Category Archive: Business

What's the Best State for Small Business Taxes?

Posted Saturday April 18, 2009

It’s tax season, and I’m as interested in how much the government is taking out of my pocket as the next guy. So I was intrigued to learn of a new small business-focused ranking of state tax burdens from Wall Street Journal Small Business reporter Kelly Spors. Now, I’ve started two businesses in famously high-tax California, and I’ve never found taxes to be a big enough problem that any of my time was justified in thinking about them rather than running the other parts of the business. But I know that a lot of businesses that have been around longer and are in more of a sustaining than a growth mode have real concerns about tax burdens, so I was looking forward to reading and learning from this report. Unfortunately, the ranking is comically sloppy.

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Video's Main Course?

Posted Thursday January 22, 2009

Last Saturday, my girlfriend and I got some takeout, brought it home, and watched a DVD from Netflix. Kind of a rare event, actually - these days, it’s more about Tivo and delivery; a craving for Pinkberry brought us out for the takeout from the Asian place next door. It occurred to us that, ten years ago, movie and takeout would’ve been a typical weekend evening for almost everyone - how much business must the restaurants in the same strip malls as Blockbuster have done? And how much has Netflix killed these restaurants?

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Good News: Bailout Voted Down

Posted Monday September 29, 2008

So they voted down the bailout. Thank goodness! The last-offered plan was a bad one that would be expensive and not solve any problems over the long term. Let’s hope that there’s room for fast response to the crisis with a good, equitable, and market-based idea this time.

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What I Learned About Sales from a Timeshare

Posted Thursday June 12, 2008

I’ve been gone for a while; mostly it was too much work, launching a whole marketing campaign. But some of it was fun — I went to the Hawaiian island of Kauai on a good week’s vacation, paid for substantially by attending a timeshare presentation. Now that was an education on sales.

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Can ABC Compete With Tivo By Making a Worse Product?

Posted Wednesday February 27, 2008

Bloggers like Marc Andreessen, John Gruber, and TechDirt have heaped scorn upon ABCs decidedly feature-retro on-demand service. With ads you can’t skip, ABCs offering gets rid of what everybody seems to agree is the most wonderful feature of the DVR. Is ABC stupid or brilliant? I’m almost tempted to argue the former — this could be a clever business move.

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Yahoosoft — Where does that $45B Number Come From?

Posted Saturday February 2, 2008

Microsoft’s proposal to acquire Yahoo for $45 billion is both unexpected and widely-foreseen. Pundits have, for some time now, suggested that might be a reasonable course of action. But the purchase price is clearly aggressive, at $31/share for a stock that had closed at under $19 the day before. In fact, as Jupiter’s Michael Gartenberg puts it, this proposal looks more like Microsoft is saying “Dear Yahoo Shareholder: How would you like to get Yahoo’s share price from six months ago back, tomorrow?” Where’s the logic behind this price?

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Macworld 2008 and Apple's Strategy

Posted Thursday January 17, 2008

There’s nothing like a Steve Jobs keynote address for a Mac fan like me. For a lot of years in the ’90s, the Macworld keynote was just a list of products; but, since Apple’s turn-of-the-century rebirth, it’s been a window on the company’s emerging strategy. In Macworld after Macworld, Apple has revealed products that represented long bets — the iPod, the iTunes Music Store, Apple TV, iWork — and, if you look at Macworld with the same strategic eye as Jobs, there’s indications of the future there.

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Luck Favors the Prepared

Posted Thursday October 25, 2007

Nothing ever goes right for my neighbor. His tires are flat, someone broke his cabinet (the one that he left in the driveway), and his car accidentally got impounded. The things he hopes for never pan out. For Steve Jobs, it’s the opposite story - Apple sold a boatload of Macs last quarter, more than anyone expected. It seems like, after years of hoping, Steve finally got some iPod users to make the big switch to the Mac.

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Bernanke's Gift to the Banks

Posted Wednesday September 19, 2007

On top of their mostly-symbolic cut to the discount rate a month ago, the Fed has now cut the Federal Funds rate, hopefully lowering lenders’ interest rates and saving the economy from a Real Estate bubble-fueled recession. This is a dangerous game: the added credit availability may not trickle down to homeowners or other consumers, and the new liquidity may simply allow predatory and irresponsible lenders to cover their own losses while not learning a thing. This cut is a gift to the lenders — and shows that what we need is a policy solution to this housing crisis.

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Negative Economic Predictor

Posted Thursday September 13, 2007

I’m not much of an economist, but it’s starting to seem like I can predict recessions. Specifically, I start companies right before the economy goes in the toilet. I don’t know what I’m on to, but this is two times around the track now that this has happened. It’s a bit funny, but, if I’m clever, maybe I can figure out how to make money off of it.

