Lessons from a Career Marketing Big Ideas

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My talk at #BrooklynBeta on October 11, 2013. I talked about what I've learned from work on the commercialization of the web, open source, web 2.0, the maker movement, and open government. Key …

My talk at #BrooklynBeta on October 11, 2013. I talked about what I've learned from work on the commercialization of the web, open source, web 2.0, the maker movement, and open government. Key principles for online activists.

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  • 1. Lessons from a career marketing big ideas Tim O’Reilly O’Reilly Media @timoreilly Brooklyn Beta October 11, 2013 Friday, October 11, 13
  • 2. Interesting Work for Interesting People Friday, October 11, 13 For those of you who don’t know who I am... I run a technology publishing and events company called O’Reilly Media and an early stage venture capital firm O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures. It was once said “The Internet was built with O’Reilly books,” and indeed, there is more than one internet billionaire who told me that his company was started with little more than an O’Reilly book. But my initial business plan was simply this: “Interesting work for interesting people.”
  • 3. Changing the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators Friday, October 11, 13 Over time I re framed the real business of my company as “Changing the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators” That’s obviously aligned with the mission of Brooklyn Beta, and that’s why I’m honored to be here to talk with you.
  • 4. Work on stuff that matters Friday, October 11, 13 When I give talks to Silicon Valley audiences, I generally remind entrepreneurs that they should “Work on stuff that matters”
  • 5. Create more value than you capture Friday, October 11, 13 and “Create more value than you capture,” but I don’t need to do that here, because all of you are already interested in doing both of those things. Instead, I want to talk to you about marketing, and specifically, how I’ve learned to market big ideas and social movements, and to tell a story by bringing communities together.
  • 6. Commercialization of the World Wide Web Open Source software Web 2.0 The Maker Movement Open Data Open Government Friday, October 11, 13 Here are some of the movements I’ve been able to help shape. My company created the first ad supported web site and did much of the early work to establish the web as a commercial medium. I also organized the meeting where the term “open source software” was agreed to and adopted by key free software developers. I popularized the term Web 2.0 to get people excited about the web again after the dot com bust. My company launched Make Magazine and Maker Faire and gave a name to the Maker Movement. And more recently, I’ve been working on open data, and more particularly, open government data.
  • 7. In 1992, few people had heard of the Internet “We’re not going to market the book. We’re going to use the book to market the Internet.” - Brian Erwin former director of activism, The Sierra Club Friday, October 11, 13 My story as an activist begins with a book I published in 1992, The Whole Internet User’s Guide and Catalog. I had recently hired Brian Erwin, the former director of activism for the Sierra Club, to help me with marketing. He said to me, “We’re not ....” We went on a press tour, we sent a copy of the book to every member of the US Congress, and I spoke to congressional staff. But I wasn’t pushing myself, or my product, but the internet itself.
  • 8. Lesson One: It’s not about you Friday, October 11, 13 We were unknown, but that didn’t stop us, because the story wasn’t about us. I was background - never quoted or mentioned by name - for many early stories about the internet. I’d spend hours educating reporters. But that gave me the chance to frame the story, even though I didn’t get any obvious press. And eventually, I did go from being an unnamed source to being frequently quoted.
  • 9. Lesson Two: It’s never too early to tell a big story Friday, October 11, 13 At the time we published the book, there were only 200 web sites. But we knew the web was going to be important.
  • 10. In 1993, we created an online magazine and catalog to celebrate the people who were making this new medium happen. Friday, October 11, 13 It was originally a demonstration site for the power of the web - we installed kiosks in bookstores so people could experience the internet, but then we realized “It’s not a demo, it’s a product.” It was the first web portal, and the first site on the web to have advertising.
  • 11. We ended up developing the business model for the web Friday, October 11, 13 GNN turned into a business - one that shaped the whole future of the web. We were the first site to provide advertising on the web. But GNN started just as a way to celebrate the people of the web.
