Saturday, December 29, 2007

Eating your own dog food


Often in companies in which I'm involved, the quote, "eat your own dog food" occurs. The etymology of this phrase is apparently based on a circa 1970s Alpo dog food commercial where Lorne Greene professes the benefits to be so great he feeds it to his own dogs. This allegorical cry for using one's own products and services is neither appropriate nor in many cases doable. For instance, if you're Lockheed Martin you likely don't have a real need for a drone helicopter missile launcher, no matter how much you would like to use it on your competition. Closer to home, in my last company we built an enterprise software package for business activity monitoring (coined by Gartner as BAM). Using the software in a small but growing concern the size of Dante Software would be complete overkill where a simple spreadsheet would suffice.

We're in another round of similar discussions at CI and in this instance it seems altogether appropriate. In the current business we baseline, measure, and analyze the impact of word of mouth on a company's industry, products, and services. In this case, eating our own dog food is not just an exercise forced upon some unsuspecting corner of the organization, it is critical to our survival and growth.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Monday, December 17, 2007

success at sales

Just concluded another sales call this morning. Seems like I'm doing more and more of this as my career progresses. There's an inherent need in any technology company to be able to communicate the vision of the company and the industry in a comprehensive and credible way that co-opts the customer into a sense of purpose. Having been the evangelist and not the closer I've had an interesting vantage point into the selling process. I was talking to Glen Springer about this process today and here is what he outlined as the successful sales genome:

- Keep your promises
- Follow up on time
- Ask open ended questions
- Ask for the order

He also said that he had heard 78% of sales people never ask for the order. That's a fairly amazing statistic given how obvious the advice is, but I believe it's likely to be true. A great sales person has a killer instinct and knows when to go in for the close. I think most people in sales are just really great at socializing and while they do perform well they never become great. Having been in and owned startups during the bubble this was especially obvious. Selling in the bubble was like bobbing for water. Anyone without hydrophobia could do it. Once the bubble burst only the great sales people survived.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Boulder Startup Trivia


A free six-pack of Fat Tire beer to the first person who can tell me the person in the Boulder entrepreneurial community with a copy of Samuel Jackson's character's wallet in Pulp Fiction. You know, the one that says "Bad Mother Fucker" on the outside?

(all people who were at dinner with this person last week are excluded)

add your guess to the comments

Co-CEO

I love starting companies.

I don't regard anything quite as professionally rewarding as setting foot on that journey with an old laptop, a head full of ideas, some wits about me, and at least a bit of anecdotal evidence that this could be "big". It's an absolute blast! And as in most journeys (other than spiritual quests - onesomes :) it is good to have someone along for the ride equally up to the challenges ahead, unbridled in their enthusiasm, and complementary in skill.

Because as much as I love the experience, starting a company is hard as hell. There is a dogged uncertainty kept at bay with the constant push towards value. There are pressures and deadlines: pressure to complete the product, pressure to sell the product even before it has fully materialized as living proof that value exists (see, they bought it). Adapt, adapt, adapt. There are pressures exerted by employees past, present, and future, that most human aspect of the business dictated by individual needs, struggles, and desires. There are pressures from investors to move the ball forward to make it to the next stage of the game. There are networking functions to attend, constant meetings with venture capitalists, investment bankers, and other interested parties. There are sales calls, vendor relationships to manage, and a frenetic challenge to be everywhere at once.

In my last three companies I have been the Chief Technology Officer and have had the good fortune to have started the last two with my good friend and CEO Don Springer. Don and I have always co-managed the company and I was reminded of the healthy aspects of this model by the founders of MadKast who told me they were co-managing their company. We've always operated in this model and in fact debated in the first few weeks before starting Collective Intellect which one of us would hold the CEO title. The debate went something like this:

Don: Tim why don't you be CEO this time around
Tim: I don't think you're getting off the hook that easily. No way. You should be CEO.

My advice is to find someone you have professional and emotional balance with. I deeply understand the technology. Don can sell and has an innate ability to put together multi-page cap tables with no circular references. I am a big picture guy who pursues ideas, and Don is more detail oriented. Don will put together a presentation with 40 slides where I will use 5. We can finish each other's sentences, drink our scotch, have fun, vehemently argue a point without offending the other, and still get the presentation done in time. The bottom line is that we hold a lot of mutual respect for each other. Enough to actually listen.

