Month: January 2010

Jan 19 2010

Other Planets Are Beautiful Places

I’ve really enjoyed my time on this planet so far and look forward to many other years here.  If Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, and Robert Heinlein are to be believed, I should be able to travel to other planets by now.  Since I can’t, I’m limited to looking at really cool photos.

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

Guess the planet.  No clicking through to the APOD site until after you’ve made a guess.  I’m 44 – wouldn’t it be cool if in my lifetime I could go to this planet?  Oh – and where’s my jetpack – NASA promised me that when I was a kid.

Jan 19 2010

Google Voice Was So Very Close To Working

I hate the telephone.  I hate voice mail.  I’ve tried hard to simplify how this works in my world.  I only have two phone numbers (my cell phone and my work phone, which is an IP phone that rings in all the different houses / offices that I have), schedule all phone calls, and use PhoneTag as my voicemail transcription service (both my cell phone and my desk phone forward to it when I don’t answer.)  I never listen to voice mails (everything is an email), rarely get phone calls during the day, and have done a pretty good job of getting rid of phone interruptions in my life given how busy I am.

Even though I’m in a reasonable stable state, I have one thing that bothers me.  I still have two phone numbers – one for my cell phone and one for my desk phone.  When my assistant Kelly schedules a call, she does a pretty good job of using my cell phone when I’m on the road and my desk phone when I’m in my office or at home (my cell phone doesn’t work in my house in Eldorado Springs at all and barely works in Keystone – thanks AT&T).  However, she still has to do the manual translation of my location to phone number (blech) and I occasionally (well – regularly) end up somewhere other than expected.

I thought Google Voice might be the solution.  However, I don’t want to have to tell the world a new phone number.  Plus, a lot of people call me back via caller ID so when I call on various phones they just call me back on that phone.  So I came up with a hack to try.  I’d forward my desk phone (call it 4) to my Google Voice number.  Then I’d give out my desk phone to everyone going forward.  Google Voice would then ring all of my other phone numbers, including my cell number.  On no answer, Google Voice would transcribe my message and email it to me.

Problem #1 happened when Amy emailed me from Keystone (when I was in my office in Boulder) and said “your phone is ringing off the hook today – make it stop.”)  I have an extension 4 phone in Keystone.  Easy fix – I changed my IP phones so Keystone was 1, Eldo was 2, my office was 3, and the 4 just forwarded to Google Voice.  I then set up groups in Google voice to easily forward only to the phones where I was (e.g. when I wasn’t in Keystone, 1 didn’t ring).  Problem #1 solved.

Problem #2 happened the next day when I got an email from a regular caller saying the phone “just rang and rang” and voice mail never picked up.  I heard of this from a few more people – the only thing I could come up with was that Google Voice wasn’t answering every now and then or there was some kind of forwarding black hole that I hadn’t figured out.  I’ll give Google Voice the benefit of the doubt on this one, but I still couldn’t figure out the black hole.

Problem #3 was a delay that I was starting to notice when talking on my cell phone.  The forwarding from my desk phone (4) to Google Voice to my cell phone was introducing enough of an IP delay to be noticeable.  I tried to mentally adjust for it but it was unpredictable.  This gave me a headache (a physical one, not a virtual one).

Problem #4 was caller ID wasn’t coming through correctly.  Again, I’ll give Google Voice benefit of the doubt – I think I probably could have figured out how to hack our phone system to forward to caller ID to Google Voice which would then forward it on.  But I didn’t.  And the Google Voice intro that announced the caller often was either blank (presumably the caller didn’t say anything), it was cut off (possibly due to the forwarding), or it was hard to understand.  Regardless, I found myself feeling less comfortable that I knew who was calling.

Problem #5 was the Google Voice transcriptions were unreadable.  I find the PhoneTag emails to often be entertaining, but they are never incomprehensible.  In contrast, I found myself having to listen to three out of four of the Google Voice messages because the transcriptions made no sense.

But Problem #6 sunk me.  Suddenly, I was getting a lot more phone calls!  My previously silent phone was ringing more often.  I hadn’t really thought this through but in hindsight it was obvious since I was generating so many more ring points.

At some level, I could bit the bullet and just try giving out the Google Voice number and see what happens.  But, after a week of being back in my old routine, where my phone rarely rings and when I get a PhoneTag email message I can quickly see who called and why, I’m sticking with the old way for now.

