Monthly Archives: March 2013

Blog Tennis – more Yahoo! messenger talk…

I have played with Jon over at http://insidethenoodlebowl.com powered by https://svbtle.com

Now figured I would go a round with Bernard Leong over at https://medium.com/pragmatic-idealism with his post: https://medium.com/pragmatic-idealism/b3fd89322c11 powered by https://medium.com

I am still just a simple self-hosted wordpress kind of guy in need of a new theme.

Bernard summarized this about my post :

While in a multi-national corporation setup, strategy takes the centre stage. Unfortunately, coupled with bureaucratic processes, the organisation loses her nimbleness to move quickly and in the process, missed out opportunities that might disrupt or take the company to the next level. Recently, my friend, Michael Smith told a tale based on his experience in trying to pitch a path for Yahoo! Messenger. In his anecdote, he obtained the support of the CEO but the people who blocked the process turned out to be the heads of the region who would most likely to benefit. As a result, a startup coming from nowhere called TenCent, become a multi-national corporation and did what Yahoo! and Microsoft could not do: monetizing their messenger clients.

Bernard probably said what I wanted to say but more succinctly. What stuns me though is not only the giants like Tencent accomplished this but a ton of new entrants are taking a pretty good swipe at it. Yahoo – still sits on the sidelines. Personally I think if they don’t plan on really gunning for taking messenger to a new level they would be better off shutting it down since god knows they can’t sell it. It is way too intertwined with the Yahoo backend.

There are smart peeps over at Yahoo and they have lots of expertise in messaging, content, personalization and gaming – still hoping someone over there manages to pull something cool together from all the pieces.

 

 

Learning from teaching…

Ever since getting off the evangelism/corp dev circuit I don’t get the chance to speak very much. Slight double edge sword in that many times all I did was speak which meant that I was not building or making anything but yet other times the speaking would help me to think about what I was doing since I would need to explain it to others. In that explaining I usually find myself learning and thinking about more of what I am trying to do. This can even help me to rethink something or even question a tactic or two. All in all the exercise of teaching generally helps me learn.

Friday I had the chance to guest speak at http://www.insead.edu/ for the second time. It is a modern media class taught by Stephen Mezias at the Singapore campus. I usually bring some slides explaining about Spuul, things we are doing, things we have learned and possible topics worth discussing. My goal is to invite some discussion versus just speaking.

Fortunately after a few slides the class starting asking stuff and some healthy discussion arose out of topics around analytics, tracking, viral mechanics and so on. I can’t obviously talk about everything Spuul does but I noticed that most people are unaware of all the tools and platforms out there. Usually a startup will try to use something off the shelf versus write code. Saves money, enables faster time to market and helps the coders stay focused on real value added projects.

What I noticed from the biz folks is they have a lot of questions about the various tools or services companies like Spuul might be using. For the techies or startup folks out there a lot of this info might be totally useless but I am sure there are others out there who might find it useful.

Starting from the top…

AWS :: http://aws.amazon.com/.
Hard to imagine any startup not using AWS to run their biz. Yes there are other options but for us we need global readiness, bleeding edge cloud stuff and reliable support. We also have found them to be very constructive at working with us in Singapore to stay up to date and to solve interesting problems.

Snapengage :: http://snapengage.com/. Lots of options in this space but so far we have found them to work well for our web support and to make it easy for users to reach us. Integrates nicely with Skype as well. As we grow we might need something more cross platform and to helps us manage the support requests but for now it has been fine.

Mailchimp :: http://mailchimp.com/. Also lots of options in the mail marketing and list management space but mailchimp works well, can be integrated with code and deals with big lists. Also free to try for small projects.

New Relic :: http://newrelic.com/. This is for the techies but when it comes to monitoring your apps, Apis and code sometimes you need something more than the basics. This stuff is insanely good and their new mobile stuff is really amazing.

Google Analytics :: http://www.google.com.sg/analytics/. When it comes to free and easy to setup and use analytics – hard to beat google. There are alternatives but most cost money. This also makes it easy to track any google or admob advertising campaigns.

