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Do It Right. Not Fast. Right.

By - September 30, 2015


(Cross posted to LI and Medium. Cuz that’s how we roll these days)

If you’ve never blown it big time using email — you will.

I have several times — in fact, I just did it earlier this evening. And gaaaah!, I wish technology had an answer for the clear and present danger that is myself, rushing through an afternoon, trying to GSD and hit inbox zero. Then again, life does have an answer: SLOW. THE F*CK. DOWN.

Allow me to explain. Earlier today I got an email newsletter from an organization that is doing a NewCo session next week. I noticed that while the newsletter was promoting all manner of things, it didn’t mention its own NewCo session — even though the contents of the newsletter were all about upcoming events and other goings on that might be of interest to the intended audience.

A bit miffed, I forwarded said newsletter to my team, asking in rather frank terms why our partner wasn’t promoting its own session in its main communications outlet. A typically frank back and forth ensued, ending with my decision to forward the offending newsletter to folks I knew at the organization, with a polite top note enquiring if they might include mention of their session in a subsequent missive.

If you’ve made the same mistake as me, you know what happened next.

Yep, I forwarded the email with all of the frank back and forth between my team included.

Holy f*ckin’ mother of christ I am such a huge assh*le. That was my first response. Second response? “Wait, isn’t there a way to unsend this?” Third response. “Oh sh*t, I have to change settings and it only works within 30 seconds and sh*t it’s already been longer than that.” Fourth response? A servile, lame-ass apology to the (most likely forever offended) parties involved.

Fifth response? Write this post. Reminding all of us to- slow down. The goal is not to get shit done. The goal is to get it done right.

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It’s Time to Flip the Bit on Publishing and Data

By - September 27, 2015

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My god, do we like to talk about ourselves.

That’s my takeaway from the recent algae-bloom of writing around ad blocking and fraud lately – most of it tinged with apocalyptic implications for the future of independent publishing. I’ve hung back from writing because I’ve been so busy *reading* everything – like this piece by Anil. Or this “expose” by Bloomberg (honestly, this is not a new story!). Or this one by Jason, this by Frederic, this by Doc, or this by Cory.

Cory calls for a new model, and I think he’s right. I’ve been thinking and talking and writing about new models in publishing and media for a good long time. Perhaps now is the time to revive an idea I’ve been on about for years.

Because as Tim points out, quoting Schrage, great new companies aren’t created by assuming that we keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. They instead demand that we alter our behavior entirely, because the benefit is so great. As Ben put it, publishers need to rethink their business models. In a private post on his daily (subscription-based) newsletter, Ben further points out that the iPhone didn’t succeed because it followed the generally acceptable rules of Clayton Christensen’s famous disruption thesis, it worked precisely because it didn’t. It created so much value that people were willing to change their behavior, from using a phone to call and text people, to using it to connect them to the Internet and its extraordinarily broad set of services. Same goes for Facebook, Uber, and many other “unicorns” that have forced new behaviors (sharing all our data into a central platform, shifting from flagging a cab to pushing a button, etc.).

So this begs the question: What is the new set of behaviors consumers might adopt with regard to publishing? And what might be the 10x shift in value creation that augurs such a shift? Might there be an antlered pony buried within all this fraud and ad-blocking horseshit?

First the (somewhat easier) bit – the new set of behaviors. To me this has to do with the relationship of publisher and reader/audience member. The rise of free content on the Web has broken what was previously a clear one-to-one relationship: reader subscribed to a periodical, delivering demographic and geographic data in the process. Now, that relationship has been re-aggregated through a crazy quilt of advertising technologies seeking to identify who you are and what you might want. This “advertising industrial complex” has led to the conditions we all now lament – hundreds of data-sucking ad trackers on most web pages, slow load times, crappy ads, and massive fraud which takes advantage of a disjointed and leaky ecosystem.

But what if user behavior actually reverted to a direct, one to one relationship between publisher and reader? What if that data that advertisers so openly covet – your name, age, zip code, interests, etc. – was held by the *reader*, instead of the publisher or the adtech industry? And what if, upon coming to a new site for the first time, that site simply asked “will you please share your data with us, so we may serve you the best and most appropriate ads?” If you say no, perhaps the content doesn’t load. But why say no – if you’re in control and the data will only make your life better?

I’ve argued for just such a model in We Have Yet to Clothe Ourselves In Data. We Will. The bit that has to flip is summarized in this quote:

We lack an ecosystem that encourages innovation in data use, because the major platforms hoard our data. This is retarded, in the nominal/verb sense of the word. Facebook’s picture of me is quite different from Google’s, Twitter’s, Apple’s, or Acxiom’s*. Imagine what might happen if I, as the co-creator of all that data, could share it all with various third parties that I trusted? Imagine further if I could mash it up with other data entities – be they friends of mine, bands I like, or even brands?

It’s insane that as consumers we outsource our data wardrobe to Facebook, Apple, Google, and the hot mess that is the adtech industry. The consumer behavior I believe will change our world, and by extension the economics of publishing and advertising, is a shift in control of our own data from third party platforms to ourselves as the platform. Put in Internet terms, from the server to the node (we’re the nodes). If this happens, all manner of innovation and efficiency will erupt.

But the rub lies in the second part of this innovation equation: What will be the astonishing, disruptive force that drives such a shift? What is the Uber or Facebook or iPhone that will drive this shift in data use behavior?

God, if I knew that…I’d start that company. But I sense when it does break out (and I am certain it will), it will seem hugely obvious. How frustrating to not know what it is. Like a vivid dream lost seconds after waking, it haunts me every day. Any ideas?!

The Myth of Valley DoucheBaggery

By - September 09, 2015


(Warning, loads of unabashed cursing ahead).

