Month: November 2009

Nov 23 2009

The 800 Pound Gorilla Problem

I was at a board meeting recently where the board and management was discussing the company’s market position. This is a strong company that leads its market and, as a result, one of the board members stated that we were “the 800 pound gorilla in the market.”  In my world view, the market was still relatively small so I suggested that we were the 12 pound gorilla.  While this got a chuckle, it was instructive and moved the conversation down an interesting path.

If the 800 pound gorilla comment had stuck without any discussion, I expect the management team and board (me included) would have leaned back in our chairs, smiled, and indulged ourselves in a moment of self congratulation.  And it’s warranted, as this company has been around for a while and has built a strong, profitable business that is in fact the leader in its market.

However, the market is still relatively small.  It’s growing – and growing quickly now – but it took five years for it to really mature into an interesting market.  We lead the market and continue to be very effective at winning the vast majority of the new business that is out there.  But to view ourselves as an 800 pound gorilla would be an error in my book.

Instead of relaxing, we reset the conversation and said “well – if we are a 12 pound gorilla, what do we need to do to become a 100 pound gorilla on our way to becoming the 800 pound gorilla?”  We decided we could easily become a 24 pound gorilla just based on the growth of the market.  But this isn’t interesting to us, so we’ve got to do more.  What the “more” is started to come out of the discussion we had which I expect will be continued over the next month as the company determines which new products to invest in during 2010.

I find myself in many situations where the words matter a lot.  I enjoy quirky phrases (like Todd Vernon’s “chocolaty goodness”) that help focus the discussion.  The next time you start talking about the gorilla in the market (whether it is you or someone else), make sure you determine whether it’s 800 pounds or 12 pounds – I expect your actions will be very different depending on the answer.

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Nov 23 2009

TapLynx Black Friday Sale

A month ago, NewsGator released TapLynx – their framework for building iPhone apps.  They took the core code of NetNewsWire for the iPhone, abstracted it out, and built a really powerful and easy iPhone app development system as an SDK.  A month later, the iPhone apps built on top of TapLynx are starting to appear, including All Things Digital, Variety, Discovery, TechStars, and the amazing and entertaining Foundry Group iPhone app.

You can download the TapLynx SDK for free to evaluate it.  You only pay if and when you deploy your app to production.  The license price for the TapLynx framework is $3,499 – when you consider the amount of code it includes and the time it’ll save you, it’s a steal.

That said, the folks at NewsGator have gotten into the holiday spirit.  For 24 hours, they are going to celebrate Black Friday (11/27) by offering 50 licenses for $500 each.  

A final note – the TechStars and Foundry Group iPhone apps were built by our friends at Slice of Lime.  They are one of the TapLynx Premium Partners and are ready to crank out an iPhone app for you whenever you are.

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Nov 22 2009

Can A Soundtrack Make or Break a Tech Conference?

I’ve been to my share of tech conferences that either don’t have any music playing or have some horrible mix that the hotel supplies turned up either a little to much or not quite enough.  In contrast, I know that Eric Norlin obsesses over every aspect of his conferences, including the soundtrack.  He knows his audience well and nailed it this year.  He’s published the soundtrack on the Defrag blog

I’m now looking forward to the Glue Conference soundtrack (and conference).

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Nov 22 2009

BlogTalkRadio Interview on the Startup Visa Movement

Last week I did an hour long interview with Jon Hansen on the Startup Visa Movement titled Diminishing Prospects: How U.S. Policy is Undermining Entrepreneurial Vision. The interview is embedded below and Jon has a longer post up on his blog titled Snakes in a Playpen: Why U.S. Policy Regarding H-1B and EB-5 Visas is Outdated and Ineffective.

I haven’t done any long form interviews on this topic yet.  I thought Jon did a great job of steering the conversation, pulling out some important perspectives, and helping cycle back to make sure the appropriate points were covered. If you are interested in this topic, I’d love to hear your reaction to this interview.

