Digital Television - ETA ...?

Digital Television - ETA ...?

Today Was Digital TV Transition Day

February 17, 2009 – the day when the US was scheduled to transition from analog to digital television broadcast.

We Failed.

President Obama signed into law the DTV Delay Act, which pushed the deadline for transition back until June 12th.

While I applauded Obama’s ability to get things done in a recent post, I am disappointed with this decision to delay.

A Delay For the Wrong Reasons

5.7% of US households (or 6.5 million homes) were unprepared for the digital TV transition as of January 22, 2008.

This lack of preparedness was chalked up to the suffering economy (as most things are). President Obama said in a statement, “Millions of Americans, including those in our most vulnerable communities, would have been left in the dark if the conversion had gone on as planned, and this solution is an important step forward as we work to get the nation ready for digital TV.”

I am compassionate about Americans “in our most vulnerable communities,” so I tried to understand what was the risk of leaving them “in the dark.” Would these people be unaware of emergency broadcasts? Not more than people who don’t own a TV by choice. Does owning a TV guarantee some privilege of free over-the-air basic programming? Clearly not.

How Americans Were Prepared For the Transition

Did you know that there is a DTV transition website?

Did you know that the federal government has been subsidizing $40 coupons for TV converter boxes that will enable viewers to keep their analog TVs? Up to 2 per household.

Did you know that a good digital converter box only costs $59.99?

Digital TV Nascar Crash

Digital TV Hits A Wall

The digital TV transition delay was based on uncertainty

Uncertainty over the reaction of that 5.7% of the US population. This was the wrong reason to delay, and the Obama administration knows it.

In fact, Obama today signed the $787 billion stimulus package, which includes $7.2 billion for broadband development.

Television is not dead yet, but broadband internet has clearly out-tracked television as a tool for communication, commerce, and short-form entertainment. Where television continues to dominate is long-form entertainment and high-definition content.

The role of television – as a broadcast mechanism – will continue to diminish over the next 10 years. Broadband Internet will become ever more important and will eventually be the source of high-quality long-form entertainment, as Hulu is demonstrating today. Therefore, the pain of transition to digital TV will be like pulling off a band-aid – temporary and necessary.

Do you agree that letting this digital TV transition deadline slip was a mistake?

Posted by: Will | February 13, 2009

Three Lessons For Managers From President Obama

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

Politics aside, Barack Obama runs his organization with a management style that can and should be emulated by business managers. I’d like to point out three key lessons for managers from observing President Obama.

Key Lesson #1: Transparency

Barack Obama has set a tone of transparency with his administration. By transparency, I mean that he is forthcoming and proactive with his intentions as Manager-in-Chief.

His weekly video address is a great example of transparency. Each week, Obama presents himself to the nation in an intimate format – a YouTube-sized video about current issues and his intentions on addressing them. Whether you agree or disagree with his plans, he lays them out for every American to watch and digest on their own time.

At one of my previous companies (a private firm), the COO would open the books (P&L, sales pipeline, and more) to the whole company in a meeting called State of the Onion. This transparency engendered greater trust and faith in the employees since they could see and ask questions about the internals of the business.

I think many managers, especially young managers, will be reluctant to “expose their cards” to the whole team – especially in bad times. But I believe that transparency breeds loyalty.

barack-obama-jediKey Lesson #2: Get It Done

FastCompany declared Team Obama as the year’s most successful startup, which “took a skinny kid with a funny name and turned him into the most powerful new national brand in a generation.”

Since taking office, Obama and his team have continued to move at the pace they set in the campaign, moving forward his agenda, such as announcing plans to close Guantanamo and vigorously pushing for the historic stimulus plan.

Good managers take action quickly. The create a plan an execute on it. People are inspired by momentum, and are frustrated by bureaucracy.

When I applied for a MIT Sloan class taught by former G.E. Chairman Jack Welch, the essay topic was What experience provides the best evidence that you can “get it done” ? In the class Jack espoused the values and benefits in the concept of winning. This is a concept that Obama knows and demonstrates well.

Key Lesson #3: Expect Crisis

In less than a month in office, President Obama has met with his share of crises.

After Obama nominated Tom Daschle to be his secretary of health and human services, it was uncovered that Daschle failed to pay taxes. Obama, torn between the high ethical standards he had spoken about on inauguration day and his desire to move his political agenda forward, exacerbated the crisis by outwardly supporting Daschle. The New York Times called for Daschle to withdraw, as did many others. Fortunately, Daschle did.

I doubt Obama antipicated that Daschle and other appointees would be derelict on their taxes, and we can learn from his missed opportunity to adapt quickly to that crisis.

In business, crisis can occur when a key employee leaves suddenly or when a key contract is pulled. Managers who anticipate these events will be less surprised and can react more quickly.

