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March 18, 2005

Password Reset and security

The market is really starting to notice one of our newer products that makes it easier, cheaper and more secure for people to reset lost passwords using speech recognition.  Rich Schneier comments on the concept here and then Jason Groshart, a Gold Systems engineer wrote a great post about how it works and the future of the product.  He talks about our version for the Microsoft Speech Server, but we've also built this application on the Avaya IR IVR.  One of our customers, A Large Midwestern Insurance Company, saves the equivalent of twenty help desk agents with this application.  Who would have thought that there were that many lost passwords in the world? 


March 18, 2005 in Speech Recognition | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 16, 2005

New MouseDriver Chronicles site

Several people noticed that my links to the MouseDriver site were broken.  (Thanks)

Kyle Harrison and John Lusk both responded to my email asking what had happened and they let me know that they've transferred the MouseDriver domain to the new owners of the company, but they've saved the the original site and newsletters.

So, if you want to buy a computer mouse that looks like a golf club, check out www.mousedriver.com, but if you want to read the story about how two guys fresh out of MBA school started a traditional company in the middle of the dot com boom, check out www.mousedriverchronicles.com.  I suggest you just buy their book - The Mouse Driver Chronicles - if you are tired of the typical business book or the "business lessons wrapped up in a lame parable" genre, get this book because it is the real stuff.  It will take you on their roller coaster and give you a good feel for what it is really like to be an entrepreneur.  If you are already an entrepreneur, you'll enjoy watching someone else ride the roller coaster for a change!

I just noticed that all of the newsletters that they wrote as they built the company are available as a single pdf here.  I looked at it enough to realize that is different from the book and well worth reading on the flight home today.  Thanks John and Kyle for sharing your story!


March 16, 2005 in Entrepreneurship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 08, 2005

Geoffrey Smart and Topgrading

This is the fourth post about presentations given by speakers at the YPO Inventing Your Future Markets event.  To see other posts about this event just look for the Category "YPO Inventing Your Future Markets, March 2005" in the Categories section on the right.

This was my second encounter with Geoffrey Smart, but first a little background on him.  His dad, Bradford Smart, wrote the book Topgrading: How Leading Companies Win by Hiring, Coaching and Keeping the Best People.   I don't think he invented the term "A Player" but his and Geoffrey's consulting practice have given it a lot of press.  The book is worth checking out I think, because it gives a good course on interviewing that the Smart's and others that I know claim will dramatically increase your hiring success rate.  Verne Harnish, author of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, contributor to Forbes Small Business and the leader of his own very successful firm, Gazelles, is a big fan of Topgrading.  Verne's a good friend who's helped me with Gold Systems, plus he has got me in front of Jim Collins not once but twice, so I tend to listen to him!

Now for my story.  Near the end of the dot com boom we were trying to raise another round of VC money.  We got through a lot of tough but interesting interviews, pitches and planning sessions with a local VC firm.  I was feeling pretty good about it.  The last step was to meet one other partner and be interviewed by Geoffrey Smart.  Geoff came off as a nice guy with no tricks and a real interest in learning more about me.  He put me through his "Chronological In-Depth Structured Interview"  In the end Geoff recommended against me, feeling like I had not shown that I had what it would take to hire the best people.  At the time I was really disappointed, but in fact he was right.  It was a problem that I had been struggling with.  Too many times I had hired the wrong person and then made the problem worse by waiting way too long to deal with the problem.  It has taken me years to get better at this, and this particular interview and disappointment was one of the kicks in the pants that I needed to get better.

So I would still recommend that you check out Topgrading.  And Geoff, if you happen to read this, I came up after your presentation to thank you but the line was too long to get to you before the next presentation.  No hard feelings, and I now look back and I'm very thankful for how things worked out.  I'm very happy with my current investors, and you helped me be a better leader.  Thank you for your thoughtful and honest appraisal and good luck with your efforts to teach other leaders to do the same.  I think we'd have a different conversation this time around.

March 8, 2005 in YPO Inventing Your Future Markets, March 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

General Charles C. Krulak, USMC (Ret)

This is the third post about presentations given by speakers at the YPO Inventing Your Future Markets event.  To see other posts about this event just look for the Category "YPO Inventing Your Future Markets, March 2005" in the Categories section on the right.

General Krulak began his 35 year career in the Marines on the ground in Viet Nam.  His stories about leadership under fire with people dying all around him came across as sincere from a man who seemed to care very much for his people and who had come to believe that war is a terrible thing to be avoided at almost any cost.  He commented on the current war and said that it is impossible to fight ideas with guns.

