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The Social Enterprise and Identifying Talent

6 Jan

Last December we wrote about the Social Enterprise movement and the way these tools create opportunities for employees to participate in and influence the “corporate discussion”. (Think of Sharepoint, Jive, Yammer, Kaltura or Lithium – which just raised $53mil.) Indeed, if implemented correctly, social enterprise tools offer employees new ways to become deeply involved in sharing knowledge, collaborating, and influencing company direction.

Although the enterprise software community is focused on productivity and collaboration – less understood is the opportunity these tools may offer leaders in identifying talent and thought leadership in an organization. Over time, some employees will attract followers to the knowledge, information and ideas they share.  The results may be particularly interesting given the changing demographic and culture of new employees entering the workforce. If tracked correctly, this might be come a great means of identifying leadership from the bottom-up – and specifically a means that is very different from the traditional corporate review and hierarchy practices.

Employees who voice valuable information and ideas (either in text or video), share knowledge, and tend to collaborate will be valuable assets to any organization.

So… talent management, HR folks…  it’s time to join the discussion.

5 Tools for Startup Innovation

29 Dec

We recently wrote a short article for Inc. Magazine highlighting key tools for enabling continuous innovation in startups.

The topic is in many ways counterintuitive; many people assume that because startups are often new market entrants, innovation comes naturally. It’s “in the blood” so to speak.  The truth is that once initial products are developed, a vision is detailed, or funding is secured, much of the focus of startup leaders turns to execution…

In the post we provide a number of concrete tactics for maintaining continuous innovation- tools that we’ve used in Kaltura and have seen at work in other tech companies. We hope you enjoy.

Social Enterprises and the Freedom to Listen and Learn

12 Dec

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen increasing discussion about the coming “social enterprise.” At the root of this discussion are 2 major ideas:

Idea 1: The advent of cloud-based services like Yammer, Successfactors, Kaltura or Salesforce are shifting the buyers of enterprise software from IT to end users.

Idea 2:  The way we do business will soon undergo a rapid transformation as enterprises adopt social tools that allow collaboration between customers, employees, and partners.

I’m enthusiastic about these trends and excited for Kaltura to lead the cloud-video part of the social enterprise transformation. Yet, just as the consumer world struggles with norms around privacy and sharing, the enterprise software community must significantly revise its own practices here before the ‘social enterprise’ vision can truly be realized.

As we are implementing our MediaSpace product for many enterprises (which is essentially a “Corporate YouTube”), we are constantly asked by our enterprise customers to restrict user access to different content channels. I question this request because it hinders the ability of many users to participate in the corporate discussion. It takes away the “freedom to listen”, and the “freedom to learn.”

I’ll give you a personal example.

Once we implemented Sharepoint at Kaltura, I rapidly lost my ability to listen. Why? Because our IT department restricted my access to other departmental content.  The result is that I now know significantly less about what’s happening in other groups, and I have a more difficult time with cross-company collaboration.

Surprisingly, email is an inherently open platform in many ways. Any user can email any other user. And once received, any email can be forwarded to another user or group of users.  Authors hold the initial decision-making power.

Enterprise social platforms are different. Although many are inspired by the Facebook and Twitters of the world, these platforms are often implemented by central IT teams who immediately divide up the world by organizational units.  Permissions are determined centrally – not by individual users.  

The instinct to create walled gardens is natural. Enterprises are concerned about security at many levels; and as more information is traveling online, there’s increasing movement to secure this new information.

Still, to the future enterprise product developers out there… and to those who are implementing social enterprise platforms today –  I encourage you to think hard about the walled gardens you erect.  Preserve an inter-group read/write/share culture whenever possible.

A 3rd prong must be part of the social enterprise discussion – Idea 3: Social Enterprise is about the freedom to Listen; and when implementing social enterprise solutions, IT departments should be careful not to harm this freedom.

 

What is a Startup?

1 Dec

As the entrepreneurship frenzy in the US grows it seems that more and more people are walking around talking about their “startup.” Sometimes they refer to a full time venture-backed endeavor.  And sometimes it’s just a project “on the side.”

But what actually turns a group of people into a “startup”? Do we call a group of people a startup:

  • when they have an idea and start to pursue it?
  • when they make a commitment to one to the other to find an idea and pursue it jointly?
  • when they form a company?
  • when they start building something or invest capital?

We might also ask – when does a startup outgrow the definition of “startup” and become an actual “company”? Does the startup threshold have to do with:

  • company size (# of employees)
  • # of customers
  • company maturity
  • ratio of R&D to the rest of company
  • brand awareness
  • the type of investors who are investing (for example, private equity versus VCs)
  •  profitability

Think of many of the hot tech companies today – Jive, Yammer, Twittter, Yume, Palantir, etc. Many have large customer bases and big staffs. Few are profitable.

