Friday, December 30, 2016

The UN's Death Warrant for Jews

I've held off on commenting on the US abstention from the recent UN Security Council resolution.

Mostly, because I think what Obama just did is tantamount to the signing of a death warrant for a few thousand Israelis who will become victims of renewed Palestinian terror attacks. And that's the best case scenario, I fear.

With this resolution, Palestinian hardliners are emboldened to accept no compromise and since everything is "illegal," then any action is therefore justifiable. And, now, they can never "accept" anything less than full withdrawal to 1967 lines.

So, Obama's legacy in foreign policy, in my opinion, is going to be renewed bloodshed, death, and instability.  I won't even touch on Iran, Syria, Russia, China in this post.

And, in a sad twist, it's going to embolden the hard-right in Israel who now feel abandoned and will make any compromise even more difficult.

I'm so disappointed in Obama and Kerry, I can't even really articulate it.

Fortunately, Michael Eisenberg did a phenomenal job of enunciating how I think/feel about the situation. Go read it. I'll wait.

Sorry it's unpleasant heading into the New Year when we are supposed to feel hopeful and optimistic, but, for me, this is a Neville Chamberlain level of appeasement that will go down in history as an epic betrayal that ultimately leads to innocent deaths.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Meeting a Trump Voter from Alabama

While sitting by the pool at our hotel in Atlanta, I struck up a conversation with another guest.

He is a Filipino-American living in Birmingham who works as a nurse. Wife and 2 kids.

The talk turned to politics and I asked him if he was comfortable sharing for whom he voted.

"Yes, sure. Trump," he answered.

He has been in the country for 11 years and a citizen for 7 of them.

Why did he vote for Trump?

  1. He felt like Obama's economic policies hurt working class Americans in favor of people who get government handouts.
  2. He didn't trust Hillary.
  3. He believes that a big change is needed in the way that government works.

His sister also voted for Trump.

I asked if, as an immigrant, he had any qualms about voting for Trump.

"No. I'm an American. I work and pay my taxes and Trump speaks to real Americans."

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

CNN & Civil Rights: Atlanta Impacts the World (Day 2)

Continuing on the theme of what Atlanta brings to the world, we visited CNN center and the (relatively) new National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
At CNN, we were simultaneously blown away by the technological power of how you put on a modern newscast while having to come to terms with the immense power that the 4,000 employees of the company have to basically shape public opinion of over 1 billion people worldwide.

That's some disproportionate strength.

But then, as I looked out over the 200 people working in the newsroom doing the "research" and "fact-checking," I became keenly aware of the vulnerability of this system.

You see, those people are looking at the same web, same Twitter, same Facebook that we all have...and they are subject to the same biases.
So, it's like the movie "Enemy of the State," where you have to ask, "who is watching the watchers?"

The tour was certainly more informative and more fulfilling than the Coca Cola one yesterday and I'm glad we made it.

CNN was maniacal about not allowing pictures or videos at any point within the tour, so nothing to show here. 

After CNN, we took a ride up the big SkyView Atlanta ferris wheel (which seems to be a standard thing in cities worldwide now), but it did afford a great view of the city and enable the kids to get a pretty good bearing on how things are laid out.

Not only did we get to see Centennial Park from above, but we got to see a really cool parking lot implementation of solar panels that doubled as a shade for the cars below. Very neat.

Afterwards, we headed over to the Civil Rights Museum and, even more exciting, a chance to see one of my oldest friends (from 7th grade), Tjada D'Oyen, her husband, Joe, and their 2 boys, whom I hadn't seen in 12 years.

Together, we toured the Museum. On the one hand, it was somewhat redundant with the MLK historic site we had visited on Monday.  On the other hand, it was far more interactive for the kids in terms of the exhibits.

BY FAR...the most powerful part of the entire museum was a lunch counter where you are asked to sit, put on some headphones, close your eyes and then for 100 seconds (or as long as you can stand it).  While there, you are subjected to a non-stop harangue of verbal abuse designed to simulate the experience of doing a lunch counter sit-in.

