Month: May 2012

May 31 2012

MobileDay – Making Audio Conference Calls Work On Smart Phones

Each day I do at least two, and sometimes as many as a half dozen, audio conference calls. I make almost all of them from my iPhone when I’m walking somewhere or driving in my car. I find the process of dialing into a conference totally insane, maddening, and archaic. Here’s how it usually goes when I’m in the car.

  1. I go to my calendar on my iPhone at the appointed conference time.
  2. I try to memorize the conference call id. If I’m lucky, the phone number is underlined so I don’t have to remember that.
  3. I dial the number (or it dials automatically). Once the conference bridge answers, I press the keypad (#) icon on the phone.
  4. As I’m driving, I try not to crash into something as I type the conference code.
  5. By this point, I’ve often forgotten the code, press the home button on my iPhone, go back to my calendar, read the code again, press the home button, go back to the phone icon, and try to finish entering the number before it times out. If it times out I get a second chance (usually) and go back to step #4.
  6. Usually I’ll get into the conference. But if I don’t, I go back to step #1, but only after screaming “fuck” at the top of my lungs at my phone.
  7. Once I’m in the conference, I once again go back to concentrating on driving. I usually realize that I’ve paid no attention to the road for the last 30 seconds.
  8. If I’m driving to the Denver airport, I can guarantee that at least one time during the call I will drop and have to start over at step #1.

All I really want is a notification to pop up on my phone when it’s time for a conference call that allows me to have one touch access into any conference call automagically.

This is what MobileDay does. And it’s available now on iPhone and Android. Go try it and give me feedback.

 

It’s an early release so there will be plenty of rough spots, conference call numbers that don’t have the right sequence in their database, and funny iPhone glitches (since Apple locks down a lot of the phone dialing stuff), but I’ve been using it for all scheduled phone calls for the last 30 days and it’s rapidly improving with each release, especially based on user feedback as we learn all the different cases we need to solve for.

The MobileDay team has been quickly adding features like being able to – within the app – send email and SMS messages to meeting participants (for example to tell people I’m running five minutes late) and automatically map locations of meetings from the address block.

I was involved in the creation of reservationless audioconferencing, which was pioneered by Raindance (I was a seed investor) in 1997. Today, reservationless audioconferencing is ubiquitous (and I view it as a platform for communication), but the UX has been relatively unchanged and is still optimized for phones with keypads that don’t have integrated calendars and scraps of papers with numbers scribbled on them. It’s time for a completely new way to interact with this platform and MobileDay is obsessively focused on this. Play around and help us focus on the key things that are needed to make this a completely flawless experience.

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May 30 2012

People Place Thing

I’m in Iceland spending the day at Startup Iceland 2012. Amy and I are having a great time in this fascinating country.

At dinner last night, I got into a long conversation about what makes for a fulfilling life. My answer was:

Spend as much time as possible with PEOPLE you love in a PLACE you want to be on a THING you are passionate about.

I believe it’s that simple. What do you think?

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May 29 2012

What’s Old Is New Again

Over the weekend, Kwin Kramer, the CEO of Oblong, wrote a great essay on TechCrunch titled Hey Kids, Get Off My Lawn: The Once And Future Visual Programming Environment. He starts off with a great Mark Twain quote.

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

Mark Twain, ”Old Times on the Mississippi”
Atlantic Monthly, 1874

This describes my continuous interaction with the computer industry. I was 14 once, then 21, and now 46. It’s remarkable to me to reflect on how far things have come since I wrote my first program on APL on an IBM mainframe (no idea what kind) in the basement of a Frito-Lay datacenter in Dallas at age 12. Then there are moments where I can’t believe that we are just now discovering things – again – that were figured out 30 years ago. And last night, while laying in bed in a hotel in Iceland and reading the wikipedia page on Iceland on my iPad, I kept thinking “what’s old is new again.”

Kwin nails it in his essay. Oblong, which is one of the most amazing and unique companies I’ve ever been involved in, is constantly dealing with the constraints of today while working a decade into the future. A year ago the present caught up with the future and their first product, Mezzanine, came to life.

I love working with companies where the CEO still writes code and uses his perspective on the past to inform the product, but isn’t afraid to completely leap over the current constraints to create something entirely new, amazing, and delightful.

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May 26 2012

I’m Finally Recovered From My 50 Mile Run

On my run this morning along the Charles River, I decided I was finally recovered from my 50 mile run on 4/7/12.  The end of my run brought me by the Hatch Shell and I smiled, even though it was muggy, cloudy, and there were too many people around.

