medium." He called what is happening the greatest realignment of television services in 60 years. He suggested that, "Bringing the web to TV is a losing proposition, while bringing the TV experience through the web is a winning proposition." To bolster this argument, he cited TDG’s primary research that suggests more than 3/4 of people prefer to watch DVDs in a social setting some or all of the time. His point was that new media must leverage existing behavior to be successful. He stressed the importance of the guide in helping people to discover content, as opposed to searching which is difficult with a television interface. He also called on telcos to look at new kinds of programming, such as gaming.  

Dixon provided an excellent overview of the entire over-the-top value chain, from content ingest to content delivery. It was a great set-up to my conversation about independent telcos and what they are doing in terms of local content. Several of the telcos in the audience mentioned that they are utilizing their VOD servers to store and stream local content. And local content is a differentiator, but it may not always be enough to keep a customer from churning. 

Doug Abolt described Consolidated Communications‘ process of how they mine their data to determine which customers are likely to churn. This has allowed them to target their marketing dollars and offers, such that they are able to get a better return on those investments. At the same time, there have been unexpected benefits, like identifying weak points in their networks. He described the virtual focus groups that are part of this process as being much more efficient, less costly and timelier than the traditional focus group. Abolt’s presentation was a good exclamation point on a couple of very productive days of learning.     

Safety First – A Worthwhile Seminar

NTCA’s Education Group produces seminars that cover areas of critical importance to independent telcos’ on-going business operations.  The topics may sometimes sound dry, but the speakers that NTCA employs always manage to make the subject matter lively and entertaining. Definitely check out their latest offering, which is the NTCA OSHA 10-Hour General Industry Compliance Seminar that will be held in Dallas on June 19th and 20th.

The description and the registration link can be found at:


Smart Home Tour – Smart Idea


The problem with conferences is the sterile hotel environment that they typically occupy. Speakers talk about the networked-home at these confabs, but the discussions are somewhat theoretical as slide-ware, videos and exhibits are used to convey information. Rarely are these type of meetings held in the real world (Viodi’s Local Content Workshops being an exception, of course, as we go to where the telcos are that are producing local content). 

Parks Associates, in conjunction with HP, has put a unique spin on their upcoming CONNECTIONS Conference by providing tours of HP’s Smart Home. The CONNECTIONS conference is an excellent forum for seeing the latest in technology for home networking and associated services. The HP Smart Home looks to be an interesting venue to show off things like home automation, security, interactive video and other cool services. 

Independent Telcos, let me know if you are going to this conference and maybe we can have some sort of get together.     

Only in California – The Original Social Network

The basis for one of the nation’s most innovative independent telcos was the social needs of a couple of teenage girls. At the WTA 2008 Spring Meeting, Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee explained how over 90 years ago Roseville Telephone (Now SureWest Communications) got its start when a couple of farmers connected their farms with telephones, such that their daughters could talk to each other without having to make the trek between their houses   

Whether true or not, this amusing anecdote reinforces the idea that California has been at the forefront of change for a long time. With more than 10% of the U.S. population, changes in California directly or indirectly affect the rest of the nation. Walter spoke of how California is continuing to evolve from the resource-driven economy prevalent at the time of Roseville Telephone’s birth. 

Walters spoke of three broad trends that are affecting change in California: the evolving economy, population growth and a shift in culture. California’s economy has shifted from resource-based to industrial to, what Walters termed, post-industrial. This post-industrial economy, really the information economy, is about trade and services. Walters considered the telco audience to be a big part of this economy. 

Population growth continues to be a driving factor in California’s development. A high rate of immigration coupled with a relatively high birth rate is the basis for projections that will take California’s population from today’s 38 million to 50 million by the year 2025. 

It is not surprising that the California culture is evolving, since half of its births are to immigrant mothers. As Walter pointed out, “We were Kansas.”   Walters suggested that California has the most complex society in the history of human kind. This creates unique political situations. 

He termed the State Capital as not, “a place of people, but a place of interests.” As a result, there is gridlock on fundamental issues about things, such as land use (vertical vs. horizontal use), water (conservation vs. reservoirs) and education. To some extent, the State budget is in gridlock because of these other issues. 

He painted a somewhat pessimistic picture of the political outlook for California, as he lamented that if Schwarzenegger cannot solve these gridlock issues, who can. Maybe it will be 1974 all over again as Walters called former Governor and current Attorney General, Jerry Brown the frontrunner in the 2010 Governor’s race (he will be 72 then, twice his age when first elected).

Gridlock in the legislature will force more legislation at the ballot box via the infamous California ballot measures. Inaction at the State level will force local governments to take responsibility for more and more issues. The bottom line is that doing business will continue to be daunting in California. Thank goodness, we will still have the weather and location.