Pro Tip: If you are at CES today and want to connect, I’ll be hanging out at Eureka Park from 11am this morning (Friday) when I’m on a panel about diversity until I leave the premises at 2:30.
My dad and I left the Venetian yesterday at 8:30am to head over to the Las Vegas Convention Center. When I arrived back at the room at 10pm, I was done / baked / toasted / wiped.
For a number of years (somewhere between 5 and 9, according to the little badge they gave me), my dad and I went to CES together every year. In 2013, when I got depressed, I decided not to travel for a year. I punted CES that year and for the next few years, so this is the first time in four years we’ve done the drill.
We had a blast together yesterday. I think my dad was delirious by about 9pm when he left our party and went up to the room. And hour later when I checked in on him before going to sleep, he was flat on his back in bed pretending to be awake but was clearly out for the count.
We started at the LVCC. I saw a tweet from Dan Primack saying the North Hall was basically indistinguishable from the Detroit Auto Show. He nailed it – it was basically a takeover by the worldwide auto industry with a few startups sprinkled here and there. It felt like six months ago every CEO of a major auto company sent an email to the CMO that said
“We are going to be at CES. We need to show up three things: (1) Our EV prototype, (2) A completely new in-car electronics package that looks better than Tesla’s, and (3) something about autonomous driving. Your budget is $10 million. Don’t fuck it up.”
If any of this shit comes together, we are going to have completely different cars by 2020. If you are a VC and you haven’t placed your bets on this sector yet, good luck. And if you have, make sure you are spending lots of time with big auto corp dev / M&A people.
If you’ve been following any news about CES, you know that it’s been a huge Alexa takeover. Amazon’s move in the home is brilliant. I love Alexa and I’m amazed at how far ahead Amazon suddenly is. When I think of all the money, time, and energy Microsoft, Apple, Google, Nintendo, Sony, Samsung, and LG have spent in the home, I have one word for them. “Wasted.” As far as I can tell, I’ll be talking to Alexa in the future a lot more than I’ll be saying “Ok Google”, especially when I’m talking to a Samsung TV.
Several times an hour I bump into someone that I like. That’s one of the fun parts of CES – you are surrounded by 180,000 of your fellow nerds and you bump into Dick Costolo on the way to dinner. I ended up in a fifteen minute conversation with Josh Ellman. I could list another 20 serendipitous connections in random places but you get the idea.
After wandering through the Sphero secret rooms in their booth, I told my dad I thought it was the best booth experience I’ve ever had. Way more awesome than yet another random shag carpet open space with marketing displays.
Interviewing James Park at Eureka Park about the Fitbit story was fun. My experience with James, his partner Eric, and Fitbit continues to be one of the most rewarding and enjoyable – at all levels – professional experience I’ve ever had.
And then dad and I wandered around the Sands. It completely blew away the LVCC and was so much more interesting to me that I’m just going to spend the day at the Sands, wandering around startups, smaller companies, 3D printers, robots, and all kinds of stuff I like. There are zillions of CE startups in Sands. While 90% of them will fail, it’s pretty awesome to see what entrepreneurs are working on.
The only thing more baffling to me than the auto stuff were home robots. I think the 2017 crop of home robots at CES will be like the 2013 crop of 3D TVs. Kind of cool, but not commercially viable. We’ll get there, but it’s not this.
And – well – lots of chocolate ice cream. That’s one of the best things about Las Vegas. Chocolate ice cream is less than 0.25 miles away, no matter where you are.
I’ll be at CES from Wednesday to Friday. I went for many years, punted for the past few years, but decided to go again this year.
Techstars runs a big program called the Startup Stage that has three days of programming. It also co-hosts Eureka Park, at the Sands, Level 1, Hall G which is a collection of around 600 startups. I’ll be hanging out there when I’m not walking to CES floor, which typically takes me a day.
My dad will be with me. We love to walk to the show floor together and just be together for a couple of days. While he’s a doctor, he’s been a tech nerd since I was little, always alongside me as I played around with new stuff. He’s endlessly a kid around this stuff – always trying new things, talking to everyone, and just having the time of his life.
I’m giving two talks this year at CES as part of Startup Stage at the Sands, Level 1, Hall G.
I don’t go to CES to find the next great thing. I go to soak myself in what companies are releasing now. I run into (randomly – I don’t schedule anything) a lot of friends from the industry. I relax into the density of the amount of stuff getting shipping in 2017, as I think about where it will be in 2022.
