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12 tech leaders’ resolutions for 2012

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Stay nervous

By Scott McNealy, Chairman, WayIn (as told to Derrick Harris)

Scott McNealy was one of the four founders of Sun Microsystems, where he served as CEO until stepping down in 2000. In 2011, McNealy reemerged onto the tech scene with his new startup WayIn, a social networking platform through which users share their sentiments on specific topics. We wanted to find out how the startup scene has changed in the 29 years since McNealy launched Sun, and whether an enterprise IT veteran making a social media play has changed along with it.

The big trends in the coming year are pretty obvious. Big data–we’re only accelerating in terms of the amount of data that’s being gathered. So deduplication technology is going to be big. Data warehouses, data analytics, the kind of stuff that Greenplum and EMC are doing–that’s going to be huge.

Somebody has to step in front of the open source parade any really lead it, because the community is too large to not have a spiritual leader at the enterprise level. Now that Sun is gone and Larry [Ellison], well, sharing isn’t his middle name, so somebody needs to take the lead.

And here’s the most interesting thing that I think will change–we get 5G, WiMAX everywhere, and HTML5, and now you don’t need apps. Back to the cloud, as opposed to the seven pages of applications that I have on my iPad alone. Now I have personal computer again in my hand. It’s kind of a pendulum that swings back and forth.

I’m always pining away for my old Sun Ray. I hate my Mac. I hate my phone. The amount of time our family spends on administrating this stuff is outrageous. The horror of the expenses we pay to keep upgrading the client! I had the same Sun Ray in my home office for seven years. It’s the best computing in the world–absolutely stateless, data-less, super-thin. It is still the right answer, and we’ll get there someday.

The good news, bad news part about this industry is that it’s a little bit like the fashion business. Apple’s technology is not great, but it’s fashionable. What Steve Jobs understood was that he was more like Calvin Klein than he was like Andy Bechtolsheim.

I come from the enterprise side, where if your product has real value, you can sell it. On the consumer side, it’s like Top 40 music. You’ve gotta have a hit. Legislating a hit is a little harder to do than legislating a value-add enterprise product. Now, the upside on a consumer hit is way higher than on the enterprise side. The enterprise side takes a lot longer to build, but it’s a lot more durable.

With WayIn, we’ve tried to have a good balance of both–something that’s psychotically addictive to the individual consumer, yet has explicit value we can charge enterprise customers for. We’re also trying to take a big enough swipe at the market to be revolutionary and not just evolutionary.

I think WayIn is one of the few social, mobile, cloud, big data things that actually has explicit enterprise value. We can offer companies real insights, because we’re not talking about inferred consumer sentiment. We ask users direct questions. The whole social/mobile thing hasn’t really solved the conversation issue, and we’re closing the feedback loop.

We’re trying to do all the things I wish we’d done at Sun back in the old days. We’re very lean and mean, 25 people, and we’ve outsourced a lot of the non-core functions, so we’re very flexible. I think we’re modern in terms of cloud computing, big data, HTML5, Hadoop, smart phones, all the rest of it. Organizationally, we’re running on Amazon, so we’re able to get to market quickly without having to put a lot of capital in. I’m chairman, not CEO, which is sort of like being a grandfather instead of a father, which is way better in dirty-diaper mode. So I’m smarter that way. But I’m not so smart, because I’m putting my own money into this one as opposed to other people’s money.

It’s still crazy. I’m still nervous as all get-out. I find myself up in the middle of the night thinking about the business, but it’s fun. I mean, that’s why you’re in the game. If you’re not anxious, if you’re not worrying, why be in it? You should be out there trying to make stuff happen. It’s not risk-free, but it sure feels good.

You know what I like most about this? I stepped down from Sun eight years ago because my boys were 2, 4, 6 and 8 years old, and I wanted to be with them. Now, they’re 10, 12, 14 and 16. Wayne Gretzky’s kids never really got to see him play hockey. My boys are getting to see me do what I do. They’re all using the app and coming up with great suggestions. When they get home from school, they ask, “How’s WayIn doing, Dad?” and they actually want to know.

