NASA still needs to market itself

How-NASA-is-selling-space-to-earthLast year I wrote about a great marketing story that “wasn’t” and it had to do with NASA. You remember NASA right? The National Aeronautics and Space Agency. Aeronautics?   Does anyone really use that term outside of the agency itself? It might have been relevant in 1958 but now?

My big problem is that NASA does really cool things and people forget about that and only focus on the difficulties NASA has on various missions and budget. Part of this is NASA’s fault for not promoting what’s so impressive about its projects. Last week you may have heard about the NASA mission to Jupiter called JUNO. Today people tend to take space exploration for granted unlike the way it was in the 1960’s. The United-States – Soviet Union race to be first to reach the moon transfixed a nation and the world. And it was 47 years ago this month. I can tell you from experience that the sense of pride and accomplishment that I felt for my country as a result was one of the most proud moments for this American.

Is putting money into NASA and space exploration frivolous when so many Americans need help in other ways? The U.S Government 2016 budget for NASA is $19.3 billion. It represents less than ½ of 1% of the $4 trillion overall budget. And that NASA budget is to be reduced to $18.5 billion for 2017. From the NASA website:

NASA will spend $3.3 billion to further develop the Space Launch System, a heavy-lift rocket. It will carry astronauts to the moon, Mars, and even asteroids. NASA successfully tested the Orion crew capsule in 2014. That is the first new U.S. design to carry humans in 40 years.

Another $1.5 billion goes toward the Mars Land Rover mission in 2020, and planning a trip to Jupiter’s moon Europa. NASA will also use its deep-space system to explore asteroids so it can protect Earth from any impacts. It will identify potential asteroid threats, fly a human to an asteroid, and redirect it using solar electric propulsion systems. It is developing that technology now.

 NASA has identified several small asteroids that it plans to capture. It will place them on the moon for astronauts to study. (Source: Ian O’Neill, “White House Requests Boosted $18.5B NASA Budget,” Discovery News, February 2, 2015)

NASA will replace the aging Hubble Space Telescope with the new James Webb Space Telescope, planned to launch in 2018. Those projects will cost $1.25 billion. (Source: NASA,NASA Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Request, April 10, 2014)

Another $5.1 billion will enable the U.S. to transport its own crews to the International Space Station. Right now, we have to pay Russia for crew transport. The U.S. will regain its ability to shuttle its crew and cargo to the International Space Station using commercial partners. It plans to launch the first crew flights in 2017. It hasn’t done this since NASA retired the space shuttle Discovery in 2012. NASA continues to support research in the space station.

NASA manages the satellite imagery of earth. That’s included in the $2 billion budget for Earth Science. It will spend $700 million on space weather modeling based on two additional Explorer missions. 

NASA will spend $1.8 billion on collaborating with commercial aerospace companies to bring new space exploration technologies to earth. These include new energy-efficient aircraft, solar electric propulsion, and robotic satellite servicing. Education is part of this initiative.

It costs $3.3 billion to maintain NASA facilities and equipment. It has 20 facilities and 14 visitor centers. NASA employs 18,000 people as employees and contractors. (Source: NASA FY 2017 Budget RequestCenters and Facilities.)

I feel good about the projects and efforts of NASA as noted above.

The question I keep asking is why people in general seem to undervalue the search for knowledge beyond our planet? Surely it cannot be that we as Americans as well as citizens of Planet Earth don’t care about learning more about our immediate solar system, the Milky Way and the Universe as a whole. It has to be that space exploration like seemingly everything else these days has to be a ‘value proposition’ for most people.

Yet the success of the human race cannot be attributed to protecting what countries and people already have and want to keep with no concern for future generations. Americans if nothing else, are an intrepid and pioneering people. That’s how the U.S. got started in the first place. Space exploration was a natural outgrowth of the pioneering spirit that ruled the western states in the 19th century even if the result was spurred on by a race to beat the Reds (no not the ones from Cincinnati).

NASA’s Juno mission blows my mind in many ways. Astrophysics is a field that is complex, confusing and fascinating. I’m grateful there are many smart people that dedicate their lives to the pursuit of interplanetary knowledge. Is there wasted money as part of the budget? It’s hard to fathom that there aren’t any blind alleys, or mismanaged aspects of a near $20 billion budget.

Think about American idealism of the 1960’s evidenced in television shows such as Star Trek. Has there ever been a more righteous character than Captain James T.Kirk?   Star Trek (like Superman) was so much about truth, justice and what was considered at the time to be ‘the American way’. How about today the United States shows its commitment to world leadership in the form of space exploration that can benefit the entire planet? Is that too ambitious to wish for?

