Monday, December 28, 2009

Tax I can sign up for...

Not only do I hope a gas tax is no longer unthinkable, I also hope it is inevitable. Given all the pressures facing the US national balance sheet, and the failure of Copenhagen, it is really one of the few win-win solutions out there.



I think economists, even the likes of Greg Mankiw would agree.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The art of a decade

As we wrap up the first decade of the 21st century, there is some interesting (albeit inevitable) thinking about what were the trends that defined the last 10 years.

A very nice article in the WSJ highlights the “un-trend”, the lack of a single artistic trend that identifies, defines and shapes our dearly departed decade. The writer attributes this to the inability of a critical mass to form around a single thought or movement, similar to what may have formed in artistic centers this time last century…

The key factor in stylistic evolution was geographical concentration: One of the reasons that so many turn-of-the-century painters embraced cubism was that an unusually high percentage of them lived in Paris and knew one another, just as jazz took shape in New Orleans rather than Detroit.

Another problem is a coherent mass media that once helped define trends way back when…

Would Andy Warhol have become an art-world superstar if magazines like Time hadn't proclaimed that he "best plays the part of what a pop artist might expectably be"? I doubt it, just as I doubt that The Beatles would have taken America by storm without the help of Ed Sullivan.

I made a similar point about the lack of an authoritative voice in the mass media when I contemplated the next Cronkite

The main argument I have against this article is that it is too soon to make a judgment that there is no artistic trend to define Decade: 1, Century: 21. I suspect that the various romanti-cubi-surreal-isms that we assign other eras were only obvious in retrospect, after the decade had well passed-on.

The Economist makes the point that the real winner is the blockbuster, which is still able to corral people to one place around one screen, but these blockbusters do not a trend define. (Can’t find the link now, just go to Economist.com and hunt around for the link if you’re interested.)

We are living in an era of fractured audiences and fractured art. What will be interesting is that someday (maybe in this decade) someone will be able to present a huge big (and sustainable) idea across the fractured mediascape.

The word “sustainable” is important because right now we get a lot of huge ideas on our Facebooktwitteryoutube page, that are big, exciting but ultimately fleeting (Susan Boyle anyone… and yes, I know she has an album out).

So who will present this huge multiplatform idea that stays with us? I have no idea, but it will happen. Just as the universe expands and contracts, so will the mediaspace. Now it is expanding across different ideas, technologies and genres, and that’s cool. But some sort of cosmic gravity will begin to pull that together someday and the result will be a new way of consuming all the media we’ve created.

Until that time, I’ll leave the final word with the author:

That un-trend is the only identifiable one to have emerged in contemporary American culture. As every smart pollster knows, we live in a deeply divided country, one in which not enough people agree about anything to allow artistic trends to flourish. That's neither good nor bad -- it just is. And it isn't going away.


Technology and the End of Trend

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Canada's fossilized thinking....

But Prentice says Canada didn't need to be there (Obama'a climate meeting) because it's only responsible for two per cent of the world's emissions.

Yeah, 2% of world's emissions but only 0.5% of the world's population. So Canada is a huge per capita emitter, has a huge energy sector but "no thanks" we don't need to participate in any meaningful discussions on climate change.

It is that attitude that doesn't get Canada invited to substantive talks. It is that attitude the causes Canada to slide further down the "relevant country" scale.

Lame.

Feds say they didn't stand aside in climate talks

Friday, December 18, 2009

Building a VC industry, the Israel example

I recently participated in a conversation with one of the original architects of the Yozma initiative, which helped build the VC industry in Israel.

Here are some bullet points from that conversation:
• In the early 1990s, Israel’s government committed $100M as an LP across 10 venture funds
• The goal was to entice foreign VC funds to Israel to invest in companies and train local VC managers (funds were from US, Europe and Asia)
• The funds had the option to buy out the Israeli share within 5 years at a low rate (there was a pre-set formula, it turned out to be ~7%)
• 8 of the 10 funds were doing so well, they exercised the option
• The foreign funds had to have a local partner; the Yozma administrators had a veto over the who would be the local partner
• In only one instance did Yozma reject a candidate; in all other instances Yozma supported whichever local partner the foreign fund found
• Low taxes on foreign investors, no capital gains tax

The result was:
• Foreign funds came in with expertise to train and mentor the next generation of VC managers (this is by far the most important result)
• With the buy-out option, funds had the potential for additional upside at low risk (there were no guarantees for downside)
• In five years, the government got back $140M from their $100M investment
• Spawned about 70 new VC companies in Israel (which has since been pared down to about 35)

What also made Yozma a success was that there was a steady pipeline of companies ready to be funded, mostly coming out of the defense industry. Also, because Israel is such a small market and has hostile neighbors, companies have to think global from day one (as opposed to regional or local). This “global from day one” is also part of the philosophy that made Indian ITS companies so successful.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Rupert, you're right about the media!

OK, if this isn't one of the horsemen of the apocalypse, I don't know what is but yes, on one point, I actually whole-heartedly agree with Rupert Murdoch.

Here is the apocalyptic point:

The key to survival, he said, lies in giving consumers content that they want in the form that they want it — whether that be on a computer screen, mobile device or e-reader — and then charging for it.

"We need to do a better job of persuading consumers that high-quality, reliable news and information does not come free," Murdoch said. "Good journalism is an expensive commodity."


Right! Give people the quality they want, in a form they want it in, at a reasonable price, paid for in a convenient way.

It's worked for other forms of entertainment and while this isn't the silver bullet to save journalism, but it is a good start.

Generating quality journalism is a difficult process and deserves to be paid for. If we're willing to pay 99 cents for a pop tune, we should be willing to pay a similar amount to maintain one of the key pillars to civil society.


Murdoch: Media must get readers to pay for online

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Damn the Aid

I was recently directed to what is probably the most damning opinion on foreign aid I’ve come across in a while (hat tip Jodi and Tracy.)

Here’s the bottom line:
Over the past 60 years at least $1 trillion of development-related aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa. Yet real per-capita income today is lower than it was in the 1970s, and more than 50% of the population -- over 350 million people -- live on less than a dollar a day, a figure that has nearly doubled in two decades.

The point the author makes is that Africa (and I would add other developing nations) needs investment and not aid. When you accept investment, be it equity or debt, there is significant responsibility attached to provide a return. In other words, you need to make the money work so you can pay back your investors.

Hopefully the money you make with the investment is more than what you need to pay back. If so, you have economic growth and that is good.

It’s not a perfect system, but it seems to work in places like India, SE Asia and more recently in Latin America (the Economist gushed on Brazil in its cover story a few weeks back.)