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Nov 19 2009

TechStars, StartUp Visa, iRobot Looj, and Cornell

You may be thinking “what do these things have to do with one another?”  Well – they are all in my browser this morning after I returned from my run with Reece Pacheco of Overtime Media.  And in case you are wondering, Reece is an ex-lacrosse star who is now running Overtime – which makes HomeField.  They are a young company, but are working with about 200 sports teams at colleges across the country to get the video of their games online.  Reece met me at the NY Entrepreneurs Roundtable Event that I spoke at on Monday, sent me an email about running, and off we went this morning.  Reece – thanks for making sure I got out of the hotel to get my run in.

Back to my browser.  Here are some thoughts for the day.

Techstars Boston plans spring startup program: The TechStars Boston program is happening in the spring of 2010 – March, April, May.  Applications are now open – the deadline for Boston is January 11th at 11:59:59pm, but don’t wait because there are some special bonus happy things if you apply early.  We decided to offset the timing of the Boston and Boulder programs (Boulder will happen June, July, and August) to address of a couple of things, including the ability of me and David Cohen to spend more time in Boston during the program if it doesn’t overlap with Boulder as well as the migration of many Bostonians to the Cape for parts of August.

PI Window on Business – Live Webcast with Me Talking about the Startup Visa: The title of the program is more provocative – “Diminishing Prospects: How U.S. Policy is Undermining Entrepreneurial Vision” – we’ll see what I can add to the program on BlogTalkRadio.  It’s tomorrow (11/20) at 12:30pm Eastern.

iRobot Looj on Daily Grommet: Periodically my friends at Daily Grommet ask me for nerd toy suggestions.  This time I gave them a very practical one – the iRobot Looj.  iRobot will always have a warm spot in my heart because the CEO and co-founder, Colin Angle, is a fraternity brother (I was his pledge trainer – bwahahahahaha).  Need your gutters cleaned?  The Looj is for you.

eCornell Entrepreneur Video Conference: For the next few weeks (deadline is 11/30/09) eCornell will be accepting video submissions from entrepreneurs to showcase their creative approaches to meeting customer needs. Registration is free and easy, and the first-place winner will receive a full scholarship to A Systems Approach to Product and Service Design certification program ($3,500 value).

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Nov 18 2009

Living Life While Working Hard

I had a 19 hour day yesterday – it started when I woke up at my hotel at 26th Street at 5am and ended when I hit the sack at midnight.  I had a bunch of meetings, a few scheduled phone calls, was on a panel, and stayed on top of my email throughout the day.  I even managed to keep my FishVille fish fed and got my Cafe World food served before it spoiled.

When I crawled into bed, I was toast.  However, when I woke up this morning, I had this deep happy feeling from yesterday.  As I took a shower, I remembered four great things that I did in the midst of a very busy day.

The first was a thirty minute tour through the Guggenheim Museum to see the Kandinsky Exhibit.  Kandinsky is one of my five favorite artists and Amy encouraged me several times over the past few weeks to go see the exhibit.  I happily paid my $18 (I have a reciprocal membership with several other museums but I prefer to pay for special exhibits to support the museum), turned off my iPhone, and spent 30 minutes slowly walking up the Guggenheim ramp to the top, spent a few minutes at the top looking down at the crowd, and then wandered back down slowly.  It was a really special 30 minutes.

Improvisation 28 (Second Version) (Improvisation 28 [Zweite Fassung]), 1912

At 1:15 I was on a panel at Columbia University for NY Entrepreneurship Week.  My dad went to Columbia (‘59) so when I got to the campus 30 minutes early, I called him from the cab to have him guess where I was.  I gave him the address (64 Morningside Drive) and he immediately said “Columbia University!” I put him on speaker phone and he told the cab driver where to take me to give me a tour of Columbia and Harlem.  As we drove around, the cab driver told me his story.  He moved to the US from Israel in 1970.  His parents were Rumanian and were concentration camp survivors during World War 2.  They were rescued by the Russians and his dad was conscripted into the Russian army.  A year later he “escaped”, found his mother and her young child, and emigrated to Israel.  By the time the cab ride was over 30 minutes later, I both had a great tour of Columbia and had made a new friend with a deep emotional connection.

