Category Archives: Silicon Valley News

Posted On March 28th, 2017 by Crowded Ocean

More chiefs than you can shake a stick at

Your startup must have a few chiefs already: chief executive officer, chief technology officer, chief marketing officer…and maybe now you’re considering hiring a Chief of Staff which is a role that’s becoming popular in larger startups. (See our recent blog on this trend.)

But it turns out there is a veritable explosion of chiefs out there: everything from Chief Customer Officer to Chief Wonk to Chief Algorithms Officer. After a quick tour through LinkedIn, we found a bunch of noteworthy titles listed below. Title inflation? Hard to say. But as a watcher of trends, both good and bad, we caution all startup teams to go easy on handing out the title “chief” (primarily because higher equity expectations come with that title).

Taking a bit of editorial license here: remember that too many chiefs in the kitchen spoil the MVP…

Chief Revenue Officer

Chief Algorithms Officer

Chief Innovation Officer

Chief Data Scientist

Chief People Officer

Chief Network Architect

Chief Product Officer


Chief Evangelist

Chief Culture and Talent Officer

Chief Customer Officer

Chief Wonk

And they’re hiring:

Chief Merchandising Officer

Chief Impact Officer





Posted On November 15th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

November edition of fascinating new Silicon Valley jargon

USB condom: a device that blocks the risk of hacking or the transfer of computer viruses when a mobile device is plugged into a public USB port for power or recharging.Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 9.33.38 AM

“Lights out” factories: a factory that is so completely automated it needs no interior illumination.

Fake news problem: this is a problem that Facebook is grappling with in the wake of their inability to filter out false information that’s posted as “news” on their website today.

Posted On October 11th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

More new words: the October edition, part two

Glass cliff: according to The New York Times, it’s the theory that holds that women are often placed in positions of power when the situation is dire, men are uninterested and the likelihood of success is low.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 9.01.45 AMSharenting: the practice of online sharing of parenting, including the posting of children at very early ages, shapes the identity (and privacy) of children and that digital identity can follow a child into adulthood.

Behavior design: a principle of software design that coaxes us into adopting new behaviors or habits, as in rewarding the poster of a photo on Facebook with instant “likes”.

Conversational computing: the new market category of consumer and computing products popularized by Siri, Alexa and Echo, are artificially intelligent devices.


Posted On August 23rd, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

Living Through History: a Renaissance in Silicon Valley?

Before Tom went into the technology industry, I was an historian—specifically, a Lecturer in Holocaust and Genocide Studies (happy guy, I know). Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 8.12.32 PMAnd one of the things that we History dweebs would do when we got together was wonder, out loud, what events of today are going to be ‘history-altering’ and which of them, though seemingly important at the moment, are going to be quickly forgotten (see: Trump, Donald).

History is a matter of perspective: the later you come along, the more perspective you have.

For example, it’s hard to image Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, over a glass of wine in Florence in the early 1500’s, musing to each other: ‘Isn’t it great to be alive during the Renaissance?’ Why? Because they were caught up in something so new that it didn’t have a name. In short, they lacked the perspective to appreciate how unique their situation was.

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 8.13.44 PMWhy all this historical musing? Because we have an opportunity that those who have come before us haven’t. We’re living in a time that is easily the equal of the Renaissance (or Industrial Revolution) in terms of its impact—and we should appreciate it now, not in our dotage. Just as the printing press and steam engine dramatically changed the world, so, too, have the internet and the PC/smartphone. And these tools are only a couple of decades old: think what the world will be like as they mature and their availability extends to every corner of the globe.

At Crowded Ocean, given the wide range of companies and industries we work with, we have a ringside seat to a variety of new technologies. Are any of them as potentially impactful as the internet or the PC/smartphone? Probably not (though we’re just scratching the surface of what Artificial Intelligence can do), but it’s important for all of us—not just those of us in the business—to stand back every now and then and marvel at the world we’re living in today and speculate on what tomorrow will bring.

Posted On January 27th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean

Startup Hiring: the declining status of the GPA

In its earliest days Oracle was a very elitist place to work. Its workforce was determinedly young (average age: 24 in 1990) and was generally recruited from a very small number of schools: Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon—with a few outliers). And, of course, GPAs figured prominently into the hiring decision.

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 11.29.29 AMFast forward to today. I was talking to an Oracle VP the other day and she was telling me that her new department had six programmers—two with Ivy degrees, two with degrees from UC and two who had only graduated high school and who had gone directly into programming.

