Brad Feld

Month: October 2007

Tips from TechStars

Oct 31, 2007
Category Techstars

David Cohen – the creator and ringleader of TechStars – has started a blog series of his Top 12 Startup Tips from TechStars.  His latest tip (#2) is titled Find and engage great mentorsI think this series is going to end up being required reading for any first time (and many multi-time) entrepreneurs.  Tip #1 was Be the Best in the World at SomethingGreat stuff David.

If you do a search via any of the rapidly expanding Lijit search wijits, you’ll discover that it is now recommending me as an expert on the search term “wife.” 

I haven’t decided which is more disconcerting – that Lijit thinks I’m an expert on “wife” (I’ll leave that up to Amy to weigh in on) or that I’m slightly ahead of someone named “bitemycookie.” (Thanks David.)

Each day, consumers conduct more than two million online searches for user manuals and self-support information on products ranging from consumer electronics to kitchen appliances. Many of these searches end in frustration, because this information can be difficult to find. In our house, we have a “manual drawer” which quickly turns into a “crap drawer” that – not surprisingly – never has the actual manual that I’m looking for (picture gnomes stealing underwear.)

A new company, OwnerIQ, solves this common and frustrating problem by collecting and organizing user manuals and other self-support information online, making it easy to find.  Jay Habegger, from Colorado now living in Boston, started OwnerIQ (he sold his last company, Bitpipe, to TechTarget in 2004).  Earlier this summer, OwnerIQ closed a $2 million Series A round led by Atlas Venture which included a number of Boston angel investors and some unnamed dude from Colorado. 

OwnerIQ aggregates user manuals around specific product types and gives you the ability to store – in a personal online filing cabinet – all of your manuals.  Voila – time to clean out the “manual / crap drawer” and repurpose it for something useful, like the thousands of different napkins Amy buys that we never use.

To monetize this idea, OwnerIQ is pioneering the concept of Ownership Targeting, providing brand advertisers with highly customized programs to precisely target consumers based on products they already own.  Ownership Targeting takes the guesswork out of identifying likely purchasers and enables advertisers to influence consumers throughout a product’s ownership lifecycle.

I’ve gotten to know Jay over the past year through our work together at the National Center for Women & Information Technology and several of the companies I’ve been an investor in were very satisfied partners of Bitpipe.  I’m looking forward to watching Jay “do it again.”

Today’s guest blogger is my partner, Jason Mendelson.  I’m immensely proud of Jason, my partner Chris Wand, Stratify’s CEO Ramana Venkata, his excellent management team, and all the great folks at Stratify for their fantastic work in creating the market leading eDiscovery company.

Today, Stratify and Iron Mountain announced they have entered into an agreement for Stratify to be acquired by Iron Mountain for approximately $158m in cash.  Stratify is a Mobius Venture Capital portfolio company that Chris Wand and I have had the pleasure of serving on the board for the past several years.  We’ve really enjoyed the journey that we’ve shared with Ramana Venkata, the CEO and the rest of his capable management team. 

Stratify has revolutionized the way that attorneys deal with the eDiscovery process.  For those of you fortunate enough to not know what “eDiscovery” is, think about all the millions of pages of paper, and hundreds of GB of email and files that lawyers comb through when one party sues another.  What used to be a completely manual process that resulted in spiraling costs and sometimes marginal quality, has now been partially automated by technology.  This process has been dubbed “eDiscovery.” 

Stratify’s best-of-breed patented technology uses statistical algorithms to “read” documents – in any form, in any language and automatically group like items together, discarding duplicates, segregating out irrelevant data and creating computer-generated named folders where similar-subject matter documents are stored.  Also included in their platform are analytics to study relationships between documents, emails trails and a host of other capabilities that make anyone who sees them wish for a more stringent document retention policy. 

Iron Mountain Digital and Stratify have had a burgeoning partnership, whereby Stratify eDiscovery solutions were offered in combination with those from Iron Mountain, the trusted name in information management.  It’s a natural partnership that the company holding and protecting  information assets for enterprises is acquiring the technology and expertise to make them actionable – giving  their customers the ability to analyze and leverage information in valuable ways. 

We were the only institutional investors in Stratify and therefore we played an even larger and more active role in supporting the company’s efforts than normal.  Whether it was sitting around drawing on a white board developing mock ups of screen shots, or tagging along on early sales calls trying to sell to lawyers who had never heard of the term “eDiscovery” it was a great experience.  In fact, it was fun.  It’s even more rewarding that the company became such a huge success.

Today marks a great step in Stratify’s ambitions to make enterprises’ unstructured information actionable, one vertical at a time.  I look forward to saying that “I knew them when,” as they join the Iron Mountain platform to create even a larger and more dominant footprint.  Congratulations to Stratify and Ramana with special mentions to Meena, George, Sanjeev, Steve, David, Joy, Parveen, Allyson, Rob and Wendy.  Also we wouldn’t be where we are today with the incredible assistance of Peter Falvey and Michael Barker at Revolution Partners and Jon Gavenman of Heller Ehrman / VLG.  You were all a true pleasure to work with.  Congratulations too, to Iron Mountain for their brilliant decision to join forces!

Tags: stratify, iron+mountain, mobius+venture+capital, eDiscovery

For the guy (or gal) that has an extensive collection of black t-shirts with all kinds of logos and band pictures on them comes – the Wi-Fi Detector Shirt.  In addition to taking your wardrobe to a new nerdy level, you can perform a public service by helping everyone near you know whether or not Wi-Fi is available  (Thanks Mark.)

Jack and Suzy Welch have a great article in this week’s BusinessWeek titled Directors Who Don’t Deliver.  I’ve served on many boards and written plenty of board of directors, including my personal favorite board of director post titled Boards That Are Not Bored.