After my panel, I got together with a long time friend Len Fassler.  Len and his partner at the time Jerry Poch bought my first company in 1993 and both have been incredible mentors for me.  Len and I have invested together, succeeded together, and failed together.  He’s a special guy and sitting in a restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue just catching up and being together was wonderful.  We didn’t have any particular agenda – we just sat, drank tea, and talked.

Finally, at 8pm, I joined up with Fred and Joanne Wilson and Matt and Mariquita Blumberg at Convivio for our annual dinner.  This is a tradition – which includes Amy, although she missed this one because she didn’t come to NY with me this trip – that we’ve been doing at the end of the year for the past five or so years.  Fred and I are both investors in Matt’s company Return Path and have been since 1999/2000.  But more importantly, we have all become very close friends as we’ve worked together and grown together.  Our dinners are long and delicious, the conversation is a mixture of catching up combined with talking about what’s going on in the world, and as we left the restaurant around 11pm, I decided I’d finish off the day by walking 20 blocks back to my hotel.

When I look back on yesterday, it’s typical of my life.  I worked extremely hard and covered a lot of ground.  But I didn’t forget to live my life during the day.  I encourage you to find at least one special moment for yourself today, and every day.

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Nov 17 2009

Zeitoun

Over the weekend, I read what I think is going to be my “best book of the year.”  It’s Zeitoun by Dave Eggars of McSweeney’s fame.

Some people just know how to write.  And Eggars is one of them.  Wow.

As I ran around downtown Manhattan this morning thinking about how radically different my run today was from my typical runs around Eldorado Springs and Boulder, I couldn’t help drifting back to Zeitoun.  It’s a stunning story about one man – Abdulrahman Zeitoun – and his family before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina.  But Katrina was only the foreplay for the book – the real story is what happens a week after the storm when Zeitoun disappears.

I won’t ruin the book by telling the story here as it’s worth letting it unfold gradually.  But, gradually in Eggars time means that I read the entire 300 page book in one sitting on the couch on Sunday.

America is an awesome place.  At 6am, in the dark, I ran around one of the biggest cities in the world.  I felt safe.  I saw all different shapes, sizes, colors, and types of people.  It was a completely opposite experience to running near my house, where I can do an entire one hour run and not see another human being.

And then I thought of Zeitoun and how insane humans can get, even in this country.  Take my word for it – it’s powerful and may be the best book of the year.  Get it and read it.

Silly disclaimer for the FTC – I get paid an affiliate fee by Amazon whenever someone clicks on the link above and buys a book.  I’m not sure how much money I get and I’m not motivated to blog about the book because of the payment – this was truly a spectacular book.  In fact, I’m never motivated to blog about anything based on the affiliate fees I get – I do it just to better understand how this stuff works since, ahem, I invest in these types of companies and believe I’m a better investor if I actually use the stuff I invest in.  I can’t tell from your guidelines if they even apply to me (and I don’t think they do), but I thought I’d post this just in case.  Plus it made my post longer and more substantial.

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Nov 17 2009

How I Use The Gist Dashboard View

I’m in NY all week with a jam packed schedule so I thought it would be a good week to talk a little about how I use Gist since I’ll use it every day to help me deal with a shortened daily information routine.  As you probably know, we are investors in Gist and I’m on the board so – while this is fanboy stuff – there are also a few other goals of this post including (a) helping you understand the promise of Gist, (b) enticing you to give it a try, and (c) eliciting feedback from those of you that have given it a try and want more / better / different (e.g. feedback of any kind is good).

