How to Be Innovative

There must be something in the water. In Silicon Valley, innovation runs deep and entrepreneurs seem to be everywhere you look. There are countless go-getters who all believe they have the next big idea and are willing to drop everything to prove it. Even beyond the world of tech meetups and conferences, it seems like every weekend I chat with servers, bartenders, bus drivers, lawyers, and bankers who admit they are working on a side project, creating a new product and dreaming of one day running their own business.

With so many ideas brewing in the Bay Area and entrepreneurs so confident that their idea has what it takes, it is important to stand out from the crowd which can be difficult when everyone around you is trying to be “different.”

How do you keep up your mind sharp and continuously innovate?  Here are a few ideas you should try:

1) Stop calling company brainstorm meetings

The idea of brainstorming first became popular in the 1950s, thanks to B.B.D.O. advertising exec, Alex Osborn. It’s a nice feel-good idea because in a brainstorm, no answer is allowed to be criticized. The idea is that people will share more ideas because they are not afraid of ridicule. However, Jonah Lehrer — a science writer and expert on how companies can encourage innovation, and author of Imagine explained in a New Yorker article that research has repeatedly found that, despite the popularity of brainstorming, group performance declines as the group size gets bigger. It turns out groups generate more ideas if they work alone and pool ideas together later.


Psychologists have found that in large groups “groupthink” sets in. People tend to want to avoid tension and disagreement, so they end up gravitating toward agreeing rather than considering alternate viewpoints. Critical evaluation of ideas is beneficial because it challenges people to reassess their arguments, consider other perspectives and discover new viewpoints they may not have considered before. To be innovative, it is best to skip the brainstorm and instead share thoughts with only a few people, evaluating and challenging each other’s ideas.

2) Accidentally run into people that are different from you (on purpose)

Intellectual diversity is key to innovation. Encouraging people with different backgrounds and areas of expertise to converse and bounce ideas off of each other can help them think beyond their normal patterns of thought. Steve Jobs understood this and purposefully planned Pixar’s headquarters to be built in a circular fashion around an atrium. He wanted to encourage people from different teams to ”accidentally” run into each other every day and share ideas. In order to increase foot traffic, they eventually put all the bathrooms in the building in the atrium. This way, the Pixar staff was more likely to strike up chance conversations outside their normal teams multiple times a day.

3) Encourage an “aha” moment by taking a shower or watching comedy

Make them laugh

Have you ever solved a puzzle or thought of a new creative idea in the shower? Or after taking a stroll or a quick a cat nap? Many creative moments reportedly pop up when least expected. These moments of insight typically come out of the blue, when your mind is not focusing on the problem you are trying to solve.

Part of this has to do with being relaxed and in a good mood. EEG studies (that measure electricity in your brain) have found that people who are more relaxed are able to solve more puzzles. In a study by researcher Mark Beeman, researchers found that participants that watched a clip of Robin Williams doing stand-up comedy were more likely to solve insight puzzles, with the average success rate increasing 20%.

4) Let them eat cake! …or nap, or play Ping-Pong…

Jonah Lehrer has also studied the work environment of the innovative company, 3M. 3M gives every engineer an hour to do anything they want, as long as they promise to share it with their colleagues. It could be anything – and employees have the freedom to choose — from playing a video game, to taking a nap, knitting, or going for a stroll. As Lehrer puts it, they are encouraged to “manage their own attention.” This gives engineers the chance to step away from their desk and do something else, which often helps them be more productive even if it could potentially look like they are wasting time.

5) Paint your walls blue

If all else fails, one quick fix that could help is to paint your room blue. John Lehrer has noted that people working in a room that is a relaxing shade of blue tend to solve more puzzles and think more creatively. Those in a red room are able to focus more on details, which can be good for certain tasks, but blue rooms encourage relaxation and thinking in more abstract terms.

Paint the walls blue


Scott Berkun Blog:

Susan Cain, “The Rise of the New Groupthink,” The New York Times:

Jonah Lehrer, “Groupthink,” The New Yorker:

Jonah Lehrer, Imagine

NPR Fresh Air interview:


What’s the Next Big Thing?

