Cusps (long)

The purpose of this post is to take a screenshot of my emotions.

Some of you know what is the life of a start-up: you get an idea, bet on it then start to work to turn the idea into reality, fully knowing that >90% of such ideas never make it. Countless books have been written to explain the mechanism whereby you still run the risk in the face of overwhelming failure odds, so I won’t go into that.

As time progresses you pick up feedback: your idea may be wrong because you overlooked something, or your plan was over-optimistic (nearly always), or you misjudged the competition, or the time is wrong, or the technology is immature.

But you also pick positive feedback, which is why talking to potential clients as early as possible is so important: your ability to get the attention of the right level tells you if the itch you’re scratching is important enough, and every conversation will reveal if someone else is already working on the same itch, perhaps further down the solution alley than you are.

Then you hit a cusp: some discontinuity that changes radically the game, altering the landscape in some irreversible manner: to abuse a buzzword, the cusp generates an evolutionary discontinuity.

Fact is, cusps do not occur only in start-ups: during the 35 years of my business life I have experienced several, but even if my performance in exploiting them varied from great to awful, I can rest in the knowledge that such performance was never influenced by lack of focus: every time I spotted the approaching cusp I dedicated 120% of my abilities to make the most of it.

Here is a brief account of my four cusps so far.

When at Olivetti (and IBM before that) the PC was but the latest fad, interesting but ultimately inconsequential. The shock which woke me up was a Client (a big bank) asking me to sell them some PCs, provided – they said – they were “Lotus 1-2-3 compatible”. See? Not “IBM compatible”.

The cusp was the fact that software would dominate the world of PCs which would dominate Information Technology. So I started reading the friday papers, until I found a recruitment ad from Lotus Development, I applied and got interviewed by a recruiter who said they were instructed NOT to consider anyone from IBM or Olivetti; I responded “They did not say anything about avoiding someone who comes from BOTH” and got the job.

Mark that as an A.

After six years of successfully selling office apps at Lotus one day I came across the internal announcement of a new development project. At that time, Lotus had their fingers in many pies, and most new projects – however sexy – never amounted to much: Agenda, Improv, Manuscript, HAL just to name a few.

But Notes was different.

First of all, they couldn’t even explain what it did, but luckily my technical background was still fresh enough I could learn for myself to the point I was one of the first people in Europe (and certainly the only Country Manager) who knew how to write Notes apps; for many years, every Notes installation in Italy came with my trademark Jokes Database and for the following year I tried to get a job as International Marketing for Notes without success.

It is perhaps the only time my motivation was only 100% (not 120%);  I was sort of expecting my employers to recognize on their own right I was “obviously” the right person for that job, and when they didn’t, I gave up and left.

I deserve a D for not trying hard enough.

My entrepreneurial move was not such a cusp, as it was more the result of the existing agency partners realizing they needed someone with more managerial and international skills to grow the agency and they had spotted me.

Myself, I just wanted to move on, they were fun people, I liked the business so I took the opportunity.

The cusp came a few years later when we were already doing very well and, during the preparation of one of the numerous new business pitches, an elderly gentleman said they were looking for an agency in Italy for what could be a very significant PR contract.  I remember saying to my partners: “I better dress as a grown-up for once”.

When the pitch was over I thought that, indeed, IBM could become a very large client, but I was wrong: their contract over the years came to be the largest ever in Italy for any agency and the custody of that relationship (across many changes in management on the client side and structures of the international contract) became my life for the next six or seven years.

Another A.

The next cusp was more insidious, as it would be silly to claim any foresight in understanding the importance of Digital: after all, by 2001 we also had Amazon and eBay as clients, so the shift to digital was the proverbial tide lifting all boats. But in that general swelling there was a smaller trend which not many recognized and that was the importance of Social which we started practicing very, very early on. In 2003, one full year before Facebook even existed, we  convinced a huge client to shift its digital budget to a social project, winning as many awards as we cared to enroll in.

We continued to invest in that capability for years, but while we got some success, we failed to turn it into the runaway breakthrough or to convince the entity which in the meanwhile had bought our agency.

When I left in 2013. I decided to dump everything I knew in a book, just to draw a tidemark on the shore which, to my knowledge, it’s still the highest I saw in Digital both in Italy and abroad.