I’m going to start with the Dashboard View.  This is the one from yesterday (I grabbed a screen shot before I left for the airport) – I was intending to write this on the plane but my superpower kicked in and I slept most of the way.

gist

In the left hand column you can see the people that I have news on.  If you know my world, you’ll recognize a lot of those names.  They are the people that I have “at least some email contact with.”  If you squint, you can see that I’ve set “Importance” to at least 50 – I find this is the right threshold for me.  I then sort this column by “Name” as my brain likes alphabetical order instead of "most recent” order.  I set the time frame to “Last 48 hours” – that catches things if I don’t check at exactly the same time every day.  Finally, I turn off “tweets” in the dashboard as I find them too noisy.

I then work my way systematically down the list.  I start at the top, scan the center column to see if want to read anything on that person, click on any URL to expand, and then click the check mark to the right of the person’s name when done (to mark “as read” – at which point that person disappears from the dashboard view).  Gist automatically highlights the next name and I repeat.

I usually have between 25 and 50 names in the list – sometimes it gets as high as 100.  I find that this dashboard view gets almost all of the daily news I care about with regard to people I know.  It occasionally misses something – usually a person I care about that doesn’t fit about the “50 importance” threshold so I can quickly and easily change that.  But, for a first pass through what’s going on, this is a super efficient way to start the day.  Max time spent per day – 15 minutes (usually less).

It took me about two weeks of running Gist to get this Dashboard tuned just right.  Whenever someone would pop up that I didn’t care about, I’d click the universal sign for “no more of that” (the big red circle with the line through it – “Stop watching for new items”).  Once I got used to the tuning rhythm, it was trivial to deal with.

If you have Gist installed, give the Dashboard another try and give me feedback on what would make it easier to get up and running with it and using it every day.  If you don’t have Gist running, give it a try

Fanboy out – time for a run down Park Avenue – wave at me if you see me (no, not that Wave).

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Nov 14 2009

DIA Backlit By A Rising Sun

Another awesome APOD photo.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

I wonder how evil and scary the blue horse looks when backlit like this.

https://i1.wp.com/blogs.rockymountainnews.com/rockytalklive/mustangdiartl.jpg?w=640&ssl=1

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Nov 13 2009

I Want More Information, Not Less

I spent the last two days at the Defrag Conference.  It was awesome on so many levels including the content, the venue, seeing a bunch of great friends, and meeting a bunch of new people.

The conference originated out of an email exchange that Eric Norlin (the amazing guy who puts on the Defrag and Glue Conferences with his even more amazing wife Kim) and I had as a result of a series of blog posts that I wrote in 2006 starting with There Is A Major Software Innovation Wave Coming and Intelligence Amplification.

Over the past three years there has been an incredible amount of innovation around this theme (which we originally called the Implicit Web.)  While lots of it is still messy, sloppy, or ineffective, that’s just part of the innovation cycle.  A consistent discussion point at Defrag was “how to deal with this overwhelming amount of information” – there is no debate about the (a) amount, (b) need to deal with it, or (c) value of dealing with it.  However, a lot of the subtext was that there was too much information and we needed better ways to deal with it.

I agree with the conclusion, but not the premise.  I don’t think there is too much information.  I want more.  More, more, more, more, more.  MORE.  I don’t want to stop until I have all the information.  MORE!  You can’t give me too much information!

I don’t believe the issue is too much information.  This is an independent variable that we can’t control.  For the foreseeable future, there will be a continuous and rapid increase of information as more of the world gets digitized, more individuals become content creators, more systems open up and provide access to their data, and more infrastructure for creating, storing, and transmitting information (and data) gets built.

Yeah – I know – that’s obvious.  But there are a few ways to approach it.  My desired way is to accept the thing you can’t control (more information) and drastically improve the methods for consuming it.  I spent the better part of two days having this thought over and over again. 

By the end of the second day, I’d decided that my original premise was correct – there continues to be a huge innovation wave in software that addresses this.  And we are just starting to deal with it.  And while software is at the core of it, we’ve learned an enormous amount in the past few years about the power of people to help curate it, both directly (by doing things to it) and indirectly (by software interpreting the broad signals of what a large number of people are doing to it.)

The user interfaces – and user interaction model – for all of this stuff still sucks rocks.  And I love things that suck, because that creates huge opportunities for innovation.

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