Aug 11

Google & Motorola

Very very interesting news about Google buying Motorola Mobility this morning. It’s got so many implications it’s tough to take in all at once, so wanted to capture a few thoughts quickly.

First thing worth pointing out, though, is this: we don’t actually know the shape of the whole deal at this point. Will Google keep the MOTO hardware business? Keep the patents and sell the hardware side? Keep both? It’s hard to know how their internal evaluation went, and what they’ll do from here, so a lot of this is really hard to speculate about.

Having said that, a few thoughts:

– it’s another instance in a long history of software (and now Internet) business devouring the previous generation’s hardware businesses. Internet business are inherently more leveraged: distribution power trumps almost everything else, especially in a phase where the technology portion is maturing.

– along those lines, it’s interesting to think about what happens next for Samsung, RIM, HTC, Nokia, but I’m way more interested in what the software players do. All eyes in that regard are on Microsoft, but I think the more interesting long term questions are for Facebook and Amazon.

– 2 things it’s clear that Google didn’t buy MOTO for: its margins or its ~20k employees.

– seems like Google definitely wanted the IP portfolio.

– and it seems to me that, assuming they keep the hardware business, that they want Motorola because it gives Google full control over the hardware and software stack, which is the only way that they’ll ever be able to even approach the excellent UX fit & finish of the Apple offerings. I feel like that’s one of the top drivers, and maybe the most important one over the long term.

– One other thing that this merger is decidedly not about is distribution — if anything, Google’s distribution power with respect to Android is somewhat weakened, at least in the short-to-medium term, as they’re undoubtedly going to cause some grief with partners Samsung and HTC. Feels like Google has calculated that control over getting the experience right trumps any distribution help they might get from their handset partners.

All of this lines up pretty well with my post about Screens, Storage & Networks last week — the last 60 days have seen Google push hard to get in the top tier on Screens (MOTO) and Networks (Google+).

My most esoteric point I’ve left for last, though: one of the unfortunate consequences of this development is that I think it will move perceptions of big corporations building open software (and in this particular instance, I’m specifically talking about open source software) at least a few more notches towards the cynical. The question that everyone will ask anytime a company tries an open experiment like Android in the future, the inevitable line of questioning will be: “Sure it’s open now, but for how long?” Whether premeditated or not, the path of Android has been from wide open to asserting more and more control — and this is another data point on that path. I’m not criticizing or indicting anyone for this — I think it’s essentially just a natural evolution and response to market conditions that require tighter integration. I think in a lot of ways it’s inevitable in technology networks for this to happen. (And I’ve written about it a bit before.) My only real sadness here is that it’ll move cynicism on corporate open source efforts up one more notch, and that’s not good.

Overall, though, fascinating day, fascinating time. Big moves!

Aug 11

Design like you’re right…

It’s impossible not to think a lot about data these days. We’re generating it all the time, constantly. On our phones, on our televisions, on our laptops, in public spaces. And increasingly the best startups and Internet giants are using data to make better and better product decisions and designs.

Today at Greylock we announced that DJ Patil is joining us as Data Scientist in Residence, as far as I know the first time any VC has had a position quite like that. It’s a huge addition for us, and the expression of a bunch of deeply held beliefs about the state of the art in designing great products.

But as I talk about using data for design, I find that there’s a lot of misunderstanding about it — some people have the sense that it somehow makes designers less powerful, that you’re basing decisions based purely on mechanical measures rather than designer intuition and genius.

In my view, however, data is what makes designers not only strong, but primary. It’s what turns designers from artists into the most important decision makers in a company, because it’s understanding the data that lets you understand what your users are doing, how they’re using (or not using) your products, and what you can be doing better.

It made me think back a bit to my own training as a UX designer (we called it HCI then) at Stanford in the mid-nineties, when the field was just starting to develop. We would spent a lot of time on ethnography, need finding, doing paper prototypes and then doing basic mockups and user testing. And we’d get 80% of the way there then go and build it.

