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What Drives Social Innovation?

April 6th, 2014

The Rise of Global Social Entrepreneurship

1971-4 were big years for global social reform…but it took us 40+ years to fully realize how big. It was in the early 1970′s, that two new enterprises were formed, one in the U.S. And one on Bangladesh, that would go on to positively affect the lives of tens of millions of individuals around the world. Opportunity International (founded in 1971 by Al Whittaker, Bristol-Meyers President) and Grameen Bank (first loan  in 1974 by Bangledesh university director, Mohamed Yunis) formed  “micro-credit” organizations, offering loans, credit/savings, insurance and training for impoverished families.  These two organizations were early to innovate in the “social” or “impact” sector. Their focus as organizations.

In 1981, Ashoka was founded by Bill Drayton who recognized that entrepreneurs through a social venture capital approach could impact many aspects of society, addressing the needs of the poor, marginalized and under-represented. Ashoka today operates in over 70 countries and supports the work of almost 3,000 entrepreneurs, chosen and mentored as “Ashoka Fellows”.  Drayton calls these workers “social entrepreneurs”.  For the past 30 years, Ashoka, and others that have followed their path, have sparked a movement toward the citizen-driven social innovation.

Other organizations, such as Echoing Green, The Acumen Fund, Omidyar Network, Skoll Foundation, and many more have followed Ashoka’s lead in supporting social entrepreneurs around the world.

What’s Fueling Social Innovation?

What’s fueling the move toward Social Innovation in our world today?

Chasms and “Bankers”: first, we can all agree that there is a growing chasm between The Have’s and The Have-Nots – the disparity between wealthy and lower income classes is growing each year.  This chasm has forced Those Who Have a Lot to re-think the meaning of work, life, and philanthropy.  Many of the richest Have’s earned their money from technology and  innovation – Bill Gates through innovation in the software space; Warren Buffet in financial innovation;  Pierre Omidyar and Jeff Skoll in e-commerce innovation; Marc Zukerberg in social media innovation; and Marc Benioff in enterprise business model innovation.  Their form of philanthropy is ENTREPRENEURIAL.  “Let’s apply entrepreneurship to the world’s greatest problems and see if we can’t make a dent.”. The Chasm is creating consciousness and this consciousness is manifested in new social innovations.

Technological Shifts : are making the world a smaller place.  New advances in communications, networking, social networks, and other technologies have created an unprecedented array of new opportunities and have disrupted just about every business, government and learning institution on the planet.   The falling cost of Internet access and mobile communications has opened up the Developing World to instant knowledge and information, often disrupting the old ways of thinking.

Citizen Sector:  one big outcome from technological shifts has the rise of the citizen sector – people around the world are able to compare themselves with others, and see the differences. Boundaries are broken down, and real needs become well know and exposed to the world.  The Have-Nots suddenly are exposed to what the Have’s have.

Governments Failing to Keep Up: unfortunately in the conscious and technological shift we are facing, large organizations, like the government and corporate entities are falling behind – they will be forced to innovate or perish. It is becoming clear that large-format government is not going to be able to innovate quickly enough to solve our growing social problems on which they are expected to act. Something has to augment government and large corporate understanding and efforts in order to keep up with the pace of change.

Corporations Waking Up : Perhaps due to increased popular and governmental pressure (think: environmental issues and greenhouse emissions), or perhaps due to leaders of our global corporations “awakening” to the realities of pure profit motives, most global corporations have focused some attention to social issues in the past decade. Many have formed internal task forces, departments of “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

A few leaders have made social give-back a part of the corporate culture – notable examples are Toms’s Shoes, Ben & Jerry’s, and Salesforce.   A few corporations have grown due to the focus on social issues, such as Triodos Bank,


Global Urgency: Against the above background, it is becoming clear that our Earth’s resources: oceans, forests, food & water supplies are in jeopardy.  An urgency in such matters as democratic change, environmental hazard/waste, global warming threats, and more – has come to the forefront of our consciousness as a people.

