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The Chief Marketing Officer is Dead

The Chief Marketing Officer is Dead | Age of Personalization |

The CMO position is dying for four reasons:

1] Most CMOs are not really immersed in marketing activities. By this I mean understanding, creating and delivering value to the customer. Too many CMOs focus on PR and communications rather than products or pricing, so as not to invade the space of the Chief Innovation Officer or the CFO.

2] CFOs have become more powerful because of tough trading conditions and short-term pressure from financial markets. The CFO is also winning the race to the very top—most CEOs now have a finance or engineering background, and few come from sales and marketing.

3] Marketing impact is often hard to measure. Marketing is more art than science. It's hard to know whether all those millions of dollars spent have led to an increase in real sales. And when a downturn comes, the marketing budget is often the first to be cut.

4] Nobody has a clear idea of what marketing is. Ask 20 senior managers in any company what marketing is, and you’ll get 20 different answers. By contrast, most people would agree on a definition of finance or production.

Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, CMOs can take the following practical steps to reclaim some of their lost power:

1] Get rid of the CMO title, because nobody understands it. Create the new title of CCO – Chief Customer Officer. This person must be the voice of the customer in the organization, taking views and messages from the market and spreading them internally. More and more companies have a CCO or a senior executive with a similar title, from to the Washington Post.

2] Get the CEO to be the CMO. Chief executives can drive the customer-centricity agenda better than anyone else, because they can shape a company's culture and drive the recruitment of customer-oriented people. Having the CEO as CMO also sends a strong message throughout the organization that the customer is front and center and that marketing is everybody's job.

3] Get the CFO on board too. Doing this requires taking some of the fuzziness out of marketing. CCOs need to be financially literate and produce hard numbers that show the return on investment from marketing.

4] Use customer knowledge to build influence. With backing from the big two in the C-suite, CCOs can use their customer knowledge to influence discussions of product design and pricing, and make a company's offerings more sensitive to the market.

Back in the 1950s, the management guru Peter Drucker wrote that a company has only two key functions – marketing and innovation – and that all other functions should support these. Sadly, paying attention to the customer is less and less common these days. The CCO can be the first step toward reversing this trend.

So – goodbye to the CMO, hello to the CCO.

Linda Holroyd's insight:

Long live the CCO!

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Age of Personalization
Marketing leadership while we are shifting from an Age of Information to an Age of Personalization, providing personalized services to discerning customers, leveraging technology.
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Four Ways To Get Headhunted

One of the most flattering things in the professional world is getting headhunted on behalf of a renowned company. If someone rings you out of the blue and takes an interest in you, it is a sure sign that you are doing all the right things in your current job.

When I started my first headhunting firm many years ago, almost every time I approached a candidate on behalf of a prestigious company their self-esteem would instantly be boosted.

It would be a very risky approach to sit back and purely wait to be headhunted but when great opportunities do present themselves over the course over a career it is always important to grasp them. Here are a few ways you can get yourself headunted.

Build a Brand

I have said before that to get yourself noticed within an industry you need to get out there and network. Attend the right events and talk to the right people. Sometimes CEOs may come directly to you if they remember a conversation you had at some sort of trade events - I have done this before. The key is to not be overly salesy when you meet people - listening is a huge part of networking - but still ensuring they know your quality and reputation. You may even wish to be published in some form – more experienced people in some industries tend to publish whitepapers, but if you are not at this stage you can write blogs specific to your sector. All of this will help boost your own brand.

Be Digitally Visible

The modern world almost revolves around the Internet and you need to ensure you have a strong presence here if you want to be contacted for the best opportunities. This means ensuring your LinkedIn profile is up to date and professional – new responsibilities should be constantly added on and any projects you have worked on should have their own section. You may also want to consider uploading your latest CV onto all the major job boards. Headhunters usually don’t look on here, but it’s good to be visible to recruiters the next level down as they still have highly sought after and lucrative roles. It’s amazing how many people don’t do this and still have their CV from two years ago posted up. Although recruiters may read between the lines and recognise that you’ve probably developed since then, they will also have a nagging doubt over your attention to detail.

Constantly Communicate

If you’ve been approached by a headhunter but the opportunity didn’t really pan out, that doesn’t mean you have to leave it at that. Stay in constant communication with them so you are fresh in their mind for other opportunities. It’s all about relationship building – let them know how you are getting on in your current job and what direction you’re looking to take. The contact book these people have is incredible, so the more connected you are to them, the more opportunities that can come your way. Also, if they have a vacancy which isn’t of interest to you, how about referring them to somebody you know who might be interested? The headhunter will trust you more, and when a better role comes up, you’ll be the first person they call.

Go the Extra Mile

It may seem simple and very obvious but the best way to get yourself noticed is to excel at what you do. Things like networking and brand building, which I mentioned earlier, are critical – but there is no substitute for actual output. Go the extra mile on projects and always look to take on responsibility. The harder you work and the better your output, the more word will get around.

As I said it would be dangerous to rely on being headhunted to move your career forward but there are still steps that can be taken to improve your profile and enhance your personal reputation.

Linda Holroyd's insight:

Enhance your brand, constantly communicate your message

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TargetingMantra scores $1.1 million to make more recommendations

TargetingMantra scores $1.1 million to make more recommendations | Age of Personalization |

“Target the customer” has become a mantra among marketers. Today, the appropriately named TargetingMantra announced it has closed $1.1 million in funding to expand its Amazon-like personalized targeting service.

The company’s omnichannel “one-stop” personalization suite is designed to show product recommendations, similar items and other relevant cross-selling opportunities to customers, based on user behavior.

The funding — from 500Startups, Nexus Venture Partners, and One97 Mobility Fund — will be used to further develop its offering, create new products, and boost business development and marketing. Previously, the company’s founders bootstrapped their operations.

Personalization is a common practice on Amazon, Netflix, and many other sites, and the company — with offices in both New Delhi, India, and Mountain View, California — is focusing on bringing that capability to e-commerce sites in India, Brazil, and Singapore, in addition to the U.S. market. The startups core team knows the drill well, since they previously worked on Amazon’s personalization team.

“We don’t offer a platform,” CEO and co-founder Saurabh Nangia told VentureBeat. “We offer a few slots on a page where we use machine learning to show recommendations.”

TargetingMantra, which has about 40 client companies so far, currently offers two dozen of their self-described “widgets,” and it integrates its service into any e-commerce site via an API. TargetingMantra said that, on average, its client companies “have seen a 19 percent increase in revenue, 17 percent increase in buyer conversion ratio, and 16 percent increase in order value.”

Given the many recommendation services out there, how does TargetingMantra differ?

Nangia pointed to “the omnichannel nature” of his company’s service, especially its emphasis on mobile. “In emerging markets, mobile commerce is catching up,” he told us, with over a third of all e-commerce in India soon expected to be conducted via mobile.

He also highlighted “the efficiency of the algorithm, using an ensemble of machine learning models” in TargetingMantra, while other services, especially for smaller companies, “rely on rule-based engines” that offer recommendations based on what marketing managers think.

“Ours is based on behavior,” he said.

The biggest competitor? Nangia cited, but noted that “they are focused on the U.S. market.”

Linda Holroyd's insight:

Personalization leveraging machine learning comes to e-commerce sites in India, Brazil, Singapore and US. 

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Best 10 Big Data Quotes of All Time | SmartData Collective

Best 10 Big Data Quotes of All Time | SmartData Collective | Age of Personalization |

Over the years of working in the field of analytics and big data I have collected thousands of quotes and snippets highlighting both the transformational nature of the phenomenon as well as many of the perils. A client has recently ask me to send him my top 10 big data quotes of all time and this is the list I came up with:

  1. “Big data is at the foundation of all the megatrends that are happening today, from social to mobile to cloud to gaming.” – Chris Lynch, Vertica Systems
  2. “Big data is not about the data” – Gary King, Harvard University, making the point that while data is plentiful and easy to collect, the real value is in the analytics.
  3. “There were 5 exabytes of information created between the dawn of civilization through 2003, but that much information is now created every 2 days.” – Eric Schmidt, of Google, said in 2010.
  4. “Information is the oil of the 21st century, and analytics is the combustion engine.” – Peter Sondergaard, Gartner Research
  5. “I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians, and I’m not kidding” – Hal Varian, Google
  6.  “You can have data without information, but you cannot have information without data.” Daniel Keys Moran, computer programmer and science fiction author
  7.  “Hiding within those mounds of data is knowledge that could change the life of a patient, or change the world.” – Atul Butte, Stanford School of Medicine
  8. “Errors using inadequate data are much less than those using no data at all.” Charles Babbage, inventor and mathematician
  9. “To call in the statistician after the experiment is done may be no more than asking him to perform a post-mortem – he may be able to say what the experiment died of.” – Ronald Fisher, biologist, geneticist and statistician
  10. “Without big data, you are blind and deaf in the middle of a freeway” – Geoffrey Moore, management consultant and theorist
Linda Holroyd's insight:

Great big data quotes compiled by Bernard Marr

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These maps show where the world’s youngest and oldest people live

These maps show where the world’s youngest and oldest people live | Age of Personalization |

What can the median age of a country tell you about its future?

Turns out, quite a bit. Using data from the CIA Factbook, we’ve created the graphics below to show you the median age of every country in the world.

There are 1.2 billion people between the ages of 15 and 24 in the world today — and that means that many countries have populations younger than ever before.

Some believe that this "youth bulge" helps fuel social unrest — particularly when combined with high levels of youth unemployment. Writing for the Guardian last year, John Podesta, director of the progressive Center for American Progress, warned that youth unemployment is a “global time bomb,” as long as today’s millennials remain “hampered by weak economies, discrimination, and inequality of opportunity.” 

The world’s 15 youngest countries are all in Africa. Of the continent’s 200 million young people, about 75 million are unemployed. The world’s youngest country is Niger, with a median age of 15.1, and Uganda comes in at a close second at 15.5.

On the flip side, an aging population presents a different set of problems: Japan and Germany are tied for the world’s oldest countries, with median ages of 46.1. Germany’s declining birth rate might mean that its population will decrease by 19 percent, shrinking to 66 million by 2060. An aging population has a huge economic impact: in Germany, it has meant a labor shortage, leaving jobs unfilled.

What do you think will be the long-term impact of the world's shifting demographics?

Linda Holroyd's insight:

What do these maps and figures tell you about the economic future of nations and continents?

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Meet the DynoSense, a personal 'thermometer on steroids'

Meet the DynoSense, a personal 'thermometer on steroids' | Age of Personalization |

At first glance, it looks like a funny white plastic ball with a thermometer tip strapped to it. But the DynoSense device is really more like a thermometer on steroids.