It is intense and makes the entire price of admission worth it.
The one observation that the kids made about the museum-which was very fair-was that as a museum that focuses entirely on civil rights, it would have been nice to have more than one story represented aside from African-Americans.  
The battle for civil rights impacts many groups...Native Americans, gays, Jews, Muslims, etc.  It would have been nice to have some of them represented as well.

After a visit to the park and getting wet in the the fountains on the Olympic rings, we headed out to our last activity of the cream with a friend of more than 20 years-- Jen Pearlman.

For me, travel is always about the people you meet, the perspectives they have, and the stories they share. That's why seeing Jen and Tjada made Day 2 so special.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

MLK and Coca Coca...Atlanta impacts the world (Day 1)

For this year's winter vacation, we decided to head south and visit Atlanta.

Day 1 took us to two places of worldwide significance.

The birthplace and now National Historic Site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the "World of Coca Cola" experience.

I am going to leave aside the observation that the number of people at Coke dwarfed the number of people at the MLK site and try to avoid reflecting on what that means for humanity.

The MLK site was powerful. It's not just one building, rather a complex of buildings that houses a museum that you would expect and then a walking tour of the Auburn Ave. area of Atlanta which, at one time, was the center of African-American life in the city.

It was on that street that MLK was born and lived until age 12 (the house is there though, we couldn't enter it as it's undergoing renovation), the Ebenezer Baptist Church where MLK Sr. was the minister, and the reflecting pool/eternal flame area where MLK and Coretta Scott King are buried.

The museum portion has a compelling exhibit that traces the history of segregation and the civil rights movement and presents the cold, hard truth in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable and inspired.

Uncomfortable because you have to come face to face with the legacy and implication of the institutions of slavery and segregation and you can't help but acknowledge the impact. The pictures of lynchings, cross-burnings, etc. are nothing short of horrific.

Inspired because you yearn for the calm, determined leadership and commitment to non-violence based on the righteousness of a position and the passion for justice that MLK represented and, which at least for me, feels sadly lacking these days.

 We went into the nearly empty church where a recording of a Christmas service was playing and we heard Mahalia Jackson signing hymns.  The music reverberated through the structure and you could feel the sense of history in this place.  For me, the combination was powerful.

Finally, having the two Kings buried on an island within a pool of water across from an eternal flame (which has special significance in Judaism so it hit doubly home) seemed appropriate.  Together, creating a sea of tranquility, looking out towards an eternal idea.

I've been to Atlanta maybe 25 times but had never been to this site and I'm sad that it took so long, but thrilled that we made it.

The kids liked it as well. For them, there probably could have been a bit more on the interactive side, but as they have read a ton about MLK and civil rights (and we are planning on going to the new Civil Rights museum on Day 2), they got a lot out of it.

The film about MLK was great because it took a unique focused on his childhood and what he was like growing up (apparently he wasn't so organized in keeping his room neat-which made some of my kids thrilled since it proved that even though your father keeps telling you that you need to clean your room, you can still be destined for greatness!)

As for the World of Coca Cola, I have to say that I didn't really like it.

I may be in the minority overall and within my family and perhaps the juxtaposition of going from something that is so profound as MLK to something that is so commercial was too jarring, but I felt there was something missing.

I know that I am passionate about marketing. I really enjoy the art and science of it and I admire great marketing. There was some of that. The introductory movie was all about "Coca Cola moments" and it was very emotional, saying how people create emotional connections and Coke is part of it.  The "4D" movie was a fun sensory experience and the tour of pop culture influenced by Coke was also a tour through history.

Obviously, the tasting room with 100 flavors from around the world was a big winner and considering that Tonka (13) had never had a Coke until this trip and the other 2 had only had it once before, the NFO and I had rare feeling of being world-class parents, for once ;-)

But, here's the thing...

