And, don’t worry, with modern hand luggage restrictions, I didn’t have my sword to open the oyster to extract a pearl! In fact, Oyster is a Transport For London brand for their payment system. Many here in North America feel we are at the epicentre of the technology universe and have a monopoly on great technologies empowering the connectivity behind our increasinly always on lifestyle. With a different work-life cultural balance, Europe has much to teach us about deploying state of the art technologies, especially those we might encounter in daily life. But, too, not all are absolutely without flaws. I will share a few experiences from a recent pan-European sojourn.
Although deployed for a few years, this convenient contact-less payment card, containing an RFID chip, has in the last year or so taken off to the point that it is now used by around 90% of all trips on London Underground, buses and even some National Rail services. While, in North America, we think of RFID’s use in logistics and as a more active version of all those UPC barcodes, these embedded applications may be the more fundamental ones.
How does it work? You simply pay £3 for the card, which is yours for life, and you then top it up as a pre-paid card. Oyster users pay less per trip, and, by monitoring your usage and appropriately capping charging, it also replaces a single day travelcard. Further, Oyster can also be used as a multi-day pass. You can register online so you can keep your money should your card be lost or stolen. In use, it is important to swipe both in AND out at the turnstiles, like in the photo above.
- Toronto Transit Commission, which replaced its 50 year old tokens, with ones that are harder to counterfeit, or with
- San Francisco’s BART, which uses 1980’s technology magstripe cards,
Transport For London (TFL) has taken a much bolder step in payments with their Oyster Card. It was convenient, fast, well documented, but …
What’s the Catch? Several times, I found that I got the message “See Supervisor” and would have to swipe again to make it exit. And, remember, that unless you swipe both in and out from your journey, you may find a £4 charge for a short trip, instead of the correct charge of £1.50. How this happened to me was that I swiped on exit, got the “Supervisor” message, and swiped again. The gates opened, but I found it had ended my first trip then begun a second trip, which it viewed as uncompleted, hence the £4 charge!
Like most great technologies, it comes down to intelligent software design and execution. Clearly smarter pattern recognition in the software could have removed this artefact either because of the short time between trip end and trip start or because this was an outbound turnstile, from which trips should end not commence.
WiFi ON BUSES:
Normally, I don’t travel on buses. Here in Canada, they are typically unpleasant, crowded and I’m old enough to remember when they were smoky as well. Because of a missed flight by my partner, I made one unscheduled 1 hour inter-city connection on a bus. Imagine my surprise when the price was great, there was free coffee served by a human, TVs with headphones and comfortable seats. But, most surprising of all, and I haven’t seen this anywhere else, was FREE WiFi connectivity on the buses. I was actually able to crack open my notebook and connect to the web and synchronize my email. While it did fade in and out a few times, I was totally amazed that this would even work at all. I’m still trying to figure out what technology connected the bus to the rest of the world (is it 3G wireless?), but clearly this was impressive. So, a combination of great technology, great service and comfortable buses was instructive in creating a “business class” experience in a European inter-city bus.
FON WiFI HOTSPOTS:
I was excited a few years about when FON was launched to make an open, universal WiFi Cloud. Part of the idea was for each person to “open up” their home or business routers, but in a secure way, to create a cloud in an almost open source way. And, because part of the founding energy for Spanish company FON, came from the Skype principals, it looked very promising indeed. So, I signed up in 2005 and then nothing happened.
Imagine my pleasant surprise to be in a cafe in Munich, called News Bar, and to see the familiar FON logo. Furthermore, after having paid €3 per hour at a previous cafe hotspot (not to mention £4 per hour in London!), it was great that this cost only €3 per day. What is more, I logged in at 2 other cafes that day, all using FON and all for that same €3 charge in the first hotspot. Although the FON business model includes a revenue share with the hotspot owners, they will not get rich from the proceeds. It was great to see the high level of FON penetration in Munich, and London appears to be following along. I can only hope that Waterloo and Toronto will wake up to this movement to create an open source cloud, as well.
