Month: May 2009

May 30 2009

Interviews on TechStars, Venture Capital, and Angel Investing

I’m always happy to be “content.”  Following are a few interviews I’ve shown up in lately.

  • Q&A with Brad Feld of TechStars: This is a nice short interview in Mass High Tech that happened at the Nantucket Conference a few weeks ago.  It talks about TechStars, Boulder, and some of the magic required to build a sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem.
  • All About Venture Capital: This was a long one – 55 minutes of me riffing on how entrepreneurs should think about venture capital.
  • Exit Outcomes: ACA’s John Huston: This is an interview with John Huston, the chairman of the Angel Capital Association.  Apparently I’m mentioned somewhere along the way (I have no idea if they say good or bad things about me – listen and comment!)  The topic is “Ever wanted to hear how angels think of the terms they offer and the returns they expect? And what will happen if the outcome is less than a complete success?”

I spent a day in Boise, ID last week at their annual Idavation Conference and had a great time – I’ve got a more thorough post coming on that (which is more than just a handful of links – but c’mon – the links are fun, aren’t they!)

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May 30 2009

Feld-Weiser One-on-One: Feld on Work-Life Balance

On Wednesday, June 10th, 6:00-7:00pm in the Wittemyer Courtroom, Wolf Law Building at CU Boulder I’m doing an interview with Phil Weiser titled Feld on Work-Life BalanceI’ve written extensively about Work-Life Balance on this blog and have a wide range of opinions and perspectives on it.  Phil’s intro the event sets it up nicely.

For entrepreneurs, lawyers, and other professionals, work-life balance is often a topic that individuals plan on thinking about when they have time. For Brad Feld, this topic "took me 15 years, a failed first marriage, and my current wife (Amy Batchelor, Wellesley Graduate) almost calling it quits for me to realize that I had to figure out what ‘work life balance’ meant to me." This recognition led to Brad’s commitment to a series of rules, which evolved into a set of habits that include:

  1. Spend Time Away
  2. Life Dinner
  3. Segment Space
  4. Be Present
  5. Meditate

Notably, Brad’s view on life-work balance is not that working hard is not important; rather, it’s that "balance improves the quality/quantity of work that you can get done and he has become more effective at accomplishing stuff." In this session, we will discuss the challenges about finding life-work balance, developing strategies to both work hard and work effectively as well as how to define success not just in work, but in life.

If you are interested, register (it’s free) and come join us.  Networking (with refreshments) starts at 5:30pm.

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May 26 2009

It’s All About The Faces

I heard the line “it’s all about the faces” from someone in the past few weeks.  The line stuck with me and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.  Last night I tried an experiment and changed my twitter avatar to a graphic done by Anthony Dimitre, a really talented local designer.  While there was plenty of positive feedback, there was also a lot of “I don’t like it” feedback, including the tweet “i think the avatar makes you seem less accessible than a normal pic” from @joshpayne

While I like the avatar that Anthony made for me, Josh’s comment rang true and I changed the avatar back to the photo I’ve been using. Now, I might need a new photo (or a new face for that matter), but that’s a different issue.  When I think about my experience on the web, there is no question that photos make people feel more real and accessible.

When I got my iPhone, I started taking quick pictures of my friends and family and adding these pictures to their contact record.  These photos got synced with Outlook and ended up in the top right corner of my emails from these folks (in addition to showing up on my phone whenever they called me.)  This was cool, but it forced me to take pictures of people and go through a convoluted UI experience to get the pictures associated with their contact record.

Even though this was a lot of extra work, the power of the photo matters.  I’m happier when I see Amy’s picture pop up on my phone.  Or, when my partner Jason calls me, I remember our great dinner at Uchi in Austin a few months ago (his photo was taken in front of the sign late at night.)  When I ponder the rise of Facebook and Twitter, and reflect on the early coolness of MyBlogLog, the power of the photo seems very real.

This hit home with me during the most recent two week iteration for Gist.  I get the new features between one and two weeks before everyone else (they do a release every two weeks) and there’s been an awesome new one that has appeared.  If a contact record appears without a photo (I guess II should call it an avatar), I have a chance to add a new image from a Google search.  Suddenly, between the data Gist imports from Facebook, Twitter, and the photos it is finding for me on the web, many of my most recently used contacts have photos that appear whenever I interact with them.  I have a real, positive emotional response to this.

Now, this data isn’t yet syncing back with my email contact list, so I’m only seeing it when I either go into Gist or open up the Gist Dossier in Outlook.  That just makes it even more noticeable that it’s missing from within my inbox (which is my most actively used form of communication.)  But – that’s just a matter of time.

As the social web continues its extraordinary growth, “faces” seem to be a small, but critically important part of it.