The New Era of Innovation

In  the last decade, a dramatic confluence of economic, technological, political and spiritual shifts appears to be  shifting global consciousness on social issues such as poverty, education, human rights, environment, and basic human needs.  In my opinion, we are now entering a new global Era for Social Awareness and Innovation never before experienced.   These innovations turn new leadership styles, business models, processes, technologies and products/services into forces of good to address the world’s most challenging needs.

The market term for this new form of innovation is Social Innovation.

Seven Forms of Social Innovation

The late Peter Drucker, in his book Entrepreneurship and Creativity, discusses 7 forms of  innovation. These 7  explain  the background for nearly every innovation that has occurred in modern times. Today,  we are seeing social innovation occur in all seven of these areas.

1. Unexpected occurrences (serendipity, chance & surprise) – Drucker believes some inventions and innovations have come from surprise, and of course this is true.  A famous example of this is Art Fry, at 3M, who came up with the idea of Post-It Notes from the unexpected failure of a new glue that the company had experimented with.  Today, social innovations also come from serendipity – or “being in the right place at the right time”.  An example I like to use is  Founder Charles Best invented his service when, out of frustration for lack of resources,  he created a simple internet site to post the local needs of teachers at his school.  By chance, others outside the school system found it intriguing and DonorsChoose became a phenomenon after Best was featured on the Oprah Show nationally.

2. Incongruities (e.g. growing market, falling profits) – One of the most common birthing spots of innovation is Incongruity – when markets or situations are simply out of alignment, and something new is called for to take advantage of the situation.  I’ve witnessed many times, as a venture capitalist and angel investor, the affects of . An case study and example, which I use in my class at UC Berkeley is Reply Inc. Founder, Payam Zamani, realized in 2006 that hisprimary target markets (real estate and automobiles) were suffering in the economy, and his company needed to re-organize it’s business model to make products and services easier to use. Incongruities are a major driver of Social Innovation, of course, because the incongruities in many developing nations expose underlying political, economic and societal issues.  A favorite example of mine is Napo Pharmaceuticals (South SF), founded by consultant, Lisa Conte.  On a trip to Africa, Lisa saw children suffering from diarrhea and dying.   With further research, she found out some 2+ million children die each year from diarrhea-related maladies.  Yet most major drug companies found this “niche” too small and unprofitable to address.  She formed Napo to address this incongruity in the market. The company went public in , and today assists children all over the world.

3. Process Needs (e.g. linotype & advertising = desktop pub) – As a new worker at Apple Computer in the 80′s I witnessed a great example of process innovation – the rise of “desktop publishing”.   The Macintosh computer, released in 1984, represented a new way to interface with computer hardware – the roll of a mouse, the fonts on the screen – all approximated the realism of a printed page in a magazine. But the Mac went on to revolutionize the concept of self-publishing and advertising by allowing individuals to approximate the same things that expensive Linotype could do in upscale advertising, for a mere fraction of the cost using a computer and laser printer.  Today, we take this innovation for granted.  In the social innovation space, my favorite example of process innovation is happening today in learning and education.   Sal Khan (founder of Khan Academy) and others in the “blended learning” category have shown that education can be changed by bringing the homework into the classroom, and bringing the lecture to the home (videos that students can watch anytime, anywhere).  This reverses the thinking that teaching takes place in the classroom only. There is currently a revolution taking place in Education where the “old” process of teaching is being replace by the “new”, personalized process.

4. Industry and Market changes (e.g. Shifts, catastrophes, competition) – a classic example that fits this area is  In 1998, Marc Benioff attempted to convince his bosses at Oracle Corp that a new business model for providing software would address the needs of customers who were tired of paying huge prices for internals software installation and maintenance.  He was unsuccessful, so he started his own company to address the needs of mid- and large-sized clients.  His business model, today referred as “SaaS” (software as a service) is now used by most software companies on the planet.  In the social innovation sector, market and industry changes in Developing nations have prompted extraordinary new innovations.  For example,

5. Demographic Changes (e.g.changes and shifts in the world’s demographics) – the world is in constant change, and many innovations take advantage of shifts in the world’s population. An enormous demographic change in the US for our present generation is the aging baby-boomer segment of the market, who will soon be senior citizens, creating a vast array of needs in elder-care, housing, health and medical needs.  New innovative ways of addressing this demographic shift are underway.   My favorite example for “demographic change” that drives innovation in the social innovation space is SamaSource, founded by Leila Jonah. Samasource has created an innovative piece of software that disseminates work electronically to impoverished areas of the world, where qualified, but otherwise unemployed workers can earn a wage completing the work virtually.  This takes “outsourcing” to a new level. The company prides itself on bringing work to impoverished areas of the world where people can be quickly trained and made ready for meaningful jobs.

