Grade A Entrepreneurs

(also: Zeitgeist, great atypical people, books and misc.)

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The End of Business as Usual by Brian Solis

January 18th, 2012 · Book Review

The end of biz as usual“What are words for if not to inspire the hearts, minds, and actions of our employees and customers?” Brian Solis asks this before listing a series of buzzwords that operate as “crutches for characterless engagement,” and are “indicative of how businesses see (or don’t see) employees and customers.” His advice is simple: Take a moment to revise the way you speak, before it’s too late. We are getting awfully close to “The end of business as usual,” to use the title of the book.

The book is not about doomsday by a futurist, but rather about common sense by an insightful sociologist who calls a spade a spade, sees that tomorrow is today – and writes beautifully! When two-thirds of American rely on e-commerce to shop and 43% of all online consumers are social media fans or followers, it’s somewhat perilous to assume that tomorrow’s business will be what it was five years ago. The end of “business as usual” is the realization that, at a time when consumers are connected, the layers of non-communication and disconnectedness that businesses have built around themselves are irreversibly estranging them from customers. So, “rewire the way you work to succeed in the consumer revolution!”

Earn your way into the trust zone of social customers… Referring to a study conducted by the Aberdeen Group, Brian reminds us that forty-seven percent of retailers entered social media “because of competitive pressure to do so.” Clearly, “businesses must now find comfort outside of their comfort zones,” and had better get used to this sooner rather than later… Social media is not an option pushed by a bunch of social media aficionados. It’s the mandatory business operating system for companies to “earn their way into the trust zone of social customers.” Even though “customer-centricity struggles to find a home within the operationalized business,” brands are pressured into performing their own cultural revolution, no matter what.

At the dawn of new performance metrics… While leaders have been able to get away with simply giving speeches about adaptive companies and change management for the last 40 years without actually doing anything tangible, new forms of metrics are now good BS detectors. What is your Groubal customer service index? There is the brand that companies meticulously design and what customers make of it. “Connected customers define the value and the equity of a brand within social networks.” Actual social capital will drive stock value far more efficiently than PR games… That’s what you read between the lines of this book.

The laws of engagement… The book is a collection of essays organized in chapters that complement Engage or Die. While Brian’s books always include a conceptual dimension with very interesting and relevant references (I loved Pierre Levy‘s notion of “collective intelligence”), you can still read in any order you want. All entry points lead to the idea of a new business reality: businesses aren’t selling products as much as they are selling experiences through myriad social touch points. Engaging is the art of unlocking the value of these touch points.

The End of Business as Usual is as much of a must read as Engage or Die.

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Digital Leader, 5 Simple Keys to Success and Influence by Erik Qualman

January 2nd, 2012 · Book Review

Digital leaderNotoriety used to give you a chance to be immortalized with a postage stamp, but “now every single one of us has a digital stamp.” This is the opening statement of Erik Qualman’s new book: Digital Leader: 5 Simple Keys to Success and Influence. While Qualman’s previous book, Socialnomics*, analyzed the new challenges and opportunities that the social media re-segmentation and restructuring of the market are to present to businesses, Digital Leader focuses on what it means for each of us to be part of the “Glass House Generation,” and what it takes for each of us to become a digital leader – transform our digital footprint into a distinctive digital “stamp.”

Be on the stamp that everybody wants to find! The book is structured around an easy-to-remember acrostic. “Stamp” stands for the five habits of digital leadership:

  • SIMPLE: success is the result of simplification and process
  • TRUE: be true to your passion
  • ACT: nothing happens without action—take the first step
  • MAP: goals and visions are needed to get where you want to be.
  • PEOPLE: success doesn’t happen in a vacuum

Each of the chapters provides examples and anecdotes illustrating the topic at hand. Most of them are taken from the analog world on purpose: You don’t need to be a digital native to become a digital leader. A leader is a leader, and anybody can become a digital leader. Social media is not some form of black magic that obliges you to become somebody you are not or do not want to become. Rather, it is an environment that invites you to find the quintessence of who you are and what you want to say in order to be understood and interesting. Make technology work for you! The content of leadership may not intrinsically be different from what it is in the physical world, except that you must make your messages even more zen in order to render them more effective as well as more universal (and show a heightened sensitivity to the diversity of the people that constitute your digital friends or followers). Leaders, whether analog or digital, define their goals, pick their fight, shape their paths in order to shape the path of others.