Everyone’s definition of what makes a person or a company “douchey” varies, but we all know ’em when we see them. Douchebag behavior is kind of like the Supreme Court definition of pornography: You know it when you see it. The very fact that the HBO series Silicon Valley can confidently parody douchey behavior  is proof we’ve at least found common ground when it comes to extreme douchebaggery.

But I think our industry culture is moving far faster than the writers at Silicon Valley might wish to believe. I think we’re seeing the rise of a new culture, one that rejects arrogance and the founder worship which breeds it. Inevitable outliers aside, the Valley and technology culture I experience every day in my work at NewCo is one of passion, sweat, earnestness, and good intentions. Sure, we all fuck up. And sure, the press (especially, not surprisingly, the press in New York) has a field day when someone does. But by and large, the teams making companies like Slack, LiveRamp, Medium, Earnest, MetroMile, Lyft, Okta, Pinterest, and hundreds more are damn fine people, and they are dedicating their lives to making something that creates positive change – a product or service that makes the world a better place (even if it’s in a small way).

You just can’t do that if you are a douchebag, or if your company culture is one of douchebaggery. The world eventually conspires against you if you’re a consistent asshole. Particularly in the times we live, where the majority of humanity believes we’re running on a climate change shot clock. When you’re facing existential threat, our tolerance for douchebaggery in the name of making more money at any cost, or screwing over others so as to secure your own fame and fortune, well, our cultural tolerance for that kind of shit goes way down. Donald Trump is the last failing breath of a dead culture, IMHO.

This shift in business culture isn’t limited to the Valley, not by a long shot. Imagine a company like McDonald’s declaring that it, as a corporate entity, it believes that climate change is created by humans? No way, right? Because at least half of its customers in the US disagree with that statement. And if those customers decide to eat somewhere else, McDondald’s would lose 20% of their worldwide profits. No way will a douchey, profit-maximizing Fortune 500 company ever make such a statement, right?


The people at the top of Mickey D’s aren’t stupid. They’re paid a lot of money to look into the future and figure out which way the wind blows. And they’ve come to realize that denying climate change has recently crossed the line of corporate douchebaggery.

Walmart, as I’ve written before, has also figured this out. So has Unilever, PepsiCo, and a ton of others. The times are changing: The largest force in our economy are now Millennials, and they have very clear ideas about what they want from brands they buy (they should create net positive good in society) and companies where they work (they should be driven by purpose as well as profit). This cohort will be 40% of the entire workforce in a mere four years. And the good news is twofold: They love business, but they love business on a mission even more.

No more douchey companies, please. We don’t have the time, or the patience, for them anymore.

Want proof the Bay area has amazing companies with heart? Go to NewCo SF and Oakland. 225+ extraordinary companies are opening their doors to you. Get inside and meet these teams. They’re totally not douchey. 

Where I’ll Be During NewCo SF & Oakland Next Month

By - September 08, 2015

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(cross posted from the NewCo blog)

NewCo’s San Francisco & Oakland festivals are less than a month away, and they will be our largest, most diverse events ever. More than 225 Bay area companies will be opening their doors to 3,000+ attendees. Choosing which companies to visit is a daunting task.

I’ve made my picks, but it wasn’t easy. One of the things that separates the NewCo model from many others is the time it requires to choose a schedule – our attendees select from 15+ companies for every time slot – and there are often very difficult choices to make. NewCo creates deep engagement and strong business intent by forcing these choices – it insures the group that shows up in a host company’s offices have actively chosen to be there – they come with a purpose, so to speak.

So here are my choices, with a bit on the intent behind them.

Monday, October 5th

6:00 pm  VIP Kickoff & Reception at WeWork presented by Deloitte WeWork

This is our annual kickoff event, this year featuring the CEOs of six participating NewCos. It’s nearly sold out already, so if you want to join the festivities, sign up quickly!

Tuesday, October 6th

9:30 am AltSchool 

I am a nominal advisor to AltSchool, which aims to do nothing less than revolutionize how children learn. They’ve already set up schools in the Bay area and Brooklyn, but I’ve never been to their offices. Time to change that!

Notables during this time slot: The Climate Corporation (data driven ag); SV Angel (legendary SF investor); Meadow  (medical cannabis).

11:00 am The Battery 

I’m an early member of this somewhat controversial social club; and I’ve heard all the pros and cons about exclusivity, tech bros, and the like. But my experience has been positive so far, and I know the club works hard to source diverse membership. I’m eager to see how the NewCo vibe mixes with The Battery’s zeitgeist.

Notables during this time slot: Metamarkets (big data meets insight);  TechShop San Francisco (super cool tools); Lyft (great offices!).

12:00 pm Lunch Break – Provided by Off the Grid, Sponsored by Wolff Olins 

This lunch is almost sold out, but I’ve been dreaming about an Off the Grid event at NewCo since we started three years ago. Thanks, Wolff Olins!

1:30 pm Compass Family Services/Twitter NeighborNest 

I love how Twitter has integrated direct, local community service into its working environment. I’ve never seen it in action, however, and this is my chance. Compass Family Services has been around for a very long time, and is one of NewCo’s featured community philanthropies this year.

Notables during this time slot: DarkRoom (a fun new way to communicate securely); (an important membership org. for tech companies); ODC  (part of our arts track).

3:00 pm San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation

For three years the Mayor’s office has been part of NewCo, but I’ve never had a chance to see inside its hallowed halls. Again, time to correct that!

Notables during this time slot: Twitter (maybe they’ll have a new CEO?!); QB3@953 (premier life science incubator); The Hall (thoughtful SF development).

4:30 pm Slack Technologies 

We live on Slack here at NewCo HQ. I want to see the factory where the magic is made! (I also have a few feature ideas…)

Notables during this time slot: Westfield Labs (cool co-working and retail innovation space); Pinterest (meet Tim Kendall, head of product/ads); Alta Motors (super cool motorbikes).

