During her recent visit to Schwartz's San Francisco office, noted entrepreneur Sramana Mitra sat down for a fascinating conversation with Miranda Coykendall - check it out here. Sramana shares her thoughts on why VCs are nervous and the industries that are desparate for innovation. She also talks about Om Malik's influence on her decision to become a writer.
In addition to maintaining a popular blog and a regular column in Forbes, Sramana has just published "Entrepreneur Journeys" - the first in a series of books that will explore the world of today's entrepreneur.
Posted by John Moran on October 22, 2008 at 5:22 PM
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Companies today feel tremendous pressure to establish a presence on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Second Life. Some companies are using these new communication channels effectively; others are stumbling badly.
In this podcast, CNET's Caroline McCarthy, author of the blog The Social, advises companies to take it slow - not every company needs a brand presence on the site du jour. Before you do anything, pay attention to the basic rules of communications - make sure you have an objective, a plan and a large dose of dedication.
Posted by John Moran on at 9:45 AM
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By Kim Angell, Schwartz VP, San Francisco
Any solid company has regular contact with its customer base. It is no different for us. As PR professionals, we serve two audiences – our clients and our media contacts. As part of the efforts for the latter, we stay abreast of our reporter’s interests so we can best package a story that will compel them to speak with the companies we represent. We regularly welcome reporters to our offices to talk about how they like to be pitched as well as their publication, topics of interest and the vision for stories in the coming months.
This next week, we will be hosting Sramana Mitra, Forbes columnist and serial entrepreneur, at our San Francisco offices. A long-time blogger and Silicon Valley insider, she has recently added “author” to her list of credits. With her new book ENTREPRENEUR JOURNEYS now available, she will update our PR Account Executives on her plans for her Forbes column in the coming months along with key learnings and incisive analysis derived from her discussions with several notable entrepreneurs, including current Schwartz Communications client, Qualys Chairman and CEO, Philippe Courtot. As a preview to her visit, Sramana answered a few questions for us, found below.
A complete list of interviewees for ENTREPRENEUR JOURNEYS is as follows:
- Sridhar Vembu, founder and CEO of AdventNet
- Jerry Rawls, co-founder and CEO of Finisar
- Steve Hafner, co-founder and CEO of Kayak
- Gautam Godhwani, founder and CEO of SimplyHired
- Russ Fradin, co-founder and CEO of Adify
- Philippe Courtot, Chairman and CEO of Qualys
- Steve Singh, Chairman and CEO of Concur
- Marcos Galperin, co-founder and CEO of MercadoLibre
- Edward Fields, founder and CEO of HotChalk, on addressing unmet market needs
- Hans Peter Michelet, Executive Chairman of Energy Recovery Incorporated (ERI)
- Carol Realini, founder and CEO of Obopay
- Harish Hande co-founder and Managing Director of SELCO
Q&A With Sramana Mitra, Serial Entrepreneur and Forbes Columnist
1 - Why did you decide to write this book?
In entrepreneurship, I believe, lie solutions to many of the problems facing our modern world. ENTREPRENEUR JOURNEYS is my attempt to capture that tribal knowledge accumulated in the private lives of great entrepreneurs and institutionalize it, so entrepreneurs all over the world can vicariously experience those conversations, those dinners, lunches, coffees, which I have been fortunate to have access to, and through which I built myself up.
2- Who do you think would benefit most from reading ENTREPRENEUR JOURNEYS?
ENTREPRENEUR JOURNEYS captures wisdom and advice for every technology entrepreneur and anyone interested in building a new business. But more, all entrepreneurs will benefit from its stories. I also want students interested in entrepreneurship learn through it – college, business school, even high-school students. America worries a lot these days about inspiring youngsters into studying science and technology. Well, show them the money, show them how to be entrepreneurs, and they will oblige.
3 - Do you think there are distinct differences between Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and those in other concentrated emerging-growth areas?
Yes. Silicon Valley is the most mature and sophisticated of the entrepreneurship ecosystems. We have much to teach and share with the rest of the world’s entrepreneurs, especially in the emerging markets. On the other hand, we also have much to share with people in other parts of America that need much more vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems.
4 - What are some of the common threads or themes that you see within all of the emerging-growth and start-up leaders that you spoke with?
