Canonical and AWS partner to deliver world-class support in the cloud

Ubuntu & AWS

In today’s software world, support is many times an afterthought or an expensive contract used only to keep-up with the latest patches, updates, and versions. Hidden costs to upgrade software, including downtime, scheduling, and planning are also factors that need to be considered. Canonical does not believe the traditional norms of support apply. Our leading support product Ubuntu Advantage (UA) is a professional support package that provides Ubuntu users with the backing needed to be successful.

As many of you have read on AWS Blog, this week at AWS’ Re:invent 2016 conference we announced the ability to purchase UA Virtual Guest via AWS marketplace. Ubuntu Advantage Virtual Guest is designed for virtualized enterprise workloads on AWS, which use official Ubuntu images. The tooling, technology, and expertise of UA is available via the AWS marketplace with just a few clicks. It includes:

  • Access to Landscape (SaaS version), the system’s management tool for using Ubuntu at scale
  • Canonical Livepatch Service, which allows users to apply critical kernel patches without rebooting on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS images using the Linux 4.4 kernel
  • Up to 24×7 telephone and web support and the option of a dedicated Canonical support engineer
  • Access to the Canonical Knowledge Hub and regular security bug fixes

Further, the added benefits of accessing Ubuntu Advantage through AWS Marketplace SaaS model are hourly pricing rates based on the quantity of customers actual Ubuntu usage on AWS, their SLA requirements, and centralized billing through users AWS Marketplace account. Customers pay for what they consume within their account, no more.

Innovation and leadership on display at Re:invent 2016

The ability to buy UA through the AWS Marketplace is just the beginning. At Re:invent we will be showcasing many of our solutions that support Big Software including:

Containers are changing how software is deployed and operated. Canonical is also actively innovating around containers with our machine container solution LXD, providing the density and efficiency of containers, but with the manageability and security of virtual machines; enhanced partnerships with partners like Docker, the CNCF and others around process container orchestration. Finally, our Canonical Distribution of Kubernetes provides a ‘pure K8s’ experience across any cloud.

Juju for service modeling and Charms to make software deployments painless. Juju is an open source service modeling platform that makes it easy to deploy and operate complex, interlinked, dynamic software stacks. Juju has hundreds of preconfigured services called Juju Charms available in the Juju store. For example, Juju makes it easy to stand-up and scale up or down Hadoop, Kubernetes, Ceph, MySQL, etc. all without disruption to the cloud environment.

Snaps for product interoperability and enablement. Snaps is a new packaging format used to securely bundle any software as an app, making updates and rollbacks simple. A snap is a fancy zip file containing an application together with its dependencies, and a description of how it should be safely run on your system, especially the different ways it should talk to other software. Most importantly snaps are secure, sandboxed, containerised applications isolated from the underlying system and from other applications. Snaps allow the safe installation of apps from any vendor on mission critical devices and desktops. Canonical’s Ubuntu Core is the leading open source Snap-enabled production operating system which powers anything from robots, drones, industrial IoT gateways, network equipment, digital signage, mobile base stations, refrigerators, and more.

Even as the cost of software has declined, the expense to operate today’s complex and distributed solutions have increased as many companies have found themselves managing these systems in a vacuum. Even for experts, deploying, and operating containers and Kubernetes at scale can be a daunting task. However, by deploying Ubuntu, Juju for software modeling, and Canonical’s Kubernetes distribution helps organizations to make deployment simplified. Further, we have certified our distribution of Kubernetes to work with most major public clouds as well as on-premise infrastructure like VMware or bare-metal Metal as a Service (MaaS) solutions thereby eliminating many of the integration and deployment headaches.

Most of these solutions can be used and deployed in production with your AWS EC2 credentials today. What’s more, they are supported with a professional SLAs from Canonical. We are also looking for innovative ISVs and forward thinking systems integrators to help us drive value for our customers and bring compelling solutions to market.

At AWS Re:invent 2016, we will be talking about all this and more at booth 2341 in Hall D.

Originally posted on the Ubuntu Insights blog. Reposted with permission.

Running Ubuntu VMs in Germany—without trading off security or data sovereignty

Data sovereignty is one of the hot topics in cloud computing. While US-based public cloud providers—such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, IBM and Google Cloud Platform—have continued to solidify their dominance both at home and abroad, 2016 has also seen an awakening in Europe.

