8.18.2014

It's Ok... You CAN Record the Police With Your Camera in a Public Space (well... for the most part...)

The events at Ferguson and the murder of Eric Garner reveal the video camera as one of the most effective ways to combat abuse of power by the police.  More people need to have their cameras at the ready and be prepared to record without fear of intimidation by the police.  But many people aren't always aware of their rights to record the police.  Spocko at Hullabaloo, hoping to spur more boldness in progressive actions, does his civic duty and points out where you can find out what your rights are re: the use of your camera to record police activity:
I've developed ideas groups love, but they get nervous during the implementation. So sometimes people have to pick up the ball themselves, and when they do I want them to know the rules, tips and tricks. I want to teach them how to anticipate responses and next steps.  Luckily on the video rules side I've got guidelines for you. 
  • My friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation put together an updated guide for people in the US who want to use their phones to record police and other actions at a protest.
  • The ACLU has a guide,  Know Your Rights: Photographers. I'll direct you to the "special considerations when videotaping" section. Different states have different laws about consent when it comes to the audio portion of video.
Finally, my friends at Boing Boing have a podcast on what gadgets to use to gather your photos, video and audio. This is all good in helping people going to current protests, but I also want people to look at previous protests to see both what we can learn and how we can use them for change at a deeper level. Plus prepare for future actions. Let's look at history and then predict the future. 
Sometimes we do things for profit but we should always do things for progress.

8.14.2014

Playing Hard Ball When it Comes to Money in the NCAA

In light of a recent ruling, NCAA athletes might one day be able to quote Shaq and say: “I’m like tax. You’re going to pay one way or the other.” Until that day, the NCAA plans to fight a ruling that has ordered them to pay athletes money.  According to TPM:

A Tale of Two Cities... I mean, Tips

Inc. recently published an article on a recent Brookings Institutions report that throws some cold water on starting a business:
You'd think that an increasing share of businesses sticking around for more years would be a good thing. But longer business survival rates are coming at the expense of startups, whose share is shrinking in proportion to the growing number of more entrenched firms. 
That's the news from a July Brookings Institution report, entitled The Other Aging of America, about the aging of American businesses, published by Ian Hathaway, founder of economics research company Ennsyte Economics, and Robert Litan, a Brookings scholar. They found, by examining U.S. Census Bureau data, that the percentage of companies surviving past 16 years rose to more than a third in 2011 from about 25 percent in 1992, a 50 percent increase in the two decades surveyed. 
By contrast, the number of startups created over the last 30 years has decreased dramatically, from about 15 percent in 1978 to about 8 percent in 2011. (On the plus side, business failure rates have bounced around a lot, and although they are actually on the rise again, they are a bit lower than they were 30 years ago.) 
In other words, it's harder and harder to be a so-called disruptor, particularly in industries where there are a lot of large, established players. 
Sounds like maybe trying to start a business right now is ill-advised, huh? Nope, not so fast. The very same Inc. also suggests that one of the 10 reasons why now is the best time to start your business is precisely because of that Brookings Institution report:
3. Entrepreneurship has been on the decline.
As researchers at the Brookings Institution have shown, entrepreneurship has been on a decline in this country for decades. The rate at which new businesses start has fallen below the rate at which they close. The reason isn't exactly clear, but it doesn't have to be. Fewer startups mean less competition for money, people, attention, and customers.
So have it... do as you will, entrepreneurs.  Based on that Brookings report, you are either going to fail or going to succeed.



8.05.2014

Branders and Trademarks, If You Assume...

When it comes to branding and trademarks, if you assume, you can make an "ass" out of "u" and "me," goes the saying.  And in many ways it's true as Mark Prus points out in Duets BlogHe offers some tips on how to make sure your logo, brand or company doesn't end up offending other cultures, inadvertently. 

And speaking of "asses..."
Sometimes the potential for offending your target customer is obvious. For example, Assitalia is one of the biggest insurance companies in Italy. I am sure the company developed its name without thinking about international considerations and in Italy the name is fine. But if they ever wanted to expand to an English speaking country…well, let’s just say there might be a problem.
This is a real company, folks. Not a joke.
But sometimes the potential for offending your customer is less obvious. Most of the large companies I work with agree to conduct foreign language checks to ensure that the names have no problematic connotations in the major foreign languages.
However, this is not only recommended for companies doing overseas business.
Even if you have no plans to sell your product internationally, you need to beware of potential unintended consequences of your actions. 
For example, people of Hispanic or Latino origin in the US represent over 17% of the population. What if you unintentionally chose a name that had a bad (but not obvious) connotation in the Spanish language? Would you like to offend over 17% of your potential market? 
It is relatively easy to investigate potential unintended language consequences. There are linguistic companies or freelancers who will do this work for a reasonable fee. You can also try to do it yourself if you know different native language speakers. Just ask them questions like: 
• How is this word pronounced by a native speaker of your language?
• Is this word similar in sound or appearance to other words in your language? If so, what do those words mean? 
 • Are there any inappropriate associations with this word? Is this word similar to any slang terms of the language? 
Finally, if you want to check to see if a common word is being used as slang for something else in the English language you can always check the Urban Dictionary.  
It's commonly advised that the "buyer beware," but in today's global economy, let's add "brander beware." 
 