Earlier this month, I wound up at a fundraiser with a Gartner analyst and the conversation came to the makeup of his department. He said that he didn’t even check GPA—most of the time he didn’t even check what school they attended. The two things that mattered were:

  1. that they had attended a university; and
  2. what they had done since graduation. In other words, accomplishment post-graduation trumped accomplishment pre-graduation.

In the old world there was a hierarchy: in this area, the people who went to community college wound up working for the people who went to a state school, who wound up working for the folks who went to Stanford (maybe Santa Clara). Silicon Valley—with its legion of unschooled developers (and role models like college dropouts Bill Gates and Steve Jobs)—is giving startup entrepreneurs a new hiring model: quite simply, can they do the job? That’s all that matters.

Posted On March 9th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean

Does Silicon Valley lead the world in ‘assholes per square mile’?

We think there are five reasons that assholes abound in Silicon Valley:

  1. Startups are led by the single-minded. Startups are famously founded and led by incredibly talented, passionate, driven technologists who are often young, single-minded and unburdened by the baggage of maturity (mortgage, family, 529 funds for their kids). That combination of youth, talent and freedom comes at a price. Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 6.39.20 PMOften it’s a lack of grace, emotional intelligence, and empathy that can come across as arrogance and impatience with the rest of us who just don’t get it. (at least not as quickly as the founder) That’s why so many startups outgrow their brash and brilliant founder, and that’s why “adult supervision” is an important ingredient in a successful startup with staying power.
  1. Startups lack diversity. They are over-staffed with men, with the majority of those men being white. Studies show that diversity (more women and more members with different skills) encourages teamwork and better outcomes of those teams. In other words, if the success of your startup depends upon teamwork, you’ll have smarter, more effective teams if you mix it up with different kinds of talent and more women.
  1. Nerds are still the core of the Valley labor pool. They may not have tape on Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 6.40.37 PMtheir glasses, but the core of most startups is still the engineers and those guys often mask their lack of social skills with arrogance and asshole behavior.
  1. Assholes hire assholes. Hard-charging, fast-growing startups often have a hard time establishing policies and processes at the right time to support their growing organization. Consequently, jerks and assholes can get away with bad behavior in such an environment. (And talented assholes in a vital role become someone that everyone puts up with because their contribution is so important.) And if you’ve got an asshole involved in the interviewing and hiring process, then assholes are guaranteed to make their way into your organization.
  1. Steve Jobs was an asshole. As we’ve commented before, every founder that we encounter who exhibits boorish behavior justifies it by recounting some Jobs story. Our counter: Steve Jobs wasn’t successful because he was an asshole. Steve Jobs was successful AND he was an asshole.

When it comes to building a successful startup, we’re big believers in the “no assholes rule” but, unfortunately, it doesn’t always work in Silicon Valley.

Posted On December 31st, 2012 by Crowded Ocean

Trends to watch in startup marketing in 2013

New developments in Silicon Valley span both new technologies and the marketing strategies to reach, engage and develop new customers.  Below are some of the developments that intrigued us this past year:

Cognitive computing – as advances in machine vision and artificial intelligence converge with the ubiquity of sensors and the proliferation of big data, scientists are predicting a new age of computers that can learn and interpret in more “human” ways.  This is the age of cognitive computing.

Twitter marketing – as Twitter’s advance continues, we’ll see this social marketing channel used by innovative marketers as a platform for marketing campaigns, contests and more.

Anticipatory computing – building upon the notion of a “social graph” originally pioneered by Facebook, technologists are working to take to the next level the idea that a software application can not only learn about your preferences and needs, but it can make useful suggestions by actually anticipating your needs.  Will new startups blaze this trail and even build upon the work that Google started with Google Now?

Comeback of simplicity – As we wrote about last August, simplicity isn’t what it used to be. There are simple, no-frills websites with spare design (think Craigslist and Wikipedia.) But it’s the simplicity and clarity of message as the bedrock of your unique value proposition that interests us. If your startup can’t boil down your value and differentiation into a crisp and memorable statement that your entire team can learn and use, go back to the drawing board.  Or better yet, hire us.

Posted On November 22nd, 2012 by Crowded Ocean

Twinkies, Pivots and Bimbos (in Startup Marketing)

Outside of those places in the US where Deep-Fried Twinkies are considered a treat, there is no place more threatened by the Twinkie’s imminent demise than Silicon Valley, where the cream-filled snack cake is a staple of coders. So, as a service to our coder clients, Crowded Ocean offers our own plan to save the Twinkie.

