Month: December 2013

Dec 18 2013

Decluttering My Computer Network

A few days ago, Amy and I came up to our  house in Keystone. We haven’t been here for about two months; we’ll be here through the end of the first week of January.

The first few hours were predictable. We “turned” everything on. We unpacked the car. We got settled in.

And I got frustrated. The Internet was slow. The Sonos wasn’t working correctly. Everything was trying to update itself. It was like a giant machine was trying to boot up, but was stuck in an initialization loop.

I wandered around the house tweaking things. One by one I got things working. As I reset things, I kept thinking to myself “I wonder why we need that.”

We bought this house in 2006. The network infrastructure is a cumulative build since then – a NetGear router connected to the cable modem, Cisco WiFi access points on each floor, default Sonos configuration, a Cisco phone that isn’t used anymore acting as a wired network repeater, USB hubs with one device connected, power extension cords, cables, and a bunch of other crap. The last time I was up here I installed an Apple Airport Extreme (which needed an update) but I left everything in place.

I decided to rip it all out yesterday and replace it with the Apple Airport Extreme. The result is a giant box of crap.

For an hour or so I continued to be frustrated. Things were better, but still choppy. I’d set all the computers up to use Google’s public DNS server (the magic 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4) but the network performance was still choppy – fast, then slow, then fast, then slow. At some point I realized I hadn’t set the Airport Extreme to use Google’s public DNS and it was defaulting everything to Comcast.

I made the switch. Boom – everything was fast again. As expected. Pandora played all day long without dropping. Video and audio calls were fine again.

As I looked at the giant box of crap this morning, I thought about the idea of decluttering. We have all this gunk in our lives that just slow us down. Just like my network. As the year comes to an end, I’m going to keep decluttering, the physical and the virtual.

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Dec 17 2013

Amazon Prime Ground

If you think Amazon Prime Air is neat, you’ll love the new Amazon Prime Ground.

Spheros and Quadcopters are available with shipping still in time for Christmas.

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Dec 16 2013

Mixing Startups and a New Baby

Nope, Amy isn’t pregnant. But Bart Lorang’s (founder/CEO of FullContact) wife Sarah is. And Bart has started a new blog called Startup Baby. Well – it’s sort of a blog, or a Medium thing – whatever those are called.

His first post is awesome. It’s titled Holy Shit! I’m having a Startup Baby! Here’s a taste.

Now I would soon have a child added to the long list of ‘things I’m responsible for.’

Hugo assured me: “There are plenty of books available. There are plenty of mentors available. People have done it before. You are not unique. “

Still, I was scared shitless.

I was scared I’d be a bad father.

I was scared that I’d let down my wife.

I was scared that I wouldn’t be simultaneously a good father AND a good CEO.

And you know what? It’s a few months later, and I’m still scared.

Bart is an awesome writer – and prolific. It’s the one part of Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur that I feel like we really missed. I’m psyched Bart is filling in the details!

This is going to be an awesome blog. And I expect it’ll be an awesome journey for Bart and Sarah.

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Dec 12 2013

Sometimes You Have To Roll A Hard Six

Techstars is rolling out a short video program with some of the entrepreneurs and mentors favorite quotes. I recorded a few of them recently – my first one is up.

I’m a huge Battlestar Galactica fan and think Commander William Adama has amazing leadership lessons for any entrepreneur. If you don’t know what “rolling the hard six” is, it’s a classic example of a high risk / high reward scenario. Per Urban Dictionary:

“Rolling a hard six has a probability of about 3% whereas rolling six by any other combination has about a 14% chance. A hard six pays 7 to 1 whereas a regular six pays only 7 to 6”

I’m not a craps player, but I love the metaphor. As an entrepreneur, you often have to combine luck with the right call at the right time. You can make the right call and be unlucky, or you can make the wrong call and be lucky. But when you find yourself in a jam, you often need to make the right call AND be lucky.

My imitation of Adama is pretty lame however.

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Dec 11 2013

Startup Boards Is Shipping

Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors is shipping. It was so satisfying to see this today.

Startup Boards on Kindle

This was by far the most difficult book to write so far. The title we came up with should have tipped me off – it ended up be extremely challenging to make a book about “boards” not be “boring.”

If you are up for it, give me some opening day love and order a copy of Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors.

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Dec 10 2013

Help Get MakerBots In Classrooms Across America

Yesterday Amy and I contributed $10,000 to the MakerBot Academy campaign which is on a mission to put a MakerBot 3D printer in every school in the United States.

We did it via a contribution on Donors Choose, one of our favorite non-profit contribution sites.

We specifically finished out the funding for five MakerBots for the following teachers in their classrooms:

Amy and I are planning to give a lot more to this campaign, but we decided to do something tangible right now by finishing off several of the campaigns on Donors Choose.