Moreover, managers who bring transparency to the workplace and have a history of “getting it done” will be most ready to respond in a crisis.

Photo Attributions

President Obama Speaking photo by marcn
Obama Jedi photo by Michael Verdi

Posted by: Will | February 12, 2009

My “Startup CEO” Post Caught On Fire. Find Out Why.

Yesterday I posted a blog article called Want To Be A Startup CEO? Better Learn How To Code. It caught on fire and was viewed more than 4,500 times in a few hours. If you google for “startup CEO“, this link is the number 9 result.

Google Search for "Startup CEO"

Google Search for "Startup CEO"

Comments and Controversy

I was impressed by the level of engagement from the readers on this post. Many comments agreed with my sentiment, while some critiqued. Here is a good sample:

  • @Dharmesh Shah – I could not agree with you more. Even if you did happen to raise money and such, I think it’s still immensely valuable to be able to dig into the code and deliver a product.
  • @Mike – If you already employ a small team of people to build a website such as yours, and nobody knows how to code, then that means you need to work on your CEO skills and employ the right people.
  • @dunk010 – This is really just so true. I’ve seen so many would be “CEOs” getting distanced from the code far too early, they just want to run a business and make a bunch of cash. All the great companies have coders at their heart for the longest time, listen to their users, build a dedicated community and most importantly create a _great_ product.
  • @sak84 – I don’t think you necessarily need to have deep coding skills to start a tech company utilizing programmers. I do think you need to have a great idea, an open mind, and a willingness to step inside the shoes and take the perspective of the coder.
  • @Alex3917 – This is terrible advice, even for people who want to do web startups. The job of the entrepreneur is to pull everyone from their social network to make the thing work. They’re responsible for finding the web guys, the sales guys, the marketing team, the science advisers, the customer support people, etc.

But I especially liked the comment from @neilc on Hacker News who nicely summarized my main point.

I don’t think the advice is “learn to code”, as such; rather, the author’s saying “be prepared to do whatever your business needs to be successful.” …  a CEO who only views his role as managing others + “the vision thing” and isn’t prepared to get his hands dirty, probably isn’t a great early-stage startup CEO.

That’s Exactly The Point

There has been a phase shift in the entrepreneurial landscape. Only a year ago, securing investment was easier, advertising business models were still legitimate and new “platforms” like Facebook and OpenSocial were seen as green fields of opportunity.

Today, entrepreneurs face a world where opportunities have narrowed – a dearth of VC investment in Q4 2008, a sudden slow-down of acquisitions by Google and others, and massive layoffs in Silicon Valley that dampens optimism.

As a startup CEO, you can’t just be an MBA. You can’t just use your social network to get other people to work with you; at least not until you have a product that has hit critical momentum. In the beginning, the buck stops with you.

As my friend and former professor Howard Anderson would say, being a startup CEO will tap into every talent you know you have, and some you don’t even know about yet.

If you’re building a web company, then coding better be one of those talents.

Posted by: Will | February 11, 2009

Want To Be A Startup CEO? Better Learn How To Code.


I decided to start a company after graduating from business school at MIT Sloan. After taking courses with industry leaders like Jack Welch and learning the fundamentals of solid management practices, I was ready to run my new company as CEO.

What I did not know is that I would enter the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem just as it would begin to implode.

As sources of funding suddenly become more scarce, I had to quickly adapt to my new circumstances and do whatever needed to be done to move the company forward, and that meant coding.

MBA Skills Not A Priority

At one time I was a hot shot developer, with a computer science degree from Harvard. After some experience as an individual contributer, I began to lead teams and manage large engagements in San Francisco and London. I enjoyed the leadership responsibilities and decided to go back to business school to prepare myself to run my own company.

Through my MBA and work experience, I developed expertise in finance, marketing, and business strategy. These are fantastic skills for constructing a business plan and pitching to investors, which I spent much of the spring and summer of 2008 focusing my energies on.

However, when it became clear that venture and angel money was drying up, I quickly realized that the priority needed to be on building our product, not on being a CEO.

Building A Product With A Small Team

My team has built a fantastic web product – His Catalog.  What few people know is that I did nearly all of the web design, functional development and SEO. My lead engineer built an amazingly scalable back-end and my lead stylist wrote a ton of content for the site. But building a big product with a small team is hard. We didn’t have the resources to hire SEO experts, designers, or testers. We did it all on a shoestring budget.

When push came to shove, my skills as coder were more valuable than my skills as CEO.

Recommendations to New Entrepreneurs

If you’re in business school now and thinking about launching your company, I want you to ask yourself: Will you be ready to get down and dirty in the code if no one else can? Will you enjoy working long hours tweaking your SEO strategy if you can’t hire someone to do it for you? Will you be psyched to attend technical webinars about new services for the cloud?