It was too much. For me, it was SO focused on making everyone think "Coke is a part of life" and "Coke makes moments special," that it lost its authenticity.

I walked away feeling sad that we had paid to get so overtly marketed to.

I prefer to hear the story of how and why Coke came into being. How did they make the decisions they made? How did Coke, for example, impact civil rights by being the first company to use African-Americans as spokesmen or whatever?

Instead, I felt a story of a company that said, "ok, let's just always figure out how to make the most amount of money and go from there."

Now, we all KNOW that's what is happening, but I didn't get that feeling.

Now, it's possible all of that could have been averted if the mere process of getting into and around the exhibit had any sort of real professionalism associated with it.

Truth be told, that's probably what did it in for me.

For a brand that is world-class and cares about "moments," the mere act of buying a ticket, getting in line, getting into the exhibit was just poor.
I said at one point, "if Disney were running this, there would be signs in 20 languages and clear instructions."

None of that was present.

We would wait in line and then, for reasons no one understood, another line of people would go ahead of us.

There would be muffled loudspeaker announcements telling us what to do, but no one really could hear them.

It wasn't total chaos, but it wasn't organized and it wasn't about "feelings" or "moments" and I think that was the dissonance.  It was inconsistent.

You can throw up a ton of advertising and super slick videos about how you care about feelings but the feelings of the people who are paying to watch the ad are somehow irrelevant.

Add to all this that the vast distribution network that Coca Cola touts as an accomplishment made me feel like "wow, there are probably plastic Coke bottles and bottle caps all over the world" (and there are).

I have infinite admiration for Coke's marketing power. I got choked up during parts of the video and loved how they evoked that in me.  They really, really think about being more than just sugar + water.  I just was disappointed that the World of Coke experience was less about the things they supposedly care about as eternal human values (connection, memory, feelings, etc.) and more about "Coke is good for your life. You should buy more Coke stuff."

You can reach the same outcome with a different path.

I suppose there was a positive outcome as it solidified my mind-frame that I don't intend to drink any soda again ever.

On Day 2, we hope to hit CNN and the Civil Rights Museum.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Secure Your Phone Number Please

As phones become the central feature of our lives, they also become targets.

Recently, a number of high profile people in the world of Bitcoin have had their phone numbers stolen right out from under them.

Thieves call AT&T or whomever and pretend to be the owner of the phone number, but have forgotten their security codes, etc.

Through clever manipulation, they manage to get the information, port the phone number and then, with that, use the SMS codes to log in to people's accounts...and steal their Bitcoin.

You can read about the full story here in Forbes.

The fix may be intense but it's worth exploring how you can lock things down. Kraken wrote it and it's pretty deep. Not sure you need to do all of it.

The point is...the phone is your central point of action/security and if you lose the number, you become vulnerable.

You may not own Bitcoin, but your phone number is pretty central to almost everything.

And, for the love of God, please use a 2 factor authentication code instead of SMS whenever possible. I prefer Authy.

It may seem like a lot of effort, but an ounce of prevention...

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Reinventing myself, little bets, and being ok with a 6.5

Monday night, I gave my first blockchain presentation. On a scale of 0-10, the average rating was about 6.5.

Not horrific, but not great.

But  you know what? I was expecting a 6.5 or 7.  Here's why.

Reinventing yourself is difficult. It's also scary.  I find that the best way to get comfortable with big risks (like changing jobs) is getting comfortable with small risks.

I read a book a while back called "Little Bets," which greatly influenced my thinking.

I remember a story about how when Seinfeld would have new jokes, he would go to smaller clubs that would normally never get his level, but he would go there and just work out new routines. See how they felt, see how the audience reacted. He always gave it his all, but he knew that he was deliberately testing-taking little bets- to see what would pay off and, if it didn't, it was a little bet.

I'm thinking about my presentations on the impact of blockchains in the same way (which is where the comparison to Seinfeld pretty much ends).

