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Creative combination in social media


In Napoleon’s glance, a Strategy course at Columbia Business School, Professor William Duggan introduced the idea that most so-called innovations and new ideas are in fact remixes of existing ideas, a process he refers to as “creative combination”. Entrepreneurs are essentially in the business of taking historical examples and combining them to create something new.

Let’s examine how creative combination may have influenced several of the successful entrepreneurs who spoke to our Social Media class this semester.

Qwiki, a site that generates on-the-fly mini-documentaries based on your search query, is really a mash-up of Google’s indexing and search, Wikipedia’s creation of standardized content on web topics of interest, and YouTube’s rich content medium.

Kickstarter, a site that lets users fund projects of interest to them, is a mash-up of Kiva’s ability to fund micro-businesses while providing a social return and the age old concept of patronage for the arts - except that one can be a patron for just a couple bucks on Kickstarter.

Finally, perhaps the biggest home run so far of the companies we heard from, Twitter, is really a combination of SMS as an efficient and constrained message delivery system, blogs as a delivery mechanism for user generated content, and RSS as a means of “following” content you’re interested in.

My quick mash-ups are admittedly crude, and the entrepreneurs in question may very well argue with me regarding exactly how their inspirations came about, but I believe the fundamental process of drawing from examples from history to formulate new ideas is engrained in the way humans’s create new ideas. Next time the need to innovate comes along, crack open the history books!


What about a proper ride sharing website and app?


Wouldn’t it be great to be part of a carpooling community in which members could actually choose to share the ride with people of like interests? Leveraging social media the right way should allow for that and more.

A proper website and app for ride sharing would help alleviate the traffic problem in congested cities, reduce pollution, reduce fuel consumption, safe users money, while perhaps making daily commutes more enjoyable. The mobile app could use location tracking to allow users to identify other nearby users having the same destination (or a close enough destination). It could enable users to make ride sharing partner changes on the go in case of delays. Moreover, the website administrators could pre-screen members for ensuring safety, requiring all users to post a recent profile photo (for identification) and some basic background information (e.g. driving record).

With those ideas in mind, I did a search in Google and the Apple App Store to see whether a solution was already in the way. I found the following:

From the above list, the better looking solution seems Carticipate (I still need to try it…), although they are all still far from offering the full potential envisioned above.

Snapshots of the Carticipate App:

(Source: rayorbit)


Credit where credit is due.


So I’ll be honest - I started out very skeptical of social media. I felt like I was too old to ever have to use Twitter. I complained flagrantly about the impossibility of creating value in a message under 140 characters long. 

After taking Social Media & Entrepreneurship, I guess I have to admit my attitude has changed. I may not be a frequent tweeter, or have any desire to check-in anywhere, but I can say, that I now see the use of Social Media channels, as an essential component of any company’s marketing strategy. More importantly, social media will actually very fundamentally alter the way companies interact with their customers, and the public at large. With over 500MM facebook users, 126MM blogs, 2Bn+ Tweets each year, social media outlets are fundamentally changing both the way companies reach out to their customers but also provides them with a much more content rich vehicle to do so. And while I believe this change will require greater investment in employees to manage all of these different social media channels, it also has a significant impact on the cost of marketing their products and services to customers. As we can see below, the greater the number of blog posts a company develops has a direct correlation with the number of leads they generate. This means, companies will need to add headcount to ensure they have individuals to generate content for these social media outlets. Furthermore, these tools provide real-time feedback about customer sentiments about their products. 

In fact, we are now starting to see hard data about the lead generation and customer acquisition that can be driven using social media resources. In fact, we’re seeing that across the most popular channels (FB, twitter, blogs, and LinkedIn) a minimum of 40% of companies have already started to employ these tools as a way to market their products to customers. 40%! that’s nearing the majority. And i’m sure that all new companies will actually use these tools as a method to significantly reduce customer acquisition costs. I’m part of the Entrepreneurial Greenhouse Program and there’s no question that many students actually reduce the overall customer acquisition cost as a result of using social media tools to reach their customers. A commercial during the superbowl costs a couple million bucks and last about a minute, a daily blogpost, or Tweet costs nothing, and can provide the audience with significantly more information and content. In fact, one can argue that these vehicles allow companies to create richer content for their customer, and provide seamless access to purchase their products. 

Now - let’s not go crazy. I’m not going to start Tweeting regularly, nor will anyone ever see me Check In anywhere, ever. But, I’ll at least admit my eyes have been opened to the unique value social media provides. 



