Month: August 2007

Aug 31 2007

Lijit Blog Explore aka Bubbles

Stan James just wrote a post titled Explore the world of blogs around you which describes the new Lijit Blog Explore feature.  I’ve been calling this feature “bubbles” and if you look at the image below you’ll see why.

Lijitbubbles

Pretty colors, eh?

Explorelijit

Try it.  Go to my blog and click on the “Explore” button on the right hand side in the Lijit Wijit.  Then – click on the little bubbles and navigate around my social graph

Stan explains the orange (fans of) / green (friends) / blue (follows) colors in depth and how Lijit figures these relationships out.

The Lijit registration process and setup is simple – they just got a great call out on Ouriel Ohayon’s blog post titled Execution is the key #7: the magic funnel.”

If you aren’t yet Lijit, it’s time to try it.  Social graphs aren’t just for Facebook users.

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Aug 30 2007

Customer Enthusiasm

One of the great things about blogs is that it makes it easy for anyone (that has a blog) to express things – both good and bad.  While mainstream media seems to be endlessly focused on “bad stuff sells newspapers”, people like to express (and consume) a full range of their experiences.

Bloggers regularly talk about their positive experiences.  I obsessively subscribe and read search feeds (across NewsGator Search, Technorati, Google, and Yahoo) for all the companies I have an investment in.  I’ve found this to be an awesome way to keep a pulse on what’s going on in my world.

Today I noticed a great post by a guy named Chris Spagnuolo titled Tearing up the spreadsheets…our move to Rally Software.  I’ve very proud of the team at Rally – they are creating a superb company that builds SaaS-based software to help manage Agile software development.  When I made the original investment, I got questions from other potential investors that included “what’s Agile” and “software tools will never live in the cloud.”  Today, a large number of companies are using Rally’s software to manage their software development process.

Chris’s post has detailed and thorough praise of Rally’s product and describes his company’s path to adopting it.  It’s a great example of unsolicited customer feedback (and praise) and comes to us via the power of blogs.  A decade ago entire teams of marketing people were tasked with finding, writing, and publishing “customer success stories” and “customer testimonials” – now all you need to do today is delight your customer and their enthusiasm will show up on the web.

Thanks Chris!  Even though we’ve never met and I have no idea who you are, I appreciate the time you took to write up your Rally story.  And – if you ever need anything regarding Rally, just drop me an email.

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Aug 29 2007

Boulder Building New Orleans

A little over a year ago Amy and I had a discussion about how we could directly contribute to rebuilding New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  We have made financial contributions and underwritten several trips of students to the city, but we were looking for something tangible to do.

A close friend and nationally known architect – Coleman Coker of buildingstudio – told us of a project he was working on with his colleague Jonathan Tate to build high quality, low cost housing in New Orleans.  He connected us with the folks at the Neighborhood Housing Services of New Orleans a New Orleans based non-profit that helps first time home buyers.

BbnohouseAfter a little study, we determined that for $50,000 we could provide a high quality house for a family based on Coleman’s design (approximately 900 sq. ft.)

As a result, we’ve put together a program in conjunction with the Community Foundation Serving Boulder Country that we call Boulder Building New Orleans.

To date, we have raised a little over $40,000.  Amy and I are covering all administrative costs of the program so 100% of the donations are going toward the house.  On the second anniversary of the land fall of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Amy and I thought we’d put together a final push to get the $50,000 raised for this project.

If you are inclined, please consider making a donation to Boulder Building New Orleans.  You don’t need to be from Boulder to do this – you’ll be part of helping our extended community provide a new house for a family in New Orleans.  Any amount helps – electronic donations can be made in amounts as little as $10.  While it might not seem like a lot, it’ll be life changing for the folks that end up living in the house.

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Aug 28 2007

Let’s Get Vertical

I love to invest in companies that are developing broad horizontal technologies.  Many of them – such as NewsGatorFeedBurner, and Rally – can be applied to many different vertical markets. 

