EDA, Software and Business of technology
Greek, 'loxos: slanting. To displace or remove from its proper place
da·tums A point, line, or surface used as a reference

                        ... disruption results in new equilibria

[Business] Enterprises: The Kingdom

Chief Executive magazine has an article about Bose Corp.. It is the year of the celebrity CEO - first there was Steve Jobs (well there is always Steve Jobs), then there was Carly Fiorina (celeb status goes both ways).
Now it is Amar Bose.
Bose Corp. stands alone among other privately held companies. That is because, usually high tech companies need infusions of large capital - something that Bose Corp. has managed without. There are several large privately held conglomerates - Trump Real Estate, Virgin, etc. But all of these companies are in businesses which can do with a few hundred thousand of seed capital. As in, most of these companies are marketing based companies - you promise a buyer a few thousand feet of real estate, you go and find it cheap and you make a killing. But in high-tech you have an initial development time which guzzles money without a possible conclusion.
Q. How then do you do it?

A. By piggy-back riding on govt. money
Take Bose Corp. for instance - research that stemmed out of university research went on to become Bose Corp. Dr. Amar Bose's doctoral thesis was on complex variable theory, which was sidelined for the purpose of acoustic theory: a feat possible only by using the resources of the university.
Then there is the exclusivity aspect - not from the aspect of the serious audiophile. Nope, they would rather die than buy a Bose rig. It's custom, hand-built all the way for them. Exclusivity as an image projected for the housewife, the yuppie, the maitre'd. All of whom listen to music for say 2-3 hours a day. An illusion of exclusivity created by its resellers who are banned from ever comparing Bose with other competing products and who must provide Bose sound systems with their own exclusive space on the shop floor. Bose Systems are packaged brilliantly and though they may not actually work as well as the audiophile wants, it works and more importantly, looks good enough for me.
Why is this relevant to the original issue? Because Bose Corp. is again pulling the same rabbit out of its hat. Marketing a 24 year research in progress. Now who would'nt be interested in a research that spans 24 years. I would buy a car that has a suspension system backed by 24 years of research. Oh and just in case I worked for the competitor, I would be scared..very very scared.
Its really very simple - to create sex appeal for technology, it must appeal to women and early adopters. These are what are called the hubs of social networks. Appeal to them and you have planted the seeds that will sprout everywhere. Is it any surprise that no journalists have been allowed to sit in these cars. You have got to maintain the sex appeal till its too late for technology journals to pan them. Because you can always pay one of them to write good about you.
For a wannabe entrepreneur like me, it is an important lesson. I would like to be the carefree CEO who has no obligations to investors. But I do not think that is very easy. But it is entirely another matter to create an aura of charisma around your company and around yourself.
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[Business] VC's have too much money ? Here's how to pitch

Robert Cringley of PBS has this new piece about how VC's now have, suddenly too much money to give away. It is all because the funds which were invested in like crazy during the bubble are now closing. The managers either need to show investment or return the money with interest. Guess what they are choosing to do... Well it cant hurt, maybe I should start looking around!!

Somewhat related is this great article at UIWeb on how to pitch and idea. The best part I liked about the article was the elevator pitch.
... never allow yourself to believe your thing is so complicated and amazing that it’s impossible to explain in a sentence.

Some great examples were:
  • Inventing light bulbs: “It’s a way to make light from electricity.”
  • Defragmenting hard drives: "It makes computers run more efficiently"

another WoW (word of wisdom) was
Get out of your office / cubicle / apartment, and go find smart people you know to give you feedback. Ask them to pretend they are whoever it is you plan to pitch to
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[dtrace] On demand debugging - Part 1

One of the best things that I have seen the OS world is Solaris 10 and its associated debug tools. This includes - , mdb, libumem . Together they can be combined into one of the most powerful debug frameworks that exists. Move over purify...
All that I have tried out is actually gleaned from user groups at various sun forums. But there is one thing Leventhal, Shapiro and Cantrill are gods.