6:00 pm Meetup at Bespoke 

Bespoke is Westfield’s gorgeous co-working space, in the heart of the Westfield Mall in downtown SF. Come on by for drinks, conversation, and serendipity!

Weds. Oct. 7th

9:30 am Hint Water 

Hint founder Kara Goldin lives in my neighborhood in Marin, but I’ve never seen her offices. Her story is unique and inspiring, and I can’t wait to hear her tell it in her own headquarters.

Notables during this time slot: yerdle (a new way to shop and share); One Medical Group (a new way to doc); SoFi (a new way to do finance).

11:00 am NewCo Platform 

Well I better be at this one, as I’ll be presenting, along with the whole NewCo team. This is our first ever NewCo session, as this is the first year we actually have an office. We’re in the Presidio, which is an entire track of its own as well.

Notables during this time slot: Metromile (rethinking loans); The Representation Project (inspiring films about females in society); Medium (see what Ev and Co. are up to!).

12:00 pm NewCo Lunch @ NewCo Headquarters 

We’re buying folks lunch! You’re welcome!

1:30 pm Google

Google’s SF session (they do sessions with NewCo worldwide) is on the mobile web, which is the most important question the company faces, IMHO.

Notables during this time slot: 826 Valencia (innovative writing studio); Rickshaw Bagworks (great bags, awesome founder); (a new way to lend to the world’s disadvantaged).

3:00 pm Airbnb

I just love the Airbnb offices, and didn’t get enough last time, so I want to go again. If you can possibly see inside this company, I highly recommend it. Super inspiring.

Notables during this time slot: Off the Grid (the folks behind the trucks!); WIRED (20+ years and going strong); Tides (seminal Bay area foundation).

4:30 pm LiveRamp

I’m on the Board of the company that bought LiveRamp, yet I’ve never seen their offices. I know their work well, and it’ll be a treat to finally see inside this industry-changing business.

Notables during this time slot: Applauze (founder Kirin is a treat); Strava (I’m an avid user); LinkedIn (the standard for business networking).

6:00 pm We pivot to Oakland for the VIP Kickoff & Reception at Gensler Oakland 

Come hear the founder of Blue Bottle Coffee and five other Oakland CEOs speak about their NewCo Oakland sessions, which run all day Oct. 8th!

Thursday, October 8th – NewCo Oakland!

9:30 am 

I’ve always been fascinated by lesser-known but popular social networking services, and is pre-eminent among teenagers. I’m not a teenager, but I’ve got three of them in my household!

Notables during this time slot: Kapor Center for Social Impact (Mitch’s new building in downtown Oakland is ready!); Bolt Threads (sustainable duds!); WeWork Berkeley (I bet the vibe there is awesome).

11:00 am Gracenote

Ever since I first ran into this service, I found it magical. But Gracenote does more than recognize music. They’ve got big plans in many associated fields. I look forward to hearing CTO Ty Robert’s vision.

Notables during this time slot: Schoolzilla (big data for schools); (art of the future); SkyDeck | Berkeley (UC’s own incubator).

12:00 pm Lunch Break

1:30 pm Blue Bottle Coffee

Founder James Freeeman’s obsession with coffee with be on full display during this session. I’m a Blue Bottle convert, now I get to see where it all happens!

Notables during this time slot: SfunCube (accelerator for all things solar); Mosaic (another solar innovator); Semifreddi’s Bakery (yum!!).

3:00 pm 99designs

I’ve long thought this company’s unique approach to crowd sourced design would eventually be part of how I approached design challenges, now I can learn how to really lean into the platform.

Notables during this time slot: Hack the Hood (it is what it sounds like!); Numi Organic Tea (another Oakland F&B success story); Pandora Media (extraordinary offices).

4:30 pm Sungevity

Oakland is the solar capital of the world, and Sungevity is one of its most important players. I’ve got a big solar installation on my roof, but I don’t know much about the state of the industry. At Sungevity I plan on getting smarter.

Notables during this time slot: Youth Radio (excellent program); Mamacitas Cafe (amazing place); (fun session!).

6:00 Meetup at The New Parish

After four days of exploring innovation in the Bay area, it’s time for some drinks, fun, and great music! The New Parish is a wonderful new music venue in Oakland’s flourishing entertainment district. Stay tuned for the band (to be named!) – but it’ll be a blast.

NewCo’s SF & Oakland Festivals are filling fast – Register now to get inside your own picks!

This Is How We Pick A NewCo

By - August 31, 2015

Over on the NewCo site, I’ve updated our explanation of how we chose NewCos around the world (1,100 or so so far). Here’s that post for those readers at Searchblog who might be interested. 

Since we launched NewCo’s festivals in late 2012, tens of thousands of people have experienced the unique NewCo model of “getting out to get in.” Thousands of NewCos have opened their doors in cities as varied as London, Austin, San Francisco, Detroit, Palo Alto, New York, Cincinnati and Amsterdam. Upcoming cities include Istanbul, Los Angeles, Portland, Mexico City and Boulder.

A year or so ago we published a “What Makes a NewCo” — our second attempt to qualify what we mean when we call a company a “NewCo.” (Our first version was published 18 months ago). Below is our third pass, and if you read it carefully, you can see what we hope is an evolution toward clarity and a shared point of view on a much larger narrative unfolding across both business and society.

In the coming months, we’ll be expanding our scope beyond festivals and into editorial media. As we do, we will begin to quantify the question of what makes a NewCo, with metrics including employee reviews, social media sentiment, various research partnerships, and more. But for now, we’re eager to hear your feedback on this third version explaining both how we decide which companies are invited onto the NewCo Platform.

