Category Archives: Innovation

On Twitter and Short-Term Stock Fluctuations

Twitter has had a rough few weeks, but does that mean it’s destined to spiral downward? Hell no. 18% stock price drops are great for headlines, but they certainly don’t tell the story of a company’s long-term trajectory. So let’s get the obvious out of the way: Twitter’s getting punched in the gut at the moment:
After a steady rise to over $45, shares in Twitter have plummeted to just a hair under $32. Ouch. It stings just a bit more when you read the news stories about today’s 18% drop particularly, thanks to the end of the IPO lockout for insiders at the company. Here’s one quote from USA Today:
“Even without a secondary offering, millions more Twitter shares will be coming onto the market now that lock-up expirations have begun. That additional dilution may mean even more pain for Twitter shareholders in the weeks or months ahead.”
That’s fair. That’s potentially accurate. But the key phrase here is “weeks or months” — not “months or years”. Everyone seems to forget a couple of key facts about tech companies just after their IPOs:
  1. Stocks go through massive fluctuations during their first year on the public market as employees, management and investors adjust.
  2. It takes time — a lot of time — for a company to start realizing returns from the money it raises during its IPO, whether that’s in the form of revenue, users or stock price.
  3. One day and one week drops are horrendous predictors of a company’s success.
I remember the headlines about Facebook after it started tumbling after its IPO. Today, everyone’s raving about how it’ll be on the most valuable companies around by 2020. Do you remember how long it took Facebook to really hit its stride in the stock market? The answer is over a year:
Facebook needed time to adjust to the market, and the market needed time to adjust to Facebook. And since then, Facebook has blossomed (as has LinkedIn and many other large social networking offerings). With that IPO money, Facebook was able to pull the trigger on Instagram, which has turned out to be one of the best acquisitions of the last decade. Twitter just made a big acquisition itself, MoPub, which needs time to develop before we can render a verdict. So while we breathlessly panic about Twitter’s stock drop, don’t forget about the big picture. Twitter’s fundamental revenue numbers are growing and the company has plenty of time to make its core product appeal to a wider audience and monetize that audiences (or monetize audiences everywhere with MoPub). So while the next few weeks and months may continue to be choppy, I’m long on Twitter, because I believe in its leadership (particularly Dick Costolo) and I believe that it has the fundamentals to succeed. All it takes is one positive quarterly report to turn a downslide into an upswing. Image of a Mountain Bluebird courtesy of Wikipedia.

When Two Apps Are Simpler Than One

If there’s one entrepreneurial mantra that Steve Jobs taught us, it’s this: Simplify! Complex products fail. The complex MySpace lost to the simple Facebook. The simplicity of Snapchat, Instagram and Dropbox transformed them into world-class products. Tumblr famously cut a feature when it added a new one, always keeping the interface clean as hell. Foursquare, in its current iteration, isn’t simple. It has multiple functions. Is it a social check-in app? Is it a restaurant search app? Is it a location discovery app? Frankly, I didn’t know, and it turned me off from using it as much as I could have. I haven’t used its discovery features as much as I should have. I keep being told its discovery mechanisms are amazing. That’s why I love the move Dennis Crowley and the Foursquare team made yesterday. They split Foursquare into two apps: Foursquare and Swarm. Foursquare is the discovery portion, while Swarm focuses entirely on the social check-in aspect. It even has a feature I’ve wanted for a while, which is the ability to check into a general location, like a neighborhood. More importantly though, Foursquare’s core app is now all about local discovery and search. It won’t be hindered by the complexities of having users go through two, three or even four different flows. It makes Foursquare more directly competitive with Yelp. And while I have lots of great friends at Yelp, and I quite love the product and how useful it’s been in my life, competition is always a good thing for sparking new innovation. Splitting the apps into two makes the user experience far simpler for both sets of users. I suspect Silicon Valley will quickly be swarming, while Foursquare will make faster inroads in cities and with local businesses. If Swarm succeeds, Foursquare can spin it off or set up two teams. If it fails, it won’t kill Foursquare. Sometimes simplifying means taking out lots of features. And sometimes two apps are simpler than one.
P.S. — While we are at it, can I just say I love how The Verge tells stories? It’s absolutely one of my favorite news sites. Screenshot via The Verge.

