The Business of Long-Distance Triathlon: A Follow-Up

Last August, I was thinking about the business of professional long-distance triathlon. As I was thinking, I created a chart.

The chart illustrates the challenge facing pro triathlon and its athletes: the sport has an incredibly small audience. Even smaller than other niche sports, like cycling. Even surfing. This makes it hard for pro long-distance triathlon and its athletes to attract and keep major sponsors. 

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Consumer Tech, Advertising + Commerce: State of the Union

As 2016 gets underway, for consumer tech, advertising and commerce — which, today, are joined at the hip — three things are clear:

1. It’s a Mobile-First World

Today, nearly half of the world’s adults have a smartphone. By 2020, that ratio will reach 80%. 

Mobile includes more than just smartphones. It covers tablets, watches, cars, desktops, laptops, and, with the introduction of Apple TV, televisions — any device that runs iOS or Android.

Going forward, products, brands, channels and publications looking to connect with consumers digitally must power their design and development strategies first and foremost with a mobile-mindset — a desktop-friendly website is just icing on the cake. 

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Periscope-Powered Commerce

Last Thursday morning, as Olivier Rousteing’s Balmain for H&M collection was crashing H&M’s website, I wondered—not for the first time: when—when!—is Periscope going to be commerce-enabled??

In 2015, shopping online is pretty much the same experience it was when commerce first hit the web in the 1990s. And it is essentially that same experience that has been migrated over to mobile. It's tired, and it's a hassle, with different backends and checkouts for every site, every platform. 

Periscope, on the other hand, is fun. I’ve written about this briefly, before: it serves up a great combination of behind-the-scenes access and impromptu, unscripted global conversations. It’s Snapchat, only better—it’s immediate, it's intimate.

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The Business of Long-Distance Triathlon: A Playbook for Growth

All in a Day’s Work: $30,000 vs. $3 million

At 6:40 a.m. on Sunday, July 5th, pro triathletes Jan Frodeno and Daniela Ryf toed the line of the shore of the Langener Waldsee in Germany. They were there to compete in Ironman Frankfurt—along with 65 other professional and 3,000 recreational triathletes from all over the world. Like the better-known Ironman World Championship, held each October, in Kona, Hawaii, the Frankfurt race was a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.   

Frodeno crossed the line victorious 7 hours and 49 minutes later—a blistering pace. Ryf dominated in kind, taking the women’s field in 8 hours and 51 minutes. Both broke course records, on a day when temperatures hit the 100 degree mark, and 35% of the registered athletes did not finish the race.

For their efforts, Frodeno and Ryf each won $30,000. Runners up Sebastian Kienle and Julia Gajer collected $15,000 a piece. The prize purse for the race was $150,000, and the balance of the money—$60,000—was divvied up between the remaining top ten male and female pros.

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The Month of July 2015

The month of July, brought to you by the letter S: science and space, sports and sex. Summer.

Cosmos

Basic truth: at the beginning of July, I didn’t know that the sun is a star.

More truths: I didn’t know how many planets there are in the solar system. It goes without saying that I didn’t know their order—or how far apart they are from each other—or us.

I kind of knew that the earth rotates around the sun. Honestly, that was even shaky.

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The Month of June 2015

Periscope

ICYMI, there was a shuffling of the guard at Twitter early this month. Dick Costello, out. Jack, in. The move was preceded by an 8,500 word missive from angel investor and Twitter-enthusiast Chris Sacca, detailing his views on what the company can and should be doing better in order to regain traction.

Buried in the pretty unconvincing laundry list of ideas (unconvincing only because it’s hard to see how incremental tweaks will fix Twitter’s core business at this point) was Sacca’s nod to the recently acquired live-streaming app, Periscope, “Periscope may prove to be the most important deal Twitter has ever done.” I completely agree.

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The Month of May 2015

After much time away, I am returning to my blog. When I was last writing, in 2011 and 2012, I was thinking about business model design, mostly. That’s always on my mind, so it will be a thread again—filtered through the lens of the industries and subjects that I find fun: finance and financial markets, media and technology, fashion, food and pro sports.

I’m setting the bar low, to start. I’ll write a post on the final Friday of each month, highlighting people, stories and events that captured my interest and attention during the month. And—perhaps—a longer article or two in between.