A Bit of Background

Driven by capitalism’s central motive of profit, corporations have become one of the most powerful actors on the global stage. In the past century, corporations have amassed more wealth, power, and authority than most governments and all the major religions. But at their core, corporations are just people and processes. And over the past two decades, in parallel with the rise of the Internet, those people have begun a quiet revolution that is redefining what a “corporation” can be, both in terms of its purpose, as well as its processes.

The global economy is transitioning from hierarchies of command and control to more flexible networks of coordination and cooperation. A new kind of organization — one that measures its success by more than profit alone — has emerged. We call these companies “NewCos.” As the networked, information-first economy has taken hold, NewCos are building innovative, purpose-driven ways of doing business. As a result, these corporations are taking a central role in driving societal change — at the exact moment our society requires historic change if it is to remain sustainable.

The people of a NewCo see their work as more than punching a clock or doing a job. They believe work can equate with passion, community, and a force for positive change.

NewCo’s mission is to identify these new engines of economic and social change, and to offer a platform for the stories and communities they foster. But how do we chose a NewCo? A number of core principles guide our selection process:

A NewCo …

Is on a mission to create positive change. Sure, any company can have a mission, but a NewCo sees itself as on a mission to change its chosen market — or even the world — for the better. Most NewCos embrace the profit motive (although nonprofits and civic organizations can be NewCos as well), but they are about more than making money. Often NewCos enter established markets that have “always worked that way” and imagine a better (or entirely new) way of conducting business. Their mission becomes making that better way happen.

Is driven by an idea, and tells a story. NewCos are about a big idea, one that drives their mission and purpose as an organization. The company becomes the storyteller of that idea — the narrative actor making that idea come to life. This core story is what we call “the NewCo Narrative” — it’s what you say after declaring “I visited this fascinating company last week, and they’ve got this amazing…” NewCo people love to tell their company’s story — it’s a deeply felt part of their identity.

…and is driven by its people. At the core of every NewCo are the people who comprise the organization, and the community the organization serves. A NewCo is never a “faceless corporation.” It’s more like a band — a group of people coming together to create something that adds value to the world.NewCos also believe that the more diverse the people who comprise the company, the more robust that company’s culture will become. Moreover, the manner by which these people organize and pursue their work is driven by a new and evolving set of social mores. NewCos are actively involved in renegotiating the social contract of work. NewCos strive to make work a pursuit, rather than just a job.

Loves the work. NewCos are reinventing what work means and how it’s done. NewCos believe work can be joyous — it does not have to suck. NewCos view “work” as a positive expression of identity — they strive to integrate life and work, rather than merely “balance” them. To that end, NewCo workspaces are powerful collective expression of a company’s identity. That’s why NewCos love to open their doors and welcome visitors inside.

Is information first. Old models of corporate command and control were predicated on a scarcity model around physical resources (commodities), physical energy (fuel/power), and human energy (“human resources”). Inasmuch as it mattered, “information” was a tertiary concern, used mainly as a management tool. But as the world becomes information, NewCos organize to optimize or rethink information flows. Hence, Impossible Foods is rethinking food as information flows, Airbnb is rethinking hospitality as information flows, and DocuSign is rethinking the information flows of paper documents.

Critical to this is an appreciation of platform economics. The rise of the Internet economy has hastened a shift to firms acting as platforms for extended networks of customers, suppliers, partners, and even competitors. NewCos are either platforms in their own right, and/or they understand how to participate in the platform ecosystem of open collaboration and considered data sharing.

Trusts the open, and is open to trust. The word “open” has many meanings, but for NewCos, “open” has a clear test: When faced with a choice between a closed and controlling approach versus one that requires trusting your partners, employees, or community, a NewCo tilts toward the latter. This applies to much more than technology stacks — it includes approaches to partnerships, transparency, and community as well. Trust is the currency of the NewCo economy.

Is of the City. NewCos revel in the tapestry of cities — their pulse, their diverse communities, and their density of networks, information and humanity. The “tangled bank” of a city has the resources, connectivity, and the infrastructure that naturally build new kinds of companies. The NewCo movement is born of city centers, large and small.

Acts Like a Citizen. NewCos realize their value comes from serving their communities — their customers, sure, but also any community where the NewCo has an impact. NewCos believe you get back what you give to your community. And when you’re truly connected to your communities, no one has the energy to be an asshole. In addition, companies understand that they are being given more and more rights (ie, Citizens United) — but with those rights come deep responsibilities.

If you are interested in learning more about NewCo, sign up for our newsletter here, or attend our upcoming events in San Francisco and/or Oakland!

Spanning SF and Oakland: The First Ever NewCo Bay Bridge Festival Lineup Is Out!

By - August 20, 2015

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While NewCo has been celebrating unique San Francisco companies for three years, 2015 is the first year we’ve produced our hometown festival with a fully staffed and funded team. And it shows: We’re adding Oakland as a companion city to San Francisco this year, and more than 200 companies will be opening their doors for a four-day festival this October 5th through 8th – by far the largest festival we’ve ever produced.

In case you’ve missed our other posts about NewCo festivals, NewCo is a unique, city-based event that turns traditional business conferences inside out. Instead of sitting in a stuffy hotel ballroom and hearing an endless queue of startup CEOs pitching from the stage, NewCo attendees get out into the modern working city, and get inside the headquarters of the city’s most interesting and inspiration companies, hearing from the founders and senior teams in their native environment. Just as Airbnb (an SF NewCo) creates more intimate and distributed travel experiences by taking people out of sterile hotels and into the homes of hosts around the world, NewCo enables its festival goers to experience the “homes” of startups and established companies from a wide array of industries. Each NewCo company is hand selected for its unique mission and the positive change it is creating in its chosen market.

