Archive for the 'Corporate Values' Category

Worldchanging Book Party

October 13th, 2006 by Team Member

by Jeremy Faludi

In addition to contracting for Exbiblio as their green design consultant, I consult for other companies and write for, a green design / technology / policy journal. Worldchanging’s mission is to find and share tools, models and ideas which offer solutions to the planet’s biggest problems. We’ve won multiple awards and have hundreds of thousands of readers around the world, and our book–Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century–brings together the best, most hopeful and most effective ideas we’ve found so far. I was just one of many authors who contributed; the subjects include everything from green product design to megacities to international development, from energy to water to culture and politics, from wood stoves to biotech and nanotech.

The Seattle book release party will be October 28, 7:30pm, at Town Hall, $5 at the door. Bruce Sterling and our executive editor, Alex Steffen, will be on stage discussing the future of sustainability; then a reception and after-party will follow. It’ll be a lot of fun, if you like smart green futurists and such, so come check it out!

Feel free to forward this invitation widely. If you don’t live in Seattle, come to our book parties in other cities, such as Portland, Vancouver, New York, San Francisco, etc. (Details here.)

Hope to see you there!

Jeremy Faludi
design, consulting

Democracy and Leadership in Business

October 3rd, 2006 by Hugh

Kibble DemoOnce upon a time (roughly last Spring) Exbiblio was a bright and bushy-tailed young software company. It was also a very democratic place, where decisions were made as the result of lengthy brain-storming sessions. Its ideal was a ‘flat management structure’ without any job titles. In fact, when I read the ‘people page’ on the website as it stands even now, it’s hard to tell what anybody does at Exbiblio. Most seem to grow organic vegetables and ride bicycles to work. You certainly get no idea of who the CEO is (apparently they are still looking for one).


Shy of Consumerism

September 29th, 2006 by Hugh

One of the many unusual attributes of Exbiblio that struck me on my recent visit to Seattle, is that this company is truly averse to anything that smacks of consumerism. This is quite unusual for business that is about to offer up a product to the public.

While talking to Ed Mahlum and Martin King about marketing the Exbiblio oPen, I asked how they were gong to “position” it in the market. Martin winced. He doesn’t like the connotations of the word – nor any of the usual marketing spiel. The Exbiblio philosophy is that if the product turns out to be great, and if it can secure a place in people’s every day lives, then the sales will come right in the end.

I would agree that much of the language of business is lazy, and that the meaning is often unclear. Business lingo is mostly about making the speaker sound savvy. On further questioning, Ed and Martin say that there will be an initial target market (students), an initial price (around $99), and that it will be necessary to emphasize some of the potential uses of the oPen, of which there are many to choose from.


Hello Rainy Seattle

September 18th, 2006 by Hugh

I left a beautiful sunny autumn’s day on London yesterday and flew out to Seattle for my third trip to Exbiblio. I didn’t bring a coat or an umbrella – an omission considering the rainy weather here this morning.

It’s easy for me to stroll into work early as I’m still on London time and am staying just around the corner near Pioneer Square. I’m able to chat with the office early birds, Spencer and Claes Fredrik. I’ve not met Spencer before, but he helps me find a room in the new “wing” of the expanding office. I’m strategically positioned just near the table with the enticing snacks – fresh berries and tangy sheep’s cheese. Claes Fredrik helps me get my aging laptop plugged into the network. We chat a little bit about some of the technologies that have been showing up on the blog.

While blogging away in London, I’ve been trying to fill in the picture of the universe in which Exbiblio is operating. There seem to be a number of companies working on bridging the divide between paper and digital. They are rather disparate, and I don’t think you can quite call it a movement yet – but there’s a lot going on in this space. This week I’m planning to write more about what Exbiblio’s up to.

On this trip I’m hoping to see the first prototype of the Exbiblio Scanner Pen, code-named Falstaff. I believe there have been some glitches causing delays – which is only to be expected on a project of this nature, but it can be hard to get engineers to talk about glitches.

As Spencer has just been saying to me a minute ago, Exbiblio is a stimulating place to work, both intellectually and on the “values” level of not being overtly hyper profit-driven. It’s striking how recruits say they were attracted by Exbiblio’s values page on its website. However, I am hoping to tease a business / marketing plan out of the more “senior” people in its “flat” management structure. It’s time to write about matters such as useful applications for Exbiblio’s technology, target markets, return on investment – the sort of stuff that business people normally talk about. I haven’t heard a great deal of that ilk on my previous trips. Perhaps I haven’t asked the right questions, but I also get a sense that these matters are not always to the fore, perhaps because the technical challenges are so absorbing for Exbiblio intellects. I’m also going to ask about Exbiblio’s laudable aims to change the world for the better (which I think people will be very glad to talk about) but Exbiblio’s good intentions depend on being a business success first.