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What I've Been Watching and Reading

As 2012 draws to a close, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share a handful of the articles, books, shows, conversations and documentaries that informed, inspired and entertained me throughout the year. I hope that a few are also informative, inspiring and entertaining for you.

Elon Musk in Coversation

2012 was a standout year for entrepreneur Elon Musk. After rocky, touch-and-go starts, his three California-based companies--Space X, Tesla, and Solar City--all hit major milestones. If, like I, you are fascinated by him, then this July conversation with Pando Daily founder Sarah Lacy is worthwhile viewing. He's shockingly accomplished--and incredibly understated. A nice combination.

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The Art of the IPO

Summer was not kind to Facebook. It was harsher still to Groupon and Zynga. All three companies are new to the public markets. If you were to look to their debuts only, you'd be forgiven for concluding that going public is a raw deal. Each of their stocks, to put it nicely, got hammered between Memorial Day and Labor Day--the US holidays that bookend summer. The Dow, during the same period? It rose 5%.

Going public is as much art as science. And as with any art, discipline and finesse make all the difference between masterpiece and flop. So for every Facebook, Groupon or Zynga, there is a LinkedIn, Zillow or Michael Kors Each entered the market last year. Today, all three have stocks that are up more than 100% from their offerings, more than 90% this year--levels of outperformance that every founder, CEO, management team, Board, underwriting group and investor hopes for from an IPO--keeping the romance of the stock market alive.

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New York Fashion Week Grows Up

There has been a whole lot of sexy going on in New York this past week. That's normal, for this time of year. Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, which began last Thursday, wraps up today. And while the après Labor Day fashion buzz is nothing unusual, what has struck me this go round is that the transition people have anticipated for ages has finally happened: New York Fashion Week has grown up.

Maybe it was the move from Bryant Park to Lincoln Center two years ago. Maybe it was the seasoning of a crop of talented younger designers--ProenzaAlexanderJasonZac--filling in behind the old guard--RalphDonnaCarolinaOscar--creating a solid platform for a new guard--WesReedthe OlsensSophie. Maybe it is the culmination of six years of tending and nurturing of the CFDA by wise, multi-term President, Diane von Furstenberg. Whatever the reason, this was not a hit-or-miss New York Fashion Week. One collection after another was fabulous. Sexy was dialed-up to 10. 

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Groupon: The Price of Hubris

When three-year-old Groupon filed to go public in June, market commentators dialed the outrage meter up to 10.

Flashpoints: an aggressive business model, creative accounting, and a track record of cashing-out early investors--to the tune of $1 billion. Further irritants: public puffery from the Chairman and the CEO during the so-called quiet period and August and September resignations of two senior team members--PR Chief Brad Williams and COO Margo Georgiadis--only months after they joined the Company.

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Christo in Colorado

For five decades artist Christo has been inspiring and infuriating, uniting and dividing communities large and small, urban and rural, around the globe.

Last Friday, nineteen years after he and his wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude (who passed away in late 2009), conceived of their proposed Colorado project Over the River, it came one step closer to fruition. The Colorado State Land Board approved two land leases necessary to allow the project to move forward. As with his other works over the years, Over the River will be a temporary installation--5.9 miles of shimmering fabric panels suspended above the Arkansas River in south-central Colorado for a two week stretch--if all goes as planned, in August 2014.

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Taking Responsible Investing Seriously

Responsible investing continues to grow up, go mainstream. In September, three events--the publication of two reports and the launch of a new investment product--highlighted the diverse ways in which it's doing so.

Early in the month the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) published its Annual Report on Progress. As this is the fifth year that the six principles have been in place, UNPRI took the opportunity to look back, to review the evolution of responsible investing since the principles were launched in 2006 at the New York Stock Exchange by then-Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan.

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Five Go-To Reads on the Creative Process

Elizabeth Streb is an extreme choreographer, MacArthur Foundation Fellow and the visionary behind the Streb Lab for Action Mechanics. Behance's 99% recently published a brief, but terrific, interview with her entitled On Taking Big Risks and the Power of ActionHer thinking brought to mind the article that I am republishing here, one of the very first that I wrote, on the lessons that artists' creative processes hold for business innovators.