It’s still a dearly loved topic for public speaking, but no more than a C overall.

This friday I saw  another such cusp approaching: the work I am doing with One Wedge has the potential to become an infrastructural play of enormous proportions because many factors (including sheer luck)  are serendipitously converging in this time and space. Potential of course means nothing without execution, but the surprising and vivid interest demonstrated by two enormous infrastructural players told me the execution needle just moved from 0% to maybe 5%.

Of course, my ego is flattered by the praise poured on what I said on the preliminary conversations which led to the setting up of the meetings where they  invited me to hear what I have to say.

So now I am looking forward to two meetings with immense potential: until last thursday I thought that just getting the meetings would be an enormous achievement, but now that they are in my diary I see how wrong I was. Obtaining the right of presenting our idea means nothing if we cannot convince them to go with it, so my anxiety has not abated at all; in fact this post is a good way to record it, as the brain tends to obliterate unpleasant memories after the fact.

Obviously I do not expect the meetings will deliver any unmistakable result or cross any no-return line: the world did not change abruptly after any of the other cusps, so I don’t know how long it will be before I can give myself a score on this.

Be patient and come along for the ride.



grillfatherThe 2017 edition of the Charity BBQ (our third) was held on Sunday, October 1st.

We had a total attendance of 80 people + 9 kids, collected just a shade under 1,000 euros, of which a little more than 400 were spent on food. It is obvious that many thought of giving more than the chair’s rent to the cause, thanks to all for your generosity.

This morning I delivered the resulting 600 euro to the good friars of Canepanova, who cook over 120 free meals a day for the needy.

Frate Camillo was very happy to receive the donation and asked me to wholeheartedly thank all who participated; he also gave me a calendar with all the activities they organize which will be hung in our kitchen for all to see next year.

I asked them to come next year to tell you directly about the good deeds they do, and they promised me to come. In return, I promised him this picture of the group (thanks, Giuseppe!)

2017 10 01 gruppo

It was a great day, maybe the sun wasn’t really shining, but it did not rain, so we could enjoy the lawn: ages ranged from 5 to 91, Giorgio came all the way from London on purpose and Lita is from Singapore.

There’s plenty of pictures on Facebook: here (by Giuseppe) here (by Lita) and here (by Gabriele); if you put up more, email me and I’ll link them here.

Many expressed their thanks which I would like to underwrite to my wonderful and patient family: Aurora, the Receptionist, Camilla, the Sous-Chef, Federico, the Waiter and of course my wife Mirella, the Chef of the day. You will be pleased to learn that there were no leftovers whatsoever: we consumed around 40 kilos of various meats, 20 kilos of potatoes, 15 kilos of corn on the cob, 9 kilos of bread and 12 kilos of homemade buns, 32 bottles of wine and about the same of soft drinks and water and 110 servings of dessert, demonstrating someone cheated !

We also played 109 great tracks of good Rock’n’Roll while I burned a few spare ribs, inhaled tons of smoke, and had a wild time.

We can do better, we will do better.

Planning’s already under way to stretch attendance to 200, so watch this space. Suggestions and ideas welcome at

La terza edizione del Barbecue Benefico si è tenuta domenica 1 ottobre 2017. Abbiamo avuto 80 presenze + 9 bambini, raccolto appena meno di 1,000 euro, di cui circa 400 sono serviti a comprare quello che se semo magnati. È dunque ovvio che più d’uno ha dato più dell’affitto della sedia, grazie a tutti per la generosità.

Stamattina ho portato i 600 euro ai buoni frati di Canepanova, che preparano oltre 120 pasti caldi al giorno per i bisognosi.

Frate Camillo è stato molto contento di riceverli e mi ha chiesto di ringraziarvi tutti; mi ha anche regalato un calendario dove riportano tutte le attività meritorie che fanno e me lo sono appeso in cucina, dove potrete vederlo l’anno prossimo; li ho anche invitati a venirci a raccontare le loro attività l’anno prossimo e mi ha promesso che ci saranno. In cambio gli invierò la foto di gruppo che ha fatto Giuseppe.