Flurry :: http://www.flurry.com/flurry-analytics.html. When it comes to basic mobile or native app analytics this is another free to use product and is very useful for the basics.

Mixpanel :: https://mixpanel.com/. When it comes to trying to track user events, marketing campaigns and things such as landing pages there are a lot of ways to do this but one handy tool is mixpanel. Allows your coders to instrument things or events and then the marketing people can track them and see them visually.

Jolicharts :: https://jolicharts.com/. Data. You will probably finding yourself collecting lots of data and then getting frustrated with how to chart it, display it, or manipulate it. Jolicharts is one option when it comes to displaying data – in general this space doesn’t have a lot of really useful, affordable tools.

So this is just scraping the surface when it comes to tools or software as a service products that might be useful for startups or even big businesses trying to do cool things. I am sure folks out their have many more to add to this.

What the hell happened to Yahoo! Messenger?

Takes me too long to write so some of this is dated in that WhatsApp is supposedly not games but some subscription plan on iOS. I predict revenue but reduced user base.

Watching and reading all this stuff happening around chat, games and platforms reminds me of my final, unfinished project, at Yahoo!.

I will admit I don’t use WhatsApp – I just think it is a shitty app but it looks like some people use it. I do use Path cause all my family and most of my close friends use it – therefore it is a nice way to stay in touch, post pics and share what we are all up to. I don’t add many people to Path to keep it simple and useful. Their new chat stuff is okay but still too slow and not super chat friendly. However I think they are moving in an interesting direction that will bear fruit in Asia but not sure everywhere else.

My girlfriend invited me to Line and we use it for chat sometimes and I have been checking out the games – mostly to examine the viral mechanics and such. Line is killing it.

So it makes total sense to me that WhatsApp is moving in some gaming direction but they are quite late to it and I think they have a hurdle to get over in that anyone who going to get teased into a game usually does not want to climb over a paywall to get there. This will have an impact on their viral mechanics but maybe they are thinking they are big enough already and will just add it to increase revenue and time spent. It might work but I think the newer platforms are better suited to this.

All in all there is much activity in the chat arena. New MessageMe (TINA calling MessageMe a copycat is somewhat comical but that is fodder for another post) on the block, Google with Babble and I am sure there are many other examples. For some reason the space is hot and it has products like Line with huge user bases and what I am guessing is also a decent amount of revenue.

So what the hell happened with Yahoo! Messenger? A decent product that Yahoo! let languish. A product that had near monopolies in some countries that continue to dwindle year on year. To all my friends at Yahoo! and to those working on the messenger stack – I am not calling you out but chastising the inept management teams who let a once monster product get crushed by competitors. Yahoo! messenger missed mobile, viral mechanics, gaming, and the ability to translate old skool domination into anything new or modern. Sad.

At one point in Yahoo! I somehow got pulled into the messenger product space and was stoked. My current boss was being bugged by Jerry Yang – yeah that Jerry to try and do something with it. My idea, not novel in any way, was to try and use the messenger ecosystem to add games, credits and chat all into one. Kind of looks like a few products you see killing it today. Yahoo! had a nice big, but not nimble, messaging backend. We had clients on various operating systems and we had payment platforms. We also had games and even a technology to frame up partner games into the chat apps for the desktop. Mobile was going to be much harder but doable.

So chat, games, credits and users. Seems doable.

Problem is with a visionless company the size of Yahoo!  – these types of projects just get turned into a big bureaucratic mess.

The team pulled together a quick hail mary plan and I was told to go pitch Jerry. Of course Jerry was late to the meeting and by the time he came to the Jerry waiting room my boss was already off on a plane. So I was to meet Jerry for the first time, pitch him and pray. Of course Jerry has no idea who the fuck I was but fortunately the ex Yahoos I knew were also known by Jerry so quickly we established some common ground and Jerry let me pitch. Of course he was skeptical but wanted us to try. So we flew around the world to get kiss all the regional exec rings, yes that is how it works at Yahoo!, and then we came back to Sunnyvale to try and make it work. BTW – working with Jerry is one of my most memorable experiences.