Oculus Rift: Facebook’s $2 Billion Attempt to Seize Its Destiny From Apple and Google

Can’t say I saw this one coming. Facebook, on the heels of its $19 billion blockbuster acquisition of WhatsApp, has dropped another $2 billion (plus a potential $300 million in earn-outs) for Oculus VR, the company that makes Rift. If you haven’t tried the Rift, it’s extraordinary. The first time I played with it, I was awestruck by the immersive experience. It brings not just gaming, but any type of virtual interaction to a whole new dimension that no other product has ever even come close to accomplishing. And now it all belongs to Facebook. Why? Here’s what Zuckerberg said in the press release:
“Mobile is the platform of today, and now we’re also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow. Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.”
Translated: Facebook sees Oculus as one of the next great platforms for the future. Right now, it doesn’t control a platform. Its content has to go through Google (Android, Chromebook), Apple (iOS, Mac) and Microsoft (PC). It’s friendly with the latter and not-so-friendly with the former. If Facebook can turn Oculus’s technology into a true platform — not just for gaming, but for everyday interaction — then it’ll be the best $2 billion it has ever spent. Facebook doesn’t want to be held down by Google or Apple. Acquiring the platforms of the future is the best way for Facebook to control its own destiny.

Announcing “Captivology”, My Book on the Science of Attention (HarperCollins/2015)

Dear friends, family, colleagues, and supporters, I’m thrilled to announce my first non-fiction book, working title “Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention“, due in early 2015 from HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins. I hope you will sign up for updates on Captivology through my book’s website. You can follow @Captivology on Twitter or like Captivology on Facebook. You can also follow @BenParr for regular updates. And finally, here’s a link for sharing this announcement. Or you can just click this lovely button for updates:
Captivology is about the science and psychology of attention; why we pay attention to certain people, products, companies and ideas; and how to capture, maintain and grow attention. My book pairs the research of the world’s greatest scientists and psychologists in attention theory with the stories from the world’s Masters of Attention. The book dives into topics such as:
  • The role scarcity and working memory play on our attention.
  • How Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto created one of the world’s most iconic characters.
  • The power that framing and salience have in directing our attention.
  • The secret sauce of disruptive campaigns and viral products.
  • Sheryl Sandberg on the power of motivation when it comes to capturing attention.
During the course of my research, I have had the opportunity to interview more than 50 scientists, researchers, experts and Masters of Attention. I’m grateful to thought leaders such as Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook), Dr. Alan Baddeley (leading researcher in working memory), Steven Soderbergh (famed director), Alexis Ohanian (founder of Reddit), Dr. Michael Posner (leading cognitive psychologist), Jeff Weiner (CEO, LinkedIn), Adrian Grenier (actor, producer and director), Dr. Eli Finkel (expert on attraction), Grant Imahara (Discovery’s Mythbusters), Susan Cain (NYT bestselling author, Quiet), Jon Armstrong (Magician, Chairman of the Academy of Magical Arts), Dr. John Sweller (leading expert on cognitive load), Alexia Tsostis (Co-Editor, TechCrunch), Shigeru Miyamoto (Nintendo), Josh Elman (Partner, Greylock), Dr. Dietram Scheufele (Expert on Communications, Framing), Michael Stevens (creator, Vsauce), and many more who have taken time our of their days to chat with me for this book.
Above: A screenshot from my interview with Adrian Grenier and Dr. Thomas De Zengotita. A special thanks to NASDAQ for letting me use their studios for the interview.
If you have suggestions for my book, please email me at ben@captivology.com with your ideas! I’m especially looking for interesting people to interview and unique stories about how you or somebody you know captured the attention of an individual, an audience or the entire world. A major reason we’re announcing the book now is to gather great stories for the book that I might have otherwise missed. I hope to complete this research-heavy book in the next few months, so please forgive me if I’m much slower than usual responding to your emails, texts and tweets until then.

