If you’ve not heard of One Laptop per Child (OLPC) you should listen to this presentation Nicholas Negroponte gave about his $100 laptop at the February 2006 T.E.D. conference which I found over at the T.E.D. Blog.
I learned of the T.E.D. blog by reading If your idea is worth spreading, then presentation matters over at Garr Reynold’s blog Presentation Zen, which I learned about by reading A few more Presentation How To’s at Kathy Sierra’s blog Creating Passionate Users whose RSS feed I subscribed to at the time.
Anyway, Nicholas is the former director of the MIT Media Lab and he stepped down from running the lab to found this non-profit organization and focus the rest of his life on OLPC’s goal of ensuring that every child in developing nations has access to a laptop for educational purposes. While some people have fixated on the "$100" price tag or the "laptop" aspect of his project, Nicholas explains that they are missing the point:
"This is an education project, not a laptop project"
OLPC plans to sell laptops to education ministries of nation-states and have those ministries distribute the laptops on the basis of one per child (ages 6-18). Evidently Brazil, Argentina, and Thailand each have ordered 1 million. The OLPC website claims they are also in discussions with China, India, Egypt, and Nigeria (although this article claims India has begged out, which is a shame.) As someone who strongly believes in education’s ability to transform a society’s circumstances, I find this endeavor truly inspiring! While watching it also occurred to me just how many times the course of human history has been changed because of the dogged perseverance of a single individual. I really hope to see Nicholas achieve his goal.
One of the more interesting conversations I had during my tenure while President and CEO at Xtras, Inc. was in October 1997 when Network+Interop came to Atlanta for it’s annual visit. One of the Microsoft Windows NT Server Product Managers Luis Bonifaz decided stopped by my office for a visit and gave me an education of how Microsoft positions its competitors; I’ll never forget it.
Anyway, for those of you who remember those early formibable days when Windows NT Server first became a serious operating system, around v4.0, it was a fun time. In those days, the major systems players were feeling (rightfully) threatened and so they came out with continuous anti-NT campaigns with the simple message of:
Windows NT Server Can’t Scale!
Many vendors jumped on the "Let’s bash NT" bandwagon, but probably the loudest two were Scott McNeely of Sun Microsystems and Larry Ellison of Oracle Corporation. Being a Microsoft kool-aid drinker at the time (Xtras was running a reseller focused on Microsoft systems and developer tools after all) I was of course ready to do rhetorical battle with ol’ Scott and Larry. But what Luis told me was truly educational and amazing; talk about an on-the-job MBA in marketing!
Luiz told me that, unlike most companies that focus on attempting to position their company in their prospect’s eyes, Microsoft was excellent at positioning their competitors, and further that Microsoft trained all their marketing people to think this way. Luis then went on to say that the anti-NT crowd had been trying to taint NT with the "can’t scale" brush for quite some time as he started drawing a triangle on my whiteboard to illustrate. He said that the Microsoft strategy was this:
"We’ll accept that. We’ll accept that we can’t scale up to operate the largest systems on the planet. Okay, but we’ll counter with the fact that you can’t scale down and we can, and that market is much, much larger!"
Using his triangle he showed the marketshare they attempted to guard (in yellow), and the marketshare they didn’t even attempt to take from Microsoft (in blue.) Luis continued:
"Then we’ll just continue working it," "We’ll continue improving the operating system and we’ll continue riding Moore’s Law. Eventually we’ll add the features that are needed to scale, by those who demand the bigger systems, and eventually the hardware we run on will be able to match all but the most demanding applications in the world. And then we will be able to scale; from the bottom all the way to (almost) the top. And the absolute top won’t really matter. At that point, what do you think will become of the "NT Can’t Scale" crowd? Like Zack Mayo (Richard Gere) in "An Officer and a Gentleman" they will have "nowhere else to go."
Fascinating. Anyway, it was fascinating to me back in 1997. And here we are almost ten year’s later; have Luis’ projections proven accurate? I’d say he was pretty close to correct.
P.S. What is all the more ironic about this story is how Microsoft doth protest too much these days about open-source software and Web 2.0 companies when they make pronouncements about not being able to scale and/or they are not being good enough for prime time. If history is any indication, Microsoft had better watch their back or people may soon be saying: The King is dead. Long live the King. :-)
On last Friday I blogged about my new Saleforce.com blog that I recently launched. Now you might ask why didn’t I just post my comments about Salesforce.com here on Miscellanous Ramblings? The simple answer is I’ve learned over the past several years of blogging that, aside from being a vanity play, unfocused blogs really don’t benefit anyone least of all the author. And I find it rather ironic that I in hindsight chose "Miscellaneous Ramblings" as a moniker because that’s what I’ve done here; ramble on and on about miscellanous topics with no obvious direction. Well, they do say hindsight is 20-20.
Moving forward I’m going to expend the vast amout of my blogging effort on blogs that focused on specific topics. And I do plan to keep this blog online, at least for the foreseeable future. If I feel inspired to blog about a topic for which I have no other place to blog, I’ll do it here. Otherwise, you’ll be able to find my thoughts at my other blogs, and you’ll be able to find a list of my blogs here: www.mikeschinkel.com/blogs/
Those of you who follow my blog are aware it has been a long time since I’ve last posted. Some of you already know what has been going on in my life, but most of you don’t. For those of you who do not as well as the rest of you it’s time for me to fill you in.