What do you think? Should they be considered startups?

Open Source Business Models

17 Nov

Whenever we’re asked about Kaltura’s business model, we find ourselves launching into a broader conversation about the different business models used by open source companies today.  Given the frequency of this conversation, we thought we’d write it down… both for those who are thinking of open sourcing their code and for those pondering whether to work with an open source company.  This is part of our larger effort to define “Launching an Open Source Project/ Company 101” and to catalog the variety of models and companies emerging in this space. We are particularly interested in Companies who fully own the copyright to their software, yet decide as a matter of strategy to release their code under an open source license.

The first fundamental question to ask when assessing which business models may apply to an open source company is: who owns the copyright for the code?  The open source ecosystem breaks down between companies that own the copyrights to their code and have the freedom to release that code under any license, and those who adopt existing code and have no choice over licenses.

  1. Options for companies who do not own the copyright to their code (Red Hat, Zend, JasperSoft):
    1. Services Model – according to this model, a Company sells maintenance, support, documentation, and training services, as well as certification of the software version, in conjunction with the open source software. Customers pay for the peace of mind of having the code tested, certified and maintained by the services company. (This is the basic Redhat model.)
    2. Software as a Service – according to this model, the open source project serves as a foundation for a SaaS offering. In a SaaS model, customers pay for the hosting, streaming, and delivery of the software on a managed cloud, regardless of the license of underlying software (Acquia Model).
    3. Proprietary plugin/application model – according to this model, a company sells premium commercial add-ons, modules, and applications in conjunction with the open source software and then packages both the underlying code and the apps together.  (Jaspersoft is an example here)
  2. Business models available for companies who own the copyright to their code and have decided to release the code under an open source license (examples: Kaltura; MySQL, Instructure)  (We’ll explain why they might decide to open source code another time)
    1. First, note that all of the business models available for companies who do not own the code are also available to this second set of companies as well: ie. Services model, SaaS, and Proprietary Add-ons/ Apps.
    2. Dual licensing – according to this model, a company releases the code they own under a standard commercial license as well as under an Open Source License. Whereas the open source version is usually free, the commercial option often comes with a standard licensing fee. (This option can exist, with or without feature parity between the open source and commercial versions.)
    3. Freemium Model – according to this model, a company releases software under an open source license and sells premium features on top.   Unlike in plugin/app model, here a company need not create an entirely separate module or plugin. The owners of the code can just chose not to release certain features.

We hope this gives you a basic breakdown of the options. In the next post we’ll explore the advantages of releasing code under and open source license and creating an open source project.

Do Successful Startups Come in 3s (or more)?

8 Nov

When Cyota started more than12 years ago, it was developing a solution to provide online shoppers with a single use online credit card number, so that their primary card would never be revealed online.

It sounded like an extremely innovative idea at the time, particularly because e-commerce was not well developed yet, and shoppers were very concerned.

Shockingly – there were 3 different companies (1 out of Israel, 1 out of India, and 1 out of Ireland) who were developing the exact same solution at the exact same time.

Indeed it seems like good startups, like good ideas, come in threes, or even fours.

In today’s celebrity culture, where we hold up the start-up founder or patent registrant as superstar, visionary, and inventor extraordinaire, the concept might seem surprising.  But for those studying the history of innovation, simultaneous invention is now the norm.

As Stephen Johnson notes in Where Good Ideas Come From:

One of the most remarkable patterns in all of intellectual history [is] what scholars now call “the multiple:” A brilliant idea occurs to a scientist or inventor somewhere in the world, and he goes public with his remarkable finding, only to discover that three other minds had independently come up with the same idea in the past year.  Sunspots were simultaneously discovered in 1611 by four scientists living in four different countries… The law of conservation of energy was formulated separately four times in the late 1840’s. (34)

Given the Cyota experience, we looked through the history of Internet startups to see if a similar trend holds, and it indeed it seems it does.

Early Search Engines Altavista, Ask.com, Yahoo Search
Social Networking Friendster, MySpace, Facebook
Social Bookmarking Delicious, Digg, Reddit
Online Video Editing Jumpcut, EyeSpot, Cuts
Instant messaging Powwow, ICQ
Video Sharing YouTube, Metacafe, Daily Motion
Webmail Systems Hotmail, Yahoo mail, AOL mail
Video Advertising Tremor-media, AdapTV, Yume
Shopping Comparison Dealtime, My Simon, ShopSmart

Great startups, like classic inventions, represent the product of networked individuals collectively identifying real needs in the world and simultaneously deciding to address these needs.