At CeBIT in March of this year, T-Systems, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, launched its own Open Telekom Cloud platform, based on solutions from Huawei, as a state-of-the-art European alternative to the US giants’ platforms. T-Systems is adopting a multi-cloud strategy, with Openstack and a Microsoft Azure region as just part of a compelling European-based cloud portfolio.

While Canonical is a leader in OpenStack, we are also extremely passionate about bringing the best Ubuntu user experience to users of every public cloud. In addition, we are close partners of both Huawei and Deutsche Telekom. Therefore, naturally, we are delighted about our collaboration with T-Systems.

As of the time of writing, Open Telekom Cloud is the only German-based public cloud service that offers official Ubuntu images on all LTS versions, and that’s great for at least three reasons. First, Ubuntu users in Germany can now get the optimal, secure and stable Ubuntu experience they expect from Canonical, but without potential tradeoffs relating to data sovereignty.

Second, users of other operating systems on Open Telekom Cloud can move to the no. 1 cloud OS—stable, secure, fully open source.

Third, all Open Telekom Cloud users can access professional support, Landscape, and our new Canonical Livepatch Service — by purchasing our Ubuntu Advantage support packages as an option.

Press release on Ubuntu Insights:

Original post

London Tech and TechStars Demo Day

The tech scene in London has developed immensely over the years that I’ve been involved in it, as mentor, advocate, and advisor. Sitting through the excellent pitches (well, most of them were excellent) at TechStars London demo day was a good chance to reflect on what has changed, and what has remained more or less the same (not that one accelerator is a statistical sample, but it’s fun anyway).

The first thing I noticed, and not without post-Brexit irony (apologies if this offends Leave voters), is that the cohort was perhaps more diverse than ever, with very few Brits (excl. naturalised) taking the stage. Yes, this is an international accelerator, but one might expect a stronger local presence from the city/country which was, until recently, championed as “the global leader for ambitious tech companies”. Had the worst case scenario of a closed-off UK happened, it seems like there wouldn’t have been a cohort to speak of in the first place.

Moving on, as Mike Butcher of TechCrunch identified, “Healthtech, Fintech and AI dominated”. On the one hand, I think it’s safe to say that London, perhaps outside of fintech (subject to Article 50 negotiations?), still does not have a distinctive vertical to call its own. This might be fitting a large-scale cosmopolitan metropolis, but arguably would also make it harder for London to emerge out of The Bowling Alley with a clear lead on its so-called European rival cities.

On the other hand, healthcare and AI seem to be behind the fact that a third of the cohort has PhDs. Definitely the most cerebral cohort I’ve seen from TechStars London, previously known as Springboard, and I mean that in the best possible way. (EDIT: I wonder, could this surge in brainpower be connected to a historical low in research funding in academia, especially in the UK?)

ICYMI, Marko Srsan of TS posted a Facebook Live recording of the demos here.

Original post

Negotiation Musings: on The New US-Israel Defence Deal

There’s a few publications covering the latest multi-year $bn US-Israel defence deal; some of them are seeing this as an Israeli achievement (whether that’s good or bad for the region), while others are singing a completely different song, especially as this new deal includes some unprecedented terms:

  1. A 9% decline in annual aid in real terms (increase in nominal terms, for the headlines), despite said geopolitical state of flux.
  2. A clause that forces Israel to spend all aid money with US manufacturers. Previously, 26% was cordoned off for Israeli manufacturers — this will be a body blow to the local security industry and to jobs.
  3. A prohibition on Israel going to congress for a top-up in the next few years — clearly aimed at neutralising a Republican Party/Netanyahu alliance against Hillary Clinton, if she is elected.

This deal could have easily just focused on the number, but it didn’t. Putting my politics aside for the moment, from a negotiations point of view, I find it quite interesting how Obama seems to have consciously used his ego to lead him through the process, against common negotiation wisdom, but obviously to great effect. After Netanyahu repeatedly antagonised Obama over the last 8 years (building more settlements, publicly supporting Romney, speaking against Obama in Congress), the president of the US is letting his anger show through the terms.