È stata proprio una bella giornata, forse non splendeva il sole, ma non ha piovuto, lasciandoci godere il giardino: le età andavano dai 5 ai 91 anni, Giorgio è venuto apposta da Londra e Lita è di Singapore.

Ci sono un sacco di foto su Facebook, tra cui quelle di Giuseppe, di Lita e di Gabriele. Se ne postate altre, mandatemi il link che lo aggiungo.

In molti mi avete ringraziato (e vorrei unirmi a voi) per il lavoro della mia fantastica e paziente famiglia: Aurora la Receptionist, Camilla la Sous-Chef e Federico il Cameriere oltre naturalmente a mia moglie Mirella, lo Chef della giornata. Sarete lieti di sapere che non è avanzato niente: ci siamo sbafati circa 40 chili di carni varie, 20 chili di patate, 15 chili di pannocchie, 9 chili di pane e 12 chili di panini, 32 bottiglie di vino ed altrettante di acqua e bibite, oltre a 110 porzioni di dolce (ovviamente qualcuno ha barato!)

Abbiamo anche suonato 109 tracce della mia mega playlist di ottimo Rock’n’Roll mentre io bruciavo qualche costina, inalavo tonnellate di fumo divertendomi da matti.

Ma naturalmente si può fare di meglio, e di meglio faremo.

La pianificazione dell’edizione 2018 è già partita con l’obiettivo di raddoppiare, dunque tenete gli occhi aperti. Se avete suggerimenti, scrivetemi a:


Le lezioni del mio piano di riqualificazione energetica

Qualcuno sa che a partire dal 2013 ho intrapreso un ambizioso piano di riqualificazione della mia vecchia casa in provincia di Pavia.

Una sintetica scheda dell’immobile:

  • casa di campagna isolata costruita a partire dal 1550
  • circa 650 mq di superficie
  • esposta su quattro lati
  • consumi energetici: EE 14.000 kWh/anno + gas 7,000 SMC/anno = circa €8,000 / anno

Gli interventi sono consistiti in:

  • installazione impianto fotovoltaico 15 kWp Sunpower + Inverter Power One Trio
  • separazione produzione ACS con installazione bollitore a condensazione Keizer 24kW
  • installazione climatizzatori estate/inverno a pompa di calore (7 unità split Daikin 80.000 BTU totali)
  • progressiva sostituzione infissi esistenti con altri più performanti

L’investimento totale è stato di circa 60.000 euro (al lordo di detrazioni decennali per circa 40.000) dunque circa 20,000 netti; inoltre l’aggiunta della prestazione del condizionamento ha comportato un consumo ulteriore pari a circa 3,500 kWh, portando il totale a sfiorare i 18,000 kWh / anno, di cui circa 4,500 in autoconsumo (circa il 25-30% della mia produzione).

Del prezzo unitario di gas e luce non tratterò, in quanto li ho contenuti con una aggressiva politica di negoziazione con i fornitori e dunque hanno avuto relativamente poco impatto.

La mia spesa energetica attuale oscilla (a seconda delle temperature esterne) attorno ai €4,600 complessivi, con un risparmio di €3,400 (oltre ai circa 700 del condizionamento) determinando un rientro del mio investimento in poco meno di 6 anni. Rispetto dunque alla previsione “di progetto” (rientro in 8 anni) mi considero soddisfatto.

Il differenziale tra prezzo totale di vendita e acquisto del kWh nel quadro del contratto SSP è stabilmente intorno al 75%, rendendo NON conveniente l’installazione di un accumulo a batteria, che avrebbe tempi di rientro ridicolmente lunghi.

Quale prossimo passo, oltre a proseguire la lunga opera di sostituzione degli infissi (22 finestre !!!) sto valutando la sostituzione della vecchia caldaia principale da 70 kW  non a condensazione che, ahimé, alimenta l’impianto di riscaldamento a zona unica con una più piccola (35 kW) a condensazione che, in linea di principio, è in grado di offrire la stessa prestazione termica risparmiando circa il 25% del combustibile, ma solo se riesco a contenere l’investimento entro i 10.000 euro.

12 years and counting…

Today marks the 12th anniversary of the first post on this blog. Twelve years and about 1,800 posts later, I still find dumping good and bad ideas into this reservoir a rather practical way of making sure I do not forget something that may be of use later.