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May 25 2009

Following the D Conference on My iPhone

D7 starts Tuesday.  As usual, the speaker list is killer.  But, I can’t go as I have a board meeting in LA on Wednesday and I’m keynoting the IdaVation Conference in Boise on Thursday. 

My solution – the new All Things Digital iPhone app.  It is built with the latest version of the NewsGator iPhone Media App Framework and is spectacular (look for a refresh of the Brad Feld iPhone app soon, along with a few other fun ones.)  In this version, the five buttons on the bottom row of the app are configurable so I simply moved D7 to the first position and will click on it periodically throughout the day when I have free time to see what’s going on. 

D7 in my pocket – for free.  Any time I want it.  Cool.

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May 25 2009

TechStars Kicks Into High Gear

As the TechStars Boulder program starts its third week, the TechStars Boston program kicks off its first week.  Andrew Hyde has a good summary of the first two weeks of Boulder (along with a callout to TechStars TV) and the Boston Herald ran an interview with me, Shawn Broderick, and David Cohen on the creation and goals for TechStars Boston.  Plus, I came up with the idea for this summer’s TechStars Boulder hack – let’s see if the gang can live up to the standards set by MIT Hackers.

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May 23 2009

Random Meetings in a Car

I tried an experiment last week when I was in Seattle.  I did two of my “random meetings” in cars between things.

I had a full day (a run with TA McCann (the CEO of Gist), the Gist board meeting, and then the Impinj board meeting.  I had to catch a flight home to Denver at 5pm because I had a meeting first thing in the morning with one of our investors.  So – I didn’t really have any slack time in my schedule.

TA had connected with me David Conrad who runs Design Commission and did some of the early design work for Gist.  This intro was made and the meeting was planned a while ago.  I shuffled the meeting around at the last minute so that it was sandwiched between the Gist and Impinj board meetings.

After I tweeted that I was heading to Seattle, I received an email from Marcelo Calbucci who is the publisher of the Seattle 2.0 blog and recently put on the Seattle 2.0 Awards.  Marcelo asked to see if I had 15 minutes to talk about a couple of things. 

Now – I hate to drive.  I’m a shitty driver so when I travel I take cabs or have a driver take me around.  My assistant Kelly plus Taxi Magic on my iPhone take care of me so I don’t really worry about it too much.  So – I thought I’d try something different.  I asked Kelly to see if David would be willing to drive me from Gist to Impinj and if Marcelo would be willing to drive me from Impinj to the airport.  In exchange, they’d have me captive in their car for a meeting for however long the drive took.

Both agreed.  I got where I was going safely, we ended up having a face to face meeting (that otherwise probably wouldn’t have happened), and we each have a memorable shared experience.  Plus – I hope I was able to be a little helpful to them.  Finally, I didn’t spend any money on a car service and – as a special bonus – David had a Prius so we get to feel like we were actually being somewhat energy efficient.

I thought this experiment was a success and I’ll definitely try it again.  Pay attention to my tweets and/or TripIt account for where I’m heading – if you want to give me a “Random Ride” just holler.  And hats off to both of these guys for being great entrepreneurs and just “making it happen” when given the chance, no matter how random it might seem.

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May 22 2009

The Public Restroom as HCI Laboratory

Well – that serves me right.  If you requested a Gist beta invite, be patient.  I’m grinding through my inbox and you’ll have your invite by tomorrow at the latest.  Thanks everyone who requested one, especially for all the kind feedback on the blog.

But that’s not what I’m thinking about this morning.  Last week I read an intro O’Reilly book to HCI called Designing Gestural Interfaces: Touchscreens and Interactive Devices.  It was ok, but one of the insights – that the public restroom has become a test bed for gestural interface technology – really stuck with me.

I found myself in a restrooms at DIA last night before I got in my car for the hour long drive home.  I generally hate public restrooms as my OCD kicks into high gear around everyone’s germs.  I no longer think that bad things are going to happen to me if I don’t touch every street sign on a walk, nor do I get stuck in my house in the morning because I have to do everything in multiple of three’s (and – if I blow it, then nines, and, if I blow it then 27’s, ugh – yuck.)  However, I still dislike the idea of the public restroom.  But sometimes you’ve just gotta go.

It was pretty late at night and I found myself in a recently cleaned and completely empty restroom at one end of Level 6 at DIA.  I decided to perform an experiment – could I go about my business without touching a single thing other than myself or my clothes.  I like to wash my hands before I go to the bathroom (You don’t?  Think about it for five seconds.  You’ve been shaking hands and touching things all day?  C’mon.)  The soap dispenser spit out soap after I put my hands under it.  The sink automatically turned on when I put my hands under it (I had to move them around a little.)  I walked up to the toilet, did my thing, and walked away to the sound of a toilet flushing.  Back to the sink for a redo of the previous drill.  I wandered over to the towel dispenser which automatically dispensed some towels when I waved my hands under it. 

