Four Cs of The Scale Challenge

by Shefaly

”Let us try.
To-morrow, how you shall be glad for this!”

Robert Browning

Businesses want to scale. It is especially true for ambitious entrepreneurs. It should be easy, should it not? After all, the smart view is that it is ambition that scales, ’stuff’ does not. But the reality is not linear, not bi-modal, but nuanced. The road to hell is paved with a surfeit of ambition and a shortage of what it takes.

So what does it take to scale successfully?

Here is what.

Cardinal check: The core issues

Is the core of the business profitable? If it is not, then there may be a problem to solve already. There could be many reasons for unprofitability from bad strategy to poor execution. But one big outcome is that the business has little money to spend on dreams.

Is the business amenable to scaling? Not all businesses are. Some personality driven businesses and hourly chargeable careers may not always scale. The entrepreneur needs to take a dispassionate look – or ask someone else more dispassionate than she is to take a look – at the possibilities in and limitations of his business. That will also help think about strategic pathways to scaling. For instance, Nicky Clarke, who is a well-known hairdresser, can give only so many haircuts himself. Can he scale? Yes, possibly by personally training other stylists, or by launching haircare related products. But only he can decide if it is acceptable to him to scale that way.

Does the business have the capabilities required? A firm may be looking to open a new market. But it will be difficult to service a demand it actively creates if, for example, its manufacturing capabilities do not scale, or do not scale easily. For one of my clients in biologics manufacturing, we are doing our sums and readjusting our timetables because  the manufacturing plants must obtain regulatory approval. In other cases, a firm may not have the capabilities but may be willing and able to source help from outside.

Above all, will the added scale enhance the value of the business? If the answer to that is ‘no’, the project may not be worth the hassle.

Capital: do your sums!

Does the business have the money it will take? Nearly all scaling activities require money. Lots of it. There are both monetary and opportunity costs associated with raising money. One could approach one’s bank, assuming it is willing to lend. One could go to investors who have expertise in one’s industry or bring other non-financial value-add. However with both these sources, tough questions regarding the profitability of the core business must be answered.

If one’s ambition really does scale and if there is confidence in other organisational capabilities, then one could bootstrap, as one of my clients – a serial biotechnology entrepreneur – is doing! He understands the risks and that if he must use leverage or raise money, timing is all important.

Regardless of how one raises capital, the balance sheet will change. So will the nature and scope of control as we see next.

Control: See, letting go of.

Can you let go? For ambitious entrepreneurs, one of the hardest things to do is letting go of absolute and full control: control of the company ownership and sometimes, of strategic pathways to propel the ambition forward. It is however a necessary risk, since the entrepreneur himself cannot scale.

Scaling also requires organisational and process redesign. And empowerment of people who buy into the vision of the business and have the capability to make the right decisions. If a robust core business and a basic but clear structure exist, letting go of control enables emergent structures that suit emergent needs. Leer más “Four Cs of The Scale Challenge”

The raison d’être of a business/ Google and political reform

Google in 1998, showing the original logo
Image via Wikipedia

by Shefaly

What is the raison d’être of a business*? To serve a societal or consumer need? To make profits for the shareholders? To keep the stakeholders happy? To create jobs? To realise the vision of the entrepreneur? Any combination of these?

What about social and political reform? Can that be the raison d’être of a commercial business? Would that not be called “profiteering” since any profits will necessarily be about taking advantage of some people’s miseries.

Google, whose original justification for entering China and agreeing to censorship did not convince me, and whose recent strategic moves leave me less than impressed, is now publishing a report on Google service accessibility from within mainland China.

I don’t imagine it uses up much resource for Google to generate that report. But the question must be asked:

What is the point of this exercise and what, if any, strategic aims of Google are likely to be furthered by it?

I frankly find the exercise pointless. Those in the world, who passionately care about the issues of freedom of speech (yours truly included) and political freedom, have a fair idea about what information China blocks. Many of us have friends and business contacts, who straddle China and HK, and do not hesitate to share how their web experience changes in the mainland and the hoops they jump through to circumvent the Great Firewall of China. So Google’s report is quite likely to be preaching to the choir.

If the report is about naming-and-shaming China into something, I think Google is once again over-reaching its raison d’être as a business. Moreover, having lain once with the dogs and now woken with fleas, it can now hardly be a credible turncoat.

Further the timing of such a shaming exercise couldn’t be worse. One could say that Google is just trying to add its voice to the growing discontent in USA with China’s direct impact on the SME and the manufacturing sector, whether through trade and through protectionism. But in reality, China is holding the USA by the short & curlies. Any posturing at this time could only serve to damage diplomatic relations further, especially as the balance is no longer unquestionably favourable to the USA.

My money – and I daresay the smart money of those, who understand nuance and the complex dance of cross-cultural business – is on that Google should do its duty as a business and not try to bring about political or social reform in China. At the very least, any such action reeks of hubris; at the kindest, of naïveté. And when one hopes to do business across cultures, neither is very helpful.

