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Hey Juicero, Erlich Bachman Just Called and Wants to Invest

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

If you’re a fan of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” then I’m sure you’re looking forward to the season four premiere on Sunday night. I know I am.

The show centers around a fictional tech company called Pied Piper located in — you guessed where — and its protagonists include Erlich Bachman, Richard Hendricks, Gordon Felson and a bunch of other narcissistic, self-centered, arrogant tech “geniuses.” They keep promising to “make the world a better place” with their incredible technology, yet are routinely unable to talk to women, boil a cup of tea or handle most normal social situations.

It’s a hilarious show. But if you can’t wait until Sunday, don’t you worry. There’s a bunch of other Silicon Valley people who are just as funny to watch as our friends on the TV show. Their story is true and you can watch it right now. Have you heard?

These are the people behind the “Juicero” machine, developed by Doug Evans, a real life Erlich Bachman. “Juicero” will remind Silicon Valley fans of Aviato, Bachman’s failed airline booking aggregator startup. We’re never quite sure if Aviato does anything useful, and we can’t be sure about the Juicero either.

According to  Bloomberg, the gadget is an “internet-connected device that transforms single-serving packets of chopped fruits and vegetables into a refreshing and healthy beverage.” It’s the “Keurig for Juice”! It all sounds so cool and techie that Evan’s company has raised more than $120 million from a bunch of Silicon Valley investors including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Google’s Alphabet Inc. Having bought into the idea, they have proved themselves to be as dopey and comical as the investors from Raviga Capital, the fictional VC firm from the TV show.

Why? Because this week it was demonstrated that anyone can just as easily and in less time — with bare hands, mind you — wring about as much juice from the pre-packaged fruit bags as the Juicero does. Not only that, but the “internet capabilities” of the Juicero — which are surely what romanced the community of tech investors —  is reporting on the same nutritional information that is on the label already attached to each bag of fruit. What’s even funnier is Evans’ description of the product: “There are 400 custom parts in here,” he once said. “There’s a scanner; there’s a microprocessor; there’s a wireless chip, wireless antenna.” Wow, is there a data compression algorithm just like Pied Piper’s?

Juicero CEO Jeff Dunn insisted the machine, which costs a whopping $400 (reduced from its original $700 price but don’t forget the weekly cost of its “Produce Packs”) is still an “incredible value” and a “great experience” that will not only save us time but, through its state-of-the-art wireless technology, be able to “remotely disable Produce Packs if there is, for example, a spinach recall.” Phew!

And here I was waiting for “Silicon Valley” to start on Sunday. C’mon HBO, just admit that the Juicero story is a funny marketing stunt to promote the TV show. Hah ha. Please? Erlich Bachman, it’s you, right?

Oh. This is not a TV show. These people exist and they really did raise $120 million. It seems like those brilliant, Stanford-educated, latte-drinking, BMW-driving, tech savants who think of themselves as geniuses changing the world aren’t nearly as smart as they believe they are. If you’re ever in negotiation with one of these people, just remember Erlich Bachman and the Juicero story to put things into perspective. It will remind you that you may very well be the only one in the room with some common sense — particularly if that room is somewhere in Silicon Valley.

Apple Just Admitted That Your Next Business PC Shouldn’t Be A Mac Pro

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

It’s a question I get asked all the time. Do I buy a Mac for my business or a PC?

More than a decade ago, the answer was pretty clear: Get a PC. For years, Microsoft owned the corporate ecosystem. Servers ran Windows. Networks were more easily configured for Windows. Thousands of Microsoft employed, trained or partner-geeks were available to help support the famously-less-than-reliable Windows operating system. Businesses bought PCs. Sure, there were Apple products for the corporate world, but these were mostly used by a small group outliers — those organizations that were generally in the arts, design or education industries.

Then things changed — Microsoft lost its mojo. People bought iPods, then iPhones, then iPads and iMacs. The Mac, particularly the Mac Pro, became a more accepted tool in the business world. As networking software improved and more developers wrote applications for the iOS platform, I began to see more and more Macs sprouting up at my clients’ offices. Apple’s applications were cooler and its devices just worked better than the Windows counterparts. Its products gained market share in the business community. And even as more people migrated towards devices and laptops, its desktop — the Mac Pro — symbolized the company’s resurgence against Microsoft’s declining Windows operating system and the PCs that relied on it.