The only think I had to touch was the door.  Even that seems easy to solve – automatic opening and closing doors have been around forever.  None of the gestures I did were particular complex and – as I think about it – all were pretty obvious. 

Life is a laboratory.  Don’t forget to always be exploring and experimenting.

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May 21 2009

The Web Is Working Harder For Me

A few weeks ago I wrote a post titled The Maturing of the Implicit Web.  In it I talked about new releases from AdaptiveBlue and OneRiot.  As I sit here in my hotel room in Seattle waiting for TA McCann (CEO of Gist) to show up for our pre-board meeting run, I’m pondering how much work I’m starting to get the web to do for me.

For example, as part of my morning information routine, I go through my Gist dashboard.  This is a list of all the new information that Gist has found from a wide variety of data sources about people and companies in my social network.  It derives the social network from my email inbox, integrates it with my Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter social graphs, and then presents it to me in a way that is prioritized by what it thinks I find most interesting.  The level of relevance to me is amazing now that I’ve had it running for a few months.  While Gist is still in closed beta, if you want an invite just email me.

Gist is synthesizing the data for me from a variety of other web services.  At our board meeting today we have a long list of potential partners and data services that we prioritize based on (a) quality of data, (b) availability of data, and (c) ability to integrate the data.  Exactly one year ago I wrote a post titled No API?  You Suck! I feel so strongly about this; if I wrote the post again today I would have titled it “No API?  You Really Suck!”

One of the data sources that has a strong API layer is our company Gnip.  They recently announced that they will be integrating data from the Facebook Platform into their data set.  This comes on the heals of their announcement about adding WordPress as a data publisher to their system.  Gnip now has over 30 data publishers actively flowing through their system and have found rapid adoption from a number of interested customers.  Oh – and Gnip’s API is well documented, public, and evolving rapidly.

So – it was with great pleasure when I saw Alex Iskold’s announcement that there is now a Glue API. There is a tremendous amount of interesting semantic data in AdaptiveBlue’s Glue system – the API liberates it for anyone that wants to put some energy into working with it.

But wait, there’s more.  OneRiot also just released their API, which – while not public yet – is available by requestOneRiot has a fascinating set of real time data available via a search interface that gets better and more relevant every week.  They’ve also demonstrated that they can build to search scale as they have some superb technical search folks on their team.

Gang – thanks for not sucking.  Y’all are helping set things up so the web does more of the work for me!

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May 18 2009

Preparing For A First Meeting With Me

I have lots of short meetings.  I’ll try to meet with anyone that I can that is referred to me or seems to be doing something relevant to my world.  I’ll also meet with people I think are interesting or, in some cases, just to be polite.

Some of the most interesting things I’m involved in have come out of random meetings.  One of my favorite examples is TechStars.  David Cohen somehow ended up on my “random day” meeting schedule.  We had never met before and I had no idea who he was.  He came in, sat down, and handed me a first draft of a brochure he had created.  I asked him to tell me about himself and “TechStars.”  He did.  Five minutes later I looked at him and said “I’m in – let’s figure this out.”

I had two random meetings today (and I’ve got two more).  Each ended after 15 minutes.  I tried to be polite in both, but the people were woefully unprepared.  This makes me a little impatient as it’s so easy to do a little work in advance of our meeting to figure out what I’m going to be interested or not interested in. 

At the risk of sounding obnoxious and arrogant, following are some suggestions of things to do to prepare for a first meeting with me.  By the way, I think this applies to any first meeting, but I’ll personalize it since I know it works with me.

Search the web for meGoogle, LinkedIn, my blog, Foundry Group blog, Askthevc blog.  A little bit of research will save us both a lot of time.  I won’t have to tell you my story (which I won’t do anyway in a random meeting.)  You will know in advance what I do (and don’t) invest in.  You can also tune your presentation / our discussion to me.

Figure out the one thing you want to communicate with me.  I’m meeting with you to talk about you and what you are up to.  I can probably handle one – maybe two – things during our meeting.  So, get right to it and lead off with the one thing you want to accomplish with our meeting.  If we are two minutes into our meeting and I still have no clue why we are meeting, I’ll ask you “what do you want to get out of this meeting?”  That’s a hint to cut the chit chat and focus.  I’m not trying to be rude – just efficient – so we can make our time together useful to you.

