In Eric Ries’ new book, he tells companies to turn every unit into a cash-strapped ‘startup’

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All companies are startups until they aren’t. Many struggle to find their way back, too. It’s not the days of constrained resources or terrible pay or the heart-stopping uncertainty that they’re missing, of course. Instead, the problem is that it’s a lot harder to implement change at an “established” organization, particularly one that’s making money. Yet the smartest companies know change is crucial. As journalist Alan Deutschman wrote a dozen years ago, including in a book of the same title: “Change or die.”

Because that’s easier said than done, CEOs are always seeking out new ideas. Enter the brand-new book of engineer and entrepreneur Eric Ries, whose last tome, The Lean Startup, became an instant best-seller when it was first published in 2011.

In his latest effort, The Startup Way, Ries says the way to stay on top can be traced to two things: treating employees like customers, and treating business units like startups — replete with their own constrained budgets, and even their own boards. Ries offers fairly concrete suggestions regarding how to implement both, too. “A lot of people write manifestos and basically say, ‘Do what I say,’” says Ries. “I try to get away from that. The details matter a lot.”

We caught up with Ries earlier today to learn more about the book, which will be available to buy beginning Tuesday.

TC: You established a name for yourself with The Lean Startup, which basically told founders to get a minimally viable product into the market, then fix it. Can founders still do that in an age where big companies are getting bigger and moving faster to either copy products, or else acquire their teams?

ER:  People said that years ago about Microsoft, too, that it was going to dominate the internet with its monopoly power. Disruption still brings new power players to the fore. But today, because Facebook and Amazon and Google are so good at what they do, startups do need to up their game. There was a time when you had one innovation that you could ride for decades. That’s over. Continuous reinvention is crucial now. Otherwise, you’re toast.

TC: What about the giant financing rounds of today, even at the seed stage — do they signal the death of the so-called lean startup? 

ER: “Lean” never referred to the size of a round. It’s about lean manufacturing and using resources more effectively. Also, huge rounds are really for the privileged few. I’m in Columbus right now, and [local startups] aren’t experiencing the jumbo seed round.

I will say that one commonality that Silicon Valley has with corporate innovation is that we often overfund things, which can be just as lethal as underfunding them.

TC: How did you move from advocating for lean startups to writing this new book? 

ER: When a lot of small early founders heard about the lean startup, they were excited about minimal viable products and about pivoting and learning, but they didn’t pay close attention to more boring parts like management and the need to do continuous innovation. In some cases, as these companies passed 100 employees, or even 1,000, they’d ask me to come help teach lean startups to people who work for them. You go from the person who is making innovation decisions, to supporting entrepreneurs who work for you, and they might not be as good as you or you’d be working for them.

These were my friends and I was happy to help them. At the same time, big companies were asking how they could recapture their innovative DNA and I realized how similar these issues are and thought it was worth exploring.

TC: Obviously, the need to innovate continuously isn’t a new concept. How is your advice to companies different? Is this about pulling in opinions and ideas from a more diverse group of people, either internally or externally?

ER: I’m a big believer in that thesis — diversity. But in this book, I tend to focus on structural changes: who gets promoted, how we make product decisions, the general accountability layer of a company. [In other words] how do you figure out who is doing a good job and who isn’t? Because there’s a lot of B.S. at the higher levels otherwise that distorts the decisions that are made and consequently makes it hard to attract top talent.

TC: Give us some concrete examples. Who in Silicon Valley was doing this wrong and figured it out?

ER: I talk in the book about Twilio and Dropbox and Airbnb; they all had to go through a metamorphosis to empower their internal innovators.

Dropbox, for example, had some failures and was willing to admit that some products didn’t work. Some of its product development was happening internally and some externally, but it doesn’t matter if you plant in the wrong soil. But it has since developed a much better process that looks closer to entrepreneurship.

TC: By doing what differently?

ER: You first have to look at whether you’re treating the people who work for you like entrepreneurs or something different; if you’re expecting your product managers to achieve instantaneous success, that’s not [the standard] to which you were held in the early stages of your company.