He finished his career as Commandant of the Marine Corps and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  In an interview where he announced his retirement, he said he was going to go surfing.  Apparently that didn't last long, because he went on to be a leader at MBNA, holding several positions including Senior Vice Chairman and CEO of MBNA Europe.

He continues to draw on his military career for leadership lessons.  Apparently in the Marines, a leader has control of a Tactical Area of Responsibility, or TAOR.  Everything in it belongs to the leader who owns that TAOR.  No matter what happens, good or bad it belongs to that leader, no excuses.  I have a saying "Leaders give credit and take responsibility" and I believe the General would agree with that.  He would not want to hear one of his leaders blaming a member of their team for causing the team to fail to meet an objective.

He said that "The only thing you own is your integrity and you, and you alone, can give it away.  Once given away it is very hard to get it back."  He defines character as selflessness, great moral courage, great integrity.

Someone in the audience asked him what his greatest failure was.  He said it was having a singular, laser focus on his career early in his career to the exclusion of everything else including his family.  Fortunately he says he figured that out before it was too late and he turned it around.  The interesting thing is that he said that when he put more balance into his life, his career took off.

Finally he said that even in battle there is always time to think it through.  Even if it causes turmoil as people around you are demanding a decision.  He said that being a decisive leader has nothing to do with time.

It's impossible to know someone in such a short time, but I left the presentation feeling that General Krulak is a good man.  I might disagree with some of his politics, but I believe he's a good man with good lessons to share and it was a pleasure to hear him speak.

March 8, 2005 in YPO Inventing Your Future Markets, March 2005 | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Dipankar Chakravarti, Director of the Marketing Doctoral Program, Leeds School of Business

This is the second post about presentations given by speakers at the YPO Inventing Your Future Markets event.  To see other posts about this event just look for the Category "YPO Inventing Your Future Markets, March 2005" in the Categories section on the right.

Dipankar Chakravarti
is like many of the Professors at the CU Leeds School of Business.  He's an experienced business person first who at some point in his career discovered his passion for teaching others and researching the problems of business in the real world.  He's a Ph.D. now, but he started out as an electrical engineer and worked in a factory in India.

Like Frances Hesselbein before him, Dr. Chakravarti is a fan of Peter Drucker, and recommended two of his books specifically.  They are Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Practice of Management.  He also quoted Clayton Christensen several times and said that "The incumbent's road to failure is paved with good management."  I know from experience that it is so hard to find the balance between "fast and loose" and "process and procedure."  The problem is that "innovation undermines established resources, processes and value systems."  In other words, innovation is a threat and established businesses become very good at eliminating threats of any kind.

The financial deck is also stacked against innovation because "ROI criteria breeds fear of small early numerators and large early denominators."  ROI means big returns over small expenses, so a focus on ROI is going to make it harder to innovate.  (Of course if the returns over expenses equation is less than one for long, it makes it hard to stay in business!)

Dr. Chakravarti says that if you are trying to innovate, the focus should not be on management or measurement.

There are three main areas where innovation can be successful.

  1. Simple new products or services to attract new customers that could not play before.  Lower prices or new channels or new communications modes are used to get to these customers.
  2. Upmarket innovations to attract under served customers.  Broader, more complex functions and price premiums get to these customers.  Who knew that there was a group of coffee drinkers that wanted more than a cheap cup of coffee?  Starbucks figured that out.
  3. Low-end innovations that serve previously ignored customers with simpler, more affordable offerings.  Similar to number one, but this is delivering the same products as before but cheaper.

Dr. Chakravarti cautioned us to avoid a couple of typical mistakes.  When you are innovating you're going after an incumbent.  You might be introducing a totally new product or concept, but you are taking revenue from someone who's gotten used to getting that revenue.  Competing on price with the incumbent is a bad idea unless you've found a way to create a much better margin for yourself.  In a pure price war, the incumbent wins.  Also you must resist the urge to malign the incumbent's image which will only provoke a predatory attack. 

He suggests we look for ways to transcend industry and market boundaries to get to different elements of the buyer chain and different user groups.  He suggested tying in complementary product and service offerings.  In other words, expand what you're doing before going after entirely new markets.

Most people would probably say that the market loves innovation, but it doesn't.  Markets resist new ideas.  The market is a foe of initial adoption, but because our world is becoming highly networked, once an idea starts to take off it can spread faster than in the past because the network effects kick in.

