Archive: 2010

When moderates opt-out

I just voted. I voted for the less terrible option. Even given  how disappointed I am with this administration, they are better than the nutjobs that populate the Republican Party.

Reading Evan Bayh’s opinion in the NY Times depressed me even more. He sounds like a completely reasonable moderate and this man has opted out of politics because of how things work (or don’t work). That’s a sad statement on where our country is today. We need more Evan Bayhs, not fewer.

Please do read his most sensible thoughts in it’s full.

It is clear that Democrats over-interpreted our mandate. Talk of a “political realignment” and a “new progressive era” proved wishful thinking. Exit polls in 2008 showed that 22 percent of voters identified themselves as liberals, 32 percent as conservatives and 44 percent as moderates. An electorate that is 76 percent moderate to conservative was not crying out for a move to the left.

We also overreached by focusing on health care rather than job creation during a severe recession. It was a noble aspiration, but $1 trillion in new spending and a major entitlement expansion are best attempted when the Treasury is flush and the economy strong, hardly our situation today.

If President Obama and Congressional Democrats were to take these and other moderate steps on tax reform, deficit reduction and energy security, they would confront Republicans with a quandary: cooperate to make America more prosperous and financially stable, running the risk that the president would likely receive the credit, or obstruct what voters perceive as sensible solutions.

Use the best, even if it’s a competitor

Experts and developers say that is in part because the Android Market, the dominant store for Android apps, has some clunky features that can be annoying to phone owners eager to make a quick purchase. For starters, Android uses Google Checkout rather than an online payment system that more people are familiar with, like PayPal. As a result, many Android developers make their apps available free and rely on mobile advertisements to cover the cost.

In large companies, when a team is building a new product, there is often pressure to use other products/services offered by the company, even if they are not the best products in the market or the best user experience.

That is a mistake.

Google’s Android Marketplace product and development teams should build the best product they can. For the checkout component, they should use the best product out there – the one that guarantees the best user experience.

Internal and external products should be treated the same and allowed to compete for the right to be part of the product. For example, if PayPal is the best product, they should use PayPal for checkout. This puts the onus on the Google Checkout team to improve their product – it forces them to be competitive and up to scratch. It ensures that the Google Checkout team is never complacent, never just expecting to be slotted in just because they are a part of Google. It forces a startup, competitive mindset onto the team.

This open, competitive approach is not easy to do. In fact, it is very hard. There will be a lot of voices that say that Google should push Google Checkout in order to get adoption up – basically, prop it up. It’s almost always the wrong way to go, in this case for the Android Marketplace and if you are willing to take a bigger picture, for Google Checkout as well.

It’s about the user experience, stupid

All the conversations about open or closed are somewhat irrelevant. Consumers don’t care about open or closed. They care about the user experience. They care that things are intuitive and they don’t have to “think” about things.

If users are unsure about

  • which app store to go to
  • which apps will be available in each app store
  • whether an app will work on their phone
  • if an app works differently on each phone, it is not a good experience for users. The average user will not understand it.

If, however, Android can

  • get one uber-app store that all Android users, irrespective of carrier and phone model, can access
  • apps that work on all phones without the consumer having to think about it
  • apps work the same way on all phones

then Android will win.

I really wished that Apple would not “approve” apps. They could offer a section for the “unapproved” apps that a consumer can use that their own peril. But they have no need to do this because right now, Android is till too hard to use.

Now, coming to the topic of Open – right now, Android lets the carriers play the role Apple plays for it’s app store. How, precisely, is that open? They are both closed – just in different ways.

Happy Birthday, A&L

Four years ago today, A&L were born. Happy Birthday, cuties!!


I feel a special connection to A&L even though I haven’t seen them for over two years. I was there when their dads went through the process of choosing a donor and surrogate. I remember the day they were born so clearly… when A called me from the hospital all excited about his babies.

But this year, I’m especially excited because we hope to hang out with the daddies and the kiddies in just over two months! Can’t wait.

A response to the articles on women in tech

The conversations about women in tech are getting crazier. It’s always good to have conversations about important things, but right now all I see is a certain perspective being touted as ultimate truth, wrapped in gross generalizations. Even saying “women in tech” and making generalizations doesn’t make sense since the group is large and very, very heterogeneous.

