Former Sony CEO Idei hired as consultant for Chinese game developer Youzu

The crowd at ChinaJoy 2015.

Here’s a sign of the times. Nobuyuki Idei, former CEO of Sony and a man with a lot of clout, has been hired as a consultant for Chinese game developer Youzu.

Nobuyuki Idei

Above: Nobuyuki Idei

Image Credit: Sony

Youzu Interactive chairman and chief executive Lin Qi said that the company has hired Idei as consultant to serve as a one-man “think tank” for the firm during the implementation of its global deployment strategy.

At a signing ceremony at the ChinaJoy game trade show in Shanghai, Qi said that younger business leaders will need guidance from global leaders such as Idei.


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Idei was responsible for much of Sony’s global expansion during its heyday years, but he was also one of the most controversial executives in the history of Sony. He had the reputation as a traditional entrepreneur who knew the Internet’s importance.

After leaving Sony in 2005, he set up Quantum Leaps Corp., a sci-tech consulting firm. Idei said at the signing ceremony that he is quite familiar with China and bullish about the Chinese market and capacity that Chinese firms have for innovation and development.

Qi’s Youzu is making games, movies and other entertainment. The company has more than 1,000 employees, and its online and mobile games are played in more than 70 countries. The company’s biggest hit is League of Angels. That hit enabled Youzu to go public in June 2014.

The company is in the process of setting up operations in North America, Europe, Southeast Asia, and Taiwan. Mob.com, acquired by Youzu Interactive ,has been installed on more than 2 billion mobile devices worldwide.

 


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Resist the temptation of a brand spin-off — we learned this the hard way

who are you

Since becoming the CEO of 99designs four years ago, I’ve quickly learned about what goes into establishing a brand. As a company, we viewed our dedication to growing a brand founded on crowd-sourced design contests as one of our greatest strengths. However, our tunnel vision of what our core business was supposed to be, versus what it was evolving into, led us to a failed launch of what we thought would be our next big business.

Our customers kept asking for quick, on-the-spot design work that was easy enough as to not warrant a design contest. So we launched an entirely separate brand: Swiftly — a service that guaranteed small design tasks completed in under an hour. Because this service was not a design contest, we felt it didn’t belong as part of the 99designs brand.

Given the customer demand, we thought Swiftly would immediately take off. It did not. The new brand confused customers; they didn’t see the connection between the companies or understand the difference in product offerings. Similar to Netflix’s 2011 attempt to spin off its DVD business into a separate company, there wasn’t a sense of trust in the new brand. A year later, we had to admit Swiftly wasn’t going to cut it on its own.


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We had to make the choice either to drop the service completely or to integrate it into our 99designs offering. When faced with the decision to either let our customers down or change the way we viewed our brand, it became glaringly obvious what to do — we integrated the service into 99designs. Our customers led us to a new identity. We are no longer just a design contest company; we are a design company, period. Here’s what we learned through this experience:

Listen to Your Customers

We thought we had listened to our customers, which is why we launched Swiftly. We didn’t realize that they were asking for quick and easy design from 99designs. If you have already established a good relationship with your current customers, don’t let that trust go to waste. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try to establish a second brand if it makes sense; just make the most from the work you’ve already done. Be very clear in your communications to your current customers as to what this new brand is, the reasoning behind it, and what it offers differently. Don’t assume they will just get it.

Talk to Your Customers

When is the last time you spent an hour answering customer service calls or responding to customer emails? I first realized Swiftly didn’t resonate because almost every time I walked by our customer service team I heard the name Swiftly come up. “It’s spelled like the word swift. It’s not Swift dot ly, it’s one word. Yes, it’s from 99designs. No, it doesn’t work like that.”

There’s no online survey or email questionnaire that cuts to the root of the problem as fast and effectively as taking some time to talk directly to your customers, so hop on the phone. Also, there’s no better audience off of which to bounce new ideas. Ask them directly for feedback so they feel like part of the journey.

Be Their Brand

Your brand is not only what you want it to be. It is what your customers believe it is. Because we were primarily building a company based on contests and that is what we thought our customers knew us for, we put too much focus on the how (design contests) versus the why (design that customers want). This limited us in how we defined our brand and closed different avenues that could have facilitated design in different ways.

Allow your customers to decide how they use your product or service. If you make beautifully handcrafted red oak jewelry boxes, and for whatever reason people start to put sandwiches in them to take to work, guess what? You’re a lunchbox maker too! Embrace the gift your customers have given you and let it inspire you.