Being able to lean on someone else to help make the hard decisions and steward the company is priceless in bad times and incredibly rewarding in good times.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Defrag Quotes and Whitman

Just a couple of quotes to pass along from Defrag ...

From Doc Searls presentation:

we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings - and our reach exceeds your grasp. DEAL WITH IT
-- Rage Boy
What if we could help vendors understand us instead of being herded like cattle into walled gardens and milked? What if we could manage our own data, our preferences across whole markets? What if what mattered most were our real intentions, rather than just our attention?
-- Doc Searls in talk about Vendor Relationship Management

Doc also had a wonderful Whitman quote from "Song of Myself" but unfortunately I didn't stop to write it down and didn't recognize it after re-reading the entire poem here.

I love Whitman so the quote caught my attention. Searls has a knack for documenting our age in a spirit similar to Whitman.

Turn On, Tune In, Stream Out


I sat on a "Harnessing Collective Intelligence" at Defrag this year. Curiously it was all Boulder companies on the panel. Todd Vernon, CEO of Lijit was there, David Mandell of Me.dium, Ryan Martens of Rally Software, and myself. Each company had it's own take on the subject of the session with Lijit claiming the high ground on social search as a foundation for creating a better search experience, Me.dium extolling the social virtues of co-browsing and flash mobs, and I talked about how companies could really improve their reach and understanding of their consumers. Rally represented the business end of what I discussed and talked about using technology to engage their customers.

I want to reiterate one point that I made on the panel when asked where I saw Collective Intellect being in five years. I don't think it's possible to overstate the importance of the momentum behind consumer generated media and social networking. It is revolutionary in the same way that television changed everything in the 50's. Companies will have to change the way they market to consumers. Family dynamics will change with less time in front of the television and more in front of the computer. News creation, distribution, and consumption patterns will change with more people writing the news, traditional media mining blogs for newsworthy ideas, bloggers feeding off of news and creating viral effects, and news consumers using news readers, blog aggregators, as well as more traditional news outlets to keep informed. There is a sea change at work in how we interact with one another and the entities that are important to us. This can include family, friends, lovers, vendors, and rock stars. One of my friends at work has a teenage son who comes home after school, passes by the television, and logs into MySpace to digest the day.

This is the age of Hyper-Communication. I publish what I'm doing 20 times a day between using Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, my blog, and email. I watch what dozens of friends are doing via these same media. I'm not certain of the destination but know the journey changes everything.



Turn On - Think about the way the world is changing in this new age of Hyper-Communication
Tune In - Listen to the human collective. Become involved in social media and social networking.
Stream Out - Publish Publish Publish. Become a speaking participant!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

facebook and widgets

I attended the Widget Summit in San Francisco a couple of week's ago. So much has happened since then. The Rockies clinched the ALCS only to be swept by Boston in the World Series. Facebook received a huge investment from Microsoft for a very small percentage of the company. Halloween has come and gone. And the weather has turned noticeably colder in Boulder. Widgets have certainly not gone cold however.

The conference was very well attended and there were many good presentations on creating viral growth, what works and what doesn't, how to monetize (and how hard that is), widget platforms and best development practices for some of those platforms. Mobile is one of those platforms and I think often overlooked in the face of the big social media platforms (pun intended). According to Nokia mobile has a current subscriber base of 3 BILLION and will have 4 BILLION subscribers by 2010. The logical conclusion to all of this is a personal web app that incorporates all of your social media interaction, your mobile platform, your blog, news, weather, travel, email, calendar, favorite blogs, twitters, ... in short, everything you interact with daily. Someone will deliver this application framework. Facebook gets pretty far down this road but doesn't really integrate mobile well. The rest will be accomplished with widgets.

And since Facebook is all the rage I thought I would pass on a few tidbits from the Lead Developer of Slide. Slide is the creator of some of the most popular widgets on Facebook with about 1 of 4 Facebook profiles containing one of their widgets, including slideshow, funpix, guestbook, and skinflix.