And do you have the technical background to make a difference?

If the answer to any of these is no, then I highly recommend you focus on a path to funding rather than a path to profitability (topic for another blog post).  Because the market can turn and you, the founder, need to be ready to adapt.

[ photo by dierken ]

Posted by: Will | January 17, 2009

Photo Of The Year 2009 – Miracle On The Hudson

I know it is only mid-January, but this may be the photo of the year 2009.

Miracle On The Hudson

Miracle On The Hudson

Snapped by Janis Krums on a commuter ferry that responded to the US Airways plane crash on January 15, 2009. The composition of the photograph, contrast versus the city skyline, and rawness of the rescue make it spectacular.

Posted by: Will | January 15, 2009

How To Read News On The iPod Touch

WSJ on the iPod Touch

WSJ on the iPod Touch

Although I generally have an “anti-routine” philosophy, I have developed one particular habit over the last few months. In the morning, I read my news on the iPod touch in bed. At first this probably sounds funny, but I’ll tell you that I’ve tried many different ways of consuming news in the morning and this is the best.

News Sources

I read a number of newspapers, financial news sources, blogs, and social news sources to get up to speed on my areas of interest: US economy, technology, venture capital, global news and economy. These sources include:


Financial News Sources:


Social News Sources:

How To Read A Lot of Information Quickly on a Small Screen

NewsGator iPod Touch Aggregator

NewsGator iPod touch Aggregator

With all of these sources, this would seem like a daunting task to read everything. And that would be true if these were all print editions. However, on the web (and especially the mobile web), news sources must figure out how to bubble up the most important information to the top, which means a reader is less bombarded with advertising and secondary stories.

A second benefit of the mobile device are the news aggregators. Personally I use NewsGator. When I first setup my news sources in the fall, I tried a number of different news aggregators and found NewsGator to be the best because it had a simple landing screen with all of my blog sources in one spot.

TechCrunch on NewsGator

TechCrunch on NewsGator

I have read recently that Google Reader has been improved. When I tried Google Reader in the fall, I found it frustrating that it only previewed each article and I had to click into a website to read the rest.

NewsGator on the other hand, allows me to read the full article and see images for each story without changing the page. This is a key feature.

Most of the time lost in reading news on the iPhone or iPod touch is spent changing pages and zooming in or out to view articles.

Social News Sources

Most people in my generation probably use Facebook and Twitter too much as sources of news, and most people in my parents generation probably can’t understand how any news gets broadcast on those sites.

The reality is that Twitter and Facebook are great for breaking news, while Digg and Reddit (and others) are great for understanding trends. Traditional media outlets, in comparison, are too slow for breaking news and too filtered for understanding trends.

Over the last several months, nearly every major news event – from earthquakes to the Mumbai attacks to plane crashes – Twitter was first to report what was going on, by people involved.

Similarly, users of Facebook update their status with their one-line thoughts about the election or the conflict in Gaza, usually linking to breaking stories.

Social aggregators, like Digg and Reddit, let users vote up or down the stories they like, so that the common interest is bubbled to the top. On one day common interest may be about voting for Obama, and on another day it may be a Star Wars joke.

This “perspective of the masses” adds the most flavor to my news consumption.

Setting Up The Home Screen

iPod touch Home Screen

iPod touch Home Screen

Finally, I setup the home screen on the iPod touch to give me all of these sources at my fingertips. I created shortcut buttons for websites and NewsGator, and I moved the applications I use most often to the first page.

If you have any suggestions on what else I could do, I’d love to hear them in your comments!

Posted by: Will | December 27, 2008

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup

During the Christmas Holiday, I made a nice soup for the family. People liked it so I thought I would type up and share the recipe. Enjoy!

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup

Last Updated: December 27, 2008 by Will O’Brien
Servings: 6
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 red bell peppers
  • 1 large can whole peeled tomatoes (fire roasted tomatoes add nice flavor), drained
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 4-6 cups chicken broth
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1 pinch ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 6 tablespoons sour cream
  1. Roast peppers: rub oil on peppers and grill (or broil) them until blackened, turn to get all sides. Put into paper bag and seal. Let rest for 15 minutes, then peel off blackened parts and separate into quarters. The skins will come right off and the core and seeds will fall out. Set aside.
  2. Heat olive oil over moderate heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. 
  3. Stir in tomato, bell peppers, thyme, and paprika. Cook over medium-low heat and reduce, about 25 minutes.
  4. Stir in chicken stock, salt and pepper, and cayenne pepper. Bring to boiling, lower heat, and simmer, partially covered, for 25 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
  5. Strain soup, reserving broth. Place solids in food processor or blender (in batches) with a small amount of broth, and process until fairly smooth.
  6. Stirring slowly, add the broth back until desired thickness is reached. Lower heat and simmer 10 minutes.
  7. Add butter and heavy whipping cream to soup. Stir.
  8. Ladle into bowls and add 1 tablespoon (dollop) of sour cream to each bowl. For a lighter soup, this is also delicious without the sour cream.
  • The soup can be cooked for a longer time at lower heat. Use your discretion to determine when to move add chicken stock and when to puree soup.
  • Using whole tomatoes and peppers will provide better flavor than chopping the tomatoes and peppers at the beginning.
  • Use your discretion on the amount of chicken stock to use based on how thick the soup is at that step.
  • The soup can be made vegetarian by using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.
  • This recipe can easily be doubled for larger quantities.
  • The soup can be refrigerated and reheated later.
  • This is a modified recipe from one originally published at
Posted by: Will | December 21, 2008