Jan 18 2010

My Interview with Jason Calacanis on TWiST #35

On Friday I spent two hours at Mahalo headquarters in Jason Calacanis’ studio filming This Week In Startups Episode #35.  Jason and I have known each other since the mid 1990’s – the last time he interviewed me was at Josh Harris’ thingymabob as part of a roundtable with Fred Wilson, Jerry Colonna, and Matt Ocko (can’t find the audio on the web – I know it’s out there somewhere.)  No – I wasn’t naked during the interview, but I was a lot younger and thinner.  And I think there were some naked people wandering around.  If you know Pseudo, you know what I’m referring to.  If you don’t, then Steaming Video will give you a few hints.

Jason is coming to Boulder on February 2 and 3 for the first Open Angel Forum in Boulder (if you are an angel investor or an entrepreneur that wants to pitch, sign up on the info on the Boulder Open Angel Forum links.)  So – we talked some about Open Angel Forum, Startup Visa, TechStars, and a bunch of other things.  And then in hour two we did the standard weekly TWiST things.  Oh – and I got to meet Jason’s mom and dad!

Jan 18 2010

Speech Recognition Is Only Part of the Future

A week or so ago, Fred Wilson Dictated a Blog Post.  In it he dictated a blog post on his Nexus One phone.  He then discovered Swype which now has an unofficial Android app.   As usual the comment threads on AVC were very active and had lots of thoughts about the future (and past) of voice and keyboard input.

When I talk about Human Computer Interaction, I regularly say that “in 20 years from now, we will look back on the mouse and keyboard as input devices the same way we currently look back on punch cards.”

While I don’t have a problem with mice and keyboards, I think we are locked into a totally sucky paradigm.  The whole idea of having a software QWERTY keyboard on an iPhone amuses me to no end.  Yeah – I’ve taught myself to type pretty quickly on it but when I think of the information I’m trying to get into the phone, typing seems so totally outmoded.

Last year at CES “gestural input” was all the rage in the major CE booths (Sony, Samsung, LG, Panasonic, …).  In CES speak, this was primarily things like “changing the channel on a TV using a gesture”.  This year the silly basic gesture crap was gone and replaced with IP everywhere (very important in my mind) and 3D (very cute, but not important).  And elsewhere there was plenty of 2D multitouch, most notably front and center in the Microsoft and Intel booths.  I didn’t see much speech and I saw very little 3D UI stuff – one exception was the Sony booth where our portfolio company Organic Motion had a last minute installation that Sony wanted that showed off markerless 3D motion capture.

So – while speech and 2D multitouch are going to be an important part of all of this, it’s a tiny part.  If you want to envision what things could be like a decade from now, read Daniel Suarez’s incredible books Daemon and Freedom (TM) .  Or, watch the following video that I just recorded from my glasses and uploaded to my computer (warning – cute dog alert).

Jan 17 2010

Beers with Brad in Boulder

I’ve done a few “Beers With Brad” in other cities such as Seattle and Vancouver.  On February 18th from 6 to 8pm, I’m going to be doing Beers with Brad in Boulder at The Twisted Pine Brewery.  It’s a fundraiser for KGNU (88.5 FM and 1390 AM in Denver) – tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door.  There will be free munchies, music, and plenty of beer.  Come join us for a fun evening where I’ll talk about whatever comes to my mind about entrepreneurship and innovation – especially ideas fueled by a few beers.

There’s a bunch of other great entrepreneurial stuff going on in Boulder in February.  Don’t miss the Winter in the Bunker series – new things are being added regularly. 

And – if you are a startup that wants to work with some CU students as interns (or recruit them for full time work), don’t miss University of Colorado Startup2Students 2010 on March 11th from 6:30 – 8:00pm.

I love this town.

Jan 16 2010

Open Angel Forum in Boulder on 2/3/10

The Open Angel Forum is coming to Colorado and having it’s first event in Boulder on 2/3/10.  David Cohen – the CEO of TechStars – has written an extensive post titled Open Angel Forum – Colorado bound! which includes all the background leading up to this, along with information about:

  1. Attending OAFCO as an angel investor
  2. Presenting at OAFCO as an entrepreneur
  3. Sponsoring the event if you are a service provider

Each event will only have 10-15 angels in attendance – all will be active investors.  We’ll have five companies presenting.  It will be an intimate event – if you want to get a feel for the chatter check out the twitter stream on Open Angel Forum take a look at Mark Suster’s post on the Inaugural Open Angel Forum.