"get an app out there. if taking more than 3 days then you're over thinking it"

"don't take things so seriously"

"your content is not interesting unless it is interesting to your friend"

"News feed is one of the most viral apps"

"Not good support for monetization at this point, really up to you to get ads in your app"

"Focus on engagement"

Monday, October 22, 2007

Consultant Redundancy


One of the principal concerns in startup land is maintaining the cash/resource balance. You have a certain amount of money. You try to make this money last for a specified period of time in which you anticipate having more money, in which case your cash spend can be raised in order to take advantage of some presumable market condition. In software companies most of these capital needs are around personnel (i.e. How do we get from here to there with the set of people we have?). Some positions that don't require fulltime personnel can and should be filled with outside consultants. Outside consultants will get paid somewhere between 50% to 100% more than you would typically pay the person if they were a fulltime employee, but presumably you're using them far less, so it ends up preserving capital for use elsewhere in the company.

Now, a bind that you can get into with consultants is their availability. They are trying to make ends meet and grow their businesses just the same as you are. They will likely have competing demands on their time as their customer list grows. There are a couple of ways to solve this bind. One is to put the consulting group on a retainer. This means that they will set aside a certain amount of time for you each month and you will pay them whether you end up needing them or not. The second is to have redundant consultants up to speed on your business and able to deliver identical types of work. I tend to use the latter solution. The advantages of having redundant consultants is that you will get more ideas into the process, you can have them work in parallel on projects with other consultants, they will still likely have someone open in a pinch, and gives you more flexibility on the cash spend.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

iphone envy


Was with a friend the other day and he was glowing about his iphone. Now he's had it for a while and was one of the Apple addicts who bought one on the initial release date but I consider him to be a fair critic and much more sales/design than tech focused. He was just glowing about how well it worked. Other people I've talked to in the past have questioned the "business" value and refused to give up their crackberries.

In about three minutes, my friend dispelled those questions, showing me the email app, calendaring, and voicemail/missed calls. The calls interface was extremely impressive. It would show the full contact information when a call came in. In a tap you could look up the callers address and directions and see any notes you had about that contact. In the voicemail app you could pause and restart, go directly to any voicemail in the queue and navigate by who had left you the voice mail. Insanely more efficient than any voicemail app I've used in the past. He also told me that sending an email from the iphone also shows up in the sent folder on his desktop, so they're completely synced.

I asked him about whether he liked switching to Cingular and he said the coverage was not nearly as good as Sprint but was definitely adequate and the switch was well worth it in productivity gains.

I'll be heading to the store soon.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Car


For those car aficionados out there, I've put my Porsche up on the block on Auto Trader. You can find it here. It's one hell of a deal on a very sweet car and I will be sorry to see it go. I need to employ the capital elsewhere, so make me an offer!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Rant #1

From Boulder to Kansas City 98 degrees and 100% humidity up at 4am no traffic, addled with heat and no sleep, I'm at the airport again. Flight attendant sleepy too with the optimistic welcome, "have a pleasant and profitable week." I sincerely hope so. Through Denver again and out to San Francisco. It's foggy and cool, almost half the temperature of Kansas City, same humidity. I'm riding BART into the city for the first time ever. Why don't other cities adopt better mass transit? I talked for an hour on the plane with a Cap Gemini man about how fucked up our priorities are. He was born in India, living in Missouri, slowly working south to the Cayman Islands ;). I also had a discussion with some United Airlines flight attendants. These people are up in arms over the recent $860M bonus awarded the CEO while the employees have lost benefits and their retirement fund. Sadly no one trusts the government to do the right thing any more. Where are the heroes? We should form a democracy, screw the republic. Healthcare costs are killing us, killing productivity, killing competitive ability, demoralizing us. How ironic. The dream of America is dying on the vine, so much promise, so small our expectations. We must rebuild our infrastructure (are we living in a third world country where we expect the bridges to occasionally collapse), we must not surrender our opportunities, we must bolster our poor for the next generation of heroes, or where else do we go? Our perfect picket fence lives have expired. It is time to reinvent ourselves...

Art is Everywhere















I arrived at the KCI airport early this morning for a week long trip to the city by the bay. I bought my Starbucks latte and not able to take it into the gate decided to walk the concourse. I found a myriad of curious circular tessellations while following the little cross patterns on the floor. Here are a couple of them... No, I wasn't on acid, just tired :)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Kansas Highway

Sparse trees stand straight,
hardy pine against the wind,
cottonwood soft in the gulch.

The grasslands roll,
sturdy but soft too,
losing ground, always losing ground
to cornfields abutting the sky.