Nowadays, the state of the art is to still do need finding and some mockups early, but to get to a working prototype as quickly as you can, that’s instrumented so that you can tell what’s happening and figure out whether you’re on the right track or not.

I think that’s generally the right approach, but it’s worth noting: instrumented prototypes can really only get you to local maxima — they can help you find ways to tweak and optimize the basic design you’ve got, but they can never help you find a radically different and better solution.

So when I talk about using data — and I talk about it a LOT — what I’m talking about is a mixture of the artisan/designer-led designs along with using data to figure out what’s best.

Thinking about it the other day, I was reminded of one of my favorite sayings that I learned from Bob Sutton: “Fight like you’re right, listen like you’re wrong.” Bob’s an organizational theorist, and what he means is really a paraphrase of something that I think Andy Grove said, which is that he wanted all his people to have strong beliefs, loosely held. In other words, he always wanted people to come in with a point of view — a design, as it were — but to be willing to moved off of that point of view in the face of data.

So the modern, design oriented framing is this:

“Design like you’re right. Read the data like you’re wrong.”

In other words, you should always design the product you think/believe/know is what people want — there’s a genius in that activity that no instrumentation, no data report, no analysis will ever replace.  But at the same time you should be relentless in looking at the data on how people actually use what you’ve built, and you should be looking for things that show which assumptions you’ve made are wrong, because those are the clues to what can be made better. We all like to see all the up-and-to-the-right happy MBA charts, and those are important. But they don’t help you get any better than you already are.

I wish we taught more of this blend, because all of the products we use would get better.

So: design like you’re right; listen like you’re wrong.

Jul 11

Screens, Storage & Networks

I’ve been thinking a bunch about platforms lately, and how they’re evolving very very quickly. Generally, there are two categories of thing that people talk about as platforms. Traditionally, they’ve been computer operating systems: Windows, OS X & Linux, now iOS & Android. Lately people are talking about cloud platforms: services like EC2, but also web services with APIs that other apps are built to integrate with.

But more and more, that’s not the way I’m thinking about my own systems; as devices proliferate at my own home, and as I tend to use tiny connected computers in more numerous and varied contexts.

I’ve been interested in what I call “4 screen & a cloud” products for a while: products that help us unify and take advantage of our laptop + phone + tablet + tv — but it all became a little clearer to me a few weeks when a wave of devices entered the house all at the same time. In the space of a few weeks, I upgraded to an iPad2, got a Samsung Tab to experiment with Android Tablets, got an Android phone in addition to my iPhone, and got a WebOS phone from the D9 conference. So we had all those devices in the house, plus our iMac, Kathy’s set of devices, and my mom’s as well, since she was visiting. Oh, and 3 Kindles between the three of us. Screens were everywhere.

Now, I’m the first to recognize that we’re somewhat atypical in our technology consumption in normal times; add to that the devices that I’ve picked up lately because of work and my house is a jumble of operating systems, devices and power adapters. Exciting!

When you get that many screens and devices, what happens is interesting: when you want to do something, communicate with someone, remember something, schedule an appointment, read a book, or whatever, you just pick up whatever screen is nearest to you and work from that.

Well, you do that if you can. Because in our current platform chaos, not all devices are fungible, not all activities are available from all platforms.

So that got me thinking some about what I need, and where, and in what contexts and on what devices, and now I think about platforms this way: I have a set of screens, a set of stuff, and a set of people that I want to do things with — and I want those sets available to me wherever & whenever I am.

By screens, I mean something more than just pixels: I really mean input & output systems, of which screens are the most visible parts; really it should probably be screens, sensors & speakers. In other words, it’s the displays of each system, the audio systems, and the ways that we indicate intent, be it typing, swiping, speaking, remote-button-puching, smiling, waving, running, or just being.

By storage, I mean something more than just bits: while Dropbox and iCloud and Clouddrive are important, I want to do more than just store and share my files with others. It’s about more than having a place to put my music. It’s about having the context of my life: my apps, my reading material, my history of shopping & interest intent. It’s really the things I’m creating, consuming, sharing, saving, working on and just thinking about. One of the things that’s probably non-obvious about this formulation is that for this to work, the storage is going to be pretty keyed to my identity. Without knowing something about who I am, it won’t work.

