What you can learn from Christian Louboutin

ChristianLoubitan

“I remember my father cutting wood. If you sculpt in vein, it’s beautiful. If you go against the grain, it breaks. Same is with business. If you go with the flow, it grows naturally. But if you grow your company in an unnatural way, it breaks. I did not do a company to make money. I made shoes and it became a company.” — Christian Louboutin, shoe designer/fashion entrepreneur.  

I came across this quote from Christian Louboutin over the summer, when reading Dana Thomas’ Deluxe. The context of his comment was why he chooses to do a certain way — which are in conflict with more mercantile and mercenary approaches of say LVMH — and why he refuses to sell his company to the richest bidder. His comment resonated with me mostly because, like him I didn’t start out with Gigaom to either make money or even become a company. Instead, I started it to scratch my own itch, and a deep desire to write every day about technology. It became a company.

Louboutin’s story was a good reminder — we all need to scratch our own itch, and who knows what might follow.

Fresh Air

After four days of being laid-up nursing the worse kind of summer flu, I finally dragged myself out of the apartment today. I was desperate for an espresso and really needed to remove the cobwebs of the mind.  Also, I had a morning meeting with a fantastic startup founder whose boundless enthusiasm helped give an energy boost. Later in the day, after we wrapped up a board meeting, I got a chance to sit with my pal Bijan at a sidewalk cafe, grab a coffee and talk about everything but technology. Bijan’s conversation skills are like a young brook – sometimes frenetic but mostly mellifluous. We discussed the joys of film, the warmth of Hasselblad photos, growing up, future and of course the languid pace of summer. And before he left, he told me to check out the blog of an Australian blogger and photographer. Reflecting on my day, I realize that there is no better medicine than an opportunity to interact with good people and of course, fresh air.  

Wanna Nuzzel?

Surveys say that people download apps on their phones, try them out and very rarely go back to them and move on to the next shiny thing. This paradox of plenty has come to the app-economy and is basically making second chances virtually impossible. And that’s why when some app manages to breakthrough and become part of your daily habits, you can feel why it is different.

About two months ago, I downloaded an app that has become part of my daily life and in fact has earned a place on the first screen of my iPhone. It is not the prettiest app. It doesn’t have the sexiest swipes. Its colors are monastery chic. Instead, it is simply useful. It is called Nuzzel, a social reader that leaves out complexity and makes reading things people share on the social Internet easier and smarter.

It is one of the many new services that have popped up (or will come to fore) as we all struggle with “too much” content on social sharing platforms. Think of these as mods on top of existing social networks — they are needed to scratch every itch, though their commercial prospects remained to be ascertained. (Instagram lovers should check out Chicago-based developer Nicholas Eby’s Dscvry app for iOS, which doesn’t seem to have any reviews.) Smarter algorithms, better design or just plain simple uncomplicated human-powered social discovery — we need it all. 

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What do 800,000 Net Neutrality Comments Tell Us?

Gr neutrality comments 624

The Sunlight Foundation, a Washington DC-based political transparency focused group analyzed the 800,000 comments left in response to Federal Communication Commission’s network neutrality plan. Here are some highlights of what they found

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The End of Summer

Nobody on the road
Nobody on the beach
I feel it in the air
The summer’s out of reach
– Boys of Summer, Don Henley

This song, which is less about summer and more a metaphor about aging and the futility of time, will forever acts as a soundtrack for the end of sunny, bright and hot days of summer and the onset of dark, cooler days that make up autumn and winter. It was an annual rhythm I had experienced, first living in Delhi, and then later in New York. San Francisco’s idea of seasons is somewhat wonky — not that I am complaining — it definitely marches to its own beat. Fog makes summer months chilly, and then we have warm autumn and then return of chilly nights.

Since starting Gigaom in 2006, I have not really had a chance to experience the summer. For eight summers, I put aside any thoughts of beach, mountains, travel, books or cookouts. I avoided invitations from friends to come visit them. Stories, blog posts, major and minor troubles, conferences — every little thing simply added up to life being a continuous and gushing mountain stream of events. Summer was just some numbers blinking on the calendar of my iPhone. I wouldn’t have noticed had it not been for my baseball fantasy league, where for past five years I had finished in the bottom third.

2014, however was different, mostly due to the fact that I stepped down from day to day duties at Gigaom, hung up my reporter’s notebook and became a partner at True Ventures. It was a chance to recalibrate and regain the natural rhythm of my life. I finally had a chance to do things what normal people do — read books, learn about new things, try out different teas and talk to people without checking the phone 15 times in 15 minutes. It was a chance to actually experience summer again.

And that’s exactly what I did. The summer of 2014 was not a lazy summer by any means. And if you were thinking I was a layabout, you couldn’t be more off the mark. Yet, it felt more measured and calm, mostly it wasn’t experienced at network speed. Instead, it was a summer in tune with the rhythm of life — not just mine, but of other people.

* * * 

I will write about my new VC life some other day, but one of the great joys of the summer was that it exposed me to quite a few entrepreneurs. Some had ideas which were intriguing but somehow were not for me. And there were few that got me all excited. And some are or will soon become part of the True family.

