Saturday, August 19, 2006

IT Procurement 2.0

I posted a little while back about Zenni Optical, which sells eyeglasses starting at about $16/pair complete. The other day I was looking at a pile of generic ink cartridges I've gotten from, at a cost of about $1-2 each (the name brand versions can run anywhere from $10-$30 each in stores). We test a lot of phones at Skip, and sometimes we need extra chargers. I have a bunch of USB-type AC chargers (e.g. for Moto RAZR or Blackberry) -- $6 each at Price for "official" equipment at other sites? $25-$30 each. And miscellaneous hardware that we use for desktops, laptops, etc. in the office has come from a whole host of great vendors that all have two things in common:
  1. The vendors offered the best or near best (within 20%) price for a generic product on pricewatch, or they were matching that price range
  2. If they advertised on pricewatch, then they had 4+ stars from their reviews
Once upon a time, Dell disrupted all of the PC builders. They were so successful at addressing every market segment (home, small biz, enterprise) that even startups would get their equipment through a big ol' Dell account. And it was a reasonable choice.

That era is over, for startups anyway. With the half-life of technology running as short as ever, there is no justification to pay extra for a supportable or supported configuration. (Mind you, production servers are a bit of a different story, but like many startups, Skip only has a few of those and they don't change much.) If a laptop breaks in 2 years, the user would probably need a better performing one anyway, and Dell doesn't look like they're too eager to support their own gear regardless.

And memory modules, monitors, hard drives, everything else? Bring on pricewatch! I haven't been burned yet, and more importantly I do not believe that any "established vendor" is going to do better by my small startup at any affordable price. I've seen enterprise vendors' support when I worked at a major bank; we had a virtually unlimited support budget for one vendor and yet no amount of green could make them show up, get things working, and keep them working.

So I've realized that IT Procurement 2.0 is about TigerDirect and Fry's and a myriad other vendors that are selling white-label gadgets or last-quarter's products for pennies, and are getting my dollars. Just as success put the lie to a priori dismissals of the LAMP stack, Ruby, and the cluetrain, a thousand startups today are controlling their burn by buying "great cheap stuff that works" from great vendors that want to sell it to them.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Moto + Linux = Real Progress in Phone as Platform

Motorola has followed up its aggressive stance on Java development at JavaOne (and I mean this in a good way, as any vendor's aggressive position is helpful in the wishy-washy world of mobile development platforms). At LinuxWorld today, Motorola exhibited the community and tool projects that go along with its plans to develop all mid-range and higher phones on a Linux OS. Exhibits included work on an Eclipse-based SDK for native app development. They plan to take on Symbian and Windows Mobile head-to-head in this arena of supporting native apps.

Greg Besio's keynote emphasized that Motorola is opening their platform (including publishing code for the core phone apps, in compliance with GPL requirements) and hoping that in return they will benefit from innovation in third-party apps that will flourish on their devices. Sounds like a plan. I asked a number of Moto folks about the balance they will be striking between carrier desires for control, and developer desires to, well, be able to deploy software on the phones. After all, innovative and compelling user experiences only go so far if you need a sync cable and bunch of cracked toolkits to get an app on your phone.

It sounds like a clear position statement has not yet been formulated. One individual said that infrastructure is being prepared in the SDK for various levels of code-signing to control deployment to devices. This could be a "cover all bases" move though, rather than a clear indication that code would need to be signed. Others emphasized that Motorola is committing resources toward helping developers move along the deployment path.

For my part, I emphasized two points to everyone with whom I spoke:
  1. Any unlocked GSM phone that a user owns should be wide open. If a SIM card / network affiliation wants to restrict some net or phone traffic, fine. But the core device and the decision about what runs on it needs to be the owner's.

  2. Even very restrictive carriers (Verizon, Nextel) have historically allowed owners of high-end devices carte blanche with app installation, provided the devices were designated and marketed as smartphones -- e.g. Q on Verizon, Blackberry on Nextel. Plenty of apps generate fatal exceptions on both of these devices, and the earth hasn't stopped rotating, so app robustness isn't the issue. And since smartphone users pay big bucks for their data plans, loss of revenue isn't either. Therefore, it would seem reasonable for Moto to position at least the high-end Linux phones as smartphones, and make clear that they are being promoted as devices which let users move data on and off, install apps, etc.
In any case, this is a great development for too many reasons to blog here. (Ok, so just one: J2SE anyone? ... yeah, it's about time ...)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Work at Skip!

Skip is hiring, and Mr. Malik said it best, just last week:
"the job boards don’t seem to have the necessary impact or perhaps get the right kind of users"
So first ... check out our ad on CrunchBoard.

Then, tell me if you don't think these are some of the issues that render the "big traditional" job boards less-than-useful for Skip and other startups:
  1. They have a poor job taxonomy - many of these sites serve every industry from sanitation to aviation, and yet instead of having a category like "technology," they split tech up into all sorts of categories and subcategories. A startup-type employer has a hard time deciding where to post, and a candidate has a hard time narrowing the search.

  2. Likely, #1 is a symptom of a heavy bias toward Fortune-500 org chart / HR type hiring. All of the tech categories and subcategories look like they came from some post-re-org bad dream at a very large company. The bigco bias doesn't just make it hard for the long tail (like Skip) to get involved, it drives away the audience we want (folks who love startups).

  3. They foster job descriptions (and concommitantly attract resumes) built out of tech acronym lists and bullet lists of "years of" (you know what I mean). If you have "8 years of C#" you'd better have worked for Microsoft. Of course, resumes like this are a desperate response to foolish HR-composed job ads asking for 8 years of J2EE

  4. For us, attitude counts. A whole lot more than the difference between "3 years of C#" and "4 years of C#" -- so these job boards that scream: "the candidates are bored, the hiring companies are boring, and we're both" are not going to draw the right folks.

  5. Lastly, these boards are packed with jobs posted by recruiting agencies (staffing companies). Many of these jobs are widely believed to be bogus. That is, the ads exist to draw resumes, from which the recruiters try to find clients. Now, even if this isn't always true, the appearance of this situation drives away the serious candidates. is a great example of a tech job board that used to be (in 1999 or so) rock solid. Then the staffing companies moved in with "jobs" that I've yet to hear of anyone actually getting/taking, and now ... well, let me just say I'm not spending money to advertise there.
Long live CrunchBoard and the rest of the niche sites!