Silent tractor smoke plume
like a lonely astronaut,
barely tethered here
to this strong earth.

Alongside telephone poles in rows
and drainage ditches,
martian silos and oil dereks,
and signs of how far we have to go
are manicured overpasses.

It's 80mph here all the way,
all the way to the Atlantic,
I suppose, on another summer's day.

copyright Tim Wolters 2007

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Twin Future of Search

Search is the most widely used application on the internet and while it has come a long way from the yahoo index or alta vista search there is still vast room for improvement in the search field. One area that at least needs to be distinguished is subscriptive search. I know, you're saying subscriptive isn't really a word, but it sounds so much better to me than "persistent search". You see, I think there are really two primary search use cases.

There is the one we are all familiar with and use Google for daily. That is ad hoc search. Ad hoc search is used when we need to find something. It may be something we used to know but have since forgotten, it may be what the weather is going to be like somewhere we're going to, it may be figuring out what the GDP of Austria was in 2006. These are tasks that we don't repeat day in and day out. We perform the search when it is warranted, often looking through only the first page of search results, plucking out the desired information, and are on our way. We don't spend a lot of time with the data, we find it, consume it, and move on.

The second form of search is subscriptive. There's that word again. Ok, we can call it topical subscription but that is so long and unwieldy. Subscriptive search is used when we need to know what's going on around a topic that we're highly interested in, and please keep us up to date. I don't want to go and re-search, I want you to tell me when there's something important and why I should care. A number of weather services have popped up to provide this in the specific information vertical of weather forecasting. I always want to know what the weather is going to be like where I live. Don't make me go search for it every day, just deliver it to my desktop or email me and definitely be proactive about letting me know when some dire weather pattern is about to descend on me. The same is true for a number of common areas of interest: sports scores, movie times, top news stories, and most of the things that you can customize your My Yahoo! page today.

The thing that is missing is in the Long Tail. If I have a passionate interest in antique lawn mowers I can find a couple of blogs or I can continuously search, or I can use something like Google Alerts. None of these get me what I would really like though, which is a page that I can go to that pulls any new posts from blogs or news (with rankings that are personalized to my specific interests), shows me about-to-expire auctions on ebay for those mowers, and whether there are any upcoming shows around the country. It would also allow me to tag the content I wanted to save so I could review it later. I could also expose my page out so that others could find it and use the knowledge I gained in building my page and just read that page, or use it to build out their own page with mine as a template.

This would essentially allow anyone to publish their own zine on the areas that interest them most including multiple content sources, and would be perhaps the 2nd stage (after blogs) in really creating an n-to-n publishing model that will fill a key role in next generation content distribution and discovery. Hey, what a great idea for a startup!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Supernova startup shakedown

These are my notes from a startup pitch session paneled by Michael Arrington of Tech Crunch and Paul Kedrosky, Josh Kopelman, Julie Hanna Farris. All of the companies at least had early stage funding and were given about 5 minutes to present each, sort of startup speed dating :)


Companies
Adap.tv
trying to match online video to advertisers. over 1M ads currently Contextually analyzes video, audio, and metadata. Monitors users interaction with the ads and adapts to their prefs.
Pretty cool. continuously analyzes stream and finds most relevant ad in their ad database.

Adaptive Blue
Semantic web company. People + shortcuts = getting to info faster, also personalized web. Browser add-on -> blue organizer = Personalized Smart Browser. "i'd like to" menu shows contextual intent related actions. Can highlight text, tell the organizer that it is a book, then shows shortcuts to buy the book or see a book review. Has a trademarked piece called "Smart Links" that shows these contextually related links.

Aggregate Knowledge
Six months ago launched at demo conference. Powering discovery for 50M users per month. Discovery happens in offline world all the time. how do you discover online. finding serendipitous piece of content. creating better navigation metaphor for answers.com. Implicit affinity matching on a massive scale. worlds largest implicit social network.

Cast.tv
Video search. Matching users with content they would be interested in. Compared directly to Google. Searches across the web, unbiased compared to Google (why is google biased?) Has generated fan landing pages for all major shows (thousands and thousands of shows).
- crawling and indexing - prop technology to build a better index. gemstar is a customer uses to automatically generate a tv guide
- relevancy - something better than google. blah blah blah.
Tried to get on their site but it said was undergoing some improvements. Pretty lame.
funded by DFJ

Critical Metrics
Music discovery recommendation and search field. lots of competitors. why would they come into this field at this late stage. no matter how much you use the services, they won't keep you up to date with NEW music. Why? because it's pretty much impossible. There's too much music that comes out. Each day there are about 1000 songs. Is a recommendation engine that ploughs through all the music.