So, startup founders and entrepreneurs, next time an investor asks you to do a market analysis, take a real look around for those competitors. If you find them, you should see it as a sign of your brilliance and a foreshadowing of good things to come.

But more importantly, the notion that startups come in 3s has profound implications for how we cultivate innovation in entrepreneurial communities and the amount of weight we put on the good idea relative to other indicators of startup success.

Selling Our Wireless Future

7 Nov

One of the reasons we started this blog is to discuss some of the important ideas coming out of academia with the broader tech community.  Too often these ideas get lost – somewhere between the tomes of journals that fill university libraries and the tech news that fills the blogosphere.

‘Activism’ by the entrepreneurial tech community is a funny thing. While we are often quick to mobilize around important world events like the Arab Spring, Wikileaks, or Occupy Wallstreet, when it comes to tech policy matters that might jeopardize the open web on which we depend, there is often silence. The reason for this is a conversation for another day (thought one will get some insight if you read the comments on Fred Wilson’s AVC). But we do see a quandary here – If entrepreneurs don’t act as stewards of the open web who will speak for us instead?

We leave you now with a cross/guest post from Professor Yochai Benkler, a mentor and teacher to both of us.  He explains why recent moves by the deficit supercommittee to sell unlicensed spectrum threaten the future of mobile technology in this country and the ability of entrepreneurs to innovate freely in the mobile space.  

——

As the deficit supercommittee searches every corner to make budgetary ends meet, one solution they are considering, “incentive auctions” of the TV bands, could threaten the future of wireless innovation. These auctions may lock in an outdated regulatory paradigm, strengthen the dominant mobile broadband carriers, and block the path for some of the most innovative wireless technologies that could improve mobile broadband speed and reduce its price over the next decade. In return, the revenue they will raise is a very modest 1.5 percent of the 1.6 trillion dollar package. The auctions would trade off a small short-term revenue gain for less growth and innovation over the coming decade.

The proposed spectrum auctions are being promoted under the false premise that boosting mobile broadband, smart grid communications, inventory management systems, mobile payments, and health monitoring requires auctioning exclusive pieces of licensed spectrum. In reality, these markets are fast developing through unlicensed wireless applications, like WiFi. When the iPhone crashed AT&T’s mobile broadband capacity, the company didn’t buy more spectrum on secondary markets; it used WiFi to carry much of the data. In the past year WiFi traffic on AT&T’s hotspots has tripled. Today, about half of iPhone and 90 percent of iPad page views are carried over WiFi. Indeed, almost two-thirds of all smartphone and tablet data traffic is carried over WiFi rather than over the carriers’ networks, whose hunger is driving the demand for auctioning TV bands. In Japan, a good place to see the near future of mobile broadband, the second largest mobile carrier contracted a California firm to roll out 100,000 hotspots as a core strategy for its next generation mobile broadband network.

But it’s not only mobile broadband. When you use your E-Z Pass at a toll booth or Speedpass at the gas station, you use unlicensed technology like WiFi, but in a different band. When Wal-Mart moved its field-defining inventory management system to the next generation, it used technology that uses spectrum on the same principle: unlicensed wireless. Almost the entire market for inventory management and access control is now driven by unlicensed wireless technologies. Almost seventy percent of U.S. Smart Grid communications market is served by firms that use WiFi and similar technologies, and by a one recent account, about eighty percent of the wireless market in the healthcare sector depends on an array of unlicensed strategies. These dynamic markets are telling us something new: The future of wireless will likely be mostly unlicensed, with an important, but residual role of auctioned, licensed services. And yet the drive to auctions simply ignores the evidence from actual markets in favor of an outmoded regulatory ideal that is the opposite of what cutting edge radio engineering and dynamic markets show.

Most of these applications were developed using junk bands, where regulators dumped industrial equipment and microwave ovens. They thrived even in these harsh conditions, but in an effort to open up new, less wasteland-like areas for these dynamic, innovative technologies, the last Republican and current Democratic FCC chairs presided over the bipartisan creation of TV White Spaces, a policy that permits device manufacturers to expand the capabilities of unlicensed devices by sharing the TV bands with broadcasters. The TV Band auctions being pushed through the supercommittee threaten to displace these white space devices. As we look at the enormous success of unlicensed wireless strategies across the most dynamic markets, we see that doing so is penny wise, pound foolish.

