What Would Steve Jobs Tell Congress?

Like many I watched the kabuki theater that is Congress perp walking Apple CEO Tim Cook in front of a committee to berate the company for legally applying the tax code, that Congress itself created, to preserve cash using the offshore entities the income was earned in. I was left with the question “would Congress have dared bring Steve Jobs in front of a committee in this manner?” knowing full well that Jobs’ personal popularity and habitual bluntness would have left Congress with proverbial egg on their face.

I also could not help but notice that the CEO of the legendary tax firm with a small manufacturing business on the side, General Electric, was not hauled in front of Congress to explain how not only does GE use the tax code to the full extent but also how they successfully manipulate members of Congress to create new tax subsidies and incentives that they can then exploit for shareholder benefit. as they should. Few members of Congress would want GE exposing the one-hand-washes-the-other hypocrisy that is the intersection of money, politics, and public policy.

What about Cisco? They have over $50 billion in cash and all but $5b of it is offshore. John Chambers is on record pointing out the obvious, U.S. corporate tax law is stunting job growth and forcing companies to invest outside the U.S. Let’s bring Chambers in front of Congress.

However, what is lost in all this is that the companies pay taxes at many levels and the growth they experience economic growth which leads to a myriad of additional tax layers. Directly as a result of strong performance, companies like Apple, Microsoft and Cisco institute share buybacks and dividends which fuel capital gains tax receipts. Microsoft alone has returned $170 billion of cash to investors as a result of buybacks and dividends, which for U.S. investors and entities is a form of income that is then taxed.

To paint successful companies as money grubbing tax cheaters misses the point entirely, and fails to address the structural flaws in the overly complex and burdensome tax system the U.S. currently relies on. Richard Epstein at the Hoover Institution put it succinctly:

And so we are left with a series of distracting hearings meant only to excoriate a profitable American company for making entirely legal, and totally rational, decisions. Those hearings may have been useful if they had addressed serious structural reform. For instance, one possibility for reform is to lower American tax rates, which would induce more businesses to keep operations in this country in the first place. A second, more radical, possibility is to consider shifting to a consumption tax, which would eliminate all the distortions of the current system by gutting the present two-tier corporate tax and allowing the tax-free return of capital from abroad for everyone.  But at this moment, the insatiable demands of the welfare state leave too many misguided champions of tax reform clamoring for more money to fill the federal coffers.

The Wisdom of Being Safe

I was reading this article on the wave of executive departures at HTC on the heals of a successful product, the HTC One, and a clearly unsuccessful launch of the HTC First. The reporting is actually good and highlights the phenomena of the death spiral that many in Silicon Valley are familiar with, as influential people in the company leave a succession of departures is certain to follow and taking with them the ability of the company to seamlessly conceptualize and develop new products that are the lifeblood of technology companies in the consumer space.

One quote caught my attention if for no other reason than it exhibits the vanity of the tech media:

even as reviews have consistently lauded the gorgeous One and bashed the S4’s cheap plastic and comparably safe – even boring – design.

Shocking as it may be to tech reporters and the chattering class of Silicon Valley, consumers clearly don’t give a shit about the fact that the Samsung S4 has a plastic back cover that, like all it’s stamped aluminum competitors, will get covered with a case.

The HTC One has a beautiful form factor but comes up short in significant functional areas that give the S4 a real advantage, and the stripped down Android experience reflects that fact that HTC’s software development has been a problematic area for them more than a desire to deliver a strategic alternative to the market.

The S4, by comparison, delivers a “safe” design that is the successor to the already best selling Android smartphone on the market, the S3, so what did the reviewers expect Samsung to do. cast aside their success and start over? It is entirely illogical that you would take a current generation leader and rethink it. and point in fact the entire iPhone empire is built on product extensions that trace back to v1 in form factor, capabilities and user experience. Where are the critics when discussing that safe platform?

My Next Journey: Ping Identity

I recently wrapped up my transition period out of Get Satisfaction and immediately swung into a new role at Ping Identity. This was no easy decision for me as I continue to support the mission of Get Satisfaction and have invested much of myself in it over the last 3 years. Life in the Valley can be frenetic and the degree of institutional ADHD we exhibit is something I have long been aware of, and as a counterbalance to this I have strived for a high degree of continuity and stability in my professional life while also pushing myself into the next interesting thing. it’s a tough balance to hold but one that gives me a great degree of reward and stimulation.

