Top 10 Technology Forecast for 2017


With 2016 in the books it is time to take a stab at the trends in technology headed our way in 2017. 

1 – Disintermediation – This has been an ongoing trend that I expect to continue and even gain added speed in 2017. The primary focus of many of today’s startups is on replacing and improving upon the status quo. While many markets are a prime risk for this type of disruption, there are arguably very few that have as much at stake as the real estate market. Paying 6% to sell your home can’t last for much longer. Who is going to solve this and get mass mindshare first? Open Listings, Trelora, Open Door, Energized Real Estate, Side Door plus many more are already working on this problem. 

2 – M&A – With lower taxes and the likelihood of repatriation of dollars held overseas in 2017, I expect for companies to go on a buying binge. While large deals have dominated the news recently, look for overall volume to increase in segments of all sizes. I will even throw one name out there. My guess is this is the year Lyft gets acquired. GM supposedly already took a shot at this in 2016 but if they don’t circle back, why not Google or Amazon? They both have the ability to take Lyft beyond second place in the ride sharing economy and really leverage the asset. Both also have ample reason not to let Uber dominate the sharing economy. 

3 – Robotics – Are advancing very rapidly and are now involved with almost every aspect of business in some way or another. Get ready for the full invasion in 2017 as robots become more nimble, more specialized and more affordable. One of my favorites in this space is Casabots whose first product is a robotic salad maker. Very well designed, it helps existing food service providers with a variety of issues such as cleanliness, 24x7x365 service, freshness, convenience, made to order plus much more. 

4 – SD Everything – If you think you were already overloaded with software defined this, that, and the other in 2016; believe me you haven’t seen anything yet! In 2017, with many companies already delivering core functionality, these systems will only get better. What’s more, they will invariably cause disruption in every category they enter. The biggest challenge here is analyzing the plethora of offerings from vendors eager to get your dollars. 

5 – Customization – We live in a time when people want customization, in certain industries has even become full-fledged expectation. Therefore, in 2017 you can expect more companies to leverage technology to enable or enhance customization. Consider one of my favorites in this space called Benchmade Modern. Instead of buying something off of the showroom floor or, waiting months for custom furniture to be built from scratch and delivered, how about getting a sofa made to your exact liking?! You get to pick the style, fabric, color and size – plus the kicker is that the sofa is made in just 7 days! This is just one example but I expect this trend to proliferate this year.

6 – Space – While SpaceX and a number of companies have gotten in on the space race and are becoming household names. Quietly the mining of asteroids and cleanup of space has gotten attention. One company focused on this is Planetary Resources look for this sector to get more attention in coming years as VCs invest heavily in space.

7 – Agtech – is a space that seems prime for more investment in 2017. It’s simply too critical to civilization to be ignored, and yet it is still a very dangerous profession for many. Look for many technological advances to start the path to commercialization. 

8 – Security – To be specific, I’m focusing on the security of physical property. Robotics are beginning to be implemented to address physical security such as Knightscope. Drone technology that can be deployed to monitor, warn or follow an intruder is not far behind, and could have an impact in 2017. 

9 – Sensors – I expect sensors to make a major jump in capability in 2017. These days it is incredibly cheap to throw a sensor into almost anything. The proliferation will occur at break-neck speed in 2017.   

10 – Genomics / Customized Medicine – will get a further boost from computing. Just consider 15 years ago it cost also $3B to sequence the human genome and today it can be done for around $1k. This huge improvement in cost opens the potential for many types of customized drugs and treatments. 

 What tech trends do you see beginning or accelerating in 2017?

Voice Recognition – Promise Finally a Reality?

voice recognitionAlongside the ample promise of speech recognition products like Alexa, Cortana, and Siri, users have always been sure to encounter and be frustrated by the technology’s limitations in accuracy. But these days, each incremental improvement to speech recognition technology is making a major difference. We are approaching 90-95% accuracy today (to give some perspective, in 2010 we were at 70% accuracy) – and yet the chasm between where we are today and that 99% accuracy figure is massive. Most people do not fully appreciate the magnitude of improvement 99% accuracy represents over today’s accuracy levels.

Besides accuracy, the other big issue with voice recognition is latency. The good news is that computational improvements along with massive investments in AI are bringing hope to solving the latency problem. Ultimately, voice recognition will go from niche usage to widespread adoption once the technology is able to combine pinpoint accuracy with speedy response times.

The current iteration of voice recognition, despite its many flaws, is already growing quickly…very quickly. Just consider:

  • Though users complain about accuracy, Siri currently processes over 1 billion requests per week
  • Microsoft says 25% of Bing searches on Windows 10 are driven by voice
  • Baidu projects that at least 50% of all searches will be through images or speech by 2020.

Consider the rapid pace of innovation. One year ago, Alexa could handle 14 Skills, whereas today Alexa can handle almost 1000 Skills. It’s being reported that Alexa will soon be able to detect a person’s emotional state – imagine it detecting irritation in a person’s voice and offering an apology! Voice recognition is becoming more than just a novelty and is moving firmly into a much more functional realm. Some analysts now believe that the Echo platform, which showcases Alexa, could become one of the fastest growing items of 2016/2017. Some are even suggesting that Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn is heavily weighted to the future of Cortana. This reality has left Apple scrambling, as evidenced by the recently leaked plans to launch their own speaker system that’s integrated with Siri. In addition, at WWDC 2016 Apple shared details of Siri making her way to the desktop in the new macOS.

Regardless of one’s preferred platform, voice recognition technology is now firmly on the fast track for widespread adoption. How will you leverage this platform personally? How will it help your company? Where does it fit on your product road map? What impact will it have on your customers?

Tech Stock Forecast for 2016

Time for our yearly swag at on which tech stocks could rebound or be acquired in 2016.  

Going into 2016 there is reason to believe there will be quite a bit of volatility this year. China, Oil, Interest Rates along with a tepid recovery have set the stage to make everyone at least somewhat nervous. That said, there are still some compelling values and with rates still low there could be some M&A or rebounds that occur in these names this year. Here are some names I like that warrant further research. 

Ambarella – AMBA – This stock is hated due to being linked to GoPro which had a rough year, however, Ambarella is not entirely dependent on GoPro though they have been a major account. The great news for the company is that they can also sell products to many other including drone manufacturers. This maker of chip designs for HD video capture seems beaten down enough that it could rebound or be acquired in 2016.   

Barracuda – CUDA – In 2015 the stock went from being a darling of the security space to being a pariah. Given the portfolio of products and strong growth still exhibited in this segment the value of the company could draw attention from activists and potential acquirers.    

Envestnet – ENV – Envestnet which provide wealth management technology among other things has taken a beating in recent months. Given their unique offering look for the to rebound or get snapped up in 2016.

NII Holdings – NIHD – Brazilian mobile operator. Fresh out of bankruptcy just a while back it has gone nowhere but down. The Brazilian economy is definitely a serious drag, however, the spectrum they own is real and appears to be worth more than the company is trading for. Will a big international player scoop them up this year or wait for further carnage?  

Firsthand Technology Value Fund – SVVC – Company invests in private equity and late stage startups. Shares trade at a substantial discount to the net asset value of the portfolio and there are some nice positions you can participate in by owning shares. Management fees will ding any potential returns but it appears to have a good risk/reward outlook in the short and intermediate term.

Lumos Networks – LMOS – This regional fiber provider just can’t seem to get much love. Given that the shares trade near the low for the year this is a repeat recommendation from me. The investments and strategy the company embarked on in 2014 and 2015 should make this the year they should start to pay off.  

3D Systems – DDD and Stratasys – SSYS – To say that the market and analysts hate the 3D printing sector would be an understatement. Are we now in the Valley of Despair? Long-term the potential of this space is just to big to ignore. For companies that need or want to play in this space now seems like a good time to consider picking one of these up from the scrap heap. Cough cough HP.   

Qualcomm – QCOM – Could head lower in the short-term but I like it as a long-term pick. Antitrust among a few other concerns have bashed the stock. The yield on this company should start to offer some support as it nears 4%. That said, in a bad mark it may find its way into the 30s. 

Twitter – TWTR – Is this the year the Twitter finally defines itself? The platform has too much potential to languish as it has. Look for Jack to start to get some momentum or Twitter will likely be sold to the highest bidder.

Top 10 Technology Forecast for 2016

2016 imageWith 2015 in the books it is time to take a look at trends, technologies and products in the Technology Forecast for 2016

1 – Artificial Intelligence – will be incorporated into technology products, services and software at a rapid pace. More interesting is that the old 1950’s proclamation “Robots will soon be everywhere!” will finally begin to take place in 2016. Robots are already well accepted for basic tasks but will gain popularity as people see other uses. AI will also be used behind the scenes to reduce fraud and loan delinquencies, improve support and compliance, enhance special education, help with security and link disparate but interesting research together.

2 – Drones – which till now have primarily been targeted to consumers and known as a cool Amazon side project, will get a serious dose of commercialization in 2016 upon the FAA releasing rules for commercial flights. Consumers will also benefit from the R&D as drones get smarter with more sensors along with the ability to play interesting games.

3 – 3D Printing – goes mainstream in 2016. While investors and companies have been disappointed in the growth and profitability of companies involved in this space, much innovation continues to take place. The cost of ownership has come down and the capabilities have gone up. The Aerospace, Automotive, Energy and Medical Device industries should lead the way in leveraging 3D printing. We have only begun to see the tip of the iceberg in how this technology will disrupt industry.

4 – Driverless Car – It’s not quite going to happen yet in 2016, but the strides in this space will still be impressive. There will be lots of hype but it will be a while before consumers can purchase or get a fully functional driverless car. The good news is that some of this technology is creeping in now in the form of driver assistance, with the aim of reducing accidents. The bad news is there is plenty more hype to go before a truly autonomous car hits the market for consumers to purchase at their leisure. The hype for a pilotless plane will be forthcoming.

5 – Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) – VR got going in 2015 with affordable gear now available. What is missing is software that fully leverages these platforms, as opposed to ports of current popular games. I have seen some fun and cool stuff to demo but we are still in search of some games that will blow your mind. Call me a believer in the possibilities but in order for this to really explode we need to see some killer apps to avoid the current generation becoming the equivalent of 3D Television. Will it take haptic products to really make this go? AR still holds tremendous potential for business and gaming but in 2016 we will just get more hype.

6 – Age of Context – now has all of the pieces in place to fully be leveraged since it was first brought to the forefront some years ago. The question for 2016 is who will actually do it well? We have had mobile, social media, big data, sensors and location-based services for some time now. The big difference now is the ubiquity of all of these elements. In 2016 we should see someone finally overcome the issues of privacy to fully leverage this.

7 – Data Driven Design – Much like the Age of Context, 2016 marks the year that Data Driven Design benefits from all of the pieces finally coming together. Retail is a poster child for this as data now allows retailers to have a bidirectional relationship with their customers. This isn’t just about suggesting products to customers as Amazon has done for some time now. This is about changing the design of products, giving the customer a different experience, modifying support or creating something entirely new.

8 – Blockchain – is not just for Bitcoin anymore. Just look at the investments made by major financial institutions in this space. This technology is not only legitimate it is highly disruptive. Look for it to begin impacting not only banking, but healthcare, music, financial services, security and identity management just to name a few. It will be interesting to see if legitimizing Blockchain actually helps Bitcoin gain more traction as well.

9 – Smart Earphones – are coming. Think about what you could do with something that fits in the ear, provides more functionality than a FitBit, and allows you to take calls hands free while working to provide noise cancellation on a plane. This technology also has the ability to drastically impact the hearing aid market this year. Look for someone to launch these multifunction devices by late 2016.

10 – Apple – has greatly disappointed a number of fanboys over the past several years with limited releases and few things to get overly excited about. That is now being reflected in the stock chart, as the company is behind on several fronts. This year’s announcements were disappointing, as was the Apple Watch product launch. Even the laptop line is confusing – I still don’t know what they are doing with the Mac Air line in light of the new Mac Book. After dropping the ball on several fronts Apple is now extremely dependent on the iPhone. In 2016 I expect Apple to straighten out their confusing laptop line, deliver a second generation watch, launch iPhone 7 with major advancements over the 6, and finally start delivering on some of their home automation toolkits. Apple still builds the best and most reliable hardware but they simply have to be more innovative 2016 or risk losing the halo that surrounds many of their products. I am banking on some sort of surprise from these guys this year.

What do you see happening in 2016 that I might have missed?



5 Tech Acquisitions – Why they Really Went Down

M&A Word CloudThere are so many mergers happening today you need an app just to keep up with them. What interests me the most about these mergers is whether they are due to typical consolidation, arbitrage, a company having too much cash, or whether they are truly strategic. Let’s take a look at some recent activity and see if we can figure out what is going on. I personally think all of the following mergers were in the pretty strategic category. Thinking about why these deals really went down gives you a good clue of where many of these companies think the market is going so you can prepare accordingly.

AT&T buys DirectTV – If you guessed AT&T did this just so they could bash the cable companies like Rob Lowe you would not be correct. This is all about being able to deliver mobile video content. Home users are just an added benefit here.

Verizon buys AOL – If you guessed Verizon is doing this to obtain the remaining 2m+ dial-up users – congrats on knowing this many people still used AOL dial-up service but that would not be the correct answer. This is all about content driving wireless media and OTT (over the top) video. Besides the mobility play here, are their aforementioned acquisitions just strategies to get around net neutrality? Only time will tell, but it’s clear that the war to own and control your content is on!

Intel buys Altera – If you guessed Intel did this to move up in the phone book you would be wrong. This is all about Moore’s Law possibly coming to an end. Even if it is technically possibly to extend Moore’s Law it may not be financially viable to do so. In steps Altera with a loaded portfolio of intellectual property and expertise in FPGAs. This is all about Intel wanting to strengthen their technology portfolio and finding a way to increase power outside of Moore’s Law. By the way one of my favorite startups is working in this space check out –

IBM buys Blue Box Cloud – If you guessed Big Blue likes the similarities of the name Blue Box there could be something Freudian going on there. However, IBM purchasing this company was actually about the fact that the private cloud is a critical piece of the ongoing retooling of IT infrastructure. The majority of the big players are opting for Hybrid Cloud strategies and IBM wants to play there.

Microsoft buys Revolution Analytics – If you guessed Microsoft was trying to improve their stodgy image by being attached to anything called Revolutionary that is not a bad guess. Actually, Revolution Analytics is working around the rapidly growing R language which is used by data scientists and many students working on statistical and predictive analysis. Microsoft wanted this piece to beef up their data analytics portfolio. A Big Data war is surely coming down the road and Microsoft appears to be adding to their cache of weapons.

2015 – Themes and Forecast

2014 2015 imageWith 2014 in the books it is time to take a look at 2015 and see if we can match or exceed last year’s results. Let’s start with the M&A picture for 2015, which should continue to be strong as long as interest rates stay low. The tricky part now is that the valuations have continued to rise in this cycle and there are fewer undervalued names from which to choose so companies likely to be acquired but trading near their highs such as CoreSite and Inphi are not listed.

To further complicate things we have the fragile world economy, oil dropping 50%+ in a few months which impacts more than most people think and then add in copper prices at 5 year lows and it smells like deflation. With that in mind, we could be in for a very tough year. The M&A picks for 2015 include a few very solid companies as well as a couple of much more speculative turnarounds.

Aviat Networks – AVNW – Speculative niche wireless player and small market cap could make them an interesting play. Turnaround appears to be happening so it makes them much more interesting.

Lumos Networks – LMOS – Lumos has been unloved for some years now but is sitting on some great assets and appears to have a very motivated management team. The company can do fine as a standalone but with all of the fiber consolidation going on it seems like they would be a great fit for a number of larger providers. Like this one a lot especially on any pullbacks.

Nokia – NOK – Turnaround underway and a number of their competitors look like they may have topped out. I also like their investment and research around haptic technologies. While it would have been much cheaper to buy them two years ago it is possible a big player will still look to merge or acquire them.

Maxwell Technologies – MXWL – Growth has stalled but the market for ultracapacitors appears to still have major growth prospects. Could be a great tuck-in for someone.

Nuance Communications – NUAN – Repeat from last year but the story stays the same. Move to recurring revenue should have been largely digested. Tremendous underperformance with the CEO on the hot seat. The pressure will be even greater on the company to get it together or get the company sold.

RadiSys – RSYS – Beaten down but appears to be turning the corner. Small market cap could make this easy to digest for a number of players.

Twitter – TWTR – Talk about a company not living up to its potential. Management is basically loathed by almost everyone. Still someone ought to be able to better leverage Twitter. Maybe this year someone will. At a minimum how about a new management team?

Now onto the forecast for trends, technologies and products.

1 – Shadow IT – specifically the consumption of cloud services without any oversight – continues to grow putting many companies at risk – will put heat on the C-Suite and IT to do something constructive about the issue.

2 – AR/VR Hype turns to Reality – Augmented and Virtual Reality have yet to do much for the masses. Though I am down on Google Glass I am very excited about this space. With Oculus being bought for $2Billion, Facebook definitely thinks the space is worth having a seat at the table. Low cost, high bang-for-your-buck products such as MergeVR could entertain the masses – your kid could be asking you to buy one of these in the near future. Higher cost products from Samsung and Oculus will help provide the marketing dollars to get this category noticed, but it is still way too early to pick a winner. Question is who can deliver in mass with a killer app in 2015?

3 – Security Issues – Internet of Things will have a host of new issues to deal with, as hackers look to exploit some of the early roll-outs. Wearables will become the next frontier for BYOD that a number of vertical industries will have to grapple with in order to leverage staff productivity. Yet another area of data privacy and security issues to deal with.

4 – Mobility continues to push cloud adoption – Companies already have incorporated push mobile devices in mass, but what type of ROI are they getting? Can they prove it? With newly designed cloud applications available, recognizing the benefits of mobility and quantifying them is becoming much easier.

5 – Xiaomi – Haven’t heard of them yet? You will as they have a huge war chest to try and invade the West. Look for them to try and exert their muscle on the mobility front as they are skilled copyists just like Samsung a couple of years ago. Sound far-fetched? Consider just 4 years ago this company wasn’t even on the map and now they are #1 in China. Here is the crazy part – they run Android but have made their phone look and behave more like an iPhone than Samsung has ever come close to doing.

6 – Skill shortage continues – The world economies will likely continue to face a number of issues keeping the labor market soft but key skills are in high demand. Just try hiring a Senior Big Data Analyst or a Chief Marketing Technologist. Many other highly skilled positions will continue to be in high demand with many slots going unfilled for more than 12 months.

7- Samsung Out of Steam – Samsung helped lead the Android revolution as they have been great at copying features from everyone else and delivering a quality product. Given that they lost market share this year they will need to come up with something new. Can they finally innovate? I am doubtful and feel they have likely hit a wall. This is part of the reason I think Nokia and others have a chance to rebound this year.

8- Wearables – 2015 appears so far to be more of the same. Lots of products coming out including quite a bit of cool technology. Problem is that many of these lead to gadget fatigue. It is still really hard to leverage all of the data. Many products miss key features and to get everything you want, you would have to wear 10 products at once. Even then the overall benefits are minimal. Until someone really figures this out we won’t be able to see how disruptive this category could really be. Could Apple have the answer?

9 – Startups – Look for a couple of things this year. Money should flow into a range of security related companies, as well-known breaches continue to make headlines throughout the year. Also, look for more specialization around verticals. Many companies will be created to attack vertical industries and continue to disrupt them. Previously, potential customers for these products were stuck developing their own code or having to purchase a major vendor’s product before spending millions to customize it to their needs. This will keep many of the big players on their toes and potentially looking for acquisition targets.

10 – Apple – You know I can’t leave this company alone. OK here is it. Apple Watch is a hard sell. So far I have seen no compelling applications to make me want to buy one – at least not yet. Factor in the faithful and they will probably still sell 7-10m of them in 2015. Question is can this product get legs and really redefine a category? Will this product release define the post-Jobs era? For now prepare for disappointment. On to other things – how about an overhaul of the Mac Air and finally a new Apple TV. The watch better not be the only new thing Apple is banking on to start building momentum beyond 2015. Only caveat – show me a killer app and I might change my mind.

I hope you enjoyed this year’s forecast. What did I miss? What do you see happening big in 2015?

Disclosure – Position in LMOS and NUAN

Report Card – 2014 Themes and Forecast


Time to take a look back at the 2014 Forecast and Predictions and see how they turned out. Overall 2014 had a number of hits along with some disappointments. Let’s start with a review of the companies that seemed like they could be M&A Targets along with one to sell and see how they did.


2014 Picks with Performance Data
Acquired Closing Price 1/6/2014 Last Trade 12/31/2014 Percentage of Change
Blackberry BBRY No 8.01 10.98 37.08%
Fortinet FTNT No 19.24 30.66 59.36%
Game Stop* GME No 48.17 33.8 29.83%
Multi-Fineline MFLX No 13.97 11.23 -19.61%
Nuance NUAN No 15.05 14.27 -5.18%
Rackspace RAX No 36.73 46.81 27.44%
Average Gain 21.49%
*- Recommended selling or could have gone short

Highlights of 2014 – On the Money

Amazon finally getting enough criticism to cause some customers and analysts concern around a number of their strategies.

Avoiding social media stocks such as Yelp, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook along with Amazon which had negative comments in the forecast would have served you well as a number of them were down sharply for the year and the basket would have left you with a loss even with an amazing performance from Facebook.

-The overall portfolio did well against market averages and easily beat them with a 21.49% gain for the year.

Microsoft was a tough call as they are still struggling with handset sales but they seem to have found a winner with the Surface.

IoT was on target with a ton of interest and devices being introduced. A number of vendors are jumping in to figure out how to pull all of this data together and make it more useful.

Google Glass was welcomed to a lukewarm reception. No “killer app” and high price were just a couple of reasons why the units are not flying off shelves.

Outsourcers and Integrators Disappearing seems to be gaining momentum as a wide range of businesses were either bought, merged or closed up shop in 2014. Many researchers are hot on this trend now.

Lowlights of 2014 – Off the Mark though perhaps some just delayed

None of the M&A stocks were acquired though there was some notable interest around at least one of the candidates.

Digital wallet while getting some traction still isn’t widely accepted enough to ditch carrying credit cards and alternate payment methods. Maybe next year especially with Apple’s visibility helping.

3D Printing crimes and legal issues were not major issues in 2014

Apple did not ship a TV or a wearable though one was announced this year.

What could happen in 2015? Check out my next post coming out shortly and let me know if you agree or think I am missing something?

Get Schooled in Business…While Playing Basketball

Pickup BasketballMany of you know I am an avid basketball fan, but what you might not know is that I enjoy playing it as much if not more than watching it. Over the years I have played with friends or found a game to stay in shape, as it is much more interesting than running on a treadmill listening to music. Even if you are not a basketball junkie like me, stick with me as I think there is a valuable business lesson here.

Many people like to compare professional sports to business and there are some good analogies but there are some major differences. Pickup sports give you a much more likely crew of people you are likely to encounter in corporate America. You get to see a ton of people, old and young, all from different backgrounds. I am amazed at how well some people have taken care of themselves. While most of the groups I have played with are relatively young, occasionally I have played with people in their late 50’s and early 60’s and am amazed at how well they have stayed in shape. Perhaps I’m even more amazed that they can play at the level that they do. Talk about setting an example you would like to follow!

Over the years I have joked with friends about the different types of basketball players one encounters at most pick-up games as many of them have been stereotyped in movies and articles. I have come up with my own list and broken them down into 10 main categories below, though you could definitely come up with more, or combine some of these together.


1) Young Buck This kid has skills. He is often the smaller and perhaps the youngest one in the group. This guy lives off of speed and can handle the ball, which means team defense is normally needed to stop him. Since he is smaller, he has perfected driving to the rim and still getting his shot off by studying Tony Parker his entire life. When he gets hot he can often stroke it from deep, but offense is not the only thing he is good at. He disrupts the passing lanes, gets back on D early, gets a number of steals, is a better rebounder than you would picture, and is a general pest on the defensive end. He is still a bit raw and makes some bad decisions, but his athleticism and abilities cannot be overlooked.

2) The Logo This guy come to the gym in the best threads: he can be spotted with the newest sneakers, he often will wear an actual jersey from one of the flashiest players in the league such as LeBron, Westbrook or Bryant. These guys often look in shape so you’d think they probably should have some skills. This image all comes to a shattering halt when they launch their first shot that misses the rim by at least three feet! Don’t even get me started on defense, as they don’t believe in it. This guy falls under “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”


3) Big Man – Every game has to have at least one player on the court who is considerably bigger than everyone else. Regardless of how good this player is in terms of skills, he has the ability to cause match-up problems, set picks, grab rebounds, alter shots, and pick-up garbage buckets. He may have weaknesses, but in basketball you can’t teach size. If he is smart and has a good grasp of the game, he can dominate more on the defensive end.

4) And One – You know this guy. Every play is a foul…especially when he misses his shot which happens often. He routinely drives into traffic out of control and proceeds to throw the basketball over his head. Before he even picks up his dribble to shoot he is beginning to yell “And One”. Bottom line the reason he believes he didn’t make it or turned the ball over is because someone had to have fouled him.

5) JaG – This is “Just a Guy” that shows up to exercise or may claim to love hoops. He is not terrible but not really great at anything. He just doesn’t have the drive or the skill to make impact on a regular basis and makes little effort to improve. He may not lose the game for you but he certainly won’t win it for you either. Not the worst guy to have on your team by far but you are certainly not excited to be playing with him.

6) The Assassin – This guy for a variety of reasons never made it big time, but he is silky smooth and may have played some college ball. He is a match-up nightmare. The only good thing is that he normally plays at half speed as he is not trying to overly impress this group. He can fool you into complacency as he is more than willing to pass to an open man, but he can bust out a move at any time – often dropping a game winning 25 footer with nothing but net. Best signs for spotting an Assassin pre-game? While it can be hard to spot an Assassin until he starts playing a real game, he normally has a shot, and he’s often thinner or shorter than you would think they would need to be for the position he excels. Wearing high quality but older sneakers with a faded basketball camp T-shirt is a dead give-away. This guy often has more to give but you might have to coax it out of him.

7) Cherry Picker – This guy is often out of shape. He rarely gets back on D, and often decides to head back down court any chance he can. He puts tremendous pressure on the rest of his team to cover for him on defense. In his own mind he is an incredibly valuable player, as he scores every game he plays, but he does it at the expense of others.

8) The Hustler – This guy is all heart: Diving for balls, helping out on defense, runs the court, relentless on the glass, seems to have endless energy. His shot is hit or miss, but he gives you everything he has every game. Every team needs a guy like this. He is great at nothing but does a little bit of everything well, plus his energy is infectious.

9) The Black Hole – This guy has enough skills that he has determined in his mind that he is the best player on the team, and feels he should take every shot. He is good enough that teammates want to get him the ball, but they often get frustrated as he misses cutters for layups, forces ridiculous shots in traffic, or pulls up on a 2-on-1 fast break for a 30 foot 3 pointer. You get the picture – he can’t control himself even though he would be much more valuable to the team and a much better player if he would do so. These guys are dripping with talent but can’t harness what they have to make everyone else better. In the NBA they are often labeled “Coach Killers.”

10) The OG – This is the guy you hate playing against. You know you should be able to take him, but he is the only guy on the other team that actually plays defense every possession, understands the game, and is a bit crafty. He often doesn’t mind getting physical – you call it a foul but he grew up wanting to be one of the Piston’s Bad Boys. He never leaves you, as he is focused on holding you scoreless. Your teammates try and force you the ball as they see diminished athleticism due to the Cho-pats. Unfortunately you get your shot blocked or stripped, and while you sigh in frustration he beats you up court for a layup. You get ripped by your friends. He is often overlooked, but then becomes the player who ends up beating you. He is the most frustrating man in pick-up to play against – The Old Guy.

If you want to run the court all day, put together a Young Buck, a Big Man with skills, an Assassin, a Hustler, and an OG – this team will be hard to beat. There are a variety of combinations that will work, but the bottom line is that a mix of skills that complement each other is the best.

How does this tie into business? Re-read the types. Aren’t these the characteristics of people we work with each day? What is tricky about basketball is that it is a team game. No matter what your strengths are, one weak teammate can really hurt your ability to succeed. You can actually win some games with any number of these guys if everything goes right, but the better the competition, the more your weak links are exposed. Sometimes we get to choose who we play with, and sometimes we end up playing with who showed up. Which player are you? Who would you like to play with? Time to up your game? Time to improve your team?

What we’ve got here is failure to communicate…

luke posterNot only is this one of my favorite lines from a movie, it aptly describes a number of situations that severely limit people from reaching their goals. While failure to communicate can adversely impact our relationships with family, friends, coworkers and it can also spell doom for entrepreneurs and company leaders.

Over the past few years I have had the privilege to mentor or observe the actions of a number of extremely bright individuals attempting to inspire others to take action, buy into their vision, obtain sponsors, recruit or raise funds. A subset of this group has fascinated me; while they may have a great idea or a unique perspective or way of seeing things, they are challenged by expressing it clearly and effectively.

It’s hard to put an exact finger on why this subset struggles with expressing something about which they are so passionate. Is it nerves? Lack of training? Is it a language barrier? Lack of preparation? Underestimation of what’s at stake? Shyness? Unfamiliarity of presentation? Never told a camp fire story? Lack of reading? Missed out on bedtime stories? Missed out on class presentations? Not in their genetic make-up? You get the point, and it’s hard to pinpoint to make it addressable.

At a startup camp last year, I was coaching a young entrepreneur who was struggling with how to explain a good idea. I was shocked to learn that he’d been in debate for years and believed that expressing his thoughts was one of his strong suits. Yikes!

I have seen startups who are generating revenue and have a decent business model who botch a pitch so badly that they lose the confidence of everyone in the room. I have also seen a number of extremely bright and capable people struggle with landing jobs or investors due to a heavy accent which exacerbates poor communication, especially if the person speaks too quickly. I’ve witnessed this firsthand with a family friend who has consistently taken jobs beneath her ability due to the aforementioned issues. One notable investor has pointed specifically to thick accents and failures in communication as spelling doom for startups in their investment thesis.

There are definitely exceptions to this rule, and some people may be willing to invest the time and effort to overcome it. But based on my observations the many will not. So what can be done?

Here are 7 suggestions all of us can use regardless of whether we are pitching or presenting:

  • Nothing beats practice. Record yourself and watch/listen. Ask friends, mentors and outsiders to listen to your pitch. Make sure you ask for open feedback. Tell them, SHOOT ME STRAIGHT AND BE BRUTALLY HONEST WITH HOW I PERFORMED. Ask, WHERE CAN I IMPROVE? Then make needed adjustments.
  • Always prepare your material as you would a meal—core staples with a little spice to keep the dish interesting.
  • Don’t read your presentation from PowerPoint slides. Avoid endless reading of bullets and limit the usage. People who really know their stuff shouldn’t be too tied to any notes.
  • Be sure to explain unfamiliar terms and potential uses for your product. Over-familiarity with your industry can be a detriment when pitching to others who may fail to understand why what you have is even needed.
  • Nothing conveys conviction like emotion as citing facts and statistics are not enough. Put some fire in your presentation or put the presentation in the fire.
  • Turn your presentation into a story. Stories are easier to recount and more interesting to your audience especially when they tie in tightly with how your product or solution solves a major problem.
  • Role play with advisors so you can come up with real world objections, questions or interruptions that might throw you off. You will be better prepared to handle them. Nothing is as uncomfortable as pure silence, an incoherent response or failure to even acknowledge what was said.