And – I hang out with my dad. Which I love.
A bunch of the companies we’ve invested in were at CES 2013. Modular Robotics, the makers of Cubelets, were at the Eureka Village (where Startup America was). The first thing I had to do when I got to CES was a panel for Startup America so the Modular Robotics booth was literally one of the first places I stopped after getting to Las Vegas.
It was mobbed. I came back around a few other times and it continued to be mobbed. They were showing Cubelets (which are for sale now) as well as a few new spicy connector things that they are about to release that let you connect Cubelets up to anything you can build with Legos.
TechCrunch did a nice three minute video interview that shows how Cubelets work. We invested last fall – I’m excited to be working with Eric Schweikardt and the team to create a robot construction kit that can really go mainstream.
Historically, most of my writing has been either on my blogs or the books that I’ve written. Occasionally I’ve written for magazines, like a year-long stretch I did for Entrepreneur a few years ago, and longer form articles of mine appear in different places every now and then. But pretty much everything I write ends up on Feld Thoughts at some point.
I’m going to experiment with some different channels this year. The two that I’ve already gotten into a regular, once a week rhythm with are LinkedIn Influencers and the Wall Street Journal Accelerators. I’m putting up a lot more content on the Startup Revolution site and I’ll be adding at least one more channel in the next 30 days. Finally, I’m doing more guest posts, such as the article I wrote for Amazon Money & Markets titled Startups Are Everywhere.
Up to know I’ve been generally reposting these on Feld Thoughts. But in the next 30 days I plan to change the landing page for feld.com to include all the different channels, and I’ll also do my best to splice up a single feed for everything I write.
Like all things, this is an experiment. I haven’t figured out whether I like this or not, but I’m enjoying playing with different channels, different audiences, and engaging with an audience and other thought leaders around a specific topic.
For example, this week’s WSJ Accelerator question was “Is it possible for a startup founder to work on two or three products (or startups) at once?” Some posts include mine, which was “No, Mostly“, Steve Blank saying “Don’t Confuse Science Experiments With Commitments“, and Joanne Wilson stating “Choose One Company and One Company Only.” Each different article adds to a broader thought, which is part of the joy of “mentor whiplash” we talk about all the time in TechStars. Ultimately, you have to make your own decision as an entrepreneur – we are just providing data for you.
I’m at CES this week. If you want to see why, check out my LinkedIn post titled Why I Go To CES. And, if you are at CES and want me to stop by your booth, leave a comment here.
If you’ve figured out a great way to be a multi-channel content publisher, I’m all ears. Or, as a reader of this blog, if you have a strong opinion about what I’m doing, please weigh in. Remember – this is just an experiment.
I believe that science fiction is reality catching up to the future. Others say that science fact is the science fiction of the past. Regardless, the gap between science fact and science fiction is fascinating to me, especially as it applies to computers.
My partners and I spend time at CES each year along with a bunch of the founders from different companies we’ve invested in due to our human computer interaction theme. In addition to a great way to start the year together, it gives us a chance to observe how the broad technology industry, especially on the consumer electronics side, is trying to catch up to the future.
We are investors in Oblong, a company who’s co-founder (John Underkoffler) envisions much of the future we are currently experiencing when he created the science and tech behind the movie Minority Report. Oblong’s CEO, Kwin Kramer, wandered the floor of CES with this lens on and had some great observations which he shares with you below.
Looking back at last year’s CES through the greasy lens of this year’s visit to Vegas, three trends have accelerated: tablets, television apps platforms, and new kinds of input.
I gloss these as “Apple’s influence continuing to broaden”, “a shift from devices to ecosystems,” and “the death of the remote control.”
Really, the first two trends have merged together. The iPod, iPhone, and iPad, along with iTunes, AirPlay, and FaceTime, have profoundly influenced our collective expectations.
All of the television manufacturers are now showing “smart” TV prototypes. “Smart” means some combination of apps, content purchases, video streaming, video conferencing, web browsing, new remote controls, control from phones and tablets, moving content around between devices, screen sharing between devices, home “cloud”, face recognition, voice control, and gestural input.
Samsung showed the most complete bundle of “smart” features at the show this year and is planning to ship a new flagship television line that boasts both voice and gesture recognition.
This is good stuff. The overall interaction experience may or may not be ready for the mythical “average user”, but the features work. (An analogy: talking and waving at these TVs feels like using a first-generation PalmPilot, not a first-generation iPhone. But the PalmPilot was a hugely successful and category changing product.)