Jangl
phone talking company. communications through your social network. Phone is not currently attached. Phone is not part of the profile because of privacy issues. They handle privacy issues. Sends email with voice message to user. Can put a widget up on your page that allows readers to call you. You then permission people as to whether those calls go through.

pando networks
peer assisted media delivery. Cuts cost of deliver a 1G media file from $200,000 to $5000. Currently serving 8.5 million clients delivering 70TB per day.

SodaHead
Just came out 2 months ago. Old school polling with web2.0 social. Can do a lot more now, share poll with friends, comment on poll, answer with video, pictures, etc. Capture aggregate data with individual commentary

Spock
people search engine. Looks pretty cool. Put in blogger, returned Michael Arrington, clicked on related term "Tech Blogger" and Tim O'Reilly came up first. Will need to check it out more. Uses user tagging to build relationships between people and concepts. Good presentation.


Wize
Online product research is still too hard. Hard to help father buy computer. normalizes rating systems across all the prod research sites. Created product sentiment database from user reviews, bloggers, expert opinions, market buzz, and manufacturers sites. WizeRank - consumer report for the future. Aim is to create a true product satisfaction score. Starting syndication relationships now. Should talk to this guy.

ZapMeals
The shortest distance between great food and your tummy. online meal order and delivery service. ebay for takeout.

ZenZui
Cosumer centric services, + power of sync + focus on design. MS research background. "Adaptive and scalable UI" 16 tile customizable views of what's important to you on your mobile device. Updates by polling with any new info, basically a 2 dimensional widget space on your phone. can nav and then zoom in on tiles. viral spread of widgets by monitoring widget heat.

Zing
Untether online services (such as last.fm) so you can access and use from your phone.


13 companies presented, 1 was fake. got to vote via Soda which one was fake. Definitely ZapMeals. I must have missed a couple there. oh well.


Panel Feedback
Kedrosky - interesting that there were no wiki mentions, no ajax this year. Lot's of competitors to google but loathe to mention google name (awaken the monster). nature of demographics on web have changed so much in the last 5 years. Much has moved to entertainment sites and bloggers. Which companies appeal to innate laziness. Likes Cast.tv. Big unsolved problems attract big buyers. Monetizing video traffic is such a big problem, esp. with creating live overlays. Consumer related search technologies must painfully avoid Google or will just become another tab in google (without consent or payout).

Arrington - new phone apps are exciting, perhaps driven by iphone functionality and screen real estate. touch screens are fascinating. not easy to impress with just a web application. Likes Cast.tv. Adap.tv just acquired by AOL. he thinks Cast.tv is better. Better video search is hot.

Julie Hanna - Bias against companies wanting to be destinations sites. Jangl brings two common forms of communication and blends them together.

Overall
Doesn't feel like a bubble. Not enough froth out there. Need more people out the other side getting rich to create a bubble. Lot of companies in tweener stage. Easy to get early stage money, not so easy to get to the next round. Seed stage is used to validate or improve hypothesis. iPhone may be the catalyst for the next rich ecosystem for startups out there.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sales Process

In the early days of a startup the word "process" does not present itself, except in the occasional meeting where someone on the team feels like they are drowning and need more structure. It is all in the doing. Sales in particular feels fairly process free to start with (from the CTO's point of view, so take it for what it's worth) and is almost strictly opportunistic. Don't get me wrong, there is a strategy, but what process there is, is fairly loose.

The methodology goes something like this: call friends and acquaintances to ask for "feedback" on the product. These are either truly prospects or fishing expeditions. Most people want to help and will at least give you feedback, or will point you to someone who might actually care about your product, or in the 1% case be a great fit for your current product and move forward with you. You work closely with the 1%, incorporating the features they're asking for that make sense to the core direction (or change the core direction), ask for money, and close a few early adopter deals.

Later as the product and strategy mature, process must be introduced to make selling repeatable and scalable.