Alright, dtrace commands are very similar to mdb commands. The syntax is
provider:module:function:name . The syntax is self explanatory, except the name part. This is a part which gives some part of the providers semantic meaning. e.g. exit will work when the function is about to exit. Some parts of the commands may be left blank.
for example the pid provider pid1000::myFunc:entry is invoked when the function is entered.

For me, the most interesting part is when, we need to debug loadable libraries. A little awkward, but very cool.

dtrace -qwc a.out -n 'pid$target:ld:dlopen:entry{printf("pid=%d loading: %s\n",pid,copyinstr(arg0))}'

This would print out the libraries that are being loaded. This small program hooks onto the pid of a.out using the pid provider. The $target is an implicit variable that gets the pid number of the a.out when it is run. Therefore consider the module ld. When the function dlopen in entered in this module (as part of the a.out process), dtrace will print the name of the library. Looking at the man page of dlopen, we can see that the first argument passed to the dlopen function (arg0) is the name of the loadable library. But we cannot print it directly. This is because dtrace operates in the solaris kernel space. To access names, etc. from the user-space, we need to copy them first to kernel space (via the copyinstr function).
When the library you are interested in has loaded, suspend the process. In another shell,
dtrace -n 'pid:library_name::entry{printf("function=%s probe= %s",probefunc,probename);}'

once dtrace has started its probes, resume the earlier suspended program.
The pid provider, will be the most used provider for any software developer interested in looking at the execution trace of his/her programs.

There is another feature of Solaris 10 which is of great help in locating leaks, debugging invalid memory accesses, etc. Maybe not so effective as valgrind or purify but hundred's of times as fast.
This is the libumem/mdb combo. Right now, I have only figured out how to detect memory leaks.
setenv LD_PRELOAD libumem.so.1
setenv UMEM_DEBUG default
setenv UMEM_LOGGING transaction
. This is necessary for the libumem memory debugging library to be loaded.

start the application using mdb

mdb ./a.out
>::sysbp _exit /* to break before the program exits */

mdb: stop on entry to _exit
mdb: target stopped at:
libc.so.1`exit+0x14: ta 8
mdb: You've got symbols!
mdb: You've got symbols!
Loading modules: [ ld.so.1 libumem.so.1 libc.so.1 ]

Here comes the interesting part. Finding leaks is as simple as :

someaddress somenumber impAddress function address
Total 1 buffer, 24 bytes

>impAddress::bufctl_audit /* to backtrace a particular leak */

>::walk umem_log|::bufctl_audit /* to backtrace all leaks */

Whew.. end of day 1.

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[Business] Mandates for Software Sales and Marketing

Over the past few days, several posts in the blogosphere have mentioned, directly or indirectly, about marketing. These are posts which showcase and sometimes blur the distinction between marketing in software versus marketing toothpaste. For example, twin blondes in underwear would impact toothpaste sales more than software, which requires viral marketing like the Scoblephone. However, both toothpaste and software could do with some transparency in their manufacturing/coding process.
For example, Eric Sink talks about the tenets of transparency involved in being a Independent Software Vendor (ISV). Let me analyse some of his points :