The Samsung TVs use a two-dimensional camera, not a depth sensor. As a result, gestural navigation is built entirely around hand motion in X and Y and open-hand/grab transitions. The tracking volume is roughly the 30 degree field of view of the camera between eight feet and fifteen feet from the display.
Stepping back and filtering out the general CES clamor, what we’re seeing is the continuing, but still slow, coming to pass of the technology premises on which we founded Oblong: pixels available in more and more form factors, always-on network connections to a profusion of computing devices, and sensors that make it possible to build radically better input modalities.
Interestingly, there are actually fewer gestural input demos on display at CES this year than there were last year. Toshiba, Panasonic and Sony, for example, weren’t showing gesture control of TVs. But it’s safe to assume that all of these companies continue to do R&D into gestural input in particular, and new user experiences in general.
PrimeSense has made good progress, too. They’ve taken an open-hand/grab approach that’s broadly similar to Samsung’s, but with good use of the Z dimension in addition. The selection transitions, along with push, pull and inertial side-scroll, feel solid.
Besides the television, the other interesting locus of new UI design at CES is the car dashboard. Mercedes showed off a new in-car interface driven partly by free-space gestures. And Ford, Kia, Cadillac, Mercedes and Audi all have really nice products and prototypes and employ passionate HMI people.
For those of us who pay a lot of attention to sensors, the automotive market is always interesting. Historically, adoption in cars has been one important way that new hardware gets to mass-market economies of scale.
The general consumer imaging market continues to amaze me, though. Year-over-year progress in resolution, frame rate, dynamic range and cost continues unabated.
JVC is showing a 4k video camera that will retail for $5,000. And the new cameras (and lenses) from Nikon and Canon are stunning. There’s no such thing anymore as “professional” equipment in music production, photography or film. You can charge all the gear you need for recording an album, or making a feature-length film, on a credit card.
Similarly, the energy around the MakerBot booth was incredibly fun to see. Fab and prototyping capabilities are clearly on the same downward-sloping, creativity-enabling, curve as cameras and studio gear. I want a replicator!
And, of course, I should say that Oblong is hiring. We think the evolution of the multi-device, multi-screen, multi-user future is amazingly interesting. We’re helping to invent that future and we’re always looking for hackers, program managers, and experienced engineering leads.
Every year my partners at Foundry Group and I go to CES. We aren’t boondoggle guys – our expeditions together are limited to a quarterly offsite, often at Jason’s house (10 minutes from our office), and one trip a year with spouses and significant others somewhere. So CES has been a nice tradition for us where we get to travel together for a few days, hang out in nerd and gadget heaven, and spend time with a bunch of entrepreneurs we work with who are here.
There were two memes going around that I heard about CES earlier this week. The first came out of a set of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley who said something like “CES is irrelevant – no one important is there and nothing interesting gets launched.” The second come out of a set of VCs in Silicon Valley who said something like “we go to CES to look for new companies to invest in that are outside the mainstream.”
I found both of these comments bizarre since we don’t view CES through either of those lenses. First, I think CES is incredibly relevant as it is a forward view of what the broad consumer electronics industry will be releasing and shipping over the next 12 months. Many of the CE companies and products operate on an annual product cycle and this helps me understand what is going to this year, at which point I don’t have to think hard about it for another year (yeah – I pay attention – but I have a really useful context). In addition, every technology buyer and supplier in the world is here wandering around so if you interact with any of them, it’s an extremely efficient way to spend time with them.
Next, we don’t actually search for new investments at CES although we tend to have some interesting meetings with folks who happen to be here. There are definitely cases where we got face time with entrepreneurs who we hadn’t yet spent a lot of time with previously – Pogoplug and MakerBot come to mind from years past. But we were already talking to them – CES was just an efficient way for all four of us to spent time with them.
If you want the multimedia version of what I just said, watch Jason’s interview on Bloomberg from yesterday.
We had three companies with large presences here this year – MakerBot, Orbotix, and Fitbit. They are each having an awesome show and I’m super psyched about their new products. It’s extremely fun – as an investor – to just hang out in a booth and watch the traffic and listen to the interactions.
We always have two dinners – one with just entrepreneurs we work with and one that is a broader audience. Each dinner was a highlight for me and if I do nothing else at CES, I’ll always come for these dinners.
I ended up with a series of meetings on Tuesday – three of them were with entrepreneurs who I’ve been talking to about various things. All three were really relevant and interesting and not surprising each was in our human computer interaction theme which I discussed on an NPR interview yesterday with Steve Henn titled Humans and Machines: Beyond Touch.