And by network, I mean something more than just my Facebook graph: what’s becoming clear is that we’ve all got many and diverse groupings in our lives, ranging from the very intimate groups of a nuclear family to the wide-ranging groupings of Twitter followers. The short version, though, is that it’s becoming increasingly clear that, just like in the offline world, people online want to do things with each other. Shocking, I know.

That’s the definition of platform that’s relevant to me: a combination of screens, storage and networks that help me do my work and live my life. The companies that see that true platforms transcend any one particular technology stack will be the ones that prosper — you can already see some interesting ones emerge.

As a side note, I think screens, storage & networks is one way to look at the landscape of the giants competing: it’s where Apple, Google, Facebook & Amazon are slugging it out (and to some extent it’s the evolution now of my old stomping ground, Mozilla). I would argue that each of the giants has a super strong position in 1 or 2 of the three areas, but none has a lock on all three, and most of the interesting initiatives of each are about strengthening the places where they’re historically weak.

Apple is obviously terrific at screens, okay at storage, and not very good at networks.

Google’s now strong at screens (although probably not as strong as Apple) and could be great at storage, and finally has a credible start on networks.

Facebook is incredibly strong at networks, has some weakness in screens, and is pretty good with storage (at least for things like photos).

And Amazon is very strong on storage, weak at networks, and weak (at the moment) on screens.

I’d argue that their relative strengths and weaknesses are  important for startups to understand as well, as that gives you a bit of a map of one set of opportunities.

Anyway, that’s how I’m thinking about things lately. What do you think?

Jul 11


Yesterday my Twitter follower count ticked over 50,000 for the first time. And while I wouldn’t exactly call that a lifetime achievement or milestone, it has caused me to reflect a little bit on Twitter specifically and the Internet more generally, so I thought I would write down some of those thoughts here.

Off the top, let me say this: I really love Twitter. A lot. I use it every day — I don’t always post things (although most times I do), but I always read and discover new things — it’s become integral to me in a bunch of ways. I share interesting articles about technology and startups and politics and literature that I find. I link to my blog posts like this one. I ask questions, mostly about travel and technology. I vent about things (I’m looking at you @unitedairlines). I talk about TV and music that I like. I track a bunch of my friends and coworkers and how they’re doing. And I make a lot of dumb jokes.

What’s clear at this point is that I’m not a particularly typical Twitter user. As services evolve, they find their main use cases, their reasons for existing. You’ve got Facebook for interacting with friends in symmetric ways; you’ve got Quora for getting high quality answers to questions; you’ve got Tumblr for expressing a synthesis of media that in aggregate represents you.

Twitter has evolved, I think, into essentially a celebrity broadcast medium. Now, I’m using the term ‘celebrity’ a little broadly — there are the Biebers and Gagas, of course, but there are also the CNNs and NPRs of news, and the Saccas of the tech world, and the long middle part of the curve of bands and critics and pundits that have tens or hundreds of thousands of followers. It seems obvious to me at this point that this is really what Twitter is for: tracking our mega and mini broadcasters, being able to follow along in real time to see what they’re doing, writing and what they’re amplifying from others.

That’s part of how I use it, but I think that my use case is somewhat more complicated, which makes my tweets pretty atypical. My tweet stream is more like a mix of broadcasting, retweets, active conversations with friends, debates with other techies, and a bunch of snarky jokes.

I think there are a few reasons for this.

First, because I’m more of a “Twitter native” — that is, someone who’s been active on the system since the first million users, I’ve been part of the ‘figuring out’ conversations that have happened, mostly as a user. So I’ve gone through several generations of the product before it landed on celebrity broadcast as the center, and some of those generations of use case have really stuck with me.