If you look back at my roles and responsibilities at Get Satisfaction over my tenure there you will see a progression that prepares me for where I am today:

  • In my capacity leading product marketing we focused heavily on how we craft a position that spans the challenge of marketing a service that appeals to consumers but one which the economic buyer is a business. This new normal in enterprise software is here to stay and reflects the consumerization trend that has long been talked about, enterprise software buyers of all stripes are responding to user experience as a primary driver.
  • With the work I did on plans and pricing, later enhanced and executed by other teams in the company, we were able to position to the market a consolidated portfolio of services that could be sold to SMB, mid-market, and large enterprise companies all off the same product platform. In addition to that, we maintained the commitment to freemium to serve the very small segment while contributing to the overall network growth that propelled the company in terms of powerful brand recognition.
  • I led analyst and influencer relations, and with no budget early on and a limited one in just the last year we were able to garner positive coverage and affinity with traditional analysts and market influencers. We employed a different kind of AR strategy, one that relied heavily on social influence and less on economic relationships.
  • I assumed leadership of the SMB business at a time when it had no leadership and with a small team of 2 we reworked the web presentation, instrumented for funnel analytics, A/B tested continuously, and impacted product development with a high priority initiative around the Getting Started user flow, from which the lack of an effective getting started flow contributed heavily to churn.
  • The inflexible legacy billing system was rip-and-replaced under my watch, with a new homegrown subscription management app built as a separate Rails app in the infrastructure and hooked up to Chargify for transaction billing.
  • Shifting over to business development, we broadened the strategic focus of our efforts to target additional CRM vendors, enterprise marketing applications, and resellers. My last official act was representing the company at SugarCon with new reseller and development partner DRI-Global. We also launched a highly innovative Marketo integration blueprint and a host of 3rd party app support. Resellers in Latin America started to produce revenue, a first for the company.

I feel good about what I accomplished at Get Satisfaction and rather than running away from the company I left running to something else. Enter Ping Identity, a company I have had a long association with as a result of my work at SAP Ventures. I have maintained a relationship with Andre Durand, the CEO/founder, and while catching up with him on general topics he highlighted the challenges they were facing as they moved to subscription economics while simultaneously delivering impressive growth through the traditional enterprise, and then using SaaS as a distribution channel to reach customers of the ISVs that were SAML-enabling their applications. Right up my alley.

The timing was perfect because I was coming to the realization that 2 things were happening in identity, the first being that a world without passwords was not only achievable but would also drive significant benefits for end users and vendors alike. There isn’t a day that goes buy without cringing at the experience of a login screen for which I don’t recall the password. While Facebook, Twitter and Google all offer compelling authentication capabilities they are not without limitations, principally in the manner by which entitlements and privileges are assigned. SAML is an approach that offers more extensibility and security integrity, and also spans workforce management to consumer identity.

The BYOD movement is also driving an interesting extended consequence related to bring your own identity. Consumer identity and workforce identity should merge in a federated state, offering portability and the ability to go beyond identity as an access and authentication technology to identity as profile management. Richer profile management drives future innovation in applications of all kinds as developers evolve to focus on user experiences that are highly individualized as a result of what people declare about themselves and what systems are able to infer about them.

Lastly, great identity access management should not be exclusive to large enterprises managing employee populations and public facing websites pre-occupied with the password protection alone. Businesses of all sizes and kinds should have available to them feature rich identity technology that is both affordable and business transformative.

This is where I cut to Ping. a recognized leader in a space that requires technical excellence and industry recognition in order be a leader. Identity is not the province of 2 engineers, a dog and a dream. which is why the landscape of companies in the space doesn’t look like a map of the stars. Ping offers cutting edge SAML-based identity technology to large enterprises for workforce management and customer identity, while also leading a charge into the cloud with PingOne, a unified platform for integrating single sign-on technology across hundreds of cloud apps.

I am leading the goto market for PingOne to SMB and ISV segments, which includes the web assets and self-service capabilities that cut into the product itself. My challenges in this role are well aligned to what I did at Get Satisfaction and if you look at the summary I detailed above you could pretty much check the boxes on all of them for my new role. I am excited on many fronts but probably most of all by the challenge of growing into a new space and working with a team of people who exhibit a team culture that is built on shared success and commitment to the mission with an appropriate sense of urgency about getting it done.