I am sorry I miss from the Archive the first three years (the original Geektalk – that’s why it’s called “Son of Geektalk”) which were on a self-hosted platform I lost control of when I lost control of my own IT when Omnicom bought my agency, way back in 2000: the fact that it took almost five years to capitulate will give you a hint of how stubborn I can be…

Actually, my post rate has slowed down quite a bit in 2016/2017 as I have started another blog (in Italian…) on the subject of sustainable mobility; it is attached to the website of One Wedge, the start-up I founded with my brother and an adventuresome friend.

To mark the anniversary, I added an Archive widget below, for the historians among you to peruse the evolution of silly ideas over the course of more than a decade.

To the next 12 !

What’s in the sausage?

Few topics get the moaning started like Fake News: from the damage it inflicts on the political discourse, to the assassination of the role of independent media, to the emergence of populisms, the list goes on…

Of course, the Internet did not invent propaganda machines which have existed since man learned to communicate. Propaganda may be a common weapon of every war, but our age distinguish itself in supporting another type of propaganda, the kind whose ultimate objective is NOT winning a war or electing a candidate, but to make money.

meatgrinderThe great innovation of twenty-first Century propaganda is simply the fact it makes more money than it costs.

I have described in a previous post how the mechanism of Resonance works, by creating a positive feedback mechanism which amplifies the effect much in the same way as a Laser works.

The equivalent of the intensity of light is eyeballs and eyeballs can be monetized through the meat grinder of ad networks, primarily of Google.

This guy tells us of a french startup called Storyzy (thanks, Renato) who built a system to monitor a brand’s presence on fake news sites: given a target list, Storyzy scrapes the names of brands from the ads.

Storyzy’s business model is B2B, it seems; once the report is done, they send a nice letter to the brands who appear where they shouldn’t, offering to license the API to run the monitoring in-house. However, it seems, the response has been lukewarm at best: once again, marketing departments distinguish themselves for not understanding the media they use: while they would object to a family restaurant ad sitting across from a gynecological image on Hustler, they commit a portion of their budget to “the Internet” simply demanding it does not end on the Daily Stormer or on pedophile rings and that’s it.

The role of Google is well understood and studied, and I am sure they defend themselves by saying that they would honour any request for exclusion received from an advertising investor. The rest of the intermediaries never excelled in transparency (who pays what commissions to whom?) so it’s not surprising they are less forthcoming about the details of the scheme.

I think what the system is missing is the self-policing element of a TripAdvisor: despite the potential (and the reality) for abuse, those conflicting-interest balances work better than top-down systems pitching consumer and suppliers against each other to make sure both sides are heard. Storyzy needs to open up its data to consumers, so that they get to see who supports whom.

Turn Storyzy into a an editorial service, attract thousands of customers to it, deliver its results in eye-catching infographics that people could share.

Expose what’s in the sausage…

Resonance Marketing (long)

One or two of you will know I have published two books of very little success: you can find the appropriate links on the right-hand side panel ➔➔➔➔➔➔,

Originally this piece was meant to be a synopsis for my third book, but writing in large parcels is boring, so it may never bloom into the full format.

Although the remarks in this essay are of a general nature, I will make references to the M5S system(*) to illustrate my points. Their success is the best testimony of the soundness of the professional advice contained in my books, although it is NOT the result of its direct application, but rather a case of contemporary invention (**).

To be honest, I think they have carried “our” model much further than I had imagined, so I feel it’s time to give my side a refresh to include these latest developments.

The LASER analogy

The first element I need to add is something I called the LASER effect; the word LASER is an acronym which means Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation and its physics, called Optoelectronics, are quite complex and certainly beyond the scope of this short essay (although I proudly remember scoring a very decent 28/30 in my time).

In layman terms, however, a laser is an optical cavity between two mirrors being “pumped” with energy: light injected in the cavity bounces back and forth between the mirrors and, thanks to one of the many miracles of quantum physics, it gets amplified at each passage ON EXACTLY THE SAME FREQUENCY AND PHASE of the incident light, eventually escaping from one of the two mirrors, which is only partially opaque.