There’s a lot of goodness and new features to this year’s Bay Bridge Festival (the moniker we’ve given the combination of Oakland and San Francisco). First off, of course, is the addition of Oakland to the lineup. Often called the Brooklyn of San Francisco, Oakland has become a major center of innovation in its own right, with its own particular strengths in clean energy, social impact, food & hospitality, and of course tech and Internet. On Thursday October 8th, Oakland will shine. Check out a sampling of Oakland NewCos opening their doors: Kapor Center for Social Impact, SchoolZilla,, Gracenote, City of Oakland, Blue Bottle Coffee, Allotrope Partners, Numi Organic Tea, 99designs, and Sungevity.

We’ll end the Oakland festival with a special meetup at The New Parish, an awesome music venue right in the center of Oakland’s vibrant Uptown entertainment district. Our Oakland VIP kickoff is Oct. 7th at the stunning offices of Gensler – some of the best views in the bay, and given Gensler’s reputation as one of the finest architectural firms in the world, these offices are not to be missed.

NewCo San Francisco will kick off on Oct. 5th with a VIP event at WeWork’s downtown offices. Over the following two days you’ll have a chance to visit some of the most intriguing companies on the planet, including Airbnb, Slack, AltSchool, SV Angel, The Battery, Lyft, PCH, Compass Family Services, San Francisco Mayor’s Office, Twitter, Bloomberg, Leap Motion, Pinterest, One Medical,  Betabrand, Cloudera, Medium, LiveRamp, LinkedIn, Google, Uber, and more than 125 others.

This year we’ve added a lunch hour, a much requested respite, and NewCo itself will provide lunch at our Presidio headquarters on day two (October 7th). We’ve also added a meetup at the end of day one, at the headquarters of Westfield Labs in the center of the Westfield Mall on Market Street. We’ll be adding even more special events as we get closer to the actual dates, so be sure to check the schedule early and often. This one promises to be our best event ever (though to be honest, it’ll be hard to beat what Amsterdam, Austin, and Cincinnati pulled off earlier this year!)

NewCo works like a music festival: There are 10-15 companies “playing” at any given time, so you have to chose which one you want to attend. Most companies fill up quickly, so smart attendees register early and pick their schedules right away, to insure their spot (Google, Pandora, Blue Bottle, Airbnb, and Slack are nearly full!). We’ve got an early bird discount going for the next week or so, and our goal is to have more than 3,000 festival goers celebrating the best companies in San Francisco and Oakland. Register now – I look forward to seeing you out and about two of the best cities in the world!


Branch Deepviews: Routing Around The Damage of Apps and App Stores

By - August 14, 2015

Over and over again, the press and pundits are declaring the death of the “web we once knew.” And despite having solid proof to the contrary, I’ve always responded that the web will never die, though it may well challenge our thinking as it evolves into entirely new form(s). In short, I can’t imagine a world where we can’t link from one object of value to another, seamlessly and without gatekeepers. It’s such a fundamental and obvious value-creation platform, if something ever impeded its continued creation, the world would simply do what the Internet has always done: Identify that impedance as damage, and route around it.

Inspired in part by an accretion of that impedance in the form of Apple and Facebook, a  year or so ago I went on something of a mobile walkabout. I wanted to understand if the “web I loved” was truly on its way out. I met some interesting new companies along the way, and in particular got excited about the promise of “deep linking” in mobile apps, which was a fairly new trend back then. Indeed, I predicted we were close to a “quickening” in mobile, where the value of links between applications and the broader Internet would tip, opening up the path for a new kind of mobile web.

This past Wednesday, Branch Metrics, one of the companies I met along my walkabout, made what seemed to be a relatively mundane announcement. It was summarily written up in TechCrunch, but got little press beyond that. So why did it rip up the charts on Product Hunt, garnering more upvotes than any other tech product that day? Well, for one, the product solves a very real problem for developers who haven’t built a mobile web version of their application. Here’s the issue: Say you’re browsing the web (IE, using a browser), and encounter a link to neat feature inside a spiffy new app. If you haven’t already installed the app, that link would take you to the app store, where you’d have to download the app. Once you’ve waited for that download (and that can take a while), you would then need to open the app, find the place where the original link was pointing to, and continue in your journey.

Needless to say, this is not an experience that converts many new customers.

Branch Metric’s original product allowed developers to turn that original link into a “deep link” that carried the original destination (that neat feature inside the spiffy app). This greatly increased conversion and usage of apps, and built a bridge between various flavors of the web (namely, mobile to mobile, mobile web to mobile web, PC web to mobile, etc.). To support all these new deep links, Branch stood up a robust infrastructure that, in essence, scaffolded all these different flavors of the web.

Branch’s new announcement took their original idea an important step further. Called Branch Deepviews, they offer a way for developers lacking a mobile web version of their app to create a web-ready preview of their apps’ content on the fly. In essence, Branch has found a way to route around the damage of the app store, and in the process is creating a bridge between the mobile web, the PC web, and mobile applications. Standing up your Deepviews and your Branch links is free – a fact that is certainly not hurting adoption of Branch’s solutions.

Back in February I noticed that Branch had raised a healthy $15 million Series A round. That’s a lot of money for a lean mobile development firm, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. Now I see what the cash is for: Branch is making a serious web infrastructure play – one that reminds me of another early stage firm with a big vision and a major infrastructure-based solution.

That firm was Google. Fifteen or so years ago, Google was a small company struggling to create a scaffolding around the Internet that allowed it to scale its search product. In order to do so, it landed on a insane-sounding solution: Take a copy of the entire world wide web and place it in computer memory across Google’s own infrastructure. By the year 2000, Google was seeing about 60 million searches a day. Today, Branch is already driving 100 million unique individuals a day across its servers.

I may be pushing the speculative edge of reason by making this comparison, but far more improbable things have happened in our industry. And that’s why I think Branch Metrics is a company to watch.  They’ve identified app stores and silo’d mobile applications as damage, and they’re building the infrastructure our industry needs to route around it. I sense the tipping point is nigh.