Then . . . Apple blew it. Read More…

Who Knew There Is a Market for a $15,000 Vibrator?

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

Yes, you read right.

It’s a vibrator mostly (but not entirely) used by women for all the reasons you think it’s used – and it costs $15,000. But, it’s not just a vibrator. It’s a “smart” vibrator and, according to this report in the New York Post, it’s made by a Swedish start-up called LELO. The company says its vibrator is the “Apple of sex toys – ergonomically and beautifully designed” with “high performance” technology, “sophisticated” materials and “elegant” colors. Their products are endorsed by Gwyneth Paltrow and their top of the line offering, the INEZ, comes in a solid, 25-karat gold version.

This is no joke. In fact, vibrators represent an annual $2.5 billion industry and it’s growing fast. Some are predicting that the sex toy market will be as much as $50 billion by 2020. Sixty million sex toys are sold every year, about a third to U.S. customers and the rest from Europe and Asia. California-based Doc Johnson, who bill themselves as the “Procter & Gamble of sex toys” makes 330,000 vibrators a month and rings up $75 million in sales every year.

Sure, sales have been…well…stimulated by the recent success of the Fifty Shades of Grey movies, new technologies and more user-friendly designs. Smart entrepreneurs are taking notice and innovating. Lioness, a crowdfunded product, tracks orgasms like a Fitbit and reports back to you how intense and long the experience was, compared to prior orgasms. An app called OMG Yes has step–by-step instructions for achieving the perfect orgasm. More than 40,000 fee-paying members have signed up, including actress Emma Watson who admitted she wished “it had been around longer” during a recent interview.

Stop blushing, Dumbledore. Things have certainly changed. This kind of stuff was taboo even when I was a kid. But society has evolved. People have become more accepting. Gwyneth Paltrow and Emma Watson are talking about vibrators for God’s sake! Meanwhile, many entrepreneurs are capitalizing on these new opportunities.

Wendy Strgar’s company, Good Clean Love, makes organic sexual lubricants. Strgar (who’s also my cousin!) struggled for years to persuade large retailers that her products serve millions of people who need lubricants for sex but suffered with the itching, burning and discomfort of many of the manufactured brands. It was an uphill battle but today, her products can be found in CVS, Rite Aid, Walmart and Target. She told the Eugene, Ore, Register-Guard that the industry around all things sex has grown much more competitive.

“I don’t think I could do what I’m doing if I started now because the market has changed that much,” Strgar said. ”When I was coming in in the early 2000s it hadn’t quite flipped yet, and no one was touching the sexual health space.”

Now, like chic vibrators, it’s no big deal. Strgar’s company has expanded.

Marijuana. Sex toys. Lubricants. Guns. Strip clubs. Escort services. Don’t be fooled. These are legitimate businesses, mostly run by honest profit-minded business people (like my cousin) who are providing products and services to customers who desire them. As long as you’re operating within the law, don’t let anyone tell you how you make your livelihood is any better or worse than anyone else. As society continues to relax and these industries grow, there will be many more opportunities for smart business people to make money.

I’m not going to buy a $15,000 vibrator, but I’ll always admire someone who can figure out a way to sell it.

A Video Call? No Thanks.

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

Take just one look at any photograph of me and you’ll quickly agree that I’ve got a face for radio. Certainly not for videos. So why am I being invited to more and more video calls? Is this a fad or just a horrible trend? Whatever it is, people need to cut it out. I don’t want to be on your video call.

Video has proliferated our world. Depending on which report you read (like this one), it’s estimated that 70 to 80 percent of internet traffic will be consumed by video content by the end of the decade (if not already). Sure, much of this is Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and YouTube. But people are using videos to document their lives, their dogs’ lives, their humor and their reporting skills on platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Much of this is great (and oftentimes hilarious) stuff, but there is a dark side. No, I’m not talking about the terrible call that softball umpire made recently. I’m talking about the video conferencing services that are slowly proliferating the professional world.  Read More…

The One Thing about Travis Kalanick No One Wants to Admit

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

Yeah, he’s kind of a jerk sometimes. Most people will admit that about Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick. In fact, he just admitted it himself.