This experience taught us a lot. Letting go of the brand we wanted and becoming the brand our customers wanted us to be has been empowering. Don’t be afraid to let go, and trust that your customers will take you where they need you to go.

Patrick Llewellyn is CEO of 99designs.


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Our startup got rid of email, meetings, and managers — and thrived

The MT team at work

Our company has just turned eight years old, has a presence in all of Latin America, and currently has 36 members on its team. Our biggest obsession: productivity.

Since 2007 we have analyzed in detail each one of the tasks we carry out with the goal of scaling our earnings exponentially while keeping our number of work hours the same.

As a result, six years ago we eliminated email, three years ago we eliminated meetings, and now we work without project managers and have a four-day work week. Here’s why we implemented these three changes and how we did it:


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1. Email

The first thing that came to our attention, years ago, was the negative impact that the use of emails was having on our company. What keeps surprising me, even today, is how the rest of the world still does not recognize that email, which is now over 20 years old, is the least productive tool we can use. We decided to eliminate it completely for all internal communication (and little by little for external communication). The two main disadvantages of email:

  1. Email encapsulates information. This means that when we exchange comments, suggestions, and inquiries, the rest of the company remains blocked off from knowing about our progress. It is communication behind closed doors. Meanwhile, the ideal is that all the documents are directly accessible at all times to whoever may need them — as are details on the state and degree of development of the project.
  2. Email ends up being a list of personalized tasks for each team member. It is the place where we go every day to see what our next task is. And this develops into an unorganized way to progress, without clear priorities. It certainly doesn’t help us to be correctly synchronized with the rest of our workmates.

How did we solve this?

We developed our own tool for work, specifically designed for our needs but very similar to what Trello currently offers. It is a control panel that we all have access to, where we can see all of the company’s projects as well as know in real time the degree of development on each.

If someone needs to be added to an ongoing project, it is not necessary to resend hundreds of emails (in a totally unorganized way) for them to be able to integrate themselves; they can simply go into the history of the project and see what has been done since the beginning, how it was carried out, and what remains to be done — then they can begin working immediately.

Additionally, today, we’ve given our clients access to our control panel as well, so they can see how we are advancing, without receiving external emails such as: “Any news on the project?”, “How much longer until the next delivery?”, etc.

2. Meetings

The second thing we decided to completely eliminate was meetings. As a technological company, each team member is a programmer, and as such, we need an average of four continuous hours in the morning and four continuous hours in the afternoon in order to write code with the highest amount of productivity.

The “interruption” that is represented by attending a meeting always has a higher cost for a programmer than that of a manager. This is due to the fact that the manager’s agenda is basically composed of one meeting after the other. But for the programmer, just one meeting per day can have a 50 percent impact on their daily production.

Typically, meetings are used to find out how the work is advancing and to discuss any problems with the project manager and workmates. In order to rid ourselves of meetings, we use the same control panel that we implemented for eliminating emails. There, everyone can know the progress and state of the project and what each of the team members is working on at any given moment, without the need for interrupting their productivity.

If a specific problem arises that needs discussion, we use Campfire, which is a chat designed for group communication. But then how does this differ from a meeting? The advantage is that the communication is asynchronous. So it’s not necessary to stop what we are doing at that moment and lose our concentration; we can finish our four hours of continuous work, then, when we have the time and concentration, we can answer any pending inquiry.

In this new work method, our communication is not only asynchronous but is also exclusively text-based. This text can later be read by a new member who wants to collaborate on the project (or those who were on vacation, sick, or out of the office) without taking precious time from those who are already working on it.

3. Managers

Lastly, we determined over a year ago that we wanted to work without managers. Now we do not need someone to control our progress, because everything is online and visible to all of our workmates — which project we are working on, how we are handling it technically, how long it is taking us, what resources we are using, and what results we have achieved.

It is very easy for a programmer to know if their colleague is doing their work on time and in correct form. But the problem we had before was that, as Google cofounder and CEO Larry Page said: “Engineers shouldn’t have to be supervised by managers with limited tech knowledge.”

In order for this work method to work, we have two guidelines:

  1. We only hire proactive engineers; that is, people who do not need to be controlled all the time to do their job. Basically we choose other entrepreneurs like ourselves.
  2. When they join our company, we propose that they have a “vesting” program so that in the future they can be owners of the company.

