Larry Nelson from w3w3.com has an interview up with my partner Seth Levine. The interview is called Is an Advisory Board or Advisors Really Necessary? but the first half of the interview is about Seth’s view of Foundry Group and his partners (e.g. me, Jason, Ryan, and Chris.) Listen and find out some magic secrets – or just hear what Seth thinks. As a special bonus Seth has some good ideas about advisors and advisory boards.
Gnip is Hiring System Architect / Senior Software Engineers
This is a public service announcement for all great software developers in the Boulder / Denver area that are bored and restless at their existing job.
Earlier this year, along First Round Capital and SoftTechVC, we funded a new company called Gnip. They’ve added a few people to their team in Boulder and are now looking for a few System Architect / Senior Software Engineers. If you fit the description, drop them an email.
Why Do People Find Email So Difficult To Deal With?
I noticed two articles in the NY Times this morning that pressed my email theme button. The first was actually from yesterday – Lost in E-Mail, Tech Firms Face Self-Made Beast. The second was In the E-Mail Relay, Not Every Handoff Is Smooth.
Both are interesting, but relatively light weight articles. That’s not really a surprise since they are aimed at the mainstream public instead of Joe Techie. There are a few fun things in Lost in E-Mail … such as the new and exciting "Gmail E-Mail Addict" feature that lets the user take a 15 minute break by hitting a button or a neat program called Rescue Time which tracks how much time you are spending in different applications (I used it for a few weeks until I got bored of seeing how much time I was spending on email.) However, neither really gets at the core of the issue they are addressing, which is something approximating "how can human beings deal with the current onslaught of email?"
I find it more interesting to see what my "high performance / lead user friends" are struggling with. I’m an inbox zero guy (I go to bed every night with no emails in my inbox – where "no emails" is an approximation for "less than 30 and nothing urgent.") I don’t save things in folders for a future response (I think that’s equivalent to deleting them) but I do put things on my task list when I need to remember to respond (my task list is never longer than something I can clear with an hour of focused effort.) I regularly check my email throughout the day, but I don’t let it interfere with me when I need to concentrate on something and I’ve trained myself not to look at my handheld until I’m truly bored in a meeting. I rarely go to the bathroom in the middle of a meal out with Amy to sneak a quick look at my email. As a result, I don’t struggle with email – it’s just an efficient (and integral) part of my work communication.
A set of my friends are really struggling with it. I commonly hear the "I’m way behind on email" refrain. Several of my friends have deep disdain for email, including one who basically equates it to "homework" (hey – I liked doing homework!) Another friend decided to take the summer off from using email (while I was happy to hear from him when he called me to thank me for doing something, it was at an inconvenient time and I thought he must have needed something urgently when I saw his name pop up on my phone.)
When I sit on an airplane next to someone doing email, I like to observe their pattern as I drift off to sleep (watching them helps me fall asleep faster.) A remarkable number of people have a "hunt, click, read, and then don’t respond" approach to email where they read messages that they selectively choose to read but then don’t respond or delete, resulting in yet another "read" message clogging up their inbox. These people clearly need a lesson in processing their email.
I’ve got a long list of additional examples, but you get the idea. There is a deep sociological thing going on. A decade ago email was lauded as the savior of business communication. Today, it’s a giant pain in the ass for many people, although it’d be interesting to see how they’d cope without it. The fact that it’s popping up in the weekend NY Times reinforces that the problem is continuing to build toward a tipping point, which reminds me that there is a big opportunity out there somewhere.
BTW – can someone tell the NY Times that it’s ok to use "email" instead of "E-mail" – even Wikipedia says so.
The "Facebook for the enterprise" meme in now hitting its stride after all the activity at Enterprise 2.0 earlier this week. My friends at NewsGator were there in force showing off NewsGator Social Sites 2.0 which just started shipping.