Along the same lines, if you aren’t [giving teams] clear, metered funding, how are they going to have that scarcity? It’s that mindset, that hunger, that let’s you say “no,” [to delaying product launches]. [Companies have to fight] that entitlement funding because the more money you have, the less you want to expose yourself to risk.

TC: Interesting idea. How else do you recommend that companies treat their teams like startups?

ER: We also talk about creating a growth board.

Right now, most corporate employees exist in a matrix management structure, reporting to different people and having lots of different managers who have veto power over what they do. But each time a middle manager checks in, he or she exerts a gravitation influence, and most product mangers who I meet with say they spend 50 percent of their time defending their existing budget against middle manager inquiries. That’s a massive tax on most product teams.

So we treat [these units] like a startup and create a board of [say] five execs who they report to infrequently. That way, if any middle manager has a concern, [the head of that unit] can say, “Talk to the board.”  It’s like at [ venture firm] Andreessen Horowitz. It has something like 150 employees [yet] not every person who works there gets to call a portfolio company founder. Not every limited partner who has invested in Andreessen Horowitz gets to call its founders. There are well-defined processes in place so that founders [aren’t fielding calls all day.]

TC: Of course, the downside to that is that VCs often don’t know when things go off the rails at startups. How do you convince executives that they aren’t running that risk by giving these teams so much autonomy?

ER: It only works if you do limited liability experiments. Often asking, “What’s the worst that could happen?” is like a death sentence, but you have to think through the possible downsides to mitigate them. So you only let 100 people buy the product [at the outset] and add in extra provisions and securities to ensure they have a great experience and you’re smart about the liabilities.

TC: Say that works. What happens to the already oft-maligned middle managers of the world? 

ER: There haven’t been any layoffs at the companies I’ve worked with. Companies still have to run their core business; there’s plenty for [middle managers to do] Most are horrifically overworked. Others become reborn as entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial coaches. Intuit and GE have a whole program for coaching and mentoring, and that becomes part of [managers’] job description.

This all culminates in preparing a new org chart, one that treats entrepreneurship like a corporate function that’s owned and managed. Right now, if you ask [many executives], “Who is in charge of the next big innovation,” they’ll sometimes say that everyone is in charge of it. Can you imagine if they said that everyone is in charge of marketing or finance or HR? Entrepreneurship is no different. Someone should have operational responsibility for it.

TC: Do you run into much resistance when you talk with CEOs about empowering employees in this way? It’s easy to imagine that some feel threatened, even as they know their companies need to keep innovating.

ER: What distinguishes really good CEOs is that they care about their legacy, and they’re committed to the long-term health of their organization.

But you’re right. Most CEO are not serious about change because it requires senior managers to change their behavior. You know how corporate bosses can be. This is not always a very welcome method. I’ve been kicked out of plenty of boardrooms.

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Turn Your $20s Into Tubmans With This DIY 3-D Printed Stamp

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It wasn’t long ago that Phillip Torrone and Limor Fried heard the news that the United States Treasury was considering putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. It seemed like a big moment, a beacon of progress. But when it became clear that it wouldn’t happen any time soon—the Treasury said it would wait until 2020 just to unveil the design, let alone start printing and circulating the new bills—they decided to take the switch into their own hands.

Torrone and Fried are both perpetual makers: Fried, an engineer and electronics hobbyist, founded the open-source hardware company Adafruit Industries; Torrone founded Hackaday, and has been described by this publication as a “hardware-hacking evangelist.” (Fried also appeared on the cover of WIRED in 2011, under the headline “How to Make Stuff.”) The two have been at the forefront of the Maker Movement, and regularly offer tutorials for DIY technology projects. So if the government wasn’t going to make those Harriet Tubman $20s, they figured they could do it themselves.

Using a 3-D printer and a handful of materials, they made stamps of Tubman’s face, dipped them in ink, and then stamped them onto $20 bills. And just like that, Andrew Jackson became Harriet Tubman.

“We have this technology,” says Fried. “We know how to 3-D print stamps. Instead of just making birthday card stamps, I thought it would be neat to make something a little more countercultural—something that would help people see, here’s what technology can do.”

