The most disingenuous aspect of Silicon Valley right now, and by extension the rest of the world because the Valley is a trendsetter, is the disregard for “business” in the technology business. In all the startups that define the bro culture thepublicity goes to the guy who builds the product, forgetting that a product is nothing more than a product, and even if it is potentially world-changing, which some products are, it’s not a business unless somebody wants to buy it. And once there is a buyer and seller, infrastructure is required to scale.

We talk a lot about growth hacking, but that’s ignoring all the other aspects of scale: hiring, accounting for goods and sales, writing contracts, supporting the sales team. These are under-valued in the mythos that is today’s Silicon Valley. After all, there are aspects of the technology business that are no different than being in the garment business.

Some companies in the Valley are already foundering on the business side of things. Uber may be a brilliant business-model disruptor, but the company’s lack of regard for its drivers and local authorities may end up being limiting factors in its ultimate success.

Yahoo’s another company flailing on the business side. Marissa Mayer attracted many good engineers, but hasn’t really got the business skills to form relationships with advertisers. Her products are actually beautiful, but nobody sees them and they’re not generating enough revenue. That’s a business problem, not an engineering problem.

And Twitter. It hasn’t made enough of a use case for itself and is faltering on the marketing side. Users aren’t addicted to it the way they need to be for its business model to work.

Those are just the famous ones. I’ve seen plenty of examples of clever products that don’t sell, or products being sacrificed to lack of sufficient attention to the legal, accounting, marketing, and HR side of things. Business is not all about algorithms and venture capital; ultimately it is about customers. People must want to buy and pay for whatever the engineers develop, and there’s a necessary infrastructure to support that.

The infrastructure gets very little attention and even less hype. That needs to change if some of these products are going to turn into sustainable businesses and produce real changes. Scale requires different skills; it’s not just about knowing how to buy more servers.

I was trying to get at this point in my post to Medium a while back, which I unfortunately headlined “Women Shouldn’t Code.” I wanted to point out that there are many other roles in the technology business that could well be occupied by women, and many of them are. Most of the bro culture is on the engineering side, and while that’s totally misogynistic and has to change, it ignores people iike Sheryl Sandberg who plays a huge role in Facebook, and the many other women who are attorneys, accountants, marketers, and executives of all kinds.

But let’s allow the gender issue to rest for a while and approach the larger issue. What’s happening in Silicon Valley isn’t just engineering projects, it is the building of businesses, and you can bet that those VCs want their money back.

They’ll never make it without more attention to plain old vanilla business.


Kolibree Connected Toothbrush: with Apps for Kids

by Francine on January 6, 2015

The Internet of Toothbrushes is here, and just in time. In my lifetime, I’ve spent a fortune in dental care because we didn’t have adequate information about prevention when I was a kid, and I got gingivitis in college.  There are many connected devices I wouldn’t care much about, but having also paid for the dental care of several family members lately, I’m acutely aware of how important it is to prevent these problems. And there’s research that says dental problems affect your overall health.

So even though I am spending a single day at CES, and I’m mostly there to see ad tech developments and wearables, I’m going to try to get to seekolibree-smart-toothbrush-banner-app-b-askensio  Kolibree, a connected electric toothbrush that gives real time feedback. This toothbrush, if you can believe it, has 3D sensors and built in accelerometer, gyrometer, and magnetometer.

Kolibree’s proprietary technology knows whether you’ve effectively reached every zone of your mouth and statistically what areas you’ve missed. It’s GPS of the mouth. Once you’ve brushed your teeth, the information and feedback on your efficiency goes directly to your smartphone via low energy Bluetooth and the data is stored in an individual profile. You can store the brushing habits of your entire family on one smartphone. If you are a parent, this is a good thing.  No longer can your child come out of the bathroom saying he brushed his teeth when you know he just faked it; the toothbrush will narc on him. An interactive motivating app,  The Pirates Game, motivates kids to brush for two minutes without getting bored. The game, which was developed using the open Kolibree SDK, rewards kids with coins when they brush correctly and spend enough time at each location of their mouth. After a series of brushings, parents and dentists have access to an interactive map showing the over and under brushed areas, data that can be used to help kids improve.