Not only will auctions burden development of unlicensed strategies, if the last major auction is any indication, they will allow AT&T and Verizon to foreclose competition in their markets. When AT&T argued in defense of its T-Mobile merger, it said that T-Mobile wasn’t much of a competitor “without the spectrum to deploy a 4G LTE network.” But the reason T-Mobile lacks that spectrum is that Verizon and AT&T already own 78 percent of the spectrum bands needed. The new auctions would extend Verizon and AT&T’s foreclosure to the TV Bands as well, constraining not only competitors like T-Mobile, but the whole field of unlicensed strategies as well.

As a revenue source, spectrum auctions are a particularly pernicious tax on wireless innovation. They pick the wrong technology for wireless infrastructure by regulatory fiat, and strengthen the market dominance of already-dominant players. The costs of this policy to innovation and growth greatly outweigh its revenue benefits, and the supercommittee simply does not have the time to learn enough to avoid doing more harm than good.

United States Frequency Allocations http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frequency_allocation

Is Ignorance Essential For Start-up Success?

4 Nov

Blissful Ignorance – the Start-up Paradox…

Within entrepreneurial communities, it’s often the prevailing wisdom that innovation comes from industry experts that jump outside of the mainstream, team with technologists, and return with a new company or product to disrupt their existing industry.

Is this correct?

It seems to us that when starting a new startup in a particular industry, ignorance about that industry provides an advantage and raises the likelihood of starting a successful company. Having deep knowledge and familiarity with an industry serves to de-motivate innovation.

Familiarity with an industry means that you know all path dependencies, existing technological challenges, structural constraints, competitors, and hurdles, all of which are a good reason NOT to start a new company.

Hence, knowledge, which is indeed power, might on some occasions be too much of a good thing: in a competitive and entrepreneurial environment it can act as a deterrent for innovation.

As Stephen Johnson has emphasized, a leap in the dark based on a hunch and intuition might prove a better strategy than risk aversion based on (what may seems to be) perfect knowledge.

Consider Zappos’ entry into the clothing business, IndieGoGo’s entry into online loans, Cyota’s entry into the Security and Anti-Fraud market, or even General Assembly’s entry into education. None of the founding teams of these companies came from the industries in which they currently operate. And few even launched their companies with a focus on these industries.

The impact of knowledge on deterring innovation is part of the reason why companies who are active in particular industries for a long time look outside to capture innovation.

Outside innovation can be achieved in different ways:

  1. acquisitions
  2. building a platform that supports external development of applications/ plugins  (consider the iPhone app store or Google Apps)
  3. releasing software under as an open source project to encourage external innovation (consider Google’s development of Android)

We’d be interested to get your feedback.

Who is more likely to start a successful startup?

1.       An industry veteran?

2.       Ignorant outsider?

Why Write

9 Oct

Open Technology is a blog started by Michal Tsur and Leah Belsky.  We are two people who’ve traveled a varied path between the worlds of tech entrepreneurship,  business strategy, and academia.  We came together at Kaltura – a New York tech startup launching the world’s first open source media platform.  We were also both fellows at the Yale Information Society Project – a research institute focused on the future of the web and to understanding the way new technologies can be a force for positive change in the world.

Over the past 3 years at Kaltura we’ve brought to market an amazing video platform that has transformed the use and vision for media within top broadcasters, educational institutions, and enterprises. We developed a unique open source business strategy, and also founded an open advocacy organization, the Open Video Alliance, with Mozilla, PCF, Google, and others.

Yet, as we’ve grown Kaltura, we’ve become increasingly aware of how limited the discourse is between the tech community and the more academic worlds from whence we came.

For us, this blog is an attempt to bridge that gap- to connect BIG ideas about innovation and open technologies to industry and to the practical lives of entrepreneurs trying to start and grow companies. Most of all though, it’s a place for us to think and learn, within a community, and to refine our ideas in this time of change.

We will focus on a few key themes:

  • Open source tech and open systems -  What is the future of open source technologies and the open web, particularly in an age when web services, tech-activism, and social networks are rapidly changing the way we use and interact with the Net?
  • Digital Education – The education system today is crashing. Students are shouldered in debt. And generations of workers and graduates lack the skills needed to succeed in a digital world, and in a world with more complex technologies and industries. What is the future of digital education and how do we use digital literacy to empower the next generation of entrepreneurs?
  • Startups, Innovation, and Entrepreneurial Communities - We’ve both studied innovation academically and had the privilege of working in growing entrepreneurial communities in New York.  We’d like to use this blog to share some of our insights and lessons learned.

We’ve also had the privilege of working with many amazing friends, entrepreneurs, co-founders, and thinkers over the years, so you will likely see a few guest posts from them as well.

Welcome.