I’ve touched on this point before, but my view is that the world is awash with capital trying to find its way into places like Africa. Yes, I know there is a credit crunch going on but I think the view still holds.

African countries could start by issuing bonds to raise cash. To be sure, the traditional capital markets of the U.S. and Europe remain challenging. However, African countries could explore opportunities to raise capital in more non-traditional markets such as the Middle East and China (whose foreign exchange reserves are more than $4 trillion). Moreover, the current market malaise provides an opening for African countries to focus on acquiring credit ratings (a prerequisite to accessing the bond markets), and preparing themselves for the time when the capital markets return to some semblance of normalcy.

I would also add multilateral institutions and development banks as potential partners. Yes they have been part of the problem in the past, endlessly financing non-returning projects. But there are factions within these organizations that are now demanding a return and reform for their development financing dollars, and that is a good thing.

Corporations are eager to invest in developing country as well. The problem is there aren’t any good projects to invest in. There is a lot of money sitting on the sidelines waiting for the right time to enter Africa (I’m talking about investment in things other than resource extraction).

So what is everyone waiting for? Institutional reform for one (or even institutional creation in some instances)

Governments need to attract more foreign direct investment by creating attractive tax structures and reducing the red tape and complex regulations for businesses. African nations should also focus on increasing trade; China is one promising partner. And Western countries can help by cutting off the cycle of giving something for nothing. It's time for a change.

I would disagree with the point on China. Yes, China is pouring money into Africa but it is doing so to buy up resources and it is hard to see China making the demands for reform an outside investor has to make on Africa. Recent news from Dubai may make the Middle East a less active investor as well.



Why Foreign Aid Is Hurting Africa - WSJ.com

Monday, November 23, 2009

BRIC? BIIC?

Nouriel Roubini questions whether Russia is solid enough to be a BRIC. I have to admit, I've had the same reservation (not that anyone noticed/cared.)

He makes an case for a number of other countries that should be included in the most famous acronym in the emerging markets; Turkey, Mexico and so on. All good choices, Turkey especially.

He also makes this point:
Indonesia, moreover, has shown resilience not only economically, but also as a nation. In spite of its diverse ethnic makeup and far-flung island territory, the country has made a quick transition from military dictatorship and has recovered from myriad challenges and setbacks, including the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the tsunami in 2004, the emergence of radical Islam, and domestic unrest. While Indonesia’s per capita GDP remains low, it is a country’s potential that matters in economic affairs, and here Indonesia shines.

I couldn't agree more.

News tries to Bing Google... may get Bonged

So play this WSJ/Bing drama out in your head (which is what I’m doing past midnight, so please forgive any fatigued leaps of logic)…

Bing pays NewsCorp some amount of money to be the exclusive search engine for its news properties, including the WSJ. It probably wouldn’t be a huge amount because Murdoch has it in for Google and being a thorn in the Googlers’ side is probably payment enough.

What happens next? WSJ traffic drops because about 75% of the searching population can’t find it? Maybe.

Or maybe other newspapers try to get a piece of the goods and start demanding either Bing or Google shell out some dough to search their sites.

If all the newspapers band together and demand payment for search from Bing or Google, that would be pretty powerful. That is a pretty big if, to assume that all media outlets would bandy together like that. Maybe the market would fracture and WSJ would go with Bing and NYT would go with Google.

Take this thought process one step farther and you have Bing as the conservative search site and Google as the liberal one. This may be stretching the thought process a bit but if this happens, it would royally suck and instead of the internet being a free forum of ideas, it would be bifurcated into two enormous echo chambers. But I digress….

Anyway, back to earth …. So Bing and Google begin to recoup their additional costs by charging advertisers a premium for placement on news related.

Of course, then some cottage industry would spring up of mirroring stories across the Net so any exclusivity to Bing or to Google would really only last a very short while. Like 2 seconds. That would lessen the incentive for advertisers to pay premium ad rates for exclusive content that isn’t really exclusive.

Anyway, you could continue to game this out back and forth in your head until you’re exhausted (as I was, when I first started this ramble.)

Bottom line, content is still king. You can play around with these funny web restrictions but ultimately, it is hard to imagine how they will work in a scalable fashion. The music industry tried all sort of “too-clever-by-half” legal and technical means to try to stop music pirating. Ultimately, they came to the realization of “hey, why don’t we give the customer what they want in a form they want it?” (epiphany courtesy Mr. Jobs)

This NewsCorp/Bing deal has the same feel to it. Instead of giving people the news in a manner and format that is of value to them (ie, that they will pay for) large companies with more money than savvies are trying to come up with ways to restrict content in the online world, which inherently defies restriction.

But then again, Rupert has shown his online chops by making MySpace such a success….

Bing Tries To Buy The News - washingtonpost.com

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Climbing out of the Aid Trap

Although I would probably disagree with Glenn Hubbard about a lot of things, I am very eager to read his new book questioning the efficacy of past international aid initiatives.

The simple truth is that billions have been spent on aid, and billions are still left in poverty. Something clearly isn’t working. I understand that Hubbard looks at the post WWII Marshall Plan for inspiration on what could be done in the 21st century to address global poverty. Interesting idea.

Here’s a great quote talking about why microfinance isn’t enough. I’ll pre-empt the quote to say that I agree. Microfinance is great in certain instances, the rural poor for example, to help people on the path to economic development. But microfinance doesn’t really help SMBs and there is a real gap in the market there. Often SMBs are too big for microfinance, but too small for a regular bank loan, so they’re stuck. Happily, this gap seems to be filling in in many countries

Microfinance can be a catalyst for entrepreneurship up to a certain stage of business development, but the businesses launched through microfinance need to develop into full-fledged small businesses if they are to promote greater economic growth. Small and medium-sized businesses are the source of growth in all countries. Eighty percent of China’s employment, for example, is in small business — not in microfinance.

The barriers to growing past micro-entrepreneurship are formidable. Starting a formally-recognized business can require months of waiting, and paying enormous fees — including bribes — as the Doing Business rankings show. An example we use in the book is Mozambique, where starting a business requires forms 12 government agencies; you also have to pay bribes to each of the 12 government employees who stamp your documents. When you have 12 stamps, you can — at last — run your business without fear of being shut down. Similar hurdles in other countries mean that micro-entrepreneurs have a very difficult time becoming a political or economic force strong enough to challenge the status quo.

The bright spot is that micro-lenders are increasingly expanding their loan programs to serve not only individuals, but also established small and medium-sized businesses. Our proposal includes provisions for supporting existing small and medium-sized businesses through microfinance institutions.


Climbing out of the Aid Trap

Friday, November 06, 2009

Woman passes 950th driving test

Valuable lesson in persistence. She narrowly beats my record for most driving tests attempted.

