Thursday, June 28, 2007

The iPhone and Angelina Jolie

While everyone has been linking to, I have been resisting the temptation to link to Ron Rosenbaum's article in Slate, "The worst celebrity profile ever written?"

I finally found an excuse.

Ron's article is about Esquire's recent "fawning" profile on Angelina Jolie. But it could have well enough been about iPhone's pre-release reviews.

The money quote summary:

"The rules of the game, as established by the glossy magazines and the stars' PR reps, ensure that 'access' [to celebrities / the iPhone] ... and the all-important exclusive cover shot are granted only to those magazines and journalists who will refrain from anything but fawning prose. It works out well for everybody. Celebrity journalists who play along get a good payday, magazines get newsstand sales bumps, and the rest of us are inculcated into the received myths of Celebland, the legends that sustain the illusion that it is somehow truly important."

What does this mean?:

Only celebrity rags that treat celebrities nicely gain access to those celebrities. Look at Jolie's relationship with People vs. US Weekly. People magazine has never uttered a negative peep about Jolie, and was "awarded" (albeit for a hefty price) with exclusive photos of newborn Shiloh Jolie-Pitt. US Weekly, on the other hand, hasn't exactly had the most flattering cover shots of Jolie (I think the current issue shows an alleged 85lb Jolie). Not surprisingly, US Weekly would be lucky to have Jolie even glance their way.

But playing to celebrities' favor for exclusive interviews / pictures translates into access and therefore articles/photos and therefore higher magazine sales. And so the cycle perpetuates.

Now, if there ever was an electronic celebrity that reporters would fight to have early access to, it is the iPhone. And much like Angelina Jolie has her "favored" magazines / reporters, it doesn't take a huge leap to realize that a select group of tech columnists were "awarded" with an early look at the iPhone (likely hand-picked by Steve Jobs himself). And they don't want to loose that privilege the next time a new Apple gadget comes along.

(Addendum: Let's just say I read the iPhone reviews with a few servings of salt.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Pet Peeve #23423: Stupid web forms

Will there ever be a world in which we can enter just our zip code into a web form, and it automatically registers what City, State and Country we are from?

With all this web 2.0 jazz, have we lost track of what is really important? ;)

The only company I've ever seen do this was Haystack. From the second I entered my zip code into their registration web form, I knew it was a company after my heart.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Pfizer's P2P Debacle

Pfizer is the latest corporation to fall victim to an embarassing case of data loss.

As it turns out, ComputerWorld reports, the Social Security numbers of 17,000 current and former employees of Pfizer were exposed. But what is so interesting is that the exposure happened not because of a misplaced laptop, CD or errant email, but instead, because of P2P file-sharing program installed on an employee's home laptop. The money quote: "Of that group, about 15,700 individuals actually had their data accessed and copied by an unknown number of persons on a peer-to-peer network." Amazing.

Honestly, I'm surprised this hasn't happened before (maybe it has?). P2P programs are greedy when it comes to what files you have on your computer that get shared with the network. The philosophy for these programs is: the more the better. I remember not too long ago installing a P2P program and realizing that a lot of my school papers were accessible to everyone. I quickly changed the directories that the P2P program was allowed to scan and share, but I easily could have missed this. It sounds like the employee at Pfizer did. I bet Pfizer (and many other corporations) is scrambling to figure out how to stop this from happening again.

Addendum: Apparently, Pharmalot is responsible for the scoop. And here is the original source: a letter from Pfizer to NH's Attorney General (.pdf).

Sunday, June 17, 2007

"No offense, but you are an 'Analyst'."

Given the main objective of my job as an Analyst is to source deals, I speak to literally more than a thousand companies a year. In some ways, this makes me and any other Analysts/Associates out there a great “front-line” barometer for the venture climate. Moreover, I'll venture that the reaction a General Partner gets from an entrepreneur will be a little rosier than the view someone like myself gets.

So when over the course of just a couple of weeks I get a reaction twice that I've gotten only once before, it gives me pause. The reaction?:

"Please don't take this the wrong way, but you are an 'Analyst.' If your firm was really interested in [MyCorp], a Partner would have contacted me. Meeting with non-Partners is just not a good use of my time." [This is verbatim.]

Is this reaction a telling commentary on the start-up friendly period we find ourselves in? Or should I just re-read Guy's VCAT and remember my place? ;)

From my perspective, there are several factors that perpetuate this mindset:

  • We now have well established and easily accessible “waterholes” (i.e., the likes of TechCrunch). With one fell swoop, everyone knows about a company. The web, I would venture to say, is actually super-saturated with websites whose sole focus is to review web startups. There are literally dozens of blogs with TechCrunch-esque models. Hot consumer internet companies don't stay secrets (and uncompetitive deals) for long. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, consumer-internet VCs are increasingly bringing in EIRs to incubate web companies.

  • Likewise, many companies seem to assume that once they’ve been mentioned in one of these blogs, all VC firms know of their existence. The lack of an immediate inbound call from a Managing Partners is tantamount to a lack of interest from the firm.
  • It's not just with consumer internet deals. I can't tell you how many enterprise software companies I've called who tell me that they get daily calls from VCs. VCs overall are becoming more proactive when it comes to generating deal flow. This proactiveness has two flavors: either individuals in the firm becoming more proactive (including partners), or the firm adding a level of employees who are there to be proactive. Many firms have hybrids of these flavors, but it is rare to find a firm that has not adopted one stance or the other.

In this world of in-bound interest, I can't blame entrepreneurs for their reaction. Why go through resume submission / first-round interviews when other firms let them skip right to final round interviews?

But instead of thinking about an inbound call from a junior person as a waste of time, entrepreneurs should think of the call as a great opportunity to get the person's firm excited about their company. Junior people have the ear of the senior people in their firms - otherwise, they wouldn't be there. Entrepreneurs who realize this often have a powerpoint deck always updated and at hand, ready to email out or WebEx at a moment's notice. These entrepreneurs have figured out how to efficiently and effectively play the game. And when they are ready to go out and raise a round, my guess is that they'll have a long list of VCs (junior and senior) waiting to hear from them.