Your true personality is just a camera phone away from being discovered… Do digital citizens lose some of their identity or betray their passions as they clean up their act and expurgate their texts of sarcasm or any form of nastiness? Maybe. Maybe not, if social media is more than an outlet for your random stream of conscience. The world of social media is undergoing the same evolution as the early days of blogging that progressively went from a public psychoanalytic “Say everything” craze to a consummate art of edited spontaneity. “The digital revolution has connected our integrity and reputation in a way never seen before.” No need to lament and dream of a golden era when we could separate our personal and professional lives and fancy ourselves as healthy Jekylls and Hydes. “Your true personality is just a camera phone away from being discovered,” Qualman reminds us, echoing the Zuckerberg’s statement in The Facebook Effect: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of lack of integrity.” While it’s true that in the digital era, “someone is watching us all the time,” it’s also true it gives us the ability to work on our personal unity and confidence, “recreate” ourselves — to take leadership over own lives — while easily accessing a wide audience, connecting and engaging with people. We lead by empowering others and “grow as they grow.”

One of the remarkable qualities of the book is that it dispels the threat that social media still signify to many people. Qualman is not lecturing you into becoming social media addicts to survive. Instead, his tone is inviting: “Digital Leaders are Made—Not Born.” Any individual can thrive in the digital era by creating output that unites people instead of dividing them. A very good book! Very human.

*I wrote a post about Socialnomics at the end of 2009.

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Social Technology in HR and Recruiting by John Sumser: Get a Move On!

December 22nd, 2011 · Book Review

SumserBy Marylene Delbourg-Delphis

I just finished reading The 2012 Index of Social Technology in HR and Recruiting, put together by John Sumser and the HR Examiner team.

The report covers initial attempts in leveraging social media in the sourcing and recruiting industry. Although quite a large variety of products are surveyed, the report primarily focuses on the multiple angles through which vendors try to incorporate some form of social element within the HR field. It’s only the beginning, and as the report indicates from the start, we “are entering an era of flux.” The word “flux” is especially interesting here: it refers to the rate of transfer of the social media wave across the various branches of HR as well as the inconstancies, fluctuations and wavering that it generates — thus revealing interesting paradoxes.

Should the cobbler’s children go barefoot? Over the last three years, corporations have started to realize the value of social media and have put significant efforts into social enablement, especially in sales, marketing and customer service. Success is generally associated with a clear strategy and the allocation of appropriate resources. Yet, social is barely starting in recruiting and social recruiting often limited to posting jobs on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. As John Sumser points out: “As the most conservative of the organizational functions, HR is particularly slow to ingest new ideas.”

Isn’t it odd that the very same people whose role is to help corporations move forward can’t be in a position to do so simply because of technology constraints? Isn’t it strange that while it is part of their DNA to create relationships, recruiters would shy away from tools and platforms that facilitate and encourage connections with and between people? How is it that with social media being first and foremost about relationships, early social technology in HR “is focused on the collection of the data, not relationships?” In a logical world, HR — human resources — should have been the very first organizational function to embrace social media and put an end to a “process that treats potential candidates as objects.” But it’s not.

Time to steal the Seven-league boots! Lots of recruiters would love to move quickly! But they are often stuck with antiquated practices and systems and are not adequately assisted by the other departments as they do their jobs. Why should HR be a “competitive weapon” only for younger corporations? Why should recruiters indefinitely bear with incumbents that do not even provide free open APIs to enable transparent communication across platforms when engineers and marketers can connect everything with anything with a snap of the finger?

HR AnalystsJohn Sumser’s forecasts are definitely a call for upper management to help out recruiters. Recruiters shape the future of organizations and are a critical touch point with customers/candidates, building up  – or crushing – a company’s reputation: “No role will change more rapidly than the recruiter’s. Shifting demographics, rapidly evolving jobs, an avalanche of technology and data, responsibility for branding and involvement in community conversations add up to an overwhelming change at the nexus of the organization and the outside world.”