What makes the laser so unique is the coincidence between incoming and outgoing light: a ray comes in and a thousand rays come out with precisely the same frequency and phase.

This coherence is the reason a laser beam travels so much further than an ordinary light ray (for example to carry a signal to the Moon and back), or why it can deliver a very concentrated amount of energy in a small region (for example for microcircuit etching) or why it can “read” microscopic optical details on a surface without touching it (for example in a CD or DVD). A laser is the superhero of light rays.

From Optoelectronics to Communications

Now transpose this to communications: if you could amplify a message the same way you do with a light ray, preserving frequency and phase, this message would travel much farther and would deliver a much stronger punch.

In my book, I explain how a proper “tuning” to the spontaneous interests of a community ensures a story is much more successful. I also describe the mechanisms to perform this tuning, by means of something called ontological analysis.

The great revolution of digital marketing is no more than this: instead of relying on the shaky intel provided by market research which usually carries A LOT of inference, now people express their view in public forums in written form – give me a little time and with some ontological analysis I can tell you with amazing precision what’s in their minds.

If tuning is not a problem, then we already have the amplification mechanism: if topics A, B and F are much stronger than C, D and G, all I have to do to make my message “resonate” (another word stolen from physics) is to push out much more A, B and F than C, D and G.

What is the equivalent of the optical cavity? Some place saturated with A, B and F where the message will bounce back and forth between mirrors gaining strength at each passage; it’s important that the radiation is coherent, remember? So this optical cavity is perfectly represented by the page of someone who’s strongly attuned to A, B and F and has a large network (the equivalent of the energy pumped in the cavity).

The practical set-up

As I say in my disclaimer below, I have no knowledge whatsoever of the innards of the M5S system, or any other propaganda setup: I am merely describing how the extension the methodology I outlined in “For Friends, not for Brands!” could IMHO achieve the very same results.

  1. TUNE the system: this could be done by hand (after all, we analyzed by hand the whole political program of the largest European Party across four countries in less than five weeks with a handful of people, so I know it can be done. However, given the need to repeat this analysis over and over, I would rather fine-tune (or write) a software tool that does the heavy lifting of sorting through millions of conversations, while a small group of elite political analysts provides the final intelligence
  2. prepare the INJECTORS: in my methodology, I advocated the use of proprietary assets to store the content and push it to social media. In the case of the M5S it is well known that they control a large number of outlets which push out news, both real and fake, incessantly day and night.
  3. identify the RESONATORS: these are users with the profiles I described above; if Facebook is the platform of choice, they will all have the maximum 5,000 friends and be very active. Moreover, I would map them by topic and cross-check their networks to ensure minimum overlap and maximum geographical coverage. It would not be difficult to reward them by allowing them early access to prime “content” from the Injectors.
  4. Put in place any commercially available ad server to PAY for all that. Since the traffic flowing through the system is huge, it easily pays for itself, unlike more traditional propaganda machines.

Once the system is ready, all you have to do is flip the switch and watch the clockwork.

People sometimes ask me why I left my old job and well, now you know: the ease with which it can be abused gives me the creeps…

(*) the M5S (Italian acronym for”Five Star Movement”) system was created by the late Roberto Casaleggio, co-founder and inspirer of a political party often described as populist which very successfully broke on the Italian political scene in 2009 around the charismatic figure of comedian Beppe Grillo, and currently commands between 25% and 30% of vote, vying with the Democratic Party for the top spot. They are very far from my own political leanings.

(**) Around the turn of the century I consulted for one of mr. Casaleggio’s companies, but on other subjects, so I do not think I had any role in the development of his approach to political communications on the Internet.

When tech is funny as hell…

…it’s usually involuntary.

Yesterday I updated my Navdy HUD navigation system to the new 1.3 software release. It’s a massive improvement over the previous version, including tons of nifty new features and making the product even more usable. Highly recommended.

Among the many new features is also international language support, really necessary because turn-to-turn directions trying to pronounce Italian or French road names or reading aloud SMS or emails in Italian did not work at all, to the point I had switched it off.

So I set it to Italian: the voice is a pleasant contralto, nice choice. But somehow (maybe it’s me) I can’t find how I switch the language of the UI to Italian.