Making it repeatable means that you've found a message that resonates with a customer domain, you know how to reach the people in the domain, you can identify 1) the sponsor in an account, 2) the gatekeepers in an account, 3) the buyer in an account. Further, you know how the budget process and cycles work within the customer domain, and the product packaging and pricing make it easy to sell into the budget process. Most of this is intuitive for great sales people and it is amazing to watch them orchestrate this process, translating it into a consistent revenue stream for the company. Great sales people are also few and far between. If you find one, hold onto them.

Making sales scalable means that the cost of sales is not too high. This comes down to about three things in my opinion (and remember I'm the CTO ;)
  1. Sales cycle is not too long. If you're only hunting elephants it will take a long time to get revenue in the door, the customer feedback will be sparse and may take the company in a direction that prevents the first sales process tenet of repeatability.
  2. Doesn't require too much setup and configuration time that the customer doesn't value (i.e. doesn't pay you for)
  3. Doesn't require custom development work
So, when you're getting started, run fast and loose, but when you see the signs of the startup project transforming into a product start instituting the process. And be sure to recognize whether you have these process skills or not. If you're not the person, then go out and find someone you can work with, that is passionate about the product, and has the skill set and proven track record to go knock it down.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Wallstreet and Web2.0


Since Collective Intellect is in the business of finding novel information from consumer generated media sources I often get asked about other opportunities that exist in mining information from the web for trading. Activity is really just starting to heat up in this area with multiple companies getting started and several acquisitions going on. It also seems to me with the popularity of more powerful web interfaces via AJAX and Flash that there are even some opportunities to create research platforms that are easier to use, more robust, and with more information than the current king of the road, Bloomberg. I'll reserve bitching about Bloomberg for a future post however.

I've jotted down an unordered list of what I've come across so far and will spend some time in future posts describing each one in more detail.

  • Rumor Detection - Find the people that are speculating on some aspect of the company that would likely have material impact to the stock, such as: big deals, management change, mergers, drug trial results, etc.
  • Sentiment Measurement - Detect sentiment towards a company, it's management and directors, and products and run statistical models to compare this against stock price and volatility
  • Event Activity Correlation - Track a company event, such as an earnings announcement, that has material impact to the company and measure the amount of chatter before and after the announcement in order to gain insight into what the crowd thinks will happen to the company stock relative to the event.
  • Citizen Analysts - Find the people in Consumer Generated Media (CGM) who speak regularly about a company and offer unique insights into that company or its products.
  • Trend Death - For consumer packaged goods that end up on auction sites, mine those sites for popular product pricing. When prices reach an asymptote and start to trend down, it is possibly time to short the stock.
  • Fill Rate Prediction - Anyone who takes online reservation for resources whether it be airlines, hotels, cars, that have variable rate pricing models, scrape pricing information. Lower prices = lower fill rates and thus lower top line revenues for the company.
  • Passive Site Visits to Stock Price - Use Comscore or Compete.com information to track the number of visitors to a consumer packaged goods site. This shows invigorated consumer interest which may translate into stock price movement. I believe there was a study showing AAPL site visits as a predictor of stock price movement.
  • Active Site Visits to Revenue - For companies that sell products online, track the number of unique visitors and clicks within the site. If you can figure out the customer conversion to average order size you can estimate revenue contribution from the online property.

New bike

After accidentally running over my old Wheeler bike in the driveway, I thought it was high time to buy a new bike with lighter frame, good components, etc. And after trying out a bike made by Seven in a recent triathlon determined that I definitely needed to upgrade!

I tried a few bikes from Trek, Specialized, and Giant and decided on this one. It's a Giant OCR Limited Ed. from 2006. I guess they ran out of OCR2's and decided to do a limited run with the OCR3, upgrading the components to all Ultegra and new shiny paint job.

Anyway, picked it up on Friday and rode it today for the first time. Good speed and handles well in the corners. It's definitely a more comfortable ride than my Wheeler with the carbon frame softening the road shock. I'm going to have fun on this bike this summer :)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Foo sign-up frenzy



I took these pics on friday evening and saturday morning. The smaller one is the frenzy of people signing up to present. It' s completely free form so you can present on anything that strikes your fancy, and as you can see from the larger pic there were a lot of fancies...