Announcing its launch today, the DynoSense device is a clinical and consumer-grade scanner that can track 33 body metrics in 60 seconds, such as temperature and heart rate. It also gives people and their medical care providers valuable information about their health.

The DynoSense is just as easy to use as a digital thermometer: Place it in your mouth, then hold it in place for 60 seconds while the device scans your vitals and the app serves up your metrics, which include a score and a grade. The score, a number between 0 and 100, tells you how how healthy the DynoSense thinks you are. The grade, a letter from A to F, tells you how your vitals and health rate fall within the context of your demographic group, as well as your environment. (For example, air quality can have an effect on your body, so the device takes that into an account.)

“The average user only cares about one or two things,” said DynoSense founder and chief executive Saeed Azimi in an interview with VentureBeat. Even though the device tracks all these metrics, the grade and score nicely boil them down for the average Joe simply looking for a quick checkup. Moreover, some users might be focused on a particular metric or two because of their particular health issues and not care as much about the others.

Eventually, the company plans for the device to track up to 80 different metrics.

If you are like me, you’ve naturally already thought of the Scanadu Scout, also a Tricorder-like device that promises to help you quickly scan your vitals by holding the small device to your temple. So how is the DynoSense different or better?

It comes down to the approaches the two devices take. Because the DynoSense measures your vitals orally, unlike the Scout, it can not only capture many more metrics, but also, according to Azimi, is more accurate.

DynoSense will mainly focus on a business-to-business approach, partnering with clinics, hospitals, and the like, although Azimi said that the device will also be made available for consumer purchase.

Keeping both sales approaches open is a wise move for the company. While medical are providers can certainly benefit from using the device on-site when examining patients, certain groups of people, such as patients with chronic diseases or who are elderly, need to be more aware in shifts of heart rate or blood pressure. The DynoSense will make it easier for them to track and manage their health.

The DynoSense will of course be connected to a mobile app that will display all its metrics, and the dashboard can be customized. Moreover, the device, whose base supports Wi-Fi and 3G, is HIPAA compliant and can transmit these numbers to a doctor. It will also be FDA compliant, and the company has already completed a series of clinical trials with a few clinics in the U.S. In one of those trials, 12 patients used the DynoSense for a whole week, and the device successfully detected and noted cases of arrhythmia and premature ventricular contractions (PVC).

DynoSense is currently closing talks to run a study with a clinic in China and expects to make test units available for interested organizations in about six months.

The company is opening up pre-orders for its device, priced at $199, and expects to ship in late summer 2015.

DynoSense previously raised about $700,000 in seed funding, mostly from Azimi. The company is in the process of raising its first round of funding and seeks about $6 million.

Linda Holroyd's insight:

If DynoSense could really track 33 body metrics such as temperature and heart rate in 60 seconds, and can connect patients with caregivers and doctors, what are the business implications for the future? How would this affect you personally?

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Early Internet of things startup Berg, maker of the 'Little Printer,' is shutting down

Early Internet of things startup Berg, maker of the 'Little Printer,' is shutting down | Age of Personalization |

Berg, an early player in the connected hardware game, today announced it has “not reached a sustainable business in connected products” and will shut down after operating for nine years.

London-based Berg shares that its former flagship product, the Little Printer — a rather cute Web-connected printer — will “run till March next year,” and will be kept alive by a “skeleton crew.” It appears the company’s goal is to sell or open-source the Little Printer’s underlying technology before then.

Although Berg received quite a bit of attention when its Little Printer debuted in 2011, the device fell out of the limelight after it formally launched a year later. The Little Printer initially launched with big-name partners like Foursquare, Google, the Guardian, and Nike.

Afterwards, Berg worked to expand its connected hardware business — an effort that ultimately didn’t work out. Prior to launching the Little Printer, Berg created Mag+, which it called “the first magazine platform for the iPad.”

Berg cautions, however, that it is going into “hibernation” and is “wrapping up for this incarnation,” leaving open the possibility that the company will relaunch or pivot after shuttering its existing operations. We’ve reached out to Berg for comment on the matter and will update this story when we hear back.

Linda Holroyd's insight:

Web-connected printer company to shut down after nine years - was the time just too early?

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Yahoo launches personalized content recommendation tool for publishers

Yahoo launches personalized content recommendation tool for publishers | Age of Personalization |

Look out Outbrain and Taboola, Yahoo is about to start eating your lunches with the company’s latest product launch.

Today Yahoo announced a new service for digital publishers called Yahoo Recommends, which provides digital publishers with a personalized content recommendation tool to keep readers engaged with content on a particular site. The new tools are notable because it marks the first time Yahoo’s marketplace has offered ad inventory and served ads beyond Yahoo-branded content sites, according to Yahoo SVP Mike Kerns.

Essentially, the tool will show readers links to additional related content (via a banner embedded into the website) or point them to content they’re likely to enjoy based on their current visit to the site. Yahoo will also include relevant ads — served by Yahoo Gemini — mixed in with those content recommendations, giving publishers a way to boost revenue.  It’s very similar to what Outbrain and Taboola already offer to several top digital publishers, including VentureBeat.

Publishers that want to use the Yahoo Recommends tool just need to register their content with Yahoo, then add a widget to their content pages. The tool is supposed to scale across both mobile and desktop, as well as offer publishers access to analytics on how ads and content recommendations are performing. The company already has a handful of notable publishers using the tool, including CBS Interactive and Vox Media.

Linda Holroyd's insight:

Publishers can use the Yahoo Recommends tool to link readers to point them to content they’re likely to enjoy, based on what they're already seeing. Will they give Outbrain and Taboola a run for their money? Yahoo already has a handful of notable publishers using the tool, including CBS Interactive and Vox Media.

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Who's On Warpath To Overtake Apple As The World's Most Valuable Company? | LinkedIn

Who's On Warpath To Overtake Apple As The World's Most Valuable Company? | LinkedIn | Age of Personalization |

The biggest IPO in history is coming to New York in September – one which will open the door on the world’s largest e-commerce market – China. The company? Alibaba, the Chinese retailer which, with a merchandise volume of $248bn, last year grossed more sales than Amazon and eBay combined.

So what’s so special about Alibaba, and can it go from being the biggest IPO (initial public offering) to being the most valuable company on earth?

(1) Alibaba 101 – What Is It?

Dubbed by the Wall Street Journal as "a mix of Amazon, eBay and PayPal with a dash of Google," Alibaba is the e-commerce giant which handles 80% of all online retail in China. It was founded in 1999 by Jack Ma, initially as a bridge between China and the rest of the world, a B2B platform connecting small Chinese manufacturers with buyers overseas. There is additionally a consumer-to-consumer site called (a bit like eBay), on which you can buy and sell any product imaginable. More recently it launched, a business-to-consumer portal that helps global brands such as Disney and Levi’s reach China’s middle classes (a bit like Amazon).

The scale is huge, and in just one day last year – a ‘Singles’ Day’ promotion held every year on November 11th – the firm’s sales exceeded $5.7 billion. The connecting glue that enables all these transactions is Alipay, developed – like eBay acquired and further developed PayPal – because of the lack of a trustworthy online payments system. Alipay has likewise been extended to enable people to pay their mobile and utility bills, and is now China’s biggest third-party payment tool. Alibaba has also supported the growth of the logistics industry in China, although a recent KPMG has highlighted that if Alibaba is to keep up with its explosive growth projections, an additional $2.5 trillion may need to be invested in buying land and constructing warehouses alone over the next 15 years.

(2) From Hangzhou To The New York Stock Exchange – The Biggest IPO Ever?

Alibaba wasn’t always going to list on the New York Stock Exchange. Initially, it tried to list in Hong Kong, lobbying the Securities and Futures Commission and the stock exchange to be allowed to have a partnership structure that would have let its top executives nominate the majority of board members (as is permissible on the NYSE). This was a particular issue for Jack Ma, who wanted to be able to keep full managerial control of his company, even when Japan’s Softbank and Yahoo! have respective 34.4% and 22.6% stakes. Under its agreement with Yahoo, Alibaba will be buying back 20% of Yahoo’s stake (for at least $7 billion), and Yahoo will have the right to trade-in a further 20% if Alibaba lists by Dec 2015.

Ma would rather accept a potentially lower market valuation and retain control of his company. This control has in the past led to contentious results, such as when, in 2010, he and a handful of associates spun out the Alipay division into a separate company, without Yahoo’s consent. Alibaba claimed that it needed to spin out Alipay and turn it into a domestic entity, to prevent delays in obtaining an operating license under newly issued Chinese regulations. Investors in the New York IPO should be aware that it does not include Alipay – and may also wish to reflect on the fact that, by comparison, PayPal currently represents 43% of eBay’s revenue.

Yet even without Alipay, at around $20bn, Alibaba still looks likely to be the largest IPO in US corporate history, and possibly in the world. This will imply an underlying market capitalization of at least $168bn. According to Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, it could actually be as high as $221bn. In a research note, he said, “We believe Alibaba could grow 40% in FY15 and 30% in FY16. We believe this would imply $15.3bn in revenue in Alibaba's FY16."

At a market cap of $221bn, Alibaba would be the 15th biggest company in the world (it would be the 33rd biggest at $168bn), even if at $15.3bn, it would only be the 257th biggest in terms of global revenue.

So with the bullish growth estimates going up and up, what are potential Alibaba investors actually speculating on? Cheung Kong Graduate School Of Business (CKGSB) professor Teng Bingsheng told Forbes Magazine: “This is a play on China and China’s internet sector, which has made a bigger impact than any other country in the world. In a metaphor that Jack Ma proposed, he was using a machine gun while traditional companies were still practicing martial arts.”

The Economist believes that “the ongoing shift from investment- to consumption-led growth means that firms that make it easy to sell directly to consumers should benefit disproportionately,” and that while, “internet penetration is still lower than in developed countries; China will surely catch up. One informed estimate holds that China’s e-commerce market could double by 2020, to over $600 billion.”

Yet as Alibaba Vice President Joe Tsai acknowledges, “Over 90% of our business is in China,” and this is currently very much a Chinese rather than a global growth play. He adds, “it’s actually natural that we start with China and use acquisitions and investments to complement our business growth. So I wouldn’t be surprised that we do most of our things in China. We’ll be very careful in expanding through acquisitions outside of China. Obviously there are cultural challenges.”