His now-famous rant at an Uber driver while getting a ride back from the Super Bowl has gone viral. If you haven’t seen it already here’s the recap: Kalanick gets a ride (in an Uber, of course) from the Super Bowl. He has a discussion with the driver. The driver, aware of who his passenger is, raises some complaints about the company. Things get heated. Kalanick has a tantrum. It’s all caught on video. You’re curious, so go ahead . . . take a look. You’ll agree it was not Kalanick’s best moment.

People were shocked at how the CEO of such a large company could behave so immaturely. Given all the recent negative news about Uber in the media the timing wasn’t great. Kalanick appeared so disappointed with himself that he issued a “profound” public apology to the driver, to his employees and the Uber community via the company’s blog vowing to get “leadership help” because he “must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up.”

As an entrepreneur and business owner, do you agree?

Probably a little. Sure, Kalanick and Uber have done things that no one would be proud of. According to reports like this, Uber has been accused of ordering and then cancelling thousands of fake rides for its competitor Lyft, threatening journalists, teaming up with “shady” partners and cutting drivers wages below minimum wages and even distracting the public from their own bad behavior by delivering puppies! The company has bullied its way into cities and countries around the world and turned what was once a predictable industry — taxi services — upside-down. Most recently, Uber finds itself immersed in sexual harassment accusations.

But does Kalanick really need “leadership help”? Maybe he needs a better PR person. A few anger management lessons. A course in transcendental meditation. But no, Travis, you don’t need leadershiphelp. Actually, you should be teaching leadership. In this day and age of “political correctness,” being brazen, offensive, outspoken and yes, even a jerk sometimes, can be quite effective qualities in a leader. No one wants to admit it, but as entrepreneurs, we kind of admire his behavior.

Steve Jobs was a genius. But he was a jerk. Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer used to yell and scream at employees — but he was a fantastic leader. George Patton dressed down a soldier because he was afraid to fight and almost lost his job because of it. Imagine that. Now, Travis Kalanick — the 40-year-old who has grown a company out of nothing just a few years ago to a value of more than $50 billion that now employs almost 7,000 people, provides income for more than 160,000 drivers and operates in more than 80 countries and almost 600 cities — is being roasted by the public because he’s being, well, Travis Kalanick.

Maybe, just maybe, being a leader means being a jerk sometimes. It means yelling at employees. It means testing the boundaries of what’s legal or acceptable for the good of the company and its shareholders. It means being passionate about your company and willing to argue about it even with one of your drivers. Maybe it means creating a competitive atmosphere, a tough work environment, a place where the best people are discriminated over the worst. When you behave this way there certainly will be mistakes. But the upside, as any Uber shareholder or loyal customer will tell you, seem to outweigh them. As entrepreneurs we don’t like to admit this, but we oftentimes admire jerks because they have the self-confidence to lead, regardless of what people think of their behavior.

Sure, he could use a little polish. But let’s hope that Travis Kalanick doesn’t stop being Travis Kalanick. Even if that means being a jerk sometimes.

That Time Bill Gates Answered a Tech Support Call … and Crushed It

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

“Hello, this is Microsoft Product Support, William speaking. How can I help you?”

That’s exactly what he said and it’s kind of a famous story in Microsoft lore. It’s worth retelling if, like me, you haven’t heard it.

In 1989 Microsoft wasn’t the monolith that it is today, but it was still a huge company with more than $800 million in sales and 4,000 employees. During that year Steve Ballmer was promoted to Senior Vice President, the company released its flagship database SQL Server, Microsoft Word 5.0 for MS-DOS and started selling Office for the Macintosh. The company had opened up a 49,000 square foot support center the year before and recently started a new comprehensive software support service called OnLine Plus that gave its agents an extensive database of product information to senior support staff.

It was also the year that Bill Gates — famous, feared, hated and loved — answered a tech support call. Read More…

Think You’re a Good Speaker?

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(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)

If you desire to be a truly professional public speaker, don’t make the same mistake that Steve from Florida made.  I’m calling him “Steve from Florida” because I’m a Howard Stern fan. Steve is a real person and this is a real story. Steve’s name is Steve, but he’s not from Florida. Steve from Florida doesn’t really know me and I doubt he remembers me. That’s the problem. He should. I certainly know him.

Steve was the speaker before me at a conference of regional bankers recently. He wasn’t a bad speaker. He seemed to know his topic. Of course, he should. Steve from Florida’s company provides financial management consulting services, products and training for CEOs and managers. Read More…