However, a bulk of my time was spent trying to lend a helping hand to some of our current portfolio companies in their fundraising efforts. That includes everything from introductions to other investors to fine-tuning investor presentations. Most importantly, you have to provide the vital moral support during the very emotional fundraising process. Summer’s end, bookended a successful season of fundraising for many of our companies.

* * *

Daily deadlines had been pretty much part of my entire adult life. Somewhere, somehow the deadlines stopped being fun and it was clear to me that I needed a reset. So when I left, I made a decision to not bother with writing, with the exception of my Fast Company column which is something I absolutely love to write. To be honest, I didn’t want to write just because I owed someone “copy.”

It is not surprising that I have only a few works to show for this summer. Most of my words are ending up in my daily journal, a habit that had become victim to daily deadlines. The privacy of a paper journal grants you permission to rediscover your true loves. It has been a liberating experience.

The breakthrough came when on vacation in Italy. I had no computer, just my iPhone, so I picked up a piece of paper and a pen and started writing. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Some of it is intensely private. Other might someday be part of a travel piece, but most importantly it was a chance to write again. Someday in the future, I will become good at it.

* * * 

From a travel perspective, summer of 2014, has been hectic, to say the least. I started the summer with a visit to Italy for a journalism conference in Perugia. It was on that trip I met with Brunello Cucinelli, the man behind eponymous cashmere maker and one of Italian true entrepreneurial superhero. A few weeks later I headed back to Europe, this time to Paris to meet with some French ministers and have an audience with French President François Hollande. And then back to Italy again for what was essentially my first ever real vacation.

And somewhere in between those travels, I was in Michigan and New York. It seemed I was on a plane pretty much every month — and that is why I decided to stay at home in August, opting to short trips to various spots in California versus jumping on a plane. I am hoping to stay put in San Francisco, though I really miss New York, so there is a good chance my travel abstinence won’t really hold for long.

* * * 

Summer of 2014 was also the first summer, I took up reading actual books all over again. I didn’t want to read business books, so instead I picked a variety of different books — mostly non-fiction. Here is a list of six books I have finished this summer. There are about a dozen books which are lying unfinished next to my bed.

And I am currently reading:

* * * 

As the calendar turns to September, I know the summer has ended. For me, the summer of 2014 will be a lot more meaningful. It acted like a bridge between my old life to my new life. I learned many new things this summer, some of them are probably going to have a long term impact on how I live and work and not work and live.

I have rediscovered my love for words. The summer has given me time to tinker around with some projects that had been put on hold because I just didn’t have much time — one of which I will share with you later this month. I am also digging into Swift, the new programming language from Apple, mostly to prove to myself if I can still do it.

But most importantly the summer of 2014 brought home the undeniable truth about myself — I thrive on uncertainty, unknown and quest for answers that sometimes aren’t really there. I gather data, swirl it around in my head, sometimes dots connect and I try make sense of it. Except of one thing — I hate being rushed. I am no longer in a rush.

I can see you-
Your brown skin shinin’ in the sun
You got that hair slicked back and those Wayfarers on, baby
I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone

5 Links: What to read today

My 5 top picks for today. These are stories I highly recommend you read today.

How big telecom smothers city run broadband (Public Integrity)

Big telecom hate competition as it forces them to not only spend money to upgrade their networks, but also has to convince customer that they are a better option. I have always maintained that solution to our broadband issues is not more regulation or more protectionism, but more competition, even if it comes in the shape of small providers, local networks and city-sponsored broadband. 

A new American Oil Bonanza (The New York Times)

We are a fossil fueled power country and that dominates our life, politics and commerce. It isn’t going to change, regardless of the damage to the planet or how severe is the climate change. The thing to do — atleast we should prepare for the worst. 

S’long Jeet (The New Yorker)

Roger Angell’s long goodbye to Derek Jeter, one of a kind player whose exit will also bring curtains to a type of loyalty that is virtually impossible in our get rich quick world. 

What happened to Motorola. (Chicago Magazine)

Good question! Most of the answers are in this great piece by Ted Fishman. The big lesson here is — companies have a tough time finding meaning when they are too weighed down by the fear of meeting the expectations of the near term. 

How Hollywood lost its mojo. (IndieWire)

There are multiple reasons as this article articulates. As a casual movie goer, they failed to come up with compelling movies for me to hit the multiplex. Also, we are living in the age of longer television — which satisfies our desire for interesting stories and yet somehow fits into already fractionalized attention. 

How Google can really help news & media

Earlier this month, folks from Google invited me along with Kara Swisher and Audrey Cooper for a conversation about the future of news. Towards the end of the conversation, we were asked what Google could do in order to help the news and media industry. Obviously, we joked about buying the New York Times, but when asked, I pointed out that Google is good at one thing — software — and instead of trying to do crazy things, why not build tools that help the news ecosystem? Why not create tools that help data novices make sense of information? Or how about a smarter, simpler and more nimble analytics tool just for reporters? (Or simply buy Chartbeat!) I forgot to mention one tool that they could build in their sleep, and in the process help not only save many reporter hours but make the news better, smarter and more contextual.

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