I’m made angel investments in over 75 companies since 1994 and had a number of magnificent outcomes including NetGenesis (IPO), Critical Path (IPO), Harmonix (acquired by MTV), and Nutrisystems (IPO).  Yeah – plenty of my angel investments haven’t gone anywhere, but in all cases I’ve had an awesome time working with entrepreneurs to create amazing new companies.

My relationship with David Cohen and TechStars has reinforced this for me as I’ve seen many of the young TechStars companies raise money from angels, go on to raise money from institutional VCs, or be acquired.  I’ve also seen a renaissance in the super angel category with folks like Jeff Clavier at SoftTechVC, Chris Sacca, Dave McClure, the First Round Capital guys, Ron Conway, and David Cohen start to “institutionalize” this category.

One of my deeply held beliefs is a key part of the role of an angel investor is to help the entrepreneur – and operate in support of the entrepreneur.  I’ve always despised the “pay to pitch”schemes that some angel groups have (where the entrepreneur has to pay to pitch) and wrote a post titled An Angel Investor Group Move That Makes Me Vomit. This started a bunch of noise around this issue which Jason Calacanis amplified – resulting in him creating the Open Angel Forum.  I count myself as a proud supporter of this effort and co-collaborator in OAFCO with David Cohen.

If you are an angel investor in Colorado, send David Cohen an email and come help us support new entrepreneurs. If you are an entrepreneur in Colorado looking for angel investors, apply to come to the first OAFCO event.

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Jan 15 2010

Cloud Computing Circa 1963

Well – what’s old is new again. Dave Jilk – my first business partner and CTO of Standing Cloud – sent me this magnificent video on 1963 Timesharing: A Solution to Computer Bottlenecks where MIT Professor Fernando Corbato explains how timesharing works to MIT Science Reporter John Fitch (who has one of those magnificent deep reporter voices).

Since history can be so incredibly instructive to reflect on when you think about the future of science.  If you draw a curve of “computer technology progress” from 1963 to 2010 after you watch this and then ponder the progress from 2010 to 2057 you will have a very interesting few moments of reflection.

The following quotes are approximate but they will give you enough sound bites to motivate you to watch it!

“Computers used to be unreliable – they managed to lick all of those problems” (2:00)

“The man machine interaction is very poor” (3:00)

“The computers are very expensive – they cost between 300 and 600 / hour” (3:30) – (BAF: Kind of like a lawyer today)

“It’s a little noisy out here (in the data center) – let’s go in my office so I can show you how it works from a remote terminal” (4:30)

“It looks like a typewriter” (5:00)

The moments of drawing on a blackboard to explain how a computer works (starting around 6:00) is priceless.

“Eventually we’d like to see graphical display but there are technical problems right now” (9:30)

“Wooo the chalk is a little soft” (12:30)

“The disk memories have been available for a year or so but most people haven’t figured out how to use them yet because they haven’t figured out how to keep things from getting mixed up” (16:30)

“I’m moderately familiar with the keyboard – we have to study how humans interact with the machines” (19:00)

Watching the interactive demo at about 20:00 is just wild.

“In the long run we will have increasing needs for computer time by a large amount” (25:00)

Singularity anyone?  Or not so much?

Jan 13 2010

This Week in Startups – Guest Appearance on Friday

On Friday I’ll be in LA at Mahalo headquarters at 1pm making a guest appearance on Jason Calacanis’s This Week In Startups show.  I told Jason I’d be happy to discuss whatever he wanted to which I hope includes the Open Angel Forum, Startup Visa, Abolishing Software Patents, and all kinds of fun things around entrepreneurship and venture capital.  Conversations with Jason are never dull so I expect this one to be spicy hot on top of the typical chocolately goodness.

I figured I should do a few Mahalo searches in advance so I looked up Brad Feld, Foundry Group, Sarah Palin, and “How To Cheat on Rock Band”.  I then poked around on Mahalo Answers and Mahalo Tasks to see if I could earn any M$.  So – at least I can now answer Jason’s question “have you played with Mahalo lately.”

Jan 12 2010

Proposal: An Independent Inventor Defense Against Software Patents

Brad Burnham at Union Square Ventures put up a very important post last night titled We need an independent invention defense to minimize the damage of aggressive patent trolls.  His partner Fred Wilson echoed Brad’s thoughts on his blog with a post titled Why We Need An Independent Invention Defense.

Brad’s post starts out with the following:

“Almost a third of our portfolio is under attack by patent trolls. Is it possible that one third of the engineering teams in our portfolio unethically misappropriated technology from someone else and then made that the basis of their web services? No! That’s not what is happening. Our companies are driven by imaginative and innovative engineering teams that are focused on creating social value by bringing innovative new services to market.”