Conviction. Determination. Grit. Work ethic. Ability to take risks.
5 - Your interviews shed light on leveraging market windows and opportunities. What are some of those opportunities you see today?
Opportunities lie in the problems. Education is a mess. Healthcare is a mess. Infrastructure is a mess. All those areas need leadership and entrepreneurship. Cleantech is the single most prominent market opportunity that has been identified and both capital and entrepreneurship are flowing abundantly. I want to see a similar flood in Education. In Healthcare. In Infrastructure.
6 - Do you think that our slowing economy reduces or promotes entrepreneurial activity? What lies ahead for serial entrepreneurs such as those in your book?
Now is not the time for entrepreneurs to slow down. Entrepreneurs need to play the leadership role in getting the world economy back on its feet.
I just issued an S.O.S to Silicon Valley on this topic:
7 - Did any of your profiled entrepreneurs have stories that mirrored your own entrepreneurial experience?
Sure. Parts of it. I bootstrapped a product business using services just like Jerry Rawls and Frank Levinson of Finisar at one point, for example. More importantly, even 14 years into my entrepreneurial journey, I learned an enormous amount from the stories of these entrepreneurs. That, I think, will be the big realization for experienced entrepreneurs in reading this book – that we all, still, have so much more to learn from our compatriots.
8 - The title notably says “Volume I” how many additional volumes can your fans expect?
Any other books forthcoming?
I have just started editing Volume 2, and packaging Volume 3. I also have Volume 4 80% done. I expect to release at least volumes 2-5 in the next 12 months. Beyond that, I haven’t had time to think yet. I am also working on my Vision India 2020 book.
Tags: Entrepreneur Journeys
, Silicon Valley
, Sramana Mitra
Posted by Laura Kempke on October 15, 2008 at 5:47 PM
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On a handset a long time ago...
... all consumers could hope for was a monochrome interface and a sluggish user experience. Forward to the present and a fierce battle is raging between vendors who seek to offer consumers a new hope of sleek graphics, smart interfaces and on-the-fly content.
It's a battle that has captured the imagination of not only the industry but the consumer too. So much so that by 2010, Gartner predicts that global worldwide smartphone sales will top one billion from the 300 million today.
The past year has arguably been one of the most dynamic in mobile, and the most intense debate centering on operating systems. While, understandably, the principal focus has been on the relatively new entrants - Google's Android and the Apple iPhone (OS X) - those at Symbian can point to the 226 million handsets already shipped with their OS to date. Indeed, the continuing support of parent company, Nokia, will ensure a dominant market position in smartphones for some time to come for the UK-based developer. Meanwhile, Microsoft, Palm and RIM continue to fight for market share in an increasingly dynamic sector.
The fundamental shifts that have been taking place in the mobile OS market over the past year will take further shape in the months to come, with the growth in smartphones set to accelerate as more consumers opt for handsets that can access content and download applications. If the iPhone's user-friendly interface has been a game-changer for consumers, then many believe that the launch of Android will shake-up the economics of the mass market mobile to an even more fundamental extent.
The much discussed iPhone's legacy is an upgrading of consumer expectations when it comes to their user experience. Not only must devices now be intuitive to use, with sleek graphics, but a touchscreen-friendly OS has become increasingly important too. Moreover, the launch of the AppStore as part of Apple's vertically-integrated business model, has helped cement in the minds of consumers that mobile user interfaces, content, advertising and applications are interlinked. It's a shift in outlook, from a view where the phone is for voice and text, to a world where the handset is the hub of all consumers' digital worlds.
At the industry level the iPhone has forced many OS vendors and handset OEMs to rethink the ideas of the past. Proof: the many so-called 'iPhone killer' devices that have launched over the past 12 months, including the Blackberry Bold and Storm by RIM, who previously concentrated on the business market. While the iPhone represents a tiny fraction of total global handset penetration, and just one percent in the smartphone segment, the 3G iPhone is reported to be taking a four to six percent share of new UK handset sales. That's an overwhelming challenge to the industry and further proof, in any were needed, that great handset design alone does not guarantee success.
