Trada – one of our investments that is based in Boulder – is absolutely killing it. It was started by Niel Robertson, who we’ve worked with in various forms going back to the mid-1990’s. When Niel first came up with the idea, he and my partner Seth Levine spent a few months really going deep and figuring out how (PPC) pay per click marketing campaigns (e.g. Google AdWords) worked and whether a crowdsourcing approach could materially improve their performance. It turns out that it does – if you are doing any sort of PPC marketing you will see dramatic improvements by using Trada’s service. And – if you are a PPC expert, you can make extra bucks by being one of the optimizers for Trada’s service. But don’t take my word for it, hear it directly from Niel the scarf maker.
Recently, Trada announced that in addition to Google and Yahoo, they now support Bing. Rather than putting out a turgid press release, Niel and Seth made a second video in a series that continues the saga of Niel the scarf maker.
If your company does anything around PPC marketing, take a look at Trada. And – if you run into Seth on the street, ask him what he thinks of the Yankees.
I just finished up spending the past two days at Google I/O. On one of the panels I participated in yesterday (VCs Who Code), the endless discussion about open (e.g. Google) vs. closed (e.g. Apple) came up with Dave McClure stating “Open is for losers.” We had a short but spirited debate about a topic that could easily consume an entire panel before Dick Costolo (our moderator) quickly moved us on. Of course, we got bogged down again later in “native apps vs. web apps” question (which I think is irrelevant in the long run, and said so.)
When I woke up this morning I was still thinking about the open vs. closed thing. I’ve been using a Droid for a week (Google gave one to everyone that came to I/O) and I’ve been loving it. I’ve been an iPhone user for several years and while there are a bunch of things about it I love, there are several that I hate, including the pathetic AT&T service, major limitations in some of the applications such as email, the restriction of Flash, lack of tethering, lack of statefulness, lack of multi-processing, and the unbearable shittiness of iTunes for Windows. But, I never really considered an alternative until I started playing with Android 2.1 on a Droid on Verizon.
I’d basically decided to switch to the Droid. The keynote on Day 2 was split between Android 2.2 and Google TV. I was completely blown away by Android 2.2. It doesn’t merely address each of the issues I have with my iPhone, it demolishes them. Google wasn’t bashful during the keynote about taking shots at Apple, which was fun to see. And as I sat there, I kept thinking about how far Android has come taking an entirely open approach.
While Google “had me at Android 2.2”, they sealed the deal by giving every attendee a brand new HTC EVO 4G (running on Sprint). There have been plenty of complaints about Android handsets; the Droid was good although I
have had a Droid Incredible on order. But, now that I have my HTC EVO, I’m completely hooked. The physical device is magnificent, the Android implementation is awesome, and it is still only running Android 2.1 so it get even better when the over the air update is released and automatically upgrades.
I’m now in a position where I can dump my Verizon MiFi since can use my HTC phone as a hotspot. One less $60 / month bill, one less thing to schlep around. And I never have to use iTunes for Windows again. Apple just lost me – again.
The most amazing thing to me when I reflect on this is how much of a complete non-event Microsoft in this discussion. Before the iPhone, there was a different discussion and Windows Mobile (or whatever it was called) was regularly in the middle of it. Not only is it no longer in the middle, it’s no longer in the discussion. Google focused their sights directly on Apple and – with an open approach – is now in a position where it can legitimately threaten the iPhone’s long term position.
I love this stuff. Plus I now have two cool new phones.
Another TechStars Boulder company – this time DailyBurn from the class of 2008 – has been acquired by IAC. I’m super proud of Andy Smith, Stephen Blankenship, and the whole DailyBurn team. This is now TechStars fifth meaningful acquisition and the first from the 2008 class.
The TechStars Boulder 2010 class has begun. I spent Monday afternoon meeting with each of the teams and I’m psyched about this year’s group. TechStars is now in its fourth year in Boulder and everyone is off to a fast start. Also on Monday, David Cohen announced the new TechStars Global Affiliate program and announced our first Global affiliate, Copenhagen-based Startupbootcamp. I also saw the first episode of the TechStars video series “The Founders – Season 2”. A quick teaser follows.
If you are interested in participating in TechStars, applications for the TechStars Seattle 2010 class is open until June 1 at 11:59:59 PM Pacific Time. Apply now!
Early tomorrow morning, I’m heading out to San Francisco to spend two days at Google I/O 2010. I love technical conferences – the Google I/O 2010 agenda looks killer. I’m also on two panels – they’ve invited some VCs who code to participate in Technology, innovation, computer science, & more: VC panel moderated by
standup comedian Twitter COO Dick Costolo and Making Freemium work – converting free users to paying customers moderated by Microsoft evangelist Google Developer Advocate Don Dodge.
Then, next week I’m spending two days in Boulder (well – Broomfield, but close enough) at the second annual Glue Conference. The agenda is also killer, is built around the Foundry Group’s Glue theme (e.g. it’s super relevant to us), and has a superb list of sponsors who will be attending and participating. Did I say the agenda was killer? The amazing thing about Glue is that the speakers are part of the conference – part of the reason we have it in Boulder is to drive deep multi-day engagement amount all attendees (speakers, attendees, and sponsors). Eric Norlin, who created Glue (and Defrag, and Blur) is a master at creating these types of specialty conferences.
