Posts Tagged ‘Silicon Valley’

The Next Facebook? Pek Pongpaet on Creating a Successful Startup

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

When he was a kid, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Pek Pongpaet bounced around the world, living in Asia, Europe and finally ending up in San Francisco. Along the way, he became a martial arts instructor and even played one of the characters in the Mortal Kombat video game. But the reason Forbes and Wired Magazine wrote about him is because of his other life as an internet entrepreneur. In the latest episode of the AlterNow Podcast Series, Pek tells us about what it takes to launch a successful company in the age of Facebook and Google, and how he created his latest venture, Pinstagram, a leading mashup app that brings “Instagram” to the web and the iPad.

For Pek, the world of Silicon Valley has changed. For one, it’s no longer driven by venture capitalists because of a few simple reasons: the cost of technology has gone down significantly because of cloud products like Amazon EC2, Terremark and Eucalyptus; with open-source tools now available, labor costs have also plummeted because you don’t need in-house infrastructure development; and finally, the emergence of new ways of generating capital like crowd sourcing.  Pek details how an entrepreneur named Scott Wilson designed a strap for the iPod Nano and used Kickstarter to raise almost a million dollars. Thus he was able to boot strap his product and now they have a company totally focused on making different versions and different models of this strap.

As someone who was involved with the idea labs at Accenture and the design of the Tesla electric car, Pek takes us into how ideas are generated — more in the casual encounter than in the structured meeting, where you’re inviting in perspectives from outside your industry, and often in very compressed periods of time. Pek describes ideating a product in a weekend and having 2 clients by Monday, though there was no technology yet – just schematics. Essentially he sold it using an advertisement.

Finally, Pek offered us a master class in the new world of mobile communication and social media. In a year and a half mobile Internet traffic will surpass desktop Internet traffic, and there are more smart phones around the U.S. than feature phones). Offering examples from Amazon and Facebook, Pek opines on the extent of social media’s influence and its prospects for the future as people debate the Facebook IPO and the continuing battle between Apple and Google.

To hear the full interview with Pek, visit the AlterNow Podcast Series here.

Visionary Apple CEO Steve Jobs Dies at Age 56

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Apple’s  iconic co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, who altered the habits of millions by reinventing computing, music and mobile phones, has died at the age of 56.  With Jobs’ passing, Apple has lost a visionary leader who inspired personal computing and products such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad.  These innovations made Jobs one of his generation’s most significant industry leaders.  His death, following a long fight with a rare form of pancreatic cancer and a liver transplant, set off an outpouring of tributes as world leaders, business rivals and customers mourned his early death and celebrated his historic achievements.

“The world has lost a visionary.  And there may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented,” said President Barack Obama.  Even Bill Gates, his rival at Microsoft, joined in the laments.  “For those of us lucky enough to get to work with him, it’s been an insanely great honor,” Gates said.

With a passion for minimalist design and a genius for marketing, Jobs laid the groundwork for Apple to flourish after his death, according to analysts and investors.  A college drop-out, Jobs altered technology in the late 1970s, when the Apple II became the first personal computer to gain a wide following.  He repeated his early success in 1984 with the Macintosh, which built on the breakthrough technologies developed partially at Xerox Parc to create the personal computing experience. 

“Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve,” Apple said.  “His greatest love was for his wife, Laurene, and his family.  Our hearts go out to them and to all who were touched by his extraordinary gifts.” 

According to Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, “We’ve lost something we won’t get back,” he said.  “The way I see it, though, the way people love products he put so much into creating means he brought a lot of life to the world.”  Wozniak said that Jobs told him around the time he left Apple in 1985 that he had a feeling he would not live beyond the age of 40.  Because of that, “a lot of his life was focused on trying to get things done quickly,” Wozniak said.  “I think what made Apple products special was very much one person, but he left a legacy,” he said.  Wozniak hopes the company can continue to succeed despite Jobs’ death.

Computerworld raises the question “Where will that excitement come from now?”  When Jobs stepped down as CEO in August, industry analysts said that Apple, with a team of talented, creative employees, will be able to continue his tradition for ingenuity, if not all of his passion, perfectionism and energy.  “Steve’s excitement for technology will still come from Apple and from the team that Jobs carefully built that worked with him to give us the iPhone and iPad and many other successful products,” said Carolina Milanesi, a Gartner analyst.

“Jobs didn’t just change mobile phones — he reinvented them,” said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner.  “That was typical Steve.”  In another example, the iPad took user-centric values inherent in the touch-screen iPhone and larger-screen laptops, and found a useful compromise — a classic expression of Jobs’ ability to combine technological concepts, art and ideas and deliver a product that was termed “magical,” according to analysts.  “Apple, under Jobs’ leadership, focused on the user experience first and the technology second,” said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.  “This focus was groundbreaking in that most tech companies were just the opposite.  Apple pioneered hiring many usability specialists, human factor engineers and designers before it was fashionable to do so.  Jobs’ vision of technology was to make a smooth intersection into our lives and our work, and that was what put Apple ahead of the pack.  He redirected engineering from technical engineering to engineering for usability.”