Engage or Die” (to use the title of a great book by Brian Solis last March) is what you can read between the lines of this very informative and well written report – that gives HR teams excellent reasons to demand more freedom and better systems.

Who should read this report? HR teams, of course, but even more importantly all the departments of any company in order to:

  • Better understand why it takes so much time and money to find, select and hire new employees today!
  • Realize that change is never hard to effect when there is will to evolve… And there are lots of forward-thinking digital leaders in this industry that can help out, as I could see for myself as the CEO of a new company, TalentCircles.

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Ken Fischer, President of the UMS: Leading by touching people’s lives

November 29th, 2011 · Talents, Innovators

Ken FischerTwice a year, I look forward to the meeting of the UMS National Council Members, and each time I am struck by the leadership of Kenneth Fischer, the President of the University Musical Society (UMS) in Ann Arbor, MI.

Leadership: you know it when you see it… However hard it may be to define, you know it when you see good leadership, especially in a domain like the performing arts, where success cannot be taken for granted. How often do you see packed venues for Amahd Jamal, the State Symphony Capella of Russia, John Malkovich, the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre 
of Taiwan, to name some of the 60+ performances scheduled for the 2011-2012 season? The obvious response is that you must have an amazing director of programming (Michael Kondziolka), and a no less remarkable marketing, education, and financial team (Sara Billmann, Jim Leija, John Kennard and many others). But you can’t forget the top guy at the helm, Ken Fischer, who has been the President of the UMS for 25 years. End result: although the organization is located in a rather small town, Ann Arbor, (around 120,000 inhabitants), the UMS is one of the top five presenters in this country. Wow!

I will not define leadership, but I know why this 66 year old, white-haired, gentleman with sparkling eyes exemplifies some of the main characteristics of a leader.

He is:

1.     Trustworthy: Year after year, Ken has been fulfilling his responsibilities without letting down anybody’s expectations, by empowering brilliant minds around him as well hundreds of volunteers, persuading donors of all sizes, reaching out for students, academia and business organizations, attracting a repeat audience enchanted by artists they often had never heard about — and blowing away world-famous artists unable to place Ann Arbor on the US map. Just how he manages this is hard to explain. The truth of the matter is that everybody trusts him and looks to him as a guide, likes his pastoral and pedagogical demeanor.

2.     Empowering: The UMS offers over 60 performances each season, performed in up to seven University and community venues. To accomplish this goal, Ken has five direct reports and a total staff of only 30 people. No need to say that each person in the whole team must be empowered to deliver on such an ambitious program and leverage the amazing resources that Fischer has managed to focus on the success of the UMS:  over thirty student interns from the University of Michigan, thirty-four board members and some 700 volunteers organized in multiple groups – Senate, Advisory Committee, UMS Choral Union, Usher Corps, National Council, Corporate Council, Teacher Advisory Group. Ken Fischer has empowered a whole tribe of believers and built dozens of links with regional economic development organizations and the University of Michigan. His credo is what his mentor, the late Patrick Hayes, founder of the Washington Performing Arts Society and founding president of ISPA, instilled in him. It’s an all-inclusive approach: “Everybody In, Nobody Out.” And it works!

3.     Connected: Nobody can count the number of people that Ken Fischer knows – I mean really knows and passionately cares for, in Ann Arbor, of course, in the United States, and in the world. His memory of people and their personal history is downright flabbergasting. In addition to having a special talent for connecting with people, he empowers anyone to bring his/her network and welcomes friends of friends into the UMS fold, making even strangers feel connected to the community so that they want to communicate and spread its artistic message.

4.     Effective: In the end, great leaders have a personal way of being effective — they are persuasive because they know what they are talking about and have an impact because they are contagiously emotional. Ken’s smiling friendliness, his soft-spoken manner and his almost conventional calm are the weapons of a man capable of filling many Ann Arbor venues with avant-garde artists and renegades that will be the classics of tomorrow – and shaking up the status quo without bruising feelings. Because of his considerable acumen, he continuously moves audiences forward, leading them through change – and making them enjoy today what many other presenters would postpone to a hypothetical tomorrow to play it safe.

