Gee I don’t know why their customers felt unappreciated.

The Washington Post publication “Express”, intended for Washington DC subway riders and given away free of charge, ended publication yesterday.  (See DC’s free commuter paper ‘Express’ ends run with shot at smart phones.)

The final front page displayed a large headline:

“Hope you enjoy your stinkin’ phones”


My first thought when I saw this headline was that it reminded me of those shopping mall kiosk sales people who physically step in front of you to try to get you to stop and buy something, but then if you walk around them they cuss you out and spit at you as you go on about your business. And in my mind I’m thinking – quite sincerely – “well I was going to stop by on my way back to my car if I can get through the Apple store with time to spare before I have to get to work … but not now.”

Technology doesn’t compete with you, it merely enables competition. And if your customers are happy, they won’t leave. Radio still survives.

When Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post (owner of Express) in 2013 the company was in trouble. I was with some Post employees then and one said something like “good – we can keep doing what we’re doing” because “he won’t care that we’re losing money.”

Really? OK, Maybe, Bezos is, after all, a billionaire. And he had been willing to lose money with Amazon for years – but for an objective. What’s the objective with the Post? Did he have one? Maybe he would be willing to lose money indefinitely …

Not with the Post’s Express.

College Donations – An American Institution

Wealthy donors have contributed billions to America’s colleges and universities for years. The Chronicle for Higher Education, which I’ve often quoted in my companion website, published the following article citing a history of major contributions over the last few decades, going back to 1967:

Major Private Gifts to Higher Education

Some examples:

  • Michael Bloomberg to Johns Hopkins, several gifts totaling over $1 billion
  • Bill and Melinda Gates to University of Cambridge, over $200 million
  • Larry Ellison to University of Southern California (USC), over $200 million

The list is lengthy and the donors are interesting – it’s worth checking out.

The Winklevoss Twins are investing in

I’m intrigued by three former Harvard students.  Divya Narendra, and the Winklevoss Twins, or the “Winklevii”, as the Twitterverse calls them. For those who don’t know, Divya Narendra, Tyler Winklevoss, and Cameron Winklevoss are credited by many with having invented the Facebook concept while students at Harvard University, and creating a prototype, then hiring fellow student Mark Zuckerberg to build on the basic software and create a more complex system.  What happened next is the subject of several court actions:  Zuckerberg either stole their software and used it to create his version of Facebook, or created something original from scratch.  A lot of this is addressed in the 2010 movie The Social Network, based on the book Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich.

But … whatever happened to the Winklevoss Twins, and to Divya Narendra?  For one thing, the twins eventually won a $65 million settlement against Facebook, a company that was valued by Forbes in a Feb. 21 article at $67.8 billion.

But what are they doing now?

According to the Wall Street Journal, Divya Narendra co-founded a site called SumZero, which is a social network for professional investors.  He created it with fellow Harvard alum Aalap Mahadevia.

And now the Winklevii are investing as well.  “The band is back together”, the Journal quotes Tyler Winklevoss as saying.

The twins created Winklevoss Capital as a legal entity to invest the proceeds from the Facebook settlement, and SumZero is their first investment.

The concept is based on exclusivity.  Only qualified active investors are permitted access to the database, and only if they pass the application process.  Narendra personally reviews each application and reportedly rejects about 75 percent of them.  Once accepted, a user cannot simply lurk and monitor the work of others, but must maintain a certain level of activity to stay involved.

It’s an intriguing concept that draws an active group of participants and weeds out others, resulting in an exclusive high-quality community.

The official website is at



Migicovsky lands $15 million for Pebble

There’s a May 16, 2013 report at the way-cool blog TechCrunch that Eric Migicovsky has landed a $15M investment from Charles River Ventures.  The article includes an update of the now-famous Kickstarter campaign, stating that Migicovsky’s company is still working to fulfill the 85,000 orders they received via that crowdsourced fundraising effort.

If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, here’s a bit of background.

Migicovsky originally conceived of the Pebble and announced it through an online video in 2012.  Click here to see the original video they made to raise funds at Kickstarter at Vimeo.

The original fundraising target he posted at Kickstarter was $1 million.

Raising funds through a crowdsourcing website like Kickstarter isn’t the same as raising money through a traditional venture capitalize or accredited investor.  The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) doesn’t allow just anyone to sell stock to just anyone else.  The reason is that the SEC theoretically wants to protect what they call “unsophisticated” investors from being financially hurt by reckless business ventures or charlatans.   If you want to issue stock or solicit investment funds, you must recognize a number of legal disclosures and other regulations that often require an attorney to put together correctly.  That can be expensive.  Furthermore, your target audience may be limited to “accredited” investors, and most people don’t qualify.