In analyzing the demise of the Twinkie and its junk-food cousins, analysts stress how Hostess has done nothing to advance the brand, that it’s become (no pun intended) stale.  In startup marketing-speak of Silicon Valley, this means that the Twinkie is a candidate for a ‘pivot.’

In its 80-year history, the Twinkie has already undergone at least one pivot–during WWII when the original banana-cream filling was switched to vanilla-cream.  Before it goes the way of the Edsel, it should take one last shot at regaining its market—one last pivot.

If Hostess hired Crowded Ocean, we’d dive in with the leadership team to understand their core customers as well as the basis of its waning popularity.  Is the answer to strengthen sales within this population or expand their reach to new markets?  What is ‘the Twinkie Brand’ these days, and how can it be revived, a la Old Spice?  Who are they losing  market share to—other junk food or healthier snacks?  Ultimately, we would need to re-define a unique value proposition (UVP) that compels customers to increase their Twinkie intake.

Treating Twinkie as a startup, we’d go back to the basics of defining and solidifying their UVP to ensure that the market realities and brand assets can be harnessed to help drive growth.  In terms of a pivot, does that mean there should be more “low-fat” versions of Twinkie ahead?  Can the financing and corporate restructuring be put in place to support a broadening of their product line, distribution channels and marketing?

In our experience, a successful marketing engagement can help align (and shift) business strategy. That’s particularly true for the sales and marketing plans (including the brand) that support business goals and propel growth.

As of this writing, Hostess says it’s turning out the lights on Twinkie, but there is still talk of an acquisition by Mexican food giant Grupo Bimbo.  In other words – wait for the snare drum – will there be a Bimbo who owns Twinkies?

Posted On October 26th, 2012 by Crowded Ocean

New Terms in Startup Marketing

Collaborative consumption – The idea that rides (Zipcar) or housing (Airbnb) or project work (TaskRabbit, MechanicalTurk) or high fashion (Rent the Runway) and more can be shared are part of an emerging market category called collaborative consumption. The category has recently expanded to include wardrobe consignment shops with the launch of new startups like Threadflip and Poshmark.

Distributed credential protection – RSA has developed new software that chops your password into smaller bits and then stores the bits in multiple places. The benefit is that if your system is breached, only part of your password could be vulnerable. According to the head of RSA’s research labs, “Where the magic comes in is the ability of the system to check passwords without reassembling them.”

Dark social – A term coined by columnist Alexis Madrigal in a recent Atlantic article, “dark social” describes the volume of  “socially referred” visitors that comes to websites outside of the traditional social networks of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. People exchange links to popular content via email, G-chat, IM, Skype, etc. and the sources of that significant traffic are unknown or “dark.” Often, they turn up in your analytics as “direct” or “typed/bookmarked.” Madrigal maintains that great content will continue to fuel significant dark social traffic.

Affective computing – Researchers are building computers that can “read” human emotions or “affect” with sophisticated technology that can be incorporated into applications for tools for autistic learners and for security.

Posted On October 24th, 2012 by Crowded Ocean

3 Lies of Silicon Valley Startups

1. Work-life balance is possible. According to this article in the Washington Post, there is a growing effort to get employees to unplug outside of work. There is concern about burnout. And instead of boosting productivity, the after-hours addiction to email is making employees feel fried and less productive. Will this concern and creative corporate measures like “no email weekends” spread to Silicon Valley employers? Answer: You gotta be kidding.

2.  Afternoon naps are encouraged as company policy. Apparently Google is the trend-setter here. Employees are “offered the chance to nap at work” in the spirit of boosting productivity. There are even nap stations, called EnergyPods, that feature soft lighting, music and an all-important timer.  If you’re a big napper, there’s even a list of the top ten big companies that encourage napping as part of their company policy.  Will this trend spread to startups and more tech giants like Google?  Answer: In this economy, I wouldn’t bet on it. 

3. You’ll get admin support. Today, it’s not just startup employees that have to take charge of their domain. Even employees at established companies need to be self-sufficient multi-taskers to thrive in today’s economy. Young employees just entering the workforce need to know that doing “a little bit of everything” is a valued skillset. New applications that deliver services that, back in the day, support staff used to handle – like ordering a taxi, booking travel, or delivering a package – are growing in popularity. And that’s why on-demand services like Exec and TaskRabbit that will run errands and do odd jobs have taken off. But that still means you’re on your own to organize, schedule and pay for these services.  Will support staff make a comeback?  Answer: Don’t bet on it.