Twitter - The Spectator Sport


A “Field of Dreams” idea in business refers to a business or idea where a company develops a product or service they believe will attract a very large user base without any concern for how the company will generate revenue. The belief being that they do not need to focus on perfecting the revenue generation model, because they will acquire such a large customer base, money will never be an issue. 

If you build it… they will come!

Twitter went out and built a new platform for communication. And people did come. In fact, it is estimated that Twitter will reach 200MM users by the end of 2011. A lot of people came.

Having just recently joined Twitter (my 4 followers is a testament to this fact), I have observed that while millions of people signed up for the service, they “came” to watch, not to play. In fact, 50% of tweets come from 0.05% of users, meaning that certain twitter accounts (“the players”) generate an overwhelming majority of tweets - most users joining the service, only to observe and read what other have to say.

When I joined Twitter, I started following 15 different users. The scope of accounts I followed ranged from industry experts (@JackWelch) to interesting media outlets, I was accustomed to checking at least a few times each day (@TheOnion, @NewYorkTime, @CNN, etc.).

The problem is that those few users who generate content, generate so much content that their tweets act more as SPAM messages than any form of useful content. To continue the analogy, “the players” play so often, that no one wants to watch them play. In fact, over the course of my membership with Twitter, I have un-followed all but 2 of the individuals I followed. In fact, I was so turned off with the frequency with which the New York Times and The Onion sent me tweets, that I not only stopped following them, but I lost my desire to view their online articles. It was if Twitter removed my ability to decide which content I wanted to view, and when I wanted to view it. 

It is not secret that Twitter is in the process of trying to monetize their user base. When I look at the fact that so few users actually proactively engage in the product (unlike Facebook) it seems highly unclear how the service will manage to generate income. 



I’ll use Twitter how I damn well want to


I remember going to a party about a year ago and meeting a Stanford professor who was very interested in social media and tech. A few minutes into our group conversation, she stopped us to ask how many Twitter followers we each had. One person said “About 400”, another “100, 150” and when it came to my turn, I shamefully admitted my mere “30.” Now, I’ll have you know that number has grown (that’s right, I’m at a whopping 41 right now). But what really bugged me, what realllllly got me thinking, was the way the woman proudly said she had over 500, implying she had real social power, and that in contrast, we all had some work to do.

Now, I’m not about to argue that there is no merit in having a lot of followers - I certainly concede that in certain situations and with certain people (or companies), that having a ton of followers can be really powerful. But I’ve listened to too many lectures about how brand should use Twitter and heard too many people boasting about their high follower count to let it go any further. I may be misinterpreting their underlying message here but assuming I’m not, I absolutely do not agree that the point of Twitter is getting your message out to as many people as possible. I’m sure there are a ton of people who find a lot of value in Twitter for this exact reason, but I sure as hell will not be judged by those standards since it’s fundamentally at odds with MY reason for using Twitter and the value that I derive from it.

I’m no crazy person, I promise, but I just don’t generally find value in reading boring tweets from people I don’t personally know or care about. And I’m not really comfortable sharing my thoughts with people I don’t know. I labor over each of my Tweets, making sure they’re as funny or provocative as they can be, and I take pride in them. At the end of the day, that sometimes means they’re not appropriate for everyone, but rather than censor myself, I’d rather speak freely and limit my Twitter followers to those close friends of mine who I know understand me and my intentions.

My main argument is that sheer number of Twitter followers is not in any way a proxy for social power and tells you nothing about your impact on others. I could probably have a good 100+ followers at this point, but that would mean that my tweets would be “cherished” by each and every spammer or loose acquaintance that chose to follow me. I do think of myself as a pretty interesting person, but I doubt any of those people would be cherishing anything I had to say.

(Source: cocomamba)


Social Media + The 4th Wall


As a 24-year old Stanford alumna, I’ve very much “grown up” around social media. I started using Facebook my freshman year when it was only limited to a few top-tier schools, I’ve been a faithful Twitter user for quite some time, I was the first of my friends to join LinkedIn. Few things I hear these days about social media really surprise me.

However, I recently heard a talk about social media by Randall Ringer from The Verse Group. Randall spoke from the perspective of brand management and how social media has changed the relationship between brand and consumer. Now obviously, lots of people have had thoughts about this for a while, but one thing Randall said really resonated with my own experience and summarized this relationship really beautifully: “In theater, there’s that 4th wall separating the actors from the audience. But now with social media, brands are no longer marketing from behind a 4th wall. Social media broke down the wall such that brands know exactly who their audience is…and the audience can talk back.”

To me, this idea of a 4th wall really crystallizes the difference between social media and traditional media with respect to brand-customer relationships and demonstrates perfectly how social media has really radically changed this relationship. With the audience (consumers) being able to talk back, they are in a tremendous position of power to change the performance, the characters, and other audience members’ perspectives. Effectively, they’re changing the game for everyone.

