Bill Liao: Hi Oliver and Hello dear readers Bill Liao is my name and among several things I am variously known as an entrepreneur, diplomat and author.
OG: Can you detail the entrepreneur part a little for us?
BL: Well I first became an entrepreneur at the age of 27 when I quit my day job and founded my own company teaching engineers how to sell. I then went on to become part of the team that took Davenet Limited public in Australia and have been part of 7 IPO’s total. The most recent was XING AG where I was Co-Founder alongside the Founder Lars Hinrichs in Hamburg. I am also a great believer in lean startups and have written a book on the subject called “Stone Soup – the secret recipe for making something from nothing”.
OG: What is the web or mobile innovation of the past year? What changed your personal life most?
BL: I think that the most striking innovation is a recent one where Apple has chosen to integrate Twitter into iOS5. This is the first time a social network has been integrated into an operating system. Knowing that this was coming I redoubled my Twitter efforts. At SOSventures we also invested in Storyful.com. I also created a conduit for my Google Plus content to be rebroadcast on Twitter. Storyful is an interesting innovation because it finds stories on Twitter then helps human journalists to curate and verify those stories.
BL: I really like Twitter and so I hope that it stays and I use it every day. I no longer use facebook every day nor Linked in nor even XING but I use gmail, g+and Twitter every day. Twitter is much faster than all the other news streams because the messages are so short. I just hope they start to deal with all the spam.
OG: Why did XING fail to make the jump to a global scale? Was it good to concentrate on DACH at some point?
BL: XING always needed to serve its core users best and the core is Germany. The problem with the early days of XING was that it was very hard to get the balance between serving members and also existing in an eco system where many corporate partners wanted to have a white label copy of XING. We were distracted by that and that meant we did not internationalize fast enough although we did do well in some other countries than DACH.
OG: Was Steve Jobs an innovator, a genius or just posessed?
BL: On the couple of occasions I met Steve he occured as pretty brusque and he had a posse of very smart people with him. I think Steve inspired devotion amongst those he worked most closely with, especially talented people like Andrew Ives and he kept these people close him, it seems. He was very good at spotting a technology somewhere and applying it to an existing problem he was trying to solve. Also he had very high standards yet a resolute eye on keeping costs down I think from Apple’s first near death experience. So very smart but not posessed.
OG: So Jobs is no role model for managers? He made his money on the back of very talented people? Or is it possible to be human and have high standards at the same time?
BL: Hey that’s a bit unfair. A great manager gains the greatest potential from the team he works with, and I am sure Steve did exactly that. Also he made far less money than the aggregate Apple shareholders most of whom are pension funds the beneficiaries of which are very happy to any return these days. I think to have high standards is a great expression of human integrity.
OG: What is the difference between a good idea and an innovation? And how do you make money from an innovation?
BL: Ideas are worthless good or otherwise invention, creativity and innovation are only worthless ideas to begin with. They need a story and they need execution to become valuable. Most of the time this involves a lot of trial and error. You make more money therefore by iteration than innovation. Just as lone heroes only win in the movies lone ideas only win in fiction as well. Innovation and inspiration someone told me are also inversely proportional to formality. I do wish Steve had iterated the ipad keyboard more though
OG: I understand “execution” (and I think: “iteration”, too) – can you put a little detail in the “story” part? Maybe using XING, the iPhone or Facebook as an example?
BL: A story has three parts – Crisis, Struggle, Resolution. And the best stories have a counter intuitive component. Some surprise. The pain that Steve saw was that mobile devices were fiddly to use and he knew that he could make a device that was cleaner and friendlier. The struggle was in back rooms at Apple for years to come up with the right combination for a minimum viable product to test on the market for real in a very crowded industry. The resolution was the sheer surprise and delight of using the iPhone for the first time. It was breathtaking how different and yet how intuitive it was. The iPhone brand still carries all of the story in its DNA and the surprise that a computer company could make a great mobile device still has not been beaten. The iPad is also a similar story which most people do get. The iPad’s most valuable feature is its day long battery life and yet the competitors do not see that because they focus on the wrong parts of the story.
OG: How come most online and mobile innovation seems to come from the US? Is Europe just a (talented?) copycat?
BL: I am convinced that it is because failure is far more celebrated in the US. In Europe it’s just not OK to fail so people end up not taking enough chances to explore new territory. Steve had some notable failures that would have gotten him fired many times in Europe. So Europe tends to try to refine what someone else creates. The problem is that it’s much much harder to copy something that someone else has spent a decade innovating behind closed doors because you don’t have the deep understanding of the complexity that underpins the simplicity.
OG: Well, Jobs was in fact once fired from Apple – Would you dare to predict the next big thing on the web. Or easier: What should people invest in?
BL: Jobs was fired but by a CEO who came in late with big corporate ideas from a totally non innovative industry. In Europe Jobs would have been fired probably every month… Buy Apple stock it’s still cheap from any perspective.
Still looking to the future mobile, local, social, useful, fun are all the elements of inevitable things going forward. Investable stuff is that which an endure by the way as it’s even harder to predict what you might quickly make a buck on. So it’s best to hang in there because what the company is doing is going to be sustained.
OG: OK, let’s say: the next NEW big thing on the web or in mobile would be…? A social-local-mobile gamified something?
BL: What has mobile technology not yet solved for you? That’s the place to look. What little daily pain has not yet been catered for? I think the way we learn has huge potential. Look at www.coderdojo.com. It’s a new way to learn how to program computers and its free. No it’s not for investment of money and yet as a parent it may be a great way to invest time with your children if they are bright and inclined to learn logic.
OG: Thanks, I’ll check it out with my 11-year-old.Finally two questions about religion: iOS or Android (you partly answered this already as you seem to do this chat interview on an iPad) — Google+ or Facebook? And why?
BL: Android drives me nuts so I have an iPad but I do not have an iPhone. I have an old waterproof Samsung mobile phone because I like the long battery life.
I think Google+ is really well thought through and Facebook I find very tiring to use. So Google+ is my preference combined with Twitter.
OG: Thanks a lot and let’s hope Twitter survives in the Facebook-G+-Wars.
BL: Well, the wars are not between Facebook and g+ plus by the way. The war is being fought in the cloud. Amazon vs Apple vs Google vs Microsoft – they are the only players. Facebook is connected to Microsoft and Twitter to Apple. Will Twapple beat Amazon or Macebook who knows and its fun to watch. Amazon’s silk browser is the only real threat I see to the iPad. Stay tuned
OG: Actually silk made me think about getting some *pad, too. We will watch along with you. Thanks