It took months to herd the cats, find partners and come up with a plan that allowed us to ship something that would work even though as a entire product stack it would need a lot of evolvement. The goal was to get something working so that the CEO staff group, yes that is a group of people who surround the CEO like a moat, to keep the bad shit in and prevent the good shit from penetrating the CEO castle. Or was it the other way around. I forget to be honest. Anyway – Jerry presented at CEO staff and the idea was blocked by powers that be that previously bought the idea but wanted to somehow kill the idea so they could line up with someone else for another idea. Game of Thrones folks. Little people get burned at these things.

Anyway the region that killed it was the region that would benefit the most from it. The region that chat is exploding in. Go figure. Logic has no bearing at this level.

So needless to say the project died and I moved on.

What I learned is it is really hard to take disparate assets at a big company and pull them together. Each asset owner wants to call the shots – even to the detriment of the combined assets. I think Yahoo! could have actually acquired something that had a similar outcome and this would be probably have been able to make it all happen faster. Which seems so illogical but is how big companies actually work. Stunning really since Yahoo! has the pieces, a big enough user base and interesting partners but there is not the wherewithal to actually force an outcome.

So chat is hot again. Yahoo! is cold on chat. Such a bummer.

All this remote talk…

It all started with MM at Yahoo telling all the remote folks they can come to the office or they can quit. Maybe it is more nuanced than that but the gist is Yahoo is trying to clean up and purge some employees. Of course everyone and their dog has jumped on the bandwagon to proclaim what a fuckup it all is and that Yahoo will destroy employee morale and such. I worked at Yahoo for a few years and had the opportunity to bounce around the globe doing cool work. I also had to deal first hand with remote employees and the Yahoo remote is very different from the remote I know and practice.

Yahoo remote is mostly about some long term employees who are resting and vesting. For sure it is not all – and yes MM is probably throwing out a few babies when she dumps the bathwater but I think that will be okay. The signal to the masses is very loud. Yahoo is in a turnaround (yes the stock is up but this is mostly optics. Yahoo has yet to ship anything cool or new and their reach is going down. Not up). Yahoo has WAY TOO MUCH FAT still. Losing hundreds if not thousands of employees would be okay. Yahoo needs to reinforce that some people actually do work hard and come to the office – these people have to constantly hear about overpaid employees who don’t come to the office. Nothing to boost your morale more than the employee who never shows up and actually says no to your ideas even though you have never met. Yeah – that shit happens at Yahoo.

So MM is trying to purge, force change and reinforce some sort of work ethic. The rumors you hear about empty parking lots and people not VPN’ing in are true. Trust me folks – you can’t do shit at Yahoo if you are not logged in to the VPN. No email, no code and none of the glorious Yahoo tools like twikis. I think MM did a bold thing and I think it will help. Sure – down the road when Yahoo is doing better I am sure they can look at this issue again.

The main point is I don’t think what Yahoo is purging is the remote work that others talk about and practice. Yes – there could be a few star employees that need to work remote, still produce and are not the problem. I am not sure how MM and team will deal with this people but my guess is this is not the norm or the bulk of remote workers.

I recently signed up for RDRC and was reminded of this post: http://andycroll.com/2013/02/13/remote/

What Andy is doing at Impulse Flyer is not what Yahoo is doing. Andy is building a new company and has a tight, integrated team. So it works. Although he highlights some of the issues that may come down the line – like scaling it with the growth of IF, how to deal with junior employees (engineers or not really) and just the complexities of growing a startup when people are not all sitting together.

8507210552_00afeea605_nI myself have these same issues. At spuul we have some employees remote and I work usually a week or so in Singapore, where spuul HQ is, and then a week or so in Thailand – where my family is. In general I am the remote one most of the time and then when I am in Singapore I try to work like I am always there. It is a tough trade off but my little one, the cutie strapped to my frontside, will only be little once. I didn’t want to miss out on the magic of being around her when she is young.

It is not easy to work sometimes when she can stroll into the office in her walker but at the same time – I wouldn’t miss it for the world. It is also not easy to be in Singapore missing her 4am feeding time. I get a lot done when I am in Singapore and my focus is all about work but I miss my family.