I’m now sitting in the Ritz Bar (they now call it the Taj, but that doesn’t work for me) a few hours later with Amy doing some writing while she reads. I took a break and decided to write up how the last seven weeks have been for me emotionally.

Basically, they’ve sucked. I wrote The Physiological And Emotional Fallout Of My 50 Mile Race two weeks after the race. I was tired, struggling with depression, but feeling like I had turned a corner. It was a nice fantasy – after a month I was still having wild mood swings, feeling very tired most of the time, totally uninterested in running, and generally feeling overwhelmed by my travel, work, and all the people around me.

I’d been through this before in my mid-20’s when I was very depressed for several years while running my first company. This was different – I haven’t felt depressed, but it was just over the horizon. Instead, I had a steady low grade anxiety all the time which would spike up for a few hours before dissipating. I’d feel ok and then suddenly be exhausted and want to take a nap. Or I’d just feel like canceling all my meetings and going home. I knew the feelings would pass, so I just rolled with them when they came up, but I didn’t deny their existence.

Other than sleeping a lot, Amy tells me that I’ve been fine the past seven weeks. Low energy, but not noticeably in distress, crabby, or difficult. I haven’t done a survey of the people I interact with on a regular basis, but I’ve been open about how I’ve been feeling and I assume the people close to me have been giving me some space. I’ve been keeping up my typical work pace with one exception – I’ve been sleeping in many mornings as I just haven’t been able to drag myself out of bed at 5am.

I felt something noticeably shift two weeks ago. Amy and I had a couple of wonderful days together in Chicago and then I flew on Sunday to New York. I spent the afternoon with a close friend whose wife is very ill, just sitting, talking, and enjoying being together. I went out to dinner with two CEOs we’ve funded and then had a good night sleep. I woke up Monday morning feeling a little flat, but by mid-day I felt normal and attributed it to being sad for my friend and his wife. I felt fine during the rest of my NY trip, I flew to SF for an extremely enjoyable dinner, and then spent the past 10 days in Boulder.

While it has been very busy and there is a lot of pressure coming from different directions, I’ve felt very normal the past two weeks. I’ve had a few anxious moments, but they are all tied to specific events and easy for me to process. My normal temperament is very stable and mellow, even when the shit is flying everywhere, and I’ve felt generally back in that zone. I’m running again and enjoying it and I haven’t felt like curling up in a ball in the corner of the room in at least two weeks.

As I’ve written before, running the 50 mile race was an amazing experience. But I’ve decided not to do it again while I’m working at the level and intensity that I work at. The training was too much but more importantly the recovery has just been way beyond what I feel like I want to process again anytime soon. So – it’s back to marathons for me, which I know makes Amy smile.

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May 24 2012

Sphero Available At Brookstone

Sphero is now available in some Brookstone stores around the US. There’s a handy map on the Sphero site and I’ll include a list at the bottom of this post.

Occasionally one of you, dear blog reader, will ask if you can do anything for me. I usually say something like “just do awesome things” but this time I have a request. If you live near one of the Brookstone stores with a Sphero, go check it out. Play with it. Have your kids play with it (if you have kids). And if you like it, buy one.

Cats are cute, right? What could be more cute than a cat playing with a Sphero?

How about the President of the United States playing with a Sphero. Ok – that’s not cute, it’s cool.

Now, how about you playing with a Sphero? At a Brookstone store. And then buying one? That would be mega awesome cool.

If you travel through any of the following airports on Memorial Day, go check out our little robot friend

  • Chicago (O’Hare)
  • Dallas/Fort Worth,
  • JFK
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • Newark
  • Orlando

Following are the addresses for the stores in alpha order by city.

  • Atlanta, GA – 4400 Ashford Dunwoody Road, Suite 1360
  • Braintree, MA – 250 Granite St # 12
  • Columbia, MD – 10300 Little Patuxent Parkway
  • Concord, CA – 424 Sun Valley Mall # 1
  • Costa Mesa, CA – 3333 Bristol Street, Suite 1870
  • Dallas, TX – 214 North Park Center
  • Danbury, CT – 7 Backus Avenue
  • Denver, CO – 3000 East 1st Avenue
  • Freehold, NJ – 3710 Route 9
  • Houston, TX – 5085 Westheimer Rd
  • Louisville, KY – 5000 Shelbyville Rd # 1380
  • Lynnwood, WA – 3000 184th Street SW
  • Marlborough, MA – 601 Donald Lynch Boulevard
  • McLean, VA – 1961 Chain Bridge
  • Miami, FL – 8888 SW 136 Street
  • Minneapolis, MN – 162 Market Street
  • Nashua, NH – 310 Daniel Webster Hwy
  • Orland Park, IL – 736 Orland Square Dr
  • Orlando, FL – 4200 Conroy Road
  • Palm Beach Gardens, FL – 3101 Pga Boulevard
  • Raleigh, NC – 4325 Glenwood Ave
  • San Diego, CA – 7007 Friars Road
  • San Francisco, CA – 3251 20th Ave
  • Santa Monica, CA – 1311 Third Street Promenade
  • Schaumburg, IL – 60173 Woodfield Mall
  • South Portland, ME – 364 Maine Mall Road
  • Troy, MI – 2801 West Big Beaver Road
  • Waterford, CT – 850 Hartford Tpke # P207
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May 23 2012