I'm looking to develop a book of business speaking about blockchains to corporate audiences and large groups for a fee.

However, I know that to get to that caliber, I have to take a lot of batting practice swings.

So, I'm deliberately going out to speak to smaller groups (mostly for free or nominal amounts), giving it my all, and seeing what works.

It never feels good to get a 6.5, that's for sure.  But if you know that a 6.5 is about right for were you are in the development cycle, you are being honest with yourself and therefore much more likely to take feedback.

In fact, I was honest with the audience and they (I think) respected that and were very candid in their feedback and (the best part), their desire to help me improve.

So, the lesson is...if you tell people you are taking batting practice, then will understand. You still have to show them that you belong on the field and aren't a joke (below a 5 would have been embarrassing for my host and me and I was pretty confident that it wouldn't hit that), but if you are, great things will happen.

It's almost impossible to give a presentation the first time and get a 9 or a 10. And it's almost impossible to do it without a lot of practice.

That's where I am now in the reinvention.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Coffee: Being Safely Irresponsible

I was having my 4th (or 5th) cup of coffee the other day when the person on the video chat said, "how much do you drink each day?"

I paused.

"Look," I said, "I'm a middle aged guy with a wife and three kids.  I don't smoke. I don't drink. I barely go out. I figure that drinking a lot of coffee is the way I can be a bit irresponsible and still be an adult.

Kind of like 'Safe Irresponsibility.'"

Monday, December 12, 2016

Why ObamaCare Angers Me

5 years ago, when I was a solo practitioner business, our families high-deductible HSA individual health care plan cost us approximately $420 per month.

Now, I'm on the other side of employer-provided insurance and the exact same package of coverage, and it's $1,400 per month.

Nearly 350% increase in 5 years.

What angers me about this isn't just the fact that I have to pay $16,800 in premiums and another $14,000 as an out-of-pocket maximum.  That is really bad.

What REALLY angers me is this.

I believe that long-term job growth and economic growth comes from entrepreneurship and small business. Not from government programs.

So, I see plenty of people who are sitting in jobs they don't enjoy and who want to start companies or try their hand at a business. But, when they do a bit of research, they now realize that they have a $30,000 upfront cost to healthcare, compared to approximately $12,000, five years ago.

So, they stay put, less satisfied in their jobs, understandably uncomfortable with taking on this risk, and not creating a new business to stimulate the economy.

To me, that's offensive and upsetting.

I get that 20 million people who didn't have insurance now do and I'm glad they do.  I just have to believe there's another way to do it besides Obamacare.

I saw this article in the WSJ about one possible solution which I thought was interesting. Pasted below.

The Four Legs of a New Health-Care System

The Great Recession enabled ObamaCare. Now the law’s failure makes reform possible.