Everybody wants to know—what’s the next big thing? Last week, we turned to Ben Parr from Mashable for insight on what’s hot in social. Ben spoke at an SFAMA event over at PeopleBrowser to discuss “The Future of Social and Tech.” His presentation began with an intro highlighting how social media has made communication among consumers faster and more efficient. Ben went on to point out that mobile texting and Internet usage have skyrocketed as fewer people use their phone as a traditional phone. This naturally led to a discussion on hot mobile technology. Foursquare is one leader in the space that jumps to the forefront of everyone’s mind as it boasts the SoLoMo (Social, Local and Mobile) triumvirate. Despite this, Foursquare has yet to cross the chasm to mainstream adoption. While I’m an avid Foursquare user and fan myself, Ben pointed out that the 10 million on Foursquare pales in comparison to Facebook’s 700 million users.

Continue reading What’s the Next Big Thing?

The Power of Storytelling

In Seth Godin’s All Marketers Are Liars, he emphasizes the power of storytelling. Humans have been storytelling for ages and Godin explains why it is the best way to spread an idea. Too often, marketing focuses on product features and the word doesn’t get out. People want to talk about remarkable products and experiences. Messages that claim slightly better price or improved quality are not that impressive and over-used business jargon can kill a product’s story just as fast. Instead, it is more important how a product’s story makes the person feel. It is the story that will ultimately please the customer, fulfill their desire and make them want to tell their friends about a new product.

Godin explains that it is important to frame an idea to cater to a community’s beliefs and fit a certain worldview. He shares an example of a story framed around a worldview: organic food is better.  Whole Foods has expanded their business surrounding this story, which lets people tell themselves the story that organic food is healthier and better for the environment. Godin explains, “They shop there because it makes them feel good. They buy foods they want, not need. And all of us derive satisfaction from believing we’ve done the right thing.” While not everyone buys into this story, it fits the needs of a certain group of people who share a similar worldview.

However, a story shouldn’t be a lie and it is important to remember that stories must be authentic. In today’s world, if a product doesn’t live up to the story they are telling, word gets around fast. So once you define your story it is important that a product or service live up to that idea, down to the details.

Are We Blowing Another Bubble?

Last Thursday, we stopped by the Automattic Lounge at Pier 38 in San Francisco to hear a panel of venture capitalists and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs answer the question—are we blowing another bubble? Moderated by VentureBeat’s Owen Thomas, discussion began by asking how to spot signs of a bubble. Panelists included Paul Martino, chairman of Aggregate Knowledge; Christine Herron of First Round Capital; Corey Reese, CEO of Trumpet Technologies; and Tim Chang of Norwest Venture Partners.

Sign of a bubble:
• Big rush of capital into any particular market, whether or not market can absorb that capital
• More jobs or resumes floating around
• Look at valuation of jobs market: people getting lots of job offers versus a more challenging market
• Software developer who’s never done programming taking programming jobs
• Look for broadness of activities rather than deepness
• Grandma asking about tech stocks
• Cheese sommelier serving personally sliced fine cheese at corporate events (note: there was no cheese sommelier at the Automattic Lounge)

Discussion turned to analyzing why recently there are a few big deals that are getting disproportionate attention. Zynga and Foursquare, for example, have received high valuations and buzz while other startups are struggling to get initial funding. Paul Martino commented that there are a few big deals grabbing a huge mindshare but that this is just a perceptual difference. Corey Reese and Christine Herron both attributed this to repeat entrepreneurs getting more attention. Statistically, past history is the only predictive factor of a successful entrepreneur, so people track these entrepreneurs closely expecting big results. Tim Chang mused that “Silicon Valley is like high school forever.” The hot startups get chased by everybody, making it more difficult for up-and-coming entrepreneurs to get seed funding. Martino went on to say Silicon Valley is a winner-takes-all environment which creates a segmented world.

Tips for new entrepreneurs (besides building a track record of success):
• Build a company that can turn a profit quickly and create a bidding war
• Focus on an area that venture capitalists are currently favoring

Are we in a bubble? The general conclusion of the panel was no.

Mick Bobroff of Ernst & Young LLP to Keynote Digital Media Law Conference in San Francisco on April 29

New Speakers and Panels Announced for the Digital Media Law Conference in San Francisco on April 29

The conference will commence with keynote speaker Mick Bobroff, partner in Ernst & Young’s Northern California Technology practice, examining revenue recognition models for the sale of virtual goods. Additionally, speakers will address a range of vital topics at the Digital Media Law Conference, such as protecting intellectual property, contract negotiation, digital music licensing and consumer privacy.