  • 12. Lesson Three: “It's very hard getting communities formed. But if a community is already formed and it doesn't know it's a community, that's easy.”Brian Erwin Friday, October 11, 13 But there was another lesson I learned from Brian. In describing the early work he did to market the Whole Internet User’s Guide by harnessing online communities, he wrote:
  • 13. Friday, October 11, 13 That was the playbook I put to work when, in 1998, I organized a meeting that came to be called The Open Source Summit, because it was there that the leaders of most of the world’s most popular free software projects voted to use a new name, “open source software.” I realized that the subjects of most of my bestselling books were free software packages - and what’s more, while I knew the authors of all these packages, they didn’t all know each other. There were overlapping communities just waiting to be formed into a single super-community. You can see in the press release that we sent out announcing the event how much we focused on the people who created the programs that ran the internet.
  • 14. The 1998 Open Source Summit Friday, October 11, 13 It was all about the people and their place in the story. When we held a press conference at the end of the day, I could say: “If your company has a domain name, it works because of the software written by that long haired guy at the end of the table. If you send an email, well, it’s routed by the software written by that guy there. If you have a web site, well, that’s the long haired guy at the other end of the table. And when you use a web browser, it was written by *that* guy...
  • 15. The 1998 Open Source Summit Friday, October 11, 13 Front row, left to right: Larry Wall (Perl), Linus Torvalds (Linux), Sameer Parekh (Apache), Paul Vixie (Bind) Second row: Jamie Zawinski (Netscape), Brian Behlendorf (Apache), John Gilmore (Cygnus Solutions/GNU Project), Guido van Rossum (Python), Eric Allman (Sendmail), John Ousterhout (Tcl) Back row: Phil Zimmerman (PGP), Eric Raymond (The Cathedral and the Bazaar), Tom Paquin (Netscape)
  • 16. Lesson Four: Language is a Map Friday, October 11, 13 There’s another big lesson from my open source activism. Language is a map. It describes the world. And if it does a good job describing the world, you can get where you want. But if it doesn’t, you can be led astray.
  • 17. Words help us see and make sense of the world Alfalfa Orchard Grass Oat Grass Friday, October 11, 13 Let me explain what I mean very simply. When I first moved to Sebastopol, before I had horses, I’d look out at a meadow, and all I’d see was grass. But eventually, I got a language for what I was looking at, and could distinguish between alfalfa, oat grass, orchard grass, rye grass, and many more.
  • 18. “The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.” Edwin Schlossberg Friday, October 11, 13 So a lot of what I do in my work is to frame things in such a way that people can see them better. As Edwin Schlossberg once said:
  • 19. Free Software Foundation Messaging Friday, October 11, 13 For example, look at the map that the Free Software Foundation was offering the world in 1998. Free software was about developing a “free” variant of the Unix operating system.
  • 20. The “Open Source” Summit Friday, October 11, 13 Now let’s look back at that press release I sent out for the freeware summit. It was all about the Internet, and the role that various free software programs played in making it work. My message was that free software wasn’t some fringe thing out to destroy the software industry - it was at the heart of the next big software revolution, and that everyone was already relying on it!
  • 21. Free Software “Meme Map” Friday, October 11, 13 Around 2002, I wrote a paper called “Remaking the Peer to Peer Meme.” In that paper, I used a diagram I called a “meme map” to show how I’d transformed the storytelling about free software into the storytelling about open source software. I know these are eye charts from here, and there’s no way you can read them now, but I’ll put the slides up on slideshare, and even better, you can go read the original paper. http://www.openp2p.com/pub/a/p2p/2000/12/05/book_ch01_meme.html
  • 22. Open Source “Meme Map” Friday, October 11, 13 Here’s the corresponding version for Open Source.
  • 23. O’Reilly’s strategic planning goal for 2003 “Reignite enthusiasm in the computer industry” Friday, October 11, 13 In 2003/2004, I was faced with a big problem. People had lost faith in the web after the dotcom bust. But I was more convinced than ever that something big was happening. I had to reignite enthusiasm. I did this, of course, by storytelling.