NASA could use all kinds of help in marketing its missions and accomplishments. For what it’s worth my team would be excited to help that mission

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Four years after my career upheaval I am still standing

still_standing_transparent2In some ways the summer of 2012 seems like more than four years ago. In July of that summer I was…Forced? Compelled? Convinced? whatever you want to call it, to end the operations of my former business that had been around for 16 years.

As calm as I tried to remain, I was freaking out (the technical term).   Even a year later in 2013 having written about it the sting was still evident. At the time I had not worked for anyone else for a really long time and having started a more recent venture with partners,, I really preferred to continue to grow the newer company, than to try to find a…job.

Today I am still standing up as a professional – partly because of my standing desk which I use about half the time, but more because of the efforts of those around me that have helped and continue to help me help our clients succeed with their strategic marketing objectives.

While I would never admit that my path of falling down and getting up is the best way for everyone, in my case, it forced me to learn many new skills and do things in very different ways from what was familiar for so long.

There’s one thing I keep in the back of my mind all the time, and that is I am one of the lucky ones. Lucky in that I have been able to take advantage of the opportunities that have arisen and re-forged my professional career and outlook. Many people don’t have those opportunities and never really are able to rebound. I think about this a great deal since career disruptions in the U.S. and around the world continue with no end in sight.

It should not come as any surprise that those of us of a certain age who have enough history to have seen the start of what was formerly called the computer revolution.   That phrase seems archaic now. Adapting to changes in technology is harder than being born into it as in the case of Gen X, Gen Y and to a greater extent, millennials.

The best and only real advice I can offer is for you to be insanely curious and continue reading and learning about things that are relevant and interesting to your life. Try to consider your possible next moves before ‘things happen’.

And things tend to happen right?


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New York City Oyster Bar Restaurant has a brand for the ages

NYC0915-midtownwest-grandcentraloysterbarThe restaurant business is notably challenging. You’ve probably heard statistics like 90% + of all restaurants fail – apparently not true according to recent studies done by Professor Dr. HG Parsa.

In fact Prof. Parsa also offers that 59% of hospitality facilities fail in the period of 3 years. In the first year, is the highest level of failure, 26%, 19% in the second, and 14% in the third year of operation.

What about a restaurant that has been operating for more than 100 years? There are scattered representations including a number in New York City.   Famed places like Delmonico’s (1837), Pete’s Tavern (1864) one of my personal favorites Keen’s (1885) and to go WAY back, Fraunces Tavern (from 1762 and yes George Washington really did eat there) are well known around the world. A list can be found here

oyster-bar-restaurant-grand-central-station-nyc-set2011_1815804_lThen there’s the Oyster Bar Restaurant at Grand Central Terminal – the menu from each can be found here. First Opened in 1913, it has not always been the grand homage to seafood that it is today. In fact before 1974 the Oyster Bar was neither grand nor even good. It had fallen into physical disrepair and made the mistake of turning into a ‘Continental’ restaurant. I always hated that nebulous definition.

But in 1974 Jerome Brody was tapped to lead the resurrection of the fabled Oyster Bar Restaurant.  Today the Oyster Bar has both a classic and historic feel and its brand value is better than ever. Yet whenever I suggest that I meet someone for lunch or dinner at the Oyster Bar I am almost always met with “I never think of going there”.   Part of it is an error of omission. Unless you come through Grand Central Terminal on a regular basis you just may not even think about it as a dining option as it is downstairs in the terminal steps away from the food court, which includes a very popular Shake Shack.

Oyster Bar BarStep inside the Oyster Bar and it feels like you have stepped back in time fifty or even one hundred years. Sit at the bar and order raw oysters, a cold beverage and top it off with an oyster pan roast (best bargain in the house).   The feeling I get is that things have not changed much in a long time. The service at the bar is mildly friendly, a bit brusque and so perfectly New York City.

What if you do not like oysters? There are many other seafood dishes on the menu but for landlubbers it’s probably a salad kind of day.

I know exactly what to expect when visiting the Oyster Bar. A choice of dozens of different oysters all as fresh as can be, a true New York City experience, and a little walk through history right in front of your eyes. If that’s not a brand for the ages I don’t know what would qualify.

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Who really wants to write a check?

How_to_read_a_checkMy daughter who moved to the Midwest earlier this year is moving into a new apartment and was asked to provide a check. She’d only written a few and had to ask ‘how do I write a check again?’   While I was not surprised it was eye opening when one considers how differently millennials handle their financial affairs compared to prior generations.

Mom and Dad wrote checks. Their Moms and Dads wrote checks. My wife and I have been writing checks for many years ourselves. In fact I recall the first checking account I ever opened back when I had one of my first jobs as a teenager.   I somehow thought it was cool and grown-up to have a checking account.

As I went through university back in the late 1970’s I also noticed how some of my friends handled their checking accounts in their own check ledger that was attached to the checks, by rounding to the higher amount so that there’d always be a few extra dollars. My guess is that these friends did not end up becoming accountants.

