Does Microsoft Stand a Chance?

“Developers, Developers, Developers, Developers!”.  Steve Ballmer’s stage performance was a massive Internet hit and emphasized how important is the developer eco-system for Microsoft.

Why are developers so important? Simply put, An Operating System (Windows, OSX, Linux) is a form of a marketplace, just like eBay. On one side there are developers (the “sellers”), and on the other side are the “buyers”, i.e., customers who buy software. The better the marketplace is (i.e., the higher number of paid transactions), the more sought after it would be and the company enabling the marketplace would generate higher revenues from operating system sales. Because operating systems are not compatible with one another, the history of computing shows that in many cases, the winner takes it all (Where are Novell, Sun, Silicon Graphics and their likes today? Mainly in Silicon Valley history books)

Two phenomena have reshuffled the landscape completely in the last couple of years – the rise of the iPhone (and Android) and the continuous momentum of the open source movement (that was ignited by Linux massive success). Suddenly, Microsoft lost its dominance and stopped being the first choice for developers.

In 2007 I founded Delver. What did we build our company with?

  • Windows workstations and laptops
  • Dedicates server running Microsoft Exchange and Active-Directory (so ridiculously expensive)
  • Microsoft Office and Microsoft Visual Studio – all very expensive products (licenses cost hundreds of dollars per employee, per year)
  • A combination of Unix machines and Windows servers in our production environment (I would estimate 80% of our codebase was Asp.net vs. 20% Java)

What products are we using in our current startup, Dynamic Yield?

In the office, we use

  • Google Apps for emails, documents and calendar
  • Dropbox for file sharing
  • Highrise for CRM
  • Eclipse code editor (Personally, I am very content with TextMate on my Mac)

In production, we use

  • Dedicated Dual-Xeon linux monsters (hosted in 100tb)
  • Amazon AWS
  • Cotendo (Akamai) as a CDN
  • Our customer-facing application was written in Ruby on Rails (by me! At least initially, I was quickly demoted to a CEO role once Igal arrived)
  • Apache servers (soon to be changed with nginx)
  • MySql database and HBase for our big data needs.
  • Code written in Php, Python, Javascript and Java.

Who is noticeably missing from this list? you guessed it right, the guys from Redmond. And the sad thing? we never even once contemplated using a Microsoft product for any of the tasks we perform, in the office or in our server farms. They are just irrelevant for our work routines, and that’s something Steve Ballmer should be very worried about.

Platform Wars

Epilog: there is one point were we spend a lot of time with Microsoft products – debugging and making sure our front-end code works well in the nightmarish IE 7 and IE 8 browsers.

And finally, because I really like (for real! no cynism) Steve Ballmer, here is a another great clip of his:

A Kafka Art Story Involving an Oil Painting and an Eagle

Sometimes, inheriting a piece of art can cause you lots of trouble.

NY Times brings a catch-22 story about the heirs of a NY art dealer who inherited a 1959 work by Rauschenberg called “Canyon“.

The story goes like this: Because the work includes a stuffed bald eagle, a bird under federal protection, it is a crime to sell it. So, what’s the value for tax purposes? Well, it’s illegal to sell it, so they heirs claim it is worth $0. And what about the US tax authorities? Well, it is a masterpiece by a famous painter, so they appraised it at $65 million and demand a $29 million estate tax payment.

My recommendation on solving this:

Option 1:
Sell only the Canvas part of the painting for $65 million, in a “buy canvas, get free eagle” deal. And there you have it – you sell the painting with the eagle, in a fully legal way.

Option 2:
Cut the painting in two (including the eagle), send it to the IRS. Claim that you overpaid your taxes (estate tax is 45%), and demand the 5% back in cash. You just cost the IRS ~$3M in tax returns. FTW.

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The Danger of Relying on 3rd Party APIs

A few weeks ago it was announced that Facebook acquired face.com - a face recognition startup founded and headed by the uber-talented Gil Hirsch.

Face.com’s was mainly a B2B company, with individual developers and technology companies building products that rely on their face-recognition API.

Alas, comes the exciting Facebook acquisition day, the new owners in the house decide to shut down API support (or, basically, kill face.com’s main product). The decision’s implications are simple: basically, Facebook and face.com are telling developers who relied on its technology to, let’s put it gently, get lost.

And that’s really the sad issue here (and in numerous other startup cases): As a startup, a company courts developers, partners and potential customers, creates a relationship of trust and gets them to rely on its products. These customers help the startup grow, gain power, revenues, and appeal for potential buyers.

But when the buyer comes in, it kicks out of the party all these people that made the party the success it was. The startup founders, doing what’s right for their bank accounts, give in to the decision of the new house ruler and start doing what their new bosses tell them to do.

In 2007, I was about to acquire a very expensive ($300,000) storage solution for my startup from XIV, a great Israeli storage startup. Sound rumors though it was about to get acquired by IBM made me decide to buy a NetApp machine instead (dire mistake, long story), because I realized that promises given to me by a startup become obsolete the moment it gets acquired.

So what’s the moral from the face.com story? If you need to rely on 3rd party APIs for your product, have a backup plan. Acquisitions, bankruptcies, new product directions, changes in terms-of-service (Twitter is infamous for that) –  your lifeline cord may be cut abruptly, leaving you very little time to change course.

