“It’s Quitting Time.” Now what?


Go Daddy’s much-hyped 2014 Super Bowl commercial featuring a woman named Gwen quitting her job as a machinist to launch a career giving puppet shows may be an interesting TV drama, but it’s a poor idea.

Now, many of us have felt the urge to leave steady jobs to go into business for ourselves. I did it myself, nearly 20 years ago, when I left Sunset Magazine in 1996 to be a freelance publishing consultant, writer, and editor.

The difference between Gwen and me is that I left my job on good terms. I didn’t quit on national television, and if had been given a chance to do so, I would have passed. Why?

Continue reading “It’s Quitting Time.” Now what?

Throwback: Big Birds Bug ‘Burbs

My article about wild turkeys, which appeared in the short-lived MyHomeMyTown magazine in late 2003, is reproduced here. My friend Bill Crosby, editor of MHMT, let this fabulous headline stand:

Big Birds Bug ‘Burbs

At first glance—maybe out a car window along an East Bay road—they look like rocks or tree stumps. Definitely too big to be birds. A closer look reveals wild turkeys, scratching for a meal.

They’re a thrilling—and increasingly common—sight. The wild turkey population in North America has quadrupled to more than 6 million in the last 30 years, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation. And though turkeys aren’t native to the state, some of that growth has been in California; indeed, turkeys can be found in every California county except San Francisco.

Once the birds are established, their population growth is a matter of biology and arithmetic.

Continue reading Throwback: Big Birds Bug ‘Burbs

Throwback: What the Doctor Ordered

Dr. Chance lifted the cylindrical vessel to the light to take a closer look at the sightless sphere within. The lense obligingly rolled in the watery liquid to meet his gaze. With a slender probe he lifted the orb from the medium, releasing a pungent odor. He had smelled this countless times before; it recalled late nights in med school.

This specimen was intact and undamaged. He studied the graceful contours, and silently praised a higher power for creating an elegant structure for a vital purpose. “This one his perfect,” he said, praising the owner of the dispensary as he returned the globe to the liquid. “I guess that’s why I always come back here.”

Dr. Chance drained the liquid. His throat burned and his eyes watered. “Two olives in the next one,” he said with a wink as he set the glass back on the bar.

My honorable mention–winning entry in the Sierra College Gothic Horror Short Fiction Contest of 1996. Happy Halloween!

Throwback: OneShare.com

I heard on the radio the other day that Disney would no longer issue stock certificates, and I thought of Lance Lee.

I met Lance in the late 1990s at a yoga retreat at White Lotus in Santa Barbara. He told me about his company, OneShare.com, which sells single keepsake stock certificates. Lee had been a conventional stockbroker, but enough clients asked to buy single shares through him that he saw a business opportunity. (He still needed a broker’s license to sell single shares.)

I wrote up OneShare.com for California Computer News in July 2000. Among many fun facts, Lee told me that Disney was the most popular stock he sold. A quick look at the OneShare.com website today shows that ranking hasn’t changed. The stock was — is — a popular gift for kids — in part because the certificate is lovely, depicting Disney characters and a smiling portrait of Walt.

For Lance’s sake, I hope that more companies don’t follow Disney’s lead and stop issuing certificates.



Hockey Season—Bring On The Sharks! (And Their IT)

In honor of tomorrow’s opening of the NHL season, I’m publishing a Customer Success Snapshot I wrote a few months ago for Symantec about Sharks Sports and Entertainment (SSE), the parent company of the San Jose Sharks hockey team.

The piece is brief, but I tried to toss a little sports jargon in. For example: “Three Symantec solutions get lots of playing time in the SSE data center: Symantec Endpoint Protection, Backup Exec, and Enterprise Vault.”   Uy Ut, SSE’s Director of IT (and a great, quotable interviewee), used the term “skating to the puck” when we talked, but he had already used the same phrase in another tech success story I read. Using it in my piece would land me in the penalty box.


The Personal Touch at Oracle OpenWorld

There’s plenty of worry—much of it well founded—that technology is breaking down the need, and maybe even the desire, for good old-fashioned person-to-person human interaction. Social networking, e-commerce, online advertising—they’re all enabling us to spend more time with our screens and less with our peeps, or the story goes. And what do we get in exchange? A little more speed and convenience, and a lot less privacy.

You can blame the Facebooks and Amazons of the world for this, but a share of the blame likely lies with one of the grey eminences of the technology business: Oracle. Its software is the engine behind many of the biggest businesses, with the longest reaches, in the world. Oracle’s spectacular scope and scale are on full display this week at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco. (Disclosure: Oracle is a longtime client of mine; I write for their publications, and I’m attending the show on a complimentary press/blogger pass.)