In our way of seeing the world, an adult does not need to be managed. We are all grown up. So we give total autonomy to our team members and delegate them responsibility. We measure their performance exclusively by results. I would like to share this excellent TED presentation about this last point that invites us to think about a new age, posterior to and totally different from the industrial age.

Thanks to our increased productivity, we’ve been able to move to a schedule of working only four days a week. That’s only possible because we eliminated email as a way of communication, recognizing that meetings with the technology team are not necessary, and understood that each individual we work with should be 100 percent independent, autonomous, and responsible for the work delegated to them.

Christian Renella and Hernán Amiune are cofounders of MT Online in Mexico. They are both .NET programmers and professors at the Universidad Católica de Córdoba.


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U.S. regulator says hacking risk may be broader than Fiat Chrysler

A Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sign is pictured after being unveiled at Chrysler Group World Headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan on May 6, 2014. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

WASHINGTON (By David Morgan, Reuters) — The cybersecurity issues that led Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV to recall 1.4 million vehicles last month could pose a problem for cars and trucks from other automakers, the top U.S. auto safety regulator said on Friday.

Mark Rosekind, who heads the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said his watchdog agency is trying to determine how many car makers have received radios from the company that supplied Fiat Chrysler.

“The supplier didn’t just supply radios to Chrysler but to a lot of other manufacturers,” Rosekind told reporters. “A lot of our work now is trying to find out how broad the vulnerability could be.”


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Rosekind did not identify the radio supplier. Charlie Miller, one of two hacking experts who uncovered the problem, told Reuters the radio was a Uconnect system from Harman International Industries Inc. Harman officials were not immediately available for comment.

The potential raises the possibility of more automaker recalls over hacking vulnerabilities, an issue that has grabbed the attention of regulators, lawmakers and the public. On Thursday, a researcher warned that hackers could exploit a security flaw in a mobile app for General Motors Co’s OnStar vehicle communications system.

In the first action of its kind for the auto industry, Fiat Chrysler last week announced the recall of 1.4 million U.S. vehicles to install software to prevent hackers from gaining remote control of the engine, steering and other systems.

The announcement by FCA US LLC, formerly Chrysler Group LLC, followed reports that cybersecurity researchers had used a wireless connection to turn off a Jeep Cherokee’s engine as it drove, increasing concerns about the safety of Internet-enabled vehicles.

The researchers used Fiat Chrysler’s telematics system to break into a volunteer’s Cherokee being driven on the highway and issue commands to the engine, steering and brakes.

“This is the shot across the bow. Everybody’s been saying ‘cybersecurity’. Now you’ve got to step up,” Rosekind said. “You’ve got to see the entire industry proactively dealing with these things.”

NHTSA has already been in contact with the Jeep Cherokee researchers and hopes to learn more not only about their work but how serious a reaction they have seen from the auto industry.

“It’s not just about the hack. It’s what the response from the industry has been to see whether or not their issues have been acknowledged and what they’re planning. And that’s the part we have to see going forward,” Rosekind said.

Rosekind said NHTSA is also collecting information about potential issues involving GM’s OnStar, but has not begun a formal investigation.

(Additional reporting by Jim Finkle in Boston and Bernie Woodall in Detroit)










Data scientists to CEOs: You can’t handle the truth

not listening

Too many big data initiatives fail because companies, top to bottom, aren’t committed to the truth in analytics. Let me explain.

In January 2015, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and Teradata (full disclosure: also my employer) released the results of a major study aimed at identifying how businesses that are successful at being data-driven differ from those that are not.

Among its many findings, there were some particularly troubling, “code red” results that revealed CEOs seem to have a rosier view of a company’s analytics efforts than directors, managers, analysts, and data scientists. For example, EIU found that CEOs are more likely to think that employees extract relevant insights from the company’s data – 38 percent of them hold this belief, as compared to 24 percent of all respondents and only 19 percent of senior vice presidents, vice presidents, and directors. Similarly, 43 percent of CEOs think relevant data are captured and made available in real time, compared to 29 percent of all respondents.


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So why is there such a disconnect? It turns out the answer is much more human than the size of a company’s data coffers, or the technology stockpiled to analyze it. Big data initiatives fall down at the feet of biases, bad assumptions, and the failure, or fear, of letting the data speak for itself. As insights make their way up the corporate ladder, from the data scientist to the CEO, the truth in analytics is lost along the way. And this leads to a cumulative effect of unintended consequences.