With regards to using time pressure, theoretically, with US elections looming, and Clinton vying for the endorsement of Jewish-American organisations, Netanyahu held the cards; evidently that was either a false assumption, or even if it was true, it did not help him at all.

Overall seems like a very bad deal for the Israeli government, with less aid, less jobs, and less ability to renegotiate in the future. Above all with this deal, I believe Obama’s team has attempted to send a loud political message to Israeli voters and Republican members of the US Congress alike.

Original post

So, you want to be a startup mentor

“Advice is like snow; the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.”

-Samuel Taylor Coleridge

From Silicon Alley to Silicon Wadi to Silicon Mountain (!), the world is full of both established and would-be technology hubs, trying to be or become the local alternative to the SF bay area original. Interestingly—as shown in papers such as this PhD thesis by Robyn Klingler-Vidra—if there’s one common policy theme between these innovation hubs, it’s that in terms of supporting government policy, they’re each adopting different ways to go about a similar end goal.

Conversely, at the grass roots level, I find it fascinating that many perceived elements of the “Silicon Valley culture” are being taken as is: industrial, half-finished-looking office design; hipster fashion, complete with beards, thick-rimmed glasses and sticker-filled Macbooks (check out Peter Thiel’s view on hipsters in his thought-provoking “Zero to One”); a wealth of ethically sourced food, with a special focus on high-end coffee, usually served by baristas who subscribe to aforementioned hipster fashion; and, of course, startup mentors.

I also have a beard, thick-rimmed glasses and a sticker-filled Macbook, and can appreciate the work of skilled baristas. More to the point, I’ve spent the last few years investing a sizeable amount of my free (and professional) time in mentoring and advising London- and Cambridge-based enterprise software and cloud computing startup teams, through accelerators, work-related initiatives, and independently. For someone whose formative professional years were spent in dotcom-era Israel’s startup community, watching the British ecosystem emerge as (arguably) the dominant European hub has been nothing short of exciting.

In the VC era, mentorship was simply about finding someone — through your investors or by other means — who has done this before, and who through their contacts, capital, and experience, can help you, at the very least, to fail more elegantly and bounce back more quickly. Think the late, great Bill Campbell to Steve Jobs and Larry Page, or Sean Parker to Mark Zuckerberg.

Then along came the first accelerators, and put mentorship onto a production line. Instead of a few deep relationships, you’d be exposed to many mentors as part of the program, which would (a) contribute directly to the venture in the classic way I described above, and (b) train the team in filtering out noise, getting their nutrients while drinking from a fire hydrant.

No doubt this model can still work well at a modest scale, within a sensible format, and in hubs where the local mentor community is still mostly made up of people who have loads of relevant, direct entrepreneurship, technology, or investment experience. As an example, at Springboard in Cambridge, which later became Techstars London, a handful of mentors—many of them from the local university’s tech community—were given ample time to develop conversations with the teams, and both sides were then asked to state who they’d like to “date again”. A good mentor pool, clear expectations, and the conditions for creating relationships.

Enter the rise of the regional hubs, and the subsequent boom in accelerators worldwide. I’ll put aside the question of “how much is too many accelerators”, but be sure to check out this report from VentureBeat; I want to focus on mentorship. Unlike Palo Alto, New York, or Tel Aviv, most of the newer technology hubs did not have a rich pool of people who had “done it before” to tap into, but as these hubs sought to lead in the race for the “Silicon Valley of ___”, I’d argue that the quantity of mentors became a priority.

So here’s the thing: mentorship is like any relationship in both the conditions that create it, and the practices that sustain it. Yes, you never know when The Lightning Bolt will hit, but you’d probably agree that it is statistically and logically foolish to *plan on* finding a life partner at a speed dating evening, or your next best friend at a packed local gym.

Likewise, if you’re given a handful of minutes with a founding team, sometimes concurrently with other mentors, all you’re probably doing is adding to the fire hydrant. You might remember what their idea was, but they will probably not remember your input, if you could get a word in, amongst the dozens of people they saw that day.

If you want to meet the right people, be picky about where you seek them out. Pick high-quality accelerators that are right for you, seek out funds and other organizations where mentorship isn’t a diluted activity, and use your own network to find opportunities that you may be uniquely placed to contribute to. This takes time and effort, but it’s never a waste.