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Woman passes 950th driving test

Friday, August 28, 2009

What the credit crisis should tell us about climate change

Given how well excessive financial engineering seems to have buggered the economy, I’m amazed that there are some who advocate “climate engineering” to address the issue of global warming.

I’m all for trying out new technologies, in addition to reducing carbon emissions, as a way to try to mitigate some of the potential damage that climate change could have on the very fabric of humanity.

But thinking that there are some quick and easy gadget-driven fixes such as, and I quote: “one proposal would have boats spray seawater droplets into clouds above the sea to make them reflect more sunlight back into space” seems a little...ahem...pie-in-the-sky.

To further quote:
Some economic models find that target impossible to reach without drastic action, like cutting the world population by a third. Other models show that achieving the target by a high CO2 tax would reduce world GDP a staggering 12.9% in 2100—the equivalent of $40 trillion a year.

Some may claim that global warming will be so terrible that a 12.9% reduction in GDP is a small price to pay. But consider that the majority of economic models show that unconstrained global warming would cost rich nations around 2% of GDP and poor countries around 5% by 2100.


Right, because, as we’ve noticed with a credit crisis, economic models have served us so well.

Again, I’m not trying to be anti-intellectual here. I greatly respect the models economists do as a guide to help us think about the possible consequences of our actions. But that is all they are, models and guides, which do, and should, change as new data becomes available. I greatly respect technology as a fundamental tool for human advancement. But that is all technology is, a tool used by intelligent people, not a deus ex machina, bailing us out at the critical moment of tragedy.

In a time when we worry about how government action will have “unintended consequences” on the global economy, I’m amazed at how readily people accept the notion of climate engineering. The Earth’s climate is an infinitely more complex system than the global economy. The climate is the poster child for Chaos theory and how small perturbations can lead to enormous and unexpected results.

I defer here to Black Swan Nicholas Nassim Taleb who has had some of the most fascinating comments on our current economic crisis. Of climate change he said:

I am hyper-conservative ecologically (meaning super-Green). My position on the climate is to avoid releasing pollutants in the atmosphere, on the basis of ignorance, regardless of current expert opinion (climate experts, like banking risk managers, have failed us in the past in foreseeing long term damages and I cannot accept certainty in a certain class of nonlinear models). This is an extension of my general idea that one does not need rationalization with the use of complicated models (by fallible experts) to the edict: "do not disturb a complex system" since we do not know the consequences of our actions owing to complicated causal webs. (Incidentally, this ideas also makes me anti-war). I explicitly explained the need to “leave the planet the way we got it” .



Bjorn Lomborg: Technology Can Fight Global Warming - WSJ.com

Inversion of Statements Made During My Meeting With David Cameron

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Global warming money for Africa... great idea.. in concept....

So here's the jist of the deal:

Experts say Africa contributes little to the pollution blamed for warming, but is likely to be hit hardest by the droughts, floods, heatwaves and rising sea levels forecast if climate change is not checked.

The draft resolution, which must still be approved by the 10 leaders, called for rich countries to pay $67 billion annually to counter the impact of global warming in Africa.


Kinda makes sense, doesn't it? Africa contributed least to global warming yet they might get hit hardest, so they want something for their troubles.

Sure, who could argue that it isn’t only fair? In concept anyway….

Trying to figure out how this would be deployed in practice makes my head hurt (or maybe my head hurts from the other work I should be doing, instead of goofing off and reading the news off the Internet). As I've said here a few times, the world is not short of cash for emerging countries. Between development banks, organizations and thoughtful individuals, there is actually a lot of cash floating around.

The problem is, how do you reasonably deploy and track that cash? Therein lies the rub. As someone who spends time on issues such as this, I can say there is far more cash than deployment models out there.

I hope this global warming reimbursement idea comes with some deployment and monitoring ideas. If so, it will have a higher probability of success.

Africa wants $67 bln a year in global warming funds | U.S. | Reuters

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Will there be another Cronkite?

VentureBeat asks the interesting (if perhaps rhetorical) question of who will be the Walter Cronkite of the blogosphere. The question makes us realize for what we have gained in “democratizing” the media through online publishing, we’ve lost in credible, authoritative voices. I put “democratizing” in quotes because although blogs allow many people to come online and report/voice opinions, it also makes it far easier to tune out voices and ideas that one may not agree with.

It may be a democratization of voices (anyone can contribute) but I fear more often than not it is a ghettoization of ideas; meaning that disparate ideas are kept in various corners of the blogosphere that are visited only by people who agree and support those ideas.

So will there be a new Walter Cronkite? Probably not, because at the moment there isn’t a single online platform that has the universal reach and authority of a CBS news (back in the day.)

It is kinda like asking if anyone will sell more records that Michael Jackson. The answer is nope, because no one is making records.


Who will be the Walter Cronkite of the blogosphere? | VentureBeat

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Venture capital in America: The brightest and the rest | The Economist

Few thoughts here based on the Economist story:

Is it really “Too much money has been chasing too few great start-ups” as written in the subhead or is the problem as indicated further down the story“…much of the money has ended up in me-too companies that will not become the shining stars venture funds so badly need. All that cash has also inflated valuations of fledgling businesses, making it harder for VC funds to turn a profit on them.”

To modify the sub-head, I’m inclined to think that it is too much money chasing the same types of companies; everyone simultaneously going after Web 2.0, cleantech or whatever is sexy at the time. Potentially great companies that are not a flavor-du-jour are left behind while Paris Hilton companies (trendy but vapid) are actively sought after. (Is she still trendy… I’m so out of touch!)

Also, this is focused on the US. I think there are great VC opportunities abroad. The challenge here (as highlighted before) isn’t the lack of money or the lack of good business ideas, it is the lack of highly experienced VCs who can play the mentoring role to help local entrepreneur with great technologies build great companies.


Venture capital in America: The brightest and the rest | The Economist

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Food stamps as stimulus

I remember when the various Stimulus packages were discussed a few months ago, there was scoffing in some corners about how providing money for low income people in the form of added food stamps, unemployment insurance and so on would count as “stimulus.”

Well, here is your answer:

Mr. Kraklio now regularly takes in several hundred dollars a month from food-stamp sales, a vital new revenue stream that has allowed him to hire another assistant to help tend a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables. The new worker, in turn, spends her income in nearby stores, restaurants and gas stations.

Money from the program -- officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- percolates quickly through the economy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture calculates that for every $5 of food-stamp spending, there is $9.20 of total economic activity, as grocers and farmers pay their employees and suppliers, who in turn shop and pay their bills.


When rich people get more money, they tend to spend less of that incremental income because...well... they already have what they need. Having stuff and not really being in need is one of the many benefits of being rich. If you have a ton of cash, and someone gives you a bit more, you’re not going to rush out to spend it. (Or so I’m told, I have no direct experience owning a ton of cash.)