James C. Capretta and 
Scott Gottlieb
Nov. 30, 2016 7:08 p.m. ET
Donald Trump announced this week that he had chosen Rep. Tom Price (R., Ga.), a leader in the efforts to replace ObamaCare, to be his secretary of Health and Human Services. This is a consequential choice. Mr. Trump’s election, and the political realignment it represents, offers a generational opportunity to pursue a new direction for American health care. Mr. Price will now be leading the charge.
The new system should be fully consumer driven, empowering individuals to be the surveyors and purchasers of their care. Past reforms in this direction became stilted and ultimately incomplete, but the current moment offers a chance to truly rebuild from the ground up. If Messrs. Trump and Price want to make the most of this short window, they should keep four central reforms in mind.
1. Provide a path to catastrophic health insurance for all Americans. There’s ample evidence that enrollment in insurance doesn’t always lead to improvements in health—but access to health insurance is important nonetheless. A 2012 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found higher insurance enrollment from reforms in Massachusetts led to better results in several measures of physical and mental health.
Health insurance is also important for financial security. The ObamaCare replacement should make it possible for all people to get health insurance that provides coverage for basic prevention, like vaccines, and expensive medical care that exceeds, perhaps, $5,000 for individuals.
Those Americans who don’t get health insurance through employers, or Medicare and Medicaid, should be eligible for a refundable tax credit that can be used to enroll in a health-insurance plan. The credit would be set at a level comparable to the tax benefits available to individuals with employer-sponsored insurance plans. The subsidy would be enough to make a basic level of catastrophic coverage easily affordable for all Americans.
2. Accommodate people with pre-existing health conditions. The price of insurance naturally reflects added risk. That’s why beach houses cost more to insure than a typical suburban home. Yet there is a reasonable social consensus that people should not be penalized financially for health problems that are largely outside of their control.
So as long as someone remains insured, he should be allowed to move from employer coverage to the individual market without facing exclusions or higher premiums based on his health status. If someone chooses voluntarily not to get coverage, state regulation could allow for an assessment of the risk when the person returns to the market.
This would prevent healthy people from waiting until they get sick to buy insurance, which is one reason ObamaCare’s insurance markets are unstable. The refundable tax credit ensures that everyone, including the unemployed, can get access to at least catastrophic insurance and maintain continuous coverage. Well-run and properly funded high-risk pools can help address the inevitable cases of expensive claims for the remaining uninsured.
3. Allow broad access to health-savings accounts. ObamaCare pushed millions of Americans into high-deductible insurance without giving them the opportunity to save and pay for care before insurance kicks in. There should be a one-time federal tax credit to encourage all Americans to open an HSA and begin using it to pay for routine medical bills. And HSAs combined with high-deductible insurance should be incorporated directly into the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
An NBER study from 2015 concluded that families spent between 7% and 22% less on health care in the three years after switching to an HSA. Spending was also lower for outpatient services and pharmaceuticals, without any increase in emergency-room spending.
As millions of consumers begin using HSAs, the medical-care market will begin to transform and deliver services that are convenient and affordable for patients.
4. Deregulate the market for medical services. HSAs will empower the demand side of the market, but suppliers need freedom from regulation to provide packages of services better tailored to people’s needs. For example, those consumers who maintain HSA balances should be allowed to use their resources to purchase direct care—basic services that keep people healthy and treat illnesses and chronic conditions—from physician groups. This might take the form of a monthly fee, a practice sometimes referred to as direct primary care. Today, this could be considered an insurance premium that’s barred by law.
Hospitals and physicians should also be allowed to sell access to their networks of clinics, oncology services, and inpatient facilities as an option to be used in the event a patient is diagnosed with an expensive illness. Medicare patients should be allowed to purchase the option to consult with their caregivers by phone, videoconferencing, or email. These are only some of the needed reforms. Regulation shouldn’t be an obstacle to entrepreneurs crafting more consumer-oriented services, many of which can’t be countenanced under current rules.
American health care is teetering because it relies too much on governmental coercion. A functioning marketplace can deliver high-quality care at lower cost. Now is the time to secure a system that empowers consumers to take command of their health care.
Mr. Capretta and Dr. Gottlieb are resident fellows at the American Enterprise Institute.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

After Sprinklr, headed to blockchain world

Executive Summary
After nearly five years of hard work, I have moved on from Sprinklr to begin the next phase of my career in the world of blockchains, decentralized systems, and crypto-tokens/currencies.

I am beyond confident in the Sprinklr's future and LOVE the people who work there. The decision has more to do with the recognition that my mission there was complete and with a passion to get back to the far edges of technological disruption.

The next Wave that I see that will dramatically impact our lives in ways we can't even imagine are blockchains and decentralized systems.

In other words, IF you hear the word "blockchain" or "Bitcoin," just have them call Jeremy. :-)

If you want to get up to speed on this technology in a big way, here's a new eBook I just published, called "Blockchains in the Mainstream."

It's still early, but I got the same feeling in my gut when I discovered blockchains as I had when I discovered email in 1991, the Internet in 1992, and social media in 2000. I began by investing in Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies (how I do it) and pulled back the layers of the onion to find the real potential.