For those of you who have asked in the past “what can I do for you Brad?”, here’s an easy one. Just go on the MakerBot Academy Donors Choose page and make a contribution of any size to one of the campaigns. You’ll be helping the next generation.

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Dec 9 2013

Calling All FinTech Founders: The Barclays Accelerator, Powered by Techstars

Barclays and Techstars are today launching a program that will give ten innovative businesses the chance to shape the future of financial services. The Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars, is a three month intensive program which will provide ten FinTech companies with funding and deep mentorship, supporting them on their journey to delivering breakthrough innovations.

Commenting on the partnership, Derek White, Barclays Chief Design Officer, said “We’ve identified technology as a key driver of innovation and it will be paramount to Barclays achieving our ambition of becoming the ‘Go-To’ bank. We’ve already had great successes using an entrepreneurial approach to future design, including the launch of our innovative Barclays Pingit app, and we’re keen to ensure we build upon these by supporting entrepreneurs and putting them in an ecosystem where they can grow and develop.”

Applications are open now at https://BarclaysAccelerator.com and will close March 21, 2014.

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Dec 9 2013

The Future Is Enchanted Objects, Not Glass Slabs

On Saturday, I read the final draft of a magnificent book by David Rose. The book is titled Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire and the Internet of Things.

I’ve known David for many years. I was a huge fan and an early customer, but not an investor, in one of his companies (Ambient Devices) and we share a lot of friends and colleagues from MIT and the Media Lab. I was happy to be asked to blurb his book and then absolutely delighted with the book. It captured so many things that I’ve been thinking about and working on in a brilliantly done 300 page manuscript.

The basic premise of the book is that ultimately we want “enchanted objects”, not “glass slabs” to interact with. Our current state of the art (iMacs, iPhones, Android stuff, Windows tablets, increasing large TV screens) are all glass slabs. The concept of the “Internet of Things” introduces the idea of any device being internet connected, which is powerful, but enchanted objects take it one step further.

Now, the irony of it is that I read David’s book on a glass slab (my Kindle Fire, which is currently my favorite reading device.) But page after page jumped out at me with assertions that I agreed with, examples that were right, or puzzle pieces that I hadn’t quite put together yet.

And then on Saturday night it all hit home for me with a real life example. I was lying on the couch reading another book on my Kindle Fire at about 10pm. I heard a chirp. I tried to suppress it at first, but after I heard the second one I knew it was the dreaded chirp of my smoke detector. I continued to try to deny reality, but a few chirps later Amy walked into the room (she had already gone to bed) and said “do you hear what I hear?” Brooks the Wonder Dog was already having a spaz attack.

I got up on a chair and pulled the smoke alarm off the ceiling. I took out the 9V battery and was subject to a very loud beep. We scavenged around for 9V batteries in our condo. We found about 200 AAs and 100 AAAs but no 9Vs. Chirp chirp. We bundled up (it was 2 degrees out) and walked down the street to the Circle K to buy a 9V battery. They only had AAs. We walked back home, got in the car (with Brooks, who was now a complete mess from all the beeping) and drove to King Soopers. This time we got about 20 9Vs. We got home and I got back on the chair and wrestled with the battery holder. After the new battery was in the beeping continued. Out of frustration, I hit the “Test” button, heard a very loud extended beep, and then silence. At least from that smoke alarm.

Chirp. It turns out that I changed the battery in the wrong one. The one that was chirping was in another room. This one was too high for a chair, which resulted in us having to go into our storage cage in the condo basement and get a ladder. There was a padlock on our cage – fortunately the four digit code was one of the ones that everyone in the world who knows us knows. Eventually, with the ladder, the new batteries, and some effort I got the chirping to stop.

We have those fancy white smoke alarms that are wired directly into the power of the house. I have no idea why they even need a battery. The first thing they do when they want your attention is to make an unbelievably obnoxious noise. Then, they are about as hard as humanly possible to silence. They generate one emotion – anger.

Not an enchanted object.

In comparison, Nest is trying to make an enchanted object our of their new smoke detector product. After reading the Amazon reviews, I realize this is an all or nothing proposition and after spending $30 on 9V batteries and then changing all of the ones in the existing smoke detectors I don’t feel like spending $550 to replace the four smoke detectors in my condo. Plus, the one I want – the wired one – isn’t in stock. So I’ll wait one product cycle, or at least until the beeping crushes my soul again.

We’ve got a bunch of investments in our human computer interaction them that aspire to be enchanted objects including Fitbit, Modular Robotics, LittleBits, Orbotix, and Sifteo. I’m going to start using David’s great phrase “enchanted objects” to describe what I’m looking for in this area. And while I’ll continue to invest in many things that improve our glass slab world, I believe that the future is enchanted objects.

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Dec 8 2013

A Confusing Social Media Birthday

I turned 48 on December 1st. I took a week off the grid (from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving until the Wednesday after my birthday) – part of my quarterly off the grid routine with Amy. We had a very mellow birthday this year, spent it with a few friends who came to visit us in San Diego at the tennis place we love to hide at, and basically just slept late, played tennis, read a lot, got massages, ate nice food, and had adult activities.