On to sustaining relationships. First, understand that a mentor’s role is not the same as a coach’s, or an advisor’s. Do some basic research and figure out which model is right for you, and what this model is called right now in your hub of interest. Again, beware word inflation.

Second, expect, and even demand, a relationship. The team might be close to maxed out, stressed about burn rate, yes, all those things. But if you have something tangible to contribute to them, they will find time and you should workaround their constraints. And if they go silent, call them on it, try to understand why the relationship has stalled, or move on. Expressions like “what am I to you” and “where is this going” are suprisingly adaptable to a business setting.

Lastly, don’t expect to “get” anything out of it. If you’re interested in financial upside, invest. If you’re interested in coaching someone over time in a particular role or skill, open a coaching business. If you want to contribute specialised advice for a chunk of equity, advise. And if you’re interested in actually steering the business, join the team as either exec or NED. Mentorship follows the rule of karma — you really never know where good deeds will lead you.

Original post

5 reasons you should only use certified images on the public cloud

Ubuntu has a long history in the cloud. Not only is it the world’s number one platform for deployments of OpenStack (as we’ve covered here), it also runs more public cloud workloads than all other platforms combined. Fast, secure, and proven in the most demanding production environments, it is extremely popular with the likes of Netflix, Waze, Airbnb, Uber, Heroku, and many others. Dustin Kirkland covered it brilliantly in his post last month.

Ubuntu is the choice of developers all over the world, and truly supports scale-out architecture. It is also a fully open-source operating system; in fact anyone can download an image from our public pages and even modify it, as long as it’s for their own use. So why be picky about which images you use on which public cloud?

Two of our values are especially relevant here:

  1. Ensuring widespread community usefulness for Ubuntu
  2. Building confidence that Ubuntu Just Works

For that, Ubuntu needs to provide a predictable, secure, and reliable user experience. When bad things happen, it can be annoying on your personal desktop, but when your project—and business—depends on reliable infrastructure, things need to run smoothly and efficiently at scale. Whether it’s an unforeseen incompatibility that requires extensive developer resource to fix, or a security vulnerability that’s hampering operations while you wait for a patch, the implications can often be measured in millions of dollars.

Certified images, developed and supported by Canonical, are managed centrally, delivered automatically, with bugs and vulnerabilities fixed fast. Here are the top reasons to ensure your workloads are running on certified images:

  1. The best Ubuntu experience at all times, dependable, always up-to-date, and optimised for the leading public clouds
  2. Consistency with your development and testing environments
  3. Fast issue resolution and bug fixes, with rapid updates and software installation
  4. 100% compatible with the cutting-edge Ubuntu cloud toolset, with an option for enterprise-grade Ubuntu Advantage support packages
  5. A rich ecosystem of services at your fingertips

An enormous amount of work goes into creating and maintaining certified images, because it’s necessary to ensure that the best Ubuntu experience is available to everyone, through our cloud partners. With a truly stellar engineering team, a cutting-edge tool set and enterprise commercial support available direct from Canonical, there’s no better choice in the cloud.

So if you’re considering using the services of a public cloud provider who currently doesn’t offer Certified Ubuntu images, it’s worth raising the issue with them. Because in today’s competitive cloud world, you need all the advantages you can get.

If you’d like to read more, download our new ebook here.
Download eBook

Originally posted on the Ubuntu Insights blog. Reposted with permission.

Managing Chaos around the Tech Founders

I recently came across this Blitzscaling session in which LinkedIn’s own Reid Hoffman interviews Eric Schmidt. I found it to be ridiculously full of leadership insight, so wanted to share how it resonated with me.

I’m certainly not alone in being a fan of Schmidt as a tech business leader – but my personal angle is specifically about the leadership model he represents. Here is a successful senior corporate exec coming into a messy, high-flying engineering-led startup, and rather than trying to do things the way he’s used to, throws his ego aside and focuses on how he can help clear the runway for the obviously brilliant founders. As he says several times during the session, he knew it was their company, and he acted that way.

He doesn’t spew generic-sounding, common-wisdom advice, either, for example recommending to his younger self to “do things sooner and make fewer mistakes” -rather than embracing failure for failure’s sake, like so many bloggers urge us to do these days.