And touching people’s lives is what the arts are about: Ken knows that in the arts, just as in technology, people do not necessarily know what they want, but are thrilled when you offer to them something that didn’t know they would enjoy. Year after year, and this for the last 25 years, Ken Fischer has built a history – a tradition – of innovation with one goal, offering audiences engaging experiences that they will remember and which, in turn, pave the way for more engaging experiences and more memories. Truly, you never know who you’ll meet at a UMS concert! One day they were students in Ann Arbor, and years later, they are big donors because the audacity of programming at the UMS reminds them of their own adventurous youth.

Family FischerIt is impossible to talk about Ken Fischer without mentioning his family, as it is clear to anyone who talks to this proud husband-father-grandpa that they are the center of his broad universe: He is married to professional flutist Penelope (Penny) Peterson Fischer. Their son Matt is Director of the App Store at Apple and lives with his wife Renee Danielson Fischer and son Alexander in the San Francisco Bay area. “Go blue” is the motto of everybody in this family!

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Amazing customer service from United Airlines…

October 11th, 2011 · Book Review

GlassesI am sure that I am not the only one to have been upset by United Airlines’ customer service many times – and complained. That’s why, this time, I have to admit that they have blown me away by the quality of their service!

Two weeks ago, I forgot a pair of reading glasses that look like sunglasses at the departing gate at Charles De Gaulle in France, which I realized when I was already seated. Before the plane took off, I went back to the gate, accompanied, and looked around. I didn’t find them. I asked the attendants and the security. Nobody had returned anything. So, I said casually that I might have left them in the Red Carpet Club, but I did not call them, nor did I fill any form, estimating that they were lost anyway…

But guess what! Yesterday, I found my glasses in the mail, coming back from Paris, with a simple hand-written note: “Please find enclosed your sunglasses left here at CDG Airport RCC,” signed by a person called Odile Dargide (not sure I read the name well).

Conclusion: Great customer service is not always the service that you might expect, but a service that comes to you unexpectedly! Thanks to United at Paris CDG!

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Entrepreneurs! Tell the world how many jobs you have created at Startup Jobs Count

September 14th, 2011 · Entrepreneurs

Startup“Entrepreneurs are the engine for economic growth and jobs creation,” Chris Shipley, the founder of the GuideWire Group, reports. “Now, it’s time to put some real numbers behind the conventional wisdom!” As a result she has created Startup Jobs Count.

Entrepreneurs! Speak up! It takes ages to get data from official reports. So getting back to the source of jobs creation, the entrepreneurs themselves, is Chris’s methodology. This is a crowdsourcing approach of sorts that is empowering entrepreneurs to speak up and brag about their ability to create jobs.

Spread the word: Last week, Chris broadcast her initiative via various social media channels, inviting entrepreneurs of any company in the US that is less than 5 years old and employs one or more people to stand up and be counted. The success of the initiative is predicated on people’s initiative to become known. So spread the message as much as you can!

Spread the word to startups of all kinds: We are in Silicon Valley, and we obsess with high tech. Make sure that you encourage all your friends, regardless of the company they are starting, to report their startup jobs counts.

Spread the word in your respective countries: The initiative started by Chris relates to jobs created in the US. So connect with her to start campaigning in your country. Entrepreneurship may be the most positive international virus – or to use a great phrase from my friend Sramana Mitra, it’s definitely the most efficient “weapon of mass reconstruction.”

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Apple: The magic of a steady revolution in our daily lives

September 2nd, 2011 · Entrepreneurs, Talents, Innovators

SteveJobsThis is a post that I wrote in French for earlier this week and that my daughter, Sophie Delphis translated.

The buzz generated by Steve Jobs’ announcement of his departure was unprecedented in the history of the industry. This is hardly surprising: even Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, and one of the most respected executives in the country, acknowledged Jobs’ uniqueness. Apple’s singular presence is undeniable, and, as one of the most prestigious companies in the world, it is a rare example of prosperity amidst a global economic crisis.