The tone of these “conversations” is such that I want to distance myself from all these groups. The whining and playing the victim card are really galling to me. The “women want” lines thrown around with such confidence give me a lot of pause. I think some of these conversations are actually hurting the rockstar women in tech rather than helping them. And hence my post.

A woman who enters the technology world can do it any number of ways – in a large company, medium company, small company, as a founder, as a product manager, marketer, strategist, etc. To generalize across all these groups is silly.

A woman has different points of view in each stage of life. And those points of view are also particular to each person. Some may not want kids, some may. Some may want to stay home, some may not. Some may want to stay home initially and go back to work later – things change, life changes, perspective change. To generalize across all these age ranges and individuals is silly.

But the conversations doing are exactly that – generalizations from one point of view based on the poster.

There’s one group that complains that VCs won’t fund women. The solution offered is a woman-only fund. To this group I say – great, if you want a women-specific VC fund, that’s your choice, make it happen. But I never want to be funded because I am a woman. I want to be funded because I have an amazing company/idea (or now, film).

Are there VCs obsessed with the young male 20-something college dropout who is going to be the next big thing? I am sure there are. But do you really want to take money from them if their judgment is so questionable? I know this must be really hard to deal with as a founder, but it is probably best not to take money from such close-minded VCs.

And given that there aren’t that many women founders, I worry that a woman-only fund would actually be a bad idea for LPs. Doing things that are bad for other constituents with the purported goal of helping women actually ends up hurting women much, much more.

One very tangible way to help women (single, married, divorced, parents, grandparents) in tech is for the current women in tech to just execute and execute brilliantly. Prove yourself, earn a seat at the table – that is a step forward for all women.

So much time, effort and whining about women not having the exact same opportunities? Who has the time if one has a full time job in tech? When I was in product, I could barely go to the dentist every 18 months much less participate on blogs1. I was having lunch a month ago with an *awesome* woman in tech. We couldn’t fathom how people with line responsibility spend so much time blogging and commenting on blogs. This woman could raise $ any day of the week, from any VC, if her idea was solid.

I bet Paul Graham would fund a mother with  young children if she fits the other criteria and if she can execute. Y-Cominbator is one fund with a certain set of criteria – you either fit or you don’t. If Y-Combinator doesn’t work for you, it’s either your loss or their loss, I don’t know, but get over it. Go to the next person who is interested and who’s criteria you fulfill. This happens in *every* industry. Sundance labs requires participants attend on location. I don’t see anyone saying – well, that’s just unfair to women. It is how it is. Deal with it, work around it, make things happen.

And yes,  biologically women have to have the children. Figure out a way to make it work. Is it harder? Yes, but whining never got anyone anywhere. If you are the CEO, go home, get the kids in bed and then get back to work. Women do it in tech *all* the time – I’ve seen them do it, I’ve worked with them, I’ve had them on my teams, I’ve been amazed by them. I can’t believe a VC won’t fund you because of that.

If you have a good idea and  you know how to execute, you *will* get funded. As I posted on Fred’s blog

I know lots of women in their thirties who are leading startups – some chose to get angel funding, some did not. None of them faced the issue that they were women. And yes, some are mothers. But all of these women worked in the tech industry and learned the ropes. They know how to make stuff work.

If you are a man or a woman and don’t know how to build a tech company – whether code or product, it’s going to be hard to get funded.

It is only now that the over-40-women-in-tech crowd is reaching the numbers where it is statistically significant. I have a feeling that this issue is one of timing rather than gender bias. Let’s see what happens in the next 10 years with this “class”.

At the end of the day, the problem has to be solved earlier than the funding stage. More women need to be comfortable with math and science and encouraged by their parents as children2. More women need to think about tech as an option. Unlike consulting or banking, there isn’t a real “career path” in technology. It more amorphous and it can seem scarier from the outside. This may also deter women (or men) – but once you understand tech and fall in love with it and are good at it, the lack of a real career path is actually to your advantage.