I personally revel in the tension between engineering, product marketing, and sales.  It’s challenging to sell a horizontal product in an emerging market, especially to enterprise buyers.  You need a special type of salesperson – one who doesn’t constantly say “I can’t sell that” but instead knows how to ask his early adopter customers “what is your pain around [problem category X]?” and then figures out how to repurpose the horizontal technology to solve this pain.

In a well functioning early stage team, this tension between engineering, product marketing, and sales results in customer driven vertical market segmentation.  Rather than having a top down sales effort to “go after the following five vertical markets”, the use cases evolve and the ripe vertical markets become clear.

NewsGator recently demonstrated this in the healthcare segment.  In their discussion of The Power of Enterprise 2.0 for Healthcare Delivery they talk about how The National Health Service of the United Kingdom’s Orkney division implemented NewsGator’s Enterprise Server and Traction TeamPage’s blog/wiki product to address their internal communication shortcomings.

As a result, NewsGator is now talking about other healthcare organizations (yeah – there are a few of them) that could use a comparable solution.  Suddenly, the sales organization at the horizontal technology supplier has a vertical market to focus on. 

Now, a traditional enterprise sales (or marketing) executive could say “of course you want to target health care organizations – that’s one of the biggest verticals around, after finance, insurance, manufacturing, government, … ” (you get the idea.) However, in advance of real customers, all the startup is doing is guessing at what people are going to do with the horizontal technology.  Imagine going to a typical health care organization and saying “would you like to buy some enterprise RSS.”  Not very effective.

I hate spending bucks early in the life of a company (and market) to try to create vertical market demand.  However, there comes a time when it becomes obvious you have enough customers in a market segment that you can start to get vertical with your selling efforts while continuing to extend your “horizontal platform technology” into new and exciting areas, such as NewsFriends for Facebook or a reader for the iPhone.

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Aug 27 2007

The Montana Future

In 1991, a group of ten people (including me and Amy) gathered at a resort in Stowe, VT to have a Chautauqua to discuss the future.  We had a magnificent weekend which included a field trip to Burlington to visit the Ben & Jerry’s factory (and all the ice cream that entails.)

One of the discussions we had was titled “The Montana Future.”  All of us – except one couple – were living in Boston at the time.  While the Internet was around (and all of had been exposed to it – including plenty of DEC-action), it was 1991 – pre-WWW, pre-Telecommunications Act of 1996 – where a 9600 baud modem was considered a pretty rocking thing.

I read Atlas Shrugged in college 23 years ago.  It set the hook hard in my brain for creating my own version of Galt’s Gulch.  I spoke at the Big Sky Venture Capital Conference on Friday and it reminded me of the idea of the Montana Future.  Amy and I spent the weekend in Keystone and talked about it some (and how we were living it.)  I pondered it some more on my drive from Keystone to DIA this morning (1:45 – a new record by over 15 minutes – 500 hp is a nice thing.)

“Montana” is a metaphor (as much as I like Montana, I love Colorado more.)  At the Chautauqua we discussed a future that enabled people to work and live anywhere they wanted.  While I’m a fan of urban living I like it in small doses (e.g. a month of living in NY or Paris – or even a day in Chicago like I’m going to spend today – is a blast.)  As a software entrepreneur living in Boston in 1991 it was hard to imagine living “off the grid” but it was easy to imagine a future where the grid would be available where I wanted it.

16 years later, several of us that were at the Chautauqua are living the Montana Future.  Half of us live in Colorado.  Geography no longer interferes with my work.  I live in three places (Boulder, Keystone, and Homer, Alaska) – each of which is equally wired.  If I didn’t broadcast my location regularly, most people wouldn’t have any idea where I am at any given time (unless I was physically with them.)  I can work when I want to work and – when I don’t – I usually just walk out my back door and go for a run or a hike.

While there will always be regional concentrations of activity, the Montana Future is here.  And it’s awesome.

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Aug 23 2007

The Summer of ’47

When I read David Halberstam’s Summer of ‘49 recently, I thought of my dad many times.  We talked about it one day and he told me about his brilliant Summer of ‘47.  I told him to blog about it and he did.

Life in America was different then.  For a total of $3, he had an amazing summer based around the New York Yankees and the New York Giants.  His day started at Geller’s Candy Store every morning at 8am and ended on his local baseball field in the Bronx each evening when it got dark.  He tells the story well and it’s a great compliment to his story Jake the Pickle Man.