Amazing Day At The Glue Conference

Man does Eric Norlin know how to put on a conference. And, as a bonus, he’s got an awesome soundtrack and mindblowing trailer for the Glue Conference that Fake Grimlock would love.

Here’s a taste of what’s saturating my brain.

  • Shit My Cloud Evangelist Says, Just Not to the CSO by Chris Hoff, Juniper Networks
  • Foragers, Farmers, Forks & Forgers: On Software, Patronage and Craft Brewing by James Governor, Redmonk
  • Using APIs and Infrastructure by John Musser, Programmable Web
  • NoSQL Smackdown: Cassandra, MongoDB, and Neo4J by Tim Berglund
  • The Badass Beyond Hadoop: Percolator, Dremmel, Pregel by Mike Miller, Clouant

And then it was lunchtime. Breath deeply.

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May 22 2012

Getting The Compensation Conversation Right

Chris Moody, president and COO of Gnip, is back with a guest post in his Moody on Management series. Following are Chris’ thoughts on negotiating compensation with a prospective employee. Enjoy and comment freely!

In my last post, I provided a few tips for job candidates when interviewing at a startup.  This week I wanted to cover a simple process for hiring managers to follow when communicating with candidates about salary requirements.

There is the old saying that people spend more time planning their vacation than they spend planning their retirement.  I’ve found the same concept sometimes applies to job candidates when thinking about their compensation requirements.  As the hiring manager, you need to ensure that a candidate has fully considered their compensation needs before you make an offer.  Over the years, I’ve refined a simple and effective approach to facilitating this discussion.  I’ve used this technique countless times with great results.  The process starts with an email to the candidate:

“Dear Candidate,

From a skills and values standpoint, it seems like we are both excited about the possibility of you joining our company.  If you agree, the next step in the process from my perspective is to determine if we are aligned from a compensation standpoint.  As such, it would be helpful to get the following information from you:

– Current compensation.  Please breakout your base salary from any variable compensation if applicable.

– Your view of your current compensation as it relates to your next opportunity.  It is particularly helpful if you provide this feedback by selecting from either

a) I believe I’m fairly compensated and would anticipate making the same salary at my next opportunity

b) I’d be willing to take less for the right opportunity

c) I feel I’m currently under valued and looking for an increase of $x in order to be excited about my next opportunity.

If it works for you, I’d prefer to have this communication via email.  Over time I’ve found that putting this stuff in writing helps people think about it more before responding.

Love,

Chris”

Of course there are no right or wrong answers.  The goal here is simply to get a clear understanding of how the candidate is thinking about their future compensation by using their current compensation as a frame of reference.   Best case, the candidate’s expectations align with yours and the offer moves forward with a high probability of success.  Worst case your expectations don’t align but you now have a thoughtful starting point for negotiations if you still want to move forward with an offer.

A couple of additional points:

1) Even if the candidate has expressed salary requirements during the screening process or during your discussions, I strongly recommend you have this written conversation as the final step before you make an offer.  For example, perhaps your conversations along the way changed their perspective on salary requirements for the position.

2) The key to this approach is to do this communication in writing.  I know it can seem silly or impersonal, but it makes a huge difference in terms of requiring people to give thoughtful answers instead of answering on the spot.

Before using this approach I had more than a few occasions where candidates indicated verbally that they wanted $x, we offered $x, and then they responded with “I was thinking about it more and I really need $y to feel good about joining”.  Once you hit this situation, it puts both parties in an awkward position and it can be hard to recover.  You can avoid this potential pitfall with one simple email.

Oh, by the way, Gnip is hiring!

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May 21 2012

Lean Startup Machine Boulder

I judged Lean Startup Machine Boulder yesterday afternoon. I had a blast and thought the program was really impressive. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into and usually protect my weekends pretty aggressively from stuff like this so I can spend time with Amy and recover / catch up from the week but for some reason Trevor Owens (Lean Startup Machine CEO) and Ray Wu convinced me to come out and play.