But if you’re poor, and you get access to incremental income (either through direct cash infusion or through something like food stamps that offsets an expense) you’re going to spend more of that income on other stuff you need (or want) but that you regularly couldn't afford. Poor people may have less disposable income, but they spend a greater percentage of it because they have more unfulfilled needs.

Call it trickle-up economics.

So while some of the stimulus package remains mired in bureaucracy, it is nice to see a simple, logical, economics-backed idea take shape and actually provide some real stimulus.



Boost in Food-Stamp Funding Percolates Through Economy - WSJ.com

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Working on my new investment strategy

So over the past couple of months/years, my personal finances have become a bit of a mess. I had too many accounts with too many brokers and it was too hard to tell what was going on. So some accounts got super-whacked by the recession and some got brutally-whacked. I wasn’t sure which got whacked the hardest and why so over the past little while I’ve been consolidating all the accounts into one place, so I can get a nice overview of what is going on.

I got phase 1 completed a few weeks back and now have a single view on our various retirement and retail accounts (well, sorta, no sense in going into the gory details.)

Now, what to do with what little cash remains?

The accounts are currently filled with a variety of funds but I get the sense there is a lot of overlap here. Different funds, probably covering the same parts of the market, exist in different accounts; I’m going to have to spend some time untangling and figuring out which are the funds to keep and which I should jettison. Diversity is still your friend, and I think I have a lot of redundancy.

I’ve already done a couple of moves. In one account (Roth IRA) I loaded up on a TIPS fund. Yes, I am very worried about inflation and since that account didn’t have any bonds in it, I took the TIPS mutual fund route. My wife and I have a Roth each so I don’t mind sacrificing growth on one, if I think it is a little less risky. Right now, a TIPS mutual fund sounds like the right kind of risk mitigation.

In the retail account, I went back to an old friend, EWZ (Brazil ETF.) I made pretty good money off if this ETF over the past 5-6 years. Last year I fell asleep at the wheel and got totally spanked in Oct when this ETF fell like a ton of bricks (BRICs?)

Anyway it seems to be coming back and while I’ve missed some of the early upside, there may be more to come (I hope!) I’ve always liked Brazil. It has a solid financial sector, good exposure to commodities but still pretty diversified with a strong manufacturing base as well.

In the retail account I also bought into a California Municipal Bond fund. Yes, I know the state’s finances suck but I’m counting on it not defaulting. The yield may go up on the state’s munis so that may be nice plus I’m looking for a little tax protection.

I’ll let you know as to my other moves. Basically in my other accounts (IRA, Roth IRA) I’ve got a bunch of large-cap funds, which I need to diversify away from, and a REIT, which I may keep, I’m not sure yet.

Monday, June 29, 2009

China's Super-Sovereign Reserve Currency Idea: Could the SDR Be a Reserve Currency?

China's Super-Sovereign Reserve Currency Idea: Could the SDR Be a Reserve Currency?

This I think is one of the more interesting thoughts on China's push to SDR's as reserve currency:

"Foley: In the short term the costs to the US of losing its role as the reserve currency would be significant as it would lose seignorage benefits and ability to borrow in its own currency. In the longer term, the U.S. would benefit as it would regain some control over its currency. A central currency would make it harder for one country to get into so much debt to another. If the currency was increased along with global GDP it could provide a steady store of value."

Although bitter medicine, the US dollar losing its place as the global reserve currency could actually benefit the US economy in the long-term because it would force the US to lessen its reliance on debt and increase its savings.

Yes, that would cut consumption and lower growth rates, but the growth that does occur will be more stable and sustainable.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Microloans need macro-mentoring

Very similar to the point I was making with C-BAM

Indeed, the nonprofit research group Innovations for Poverty Action in New Haven, Conn., published a paper in May that found that Peruvian villagers who had received microloans and had been randomly selected to receive business training performed significantly better than peers who had received loans and no financial education.

Canada and Peru are obviously two very different economies, but the point is that capital, be it microloans or big-buck Silicon Valley VC money, isn’t effective in building great businesses and fueling economic growth if there isn’t some sort of mentoring or business education to back it up.

Capital and mentoring are ying and yang, they need to work in harmony to produce a single successful business. The challenge is that while capital is relatively easy and quick to deploy in emerging markets, finding sustained, experienced, and committed mentoring on-the-ground in poor areas is very hard. People with the right knowledge and experience don’t tend to live in poverty-stricken areas. They’ve used their talents to move elsewhere in search of a better life.

In Canada, the need for mentoring is important, but less acute than in emerging markets, and C-BAM provides one easy fix. Canada is obviously a developed capitalist economy and the start-ups we’re dealing with are already staffed with highly educated and sophisticated people, so we’re starting at a huge advantage. Plus there is the benefit of being in a similar timezone as enthusiastic mentors and having ready access to technologies such as TP.

In poor rural areas, the need for mentoring is there in a big way but there is no sustainable, scalable way to provide it. I know for a fact experienced people want to help micro-enterprises and while parachuting experts in from time-to-time may be better then nothing, it isn’t a true fix.

Having spent some time bouncing around emerging markets, I can see what kind of important tool business mentoring is for development. I don’t have an answer here, maybe as internet video technology spreads farther and wider it will be easier to do C-BAM type events.

Small Business - Teaching Business Basics in the Developing World - NYTimes.com

C-BAM: Mentoring Canadian start-ups, Silicon Valley-style

I’ve written here and elsewhere that a main problem with the start-up communities in different parts of the world (both developed and emerging) isn’t the lack of capital, it is the lack of mentoring. While it may seem counter-intuitive in this age of “credit crisis”, the world is actually flush with capital opportunities if you have the right business plan.

Aye, there’s the rub, coming up with a business plan that investors will feel comfortable with. A lot of the times you come across great ideas, interesting technologies but weak companies and inexperienced (although usually very enthusiastic) management teams.

This is where mentoring comes in. An experienced mentor can help a start-up get its business plan in order and can provide an inexperienced/enthusiastic management team with the sage advice and coaching that will calm a rattled investors’ nerves.

Enter C-BAM!

C-BAM stands for Canada-Bay Area Mentoring (goofy name I know, it was the best I could come up with at the time) and the goal is to provide some Silicon Valley style advice to promising start-ups up in Canada.

The program is exciting to me because it uses technology to bring business mentoring to a whole new level. Although this is not a Cisco event, we used Cisco’s Telepresense (TP) to link up mentors in the Bay Area and start-ups in Canada (in our first instance, in Ottawa.) The start-ups pitched their companies via TP and got real-time feedback from a super group of experienced Canadian Bay Area-based executives and VCs.