The Welch’s describe five types of dysfunctional board members: the do-nothing, the white flag, the cabalist, the meddler, and the pontificator.  If you’ve ever served on a board, you probably know at least one of these dudes.  Hopefully, you (and me) haven’t been one of them.

I spent part of my Friday night installing Leopard (also known as Mac OS X 10.5) on my Mac at home.  The install went perfectly and I was generally pleased with the new apps (like Time Machine and Spaces) and kept suggesting to my Vista machine sitting nearby that it already needed some new eye candy.

As I was reading my daily RSS feeds on my Vista machine (aha!) I came across a 2,174 page long blog post on Ars Technica titled Max OS X 10.5 Leopard: the Ars Technica reviewThis is a spectacular review – in exhilarating detail – of Leopard.  The first few pages are a great rant about the new UI stuff, followed by a very thorough and deep analysis (both non-technical and technical) of all the new features and components in the upgrade.  Ok – it’s only 17 pages long – but these are real pages chock full of interesting information for all Mac nerds.

Nicely done John Siracusa.  Now, if I could just get Entourage to sync my tasks (and not suck so much in general as an email client) I might use my Mac more.

Following is a guest post by my partner Jason Mendelson.  All of the thoughts and grammar errors are his.  All of the formatting errors are mine.

Every year I go back to the University of Michigan and spend a day teaching undergrads in the economics department.   I’ve been doing it for a few years now and it’s a way to give back to the program.  Specifically, one of my former professors, Jan Gerson had a huge impact on me and I promised that I’d come back every year (if I ever got “smart”) and impart some knowledge.  I’m not sure that I ever got smart, but I do like to visit Ann Arbor

This year, I did something a bit differently.  Instead of me pontificating the whole time, I decided to ask some questions re: social networks and music usage, as I’ve been looking at several deals in the space.  I figured the undergrad crowd (of which I’m now twice their age, egads) would provide some interesting answers.  I’m not pretending this is a significantly accurate sample, etc., so take it for what it is worth. 

Over the course of the day, I was able to poll approximately 300 students, by my estimation.  Here were the “results.” 

  1. Students who said they DIDN’T use Facebook:  2.  Yes, 2.  And one of them was a 37 year-old undergrad (great guy, too).  I asked how many of them were “regular” users, as defined by 7 times a week and all but a dozen or so confirmed they were “regular” Facebook users.
  2. I asked how many of them used other social networks, or similar things, Flickr, Twitter, etc..  Shockingly 2 people indicated they used Twitter, 10 used MySpace about 20 used Flickr.  I was blown away.  My guess would be that they were using several networks.  MySpace was deemed “has been” material. Even for pictures, they are all using Facebook. 
  3. I asked how much of their “email” traffic was on Facebook and the vast majority said somewhere around 20% and growing. Many of they wanted my opinion on the Microsoft investment with most everyone thinking it was stupid. None of them could think of an applicable business model for Facebook and they all claimed they’d seen little to no advertising.  This was interesting in that there was a strong visceral reaction to the MSFT investment.
  4. I asked how many of them “bought music legally.”  No more that 15-20% indicated that they bought music legally.
  5. I asked how many of them “stole music” – 100%.  And all but a couple indicated that a majority of their music was stolen.
  6. Biggest concern of stealing music was not getting caught, it was that they “felt badly” for stealing it.
  7. Almost no one buys CDs, but those that do are all into classic rock and jazz (Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, AC/DC).  I was relieved to discover that “classic rock” is still “classic rock.”  If the definition had become “Pearl Jam or Nirvana” I would have had to kill myself. 
  8. I also had the opportunity to meet with a dozen or so folks after particular classes.  One question that I asked them was whether or not they felt computers aided in their education or detracted from it.  Almost unanimously, they all thought that computers detracted from their education because of all the distractions of web surfing, media consumption and social network participation.  I was surprised of their self awareness and a bit frightened by the answer.
  9. Best question of the day to me was:  “How did you make plans with your friends to go to parties if you didn’t have a cell or email?”  I let them know about a quaint little device supplied to all dorm rooms called a telephone. 

I’ve decided that next year I’m going to come even better prepared to ask questions and try to actually add some science to it – instead of asking questions in the open, fill out a questionnaire, etc.

I was not surprised by the attitudes around music, but was surprised about the uniformity of Facebook usage and the lack of any other social network in their lives.

Anyways, there you go – my un-scientific, scientific study.  It was fun. 

My partner Seth Levine has a good post up titled 1980’s all over again with a link to a very interesting Merrill Lynch report titled 1980’s Redux.  I was in high school in Dallas, Texas for the first third of the 1980’s and then college in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the rest of it.  I started my first company in 1987 – on the heals of the Massachusetts Miracle and the beginning of the late 1980’s recession which was painful for Massachusetts, but I was too young and naive to notice.

In college in 1984, I remember arguing with my future business partner Dave Jilk about Texas real estate.  At the time people were minting money buying up land in Texas (especially Dallas – where I had come from) and the development activity was endless.  If you know anything about the Texas real estate crash (which was tightly linked to the S&L crisis) you know that I was wrong – very wrong – when I told Dave stupid things like “Dallas real estate will go up in value forever.”  Dave was a few years old than me and had the appropriate response – he just laughed at me and told me I was wrong.

Of course, the 1980’s, were followed by the 1990’s, which by 1992 were starting out on a rocking good economic time that didn’t end until the early 2000’s.  But – everything’s a cycle, and the real winners in a cycle understand how to play the first derivative of the curve.

Then again, I’m not a macro guy and have no clue about any of this stuff.  But I liked Seth’s 1980’s hair cut.