I’m a huge Eric Ries / Lean Startup fan and believe that the methodology can be quickly taught. What I saw yesterday is further evidence of this – 13 teams spent from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon using the Lean Startup Methodology, the concept of customer development, and the lean startup canvas to go from idea through a series of validated learnings to get to a better idea. It’s not a coding / hacking weekend – it’s an applied process of the Lean Startup Methodology.

The event took place in the Scrib co-working space in downtown Boulder. I hadn’t been there yet so it was a good chance to meet the founders of Scrib, see the space in use, and get a sense of the energy. It was excellent and I expect Scrib will be a great contribution to the Boulder Startup Community for a long time to come.

After we saw 5 minute presentations from each team, the judges sequestered for a while and came up with first and second place. The winner of Lean Startup Machine Boulder was I Want My Bike Back and second place went to Dig Rentals. We came up with fun awards for all of the other teams and there was no doubt in my mind that it was a useful event for everyone.

Lean Startup Machine has a goal of doing 50 events in 2012 and 200 events in 2013. The next ones are in San Francisco (5/25), Toronto (6/8), Rotterdam (Netherlands – 6/8), Los Angeles (6/15), Boston (6/15), and Seattle (6/29). If you are in any of these cities, I encourage you to check it out.

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May 20 2012

Do More Faster Top 12 Tips At RailsConf 2012

If you are a developer, I encourage you to carve out an hour and watch TechStars CEO David Cohen’s presentation at RailsConf 2012 (30 minute presentation and outstanding 30 minutes of Q&A). He starts out with the assertion that “developers are the new investors”  – how could you not be interested in hearing more about that?

David and I wrote a book last year called Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup and this is his riff to a room full of developers about some of his top tips. Special bonus – see a photo of me in my pajamas at minute 7.

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May 20 2012

Never Give Up, Never Surrender


Today’s post is a guest post from my friend Nicholas Napp. We first met five years ago and while I’ve never invested in anything he’s done, I’ve tried to be helpful along the way. Nick is currently running a company called MoveableCode and has a great Kickstarter campaign going for his latest product Incantor (Magic Made Real). Go check out the campaign and support him if you are interested. In the mean time, enjoy his story about Never Giving Up and Never Surrendering. And yes, I recently “invested” in Nick via Kickstarter at the $250 level – I now am excitedly waiting for my Incantor Nobilis for 2.

First – an overview on what I’m working on now

I founded MoveableCode back in 2009, initially to do some mobile Augmented Reality research on a National Science Foundation SBIR grant. We quickly learned that we could make cool things but no money and pivoted. Two years later, we are all about innovative mobile entertainment. We have a grand vision to build a kickass company and Incantor is a big part of that.

Post pivot, I’ve been lucky enough to lure in two good friends, Kevin Mowrer and Trivikram Prasad. Kevin used to run all of R&D for Hasbro and founded their entertainment division. He used to be a client of mine. Triv was an engineer at a company I worked for when I first came to the US as a product manager. He went on to lead teams for Intel and Intuit and is now based in Bangalore, India. I’ve known both of them for 15+ years and we immediately clicked as a team. We’ve raised a modest amount of money, just enough to get some proof points and are now getting in to high gear.

Incantor is our vision of what happens when addictive gameplay is combined with immersive, community-driven fantasy. It is built on a simple premise: Magic Made Real. The game unites people, places and things and is played with your smartphone, a magic wand and your friends. The magic wand is a sophisticated bluetooth device and the game is played as a fantasy LARP in the real world.

We made the decision to go the Kickstarter route because we wanted to connect with fans. Community is vitally important to the game and we want to embrace that from day one. There’s nothing quite like it out there… and there are some really cool parts we’re not talking about yet. This is going to be a fun ride… “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Rewind to five years ago

Brad was my first VC man-crush. About five years and a couple of startups ago, I mercilessly tracked him down and he was good enough to meet and hear the pitch for the startup I was with at the time.

To say we were excited was an understatement. This was the guy that we wanted to meet. If he heard our pitch, the infatuation would be instant and we would walk away with a nice big check. We were going to score!

Sadly, I can say with some confidence that it was the worst pitch I have ever given. Everything that could go wrong did. We crashed and burned as badly as possible and Brad and his colleagues were as gracious as they could be. I even made the “oh no you didn’t” mistake of mis-dialing after the meeting and accidentally calling Brad as he went to the airport.

But as an entrepreneur, you move forward by getting up after you fall down. That startup died, but I stayed in contact with Brad and we’ve chatted many times since then.

MoveableCode is my latest startup and it’s been getting some great early traction. He’s now a backer of our Kickstarter project and I couldn’t be more pleased.

As the saying goes… Never give up, never surrender

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