Other examples: challenging the commonly-agreed narrative in the Jobs-Scully story, ending with “it was a very Steve Jobs thing to do”; claiming that marketing, sales and distribution are better ramped at the last possible minute, when the product is truly ready; and recommending managers to go ahead and “hire the divas”.

But going back to the main point, I genuinely admire this leadership model: humble professional CEOs/COOs like Schmidt, Sheryl Sandberg and so many less well-known others, that are vital at helping tech startups scale dramatically. I love Schmidt’s definition of his task at Google, “My role was to manage the chaos. You need to have someone to run fast and have a good product sense. That was Larry and Sergey. My job was to organize the world around them.”

Original post

Thoughts on Gartner’s latest Iaas Magic Quadrant

Spring is here and ’tis the season for research firm Gartner to publish its annual Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) Magic Quadrant. This year’s grid came out last month, but still I thought I’d contribute a few points that I found interesting, following up on my previous post.

  1. The big three: no, I’m not referring to Lebron-Kyrie-Kevin. AWS continues to sit alone astride the top-right corner, no major surprise there; Microsoft Azure seems to be closing the gap ever so slowly, and Google Cloud Platform is edging closer to the top-right quadrant. This supports the current thinking in the market that the public cloud is essentially a three-horse race
  2. The IT titans: IBM (IaaS based on Softlayer) and VMware are making steady progress, based on their strategic operational, technology and brand assets, and strengths in the private/hybrid cloud space; interestingly, per Gartner, Hewlett Packard Enterprise has all but exited the market
  3. The new entrants: UK-based Interoute is making an entrance as a niche player, probably on the back of their latest renewed credit line and ownership of all that fiber as a layer on which to build great things; NTT Com joins Fujitsu as a second Japanese player in the quadrant
  4. The dark horse: I find it still surprising, again despite the stated target audience, that Digital Ocean is absent as a key niche player. Even if they’re addressing a different customer now, with state-of-the-art infrastructure and financial backing from the likes of a16z, they could become enterprise contenders if they wanted to, with less effort than most other players
  5. The elephants in the room: as in previous years, Gartner keeps ignoring BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent). Even if the target audience is western CIOs, that could prove to be short-sighted, as most major Asian players have robust global strategies
  6. Ubuntu partners: nine of the 15 providers listed are part of our Ubuntu Certified Public Cloud program, which brings the best of the world’s number 1 cloud OS to users of our partner clouds. If you’re running a public or v-private cloud, join us – you’ll be in great company!

Check out the report here:

Surviving in the Public IaaS Market

If we look at market growth rates and the concentration of power within a handful of providers, using the terminology coined by Geoffrey Moore, it could easily be argued that the public IaaS cloud market is in the tornado and approaching Main Street. Despite a lack of publicly available market share data, for many in the industry, it seems like a two or three-player race, with one clear “gorilla”: Amazon Web Services (AWS).

In this article I will attempt to briefly characterize the competitive positioning of the key players in the public IaaS market, and highlight some of the alternative strategies used by other providers to carve their own niches. The question that needs to be kept in mind is, can anyone else survive in the face of the steep competition presented by the two or three American mega-clouds?

Guesstimating the Numbers

So just how big are the big players? With a lack of publicly-available numbers, we have to make do with what the main players are saying about themselves. Amazon just recently — for the first time — reported its financials for AWS separately from the other business unit, at $1.75 billion in revenues and a 17% profit rate. Amazon execs have also gone on to claim that Amazon has five times the compute power, and four times the revenues, of all other major players combined. These are useful benchmarks, although different companies measure different things: Microsoft combines its public-cloud and public/private cloud revenues from Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online into what it calls “Commercial Cloud”. Nevertheless, they suggest a like-for-like IaaS market share for AWS of around 80%. This shouldn’t surprise people who have been familiar with the market since its early days, as Amazon was early to market with what turned out to be a winning bowling-alley approach.

