Tag Archives: tech

The Beautiful, Forgivable, And Necessary Value of Failure — And How To Make Sure Yours Is Done Well

Without question, it’s an era where big wins and gains in technology and innovation are highly celebrated, and rightfully so. There is nothing more exciting than the pace and progress of the market. Funding deals, exits, IPOs, great and pioneering products. It makes for an exciting time and certainly one worth celebrating.

However, there is no truer side of innovation and product or idea development than the occasional/possibility of failure. It’s not like you expect it to happen — and certainly nobody wants it to happen — but can happen and it is possible. It goes hand-in-hand with innovation in any organization, forever looming at the door. In a promising and progressive market, it can be frowned upon and highly criticized. But failure is a very real and realistic part of the innovative and development process — and it can have great benefit to your company regardless of stage or size.

In fact, having the right mindset about failure can help a company better recover from it, and even leverage it for the greater good of its business, services or products. It can aid in keeping the costs associated with failed ideas and efforts lower, and even streamline the failure process. The key is to have a good approach toward handling and managing failure at the start, and plan in place for when or if a loss might come.

Recognize that failure is an opportunity to learn, and that even with the best, most well thought out plans and processes there is a risk for it. There are always variables, things that could not have ever been seen or anticipated. Even with the smartest, most experienced teams, the best resources, etc. failure can still come knocking at the door. That doesn’t mean you want to invite failure into the mix — but knowing it may arrive at any point can be a crucial step towards moving on if it does and minimizing the risk of the potential impact.

It’s also important to have a format in place for identifying and reporting problems early on. In this aspect, leadership and management teams need to constantly lead by example in creating an environment where employees feel safe bringing up issues the minute they’re spotted. What you don’t want to have happen is someone in the company fear failure to the point that they try to solve it themselves and hide the problem. Create a format and culture where failure isn’t wanted, but is understood, and that employees should immediately bring issues to the management or leadership team so that the collective group can set a plan towards fixing the problem.

Which brings up the last and likely the most important part of the failure process: It’s always most important to first recover from a loss more than anything else. Immediate action to do so can minimize cost and downtime. Once the problem is fixed or near fixed, that’s when you can take a step back and triage or determine what went wrong, how you can learn from it or benefit from it moving forward once the immediate danger of the problem is solved.

It can also be helpful to have a communications plan or protocol in place for dealing with failure in your industry or market. And most of all, don’t forget that failure doesn’t just happen in the technology department but can in every corner of the organization. It is part of taking risk. Be sure to implement the above with each silo at your company, and encourage leadership and management to constantly manage and lead failure by example.

While failure is never fun, and can hurt the business in the short-term, it’s important to remember that some of the most outstanding and successful ideas in our world were failed upon many, many times before seeing the ultimate value they would later become. It doesn’t mean failure should or needs to be encouraged, but like anything else in life, sometimes we fall and when we do, we need to get back up.

Apple’s Event This Week

There is nothing more exciting than the Silicon Valley during a major news release or product launch, and this definitely includes when Apple is involved. It’ll be interesting to see what the company unveils. Media articles have been discussing the news to come for the past few weeks — 9to5 Mac had an interesting one here. Can’t wait to see what Apple announces!

 

My Gender-Neutral Childhood: Lessons In Raising Girls Who Succeed in Tech

This past week, I shared thoughts in an article for TIME.com about raising girls who succeed in tech. As a parent, you want your child to succeed in the world. Growing up, I’m not sure that my parents intentionally made an effort to drive a message of gender neutrality, but each of them encouraged and engaged me in their own unique, individual interests, hobbies and knowledge. I believe kids, regardless of gender, love to experience this and spend time with their parents regardless of whether it is a male or female centric activity. I shared my experience with this growing up, along with the five takeaway lessons I learned on how to prepare a child (especially a girl) to be prepared for their future career in tech and beyond.

 

On Women And College Computer Science Programs

I really enjoyed this read in the New York Times about women and computer science programs at colleges and universities. Whether it is men or women, everyone can benefit from mentorship, but where it does directly affect women is by helping younger generations chart a course in the industry as well as build relationships that have long-range value. Although, this piece begs the question – what majors are women choosing if not in computer science? I highly recommend reading this article and I look forward to further thoughts and conversations about it.

What Makes A Good Startup Community?