Innovation--the creation of a product or process that is radically new, unique and different--is the holy grail in today's business world. What many of those who beat its drum rarely mention is that the path to true innovation is rooted in pure creativity. To innovate brilliantly requires facing down the deepest challenges of the creative process: high anxiety, ambiguity, seemingly impassable roadblocks, even failure.

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A Neophyte's Guide to the Singularity

I have capitulated. I have stopped avoiding the Singularity.

For the past couple of years--at least--I have been catching threads of chatter about the concept of the Singularity--loosely, the point in time when, through Artificial Intelligence, genetic engineering or other technological manipulation, a superhuman intellect is born. I have heard just enough to be weirded out. So I've avoided the topic all together.

Of course, I have also been curious. So this past weekend I decided to commit a few hours, dig in, learn more. And I proved Lev Grossman right. In Time he wrote, “People are attracted to the Singularity for the shock value, like an intellectual freak show, but they stay because there's more to it than they expected.”

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Truth, Reconciliation and Financial Markets

In April Bradley Fried, former CEO of the UK arm of South African Investment Bank Investec, wrote an OpEd for the Financial Times entitled Mandela's Lessons in Truth for City High Fliers.

The article came to mind this past Sunday morning, when I received an event invitation via email, tagged by the subject line Will the Finance Industry Destroy America and the Human Soul? A day earlier a small group of feisty protesters had begun to gather at the southern tip of Manhattan. Their goal? To occupy Wall Street. Their demands? Ambiguous, but images of Tahrir Square and general frustration with government, the banking industry and the state of the US economy propelled assembly.

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Transparency Trustfund

Back in June I enthused about just-launched flash sale site Fab.com. My ardor was fueled not only by the site's great product and design, but also by founder-CEO Jason Goldberg's commitment to a level of transparency surprising in any company, especially an early stage, venture-funded one.

From Day One Jason has shared liberally, publishing graphs, charts and notes on his personal blog revealing Fab's strategy, traffic levels, conversion rates, sales volumes, even sales breakdown by product category--information extremely valuable to anyone else selling design- and lifestyle-related products online.

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Innovations in Finance: Minibonds

A small group of UK consumer companies has taken matters into their own hands. Growing, privately held, faced with a difficult credit environment, armed with a base of loyal customers and led mostly by passionate founder-CEOs, these companies have gone straight to the public to raise capital. They've done it in the form of debt, issuing what they are calling minibonds or--in the case of green power company ecotricity--ecobonds.

The pioneer, in 2009, was King of Shaves. Since then ecotricity, chocolate purveyor Hotel Chocolat, retail partnership John Lewis and, this week, foreign exchange specialist Caxton FX have followed. Amounts raised have ranged from £600,000 in the case of King of Shaves, to £50 million in the case of John Lewis. Caxton FX is targeting £4 million.

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Tension of Either-Or

Back in July Seth Godin published a blog post entitled No Such Thing as Business Ethics. I've never read a book by Godin. I'm not a regular reader of his blog. So, I didn't happen to see the post until mid-August. It's stayed with me since.

Around the same time that I read Godin's piece there was a front page story in The New York Times about a labor dispute taking place in Palmyra, Pennsylvania. 300 foreign students walked off the job at a Hershey's plant to protest what they claimed were unfair labor conditions in summer jobs they had paid to obtain, under the auspices of the State Department's J-1 Visa designation, a short-term cultural exchange program for college students.

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The Sex Appeal of Freight Rail

As President Obama prepares to address a joint session of Congress on job creation and the state of the economy, he would do well to consider casting a light on the freight rail industry in his remarks. Freight rail? Freight rail--a surprising pocket of growth, investment, hiring and innovation in the much-maligned US infrastructure network.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, investor Warren Buffet saw it coming, when Berkshire Hathaway took full ownership of BNSF, the country's second largest freight railway, in February 2010. Since then, the company, like the rest of the industry, has experienced double digit revenue expansion, thanks to rising coal, industrial and agricultural product volumes. Shippers are switching from road to rail as fuel prices and traffic congestion impact cost, efficiency and reliability of highway transport.

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