Who “expects” job losses?

The economy lost more jobs than expected last month:

That, plus the larger-than-expected loss of 85,000 jobs in December, put new pressure on the administration to step up job creation.

I know that the economy is bad, but don’t we generally "expect" no job losses? How does one go about deciding what the expected losses will be? And why would they be so far off as to call the number "unexpected"?

And why does the government, given its complete lack of success in stimulating the economy so far, now think that by redirecting tax dollars to green jobs that they can suddenly reverse the trend?

"It’s clear why such an effort is so important. Building a robust clean energy sector is how we will create the jobs of the future, jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced," Obama said in late-afternoon comments at the White House.

Does anyone believe that by taking money from taxpayers and giving it to other taxpayers that they can solve the problem?


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We have no competition.

When I was listening to the pitches at VeloCity StartupWeekend, I noticed right away that I knew of several competitors for almost every product idea. When I was mentoring the students I pointed out that this was just fine. It’s ok to have competition because that validates the market. Being the first company in any space means that you will typically spend a lot of time educating your market, which then benefits your competitors when they show up.

In fact, the lack of competition means that – except in very rare cases – there may not be a market. You may be solving a problem that nobody actually perceives themselves as having.

If only all entrepreneurs could be as aware of this fact. You wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve heard someone say "we’re the only ones doing this". Believe me, you aren’t. Somebody somewhere, and likely plenty of people, are doing something similar right now.

Again, that’s ok. You just need to know what differentiates you. What makes you noticeably better, according to your customers. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re better. Your potential customer must perceive you as better, and better enough to choose over the other product. Be faster, save me more money, make me more money, be more esthetically pleasing – just know what the difference is. And tell people. Be aggressive, because the other guys will if your aren’t.

It doesn’t matter what you are doing; you have competition. Hiding your head in the sand won’t make it go away.

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What RIM doesn’t seem to get.

Robert Scoble describes the two biggest problems RIM has when dealing with BlackBerry developers (I’ve emphasized the important parts):

It’s worse than that if you compare app platforms. At CES last week I met an exec at Research In Motion, the folks that make the Blackberry. He bragged to me that they were building their own Twitter and Facebook clients. I didn’t get the bragging and asked him “so I guess you aren’t trying to build a platform, then?” I explained to him that if you build your own apps that signals to your third-party developers that you want them to go away and work on something else because you’re demonstrating that you’re very willing to take the best opportunities away from them.

Ever since then I’ve been asking developers what they think and on Saturday the guy (Michael Schneider, CEO of Mobile Roadie) who built the Golden Globes’ iPhone app (and the LeWeb iPhone app) was over my house and I asked him. He told me that he’s working on building for the Blackberry platform too, because there’s so many users there but he said that the Blackberry is very difficult to build for. You really should listen to this interview, because in it you encapsulated what is happening to the entire mobile market.

The BlackBerry is really hard to build apps for. I’ve heard this over and over. There are differences and ideosyncracies between every BlackBerry model, and even some variants of the same model won’t run the same app properly.

And because it’s hard to build apps, there are fewer apps, and sometimes only one or two for something like Twitter. So instead of fixing the problem, RIM instead decides to build their own apps, of course cherrypicking the most popular from developers.

These two things combined scare developers away from your platform, and push them into the arms of the competition like Apple and Android.

The BlackBerry is a great device – for email. When users start to realize all of the things they can do with their phones – and I do plenty with mine – they are going to look for phones that do all of those things. RIM can either make life really easy for developers and allow them to create a stable of applications. Or they can write everything themselves. How well do you think that will scale?

It’s not enough to be concerned about your users. Now is the time to be concerned about all of the other people who are concerned about your users, and to help them to add value – to your users and your platform.

Right now you are climbing a mountain of over 100,000 apps, and the mountain gets higher every day.


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The new global cooling.

Apparently we’re experiencing global cooling now:

The bitter winter afflicting much of the Northern Hemisphere is only the start of a global trend towards cooler weather that is likely to last for 20 or 30 years, say some of the world’s most eminent climate scientists.

So, the hallowed models couldn’t predict this cooling trend but that’s ok. Global warming is still on; it’s just delayed for a few decades.

Trust us.

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Career fairs are neither.

From Seth Godin:

Of course they don’t exist to help you plan or execute a career. Most of the organizations with booths are bottom fishing, looking for enough willing and able employees to fill established gaps in their companies. This is hiring on the hoof, wholesale filling of average jobs with people trying to be average. Planning a career at a career fair is a little like looking for a soulmate at a singles’ bar.

Read the whole thing.


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Out of touch with reality.

You can see that the banking industry is out of touch with the reality of the economy today when they justify multi-million dollar bonuses like this:

“A lot of our folks have second and third homes and alimony payments and other obligations that require substantial current cash,” said one banker, who insisted on anonymity because he did not want to attract any attention to his firm.

I can almost feel myself choking up with sympathy.


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StartupWeekend at VeloCity.

I’ve spent the last couple of days at StartupWeekend at UW’s VeloCity residence. If you look closely you can see me near the back in green shirt and jeans, arms folded, listening intently.

I’ve watched about 50 students pitch ideas, form teams, write code, describe target markets, and explain how they plan to generate revenue. Actually, I’ve been witness to an incredible directed energy, albeit one fueled by copious amounts of pizza and Red Rave energy drink.