To get around that, crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter take a different approach.  One way is to sell something to “investors”, so that they actually become customers, but with an understanding that the customers are purchasing something that may not deliver for a year or so.  Furthermore, there’s a risk that the item might not be delivered at all, but in exchange for that risk, the customer is also potentially getting in on the ground floor of a great product and potentially joining the cutting edge of a new technical development.

Migicovsky offered his Kickstarter customers a chance to purchase a functioning Pebble.  He had already made a prototype, and had determined that through mass production, he could afford to make them and sell them at $100 each, but only if he could sell at least 10,000 of them.  So the Kickstarter campaign deal told would-be buyers that if they were willing to put up $100 to buy a Pebble now, and if at least 10,000 people agreed within a 30 day period, then everyone would be charged $100 at the end of the 30 days, and he would deliver the Pebble within a year.

That was his promise.  The Kickstarter website would handle the payment collection and notification of all would-be customers.  Migicovsky needed 10,000 customers to pledge $100 within 30 days, so he could raise the $1 million.

The Kickstarter campaign launched April 11, 2012.  By May 18, the campaign had raised over $10 million.

It was the single largest amount ever raised through Kickstarter.

The big technology companies took notice.  Apple announced plans to build the iWatch, with similar integration to other devices like the Pebble, and biometrics, for delivery in 2014.

But that hasn’t stopped interest in the Pebble.  This month’s news about the $15M investment from Charles River Ventures underscores that fact.

The Pebble has a huge advantage on the software front.  Migicovsky’s team is offering the Pebble with its own open software developer kit (SDK), which they’re calling the PebbleKit. The SDK enables “third party apps to send and receive data from the smartwatch” as quoted from the TechCrunch article.  In addition, the “Pebble Sports API … enabl[es] developers to build GPS-enabled smartwatch apps similar to the RunKeeper app”.

TechCrunch also reports that the Pebble should be available via retail outlets in four to six months.  If you’re keeping track, that means the Pebble will be available in plenty of time for Christmas 2013, while Apple’s iWatch might be available sometime next year, maybe.  Perhaps.  It could happen.

We’ll continue to keep an eye on Skere9 Star Eric Migicovsky.  Stay tuned.

Lawsuits: Are software developers liable for security breakdowns?

TechRepublic is asking an interesting question:  should software developers be sued for security failures in their code?

They point out that if a restaurant serves you food that makes you sick, you can sue.  You might not win, but you can file a lawsuit.

the LawAnd you’re probably already imagining a host of other scenarios like this – if a car is defective and you’re in a crash as a result, or if you’re on an elevator and it shuts down unexpectedly and you’re thrown forward, etc.  For any of these, you can sue.

So what if a software system upon which you rely – fails in its promise, implied or explicit, to protect your information from unauthorized access?

A lot of software license agreements include declarations from vendors that they are not responsible for security breakdowns.  You know this, of course, because you carefully read the several dozen pages of license agreements that pop up every time you want to download an MP3 file containing your favorite pop song for 99 cents.

European bodies are beginning to take legal action to overturn these waivers, opening up software developers to legal liability.  TechRepublic reports:

… a House of Lords committee recommend[ed] such a measure be implemented in 2007 and European Commissioners argu[ed] for the requirement in 2009 – however agreements to this effect have not been passed

Do you think these agreements will be passed?  And if Europe passes these agreements, is the U.S. far behind?

And if so, what will that do to software vendors?

I have a theory:  if these laws come into being, I predict that software will stop offering password protection of any kind whatsoever. If they don’t write it into the software, they won’t be held liable for any implied protection.  After all, by omitting any protection whatsoever, what could someone sue them for?

Mediawiki is the software that drives the website.  Their software uses optional logins for identifying contributors, but not for protecting information – in fact, the point of a wiki is to publish everything, not protect anything.  If you wish to protect it, you move it into a password-protected folder at the web server (HTTP server) level.

I think that’s the direction in which all software will go, if these laws pass – all password protection will end, and information security will go modular, with just a few dedicated vendors taking on the challenge of providing some sort of plug-and-play or location-based security, and by “location” I mean on your hard drive, or in the cloud.

The dedicated vendor that figures out how to move into that space reliably will make a killing in the market place.

Provided they don’t get sued.