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Customer Service is Scary

Posted Friday August 31, 2007

Giving good customer service is tough. It’s easy to get 90% of it right and still leave the customer with a bad taste in their mouth — an unpleasant truth when your business model depends on delighting the customer, as does mine. I was reminded of the delicacy of customer service last weekend, when a major airline lost my bags.

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Why Apple Wants Web Apps for the iPhone

Posted Monday June 18, 2007

At last week’s Apple World Wide Developer Conference, Apple CEO Steve Jobs revealed how third-party software developers could get their programs on the hotly-anticipated iPhone: they could write Web applications that iPhone users could access through the iPhone’s integrated Safari browser. A lot of traditional application developers are pissed off by this; a lot of Web developers are enthused. Apple doesn’t care. They didn’t choose this approach to make developers happy, or even for technical reasons; Apple is focusing on Web apps because this is the only strategy that will bring them back into the business space.

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Knowledge Supply Chain Management

Posted Wednesday May 30, 2007

My father, who writes about issues in education in his blog, recently suggested that universities are in the knowledge supply chain management business. That made me ask myself: if there is a knowledge supply chain, then there must somewhere be an inventory of knowledge, right? My father argues that inventory is held in the universities, which create and collect knowledge, but I’d say that knowledge inventory is much more held in the hands of university graduates, who store knowledge in case their employers ever need it. This just-in-time inventory system allows businesses to avoid investing in knowledge creation and management, but means that individuals — the player with the least ability to pay — are stuck holding the inventory and paying the purchase and holding cost thereof. As college educations become more expensive, we must shift knowledge inventory-holding from individuals and to universities; if universities help us do this, they can make more money doling out that knowledge to in a just-in-time manner than they do pushing that inventory into the personal inventory of hundreds of thousands of grads every year.

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AQNT: Bad Buy at Any Price

Posted Monday May 21, 2007

When Google bought DoubleClick, many people predicted a run on the online ad industry. Well, they were right, and they were even on target with aQuantive’s price. Too bad that, in buying aQuantive, Microsoft overpaid for assets that they can’t use.

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Giving Good Business Card

Posted Monday May 14, 2007

I’ve been buying business cards for my new employees lately, giving me a lot of time to think about what exactly makes a good business card. Business cards are surprisingly important business tools, but many of the cards that you’ll see out there today are surprisingly bad at being useful tools. Many boring, traditional cards are actually much better at being business cards than are beautiful, clever, cutting-edge pieces.

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Bye-Bye Radio

Posted Wednesday April 18, 2007

I wrote a few weeks ago about how music publishers had won a ruling increasing drastically the royalties paid by Internet radio. An appeal of that ruling by broadcasters was struck down today. With this ruling, look for Internet radio stations to start going dark. Go to SaveNetRadio.org and write your legislators to stop this from happening!

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The Recording Industry is Clearly Not Taking My Advice

Posted Monday March 12, 2007

A few weeks ago, I suggested that the recording and movie industries outsource their challenge to create a new business model. By having VCs and entrepreneurs attempt to implement industry group-approved business plans, it seemed to me that these industries could shift all of the risk of figuring out what was next onto other individuals while reaping all of the rewards from emerging distribution channels. The recording industry, at least, has made it clear that they have no intention of doing any such thing. They asked, and got, an increase in the royalties paid to artists by online radio stations, an increase to a level that will probably drive all of these radio stations — this entire emerging distribution channel — out of business.

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STFU

Posted Monday February 26, 2007

I’m doing a lot of sales lately for my new venture, and I’m rediscovering something I learned before, both selling and being sold to. It’s an important lesson — one that made me more successful in sales in the past — but it’s easy to forget, because it’s so counter-intuitive. That lesson is to just keep my yap shut.

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A Free Business Model For the Music and Movie Industries

Posted Sunday February 11, 2007

Mark Cuban thinks that the music labels should get together and start a company to stand against Apple’s iTunes and Microsoft. I agree that the music labels, and, for good measure, the movie and tv studios need to get out from under the thumb of the tech industry, which so far has controlled the next-generation distribution channels. But for the music industry to start its own company is risky and expensive. Instead, the music industry needs to leverage this country’s great capital markets and reservoir of mobile knowledge workers to get someone else to do the hard work for them. That is, they need to outsource their risk, and they - and the movie industry - can do this without losing their returns.

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iPhone: Apple's Market Disruptor

Posted Sunday January 14, 2007

So Apple launched their hot new iPhone last week. It’s sleek and sexy and it has a ton of hot new features. But then, what’s the last time Apple launched something that was that complicated? Apple’s biggest recent success is the iPod, which won by having fewer features than most of its competitors1; the most successful iPod is the Nano, which is tiny and relatively cheap. Why, then, would Apple launch a big,2 full-featured, expensive cell phone, when the obvious product is a lower-featured, smaller product that’s basically iPod Nano + phone? The answer tells us a lot about the technology and market forces in the cell phone arena and the pressure Apple feels to establish itself as the leader.