These are the trade offs but fortunately I work with some seasoned founders who know that it is a marathon versus a sprint and that family is #1.

So for me – remote is an amazing lifesaver. For Yahoo, who needs saving, remote might just be too complicated at this stage of a possible, but highly unlikely, turnaround.

Learning from the masters…

I had the fortunate opportunity when I was first getting into tech to work at Weblogic – a lot of people don’t formally talk or write about it but many of the people who worked at weblogic (and BEA after BEA acquired it) are some of the superstars sprinkled around the tech scene. Twitter, Google, Salesforce, Facebook and lots of smaller companies all have senior people that came from Weblogic. Don’t ask what happened to me – I snuck off to Asia while the valley boomed. 😉

Anyway. I keep tabs on a few of these folks and always find I keep learning from them.

Back in the day I was in Sacramento working at Examen, Inc. which was trying to disrupt the medical insurance industry. At the time I was looking to build a new platform for them in Java and stumbled across WebLogic JDBC drivers. As I was dealing with their support I got to know Paul. Yes – Paul being one of the founders of WebLogic. Long story short – Paul got me down to interview with the team in hopes I might join as a sales engineer. I was techy, could talk and loved to travel. I thought I was home free until I had my one on one with Bob Pasker – the other founder of WebLogic. Bob proceeded to dress me down technically and I figured it would be best if I walked out and saved what little bit of dignity I had left. Bob is a brilliant techy and like many of the WebLogic folks – could code. Me – I was just passionate, could whiteboard well and could NOT code. Paul told me not to worry and to meet Scott. Yes – that is Scott Dietzen of WebLogic, Zimbra and now Pure Storage fame. I thought I had a good chat with Scott, who was the marketing guy at the time, but it turned out he nixed me. Scott eventually came around after a few years and I thank him immensely for the tricks he taught me. Bob and I also spent many a year together selling WebLogic and I still remember all the stuff I learned from him.

I did manage to get hired and to this day I look back on my WebLogic/BEA days as one of the core pillars of my tech career. I always remind people that Karma is very important and to be sure to treat people well since you will also call upon those in your past while you carve your future. The reason I made it into Yahoo was because of guys like Scott and Sam (now a VC) – also ex-weblogic.

Some of the lessons I learned early on was how important customer support is – watching Paul the founder do customer support was so powerful. At Spuul I value customer support very highly and at the moment I handle most of it so I can be close to the customers. I remember going to some big sales meetings and would be joined by Scott and Bob working to close the deal and to show that even the execs/founders took customer support and sales quite seriously.

The big takeaway for me though is watching Scott in his new role and the way he uses the blog to battle the incumbents. Here is one of his latest posts:

Looking forward, I am often asked how Pure Storage is going to continue to win with storage leader EMC entering our market. The answer is straightforward:

  1. Build a better product – We have somewhere between an 18-month to 2-year lead. In tech, that’s about as much of a head start as you could hope for. With the deeply talented team we have at Pure, our aspiration is to grow our technology advantage over time.
  2. Delight our customers – Our endusers tell us we are providing the best service and support they have experienced in storage. Our job is to make it even better going forward.
  3. Leverage our partners – EMC has about 30% market share, and they do about 1/3 of their business through the channel. That means about 10% of today’s storage buyers get their EMC storage through a partner. That leaves 90% of the market available to Pure and our channel partners.
  4. Further distance ourselves from the rest of the competition – Our experiences thus far suggest that the barriers to entry for the all-flash array category Pure established in 2011 are well higher than for disk arrays (e.g., getting submillisecond inline dedupe and compression right).  Our prediction is that the all-flash array market will increasingly become on a two horse race between us and EMC, that is one that will likely serve Pure (and EMC) well indeed.

I always loved Scott’s ability to straddle tech, marketing and customer interactions. It is such a powerful combo and one that many startups seems to forget. After all – it is about the customer.

There is so much to learn about his 1 and 2 – it just speaks volumes. Build a better product and delight your customers.