Of course the toothbrush has an API (doesn’t everything?) and I’m sure there will be more apps in the future.

The Kolibree toothbrush is also much lighter than most electric toothbrushes on the market, so kids can use it, and has  smaller brush heads make it easier to navigate in tougher to reach areas of the mouth. The vibration is based on Sonic technology and is softer than many of the harsher vibrations of other brushes, making it a safer alternative for kids, seniors and those who have had surgery.

The Kolibree connected electric toothbrush will start shipping in the U.S. this month and in Europe later in Q1 2015. It is priced at $199 retail.  The company has teamed up with a dental insurance company, Dentegra, and those who sign up for the Dentegra Smile Club will receive a significant discount on the toothbrush and from Dentegra network dentists.

I might just buy myself one of these when it comes out, and see if I can share the information with my dentist. I’ve had difficulty in the past getting my doctors to share my fitness tracker info with me, but I have a feeling dentists might be more open to it. Especially since most dental insurance does pay for prevention; it just doesn’t pay for what I need.



Are There Tech Startups in Arizona? Yes

December 3, 2014

Some time last week, VentureBeat published a post with the title “How Arizona (yes) Arizona is Becoming a Hotbed for Technology Startups.” It was founded by Don Pierson, who has been an entrepreneur in Arizona for more than two decades. In theory, he’d be an authority. While I’m certainly no naive cheerleader for Arizona, I […]

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What Does Your Home Screen Reveal About You?

November 19, 2014

It’s time for the latest round of speculations on whether the web is dying (because of apps), or whether apps are dying because of  new interfaces. I’ll just add my uneducated view: apps are just beginning to come to the everyday world. Although everyone’s fond of saying “there’s an app for that,” the number of […]

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Mindful Mothering

November 16, 2014

Mindfulness. It’s easy to be mindful when you’re sitting on a yoga mat focusing on the breath, But how do you bring this to every day life? I can meditate up a storm in the right circumstances, but it has always been extremely difficult for me to take it off the mat. One morning last […]

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Ad Week Was Scary for Agencies

October 6, 2014

Last week was Advertising Week in New York, the historic home of advertising and media. But while always a cause for parties and drinking,  the annual citywide meeting of agencies, publishers and brands has  evolved into a cause for hand-wringing as well. Some of the event titles gave away the uncertainty that afflicts the ecosystem […]

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Startup STEM School Learns Founders’ Lessons

October 1, 2014

SySTEM Schools, the non-profit charter STEM school in downtown Phoenix whose board I am on, has been open for a little over a month, and it is behaving as all startups do; the co-founders are riding the roller coaster of ups and downs that always accompanies running a startup. My purpose seems to be to […]

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Needs v. Wants

September 1, 2014

Have we come to a point in society where we are focussed on filling our wants rather than merely our needs? And does this place us higher on Maslow’s hierarchy than people who are only meeting their needs?  Will the iWatch and the IPhone 6 lead us closer to the self-actualization Maslow says is at […]

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Surgery Monday: A Sister’s Tale

August 19, 2014

“Surgery Monday” said the caption on the selfie my brother sent.  There he was, laying in a hospital bed, my younger (69) brother who hadn’t even retired yet. The selfie came as a text message addressed to me and a bunch of other phone numbers I didn’t recognize. What??? What happened? My heart jumped and […]

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The Knick: Has Health Care Gotten Better or Worse?

August 10, 2014

Sometimes it is necessary to revisit the past in order to see whether mankind has actually progressed. Lost in the day-to-day struggles, we lose sight of the long view. Especially with regard to American health care, which I view with more than a modicum of cynicism these days because as a Medicare patient I am the […]

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