Strong Opinions @marksbirch

Random thoughts from a NYC entrepreneur and investor about start-ups, technology and the people that make it all happen. Also find time for good tunes and good food.
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Sound Of White Noise

METAL BALLAD WEDNESDAY: Black Lodge by Anthrax - The John Bush era of one of the great thrash bands of all time was controversial.  When Joey Belladonna was kicked out of the band, it caused a huge split with fans that preferred the original line-up.  The release of Sound of White Noise did not help matters as it featured a much darker and moodier sound than previously albums.

I thought the hand wringing was unnecessary though.  This is not just a solid Anthrax album, it is one of their best.  Sure, it was different, but in this case it worked and part of the evolution of the band that was already in the works.  Black Lodge was the one slow ballad song on what is a pretty heavy and fast album, but it could be one of the best of the lot.  They manage to avoid the typical cliches and create a haunting, catchy, and original sounding tune.

20 plays
For Ever Grounded

80’S PUNK TUESDAY: Mob Clash by Effigies - I played one of the earlier tracks from this Chicago hardcore band and decided to come around to them again because on the 80’s Tuesday.  Chicago tends to get passed over as a town that had a vibrant hardcore scene, but there were several notable bands that were making things happen, including the Effigies which was one of the formative bands of the time.

For Ever Grounded from 1984 saw the band at their artistic height.  It was the last album with their full line-up and it also saw a change in sound from pure hardcore to a most post-punk vibe.  Mob Clash is a killer track that has this great rhythm and feel, bringing together the tension and imminent threat posed in the lyrics.

The most striking observation is that, in my experience, the “hot seed rounds” that everyone is fighting to get in are anti-correlated with very successful investments.
Rather than seeing such behavior as disloyalty as many do today, employers should see this as an opportunity to construct stronger networks across the ecosystem. As former talent spreads out, the ability to build business partnerships becomes easier, as does the ability to recruit. For example, the engineer that left after 18 months may very well return in a year, and he or she may even bring a friend along as well. It’s always hard to lose good talent, but we need to bring a long-term perspective to this issue.

How Can We Make Recruiting Better? | TechCrunch (via khuyi)

Too many times we err on one side or the other when it comes to people leaving for another company or other reasons.  Some take it too personally and others relegate it to a process.  Some companies even institute policies that prevent those employees from ever returning.  As the quote states though, a much healthier network can be created that enhances your talent pool if you keep former employees in the fold.

We all know that picture of Steve Jobs giving the iconic technology company a piece of his mind back in the early days of Apple. Once the recent mobile partnership between Apple and IBM was announced, it was a picture passed around the Internet with great glee and irony. But the message was clear, the times they are a-changin’ but certainly not in a direction most were expecting.


There was really no surprise with the announcement. In a way that never happened for its desktop computer line, Apple tablets and smartphones have overtaken the enterprise. It was not so long along we were addicted to our Crackberries and banging out emails on our tiny physical keyboards. No business executive was without the device and nothing surpassed it for sheer productivity when on the road (or vacation as often happened). Then Apple stormed the gates with better hardware, significantly better apps, a superior user experience, and a cache that Blackberry could not match. Most of those same executives were sporting iPhones shortly afterwards.

How great is the domination of Apple in the enterprise? Apple tablets alone now account for over 90% of all tablet devices in the enterprise and over 70% of enterprise activations are iOS devices. In an earnings call earlier in the year, Apple started that the iPhone is used in 97% of the Fortune 500, and 91% of the Global 500, and iPad is used in 98% of the Fortune 500 and 93% of the Global 500. GE and Deloitte have over 50,000 iPhones used for corporate purposes. Medtronic, Nestle, and NASA have thousands of employees using iOS devices for business purposes. Apple is inexplicably king of the enterprise.

So why bring all this up? Because while the alliance between IBM and Apple is newsworthy and intriguing, it may not be the huge win either company might be expecting. If anything, Apple seems to be giving IBM the finger yet again. Tim came bearing gifts of joy and smiles, but Steve Jobs is still lurking underneath this move. How so? For Apple, they get a much needed enterprise publicity boost while IBM might just net a few more opportunities to sell cloud services, if that.


While Apple is the king of the enterprise mobile platform for now, that position is tenuous. So is it Google that is poised to finally make a run at the enterprise and rattle Apple? Nope, the real up and comer is that old, crusty standby Microsoft. With a new breath of life in Nadella and the combination of Azure, Office365, several enterprise business apps like Dynamic, and their mobile platform, Microsoft makes for a compelling solution for most companies. Since Microsoft is already a known entity and firmly entrenched in the enterprise, this is the safe move for IT departments and corporate executives. And as Microsoft has shown in the past, they are not afraid of giving away the product to build market share. Anecdotally people are hearing of real Microsoft tablet deployments in the enterprise.

Sp linking up with IBM gives Apple that much needed stamp of enterprise approval. The biggest question marks about Apple regarding security and ROI get addressed by IBM offering a cloud infrastructure optimized for iOS and a whole slew of business oriented mobile apps. Even though the evidence shows that a mobile enabled workforce is more productive, there is still healthy skepticism from executives about the value of mobile, especially with the paucity of enterprise grade business apps.

As for IBM, they are still a distant contender in the cloud infrastructure space. In fact, they were the lowest ranked vendor on Gartner’s IaaS Magic Quadrant last year. The leaders? AWS, CSC, Rackspace, and Microsoft. In fact, if not for the SoftLayer acquisition, IBM might not have even made it on the chart. What has been interesting to see in the past year however is strong uptake of SoftLayer with existing clients and significant investment by IBM into the business, from data center expansion to deploying cutting edge technology ahead of the industry leaders. But does the Apple alliance really get them anything that they have not already been able to achieve? Maybe it makes IBM look a bit more hip, but not much more than that.

