The Forbes forum on dynamic mid-sized companies

forbes forum I spoke about blogging and corporate identity yesterday at the 6th annual Forbes forum for dynamic mid-sized companies, in New York. This was a pleasant change of pace for me. Although some tech CEOs and VCs were in attendance, the gathering was very diverse and included folks like Fetzer Vineyards' Paul Dolan, Hasbro's Alan Hassenfeld, and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters' Bob Stiller.

I was on a panel with Phil Gomes and John Ellis. To a roomful of people mostly unfamiliar with blogging, I stressed that it's a way to communicate passion and energy in a direct and authentic way. I think that message resonated pretty well. The room was full of passionate entrepeneurs, and they're excited about issues -- for example, customer service -- that you don't hear much about at the kinds of tech conferences I usually attend.

As it happens, one of the most passionate statements did come from a tech CEO: Rick Belluzzo. Formerly president and COO of Microsoft, he joined Quantum last year and has been shepherding the downsized company through a painful business transition. Recalling a Latin American tour in support of the WinXP launch, during which he hobnobbed with presidents of countries as well as high-profile customers, Belluzzo said: "At the end of the week, I didn't know if I had an impact. Did I help sell more copies of Windows XP product or improve the business?" He added jokingly: "At Microsoft I had a chief of staff. What does that mean?"

Nobody was sure exactly what defines a "mid-sized" company, but it was clear that everyone there valued the ability to make direct contributions every day and produce tangible results. Tim Forbes, COO of Forbes Magazine, amplified that theme. Forbes Magazine, of course, lacks the scale of the media titans such as Time-Warner and McGraw-Hill with whom it competes. As a result, a project that promises to make a few million dollars "will get senior management attention," Forbes said.

At lunch I got to quiz Avocet CEO David Tait about the air-taxi revolution that Avocet, Eclipse, and others want to spark. I mentioned this concept in an item entitled peer-to-peer air travel, which includes a link to James Fallows' seminal Atlantic Monthly article on the subject. Got two million bucks burning a hole in your pocket? You can order a ProJet now! But hurry, the low serial numbers are going fast, Joe Montana just got #16.

The air-taxi idea resonates with me not only because I lack convenient access to hub airports, but because the grid-like architecture of the system in which these planes will operate reminds me of the network of peer-to-peer services that's transforming the software landscape. We'll see in five years whether that analogy holds, I guess. But the concept sure is appealing. Initially the system will only be able to compete with conventional air travel at the margin. But if it can survive and grow to critical mass, it could become massively disruptive. To see why, consider that for trips under 500 miles -- the majority of airline flights -- your average speed is around 60 miles per hour. Sure, some of the trip happens in the air at 300 to 500 mph, but getting to and from the hubs, parking, dealing with security, waiting in runway traffic jams, and all the rest of the nightmarish indignities that characterize modern air travel conspire to make flying not much faster than driving. It's a system ripe for disruption. Bring it on!

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