Here’s the situation: I am driving while Joe Pesci’s little sister gives me directions and I am beginning to worry the crap out about what will happen if I don’t follow them…

“I told you to turn-a right at the traffic-a light-a, what am I, your fuckin’ clown? Am I here to amuse you?

Navdy support, help !!!!!

Negating personal brands

A while back I wrote a small piece in response to a speech request describing what I believe is a Personal Brand.

Obviously mine are nothing but opinions, and – equally obviously – not everyone shares them. In particular my LinkedIn profile was visited today  by a person I don’t know who evidently thinks exactly the opposite of what I think.

Nothing in his profile identifies him as a person: he has no name, no face, not even a bio which does not tell us where he worked and when.

Besides, he claims he’s been in the role of Web Marketing Manager for almost 20 years, which is remarkable given the fact 20 years ago a lot of the Web as we know it today did not exist at all. That is not to say you could not do many of essentially the same things: I myself described what I consider one of my greatest achievements in Digital dating back to 1999.

Not one of his numerous posts are his writing: he likes and re-posts stuff he finds here and there.

And his personal website is not much better; actually it’s exactly the same content dressed in a plain HTML website written probably in the 70’s and never reviewed again.

In short what I do not like about such a profile is its complete lack of transparency, a trait I consider essential in this age of fake this and that.

That said, he’s got over 20,000 followers, while I am barely pushing 2,000 so, by that measure, Luca S. is right and I am wrong.

I’ll do my best to get over it.

Screenshot 2017-08-06 12.54.14.png

#TGD – update 3

Don’t go look for Update 2 of The Great Digitization, you did not miss it; that was last summer, but I never bothered writing it, so I am going straight from Update 1 to Update 3.

I may have already mentioned how incredibly time-consuming this task is: in the long pauses while the scanner does its thing I have time review the images, participate in two or thee different Facebook discussion, write this blog post.

Thanks God, unless I work on badly damaged film, usually the “auto” setting of the scanning software gives good results, but each image must be centered and scanned manually while trying to save it in the right place in the directory structure.

IMG_20170805_164640.jpgMy workstation was greatly improved by the addition of a large screen where I can leave the scanning and filing panes while I do other stuff on the computer’s screen.

Unfortunately, the settings I chose (2400 dpi and some scratch removing – this film is  over 20 years old, after all…) are not exactly the fastest, s each image takes about one minute.

How long until complete? Take your guess; mine is about 100 rolls x 36 images x 1 minute = about 60 hours


All of this while I wait for the concrete to dry on my step…

Sad political post

I realized I have no right to sneer at the myopic decision of Brexit: looking at the latest polls, Italy could have a Five Star + Northern League government, say early 2018.

Then on October 31st, 2019 mr. Draghi’s mandate at the ECB expires to be followed (presumably) by a German Governor, unlikely to continue with the easy money policy, also because the EU economy has picked up some strength in the meanwhile and inflation may be approaching the 2% target. Net result: Italy’s interest expense shoots up by tens of billions.

The new Italian Government is now seriously (ha!) discussing leaving the EU and/or the Euro: imagine Brexit only a thousand time worse: no concrete planning, haphazard monetary policies and abysmal negotiation skills further undermined by a position that’s a thousand time worse than Britain’s but wrapped in the same bombastic populism to whip domestic support casting Europe and immigrants as The Enemy.

The military ineptitude of our Country is about the only silver lining, as it guarantees we can’t ignite the Third World War, but corporates (and the individuals who can, typically the better-educated, language-speaking group) won’t wait for this and will flee the country in droves, taking trillions of capital with them.

In a weird twist, the only capital for investment will be the Government’s making a right wing Government behave like a replica of the worst South American socialism: company after company, bank after bank will be nationalized making larger and larger swaths of the economy subject to political power, corruption and shenanigans.

Economy wizards who got their degree on YouTube resort to sky high inflation to wear off the crushing debt (maybe even theorizing the possibility of a “controlled default”)and to aggressive devaluation to bolster exports, hugely depressing the value of anything not Euro-denominated: despite the nationalization efforts, prepare for an asset liquidation on a scale never seen in history, Greece will be a petty yard sale by comparison.