Focus on that and you are mostly there already.

The other thing I learned from Scott was how he would change the playing field. Redefine the game to make it hard for the incumbent and favor the startup – almost like a slight of hand card trick. In the WebLogic days we invented the Java App Server Litmus test as a way of defining what was in an app server, what a good one excelled at and how WebLogic was the leader. Later on you might recall that the industry created J2EE and WebLogic lead the charge and was acquired by Bea Systems. I still fondly recall explaining J2EE to Bill Janeway and marveling at how his Timex watch was taped together.

I was lucky to work around all these folks and the many, many others at WebLogic and BEA. I still follow them from afar and take notes.

Apple does need to fix the AppStore

Just saw this on pando:

http://pandodaily.com/2013/03/05/how-apple-caused-the-ios-kindle-glitch/

It makes some good points but I think it over complicates it.

I have written before about the app stores – http://www.nokpis.com/2013/02/24/a-tale-of-two-app-stores/

I personally think a broad fix that would make a huge difference is just allowing people that have already shipped an update to easily ship updates. They could have make it a quota system where each app developer gets 6 unchecked updates a year with no hassles. So as needed we could ship fixes or updates without waiting for approval.

If someone ships something bad or breaks the rules then they get this privilege revoked.

Anything to make shipping updates and bug fixes simple and controlled by the dev so that we can keep improving and fixing bugs as needed. It kills me how easy it is to update my google app but at the same time google should have a proper approval process for new apps – the amount of shit in the play store is stunning.

We need changes.

Khao Khitchakut – a non religious take on the journey

I stated last week I was heading to Khao Khitchakut. We did go and what a day.

I don’t see a lot of how to and such written by Farang so I will try to do my best here to help point the way and explain the process.

First off we stayed at FaaSai Resort – not the closest place to stay but we wanted to be near the ocean chilling out. The day before the trip to KK we did some driving around to familiarize ourselves with the area and roads. We even made a stop at Wat Khao Sukim which is a fun outing as well.

From a driving perspective you just need to use Google Maps and head towards Wat Khao Sukim and then follow the signs to where to park for Khao Khitchakut – basically you will come off of the main Route 3 – sukhumvit and either hit route 3322 or 3249 but once you are close to Wat Khao Sukim you will see signs directing traffic since there is only one way to get to the parking area where it all starts.

Sunrise at the base of Khao Khitchakut We started our morning at around 3:00 AM but the gods were not with us that early. First issue we ran into was having to wake someone at the resort cause the main gate was locked and we could not drive out. That took about 20 mins and set us back from our early departure some.

Next issue was none of our phones worked. There was no data signal and at times there was no signal at all. We use TRUE and none of us had data – so that meant the maps wouldn’t work. Fortunately I had been using Google Maps and a lot of the route was cached from the day before.

Road were very dark though so it took some u-turns and such to finally get there. All in all we made it to the main parking lot about 1 hour later than we wanted but was still dark. By the time we took the first truck to the main area the sun was just coming up and the sky was gorgeous.

Since there are so many people coming to this event and the mountain is only open for about 3 months – the scale of the operation is pretty impressive. We got to the first parking lot where there was food, buddha supplies and drinks. This is where you pay the 50 baht to get in the back of a truck and are taken to base control.

Truck loading at Khao Khitchakut

At the base is where there is a ton of food, lots of shops, and just a huge operation supporting the entire ordeal. There is even a gas station for all the trucks that ferry people up and down the mountain. The main thing at the bottom base station though is to quickly buy your tickets to get to the second base station. The tickets are 50 baht each as well and are ordered by number. So the sooner you buy one the sooner you get in a truck.

Like an auction house there is a Thai guy calling out numbers of trucks and which ticket numbers are associated with each truck. Basically once you hear your number and a truck number you jump in if you can fit but sometimes you get in the next one if you have to.

The ride up is nuts. Tough to explain or capture it well. Here is a video just to help set the stage some. I am still not clear who organizes this entire event or who manages the trucks but I think there are a few hundred trucks – many of them new. Toyotas, Isuzu, and Fords mostly. They are owned by some management company that also pays the drivers. They drive pretty fast since the goal is to move as many people as possible. I was told there have never been any major accidents cause the drivers are kind of trained and work the mountain every year.

