The Tipping Point

I still remember, it was not too long ago, how much I could not stand the stiletto heel pointed-toe shoes. They looked so “nineteen seventies” and old fashion. I could never imagine myself wearing things like that.

Last year, those shoes made a huge come-back. All of a sudden, they appeared on the shelves of every department store and are considered the sexiest and chicest shoes in our time. Within a matter of a few months, all my platform and square-toed shoes were completely out of fashion, and I found myself putting on the shoes I thought I would never wear.

This was the “epidemic effect” talked about by in his famous book The Tipping Point. Human beings are profoundly social beings who are influenced by and influencing others. According to Gladwell, some small number of “connectors” who are “infectious” could have big influence on ideas, products, and behaviors, resulting in world-changing impact.

The Connector Group is pioneering what I call “tipping point marketing” by engaging Silicon Valley’s top influencers and tastemakers in a for products and services by some of the most innovative companies. I felt greatly privileged to be included in this crowd. Auren Hoffman, the founder of Stonebrick Group and a true connector, is the mastermind of this event.

A dozen companies presented in the showcase. Most of them are in the space of digital media, Web 2.0 and wireless industries. Some are big name including , , and MobiTV, etc. The Valley’s popular new comers Meebo, a web-base IM service, and Sling Media, a maker of Slingbox that lets users watch TV from a PC and has just raised $46 million Series B round, also made their debut.

Among many impressive products, Google Earth showcased some amazing new features, including flying an airplane in virtual space, real time satellite images that can be zoomed into local facts, and tilting and rotating the map to see 3D buildings. I am a world traveler. Google Earth can help me to make an informed decision on my next travel plan.

We are living in an age of technology renaissance. For better or worse, consumers are facing proliferating choices. The technologies that can make their life easier or save their time are the ones they will most likely adopt.

It’s exciting to be part of this elite group that can presumably “move and shake” the future. It’s also interesting to see whether the theory of “tipping point” holds in the real world. Although the “epidemic effect” is apparent in fashion trends, for technology products and services, it may be a completely different story.

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The Crown Jewel of the Internet

“Search is the crown jewel of the Chinese Internet market.” Thus came China’s search engine war, fueled by the outpouring money from foreign investors and the overwhelming number of competitors in the market.

Shortly after Baidu’s phenomenal IPO last August, , managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, which invested $10 million for 28 percent stake in Baidu, said: “the war is already over, Baidu owns the market.”

Well, maybe not yet. Recent survey results by Keynote Systems, an Internet performance authority, show that Chinese users prefer Google to Baidu. According to Keynote, Google won the highest user ratings in 11 of 13 categories including general search, news search and image search, while Baidu came first only in music search.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Even at Baidu’s IPO frenzy, CNNIC data revealed Google beats Baidu in traffic share for individuals 25 years old and up with higher education. People who use tend to be professionals with higher income, and they use Google to search for information and knowledge. On the other hand, the majority of people who use as their primary search engine use it to search for downloadable music.

In my , I talked about local players having an upper hand against their global counterparts because of their intimate customer knowledge. So far, foreign Internet companies don’t have a good record of success in China. Yahoo!, for example, entered the market early and bled money for years, but couldn’t overtake the dominant Chinese portals.

There are certainly plenty of reasons that Google may be humbled in the China Internet market.

“History has shown us again and again,” Sohu’s CEO Charles Zhang said bluntly, “just like Yahoo! failed, Google will fail. I don’t worry about Google – it’s not even on my radar screen. To us, it’s only Baidu.”

History may or may not repeat itself. I bet Google is on Charles Zhang’s radar screen now. The competitive landscape is changing quickly. Who will be the final winner of the crown jewel of the Chinese Internet market still remains to be seen.

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Fashion and You

“Fashion is a tool. Pick it up and use it to your advantage,” said the fashion educator and consultant Anthea Tolomei at Stanford Professional Women Executive Speaking Series Transformation in Style: Presenting Your Best Image.

Anthea, who brought with her 16 years experience in style and fashion, spoke to an audience of 175 Stanford women about how to define style, select colors, and dress to create an illusion that makes you look slender and taller.

What we wear speaks the message for us. We never have a second chance for the first impression. As professional women, it’s important for us to understand our own style, and learn to shop purposefully. If we are smart, Anthea said, we could make the San Francisco our walk in closets!

Anthea spoke with such a style and flare. Her eloquent words were accompanied with projecting pictures on the screen. For a moment, I thought she was in a fashion performance show herself!

While I was sitting in the audience, my mind started going through my closet, picking up the colors that feature my eyes, hair and skin tone, discovering the new combinations, matching the shoes with the jackets, using a shawl to bring out my lipstick color, and playing the power of back drop dressing….

All of a sudden, the new inspiration was born! “New Year, Renew You.” Don’t let fashion wear you! Unleash your impeccable sense of fashion from within. Let your character shine through; let your style showcase you! Are you ready to create a brand new image of YOU?

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Visionaries and Luminaries

At Churchill Club’s Top Ten Technology Trends Debate, Silicon Valley’s leading , , , , and were once again gathering together, predicting and debating the top ten technology trends that will fly for the year ahead.

The predictions included energy such as solar power, wind power, bio-fuel, wireless technology, bio-science renaissance, consumer electronics, etc. The topic of as low cost labor as well as low cost world class innovator was also among the heated debate. The panel discussion was very absorbing and inviting, filled with humor and audience interaction.

Being in Silicon Valley, we got to see these who are the making the companies such as Netscape, Intuit, Yahoo!, Amazon, Google, etc. Having been impressed enough, I would think nothing they say could impress me more. Yet John Doerr never ceases to impress me each time I hear him. His vision is always one step ahead. He is still the venture capital “seer” after all these years!