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Business Projections for 2007

Posted Monday January 1, 2007

It’s a new year, which means it’s time to engage in the annual hobby of prognostication. What will be the big trends in business for 2007? As an entrepreneur, I’m most interested in trends that are immediately actionable, so, for instance, I’m not going to discuss changes that I think will be major but which won’t bear fruit for another two or three years.1 I’m also influenced by what I just saw people talking about in business school, so up-and-coming trends that make it into the ivory tower will be strongly represented below.

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James Bond: a Commodity?

Posted Saturday December 16, 2006

I — rather belatedly — saw the new James Bond movie this weekend. After years of Bonds who were indistinct from any other action hero, Casino Royale finally gives us a satisfying, absorbing Bond. The theater at which I saw this movie even offered me a nice bit of gratitude: “Thank you for choosing Pacific Theaters,” the promo reel said as it ran before the movie. Unfortunately for the producers of this clip, I didn’t choose Pacific Theaters. Like most people, I chose the convenient place and time for the movie, not the specific theater chain. Theater chains are a commodity: all are essentially equivalent to the consumer. Commoditization is a serious threat to almost every product, but these same theater chains show us some ways all of us entrepreneurs can avoid becoming commodities too.

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The Nintendo Wii: Funny Name, Good Market Segmentation

Posted Monday December 4, 2006

Three new game systems — Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Sony’s PlayStation 3, and Nintendo’s Wii — are on the market for this holiday season, but it seems like the Wii’s getting all the press. Article after article lauds Nintendo, which fell from first place in the console wars to third with the previous generation of systems, for its savvy in accepting third place while pushing for profits (Nintendo’s previous-generation GameCube finished third in shipments to the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox; Nintendo made more profit than either competitor). But It’s not true that Nintendo accepts finishing third in the race. Nintendo has found a separate market segment, one in which it plans to trounce all comers.

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What Happened to Airbus?

Posted Tuesday November 14, 2006

Just a two years ago, Airbus was a darling. It had pulled ahead of Boeing in total orders, was in contention for a contract to sell tankers to the US Air Force, and seemed to be becoming the premier commercial aircraft company. Last week, Airbus reported its first quarterly loss in three years and followed that up with the cancellation of FedEx’s entire order for the aerospace company’s new flagship aircraft, the superjumbo A380. Complications in the A380 program have already caused the resignation of two Airbus CEOs this year, caused strife between the French and German governments, and inspired British aerospace and defense giant BAe Systems to sell its 20% share in Airbus parent EADS at a very substantial loss. Now, I’ve been an aviation buff since junior high, and I want to know how one new aircraft program could cause such turmoil. The answer turns out to be fairly straightforward: the A380 program came out of flawed planning and, because of that, now represents a very risky (and very expensive) bet on a dubious vision of the future.

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Easy Survey Design

Posted Monday November 6, 2006

Gaining customer and stakeholder insights is an essential task for any company; yet the tools of which a smaller company can avail itself to learn these insights are limited. One of the best, easiest-to-use, and cheapest of these tools is the survey, but many companies design ineffective survey instruments that provide limited help in answering major business questions. Here’s the simple top down/bottom-up survey development methodology that has worked on dozens of surveys I’ve put in the field.

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Another Reason I Like Google's YouTube Purchase, But Not Yahoo's Rumored Facebook Acquisition

Posted Monday October 23, 2006

Now, I’m obviously not a big fan of Yahoo buying Facebook, while I love Google buying YouTube, but the fact remains that a mediocre purchase at a good price is still a pretty good business move, while a good purchase at too high a price is usually a mistake. Yahoo could make a good thing out of Facebook if it can get the company for the right amount of money, and YouTube could be an albatross around Google’s neck if the search leader pays too much for the video sharing site. Unfortunately for Yahoo, it looks like it’ll have to pay too much for its bad buy, while Google gets a good price for its strong strategic fit.

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Why I Like Google's YouTube Purchase, But Not Yahoo's Rumored Facebook Acquisition

Posted Monday October 16, 2006

The big tech business news in the last week has been Google’s purchase of YouTube and Yahoo’s rumored acquisition of Facebook. It’s an interesting set of stories, one that parallels the two companies’ moves in the last few years. For Google, it’s a smart strategic acquisition that moves the company aggressively forward in several key ways; for Yahoo!, it’s playing catch-up and fleshing out a portfolio without being aggressive. Not to put too fine a point on it, I like Google’s move and I think Facebook would be just as well off on its own.