Silicon Valley, Alley, Flatirons, Prairie, Beach — the startup tech community and business has leaped from its legacy home of Northern California to nearly every major city in the U.S. As each area of the country sets a stake in creating a place that fosters and helps grow startup business, there is increasing talk of these new, great hubs for the industry.

It also brings up an interesting discussion point about what makes a good startup community. The answer ranges — what entrepreneurs and founders might need at an early stage of the company can often be different from the desires and needs of executives and employees working in the business at later stages. While some believe it’s networking events and media attention, others look to deal flow and access to capital within their city. Some may benchmark it by a robust community of resources, like engineers and other talent. Everyone, of course, looks to jobs and job creation as an integral element.

For entrepreneurs and founders, needs are often centered around an environment where they can focus and leverage the ecosystem. This group in the ecosystem often benefits from access to capital, networking and/or educational events, but the type of curriculum for conferences, attendees, and other elements can be different from what executives and employees working with a tech hub might seek or benefit from. In terms of resources, it can range from affordable office space, to good talent pool, and of course, investors. Though because we are in a truly global (and often virtual) world, these elements can be surprisingly less important or necessary — good companies and ideas can find and work with remote resources and often do successfully. In terms of learning and access to resources, many startup entrepreneurs and founders need or want to learn as much about corporate structure, equity allocation and other business elements of owning a company as they do strategies and other means to grow or market their business. With email and the internet, networking to find potential partners or customers can often be done without attending events. Therefore, moving the founder or entrepreneur to attend such gatherings has to be focused on the potential of a return on their time investment as many are juggling busy schedules as is. Legalities such as tax breaks, regulations, and other elements can also be important for entrepreneurs and many cities have worked to create this to attract startup business.

For executives and employees, what constitutes an ideal startup tech community depends on the stage of the company . Events where business development and marketing executives can evangelize the company, meet and network with peers or potential customers, can be key. Connecting with the tech community outside of the company takes a different value proposition and need. Access to resources shifts a bit  — talent to support the company efforts such as engineers, marketing, graphic designers, and sales or business development executives may replace the desire or benefit of meeting potential investors and other founders. Just the same, availability of top talent is as  critical to this group within a startup tech environment. Talent is attracted to where it can earn income or revenue, and markets that are not demonstrating job opportunities and growth are often passed on. Regulatory and compliance issues tend to be less or not relevant as employees are often removed from this burden within a business.

But as there are some differences among the needs of everyone within a technology and business market, many things that are the same. Location and/or ease of getting around the community can be critical to all regardless of what position they hold in the company. Affordable housing and other personal services such good medical practitioners and schools can be an attractive benefit. Good restaurants, grocery stores, and even eco-friendly living may be top of mind for many in the industry. It takes decades to build a flourishing community of startups and entrepreneurs, it cannot be willed, and many factors play a vital role.  When such a community reaches a critical mass it becomes uniquely nurturing and self-perpetuating. While media coverage and attention is often assumed to be a value, it’s important to understand that a technology community best benefits from the right kind of attention. Inflated expectations or ‘hype’ within a market can actually hurt its growth, both long and short-range.

Creating the impression or illusion that a market or the companies within it are ‘hot’ is not always for the good — in some instances, it can set companies up for the impression of failure when the natural, often unavoidable challenges or pitfalls of any startup company come into the picture. What’s more beneficial from a media and attention standpoint isn’t the ‘deals and exits,’ or the ‘buzz’ alone, but important fundamentals such as real market traction, authentic, steady growth, market maturity, solid leadership and management, and many of the components that helped put the original ‘Silicon’ (the Silicon Valley) startup market on the map.

 

The Important Element To Innovation And Business

It is an exciting time in innovation. Technology has helped redefine, reinvent and even create new categories, products and markets. Companies like Amazon, which traditionally sold books online, now have retail products, media and content as well as their own hardware devices such as Kindle and the Fire smartphone,. It’s not just limited to the technology industry, but dozens of others. Medicine, research, investing, transportation, design, the home, you name it. We are truly in a new and impelling world.

It brings up an interesting element for companies in the web business. It goes beyond the traditional players like Google and Facebook, to the startup you may own or work at as well as in some cases, major legacy companies and corporations. Innovation, in itself can be rather disruptive within these environments themselves, and charting where and what innovation needs to look like to your company regardless of size is a critical (and often overlooked) first step. While the internet enables every company regardless of legacy market to expand into new frontiers, where and how to innovate can be nearly as important to the picture as the innovation and effort itself. Many companies (including major, successful players) make these mistakes.