Glassdoor and Facebook Spam

In the last couple of weeks my feed has been contaminated by an uber-spammy application called Glassdoor (no link, I don’t want to contribute to their SEO). I was curious why so many of my friends were interested in this app so I conducted a little research.

The result was not surprising: they had no clue what Glassdoor is.

Here is the algorithm that made this thing spread so aggressively:

  1. A victim installs the Glassdoor Facebook app.
  2. Without the victim’s consent (or awareness), Glassdoor posts a message to the victim’s wall, inviting his/her friends.
  3. Say the victim has 500 friends. ~20% will see the post (a 100 people). It’s enough that 2% are suckers, they’ll click on the app out of curiosity. This means a viral factor of 2. If 5 people on average click it, it will spread even faster.
  4. The app will then post to the victims walls and the vicious circle continues.
  5. Once a certain amount of people you know post it to their wall, your curiosity may also arise, you’ll click the app and become part of the spam distribution chain.
  6. You’ll start getting Glassdoor spam directly to your mail, because Facebook is generous enough (or, rather: doesn’t give a s**t about your privacy) to share your personal email with the applications you install.
  7. Glassdoor has access to all your Facebook profile info, as well as the information of your friends (that’s right, unless you manually fixed your privacy settings, applications installed by your friends also have access to your data).

Insights:

  1. Most Internet users are way too naive (show me the ones who click on banners ads! I never met anyone in person)
  2. It’s outrageous that Facebook doesn’t block spammy apps who trick users in wall-spamming. They could fix this issue with a simple tweak – simply don’t show that wall post on people’s feeds.
  3. Glassdoor will benefit highly from their spammy tactics.  Once the spam wave is over, they are still left with a lucrative email database with millions of records and data of millions of user profiles. They’ll keep abusing the data and continuously email these users until they reach critical mass of active users, raise $20M dollars and build a company on top of it. Branchout used the same abuse technique on top of LinkedIn a year ago, and nabbed $25M recently. Dirty, but works.

Conclusion:

In the Internet-land, being a crook pays off big time. We see it over and over again (toolbar companies anyone?) It’s like the wild west, yet this time there is no sheriff that will get things in order. Maybe Chuck Norris could.

 

Kiteboarding in Paros

The Greek island of Paros is a kitesurfing heaven. Beautiful, relaxed island with great, nearly constant, wind and crystal clear water. Here are some travel tips:

* Arrival – We arrived in Athens by place, took a bus from the airport to Pireaus  (1 hour), and continued with a fast afternoon ferry directly to the island (3 hours, ~50 Euros).

* The kiting beach is in Pounda, which is located in the laid back part of the island. There are two kite-surfing schools there, and I highly recommend Paros Kite. It has a very friendly atmosphere, their teaching staff seems very professionals and although we didn’t take any lessons, they happily let us use their place for pumping the kites, washing the gear and for a few Euros, also store our gear overnight.

* The real highlight of Paros Kite is their beach-front restaurant which has great music, good vibes and very descent food. That’s where you’ll spend your resting time between kiting sessions.

* We stayed in the kite surfers friendly Holiday Sun hotel. A beautiful beach spot, 800m from the kiting beach. Staff is very friendly, kiters get deep discounts, and room rates includes breakfast and dinner.

* Season is between April and September. Wind varies, but on the average is between 20-30 knots. We were less lucky last week, with wind drops down to 13 knots. Bring kites in different sizes. I used a 12m kite and a 9m one.

* Misc: it’s a great spot for beginners and experts alike. They have a rescue boat service so as a beginner, you never drift too far before someone is there to help you. Or, in my case, sudden 30 knots gust took me by surprise with a 12m kite, and I lost my board at sea. A board search mission was launched with a rescue board, with a happy ending.

* Other things to do: On a non-windy day we rented motorcycles and circled the island. Lots of beautiful spots, cute small towns and great restaurants. Opposite the kiting beach there is a cool small island called Anti Paros, a 15m ferry ride away. It has good restaurants, bars, shopping (or so my friends say, I fell asleep the night they went).

 

If you have any questions, feel free to send me a message or ask in the comments below.

Why Do I Want to Become a Venture Capitalist?

What is Dominating Our World’s Economy?

Four Words: Hardware, Software, Energy, China.

Look at the list below, of the world’s 10 largest companies by market cap (source: Forbes).

Apple, Microsoft, IBM (and soon Google, which is #14 on the list with $203B valuation) are making so much profit they become technology ‘blackholes’ . They can swallow almost any company. Apple’s profit are so huge that by next year it could almost buy the $134B Intel in an all-cash deal).

Exxon Mobil, Petro China, Royal Detch Shell, Chevron – Supplier of the black gold without which the world will come to a halt (or, rather, slow down to a horse riding pace). Their power may change in the future with the progress in alternative energy resources, yet it will take a few decades for these technologies to serve the world’s energy hunger.

ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China) and China Mobile – Well, there are more than a billion Chinese people out there. Anyone has any doubt China will be the most dominant country in the world going forward?

And, the list is concluded by one industrial giant, General Electric. My bet is that Google will replace it very soon.

World’s Biggest Companies