(If you think there aren’t a lot of fantastically talented Canadian executives and VCs in the Bay Area, I challenge you to come down here, pick up a rock, throw it and try not to hit one. It can’t be done, I’ve tried.)

We had the first C-BAM last week and I think (hope) we were able to provide some real value to the participating start-ups. We looked at start-ups in the mobile, video conferencing and semiconductor optimization spaces. I have to say the companies were far more sophisticated than I had anticipated, so the discussions happened at a really advanced level.

We still have a few kinks to work out in the overall format but we’re continuing to plan future events, so I’m sure C-BAM will get better in each iteration.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Can we adapt to climate change?

I’ve been reading the terrific book “A Short History of Progress” and one of the more fascinating questions author Ronald Wright asks is, if people have been on the earth for 1-2 million years, how come we only developed agriculture some 10,000 years ago?

Wright’s answer, because the global climate entered a phase of unusual stability that allowed humans to nurture domestic plants and therefore create agriculture.

That’s why I’m highly skeptical of people who say we can adapt to on-going climate change. I don’t think they appreciate the scale of the devastation to humanity if climate change continues. It is not a function of wearing lighter clothes in parts of the world that get warmer or buying more umbrellas in parts fo the world that get wetter, it is about the very basis of our food supply being threatened with extinction.

"The projected rapid rate and large amount of climate change over this century will challenge the ability of society and natural systems to adapt," the report says.

Report: Climate Change Already Affecting U.S. - washingtonpost.com

Reaching out to emerging markets

Fantastic piece inthe Globe on Canada’s need to expand its economic and commercial horizons beyond the US. This has been a refrain for some time now but the writer nicely summarizes the key points. As I deal in emerging markets investments for a large US firm this topic is of particular interest to me. At conferences and in conversations, Canada is noticeable absent from the emerging markets dialog.

Canada does not have a holistic strategy on how to engage emerging markets. I use the word “holistic” because it needs to include Canada’s foreign policy and international trade interests. It seems to me that there is a separation of church and state in Canada around foreign policy and trade. In our economically interconnected world, this separation is not a sophisticated strategy. With a relatively strong banking sector, Canada has the unique opportunity to use its national balance sheet to create economic and policy linkages in the emerging markets.

Don’t forget, the emerging markets are going through a recession because the West, a main customer, is going through a recession. But there isn’t a fundamental crisis of finance in the emerging markets as there is in the West (an ironic twist of fate, one could say.) So the emerging markets remain open to do business with whoever still has capital.

Despite current challenges, Canada still has capital, but it is not seizing the opportunity to use it and expand its economic and political influence.

Some thoughts on what the writer said:
By 2050, China and India are set to be the No. 1 and No. 3 economies in the world by GDP, and together will be larger than the G7 combined.

Yes, but the US is still #2, so let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. And if we look at GDP per capita, the US will remain number 1 for a very long time.

Moreover, the emerging patterns of global trade, travel and investment are increasingly multidirectional - from China to Africa, Brazil to India and no longer guaranteed to flow through the once dominant hubs of Europe and the United States.

Great point. All Western countries, not just Canada, need to better understand this trend.

Our competitors are cued up with active strategies and we risk losing out if we do not act quickly and with focus.


The US and Europe have diverse strategies that engage the emerging markets with a combination of aid, expertise, commercial contacts, loans, equity investments, technology sharing, JVs, the list goes on and on. It involves national governments and companies together creating linkages in the emerging markets and using a portfolio of investments, loans and grants to win influence and business. Canada doesn’t seem to get this.

The structural advantage is we have a good story for the times. Canada's relative financial stability amidst crisis, our advanced resource markets, quiet excellence in many of the emerging 21st-century technology areas, from clean tech to agriculture, in addition to the advantage that comes from our diversity, make for a compelling story that, if marketed well, will find ready global audiences.

Agreed

Being a destination and source of trade with India is essential - but better still, we need to be part of India's strategy for Brazil. Innovative trade and corporate strategies should be focused on building these trade triangles.

Genius.. This man for PM.

An effective diversification strategy requires focusing even greater corporate and public diplomatic resources on three key markets: Latin America, China and India.

What can I add?

To send the right signal to corporate India, Canadian business needs to take the lead and support the call for a "comprehensive economic partnership agreement" - a pathway to free trade. We should start simply by focusing on free trade in services and leave the other more contentious issue like agriculture off the table.

I agree in theory, but wonder if this will work in practice. Can Canadian businesses take the lead in building these sorts of economic partnerships? Perhaps, unfortunately, business waits too long and government must lead. That seems like a more Canadian way.

We are late to the party in these emerging markets. To jump ahead in the queue, Canada needs to get ahead of its peers with a co-ordinated public diplomacy strategy enabling us to tell a compelling 21st-century Canadian story, streamlining the cacophony of messages from our various levels of governments.

…and business communities.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

$80-$100 m "me toos" to bring bling to Bing

I guess I don’t understand MSFT’s new push into search with Bing. Yes, I understand the importance of search and the value of search advertising, but I’ve used Bing and yes it is nice, yes it works well, yes it has a couple of nice features, but it seems to me to be at best an incremental improvement on what is currently out there from Yahoo and Google.

There is no earth-shattering innovation here. There is no new take on search. So I’m not sure what the big deal is. (The trivia-filled photos are nice, but it feels like they’re trying too hard to be “fun”)

Microsoft is going to spent $80-$100 million to say “look, we’re here also.” It looks like an $80-$100 million “me too” campaign.

I wish they would go back to Jerry Seinfeld, I found those ads super amusing (at least the first one in the shoe store.)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Saving grace of slow money

With all the money being pumped into the economy from the Feds, Tom Campbell says we may be looking down the wrong end of 13% inflation in about a year, as soon as the velocity of money picks up.

Paul Krugman says “don’t worry be happy”, inflation is econo-imaginary boogeyman and a bit of inflation will pint-size the debt, anyway.

The story here is why I think the answer will lie somewhere in the middle. If there is one fundamental change that we may be facing is that Americans may begin to save more. Not Asia type of savings, but more than in the recent past. If inflation creeps up, Bernanke and co will have to jack up interest rates which will also create and incentive for increased savings.

So jacked up interest rates and increase in savings may both contribute to lessening the return of high-velocity dollars, which may in turn dampen inflation so it’ll just be high, rather than very high.

Money quote:
With income growth far outpacing spending, Americans' personal savings rate zoomed to 5.7 percent, the highest since February 1995, the Commerce Department reported Monday.

Monday, June 01, 2009

If you can't bring Silicon Valley to Canada, bring Canada to Silicon Valley!