Featured panels throughout the afternoon will prepare business leaders for new challenges and developing legal concerns in the digital media space. The Digital Media Law Conference will be held on April 29, 2010 from 12:00pm until 6:30pm PDT at the Commonwealth Club.

In addition to virtual goods revenue recognition, speakers will address a range of vital topics at the Digital Media Law Conference, such as intellectual property, digital music licensing and consumer privacy. New speakers will join the following panel discussions:

  • Dan Rogers of Ambition Production and Management, Sean F. Kane, Esq. of Kane & Associates LLC, Howard Bliss of Union Entertainment, and Victoria Libin of Viacom (MTV Networks) will join the panel “Best Practices for Protecting Your IP”
  • Annie Lin of The Rights Workshop and Ned Hearn of Law Offices of Edward R. Hearn will lead the panel “Old Models, New Media: Rethinking Music Licensing in the Digital Era”
  • Gabriel M. Ramsey of Orrick will join a panel discussion on liability and risk associated with operating games and applications on externally operated platforms

We encourage you to join the discussion and are offering you a special 30% discount off registration with the discount code “VIP30” at checkout.

For more information on the Digital Media Law Conference, please visit

To register for the event, please visit

Appreciate Your Fan Base

Bolt Creative’s iPhone game, Pocket God, is one of the most successful games in the App Store. They have sold over 2 million units in a little over one year. Furthermore, the game has accumulated a loyal fan base—an impressive feat that many games never achieve. Bolt Creative’s success in building a strong following can be credited, in part, to their genuine appreciation of and attentiveness to the Pocket God community.

When the game was new to the scene, Bolt Creative CEO, Dave Castelnuovo, would check out fan comments and gather real feedback. He made sure that players who spent $0.99 to download Pocket God knew that their voices were being heard and that their comments would be taken into account by responding to both praise and criticism. It is important to offer fans a communication channel to share their opinions. Now there is an array of useful tools available to monitor and manage comments on various social network sites so that it is easier. Castelnuovo recommends, however, having a presence on a limited selection of social networking sites rather than trying to be everywhere. He suggests choosing a format that suits your strengths and focusing your energy there, specifically.

The Bolt Creative team encouraged their Pocket God users to get involved by expressing appreciation for their fans’ creative contributions. For example, when fans sent in cartoon artwork of pygmy characters from the game, Castelnuovo would post their work on the game’s website. Once fans saw that their work was being acknowledged, even more contributions were submitted, increasing engagement even further.

This Saturday, March 13 at GDC in San Francisco, Dave Castelnuovo will be sharing more insight on community development and engagement. Check out the session “Ongoing User Engagement: How to Listen to Your Community” in Room 131, North Hall at 1:30 pm. He will be revealing tips for creating and managing a strong community fan base.

Social Gold Drives Repeat Purchases of Virtual Goods

Social Gold, the premier virtual economy platform, has recently shared some intriguing facts on users’ spending behavior within social games. Social Gold offers users a seamless in-game payments experience so players can purchase virtual goods without disrupting gameplay. New stats that were recently  posted on Social Gold’s blog show that their virtual economy platform increases conversion and drives repeat purchases.

Continue reading Social Gold Drives Repeat Purchases of Virtual Goods

Future of Media

Some of the most forward-thinking leaders within the entertainment industry attended the Future of Media conference today at the Stanford Graduate School of Business to discuss the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the media industry. The discussion panels covered topics including the future of interactive entertainment, television and film, social media and news, music, and entrepreneurship within the media landscape. It seems that while the future is uncertain, business leaders and innovators within the space see a shift toward more interactive entertainment as the long-standing distinctions between creators of content and distributors of information are expected to break down.

Terry Semel shared his views and predictions for the future of the industry as the keynote speaker. Currently the Chariman and CEO of Windsor Media, Semel was previously the Chairman and CEO of Yahoo! from 2001 through 2007. Before heading Yahoo!, Semel was Chairman and co-CEO of successful entertainment giant, Warner Bros. Semel predicted that the stereotypes of “Hollywood” as the home of content creation and “Silicon Valley” as the strictly high-tech hub will break down and become irrelevant. Semel believes that these two worlds are colliding as technology companies are interacting more with media companies and vice versa. Studios are no longer in complete control since user-generated content is becoming more prevalent online along with the rapid growth of YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. At the same time, great technology needs compelling content that people will pay for in order to survive as people begin to  interact with media on portable gadgets. Semel noted that traditionally straight technology companies, such as Sony or Microsoft, will provide other services because they want to expand into the media business.