Other risk factors include Alibaba’s delay in going fully mobile, with the majority of its profits coming from its PC business. Facebook faced a similar challenge at the time of its IPO in 2012, although the majority of its revenue does now come from mobile. This is a particular concern given the rise of Tencent in China, and its mobile social-messaging app WeChat. This led The Economist to argue: “So successful is WeChat, at integrating social networking, payments, e-commerce and entertainment that it has been valued by some analysts at more than $60 billion, three times what Facebook paid for WhatsApp, another messaging service.”

3) Culture & Leadership: Ma The Chinese Dreamer & Warrior

As I discovered while researching my book ‘Dream to Last’, Chinese CEOs are fantastic at dreaming big, yet frequently lack the Western capacity of execution and innovation, which is needed to create truly great companies. Jack Ma is a notable exception. The first mainland Chinese entrepreneur to appear on the cover of Forbes Magazine, first to be named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time, and one of ‘Asia’s Heroes of Philanthropy’ by Forbes Asia, Ma’s success is attributed to his vision, perseverance and daring.

He is aiming high: “Set your sights high, the higher the better. Expect the most wonderful things to happen, not in the future but right now. Realize that nothing is too good. Allow absolutely nothing to hamper you or hold you up in any way.”

And like many Chinese CEOs, Ma is much more focused on the long-term rather than next quarter’s earnings. Just three days after the company filed for its US IPO, Ma led a ‘mass wedding’ for Alibaba employees on May 9 in Hangzhou. There were 102 married couples, to resonate with the 102 years that Ma has said Alibaba shall survive. His blessing went: “The length of our marriage is 102 years, and we have 87 years left. After 87 years you can marry someone else. But within these 87 years, you cannot change your mind.”

When I questioned Ma at a China conference in 2008 whether it was better for companies to build winning families rather just making money, he responded that, “people are responsible for their own families but companies should build a sense of shared community”. He is attempting to build a sense of this into the corporate culture, with employees having a stake in the company. In 2011, Alibaba set up an interest-free mortgage fund called ‘iHome’, and already, 4,000 employees have received over $150m in loans.

And in 1999, Ma also listed another 17 people as co-founders in the company; people who had been his English students where he was teaching at university. Vice President Joe Tsai comments: “What really, really struck me, was that it wasn’t justJack himself, or it was himself with another one or two guys. It was Jack already was with a group of followers. Basically these were his students… I just saw this energy. They were working very hard. They seemed happy. They had that glimmer in their eyes. And I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is a guy who can really get people together. He’s a great leader. He can really build something’… Jack gave away a very substantial part of his equity to the founding team. That’s Jack. I think that is unique. You don’t see that in other places… Jack was all about being open and sharing from day one. I was quite amazed.”

Management gurus often talk about a “flattened hierarchy”, but again Ma is making it work in practice. He recognizes the need for individual recognition. On Day 1, all Alibaba employees have to come up with nicknames for themselves. COO Daniel Zhang’s nickname is Xiao Yao Zi, meaning ‘free and unfettered man’. He goes by ‘Old Xiao’. Ma’s nickname is Feng Qing Yang, which, according to The Financial Times, “comes from a reclusive swordsman character who was unpredictable and aggressive.” Ma acknowledges that he has a warrior spirit, commenting, “I had always wished that I was born in a period of war. I could have been a general. I thought about what I could have achieved in war.”

Finally, Ma has a social conscience, commenting, “We do not do business for survival, we are trying to positively impact the world. Society has given me so much, too much. What I can do is repay society.” His humble origins shape his guiding mission, as he reflects, “Others can imitate my management model, but they can never endure the hardships I have experienced, nor have my passion persistently to push forward.” Like Bill Gates, Ma has announced that he will give several billion dollars to finance, environmental, medical, and educational projects. He has been named chairman of the board of the Nature Conservancy in China.

He hopes that he can lift Chinese society, reflecting: “Just as the internet is revolutionising retail, we at Alibaba believe it will eventually do the same to fundamentally information-driven industries such as finance, education and healthcare. Once this change happens – once we are all connected – I believe the spirit of equality and transparency at the heart of the internet will make it possible for Chinese society to leapfrog in its development of a stronger institutional and social infrastructure… Our water has become undrinkable, our food inedible, our milk poisonous and worst of all the air in our cities is so polluted that we often cannot see the sun. 20 years ago, people in China were focusing on economic survival. Now, people have better living conditions and big dreams for the future. But these dreams will be hollow if we cannot see the sun.”

4) Global Battle: So Who Will Be The Most Valuable Company In The World?

In a world still adjusting to the loss of Steve Jobs, it is refreshing to find a such spirited and visionary entrepreneur in Jack Ma. In the next century, I believe that the truly great companies will be those which can successfully build global presence – succeeding both in China and the West – and continuing to do breakthrough innovation at scale.

Many Western companies have gone into China and failed – or, like Google, Facebook and Twitter – have been blocked out by the Chinese government. This has led to much ‘copycat innovation’ – with domestic players such as Baidu, RenRen and Sina Weibo filling the vacuum in search and social networking.

Rather than winning by default, what’s interesting about Alibaba is that, on a more level playing field, it managed to take on its Western equivalent, eBay, at home and win. Under Meg Whitman, eBay squandered an 85% market in e-commerce in China, after Alibaba launched its Taobao site. In a series of publicity stunts not unlike those of Virgin’s Richard Branson, Ma assumed the mantle of the underdog, proclaiming: “eBay may be a shark in the ocean, but I am a crocodile in the Yangzi river. If we fight in the ocean, we lose; but if we fight in the river, we win.”

Screenshot: ‘Crocodile in the Yangtze’ film

Former employee, Porter Erisman, told The New York Times. ““With eBay he liked looking foolish and stupid. From a Wall Street investors’ perspective, he was willing to run Alibaba into the ground to defeat eBay – the only thing worse than a smart competitor is a crazy one who is willing to just spend all their money with no hope of making a profit.”

Yet while Alibaba can win at home, there are not yet enough signs that it can “Open Sesame” on the markets of the West. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is already doing a excellent job of running a hypergrowth company that prioritizes giving customers the lowest possible prices at the lowest possible margins, over and above generating Wall Street profits.

CKGSB Professor Teng Bingsheng reminds us that, “Alibaba started as a bridge between China and the rest of the world. It was an import and export platform for the small to mid-sized importers in other parts of the world to find Chinese exporters.” With 90% of Alibaba’s revenues in China, for potential investors in the IPO, this is indeed a Chinese rather than a global play. When asked if Alibaba can repeat its success internationally, Bingsheng says, “Probably not any time soon... For the time being, Alibaba will probably focus on its e-commerce platform in China and maintain this bridge between the East and West.”

Against this backdrop, the world’s current most valuable company – Apple – is doing pretty well in China. Yes, Apple does software and services, but by being primarily a hardware device maker, it has managed to avoid some of the freedom of expression and big data pitfalls of other Silicon Valley companies entering China. With a premium brand appealing to fashion-conscious Chinese consumers, in 2013, Apple did $37.9bn of business in China, 4.5 times Alibaba’s current annual revenue. And with a long-awaited deal now completed to sell iPhones through China Mobile, the world’s largest cellular operator, last quarter Apple saw Chinese revenues jump 28%.

So Alibaba is currently a great bet on China, whose sheer domestic scale alone gives it a prospect – but no certainty – of becoming the most valuable company in the world. However, there is one domestic competitor in particular which could still steal Alibaba’s thunder. With a market cap of 1.2tn Hong Kong dollars ($166bn US), Tencent is an excellent company, with a similar market cap to that expected of Alibaba.

Tencent founder Pony Ma famously once said “To copy is not evil”, yet Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group, has said of Tencent: “The problem with Tencent is there is no innovation, and all things are copied.”

Well, contradict this: Tencent’s WeChat messaging app has over 100m international users, and is one of the first examples of the kind of leapfrog innovation that’s likely to come from China to the West, rather than vice versa. With over a billion users overall, Tencent is already set to overtake Facebook’s 1.2bn users. So Jack Ma should keep a intense eye on Tencent.

Jack Ma came up with the name Alibaba while sitting in a coffee shop in San Francisco, because, “e-commerce is global, so we needed a name that was globally recognized”. He said he asked a waitress whether she recognized the name and she said yes. In battle to become the biggest company of the 21st century, Alibaba is set up to be up in the top 5 or 6, alongside TencentAmazonGoogle, and possibly eBay.

The overall winner will be the one that can be a true global player in the West, China and emerging markets, and become a real bridge between China and the West. For this company, it will be vital that the leadership at top ensures it continues to innovate, execute flawlessly and maintain integrity and connection with stakeholders.

Alibaba is in with a strong shout to overcome Apple as the world’s premier company, if it can continue to make the right big calls. As it moves towards IPO, Alibaba has been on a buying spree of smaller Western companies to attempt to bolster its global presence, but, as it matures and its organic growth continues, it’s going to have to make sure that a more global outlook from its Hangzhou heaquarters, and continued innovation, are firmly implanted in its DNA.

The world’s premier company will continue to be right on the tough calls to. In particular, I would bet that Jack Ma, like Steve Jobs, will be prepared to fight to the last to ensure his company succeeds. With the iPhone 6 and possible iWatch launch on Tuesday Sept. 9th, we’ll learn more this week about Apple’s innovation pipeline, and how much fight it has left in it… for the moment, Tim Cook seems to be on the backfoot.

Linda Holroyd's insight:

Can Alibaba be a bridge between China and the West? Will they continue to innovate and execute flawlessly, while maintaining integrity and connection with stakeholders?

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Rocket Internet consolidates 5 of its retailers into a $3.5B global e-commerce giant

Rocket Internet consolidates 5 of its retailers into a $3.5B global e-commerce giant | Age of Personalization |

Rocket Internet, the German company best known for quickly churning out clones of successful online businesses, has announced that it will create an e-commerce giant by merging five of its existing regional e-commerce services.

The new company, named GFG, will be made up of Dafiti (Latin America), Jabong (India), Lamoda (Russia & CIS), Namshi (Middle East), and Zalora (South East Asia & Australia), the company announced. The new business will have a global reach, although the regional sub-divisions will retain individual business models, inventories, branding, and so on, in order to best serve their respective regional markets.

This merger will bring improved efficiency and sharing of resources and expertise, Rocket Internet said. Here’s more from its announcement this morning:

The five GFG companies combine a unique expertise of developing leading online brands (e.g. Dafiti in Brazil), building the necessary infrastructure including where necessary last mile delivery networks (e.g. Lamoda Express in Russia), creating leading private label brands (e.g. “Lara Karen” and “Sangria” by Jabong in India and ”ZALORA” and “Ezra” by Zalora in South East Asia) and delivering best-in-class mobile applications (e.g. Namshi in Middle East).