Following is a short demo that’s up on Youtube that gives you a feel for how it works. While it’s a blurry video, Brian Kellner’s description of what he’s doing is the really useful part. Brian’s final line is "in total, it’s a complete social computing solution built right into SharePoint." Other demos / overviews are up on the NewsGator site if you are interested.
I’ve been a SharePoint fan for a while – we’ve been using it for a while at Foundry Group. I find it much more powerful than many of the individual web-based solutions and it’s tight integration with Exchange and NewsGator Enterprise Server, along with it broad customization capabilities, make it work nicely for us.
As I predicted last year, 2008 would be the year that all of the consumer Internet innovations started migrating to the enterprise en-masse. NewsGator has been at the forefront of this and it’s awesome to see and use the products. While some argue that the consumer products for enterprise work just fine thank you very much, I don’t buy that argument. Maybe it will converge in five to ten years, but there are so many enterprise-focused issues that aren’t addressed in any of the consumer oriented products that I think there will continue to be some amount of a parallel universe.
To calibrate – when I talk about the enterprise, I’m not talking about startups or a 30 person company. I’m talking about 10,000 to 200,000 person enterprises that already have deeply embedded and extensively built out global IT infrastructures. That said, it also works great for a 11 person company like Foundry Group if you using a Microsoft-based infrastructure today.
I will never be as good a writer as Amy. It’s always fun for me to read her view of a shared experience we have had. She’s got a lovely post up titled Bella Italia about our Q2 vacation to Positano and Lake Como that includes a bunch of fun pictures include breadsticks and a scorpion. If you want to live vicariously through us and get a sense of what one of the Q vacations is like, wander over to her blog and take a look.
When I ask someone what animal they visualize themselves I am often surprised. Not so with Dan Caruso – he is unambiguously a bear (That’s my animal also – you’ll understand this if you ever see me and Dan standing next to each other.)
Since October, Dan has been doing a great job of blogging at BearOnBusiness and now has a must read entrepreneur blog. If you don’t know Dan, he was an SVP at MFS (bought by WorldCom), went on to be part of the founding team at Level 3, with a group of investors acquired, turned around, and sold ICG, and is now doing another telecom infrastructure consolidation called Zayo Group (one of the best recently funded / founded companies in Colorado.) He’s also an investor in a bunch of companies, including folks like Envysion (who also happen to have a good blog.)
If you are looking for a new / fresh entrepreneur blog to add to your blogroll, give BearOnBusiness a try.
I was going to call this post "Private Beta is Bullshit" but then I realized I might be wrong. Rather than decide, I’m looking for reasons to change my mind. Please help me. In the spirit of thinking out loud on my blog, I’m going to go through a history lesson from my perspective to frame the problem.
When I started writing commercial software in the 1980’s, there was a well-defined "beta process." Your first beta was actually called an alpha – when you had your friends and a few lead users play around with your stuff which was guaranteed to break every few minutes. But they were a good source of much needed early feedback and testing. Then came beta – you shipped your disks out to a wider audience, including a bunch of people you didn’t know but who were interested in your product, and they banged away looking for bugs. You had a bug collecting and management process (if you were really cutting edge you even had a BBS for this) and while there wasn’t a code freeze, you spent all of your time fixing bugs and hardening / optimizing the code. If you had a complex system, you started shipping release candidates (RCs); less complex went straight to a release (GA). Inevitably some bugs were found and a bug fix version (v x.01) was released within a week or two. At this point you started working on the next version (v x+1.0); if there were meaningful bugs still in v x you did small incremental releases (v x.02) on the previous code base.
This approach worked well when you shipped bits on disks. The rise of the commercial Internet didn’t change this approach much other than ultimately eliminate the need to ship disks as your users could now download the bits directly.
The rise of the web and web-based applications in the later 1990’s (1997 on) did change this as it was now trivial to "push" a new version of your app to the web site. Some companies, especially popular consumer sites and large commercial sites, did very limited testing internally and relied on their users to help shake down the web app. Others had a beta.website.com version (or equivalent) where limited (and often brave) users played around with the app before it went in production. In all cases, the length of time of the dev/test/production loop varied widely.