The CueCat

September 7th, 2006 by Hugh

CueCatThis is a story about a scanner device that was mentioned in an anonymous comment on this blog. I thought it was worth reading up a little more about it. It’s a failure story – but there’s always something to be learned from others’ mistakes (and your own!).

As a note to new readers, Exbiblio’s first product will be a scanner pen with a difference. It will link a paper document to its digital equivalent by means by capturing five or six words of the text. It turns out that a few consecutive words in any text are almost always unique.

CueCat was a scanner device designed by DigitalConvergence in the late 1990s (there’s a nice article about its history on Wikipedia). It read barcodes, and when plugged into a computer, it could take readers to a related page on the internet. The company mailed out free CueCats, often unsolicited. Wired Magazine gave them away. In 2000, CueCat bar codes appeared in some leading publications, including Forbes and Time. RadioShack gave away the devices and included CueCat barcodes in its catalogs.

Hackers quickly saw the CueCat might have other applications as a general barcode reader. For instance, if modified, it might be used to build a catalog of your book or CD library, or to take you to an Amazon page. The firm expanded its licence agreement to forbid such modifications, claiming that it remained the owner of the device.

The product soon ran into more controversy. Each CueCat had a unique serial number, and it was asserted that DigitalConvergence could spy on how individuals used them. The company set its lawyers on hackers who published ways to modify its product.

It all ended the way many businesses do. In 2005, a liquidator was offering 2 million CueCats at 30 cents each.

Exbiblio has a very different approach. It’s committed in its values to protecting users’ data and to generally being good (“leaving beauty in our wake”). Still, there are some interesting parallels here and lessons to be learned.

Great Presentation on Start-Ups

August 25th, 2006 by Adam

Guy Kawasaki reflects on lessons learned as a member of the original Mac team and as a venture capitalist tired of listening to lame presentations in this entertaining video presentation.

I enjoy the teasing about MBAs and executive retreats as well as his perspective on keeping it simple and “making meaning” vs “making money”.

Check it out!

Ads in your textbooks?

August 15th, 2006 by Adam

The Seattle-PI has an article today about “Ads coming to textbooks”. Seems that Freeload Press, a startup textbook publisher, is providing free downloadable text books supported by advertisements.

I was just speaking with Claes-Fredrik this morning about ad-supported revenue models vs. more traditional product pricing. Exbiblio technologies potentially affect every printed or digital document that you access, including those which are not currently the target of advertising (for example, a business plan or a novel).

It seems that the world has trended toward advertising supported services. Google is the poster child for this, but there are many others. Those hosting the ads say that ads are as valuable as the content itself if they are well targeted (and the more user behavior that is tracked, the more accurate the targeting).

Personally, I try to create a lifestyle with fewer ads as they usually encourage discontentment and greed, which are not qualities that I wish to promote in myself. For example, I pay for my e-mail service instead of using an ad supported one, I’ve upgraded my Flickr account to one which doesn’t show ads, and I don’t own a television (though I sometimes buy shows I like on DVD). I definitely don’t want ads delivered based on all the digital and printed documents in my life even if it means paying more for an Exbiblio style product.

Some would say that ads can be optional. Users who don’t want to see them can pay a higher fee (Flickr for example). My question for this approach is which users are going to opt out? Probably the ones who can afford it, right? Well, who are the advertisers targeting? The ones who can afford it… This seems like a lose, lose. Their are a bunch of people getting ads that they can’t afford to act upon and advertisers are missing the folks who are willing to spend money.

There is some interested discussion in the comments of this blog about whether Freeload sponsors will want to pay for textbooks distributed to third world countries where they are unlikely to build a customer base in the near-term…

I’m not sure what the answer to these questions are. They are tough issues. But, I’d appreciate your thoughts in the comment section.

Common Values and Recruitment

July 24th, 2006 by Hugh

Values are very important at Exbiblio. The website as it currently stands ranks them as the second tab after “home,” coming before what the company makes or does. The aim of recruitment at the company is to collect together a set of people with values that match Exbiblio’s values.

I’m told that job interviews begin with the question, “Tell me, what is the appropriate response when a pan-handler (a “beggar” in UK speak) asks you for money in the street?” Apparently, there is no single correct answer.

It’s also important that people coming to Exbiblio understand the implications of getting involved in a start-up and that it means a seamless integration between work and personal life. The theory runs that if people make the distinction between work life and personal life, then there is something very wrong going on.

It’s not an aggressive interview by any means. The approach is that Exbiblio is applying to be the employer, but Martin, the founder, admits that he is looking first and foremost for people he would enjoy working with. The conclusion that I draw from this is that the “personal” element is unavoidable in business as elsewhere in life.