I liked one of his quotes - "Innovation is difficult because it tries to change things."

Once again I feel like I haven't done this presentation justice.  Dr. Chakravarti made great points and did it in a way that was often funny and clever.  Innovation isn't easy and the market actually works against it in the early stages.

March 8, 2005 in YPO Inventing Your Future Markets, March 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 03, 2005

Frances Hesselbein, Girl Scouts CEO, Drucker Foundation and Presidential Medal of Freedom

The first speaker at the YPO Inventing Your Future Markets event today was Frances Hesselbein.  She is the Chairman of the Leader to Leader Institute, (Formerly the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management)  Yes, THAT Peter Drucker.  She was CEO of the Girl Scouts from 1976 to 1990 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998, the nation's highest civilian honor.  If you think you've done a lot, read her bio and then set your sights higher.  I believe that even if I had not known her accomplishments, I would have still felt like I was in the room with a great person.  There was something about her that is hard to describe and I wasn't the only one to feel it.

She opened with a quote:


Be careful of your thoughts
for your thoughts become your word.
Be careful of your words
for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions
for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits
for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character
for your character becomes your destiny.


Her message was one of hope and our ability to make the world a better place for all people, but she quoted John W. Gardner as a caution: "This nation could die of comfortable indifference."  She challenged this room full of CEOs to serve other people and to shine a light in the darkest corners.  She said that Peter Drucker is "not a pessimist, but he is very sober about the future."

Ms. Hesselbein is known for flattening organizations and driving decision making down into the organization.  She called it circular management and it is flat, flexible and fluid.  At the Girl Scouts she did away with the typical org chart.  She mentioned several times that she believes the power of language is indispensable.  Regarding the org chart, if you are truly going to be flat, flexible and fluid, you can not use words like subordinate, boss, and even up or down in the organization.  That doesn't mean there isn't clear accountability however, but it is more to the team than to a boss.

She quoted George Bernard Shaw as saying he wanted to be "thoroughly used up when I die."  Ms. Hesselbein has had a long distinguished career, but I would bet that she accomplishes more in the next 20 years than most of us will in our entire lives.

She is very concerned, but also optimistic about the youth of the world and their future.  It costs $80,000 a year to incarcerate a 16 year old boy, and we're going to pay for it one way or the other if they don't see a future.  She wrapped up by quoting Peter Drucker who would say at the end of an event like this, "What are you going to do on Monday?"  Her challenge was to "Do something about the education of children."

I wish my writing ability was up to the task of conveying her message.  The leadertoleader.org website is a great place to go for more of her vision and some great writing on making your company and the world a better place.  Her latest book is Hesselbein on Leadership and her co-author is Jim Collins, author of Built to Last and Good to Great.  That Jim Collins is her co-author should tell you something about this amazing person too.

March 3, 2005 in YPO Inventing Your Future Markets, March 2005 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Inventing Your Future Markets - YPO Entrepreneur Event

I just spent the day at an event put on by the Rocky Mountain and Colorado Chapters of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business.  In addition to YPO members there were WPO and CEO members there.  I'm a big believer in entrepreneur peer groups, and these are some of the best.  Everywhere I turned today there was someone to learn from, so it would have been a great day even if the speakers hadn't shown up.

I'm going to do a separate post about each of the speakers, because I got something great out of each of the presentations.  I'd like to share what I heard, but also hopefully by writing about it, more of it will be there for me on Monday morning when I go back to the office and try to put some of the lessons learned to work.  That really is the test of an event like this.  If you just feel better for a couple of days, it's not worth the time but if you go back and make even one good idea work, then the time invested can be repaid many times over.

So far we've seen Frances Hesselbein, Dipankar Chakravarti, General Charles C. Krulak (ret), Geoffrey Smart, Bala Balachandran, David Stoup and Lisa Ford.  All have been amazingly successful in different ways and each gave a great presentation today.  More later . . .

March 3, 2005 in Entrepreneurship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 02, 2005

Brad Feld commenting on TSA and knitting needles

Brad Feld commented on all the TSA people standing around the last time he flew out of DIA.  This TSA thing is driving me nuts. If I thought we were more secure, I'd be OK with it, but I feel like it is all for show to make it look like we're safer, when in fact we are probably less safe.

I wrote recently about seeing people on two different flights with 12" long knitting needles.  I was surprised because I thought they were still confiscating such things as tweezers and nail clippers from carry on luggage.  It turns out that some of the rules have been relaxed.  You can in fact take tweezers, nail clippers, corkscrews, toy transformer robots (where these once banned???), umbrellas and canes on the plane.