What about the Chinese people and their freedom of speech then?

With a rich, if somewhat inscrutable to us, heritage, the Chinese are hardly a stupid or insentient people. When they are fed up enough, they will redeem themselves.

* n.b. The word “business” here is used to indicate a commercial, profit-making enterprise, funded by private individuals and/ or other commercial institutions. A body such as UNHCR or Amnesty International would not be a “business” by this definition.

Late edits (March the 25th): Links on the issue: My agreement is not a necessary condition for links to be included.

Google’s slow boat from China or slow death? (Telegraph);

Google’s Quixotic China challenge (Business Week);

Google, China and the Art of War (Guardian); via Salil who has commented below;

While you read an explanation of why Google’s move saves face for China, remember the flanking manoeuvre as applicable to diversified businesses.

China Unicom won’t allow Google on mobiles using Android

China reminds Sergey Brin of Russia and WSJ in a hilarious moment says he is using that experience to shape Google’s China strategy. Hilarious because Brin left Russia when he was 6!  His parents remained and tolerated Russia till they were good and ready. They redeemed themselves, when they were ready. Just as the Chinese will.

Google also censors elsewhere: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Burma, Cuba, Ethiopia, Fiji, Indonesia, India, Iran, Morocco, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, the UAE, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

More on India’s “reasonable restrictions” on free speech here.

Rape, pillage and philanthropy: via Hemant, who has also commented below.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Social Networks Said To Account For 60% Of Mobile Web Usage

MySpace put ahead of Facebook, too

There’s good news for social networks – and perhaps MySpace in particular – this week courtesy of Ground Truth.  The mobile measurement firm has determined that almost 60 percent of the time people spend online using a cell phone is dedicated to social networks, and that MySpace is ahead of Facebook in many respects.

Let’s start with the basics.  Ground Truth’s stats indicate that 59.83 percent of “time spent on mobile Internet usage” is committed to social networks.  The runner-up is then the “portals” category, consuming 13.65 percent of time spent, while “operator,” “messaging,” and “mobile downloads” trail further behind.

As for Ground Truth’s site-specific data, the below chart pretty well shows the interesting manner in which things worked out.  It seems that MySpace has a lead over Facebook in every respect, even as a few mobile-specific sites are managing to do better still.

Leer más “Social Networks Said To Account For 60% Of Mobile Web Usage”


Carmichael Gallery, LA

Carmichael Gallery, LA

Leer más “Indoors…”

Buenas ideas mal desarrolladas

Por Javier Martín Cuando me preguntan si pienso que la idea de negocio tiene valor de cara al éxito de un proyecto siempre digo que no es la idea concreta sino las ideas que lo rodean y que convierten al proyecto en algo único. “La idea” me parece un elemento más, sin duda necesario para empezar, pero que pierde su valor si no existe un equipo capaz de hacerla realidad y de innovar entorno a ella para generar valor para la gente.

A diario me llegan correos de emprendedores que comienzan a poner en marcha una idea de negocio a través de una nueva web, llegan todo tipo de ideas pero por desgracia muchas de ellas no llegarán a tener éxito y eso es de lo que quería hablar, de la capacidad del emprendedor y su equipo para desarrollar una idea hasta que llega a ser un gran negocio. En primer lugar hay que considerar que en realidad muchos de los proyectos que hay en la red y un buen número de los que comentamos por aquí tampoco creo que tengan el interés de llegar a ser un gran negocio.

Pero el emprendedor que decide apostarlo todo por su proyecto, dejar su trabajo, buscar financiación y crear un equipo o invertir en desarrollo, ese emprendedor tiene que hacer lo posible para convertir una idea en un buen negocio y para ello tiene que ser capaz de desarrollar la idea lo mejor posible. Cada proyecto de los que vemos a diario tiene una idea detrás, la mayoría son buenas ideas pero pocos proyectos tienen grandes ideas secundarias que lo conviertan en algo único. Por dar algunos ejemplos de proyectos de los que hemos hablado recientemente aquí: la central de compras que han desarrollado en la red social Petuky y la api de la comunidad de viajeros Minube.

El desarrollo del proyecto, la estrategia comercial, la capacidad de darlo a conocer, la relación con los usuarios, la captación de tráfico, la venta de publicidad, … hay cientos de factores en el desarrollo de un proyecto en la red, y cada uno de ellos se puede enfocar de mil formas, es el emprendedor y su equipo quien va a determinar que sobre una idea de base se realice un desarrollo que venda, que enganche al usuario, que satisfaga necesidades, que llegue a ser conocido por la gente.

La realidad es que tener una idea es fácil, como dijo Santiago Bilinkis en La Red Innova, basta por ir por la calle y observar lo que nos vamos encontrando en nuestro camino. Lo difícil es desarrollar esa idea y envolverla de fantásticas pequeñas ideas que conviertan hagan que el carbón se convierta en diamente.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Rutamina, nueva web de rutas y mapas

Por Javier Martín rutamina

Hace tiempo que no hablamos de una web de rutas con GPS y mapas online. Anteriormente hemos hablado de proyectos como Wikiloc y Senda CLM, ahora conocemos Rutamina. Se trata de un proyecto colaborativo donde los usuarios pueden crear sus rutas preferidas sobre Google Maps y compartirlas con sus amigos. La aplicación se conecta con Facebook para facilitar el registro de usuarios.