Naturally, this leads to a whole set of new questions: relatively speaking, social media is fairly new. How will this change the brand-customer relationship in 10, 20, 30 years? What other new technologies will appear that will have a similarly disruptive effect on brand marketing? Now that everybody is jumping aboard the social media train, what does this mean for brands who shouldn’t necessarily participate in social media? Are thereany brands that shouldn’t participate?

This is certainly an exciting time to be working in marketing and thinking about these issues. If anyone has any thoughts about this or anything else, I’d love to hear!

(Source: cocomamba)


Get me a green job!


A week ago I attended a panel hosted by the Earth Institute ( ) at Columbia University on the present and future of the green economy. Apparently it’s a “great” time for the sustainability industry and “so much” activity is going on. As I wrap up my MBA studies this week (it’s last week of classes at my joint degree program between Columbia Business School and the School of International and Public Affairs), I have come to test that statement personally in the job market over the past few months. As a result, I wanted to take a moment to share my personal experience with the ability of the sustainability industry to recruit and retain talent.

It has never been easy to find a great job in the green space, especially for someone with a non-technical, non-engineering background. And it is nearly impossible to find a really well paying job in terms of base salary (though start ups would offer equity stake to improve your upside). This isn’t surprising given how young and underdeveloped the industry is. Moreover, business skills are valued the most at the commercialization stage of a technology, not at the time of its invention. When it comes to adopting green technologies at scale, however, short of wind turbines, solar panels and a few energy efficiency tools, there are few out there that have reached the mainstream. I dream of the day when I get to see more electric vehicles on the road than I hear about Tesla on the news! From my vantage point, it’s been lots of talk and not as much action.

Before you proceed to dismiss my complaint as wining and tell me your story of how long it took you to land your dream job, let me tell you why I think you should absolutely start worrying about my tough job prospects. Yes, it’s true that it is only natural that niche industries like cleantech, or social media, or organic farming (or add your own example here) don’t provide numerous jobs. That’s implied in the definition of “niche,” correct? How many jobs could be provided from one Facebook, one Twitter and one Zynga?!

The real problem here is that a third of the world’s people live within 62 miles of the shoreline. As climate change progresses, more and more of the world’s largest cities including Miami and New York, will be increasingly vulnerable to coastal floodings (claims the National Geographic in its latest edition: I am not worried about either Miami or New York City, however, as despite the tough budget times, I am confident that the US government will find the money to pay for the flood protection projects. Who I am worried most about are those states out there in the world who don’t hold a vote with the Electoral College.  It’s the Bangladesh, the island-nations, the people living on the edge of the African and Asian deserts, those are the ones who won’t get protection from floods or droughts. Climate change is a massive and complex problem with relatively small amount of brainpower employed to tackle it compared to the size and urgency of the catastrophe we are supposed to be trying to avoid. Again, from my vantage point, there’s not enough “we” in the fight against climate change.

So what is there to do for a recent MBA grad? Lobbying the government for more regulations or subsidies for clean technologies? Done before. With marginal results. Wait for carbon policy? Good luck in a few years! Keep looking for a job till you find one? Not a terribly satisfying answer. But I may just as well start learning Mandarin. In 2009, China invested $34.6 billion into clean energy development, that’s over 20% of the total global spending and 2X what the US spent that year for that purpose. These large capital flows are coupled with a range of predictable and generous policies to promote green technologies through: 1) national targets for emissions, renewable electricity and energy efficiency; 2) feed-in-tariffs; 3) tax benefits and long-term funding programs and well as 4) investments in transmission.

As a result, while American politicians would like to muse over the US’s ability to capture the lead in the new green economy, I worry about the ability of the US to retain American entrepreneurs within its borders. Let’s just put people to work first. Get me a green job!

(via greenenmasse-deactivated2013120)


RIP Naked Quad Run @Tufts University


MY ALMA MATER Tufts University (Go Jumbos!) is known for a few things. It has one of the most widely read student newspapers (published 5-days per week). Jumbo, the famous Barnum & Bailey’s circus elephant, is the school mascot. Tufts has also educated some talented celebrities (Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt, Jessica Biel. Ok, fine, she was only there a year, but we did bunk down in the same dorm). Tufts is also well known for its Naked Quad Run (NQR). This is no ‘let’s streak the yard’ nonsense. NQR is an epic event that starts in West Hall (my senior year dorm) where hundreds of your closest friends suddenly strip down to their skivvies, clamor down the stairs and into the dark, cold night. Many students (and some creepy townie spectators) gather around our residential quad to watch a parade of jogging, jiggling colligates lap the near ¼ mile loop not once, but often three times. I have fond memories of the fencing club parading with their swords in tow. Not to mention the editor of Primary Source (the right-wing yet widely-read student magazine) riding his bike and wearing naught but an American Flag-cape that fluttered gently in the wind. It was liberating, amusing, exciting. Even if you were not a runner, you were still a participant in an event that brought together the entire student body.