One question that kept reoccurring throughout the day was how content will be monetized in the future. Semel had a simple solution for this. He declared that companies are foolish to give away quality content for free and believes that ads should definitely be used to monetize media. He pointed out that people aren’t so averse to advertisements that contain humor, exemplified by the tradition of households across the nation tuning into the Super Bowl, in part, to be entertained by amusing ads. Semel explained that social websites such as Facebook don’t have to necessarily charge their audience for access to their platform, but they can easily earn revenue from companies that want to reach those millions of valuable eyeballs. Despite the rapidly evolving media industry, businesses are still operating to turn profits and everyone seemed to agree that content will not continue to be free forever.

The Age of Interactive Entertainment

The entertainment industry has become increasingly interactive as people take more control of the media they consume. Since the emergence of reality television, entertainment has become less passive with viewers playing an active role in the experience. As shows become readily available on the Internet, viewers have more power and more choice. Execs in the entertainment world are still tackling how to keep up with the evolving media space. Although the issue of monetization is yet to be resolved, developing an interactive and engaging experience to keep viewers’ attention will be essential.

The explosion of reality television contributed to the deepening level of engagement that has become expected among viewers. Several reality shows, which are profitable for studios since they tend to be significantly cheaper to produce than scripted series, captivate audiences as they take average people and launch them to stardom. Shows like “Real World” and “Survivor” grabbed audience attention by selecting everyday people to be cast members and contestants. Furthermore, reality shows have evolved to include direct participation among the masses. For example, the phenomenally popular show, “American Idol,” encouraged involvement by allowing viewers to choose the winner through actively voting via phone or text message every week. Audience members were no longer mindless viewers but were asked to take part in the decision-making process during a specific time window every week.

Consumers are becoming accustomed to taking more control of the entertainment they choose to enjoy. TiVo offers greater flexibility as people choose what television shows they want to watch and when. Additionally, the Internet is revolutionizing the entertainment industry. People can watch their favorite shows at their own convenience while also becoming involved in conversations about what they saw. David Carr recently pointed out on The Media Equation that consumers are turning to the Internet and social networks to get a daily dose of entertainment, news and commentary. Carr notes that particularly with talk shows and reality series there’s no longer a need to watch a full episode because it’s easy to find highlights and must-see moments on Facebook and Twitter.

Social media allow deeper levels of engagement as consumers can comment on shows, share news instantly and even interact with their favorite celebrities. No more sending fan letters confessing love via snail mail—Twitter lets users engage in a personal “conversation” with favorite movie and TV stars, music artists and sports heroes while following their thoughts and random musings online. People are no longer passive viewers and in some cases, consumers are becoming producers, creating their own media on YouTube and sharing it across a vast network of blogs and social communities.

Entertainment is not dead, it’s just evolving. Ultimately, it has become increasingly important for the entertainment industry to invent more advanced and original ways to extend an entertainment experience across multiple channels, while allowing for greater user participation.

Marketing High-Tech Products to Mainstream Consumers

How does a new high-tech product become popular and translate from a fad into a lasting trend? It is challenging for high-tech products to achieve widespread success among mainstream consumers. People are notoriously resistant to change and it takes time and a lot of coaxing to covert a new high-tech product used by gadget-obsessed geeks into a product that the masses are comfortable with. Geoffrey Moore, author of BusinessWeek bestseller, Crossing the Chasm, explains that in order for a cutting-edge product to become more than just a passing fad, it must cross the gap, or “chasm” between an early market and mainstream market. If done successfully, a high-tech product can make this transition to achieve great success and explosive sales. If the product fails to reach mainstream success, however, it may fade into obscurity.

Moore argues that a high-tech product shouldn’t be marketed the same way to tech enthusiasts and early adopters as it should be to the mainstream consumer. The early market for a high-tech product consists of people who love to be the first on their block to have a new gadget and who appreciate the benefits of new technology. Think of that friend, neighbor or family member who loves to show off new gadgets that nobody has heard of yet. They don’t mind dealing with a few bugs or inconveniences if they see a chance to get ahead of the competition with a new high-tech product and, often times, they are willing to pay a hefty price tag. Marketing messages that focus on the product and that pinpoint a technological advantage resonate with this early audience. However, the mainstream market needs a bit more convincing. These consumers are more practical and are hesitant to empty their wallets. For the mainstream market, company credibility is important and word-of-mouth recommendations are powerful.