I returned to an onslaught of email (no surprise) which included a long list of happy birthday wishes. I had 129 happy birthday wall posts and about 50 LinkedIn happy birthday messages.

As I read through them, I was intrigued and confused.

  • The Facebook wall posts were nice – almost all said either “happy birthday” or “happy birthday + some nice words.” I received one gift via Facebook (a charitable donation – thanks Tisch, you’ve got class!) Ok – that felt pretty good.
  • The emails were mixed. Many of them were like the Facebook wall posts. A few of them were online cards. But about 10% of them asked me for something, using the happy birthday message as an excuse to “reconnect.”
  • About 50% of the LinkedIn messages were requests for something. The subject line was “Happy Birthday” but the message then asked for something.

I decided not to respond to any of them. There were a few emails with specific stuff that I wanted to say, but the vast majority I just read and archived.

I found myself noticeably bummed out after going through the LinkedIn ones. I woke up thinking about it again today, especially against the backdrop of reading Dave Eggers awesome book The Circle (more on that coming soon.)

I’m an enormous believer in the idea of “give before you get.” It’s at the core of my Boulder Thesis in my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City  and how I try to live my personal and business live. Fortunately, many of the people I am close to also believe in this and incorporate it into the way they live.

When processing my birthday wishes, especially the LinkedIn ones, there was very little “give before you get.” That’s fine – I don’t expect that from anyone – it’s not part of my view of an interaction model that I have to impose it on others. But I was really surprised by the number of people that used my birthday as a way to “get something” without “giving something” other than a few words in a social media message.

This confused me. The more I thought about it, the more I was confused, especially by the difference between email, Facebook, and LinkedIn. When I tried to organize my thinking, the only thing I could come up with was that email was “variable”, Facebook was “generic”, and LinkedIn was “selfish.” I didn’t love these characterizations, but this prompted me to write this post in an effort to understand it better.

Oh – and the best thing I got electronically for my birthday was from Andrei Soroker via a different channel – Kato.

I’m going to ponder the “culture of different communication channels” more, but I’m especially curious if anyone out there has a clear point of view on the different cultures between email, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Feel free to toss Twitter in the mix if you want.

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Dec 6 2013

The Supreme Court Has Another Chance To Fix The Software Patent Problem

I’ve been railing about the evils of software patents – how they stifle and create a massive tax on innovation – since I wrote my first post about it in 2006 titled Abolish Software Patents. Seven years ago this was a borderline heretical point of view since it was widely asserted that VCs believed you should patent everything to protect your intellectual property. Of course, this was nonsense and the historical myths surrounding intellectual property, especially the importance and validity of software and business methods, have now been exploded.

My post from 2006 lays out my point of view clearly. If you don’t want to read it, here’s a few paragraphs.

“I personally think software patents are an abomination. My simple suggestion on the panel was to simply abolish them entirely. There was a lot of discussion around patent reform and whether we should consider having different patent rules for different industries. We all agreed this was impossible – it was already hard enough to manage a single standard in the US – even if we could get all the various lobbyists to shut up for a while and let the government figure out a set of rules. However, everyone agreed that the fundamental notion of a patent – that the invention needed to be novel and non-obvious – was at the root of the problem in software.

I’ve skimmed hundreds of software patents in the last decade (and have read a number of them in detail.) I’ve been involved in four patent lawsuits and a number of “threats” by other parties. I’ve had many patents granted to companies I’ve been an investor in. I’ve been involved in patent discussions in every M&A transaction I’ve ever been involved in. I’ve spent more time than I care to on conference calls with lawyers talking about patent issues. I’ve always wanted to take a shower after I finished thinking about, discussing, or deciding how to deal with something with regard to a software patent.”

Companies I’ve been involved in have now been on the receiving end of around 100 patent threats or suits, almost all from patent trolls who like to masquerade behind names like non-practicing entities (NPEs) and patent assertion entities (PAEs). We have fought many of them and had a number patents ultimately invalidated. The cost of time and energy is ridiculous, but being extorted by someone asserting a software patent for something irrelevant to one’s business, something completely obvious that shouldn’t have been patented in the first place, or something that isn’t unique or novel in any way, is really offensive to me.

In 2009, I got to sit in and listen to the Supreme Court hear the oral arguments on Bilski. I was hopeful that this could be a defining case around business method and software patents, but the Supreme Court punted and just made things worse.

Now that the President and Congress has finally started to try to figure out how to address the issue of patent trolls, the Supreme Court has another shot at dealing with this once and for all.

I’m not longer optimistic about any of this and just expect I’ll have to live – and do business – under an ever increasing mess of unclear legislation and litigation. That sucks, but maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised this time around.

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