For web companies, avoiding missteps in innovation within your organization begins with a solid sense of what you do. This sounds simple enough, but many often misunderstand this element in the business online. In consumer space and for that matter in business-to-business , it can be broken down to two areas: products or service/utility — or in some instances (as with Google or Amazon), it can be both. How this can best be identified or defined is by asking yourself what exactly do you provide to the market? Is it a product that consumers can purchase? Or a service/utility they use? In the example of Google, it has a consumer product (Android smartphone) and it has a service/utility (Google Search).

Determining if your company falls into the consumer product or service/utility category doesn’t just help identify where and how to innovate. It can also enable a sense of the best route to take. For example, Amazon enables people to purchase books (service). A device for reading digital books was an obvious, potentially viable path (product). Then, Amazon recognized that it could go beyond books to sell content of all kinds, including music and television shows (service). It realized it could offer more than just one device as well — the Fire smartphone introduced this year (product).

By understanding where its core/legacy position resided, Amazon was able to identify multiple, organic routes to expand its business. The company then equally went beyond the consumer category to understanding where it might fit into the business-to-business (B-to-B) market — tools for authors to create and publish digital books, and ultimately pioneered a business utility in the form of cloud storage and computing. It’s a great example of how knowing your inherent, core position within a market can be expanded.

While it can be possible to expand into something with less of a natural, organic path with your company, taking this type of leap doesn’t just present challenges for an organization but moving a customer base to that offering will likely be the same. For example, Facebook provides a means for people to communicate with family and friends. But Facebook enabling retailers to set up stores on its platform has been widely reported to be unsuccessful. That’s because though Facebook has millions of users on its site daily, most would not easily make the correlation to also do their shopping there. Having to put in the work to marry Facebook users to also use Facebook in this way turned out to be a larger job for most retailers, and many shuttered their Facebook storefronts in the end to focus attention on other, more fundamental ways of using Facebook to drive sales.

When it comes to where and how your company can innovate, there truly is no ‘wrong’ answer, just the one that best fits. It all begins with identifying what side of the market you fit into (consumer product or service/utility). Your course for innovation, including whether or not you can expand beyond the consumer market, should unfold much more easily from there.

Managing The Product Development Lifecycle

As seasoned engineers and executives know, developing a technology product doesn’t begin and end with the product team. Creating a website, app, hardware or software product involves an intensive effort on the part of multiple departments within an organization, with the project manager or team at the helm. Even with years of experience, executives leading the creation, updates, scale or management of a technology product can endure dozens of scenarios that can delay the effort, and in some cases, significantly increase costs.

Below are a few personal lessons learned on the frontlines:

1. Put discovery as the focus first. It can be easy to assume that a project will go as planned, even with the estimate of issues or problems baked into project timeline. CEOs and executive team members may put the pressure on for hard dates and deliverables during initial discussions and scope of the project. But do not make any conclusions until you’ve taken a thorough assessment of every element you might be faced with. This can mean asking questions about priorities and trade off given constraints such as budget, time and resource availability. Find out all you can from every corner of the organization. Then, set your course.

2. Be clear on what’s possible. Once you’ve worked through the variables of the project, it’s time to get clear on what is and isn’t possible. This might sound like a ‘no brainer’ for most executives, but we’ve all felt pressure to set ambitious goals. There’s nothing wrong with aiming high in product development, providing that you’re honest about what is possible. Set realistic, attainable goals. This goes beyond what you think is possible for your team, to what is realistic for every department in the company which requires clear internal communications between teams. While you can’t speak for the leadership in marketing or business development, asking questions as noted above and factoring them into what is possible in terms of the product’s development can be important.

3. Identify and alert teams of anticipated delays immediately. Product development is a bit like a train in that whatever the engine does, the cars will ultimately do as well. Never take potential issues or red flags lightly — and cascade these issues or potential delays to the entire team immediately. It’s a good practice to stay true even when you’re not 100% sure something might go wrong. Measurable and frequent milestones are necessary along the way. Alerting the CEO or other leaders in the company of the potential issue doesn’t mean the process will be derailed, but rather adjusted. This will help everyone from all sides of the company to be more agile and prepared which keeps things running smoothly and on budget whether issues and delays arrive or not.

It’s also important to remember that great products come from great teams, and great teams are created by good leadership. Be prepared to ready and support your team. This is demonstrated through small and large gestures, from buying pizzas when everyone’s working late, to ensuring that you set the pace, professionalism and process by example.