Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bias in the Silicon Valley

My friend Lyneka tipped me off to the raging debate that has blossomed from a preview of CNN's upcoming latest Black In America. I've been too busy working on a new business launch to pay attention.

There's a video of my fellow Harvard classmate Soledad O'Brien interviewing TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington. With a smug look, Soledad asks Michael who the top black entrepreneurs are and then if he knows any. He draws a blank, clearly thrown by the nature of the question. I won't embed the video because O'Brien doesn't deserve any more pageviews.

< digression > I guess she's "doing her job," but if someone black had to ask the question, I wish it could have been a respected journalist like the late Ed Bradley or Gwen Ifill. If you want to learn about a real "gotcha" question, watch Gwen in this video at the 2:00 mark.
< /digression >

Anyway, this is not about O'Brien. It's about race and bias in Silicon Valley.

I attend and have spoken at a number of tech conferences, where I am one of the few women and sometimes the only woman of color. It can be hard, but so what? Most things worth doing are hard.

Silicon Valley isn't colorblind. It has a culture and if you want to play in it, then be prepared to face and operate within that culture. Be prepared for the loneliness of being one or two of a kind in a room among people who almost never have to face that feeling, whether by their own design, by the shield of their privilege and affluence or by chance. They may never understand this idea or how you feel, but do they understand your pitch and will they fund you?

They may get caught by a ridiculous "gotcha" question like Michael Arrington did or they may say something clueless like John Doerr did more than three years ago. It doesn't make them racist, it makes them fallible. They are only racist if they choose to use their power against people expressly because of race, gender, nationality, religion, etc.

On a side note, in reading other items and watching videos related to this story, the idea of getting more minorities into computer science and math keeps coming up. I think that's great if computer science or math is your passion. But there are also no shortage of successful tech entrepreneurs who do not have computer science degrees-Steve Jobs, Chad Hurley, Jason Calcanis and Arrington himself among many others. And if it's acceptable for Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg and other guys to drop out of school because they are driven to build, then why should minorities be pushed to rack up debt in the pursuit of credentials?

Bias is everywhere. You can let it slow you down or blame it when you don't succeed. Or you can embrace the reality of how hard it is to do anything well-like fund a startup and grow a business to the point of survival, let alone success. There will be plenty of things to discourage the budding entrepreneur. The successful aren't halted by rejection, no matter what its basis. They remain focused on execution, persistence and determination.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Lykke Li, Blogging and Google+

At the end of this video, Lykke Li asks the question:

"What would people be doing if they weren't blogging all the time?"

She acknowledges that the current state of all things digital has made it possible for her to have a career, yet it's valid to wonder if the actual music being made today would be better if musicians devoted more of their time to doing that and less time talking about it.

For me, the last year (plus some) without blogging has been all about the new adventure of working in mobile apps. I am currently VP and Managing Publisher of the Zumobi Network. Download the app to get the gist.

So, what has inspired me to come back to blogging now? First, is the exciting journey that has been my career in mobile. In some ways this cycle feels like 1998-2000 all over again, but with less irrational exuberance (if you exclude the Facebook valuation).

In other ways it feels much bigger than that. Over the winter holidays I spent some time in Kenya and Uganda. It's hard to miss the fact that mobile phones are everywhere. Mobile airtime is currency. There are more than 5 billion people with mobile phones and 1 billion of those are smartphones. The things we take for granted in the so-called "Western World" are liberating forces across the planet. Rebel content indeed.

Second is Google+. I'm a fan, I'm in and I hope my friends soon follow. While I have Facebook fatigue, it's not just about getting away from Facebook. It's about moving to something that's more integrated with a primary tool I use every day, several times a day: Gmail.

Some time ago, I had hoped that Facebook messages could eventually replace email for me, but the tide never turned completely and my box became cluttered with garbage fast. Google+ is my email provider becoming a social network instead of a social network becoming my primary email client. It offers me a better way to connect and ideally, a more efficient way to do it so I can spend less time telling and more time doing things like my radio show. New edition coming this Friday. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rent Party for the People of Haiti

Tonight we're hosting a Rent Party for the People of Haiti at the Crocodile, 2200 2nd Avenue in Seattle. So if you're in town, come out and dance for a good cause.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Three Ways to Help Haiti

Support earthquake relief in Haiti by text:

Text "Haiti" to 90999 to donate $10 via Red Cross. Follow the Red Cross on Twitter

Text "yele" to 501501 to donate $5 via Yele. Follow Yele on Twitter.

Make a donation to Doctors Without Borders to support emergency medical care.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Imeem's sudden death: Do online music services care about artists or users?

