Starting May 22, 2001
Donna Dubinsky speaks for CJP Tech 20, Massachusetts Software and Internet Council meeting: Ellen Hancock, Bob Davis, and Sen. John Kerry, Now it's Dr. Bricklin
Friday, June 1, 2001
Donna Dubinsky speaks for CJP Tech 20
Last night I went to a dinner reception hosted by Boston's Combined Jewish Philanthropies Tech 20 group. I've reported on a few of the CJP tech meetings before, such as those with Judith Hurwitz and Howard Anderson. I've taken notes from a few more, but didn't get the time to write them up, unfortunately. (Maybe one of these days...) This time I'll do it right away.
The main speaker was Donna Dubinsky, founder and CEO of Handspring. Some of us talked with her before her speech.
Donna Dubinsky talking and beaming with Bob Frankston, then taking his picture with her Visor
She had lots of useful Springboard modules to show us:
A picture of me, a soon to be available Xircom 802.11b Springboard module (alone and in a Visor)
The reception was at the home of Susan and Robert Schechter. Before she started, we went around the room and introduced ourselves. With lots of old-timers, there were lots of examples of "founded famous company that got big and then went away" (over a many year period -- not the short dot-com lifecycle). In their middle age, many were active in new ventures, investing, being active Jewishly, and giving back to the community.
Donna speaking viewed over someone's shoulder, a part of the audience
Here are some of my notes from Donna's talk. She's very open and relaxed when she talks and is well worth hearing.
Donna asked who could show her their Visor. She gave those that could a spare stylus or some Glide dental floss in a Springboard module. Then she started out by telling how she got into the computer industry. She's from Benton Harbor, MI (a Mecca of my youth as the home of HeathKit). She was a history major at Yale, worked in banking in my home town of Philadelphia, and went on to Harvard Business School a couple of years after I did (she was in town for her 20th reunion). While deciding what she wanted to do during her second year at HBS, her professor brought in a demo of VisiCalc on an Apple II. As an ex-banker she immediately saw the value. Not knowing the difference between hardware and software she decided to try to get a job at Apple. Apple didn't want to talk to a history major, but with her perseverance she got a job. She helped develop Apple's dealer channel and worked at Claris. After Claris she took some time off and went to Paris ("Claris to Paris, see it made sense...").
She met Jeff Hawkins who turned her on to handheld computing and she decided to do that. She sees handhelds as the more personal type of computers that will bring the benefits of computing to broader and broader populations. They started out as an applications software company for handhelds. The handheld business in general wasn't doing so well, and they realized it was because the industry was structured just like the PC business with divisions between hardware, software, etc. They felt it needed to be more integrated.
The story of how the Palm Pilot got started: One of their investors said, after hearing them complain repeatedly about how others in the industry weren't doing the right things, "If you're so smart, and you know what to do, why don't you just go do it?" They said, "Hmm, maybe we should do an integrated product". They said to Jeff, what would you build if you had a clean sheet of paper to start with? He came back the next day with a wooden model of what became the Pilot: cradle and everything. The biggest thing: Up until then handhelds had been viewed as small computers. His new idea was viewing it more as an accessory to a PC, a window into a PC. You needed a PC to run it. So, for example, you didn't need to support printing -- a major hassle in the implementation of previous handheld products. They decided on these design parameters: $299, fits in a man's shirt pocket, very very easy to use, and built around synchronization with a PC.
They did all the R&D with 27 people and about $2 million (amazingly small). This was in 1994 when the Internet was taking off and they couldn't get further investment. After all, the PDA market had lost a total of $1 billion up until then. Finally they got funding by selling themselves to US Robotics. They launched March/April of 1995. For the first 5 months they sold 10,000 units a month to early adopters who then went on and sung its praises to others. They sold a million units in the first 18 months, which compares quite nicely to the first million in 3 years for the Sony Walkman. Later, she and Jeff left to found Handspring. She sees handhelds as the long-term future of really personal (as opposed to enterprise) computing.
In answer to some questions, she discussed the differences between devices like the RIM (see my writeup of the RIM), Palm, and cell phones. The RIM's early adopters were Wall Street people. The Palm's were more technically oriented. In wireless, you see application-specific devices. For example, the phone is for voice communications. The RIM is for wireless email. The Palm VII is an application-specific device focussed on Internet access. "To make a great device you're making a ton of tradeoffs. Take text entry. On a phone, the thing you do most is do numbers so you put a numeric keypad on it. Well, entering text is a bear. Pressing that 'A' three times to get a 'C'... Now the RIM is a great messaging device with a little keyboard on it that works really well. But, there's no numeric keypad -- try using that thing to dial a phone... The stylus is great for personal organization and navigation and a small amount of text entry. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses... The question is how do you put these things together and still make a compelling product? These are the hard problems we're working on." You can add features and functionality without making it complex, like they did with infrared beaming of "business cards". You shouldn't assume that adding new functionality requires doing it with complexity, just because a lot of people have done that. Either you deliver it with an elegant design and simple or it won't succeed.