If you’ve been thinking about tech a little too much, or the absurd H-1B visa situation is bumming you out, go read these stories.  If you are a baseball fan, you’ll love them.

50 years later – as my dad says – “… some things have changed in America.  We now know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Food for thought.

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Aug 20 2007

Serial Entrepreneurs and What Motivates Them

The WSJ has an excellent article titled The Secrets of Serial Success.  The “serial entrepreneur” is a mysterious beast and entrepreneurship sociologists have been poking and prodding at it for some time.  Most articles I read about the “motivation of serial entrepreneurs” falls short – this one nails a lot of the things I’ve observed and experienced.

My friends Tim Miller and Ryan Martens from Rally Software both have parts in the article.  Tim and Ryan had a nice success with their previous company (Avitek – acquired by BEA) and are now working hard at their next company.  They typify the “serial entrepreneur species” (of the “entrepreneur genus”.)

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Aug 18 2007

Fun With Friends

After waking up from a nap dreaming about Social Graphs (ok – not really) I realized I’d never tried to integrate my Outlook contacts into “the other stuff I use on the web.”

I figured I’d start with Facebook since it’s all the rage these days.  I have 423 friends on Facebook.  I’ve been pretty careful about only accepting folks that I know (although the “Facebook friend spam” has definitely increased in the past few weeks.) 

I ran the Outlook Contacts uploaded (export your contacts to a .CSV, upload into Facebook – hmmm – smells like an opportunity.)  Facebook found 325 contacts of mine that also had Facebook accounts (via the email address.)  I then sent out automatic friend messages to all of them (although Facebook wouldn’t let me customize the message.) 

Facebook then told me that I had 3733 contacts that weren’t in Facebook and did I want to invite them in.  I declined since my 3733 contacts that aren’t used to Facebook spam don’t need it.

While there doesn’t seem to be a great way to monitor who has joined as a result of a particular invite, I just checked my recently added friends list and have four that have already accepted my request (in the eight minutes that it took me to type this post.)

Fascinating.  Plaxo is up next.

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Aug 18 2007

Are You Cooler Online?

“Even on a slow day I can have a three way chat with two women at one time.  I’m so much cooler online.” 

Unfortunately, Brad Paisley has turned his embed off but it’s worth a click through to Brad Paisley-Online (thanks Heidi.)

There is hope for all of us.  Or not.  Just remember that the truth is out there.

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Aug 18 2007

Social Graph – The Next Future Overused Phrase

Get ready to start hearing “Social Graph” as frequently as you hear “Web 2.0.”  The construct of the Social Graph (and its friend – Social Network) has been around for a while.  Now that Facebook has stolen our minds (and help us control our friends), we all are part of a social network.  Or nine.  Or 721 (that’s my best guess for the number of different services that have a social network that I’m a user of.)

Brad Fitzpatrick, the creator of LiveJournal, has a great overview of the Social Graph and a real call to action in his post Thoughts on the Social Graph.  After reading it, I thought of a few things:

  1. My first online social graph was my Compuserve email list.  I don’t have it anymore.
  2. My second online social graph was AOL and my buddy list.  I still have it.
  3. My biggest online social graph is the 4348 contacts I have in Outlook.  Where oh where is Microsoft in all of this?
  4. Every time I log into a new web app that needs a social graph, I want it to inherit the one I have (see #6.)
  5. Identity theft is going to become a massive problem.  On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.  Except maybe Dogster.
  6. I own my social graph.  Whatever applications I use need to give me a way to control it.
  7. All applications should be motivated to interoperate with each other.

Several of my investments are addressing different parts of this problem, including Me.dium, Lijit, and TrustPlus.  Several of the TechStars companies, including EventVue, SocialThing, and Villij are also working on aspects of this.  Many of my investments rely on a Social Graph and should be motivated to aggressively interoperate with others.  Remember that I’m a horizontal guy so this appeals nicely to my brain.

“Social Graph” might become the new “Web 2.0.”  Phrase droppers of the world unite.

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