6.Changes in Perception (e.g. Health, fitness, education) – in time, human beings perceptions of life and the world we live in change. Racial, sex, sexual norms have changed in various societies.  Here in the US the perception for “Fast Food” has dramatically shifted in the past 20 years, going from a “convenience” to a national health driver. This has led to new innovations in “healthy” foods, as evidenced by new restaurants, innovative food distribution (think: Whole Foods) and new forms of weight control.  In the social sector, innovations are also driven by changes in perception.  The empowerment of women in the developing world is a good example.  In many cultures where women have been “second-class” citizens in the past, new social innovations are allowing them to become the bread-winners for their family, the leaders in their communities and even political heroes of social change.  Opportunity International, for example, supports over 2 million loans per year to family “entrepreneurs” – 85% of the recipients are the women in the family.

7.New Knowledge (e.g. computer chips, batteries) – Moore’s law, applied to chips, communications means that new technologies are coming on the market every 2 years that are doubling in capacity and power.  Adoption curves for new technologies seem to become steeper and steeper with each successive wave. It took 20 years for telephones to become popular;  it took 2 months for Instagram to catch on fire. An early pioneer in social entrepreneurship,, is a great example of how new technology can be used to bridge social gaps, match Have’s with Have-Not’s.  Today, Kiva is on track to transact $1 billion in loans between the developing countries and wealthy US/European families.  This new innovation has disrupted the common form of lending by banks, and has spawned a new generation of social innovations linking those in need with those who have via the internet and mobile

We are awash today in innovations in the social sector.  So much so, that attention has shifted from large monolithically non-profit organizations (think: American Cancer Society) to a new era of “social entrepreneurship” (think:  which encourages “lean” thinking and enterprising approaches, both in for-profit and non-profit formats.

Have your own example of social innovation and where it fits with Drucker’s 7 forces?  I’m interested to hear it!


Google Glass & the Wearable Computing Revolution

June 9th, 2013

An investor’s perspective on the future for Glass


Over the past 3 months, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time looking at Google’s Glass offering, from an angel and investor point of view, and considering what the next 3-5 years may hold for this new innovation in the “wearable” computing world.  There is no doubt about it, the wearable computing revolution has taken off – initial applications are in the Games, Fitness, SmartWatch and Eyeglass areas. Early-stage companies like Occulus (raised $2.5M on Kickstarter),  FitBit (funded by True Ventures and VCs) and Pebble (which shocked the “crowd-funding” world by raising over $12M on Kickstarter and recently another $15M from CRV).  But we’re not all ready to turn into  Jordy from Startrek…just yet.

A good article on the emerging market was published by Juniper Research late last year. It predicts a market of $1.5 billiion in 2014. Other studies predict $3-6 billion in next 3 years.  I’ve been tracking this research, and have also spoken with several of the analysts predicting and tracking the market.  It is very early.   Most predictions are based on Google’s recent press around Glass, which is not due to ship to the public until 2014.  So, much of this is speculation.

In May, John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins, Google Ventures, and Marc Andreesen’s firm announced a “partnership” called the “Glass Collective” to fund projects related to wearable computing, particularly Glass application developers.  Others have not followed officially, but you can be sure there are dozens of VC partners who would like to find the “right project” to back and be part of the trend.