In the early days of the market, Microsoft and Google took the PaaS route with their Azure and Google App Engine offerings, respectively. They offered their expertise to allow user-level simplicity: drop your code on our PaaS and we’ll take care of the rest. Amazon, on the other hand, took another route, providing users with virtual machines for them to configure, orchestrate and use as they saw fit. Despite the power of the Microsoft and Google platforms, developers connected more with Amazon’s approach, which gave them the power to experiment with what was still a nascent computing model, commercially. Fast forward to now, when AWS manages to cement its dominance through an extremely rich offering — claiming to have launched almost two services per day in 2014 — and the sort of customer-oriented commercials we come to expect from Amazon.

Catching Up with Amazon – the Mega-Cloud Angle

Google’s and Microsoft’s attempts at catching up with Amazon has forced these companies to really sharpen their respective value propositions, and radically change some of their long-held precepts.

Arguably, the most impressive transformation has been at Microsoft. Formerly derided as The Empire by many an open source developer, under its current CEO, the company is working hard to reinvent itself as a friendly, almost open platform. Through actions such as open sourcing ‘.net’, offering support for selected Linux distros, or radically changing their sales compensation to match the new reality of the cloud, Azure has managed to move away from being perceived as “the Windows cloud”. All this may be just phase one of a plan which would now build on the company’s unparalleled — certainly where internet-age companies like Amazon or Google are concerned — access to the traditional IT channel. Whether Azure is great or just ‘good enough’ is besides the point when you’ve spent 30 years cementing direct and indirect revenue channels into almost every enterprise in the world.

Google, on the other hand, believes that if you build it (and by it, I mean a great cloud platform), they will come. One of my favourite Google-oriented quotes is by Hadoop co-creator Doug Cutting,

Google is living a few years in the future and sending the rest of us messages.

Google likes to claim that it employs the world’s smartest people, and it is working on arguably the coolest new innovations like self-driving cars, hot air balloons with internet, and the like. Google Cloud Platform’s (GCP) positioning seems to be what it is for the purpose of driving its own innovations, Google has built the best cloud possible, and is now sharing the same infrastructure with its users. Given the sheer size of AWS and Azure, it remains to be seen if that approach can win against the former’s first-mover-advantage and the latter’s hold on the channel. Being more focused than most around container deployments is also a potentially interesting angle for Google.

Is There a Market Beyond the Top Companies?

In light of this question, let’s explore five vectors being pushed by providers worldwide:

  1. Geography. There are local players in almost every country, from China to Canada to Switzerland to Israel — many of whom might not be with us in a few years. Being local would be tactically useful when serving the public sector in many countries, and strategically useful if the local private and public sectors are worried about data privacy in the post-Snowden age.
  2. China. The world’s largest economy seems to be dominated by two cloud clusters: the first is comprised of government-owned providers, while the other includes private sector enterprises like Alibaba and Tencent. It is an interesting competitive environment locally for sure, but even more fascinating when we consider that while publicly-traded giants such as Alibaba want to win in China, they are also keen on taking the battle to Amazon and Microsoft.
  3. Product/market. We’ve recently seen the launch of ARM-based public clouds (Datacentred, Scaleway), while others are focusing on containers, burst capacity/extreme elasticity, on-metal machines and other departures from the virtualization theme. Other players such as Digitalocean are targeting under-addressed segments with uniquely relevant — and compellingly simple — offerings.
  4. Technology/architecture. The tectonic plates are shifting between the traditional VMware-based clouds — viewed by some as the safe albeit limited choice — and newer frameworks such as OpenStack. This open alternative is rapidly gaining acceptance as a production-viable alternative, with the likes of Wal-Mart deploying 100,000 OpenStack nodes. While the openness and flexibility of OpenStack explains its popularity within the developer community, the possibility of using a similar framework across the private and public clouds is also driving enterprise adoption.
  5. Hybrid cloud. According to recent press coverage, companies such as VMware, IBM and HP are looking to use their private cloud capabilities as a lock-in mechanism. While possessing technological chops and an enterprise customer base, they are perhaps being realistic about their chances of beating AWS at its own game. Their bet seems to be that with full-on enterprise adoption, the hybrid cloud will emerge as the winning model. In this reality, a CIO would prefer to work with one managed cloud vendor across clouds if they can.