NB: I am an advisor to Wrap, another promising company in this space, and one I hope to write about soon. 

Information Transparency & The “True Cost” Calculator

By - August 12, 2015
View from Bolinas

The view from Bolinas

It’s been so long since I’ve written here, and I’ve missed it terribly. As startups tend to do, NewCo has taken over most of my waking hours. So I thought I’d just sit and write for a spell, even if what comes out isn’t fully baked. I’m on vacation in Bolinas, an intentionally scruffy sidebar of a town 25 miles north of San Francisco. Legend has it the locals regularly take down signs pointing the way to this place, hoping to keep folks like me away.

Truth is, I came here hoping for a bit of down time so I could write again. I can’t decide if my lapse in writing is due entirely to my focus on NewCo, or perhaps because the medium of blogging just doesn’t call to me the way it once did. So I wanted to get up early each morning this week and get at least one thing down – like Fred does so regularly. However, I’ve clearly built up quite a sleep debt over the past six months, and this week my body won’t let me get up before 9. But I’ve been at it now for two days, and the result is below.

This particular post – on information transparency and the true cost of things – has been rolling around in my head since February, when I attended Walmart’s annual sustainability meeting. Walmart has made some very deep commitments to changing its impact on both the environment and society – its three stated, measured, and Wall Street-reported goals are to be 100% driven by renewable energy, to create zero waste, and to “sell products that sustain people and the environment.” These are not small goals, and when a company as large as Walmart leans into achieving them (and reporting its progress to Wall St. each year), it’s worth finding out more. Turns out, there’s a lot going on, and potential for a lot more.

During my trip to Walmart’s Silicon Valley outpost this past February, I met Doug McMillon, Walmart’s CEO. I also learned about the “long term capitalism” movement, a nascent but important idea championed by McMillon, among others. At its core, long term capitalism is attempting to center the value creation role of business from “shareholder profit” to “societal benefit.” As with anything worthy, it’s complex, fraught, and difficult to unpack.

Just what is “societal benefit”? How do we measure it? Who decides? These questions are mostly open at this point. However, one thing is clear: Business as usual has created a mess of things. Most scientists believe our economic activity has produced an unsustainable tax on our global climate. We have to tune our economic engines toward sustainability. But how? I believe our industry – steeped in collecting, creating, and understanding data, can help. But more on that later.

First, it turns out that Walmart – and many other large companies – are already working to find answers. Walmart is a massive platform, and when it tells its vast network of suppliers that it wants renewable energy, sustainable products, and zero waste in its supply chain, entire economic sectors are effected. I had no idea this was happening, and found it both laudable and worth celebrating – we all need to encourage more of this kind of behavior.

In his letter opening Walmart’s 2015 Sustainability Report, McMillion introduces the idea of “True Cost,” and states:

Traditional costs include expenses like supplies, energy and packaging. But the net true cost considers issues such as waste-to-landfill, greenhouse gas emissions, economic mobility, worker safety and food safety. These are all examples of the effects production may have on the environment, in local communities, or on the people who grow and make what we sell. We believe a business should strive for not just the lowest prices, but the lowest true cost for all. Low prices benefit customers, but low true costs benefit everyone. To do this, we can’t sit on the sidelines until after a product is made. Walmart’s role is unique. We have a large presence in the world, and with that presence comes great opportunity to change how business is done. In addition to tackling social and environmental issues in our own operations, we need to actively engage in and reshape the systems in which we work.

By doing the right thing, a business is setting itself up for a solid and successful future. And by focusing not just on price – but on “cost” as well – a business is tackling social and environmental sustainability at the root. That’s what you’ll see us lean into further this year and in the years ahead.

Sustainability Leader badgeAt the February meeting, Brian Monahan, a friend, co-founder of NewCo, and leader in Walmart’s e-commerce division announced a new Walmart initiative. Called the Sustainability Leaders Shop, it’s a special area of the site featuring suppliers who had earned a badge which helps shoppers identify the vendor as a leader in sustainable practices in their given industry. The idea is simple but powerful: Walmart is helping shoppers identify and reward vendors with industry leading sustainability practices.

Of course, this made me wonder if such a badge is truly valuable for anything more than bragging rights. I mean, won’t shoppers – especially Walmart shoppers, who come there to save money – simply purchase the cheapest brand, regardless of sustainability badges? That certainly seems likely. Until a market truly values sustainability over price, the lowest price will win.

Walmart’s mission of “saving money, living better” has been a driver of the company’s culture for more than sixty years. Its DNA is all about price: The lowest price anywhere, all the time. Over the decades Walmart has earned a reputation as a cost extraction machine – and that reputation is in full conflict with the sustainability goals the company now espouses.

But what would we have Walmart do? Nothing? It strikes me that Walmart has put a very large stake in the ground, and it’s up to the market to both celebrate that stake, and push to make it even more impactful. That’s at the heart of what NewCo is about – in particular our media arm, which will be launching over the next six months. The story of a giant company trying to change for the better is not only fascinating, it’s also urgent. As goes Walmart, it turns out, so goes most of the world’s grocery and retail businesses. And those businesses in turn drive a significant amount of our world’s economic practices.

You’re used to reading about Google, Amazon, and Facebook on this site, and those of you who’ve made it this far must be wondering how on earth Walmart’s challenges relate to the things I usually cover. Well, it strikes me we’ve got a massive, and massively interesting, information problem on our hands.

In short: What if we could engineer a platform that reported True Cost for everything Walmart sells? Put another way, what if every single product had not just a monetary price and possibly a Sustainability Leader badge, but also an inherent score based on “net true cost”? Wouldn’t that be cool?