For the full article, see


Harvard’s Mechling on Technology

I love Professor Jerry Mechling.  He’s a legend at the Harvard Kennedy School, which I still think of as the John F. Kennedy School of Government.  I studied under Professor Mechling in Boston in few years ago, in the E-Government program, and it was a remarkable experience.  Professor Mechling has a razor-sharp insight into macro trends in technology and its use in government and its interaction with business.  He’s a one-man catalyst to technology innovation the world today, in my opinion.

A lot of such innovation starts at the grass roots, in bits and bytes and in ways that end-users don’t see coming.  We’ve all witnessed the results of such events over the last several decades  Who saw the coming of the Internet, of social networking, of mobile devices?  Not many. But a few did. You’ll find them among a select few science fiction writers, and of course the visionaries who made it happen.  These people are gems.

And you’ll find one of those gems in the person of Jerry Mechling.  He’s adept at bringing together movers and shakers, both as students and as supplemental presenters to his courses, as he fosters fascinating exchanges and debate, triggering everyone to think in new ways they probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.  By integrating a carefully selected cross-section of movers and shakers in his workshop format, he uniquely positions himself to generate creative thinking, and captures current thought from across the most amazing spectrum of fascinating people, which he funnels right back into the discussions he orchestrates.  He’s a force in technical innovation and implementation in the world today, in a way that we who have been fortunate enough to invest some time in his world have witnessed.  But I don’t think these truths are well known beyond those circles.

His methods are part of the overall Harvard tradition, and Professor Mechling is one of the reasons that Harvard continues to be at the forefront of innovative thought and groundbreaking trends.

Don’t forget:  Bill Gates invented the concept of Microsoft while a student at Harvard.  And the Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook while there as well.  The fact that these and other worldwide trends originated at Harvard is not a coincidence.  It’s a reflection of what goes on there.

So it was fun for me to see this recent video, featuring an interview of Professor Mechling with John O’Leary, executive editor of Better, Faster, Cheaper.  It’s about five minutes long.  It’s quick and insightful – with some key nuggets of wisdom from Professor Mechling.  See below.


Social Networking, Security, and Michael Dell’s Teenage Daughter

Michael Dell’s daughter is in the news this week.

I first got a chance to meet Michael Dell in June of 2000 when he spoke at the National Press Club.  The event was coordinated by a friend, the ever so sweet and very hip Gayela Bynum, and moderated by Jack Cushman, who was the Club’s president that year, and who I was able to work with on some tech projects at the Club – Jack was one of the key club leaders at the Club who recognized the power of the World Wide Web early on.

The entire event is still online at C-Span’s online video archives:

Michael Dell at the National Press Club - June 8, 2000

I was in the audience, right up front:

June 8, 2000 - Michael Dell at the National Press Club

I remember clearly that the introduction for Michael Dell was stunning, even to me, and I thought I’d known Dell Computers fairly well already.  Michael Dell, at 35 years old, was announced by Jack as “the youngest CEO of any Fortune 500 company”.  Dell Computers had already become the top seller of personal computers worldwide at the time, selling $40M per day online.  Jack went on to say that Dell stock had risen 79,000 percent in the prior ten years, and in 1999 the Wall Street Journal named Dell Computers as the number 1 company in terms of total return to investors in the previous 3-year, 5-year, and 10-year periods.  You can hear all of this in the video link above.

Michael Dell was already a rather wealthy man that day in 2000.  He’s even more so now.  And he reportedly spends about $3 million on private security.

But that didn’t stop his daughter from taking to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr to do what pretty much most teenagers do nowadays:  announce their every move and constant whereabouts to the world through social apps.

Unfornately for the very typical teenager, her parents aren’t so typical.  And apparently somebody in the mix didn’t like that she published a detailed invitation to a graduation dinner, two weeks in advance, with the exact whereabouts of everyone involved out there for the world to see.  (“Dell CEO’s Daughter Booted From Twitter For Security Reasons”,, August 14, 2012)

So her Twitter account has been shut down.  Alas.

Security is an issue when you’re a gazillionnaire.  But for that matter – it’s an issue for all of us.  Just because you weren’t the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 in June of 2000 doesn’t mean you should ignore your own personal security today.

Something to consider.

Going back to that June 2000 speech I attended … if you watch that video, you’ll near Jack close the event with a great line.  The Club always gives an official National Press Club coffee mug to each speaker at the end of their talk, as one of a few tokens of appreciation for the speaker’s efforts and time.  Jack presented the mug to Michael as the “world renowned and highly coveted National Press Club coffee mug”, adding: “I recommend you install java in this before you use it”.  HA!  Such a geek thing to say, I love it.  For those of you aren’t software developers, Java is a great software development language. Obviously it is also a reference to coffee. Excellent pun.

But you probably already knew all of that!