One question that has industry analysts abuzz is whether Apple will be able to maintain its dominant position now that Jobs is gone. Jobs’ passing and the industry’s mixed response to the recent iPhone 4S model create challenges for Apple in coming quarters,” said Neil Mawston, an analyst with Strategy Analytics.  “Industry eyes will inevitably turn to the iPad 3 launch next year to see whether Apple can continue the company’s impressive legacy of innovation created by Steve Jobs,” he said.  In a sign of deepening competition, recently unveiled its Kindle Fire tablet at an affordable $199 that could pose a serious threat to the iPad.  “Apple is facing a competitive firestorm from not just one company but a coalition of rivals that are trying to beat it, including some of the largest consumer electronics companies on the planet,” said Ben Wood, head of research at British mobile consultancy CCS Insight.

Writing in the Washington Post,  Melissa Bell believes that one of Jobs’ longest-standing legacy will be the recognition that his illness and death are bringing to pancreatic cancer.  According to Bell, “Steve Jobs knew the art of keeping your cards close to your chest.  Though  leaks did spring from the closely guarded Apple world, Jobs was a master at unveiling his secrets only when the time was right for him.  As with his business ventures, so it was with his cancer.  Jobs ‘kept his illness behind a firewall,’ the Associated Press reported.  Apple released no more of a statement than that they lost a ‘visionary and creative genius, and the world … lost an amazing human being.’  It was not known whether Jobs died from the rare form of pancreatic cancer that plagued him for seven years, or from complications from a liver transplant two years ago.  Despite the lack of details, Jobs’ role as the very public face of Apple put his illness on display along with his products.”

Steve Jobs Exits Apple

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

The abrupt departure of Steve Jobs from Apple marks the end of an era, although his leaving is unlikely to have an immediate impact on the company’s product line, according to analysts.  Jobs, 56, submitted his resignation to the Cupertino, CA-based Apple board of directors and asked that they name chief operating officer Tim Cook as his successor.  In announcing his resignation, Jobs said he wanted to stay on as chairman and an Apple employee.  “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know,” Jobs said.  “Unfortunately, that day has come.  I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it.  And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.”  Jobs has been on medical leave from the company since early this year. 

Jobs, who has been treated for pancreatic cancer and undergone a liver transplant, rocked Silicon Valley with his decision.  Recently, Hewlett-Packard said it was exploring options to sell or spin off its multi-billion-dollar PC division just as the PC industry was celebrating its 30th anniversary.  Jobs played a key role in creating that industry.  “Hewlett-Packard has given up because of what Apple has done,” said Jay Elliot, a former Apple senior vice president who worked closely with Jobs from 1980 to 1985.  “The reality is this guy was so committed to making the best products in the world.”  Perhaps no tech figure in recent history carries as much power as or has made a greater imprint on his company than Jobs.  Since returning to Apple 14 years ago, he almost single-handedly has resurrected the company from near-extinction to a company worth more than $330 billion. 

Apple is expected to unveil its iPhone 5 over the next few months and a new version of its popular iPad 2 tablet. Nevertheless, a smooth transition is likely.  Cook, 50, has earned praise for his steady leadership at Apple, acting as temporary CEO, while Jobs was on medical leave.  Apple is also renowned for its impressive group of engineers, marketers and other executives.

“The next wave of Apple products are well into the product-development cycle,” said Charles Golvin, analyst at Forrester Research.  “The next iPhone is certainly done.  The next iPad is certainly along the way.” 

Writing in Computerworld, Jason Snell says that “The greatest fallacy in the story of Steve Jobs stepping down as Apple CEO, the one you’ll find in endless media reports, is this: In 1985 after Steve Jobs left Apple, the company went on a downhill slide that led it to the brink of bankruptcy.  Therefore, the Apple of 2011 is at risk of doing the same.  But the flaw in the History Repeats Itself storyline being promoted in some corners as Jobs steps down as CEO is that the Apple of today is nothing like the Apple of 1985.  By 1997, Jobs ran Apple with absolute power, the kind of power he had never had during his first go-round at Apple.  Jobs was a co-founder, yes, and his time working with the original Macintosh team is the stuff of legend. But the Apple of 1985 wasn’t Steve Jobs’ company, not hardly.  When he took the interim CEO job more than a decade later, Jobs didn’t make that mistake again.  Older and wiser, and with the complete support of Apples board of directors, Jobs remade the company to his specifications.

“The iMac was a first quick sign of the turnaround.  The original iPod and the decision to open retail stores began the real momentum.  The release of the iPhone and the iPad marked Apple’s ascendance to what it is today:  The most important technology company in the world.  The Apple of today is hugely profitable, with tens of billions of cash, a 90 percent share of the tablet market, a rapidly growing smart phone business around the world, and the only truly profitable personal-computer franchise left.  This is where Steve Jobs leaves Apple as CEO: on top, with momentum to carry it further up.” 