UNFORTUNATELY FRIENDS, the Naked Quad Run is no more. President Bacow has served Tufts well this past decade, and I generally support and admire him and the work he has done. However, I am not so convinced that this was his best move (or best last move, as he’s retiring this year). The Tufts Daily reports on the event and cites heavy drinking and consequent safety concerns as the primary justification for cancelling the 40 year tradition.  

ARE FRESHMEN really drinking more today than they were 10-20-30 years ago? Has there been an uptick in binge drinking or just an uptick in students seeking oft promoted resources? Are people less coordinated in the cold, icy darkness today than in previous decades! Even if all this is the case, the underlying problem is drinking, not a nude jog. I’d be more concerned about discovering and mitigating causes for binge drinking than eliminating scenarios when drinking takes place. This decision, therefore, sounds like it’s all about legal liability. Yeah, that matters, but it’s a buzz kill.

UNDERSTANDING the social impact of advancing technology in the past decade might be another ‘real reason’ for cancelling the run. The Daily article only dedicates a short paragraph to this issue—outsiders video-taping the event and posting it online. Sure, this is more of a problem today than it was 5 or ten years ago. Privacy is a darling topic of the tech beat, so I’ll spare you the obvious bullet points. That said, why cancel the run when you could try policing it better and keeping outsiders away. Tufts is a secluded campus. There are ways to only permit people with Student IDs and to police the crowd. This might work for the binge drinkers too!

THE SOLUTION President Bacow devised is to pose a creative challenge to the students to start a new tradition. I’m just not sure how the university is going to sanction a new tradition that will be on par. That which is memorable and impactful must also be participatory, and likely daring and boundary challenging. Then again, when put to the test, people will surprise… and usually in creative ways. 


Social Media & Leadership Don’t Go Hand In Hand


Guest post by Angelique Barker. Follow her on Twitter at @angeliq14

In this month’s Fast Company (, the “Twitterfly Effect” discusses the hiring of former digital designer, John Maeda, as the president of the Rhode Island School of Design in 2007. The school’s bold attempt in defining its relationship with a new era of digital technology and global society, Maeda made some bold moves.

Maeda launched a president’s blog to spark conversation among him and the student’s and created Anonymous Tuesdays to encourage people to speak out. He was one of the few presidents to have a facebook page and was a manic tweeter. Unfortunately, with recent backlash, he has had to face the painful reality that he has left much of his faculty unconvinced of his capabilities in fullfilling his original mission.

So what was missing? Where did Maeda go wrong? Maeda says, “Technologists believe that if they impose a solution, people will adopt it… but buy-in can’t be bought.” Maeda adds, “People don’t want more messages, they want more interactions.”  

Once again we find ourselves confronted with the same fallacy: if you build it, they will come. In this case, good ideas weren’t good enough- social media wasn’t enough.  

It appears Maeda fell into one of the many pitfalls highlighted in the powerful book Leading Change ( Specifically, he failed to create a sense of urgency, to truly communicate the pressing need to make the kind of changes he was making. He failed to create a guiding coalition, a team that could serve as the ambassadors of his vision and help permeate it throughout the school.  Finally, he fell short of integrating his new approaches into the RISD culture.  

As a current student, I’m inspired by the changes Maeda made and his commitment to keep trying. And, with 174,552 following him on Twitter (@johnmaeda), there are definitely a lot of people out there who want to hear what he says. 

As John Maxwell says, “A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position” and Maeda appears to have plenty of it. 



How do you see the future of social media? What technology? How?

Do you really believe that internet will be there forever? And what’s internet? Just zillions of HTML pages? Or do you think that it’s only a huge network of servers all around the world?

This video is a bit old but still fascinating. Pranav Mistry has presented in November 2009 an amazing technology called sixth sense. Here is how it works:

He has basically replaced the computer screen with a micro projector and the computer controllers (keyboard, mice) with a webcam which analyses movement in real time (a little bit like the xbox kinect). The results is amazing.

The whole technology has been released under the open source MIT license and I’m still surprised that nobody has commercialized it yet.

And I can easily imagine that in 5 years we all have tag clouds over our heads or on our t-shirts…

Watch and enjoy ;)