I’m not in tech anymore. If possible I’m in an industry where it is even harder for women than tech. But blogging about how terrible it is will get me nowhere.

Now, to the group that says women don’t do startups because they want to have kids – yes, some women want this and it’s their choice. It’s personal. It’s great for them. Some women though, will want children and will want to come back to the work force. And some women may not want kids.

If you are talking about your perspective, fabulous. But please, let’s make it clear that’s what it is.

What I’ve seen in tech is that if you work your ass off and are good at what you do, you get the respect. Maybe women have to work harder, but then.. work harder. If you think of yourself as an awesome product manager, ceo, marketer, fill-in-the-blank, you’re much better off and much more likely to succeed than thinking of yourself as an awesome woman product manager. If the world sees you as an awesome product manager instead of an awesome woman product manager, by that alone, you are helping women in tech.

Maybe I’m too pragmatic and therefore won’t change the world… but I think it’s better to earn respect by what you do. Not because of who you are.


Thanks to Emily Hickey for reading a draft of this and sharing her thoughts.

  1. It’s true that the online world has evolved a bit and one’s social presence is much more important now, but still… 

  2. I have to add here, however, that I know lots of women in tech who are not engineers or CS majors. To be in product or marketing you need to understand things and not fear it, but you don’t have to be able to code. And product people make great founders. 

Nobel Prize for IVF pioneers

It is wonderful news that Dr. Robert G. Edwards and Dr. Patrick Steptoe won the Nobel Prize for medicine. Their research has helped millions of couples around the world and I am personally grateful to them for allowing us the chance to have a family.

The NY Times article talking about their accomplishments also talked about the challenges they faced.

Both Dr. Edwards and Dr. Steptoe had to endure an unremitting barrage of criticism while developing their technique. Dr. Steptoe “faced immense clinical criticism over his laparoscopy, even being isolated at clinical meetings in London,” Dr. Edwards wrote in the journal Nature Medicine in 2001 after receiving the Lasker award. “Ethicists decried us, forecasting abnormal babies, misleading the infertile and misrepresenting our work as really acquiring human embryos for research.”

What does this remind you of? So many parallels to the debates that rage today…

If the conservative right-wing was in charge, science would not progress on so many dimensions. If they had got their way back in the ’70s and ’80s, there would be an incredible number of childless couples today.

Let’s all be thankful that they didn’t win then and I hope they don’t win now.

20-somethings: spoiled and lazy

Why won’t kids grow up? Short answer: Because we let them, and because we fetishize youth.

That pretty much sums up the overly-long article in the New York Times that explores why 20-somethings refuse to grow up.

I’ve been stunned at the behavior of a lot of 20-somethings. They seem to be constantly finding themselves, making excuses “oh, toughest economy to graduate in”, and moving back home after graduation. Really? If the economy is so tough, man up and accept a job that you think is beneath you and yes, you don’t get to live on Park Avenue if that happens and no, you really shouldn’t continue to live at home either!

Oh, but that not possible because they are coddled and supported by their parents.

Nor do parents expect their children to grow up right away — and they might not even want them to. Parents might regret having themselves jumped into marriage or a career and hope for more considered choices for their children. Or they might want to hold on to a reassuring connection with their children as the kids leave home. If they were “helicopter parents” — a term that describes heavily invested parents who hover over their children, swooping down to take charge and solve problems at a moment’s notice — they might keep hovering and problem-solving long past the time when their children should be solving problems on their own. This might, in a strange way, be part of what keeps their grown children in the limbo between adolescence and adulthood. It can be hard sometimes to tease out to what extent a child doesn’t quite want to grow up and to what extent a parent doesn’t quite want to let go.

But, but… I have seen high-functioning 20-year olds – they get jobs, work their asses off, live within their means, go to graduate school, move out and live on their own, and even, gasp!, get promotions and establish themselves. So clearly it is not all 20-somethings who go through this phase.

Ah, but there, finally at the end of the very, very long article, it comes to the core of the issue – “emerging adulthood” is not something everyone goes through unlike adolescence.

To qualify as a developmental stage, emerging adulthood must be both universal and essential.