8.04.2014

A Little Government Cheese (about $300B worth) Goes A Long Way

Although some might be surprised, the economy does depend on the government as much as it does on other economic sectors.  To the tune of over $300 billion dollars. That and a few other things is what the Upshot crew at the NY Times uncovered in an interesting data analysis.
The economy keeps underperforming. Yes, new G.D.P. data last week werebetter than expected. But the United States is still producing around $800 billion a year less in goods and services than it would if the economy were at full health, and as a result millions of people aren’t working who would be if conditions were better. 
But why? Where is this gap coming from? To get at an answer, we needed a more basic question: What would the economy look like right now if it were fully healthy, and how is the actual reality of the economy right now different from that? 
We started by examining how large a proportion of G.D.P. that various sectors have accounted for historically — over the two decades ending in 2013, to be precise. (Initially, we looked at the full history of G.D.P. data, going back to 1947, but the economy was sufficiently different in the immediate postwar period compared with today that it seemed more sensible to limit it to more recent history.) 
Then we multiplied those percentages by the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of what the United States’ potential output was in the second quarter of this year. That gives us a sense of what output “should” be in each sector if we had a healthy economy and those historical proportions held.



Sectors Holding Back the Economy*

A handful of sectors, including housing, government spending and spending on durable goods, are at fault for the continuing underperformance of the American economy.

Gap between actual output and estimate of output in fully healthy economy (in billions)
Services consumption
Business inventories
Intellectual property investment
Net exports
Business structures
Nondurable goods consumption
Federal government
Business equipment investment
Durable goods consumption
State and local government
Residential investment
62.6
53.1
28.9
21.3
-15.3
-74.4
-118.5
-119.9
-178.7
-189.2
-239.4




The following, however, are the five pieces that are the major culprits in the nation’s economic malaise, each vastly undershooting what they would look like in our model of a healthy economy: residential investment; consumption of durable goods; state and local government spending; business investment in equipment; and federal government spending. 
Together their deficit adds up to $845 billion — in other words, if those sectors returned to their typical share of economic potential, the economy wouldn’t just be doing well, it would be in an outright boom.
If government spending resumed normal levels, 1/3rd of that $845 billion would be reduced.  And that spending would ripple out and lead to more jobs, consumer spending and infrastructure investment which would all improve the overall economy.    

*Model based upon Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of potential G.D.P. in the second quarter of 2014 and the average proportion of G.D.P. of each sector from 1993 to 2013. Numbers are annualized.

Startups, Think Like a Business Owner pt.2

What lasts longer and makes more money; a business or a startup?  A business.  Even the successful startups eventually become a business so its a no-brainer that entrepreneurs with visions of startups dancing in their head should treat their venture as a business from the get-go. An earlier Lensatic post made that point clear and now here is another reason courtesy of John Mullins at HBR: thinking less like a start-up means you are thinking like a business and not like an entity beholden to VC funding, terms and advice.
In fact, venture capital financing may even be detrimental to your startup’s health. As venture capital investor Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures puts it, “The fact is that the amount of money startups raise in their seed and Series A rounds is inversely correlated with success. Yes, I mean that. Less money raised leads to more success. That is the data I stare at all the time.”
Businesses that succeed do so by focusing on creating or finding customers and then satisfying those customers.
Pandering to VCs is a distraction. Trying to get a fledgling venture off the ground is a full time job, and then some. But so is raising capital, which demands a lot of time and energy on its own. It will distract the entrepreneur from doing the more important work of getting the venture onto a productive path. As Connect Ventures founder Bill Earner argues, “Finding the right customers and getting them to fund your business [constitute] a great step-by-step guide to raising venture capital — build the business first and the investments will follow.”
Why spend your time trying to convince investors to invest, when you could spend the same time convincing prospective customers to buy — or perhaps learning why they won’t — before you burn somebody else’s money! Besides, as customer-funded entrepreneur and investor Erick Muellerrecalls, “It’s a lot more fun dealing with customer needs than pandering to investors.”
This, in the long run, actually makes the business more desirable to the investment and VC community while allowing you to stay in charge.
The stake you keep is small — and tends to get smaller. When you raise angel or venture capital early, as Jobs did to fund Apple, you start giving away a portion the company — often a substantial portion — in exchange for the capital you are given. And that portion grows over time, as additional rounds of capital are raised. Dell, on the other hand, used his customers’ pre-payments for their PCs to fund his startup and its early growth. Claus Moseholm and his partners, who managed to go the distance at GoViral without ever raising outside investment, retained their stakes in the business (bar one co-founder, who sold his stake to a growth capital investor) until they eventually sold. 
But the best news is this. If you raise money at a somewhat later stage of your entrepreneurial journey, you’ll find that many of the drawbacks have largely disappeared. Why? Because with customer traction in hand, you’ll be in the driver’s seat, and the queue of investors outside your door will have to compete for your deal.
A startup is an unproven business model and automatically a risky venture.  However, a new business overcomes this because it has to; otherwise, it fails.  Because of the inherent risks of a start-up, investors will do whatever they can to mitigate risks, hence the contracts entrepreneurs tend to hate.
Term sheets and shareholders’ agreements can burden you. Investors don’t like risk any better than you do. If you’re raising money before traction is in hand, so-called “market risk” is higher than if demand has already been proven. To protect their downside, investors will require what are often seen by entrepreneurs as onerous terms. And when the concise prose of the term sheet is fleshed out into the fine print of the shareholders’ agreement, the terms get even worse.  
Startups make their appeal to VC funders because they believe that to take that big leap into delivering for their customers and creating a successful business requires tons of money.  There is truth to that. But many entrepreneurs are seeking the money moreso because they just want to get the finish line faster. Thinking about your start-up like a business doesn't erase the need for funding (at some point) but it does make you implement the fundamentals first. Which will serve the start-up well on its path to success.

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