Through a series of “bootcamps”, the Canadian Trade Commissions in the US are helping provide guidance to Canadian start-ups on how to pitch and compete is a market as demanding as the US.

Select start-ups event get to move down into Silicon Valley for a while to establish operations and build a presence down here.

I’ve heard this process has taken some heat up in Canada because some claim this program is actually assisting the “brain drain” and creating incentives for start-ups to move out of Canada.

Rubbish! This is actually a very savvy move. What goes on in Silicon Valley cannot really be replicated elsewhere. Many programs around the world have tried, and almost all (if not all) have failed.

This program by the Trade Commissions is far more reasoned. Instead of spending all sorts of time and money attempted to re-create Silicon Valley someplace else, why not bring companies down here and let them learn from the original incarnation?

Canadian tech start-ups need access to the Valley’s ecosystem. It is not just access to capital, but access to talent, mentorship, new ideas and to customers. Companies, with one foot in Silicon Valley and one foot in Canada, are the best conduits through which some of the culture of innovation that exists down here can begin to filter north.

The local Trade Commissions realized this and through this “bootcamp” process have come up with a very creative initiative.

Will some companies move their HQs down here? Sure, probably. But they’ll also keep some functions back up in Canada and thereby create a great platform for SV/Canada exchanges.

And for the other companies that only stay down here for a short while and then head back, they’ll be newly armed with professional and commercial contacts that will help them grow their businesses.

Access to Silicon Valley means access to capital, expertise, and customers. The Trade Commissions are allowing Canadian start-ups to benefit from this access. Well done!


Canadian Technology Accelerator now open in Silicon Valley

Monday, May 04, 2009

India learning from Toronto?

This article on US media companies beginning to favor India over China in Asia reminded me of an earlier article on the success Toronto has had in multiculturalism.

The common thread here is how important it is to be open and welcoming to outside ideas. I don't mean this as a pitch for diversity per se (although diversity in its own right is a laudable goal.) But rather to highlight that encouraging a diversity of people and of ideas is good for business, helps grow markets and can actually contribute to social cohesion. Everyone wants to support society and its institutions because they feel directly vested in their success.

India is less onerous in its demands and regulations on foreign media and as a result is seeing a great influx of new media ideas. I'm sure it is no coincidence that the Indian media landscape is one of the most dynamic on Earth right now. India is currently the source for many pop-culture innovations from movies to music to fashion.

Conceding risk capital in Canada

Another story about a Canadian researcher being lost to the US due to budget cuts.

This shouldn't be dismissed as another example of Canada's "brain drain." Sure, Canada and many other countries will always lose talent to the US because it is a bigger market, more things are happening, and there will always be more opportunity.

But there is no reason why this trend should be exacerbated by budget cuts. Quite the opposite, money should be spent in order to stem this tide as much as possible. This isn’t a cost, it is an investment in the future (yes, I know this is clichéd)

There are two clear negative repercussions to losing R&D talent:

1) It will be more difficult to attract foreign investment, especially VC money, to fuel innovative industries. People invest risk capital in countries where they see new products and services being developed. A leading indicator for this is the relative health of the local R&D community. A non-existent community means no innovations, which mean no outside risk capital coming into Canada.

2) It threatens Canada's future as a hub for innovation. If Canada wants to diversify its economy away from just commodities, then it needs to make this sort of long term investments. The hope of Canada becoming a center for any sort of innovation will be dimmed without active R&D investing, which will lead to the commercialization of products and the creation of industries later down the line.

What is the point of creating an "urban paradise" if no one is around to enjoy it?

CATO loves multiculturalism (and Toronto, too)

I have to admit, I was a little surprised to see such a glowing commentary on Toronto and multiculturalism from the likes of someone from the Cato Institute.

I fully support this opinion and am heartened to see more progressive views on multiculturalism migrate across the political spectrum.

As someone who left Toronto over ten years ago, I can say that every time I've returned, I've found the city more sophisticated and cosmopolitan. When I left I thought Toronto was somewhat provincial but it has improved greatly over the years.

I'm not sure it is the urban paradise this article makes it out to be, but it does a lot of things right on the immigration front. There still needs much to be done in terms of urban design and overall urban/architectural aesthetics, but that is a different story.

Happily, the article debates this central anti-immigrant argument:

Successful societies (so this argument goes) owe their liberty and prosperity to distinct institutions which, in turn, depend on the persistence and dominance of the culture that established and nurtured them. Should that culture fade—or become too diluted by the customs, religions, and tongues of outsiders—the foundation of all that is best and most attractive about that society cannot long last.

This, I would argue, is a recipe for disaster for a society, not for success. Without constant external input, a society becomes complacent and its thinking ossifies. It basically bores itself to death because it is unable to draw on new sources of thinking to spur innovation and creativity.

The greatest societies are those that stood (or stand) at the crossroads of humanity and are able to pick from and integrate the best humankind has to offer.

Glad to see that Toronto has picked up on this lesson.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Why get something for free when you can pay for it?

Media to Google: Pay for our content

Google to media: Get stuffed, its free.

Maureen Dowd talks to Eric Schmidt about the media getting some of those Google riches for its own

He declines to pony up money, noting that newspapers could opt out of giving their content to Google free and adding, “We actually like making our own money for obviously good capitalist reasons.”

Yes, there is a crisis in the media but like so many other crises, this one is based on poor economics. Many people point to issues of the declining quality of content that is hurting the media. This is no doubt true, to a certain extent.

But more so it is because the media doesn't understand the economics of its own business in the new online world. They love Google because it drives content to their sites. They hate Google because Google, through its targeted advertising, is really the only ones making money in this transaction.

They give links to Google for free but then demand payment. Paying for something you would otherwise get free is not a wise economic decision and Google is not staffed by dummies.

For too long, the media has been giving away its content, which therefore has become increasingly commoditized. You can basically read the same story or opinion anywhere on the web. Most news sites have really very little content that is differentiated and therefore valuable.

The media will not make money by giving away content, even if it makes up for it in volume.

Apple tells music retailers how to behave

Here is a great example of a market leader signaling to its competitors the rules of engagement. So Apple is the market leader in downloading music, right? So when it raises its prices, what should the competition do? Lower their prices in order to win over users and gain marketshare, right?

Wrong?

They just follow right along and raise their prices too! Apple goes from 99 cents to $1.29 and so does Amazon, Rhapsody and others.
The concept is simple and is illustrated so well by Bruce Greenwald and basic economic theory.

Apple rules the market for downloadable music and every competitor knows, Apple could credibly take them on if it really wanted to. So who wants to launch a margin-busting price war with Apple when you could just imitate their prices and maintain your own comfortable share of the market.