I know many of my friends will be at both and I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of folks that I have mostly an email relationship with. While you can’t get into Google I/O anymore, Glue is still open for registration. And Eric has set up a discount code of “googleio” for 10% off the conference price. Finally, to all my local Boulder and Denver friends that have been thinking about coming, your cost is about a round trip plane flight to the bay area and a night at a hotel, except this time everyone is coming to you. So come out and play!
Wow – I needed that vacation. Sometimes it just catches up with me and I don’t realize how tired I am. Amy and I were going to go to Paris but both of us just needed to chill out so we went to our house in Keystone and just hid out for a week. I only had a few things that I had to pay attention to and the goddess of my schedule Kelly made sure I was available when needed.
In addition to chilling out, I got obsessed with swimming (swam every day) and my back is finally feeling almost better. I managed to get Amy to watch Ironman 2 (yummy), War Games (held up great), War Games 2 (did not hold up), Living in Public (gave me flashback chills). And I read – a lot – a dozen books this time. As is my tradition when I come back on the grid, here are short book reviews with grades of what I read.
Bright Boys: A+: This is how a computer history book should be written. It’s an amazing history of MIT in the 1940’s and 1950’s around the invention of the computer. Some other places place an ancillary role (like the Moore School at U Penn and Harvard), but MIT and Cambridge are front and center.
The Man Who Japed: B: I’m continuing my grind through all of Philip K. Dick’s books. While not one of his best, it was fun.
Caught: A: Harlan Coban remains at the top of my Mental Floss chart. Anything he writes, I read immediately.
Start With Why: C: After loving Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on The Power of Why, I was massively disappointed with this book. The 18 minute talk I blogged about recently was outstanding – no need to read the book unless you want to be bashed over the head with the message over and over again.
Douglas Adams Starship Titanic: F: This wasn’t written by Adams (who I love), but was styled after him. It sucked. I bailed 20% of the way in.
Regional Advantage: A+: I’ve read bits of Annalee Saxenian’s seminal book about the differences between the evolution of Silicon Valley and Route 128, spent a tiny bit of time with Annalee at a Silicon Flatiron event, and have thought hard about this, but I had actually never read her book. It’s awesome – anyone that cares about how entrepreneurial communities work must read this.
Cyberkill: B+: Not as good as Daniel Suarzes’ cyberthrillers, but in the same zip code. Very enjoyable.
Thoughts from TechStars (RC2): This was a release candidate but didn’t make the cut. But, it’s very very close – just some formatting and very light editing. We are also talking to publishers so trying to figure out the best way to get this out there far and wide.
Opening Skinner’s Box: A+: Another dynamite book – this time about the great psychology experiments of the last century. I knew of a few of them but loved the detail, the story telling, and the things it made me think about.
The Magician of Lhasa: A: It started out a little slow but picked up speed. It’s published by Trapdoor – the same folks that published Cyberkill, which happens to be based in Lyons, CO. I need to pay more attention to these guys.
What Would Google Do: B+: Jeff Jarvis wrote a very good book on Google. The first half is a lot of stuff anyone that knows Google well will know, but Jeff did a nice job of putting all of the pieces together. The second half was the really interesting part where we “googlized” a bunch of non-tech industries. It was a little on the long side for me, but I’m sure Jeff’s publisher made him make it longer so it would be over 200 pages.
The Race for Perfect: C-: I was really bummed about this one. It’s the story of the creation of the Lenovo X300 (which I love) combined with the backstory of the history of portable (and mobile) computing devices. I read the BusinessWeek excerpt by Steve Hamm when he first published the book. It turns out the excerpt was one of the most riveting sections. The book felt like a 200+ page BusinessWeek article, which was just too long.
I’m glad to be back and am excited to go to Google I/O tomorrow.
Simon Sinek’s TED Talk from TedxPuget Sound (Sept 2009) has been posted and is just awesome. He starts out with the question “Why is Apple so innovative,“ Why is it that Martin Luther King led the civil rights movement,” and “Why is it that the Wright Brothers were able to figure out controlled power manned flight?”
He answers this by describing something he calls the Golden Circle:
Every single organization knows WHAT they do. Some know HOW they do it. Very few people and organizations know WHY they do what they do, where WHY is “what’s your purpose, your cause, your belief; why do you get out of bed in the morning; why should anyone care.”
Most people start with the WHAT, go to the HOW, and end with the WHY. Sinek makes the very clear point in this video, and on his Start With Why web site, that great people and organizations start with the WHY.
Find a quiet space and listen carefully to this TED Talk for 18 minutes. Then spend at least the next 12 minutes thinking about your WHY.
I just got the following breaking news alert from The New York Times.
“U.S. Economy Adds 290,000 Jobs in April; Jobless Rate Rises to 9.9%”
Let’s parse this. The first clause says “U.S. Economy Adds 290,000 Jobs in April.” This means to me that a bunch of people found new jobs in April. A bunch. Yay! Good economy.
