Archive: Mar 2020

Quibi: Here’s Why It Could Be A Game Changer

Quibi is a video streaming subscription service that will launch on April 6th. But it’s not “just another” streaming service. There are a few reasons Quibi is different. For one, they are the first service that is tailored specifically to the mobile phone. Led by Jeffrey Katzenberg, former Chairman of Disney, and Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay and HP, they have raised close to $2 billion (with a “B”) before launch.

Quibi is getting a lot of snark and people seem genuinely stunned by the dollars at play. But I’d argue there was no other alternative. It was actually required. Quibi is a studio, much like Disney or 20th Century Fox, but unlike those studios that have built up their content libraries over decades, Quibi has built their entire library, from scratch, in the past 2 years. And they need to launch with this library available on day one.

There are two good reasons that they decided to build a whole, original library instead of licensing or acquiring existing content:

  • Quibi has watched and learned from the evolution of Netflix and Amazon. When Netflix started, they licensed the content. When they realized that they were at the mercy of the content owners, they decided to start making original films. Amazon Prime Video followed a very similar path and now is a funder of original content, too. So, original content was the only way to launch a new service in 2020.
  • Quibi’s content format is different. Each film is actually shot in both portrait mode (full screen) and landscape mode (full screen). That means you can watch each film in both portrait and landscape and have a full screen experience regardless. You cannot do that today. Almost all video content (short or long) is shot in landscape. In addition, the films are broken into short chapters of ten minutes each. The idea here is that instead of scrolling through Twitter or Instagram when you have a short break, you could watch a “chapter” instead.

That’s why they need all of this money.

This is the first real innovation that has happened to movies since synced sound. And that is a very strong statement. Sure, technology has improved (frame rates, HD, 3D etc.), but whether we are watching it in a movie theater or on an iPhone, everyone’s experience is exactly the same: in landscape the whole time.

Quibi is finally leveraging the tech we now have (phones) to allow you to watch the movie differently. This might not seem like a big deal, but it opens up some very interesting possibilities. What if filmmakers used landscape for the “regular’ movie, and portrait…
— to watch it from the perspective of one actor?
— to show you what the characters were thinking instead of saying?
— to show you what was happening with another character or thread, in another part of the plot?
— to use a different language?
— to use no langue, but rather just silent, with everything in the facial subtext?

This is a real innovation in film and it’s really the first time that the technology we are watching the movie on, changes the movie we are watching. This has never happened before. Quibi has put constraints on itself – you can’t watch this on your television or laptop (although, I presume you can cast to them, the experience will not be as good). And by embracing constraints, it has opened itself up to creativity.

In addition, instead of being from 90-120 minutes, the movie is a set of chapters of 10 minutes. Each of those could be watched like an episode, instead of scrolling Twitter or Instagram.

This is not a regular startup. This is a movie studio plus a tech company. This is what they needed to do to give themselves a real shot. And yes, they are spending a ton on marketing. Again, what should they do? Spend a billion dollars on creating content no one sees? They are going big, they are able to raise that money, so I say, go for it.

Quibi is launching at an interesting time. We are all stuck at home during a global pandemic. This should work in their favor – who wouldn’t want a 10 minute break between the wall to wall zoom calls? Or at night while we try and decompress without a computer?

I love the fact that we are seeing innovation after centuries. It may change how movies are shot and give filmmakers a new way to speak to audiences. It’s exciting, it’s fresh, it could be huge.

I, for one, am rooting for them to succeed.

“Inspiring” isn’t something you ARE; it’s something you DO

Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

During my monthly women’s alumnae circle one of the participants raised the question on how to be an inspirational leader. Her manager was “incredibly inspirational” and she wanted to be seen that way, too.

“Inspirational” seemed to be this nebulous, possibly unattainable characteristic that was floating above us all… hard to achieve and only bestowed on the select few. 

It forced me to think about inspiration. What is it? What does it mean, and is it some “secret skill” that some people are born with? 

When I was young in my career, I, too, thought that inspiration was a sort of “magical power.” But the more I worked with inspirational leaders, the more I realized that it is often much simpler than that. It’s basically the same elements every time.

Whenever someone inspires you, this is what they’re doing:

They conceive of, and communicate, a big vision. They’re also able to articulate what the world will look like when this vision has been accomplished. Often, they are painting with a broad brush and using words that connect with you. By doing that, they show you how the world, or the company, or all of our lives will be better when this vision has been realized.

Then, they can explain why OUR team is the team that can make this happen. It may be hard, but we are the right ones, the capable ones, and goddammit, we will do it.