Visionaries create evidence: In 1984, Apple rocked the world with its now iconic commercial to introduce the Mac. These days consumers have at their disposal a wealth of Macs, iPods, iPhones and iPads to express themselves away from the watchful gaze of Big Blue. Steve Jobs changed the world with a sledgehammer. His revolutionary success – one irreverent to the status quo – was unthinkable twenty-five years ago, but visionaries are, after all, those who are able to make us take for granted previously impossible ideas.

Democratizing magic: Of course Steve Jobs himself is a fascinating figure, but what is even more fascinating is the revolution he put into motion when he began to humanize technology in several domains: personal computers, music, animated film, telephones, and information exchange. Perhaps only Edison has had such a deep social impact through his inventions. Innovation in both cases is not simply the application of new technologies, but the art of adapting them so that they cause an evolution in consumers’ behaviors. In other words, while inventions can make geeks rejoice, they go down in history when they impact the lives of lay. Most users don’t buy iPhones because of its technical characteristics, but because of the magic it offers to users.

Memorability, or history anchored in the real world: Early adopters of Apple (of which I was as the founder/CEO of a company that put out the first graphic relational database for Mac, 4th Dimension) are now a very small minority of the millions of fans the company has accrued. And these fans are not ghostly usernames on anonymous chat rooms but living humans crowding into stores: the most prestigious tech company in the world is also the least active in social networks, opting instead to open dozens of popular physical stores at a time when everyone is cutting back or completely eliminating his real world fingerprint. But the success of Apple stores everywhere is due to the opportunity they afford people to touch and try out goods in a lively and aesthetic environment – people go to Apple stores to hang out. This real-world anchoring is gratifying for would-be buyers and guarantees the company’s perennial success. This year IBM celebrated 100 years  – when Thomas Watson created the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation. Apple still has sixty-five years to go before it can celebrate this touchstone, but, even if it true that technology evolves at an exponential rate, there is little doubt that it has created a lasting legacy by giving people the ability to use technology without having to be techies and by demonstrating that consumers love beautiful objects. In other words, mass consumption is not at odds with the feeling of luxury.

Note on the illustration. The “Steve Icon”: In 1983, Andy Hertzfeld started to work on the icon editor that Susan Kare was to use to create icons for the Finder. I strongly recommend his book on the history of Macintosh, Revolution in the Valley (2004).

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Women@theFrontier: The Power of Empowering

August 21st, 2011 · Entrepreneurs, Talents, Innovators

WomenattheFrontierEarlier this week at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, CA, I was the keynote speaker at the second annual Conference of Women@theFrontier founded by Susan Fonseca-Klein, also founding architect of Singularity University, an interdisciplinary university based at the NASA Ames campus in Silicon Valley whose mission is to educate and inspire leaders to address humanity’s grand challenges.

There was huge attendance and great panelists, including Lt. Col. Jackie Parker, the first woman Air Force pilot to attend U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, California; Francine Gordon, a celebrated executive coach and organization consultant in the Valley; Sandra de Castro Buffington, the director of Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S); Courtney Macavinta, the Co-Founder of The Respect Institute and Joy Buolamwini, a 21 year old Computer Science major at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

From trench warfare to power: Women@theFrontier is a great expression and reminds us of pioneers on their journey west in the 19th century, and that the feminist movements of the 20th century have helped women conquer new territories and affirm their rights. But I also like to go back to the actual etymology of the word “frontier,” as I did during my keynote. The word “frontier” comes from an old French word that designated the front line of an army organized to stand up to an enemy. As people would organize to defend their country, the word ended up meaning the borders between states. In the 21rst century, Women@TheFrontier, must not only have to stand up to prejudice, discrimination and inequality, but also to their own fears of getting out of their comfort zones. They must use the considerable amount of power they have secured over the last fifty years. As Gloria Feldt says in No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think about Power, which I discussed a few months ago: “By far the most confounding problem facing women today is not that doors aren’t open, but that women aren’t walking through the open doors in numbers and with the intention sufficient to transform society’s major institutions once and for all.”