It’s a fantastic description of the fundamental problem with software patents.  For example:

“The problem is that the patent system has fallen way behind the pace of innovation, especially in information technology. Originally designed to protect the brilliant independent inventor of a better mousetrap, the patent system has been stretched to be applied to software. Software is a language and like any language, it can be very abstract. Everyone applying for a patent pays a lawyer to take their invention and render it into the broadest, most abstract language they can slip through the patent office. A mouse trap is a mouse trap, but a method of allowing one piece of software to talk to another (the generalized language often used to describe a software system) can be almost anything, and can, if approved, impact markets the original inventor could never even have imagined.”

Brad goes on to discuss the specific problem of patent trolls and proposes a solution to address this – that of an independent inventor defense.  If you’ve gotten this far, go read Brad’s full essay on the independent investor defense.

I’m extremely excited to see Brad and Fred come out so strongly against software patents.  I’ve been talking against this for a long time and I expect my rants against software patents are well known to any readers of this blog (if you aren’t familiar with them, feel free to indulge yourself if you are so inclined.)  But this is the first time that I’m aware that any of my peers – other than my partners at Foundry Group – have come out so strongly in public against software patents. 

I purposely limit my “special initiative” work and try to focus on a few things that I think will make a substantial difference in the world of software / Internet entrepreneurship (the domain that I’ve chosen to dedicate my professional life to.)  Right now I’m deep in the effort to get a Startup Visa created but have continued to pay attention to the software patent issue while looking for the right time to scale up an effort.

That time is now.  I just emailed with Brad and he’s game to lead a charge with me.  I saw tweets from several friends last night including Chris Sacca who knows this issue firsthand.  As with the Startup Visa there are plenty of other credible smart people who are putting real intellectual energy into this issue, such as the End Software Patents initiative and Wendy Seltzer, a well known researcher who is currently spending a year at Silicon Flatirons researching software patents and innovation (disclosure: I’m providing some of the funding for this initiative at Silicon Flatirons.) 

It’s now time to get the practitioners (entrepreneurs and investors in software innovation) to get organized around this.  If you are interested in helping out substantively, leave a comment on this blog with your email address as I start to get organized.

Jan 11 2010

Applications For TechStars Boston Close Tonight

Today is the last day to apply for the TechStars Boston 2010 program.  If you want a flavor for where the program is held, Bill Warner (one of the founders of TechStars Boston) has a fun post up titled Lifestyles of The Future Rich and Future Famous: A Look Inside the TechStars Boston (Actually Cambridge) Penthouse.

I lived in Boston from 1983 to 1995 (actually Cambridge from 1983 – 1987 but I consider Boston and Cambridge to be inexorably linked.)  During the time I was in Boston there was a thriving entrepreneurial community around software and – in the early to mid-1990’s – Internet.  While there was plenty of activity around Route 128 and 495, I always felt like the heart of it was in Cambridge in Kendall Square (near MIT) and Central Square (between MIT and Harvard).  At least that’s where I hung out – Main Street, Mass Ave, Rogers Street, Binney Street, First, and Third Street.  So – when we started TechStars Boston, it was inevitable that it would be in the heart of Cambridge.

Recently, a number of the Boston-area VC firms started migrating to Cambridge.  When I was in Boston, most were located in downtown Boston, near Rt. 128, or in Cambridge.  Over the years many of these firms decamped to Mount Money in Waltham which was very disconnected from where all the “young people lived.”  While downtown Boston wasn’t the heart of Cambridge, at least it was only a 15 minute ride by T.  Waltham – well – that could have been Mars as far as a recent MIT grad starting a new company concerned.

Apparently a bunch of Boston-area VC firms agree.  Bessemer Venture Partners is now hunting for space in Cambridge (relocating from Wellesley), Greylock recently announced they were moving to Harvard Square and will be near General Catalyst who moved there a while ago, and Polaris’ Dogpatch Labs opened in Cambridge last year just down the street from Venrock and Avalon.  And there continue to be plenty of VC firms a short T ride away in Boston, such as Spark Capital and Flybridge.

There is an entrepreneurial renaissance happening in Boston (and Cambridge).  If you are starting a software or Internet company, spend 15 minutes applying to the TechStars Boston program.  In addition to being in the heart of Cambridge, you’ll be surrounded by some incredible mentors as you work to get your business off the ground.