In today’s era of online banking and recording, actually physically writing a check is a rare thing indeed.   Most bills can be paid online and there’s not all that much need to even print out a physical check from your bank’s online payment system or one from a company like Quicken. Millennials if not using the online bill paying option from their bank, have been using services such as as well as (to pay friends directly online).   Having to physically write a check seems archaic and well, a hassle.

Here’s the thing, writing a check IS a hassle and the old way of doing things. All the paper, all the reconciliations and checkbook balancing, holding on to cancelled checks. Ugh. At times the writing of a check allowed for playing the float time before the would-be check recipient actually received the check and deposited it. It could take three or more days for that to happen and you have use of the cash until it’s processed. And then there was that great excuse when you owed money – “Hey the check is in the mail”.

Banks used to offer ‘Free Checking’ as a value-offer since they actually charged money to have a checking account where you keep your money in their bank and draw on it when necessary.   And if you ran out of checks you had to order new ones – and pay for them. It seems almost unbelievable to write that.

Greatest Generation folks (what’s left of them), Baby Boomers, and even Gen Xers, all were raised on the old fashioned checking account so it will be around for awhile longer but as far as I am concerned the sooner we exist in a ‘check-free’ world the better.

Can you imagine a life without ever writing a check?

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Inventors are not necessarily entrepreneurs

Doc BrownI admit I am always on the lookout for a good idea that might have the potential to be a growing and successful business.

This week just outside of Pittsburgh, I attended the INPEX (Invention and New Product Exposition). INPEX proclaims it to be “America’s largest invention show where inventors meet with companies seeking new products.” I’ve seen INPEX sponsored pavilions at other shows like the ERA show in Las Vegas. You might be familiar with INPEX’s brand INVENTHELP promoted by former heavyweight boxing champion and TV pitchman George Foreman.

I will be writing more about INPEX in a future post but am very glad that I attended this show that highlights what I am calling the ‘aura of possibility’ to would-be inventors. Having stopped and talked with more than twenty of those inventors, I came away with the sense that for too many of them INPEX represented the triumph of hope over experience.

Most of the exhibitors that were there were ‘inventors’ who were convinced enough by INPEX to ‘give it a shot’, by paying for an exhibit booth in the hope that they might meet a distributor, sourcing partner, licensor or acquirer. My guess is more than 75% of them will fail to gain anything from their exhibiting experience other than…experience.

With the popularity of TV shows like ABC-TV’s Shark Tank, being an entrepreneur is seen as highly desirable.   INPEX, which has been around since the 1960’s and is a publicly traded company in Japan, is a facilitator for inventors and businesspeople that want to pursue their dreams. Their dreams such as creating a Snuggie, or Oxi-Clean or some other product that might be sold direct-to-consumer or direct-to-retail and be huge hit, (although more than one exhibitor told me they’d be happy to have their invention create a nice living for them and their partners).

What’s been bothering me is that too many of the inventors were uninformed and unsure of what to do after the show and were hoping that they might be able to connect with people that would want to help show them the way to success.   My feeling is that INPEX with one of its primary interests being to get people to pay for an exhibit booth is not quite willing to truly advise the potential exhibitors before signing on to exhibit.   Easily 20% of the exhibitors would have been better off waiting to exhibit at a future show, but they were convinced to…give it a shot.

I keep saying this, just because your friends and family tell you that your invention is a cool idea, does not mean it has real business potential. I am all for helping people explore their dreams of entrepreneurship, but that help has to include telling them that more work needs to be done before making an investment like an exhibit.

As a group the inventors need a resource to help them evaluate and plan their strategy and tactics. Once that happens some of them should come to the conclusion that their invention may not have mass appeal or become a successful business. Then they can decide whether or not they wish to continue on despite that advice.

If they got that advice at least they’d be better qualified and informed. INPEX and INVENTHELP should be doing this and might be. I am going to find out so check back for a future post if you are interested.












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Routines are a safety net that should be torn up and re-sewn

Making habits..I recently finished Jeremy Dean’s excellent 2013 book Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick. If you are interested in reading about the motivations of people as it relates to the behavior – as people and as consumers, it’s worth your time.

Mr. Dean wrote an interesting essay on Psychcentral on the subject some time ago.

One of the major themes of the book is how people use routines to be more efficient and how those routines are not necessarily beneficial to your overall health and well -being.

Breaking an old habit or making a new one requires a plan and dedication. What I came away with beyond that is the way that routine is used as an anesthetic.

One of the most basic of routines is taking the same route every time you travel. You’ve no doubt heard the notion of taking a different route to keep things fresh. To break up the routine, even to take the road less traveled. I am a big proponent of breaking out of routines and yet at the same time am also extremely concerned with my own efficiency. And that desire for efficiency does promote the use of the most efficient approach – thereby creating a routine.

