Tag Archives: Google

Kill Business Plans?

Maybe it’s just my feed and the websites I frequent, but there seems to be a growing movement to encourage new businesses to scrap a business plan. While I’ve actually written about how a “business plan” with the structure that the bank wants to see or we learn about in school may not be the answer, I think it’s a disservice to be advocating forgoing the plan entirely.

The major reason that I say this is that typically those who are advocating leaving the plan in the mind of the entrepreneur and barrel forward are those who have seen a level of success in their business. So while it’s good for them that they’ve made it and maybe they never had any sort of plan down on paper (which I would contest in many cases is likely a romantic lie), run-away success stories unfortunately don’t make up the majority of businesses.

I would be more interested to hear from failed business owners who never did any business planning. I wonder what they would say in hindsight. Whether they thought that a bit more planning would have given them a better chance at success or maybe prevented them from taking the leap in the first place.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about business ideas and a large number of them end with a quick Google search and the realization that there are a huge number of companies doing the exact same thing already. Either that or after trying to write down a rough plan for the business (even a one-pager in bullet points) you realize that the idea looks pretty weak at second glance.

Whenever I see an article, Tweet or whatever about how business plans are worthless, I tend to think that the author means in their current form. I couldn’t agree more that a business which doesn’t yet exist trying to forecast five years of sales is a pointless, but the backing information that gives some legitimacy to your assumption that people will buy what you’re planning to sell is never a bad thing. At the very least it can be a thought exercise for you to explore as many aspects of your idea as possible.

So don’t dismiss creating some form of business plan in order to chase the image of being some sort of renegade entrepreneur who doesn’t play by the rules and makes all the right calls from their gut. While planning should never get in the way of action, taking some time to determine the right action to take will go a long way.

The NSA in Canada

Something I’ve been worrying about more and more lately is where my information is being stored. More specifically in my email accounts and cloud syncing technology.

I say this because I, like so many other people, use free products. Gmail, Google Drive, iCloud and Drop Box are all my friends. Or so I have thought.

The thing that I’ve come to realize (thanks to the job) is that since all those services are based in the US, the information is stored in the US. Therefore all my information is subject to the Patriot Act. All the NSA fun that has been going on south of the boarder; you’re likely affected by it.

My worry isn’t really about what has happened to date. As much as I don’t love my privacy being infringed on, I have to believe that I’m extremely boring to anyone who is looking. I’m not doing anything illegal or questionable, so I’m probably passed by pretty quickly.

What I’m more worried about is what may or may not happen in the future of privacy. Considering the NSA came and went, there hasn’t seemed to be many changes made to policies. Nor promises from the government not to do the same or similar in the future.

What will happen next? Now that we know they are able and willing to access that information, is there a worse-case scenario that anyone can think of?

So just because we’re in Canada doesn’t mean that we can act all smug about the NSA problems to the south. Odds are your information has been inspected too.

Privacy Concerns

Every time there is some report or Wiki Leak or Edward Snowden type that comes out and tells us about how the government is spying on all citizens, I’m always surprised at the outcry. Not at the fact that there is outcry, mind you, but rather the focus.

There is always a clear and loud cry about the government infringing on our privacy, but very little is said about how they are able to do that. Especially when the information the government is gathering is with the help of private companies, more often than not.

I don’t know if it’s thanks to the bias of media, the short attention span of the masses or some other factor, but every time there is a headline about how the NSA gathered more information, no one seems to give much thought to the foot note that it came from Apple, Google, Amazon, Yahoo, etc. While I don’t love that the American government has the ability to read my emails, I really don’t like how easy it seems for the private corporations to fork it over.

Paints a future that’s more Skynet than it is 1984.

To me it comes down to involvement of the commons. Even if it’s biased, skewed and corrupt, at least we the people have some involvement in government once every few years. Not too comforting, but there is something.

Also, the government could plausibly be using the information for security reasons. While it’s sneaky and unsettling, at least it’s an end that most of us can get behind. Even if you don’t support the means.

What I wonder about is what the corporations are gathering the information for, other than for personalized advertising and to give the government. You just know that it wasn’t sitting there unused until the big bad NSA bullied them into giving it up. If the information is being collected, it’s being collected with purpose.

I’m not really into conspiracy theories, nor am I that worried about what is being collected about me, to be honest. I know that I’m not doing anything criminal and can only assume that they have much, MUCH bigger fish to fry. I truly can’t see how my email is interesting to anyone other than me, and even then with some messages labeling me as “interested” is pushing it.

No, I’m more interested in human nature. Why it is that we’re so quick to jump all over our elected officials and give private companies the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it is because we feel as though the government is accountable to us, while there is no use trying to change the course of corporations.

Or maybe we have actually reached a place in society where we trust public institutions less than what’s behind the curtain at our favourite brands.

Pocket Google

I’m addicted to phone Googling. I think that there is rarely a time that I’m hanging out with people that some question doesn’t come up where we whip out our phones and find the answer. It’s a good feeling and allows the conversation to move forward without getting hung up on a small detail. It’s a good thing.

It’s also terrible, though. More than once I’ve thought to myself, or said out loud, that our rush to Google things kills conversations we would have otherwise had. No more needing to take the time to debate the population of Russia, because it’s at our fingertips. Want to know the stats of a hockey player and you no longer have to haggle over the numbers, just search it up. Fun and exciting conversations that we would have been having less than 10 years ago no longer exist.

Not only this, but the excitement of learning anew piece of information is diminishing. Not only do I not feel a rush of euphoria up learning a fact I have been struggling with for some time, because there is no time for the struggle. Quite the opposite. Now I get frustrated when I can’t find the answer right away.