Communicate the Known-Unknowns to Your CEO

Take the idea of known risks, for example. In analytics, you always have to make some assumptions because the data hardly ever paints a complete picture. So, you have to identify and rank those risks to understand what might happen when assumptions go wrong. In some cases, the risks aren’t tied to big consequences. But, in other cases, it can be devastating.

Look at the stock market crash of 2008. A whole host of people made a simple and logical assumption that home prices would only go up. But most analysts didn’t experiment enough with what would happen if prices actually fell. Well, now we know what would happen. It was almost a global calamity. The people investing in the pre-housing crisis bubble were working on an assumption that was very flawed on many levels. And very few people considered, or realized, the risk until it was too late.

The same thing happens, at generally smaller scales, in businesses. The CEO doesn’t have a clear view of risk. It is up to the data scientists, business analysts and their managers to make the CEO well aware of the risk in assumptions. The CEO needs to understand that there is a critical, level 1 risk in assumptions – in the housing example, if prices were to go down, this whole thing falls apart. Even if that risk is unlikely, at least it is on the table. Many people are uncomfortable discussing such negatives with senior executives and many senior executives don’t like to hear it. But to succeed, everyone must get past that hurdle.

Get Past the Culture of Fear of the Truth

Then there is the fear of the truth, with a bit of cognitive bias thrown in. For example, it is very common that sales people, when asked for their forecast, even armed with data on historical performance and current pipeline, are generally not sure if they are going to hit their number. But, typically, they’ll tell the VP of sales they will hit their forecasts – unless, of course, a miss is very apparent. They share the information they’re expected to share, and withhold any acknowledgement that the numbers are malleable.

The problem arises in the aggregate: The VP gets a rosy picture from five sales people on her team, even though they all have serious doubts, so she puts that assumption in and the data rolls up to the CEO, or CFO. In reality, the metric is underpinned by a huge amount of doubt. The truth is buried under the fear of losing one’s job and the cultural expectation that the goal will be met. Failure is not an option. However, while it is likely several of the sales people will manage to hit their number, the chance that they all will is small. This makes the VPs figures even more unrealistic than the initial estimates.

So what happens? Everyone is shocked when the company misses its forecast. This is an example of where people sugarcoat a little at the low end, and the cumulative effect leads to the business incorrectly forecasting company-wide results.

Don’t Underestimate the Future of the Truth

Another common problem is underestimating, or simply not considering, the confidence level in the analytics results that the CEO is being fed. Maybe we are comfortable with the data and the assumptions, we’ve asked the right questions and we’ve taken the risks into consideration, but we haven’t assessed the confidence level of our predictions. This gets into classic model assessment techniques in analytics. Is the forecast plus-or-minus 1 percent or 20 percent? If it is critical to increase sales by 5 percent and the model predicts 10 percent sales growth within plus-or-minus 5 percent, then we’re probably fine. But if the model predicts 10 percent sales growth plus or minus 15 percent, then we might be closing up shop at the end of the year if we aren’t careful.

So, What Needs to Change?

The culture around how data is viewed and data-driven decisions are made has to change. If a data scientist brings all the assumptions and risks to a boardroom conversation only to get chewed up and spat out, the next time he enters that boardroom, he’ll be sure to hide the negative truths. But, when the culture encourages curiosity and impartial acceptance of the story the data tells, then those who keep the data are free to share what they know and won’t be afraid to point to the data, all the data, and not just the rosy bits. The CEO must take the responsibility to actively ask about risks and foster a culture of transparency. But so too does everyone else. Team members at all levels need to take responsibility for holding to the truth in the data and maintaining complete transparency when communicating up the corporate hierarchy.

Executives have to ask their people to do this due diligence as they pass up the results, and they have to ask the questions back down so it becomes a conversation around data, not simply a one-sided dashboard, or presentation. In some cases, there may not be any material risk, but the fact you intelligently reached that conclusion demonstrates that you have the discipline to make the assessment. As a CEO or senior executive, you can’t assume everyone did a great job of validating all the potential risks and made all the right assumptions. You have to ask for the truth and be willing to handle it.

Bill Franks is Chief Analytics Officer at Teradata, where he provides insight on trends in the analytics and big data space. He is author of the book Taming The Big Data Tidal Wave and most recently published his second book, The Analytics Revolution. He is an active speaker and a faculty member of the International Institute for Analytics. Find him at www.bill-franks.com.


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