  • 24. What do these things have in common? Friday, October 11, 13 You can see how once again, I framed the story as a movement with exemplars you could learn from. This is a slide from one of my talks in 2003.
  • 25. Harnessing Collective Intelligence Data is the “Intel Inside” Friday, October 11, 13 My colleague Dale Dougherty coined the term Web 2.0 to distinguish the companies that survived the dot com bust from those that had gone down in flames, and I told a big story about what made them different. Because these were powerful ideas that became clearer and clearer to everyone over time, the story had power, and it continued to have power long after the original “Web 2.0” meme had passed.
  • 26. Harnessing Collective Intelligence Data is the “Intel Inside” Friday, October 11, 13 My colleague Dale Dougherty coined the term Web 2.0 to distinguish the companies that survived the dot com bust from those that had gone down in flames, and I told a big story about what made them different. Because these were powerful ideas that became clearer and clearer to everyone over time, the story had power, and it continued to have power long after the original “Web 2.0” meme had passed.
  • 27. Web 2.0 “Meme Map” Friday, October 11, 13 Here’s another one of those eye charts, this one for Web 2.0. From http://oreilly.com/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html
  • 28. “You can leave anything out, as long as you know what it is.” - Ernest Hemingway Friday, October 11, 13 They may seem like overkill, but it actually really helps to flesh out your ideas. You want to simplify them down to bumper stickers eventually, but first you want to make them deep and rich, thoughtful and accurate. Then, as Hemingway said, you can leave anything out, because you know what it is. (I actually first learned this lesson from Frank Herbert, the author of Dune. I wrote a book about him when I was 24, and during one interview, he said that at the end of Dune, he wanted to leave the reader “skidding out of the story” full of unanswered questions. Frank intentionally left stuff out, but he knew what it was.
  • 29. Reinventing the Faire Low Tech Meets High Tech Friday, October 11, 13 It’s important for your story to draw the right lines. Many of you are part of a movement that we named in 2005 with the launch of Make: magazine, and the 2006 launch of an event called Maker Faire, which you can think of as a kind of county fair with robots. There are artists and scientists among you who can call yourself “makers” and say something important about the overlap of art and science.
  • 30. Maker Faire 2006 Friday, October 11, 13 One of my favorite juxtapositions of that first Faire was between a booth for Swap-o-Rama-Rama, a clothing swap in which people remanufacture the clothes with the help of onsite designers, sewing machines, silk screens, etc, and put on a fashion show for each other at the end of the day, and the Alameda Contra Costa Computer Recycling Society, which was showing off their biodiesel powered supercomputer made from recycled PCs running Linux. It was a brilliant stroke by Dale Dougherty to build a tent big enough to include both crafts and the geekiest of high-tech. Drawing the right map of the world you want to create can make a huge difference.
  • 31. Lesson Five: Change happens slowly... Then all at once Friday, October 11, 13 I still remember the early years of evangelizing the world wide web, or open source software, or the second coming of the web after the dot com bust. It was hard. Nobody believed us. But eventually, the world caught up. It was the same way with open source software. Or the maker movement. We started Make Magazine in 2005. The startups and VCs didn’t show up till four or five years later. You are all on the cutting edge of world changing movements. Keep pushing, and the world will catch up.
  • 32. Government as a platform Friday, October 11, 13 I’ve tried to put all these principles to work in my current crusade, to transform government. When everyone else was all excited about social media uptake by government, I told a deeper story, about what government could learn from the iPhone and the web about becoming a platform.
  • 33. “The legitimate object of government is to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they cannot, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves.” -Abraham Lincoln, July 1, 1854 Friday, October 11, 13 My notion of government as a platform is rooted in the notion that government is, at bottom, a mechanism for collective action, a means for doing things that are best done together. So I was delighted recently to discover that Abraham Lincoln had said much the same thing 150 years ago. But this notion also suggests a level of restraint. The best government programs enable the private sector; they don’t compete with it. I hope that government follows this lead, that it enables, and to use Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler’s notion, *nudges* the market in the right direction to produce socially beneficial outcomes, but that it does so with a light hand. As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said three thousand years ago, “When the best leader leads, the people say ‘We did it ourselves.’” **** Below, just for reference: Lincoln elsewhere pointed out: “The desirable things which the individuals of a people cannot do or cannot well do for themselves fall into two classes: those which have relation to wrongs and those which have not. Each of these branch off into an infinite variety of subdivisions. The first that in relation to wrongs embraces all crimes, misdemeanors, and non performance of contracts. The other embraces all which in its nature and without wrong requires combined action as public roads and highways public schools charities pauperism orphanage estates of the deceased and the machinery of government itself.”