The most detailed review I’ve seen on Google Glass is here. While the demonstrations of Google Glass, and examples of how it can be used, are compelling, it is too early to know whether consumer adoption will take off quickly, or require some “killer apps” to get it going.  So, in my mind, an investment horizon of 3 to 5 years for hardware-related start-ups, and 6 to 9 years for solution-related start-ups is not unreasonable…unless Google’s offering takes off like the iPad did when it came out.  Given the much more limited functionality, my guess is that it will take a slower, but steady ascension, until several software creators build compelling apps.

Is anyone else at home?

So far, only Google has made major public announcements, only Google is taken a developer/partnership approach of seeding the market with a “platform” to work from (just like Apple did for iOS and the iPad to capture the early market), and only Google seems to be building any passion around this space.  Several smaller players in the occular market are also making stirs, the most interesting of which is Vuzix, which has developed a light-weight unit similar to Google Glass plus additional options for for full-field view (Google Glass does not place a viewer directly in front of the eye).

But where is Sony? Where is Apple? Where is Amazon?  Where is Samsung? These are all players who have capability of creating a platform that combines the best of wearable/small hardware with systems for constructing applications on top of it.  My research shows they are all QUIETLY working on competiting devices in the labs and with Skunkworks teams, but even within each of these companies, few executives are aware of what the plans may be or how they will challenge Google if the market takes off.  Count on Google, with its strong Android developer base to capture an early lead, based on its boldness today, unless someone comes along to challenge in the next 6 months.

The place to look for competitors is is based of Android and iOS — there are thousands of developers for these two platforms.  Given that Samsung is a major Android player, and known for its innovation, you may want to keep your eyes peeled there for future entries.

What is the opportunity?

There are several areas that you can expect to see investments in the coming two years:

1) Software platforms: or developer environments that allow developers to more easily create overall solutions that involve Glass, for example solutions that allow for mash-ups, platforms that make development easier, and platforms that allow for extensions to glass in the voice, video, eye-tracking, and other areas,

2) Solutions/applications: this is what developers for Google class are currently working on, and will include a wide range of horizontal and vertical applications that further enable class to do a series of specific manipulations with images, video, sound, touch, etc.  A variety of applications fall into a class called “Augmented Reality“, which I view as a “catch-all” category for companies that are not sure WHAT they want to be when they grow up.  (Note: I’ll write about this more in future blog posts, as it’s occupying much of my life right now thinking this through)

3) Augmenting Hardware: this area will be less populated, as these days there are fewer hardware plays in the market, but expect to see several entrance, particularly in the area of “eye-tracking”, video/photo capture, and sound/voice.

4) Existing software extensions: I think we will see a variety of extended applications for current players, including players such as: Local services (Example: Yelp, FourSquare), Photo/Video services (Examples: Flickr, YouTube, Shutterfly), Language/translation (Examples: Rosetta Stone, Google Translate ).

In addition, expect to see a variety of vertical applications to help for specific use in areas such as retail, warehousing, facilities management, shopping, etc.

The applications that interest me, personally, the most would be those that impact a wide horizontal “functional areas” such as reading, scanning the environment, and travel.   In these instances, I think that glasses and play a central role in. Fundamentally changing the way that we approach the task –  thus changing the overall experience of the user.  THIS IS THE AREA WHERE WE CAN EXPECT TO SEE DISRUPTION.

What would an investor look for in this space?

As with any start up, the best place to start is with the Team.  A CEO/Founder who has been a pioneer previously in bringing the technology/IP  to end-user oriented solutions will have an advantage. Teams with prior deep knowledge on particular application or solution areas that they want to add wearable computing to will shine… compared to those who have simply “a good idea.”  Teams that include a bit of experience with hardware they also have an edge, and working with a device such as Glass, since control of the Glass is a key component of making it feel seamless to the end-user.  Finally, Designers with background in mobility, would clearly be an asset.

Investors will also seek innovative solutions using wearable computing that go beyond what one could do with a phone, tablet or computer.  The solution needs to blaze trails in new use of computing in every-day or business life.  For example, being able to shop with glasses, such that your wearable device provides information on products you are looking at, comparative pricing, ability to see the product in use, and other “augmented” tags (promotions, similar products, cost to build, etc), would allow for a shopping experience never before available.