It may not be successful, but they may learn more from it failing. Seeing how something gets started and watching it grow quickly is always more interesting than watching Oracle morph.

42 Responses to “12 tech leaders’ resolutions for 2012”

  1. Daniel Mbure

    I like the human face to technology bit and the acceptance that technology can become overwhelming. I think more tech entrepreneurs should help users deal with the deluge of information rather than adding even more information to an already overflowing knowledge stream. As someone once said, and the big data debate supports this, the future belongs to the information curators, not the information creators.

    • alex vernon

      I actually like that as an entrepreneur, he brought up physical activity. I find that its critical to get a good oxygen rush in at least a couple times a week as well.

  2. This gave me some ideas. Now, I’m having trouble with my resolution: Be a better manager or be a better leader? I think there’s a difference between the two. I would love to see technology humanized this year and we have a lot to clean up amidst all that clutter. More success to all this 2012!

  3. panjwani_ajay

    dans story reminds me of the problem of electricity grids where half the power gets wasted in transmission. in telecom too, there is no need for owners of networks to provide services too. have number portability and have a separation between network ownership and service providers

  4. panjwani_ajay

    pixel qi is following apple model – designed in us made in china. that indicates the onset of higher optimizations for higher margins. and that is where the conspiracy lies. those mit stanford phds were always at hand watching china under optimize all over the place. only when the margins got wafer thin did these phds decide to add intellectual property margins

  5. Carol Wyatt

    GREAT!!! I agree with you about women being more hesitant. I also want women to push for society to accept us as Mom’s and Dad’s with lives. The American workplace is not child friendly and we shouldn’t have to sacrifice our family’s quality of life for careers, or vice versa. At least this is the case in the entertainment industry. I hope we can stop working crazy hours and spend some time with our families and friends.

  6. Peter Mullen

    Nice post Mr. Hesse and I’ve been a loyal Sprint customer since the year 2000 but you guys still screw your existing customers under contract and always favor new customers when new handsets come out (which is pretty rare). But, you guys still are the best of the big 3 in the US.

  7. If you look at the world through a pair of eyes then naturally we surmise that there might be more considering the lack of use of the most part of our brain…then stating that we might neurologically partake of data and images in the future is plainly stating the bleedin obvious.

    I see that we strive forward as a collective group of engineers trying to convince the world that 3D is the next step…when it may damage eyes to the point that we had better, and pretty soon find the answer to the absorbtion of images neurologically because we may be on route blinding a generation….The folly of the human being and the “no sir nicotine is not harmful” attitude of businessmen is a frightening legacy!

  8. panjwani_ajay

    we are facing tech evolution so fast that we are increasingly lagging behind. in such a situation, the best thing we can do and should do is work from first principles. in an ideal business setup, there is no profit or loss. also we need to separate the goals from the paths. these three form the basis of all my thinking about how technology can improve our lives FP / IB / GP

  9. panjwani_ajay

    it does not matter if the net is open or closed, what matters is the extent of run time criteria vs compile time criteria. we live in a world of power gradients, which are maintained indicating the absense of a countervailing force. this is possible if resistance buildup is nipped in the bud, which requires run time criteria.

  10. “A few years ago, Google started favoring some of their own websites over others. They left a path of scorched earth through many prominent businesses and publishers.”

    It’s fairly irresponsible to say this without justifying it. Which Google services are you referring to, and which businesses were hurt by it? There are many individual cases you could be referring to, with varying degrees of debatability.

  11. Wilson Zorn

    GREAT article. But linking from the “12 tech leaders’ resolutions” was both inaccurate (given there are no “resolutions” here) and unnecessary (as I was enticed to come to the article via an NRF newsletter linking this and that newsletter gave a quote from this particular article – I have no interest in reading tech leaders’ resolutions).