Finally, I had plenty that is the weirdness of Las Vegas. I had a total meltdown Wednesday morning and ended up spending the day in my room. I had a death defying run on the Las Vegas strip. And I’m just came back through a smoke filled casino from a breakfast with some of the leaders of the Las Vegas startup community (see more on the Startup Communities site soon.) This afternoon I board a plane to Boston and bid CES 2012 farewell. But I’ll be back again next year.
I’m in Las Vegas at CES. I walked the floor yesterday, had a bunch of meetings in the afternoon, and then went out to dinner at Nobu with my partners and a bunch of the founders of companies we are investors in. It was a great day but at the end of it I was totally used up, especially since I got up at 4am Las Vegas time to go to the airport.
My plan today was to walk the floor of CES some more. I only have one thing scheduled at 2pm (a call with Mark Udall, one of our Colorado Senators, about PIPA) – the rest was left open. But yesterday I felt like I saw everything I wanted to see. And I was tired of bumping into people, overwhelmed by the smoke everywhere, and way over stimulated. On top of this, I’ve been feeling a little flat (not depressed – but down / off balance) since the middle of last week, I’m on the road through the end of the month on the east coast, and I’ve got a head cold that I’m having trouble shaking.
When I woke up at 6:50am this morning, I decided I was going to camp in my room today. Just me, my computer, and whatever is on the other end of my computer. We’ve got another Foundry Group event tonight – by then I’ll probably feel like seeing humans again. But until then, I just feel like hiding for the day. The one exception is a run, which my body is begging me to do, even though I have snot dripping out of my nose.
Some days it’s best to just hide in your room. Today is one of those days for me.
You really shouldn’t have wandered away from your tour guide. The gleam of glass in a deserted room caught your eye for just a moment… but with that mob of chattering tourists out of sight, the MakerBot facility doesn’t seem quite as friendly as it did a moment ago.
Servos hiss behind you — but that’s not the guidebot’s cheery mask looming out of the shadows. It’s a security bot! You’re in trouble now. You duck into the laboratory. Or is it a showroom? Test chamber? You pull the door shut; hopefully you can hide out until the robot has passed.
No maze of twisty little passages here. Just a big scary security robot. I just played it for a while – it’s awesomely fun. I expect Seth Levine and Paul Kedrosky will get sucked in this afternoon and it’ll cause Paul to need to buy a MakerBot to print out the pieces in game.
I’ll see you at CES if you are going to be there. And keep your eyes on the MakerBot site for some cool new things.
Last night during my two mile post dinner walk from the Hard Rock (where I had an awesome dinner at Nobu) to the Venetian (where I subsequently had a very short night of sleep), my mind wandered around about the great time I had with my dad at CES.
My dad and I have developed several annual traditions including a really delightful father-son weekend. Our annual 24 hours (usually more like 30) together in Las Vegas every January for CES is another one.
My dad is a retired doctor. He’s also a computer nerd – he has loved playing around with computers since I got my first Apple II computer 32 years ago. He’s an endless tinkerer and a gadget guy – always curious and excited about the latest, greatest (or not so great, but still brand new) technology gizmo.
My Foundry Group partners and I have been coming to CES together for the past few years. We’ve discovered new investments at CES (such as Cloud Engines – for the long version of the discovery process check out my dad’s post on it titled I Love My Popoplug!!) as well as have companies we’ve invested in be at the show such as Orbotix and Sifteo this year. We keep it short (two nights, one day) but have a lot of fun together. And my dad tags along.
Each of the two nights we are there we have a great dinner with a bunch of the execs in companies we’ve invested in as well as friends of Foundry Group (other VCs, some journalists, angel investors, other entrepreneurs who are friends.) The first dinner is always somewhere fancy (this year it was at Bouchon). The second night is sushi orgy at Nobu.
As I walked home from the sushi orgy, I kept thinking how lucky I was to completely adore my father. With the exception of several months when I was in seventh grade (and was a complete pain in the ass), we’ve been best friends. I have enormous respect for him, have learned a ton, and even when I get frustrated with him (as any son will), I usually end up in an semi-amused state about whatever is going on.
And – as far as I can tell, my friends and close work colleagues also love hanging out with him. This is icing on the cake, because I know he’s having a blast with them and vice-versa.
Dad – thanks for coming to CES again this year – I love you.