Lastly, I think we’ll be seeing some new/emerging business models that focus on wearable computing’s ability to access the cloud on a pay-as-you-go basis, as well as seek/look-up information on real-time.  With present Google Glass, I don’t forsee that banner advertising will work well, because of the size of the display, but approaches that allow advertisers to promote their products or information about their products will abound.  Google itself is currently trying to figure out its best model – as it had to with Android.  Of course in Google (or Apple, Sony or Amazon’s case) there is more content and advertising sold by having the user using new wearble technology, so a direct business model will not be needed.


Follow this blog for more articles in the coming year on this space, as I dive deeper.


The Click Moment – great innovations and serendipity

November 4th, 2012

Frans Johansson’s book The Medici Effect, is a work about innovation that speaks truths about the way that inventions and innovation have come about over history. Frans points to examples throughout history in which the INTERSECTION of diverse ideas, cultures, disciplines and/or minds yielded a creative or innovative solution or creative work. Frans aptly named his book after the success of the 15th century House of Medici in Italy who brought together a diversity of cultural and artistic talent from around the world. The result birthed The Renaissance.

In his second book, The Click Moment (Penguin Publishing, 2012) Frans goes beyond the observation that diversity yields innovation. He set out to better ask the question: are great innovations and/or creativity the result of careful investigation, strategy and action – or could they often be the result of chance interaction, serendipity or luck. And, if a new discovery or innovation is due to serendipity , then was there a set-up or something that the inventor(s) did to be better prepared for this momentous occasion?

In the book, Frans points to many inventions that actually appear to have been born out of serendipitous moments: the Twilight book series, Starbucks Coffee, Facebook and the Apple Macintosh…and many more examples. These “aha” moments of serendipity that produced at the intersection of diverse opinions, cultures, or disciplines are what Frans calls “Click Moments”.

“….a serendipitous encounter, an unexpected moment of insight or an unplanned culmination of events.There was one instant in which fate turned their way, a moment they can look back at and say ‘that was when it started’. We all have this ‘click moments” – Frans Johnansson, The Click Moment

There is one story that is not told in The Click Moment, but might have been. It’s the story of Twitter — one of the most intriguing cultural and global innovations of the 21st century. The story behind the serendipity of Twitter, like many future inventions that  will undoubtedly come, will be told at The Intersection, on January 19, 2013 at Google. At The Intersection, Frans  will discuss The Click Moment and will interview Twitter Co-Founder Ev Williams in a unique dialog about what really happened at the creation of Twitter and how a string of failed applications and investments led the team to notice the simple internal tool that Jack Dorsey had developed…and how that tool went on to become one of the great innovations of the 21st century.  To come see Frans and 14 other incredible speakers on Innovation, you can apply at:

What is Creativity? (perspectives from the Far East)

June 30th, 2012

This week, I begin a relationship with University of International Business & Economics (UIBE), a fast-growing university in Beijing, China that is training MBA-level students, primarily in Asia (Russian, China and Far East).  In our class, we’ll have students from Mainland China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Russia,  Uzbek (and Germany thrown in for good luck!).

Our first class together will explore the nature of creativity on an individual level – what makes a person creative? – as well theories on entrepreneurship and relationship to creativity.  I’ve seen this first hand, working with dozens of Silicon Valley start-ups ,but it’s always interesting to tear it apart and try to explain it to students/practioners who are 9525 kilometers away from the Silicon Valley.

I’m anxious to hear the students’ initial thoughts, from their perches in Asia Major and Minor, as to what their views on Creativity and Innovation are.  Coming into our class, what do they think Creativity is? How is it different from Innovation?

I’ve asked them to respond here to this question…let’s see what they have to say.

Four Key Elements of Innovative Marketing

November 27th, 2010

A tradition at my U.C. Berkeley class “Creativity & Innovation & The Entrepreneur” (ICE) is to set aside one class each semester to discuss “innovations in Marketing”.  I ask the students to each contribute 1-2 examples of highly creative, imaginative and innovative marketing and post them to a WIKI.  This year, we had over 70 postings and great discussion in class about the nature of the “creative” advertising agency, and what makes a marketing campaign highly innovative.