    Further it was difficult to get to this page from the page introducing the 12 leaders’ resolutions, as the text on the photos was in many cases unreadable, especially for this Mullenweg article. I got to this as I could make out the “Open” word and guessed this was Mullenweg’s likeness.

    Second attempt at commenting – seriously, my comment doesn’t appear and no notification like “pending approval of the comment” because I chose “guest” instead of one of the commercial services? Fine, I logged in via Twitter this time. But this really needs to fix its messaging and/or technical issues (I’m not sure which it is). Apologies if this resulted in a double post.

  12. A GREAT article but please note that grouping it under “leaders’ New Year’s resolutions” was wholly unnecessary and misleading (given there were no resolutions, and anyway I did not go to this article because of “resolutions” but rather because I saw a quote from the article in an NRF newsletter regarding the increasingly closed nature of the web). And it wasn’t easy to get here from the page that showed the photos because the text was poorly printed in contrast so that many of the names I couldn’t read, I happened to guess correctly at Matt Mullenweg’s likeness.

  13. Philip has a lot to say , but there is a silicon valley assumption hidden here that no company is valid unless it has VC investment and makes a quick exit. Anything else is derided as a “lifestyle business.” When you take VC or angel money you instantly change who your customer is. No longer are you solving a problem for a million people, you are now solving an investment criteria for a very few investors. Don’t do it. Find a small enough piece of the market/problem and using you own funding go to market and grow organically. Keep focused on your real customer. They have far more money that any VC. Only take money from friends and family who are giving you money because they love you. Think Bill Gates, not Google. The math is rather simple. A typical VC funds less than 1 in 100 business plans that they see and 90% of their funded businesses are failures (by VC standards). Why would you want to twisted your life’s work for such slim odds.

  14. Good Article….But I think that looking for funding may not be synonymous with technology that brings about “real” and “Lasting” change.
    Real and Lasting change could involve putting the “Community” that adds value to your service first in a way that may eventually break the cycle of inequitable distribution of monetary value to the “Corp”

  15. I have always enjoyed McNealy. Cool dude. But come on! You left SUNW because the stock was crashing and you wanted out of a dying business…Not because you wanted to spend time with your kids,

  16. Why shouldn’t they? ABC advertises ABC shows and not NBC or CBS’s. This is one reason why some people and companies create large networks (whether they are broadcast or information networks); to help promote each other.

  17. “A few years ago, Google started favoring some of their own websites over others” I am happy for google to provide me an option “do you want our services to be displayed first or not” and I’d check that blindly because so far, google’s services have been much better at providing me with what I need.

  18. Boz Bundalo

    Putting Steve Jobs and open web and open source in the same article is blasphemy. I don’t know how you can connect the two and be serious. He was the embodiment of everything you are afraid of. Proprietary platforms driven by locking users in so they cannot leave and have to keep buying things for him under the excuse of “experience”.

    And the reason why others will try to think about what would Steve do is because everyone saw that locked down, proprietary approach is making A TON of money. He single-handedly contributed and instigated what you are afraid of.

    • Steve Jobs was successful in many ways. There are lessons that can be learnt from what he did, and those lessons can be applied to any technology, be it open source.

      And user experience is not an excuse. Its the reason people buy things. Try making stuff without it, and see if you are able to sell a single piece of it.

    • panjwani_ajay

      apple being closed does not mean that one cannot browse certain sites. think of apple as a company that charges double ( consumers hate that) but delivers half tco (businesses love that). and it is able to pull that off only by keeping certain things closed.

      • Vincent Amari

        May be so, but 2 weeks into my new Android phone and I’m still struggling to export MY sms text messages from MY iPhone. Even Apple support doesn’t respond to my requests for help with this. I think they forget I was a customer for many years, and if this was easily resolved I could become a customer again!