The New Universal Language

Posted by Richard Moran.

There is a new universal language. It crept in sometime between the advent of the first fax machine and the death of the pager that we wore on our belts.

A quick quiz of most people about the universal language will generate responses like:

  • A kiss. It is the global signal of love although there are very few with whom I want to communicate with this language.
  • The middle finger. Everyone knows what it means and it is not good to be the recipient of the message so this language carries some unfortunate baggage. It is a language that almost always makes someone feel really bad.
  • English. Since most Americans speak no other language, we have imposed this language on the rest of the universe.
  • Music. A preferred language by all but now that MySpace has bazillions of bands and artists on it, there are too many dialects of the language. Which is better, Bach or Beastie Boys?
  • Food. Before salmonella, South Beach Diet and going vegan, this was a good language. Now it seems cluttered with too many celebrity chefs telling you how to communicate in this language
  • Money. Once the banks, the dollar, the stock market and the price of oil recover, this could be a good language again. In the meantime, money is an inconsistent language.

All the communication turmoil leaves just one universal language – PowerPoint.


Bill Gates may go down in history for his riches and for eliminating malaria, but his real contribution will be the creation of PowerPoint as the universal language. It is even being used as a social medium.

Last time I checked Wikipedia’s definition, it said that “a universal language is a hypothetical, historical or mythical language said to be spoken and understood by all or most of the world’s population. … it may be the primary language of all speakers, or the only existing language; in others, it is a fluent secondary language used for communication between groups speaking different primary languages. Some mythological or religious traditions state that there was once a single universal language among all people, or shared by humans and supernatural beings; this is not supported by historical evidence.”

The historical evidence is now all around us.

  • We speak in headlines backed up by a few bullets.
  • Entire books, like Nuts, Bolts and Jolts, are written of just bullets.
  • My children use PowerPoint in their grammar school everyday.
  • Meetings will not start until the projector warms up to show the PowerPoint presentation.
  • The three letters PPT are as well known as FYI, and IBM, LOL.
  • The phrase “Next Steps” is now as welcome as “Free” or “This is Not A Bill.”
  • News organizations, like eWeek, are delivering their stories in slideshows.
  • Companies are being formed to distribute PowerPoint presentations they’re being used as social media.
  • I’m posing my argument in bullets right now.

One of Venrock’s portfolio companies – Slideshare is leading the charge in in this area. New forms and styles of PowerPoint presentations are appearing. People are using PowerPoint to tell stories – like our friend Henry. They are using Slideshare to share heavy files and publish them broadly through the Web.

Next Steps

The good news about PPT is that it is efficient. The bad news is that it is often not effective unless accompanied by a non-virtual person. As a communication tool, it needs to tell a story. That’s all. As the new universal language PowerPoint needs to tell a story. Telling a story in PPT is tricky since, unlike other languages, it does not stand alone when read. It is more like a graphic novel.

The most welcome header in most presentations are the pages that begin with “Summary” or “Conclusion”. It needn’t be the case. Nor should the phrase, “Death by Powerpoint” be one that needs no explanation. Like all languages, the secret is in communicating in it well, not just blabbing on.

One of my friend’s nineteen year old daughters just gave a Powerpoint presentation to her parents to make the case for why she should move in with her boyfriend. It was effective. If Powerpoint can help make that happen, it has indeed become the universal language.


The Unavailable

Posted by Richard Moran.

It has often been said in the venture world that “there is an infinite demand for the unavailable.” This is the ultimate challenge for everyone who invests in tech companies. We know there is a market for cars that burn no fuel; we know there is a market for anything that will eliminate my love handles and we know there is a market for a guarantee on an Ivy League acceptance letter for our children, but what about everything in the middle?

There could be a return, but is it enough to warrant an investment? There could be a legitimate company there, but is it a “venture returns” kind of company? That’s what makes venture investing so interesting.

Charlie Cooper of CNET captured this sense among a bunch of very smart media people at a Stanford colloquium as a part of the AlwaysOn conference. Andy Plesser of Beet.TV hosted the discussion which was all interesting, all good and all over the map on media, but what we know is that the changes that are happening right now are unprecedented, unpredictable and, probably unfortunate for big media. But big media is fighting back with vigor. The giants like News Corp. are dispatching people and money to try to get ahead of the curve. The problem is we don’t know where the curve is on its trajectory.

The current state of all things media is like the Wild West. So as the slightly altered bumper sticker says:Get In – Hold On – And Enjoy the Ride


At the Airport, Get Behind the Guy with Loafers

Posted by Richard Moran.

The airlines and the security people at airports way are easy to pick on and everyone seems to be doing it these days. So I have some simple advice for the weary travelers as we go into the busy summer season: make choices, wear socks and consider Virgin America.
Travelling is all about choices. Check the bag and wait or carry it on and pray that there is room? Wait for an upgrade and lose hope of overhead space for your bag or get on and take that middle seat? Take the aisle seat back by the bathroom or the window seat in row 12? Talk to the person next to you in the hopes that he or she can someday hire your son or sit there without saying a word for six hours? Watch the airplane movie with earphones that probably don’t work or read and glance up at the movie and try to figure out what they are saying? Be nice to the guy next to you who required a seat belt extender or fume and fuss for the entire flight? (He can’t help it, be nice.) There are millions of other little choices that make for a successful or miserable trip. Make all the little choices and live with them. Go into Zen mode and know that everyone is doing the best they can.
When it comes to going through security, always scan the line in front of you and get behind the people with the least luggage who are wearing loafers. Consider buying shoes just for travelling times. Always avoid getting behind anyone with a fully loaded baby stroller.

But here is a thought that might make you want to wear socks as you take your own loafers off. Remember in high school gym class when the P.E. instructor suggested that you wear flip flops in the shower because the high school showers are loaded with athlete’s foot germs? No one ever did it but it was not hard to imagine a batch of fungus pole vaulting between everyone’s toes. How many people took showers in your high school locker room? Hundreds a year?
Now think about how many people go through those security lines barefoot. Hundreds of thousands a day? I read where someone is suing the airlines for contracting something bad on his feet from walking through security. I guess he didn’t wear socks or those shower-cap-looking feet covers. Wear socks through security.

Virgin America is hip, consider trying them. I have nothing to do with Virgin America. I don’t know any one who works there and have only flown them a few times but they are refreshing in how they use technology and how they treat passengers. They are experimenting with all parts of flying and are not stuck in their ways. The just-in-time food service is one great example. Try suggesting that some of the big guys make changes that could make flying better. Some big airlines still point to the day they sealed up all the ashtrays in the armrests as innovation. Someday all the airlines will be like Virgin America and it will be better world.
If the airlines were smarter, they would have just raised ticket prices where few would have noticed, rather than charge for checked luggage Passengers have no control over ticket prices but they can make lots of people’s lives more difficult by how they deal with this new hurdle in flying. I bet over time that the flight attendants union will have a lot to say about this new rule and its unintended consequences.
The airlines can’t help the fact that oil prices are sky high. I just wish they would make choices with customers in mind – and give us our rights.