Oh. My. God. You just wasted thousands of words on a theory that basically justifies spoiled brats? Grow up brats. Parents, stop coddling your kids and pretending you are a self-actualized parent.

And the New York Times – please, can we not waste ink on the privileged, spoiled lot? Thank you!

Facebook needs Public Pages

Along with the benefits of sharing and bonding with people, Facebook brings with it the question of how to manage your Facebook existence.

Do you accept everyone who asks and let everyone see everything?

Do you accept everyone who asks but have detailed lists which are restricted in access?

Do you only accept people you’ve met?

Do you only accept close friends and be really open?

The possibilities are endless and people think a lot about this. In March of last year, Fred Wilson blogged about how he’s going to approach Facebook – he nuked a ton of people and set up a Fan Page.

I think Fan Pages sound, and are, quite arrogant for all the obvious reasons. But in execution, they are pretty good. So what’s the issue? The issue is the name. Here was my comment to Fred –

They should rename the fan page to the public page. It makes it a lower bar for “normal” people to get one.

And it raises the bar for someone to friend your “private” profile – they will ask themselves how well they really know you and a good number will automatically pick your public page.

Every single profile should come with a Public page that the user can turn on. This way, anyone can get one without having to deal with the “Do I deserve a fan page? I mean, who am I to think I need one??”

It’s a public page where you know everything you share is public and anyone can join (like) the page. And as I said in my comment, people who don’t know you at all would happily join this page instead if they found the content useful.

Here’s another tweak – allow the user to accept friends but assign them to the public or the private page. So, let’s say I get a friend invite from someone I don’t know at all, I just accept them into my Public page. They don’t even have to know which page it is. It’s like assigning them to a list, but much easier to manage since Facebook lists are notorious for breaking and vanishing when Facebook does an update.

I understand that Facebook wants everything about everybody to be public to everybody else, but that’s just not the reality of how people want to live online. And good product design is allowing the user to do what is best for them.

Why am I talking about all this? Because after months of angst, I have a Public page (I refuse to call it anything else). If you don’t know me very well, but want to follow all my blog posts and my professional life (film) with the comfort of the Facebook environment, this is the place to friend me. If I don’t know you and you friend me on my Private page, I will gently direct you to the Public one.

Do I need a Fan page? Heck no! It’s gross. But I do need a Public page. Everyone does.

Make me care

Twitter improved their New Follower email last year by adding Followers, Tweets and Following. But they left out one very important piece of information – the Bio. To me, if they had added in that one variable, the email would be perfect. Because then you not only know their twitter usage, but who they are.

By leaving it out, Twitter has made everyone soulless. Follower counts are numbers. Cold statistics that tell me frequency and popularity. A bio gives me flavor. A bio also gives me reason to act.

If someone with 2 followers and 0 tweets is a bio-less person whose name doesn’t ring a bell, I am unlikely to follow them based on the email. But if they are affiliated with a school I attended, a company I worked at, a city I lived in, or if their bio grabs me in any way, I will likely follow them regardless of the statistics.

But I don’t even get that far. Because what happens with me, and likely most people, is that most of the time they don’t even bother clicking through to the web to decide whether to follow or not. Who has the time?

If the bio doesn’t entice me, it is not going to entice me just because I was forced to click through to the web to read it. By leaving out the bio, Twitter is reducing the velocity of interactions, reducing the connections. That’s not a good thing for the service.

People are busy. Good product design should make it easy for people to care and easy for them to act in the moment of caring.

Smooth the flow

I’ve used Google Reader to subscribe to RSS feeds for a long time. Every single time I click on an RSS feed and choose Google, I am presented with this option –



The thing is, that every single time I’ve been presented with this choice, I have always chosen the Add to Google Reader option. So over the course of my usage, I’ve gone through this process about three hundred times, every time choosing the same option. But Google will not learn from my history and do this automatically nor will they offer me a little check box that says “Always choose this option”.

Will doing that involve a bit more product design, some thought on how to let users change this decision in the future, and a bit more code? Sure. But it will also offer a much better user experience for a majority of their users.

When you design products, you should always give the user ways to make the process more efficient. Removing friction is the goal of good product design.