And what of those 100 industry enterprise business apps that got touted? While IBM has a credible software footprint, especially with many of their recent cloud software acquisitions, the business apps are more smoke and mirrors than a real opportunity. If there is something I have learned in the enterprise apps space is that customizable solutions win the day and “industry” apps garner little weight outside of very specific business flows around compliance or regulatory needs. For example, one of my customers GE has widely varying requirements for supporting the sales teams across the different groups. Plugging in a one size fits all approach for their sales team would have been a disaster.

The movement in enterprise business software is towards mass customization by users and groups. That means business owners own and configure the functional layer of the software while IT takes care of the infrastructure layer which in the cloud era means data security and integration. The reason is that businesses need to move faster than the ability for IT to implement changes in the typical enterprise software package. I wager that IBM will however release a bunch of apps that hew towards the older mode of software customization and ultimately create 100 really neat looking demos for their Global Services team to then implement for a good chunk of change.

Ultimately what the alliance sets in place are the teams competing in the mobile space for the next five years. Everyone is looking to build their stacks from apps to infrastructure to the hardware in employees’ hands. So the teams are set; you have Microsoft in one corner, Google looking a bit shabby in the other corner, and a fresh faced Apple/IBM tag team duo. The enterprise app players, mobile deployment managers, and IaaS vendors are all watching the spectacle taking bets. If anything, it should present some good theater as the battle begins.

26 plays
Iron Fist

METAL MONDAY: Speedfreak by Motorhead - It’s back to some old school, bone smashing, fist pumping metal.  And that type of metal is best served Lemmy style.  A lot of metal has lost its fun along the way and taken itself too seriously.  But Motorhead was never that way, they just made loud, raucous, no apologies, in your face music.

Iron Fist often gets passed over because their previous two albums were so monsterously awesome.  How do you touch the greatness of Ace of Spades and one of the best live albums ever recorded in No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith?  But Iron Fist holds its own with a cleaner mastering than most Motorhead albums and a bunch of Motorhead classics.  Speedfreak is one of my favorites in that it is so basic, but it has that metal anthem quality to it.  Lemmy could pretty much be babbling anything, it still rocks hard and gets your blood pumping.


Careful listening, collaboration, asking good questions—these “soft skills” aren’t always taught in school.

One employer survey, conducted by staffing company Adecco, indicates that 44% of responding companies cited “soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration” as the area with “the biggest gap.”

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The skills gap is a real one within companies and industries and while much of the focus is on technical or job function specific skills, there are many important skills that get left out.  Those include the so-called “soft skills”.  However, maybe that is the problem, by falsely defining skills as either hard or soft we create a situation where soft skills are not taken seriously enough.

Instead we should define skills as functional, managerial, or leadership and making all three domains a critical aspect of defining the requirements of any job.  Thus, all the important skills are emphasized because they are defined within the job itself as important.  But also we have renamed the overall categorization of those “soft” skills and as such make them both more definable and more important.  The other subtle change is that now those skills can be quantified and measured.

42 plays
Lester Flatt;Earl Scruggs,
Foggy Mountain Gospel

WORSHIP SUNDAY: You Can Feel It In Your Soul by Flatt & Scruggs - Here is some bluegrass to kick off your Sunday morning with.  Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs joined up after playing with the legendary Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys.  From the 50’s to the 70’s, the Foggy Mountain Boys were one of the biggest and most influential bands in Bluegrass.

In that time, Flatt & Scruggs played a lot of gospel tunes over that time and most of those recordings were compiled on this album Foggy Mountain Gospel.  The song You Can Feel It In Your Soul is one of the highlights, which has that great vocal harmonization and some incredible solo guitar work.  And more importantly, it is a great Sunday message to let the Lord into your soul and feel His joy.

Scenes like this are being replicated all over Zhengzhou — a smoggy industrial city that, thanks to Chen’s ingenuity, has become the capital of frozen food in China. Sanquan’s rival, Synear, was founded in Zhengzhou in 1997, and the two companies account for nearly two-thirds of the country’s frozen-food market. The city is home to five of the 10 biggest Chinese-owned companies in the industry, according to the weekly Frozen Food Newspaper, the industry’s only trade publication, which is also based in Zhengzhou. Growth has been especially rapid recently, with sales volume doubling in the past five years and expected to double again within the next five.

When Chen founded Sanquan, fewer than one in 10 of his fellow citizens even owned a refrigerator. In the eastern megacities of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, it wasn’t until the late 1980s — as electrical grids became more reliable and families had more disposable income — that refrigerators became a fixture of most homes. For second- and third-tier cities, like Zhengzhou, they arrived even more slowly. But in the 12 years between 1995 and 2007, China’s domestic refrigerator-ownership numbers have jumped to 95 percent from just 7 percent of urban families.

What Do Chinese Dumplings Have to Do With Global Warming? via The New York Times

This article is all sorts of interesting…100,000 dumplings produced per hour in one factory alone.

Elger’s Cello Concerto in E minor performed by Sujari Britt

Rarely do I post videos, but this was particularly excellent.  The performer is 11 year old Sujari Britt and her playing is supremely confident, deeply emotive, and technically brilliant on a piece that is notoriously difficult for even the most experienced of cello soloists.  I really enjoyed this and hope you do as well.