The combination will improve global best practice sharing across functions, deliver economies of scale in sourcing international brands and marketing with global media channels, strengthen the private label efforts, enhance GFG’s ability to attract and retain top talent, accelerate development of technology platforms, and enable GFG to acquire a leadership position in growth market fashion e-commerce.

Put together, the five business have a combined valuation of €2.7 billion (approximately $3.5 billion), 4.6 million customers, and more than 7,000 employees.

This is a strategic move as Rocket Internet has long been rumored to be to eyeing an IPO. Fellow German e-commerce site Zalando announced yesterday its plans to list on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange later this year. The two companies share Investment AB Kinnevik as an investor.

Linda Holroyd's insight:

German company to merge 5 successful online businessesDafiti (Latin America), Jabong (India), Lamoda (Russia & CIS), Namshi (Middle East), and Zalora (South East Asia & Australia)

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Innovation Excellence | 15 Examples of Open Innovation between Big Companies & Startups

Innovation Excellence | 15 Examples of Open Innovation between Big Companies & Startups | Age of Personalization |

Open innovation is a strategic game for big companies and one of the most important moves to consider for their innovation leaders is the allocation of focus and resources in the context of open innovation.

Here we need to consider that big companies like GE, Cisco or Microsoft tend to have 8-12 different value pools (think suppliers, startups, customers or universities) to consider for their open innovation efforts.

The challenge is that even companies that are good at open innovation only seems to be able to handle 3-4 value pools properly at the same time.

I have no doubt that the value pool of start-ups and entrepreneurs is highly relevant value pool for most big companies and there are lots of initiatives that underscore my reflections.

Just check out this list of corporate (open) innovation initiatives aimed towards startups. Let me know if you can add others!

GE: This is one of my favourite companies. A few years back, GE ran a string of Ecoimagination challenges aimed at start-ups, they have lots of initiatives focused on the startup heavy Maker community and now they have also launched a new, interesting initiative called FirstBuild.

On the latter, you should check this article: GE launches ‘microfactory’ to co-create the future of manufacturing

Cisco: The Entrepreneurs in Residence program allows Cisco to invite early-stage entrepreneurs with big ideas for enterprise solutions to join their startup incubation program. This includes access funding from Cisco, potential opportunities to collaborate with their product & engineering teams, co-working space in Silicon Valley and much more.

You can also check out this blog post: Open innovation: Harnessing the ideas, talent and passion of the startup eco-system

Samsung: Check out the Samsung Accelerator, which provides entrepreneurs with access to Samsung decision-makers, information, and distribution channels.

This interview with the VP of Samsung’s Open Innovation Center, Mark Sherdorff, is worth a read: Dancing Giants: Samsung’s Open Innovation Center

You can also visit the Open Innovation page for the Samsung Semiconductor division to get an idea of the differences in approaches within Samsung business units.

Telefonica: Wayra by Telefonica has been around for three years, and today, it is present in 11 countries across Latin America and Europe. It seems to be very well organised and it is very active with more than 300 startups engaged so far.

Coca-Cola: Coca-Cola wants to tap into entrepreneurs and their initiative is called the Coca-Cola Accelerator program. It is not so easy to find information on their efforts, but I have met some people at Coca-Cola working on this and it could become quite interesting.

Citrix: This accelerator is a seed-stage program with continuous enrolment that includes funding, a deep advisory panel, office space in Silicon Valley, close collaboration, and a focus on enterprise market validation.

Microsoft: Microsoft has brought most of their innovation initiatives towards entrepreneurs together under the Microsoft Ventures organisation. This includes BizSpark, which I mention here although it not as focused on startups as other initiatives as it is based on offering free software and support.

However, Microsoft also did some interesting things with their Accelerator for Kinect program a few years ago and we might see more like this in the near future.

Shell: Budding entrepreneurs within the energy industry (and even beyond) can get in touch with the GameChanger program at Shell. Here a team of 12 dedicated technical and scientific experts has the benefits of support from Shell while also being allowed the freedom to make their own decisions.

Turner/Warner Bros: Media Camp is a comprehensive three months accelerator program that educates entrepreneurs and enables them to build innovative media businesses.

Google: The Google for Entrepreneurs program includes a global community called Startup Grind.

DSM: Corporate venturing and open innovation seems to be linked closer and closer together and this is the case at DSM Venturing, where investing in emerging companies is considered as a key part of their overall outside-in open innovation activities.

Orange: The Orange Fab is a start-up accelerator aimed at helping start-ups by giving access to Orange assets.

You can also find lots of corporate innovation outposts in Silicon Valley, which have a strong element of interaction with startups. Some examples:

• Target Technology Innovation Center – San Francisco

• Walmart Labs

• Ford Silicon Valley Lab

Let me know if you can add other noteworthy initiatives in which large companies engage specifically with startups. Input is much appreciated!

Linda Holroyd's insight:

Clever ways BIG companies are investing in entrepreneurs and innovation

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What Will Really Happen in the Dirty War between Uber and Lyft

What Will Really Happen in the Dirty War between Uber and Lyft | Age of Personalization |
Before I launch into this topic I want to be transparent that my company is an Uber competitor here in Paris. Even though my goal in writing is to be as frank and open as I can, I'm still surely biased. So please take what I say with a grain of salt.

By several objective measures Uber is the fastest-growing company in the history of business. Humans have been engaging in commerce since before Fred Flintstone drove his car barefoot with Barney in the passenger seat, and in all that time there has never been a single enterprise that has grown faster. Competing with Uber's budget for customer discounts and driver bonuses is not the easiest thing I've ever done, but that is life. They raised $1.2 billion fair and square and will do what they think is best with it.

It looks like they are. I mentioned in an article two weeks ago that Uber and Lyft were trying to kill each other by outspending to get chauffeurs. Two weeks ago THIS came out. Then last week THIS (best of the lot). And then this. And now this one, which in my opinion is pretty accurate about how things may play out in the long term.

Even if none of it is illegal, sordid tales of Uber building a swarm of spies and setting them upon unsuspecting competitors' chauffeurs are starting to pile up and a lot of people are disgusted. The once magnanimous pigs have turned into...well...humans. Funny that we think that's bad.

It wasn't long ago that Uber was the savior, rescuing the world from the evil taxis. There to bring you home when you were drunk, to impress that girl, or to get from one business meeting to another. Dirty cars, rude drivers, shady pricing, and not being able to get a car when you wanted one were a thing of the past.

They and other players in each market have helped expose the arcane laws that governed taxi service territories, fought the illegality of car services picking up people on the street, introduced efficient and transparent pricing, and drove up overall service quality. Monopolies are never good at any of those things and Uber helped slow or at least provide an alternative to all of them (by the way, so has SnapCar, if you read the Economist). In my book that is to be lauded.

But these tactics they're employing now sound pretty bad. Cloak and dagger stunts that leave you saying "They spent money to do that?" Although from the inside I can tell you the tactics really aren't as bad as it's been described, many people are now convinced the public is turning against Uber, and that the backlash will really hurt the company.

Don't believe it.

What will really happen from this is:

  1. You now know more about Lyft than you ever did before, and that's driving up demand for their services. Do you know how happy Lyft is right now?
  2. More people are talking about Uber than ever before. Did you actually think that was even possible?
  3. Now that drivers are more aware of the lengths Uber will go to have them, surely more of them will go there. And Uber will pay them well, at least for as long as the money lasts. That's not a bad thing for drivers, is it?
  4. Those additional drivers will provide Uber with more supply than ever. So the next time someone checks for a ride, there's likely to be an available driver closer to you. Not such a bad thing, right?
  5. You'll be more aware of Uber than ever before, and so on a Wednesday morning at 3am, or after you've watched a live game featuring the world's greatest catcher, when you need to get to your last customer meeting of the week, or just when you want to go wherever, you might think of Sidecar, Hailo, or TaxiMagic. But I seriously doubt it.

Because as Oscar Wilde said: "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."

You'll think of Uber. And Lyft. Which is exactly how they want it.

About two years ago during a marketing chat with my co-founder I said "Like most Americans I believe in the adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity. We should use whatever tactics we can to garner attention - even if they're illegal - because people love scandal (and while we're at it, they also love Long Duk Dong: like you, grandpa just wants his automobile). those who are thinking about you might become your clients. Those who don't never will be."

"You don't get far in the long term by being unethical", he replied. "You get far by providing people with something that they love."

But what if you do both? How do people react then? Do ethics matter? I guess that's up to you, dear rider...I mean reader.

One thing is sure though: sometimes - like when pigs fight humans in a novel - it's hard to know which side is on the good side and which side is on the bad. Or even which is which.

Linda Holroyd's insight:

The war between UBER and Lyft will help launch an industry, and also the concept of deputizing contractors to serve local markets. 

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Where foreign STEM students study ... and spend their money

Where foreign STEM students study ... and spend their money | Age of Personalization |

Many of Silicon Valley’s most respected companies, from Google to Paypal, were founded by immigrants. In the race to capture the top talent, each state has been slinging various incentives at ambitious and foreign-born students. The Brookings Institute is out with a thorough new study and interactive guide to where foreign students choose to live, study, and spend their money.

Foreign students with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degree aspirations overwhelmingly come from the Asian powerhouses in India and China. Hyderabad, India, sent 20,000 students with a student (F-1) visa, and Beijing placed a close 2nd at 19,000. But with 426,000 STEM-minded foreign students in total, no one country dominates the talent pool.

Where students live

It should be no surprise that foreign students congregate in the largest metro areas: New York ranks #1 with 101,000 F-1 visas. When combined, San Francisco and San Jose combined have about 57,000 students, which outranks Boston’s over 53,000 students.

Interestingly enough, as a percent of total STEM students, Texas and Florida are hot destinations. 80 percent of the Beaumont, Texas, area are tech-minded students. This appears to be connected to generous incentives given by the cities and universities.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles ranks 2nd in students majoring in business and marketing. The report finds that the University of Southern California has both the highest number of total foreign students of any school and has a unique international business MBA. USC students actually do consulting for foreign companies, with large companies paying $22,000 for this consulting service and associated travel expenses.

It appears that many foreign students have a plan to make money before they immigrate.

Spending money

If it wasn’t already clear, foreigners add to the US economy. Over the last decade, the share of upper middle income and upper income students have soared. These relatively well-off students “contributed approximately $21.8 billion in tuition and $12.8 billion in other spending — representing a major services export — to those metropolitan economies over the five-year period,” according to Brookings. “The New York metro area ranked first for total tuition ($2.6 billion) and living expenses ($1.6 billion) received from its 102,000 foreign students.”