On competing with Microsoft: She's focussed on one area. Microsoft has tried to do what made them successful on the desktop and apply it to handhelds without challenging it and saying "what should we do differently?" Microsoft tried very hard to make it with the same APIs, development tools, business models, etc. They have brilliant engineers who are very capable of doing a great product in this space. Check out Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma for more about this, she recommends.
Massachusetts Software and Internet Council meeting: Ellen Hancock, Bob Davis, and Sen. John Kerry
Last Friday was the Massachusetts Software and Internet Council's annual spring meeting. The speakers were Ellen Hancock, CEO of Exodus Communications, Bob Davis, former CEO of Terra/Lycos, and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.
Ellen was introduced by her friend from her days at IBM, George Conrades, now a sort-of competitor as the head of Akamai and a Council trustee.
Akamai's George Conrades talks with Exodus' Ellen Hancock before her speech
She gave a presentation that seemed to be aimed at investors and potential customers. A few points:
At the time of their IPO in 1998 when she joined the company their bandwidth usage was 500Mb/sec. Now it's 22.8Gb/second.
With regards to doing business in California: Electric power is 1-2% of their cost of goods sold. "Ice storms also cause you to lose power."
In business, "The Internet is causing an amazing focus on 24/7."
90% of their traffic is private peering arrangements, which saves lots of money.
"The Internet is far from dead."
Bob Davis mainly talked about things related to his new book, Speed is Life (link to Amazon). He feels that inappropriate content, especially for children, is the "Enemy of the Internet". (He gave the example of purposely making a misspelling of "playstation.com" be a porn site.) To emphasize that he really cares, he's donating his book profits to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He joked that we should research the difference in shipping speeds by buying copies from both Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Actually, he was quite funny throughout his talk -- I really enjoy listening to him. ("'Pre-IPO' means 'we're running out of cash'.") I've read much of his book and like it. He gets into lots of details about doing some of their deals, including the failed one with Barry Diller and USA Networks.
Bob Davis speaking
The last speaker was our junior Senator, John Kerry. Most of his talk was very specific to our industry. As Bob Franskton observed in a question from the audience at the end, he was surprisingly knowledgeable. (Kerry didn't appreciate how much of a compliment that was coming from Bob judging by his reaction...)
Sen. Kerry conferring with the Council's Joyce Plotkin, speaking
Some of my notes (not from a recording so don't quote him on it -- contact his office if you have any questions):
Tax cut planning: "Alan Greenspan couldn't get [predicting the economy] right 7 months ago. How can the CBO do it for 10 years?"
For commerce, you used to need to be near a waterway, then railway, then highway stop. Now need highspeed access. Providers have been cherry-picking highrises, etc., but the government can help other places with incentives. He's proposing (I hope I got this right) 10% tax credits for delivering 1.5Mb to rural/low income areas (all companies, not just telcos) and 20% for 22Mb down/10Mb up to residential. (I like that he looks to lots of "up" capacity.)
The Internet is a tool so the next generation can study.
Government should "Try to do no harm" and provide a "Level playing field".
"Government shouldn't try to pick winners and losers."
Doesn't want to interrupt companies doing products capacity to do privacy.
Permanent moratorium on any access or discriminatory taxation.
Sales tax is different: Looking for a blended tax, appropriate locus, that is simple, workable, fair, and across jurisdictions.
Tuesday, May 22, 2001
Now it's Dr. Bricklin
Sunday I received an honorary doctorate from Newbury College, a local institution. A friend of mine is on their board of trustees, and suggested my name when they were looking for ideas of local people to honor. They checked me out and decided I was OK. (Thank you, Ruth!) It was a very nice outdoor ceremony with bagpipes, pomp and circumstance, and heart warming speeches. My parents were in town and got to enjoy it and be recognized along with families of the other honorees. This is my first doctorate (who knows if they'll ever be another), and I'm quite happy about it and thank the college. Once in a while when I'm introduced somewhere people refer to me as Dr. Bricklin. At least now they'll be right.
Newbury College president Roy Nirschel with honorary doctorate recipients Roger Saunders, Robert Willis, and Dan Bricklin, and the diploma
They gave us gowns with the neatest hats: It makes us look like European painters. Another honoree is Roger Saunders, founder of the Saunders Hotel Group, an owner and operator of landmark hotels in Boston. He's a trustee of the college and helped establish a wonderful school of hotel and restaurant management at Newbury College. The third honoree, Robert Willis, who delivered the Commencement Address, is founder and president of Alpine Computer Systems, a systems integration and engineering firm which was recently acquired by AimNet Solutions. Roger and I didn't have to speak, just smile.
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