Watson’s Reckoning

Watson’s Reckoning

To most in the know, IBM’s Watson has long been considered more hype and marketing than technical reality. Presented as infinitely capable, bleeding edge technology, you might think the well-known Watson brand would be delivering explosive growth to IBM.

Reality is far different. IBM’s stock is down in a roaring market. The company is, in effect, laying off thousands of workers by ending its work-from-home policy. More than $60M has perhaps been wasted by MD Anderson on a failed Watson project. All of this is happening against the backdrop of a rapidly expanding market for Machine Learning solutions.

But why? I saw Watson dominate on Jeopardy.

And dominate it did, soundly beating Ken Jennings and Brad Reuter. So think for a moment about what Watson was built to do. Watson, as was proven then, is a strong Q&A engine. It does a fine job in this realm and was truly state of the art…in 2011. In this rapidly-expanding corner of the tech universe, that’s an eternity ago. The world has changed exponentially, and Watson hasn’t kept pace.

So what’s wrong with Watson?

  • It’s not the all-encompassing answer to all businesses. It offers some core competencies in Natural Language and other domains, but Watson, like any Machine Learning tech, and perhaps more than most, requires a high degree of customization to do anything useful. As such, it’s a brand around which Big Blue sells services. Expensive services.
  • The tech is now old. The bleeding edge of Machine Learning is Deep Learning, leveraging architectures Watson isn’t built to support.
  • The best talent is going elsewhere. With the next generation of tech leaders competing for talent, IBM is now outgunned.
  • …and much more discussed here.

The Machine Learning market is strong and growing. IBM has been lapped by Google, Facebook, and other big-name companies, and these leaders are open sourcing much of their work.

Will Watson survive? Time will tell.

Mark Zuckerberg, Global Editor-in-Chief


Mark Zuckerberg, Global Editor-in-Chief

Not a hot take:  Facebook is a media company


Not just a “social” media company. Simply put, they’re the world’s biggest media company.

What about Google?  Not a media company.

But Google Plus?  Irrelevant.  Google News?  Curated differently, and far less — professional media only, promoted based on preferences and relevance.


So why Facebook?  Curation.

The day Facebook started curating our feeds is the day it became a media company. I’m not complaining or even suggesting there’s an alternative. Whatever the underlying exact metrics that govern our feeds, they are critical to our use of the platform and FB would be a noisy shit-show without these smart, useful measures.

The fact that these decisions are being made by computers and on the fly doesn’t absolve Facebook of editorial responsibility. The algorithms report to the engineers and the engineers to Mark. So now, as has been the case for a while but was forcefully exposed this fall, he’s got significant editorial responsibility.

Facebook stands alone in its reach, relevance, and responsibility. Mark Zuckerberg is now the world’s Editor-in-Chief.

Think that’s hyperbole? Not with 1.8B MAUs. Not with a market cap over $300B. And not when you’re the founding CEO who is the face of and wield significant shareholder voting control over, the company.

This isn’t simply about fake news, or silos, confirmation bias bubbles and the like. It’s much bigger than what’s trending, how, and why. As the world’s preeminent news organization, Facebook is going to have to figure out all of this and more.

This is a huge, complicated problem. Balancing their business objectives and this enormous responsibility will be difficult, but it’s in their interest, and their customers’ interests, to make the necessary investments in this area. Fortunately, they have billions in cash and many smart people on the team.


So Mark — years ago, you probably did imagine yourself in Bill Gates’ shoes. You’ve done that. Awesome. Congrats. Now welcome to a whole new level of responsibility you may never have considered.

Best of luck. The fourth estate may depend on it.

A Tale of Two Companies

A Tale of Two Companies

Having wound down my startup, I’m on the hunt for a new job. As many of you know well, the whole process sucks.

I’d like to relate (and offer commentary on, of course) a couple of recent experiences with Boston area startups. It’s a quick peek into the true culture of these companies and offers immediate insight into where you might want to work, or NOT.


Company 1 — Drift

Role:  Sales          Fit for my experience:   Very Good

A customer-centric business founded by some ridiculously successful entrepreneurs. Given their success and likely ability to draw talent from wherever they choose, they could take an aloof approach to recruiting and hiring. They don’t.

Contacting Drift was unexceptional, except to the extent it was human. I emailed the recruiter. He got back to me within a couple of hours to report that they’d filled that role, but he’d like to stay in touch on future opportunities.

Fast. Professional. Honest. Warm.

I doubt it took him more than a couple of minutes to create just a little more good will toward the company. I expect he does this every day. I expect everyone there does this every day. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do as people and as a business. As a startup business, it’s not an overwhelming amount of work and simply the right thing to do.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever be under real consideration for a role at Drift, but I’m certain that, culturally, it’s a place I’d want to work.


Company 2 — let’s call them BevSpot

Role:  VP, Sales          Fit for my experience:   Fair

SaaS. Rookie founders.

Per their process, I emailed careers@. As a sales pro, I use Streak in my Gmail to track opens. I know my thoughtful, professional, and job and company-specific cover letter email was opened. I assume my resume was viewed. But there was no response from BevSpot, not even the usual “Thanks. We got it. We’ll be in touch if appropriate.” That’s a reasonable minimum expectation.

Applicants deserve to know that they’re in the queue, not simply in a black hole. Further, a startup making its first executive hire owes thoughtful, professional applicants a professional response. Tell me to pound sand. I can take it. That’s far better than nothing.

After hearing nothing for three weeks, I followed up. It wasn’t a “please interview me” email.

I know someone read my email — Liz? Courtney? — because I’m a sales pro who tracks even some personal email.
BevSpot is growing up and this VP Sales hire needs to be an experienced, professional adult. It’s time for your hiring practices to reflect the company’s maturation.
At a minimum, you owe applicants, at least the serious ones, a basic acknowledgement that their email / resume was received. That’s the minimum. Fortunately, you can implement that today.
I don’t expect this will help my candidacy. (Regardless, I’ve done this before — helped SaaS businesses grow, and grow up. I’m ready to do it again, but convincing you to interview me isn’t my aim here.) This is about helping you build and defend your brand. Maybe you can just ignore fresh grads. I wouldn’t, but there’s less harm in it, I suppose. With an expectation of success, the VP Sales role won’t be your last experienced hire. Professional adults just want to be treated like… professional adults.

No, I didn’t expect this would help me get the job, but it felt good to vent a little, I believe I’m 100% in the right, and maybe I can help them treat future applicants better.

This email was opened within hours. Still nothing from BevSpot. About 100 employees, two people working in People Operations, and recruitment is already broken.

Weeks later, and after noticing that the role had been filled, I emailed the CEO to relay my experience, which I viewed as unprofessional. He responded apologetically within 12 hours. Still nothing from People Operations. Hacks.

This is not a place you want to work. This isn’t sour grapes, I promise. This is an organization that, despite being early stage and small, already has a culture problem. They treat people like shit, and you don’t even have to take my word for it.


One of these companies clearly is and will continue to be, a great place to work.

One of these companies will be successful.

The other? Without a cultural enema, not so much.

Yes, the job hunt sucks. But sometimes there’s valuable insight buried inside the frustration. And this much insight was available without even interviewing.


*** Update 12/16/16:  Broken culture. Broken company.