Is your UberX car going to smell like the last Chicken Tikka delivery it just made for UberEats?
Do I now have to tip? That was a key part of the magic.
Uber is doing awesome things all over the world, and tech hub Seattle has been a great test bed for the company’s new service offerings.
But it hasn’t been easy. Brooke Steger, Uber’s GM for six states in the Pacific Northwest has in just under four years worked through controversy over business models, regulation, safety, aggressive driver recruiting tactics, bad press for their Founder, and more. She’s also helped introduce her region to UberEats, UberPool, UberHop (yeah I know, what’s that?!), scholarships for drivers, and more.
We dive into Uber topics both globally, and some Northwest specific things. Ever wonder where all those black cars were hiding before Uber, or how much a driver can make in an evening? How is Uber partnering with Seattle Metro transit to reduce commute transit times.
How should Uber’s entrance into Seattle been handled differently (if it should have been)?
Brooke’s story is compelling. A UW grad, she took some time to teach Physics and Computer Science to kids in Mexico, she jumped into tech via a Craigslist ad and has never looked back.
When Lisa Brummel joined Microsoft as a Product Manager in 1989, the company had roughly 4,000 employees. In 2005, when Steve Ballmer asked her to take over HR, and leave her job running a $1 Billion software division — with $400 Million in profit — the company had grown to 50,000 employees. When she retired ten years later, she’d been Chief People Offer through the CEO transitions of BillG to Steve to Satya, massive acquisitions, the leveling out of stock growth, and the tectonic shifts to software as a service and (non-Microsoft) smartphone platforms.
The people issues of a 125,000 person company are many, and most don’t lend themselves to simple solutions. Are the same people who performed well during explosive growth the right ones for maturity?
In this episode, we talk frankly about these difficult shifts, the perception of management being out of touch, and the extent to which transparency in formulating policies at such massive scale is practical. She has kind words for the blog phenom mini-microsoft, the anonymous blogger who was often quite thoughtful about how to improve things.
Why was Microsoft so prescient — yet ultimately unsuccessful — in so many areas (smart set top boxes and streaming video, demand-side management of power, web-based productivity apps, smartphones, tablets, mapping, natural language input, smart cars, web real estate, payments/banking, ebooks, etc.)? I was startled at Lisa’s clarity on this. These misses have many fathers, but she points to a significant central cause.
It’s no wonder she spends her time on sports entertainment now. The Storm are not only a WNBA champion, but they’re a great asset to the greater Seattle community. We talk a bit about the team, how she (and her partners Ginny Gilder and Dawn Trudeau) came to acquire the team from Oklahoma villain Clay Bennett, and the impact of technology on sports. Highly recommended article by Bettina Hansen here.
Probably less well known is that Lisa was a tremendous athlete back in the day. She’s been inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, was all-Ivy League for four years at Yale, and was the Ivy MVP. She also won national and world fast pitch softball titles as catcher for the Raybestos Brakettes, a legendary — and awesomely named — team from Stratford.
Shree joins me as guest host for this episode with Ford Davidson, a born entrepreneur who in the little more than a decade since he’s been out of college, has been a fast tracked Product Manager at Microsoft, founded and sold Dashwire to HTC, worked his earn out by building a global product organization, and started another company, Coolr…which he got funded, but has recently wound down. Ford has a badass twitter handle too: @blackball.
Ford is a creative force, and easily one of the most enthusiastic product people I know. His trademark “sweeet!” is generously given to other people’s ideas and product, and he remains one of the more humble home-run hitters out there.
Failures can be powerful growth experiences, and I’m sure Ford will benefit from having stepped up to the plate again. Coolr was inspired by the idea that organizations operate better when employees know what’s going on, and when managers connect with their teams. Ford gives a candid assessment of what they did well and didn’t, the role that investors played in timing and roadmaps, and what they’d do differently.
We contrast Coolr with Slack’s funding and development path — $10M of investment, zero revenues, and a huge pivot, before the current, glorious product emerged.
But we also talk about best practices org info flow at Google, Amazon and Microsoft, “holocracies”, why apps like TinyPulse work and sometimes don’t, and more. If you want to be a manager today, you’d better be ready for more transparency — and more data driven assessment of your performance — than ever before.
If you’ve thought at all about what you’re buying your kids in a college education, or how the job market is going to evolve, or why companies like Google are looking far beyond the Ivy League for talent, or why female HR execs don’t magically fix pay gaps, or why companies are beginning to split strategic talent management and HR into separate functions, or, or… this episode is a great listen.
Is it time to “Disrupt the degree”? Is free college attendance a good idea if the system doesn’t change. Do you want to put your federal tax dollars to work on a system that can’t seem to control its costs? Should so many people go to college, or should we be thinking more about training people for jobs that don’t necessarily require a college degree, as explored in this NYT piece.
I’ve known Kristen Hamilton for over ten years, and she’s always been wicked smart, refreshingly pragmatic, and full of insights and turns of phrase that make the time fly. Happily, in this episode I talk very little, because you’ll hear very quickly that what Kristen says is information rich, fascinating, and truly strategic.