Perhaps WiFi will become less important as 3G technology, in particular HSDPA with around 3.6 Mbps download speeds, becomes pervasive. Having started rollouts in 2003 in UK and Italy, Europe has about a 5 year head start on North America. Few will realize that Rogers has been staging a rollout of HSDPA into major Canadian cities over the last year and, similarly for AT&T across the US.
Enroute back to Toronto, I was in the Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge, struggling, like everyone else, to connect to their WiFi network, when I noticed one Swedish laptop user was productively downloading, surfing and emailing. His secret? His 3G PC card. Now, of course Europe insn’t a total 3G data utopia. I suspect it will be a year or more before international roaming in 3G data becomes more reasonably priced (read not extortionate) and, for those of use who aren’t residents and rely on prepaid cards, unlimited prepaid data tariffs become available. However, hope is on the horizon – my colleague, Alec Saunders, at World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, used Yoigo for an amazing €1.50 per day, on a prepaid basis. How long can it be that such a great concept will propagate from Spain to the rest of Europe, and perhaps the rest of the world?
28 Mar 20080 Comments
Founderitis: Black Hats versus White Hats
Today, I will expand on an offhand comment I made last week about founderitis being one of the biggest barriers to engagement with the Grover Playbook and, incidentally, probably the number one showstopper for investment we encounter at Verdexus.
As a serial entrepreneur, investor and (ex-)founder in technology startups, I have seen more than my share of experiences showing how fraught founder interactions can be. My friend J Paul Haynes, who is a serial executive (and founder), showed me an interesting article from the February 2008 issue of Harvard Business Review on this topic entitled “The Founder’s Dilemma”. In this article, Noam Wasserman analyzed 212 startups and observed some intriguing patterns. What is great about this article is that it provides a cold, analytic economic framework to assess the “founder’s dilemma” which is the “… choice between making money and controlling the business.” The Faustian bargain to give up equity and control in order to attract institutional (venture) capital that will grow the business faster is a hard one for many founders to accept. And yet, the leverage of external capital and talent typically goes hand in hand with technology startups.
Wasserman goes on to show that founders, who want to retain control, often choose (or are forced to accept) slower growth and less chance of making money in a “home run” exit. Conversely, the study almost paints a picture of the inevitability of founders being pushed out by investors. For most founders, it makes grim reading, while most VCs would simply nod knowingly at the picture of founder limitations. After all, many of those terms in the much vaunted VC term sheets (now often term books!) evolved precisely as defensive artillery trained on errant founders. The article’s implication that the half life of the CEO tenure founders is short, will make difficult reading for most founders.
Perhaps it is difficult for founders to excel at both and so they “… end up being neither rich nor king”, but I would hope to see less of a zero sum game and more scope for personal growth. Personally, I find most founders I encounter to be smart and compelling individuals. Of course, I’ve also seen many of the counterproductive traits and habits that the VCs pejoratively label “founderitis”. On balance, I’m mostly on the side of founders in this classic standoff between the “black hats” (VCs) and “white hats” (founders). Having said that, I’ve also founders pull some appalling stupid and counterproductive moves in my time.
Since most founders are super smart and highly motivated individuals, with better mentoring, role models and better expectation setting by all parties, I would like to believe that more founders could better integrate the “rich” and “king” parts. In other words, I would hope to see more founders figure out how to increase their management and team playing skills, while also building value in their businesses.
As I mentioned, I think founders are, as a whole, a creative, exciting and group worth celebrating. Therefore, to balance Wasserman’s HBR research, I’d encourage everyone to read the remarkable 2007 book Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston. In it, she endeavoured to analyze founders by interviewing 32 founders from the 1980’s and onward, from hardware, to software, to Web 2.0 she has deduced some interesting patterns of founders:
While it is easy to imagine the “blindspots” and self promotion inherent in interviews with founders, the sheer number of founders that Ms. Livingston interviewed helps to mitigate this concern over a wide range of time and types of technology businesses. And, for those who think the MBAs and marketers rule the world, it is refreshing to see the Silicon Valley model of very strong technical founders celebrated.
So, here’s to those remarkable individuals, the entrepreneurs founders who have the courage and tenacity to start business. For all their shortcomings and big egos, we do need to celebrate their important role in venture creation.