The power of empowering: Today, younger women can build up on this history and move on from corrective and defensive activism (addressing inequalities of all types) to transformative initiatives. The demographic in education plays in their favor: The male/female ratio on campus today is 43/57 – almost an exact reversal of what it was in the sixties. Women “are shaping the Internet” using the Web not only as consumers, but also and more generally as a productivity and networking environment. Bolstered up by their experience in removing barriers for themselves, they now have the ability to remove barriers for everybody.

The power of women has scaled tremendously. During the conference, Sandra de Castro Buffington explained how she leverages the power of the entertainment industry to improve the health and well being of individuals and communities worldwide. The energy of 21-year old Joy Buolamwini is definitely “without borders,” with already multiple initiatives under her belt (from building technological tools for the Carter Center to helping in the fight to eradicate blinding trachoma in Ethiopia to leading a software teaching initiative for the Zambian Institute for Sustainable Development).

“Women are at the forefront of developing solutions to the world’s greatest challenges,” said Susan Fonseca-Klein. “W@F is an opportunity to showcase leading women creating positive change, global in reach and exponential in impact, leveraging technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.”

The capacity for and effectiveness of change grows exponentially as more and women come together. Women leaders build the basis for repeated multiplication and pervasiveness. For example, think of the way my friend Sramana Mitra is democratizing entrepreneurship education with her 1M by 1M program!

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Go for it! The democratization of the video game industry

July 13th, 2011 · Entrepreneurs, Talents, Innovators

DSC_0041Guest Writer: Jeremy Rossmann*

Nothing’s stopping you: Five years ago, you needed thousands of dollars and an established company to get your hands on a development kit from Nintendo, Sony, or Microsoft. To make things worse, there were no successful distribution channels for anything but the $20+ category of games. If you were an 18 year old kid in 2005, you had better go to college, get a degree, and apply for a job in the game industry once you graduated if you wanted to make video games.

Today, the barrier to entering the video game industry has never been lower. The iPhone dev kit costs $100, the Android dev kit is free. Kids these days aren’t trying to get jobs in the game industry, they can create their own jobs in the industry. The playing field is open. Quality and success are no longer determined solely by multi-million dollar investments and large development teams.

For example… When I was 18, back in ’09, I started an iPhone game development studio with a few friends called Manifold Studios (shameless plug, my apologies.) We decided we would make games on a starving college kid budget that would have production values riveling those that the big boys produced (EA Mobile, Gameloft, Rovio, etc…) Take a look at our first shot, WarSquared (still in beta), and judge for yourself. It’s not just us though. Check out Robozzle, Helicopter, Bubble Ball, and Airy Labs. They all come from an under 20 crowd. We’re all doing it, and so can you.

What’s in a game? Three things. Design, code, and art. Telling good design from bad deserves a post of its own, but in general the key is scaling your design to your means. This is tough – if you take a look at the Unity (a 3D engine for game development) forums, everyone wants to make a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game. Never mind that the budgets for these games are usually counted in the millions, everyone thinks they can make one. They can’t. A simple mobile game is the place to start, period.

The conventional wisdom: Conventional wisdom about mobile games goes something like this: there are so many out there that it is impossible to get noticed, nobody will ever discover your app, and you will never make any money.


Success is relative to investment. Yes, if you pour 100k into an app, you’ll be really upset if it only ever brings in 75k. But if you develop the game on your own time with a few hundred bucks, you’ll be really happy to make 75k. And again, it’s all about making your design match your means. If you have money to promote your game, you will want to design it differently. If you have the money and connections to promote your app, by all means make a paid app. But if you know upfront that you don’t, then you probably want to make your app a free one with in-app purchases. Then you have to try and pass the freemium tipping point. What is the tipping point you ask? Read on.