Don’t make our meeting an endless stream of Planet Feld references: I want to talk to you about what you are up to.  Don’t try to connect with me by talking about my running, or my reading, or my house in Alaska unless it’s relevant to what you are talking to me about.  I can focus 100% of my energy on you for 15 minutes – help me make it count.

Have one thing in your head that you think I can learn from you: Regardless of the outcome of a meeting, I view it as a success if I learn one thing.  If our meeting isn’t going anywhere after ten minutes, you’ll notice a not so subtle shift as I move into “shit, I’ve got five more minutes left – I better get something out of this meeting.”  It helps, of course, if you know what you want me to learn from you, and it relates to what I care about.

Following are two other hints for during the meeting.

Don’t ask me to sign an NDA.  Please read this blog post titled Why Most VC’s Don’t Sign NDAs.  If you insist on having an NDA signed, don’t have a meeting with me. 

Pay attention to time. Our random meeting is likely scheduled for 30 minutes.  However, most of them only take around 15 minutes.  Don’t view this as a bad thing – if you are focused and get to the point, we can usually accomplish more in a 15 minute meeting than most humans accomplish in an hour long meeting.  If I’m really into what you are doing I’ll probably get it in 5 minutes and immediately shift into “let’s figure out what to do next” mode.  Sometimes it takes me longer and the aha moment hits me at minute 13, at which point we’ll go longer.  Please don’t feel the need to fill up 30 minutes or stretch things out, especially if you know I’m either into what you are up to – or that I’m not.  I’ll appreciate the extra 15 minutes you gave me back (to write blog posts like this) and remember our meeting more fondly!

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May 17 2009

Book: Bricklin on Technology

I haven’t been reading that much lately (only 27 books so far this year) so I had a nice weekend chewing on a handful of them as I tried to catch my breath from a few weeks of constantly moving around.

The first – and most enjoyable – was Bricklin on Technology .  I’ve somehow managed to end up with three of them – I know that Dan Bricklin sent me one and Amazon sent me one, but I don’t know where the third came from.  Dan told me about this book a few months ago when I saw him in Boston at the TechStars for a Day event.  He’s done an outstanding job of combining his essays on computing with updated thinking along with a bunch of great history.  There are a dozen chapters – each are a “mini-book” within the book.  My favorite was Chapter 12: VisiCalc (which is – not surprisingly – the history of VisiCalc) but the other chapters are all great and include things like:

  • What Will People Pay For?
  • The Recording Industry and Copying
  • Leveraging the Crowd
  • Blogging and Podcasting: Observations through Their Development
  • Tools: My Philosophy about What We Should Be Developing

I first heard of Dan Bricklin in 1979.  I had bought an Apple II with my bar mitzvah money (and some help from my dad).  When VisiCalc came out, we bought one of the first copies; we still have the original 5.25” disk in the brown vinyl VisiCalc binder (our copy was the one featured in the Triumph of the Nerds video series – that’s another long story.)  Not surprisingly, Dan and his partner Bob Frankston were early heroes of mine.  I even bought a copy of TK Solver when it came out.

I finally met Dan in 1995 when he was starting to think about the company that became Trellix.  I think we were introduced by Aaron Kleiner, but I can’t remember.  Yes – I was really excited the first time we met!  I ended up helping out in the very early days of Trellix through the point that Dan raised a $200k seed financing from CRV.  I’ve always loved the way Dan’s brain works and Bricklin on Technology is a bunch of it in one portable package.

I was at MIT on Thursday and Friday last week.  One of my favorite things to do when I’m there is browse in the MIT Press Bookstore in Kendall Square.  I ended up picking up a handful of computer books that I read (well – I read some and skimmed some) this weekend.  They are:

Designing Gestural Interfaces: Touchscreens and Interactive Devices : HCI for beginners.  If you are interested in HCI or gestural interfaces but haven’t thought much about them, this is a quick, easy read. However, it’s really simple and there is a ton of important stuff missing from it.  One fascinating insight – the bathroom has become a test bed for gestural interface technology (ah – my heart flutters).  C.

Semantic Web For Dummies (For Dummies) : Alex Iskold from AdaptiveBlue would be proud of me.  Like most of the Dummies books, it was filled with filler (probably 50% of it could have been chopped) but it had plenty of useful examples.  I didn’t learn much from it as I knew most of it but I was searching for something suitably “beginner” aimed at a software developer.  I’d give this one a C+.

A Semantic Web Primer, 2nd Edition (Cooperative Information Systems) : This one was a little more serious.  Again, it was aimed at beginners, but I thought it was much more logical, much better structured (how ironic), and more insightful than the Dummies book.  It’s also more like a textbook so it presents the same concepts in a more serious nature.  I give this one a B.  As a result, I’m still searching for a great “beginners Semantic Web” book.

I think it’s time for some mental floss.

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