A few years ago when I was traveling to Asia and in particular China quite a bit I found myself in a train station in Guangzhou – a city of a mere 13,000,000 in southern China. I was traveling alone, spoke and read limited Chinese and there was little or no English to be seen. Talk about being out of one’s comfort zone and routine! I managed to find my way to the proper train heading back to Hong Kong but there were some uncertain and even nervous moments. One thing I remember well is how ALIVE I felt. All my senses were on high function and I relished the idea of finding my own way – one way or another.

So for me, routines are something to be reviewed and changed as I feel that the more routine things are, the less awareness you have. What’s even more concerning to me is that routine does not promote learning. When we stop learning is when we stop growing and begin to wither little by little.

Be careful about your routines. Use them with caution and change them up for your own good every once in a while. The benefits may not be immediately evident but give it some time.

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‘Let’s start a company’ isn’t child’s play

The Startup CurveI can almost picture it in my mind. Two seven-year olds are having a play date. Kids still do that right?   One says to the other “Let’s play the startup game” OK! I’ll play the founder CEO and you can be the COO. Let’s pretend we invented this cool mobile phone app that EVERYONE wants to use.   We’ll get some money from Mom and Dad and maybe even Uncle Jack, and then later on we can ask for more money from other people (who will be so excited!), and they can have a piece of our cool and successful company!

Big sister overhears them talking and they ask her if she wants to play too. She declines to join in their silly game but wanting to be helpful (after all big sisters are nothing if not helpful), she asks a few questions.

“ Um, before you get started, why will people want to keep using your cool app?”

“How long do you expect people to continue to use the app?”

“Will people buy the app or will it be a monthly subscription”

“Do you have an idea all the ways you think you can make money?”

“ What happens if things don’t go well and you have to fire all the people that came to work there?”

I could go on. And on. The startup world is the new “It” girl. Everyone wants in because it seems so cool to think of an idea, come up with a way to get it to market and see how it grows! You get to be the boss – or at least you and your friends and colleagues, and most importantly you have passion and dedication! All you need is a little luck, a few bucks, and you are acting on your dream!

You can read about startup companies all day, every day. Yesterday TechCrunch Disrupt NY served up the winner  Beam of this year’s New York City Startup Battlefield competition. You can read about the business model yourself and I think it is interesting and would want to know more.

An article in the Thursday May 12 Wall Street Journal caught my eye, Venture Capital Slowdown Hits Asian Startups and it is a poignant reminder that so many startups fail to do the heavy lifting of truly fleshing out their business model. Not to pick on Mr. Yin and it does not matter if it is China, India, the United States or somewhere else.

From the WSJ article:

In early February, Yin Sang, a prominent Chinese entrepreneur, sent an email to all 600 employees at his karaoke-booking startup: His firm was running out of money after failing to raise funds and wouldn’t be able to pay staff salaries.

“Our cash flow is almost zero,” the 23-year-old chief executive of Yiqi Chang wrote in the email, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “Our company is in a crisis.”

A year ago, Mr. Yin’s Shanghai-based startup was valued at more than $100 million and, in 2014, he made Forbes China’s list of the 30 most successful Chinese entrepreneurs under the age of 30.

The reversal of Mr. Yin’s fortunes underscores a new reality for many startup founders across Asia: venture capitalists are hitting the brakes on funding. In recent years, investors flocked to Asia—home to the world’s biggest number of mobile users—as its startup scene boomed. Now they are spooked by weakness in the global economy, volatility in China’s stock market and slumping investments in Silicon Valley amid talk of a tech bubble.

The result for founders is growing investor scrutiny, protracted fundraising discussions, and downward pressure on startup valuations, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists say. Some startups are shutting down altogether while others are laying off workers, cutting costs and moving away from business models that burned through cash to attract users.

The close of the article sums it all up:

Even so, many startups are making drastic changes in the harsher climate.

Mr. Yin, the karaoke startup founder, has cut his firm’s payroll from 600 to 200 in the past three months. Yiqi Chang, which means “sing together” in English, is trying to break even and now operates in just six cities, compared with 20 in January, he said in an interview. The company has also secured some loans.

“A year ago, we thought we could always raise more money,” Mr. Yin said. “Now, we have to survive on our own.”

I would not expect Mr. Yin to receive much sympathy from most people. I also want to wish him luck and success. Coming up with a cool idea is, well, cool. Starting versus maintaining a company are vastly different things I can tell you from experience. Mr. Yin knows that too now.

Back to our two seven-year olds after hearing big sister drone on.   One says to the other “You know what? Let’s not play that stupid game. Wanna play Xbox?”

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