They break down the journey into digestible, logical chunks that will help the team execute. The BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is broken down when they show you which stream of work YOU will own. This is where they make it clear you are valued and how your contribution is important to the goal. 

Throughout the process, they motivate you to become the person who can accomplish the goal. You may hit roadblocks, because what we are trying to do is hard, but you are not alone, and they will help you become the person who can accomplish this. 

Doing this well requires a base of trust. In the absence of a personal history together, they can say certain things to establish some kind of trust. Those things are basically:

  • We’re in this together
  • We may fail, but I won’t hang you out to dry if we do
  • You won’t be punished if we don’t get there
  • I’m going to help mitigate the consequences of this risk that we’re all taking

If they succeed in their effort to inspire you, you become a motivated member of their squad. You are excited about the vision. You trust this leader knows how to get shit done, and get you from point A to point B. You also feel motivated to work your ass off to do your part, and if you hit a roadblock, you trust that the leader will help you solve it and support you in your efforts.

Finally, you believe you’ll be better off in the new vision, than in the current state of the world. That’s successful inspirational leadership.

These are the tangible actions that a good leader takes to be inspirational. What’s unsaid is that at the base of all this, the person has to be a good person, who genuinely cares about the people. As Jerry Colonna says, “I believe that better humans make better leaders.”

What I’m Doing as I Try Not to Panic

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

All you can do right now is focus on the things you can control. 

Most of the world is in lock down, which is crucial to keep vulnerable people safe. Anxiety is through the roof. The natural state is to allow the “issue” to take up 95% of your brain and to fully embrace a state of panic. I’ve definitely had moments of this in the past few days. 

But, I’ve had to reel myself back and think about the other times I’ve dealt with high levels of anxiety — 9/11, parental illness and loss, a cancer diagnosis. The key, each time, to my keeping my sanity has been to focus a majority of my brain on the things I can control. 

To do that, I structure the shit out of it. Our work lives and our home lives have a structure, rhythm, and flow. I am trying to continue that while being trapped in one location. 

Spero Ventures has been WFH since March 3rd. We cancelled an event that was scheduled for that day and encouraged people to stay safe.

While we are working from home and all of our “meetings” are on video, everything else is the same. 

  • We are still investing. We closed on an investment today.
  • We are still looking for new investments. We are meeting founders on Zoom.
  • We are still doing regular calls with our portfolio and focusing on how to get through this time.
  • We are even doing our events. They just happen to be on Zoom. Later this week, we will announce a Zoom call for anyone who is interested in or building a community around our Product-Led Community thesis. Follow me on Twitter to hear about the announcement. 

Personally, I am:  

  • Keeping to my regular working schedule. Doing all meetings at my desk at home instead of my desk at work or at founder offices.
  • Making sure the kids have structure for their online learning — no PJs all day!
  • Making sure I meditate. I’ve been using Core several times a day – here are the results of my mediation from this morning
  • Doing PT for my knee (ski accident, ugh) 
  • Working on things that get me into the flow state – this is awesome because the anxiety is not front and center when this happens.

One upside to having four people locked in the house is that I don’t have to uber my kids anywhere. That is free time that I can use to re-engage with things that give me joy.

My plan is to upgrade the internals of my old (2008) Mac Pro, set up a central photo database, and start editing again. I’m going to try to get Final Cut Pro X up and running and recut a film I made in 2012 that may be festival worthy. 

Even writing this made me realize there is a lot that I can control. My hope is that focusing on this gets me through the next few weeks and months.

I will leave you with this perspective-setting paragraph from Rebecca Solnit’s book A Paradise Built in Hell:

In some of the disasters of the 20th century—the big northeastern blackouts in 1965 and 2003, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area, 2005’s Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast—the loss of electrical power meant that the light pollution blotting out the night sky vanished. In these disaster-struck cities, people suddenly found themselves under the canopy of stars still visible in small and remote places. On the warm night of August 15, 2003, the Milky Way could be seen in New York City, a heavenly realm long lost to view until the blackout that hit the northeast late that afternoon. You can think of the current social order as something akin to this artificial light: another kind of power that fails in disaster. In its place appears a reversion to improvised, collaborative, cooperative and local society. However beautiful the stars of a suddenly visible night sky, few nowadays could find their way by them, but the constellations of solidarity, altruism and improvisation are within most of us and reappear at these times. People know what to do in a disaster. The loss of power, the disaster in the modern sense, is an affliction, but the reappearance of these old heavens is its opposite. This is the paradise entered through hell.

What if Dieter Rams designed your company?

Last weekend, I watched the Dieter Rams documentary. It’s an incredible film, full of moments that make you pause. But Rams said one thing that really stood out: “Design only works when it really seeks to achieve something for humanity.”