As a former marketing exec (IBM, Apple, Yahoo, Netchannel, Overture and others), I’ve worked with hundreds of highly creative people  – in fact, at a place like Apple, marketing seemed to be a never-ending game between creatives as to who could create the most innovative plan.

I learned that sometimes, just simple ingenuity and the element of surprise and delight works wonders…for example the simplicity of the Apple logo, the release of the Mac in 1984, the irreverence of the iPod and simplicity of iPhone advertisements, all underscore the innovative culture of Apple. Our class found several great examples of creative, yet highly simple, marketing campaigns in every-day advertising:

The game in marketing is to figure out who can create the most innovative ad campaigns, the most effective lead drivers, and the best branding and positioning. Naturally, with so many creative people in this industry, lots of creative ideas occur.  How many are truly innovative?

Top Four Elements of Innovative Marketing
This year in class, we tore apart several of the marketing campaigns to figure out what makes for truly innovative marketing.  Here are the five elements of innovative marketing that came from our Wiki this year:

1. Highly innovative marketing campaigns employ the age-old craft of story-telling, sometimes allowing the user to fill in the missing pieces of the story. Everyone loves a good story.  And, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other sites are perfect viral channels for the spread of a good story.  Here are several examples of highly viral campaigns that tell a great (and personal) story:

Google posted a particularly clever campaign during a period when it was under fire from the press for some of its practices.  5 million viewers have watched the viral video.  The video shows the “human” (softer) side of Google (often said to be a bit “tc in its culture) and the viewer is pulled into the story with a certain “that could be me” feel.

Not to be out-marketed, Facebook posted a similar video recently, although its viral effects have been minimal so far. But still, it’s fun to watch.

Another very effective campaign that tells a poignant story to get its point across is the Dove Evolution campaign that hit the ‘Net in October, 2006.  This innovative marketing example used stop photography to get its point across, leaving the reader to think about Dove in an entirely new light.

2. Highly innovative campaigns draw the user in …often engaging the user in the story or campaign. Given the nature of the social web today, the best way to engage many users is to draw them in on a personal level.  One of my all-time favorite viral videos “Where the Hell Is Matt?” (33 million views) does an amazing job at this.

One great example of this is the Pepsi Refresh project, which has (as of this writing) attracted 640,000 viewers. The project engages entrepreneurs around the country in submitting socially beneficial business plans.  The music and visuals suck you in and tell a motivating story.

This Nissan Sentra advertisement highlights the takes personalization to an new level, but actually showing the main character living out of his Nissan.  Young audiences could relate well to this.

3. Innovative campaigns draw their creativity from the intersection of 2 or more marketing devices. When one discovers the power of a new medium but leverages the legacy of an older medium, great things happen.  For example, Paranormal Activity was a run-away low-budget box-office smash, based on the incredible viral marketing the film used prior to theatrical introduction.  One key element of this was the combination of Twitter and viral video.  People “tweeted their screams”.

Here are several other, more recent, examples:

  • Groupon is combining crowd-sourcing with location-based marketing to craft campaigns that draw big crowds into locations for on-the-spot promotions
  • Volvo – teamed up with Double-Click to create innovative banner ads that incorporate live Twitter feeds
  • Ikea came up with a completely novel use for Facebook “tagging” by allowing users to claim prizes

The campaigns that are most innovative will come up with novel ways of combining 2 or more forms of existing marketing to arrive at new combinations.

4. Highly innovative marketing utilizes an element of surprise and delight , which crosses the expected with the unexpected.  The result is a campaign that people want to share among themselves and watch over and over.

  • Coke used this highly effective campaign to brand itself to happiness and fun – and who doesn’t want happiness and fun?
  • Burger King allowed people to “have it their way” by personalizing the experience, delighting and surprising their customers in the process
  • A favorite among the 20-something crowd is the Old Spice viral videos from 2009 which used surprise and humor to re-build the brand’s image.

These are four approaches to creating innovation in Marketing.  What other examples match up to these four findings?  What other sources of innovation defines the Marketing field?