But let me start with some background. Back in 1994 I founded Xtras, Inc. (then as VBxtras, Inc.) and I proceeded to grow it like mad. Then in 1999 Inc. Magazine honored us with their award for fast growth, placing us as #123 out of 500 on their Inc 500 list. It was a wild ride and I loved almost every minute of it!
Probably the best part were the people who honored me by working for Xtras during that period. I’m going to name a just few of them; the ones who contributed something so critical that Xtras would possibly have never succeeded had each of them not been involved (I’ve linked to their website or blog if I was able to find one):
Without each and every one of them, Xtras would never have reached the levels of success that it did. They helped me fulfill a dream; I thank them so muchl. But there were also many other fabulous people who worked for Xtras from 1994 on, and I value every last one of them too. So if you dear reader are any one of them, please accept my thanks and forgive me for not mentioning you personally; you were very much appreciated.
In addition, there are also many fabulous vendors/catalog advertisers that Xtras dealt with during the VB3/4/6 heyday (1994..1998) when there was so much energy surrounding the Visual Basic industry. There was an almost all-for-one-and-one-for-all kind of feeling in the industry during those early days, which unfortunately does not exist in the Microsoft add-on vendor community now. To find something similar, sadly you have to go to the Web 2.0/Ruby on Rails crowd to get the same vibe.
Back then it was the people that made it so great, back before everyone started guarding their vested interests, back when it was Sheridan Software and Crystal Reports, not Infragistics and Business Objects, for example. Back when we were all about building an industry together. So I’m going to name the names of the people I remember, but there’s a good chance I’ll screw up and forget somebody because there were so many more people involved back then. So here goes, with links to their current blog if I could find one, including their company at the time (and the company it became if applicable), with links to whatever companies still exists. In no particular order, of course. And anyone that’s forgotten, I apologize in advance:
Anyway, about the same time Xtras’ growth spurt peaked (around 1998/99; Xtras having been underfunded, I might add), the dotcoms boomed and, as I’m sure everyone remembers, VCs threw far too much money at companies without business models, none of them having being Xtras. This led to Xtras’ stasis; our inability to grow Xtras’ business and for the next six, we just operated pretty much doing the same thing over and over, day in and day out. Of course I wanted us to try new things, but we someone never managed to have the resources, and/or I could never manage to rally the troups.
So in May 2006, I left Xtras. I left to decompress and to clear my head. After a little over twelve (12) years of running Xtras I made a deal with one of my shareholders to buy my stake in the business and now Bill Kaylor has taken my place as president of Xtras. I wish them luck, but at this point I have no involvement and absolutely no financial interest left in Xtras. Of those twelve years, the first five (5) were some of the best years of my life, and last seven (7) were some of the worst. Be that as it may, plenty of fodder for future "lessons learned" blog posts. Although I have been working a little since May, I’ve mostly been catching up on things I neglected for so long, including renewing old friendships and cultivating new ones.
But now that I’ve had a short breather, I’m ready to leverage both my 19 years of business and marketing experience and my 21 years of technical/developer experience to pursue exciting new ideas and to once again work with the bright, enthusiastic and highly motivated people that make work so much fun. But you might ask why leaving Xtras will allow me that?
The plain fact is a reseller like Xtras has a high number of customer transactions, is capital intensive, runs on low margins, and is held in pretty low esteme within the industry. In the early days we published a printed catalog which was the guide for the industry, but the Internet and Google replaced the need for that, so we devolving into being "just a reseller." After many years of metaphorically banging my head against the wall I realized it was virtual impossible for me to devote the time, find the funding, and/or gain interest from the people needed to form the loosely-coupled business relationships.that work so well to pursue the incredible Web 2.0 opportunities that are presenting themselves today. So it was better for me to just leave Xtras in other’s hands and start anew.
In what areas do I want to focus? I want to improve the world! I want to make things and life better, faster, cheaper, easier! Heck, if I could devote my life to world peace with 100% certainty, I would do that! I have several projects in mind, some are for profit and some I have absolutely no profit motive whatsoever. For the latter I want to be a catalyst just to see them happen as I believe my doing so will improve some aspect of an industry or of life in general, depending on the project. And for almost all of these projects I want to work collaboratively with partners, anywhere from a loose open-source collaboration to jointly-owned companies. And I will be able to be far more open and share my ideas on my blog unlike the past five-plus (5+) years as I won’t have the constraints on me that I was under while president, CEO, and fiduciary of Xtras.
So I am idealistic, but I am also pragmatic. This time I want to make sure my ventures are cumulatively far more profitable than Xtras was during my tenure. I’m not twelve years more experienced, and hopefully twelve years wiser. I want to accomplish my idealistic goals, not just dream about them. But I’ve learned the world does follow "The Golden Rule," just not the one they taught about in Sunday school. I’ve learned it is far better to be the one holding the gold otherwise you get stuck following someone else’s rules. :-)
For those of you who are interested, stay tuned to my RSS feed. I’ll be posting more about my upcoming adventures shortly.