Last week, Torrone and Fried put together a tutorial showing how to create a DIY stamp mold yourself. The process works with any image, which is then run through a lithophane generator to create the basic mold. Then, using a laser cutter, they cut away the parts they want to appear in the stamp. The stamp itself is made from two types of putty placed into the mold, then attached a handle and dipped into ink. “If you have a maker space or a hacker space, it’s a good project that lets you learn all of these technologies,” says Fried.

In their tutorial, Torrone and Fried show stamps in the likeness of Harriet Tubman and Steve Jobs. But you can imagine the possibilities of an entirely new set of figureheads on currency, representing more than just the garden variety founding fathers. Maybe people start stamping Sally Ride on the $10, Grace Hopper on the $50, Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the $100. Maybe each note represents excellence in a particular field—$5s for political heroes, $20s for cultural icons, and $100s for America’s great scientists—with a whole range of faces replacing the old white men on each bill.

Adafruit

“If you see these faces every day, they gain power. They’re on the most powerful currency in the world,” says Fried. “It’s hard to tell some girl, ‘Hey, you can grow up to be a founding father.’ No, you can’t. But you can learn about Sally Ride or Harriet Tubman and be like, ‘This person had strength in adversity and was able to do something amazing.’”

The stamps follow in a long line of similar projects. Efforts to politicize currency date at least as far back as the 1900s, when English Suffragettes stamped pennies with the message “votes for women.” More than 100 years later, after the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, a group called Society of Stampers started selling rubber stamps with politicized messages, encouraging people to “stamp big money out of politics” by pressing the messages onto every bill they touched.

While these projects are all politically charged, defacing US currency isn’t, on its face, illegal. Federal law only prohibits altering money “with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued”—that is, to take it out of circulation. Torrone and Fried’s project has exactly the opposite intent. They want their stamped bills to change hands as much as possible, so that people see them and think, Wait, is that Harriet Tubman? and then consider who they might want to represent them on their money.

“A lot of people feel helpless about the government, but this is something everyone can do in their own little way,” says Torrone. All it takes is some putty, a 3-D printer, and a vision for the future.

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What you need to know about Forza Motorsport 7 from Turn 10 Studios

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“You need a wheel controller to play these new driving video games.”

That’s been my refrain since I started using a Logitech setup and home-brew rig during my time with Polyphony Digital’s “Gran Turismo 4,” and every driving game for the Sony PlayStation since. I was a Nintendo man in the ‘80s and ’90s and then went hardcore Sony after that. I’ve probably (definitely) downplayed the “Forza” series generally and the Xbox specifically. Now I’ve seen the error of my ways. I slept on “Forza” for too long, and I’m even coming around on using a regular controller, too.

“Forza Motorsport 7” is now on sale for Xbox One and PC. Turn 10’s tour de force features more than 700 cars, ranging from classics like the 1967 Ford Falcon XR GT and 1961 Jaguar E-Type S1 to open-wheel race cars, Formula E cars, Le Mans prototypes and the new Ford GT. You can drive those hyper-realistic re-creations across 200 drives in 32 locations, most of which are honest-to-goodness racetracks: Lime Rock, Road America, Laguna Seca, Brands Hatch, Indy, Daytona, Nurburgring and Sebring, to name just a few.

There are a ton of customizable options for opponent difficulty, driver assists, race line and a bunch of other stuff. If you want to re-create the way I play it, leave ABS on, racing/braking line off (really takes away from the experience of learning the track), traction and stability control off, shifting in manual (obviously), damage is just cosmetic (I’m not a professional) rewind on (it’s cheating) and friction assist, which negates the effects of the differing surfaces, off. I moved opponent difficulty to “above average” and turned their aggression “on.” I’m being aggressive; it’s only fair.

 


Gran Turismo Sport video game driving simulator review



I don’t have a compatible wheel controller for “Forza,” which left me playing with a regular controller like some damn amateur. I’m going to re-review this game in a few weeks with a new Thrustmaster wheel in hand. Anyway, playing with the regular controller, it turns out, is not the end of the world. It’s actually kinda fun.