Ithaca, New York, gets the biggest chunk of change for each students, at $58,000 for tuition and living expenses.

Unfortunately, Congress won’t be moving on any major immigration reform this year. So any policies to encourage more high-spending STEM students will have to wait until at least next year, if not longer.

The report itself has more for information that we can present in this post. You can play with the interactive graphs at the Brookings website here.

Linda Holroyd's insight:

The number of middle and upper income foreign STEM students have soared. Most come from Asia and India and land in Silicon Valley. 

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Teaching established industries new cloud tricks | #vmworld | SiliconANGLE

Teaching established industries new cloud tricks | #vmworld | SiliconANGLE | Age of Personalization |

Capgemini S.A. is focused on helping customers transition into a new age of technology tools. In combination with VMware, Inc., Capgemini is seeking to help customers enhance their businesses through social, mobile, analytics, or the cloud. These services, and implementing them with customers, is Capgemini’s “sweet spot.”

Sheryl Chamberlain, Capgemini VP and Global Partner Executive, sat down with Dave Vellante and John Furrier on theCUBE at VMworld 2014 to discuss Capgemini methodology and upcoming trends in the tech world.


Open source drives collaboration and new ventures


Capgemini takes a customer-centric approach, Chamberlain said. First, they listen to what the business is trying to achieve from data and analytics. Then, then go to their tech partners and figure out what solutions will best serve their customers.

New open source technologies, in addition to an atmosphere of openness, have opened up what Chamberlain called a “new world of collaboration.” Momentum, she mentioned, has been building around open source the Internet of Things. A few questions that Chamberlain has been collaboratively investigating include: “How can we use the information that we’re getting as we’re using our devices?” And “how can we integrate the next generation of success?”

Read more after the video.


Big industries using new tech to solve old problems


Capgemini is transforming along with their customers. While it’s maintained focus on the stack, Chamberlain said that Capgemini noticed that “customers are consuming smaller amounts of technology.” Many customers have already made transformative changes to their infrastructure, and are now trying to solve specific business problems. Capgemini is concentrating on helping businesses figure out how to best leverage the data they’re collecting from customers.

Some of the concrete ways Capgemini facilitating customer change are through Cloudification and SaaSification. Capgemini becomes part of business teams that make the decision-making process when changes occur.


Use case: Agriculture

Chamberlain used an agriculture company as an example. “They need to understand what’s going on in the field.” Capgemini can help that customer understand trends, like “when water will be more important or not important.” By facilitating data analysis, Chamberlain said that Capgemini can help the company figure out how to get more crops out of the land in the most effective way.


Use case: Retail

She also cited the retail business as an industry hungry for transformative technology because brick-and-mortar retailers now have to compete with online stores. A shoe company, Chamberlain posited, might be able to use an app to eliminate the waiting process and gain a better, faster understanding of their inventory. That way, in-store customers get faster answers to their questions and access to more knowledgeable customer service.


Next stop: Brazil

Shifting gears, Vellante asked Chamberlain to comment on Capgemini’s investment in Brazil. Capgemini considers Brazil to be a center of excellence because it is blossoming with new industries and new markets. Top Brazilian companies are looking for innovative technology, which is exactly what Capgemini finds most exciting.

Linda Holroyd's insight:

Love the concept: Saasification and Cloudification of traditional markets ripe for tech adoption

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How Starbucks Keeps Innovating

This post originally appeared on Bloomberg View.

A recent visit to a hectic Starbucks store near Times Square in New York reminded me of one of the great achievements of real entrepreneurship and inspired innovation: taking an existing technology and turning it into something much more transformational in meeting -- and often forming -- the demands and needs of customers.

Many pathbreakers in business, such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft, succeed by creating something completely new. Their impressive deployment of one disruptive technology after another has comprehensively redefined existing industries and created new segments. They have empowered people and enhanced living standards around the world.

Less obvious -- and sometimes counterintuitive -- are the companies that take an existing activity and turn it into something much more consequential. Think of how Cirque du Soleil has revolutionized the circus experience. And how Starbucks, with more than 21,000 stores in 65 countries, has redefined coffee drinking, not only in the U.S. but also around the world, including Europe where skepticism was most intense. On recent trips to Europe, I couldn’t help but notice the brisk business the company's increasing number of outlets conduct there (although, admittedly, I tended to stick to the more traditional cafes for my own daily consumption).

Now the challenge for Starbucks is to keep innovating as a dominant player in the industry. From the perspective of an outsider like me, it is succeeding through approaches that intelligently target different client segments. Three stand out.

First, Starbucks is doing more than just expanding and adapting its product line to enhance the experience of the coffee drinkers who constitute its core client base. It is also looking to improve their purchase experience in other ways. Last week, it announced that it would introduce new formats that would reduce client wait times.

Second, it is experimenting with more products to tempt those who use its stores as an ad hoc office during the day. Only last week I discovered that the place where I occasionally work while waiting for my daughter to finish an after-school activity now serves popcorn. It is not easy to resist the combination of reliable free Wi-Fi, a customized drink and popcorn munchies. You can even get beer and wine later in the day at some locations.

Third, it is employing user-driven customization to expand its reach among groups such as teenagers and tweens -- something that I discovered a few months ago when my daughter introduced me to the “Starbucks secret menu” (which, by the way, contains lots of drinks with no caffeine).

Not everyone admires Starbucks. Those who dislike the company and its influence can become quite entrenched in their opposition. One of our local coffee houses actually developed an identity almost synonymous with being anti-Starbucks.

Yet regardless of how you feel about the company, it is hard to ignore how it is constantly innovating on the foundation of an old “technology.” Its approach is instructive for many other industries. Just imagine how many are waiting to be beneficially disrupted by this type of entrepreneurship.

Linda Holroyd's insight:

Starbucks, innovative? Well, it's making the process easier to purchase, it's expanding its product line based on the needs of the customer, and it's targeting new user groups like teens and tweens with customized menus

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Fastly grabs $40M on its quest to build a big, cool content-distribution network

Fastly grabs $40M on its quest to build a big, cool content-distribution network | Age of Personalization |

Fastly, a startup looking to challenge the biggest companies in the business of distributing content around the world for quick online access, has brought on $40 million in fresh money.

Announced today, the funding will assist Fastly in expanding its infrastructure internationally, with an emphasis on Japan, Australia, and Europe in general, founder and chief executive Artur Bergman said in an interview with VentureBeat. Rather than compete on price, Fastly likes to drum up business by being, well, fast.

“Customers are happy to pay for that,” Bergman said.

The content-distribution network (CDN) market has proven interesting for investments and acquisitions.

Verizon last year acquired EdgeCast. CDN and security provider CloudFlare announced a $50 million round late last year. Apple has started serving web requests through its own CDN, which could be useful when it’s time download an operating-system update. Meanwhile, CDN giant Akamai has hung around.

Fastly aims to stand out by storing customers’ content on speedy solid-state drives and delivering it over 10-gigabit Ethernet. It even employs software-defined networks based on Arista switching hardware that can help Fastly “choose the best path out into theInternet,” Bergman said, and ultimately deliver content more quickly than it could without such techniques.

Above: The Fastly team.

Image Credit: Fastly

Before starting Fastly in 2011, Bergman was chief technology officer at community site-hosting company Wikia, where he disliked the CDN service the company was receiving from a major provider. So Bergman took to building his own. Now Wikia is a Fastly customer, along with Disqus, GitHub, Kickstarter, Pinterest, and Twitter.

And Fastly has provided CDN as an underlying layer of services from startups like Firebase and Imgix.

Bergman said Firebase’s use of Fastly, which entails storing static client-side content on Fastly’s widespread global infrastructure, is “a good example of the kind of customer that’s trying to push the envelope of what you can do with a CDN and move as much of what would normally be origin to the edge.”

Fastly introduced a streaming-media service last year.

August Capital led the new round in San Francisco-based Fastly, which employs around 115. IDG Ventures, Battery Ventures, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, and Amplify Partners also participated.

To date the startup has raised more than $50 million, Bergman said.

Linda Holroyd's insight:

Here's to getting the right content to the right audience FAST

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How to hire unicorns (aka tech-savvy marketers)

How to hire unicorns (aka tech-savvy marketers) | Age of Personalization |

Most traditional marketers don’t know how to beef up their digital skills, a recent Adobe study found. But marketing is becoming more and more digital, which means that finding the right people to manage marketing automation, multivariate campaigns, or digital attribution campaigns isn’t always easy.

Especially when hiring managers are looking for dual-expertise unicorns.

“Ideally, marketing technologists have exposure to both marketing and development,” says Erica Seidel, who runs The Connective Good, an agency specializing in marketing tech hires, and recently wrote a study on the mar-tech talent land grab. “Many of them have started in software development roles and have migrated into marketing. Others have more of a marketing heritage but have always been drawn to the latest technologies.”

It’s those two disparate skills that makes hiring hard … as well as the fact that there too few candidates out there.

“We do seem to have a shortage,” Seidel told me via email. “I like to talk about BATS talent – people who have skills across Business, Analytics, Technology, and Storytelling. It is rare to find someone who hits it out of the park in all these areas.” While the demand just keeps going up, Seidel says, there are also more and more marketing technologies being “minted” as well.

Seidel encourages executives to think in terms of hiring teams. So if you can’t find the unicorn who is both a marketer and a technologist, ensure that your marketing department hires several people instead, ones who have multiple sets of skills in marketing, analytics, databases, integrations, customer journey, and more.

Of course, there’s a downside to that tactic.

“Some orgs are hiring more people than they otherwise would, even though it can feel and be bloated and expensive,” Seidel says. “The benefit is it introduces extra capacity.”

In fact, one organization she worked with even hired accountants — yes, plural — into junior marketing roles, with the logic that anyone who could track dollars through financial systems could also track spend, ROI, click-through, and all the other metric minutiae that have become so critically important in data-driven marketing.

Getting the marketing technologist unicorn who possesses all or most of the needed skills in one body can be so challenging that some organizations, such as SapientNitro, have created their own marketing technology “universities.”

Others look for social science grads who also have something of a background in coding, Seidel says.

Perhaps the biggest need, however, is not current skill set. Rather, it’s future focused:

“Apart from skills, the biggest wish list item for marketing technologists was not an aptitude but rather an attitude characteristic: the ability to learn.”