The tipping point: Everyone really should be using something like Flurry nowadays – how are you supposed to improve your app if you don’t have reliable data on how people are using it? And to get that data, you need some number of downloads, which you’re going to get because you will e-mail every blog, site, Youtuber, and so on, who covers apps. You’ll get mentioned somewhere, and you’ll get a few thousand downloads. Assuming you have reliable data on your users, you can easily measure if you’ve passed the tipping point: you make more money per download than it costs you to get that download. The world of incentivized downloads and app advertising is changing week to week, so don’t take the numbers I quote here to be reliable, but let’s say it costs you 35 cents to buy a download of your free app and you are generating an average of $1 per download. You’re past the tipping point. You’re home free. You make $1.85 on every $1.00 you spend. You will probably be able to find someone interested in publishing your game, or at least the justification to pour some money into it yourself.

Three steps to success

  1. Figure out what your budget is, and what your means are. How many artists and programmers will be able to work on the game. Make sure your design is scaled to your means.
  2. Get your game out as soon as possible. If you never release your app, you are guaranteed to fail. It sounds stupid, but the number of professionals who fall into this trap is huge. Ship early, ship often.
  3. Assuming your game operates on the freemium model, tweak and iterate. Try new things often. Update as frequently as you can. Analyze your metrics, play with the design, change the menus, and do what it takes to get past the tipping point. Once you pass the tipping point, congratulations, you’re doing better than most pros. You’ve proven that in today’s video game industry, the little guy can play in the big leagues.

* Jeremy Rossmann is a rising junior at MIT joint-majoring in comparative media studies and mathematics with computer science. He is the CEO and Lead Designer at Manifold Studios, an iPhone game development startup he founded comprised of high school and college students. Their first game, WarSquared has been featured by Apple on the App Store.

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Bootstrapping: OAC, or the Art of Empowering Aspiring Singers

June 27th, 2011 · Book Review

Sophie:Yefim2Guest writer: Sophie Delphis

The program I’m doing this year, Opera Academy of California, is presenting a summer line up for pre-professional singers – including a series of master classes, five nights of selected opera scenes and three full operas – for the first time. This is a new venture, with a relatively small group and limited funding: this is a bootstrapped startup, but this is precisely what makes taking part in this project so exhilarating.

Discovering entrepreneurship… Because the group is relatively small, our six weeks are plenty packed. More is required of us as students, both on and off the stage. All of us are singing numerous roles, in multiple scenes and operas, so we have to be organized and pace ourselves. There is not an extensive staff infrastructure, so we help to organize some of the logistics and are more responsible for extra-musical aspects of the productions. We can’t simply show up and rely on a large construct to take care of our needs. But this is a tremendous opportunity for us to invest much more of ourselves than simply our voices and stage presence. We are learning something critical: entrepreneurship. Especially in this economy and with the current state of arts funding, many of the projects we will undertake as young musicians will be held together by two strings, a prayer and a lot of hard work. Many people are telling us to be more entrepreneurial: this is it. We are forced to think beyond our individual musical lines and scenes. We are far more directly responsible for the outcome of the program as a whole than if we had opted for a larger, well-established structure.

… And empowerment: The experience is empowering. Assuming we do invest psychologically and understand how much of an impact we can have in the shaping the success of OAC’s Summer Program (and by extension its usefulness on our resumés), this is a terrific opportunity to learn and create as part of a team. This requires a good deal of dedication on our parts, as well as flexibility and evangelism – in fact, the qualities needed for any start-up venture. Without an overabundance of people, we have to take on more responsibility. Without returning spectators, we have to build our own audience base, through Facebook, Twitter, etc… Without built-in cost coverage and donor lists, we have to bootstrap funds (I organized a fundraiser at the end of May in Palo Alto, and another one is in the works). If you’ve ever seen somebody start a company, this is probably sounding rather familiar… This program is new, and most problems have to be addressed as they arrive, but when a startup is set in motion by a professional, as is Yefim Maizel, you realize that being “lean,” as they say it in startup jargon, does not mean creating a cheap result. Elegance is not always expensive when you have a reserve of imagination and an eye for the right thing. I remember reading in one of Guy Kawasaki’s books “A players attract A players.” OAC has launched its first summer season with an impressive and diverse group of contributors – both in terms of faculty and students who will be instrumental in its success.

Come and listen to us! Our events are listed on the Opera Academy calendar!

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