  • 34. Friday, October 11, 13 Jen Pahlka, my fiancee, started a nonprofit called Code for America to bring talent from the tech industry to work with local governments to build simple, beautiful and easy-to-use interfaces to government services and challenging government to reinvent the way it engages with citizens.
  • 35. “We don’t want government to work like a Silicon Valley startup, we want it to work like the internet itself.” - Jennifer Pahlka, Friday, October 11, 13 But as Jen says, our goal isn’t to make government work...
  • 36. Friday, October 11, 13 Jen started Code for America by quitting her job, and funding it with her credit card. She then gradually built support for the idea. By last year, Code for America was being copied by the White House, which launched a program based on Code for America, the Presidential Innovation Fellows, which brings startup teams into Federal agencies. They recruited Jen to come to the White House as Deputy CTO, to run this program and to set up some new programs yet to be announced.
  • 37. “We’ve opened up huge amounts of government data to the American people, and put it on the Internet for free.... And what’s happening is entrepreneurs and business owners are now using that data -- the people’s data --to create jobs and solve problems that government can’t solve by itself or can’t do as efficiently.” - President Barack Obama Friday, October 11, 13 And then, Last month, when President Obama talked about his second term management agenda, open data, and its role in enabling private sector to build on government as a platform, was a key part of the message. I think I’m getting through :-)
  • 38. Friday, October 11, 13 Health care is another area where today’s skills can be put to use working on stuff that really matters. Here’s a report I co-authored last year that covers some of my ideas on the subject. I don’t have time to go into all the details today, but the report is a free download. http://radar.oreilly.com/2012/08/data-health-care.html
  • 39. Friday, October 11, 13 And there are also amazing entrepreneurial opportunities building companies that also solve interesting social problems. Jen Pahlka, who founded Code for America, wrote a blog post recently that summarized one of these opportunities, which we’ve been brainstorming recently. How do you reinvent the corner store so that it delivers what people really need, at affordable prices, in a walkable city? http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130116032215-198302-bodega-2-0-a-business-for-healthy-walkable-cities
  • 40. Friday, October 11, 13 These are the kinds of opportunities that we’re looking for at O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, our early stage venture firm. If you want to apply the principles I’ve outlined here to build a great business that also just happens to make the world a better place, we’d love to hear from you. plans@oatv.com
  • 41. Lesson Six: Create More Value Than You Capture Friday, October 11, 13 But in the end, you don’t have to go start a nonprofit to create value for society. Business is a huge value creator. Don’t just think about how much value you can create for yourself, your company, and your investors. Think about how much value you can create for your customers, your suppliers, your partners, and the world.
  • 42. I call it “the big lie” of modern business Friday, October 11, 13 There is this crazy idea, which has become the dominant ideology of modern capitalism over the past few decades, which says that the only responsibility of a company is to make money for its shareholders. Leaving aside the fact of excessive executive compensation as prima facie evidence that no big company really believes that principle, this notion misses the point that an economy is an ecosystem. If you take out more than you put back, the ecosystem degrades.
  • 43. Friday, October 11, 13 The end game of this kind of value system is the financial crisis of 2008, and headlines like these.