Linda Holroyd's insight:

I never heard of calling tech-savvy marketeers unicorns, but imagine that the market is huge and growing

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FlightCar nabs $13.5M to employ your car instead of parking it at an airport

FlightCar nabs $13.5M to employ your car instead of parking it at an airport | Age of Personalization |

A parked car at an airport is an untapped resource, and startups love untapped resources. One startup, FlightCar, puts your unused car to work while you travel, and it has just scored $13.5 million to continue doing so.

CEO and co-founder Rujul Zaparde recalled to VentureBeat that he was sitting with co-founder and president Kevin Petrovic in the winter of 2012, talking about Airbnb.

“If your most valuable asset is your home,” he said they reasoned, “the second is your car.”

“Then we put two and two together,” he told us, coming up with a service that started in February of last year at San Francisco’s airport and has now reached the main airports of Boston and Los Angeles. The new funding, a Series A round lead by GGV Capital, will be used for expansion to Seattle and other airports. The company reports 30,000 members, including both car owners and the car renters.

Although they are now matchmakers between idle cars and needy drivers, the co-founders have only been legally driving for a few years. Zaparde, who is 19, deferred attending Harvard in the fall of 2012 to launch this company. Co-founder and president Kevin Petrovic is 20 and similarly told Princeton that school would have to wait.

“Let’s say you’re going on a five-day trip next week,” Zaparde told us. If you’re traveling by air, you list your car online with Flightcar, pull into its 24/7 parking lot near the airport, and get checked in by an attendant.

A town car service takes you to your gate. When you return, you click on the FlightCar app to get picked up and taken back to the lot. Your car, he said, is waiting, cleaned inside and washed on the outside. You’ve gotten five days of free parking, plus a fee for use of your car.

From the point of view of renters — who are pre-screened — the company guarantees a car in the class requested or larger. If for some reason a suitable car is not available, FlightCar will take the renter to a rental car agency, “and we’ll pay the difference,” Zaparde said. “It’s happened, but it’s extremely rare.”

The renter pays anywhere from $39 per day for a one-day rental to $19 per day for a five-day rental, for the least expensive and smallest car. That includes up to one hundred miles a day. After that, it’s 45 cents per mile.

The car owner gets five to 20 cents a mile up to 75 miles and 40 cents for each mile over. So a car driven for 100 miles could make the owner up to $35 a day, plus free parking and a car wash. The company reports that most cars are driven less than 40 miles daily, and each rented car has up to $1 million in insurance.

What if you get back from your trip, drive your car away, and find out the next day it has a problem it never had before?

Zaparde said FlightCar will cover “any sort of damage, internal or external” except air conditioning issues, with no deductible. An owner has three days from picking up the car to report any issue.

“If there is a significant issue, we’ll have an independent mechanic look at it, and if it’s not just wear and tear and is not the air conditioning, we’ll cover it in full,” he said. During repair, a loaner car is offered.

Besides GGV Capital, existing investors General Catalyst Partners, SoftBank Capital, and First Round Capital also participated in this round. Previous investors include Comcast Ventures, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky, Ryan Seacrest, and Ashton Kutcher.

Linda Holroyd's insight:

AirBnB for your car - but how many would sign up to have their car rented out?

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Apple's New Watch: No One Predicted It Would Be This Cool | LinkedIn

Apple's New Watch: No One Predicted It Would Be This Cool | LinkedIn | Age of Personalization |

A relaxed, confident and effervescent Tim Cook wowed the Apple faithful with the long-awaited, heavily-hyped (though, as I’ll argue later, underhyped) Apple Watch. Cook's almost childlike enthusiasm seems entirely justified: Based on first impressions, Apple Watch has the potential to be yet another transformative device for the company. It’s the ammunition needed to put to rest the Haunted Empire/Apple-After-Steve-Is-Dead meme if not once and for all, at least until this time next year when the restless tech press will almost certainly ask: "What have you done for me lately?"

Apple Watch — not iWatch — puts the brand front and center in a sophisticated piece of personal technology that has been smoldering, but hasn't caught fire. Pebble really got the niche going when its Kickstarter campaign broke all records. But while Pebble has gained considerable techie cred (I don't leave home without it), few people outside that bubble even know what it is.

So Apple needs to do with its Watch what it did with the original iPhone in 2007 and iPad in 2010: convince people that they really need one. That these two products are the top sellers in Apple's arsenal makes Cook's audacious plan plausible.

I've not held one myself so I can't speak to the usability. But the problems Apple has chosen to solve — its approach to what a smartwatch should be — seem spot on, based on the unveiling. They are priced right — at least exactly where I had speculated the price point should be. They are stylish and customizable (meeting another criteria I hoped for), the better to wean watch wearers from their wrist ornaments of choice, and woo potential customers still going commando.

Apple Watch has Siri integration, which extends that personal assistant intelligently. But you can't use it to make or receive calls, which would have been dumb. It gives you turn-by-turn directions, sparing you the need to keep referring to your iPhone (and keeping the battery-sucking screen on) as you discreetly move about looking like a native who is desperate only for the correct time.

The Twitter app gives you all the lightweight functionality you need to read, respond, RT. When available for sale "early next year" road warriors will immediately have a taste of what it will be like using a watch to check in to an airline, unlock a hotel room, check your car's vitals. I might be getting ahead of the story, but isn't that whole Apple/IBM alliance about the professional — elbowing into the enterprise?

Health and activity monitoring seem robust and in the background — as they should be to be of any use. How long might it be before your vitals are shared with your medical team automatically, giving them (and you) a heads up to troubling stats? It's not just for astronauts anymore.

The crowning achievement of Apple Watch is the digital crown — a perfect-seeming interface for navigating menus and making selections. How it feels on the wrist remains to be seen — Is the watch thick enough to allow pudgy fingers to use it easily, but not too thick? This is no place for a touch screen, buttons or voice. Check out Apple VP Kevin Lynch messing with it in the video below (sorry for lack of sound) to get a sense of its proportions.

If Jony Ive has perfected stem-winding, his place is reserved in heaven (again).

The Apple Watch news was so exciting, two other big Apple announcements almost seem tame. But Apple also unveiled two larger iPhones — 4.7" and 5.5" screens as rumored — and finally got into the NFC payments game. Again, by endorsing what Google and the unfortunately-named Isis consortium of credit card companies have been struggling to get consumers to care about, NFC payments now have a chance — how could it have been when it was absent from the best-selling phone in the world?

Take a bow, Mr. Cook. And leave that shirt untucked. Tails are for players.

Linda Holroyd's insight:

Apple Watch has potential - could it take the assistant (driving and task management and other) and health monitoring tasks away from the phone and make us need *both* a watch *and* a phone? Will that leave room for the phone (and tablet) to become more like a computer? 

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Investments in crowdfunding platforms have already doubled this year

Investments in crowdfunding platforms have already doubled this year | Age of Personalization |

With almost three quarters of 2014 complete, angel and venture capital has poured more than $140 million into the infrastructure of crowdfunding, more than double the amount invested last year and 43% more in individual deals. Where is all this money going?

For four years, my firm has been studying the crowdfunding space. The crowdfunding industry encompasses all forms of crowd finance: donation, perks/pre-order, debt, and equity. Still nascent in its growth, serious investments started to flow into the space in 2011, with three deals totaling $13.5 million. A year later, three more investments totaled $18.6 million.

During 2012, our work in Washington, D.C. culminated in the form of the JOBS Act, and major provisions were signed into law, including Title II, lifting the ban on general solicitation to accredited investors, and Title III, debt and equity crowdfunding. Savvy entrepreneurs who understood what these fundamental changes meant began building and scaling all forms of crowd finance platforms.

2013 was a breakout year for crowdfunding. A total of $71 million went into seven major deals that year. This represents a 133% growth over 2012, with more than twice as many deals. Lending and rewards platforms were the greatest beneficiary of these investments. Now, in just eight months of 2014 more than $140 million has been pumped into at least 10 deals (we expect this to be close to $250 million by year’s end). Five of these deals were over $14 million each, totaling $124 million.

Interestingly enough, we’re starting to see significant capital poured into the equity crowdfunding space even though Title III of the JOBS Act has yet to go into effect. (We did, however, let the SEC know that, two-plus years since President Obama gave it the green light, an industry is primed and ready to go).

So what trends are we seeing?

Size of rounds: Series A investments across the board are averaging $6 million. Series B rounds jump to $28 million, and C and D to around $45 million each as companies seek more capital to scale, grow, and beat out the competition. Since lending platforms are the biggest and most mature, they’ve been pushing the average deal size up in the later rounds.

Number of startups by round: Over 25 companies have completed Series A rounds, 13 Series B, and 10 Series C and above.

Average investment by round: The average A round for equity platforms is $5.75 million. For lending platforms, the average is $5.1 million. And reward platforms lead the pack at almost $7 million.

Average valuation by platform type: Valuations are across the board, but if we are conservative and assume investors might seek 20% equity for an A round, then valuations average $28.75 million for equity platforms, $25.5 million for lending platforms, and $35 million for rewards platforms.

According to our research, in total almost $1 billion has been invested into the crowd finance arena since 2006. Six lending platforms have collectively raised over $450 million, which reflects not only the investor interest in these peer-to-peer (P2P) and peer-to-business (P2B) platforms but also a justification of their business models. Interestingly enough, the P2P space last year saw $1 billion flow from investors to borrowers, with demand now exceeding supply as institutional investors try to buy up these loans — another data point in why the crowd finance arena is serious business.

Over 10 rewards platforms have received over $275 million in investments. Kickstarter and Indiegogo have the biggest names in the space, but platforms like Quirky received substantial later-stage rounds, and relative newbie Crowdtilt closed a significant B round of $23 million.

More than seven equity crowdfunding platforms have received over $180 million in financing, with the oldest among them being only four-years old. This too shows validation for a business model of which one of the two models (Title III, crowdfunding for all) has yet to go into effect. We anticipate equity crowdfunding to blossom in the next 36 months, with a majority of venture capital flowing into this space as early movers are proving the model, the media is covering it with more interest, and the global appetite for this sector expands significantly.

New market entrants, new technologies, and new businesses (think crowd education, crowd vetting tools, crowd analytic, and crowd investor relations) are launching to support the crowdfunding industry, and we are keeping an eye on them. Actually, we are doing more than that; we are placing our bets on who we think the winners will be with our own capital.

Linda Holroyd's insight:

Impressive are the size of rounds, the number of startups, the average investments by round, and the average valuation.

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Uber vs. the Law (My Money's on Uber)

Uber vs. the Law (My Money's on Uber) | Age of Personalization |

I love Uber, the ridesharing app that connects people who need rides with drivers. Instead of my normal $35 taxi ride to LAX, an UberX car takes me for about $11. The service is active in 108 US cities and 45 countries worldwide. Five years ago, it didn’t exist. Today, it’s valued at over $18 billion. It truly is an Exponential Organization.