A Few Other Announcements

I’m working on Captivology on top of my day job as Co-founder and Managing Partner of DominateFund, the early-stage venture capital firm I started last year with Matt Schlicht and Mazy Kazerooni. We’ve expanded the fund from its original focus on connecting Hollywood with tech, though that is still a component of what we do. Our focus now is on helping startups capture attention for their products and accelerate their growth through our expertise in five key areas: Strategic Celebrity Partnerships, Press, Marketing, Customer and User Acquisition, and Building Viral Products. The fund is the reason I decided to write this book. We will be making more announcements about DominateFund in the near future, including several new additions to our team and updates on our amazing portfolio companies. Because I had all of this on my plate, CNET and I decided to retire The Social Analyst, my column at CNET, last year. I want to thank CNET, and especially Jim Lanzone, Mark Larkin and Jim Kerstetter, for being so supportive of me and my column, for being amazing bosses, and for putting up with me and my hectic schedule. I won’t be bringing The Social Analyst back. At least, not in its current form. The column, which I started at Mashable in 2009, has been my place to opine on the most pertinent issues in tech. CNET was kind enough to let me continue my column. I will eventually be back writing columns and thought pieces on a regular basis, but ones that are about more than just technology. There is a mountain of research from my book I want to discuss and advice I want to dispense for every entrepreneur who struggles to get the attention of users or artist who wants to be heard. I also have a lot of other insights in media, entrepreneurship, investing and science I hope to eventually share. One final announcement — I’m proud to announce that I have signed with the Worldwide Speakers Group, which now represents me for all my speaking engagements. You can check out my speaking topics or book me by sending a message to Keith Lambert at KLambert@wwsg.com or calling WWSG at 703-373-9806. I primarily speak about attention, attention for brands, innovation, technology and entrepreneurship. I want to thank a few people right now for all of their help the last few months. Thank you to everybody I’ve interviewed for the book so far. A special thanks to the best agent in all of publishing, David Vigliano, for always having my back. The same is true of Will LoTurco, who works with Vig. Thank you Marcy Simon and Melinda Mullin, for going above and beyond the call of duty for me. Thank you to my editor, Genoveva Llosa, for being just sensational. Thank you to my partners Matt Schlicht and Mazy Kazerooni for being my unofficial brothers (Nat, you too). A thank you to Hallie, my badass EA. Thank you to my family (love you mom & dad!), and finally a special thank you to my girlfriend Julie, for being my rock. Onward and upward! Thank you for kindness, ~ Ben

Please follow me and Captivology on social media!

(p.s. — Happy birthday, sis!)

Microsoft & Nokia Can Carve a Niche in Mobile, But Wearables Is the Next Battleground

Gates Watch Microsoft + Nokia still has room to grow in the smartphone market, but perhaps the software giant should focus on the future of mobile: wearables. Originally, I intended to write a thought piece bashing the Microsoft-Nokia deal. On the surface, Windows Phone feels much like BlackBerry, whose moves I correctly predicted were too little, too late. But as I did the research, I realized that the same isn’t true for Microsoft, at least abroad. While market share of the Windows Phone has stagnated between 3% and 4% in the U.S., Microsoft’s mobile OS is making positive gains abroad. In the UK, its market share has doubled to 9.2%. In France, it has tripled to 11%. There are still millions of people with feature phones looking to upgrade, and they still can be swayed away from choosing Android or iOS. It won’t be easy, of course, and it may ultimately be a futile effort on Microsoft’s part. You can also argue that Microsoft didn’t need to spend the money on Nokia, but it has so much cash to spare that a few billion to improve development speed and bring phone development in-house makes some amount of sense. I don’t believe Microsoft can triple its market share by 2018, but I do think it can grow a respectable niche. It’s not going to get any easier though, with great phones like Google’s MotoX and the upcoming iPhone still superior in terms of apps and core features. Microsoft will have to find a proprietary way to differentiate from the competition that it hasn’t found quite yet.

The Next Battleground


The battle for smartphone dominance may not matter in five to ten years though, because I believe a new battleground will soon emerge: wearable tech. Yes, I am talking about smart watches and Google Glass. While the technology today draws curious stares and makes you look like a cyborg, it will vastly improve to the point where we will wonder why we actually carried around bulky computing devices in our pockets. Will wearable tech look like Google Glass in a decade? Probably not. And that’s why Microsoft still has an opportunity to dominate by creating a compelling product that doesn’t look like anything else on the market. Microsoft can no longer dominate the smartphone market. The best it can hope for is a few percentage points of market share over the next decade. In fact, Microsoft risks missing the next big trend by focusing on a few percentage points of a market that, several decades from now, will probably not exist. That’s the beauty of technology — it changes so quickly that new opportunities present themselves often enough for a company like Microsoft to turn their fortunes around. Ballmer is being coy about Microsoft’s plan for wearables, but we can only hope the company is taking wearable tech seriously, because if it doesn’t, it will end up playing catchup once again. Image courtesy of IGN

What Will It Take For Us to Get Angry?