Among digital music types, there has been vibrant discussion on the fate of imeem, post the MySpace acquisition. Users who visit the site this week are greeted with a redirect to a page on MySpace with this message:
imeem users, welcome to MySpace Music!

imeem is now part of MySpace Music.
Where's my imeem profile/playlist?

MySpace is working to migrate your imeem playlist to MySpace Music. We’ll email you about that once we have more details.

If you are managing an artist page on imeem, we suggest you sign up as a MySpace Music artist. If you have other questions, see this FAQ and our blog.

A user who emailed MySpace received this reply: "Your imeem playlist will no longer be available."

Millions of music fans invested time and emotion in creating their playlists, cultivating their musical identity. Some even developed and expressed imeem brand loyalty. It's all gone with one redirect.

If we as a collective industry care about our customers, the users, we would give them two things: better metadata and open preferences. Let users take their playlists and favorites with them anywhere on the web or on their phone.

If we as a collective industry care about artists and the future revenue that would not flow without them, we would not ask them to build and manage multiple profiles in closed environments that don't talk with one another.

Of course, Vevo is going to make everyone forget.

Learn more on c|net: MySpace buries Imeem

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Curious Case of Mos Def

Mos Def is a branding dream. He is a multi-disciplinary artist with an engaging personality who performs around the globe. His music and acting choices are intriguing, hip, quirky and progressive. He moves between worlds with ease, holding his own in the company of award-winning actors like John Malkovich and Adrien Brody, talking religion and nuclear weapons with Salman Rushdie and Christopher Hitchens, and spitting rhymes with Kweli and Kanye.

So where is the center of the Mos Def universe online?

Where is

It points to a MySpace page that doesn't begin to capture the breadth of his work or aptly reflect his place in the culture. Never mind that MySpace isn't reliable or trustworthy.

As a fan visiting, I want to find links to
- Buy his latest release, The Ecstatic
- "Watch Instantly" his available films on Netflix
- Browse his catalog of recordings including soundtracks
- Stream videos of him freestyling and holding court on Bill Maher

And I should certainly be able to find the "semi-exclusive" content that Google will feature as a part of its new music search feature. I understand what the benefit of Google's initiative is for Google and the music service partners.

But is it in Mos Def's best interest for me to go through Google which is going through MySpace to get his work?

My appetite for his work is pretty big. And I trust Mos Def more than I do MySpace. Why won't he directly feed more to me and the thousands of other serious fans?

Monday, October 12, 2009

State of the Music Union: Transparency

A funny thing happened at the Digital Music Forum's State of the Union panel.

In my opening, I spoke about how the music industry has lost its cool and that it needs to rehab its image with audiences and customers to gain trust. How?

For starters:
1) Apologize.
2) Give fans what they want and will pay for.
3) Be transparent.
On my left was Ted Mico, head of digital at Interscope/Geffen/A&M. Defensively, Ted offered that the artists are the brand and that the average fan doesn't have any idea of what the "music industry" is. Of course, on this Ted and I disagree. While fans may not know Interscope as a brand, they absolutely know the music industry, just as they know the auto industry. Interscope can try to operate behind its artists' brands while it attempts to transition from a product business to a service business, but it can't hide from its place among the other RIAA members and the actions of the RIAA over these last few years. The transference of faith from the artist brand to the label as a trustworthy service company will not happen by osmosis. If a label wants trust, it actually has to earn it.

On my right was Tim Quirk, VP at Rhapsody. Tim, who was once signed to Warner Bros. as a member of Too Much Joy, commented that there needs to be trust among partners as well. Tim also spoke about his royalty statements from Warner Bros. He can see for himself what plays are reported on his former band from Rhapsody to Warner. And yet, statement after statement, Warner tells him he has earned no royalties.

Even with direct access to verifiable information that should be used to calculate his royalties, Tim Quirk cannot get paid by his former label. So how can other artists trust that they will get paid? If Tim cannot trust them to follow legally binding agreements, then why should other artists expect any different?

Why would any artist sign a 360 degree deal where the label participates in other income like tours and merchandising if the label can't be trusted to account for the income generated from recordings?

An interesting side note: I met a representative of a service provider that helps improve the accuracy of royalty reporting. In essence, one of his label clients told him that they didn't want to know the accurate numbers because then they would have to do something about it.

The old habits of deception, cheating and lying are hard to break, especially at a well-entrenched, institutional level. While the incumbents wrestle with them, new players could gain traction by taking a less well-traveled, but remarkably cleaner path in the music business: Transparency.