Creating such a platform would have been impossible ten years ago, which is when I first started thinking about this idea (The Search, p. 178). But with smartphones, computer vision, and ubiquitous connectivity, it’s not hard to imagine an information service that becomes a nexus for understanding a given product beyond its price tag. It could work a lot like Delectable does for wine – take a picture of the product, and up comes a profile of the product’s impact across the environment, society, and so on. From The Search:

What might be the effects of such a system coming to fruition? For one, markets would have to compete far more on…factors unrelated to price. And vendors of products that have been made in third-world sweatshops, or in factories that over pollute, or vendors that support causes some consumers do not wish to support, would be called out in a far more transparent fashion. Refusal to participate in such a system would mean that vendors or merchants had something to hide, and so the system could be a major force for good in the global economy, forcing transparency and accountability into a system that has habitually hidden the process of how products are made, transported, marketed, and sold from the consumer.

The world needs information transparency in consumer goods. There are many startups doing what might be considered point solutions in the space – The Honest Company in baby goods, Bos Creek for meats, Zero Footprint in HR, Conscious Box in subscription commerce. But there’s not liquidity of good information in the marketplace – and liquidity drives innovation and value creation (Google was built on the liquidity of link information around the web). If it was as easy to understand a product’s overall impact on the world as it is to understand its price in dollars, consumers would be moved to consider more than price when they made a purchase. Millennials, in particular, have shown a deep desire to support brands that have a net positive impact on the world.

I often write speculatively here – and I suppose that’s what I’m doing right now. I don’t know how such a system might tip into existence, but I sense when large companies like Walmart start to talk about “net true cost” and set ambitious goals that can move markets, we’re close to such a tip. I’d love to hear from you about how we might get such a system implemented. I’m guessing any number of startups, academics, and BigCos are already working on the problem. The world needs a True Cost calculator – and gathering, cleansing, and delivering the data to power such a calculator is the kind of massive problem/opportunity that creates companies like Google and Facebook. It’s time to get this done.

NewCo Cincinnati Is Next Week. Here Are The Companies I’m Getting Inside

By - July 16, 2015

NewCoCincyI know I rave about all the NewCo cities, but once again I am picking my companies from a new festival lineup – and once again, I’m blown away. Next week is NewCo Cincinnati, and wow – what a stellar group of companies to chose from. Our partner Cintrifuse has really killed it – an impressive list of sponsors (P&G, SnapChat, BuzzFeed, Google!) and an even more impressive list of host companies. From arts to private/public partnerships to tech startups to food (and beer!), who knew Cincinnati was such a hub of NewCo innovation? Check out my picks for NewCo Cincy:

Weds, July 22, 6:30 pm: VIP Kickoff – @84.51 – Ill be there with the Mayor and the founders, movers, and shakers behind Cincy’s more than 80 NewCos (as well as the conductor of Cincy’s own symphony!). The program also features Nestle bigwig Pete Blackshaw, who left P&G more than a decade ago to start a company in what was a pretty bad area of town (but is now a hotbed of NewCo activity).

Thursday, July 23

9 am: Tom+Chee These guys had me at the session title: “Happiness Is A Grilled Cheese Donut”. This foodie outfit has a unique franchise model (so does NewCo), so I can’t wait to learn how they do it. Plus, we get to make our own grilled cheese on site! Wish I could go, but….Cintrifuse (our partner!), OTR Chamber of Commerce (advocates for Cincy’s “Over the Rhine” startup neighborhood), Strap (Internet of Things play).

10:30 am: Cincinnati Symphony & Pops Orchestra – This session will be led by conductor John Morris Russell, a local legend. I know almost nothing about symphony orchestras, and I’m curious how they plan to stay relevant in a NewCo world.  Wish I could go, but…Intelemage (innovative health tech), Ahalogy (full already!).

12:00 pm: LOTH, Inc.I’m deeply interested in the future of work as it relates to our more spiritual, purpose driven goals.  LOTH, a workplace design firm, is doing a session on workplace well being, which is a key part of the NewCo narrative. Wish I could have gone: 84.51, Xavier University, Taft Museum, First Batch. 

1:30 pm: Braxton Brewing Company. Look, the session is “The Taproom of the Future.” In! But there are so many other great orgs presenting this hour: The Brandery, Zipscene, and LISNR among them.

3:00 pm: Rockfish. A Cincy stalwart, Rockfish has been a core player in the growth of the city’s technology core. Though I’ve met folks who work there, I’ve never seen their offices, and it’s high time I go. Love that NewCo makes that possible. Wish I could go: REDI Cincinnati, Rivertown Brewing Company, OCEAN Accelerator.  

4:30 pm: Procter & Gamble. I’ve been coming to Cincinnati for ten years, mainly to see P&G. But this will be their first ever NewCo session – titled “Dancing with the Elephant.” I can’t wait! Wish I coulda gone: Skinny Mom, The Garage, Urban Artifact. 

5:30 pm: Festival Meetup @ Christian Moerlein Taproom. There are half a dozen breweries on this NewCo lineup – so it’s fitting the meetup is at one as well! I can’t wait to share stories of what the nearly 1,000 Cincinnati festival goers have learned.

If you’ve ever wanted to understand the Queen City, make your plans to hit NewCo Cincinnati next week. I’ll see you there!

Scaling Through Culture: WeWork and Blue Bottle (vs. Regus and Starbucks)

By - June 17, 2015



The way we work is changing. That statement seems self-evident to anyone involved in what I call the NewCo economy – work no longer has to be a duty, it can be a calling. For those blessed with the talent, education, connections, and skill to turn work into part of their self expression, work isn’t the thing you have to do so you can “have a life” – instead, work is your life, and your life is your work – and that’s in no way a contradiction.