Holiday Cocktails

We hosted a little holiday party last night and our refreshments were a big hit. If you are looking for some holiday cocktails, I highly recommend this Christmas Punch and Grinch Sour!

Christmas Punch

  • 1 lg. can pineapple juice
  • 2 qts. ginger ale
  • 1 bottle champagne
  • 2 pkgs. frozen raspberries
  • 1/2 gallon lime sherbet

Grinch Sour

  • 1 oz Midori® melon liqueur
  • 1 oz whisky sour mix
  • 2 oz Sprite® soda
  • 2 cherries

Here’s our full menu. Happy Holidays!


Posted by: Will | December 9, 2008

Launch of His Catalog – My Startup

My startup is called His Catalog ( Tonight we launched a new version our site. The team is thrilled. It has been hard work, but we’re happy to have hit this milestone.

You can read about the launch in my blog post at

Here is a snippet:

Some of the exciting new additions include:

  • New inventory! Some of the most popular merchants and brands are now on the site, with thousands of items
  • Great content! Our stylists have been busy writing content and creating style advice for you
  • And … announcing for the first time … a fully functionality outfit builder! You can visually put together items from your catalog and our recommendations to see what an outfit will look like. You can use our stylist outfits as a starting point and then make changes as you like.


Big shout out to the team!

Posted by: Will | November 21, 2008

An Untimely Misstep by Google : SearchWiki

Google launched SearchWiki yesterday, an attempt at personalizing search results through voting, removing and commenting.

googleThis seems to be an untimely misstep by the search giant. With their stock price hovering around the 52-week low, they have taken a gamble at modifying their core product. In my opinion, the changes create more noise and will stir questions about the company both externally and internally.

Why SearchWiki? Why Now? Answer: Digg


Example of Google SearchWiki

My first reaction on seeing a new icons next to a search result yesterday was: “Oh, Google is going after Digg!”

Digg is a social content website where its community votes up or down news articles and photos, and the most popular ones bubble to the top. Digg recently raised venture funding after Google walked away from a possible deal to acquire Digg for around $200 million.

Is this a possible scenario? An engineer at Google, say his name is Amay, decides to build a social voting utility for the search results in his 20% time. Google’s strategy group then looks at Amay’s prototype and said, “Mmm .. maybe we should make our search results more social, but Digg does that. Can we acquire Digg?” After passing on the Digg deal, Google decides to make their SearchWiki prototype a full-blown integrated feature of search, for everyone.

Where SearchWiki Fails: Noise and Privacy

There are two immediate red flags raised by the introduction of SearchWiki.

  1. Noise. There will now be lots and lots of noise in what was formerly an uncluttered and simple experience. On the web, comment forms are dominated by the loudest and most obnoxious of web users. This will result in both inane and inappropriate comments (see example below).

    Comments in Google SearchWiki

    Comments in Google SearchWiki

  2. Privacy. By launching this feature, users will become acutely more aware that Google is recording data on their searches, which may have a negative reputational backlash on Google. I found jblondon’s comment to a TechCrunch article about the same topic an insightful summary of this awakened mindset.

“it’s unsightly disutility acts as a useful reminder to sign out of your google account — which has the concomitant benefit of slightly reducing the amount of data the company stores about your online behaviour.”

Why This Is Untimely

One may argue that social features will inevitably creep into search, and I agree. However, to introduce such major new features into the core product en masse is a risk perhaps Google should have considered more thoughtfully.

Google’s stock price is at $257 at the time of this writing, which puts most of its employee options underwater. With that tension already built, is it strategically advantageous to take a risk on changing the core product? If these changes alienate users or spook analysts, Google could see a bigger drop in its stock price and a revolt among its employees.

It will be interesting to watch how Google modifies their social search strategy once they see it in action for a few days. I’m guessing they will withdraw somewhat.

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