This post is a book review, but it starts with a story from my past.
Way, way back, before San Francisco begat hip startups with nonsensical names, I found myself on the second floor of a near-abandoned warehouse on South Park, now one of the priciest areas of SF, but then, one of the cheapest. I surveyed the place: well lit in the front, but a shithole in the back. Detritus from years of shifting usage littered the ground — abandoned construction materials lurked in the poorly lit rear recesses, toward the front, where a wall of dusty industrial windows overlooked Second Street, a couch faced outward, and it was in this space I first met Louis Rossetto, founder of Wired and for all I could surmise, Willy Wonka’s twin brother from another mother.
Robert Reich’s Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few is a readable rant that — should you disagree with Reich’s central premise — will elicit eye-rolls and summary dismissal. But while his well-known political ideology (he served as Secretary of Labor under Clinton) is on constant display, I found Reich’s book both timely and important.
I am drawn to any work that posits a better way forward, and as you might expect, I agree with Reich far more often than not. You have to be willfully ignorant to pretend our current economic system is equitable (Reich argues we’re in the “second Gilded Age”) or capable of creating long-term increasing returns. And while many in our industry cling to libertarian fantasies in which technologic silver bullets solve our every social need, back here on earth we need to do better than pine for the singularity. Fixing income inequality and the loss of the middle class requires hard policy choices and a re-framing of the problems at hand.
Way back in 1985 an unlikely coalition of world governments, business, and enlightened citizens did something extraordinary: Responding to the findings of leading scientists, they united in decisive action to address a looming and existential global climate threat.
That threat was a dangerous thinning of the Earth’s ozone layer due to society’s use of man-made chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Ozone, it turns out, protects the Earth’s surface from dangerous UVB radiation — which causes skin cancer, cataracts, and all manner of unpleasant ecological chaos.
The ever present debate around whether Silicon Valley will retain its crown as the most important tech hub got fresh fuel this past week, first from a piece by Adam Lashinsky (yes, it will), and then from a Financial Times report (sub. required) seemingly refuting his conclusion (no, New York wins!).
The research behind the FT report claims the most entrepreneurial cities in the US are, in order, New York, Boston, Providence, and then San Francisco. The FT headline — “How New York stole Silicon Valley’s crown” — leads one to believe that somehow the research was comparing Apples to Big Apples. Of course, it was doing nothing of the sort. In truth, the FT’s uncharacteristic click bait was comparing Salesforces to Sandwich Shops.
(Warning, loads of unabashed cursing ahead. Cross posted from my site.)
Everyone’s definition of what makes a person or a company “douchey” varies, but the Supreme Court’s approach to pornography is a good start: You know it when you see it. The very fact that the HBO series Silicon Valley can confidently parody douchey behavior is proof we’ve at least found common ground when it comes to extreme douchebaggery.
Our industry loves a rashomon, and in the past year or two, our collective subject of debate has been Uber. Perhaps the fastest growing company in history (its numbers aren’t public, but we’ll get to some estimates shortly), Uber has become a vector for some of the most wide-ranging arguments I’ve ever had regarding the tech industry’s impact on society at large.
It’s not that Google, Facebook, Apple, or Microsoft didn’t evoke great debate, but all those companies came of age in an era where tech was still relegated to a sideshow in the broader cultural conversation. Microsoft was taking over the computer industry in the 1990s, Google the Internet in the early 2000s, Facebook and Apple the mobile and social world in the late 2000s. But Uber? Uber is about a very real and entirely new approach to our economy, a stand in for the wealth divide festering in the US and beyond, an existential rorschach testing your values around the role of government, the social contract, and the kind of society we want to become.
I love being part of naming something. It’s probably the flat out most fun you can have legally with your clothes on — but for many folks, including entrepreneurs, it’s the source of endless consternation.
It doesn’t have to be. Here’s how I think about coming up with a name for something — a company, a new product, even a project you might be working on.
Rule #1: Don’t Overthink It.
A name means nothing till those using it make it mean something.
So be willing to consider non obvious, even crazy names. Google? I mean, really, Google? And….Yahoo?! Alibaba? APPLE?
We at NewCo regularly throw around the term “NewCo” to describe the type of company that presents on our unique “unconference” platform in cities around the world. We thought it would be important to break down this term and describe exactly what we believe constitutes a NewCo. So, here’s an update on our original post, newly edited by co-founder John Battelle.