Openness continues to be a theme in the mobile community and the decision by Nokia to buy out its partners in Symbian and launch the open source Symbian Foundation to promote the development of the ecosystem follows this trend. The move, while underpinning the 60% market penetration of Symbian in smartphones, is a clear recognition that an open-source Android could take significant market share in non-Nokia devices in the coming years. It's also a direct challenge to those supporting the development of Linux-based handsets.
Not all vendors are following an open source path however. Microsoft, RIM, Palm and the aforementioned Apple continue to tread a proprietary road. While many consider the Redmond giant to be the dark side of the mobile industry, it has increased it's market share (see table) relative to Symbian by cementing already strong relationships with white-label handset OEMs such as HTC. The purchase of Danger Inc, further increases the company's hand in the market. Meanwhile, as previously noted, RIM has made a strong play for the consumer smartphone market by relying solely on its own device portfolio. Expect the Canadian firm to take further share from Symbian over the next year as it reinvents itself as a consumer-facing hanset and OS OEM.
Much of the debate at Mobile World Congress 2009 will of course surround the machinations of Microsoft, RIM and Symbian. But so conspicuous was their absence in 2008, perhaps the biggest question should be: will Google and Apple even be there? Too busy playing with their lightsabres no doubt...
Tags: Mobile OS
, Mobile World Congress
Posted by Ed Barker on October 14, 2008 at 7:20 AM
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In a candid interview with The Daily Telegraph this week, Steve Wozniak – the "second Steve" behind Apple Inc. – predicted the imminent demise of the iPod, likening the world's most popular digital music player to the transistor radio or Walkman – devices which became so ubiquitous that they were ultimately worthless.
His words are likely to prick up the ears of the mobile industry, which has seen a glut of music-related announcements in recent weeks, all of which are aimed squarely at breaking Apple's stranglehold over digital, and encouraging the mass market to consume more music – and associated content – on mobile devices.
Last year more than 500m music-enabled handsets – those which can play MP3s or other digital music formats – were shipped worldwide, yet very few consumers actually use their devices to buy or listen to songs. M:Metrics reports that in Western Europe and the U.S. an average of just 10.7% of subscribers use their mobile devices as a music player. And of that small minority, 83% sideload tracks from their PCs, rather than download them over-the-air (OTA). But, given recent developments, that looks set to change.
Omnifone – a British start-up that took the "Best Mobile Music Service" gong at 2008's Global Mobile Awards – has been pointing the way for a while now.
It launched its MusicStation subscription service with Vodafone UK in November 2007, bundling unlimited OTA downloads and data charges with a regular voice tariff for an extra £1.99 per week.
Seven months later, the company claimed that it was already the most popular digital music subscription service in the country, even overtaking PC-based rivals like Napster.
Since then, it has gone from strength to strength – MusicStation has just launched in Australia and New Zealand and is set to power Sony Ericsson's PlayNow plus music service via Telenor in Sweden.
Nokia is also muscling in on the all-you-can-eat music space with Comes With Music, offering a new handset and 12 months' bottomless downloads for a one-off payment of £129.95. And, unlike MusicStation, the deal enables users to keep their songs after the first year's contract has lapsed.
The handset giant has managed to secure a massive library of songs, signing up the four major labels, larger Indies like Beggars Group and Ministry of Sound, and key aggregator, The Orchard. Yet there are still a few drawbacks which could cloud the success of the offering, including restrictive DRM, fuzzy guidelines on "abusive" use and slow network speeds and pay-as-you go data charges that make OTA downloading all but impossible.
Aside from the subscription models, there are plenty of incumbent online music stores going mobile. Apple itself has already made iTunes accessible on the iPhone and iPod Touch via Wi-Fi. Meanwhile, T-Mobile's recently announced G1 device – the first handset to be based on Google's Android mobile operating system – includes an application that gives instant access to Amazon's comprehensive MP3 shop.
Apple's App Store is also proving attractive to the music industry as a new medium for distributing content. Snow Patrol – the "sad-sack bedroom folk [turned] major-label arena rock" band – have announced that their imminent new album A Hundred Million Suns will come with a custom application for the iPhone and iPod Touch, enabling listeners to explore additional media like artwork, lyrics and behind-the-scenes photographs.
This desire to supplement digital music with paid-for content, and recoup some of the revenues lost to file sharing, is also a key driver behind slotMusic – a new physical format created by flash memory pioneer, SanDisk, and the major labels.