This struck a chord with me because I believe that startup ideas work best when they seek to achieve something for humanity. It’s the underlying thesis for Spero Ventures

This goes beyond product and to the gestalt of the startup itself. As a founder, Dieter Rams’ principles are relevant to designing both your product and your company.

Here are some of the ways Dieter Rams’ principles apply to building companies and not just products.

Good design is innovative

The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.”

You already know that your product should be one that advances the world with your innovation instead of being yet another me-too product in a crowded space. 

The same should be true of your company. While a great product will attract great talent, a company that is innovative, that pushes the boundaries of how work and collaboration happen, that experiments with how culture evolves and permeates, is also important. 

To attract the very best, your company—how you build and run it—should move us toward the world that you want to live in. 

Good design is honest

“It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.”

Your product keeps its promises to your customer. It’s equally important to have that honesty as a company. 

The only thing you have is your reputation, with your customers, your employees, your collaborators, and your board. Hold yourself to the highest standards. Do not do anything nefarious (like collecting data without their permission, misrepresenting facts etc.) Build the honest, exceptional company you want to see in the world.

Good design is long-lasting

It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.”

Values stand the test of time. 

Figure out your values and let them guide your company. What is it going to take to make your company last? Build your company around a core set of values that are everlasting. 

Good design is thorough down to the last detail

Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the user.”

Be particular. You know it will show in your product. It will also show in how you build your company. 

The best founders are fanatical about their culture, who they hire, how they hold their meetings. When the founders take this approach, it permeates the whole company and everyone focuses on the details that will delight1.

Good design is environmentally friendly

Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.”

Climate change will be the defining problem and opportunity of our age. Even if your product doesn’t directly affect climate change and sustainability, your company should. The decisions you make should be driven by a deep care for the only planet we have. It’s a responsibility that every person has, and every leader should embrace. 

These principles are design principles, sure. They are also incredibly useful leadership principles that can help with company design. Startups that think through some of these will be better equipped to deliver great product, hire the best people, and create value over the long term. 

They are also life principles.  

Watching the documentary was incredible because these are not just the principles Rams uses to design products, but rather principles he has used to design his own life. He lives by these principles. The documentary allows you to see into his life, his house, his desk, his garden and how he uses his time. 

The style of the documentary reflects the content beautifully. The way the documentary is shot (minimal, sometimes in extreme close up, always with a locked down camera), how it is edited, and presented is very much in keeping with Dieter Rams’ design principles. It’s beautiful, minimal and captivating. 

It is inspiring to see his world. I highly recommend you watch the documentary.

  1. I wrote a post on knowing the details and why it matters. 

What to Do When the “Shiny-Object Savior” Wants to Join Your Startup

Photo by Rachael Fisher on Unsplash

You’re a startup founder. You’ve gone through the rollercoaster, and things are going really well. Now you need to scale, because you’re overwhelmed with work, barely surviving.

Enter the “shiny-object savior.”

This person is [insert letter]VP at [insert big name company]. She seems to have it all – the titles, the accolades, the network, and could be the one (and only) person to actualize the company’s potential. 

But there’s a risk that if they aren’t the right person for the job, they could significantly derail you both in terms of your milestones and in terms of your company’s culture. 

Before you get starry-eyed, here’s the one question you should really ask yourself: Can they be successful in your company?

Here are the key factors to think about to answer this question.

They might not have accomplished anything meaningful/been successful.
Dig into accomplishments, not just the titles on the resume. A glossy resume could just be the result of their artfully job-hopping to make them seem like they are on an upward trajectory. Be wary of people who have never gotten a promotion within a company, as promotions are one sign of recognition for a job well done. 

They might only function well within a certain culture.
Even if someone was able to get promoted or be successful at one company, they might be a great fit with that company culture—and only that culture. If that’s your culture, great. Hire them.

If the culture is different from what you are trying to build, be aware that they are going to bring elements of the old culture with them, because that’s the way they know how to thrive.

They might not have a growth mindset. 
In my experience, successful startups need to be constantly learning, constantly ensuring product-market fit and constantly looking for new avenues of growth. 

For a leader to thrive in an environment like this, they have to be able to navigate changes and know when to change course appropriately and when to stick to the plan. Have them tell you about a time when new data caused them to do something differently. Have them tell you about their world view, what has shaped it and how they think about changing that view. 

Bottom line: Do not rush a big hire. Don’t get starry-eyed over a resume. Dig deep, know who they are, and do your references. The time spent upfront will significantly increase your chances of hiring the right person.