  • Thou Shall Speak Out - I suppose this could be important in the viral marketing sense. I think this is going to work only now, when the power of the blogosphere is still in its nascent form. Once RSS/RDF/Blogs really explode, there will form a power clique or blog-o-cracy which will serve as a barrier for new blogs to break into the reader's RSS horizon. What will always work is injecting oneself into this clique - a process which will always expect that the member of the clique is involved in the development process. Human Psychology 101.
  • Thou Shall Let Others Speak Out - This is something very important. Users have to know that there are other users who are using this product. Have your R & D team reply to posts (Take a look at Bryan Cantrill of Dtrace) . But then why stop at Discussion Forums? Wiki anyone?? But for all this to be really effective, one has to take a long look at the next point
  • Thou Shalt Not Lie - You are not God. Dont hide your flaws. Give the impression that you are listening to your users. Get your R&D to reply.
  • Thou Shall Make Thy Customers Lives Easier - It is important that the path to adoption be as smooth as possible, from medium of distribution (Bittorrent?) to demos, support, bug-tracking - especially your licensing schemes. It is relevan here to point to a post by Frozen North about usability and marketing. Take the IPod Shuffle for instance. Its competitors have blasted for having a limited feature set. Falling into the feature-set trap is easy. For me it is best illustrated by the GIMP image program. Its is overflowing with features, however it has a lot left to be desired from the usability standpoint. For Apple, usability is marketing. Throw away the features that do not flow together. Less is more. To give a top-notch user experience rather than feature-list, the Shuffle threw away compatibility with anything other than iTunes.
  • Thou Shall Tell Thy Company's Story - The old management adage : underpromise and overdeliver. Very cliched, but works. Customers want to know about who you are and can they trust you to be around 10 years from now.
Selling software is increasingly becoming all about openness, because unlike toothpaste, software is not tangible (wow Morpheus!!). Selling something intangible takes more than a spreadsheet and a two-color ad.
Ed Sim talks about a "repeatable sales model", in one of his recent posts. In reply to my question about, what seemed to me, a management buzzword, he says
...building a product that solves the problem for one, two, or three customers is different from building a product for many customers in a market that is large enought to support your business and others who are already there or will show up.
Think about whether or not the product as it exists today solves the problem for a number of different players or did if it required significant customization to the extent that the product needs and requirements were different for each customer.

The "repeatable" part means that you have nailed down the value proposition, know who in the organization you are selling to, can cost effectively reach that person, understand how to win deals against competing products, and can use this as a model or template for additonal sales headcount.

Another point made by Ed, can be fitted on to the software marketing setup - release early and often. This is the cathedral vs the bazaar model, popularised by the linux kernel release model. In conjunction with the point on (Thou Shall Let Others Speak Out), this would be a marketing mechanism directly interfacing with the R & D team.

This is what I am used to doing.

Frequently it is OK, customers are people and are usually civil. It is just that one big customer who has the power to raise a big stink, be rude and in general make a nuisance of themself. That is when everything begins going downhill. It is then you realise what it takes to keep the customer on his throne.
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[Startup] Iterative Entrepreneurship

While browsing through the VentureWiki archives, I came across this article by Ross Mayfield about successful startups. The article sites a study by DarwinMag, which in turns refers to a report by Crescendo Ventures.
Notably, the one thing, they all emphasize is iterative business - in other words, tweaking the business as you go along...something I could'nt understand. What to tweak and how ???
Actually the Crescendo Ventures report was quite interesting. The report refers to a study on storage device manufacturers (read hard drives), in particular 456 storage vendors formed over 30 years. It was interesting since the Innovator's Dilemma focuses on the very same thing. As Clayton Christensen notes, storage devices are the fruitflies of the technology world - their short lifecycles make them ideal study subjects.
However, while Christensen focuses on the disruptiveness of innovation, this study focuses on the fact that most storage ventures are not disruptive at all. This is interesting to me, with all due respect to Mr. Christensen, because while this may not bode well for a long-term sustainable enterprise, it does offer value to the entrepreneur in terms of a short term exit strategy. Table 20 of the Crescendo study does list several of these companies and rather than appeal to several customers, I fail to see how they could have disrupted the storage business itself.
But then, what about iteration? As far as I can make out, it means to continually showing potential customers your solution and iterating towards the golden solution. As I read somewhere, this may be risky (as in loss of the cool idea), but it is an acceptable risk. Customer is God. Listen carefully.
This also means, that tracking risks carefully and closely. For example, on launch of a bluesky project in a company - the expenditure, behavior and trends of target market, customers, etc. should be tracked very carefully. Weekly business estimates should be recalculated and matched with expenditure to re-evaluate viability.
Two other interesting things that I learned from the report were that
early stage startups need not be handicapped for lack of a complete executive team. Focus should be on technical prowess rather than marketing wizardry. Secondly, involvement of a proven business development executive is a necessary ingredient for success. This is interesting, for VC's are likely to look for this.
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