Effectively a 1GB microSD card pre-loaded with an MP3 album and digital goodies such as videos and wallpapers, the format will be available via both online and brick-and-mortar stores beginning with Best Buy and Wal-Mart in the U.S. With most new handsets featuring a microSD card slot, the new format is clearly designed to get less tech-savvy consumers listening to music on their phones, bypassing the traditional gatekeepers of carrier and OEM.
There are also a number of other smaller players looking to boost mobile music consumption, simply by place-shifting existing music collections – Melodeo and Didiom both offer mobile applications to stream music from desktop machines, while it can't be long until emerging, cloud-based music players like blueTunes begin weighing up their wireless options.
Discovery is another key area of growth for mobile music. Taptu offers a great mobile search engine tailored to finding content, enabling users to stream a snippet of a song from an artists' MySpace page, share it or click through to download the whole thing. And for users who don't know what they're looking for, but like the song their hearing right now, there's a gamut of music recognition services, such as Shazam, Gracenote's Mobile Music Platform and Melodis.
With Shazam, users can dial a number – either via a shortcode or an on-device client – hold their phones up to the music and quickly receive details of the artist and track title, along with options to buy it, explore related content like YouTube videos, or take a photo to create a visual archive of their listening habits. Shazam's iPhone application has already been downloaded 1.5 million times, with some users accessing the service up to 20 times a month. The company is now aiming to have its technology shipped as standard on 250 million handsets by the end of 2009, spurred on by a recent pre-load agreement with Samsung.
While handset manufacturers, operators, technology start-ups and even record labels all seem to be singing the same tune, what do the artists really think of mobile music? Well, this week also saw the launch of the Featured Artists Coalition at UK industry fest In The City. The group comprises big name acts like Radiohead and Robbie Williams and aims to protect musician's rights in the ever-changing digital age.
As Mobile World Congress approaches, it'll be interesting to see how the group's sway plays out. Over the last few years, acts such as Craig David, Jamelia and the Black-Eyed Peas' will.i.am have all been guests of honour in Barcelona at events like Mobile Backstage. With the mobile music market already developing at such a rapid rate, 2009 will clearly be a tipping point – can the mobile industry really lure consumers away from their trusty iPods and on to mobile handsets? And can the labels convince their roster that the humble phone is a worthy enough channel for their artistic output?
Tags: Global Mobile Awards
, Mobile Backstage
, Mobile Music
, Mobile World Congress
Posted by Luke Nava on October 8, 2008 at 12:26 PM
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Here's the headline from a summer article in BusinessWeek - "(Anti-) Superhero Movie Features PR Heroics." The headline is for Jon Fine's review of the Will Smith movie "Hancock." Fine writes that "the weird thing about the movie is the hero is a public relations guy, who essentially saves Hancock through media training."
Naturally, as the media training specialist at this public relations agency, I don't think that premise is weird at all. As a matter of fact, working with a superhero or two would be a nice change from the usual grind.
Media training is often misunderstood by both reporters and executives. Reporters see PR people programming their clients to spit out boiler-plate marketing speak. Executives bristle at the thought of dumbing-down their corporate story. As usual, the truth lies in the middle.
Proper media training should accomplish two purposes:
1) Help the executive understand how to work with reporters. Too many executives (even experienced ones) come to interviews unprepared and with a chip on their shoulder. It's much more effective to give some thought to what you have to say that will add value to the reporter's story. And always treat the reporter with respect.
2) Summarize your story and be willing to talk about industry trends. Unless a reporter is writing a detailed feature of your company, you need to distill your company's story into concise and compelling pieces. Too many executives carry on with a long-winded tutorial on their business. Boring! In simple, no-jargon terms, tell the reporter what your company does and why it matters. And you should always be ready and willing to discuss what's coming up in a market.
How you say things and how you treat people do matter. Business executives may not be a Will Smith movie character, but it's still possible to have a company's story be diminished because of poor interviewing habits. Media training, and ongoing feedback, can help executives work more effectively with reporters.
If you get good enought at it, your colleagues, customers and investors may start treating you like a superhero.
Posted by John Moran on at 8:56 AM
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