As I have tried to demonstrate, there is still a lot going on in the public cloud market in terms of competitive potential. And like in a myriad of other competitive scenarios which we have lived through, compelling value propositions will be key in creating market space even in the tornado. Lastly, while the big players enjoy dominance, as some have pointed out, they also have to be wary of not attracting unwanted attention from the regulator for what is ultimately a commodity. So the potential success of smaller players in creating their niches, is good for those emerging players, in a way good for the major players, and ultimately great for the customer.

Originally published on

Mad Men: 7 Musings for 7 Seasons

(Minor spoiler alert if you haven’t finished watching the series)

I’m sure other, better-qualified people have touched on some of these points, but nonetheless I had an urge to put my own thoughts out there.

  1. The white man’s pain. A film critic I admire (yes, that emotion is possible towards a film critic) once claimed that most Hollywood non-comedy films deal with the white American man‘s existential struggle to keep up with, and adapt to, changes in 20th-21st century American society, and to his diminishing importance in a de-patriaching society. In an era where top-notch TV (Mad Men, Sopranos…) competes head-on with Hollywood, I think we can add Don Draper and Tony Soprano to the likes of characters played by Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, Cary Grant, Michael Douglas, Bruce Willis and many others.
  2. Not a man, a brand. Don Draper copes a bit differently with this crisis than the aforementioned. Don isn’t exactly a man, he’s a brand. He is incredibly handsome and well-groomed on the outside. He is shallow (if not rotten, per his creator) on the inside — even slowly stripped of every meaningful asset (wives, kids, car, home…). He still sports the same clothes and the same haircut and the same facial expressions while everyone around him goes mod, turns hippie, grows facial hair. (Take a look at footage from season 1 — even considering age, Don is the one that has changed the least, by far.) But crucially, at every junction he understand instinctively how to tweak himself to fit the new reality and thrive in it, how to make people around him feel good that he’s around, doing whatever it is he does, spreading his brand equity. Just like we can’t always explain our loyalty to a brand, neither can the people around Don explain how they keep having him around. Even though he is just the same as always.
  3. The weight shifts. One of the most interesting transformations in the series was the shifting of the charisma and potential from alpha-male characters like Don and Roger in a testosterone-fueled Sterling-Cooper in season 1, to the newly-confident Peggy and entrepreneurial Joan, especially while Don is falling apart and Roger finally comes to terms with his age. A good summary of the progress of women in the workplace by 1970 — certainly far from where it should be (it still is), but nonetheless something to be proud of when looking back to 1960.
  4. Who can you trust? The 60’s. Political assassinations, the Soviet scare, the disaster of Vietnam, civil rights and racial unrest, women challenging the ages-old patriarchy, rock’n’roll, drugs, free love, generational rebellion… in the end, in such a fluid reality, the only things one can count on to still be there for you are the religion of consumerism, the Church of Madison Avenue, and the brands that they serve.
  5. Falling is actually cyclical. Number 2 and 3 bring me to the iconic opening theme of Mad Men (which has not changed in 8 years — a serious attestment to its artistic vision). The show’s last episode confirms that yes, Don is falling, but only to end up as usual, on his sofa, cigarette and tumbler in hand. This symbolizes his cycles of reinvention, the shedding his skin to come back with “new ideas, a new you”.
  6. How to be creative. There’s a LOT of talk about what creativity is and how one fosters and encourages it in a corporate environment. As the most creative professional in his ultra-competitive field, Don’s answer is to completely reject the corporate norms of working from 9-to-5, of methodical preparation, of playing office politics. His ideas come from naps on the office sofa, from serendipitious road trips, from unplanned and unannounced disappearances and from near-nervous breakdowns. In other words, the bad news for most businesses still today: his opinion is that inspired and inspiring creativity just cannot flourish in a ‘normal’ corporate environment. Drop the rules, or drop your expectations.
  7. Understanding business. Even with my 16+ years to date of business experience in both startups and corporates, Mad Men always managed to delight me with fresh and unexpected insights about the realities of businesses. Whether it’s the fact that you never really know anyone you work with until you travel together; or watching the evolution of the marketing profession from complete reliance of the client on the ad agency in the early seasons, to the modern corporate exec (Pete Campbell in this case); or how an entrepreneurial itch has to get scratched, even if it means walking away from a corporate career or a comfortable life of leisure (Joan Harris). A good and unexpected source of wisdom.

Original post