The road is very steep and can be quite narrow but it is also very twisty. So sometimes the trucks are on one side for a particular turn or on the other for another one. They have signs that show them which angle to take and the trucks cross each other going up and down. It seems quite daunting as a passenger but it all works and is fascinating to watch. Once you get up to the second station you buy another ticket to get the rest of the way up and to the base of the trial head.

Khao Khitchakut Trail Head Once you get to the top is is madness with everyone buying stuff for buddha offerings and people jostling to get going. At this point I had no idea what was to entail. I assumed at this point I was close to wherever it was we were going but this is actually the beginning of the walk. My iOS to track all this was not working well due to location and lack of 3G most of the time but I estimate from this point we walked about 7-10 km and spent roughly 4.5 hours walking up and down to get to the actual end of all the walking.

Along the way there are various stops that have some religious significance – I can’t recall if we stopped at all of them or not but we managed to take in quite a few. What really stunned me though was not only how many people were on the mountain but the amount of shops selling things. Keep in mind they also had to bring their stuff up by having it carried up.

Throughout the trip you would see people carrying stuff up and down – bringing items and food in – taking garbage out. I think for these people that was their job – carrying stuff up and down the mountain. It looked liked the most back breaking work one could imagine. I was tired from just carrying my fat ass up and of course I had my daughter strapped to me which meant I was carrying an extra 9 kilos or so. The great thing was constantly getting a kick out of all the people who were surprised to see her make the journey. She loved every bit of it.
For those who do not wish to make the journey by foot there is a service for taking people up and down the mountain in a chair. I think it is 2000 baht for the ride up and down. 4 guys using a chair with support poles. You would see these going up and down the mountain all day. Mostly used by the elderly and people who are physically unable to make the climb.

Chair up Khao Khitchakut

At this point we had reached an area that I thought was about to reveal the end of the journey. The path was getting quite cramped and was full of bells and other things so it just felt like maybe this was getting to be about the end.

Narrow Path on Khao Khitchakut

However it turned out that this was about halfway and it was nearing the apex of one of the holy spots with a temple, lots of people and the famous rock on top of the mountain. This area also has a heli pad which I guess is used for emergencies but someone also mentioned some people pay for a helicopter to get them to this point. Nice!

Big Rock on Khao Khitchakut

This rock is the main one for people to worship at but it turns out that if you want to go all the way you keep walking past this – and we did. At this point I was just on auto pilot. We came across another famous spot and then stopped for some food that is served near the top. Changed a diaper, got some water and took a bathroom break. Can you guess which toilet is for the women?

Women's Toilet

To be honest I am not sure at each step what the religious significance was. At certain points there were monks, shrines and various natural things that would draw a crowd. You would also see many places for donations – like these umbrellas. My guess is the money intake during this is enormous.

Money Tree

At one point you will think you have to come to the end of it all but it turns out the trial keeps going down the mountain to the very end. We made it all the way and I estimate going to the very end to be about 5km of walking to about 10 or so there and back. This article mentions some of the distances, the things along the way and of course the famous Buddha Footprint which I don’t think I got a picture of.

All in all was quite the experience. Not sure I will do it till my daughter could walk since carrying kids is tough – more fun if they can walk. I would also start earlier – try to get to the mountain before sunrise so you see the sun coming up and the walk is cooler. Also be sure to keep an eye out for the shortcut on the way back – just remember that the food stop has a back way where they bring supplies in. Means you can get down to almost the bottom by using a back way that is mostly for supplies and people going down. Saves you some time since some of the paths come to a dead stop with so many people unable to pass each other.

Once you make it down I suggest stopping for break to grab a drink and some food since the truck ride down might be gnarly if you are tired and on an empty stomach. Once we got back to the main spot you then need to get another truck back to the parking lot which was free for the return. Then we grabbed some noodle soup before heading back to our hotel to swim and nap.

Enjoy!