Uber is one of a new generation of dematerializing, demonetizing and democratizing technologies that’s disrupting the status quo. Simply put, Uber is a product adored by passengers and Uber drivers alike. It uses technology to dramatically improve a broken system. It solves a pain point. As a result, hordes have left the traditional taxis and rental car options. Understandably, these incumbents aren’t happy, and where do they turn?


Uber’s Long, Legal Battle

I recently spent a week with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick in Sicily at Google GOOGL -1.52% Camp. I’d heard mention of some of the legislative challenges that Uber was facing globally, but I wasn’t really aware of the scope or scale of what was happening.

Check out this global resistance:

  • Germany: officials just slapped a nationwide ban on Uber “ because the drivers don’t have correct permits. Drivers will face fines of up to $323,700 per trip if Uber violates this temporary injunction.
  • Spain: Hundreds of taxi drivers went on strike in June, protesting the unregulated private service that was taking their business.
  • India: “According to the Economic Times, three Uber competitors — Meru Cabs, Easy Cab, and Mega Cab — have written to the Reserve Bank of India , complaining that Uber is violating foreign-exchange laws.”
  • Brazil: Uber might face legal problems if the government of Sao Paulo pushes for the suspension of its service. For example, a few weeks ago “three cars were found providing services through Uber in Sao Paulo and the drivers had to pay fines of $900 on average.”
  • Vancouver: The city attorney claims that the service is illegal: “Though the meter UberX uses does not look like a traditional taxi meter that measures time and distance as the ride progresses, it still fits within the definition of (a) taxi meter [under city code].”
  • United States: The taxi lobbies are putting enormous pressure on local governments to block Uber in their cities. In Milwaukee, five taxi groups are “suing the city of Milwaukee, hoping to block an ordinance that provides a path to legalization for mobile ride-booking apps.” In California, New York and DC, Uber has faced numerous cease-and-desist orders.

And yet:

Regulation, the Protection of Last Resort

Laws typically favor the incumbent solutions that manifested them in the first place. But when an industry turns to protectionist regulations to keep a more cost-effective solution out of the market, you know it’s in a death spiral. Take the horse versus the automobiles, for example. Many hated cars in the early 1900s because, well, they scared horses. In fact, amazingly, at the turn of the century, a law in Pennsylvania stated:

“Any motorist who sights a team of horses coming toward him must pull well off the road, cover his car with a blanket or canvas that blends with the countryside, and let the horses pass. If the horses appear skittish, the motorist must take his car apart, piece by piece, and hide it under the nearest bushes.”

In general, the government’s major role is stabilization. But many times when a product is so much better say 10x or more the incumbent will eventually lose. They must adapt or go extinct. Regulation can only stay the change for a short time. And during this time of accelerating change, where the only constant is change, we will be seeing a lot of 10x improvements challenging the norm. Look at Airbnb, Pandora , iTunes, Tesla, Craigslist. The list goes on and on.

Technologies that leverage the 6 D’s will WIN

In my mind, the companies and products that solve problems most effectively (and most cheaply) will win. Many of these are the products that follow the 6 D’s of exponential change. To demonstrate what this means, for those not part of Abundance 360, let’s look at how Uber fits into this model:

  • Digitized: Uber digitized the taxi-calling experience, the payments process, the taxi-navigating process, the fare splitting process, and more.
  • Deceptive to Disruptive: In my mind, Uber, despite being an $18 billion company, is still in its deceptive growth stage. Just wait until we get into automated vehicles and self-driving cars. Guess who will be perfectly positioned to take over that market?
  • Dematerialized: Uber dematerialized a number of things, including the need for taxi fleets. In some cases, it dematerialized owning a car for many who elect to “Uber” everywhere instead.
  • Demonetized: Uber eliminated the annoying fees and taxes that taxis require, as well as taking “tipping” out of the picture.
  • Democratized: UberX is cheap and available to anyone with a smartphone (and the service in the area). It is democratizing transportation.

Despite their many legal challenges, Uber continues to drive and thrive. They are growing explosively, and the company is changing the game. And frankly, knowing Travis’ vision for Uber, we haven’t seen anything yet.

This is an important debate

I acknowledge the debate about technology vs. policy is an important one. Technology can be a double-edged sword. I want to talk with you about the implications these technologies have on jobs, on wages, on livelihoods. To have these debates together. And it seems Uber does too. They just hired David Plouffe, one of U.S. President Barack Obama’s key election advisers, to take charge of policy and strategy.

Linda Holroyd's insight:

UBER is experiencing global resistance, but the 5 Ds will make the solution inevitable: digitized, disruptive, dematerialized, demonetized, democratized

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Top 20 Innovation Articles – August 2014

Top 20 Innovation Articles – August 2014 | Age of Personalization |
Drum roll please…

At the beginning of each month we will profile the twenty posts from the previous month that generated the most traffic to Innovation Excellence. We also publish a weekly Top 10 as part of our FREE Innovation Excellence Weekly magazine (PDF for printing or downloading to iPad, Kindle, Nook, etc.) and email newsletter. Did your favorite make the cut?

But enough delay, here are August’s twenty most popular innovation posts (each receiving 3,200 – 15,000 page views):

  1. Difficult Discussions Are The Most Important Discussions – by Mike Shipulski
  2. How Educators Around The World Are Implementing Mobile Learning – by Saga Briggs
  3. 7 Ways to Create a Culture of Innovation – by Stephan Vincent
  4. 20 Things Educators Need To Know About Digital Literacy Skills – by Saga Briggs
  5. 15 Examples of Open Innovation between Big Companies & Startups – by Stefan Lindegaard
  6. How Startup Funding Works (Infographic) – by Peter Doyle
  7. 6 Things You Should Know About The Future – by Greg Satell
  8. The Real Business Value of the Internet of Things – by Andrew Timm
  9. The Critical Missing Component for Innovation Success is… – by Jeffrey Phillips
  10. Building a Next Generation Organisation Means Embracing Adaptability – by Cris Beswick
  11. An Era of User Revenge? 3 Horizons of Co-creation – by Nicolas Bry
  12. Creating the Pathways to Excellence – by Holly G Green
  13. Culture Eats Strategy – Innovation Psychology Explored – by Pete Foley
  14. B2B Disruption: Pricing, Segmentation, and Technology – by Stephan Liozu
  15. Trust Trumps Everything – by Deborah Mills-Scofield
  16. Malloy Hoverbike: A Truly Groundbreaking Innovation – by Peter Doyle
  17. Has Innovation Become A Four-Letter Word? – by John K. Coyle
  18. How to Find your Unique Innovation Mindset – by Mark E Miller
  19. Requirements, Market Research, Entertainment, and the Art of the Possible – by Scott Williams
  20. Risk is an Imperative for Sustainable Innovation – by Robert F Brands

BONUS – Here are four more strong articles published the last week of the month:

If you’re not familiar with Innovation Excellence, we publish 2-6 new articles every day built around innovation and marketing insights from our roster of contributing authors and ad hoc submissions from community members. Get the articles right in your Facebook feed or on Twitter or Linkedin too!

Linda Holroyd's insight:

Great innovation information and resource

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Funding Daily: Another big bag of cash for the 'connected home'

Funding Daily: Another big bag of cash for the 'connected home' | Age of Personalization |

Today’s funding deals:

Savant picks up $90M

Savant, a company that sells connected-home devices and provides apps for consumers to control climate, audio, lighting, and other characteristics at home, announced today that private-equity firm KKR has invested $90 million in it. The idea is to make Savant popular around the globe.

Read the press release.

Black Duck pulls in $20M

Black Duck, a provider of open source software logistics, pulled in $20 million of venture funding Wednesday. General Catalyst Partners led the round, which included previous investors.

Read more on VentureBeat: OSS provider Black Duck pulls in $20 million

Avenida grabs $17.5M

Argentinean e-commerce site Avenida has pulled in some fresh funding, to the tune of $17.5 million. Founded in 2013 by Quasar Ventures (a sort of startup incubator or studio), Fede Malek, and Alan Kraus, Avenida is a large online retailer similar to Amazon. The company will use the new funds to continue growing the site’s inventory and available categories and products, add new features to the site, and develop a solid logistic platform. Tiger Global led the round, with additional participation from Naspers.

Find out more about Avenida on its website. raises $7.3M, a Russian web-conferencing company that provides native and cloud-based conferencing software, announced that it has raised $7.3 million in new funding. works on any device, without the need to download software, and packs in a variety of features, including presentation and content delivery, desktop sharing, chat, polls, quizzes, and whiteboards. It can also support thousands of participants in a single meeting. Intel Capital and EBRD led the round, with additional participation from Flint Capital and previous investor VTB Capital.

Find out more about on its website. picks up $1.2M

Marketers spend gobs of money and even more time trying to devise ways to engage people with a particular brand. Not enough of them realize music might be the best way to do that — and that Feed Media could be music to their ears. Feed Media (aka launched a “music-as-a-service” platform that allows companies to employ music on their websites, games, and mobile apps, as well as provide statistics on how people are engaging with a brand. Some of the startup’s clients include Budweiser, GameSalad, Starr Hill Brewery, and others. And today, the company has secured a new $1.2 million round, according to an SEC form D document.

Read more on VentureBeat: picks up $1.2M to inject music into your marketing campaign

Linda Holroyd's insight:

What's hot and fundable? connected home, retail, webinars, music

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Meet BuzzFeed's Secret Weapon

Dao Nguyen, the head of  data and growth at BuzzFeed, eyes half a pie and narrates a brief history of the first part of her career. "I wanted to be part of the Internet revolution," she says, explaining her stint in the late-'90s New York startup scene. She fled after the dot-com boom's implosion--a particularly messy moment for her, since she had to lay off many friends as her company, Concrete Media, went down in flames in 2001.

She's no longer bothered by this fact, she says, as she unwraps her pie, forks a bite and explains that, with the dreams of the first Internet revolution in tatters, she declared to her then-boyfriend, now-husband: "This is terrible. I want to quit and move to France and eat cheese and drink wine. I want to learn French and sit out this Internet recession."

So she did, moving to Paris, consuming her fill of fromage and vin, and also working her way up the French paper of record, Le Monde. From 2006 through 2008 she ran its digital arm--and did so quite profitably, a rare feat for a media site in the aughts. For this she gained wide esteem in the French media circuit, and within Le Monde she launched a new digital publication--sort of a proto-BuzzFeed or -Huffington Post, replete with celebrity coverage some critics there deemed gauche--called Le Post.