Rutamina ofrece algunas otras opciones de contenido y participación, como la posibilidad de incluir fotos en las rutas o las opciones para valorar y compartir las rutas creadas por otros usuarios. Si Wikiloc parece más enfocado a rutas al aire libre, sobre todo senderismo en Rutamina por ahora las rutas que encontramos están más enfocadas al turismo. En este sentido parece interesante la opción de promociones que se pueden ofrecer a los usuarios que estén interesados por una ruta o lugar concreto. Si trabajan en esta línea pueden encontrar un buen modelo de negocio para esta web.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Creating and Applying Natural Textures

// // Textures make a website feel tangible.

They give content a relationship to the physical world, a sense of place and a reality that people can relate to.

Unfortunately, simulating physical textures isn’t as simple as shooting a photo or running a few Photoshop filters.

One has to blend random noise and recognizable patterns, striving for similarities rather than pure repetition.

Here, we’ll discuss what gives textures an organic quality, and we’ll look at techniques for creating and applying natural-looking textures and seamless tiles.


Sense of Touch via Sight

A “texture” is the surface of a physical substance or object. Like sight, our sense of touch helps us understand objects. Rough, smooth, slick and crumbly are textures and tell someone what an object is made of, where it has been and if it is related to something else.

On the web, a person’s sense of touch is limited to their input device. But not all websites need to “feel” the same. Based on their experience from handling everyday objects, people associate certain appearances with certain textures. In digital art, one could say that texture is how something “feels” to one’s eyes.

While modern image editors make texture creation easy, not every texture is a surefire winner. Creating a natural-looking texture is a tricky task that mixes pattern, chaos and usage to create character.

Natural Textures Have a Measure of Randomness

Many textures fall between two extremes: regular patterns and random noise. Pattern-based textures make no apologies for looking artificial. They can be made up of a known symbol or text, and they always have a predictable arrangement.

samples of tiled patterns

Above, samples of tiled patterns.

At the other extreme, noise-based textures embody random static. They’re easy to create—Photoshop has its own “Add Noise” filter—and easy to tile because they lack any features that look odd when cut off.

samples of tiled noises

Above, samples of noisy textures.

Natural-looking textures sit somewhere between regular patterns and random noise.

diagram showing images mixing patterns and noise

Above, a range of textures mix patterns and noise to varying degrees.

While nothing is wrong with either extreme, many good textures have characteristics of both. In natural-looking textures, seams are absent or hard to spot, and we can’t identify any patterns in repeated tiles. Their look is as distinct and effective as any regular pattern, but less blatant.

“Organic” textures have the right combination of noise and pattern.

Rational Chaos, Orderly Noise

In the context of texture, “noise” refers to irregular variations in a group of pixels. Film grain, low-light artifacts and dithering are three common types of noise that, desirable or not, are often found in complex images.

Texture noise is what makes natural surfaces look natural. But it’s not simply static. Rather, texture noise balances chaos and order.

diagram showing different arrangements of the same shape

Above, a single geometric shape repeated many times creates a pattern. On the left, the shape varies only in placement: the rows aren’t quite even.

The other shots show changes in the shape’s angle, density and size. Textures made from these variations in shape would appear more chaotic—but all of the textures would retain the original’s unique character, because the variations are based on the same basic shape.

Of course, the result still looks artificial. Obvious repetitions in noise-based textures ruin the effect because people are very good at recognizing patterns. Textures in the real world have variation in shape, color and depth.

diagram showing distinct features of three textures

Above, real-world textures show both noise and repetition. Burlap, pink granite and wax paper have their own “regular irregular” patterns, but each is still distinct from the others.

  • With its predictable horizontal and vertical lines, burlap is the most regular. But the lines aren’t perfect. Slight variations in tone and direction keep the pattern from looking artificial.
  • The pockmarks in the granite aren’t evenly distributed. Seeing the unevenness up close is hard. The characteristic becomes more apparent when seen over a wide area.
  • The wax paper has both the least contrast and the least personality. A few clumps of dark shades keep it from being random noise.

Every texture has certain features—whether pockmarks, streaks, spots or rills—that make it unique. Variations in these characteristics make it work.

diagram showing distinct features of three textures

Above, a metallic texture incorporates overlapping ragged-edged shapes in no particular order, but it retains its distinct character. (Texture courtesy The Design Mag.)

Depth and Contrast Range from Murmurs to Screams

A key variable of any natural texture is depth. The “bumpiness” of a texture provides a sense of tactility more than color or size. But depth also adds contrast, which attracts attention and might degrade legibility.

sample web design with a loud background Leer más “Creating and Applying Natural Textures”