iTunes: Still Busted

In today’s New York Times, Farhad Manjoo bemoans Apple’s design doldrums. As evidence, he points to the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, as well as other products such as the Apple Watch and Apple Music. But what about iTunes? For years, this product has been broken. It’s fat and out of control; every time I use it, I have trouble with some aspect of it, whether it’s navigation, permissions, or some other odd thing. Maybe Apple has given up on iTunes and thinks it is no longer relevant in this era of on-demand music services like Spotify. (As for Apple Music, who cares?) Most consumers might agree. Nevertheless, Apple, where’s the pride? iTunes is standard-issue software on every Mac and iPad in the universe. It should be embarrassing – mortifying – to Apple that it can’t get iTunes right.

Nothing to See Here

Penny Kim’s Medium post entitled “I Got Scammed by a Silicon Valley Startup” has set off a firestorm of debate on Hacker News. Now, The New York Times has written about mismanagement at Kim’s former company (WrkRiot) as if it were symptomatic of Silicon Valley startup life. The truth is that the practices described in her article should have immediately set off alarm bells no matter where the company was located. This fraud is not specific to Silicon Valley: it’s the story of a con man who used his flash and dazzle to destroy others’ dreams. Also, WrkRiot never commanded any influence in Silicon Valley – no VC investors, no big brand customers, no superstar engineers, nothing. The only compelling aspect of the story might be the observation that even even the best and the brightest can fall for a con. But is this news? Don’t get me wrong. I can see why the Times ran this story: it’s clickthrough bait. But I think we all need to move past this idea of Silicon Valley exceptionalism. We all know deep down that Silicon Valley is no better or worse than the rest of the world. Why do we then act so surprised when bad things happen to good people? Let’s move on, people. Nothing to see here.

Chaos Monkeys vs. Disrupted

Chaos Monkeys
Have you read Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley) by Antonio Garcia Martinez? Like Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble, it is a behind-the-scenes look at a tech company, but the narrator is so much less likable. As much as I love Martinez’s trenchant observations about life as an entrepreneur and a Facebook acquihire, his sexist digressions and incessant braggadocio are jarring. By contrast, I found myself really rooting for Dan Lyons, the author of Disrupted, as he battled HubSpot’s inane startup culture. Chaos Monkeys is definitely worth reading, but it’s a shame Martinez couldn’t have suppressed some of his more adolescent impulses.

A Startup that Straddles Two Bubbles

Real Estate Asset?
OpenDoor CEO Eric Wu tells StrictlyVC that his startup will make money by purchasing houses at 1-3% above their market value three months from now and then selling these homes at a profit. Presumably, any homeowner willing to part with their house at a distressed price has a problem on their hands. They could have a crummy place that no one wants, or they could be facing jailtime: the possibilities are endless. OpenDoor could succeed if it finds just the right intersection of tragedy and opportunity, and OpenDoor’s concept is not new: it is essentially taking the concept behind companies like We Buy Ugly Houses (aka HomeVestors) to a whole new level. That said, it’s easy to see how OpenDoor could be left holding the bag – stuck with millions of dollars in “assets” that no one wants. In this era of “easy money,” tech investors are more than willing to speculate on new technology, but in OpenDoor, they are also betting that today’s “go-go” real estate market will continue. It’s venture roulette all over again. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Club Tesla

Tesla Model S owners gathered at Crissy Field in San Francisco Thursday to celebrate Tesla’s West Coast charging network. There are now 16 Supercharging stations from Vancouver to San Diego, along the I-5 and Highway 101 corridors. – SiliconBeat, 11/1/13

I can’t help imagining a Tesla charging station as a private club where white men in blue dress shirts and khakis convene to discuss their portfolios.

Too Big to Fail?

Is Silicon Valley’s growing prominence in pop culture a sign that the Valley is back? Setting aside the question of what does that really means anyway, the answer is “no,” or at least not according to Google Trends.

However, the world at large is very interested in Google and Facebook.

People often confuse Google and Facebook with Silicon Valley, but they by no means reflect the health and welfare of the thousands of startups toiling away in the trenches. The real question shouldn’t be whether “Silicon Valley has made it” but whether the prominence of these oligopolies is good for Silicon Valley.