“The Macintosh turned out so well,” once told the New York Times, “because the people working on it were musicians, artists, poets and historians who also happened to be excellent computer scientists.”  The people who bought the first Apple Mac computers tended to be architects, designers and journalists.  Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who created the Apple Macintosh computers in the 1970s, came up with a line of products that – though initially clunky –appealed to buyers, and continue to excite those engaged in design and the media; those who were optimally placed to sow the Apple seed. 

Bob Boilen of NPR’s “All Songs Considered, offers this perspective. “I find the news of Steve Jobs stepping down as Apple’s CEO particularly sad.  In some ways, I feel something like I felt when The Beatles broke up.  Sure, I’d always have the band’s music, but damn, what a special time.  What special chemistry.  It will never be the same.  We listen to music in the 21st century in a profoundly different way than we did in the 20th century.  And, though Apple didn’t invent the portable music player, the vision of Steve Jobs (a music geek himself) and his company of designers and engineers changed our listening landscape dramatically in 2001 with iTunes and the iPod.  Some of those ways are wonderful: Portability of huge libraries, shuffling, quick access to millions of songs, and custom playlists are a few of the upsides.  For some, shuffling may be a bittersweet downside, like compressed sound files or isolated listening, but I think the good far outweighs the bad.  Of course, Steve Jobs and Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player, but they sure made it work.  The creation of iTunes in January 2001, and later that year the release of the iPod, made organizing music, making playlists, and happy random accidents a listening joy.”

Amy Dean On Do Unions Matter?

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

dean_icon_tag America is obsessed with the issue of trade unions again.  Labor unions have gained new prominence as Democratic legislators from Wisconsin and Indiana have left their states for the greener pastures of Illinois to avoid participating in votes to cut back or eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees.  Thousands of protestors have taken up residence in the Wisconsin State Capitol to voice their anger at Republican Governor Scott Walker’s attempts to break the state’s unions.

Are labor unions relevant in the 21st century?  Amy Dean, an author, activist and social entrepreneur whose roots are in the American labor movement and who served 10 years as the President and CEO of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council in the Silicon Valley, says the answer is a resounding “yes”.  Dean is also co-author of the new book, “A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement.”  During her tenure with the AFL-CIO, Dean represented 90 separate unions with more than 110,000 members.

Dean points out that before President Ronald Reagan famously busted the air traffic controllers’ union in 1981, there was strong bipartisan support for organized labor.  Even Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower acknowledged the impact of unions and said the interests of employers and employees were about mutual prosperity.  According to Dean, things have changed because the post World War II economy consisted of industries that were dedicated to building the nation’s base to assure this prosperity.  Unfortunately, that consensus started to break down by the mid-1970s until today, we have no agreement about how our economy should grow, what our obligations are to one another, and how we can compete optimally in a global economy.

In a recent interview for the Alter NOW Podcasts, Dean says that the building trades and entertainment industry are good models to look at for the next generation of employee organization.  In this system, as people move from job to job, they have a base wage through union membership.  Built into that base wage are healthcare insurance and a pension, again enabled by membership in a labor union.

Also, Dean asserts that unions are not the reason for outsourcing and that corporations are motivated by other issues.  In today’s economy, capital wants to locate where land-use policy is predictable, thanks to proactive regional efforts.  Companies want to be in areas that have good K-12 schools, open spaces, a high quality of life, decent affordable housing, a functional mass transit system, proximity to a world-class airport and the kind of knowledge workers that companies need to succeed.  Unfortunately, Dean says, unless Americans are prepared to deal with the issue of tax reform, there will be little conversation in America about any social agenda.

In today’s economy, capital wants to locate where land-use policy is predictable, thanks to proactive regional efforts.  Companies want to be in areas that have good K-12 schools, open spaces, a high quality of life, decent affordable housing, a functional mass transit system, proximity to a world-class airport and the kind of knowledge workers that companies need to succeed.  Unfortunately, Dean says, unless Americans are prepared to deal with the issue of tax reform, there will be little conversation in America about any social agenda,  Yet, these are the things that capital needs to be successful.

Read James Surowiecki’s take on the current state of labor unions in The NewYorker.

To listen to Amy Dean’s full interview on why unions matter, click here.

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Yahoo! Planning a New Corporate Home

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

 Yahoo wins approval for a new corporate campus in Santa Clara, CA.  Advance planning has put the heavily trafficked Internet destination and online media company Yahoo! in a sound position to develop a planned 3,000,000 SF campus in a high-profile location in Santa Clara, CA.  Yahoo! purchased the 48-acre site in 2006 – well before the financial crisis and increased competition from Google and Facebook.  Although no construction start date has been announced, Yahoo!’s plans have won the approval of the Santa Clara City Council, which certified the environmental impact report and the development agreement.

Currently based in Sunnyvale, CA, Yahoo! plans to develop 13 six-story office and R&D buildings; three two-story common buildings; and two levels of underground parking at the site.  When completed, the campus will accommodate as many as 12,000 employees.  According to Yahoo!, the development would consolidate its employees and facilities in a Silicon Valley region with “high corporate visibility”.  The development agreement gives Yahoo! the authority to build at the site for as long as 20 years.