This is all well and good if you’re in the small percentage of privileged folks who can find such an advantageous integration between work and life – but can it really scale? Or is the “rest of the world” doomed to work in shitty jobs, for shitty companies, with shitty outcomes, shitty attitudes, and all around bad karma?

I don’t think so. I think we can scale great approaches to work. I’ve written about work life integration recently, so I won’t belabor that point here. But a recent conversation with one of NewCo’s investors – Tony Conrad from True Ventures – reminded me that the idea of work-life integration just might scale – and that’s an idea I want to explore – because if more people felt the way I do about work, well, I think the world might be a far better place.

First, some background. A while back I had the chance to meet Bryan Meehan, the Chairman of Blue Bottle Coffee. Conrad is a board member and investor at Blue Bottle, but when I met Bryan, I didn’t know either of those things. I just wanted to meet another fellow traveler. Bryan is a lovely Irish fellow who is deeply passionate about his work, and he insisted on explaining the Blue Bottle culture to me – evidence of which was all around us, as we took the meeting in a cafe that had been approved to serve his product (yes, approved!).

Now, Blue Bottle is a pretty bespoke coffee brand, a fair target for anyone seeking to make fun of the hipster pose already passé amongst…well, hipsters. But the truth is, Blue Bottle makes a supremely awesome product. Once you’ve had their coffee, you’re pretty much done with Starbucks or Peets. I’ve driven miles out of my way to get Blue Bottle coffee, and knowing that, I recently jumped at a chance to become a very small investor in the company. So sure, read this post knowing I have a stake in the company, but know also I’d have written this post regardless, because I think Blue Bottle is onto something big, and while the product is superb, at its core it’s got less to do with coffee, and far more to do with the culture that creates that coffee.

Bryan is a quintessential entrepreneur, but not of the tech variety. He’s started companies in cosmetics and food, as well as venture – and he’s sold his companies to the likes of Whole Foods and LVMH. In 2012, he focused his skills on the then fledgling Blue Bottle, and in partnership with an all star lineup of tech investors (yes, including Conrad, who subsequently invested in NewCo), he and the founding team are busy scaling Blue Bottle’s bespoke approach to coffee across the US and beyond.

So why am I writing about a chain of coffee shops? Because Blue Bottle reminds me of another startup – WeWork. Over the past month, I’ve visited WeWork locations in Amsterdam, Austin, New York and San Francisco (both Blue Bottle and WeWork participate in NewCo festivals). Privately valued at more than $5 billion (nearly twice than their largest public competitor), WeWork recently graced the cover of BusinessWeek. The accompanying story essentially anointed the company “the future of offices.” WeWork is on a mission to create a global platform for people who want to express themselves through the work they do. Oh, and by the way, they also rent office space.

If WeWork is the future of office space, I’m optimistic about capitalism, because WeWork is about way more than work, just as Blue Bottle is about more than coffee. At their core, both companies are about something more meaningful: They are attempting to scale a new kind of culture – one that promises a quality workstyle, to be certain, but one that also celebrates who we are as people: we seek to find meaning in work, we seek a connection to a community where we both belong and contribute.

Put succinctly, both Blue Bottle and WeWork are successful cultures of work – and that’s key to their ability to scale. The greatest social shifts happen when an infectious new kind of culture is created and embraced – a new set of values that advance society in a positive way. That’s how the great religions all started (and when they lost that culture, it’s how they ossified and began to fail). It’s how all the great social contracts – like democracy – got started. And it’s how all great social movements started, from civil rights to rock and roll. Enough people said “this is bullshit, here’s a better way.”

I think we’re at a tipping point of a better way to work. And companies like WeWork and Blue Bottle are emblematic of that tip.

Blue Bottle’s baristas are an independent, opinionated bunch. They are coffee snobs, sure, but there’s more going on. “This is actually what they want to do with their life – create amazing coffee for their clients,” says Conrad. “This is their passion.” It’s that passion – that dedication to delivering amazing experience – that sets Blue Bottle apart. Working at Blue Bottle isn’t a job you pick up out of high school – unless you’re dedicated enough to do it. Blue Bottle requires that their Baristas commit to at least a year of work when they sign up. Starbucks? Not so much.

The differences don’t end there. Starbucks requires that their baristas not offend clients with colored hair, tattoos, or piercings. Blue Bottle could care less about those things, all that matters is the product and how it’s made and delivered. This reminds me of the dramatic difference between WeWork shared office spaces and their largest competitor – Regus.

Here’s a Google image search for “Regus Offices“.


Pretty soul sucking.

Here’s the same search, but for “WeWork offices“:


Click on those images (or on the searches themselves) and…what’s the first thing you notice? Yep, there are a lot more people in the WeWork images. And a lot more culture. And a lot more….life. And a lot less…corporate bullshit.

So, let’s do the same for Starbucks and Blue Bottle. Here’s Starbucks:


Lots of corporate logos, hero shots of the corporatized product, but…no people*.

Now, how about Blue Bottle?


Look – there are people! And expressions of culture and connections and places you might want to visit.

It’s quite a distinction, one that I think is key to scaling any NewCo – your company is more than a set of corporate rules about branding, employment policies, or process. A NewCo is an ongoing conversation about your company’s core mission – and that conversation happens between all the people who contribute in some way to your company. If your brand doesn’t express that conversation – or worse, doesn’t even know what that conversation is – well, your company is toast.

There’s a lot more to say about all of this, but I wanted to get that core idea out – the best companies going forward will be those that scale through a great shared culture, one driven by a mission to create some kind of positive change in the world. And that trend is a wonderfully positive shift in what it means to be a “corporation.”

*Look, Starbucks has all manner of great things going for it – and should be applauded for all it is doing given its scale and its origin as a culture-driven company. But at the end of the day, well, the coffee’s not very good anymore. And that, at its core, is a failure of culture.