Author Archives: liad

How I used Crowdsourcing 20 Years Before the Term was Coined

(Or, rather, how I leveraged the Wisdom of the Crowd)

In the late eighties, there was a great music program I loved listening to after school (in a channel called ‘Zahal 2′. Strangely, the Israeli Defense Forces had the best music station in Israel).

An hour into the show, they would have a few callers from the audience dial-in, pick a number between 1-100 and asked to answer a random music-related question. The prize? 5 cassette of the newest music in the stores. A very lucrative prize in the eighties, especially for a 12-years old kid. The problem? I had zero knowledge about bands, songs, or any type of music-related trivia (sadly, I managed to stay ignorant until today). But I really wanted to win these 5 tape-cassettes!

One the only original cassettes I had (embarrassing; but I got it as a present)

One the original cassettes I had (embarrassing; but I got it as a present from a distant relative)

Luckily, I noticed a potential bug in the system – the questions may have been random, but if someone picked a number and did not know the right answer, the question was not changed. Now that’s something I was able to exploit!

I listened a few days in a row, marking down the questions and their respective numbers. Once I had three unanswered questions, I was ready to go.

I opened the phone book, under the category DJ. I randomly called five different DJs, introduced myself, and told them I was doing a survey on DJs’ knowledge of music trivia, presented them with the questions and jotted down the answers. Voilà! I had all three answers. Easier than I thought. I should have coined the crowdsourcing term back then and reach eternal fame.

Instead, I focused on step 2, which really was the most difficult part: manage to go on air. No crowd-sourcing here, but hours of endlessly dialing the show’s number, using an analog dial- phone. Busy signal for hours.


And then it happened, a week after I started my quest – a production assistant answered the phone! I was put on hold for twenty minutes, and I went live. I picked the number 87. I don’t remember the question, but I do remember the answer: The Police! The host confirmed the right answer, and was amazed that such a young kid knew it.

End of story: the cassettes never arrived. Maybe they were never sent, maybe they got lost in the mail, or even stolen by someone along on the way. I waited a week, two weeks. And then I forgot about the whole ordeal, because apparently it was not so much about the cassettes, but more about cleverly hacking the system.

The Self-Driving Car Will Kill the Car Industry

Car is the worst asset one can own. It’s pricy. Its value declines rapidly. Insurance is expensive. So are fuel, maintenance and city-parking. Yet the most frustrating aspect – it’s really just waits there doing nothing about 95% of the time.

Zipcar is a good alternative for city people, as well as public transport and taxis. It’s far more economical than using a car, but because it’s quite less comfortable (and going with taxis everywhere does eventually get quite expensive), numerous people (including myself) still own a car.

Self-driving cars will change everything. And thanks to Google, it’s not science fiction, but a working product, only a few years away from mass-production.

Google Self Driving Car

Self-driving cars will quickly lead to companies operating self-driving, ride-sharing, taxis. These will significantly reduce the highest cost-factors of today’s taxis – drivers salaries, fuel costs and car maintenance. We’ll set our travel destination and summon a taxi via our smart-phones, the best available taxi (considering its location and planned route) will pick us up and drop us exactly where we need. It may pick up other passengers along the way. Cost will be calculated dynamically, based on route and amount of people sharing the ride with us.

It will be convenient, fast and cheap. Way better than owning our own car: no need to worry about parking, fueling, insurance, value depreciation or wasting time in traffic (we are not the one driving, so reading becomes a good option, or more realistically, watching endless versions of Harlem Shake).

The result will be simple: Car ownership will go down significantly. The industry will move from producing 80 million cars a year that are utilized about 5% of the time to producing about 10-million cars that are at 50% capacity (Ride-sharing offers more than 100% utilization, yet it needs to be offset with ‘quiet hours’ in which people are in the office, asleep, or both :) ).

Another interesting thing will happen: we’ll actually get faster from point to another. There will be significantly less cars on the road, less accidents (robots err less than humans), and traffic flow will be easily projected based on historical and real-time data. My kids will look at the 20th century car-travel in the same way we look at wagon-based travel of the 19th century: with bewilderment.

And as for the car industry – any industry whose demand for its main product drops so drastically will suffer dire, unavoidable, consequences. In 10-15 years we’ll probably see a lot of bankruptcies, financial restructuring and M&A activities in the space (similar to what happend to the car industry following the 2008 market crash, yet without the recovery aspect).


Interviewed by No Camels

No Camels just posted a nice interview with me.

My favorite part:

What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur?

You need to be curious about the world, courageous, smart, and have a great ability to learn and listen: learn new industries; listen to customer requests; work in a dynamic environment which changes on a weekly basis.

There are many other essential skills: good salesmanship, good presentation skills, good leadership skills and great execution skills. Because no single person possesses all these skills, creating a company with a team of people you highly value and trust will greatly increase your chances of success. Entrepreneurship is a team game, not a solo adventure.


Amazon Owes Me an Apology

Last week, I was presenting Dynamic Yield to some acquaintances in Palo Alto. When I wanted to give an example of good personalization, I fired up Amazon, which is known to do a pretty good job in recommending relevant products.

To my horror, this is what showed up: testicle self-test, male bladder catheterization model, UFO detectors and cheap romantic novels:


What the heck?! I didn’t know where to hide, I was so ashamed. It can’t be! What in the world made Amazon think these items are relevant to me? And how can I save face in front of these serious gentlemen, who were just bursting with laughter? To add insult to injury, the ‘inspired by browsing history’ shows a bunch of Lenovo notebooks, In a meeting in Palo Alto! I own a Mac since 2007… what an embarrassment.

What got really me really worried is that I was logged in to Amazon when seeing that. Was it some kind of identity theft? my purchase history seemed ok.

These recommendations continued to show up a couple of days more, and disappeared only after I deleted my cookies (I now get the recommendations I am used to getting – books about finance, entrepreneurship, etc.).

Strange incident. I assume Amazon had a bug that misidentified me. From now on, to be on the safe side, I’ll be using Target for demo purposes, although their personalization may lead to trouble as well.

100 Things to Watch in 2013

Another year, another inspiring presentation by JWT of 100 things to watch in 2013:


How (Not) To Repair A Phone With Water Damage

True story:

A friend’s wife dropped her iPhone in the toilet. Following our advice she put the phone in a bowl of rice (it really works).

An hour later her mom came by, saw the rice on the kitchen counter, realized its there for lunch, and poured it into a pot with boiling water.

The iPhone didn’t make it.

The rice tasted ok.

Kleiner Perkins 2012 Internet Trends

KPCB’s excellent report is inspiring and scary at the same time.

That’s what I tell my students – pace of growth is accelerating so fast that you must innovate aggressively and take bigger risks or you’ll find yourself out of business faster than you would expect.