I didn’t know what it was called officially, but in talking with Kristen, I discovered the term “Entrepreneur Imposter Syndrome” (thank you Dan Shapiro) … the gut feeling that you don’t know what you’re doing and everybody’s about to find out? Ever experienced that? I certainly have.
We talk a lot about the “KORU 7”: not a TV station, but the success traits they’ve discovered at KORU — the company she founded in Seattle — which is trying to give recent college grads essential job skills. Kristen’s of course not new to the startup game, but KORU has raised more than $13M from top tier VCs like Andreessen Horowitz, Battery Ventures and Seattle heavyweights Maveron and Trilogy. We go into depth on what KORU’s up to, how they’re doing, and I think you’ll find it inspiring.
Note: we had some bandwidth issues, especially late in the recording, so there are some places where the sound isn’t stellar, and where bizarre Skype noises have been cut out. Apologies.
This episode ranges pretty far afield. It’s mostly about healthcare tech of course — because that’s what Mike and Sundar are spending their time on right now. But they are serial — and very successful — entrepreneurs and have a unique perspective on tech, entrepreneurialism, and what might work. They’re pretty fearless.
Mike in particular has picked and created winners in radically different domains: he’s founded phone companies (yes, plural), and a company that sells embedded device software. Shree, who joins the episode as a guest host, has long had an interest in healthcare tech.
After having sold their startup Swype to Nuance for $100M, Mike, Sundar and Aaron Sheedy eventually moved on to figure out the next thing. The first post-Nuance project involved rocket propelled drills. This is discussed in the podcast, and happily, they didn’t incinerate themselves in the basement of a UW building.
They are now EIRs at Providence Health and they can pretty much explore whatever they want. Devices. Services. Prevention. Tech to reduce readmit rates. I don’t think they are developing new drugs, but they have a pretty broad scope.
In this episode we talk extensively about what they’re seeing, including new exciting new areas of innovation, things that are harder than they expected, and areas that’ve surprised them. We talk about Shree’s tow truck metaphor (which really is perfect).
One topic that I haven’t seen discussed before — though I’m sure it has been — is whether this incredible innovation will really serve those who are most sick, or those who are collectively costing the system the most. It’s one thing to be rich and have a drug cocktail customized to your genome, and another thing to be poor and sick. Is the life expectancy gap between rich and poor going to expand at a more rapid rate? Does drug innovation target the most broad causes of illnesses, or ones that have a good chance of getting paid for?
Based on what these guys are seeing, one thing seems really clear: being paid a fixed, and ever lower, amount for certain procedures is providing massive motivation for the providers to innovate cost out of the system. God bless America.
We touch on Amazon’s Echo a bit too. All of us have been involved in Speech and Natural Language processing, and this device, which is a far more disruptive factor in the market than most people know, may come to be the most surprising application of these technologies. Amazon is doubling down in a big way — as they should.
In this first episode of @techvitamin, Blaise Aguera y Arcas (Google) and Michael Cohen (Facebook) join us to discuss Machine Intelligence (MI) across a broad range of subjects, including it’s impact on art (and the impact of technology in general on art), how MI research should be funded, the collaboration between Academia, Business and Government, and much more.
Can machines now create art, independently of humans? Blaise and Michael talk a bit about DeepDream, and the resulting images’ similarity to those conjured by the human brain (perhaps just a tad under the influence). Here’s one:
We touch on the recent defeat of a Go world champion by Google artificial intelligence: “…the last nail in the coffin of games being an indicator of human intelligence.”
Blaise leads a team at Google focusing on MI for mobile devices—including both basic research and new products. His group works extensively with deep neural nets for machine perception, distributed learning, and agents. Blaise is a well-known speaker on subjects ranging from digital photography to mapping. He’s given three TED talks: on Seadragon (a company he sold to Microsoft in 2006); on Photosynth, which he invented at Microsoft, and Bing Maps. He’s gave a talk at WIRED2014 entitled “The next big frontier is the mind and the brain.”
Before Google, Blaise was a Distinguished Engineer at Microsoft, where he worked with Michael, who is one of our group of rotating @techvitamin co-hosts. Before his current gig as image and video guru at Facebook, Michael spent 21 years in Microsoft Research, and is one of the world’s foremost thinkers on computational photography (aka, getting photons turned into bits). Both Michael and Blaise were at Princeton (as faculty and grad student, respectively).
We’re always looking for community feedback, so feel free to comment below (or on Twitter, FB, or your preferred vehicle). And please, LIke/Share/(re)Tweet to your heart’s content. We’ll steadily improve the audio (all participants are remote from each other, so we’re a little dependent on mic quality, Skype clarity, etc.). We have a good outtake of Blaise scrambling to find another room at Google HQ after getting kicked out of the one he was in. And, we’ll tweak the show — to a depth and length that makes sense. For instance in this episode, we probably could have talked for much longer, but chose to cut things off to keep it under an hour. Might make sense to keep it going. We’ll get better.
1Blaise mentions a study about government research dollars seeding much of the technology in the iPhone. He was thinking of work by Mariana Mazzucato.