While I attended some great presentations (and missed many more), the one where I had the most fun was "Improvisation with Ask A Ninja." We went through some improvisational comedy techniques such as storytelling as a group (each person can say one word) and watching/listening to what zany stories bubble to the surface. I think in one retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Goldy was being chased by a wolf while eating a house.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Werewolves, bloggers, and robots

Got up this morning, to a new day of foo. I'm currently watching a girl walk across campus in front of the mess tent, her torn orange shirt and purple ribbons fluttering in the wind against her long black dreadlocks. Avi Bryant was sleeping outside of my hovel along with about 6 other people scattered about. He must have gotten here early because he got the primo couch position. I sneak out for a run using my Garmin 305 to track my pace. It's great running near sea level. I'm pushing 8:00 miles and hardly feel tired.

Last night was insane. It's an idea camp for startups or people who want to change the world. There's a cross pollination of people of all tech ilk, from biotech to social web, from robots to green energy. Life slows for these brief intense conversations like it does in the moments before a car crash, with intense focus and then moves on to the next thing.

so far I'm planning to attend discussions on:
There are so many others, including: social robotics, how drupal wil save the world, myths & truths about oil & electric cars, hacking the english language, and werewolf game theory.

Can you see the smile on my face?

Thanks for the invite Tim.

Friday, June 22, 2007

setting up camp


I finally made it through the North 101 traffic to arrive at Foo Camp 2007 in Sebastapol, CA. I figured that foo came from fubar, but didn't realize that it was a play on the previously held "bar" camps. Sebastapol is a mid-size town and since I only brought a sleeping bag thought I'd look around for somewhere to buy an air mattress to make my sleeping environment a bit softer. In luck I found a Rite-Aid with a $2.00 bright green mattress. Sweet. Took a while to get checked in, get the swag and ran into Chad Fowler while looking a bit lost. He helped me out directionally, we chatted a bit and then off to find some camping space. The campus is spread out with many areas off limits to camping. Lot's of people are camping outside in tents, but I'm not sure I trust either the bugs or late night partiers not to bite, sting, attack, trip over or spill known or unknown liquids upon, so I opt for inside. Many places are already spoken for, but I find a room off a hallway, barely more than a closet and set up camp. Woo hoo. I'm in. Not the Westin St Francis where I stayed last night, but it is somewhere to crash.

Off to fight the foo.

appeal to innate laziness in human beings

Was listening to a panel on startups yesterday (I'll highlight these in another post) at Supernova2007. One of the panelists was Paul Kedrosky. When asked what he looked for in a company his answer was "companies with ideas that appeal to my innate laziness"

I think it's an excellent point and I would add to it. If there's a task that occurs everyday in your life, people will always seek ways to either shorten the task or make it more pleasurable. If you can provide a product that does either of these two things you have a shot at success. If you do both well (and have good marketing) you will have great success.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Dark Internet Economy - interesting acronym

Sitting in the SuperNova2007 conference listening to the Dark Economy panel talk about the underground economy that tries to take advantage of of the huge (and growing) revenue around search marketing economies to siphon that revenue in black hat sorts of ways (splogs, phishing and identity theft to name a few). About 2 of the 4 panelists are fairly good, but I see a whole lot of people cleaning out their email in-box. Seems like a lot of money to spend to clean out your email but maybe just a sign of our hectic work lives that we can only create free time to do these mundane tasks by attending conferences...



Anyway, here are some tidbits from that panel:

Amazing to witness the scope of economic activity that has grown up around search. Google has created a wonderful mechanism to bring buyers and sellers of content together in an affinity area. The reason why search works so well is that there is a high relevance of intent. Google has created a new economy around search. Marketplaces have developed that allow companies and marketers to bid on groups of words. Also entire affiliate economy who use tools and deliver users or buyers at certain price point. It works and is democratized. Has enabled an entire micro-economy around search itself. Mis-spelled URLs account to 10-12% of search engine revenue according to the CEO of Tucows. Yipes!