You don’t get that feeling of panic when you’re running headfirst into a wall or when the rest of the traffic brakes and turns while you just go straight off the wet pavement. There is some feedback in the triggers used for gas and brake. When you floor it, they vibrate, and when the brakes lock up, they do the same. It made all of the cars I drove feel way livelier than they should, but it does add a bit to the fun factor, drifting turns and such, if not the learning factor.

“Forza 7” runs at 60 frames per second, making it almost disorientingly smooth, especially when the rain, fog or nighttime rolls in. Playing from the outside-the-car view, it feels very arcade-like for what’s supposed to be a simulator. Jump inside the car, though, and everything gets a little more claustrophobic. The Audi R8 LMS, for instance, has bracing on the windshield that lands right in the center of your vision. Who would put that there!?

Like most of these games, I say crank up the stereo to hear the real engine sounds of what you’re driving, and the cars that are passing you on the left and right. And the sound of rain and the gravel traps, should you go that way.


Project Cars 2 in-game screenshot

‘Project Cars 2’ game review: Start slow

As opposed to working up through the ranks, you’ll probably want to do what I did and jump right into the highest racing levels of “Project Cars 2” — IndyCar, WEC, RallyCross, or …



Like the Codemasters games, “Forza” features a rewind button that will back you up 10 seconds or so, allowing another shot at clipping that apex. It’s obviously useful but maybe too tempting. After failing on a challenge five or 10 times, you can just say “screw it” and back up until you get it right. On the other hand, I was getting frustrated, but it’s obviously cheating, and it won’t work if you’re playing with other human drivers.

Players get a bunch of gifts, including cars and money to start a career, and by day two, my personal garage was filled with some winners. That doesn’t worry me — I still have a long way to go to collect all 700-plus. The cars are sorted into five tiers, each more impressive than the last. The top tier is called “Legendary” and includes cars like the 1988 Castrol Racing Jaguar and Koenigsegg One:1. You have to earn your way up to buy those cars, in addition to earning the credits to purchase them. Check here for a comprehensive car list.

The career mode is broken up into six levels with a bunch of disciplines including stadium trucks, sports car, open wheel, rally and more. In showcase events, you’re put into a car, say an Audi R8 LMS, and have to catch a handful of lesser Audis in one lap at Brands Hatch in England. Eventually you can work your way to the Forza Cup, with the most challenging cars and tracks.

Next time we talk, I hope to be at that level, and I also hope to get a better feel for how these cars handle in the wet, dry and snow using a driving wheel. If you’re a racing fan and own an Xbox One or PC, it’s a must buy, hands down.

I don’t know if I’ll turn in both my Sony PlayStation and “Gran Turismo” cards for it, but I might just spend a few more hours with the office Xbox trying to catch up. Now, off to build a new rig!


Audi Rally Wales

Codemasters “Dirt 4” video game review

We’re now a few weeks into Codemasters’ “Dirt 4” rally driving game, and in stark contrast to a “Project Cars” or “Gran Turismo Sport” where it’s …






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Kyle Attempts To Turn Autumn Into Summer With Three Sunny New Songs

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September is about to end, and autumn is here, but that isn’t stopping Kyle from unleashing a handful of songs tailor-made for summertime beach hangs.

The “iSpy” rapper — who’s made a solid case for himself as the happiest dude in hip-hop — dropped off three new songs on Friday (September 29), which are packed with the kind of feel-good vibes we’ve come to expect from him.

First up is the aptly titled “Sunshine,” in which Kyle tries to a coax a girl out of the cold and into the California shine: “Baby, you summertime fine / Come on down to Cali, see what summertime’s like.” R&B crooner Miguel adds his velvety vocals to the track, begging to “bathe in your light.”

Next, Kyle links up with Atlanta MC MadeinTYO for “All Mine,” a bouncy track about wanting his girl all to himself. “I’m overprotective, I’m obsessive, I’m possessive,” Kyle admits, before pleading, “Tell them other dudes to get in line / It’s all mine.”

Finally, Ty Dolla $ign is the perfect match for Kyle on “Off Of It,” a bubbly, groovy earworm in which they instruct, “If you like to move / If you like to dance / Get up off, get up off your ass.”

Clearly, seasons don’t mean a damn thing to Kyle, so take after him and add these new jams to your Fall ’17 rotation.

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