The second clause says “Jobless Rate Rises to 9.9%.” This means to me that the number of people in the U.S. that don’t have jobs went up in April.” A quick search showed that the March “jobless rate” (actually the unemployment rate) was 9.7%. That’s a big relative jump, especially given that it was 9.7% for the first three months of 2010 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Economic News Release titled Employment Situation Summary that came out a few minutes ago. Boo! Bad economy.
How could this be? The simple explanation is mid-way through the WSJ article titled U.S. Added 290,000 Jobs in April which appeared about six minutes after the NYT article:
“The two numbers are calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in different ways. The payroll figure is taken from a survey of employers, while the jobless rate is calculated using a household survey.”
I just read through the BLS report and looked at a few of the tables. Yes, there’s a ton of data here. However, it breaks all kinds of rules about how to present data to reach a conclusion. Our friends at the BLS need to hire Edward Tufte to get some help with their data presentation skills.
There are now two stories based on two completely calculations munged together into one sound bite. The explanation will likely turn into “more people are looking for jobs now.” But why is the denominator shifting around? Weren’t those people already jobless (unemployed), even though they weren’t looking for jobs? Oh – wait, if we include the people not looking for jobs in the historical unemployment calculation, the unemployment rate goes up, maybe by a lot. Eek – wouldn’t that be more scary.
It’s a simple game the government is playing with the numbers. Occasionally I’ll run into a company that does this – usually around revenue vs. gross margin dynamics, or bookings vs. revenue, or GAAP accounting vs. actual cash flows (where what really matters is cash flows.) Picking the better number vs. dealing with reality is disingenuous at best; presenting them in conflicting ways that obscure the message is bullshit.
Oh – and 20 minutes later the newest NYT Breaking News Alert is now “Four-Month Rise Strengthens U.S. Job Outlook.”
As long time readers of this blog know, I’m strongly against software patents. Succinctly, I think they are (a) invalid constructs, (b) totally unnecessary, and (c) a massive tax on and retardant of innovation.
More and more of my VC brethren are beginning to come out publicly against them as are many extremely well respected long time software innovators. So I was amazed to start hearing a statistic being thrown around that 76% of Venture Capitalist Believe that Patents are Important. My partner Jason Mendelson dug in, figured out what was going on, and wrote a very important post titled 76% of Venture Capitalists Believe that Patents are Important (NOT!) explaining that it’s a totally invalid conclusion from a recent study.
In additional “c’mon guys, software patents are invalid” news, there’s a great short movie that was supported by the Free Software Foundation called Patent Absurdity. It explores the case of software patents and the history of judicial activism that led to their rise, and the harm being done to software developers and the wider economy.
The film is based on a series of interviews conducted during the Supreme Court’s review of in re Bilski (which I attended in person) — a case that could have profound implications for the patenting of software. It’s really good and worth 29 minutes of your life.
Over the weekend, Mark Suster wrote a great post titled How To Communicate with your Investors between Board Meetings. Mark continues to just tear it up with great advice for entrepreneurs. However, he left out one thing from the post – which is one of my favorite pieces of advice for entrepreneurs.
Give your venture capitalists (and board members) assignments
Mark alludes to this in many of his suggestions but he never comes out and says it. And, amazingly to me, many entrepreneurs either don’t ever think of this or don’t feel comfortable doing it. They should.
Most VCs will quickly say that they want to help the companies they invest in to success. Some will go further and say things like “I’ll do anything I can to help my companies.” Rarely have I heard a VC say something like “My plan is to just hang around, go to board meetings, ask a few nonsensical, low insight, rhetorical questions, eat the crummy food, and then disappear until the next board meeting.” However, as any entrepreneur who has ever worked with multiple VCs knows, the statements a VC makes (or doesn’t make) doesn’t necessarily correspond to his behavior.
I think you can break this cycle early in the life of your relationship with your VCs by giving them assignments. At the end of the first board meeting, spend some time talking about your expectations for your board members (including your VCs), ask if they are reasonable, and then go around the table and ask each board member what they’d like to specifically help with between now and the next board meeting. Explain that you want to develop a cycle of accountability for each board member to the company and use this to (a) develop deep engagement from each board member between meetings, (b) benefit from the experience and wisdom of each board member on a continual basis, and (c) set a strong tone for the leadership team (and the company) that everyone has functional responsibilities that they are held accountable to. Acknowledge that it will take a few board meetings to get into a good rhythm with this, but be clear that you’ll spend a little time at the next board meeting going through individual assignments, what was done, and what the new assignments are until the next board meeting.
The assignments should be specific – if they are general (such as “help with strategy” or “help with the financing”) they will be useless. Make sure the assignments play to the individual board members strengths and interests. They should provide leverage for the leadership team; not create make work. They should be impactful, but not mission critical.
In companies where the CEO hands out regular assignments, I’ve experienced an awesome tempo after about six months. The board members begin holding themselves accountable and the management team is much more comfortable working directly with the individual board members. Over time assignments become less “stiff” and the regimen of passing them out and reviewing them at the board meeting will fade away over time as everyone gets used to being held responsible for what they sign up for.