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Features, Benefits, and Selling the CIA

Posted Tuesday October 3, 2006

Recently, while watching late-night television shows targeted at the late-20s/early-30s demographic of which I am a member, I was surprised to see an ad encouraging me to apply for a job as a spy. That’s right, the CIAs Clandestine Service is now advertising to fill out its ranks with what appear to be energetic young Americans from diverse backgrounds who never show their teeth when they smile. It seems a little crazy — who would expect to see spies recruiting on television? — but how, exactly, does one sell the CIA anyway?

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Speaking, Communicating, and Toastmasters

Posted Wednesday September 27, 2006

The Messengers showed us the variety of tools that can be used to speak effectively, and gave us all the chance to experience effective public speakers. It’s easy to forget that the vast majority of us must play the role of public speaker at some time in our lives; yet we certainly haven’t learned to speak effectively in any way. I know I hadn’t — except for one eighth-grade assignment to give a speech in front of my middle school, an activity which included no practice and no training, I had never practiced public speaking in any way until I joined Toastmasters International while getting my MBA.

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The Messengers Episode 8: Finale

Posted Monday September 18, 2006

I suppose, if one is going to see just three out of eight total episodes of a show, one of those three should be the finale. In this week’s episode, The Messenger’s season finale, our three finalists — See, Daneea, and Angelica — didn’t take a field trip, they didn’t meet new people or get exposed to new experiences. This week, our speakers just spoke.

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The Messengers Episode 7: Forgiveness

Posted Monday September 11, 2006

Someday it might be nice to watch a reality-based TV show that doesn’t ruthlessly manipulate my emotions. The Messengers will, however, never be that show. This week’s episode asked us to tag along with our speakers as they met a woman whose daughter had died in an auto accident at the age of 21. We also got to see a little into the lives of some of our contestants, and learn about the power a speaker gains by showing vulnerability and letting the audience in.

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California's New Environmental Regulations: Good for (Visionary) Businesses

Posted Friday September 8, 2006

New environmental legislation in my home state has brought down hundreds of column-inches of punditry, and public displays of righteous indignation from businesspeople, all parroting the same fears: business will leave California, consumers’ costs will go up, the sky is falling. Now, regulation can be costly to business, it’s true; but business shouldn’t fear California’s new environmental regulations. In fact, business should welcome them, because it is policies like these that will keep our state on top in innovation and job creation in the new century.

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The Messengers Episode 5 Recap

Posted Sunday August 27, 2006

No, you haven’t missed the last four entries recapping this show — I missed the last four episodes. The Messengers is a new series on TLC that challenges experienced speakers to become America’s “next great inspirational speaker,” and I’ll recap the episodes I didn’t miss here.

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Five Things I Learned About Capitalism in Vietnam

Posted Monday August 21, 2006

It’s been too long since I posted, but there’s nothing to do about that other than get back on this horse. Apart from working on some business opportunities, I spent my hiatus on a 30-day vacation to Southeast Asia; while there, I fell in love with Vietnam. The country was beautiful, the people were friendly, the food was incredible, and everyone everywhere was engaged in business — centrally-planned socialist economy or not. Vietnam or America, many of the business problems we face are the same, they’re just well-illustrated in a developing economy. So here are five things that seeing capitalism emerge in Vietnam reminded me about how to do business well.

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MBA: Worth it or Not?

Posted Friday June 2, 2006

Just about two weeks ago, the USC Marshall School of Business saw fit to confer upon me an MBA. Of course, everyone wants to know if I think dropping out of life for two years to get these three letters after my name was a good idea. The real answer to that question is that it takes years to truly assess if an MBA, or any other professional degree, has a payoff. But that’s unsatisfying, so we’ll take the short view and ask: right now, two weeks after I got the darned thing, do I think my MBA was worth it?

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Leadership Tips From USC Football Coach Pete Carroll

Posted Friday April 7, 2006

Have I mentioned lately that I love the speakers in business school? Yeah, so I do. Especially when they’re a surprise speaker, and especially when that surprise speaker is… well…

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What The Olympics Can Tell Us About Targeting Products and Services

Posted Thursday February 23, 2006

I was going to write another entry in the feasibility analysis series , but, instead, I’m sufficiently moved to complain about the way that NBC is televising the Olympics. I’m not complaining about the announcers, or about what shows the games do or do not pre-empt; I’m dismayed by the network’s failure to capitalize on their portfolio of television and cable stations to provide the most desirable possible programming to the widest variety of audience segments possible — and profit off of that.

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Disney-Pixar: Why Did The Mouse Buy The Lamp?

Posted Sunday January 29, 2006

Last week brought big entertainment news, especially Disney’s purchase of Pixar. The Disney-Pixar deal is being lauded as a great deal, but Disney paid a lot, compared to some other recent studio deals, for what is effectively Steve Jobs’s side project. Why would Disney have shelled out all of that hard-earned money for Pixar, and what does this transaction tell us about Disney’s immediate future?

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