Second, I developed a bunch of my patterns while I worked at Mozilla, a uniquely open organization where Twitter really fit. Because we don’t have a ton of internal systems for closed communications by design, we like to have conversations in the open, on public wikis, on open IRC channels, and on Twitter. And because I had management responsibility of a distributed, global organization, it helped me to kind of keep track of folks I wasn’t able to see every day. Beyond that, it let me have some interactions in a public way with people that I could model so that others would see them and (maybe) learn from them. In a lot of ways, I think of it as the modern equivalent of Managing by Walking Around, popularized by Hewlett-Packard long ago. It’s easy to brush off this use case as not real, but I really did use it a lot for helping to manage at Mozilla.

And while Mozilla is obviously unique in its openness, in a lot of ways the Silicon Valley ecosystem shares some of the characteristics, with lots of actors who are decentralized and distributed, working in different ways but able to share public communication channels like this.

The third reason I’m quirky in my use, I think, is that I make so many jokes on it. I’ve always been a guy that’s most comfortable at the back of the classroom making jokes. It’s not necessarily the part of my personality I’m most proud of, but it’s what I do. I’m happiest in the back, scribbling semi-related ideas to what’s going on, making jokes to myself or friends. Twitter gives me a pretty good way to do that sort of thing without being disruptive, and it’s fun for me.

I guess last is the fact that a lot of close friends also spend a fair amount of time on it, so keeping up with them and interacting with them there is fun and rewarding.

As I’ve moved up to 50k followers and past, I think it’s going to start changing how I use it a bit, for better or worse. It’s becoming somewhat more of a broadcast/audience thing and less of a group-of-friends thing. It remains extremely useful and integral to me, but probably will be so in different ways.

Anyway, enough for now — just thought I’d capture a few thoughts here that wouldn’t fit in 140 characters. 🙂

Jun 11

My Talk for Adventures of the Mind 2011

I’ll be giving a talk in a few minutes to a conference of high achieving high schoolers called Adventures of the Mind. Amazing collection of students and speakers. Anyway, here’s what I’m going to say.

Adventures of the Mind 2011 Talk

A couple of years ago when I gave a talk for Adventures of the Mind 2009 in Princeton, I talked about how important the people around you are to success. Because you never know what the big decision points in your life are, it’s really hard to intentionally design your life. But you CAN design who you spend time with, and being around amazing people — always trying to put yourself into rooms with people who are smarter than you, even if it makes you feel bad — that that strategy will tend to mean that great opportunities will find you.

So that was a “HOW” talk. How to make sure to be around great choices in your life.

Today I want to give more of a WHAT & WHY talk. I always like starting with the punchline, so here’s the punchline for my talk: everyone in this room is amazing potential. But we need to move potential into action, into change, into improvement. Everyone in this room needs to think about how you want the world to be, AND THEN YOU NEED TO GO MAKE THE WORLD YOU WANT.

Make the world you want to live in. That’s the only way you get it.

But let me start by giving you a little background about me. When I was graduating high school 20 years ago and getting ready to go to Stanford, I figured I would be a physicist. That was the plan until about the 3rd problem set of my Stanford career, which was approximately the hardest thing I’d ever seen. It was immediately obvious to me that I could never be world class as a physicist, so I went looking for things I could be world class at. And my next stop for several years was computer science and user interface design, which I was pretty good at. But again, as I got out into the working world, it became clear again that while I could be really good at interaction design, there was no way I could be one of the best in the world at it. So, again, I went looking for what I was good at, and what I found was that I was really good at thinking about how to organize people, how to lead them, how to manage them. That I felt I could be world class at, and that’s been what I’ve done, working at startups in Silicon Valley for the 20 years since then.

I’ve meandered around doing interesting things with awesome people since then, but am best known at this point for the job before the one that I have now, as the CEO of Mozilla, who makes Firefox.

So how many of you have used Firefox?

And how many of you knew that it’s made be a tiny 300 person company that’s a non-profit?

I want to show you a short video about Mozilla, Firefox, and what a unique organization it is.


That’s what I’ve done over the last 5 or 6 years, and it’s been amazing. Just trying to make the web better, getting to about 450 million users in the world, breaking the Microsoft monopoly on browsers and operating systems. Making the world a little more like we wanted it.