So, it's time to go all in on this.

To that end, I've re-opened Never Stop Marketing (check out new website) with a laser focus on this nascent area.

Initially, I intend to help the companies in this arena gain market traction faster and more effectively.

Full Story
Five years ago, I received a call from a guy named Ragy Thomas.

He barely introduced himself or said hi. :-) He simply said, “I read your blog. You need to come work for me. I’m going to build a world-changing enterprise software company.”

It took me a few months to get my head around what he was saying, but after understanding the challenge and the opportunity (and visiting the small office with the really loud air conditioning unit on 30th St. in December, 2011), I said “I’m in.”

I became Sprinklr’s 30th employee.

The marketing challenge handed to me (roughly paraphrasing Ragy):
“We have the best product in the world, but no one knows that because no one knows who we are. Fix that.”

Not that we need external evidence of Ragy’s insights, but the week before I began, the first (and best) report on the Social Media Management System industry was published by Jeremiah Owyang.

It said, “Despite its growth, Sprinklr lacks market awareness due to limited marketing and
thought leadership efforts.”

“Well, it will be hard to screw that up,” I thought. ;-)

So, I jumped in...full throttle.

As you know, I certainly didn’t do it by myself. All Sprinkllr has accomplished would have been impossible without the amazing teammates, product, and clients with whom I was blessed to work.

Sprinklr is still just at the beginning. There’s a lot more that needs to get done and will happen.

For me, however, I have reached the conclusion that my specific mission within Sprinklr is complete. My mission was to help Sprinklr get into the mainstream and become a household name among the social media practitioners at large companies. We've done that...and more.

A few weeks ago, I called Ragy to share my perspective on the past 5 years.  

He was extremely gracious, saying, “I feel like I have delivered to you what I said I would. And I feel like you have done what I asked.”

He was right...mostly.

In fact, he over-delivered on what he said he would.  The challenge, the growth, the experience, the friendships. Life-changing stuff.

What I don’t want is for my departure from Sprinklr to be construed as anything about the company, the marketing department, the future prospects, the leadership, strategy, employees, or anything.

The signs for Sprinklr's continued success are stronger than ever.

In fact, I’ve exercised all of the options I’ve earned.  So, I have literally put my money where my mouth is.

I am beyond grateful for the opportunity I have had, the people I've met, the skills I've gained and, most of all, for the chance to contribute to something larger than myself.

You just have to know yourself. It was just time.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Maryland's stupid anti-Uber Proposal

Here's the letter I just wrote to the Maryland "Public Service" Commission about a proposal to kick Uber out of the entire state. See article in WashPost article

If you want to email them, here's a google doc with everyone's email address.

Please tell me this WashPost article is a joke.

Maryland has absolutely crappy cab service. Horrific.  

And now, the taxi industry, which can't compete with Uber, is giving you the bogeyman of security to do their dirty work.

In the end, we all pay higher fares, for dirtier cars, with less punctuality, and worse service.

And let's not forget the thousands of Marylanders who actually make a living (and other connections) with Uber and Lyft.

Until now, I haven't cared one iota about your commission (my bad), but if you go through with this, you can be sure that at least one taxpayer in Maryland is going to have an additional goal in life and try to figure out how to get you all removed from your jobs because you don't really care about doing them and serving the public.

The real "public service" is not to make us all pay a tax so that old, bad, poorly run cab companies stay profitable because they have the ears of politicians and regulators.

Jeremy Epstein
Silver Spring, MD

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Virtual Reality and Real Boxes

It's not a big secret that Virtual Reality is another of the truly transformative technology trends that will impact us.

The other day, my friend, Aaron, brought over a VR set-up for a new venture and he let the kids and me try it out.

There's a full album of videos here and you see how immersive it is for the wearer, but this one is the best.

If you really want a vision of the Virtual Reality-enabled future, check out this article from Singularity Hub.