Because of its dominant position, Apple is able to set prices for the rest of the market and everyone follows in proper obedience.

This example is a great counterpoint to the magazine industry that is fragmented, without a clear leader, and totally unaware of its own value.

Rather than the industry raising prices to protect their own margins, magazines are on this destructive race for the bottom in a vain attempt to attract subscribers. In the end they just end up commoditizing their own business because they are now unable to spend in order to innovate, and they create the perception that their product is cheap and replaceable.

Canada slipping in innovation

I’ve decried the lack of innovation in Canada before and while I (admittedly) don’t know the details of this announcement, it sends the wrong signal to the world. While most other countries are looking for ways to increase their national R&D capabilities, Canada should not be cutting its own. Not now, not in a crisis where, on the other side, innovation will be a premium.

For too long we’ve lived beyond our means financially and environmentally. If this economic crisis results in some sort (however small) of realignment of our priorities and our expenditures, we will need innovative thinking to help shape the new order.

I’ve seen Canada slip over the past few years in almost every global index of innovation. As someone who spends a great deal of time thinking about how to invest corporate funds in different countries, I can honestly say that a country’s capacity to do research and innovation is a huge criteria that impacts a decision.

For too long, it seems that Canada doesn’t really care about innovation. Now it seems that it cares even less.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Evolution of the newspaper

Currently it is very trendy to talk about the "death of the media" but I think a more sophisticated discussion should rather focus on its evolution. Yes, it is painful for those involved and yes the result may be a media product that is quite different than what we've been used to in the past.

But then again, find me one industry that has essentially remained unchanged over the past 100 or so years (the auto industry immediately springs to mind.... great model they turned out to be.)

Hyper-local sites like the one starting in Seattle may very well be the next step in the evolution of the local paper. There are already some excellent models out there, most notably in San Diego.

Admittedly, these are non-profits at the moment but hopefully these will evolve into sustainable for-profit models. Whatever business models these non-profits may eventually come up with will probably be better than some of the questionable management decisions that are currently plaguing parts of the media industry.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The micro of magazines

Basic microeconomics 101, when you’re competing on price, you are now in a commodity market. That’s great if you sell copper, it is not so great if you sell content.

If a magazine is trying to attract subscribers (and therefore advertisers) by slashing prices, it is a commodity magazine. Basically you’re telling the world that your content can be replaced by any other content out there, but so you’re willing to offer it cheaper.

This race to the bottom may explain part of the media’s ills. Positioning your product as a commodity is a terrible message to send to advertisers.

But it seems that people think they can rely on commodity pricing but still position themselves as a differentiated produce.

Interestingly, whether consumers pay $5 or $50 for a subscription does not affect their perception of the magazine, according to a study conducted four years ago by the media consultant Rebecca McPheters for publishers including Time Inc., Condé Nast, Hearst and Meredith.

“There was no difference between the engagement of those who paid less and those who paid more,” Ms. McPheters said in an interview.


I guess the debate will come down to how you define the word “engagement”. Maybe lining your birdcage with BusinessWeek is considered “engagement”.

Given those findings, the price a consumer pays should not matter to advertisers, since it does not affect the reader’s attitude toward the magazine, said Robert A. Sauerberg Jr., the group president for consumer marketing at Condé Nast. Mr. Sauerberg said that prices were constantly tested, and “the fact is, the pricing comes as a result of what the consumer is willing to pay.”

Or, in other words, how much they value your content. If you’re attracting subscribers only on price, there is clearly a problem with how readers value your content.
This lesson on the perils of a commodity existence isn’t lost on all publications however. One would hope that one called “The Economist” would get it right.

Even though The Economist is relatively expensive, its circulation has increased sharply in the last four years. Subscriptions are up 60 percent since 2004, and newsstand sales have risen 50 percent, according to the audit bureau.

Although, apparently you don’t really need to be that smart to figure this all out:

The subscription price for People has risen about 5 percent, to $104 a year, in the last four years. The cover price has risen 21 percent, to an average of $4.09 (including special issues, which cost more). In that time, People’s subscription and newsstand sales have both increased slightly.




In Switch, Magazines Think About Raising Prices - NYTimes.com

Bathing in Inflation?

Taking a warm bath in all the new money floating around may feel good now, what with the frozen credit markets, but as the economy stops cooling and begins to warm up (even ever so slightly), will the rising temperatures also cause inflation to heat up. (I think this metaphor really got away from me.)

To me, this is a key point:

Meltzer says political pressure will prevent Bernanke, 55, and fellow policy makers from withdrawing liquidity quickly enough as the economy recovers. That’s similar to the pattern that occurred back in the 1970s, he says. Then-Chairman Arthur Burns allowed excessive money-supply growth because he was unable or unwilling to resist pressure from President Richard Nixon’s White House to hold down unemployment, leading to the “great inflation” of that era, he says.

A lot of floating money may make sense now, but soon the time may be upon us when we need to start drying out this extra liquidity (run-away metaphor again...really, I shouldn't quit my day job...) Hopefully a sense of pragmatism has taken over the financial ruling class and they'll be willing to take the tough decisions to cool down inflation at the first sighting.

Bernanke Bet on Keynes Has Meltzer Seeing 1970s-Style Inflation - Bloomberg.com

Friday, April 10, 2009

The new normal - The McKinsey Quarterly - The new normal - Strategy - Strategic Thinking

Quick look at the “new normal” by McKinsey. Not a lot of detail here but in the spirit of the article, here are a couple of my “new normal” predictions;

1) The economy will be more slow burn. With (somewhat) higher savings rates and (somewhat) lower consumption, the economy will be on a slower, but hopefully more sustainable and less bubbly) path

2) I don’t want to overstate the higher savings/lower consumption in the US. Yes, there will be some changes in consumption patterns but it won’t be extreme. The US is not going to turn into Asia-type supersavers and consumer credit will trickle back to fuel consumption.

3) Western/Ango-Saxon/whatever you want to call it capitalism won’t die. It won’t even be on life support. Yes, it may evolve somewhat. Yes, there may be more regulations. But the core principles will remain

4) I hope I can say the same for globalization. I don’t think there is great long-term threat to globalization but there may be bumps


The new normal - The McKinsey Quarterly - The new normal - Strategy - Strategic Thinking

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Homegrown Aid

Short but compelling case for bottom-up development, meaning letting poor countries decide for themselves how to allocate development resources.

Make development results-based rather than consultant-based. I'll leave it to Jeffrey Sachs to explain far better than I could:

Rather than have Washington (Penguin: or anyone else) decide the kind of aid each country will receive, the recipient countries should be invited to prepare plans and budgets that would be reviewed by independent experts. These plans would describe the inputs needed by the farmers, the expected increase in production, how the strategy would be put into place and how much money would be required. Such plans, if described with care, could then be closely monitored by the United States and other donors to gauge results and avoid corruption.