I was surprised to see that you still CAN NOT carry onto a flight tools of any sort, including axes, hatchets and cattle prods (that makes sense), hammers, drills or saws (OK) or wrenches and pliers.  (I guess you might try to dissemble the plane in flight, or make a weapon of some sort.)  Under the Tools category where the types of tools banned are listed, "tools" are listed.  Can't be too careful with tools I guess.

Note that knives of any type or size, except for "round bladed butter or plastic" knives, are still prohibited.  I'm not trying to get the knitters of the world on my case, but does it make sense to allow 12" long anodized aluminum knitting needles on the plane, while the TSA continues to build one of the best pocket knife collections in the world?  I haven't tried bringing on my 2 inch long Swiss army knife and I never will, because of this regulation:

If you bring a prohibited item to the checkpoint, you may be criminally and/or civilly prosecuted or, at the least, asked to rid yourself of the item. A screener and/or Law Enforcement Officer will make this determination, depending on what the item is and the circumstances. This is because bringing a prohibited item to a security checkpoint—even accidentally—is illegal.

I'm writing about this again, not to annoy the TSA, but to say that if we are going to have good security at the airport or anywhere else, it's got to be really good and not just for show.  The screener who looked at my ID last week, didn't even look at my face.  She looked all around me but not at my face and I've had this happen before. Even if she had compared my face to my ID, I'm not sure that a piece of plastic that any high school kid can fake, adds a lot to our security.

I've noticed from my typepad stats that a lot of people are getting to my blog via google and the search words "airline knitting needle".  I'm not at all sure what that means, but I'm not the only one thinking about this apparently.



March 2, 2005 in Travel | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 01, 2005


I saw an email from someone we work with today, and it essentially said, "This is our policy, take it or leave it."  Policy is a fine word that can have clear meaning in the right context.  If I go to Wal-Mart and ask "what is your return policy on this pair of tennis shoes that I bought last week, that now I realize is the wrong size" it is pretty clear what I mean.  I'm not looking to renegotiate the buyer-seller contract, I just want to know if I'm going to get my money back or be able to exchange the shoes for a pair that fit my size 12s.

But there are other meanings to the word "policy."  It can be used to mean "I don't want to hear your problems or your opinion."  It can mean "I'm not even going to tell you who made up this rule.  It wasn't me, and if I did know who to talk to about it, I'm not in a position to try to get it changed."  At its worst, it can mean "tough, go away if you don't like it."

I just looked up the definition of "Policy" and I was surprised that at least according to my dictionary, it means 1. wise management 2. any governing principle, plan, etc.  (See Police)

I've never seen anyone suggest that a policy was "a governing principle."  If that were really how most people used the word, I wouldn't have had such a negative reaction.  We don't have a lot of policy at Gold Systems because I think most issues are best handled with the latest facts and the best judgment.  To try to create Policy in advance of a situation is very difficult.  I'm all for process, guidelines, plans, principles, but for me Policy is too limiting in most situations.

Many years ago I worked for a very large corporation.  I needed to back up a computer that for some reason was not on the corporate network.  In other words, if I didn't back it up and it someone accidently formatted the disk, our project was gone.  I went to the supply room and requested ten tapes so that I could implement a rotating backup. I was told that it was Company Policy to allow an individual to get only two tapes per year, because people were using too many tapes.  Now my first thought was "are you saying that people are doing too good of a job backing up their computers?" but that seemed highly unlikely and just plain stupid.  Perhaps someone was stealing the tapes?  If that was the problem, why not just fire the person who's signing for lots of tapes with no good justification?  I didn't argue with the person though, I just spent the next couple of hours walking around until I found four other people willing to go to the stock room and give me their yearly tape allotment.

That little story about a Company Policy on backup tapes perfectly illustrates the problem with most Policy.  This particular Policy didn't keep me from getting the tapes I needed.  And if I was a criminal with a good fence for proprietary tapes cartridges, it still wouldn't have stopped me.  So it wasted the good person's time and it didn't stop the bad guy.  "But wait!" you say.  The problem was that the Policy didn't go far enough - they could have been more clear with the policy and they could have written even more rules around bringing in your friends to get around the limitation.  Ah, but then you go from Policy to Bureaucracy, which is tomorrow’s word of the day.

If you are a customer, partner or employee of my company, and you feel we’re hiding behind the word Policy, give me a call at 303 381 6700. I love blowing up dumb policies.

March 1, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack