When Digital Marketing Fails

Take a look at the ad below for Cartier.  When I first came to CNN, I thought the headline “White Supremacists Celebrate…” was referring to the image above.  It took me a second to realize that the images above were for Cartier, the eyewear company.

This is the reason I don’t promote display ads, esp as the remnant inventory. You never know what content will appear next to your ad.  Could the ad be any worse for Cartier?  They are on the same homepage as white supremacists, the deadliest fire in California, and the Dow falling 600 points.  That’s just the top headlines, the bullet point headlines are just as bad.

When I see things like this I bring up a term I came up with called “Display Ad Fail” 0f “DAF” for short.  Brands need to start reevaluating where they show content.  Just because you’re on CNN, does not mean your content will be in a good place to represent your brand.

Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos Drink 10 Cokes A Day, And So Should You!

The best entrepreneurs and billionaires in the world drink coke.  They say that drinking coke really ignites the creative functions in their brain by getting their neurons firing at 100%.   It also allows them to reset their internal body to perform better during the day as they have to go to the bathroom about 10 times a day to remove all the sugary liquid.

If you believed the above  paragraph and were about to get 50 cans of coke, I feel bad for you.  You are one of those people who are always looking for correlations on why people are successful.  I have seen COUNTLESS articles and times when someone is looking to copy something that a successful person does, in hopes of emulating that person’s success.

Tell me if the following sounds familiar.  People dressing like Steve Jobs in order to be as good at building products as him.  People eating the same foods as Warren Buffet to be as rich as him or following the same sleeping routine as Elon Musk.

There is a whole industry (books, magazines, articles etc) such as this one from CNBC on how you can be successful by copying what other successful people do.  This CNBC article is stupid for several reasons.

1 – They say that BOTH Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos do dishes at home (which they might) and that is why they are successful.  But that fact that the two richest people in the world do the same “average guy” chore does not mean they are successful because of it.  It means that they have PR people who are not that creative and are copying the same idea from each other

“hey…let’s tell everyone that Bill does dishes. That will make him more human”  —

two days later “Hey, let’s tell people that Jeff Bezos also does dishes, that will make him more relatable as he kills local retail stores”

2 – I call this behavior the STARTUP CARGO CULT SYNDROME.  This is when someone blindly copies and mimics something in hopes of having the same outcome.  During world war 2, when US military sent technology and cargo to the pacific islands (jeeps, walkie talkies, lights, etc), the primitive natives wanted those things as well and then went about making replica jeeps, walkie talkies and other things from bamboo sticks.  The thing is, they thought by just making something look like something on the outside, it would do the same thing.  There are many stories of them making “airplanes” and flying off cliffs to their ends.

My advice to anyone looking for inspiration is not to look at these “cargo cult” traits that the magazines and newspapers want to sell you.  In reality, the traits that made almost all of the top entrepreneurs successful can be summed up in 5 parts.

1 – They had great timing – Most people don’t want to admit it, but timing is important.  If YouTube launched 2 years earlier or 2 years later, it would have not been as successful as it is now.  Bill Gates got into software at the right time.  Jeff Bezos created Amazon at the right time to be the leader in e-commerce.  Facebook was launched just when people really wanted a “real identity” social network.

2 – They went all in and focused – No great endeavor happens part time.  All successful entrepreneurs went all in and focused like crazy on a singular problem.  Google was just search it’s first 7 years.  Microsoft was just an OS company for its first 5, and WhatsApp is still just messaging.  If you focus on being the best singular product in an industry, you have a shot of building something sustainable.

3 – They were ruthless – let’s not kid ourselves.  All entrepreneurs were ruthless and then they got softer (or their PR got better).  Building something from scratch is hard and you need 100% of your energy and the energy of your employees to make things work.  You will break some eggs along the way.   If you want the truth, Google stole the idea for Adwords from IdeaLab.  Facebook stole it’s idea from two twins who hired Zuckerberg to create a social network for them.  Microsoft crushed any tiny company that it saw as a threat.   The world’s not fair and some of the best things created in the world had very dirty beginnings.

4 – They were learning machines – The best entrepreneurs are one’s who learn everyday.  They are not “know it all’s”, they are “learn it all’s”  – I’ll invest every time in someone who I think is constantly learning and adopting.

5 – They understood scaling – Scale is the thing that separates “lifestyle businesses” from “global enterprises”.  Papa John’s saw something more than just a pizza joint. He saw a franchise opportunity that could be international.  Bill Gates did not just see himself selling software to IBM.  He saw an opportunity to have his software on EVERY computer in EVERY home.  If you can scale your business to reach everyone on the planet, they you have scale.



Rhino’s vs. Unicorn’s

I hate unicorn startups.  Most of them are complete fakes.  Take Fab.com, a typical unicorn startup that had great hype and marketing, but never a real business model and when one thing goes wrong, it collapses like a house of cards.

A typical unicorn startup has the following properties.

1 – A lot of hype and is great to look at.  Looks almost unreal.  The founders look and act like the next Steve Jobs (remember Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes).

2 – A ton of money behind it from flashy VCs who look and act like rainbows.

3 – A unicorn startup, like a unicorn, will collapse and need to be put down if the tiniest thing goes wrong, like a sprained ankle.

Unicorn startups are weak, fake, and built on hype.  A few of them include Theranos, FAB, One Kings Lane, and Outcome Health.

In the case of Outcome Health, it was such a sparkling unicorn that it fooled even Google Ventures, Goldman Sachs and some of the top VCs in the industry.  Everyone wanted it to be a unicorn and they fell in love with the founder story.  Even politicians like Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren and the mayor of Chicago visited Outcome Health and were spellbound by the company.  Yet, in the end, it was all fake.  A complete sham.

If you are an aspiring VC, please note that if you see these traits in a startup, run the other way – a lot of hype, flashy founders with no substance, a lot of money behind them, a product that is hard to explain / mysterious.  These type of companies almost always break an ankle easily and need to be put down.


Now, a Rhino startup is what you want to invest in.

1 – Rhino startups are tough as hell.  They don’t budge and if challenged, they get more into the fight.  This is the trait I want in the founders of a Rhino startup.  I love founders who are real and genuine.  They know who they are and don’t pretend to be someone else.  I remember living in Silicon Valley when Facebook became hot and seeing all these wanna-be founders walking around with a hoodie and acting like Mark Zuckerberg.  Stay away from those founders.  They are fake, flashy, and weak.  They crumble at the first sign of trouble.

I only invest in founders who know who they are and don’t pretend to be anything else.  They may be rough around the edges, they may be difficult to work with, and they might not fit in the mold of a “typical founder”, but I know I am getting the real thing.  I want founders who are tough, not afraid of a good fight and will not let go of something until they succeed.   You can shoot a Rhino 20 times and they will still keep coming at you.   Rhino’s don’t quit and that’s what I want to invest in.  What I don’t want to invest in is a founder who like a unicorn, at the slightest sign of trouble, they crumble and run the other way.

2 – Rhino startups are hard to move and hard to stop because of their size and speed (yes, they run over 30 mph).  I like startups that can build an unstoppable momentum behind them.  A great startup will generate marketshare fast and make it impossible for someone else to stop them.  Think of the network effect of Facebook, Microsoft and eBay.  Or think of the utility value created by Google, WhatsApp, and Uber.  All of these companies created such scale and momentum that they are hard to stop.  In fact, these companies generate such a momentum that even company mistakes can be overcome.  Think about all the mistakes Uber management has made and how most other startups would have crumbled.  Yet, because Uber is such a good product with such scale, they can survive.

3 – They have a killer single horn.  Their product is so good and so focused that it’s next to impossible for another company to catch them.  Google did nothing but search for 6 years, Microsoft was just an OS for 7 years, and Facebook is still “only” a social network.  Most Rhino startups are really really good at one thing and make a lot of money from it.  I love companies that have a category killer product.  Something so good and powerful, that’s its 100x better than the competition.  A Rhino’s horn is a killer feature / product of the Rhino.  I expect each startup I invest in to have something similar.  In comparison, a unicorn’s horn is weak and fragile.  It won’t do you much good in a fight.  Most unicorn startups have horns like these.  They don’t work in the real world.  Remember the startup called Color.  It had all the makings of a unicorn startup and the tell tale sign was that they had a product no one wanted to use.

You will never go wrong investing in a Rhino.


How The US Post Office + Microsoft (Or Google / Amazon) Can Save 375 Million Trees Per Year!

Every year, the average US resident gets 41 POUNDS of junk mail! That’s nearly 15 BILLION pounds of paper that is destroyed throughout the year to send mail.

This does not even include normal mail (credit card statements, govt. notices, letters from people, etc). In total, we are probably destroying 25 to 30 BILLION pounds of paper in order to send mail in the USA. It takes about 25 trees to produce a ton of paper (2 thousand pounds). Thus, 375 MILLION trees are being cut down per year in order to support our paper mail addiction.

The US Post office can save the environment and actually be more profitable in the process. Here is how we get there.

1 – The post office makes every US resident get an email address with @usps.com domain. The Post office would assign the email addresses to each resident – it could be some combo of people’s name and random numbers, or just random numbers of a certain length (imagine a “postal number” – that is like your social security number).

2 – We don’t need the Post Office to build out this technology. Microsoft, Google or Amazon can handle this scale with their current services. We can have the US Post office submit a bid to these tech giants to power this email system. Here’s the cool part. We dont need fancy features here – No chatting, calendering, or other things. Just pure e-mail that comes into an inbox.

3 – Here is the simple “innovation”. No one can randomly email to people with a @usps.com address. Current direct marketing firms and other firms who send a lot of marketing mail such as credit card companies would have to sign up with USPS to be on a whitelist of valid senders. Once a firm is approved and wants to send mail to let’s say, to all households in New Jersey, they can just filter to that segment and create an email and send it out via the @usps.com platform. Now, they would have to pay for this. We would have “digital stamps” – so maybe instead of spending 35 cents per mail, the marketer is charged 25 cents per household delivery. This becomes a great way for the post office to maintain a strong revenue stream and might actually result in more companies wanting to send mail through this platform. It also reduces the burden on the post office to physically deliver this mail (gas costs, truck costs, man hours, etc). The existing postal mail carriers can then focus all their energy on sending “bulky” mail to households – such as amazon boxes, gift boxes, food deliveries , etc. This would allow the post office to compete more successfully with the likes of FedEx and UPS.

4 – We would make all Government related communication come through this platform as well. So any notice from the Social Security Office, IRS, Medicare, your state or local govt, etc would come through this platform. The nice thing here is that we will be able to track if people got the message and read it.

This is NOT that hard of a technical problem to solve. The technology and scale already exists and can be provided by Microsoft, Google, or Amazon. If this was created and enforced by the US Govt, within 5 years, we can greatly reduce forest pollution at a scale that would actually be meaningful for the planet.

Jay Bhatti

My TEDx Talk

I had the privilege of giving a TED talk last year.  If anyone is interested in learning why Silicon Valley became what it is today and why New Jersey missed out, check this out:





Bell Works Aims to Change The Entire Tech EcoSystem in the East Coast

A while back, I wrote an article on Business Insider about how startups are getting tired of New York City’s overcrowded and overpriced co – working spaces. With a lack of viable options, most startups are stuck either staying in NYC, moving Brooklyn, or even going to Jersey City. However, all of those options are not that much cheaper than staying in NYC and more importantly, they do not help the startup create a certain vibe and culture with their workspace.

I recently got a tour of a MAJOR effort going on at the old Bell Labs in Holmdel, New Jersey that should spark some major tech investments in New Jersey. As a former startup founder who worked in the heart of Silicon Valley, I know the value of having a big open workspace with a campus environment. Many startups today in Silicon Valley struggle between wanting to have their startups located in the heart of Silicon Valley (Redwood City, Menlo Park, Cupertino, etc.) vs. having their startup move into the city center of San Francisco. If New York City is the San Francisco of tech in the east coast, then the new Bell Works in Holmdel, NJ is trying to become the Silicon Valley of the east coast. To understand what is going on at Bell Works, let’s begin with its history.

Bell Works was previously Bell Labs, a famous research office park designed by legendary architect Eero Saarinen. With over 2 million square feet of space, the facility has more space than the Empire State Building! Imagine the Empire State Building filled with nothing but tech startups and thousands of engineers!

Over 8 Nobel Peace Prize winners worked at Bell Labs during different times and things like the transistor, continuous laser beam, and the touch-tone telephone were invented at Bell Labs.

However, after some hard times by the owner of Bell Labs (Alcatel Lucent), the building was let go in 2006 and a few years later was considered for demolishment.
Luckily, in 2013, Somerset Development bought the entire building for $27 million. A steal when you think about just how massive the building is compared to other buildings. Yet, while the purchase price was reasonable, the amount of work needed to bring it back to life was considerable.
I was given a personal tour of the massive facility by the Garibaldi Group, who is the responsible for filling out the space with tech startups.
The plan is for the entire first floor to be filled with retail stores, restaurants, coffee shops, dry cleaners, a library and plenty of natural light and garden type seating. When complete, this space will rival the offices of Google and Facebook.
This is what it looks like right now.
The future garden area being designed.
The first floor is already being used for large-scale community events.
The remaining floors are dedicated to technology / innovation based companies. A hotel in Bell Works is also in the works. Not to mention a full conference space, dining facility, etc. While Bell Works will welcome traditional tenants who work with innovative companies (high tech lawyers, patent lawyers, etc.), the main goal is to have the space filled with emerging technology companies – Biotech, e-Commerce, Internet of Things, FinTech, etc.
Bell Works on the inside actually looks like four massive buildings connected by an outer shell of massive glass blocks.
While most of the space is for long-term tenants, if your looking to get going at Bell Works in a co-working / short-term setting, the official co-working space provider of Bell Works, Work At Vi, is open for business with office space ready to go. Check out http://workatvi.co to see what space is currently available.
One of the big selling points is that Bell Works is located central to many things within the tri-state region. At one time Bell Labs had over 6,000 engineers working in the building! Imagine what it would be like if there where dozens of companies with hundreds of engineers each working on the next wave of innovation in several industries.
I was in awe of the Bell Works facility during my visit. Not only in it’s rich history of innovation and contribution to science, but also to the potential it has as a future hub of innovation. Only time will tell if it succeeds, but if it does, it will change the entire technology landscape of the East Coast.