John emphasized that the investment in environment and life-science will create innovation and broad benefits across the globe. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has recently backed the entrepreneurs in green-tech and flu-prevention technology that fight global environmental degradation and pandemic.

Joe Schoendorf of Accel Partners made a strong point that the US is losing its competitive advantage in to China. Every year, Chinese universities produce some 600,000 engineering students, compared with only 70,000 engineering graduates in the US. Joe is traveling to China every 5 weeks, and each time he sees the pendant of innovation shifted toward the east.

Having been in both worlds, I still see the gaps between the US and China in term of innovation. The fact that US companies are being agile and not complacent is really a sign of the greatness of this country. I finally understand what it means by “only the paranoid survive!”

It was truly an with the visionaries and luminaries!

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My Real Name

When I first came to the United States, in a social event, someone asked me:

“What’s your name?”

“Helen,” I answered.

She looked at me ambiguously…. Her eyes were clearly telling me: “you don’t look like Helen.” Obviously, I am not a blond, I don’t have blue eyes, and I probably spoke English with an accent. Then she asked again:

“What’s your real name?”

A flashback quickly went through my mind: I came to this country in 1989 as a student. When crossing the border at between Shenzhen and Hong Kong, I looked back one last time at the country where I had breathed every single breath of my life, and then looked forward with anticipation to a country that was then not much more than a distant dream.

At the San Francisco US immigration office, I eagerly put down my name “Helen Wang” on the social security card, as if by picking a typical English first name, I would be automatically accepted in this country.

The rest of the story is similar to other Chinese students and immigrants. I struggled, I suffered, I fell, and I picked up myself and tried again. I went out of my way to push my limits. I wanted to fit in this country, I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to think like an American, talk like an American, and act like an American, and I want to be an American!

Then something in me began to awaken: a soul as old as centuries, a culture as rich as civilization, and the wisdom that surpasses all the sciences – those are within me, and within me forever. Then, only then, I started to appreciate my own culture and tradition. I still think like Chinese, talk like Chinese, and act like Chinese, and I want to tell the world I am a Chinese!

When I got married to an American with English and German heritage, I debated fiercely myself whether I should change my last name to “Clarke.” As much as I like the unity of the family the last name represents, I do not want people look at the name “Helen Clarke” and expect a blond with blue eyes.

With my straight black hair and dark brown eyes, I am a Chinese by ethnic background, and an American by citizenship. Sometime, I do not identify myself as either, because I have transcended and evolved to a third identity that we all know called “mankind.” Whether we are Chinese, Indian, Russian, Mexican, Italian, or Kenyan, we are all in one. We are all mankind.

Call me my real name “Mankind.”

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A Managerial Class in the Making

In my previous post “,” I talked about the shortage of management talent in China, and how it has become a challenge for foreign investors as well as multinationals.

This week’s BusinessWeek has articles about . There is an outbreak of both full-time MBA programs by China’s top universities and EMBA programs by U.S. management schools.

This is very encouraging news, since the No. 1 concern for U.S. companies doing business in China is talent. In the past, multinationals have to import talent from the States. Then there is a problem that senior executives have little understanding of Chinese business practices.

Given the growth in demand for foreign investment in China, it becomes absolutely critical for companies to have the capable mangers who are savvy both in the Western management style and the Chinese ways of doing business to compete and grow in China.

Well, perhaps it doesn’t take a hundred years to grow a person 🙂 .

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Next Wave of Innovations

At main event “Where the Hot Money Will Be Going in 2006,” the panelists from Onset Ventures, Lightspeed Ventures and Draper Fisher Jurvetson talked about the innovations they see that are coming to reshape the landscape of software, semiconductors, Internet, telecom, energy and bio-tech industries.

There are many things happening in mobile/wireless space, Web 2.0, digital media, enterprise automation, consumer-oriented software, energy, life-science, and bio-medical areas. Be it location-based service, clean tech, or nano-tech, the panelists expressed strong interests in backing up the ventures that have world-changing impact.

of Onset Ventures placed a special emphasis on business model innovation. As technologies evolve, old business models may not apply any more. A good example is enterprise software has evolved into a service-oriented business model as affected by open-source and off-shoring.

I found the comments by of Draper Fisher Jurvetson particularly insightful and inspiring. He warned people when they are looking at trends, keep in mind there may be opportunities in the what’s-not-so-hot areas, and likewise, there may be pitfalls and competitions in the hot areas such as VoIP, Web 2.0.

The witty and no-nonsense questions by the moderator kept the whole event animated and interesting. I was intrigued by Ed’s last question: in addition to the general perception of what’s hot and cool, what are the things that should be hot – the technologies and innovations with social good. Shouldn’t these be the next wave of innovations?

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Happy New Year 2006

Somewhere in history, the last night of 2005 should be written like this:

On Ocean Avenue in Miami Beach, in a French-Italian restaurant called “Casablanca,” a dinner with Maine lobster stuffed with crabmeat, and a complementary Champaign (even though I don’t drink any alcohol)….

The weather was warm but not hot. There were Egyptian dancers and Latin American musicians; the neon lights were making the street and sky bright and beautiful.

Streams of people were walking on Ocean Avenue in their festive clothes; families and friends were gathering; kids were running around; lovers were cuddling with each other; a couple was getting married on the beach before midnight…

Then, there were congregative voices counting down the last minutes of 2005: five, four, three, two… blast – spectacular fireworks lighting the sky above Miami Beach, pronouncing a spectacular 2006!

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