And with that, she got herself fired.

"That was fine with me. I never set out to run a big media organization. I never meant to live in France for the rest of my life," Nguyen says. "I'm not even a Francophile." (A request for comment from Le Monde went unanswered.)

This c'est la vie, let's move on attitude works well at Nguyen's current employer, BuzzFeed, where she first arrived in the summer of 2012. So does her zest for experimentation. In fact, it works really, really well. BuzzFeed is famous not just for its quizzes and listicles, but also for pioneering a data-driven approach to Web content, and the more well-known BuzzFeeders are quick to point out exactly how crucial a role Nguyen plays there as its vice-president of growth and data. "She brings this incredibly high-powered, abstract way of thinking to editorial. We have a lot of data; she is really good at seeing what it means," says BuzzFeed's editor-in-chief Ben Smith. "She just has a lot of intellectual wattage," 

Although Nguyen, 40, technically manages a team of just 10 people, she's become an in-office celebrity and is hailed as one of the key people--if not the key person--responsible for the company's outstandingly rapid growth in traffic over the past year.

"Since she's joined, we've had this tremendous and unprecedented run of growth," boasts BuzzFeed co-founder and CEO Jonah Peretti, noting that the site has nearly tripled its traffic in the past year since Nguyen began managing the data-science team last summer. Unique monthly visitors more than quintupled, from 28 million to 150 million, in the two years she's been with the company. "It's just like incredible to hire someone and say 'your job is growth,' and then you look, and she just like knocked it out of the park."

Nguyen's data group has affected within BuzzFeed a lot more than just, say, inspiring the creation of a few more Guardians of the Galaxy-themed listicles. Her work has helped BuzzFeed's editorial team carve out new coverage areas, and nurture them to significant traction through social-media and in-site technology. In the wake of the announcement that BuzzFeed is taking $50 million in new venture capital investment, her work is also influencing the vast restructuring of the company's 200-person editorial team.

You'd think she'd have made big waves by driving so much change in her short tenure. In a newsroom, bringing in someone whose job isn't strictly editorial--but whose success depends on instituting changes through editorial--can be a risky proposition. Journalists (trust me on this) can be very possessive of their craft, especially when business-side executives start moseying around their part of the office.

But editors at BuzzFeed say they liked working with Nguyen from day one, thanks to her editorial experience and her clear desire to help them do their jobs more efficiently. She also possesses a unique set of personality traits that seem to have helped her along the way, not least of which is her appealing sense of curiosity.

"I love talking to people, like, 'what's going on in this part of the business, and why are you seeing that? What information do you think would be interesting to have to think about your problem?' And I'll find that for them," Nguyen says.

For instance, Nguyen says she decided to try to boost BuzzFeed's lackluster weekend traffic by first approaching an editorial director and asking about her current strategy for socially promoting existing content, because she recognized the site being shorter-staffed on the weekends necessitated such an approach.

"We said. 'OK. We can write a piece of code that sends you, on Fridays, according to our analysis, the top 20 posts we should be promoting,'" Nguyen recalls telling the editor. And here she is quick to add she firmly believes that data should not determine one's editorial strategy, but rather inform one's decision. "You can promote them or not," she continues. "But this is what the data suggests."

After a few months of refining the weekend traffic-growth strategy, Nguyen says she's seen significant success: "The weekend growth has been faster than the weekday growth." (A company spokeswoman confirms this, saying that year-over-year weekend traffic in June and July rose 224 percent, while overall traffic rose 188 percent.)

Nguyen is also charged with overseeing growth in BuzzFeed's international sites, boosting its mobile traffic, and overseeing the algorithm the main BuzzFeed site uses to trigger certain content-placement. And she's created a new group--called Pin Ops--within BuzzFeed's editorial staff, almost solely to work in sync with remarkable traffic the site has seen from the image-centric social network Pinterest.

BuzzFeed Life now covers many areas editorially new to BuzzFeed, including parenting, DIY projects, food, and health. Pinterest has surged from barely being a traffic referrer when Nguyen was brought on, to now being the site's second-largest social-traffic driver. And the Life group is growing--according to a company spokeswoman, it is seeking to hire roughly 25 new editorial staffers.

BuzzFeed's growth hasn't come without strain. Recently, the removal of thousands of articles from the site drew much skeptical coverage (both Peretti and Smith maintain that staffers until recently were "not thinking of themselves as doing journalism"). Buzzfeedraised $50 million in a Series E round of funding in early August from Silicon Valley investment firm Andreessen Horowitz, which valued the company at $850 million, a move that puzzled some onlookers. 

Earlier this summer, I asked Peretti whether the company planned on taking another round of venture-capital funding, and gave a negative, with only a little wiggle room. "We're fortunate in that we're in the position where we don't have to take any more VC funding," he said. "So we would only take additional funding if we found a partner we thought could add a lot of value."

In addition to helping fund the editorial reorganization, the new investment will be used create an in-house incubator for new technology and expand BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, its Los Angeles-based video arm run by the online performance artist Ze Frank. It may also help fund future acquisitions, according to The New York Times.

Another newly announced change to the company is that it's investing in content that's "distributed," meaning that it's created by the BuzzFeed team, but isn't originating on the BuzzFeed Site. (This can entail use of communications and social apps--including SnapChat, Instagram, and Vine--to transmit content to fans.) That investment--which will require hiring 20 people--too, is based on research by Nguyen and her team.

In a digital media world stuffed with large personalities and self-promoters, Nguyen's disarmingly ego-free approach is readily apparent in conversation. She's quick to point out that some of her editorial ideas are "probably really bad," admits that she can't say that all of her "experiments have worked" and referred to a very cool diagram she dubbed "the growth funnel" she made when starting to analyze BuzzFeed's traffic growth as "not, like, totally innovative."

She's found that when it comes to the mobile Web--where more than 50 percent of BuzzFeed's traffic originates today--the second-most-common sharing method after Facebook was email, despite that sharing over email required several taps and much navigation. Nguyen tweaked the email-share button, making it more prominent, accessible, and ubiquitous on mobile devices. Within a week, she said, email shares rose by 100 percent. A pretty smashing success, by any standard, but Nguyen's reaction? "That's just an example, of, like, extremely low-hanging fruit."

And, as adept as she is at analyzing numbers (which she in part attributes to doing math problems at the dinner table with coaching from her Vietnamese-American parents), she is also adept at understanding the limitations of data.

"I think people would be surprised to know my relationship with data, which is actually one of great skepticism as well as great admiration," Nguyen says, adding that data only tells its observer what is happening, not why it's happening. "You have to know where its limits are. Using data properly is a constant stream of experiments and feedback. The human-learning of that is part of the culture that I think is probably the most difficult to replicate. 

But when I ask Nguyen to tell me about her specific accomplishments as head of data at BuzzFeed, as someone who literally has "growth" in her title, whose team is behind numbers the company clearly wants to tout, she deflects the opportunity to take a victory lap.

"BuzzFeed is a place where people are set up for success because it's a culture where you're allowed to do your job," she says,  citing a lack of bureaucracy, clear objectives, and plentiful resources as the keys to the ecosystem in which she's thrived. 

"My career trajectory has been kind of accidental in many ways," she continued, still almost comically humble, but adding a dash of sly wit. "I set out literally to drink wine and eat cheese. Which I accomplished." Along with a few other things, too.

Linda Holroyd's insight:

Hats off to Dao Nguyen, for helping us all figure out how to leveraging data to monetize content. More wine and cheese to you!

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Uber uses data science to predict where its riders want to go

Uber uses data science to predict where its riders want to go | Age of Personalization |

Uber is at it again, improving its alternative-cab service app after analyzing data on usage from its customers. This time, data scientists have come up with ways to figure out where exactly riders are headed, even in a densely packed city.

The researchers determined the accuracy of their model by comparing its predictions with anonymized information on more than 3,000 Uber passengers’ rides in San Francisco this year, according to a blog post today from Uber’s Ren Lu.

The system makes certain assumptions, taking into consideration a rider’s previous destinations, places Uber riders have gone to, and other factors, Lu wrote.

Uber has previously used data science and even artificial intelligence, to optimize its operations. Recently, for instance, the company concluded that drivers wishing to optimize their earnings would do better than to stay put in one place than to drive around. That observation came from a simulation from the company’s science team. As the company expands into more cities around the world, efficiency is key, and Uber is one of many companies both large and small that draw on their data to achieve that objective.

For this project, Uber drew on more conventional Bayesian statistics to take a good guess about the destination based on geolocation coordinates, Lu wrote. However, the system can predict a rider’s destination correctly 74 percent of the time.

The model should come in handy as Uber keeps growing and adding services like the UberPool car-sharing feature, she noted:

As we introduce UberPool, the carpool option of our app, where drivers make multiple pickups and dropoffs, these occurrences will only happen with increasing frequency … which means that any Uber rider destination popularity analysis is susceptible to be inaccurate due to noise.

Read Lu’s full blog post for much more detail on the approaches for solving its “uniquely Uber problem.”

Linda Holroyd's insight:

Look for an UberPool in your neighborhood . . . 

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Nexage says app developers have grown revenue 165% on its mobile ad marketplace

Nexage says app developers have grown revenue 165% on its mobile ad marketplace | Age of Personalization |

Nexage said app developers that use its mobile ad marketplace have seen 165 percent revenue growth in 2014. That growth rate is more than double the rate of growth of the market for mobile ads.

The revenue growth was driven by a combination of pricing and volume gains. Effective cost per mil (eCPMs), or the ad revenue generated for 1,000 ad impressions, has grown 55 percent so far in 2014 as brand ad buyers become more interested in advertising in apps. App marketers are willing to pay more for high-value users, and the result is increased competition for the available inventory of ad space in apps. Meanwhile, the volume of ads has increased 66 percent so far this year.

Boston-based Nexage released the details in its new Mobile Insights Report today. The report shows that ad inventory based on a Device ID, or the distinctive number associated with a smartphone, has become a popular way to target users with relevant ads. The eCPMs for ID-enabled ad impressions get a 67-percent premium over impressions without device IDs.

Developers can also target users based on location, resulting in more effective ads. Location-enabled impressions have a 49 percent eCPM premium over impressions without location.

Developers are also expanding their ability to display rich media and video ads, which Nexage calls high-impact ad formats. Since those kinds of ads get more viewership, the revenue associated with them is higher. Rich media-enabled ad impressions grew 346 percent so far this year, while video-enabled ad impressions grew 516 percent.

Linda Holroyd's insight:

In-app advertising on the rise - look also for rich media and video ads

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