Occupy Wall Street 2011
Edward Snowden, The Guardian and The Washington Post know how to keep a story in the news. Instead of dumping all of their leaked documents to the public, they are slowly releasing information on PRISM, the NSA and more to the press in waves. Drip. Drip. Drip.
Europe is pissed with us. Russia’s Vladimir Putin basically gave America the middle finger. Hong Kong (and China) did the same thing. Edward who? Oh, he left hours ago because you messed up his middle name. Also, what’s this about you spying on us? The only ones who don’t seem pissed are Americans themselves. Sure, you can’t read Reddit without coming across at least one “Fuck the NSA” or “Fuck Obama” post. But have you seen what’s going on in Egypt? How about the protests in Turkey? The U.S. government has been invading the privacy of hundreds of thousands of people, including Americans, at a scale that has never before seen in the history of mankind. And how do we react? We whine about Paula Deen. Okay, perhaps I’m oversimplifying the situation. But I haven’t seen anybody in the streets taking our government to task. This includes me. I’m upset, don’t get me wrong. But for some reason, I’m not angry. There’s a very big difference between upset and angry. When you’re upset, you get a few articles. When you’re angry, you get worldwide protests that scare the shit out of politicians. Just look at the Occupy Movement for a small demonstration of the power of the American people when they’re angry. Drip. Drip. Drip. Are the NSA, FBI and U.S. government’s assaults on personal liberties not egregious enough for us to finally become angry? Are we too comfortable with our lives on the top of the global food chain to take our government to task? Or is the ignition that will light up the American people still waiting to be leaked by Glenn Greenwald? I don’t know the answer. What I do know is this: we should be angry. We should be very angry. But we are not, and until something — or someone — acts as the catalyst to unite the American people, we will continue to lack the will to take action. And that is far more dangerous than any secrets the NSA is collecting about you. Drip. Drip. Drip. Image (The Occupy Wall Street General Assembly in Washington Square Park) courtesy of David Shankbone, Wikipedia

My Thoughts on the Future of Tech on Bloomberg TV

Bloomberg TV interviewed me at the Dublin Web Summit last week, asking for some of my predictions for what are going to be the future of tech. They also interviewed a few others, including the amazing Joe Green (Causes, NationBuilder) and David Shing (AOL’s Digital Prophet). They didn’t have time to air all my predictions, but I’m glad they picked one of my favorites: biofeedback and technology enhancement of health. Check out the full video above if you want to learn more. ~ Ben

Fuck You, Patent Trolls

This type of shit just boils my blood. From GigaOm:
Just days after Hipmunk’s June funding announcement, a company called i2z Technology LLC told the travel start-up that it has to buy a license for a 1994 patent that covers a method for displaying data in multiple computer windows. Despite its high-tech sounding name, i2z is simply a Texas shell company run by a California lawyer that is targeting internet and travel companies including Kayak, Google, Yelp and Microsoft. Under i2z’s business model, known as patent trolling, firms that don’t make anything collect patents in order to extract licensing settlements from companies that do.
Hipmunk is just the latest target of a shell corporation whose only purpose is to sue innovative companies. Lodsys did the same thing to small iOS developers, and even big companies like Apple aren’t immune. Developing an awesome technology and defending it is great, as is acquiring patents to protect yourself from a patent lawsuit (like what Facebook did when Yahoo sued it). But creating a company for the sole purpose of snagging patents and suing other companies? Those people don’t even deserve to practice law. They’re the scum of the earth. We need to find a way to enact some real patent reform and end this despicable practice. This is why the patent crisis is inevitable. (Pardon my French, these people just piss me off.) Image courtesy of Flickr, lintmachine

See Google’s Self-Driving Car in Action [VIDEO]

This is the future, people. If Google make this into a consumer product, their stock price will go through the roof. There are lots of mental and technological barriers to break first, though. via Jeremiah Owyang

Volunteer for a Social Experiment

Why do people decide to share what they share? What makes something go viral? What kind of things can companies do to encourage more sharing from their users? These are the types of questions that my friend Matt Schlicht and I ask ourselves pretty much every day. Studying why people share helps us understand human nature. Matt, the co-founder of Tracks.by (a company I advise), has come up with a few theories about social, but he needs to test them. That’s why he’s decided to start a Social Experimenter’s Newsletter to try and test out his theories. I encourage you to sign up for Matt’s Social Experimenter’s Newsletter. It will be a fascinating look into why we share and how we can encourage more of it.

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