Two international programs during the last decade, championed jointly by the United States, other governments and the Gates Foundation, have demonstrated the benefits of such a scientific, results-based aid approach: the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. These programs have saved millions of lives and protected hundreds of millions more from disease and infection. Here’s how they work: Low-income countries submit national action plans to the two programs, which then scrutinize the plans on their scientific, financial and management merits. If the plans are properly put into effect, recipients get more financing.


I would even take it one step farther and in certain cases, only where is makes sense, have outside investors come in to provide either loans or risk capital. When done properly (ie, this is NOT a peanut butter solution that can be spread over every problem) but when done properly, local for-profit entities working on local social problems could benefit from insights and knowledge of outside investors.

Inflation genie...

.... we shouldn't let it out of the bottle.

Nouriel Roubini speaks and as you'd expect, the news isn't good (well, he's called Dr. Doom for a reason)
.

I see Roubini covered a lot in the Canadian press. I think his general crappy outlook on the world suits the alienated Canadian perspective.

He's the "ghost of unregulated banks present" and I think Canadian like him because he's walking justification for the regulated bank past that Canada has been through.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Monday, April 06, 2009

Investment in addition to aid

I’m not sure I agree with much of this WSJ article, but hidden within this anti-IDB opinion is I think a valuable point, that creating an environment to attract investment, not just aid, is key for a country’s development.

Those developing countries that are the most attractive for investment are those with a stable local market, an educated population, and those that facilitate a way to both protect and safely deploy capital.

Developing countries (especially those that don’t happen to be China or India) need to demonstrate to international investors that the government is on their side when it comes to protecting capital.

People and institutions that put money in emerging markets are not risk-takers, they are in fact very risk-averse (or at least, the smart ones are.) So if these risk-averse investors find a developing country where they see a reasonably safe way to deploy and grow their capital---allowing them to put money in and take it out, to find and invest in promising enterprises, to work with trustworthy local partners—then the country will not only benefit from the money that comes in, but also from the talent and know-how that often accompanies these types of investment.



Latin America Needs Economic Liberalization and Property Rights, Not Foreign Aid - WSJ.com

Friday, April 03, 2009

Missed the last rally...?

...Don't worry, it probably won't last.

The market has been a lousy predictor. People used to say that the stock market predicted 12 out of the last nine recessions. This time, it predicted six out of the last zero economic recoveries. Every time there was a rally, and then the macro[economic] news, the earning news, the financial news was worse, and the market touched a new low.

reportonbusiness.com: A big bear: Markets 'way too optimistic'

Don't worry be happy... or maybe not

I love John Authers... he sorta reminds me of a British, slightly too earnest David Gergen.

Anyways, I'm always looking for some good news in the economy and John provides a bit for us here. Or maybe not... wait to the end when he at the last second puts things into some sort of historical context and suggests we may be more screwed than ever.

Short View: Happy Days

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The recession's Churchillian moment?

To quote Churchill

"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Or, in econospeak:

"I don't think that this is the beginning of a recovery. It's the beginning of a much slower pace of decline," said Ethan Harris, an economist with Barclays in New York. "You've got to walk before you run."

U.S. economy shows signs of crawling out of hole | Reuters

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The secret of beating Google

NYTimes highlights a key challenge of trying to use technology to beat Google. Sure, other search engines may come up with different, new and maybe by some standard, better technology, but what they won't have is Google's stickiness. Google isn't so much a search engine as it is a sense of habit.

Even though other search engines are one click away, part of Google's competitive advantage is that have managed to create a psychological bond with consumers that keeps them hooked.

Here's part of the NYT's take on the issue:
More important, successful companies succeed for many reasons in addition to the quality of their products. When a technology start-up begins to do well, it is like a snowball rolling downhill, as technology, packaging, marketing, sales, customers, developers, brand reputation and a lot of luck bind together to create momentum that then feeds on itself.

Back to Microsoft: There are lots of people who believe that there are better operating systems available today than Windows. The question is, how very much better do they have to be, and what else needs to happen, to unwind the self-reinforcing ecosystem that lets Microsoft dominate the PC business? Windows now is just one of Microsoft’s products.


Better Search Doesn’t Mean Beating Google - Bits Blog - NYTimes.com

Friday, March 06, 2009

Different ideas of value

So CalTrain has introduced the new 8-ride ticket to replace the old 10-ride tickets. Here is a direct quote I got from some of their marketing material:

"Like the 10-ride, the 8-ride will have a 60-day expiration and have the same pricing structure so you receive the same ride value"

I guess we all have different ideas of "value", but it seems to be a very odd definition indeed when you try to say that getting 8-rides for the same price as 10-rides is "the same ride value."

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

As Obama bestrides the world stage, Canada has nothing to say

Great OpEd on Canada's absent foreign policy.

Here’s a key point:
On the military side, we continue to pull more than our weight in Afghanistan. But who believes Canada will contribute significantly to shaping the future of that benighted country, or its relations with Pakistan - or Pakistan's relations with India, even though millions of South Asians have flocked to our shores?

I take this point even outside of the Afghanistan context. Canada’s immigrant population is a huge and valuable resource. We should be tapping newly arrived and first generation immigrant Canadians to help the country forge stronger political, economic, trade and security ties with their home countries.

And I think the article lets Canadian foreign policy off a little easy. Sure, the musical chairs that is the government has put a strain on trying to develop a coherent long-term foreign policy; but I think the problem is deeper than that. I think there is a fundamental lack of vision on what a Canadian foreign policy should look like.

In a globalized world (and the nature of global intertwined economy could not be more clear as it is now) foreign policy is not just a tool of diplomacy and security. Foreign policy plays a key role in trade and economic growth. A new vision is needed to bring Canada our of its Lester Pearson “we’re the world’s peacekeepers” view on our foreign policy (which was never true anyway) to a more sophisticated vision that encapsulates the complex relation between economics, technology and security.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Canada's old economy vs new economy

Old Economy:
Canada's oil bust | A sticky ending for the tar sands | The Economist

New Economy:
Better Place to create electric car infrastructure in Canada

Oil, of course will come back... this price drop is temporary and as we work through this recession demand and prices will rise; and there will probably be more EV company flame-outs than huge sucesses (although Better Place looks promising).

Don't get me wrong, I have no illusions that Canada's economy will totally evolve from a resource-based one to an R&D-based one (although that would be nice.) But any investment the country makes in bits and bytes is more sustainable, more forward thinking and is more in keeping with developing a 21st century economy than any investment in rocks and trees.