It was sort of an accident that I ended up at Mozilla though — let me tell you that story: after my own startup, I was trying to find my next thing — I actually wanted to be a venture capitalist, which is what I am now, but in 2005 I couldn’t find the right place for me. I ran into Mitchell Baker, who ran the Mozilla project, then about 15 employees total, and told her I really liked what they were doing, and that I’d like to help. She said great! So we had this awesome brainstorming session, felt like we could make things better, I went home and wrote up this really long e-mail about what I thought she should do. And she never responded to me. This happened a couple of times, and I eventually said, “Shit. If I want to help, I probably need to go actually work there.”

But still I was on the fence.

Then something lucky happened: Mitchell invited me to go to a meeting with her and the other leaders at Yahoo (this was back when Yahoo was still marginally cool), where we would meet with Jerry Yang. So I tagged along, excited to meet Jerry. Well, he showed up 45 minutes late for an hour long meeting, and he started yelling at us right away. Long story about exactly why he yelled at us, but roughly it’s because people were adopting Firefox so quickly that it was causing Yahoo real market share problems. He yelled at us for a while, but I really wasn’t listening that closely, because it was then and there that I decided I had to join Mozilla full time.

I figured if we could get a billionaire to get so angry that he yelled at us, we were probably doing a bunch of things really, really right.

Since then I’ve discovered that it’s actually a lot easier than you might think to get billionaires to yell at you, but those are stories for another time, maybe once you’re all over 21.

Here’s my point: everyone expected me to go be a venture capitalist or start my next for profit company — but I accidentally found an opportunity at this weird, funky non-profit that gave me a massive chance to make the world a little closer to the way I wanted. So I couldn’t escape the gravitational pull, and signed up. Best decision of my career.

Let me shift gears – today I’m a partner at Greylock Partners, a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. We find interesting, early startups to invest in and help them grow into great companies that change the world. We’ve been very fortunate to find and work with some of the most successful companies in history, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Pandora.

(And I have to tell you quickly about one of the incredible companies we’re involved with that just announced – it’s a company called Lytro, and I figure they’re about to change photography forever, by introducing what’s called a ‘light field camera’ – a camera that doesn’t just take a picture of one plane of focus, but rather captures all the light rays in a scene at once, which means you can do things like focus the picture after the fact. Incredible.)

And these are incredible times in Silicon Valley and around the world, with technology having such a huge impact — more things are changing, for more people, more quickly than in any time in history. We’re going through a massive, and fast, revolution. Apple and Facebook and Google and Mozilla and others are changing the way we work, the way we communicate, the way we live.

There are 3 massive shifts happening all at one time:

1. The rise of ubiquitous and mobile computing: phones and tablets are going to be 10 or 100 times bigger than anything we’ve ever seen. Soon we’ll have 2 billion smart phones on the planet.

2. Social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn have connected everyone together, which means collaboration happens at a wicked fast pace. And it’s speeding up. You can get your products to hundreds of millions of people in a matter of days now. Think about that.

3. And we’ve figured out how to make the “cloud” work. So anytime you’re anywhere, from any device, you can get to your pictures, your data, your life.

Nothing like this has ever happened before. I can’t overstate how massive this is.

But we still have many choices to make. Do you want to live in an Apple defined world? Or a Google one? Or a Facebook and Twitter world? The point I’m trying to make is that technology choices have implications. Technology platforms have points of view. The choices that you make matter. And an Apple-y world is very very different than a Googley world. So which one of those do you want?

I suspect you all know that the answer is “none of the above” — as you all go become scientists and engineers and entrepreneurs and citizens, I hope you think hard not about whose technology world view you want to adopt, but rather what the world you want to live in looks like, and that you think hard about how to make that world happen.

For me, that’s the definition of creativity and entrepreneurship. Finding the things in our world that are broken, and then going and fixing the ones you care about.

So I hope all of you head into your next phase of life with the mindset of an entrepreneur, looking for things to fix, wondering why things aren’t the way they should be. And then going and making the world the way you want it to be by starting the next Facebook or LinkedIn or Kiva or Mozilla.