Is the net sum a good thing or a bad thing, though? Am I / are we better off having the total of all human knowledge at our fingertips? Although I go back and forth on the issue, overall I think it’s a good thing.

The reason is that we are using less and less brain function remembering facts. Just like the spread of literacy through society reduced our capacity for memorization, the internet on demand is the next leap forward along this line. But that’s OK.

Rather than using our energy remembering the thoughts of others, we are using our minds to form our own thoughts. Taking the information that is at our fingertips and synthesizing it mentally for our own uses, we are able to form even more complex thoughts based on what we have skimmed from a number of sources.

In the past this was a much longer process, taking years for ideas and evidence to make its way around the world. Now that is’ available on demand nearly the moment it has been discovered, everyone in the world is able to build upon it. And everything we achieve is thanks to those before us.

So while I complain about the missed debates with my friends about the ages of celebrities, on the whole I’m glad that I carry Google in my pocket wherever I go, because when needed I have the backup of a whole world of knowledge at my disposal.

You Are the Product

I have a Facebook fan page for the business and a steady decrease in post views, during a time the “likes” have been increasing, is the reason for this post. To get there, though, I’m going to start a little more generally.

Services (like Facebook) that are available for free, aren’t free. The people of Facebook aren’t these amazingly altruistic individuals who have devoted countless time and endless amounts of money to create a fun online community which is available for free for all to use. Facebook is selling a product, and that product is you.

Now, just to be clear I’m not picking on Facebook. Google’s in there too, and Apple (even though they make you pay for the product first). Truth of the matter is, we don’t even know how much of our information is being tracked and sold off to companies to help increase sales.

The data collection isn’t what’s frustrating me today, though. In fact, surprisingly enough, I don’t really mind about my data being sold. I don’t really have anything to hide and if it means only products I would likely want will get marketed to me, I’m ok with that.

No, this post has to do with the fact that unless I start paying Facebook for every post I make, the activity on my business’ page won’t reach the people who chose to be fans! That’s annoying.

It makes sense, though. The users of Facebook, some of which have liked my page, are the product and as a business I need to pay to access them. Any of you who have liked my page are now being sold back to me.

An extension of this rant is to talk about how the obsession with companies getting likes is strange to me. I invite my friends and enjoy seeing the number go up, but would never promote my page or have a hokey “share this” contest in order to get more likes. The way I see it, is if it’s a bought like, the loyalty of the consumer isn’t genuine and therefore they are unlikely to be converted to customers.

No, I prefer to have likes from people who actually like my business, not people who I tried to trick into it. And I’d appreciate it if you’d check for the occasional update, until Facebook sees it fit to allow me to reach you all again.

Best Buy Layoffs

If you are paying attention to the news recently you would have heard about the layoffs and store closures for Best Buy and Future Shop (sister companies). When something like this happens it is easy for us observers to make criticisms of management. How did they not see this coming? Why didn’t the make the changes they are talking about now before it’s too late? I could have done a better job.

While these things may be true, i have to believe that experienced executives with all the information would have wanted to act in the best way possible for the company. It’s not like it was something overnight that happened to make them have to close those stores. So why did they not act?

I don’t think this failure has anything to do with lack of information or intelligent people. Sure, competition was there, but it always is. The business landscape is always changing and countless companies manage to survive and thrive. Why is it, then, that some companies with more than enough resources can’t seem to make it work?

I believe that it is because of the corporate system that public companies operate in now. The corporate structure is failing our businesses, shareholders, managers, employees and markets. Most importantly, it is failing innovation.

Now to get something straight, I am a capitalist at heart. I think at it’s purist it is the system that best represents human nature and facilitates progress. I have nothing wrong with capitalism, or corporations for that matter. In fact, I’m part owner in an incorporated company. We’re small, though, and because of that aren’t confined to the same restrictions of larger corporations.

The restrictions that I’m referring to are not imposed by any government or regulating body. They are created by the corporation in order to attempt to run it “better,” but management and progress struggle in because of it. Here is what I mean:

  • Companies are run day to day by managers. They have the most information about what is happening and are there to ensure that everything is running smoothly in the day-to-day.
  • Overseeing the management team is a board, who is typically used for strategic direction. The managers of the company are accountable to the board.
  • The board is said to represent the shareholders, meaning that is who they are accountable to. The shareholders usually number in the tens of thousands or more.

You can see from the above simplification of the relationships that the accountability stops at a group of thousands of people who have next to no knowledge about the operations of the company, who also don’t know who one another are, let along communicate on a regular basis. This is a problem.

Shareholders are constantly changing and all have different goals. I may invest in a company hoping to make a quick buck, while you buy shares for the long haul. Since this is the case, the board and management can’t stick to showing “success” on one investment timeline. Therefore boards, and the managers who take direction from them, focus on producing short term results, so that shareholders stay happy.

While this may work in the short term, it is not a formula for longevity. Long term initiatives are sacrificed for short term gains. Or because they are too expensive and risky, which is worse because nothing gets invented this way. Some companies know this.

Google, a company I personally admire for their focus on innovation, has a buffer between their shareholders: The co-founders control the majority of voting shares. I have no doubt that at some point in their history they could have cut a project or reduced the amount of capital they invest in random projects or free services. This may have helped them achieve higher returns for that quarter, but I don’t think they would be where they are now.

As a whole I think investors need to stop focusing on the short term, along with companies. Let the managers, the people who live that company every day, make the major decisions.

If you disagree, make a comment!