Working Yourself to Death at Your Startup

Amazon got a bit of a kick in the teeth this week from the NY Times. A well-researched article painstakingly detailed the exciting/deadly working conditions at the company that wants to deliver everything to everyone all the time. Who doesn’t have a love/hate relationship with Amazon? I know I do. Love the access to books and other stuff I want. Love creator-centered platforms like Kindle. Love the company culture that pushes to the edges of innovation. Hate the hubris. Hate the idea that it’s okay to work employees in 100-degree heat with an ambulance outside to cart them away when they drop. (True story.)

All company culture is top-down. Amazon is an expression of the brilliant/crazy mind of Jeff Bezos, who believes in tracking everything, intense competition, and the positives of a negative work environment. Zappos is an expression of the brilliant/quirky mind of Tony Hsieh, who is trying to remove the hierarchy in his corporate structure. (It’s not going so well.)

People like Bezos and Hsieh are like you: intensely focused on a world-changing idea, drinking their own Kool-Aid and trying to …

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No more gatekeepers. It makes the heart sing.

I’ve pitched a lot of media: movies, books, tv shows, series, specials, documentaries, dramas, comedies. I’ve been in the room with a raucous band of comedy writers riffing off my every word.  I’ve met with studio heads who excused themselves to use their executive wash room – with the door open – just to make a visible and noisy point about their personal power. I’ve been on the receiving end of early morning phone calls from producers who were not in a good mood at all.

I have developed a thick skin, as the expression goes, when it comes to writing, but I am glad to see the power of institutional gatekeepers eroding.

This redistribution of power started with crowdfunding. Once upon a time, if you wanted to get your movie funded, you had to go to a studio development executive and get them to like it. Or you had to sell your rich uncle on the idea, or your rich dentist, or both, and then you had to get a distributor to like it. If you wanted to …

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Disrupting the Publishing Distruption

The publishing industry is ripe for disruption hahahahahah.

Sorry, but I couldn’t resist a giggle there, because writing a line like that is sure to be misinterpreted.  Since I live in an apartment with WiFi, and not in a cave, I realize that the publishing industry has already been quite well disrupted, thank you.  Amazon has blown it up and the resulting shattered walls have created light and freedom for writers. More readers have access to more books than ever. There’s more control than ever for the indie writer. Costs of publishing a book are near zero. You can get good cover art by contracting on Fiverr and a good editor on Elance. There is also a kind of digital slavery involved, since Amazon controls access to your online work.  Amazon is working hard to be the digital railroad baron of our age, controlling delivery and distribution. But as Kristine Kathryn Rusch has written so effectively and articulately (her blog is worth your time) Amazon’s destruction of publishing’s old ways has created a boon for the old publishing houses.

In Rusch’s clear-eyed analysis, …

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Amazon and the Nerd Factor

Philip Roth isn’t happy with Jeff Bezos. A lot of other authors aren’t either. Going out on a limb here, but my guess is that Bezos is thrilled that such an important novelist as Roth is pissed.

Bezos has always been a courageous, bright guy. From relatively humble beginnings he went to Princeton, became a dot-com superstar fairly quickly and is now worth something like $32 billion, give or take.

He plays life as though adversity and danger don’t faze him much. He was in a helicopter crash that almost killed him, and reportedly thought, ‘This is a dumb way to die.’ In accounts of the fear-fatal accident that I’ve read, he never talks much about fear.

This bothers me.

As member of the bunch of Uber-Nerds who are pretty much running things now, Bezos is no doubt a super-achiever, but a human factor is missing. The question for me is: Can you be driven, directed, focused on world domination, and also be compassionate and feeling?

Amazon is a great platform for authors. It’s remaking the publishing industry and in …

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Climbing the Amazon Charts Today

We are climbing the charts today. My book ‘Be More Popular: Culture-Building for Startups’ is free today on Amazon in the Kindle edition. Grab your free copy and help me get to #1 on Amazon today. Right now the book is #2 in Amazon Best Sellers for Startups.

Here’s the link to grab your own copy for free.

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Be First in Your Own Category

Here comes the singularity.

Be first in your own category is advice often given to entrepreneurs and startups. In the real world, the one with flowers and trees, business depends on the second brand to create competitive pressure. As Al and Laura Ries set out so well in their book, ‘The 11 Immutable Laws of Internet Branding,’ if there’s a Ford, there has to be a GM. If there’s a Costco, there will be a Walmart. The need for a second brand is driven by the suppliers, and by the customers. They ask for competitive pricing pressure because they want to comparison shop. If there were no second brand to compete, the dominant brand could do whatever it wants. It would be a monopoly. It would set pricing, availability, position on the shelves.

Does that monopolistic behavior sound familiar?  It should, because it’s just what Amazon is doing right now. The internet’s 900-pound gorilla has been choking off the supplies of books published by Hachette and movies distributed by Disney. David Streitfeld’s reporting on this in the New York Times …

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What Can a Media Influencer Do to the FCC or Amazon?

Looks like The FCC has come down with a case of influencer-enza earlier this week. After media influencer John Oliver called for viewers to post comments on the site to protest proposed (bad) changes to the Internet, the site crashed, came back up, and crashed again. Twenty-two-thousand comments were posted over two days this week, with a total of 64,000 comments.  The flood probably happened because of Oliver, and probably also because of a similar call to action on reddit. (Redditors call this the ‘hug of death,’ when so many of them visit a site that the site goes down.)

Louder voices online.

Amazon also felt the power of an influencer. The company is in the hot seat because of a bad decision to drop the hammer on Hachette, one of its publishers. There’s a contract dispute going on between the two companies, and Amazon is applying pressure by slowing shipments of Hachette titles, making them harder to locate on the site, and resorting to other hardball tactics.

Amazon’s bad behavior is working.

Sales of Hachette titles have slowed …

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Monopoly Isn’t Just a Game Anymore

When you own the railroad you can control what goes on it. If you get greedy, there’s nobody to stop you. They haven’t a choice.

Amazon is doing a bit of its own railroading these days, being a bully to book publisher Hachette because of a contract dispute. Amazon is taking down pre-order buttons for Hachette titles on its site, raised prices on the publisher’s offerings, and even changed page design to feature other titles that compete with Hachette.  It’s not nice, but it’s certainly possible when you own the railroad.

The argument for and against Amazon has gone back and forth. Amazon is killing the independent bookstore. Amazon is making reading more popular and more affordable. I have tended to go for the positive view of Amazon, because I like to read, and I see how easy the company has made it to get more books. Now we’re into a new stage of the game, and it’s not a family-friendly round of Monopoly. This is the kind of game aimed at putting competitors out of business, pushing smaller companies around, …

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