One product that everyone is watching closely and which is emerging into the mainstream market is the Kindle. Up until now, electronic books have failed to “cross the chasm” to become a must-have item for mainstream consumers. Two weeks ago on the TriplePoint blog, Julia Roether explored the rise in Kindle 2’s popularity and noted that while it may seem like an “overnight sensation,” the Kindle has been around for over two years. Furthermore, Brad Stone, who covers consumer technology at the New York Times, pointed out that electronic book devices have been around for a decade but none have really taken off among consumers.

The Kindle seems to be breaking through as an electronic book that is reaching mainstream market success. The Kindle 2 came out with several improvements to the product but mainstream consumers are often less swayed by the promise of new product features. Specifically, consumers in the mainstream market, according to Moore, tend to value market leadership and wait for a high-tech product to prove they are better than the competition before buying. Unlike early market consumers who want to be the first on the block to have a new product, mainstream consumers wait for references from people they trust. The Kindle received recognition from Oprah, one of the most widely respected and trusted references around, which no doubt helped convince hesitant book-lovers to get on board. Furthermore, with sales skyrocketing this holiday season, the Kindle seems to be crossing the chasm.

However, time will tell how the Kindle evolves and if electronic books will become a must-have gadget. It seems that there are still adjustments to be made and more convincing of consumers before the product really takes hold. Moore reminds us that 1/3 of consumers are classified as “conservatives” who are the most resistant to change and who wait for the product to become a standard before adopting new technology. These people are the last to buy new technology, after tech enthusiasts, early adopters and the early majority of mainstream consumers. While the Kindle is becoming more popular, it still must establish credibility among users before capturing this piece of the market.

Virtual Goods Summit 2009: Keeping Up with the Joneses in a Virtual World

vgsummit09logo1The success of a virtual goods market relies greatly on people’s insecurities and capitalizes on an individual’s desire to be distinguished in a vast virtual world. Nobody wants to feel inferior or lost among a crowd, including in the online realm.  VGS 2009 had a stellar turnout as social media professionals and enthusiasts flocked to San Francisco to learn from the experts in the emerging industry. Guest speakers shared their insights on the virtual goods marketplace and tried to pinpoint what exactly compels users to purchase. Virtual goods flourish in the context of games or online spaces that allow for social comparison and, well, let’s be honest–bragging rights.

Consumers are attempting to be the best on their virtual block by gaining status or recognition from other users. Brian Balfour, Co-founder and VP of Product Marketing at Viximo, noted that the context of the game is especially important. He explained that winning, status, and socializing are three important motivators for buying virtual goods. This is why virtual goods can be successful on dating sites. Suitors try to woo their crushes and send virtual flowers or other quirky gifts to flirt with potential mates and stand out from the competition.

Lee Clancy, of IMVU, also agreed that “community is key.” IMVU is an avatar-based online social network that offers over 3 million virtual items and where $175k worth of virtual items are purchased daily. The success of virtual goods relies heavily on the social context in which goods are sold. IMVU allows users to design their own products and so they have become an integral part of the user experience. Users can customize their products or design original creations. Since users are constantly interacting and socializing, there is incentive to distinguish oneself. The IMVU virtual economy is thriving as users become more engaged and continuously innovate, hoping to gain attention or respect within the community.

blog post VGS picWithin a social context, scarcity of goods also drives users to purchase virtual goods. Bill Grosso, from Live Gamer, noted that virtual goods offer potential for great profit because there is complete control over how many items they release into the market. He explained that rare items become especially valuable in a social setting. Farmville, the phenomenally popular Facebook game, released a hot air balloon for 10 coins for a limited amount of time this past September. Fans that snagged the balloon can now smile smugly when new farmer friends ask how they got the balloon and explain, “it’s no longer available.” Due to its scarcity, the balloon has become a precious item. The balloon serves no real purpose—it’s just for fun. However, without other farmers to admire the prized possession, it loses its entertainment value.

When building a game that offers virtual goods, it is crucial to take into account the user experience and social context of the game. All the VGS speakers seemed to agree that engaging users is essential before attempting to monetize a virtual goods economy. Players need to be hooked into the community. Once engaged, however, users may be driven to buy new items to establish their rank on the virtual social ladder and to “keep up with the Joneses.”