  • 44. Looting "…the normal economics of maximizing economic value is replaced by the topsy-turvy economics of maximizing current extractable value, which tends to drive the firm's economic net worth deeply negative. Once owners have decided they can extract more from a firm by maximizing their present take, any action that allows them to extract more currently will be attractive--even if it causes a large reduction in the true economic net worth of the firm. A dollar in increased dividends today is worth a dollar to owners, but a dollar in increased future earnings is worth nothing because future payments accrue to the creditors who will be left holding the bag." George Akerlof and Paul Romer, Looting (1996) http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract-id=227162 Friday, October 11, 13 Economists George Akerlof and Paul Romer nailed this pathology in their 1996 paper on “moral hazard.” The paper was called Looting, and it’s endemic in not just the financial industry, but increasingly throughout our economy, in which companies try to extract value rather than deliver it. A startup that thinks its business model begins with VC money and ends with a quick exit is working the same angle as the banks. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract-id=227162
  • 45. “There’s a wonderful section in Les Miserables about the good that Jean Valjean does as a businessman (operating under the pseudonym of Father Madeleine). Through his industry and vision, he makes an entire region prosperous, so that “there was no pocket so obscure that it had not a little money in it; no dwelling so lowly that there was not some little joy within it.” And the key point: “Father Madeleine made his fortune; but a singular thing in a simple man of business, it did not seem as though that were his chief care. He appeared to be thinking much of others, and little of himself.” Friday, October 11, 13 This is in sharp contrast to the vision of capitalism in this wonderful quote from Les Miserables, Victor Hugo’s wonderful, humane novel about social issues in 19th century France.
  • 46. Friday, October 11, 13 This desire to build value for a community of stakeholders shapes companies like Etsy, AirBnb, and Kickstarter.
  • 47. Friday, October 11, 13
  • 48. Friday, October 11, 13
  • 49. Friday, October 11, 13 This same desire to create value for a community of stakeholders animates Square. Jack saw this as an enabler for small business.
  • 50. Friday, October 11, 13 Like Square, Uber has a focus on building value for stakeholders - every driver I talk to loves the service because it increases their utilization and thus their income. It’s a win-win all around. There are also some technology lessons from apps like square and uber that I wish I had time to share with you - but that’s a whole other talk. Uber shows us the principles of Software Above the Level of a Single Device, the use of sensors (both you and the driver have phones that know where you are), a data back end as part of the system, and “doing less.” Because your credit card is already on file, they’ve taken payment out of the workflow. And replaced it with reputation - they ask you to rate the driver, and the driver to rate the passenger. (See my talk at Stanford for these technology lessons: http://ecorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=3054 )
  • 51. Lesson Seven: Work on What is Hard Friday, October 11, 13 There’s one other lesson I want to share with you. I still remember the early years of evangelizing the world wide web, or open source software, or the second coming of the web after the dot com bust. It was hard. Nobody believed me. But eventually, the world caught up. You are all on the cutting edge of world changing movements. Keep pushing, and the world will catch up.
  • 52. Friday, October 11, 13 A great example of this is a company called Makani Power, founded by son-in-law Saul Griffith, which is building drone aircraft for high altitude wind farms. One of the early employees left a Wall Street hedge fund not because he thought he’d make more money, but because, as he said, “the math is harder and more interesting.”
  • 53. What we fight with is so small. And when we win, it makes us small. This is how we grow: by being defeated, decisively, by progressively greater beings. (Paraphrase of “The Man Watching,” by Rainer Maria Rilke) Friday, October 11, 13 I gave a talk at my Emerging Technologies Conference in 2008 entitled, “Why I love hackers.” My son-in-law Saul Griffith was the next speaker, and I knew he’d be talking about Makani and his vision of solving the world’s energy problems. And I had just returned from a trip to Sicily, and had been inspired by stories of Archimedes, one of history’s great hackers. Hackers work on what is hard. They don’t do the obvious. And they don’t do it because they are focused on some short term reward. I ended with this advice from Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, The Man Watching. He describes how Jacob and the other wrestlers of the Old Testament used to do battle with angels. They had no hope of winning, but they were strengthened by the fight. Rilke goes on to say, “Winning does not tempt that man. What we fight with is so small, and when we win, it makes us small. What we want is to be defeated, decisively, by progressively greater beings.” So, relish your challenges, and keep picking big fights. Thank you very much.