Oracle OpenWorld is beyond overwhelming. It brings tens of thousands of attendees and $120 million to San Francisco from around the world. More than 100,000 hotels rooms in the City (and many in surrounding cities) are booked. Howard Street has become an alfresco great room. The entirety of Moscone Center and several nearby venues are packed with IT guys, programmers, developers, and marketing folks, not to mention the crowds of people here to help us find our way, serve us our lunch, and otherwise care for us. All of Oracle OpenWorld’s sessions, even the small technical ones, are highly produced, with wireless microphones, large video screens, slick PowerPoint presentations, and walk-on music for the presenters, who are introduced by voice-of-god announcers. The lights and sound will induce vertigo if the crowds don’t.

But Oracle OpenWorld is more than a gathering of nerds who prefer relational databases over relationships. It’s a gathering of people, and the human touch that invariably occurs when people interact with one another is what leads me to my favorite anecdote from today.

I was attending a session about Enterprise Mobility, and was sitting next to a fellow from Japan. (At least I surmise he was from Japan; the lock screen on his iPad was in Japanese.) To his left were two guys from Latin America. (At least I assume they were from Latin America, from their speech and dress.) We were in a darkened theater looking at a bright screen, and the Japanese guy tried to take a photo of a PowerPoint slide with his iPad. He was unsuccessful; the picture was washing out. Silently, one of the Latin American guys touched his shoulder, held up his own phone, and showed the Japanese guy how to adjust the exposure by tapping a bright spot on the screen. This all happened in seconds—fast enough, in fact, for the Japanese guy to get his photo successfully before the presenter had moved to the next slide.

Perhaps this episode serves as a loose metaphor for the positive power of technology. Think about it: One person silently and quickly provided necessary information to help another person—a complete stranger, from another land—do something he needed to do. And perhaps this episode illuminates why events like Oracle OpenWorld continue to draw tens of thousands of people, even in an era when information can be delivered virtually and online for less money and hassle. Yes, digital forums and virtual meetings may be more efficient, but they don’t do a good job of putting human beings in touch with each other. That personal contact is an invaluable commodity that can’t yet be digitized.

Throwback: Not All In The Family

For a few years I had a great gig as a columnist for Cisco’s iQ Magazine, writing about the growth challenges facing small and medium businesses (SMBs) in a column called “Growing Pains.” I got to interview small businesspeople,  consultants who helped them, and academics who studied them, and try to give SMBs practical insight and advice for common challenges.

This piece from 2006, titled “Not All In The Family,” talks about the challenge of bringing  an outsider into a business that had, previously, been run by family members. (The linked file is a three-page PDF; the article is no longer online.) Making this transition for family businesses was, and remains, a common challenge, particularly when family ownership enters the third generation. The column holds up well, I think, and is full of interesting stats. Plus, I had forgotten until I re-read it to post here that I had interviewed Nick Parham for it.

A favorite snippet: “But family businesses are at a crossroads. Many of these companies were originally created after World War II—veterans were as adept at creating businesses as they were at building families.”

If you have worked for or with a family-owned business — or owned one yourself — please share your experience.

What’s the Opposite of Showrooming?

I don’t have much to add to the ongoing debate retailers have about showrooming. In case the use of “showroom” as a verb is unfamiliar to you, it refers to a shopper going to a physical store to look at a product, then shopping for that product online (and, typically, hoping to beat the brick-and-mortar retailer’s price). Is showrooming good or bad for retailers? Even the Harvard Business Review wants to know.  JCPenney just turned off in-store Wi-Fi for customers, probably in part because fast Internet access encouraged showrooming. (Or maybe the Wi-Fi was there so one partner could enjoy YouTube while the other shopped.)

I confess that I showroom occasionally. But I realized last week that, with one specific product, I do the exact opposite of showrooming: I look online to see what I should consume, then proceed to the physical place to partake of the product. I do that with the Sunday New York Times.

Angela and I get the Sunday Times delivered at home because it’s the most economical way to get full access to the online edition. But the physical Sunday paper has charms of its own, of course — perhaps the most important being that you can enjoy it almost anywhere, without power or connectivity.

But the Sunday paper is a behemoth, even in this era when newspapers are struggling, so deciding how to attack it is a challenge. Some people have finely honed strategies, but for me deciding what to read first is where the opposite of showrooming comes in: I like to check the online edition to see what other people are reading and emailing, and use that as a roadmap to the physical newspaper. I still get the serendipity of seeing what’s adjacent and near to the things I read — this is one of the most touted benefits of reading a physical newspaper — but I also get to tap into the wisdom and guidance of the crowd of online Times readers.

Two questions come to mind: First, what word or phrase best fits this practice? Ideally, the term would convey the digital-to-analog flow of information, as well as the crowd-sourcing power. And second, what are other fields of activity or commerce where online activity informs and guides physical, offline actions?