At some point, Google popularized the idea of an extended beta. This was a release version that had the beta label on it which is supposed to indicate to people that it’s an early version that is still evolving. Amazingly, some apps like Gmail (or Docs or Calendar), seem to never lose their beta label while others like Reader and Photos have dropped them already. At some point, "beta" stopped really meaning anything other than "we’ve launched and we probably have a lot of bugs still so beware of using us for mission critical stuff."
With the rise of the Web 2.0 apps, beta became the new black and every app launched with a beta label, regardless of its maturity (e.g. a whole bunch of them were alphas.) Here’s where the problem emerged. At some point every beta got reviewed by a series of web sites led by TechCrunch (well – not every one – but the ones that managed to rise above the ever increasing noise.) When they got written up, many of them inevitably ran into The First 25,000 Users Are Irrelevant problem (which builds on Josh Kopelman’s seminal post titled 53,651 – which might be updated to be called 791K.) During this experience, many sites simply crash based on the sudden load as they weren’t built to handle the scale or peak load.
Boom – a new invention occurred. This one is called "private beta" and now means "we are early and buggy and can’t handle your scale, but we want you to try us anyway when we are ready for you." I’ve grown to hate this as it’s really an alpha. For whatever reason, companies are either afraid to call an alpha an alpha or they don’t know what an alpha is. For a web app, operational scale is an important part of the shift from alpha to beta, although as we’ve found with apps like Twitter, users can be incredibly forgiving with scale problems (noisy – but forgiving).
So – why not get rid of the "private beta" label and call all of these things alphas. Alphas can be private – or even public – but they create another emotional and conceptual barrier between "stuff that’s built but not ready for prime time" (alpha), "stuff that getting close but still needs to be pounded on by real users and might go down" (beta), and "stuff that’s released" (v x.0). That seems a lot more clear to me than "private beta", "beta" (which might last forever), and ultimately v x.0.
In the grand scheme of things this might simply end up in "Brad Pet Peeve" land, but recently it’s been bothering me more than my other pet peeves so it feels like there’s something here. Call me out if there isn’t or pile on if there is.
There is some TechStars love this morning from the gang at FriendFeed (thanks guys!) They added two of last years TechStars class – IntenseDebate and BrightKite – during their FriendFeed Fix-it Day. I know this was one of the often requested features from IntenseDebate users and – while it could be hacked into FriendFeed through the magic of RSS – native support is sweet (and trivial to use.) No surprise – like most other services, I am bfeld on FriendFeed.
Some idiot (me) scheduled a 7am breakfast meeting on a day when he had a six mile run scheduled. Have you ever tried to get up at 4am (after going to sleep at 11:30pm) to get ready to go for a six mile run. Nope – it doesn’t happen. So – I gave up on the idea of a run and just did my morning email / web / blog routine. I’m running a marathon next weekend anyway so I’m supposed to be tapering (ahem).
As a result, I have some morning reading for you.
– Law Firm 2.0 – Why can’t financings be easier and cheaper? My partner Jason has been writing a great series he calls "Law Firm 2.0". He holds no punches with his provocative thoughts. The feedback has been amazing – entrepreneurs love it, some lawyers publicly hate it but privately love it, and some lawyers just hate it. He keeps going and – IMHO – keeps nailing important issues.
– Google visits TechStars: David Cohen put up a nice summary of Google Day and Andrew Hyde has one of my favorite segments of Kevin Marks talk on How Not to be Viral up on video. Kevin shows some subtle (and not so subtle) brilliance in this segment. While you are at it spin over to the TechStars Community Site and join and take a look at the great early TechStars coverage from Monday in the Daily Camera (TechStars’ second coming) and the Rocky Mountain News (Looking for the next tech star).
– iRobot enters the undersea robot market: In the unfortunately long category of "damnit – I should have made that investment" comes a cool new product from my friends at iRobot.
– Google Co-Founder Books a Space Flight: Seriously awesome.