I was invited by the Director of VeloCity, Jesse Rodgers, to mentor these students, along with some other smart folks (I’m not that smart, but I hide it well).And these students have patiently indulged me in doing just that. I’ve had the great pleasure of sitting back and hearing their ideas, and getting to throw back the occasional nugget of wisdom from my vast and varied career – the experience of a more experienced person (as they’ve frequently pointed out with great humour, they are somewhat younger than my own kids).

And the fact is, I’ve had more fun in the last few days than I’ve had in years. These are kids who are throwing ideas out so fast that it is difficult to process them. Some are variations on existing themes, but some are radically new ideas. But the energy is more than palpable; the building fairly hums with the sense of creativity within.

Jesse introduced me to them by joking that I was there to crush their dreams, to inject a dose of reality into their plans. And for a couple of ideas that has been the case. But for others I’ve found myself getting caught up in the pitch, suggesting even further potential markets and tangents for the future. I can see ideas that can not only get funded, but with the potential to win their markets. Rather than crush their dreams I’ve found myself increasingly caught up in them.

I’ve often commented that Waterloo is a community of mature companies – great products but sometimes short on innovation. However, after the last few days I realize that I’ve shortchanged the town. There is tremendous energy and innovation here. It’s just hiding in a nondescript little building in the southwest corner of the UW campus.

If you didn’t get the opportunity to get out to StartupWeekend I suggest that you make the time to get over there and find out what they’re up to soon. And if it’s something in the water you should figure out how to bottle it as quick as possible.

To that students of VeloCity, my sincere thanks for putting up with me as I intruded on your creative process. Thanks for teaching me a lot this weekend, and I hope I was able to return at least a little bit of the favour.

Update: Apparently I’ve mistakenly promotedJesse; he is actually one of two Associate Directors. I am thinking to myself though that I’m pretty impressed that he could motivate 50 or so students with just some pizza and soda. If even one successful company is created as a result I’m thinking that he might be in high demand. Just imagine if ten succeed. :-)

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Sure, blame the software.

So it appears that it’s nobody’s fault that the Christmas Day underwear bomber wasn’t caught. It’s all the fault of bad software:

A misspelling of Mr. Abdulmutallab’s name initially resulted in the State Department believing he did not have a valid U.S. visa. A determination to revoke his visa however would have only occurred if there had been a successful integration of intelligence by the CT [counterterrorism] community, resulting in his being watchlisted.

Yes, there is a potential terror attack afootso the State Department types in a name, doesn’t find anything, so there’s no problem.

It’s the software’s fault.

This guy’s father is so concerned that he walks in and turns his own son in, and the response is to do a single search.Imagine what might have happened if they hadn’t been so dilligent.

Let’s see now. I get a US Visa and I have to provide documentation, fingerprints, and retina scans. And this guy managed to walk on to the plane without any of that?

If our lives depend on government software that isn’t able to provide even the most basic functionality that Google Suggest provides – I mean really, how many visas have been issued to people whose surnames start with "abdulm"? – then we are already doomed.

And to sink low enough to blame the software for your failure to do your job? What more could I possibly say?


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Serving up stimulus.

Bozeman, Montana is spending about $50,000 in stimulus cash on tennis courts:

The commission approved a contract with Dermco-LaVine Construction in Minneapolis for the courts during a noon meeting on Monday. The company will put in rubber-tiled courts at the park, located along South Church Avenue.

White said the out-of-state company got the contract because there were no local companies that could do the work.

The money spent on the tennis courts is part of $621,000 in stimulus money that the city received through the Montana Reinvestment Act.

I guess I assumed that the stimulus funds would be best used to create desperately needed jobs while maintaining or improving infrastructure. Tennis courts frankly seem like a luxury, and the jobs created very short term at best.

Is this really worth mortgaging the future for?


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Canada Post: The wrong choice.

I sent a Christmas gift to my new nephew recently. Since I was at the post office, I inquired about the Canada Post Priority Post service. For $40 (including a $5 fuel surcharge – wish I could get away with charging that) they told me they could deliver that package from Waterloo to Calgary by the next day. I even asked them to check again to confirm. So I shipped that package via Priority Post.

When I spoke to my brother on Christmas Day, he told me that no packages had arrived from me.

Not really that surprised, I checked the package online, only to find out that it hadn’t even left town yet. And it was scheduled for delivery not on Monday, the next business day, but on Tuesday Dec 29, the day after.

When I went to the post office for a refund, they told me that I had to go online or call. First fail.

When I went online to request a refund, the link brought me to this:

Second fail.

Finally I decided to call. After about 10 minutes on hold, while the virtues of Canada Post were being extolled to this unhappy customer, I was connected to a customer service representative. She first explained that she would need to know the source and destination postal codes, because regardless of what I was promised, they don’t always guarantee one day service between two cities. Fortunately the guarantee was actually good in this case.

She explained that I would be getting a refund by mail, in 7-10 days. No rush on their post to either provide the service in the first place, or to return my money to me having failed that task. Needless to say, I won’t be using Canada Post for shipping again.

And by the way folks, if startups on a shoestring budget can get their websites to work flawlessly, why can’t the well-paid people at Canada Post? Do they even know or care that it’s broken?


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