(Former exec at Paypal) Your personal information, cc number, driver license, ssn, usernames and passwords costs about $14 to access. There's a very vague sense of what's legal or illegal because it crosses international boundaries and subject to a variety of laws. Phishing scams alone acounted for $1B in losses last year. Most states have spam laws on the books but are not really enforceable, more of a public relations effort. One scary example in the spam world is that Six-Apart was using some software to retaliate against spammers and the spammers attacked back, effectively bringing down the Canadian Internet backbone. The service provider effectively gave up Six-Apart so that the other hundreds of thousands of Canadian sites would remain up. I'm assuming that is to say they shut down domain name resolution for Six-Apart and then the spammers stopped attacking the DNS provider.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

camping under the super nova

I'm heading to two conferences this weekend in the San Francisco area.  The first is @ Supernova2007.   SuperNova is advertised as:

Business, technology, and social interactions are decentralizing, tearing apart industries with the force of a supernova. Intelligence is moving to the edges, through networked computers, empowered users, fluid digital content, distributed work teams, and powerful communications devices. Business models are under pressure as end-users gain greater control, computing becomes a commodity, and companies collaborate across geographic boundaries. At the same time, new opportunities are emerging through social software, pervasive wireless networking, massively multi-player virtual worlds, and distributed e-commerce, among other trends.


Sounds like fairly heady stuff right? I certainly hope so and will be looking to connect with a few of the thought leaders out there including Paul Kedrosky, Lada Adamic (an advisor for CI), Julie Hanna Farris, Udi Manber, and others.

The second is Foo Camp 2007 sponsored by O'reilly. This is an invite only event sent out to thought leaders on the web. One of my heros, Paul Graham, who turned me on to Ruby in his book "hackers and painters" will be there and am greatly looking forward to the dialog. The agenda is worked out by the attendees on Friday evening and everyone literally camps out on the O'Reilly campus at night. Should be very interesting times.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Media Activity Monitoring

My last company was coined as Business Activity Monitoring or BAM by Gartner, the sages of Information Technology almost a year after we started. The current business that I founded in 2005 could use some naming standards as well. There are a lot of companies out there touching various aspects of this market that label themselves as Buzz Monitoring or WOM (word of mouth) monitoring or Vertical Search or Competitive Intelligence or Media Tracking or Brand Monitoring or Knowledge Management 2.0 or blah blah blah. Driving a standard naming convention removes the veil of market confusion driven by fragmented marketing messages. So, Gartner, Forrester, IDC and others if you are listening let's not wedge this area into one of the existing boxes. Also, this is much bigger than just calling it Buzz Monitoring. Instead, let's call it Media Activity Monitoring (tada, trumpets and such).

Media Activity Monitoring covers:

  • buzz monitoring - tracks the buzz about topics you care about
  • persistent search - finding new content on topics you care about when it happens
  • professional search - gives more weight to the rank of content your professional network cares about
  • personalized search - gives more weight to the rank of new content that you've cared about historically
  • meme identification - discovers concepts that are waxing and waning among conversations
  • maven monitoring - who are the key influencers (mavens) among the people talking about talking about topics you care about
  • pushes real time alerts to you when these things occur

Monday, June 18, 2007

How to be a failure

Was reading the Big Moo, edited by Seth Godin and came across this chapter. So good I decided to repost.

  1. Keep Secrets
  2. Be certain you're right and ignore those who disagree with you
  3. Set aggressive deadlines for others to get buy in - then change them when they aren't met
  4. Resist testing your theories
  5. Focus more on what other people think and less on whther your ideas is as good as it could be
  6. Assume that a critical mass must embrace your idea for it to work
  7. Choose an idea where number 6 is a requirement
  8. Realize that people who don't instantly get your idea are bullheaded, shortsighted, or even stupid
  9. Don't bother to dramatically increase the quality of your presentation style
  10. Insist that you've got to go straight to the president of the organization to get something done
  11. Always go for the big win
I think I've been guilty of almost everything on this list from time to time, and I can attest they most certainly resulted in failure to achieve my aim. So I suppose that part of this posting is somehow cathartic, reinforcing the behaviors to avoid.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Garmin 305


Just got the new Garmin 305 for Father's day (Thanks Kelly). This thing rocks! I've only scratched the surface of what it's capable of and need to get the bike cadence transmitter to get fully tricked out. It uses GPS to track your pace, distance, elevation gain, etc. You can download your workout to your computer. Very cool indeed!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

entrepreneurial start

I was introduced a few weeks back to a recent college grad by Ben Casnocha. I will almost always take a meeting with entrepreneurs seeking advice. This meeting came from a trusted source AND she was taking a job in a similar area to my company, Collective Intellect.

I think I get more out of these meetings than the upstarts seeking advice. It's great to get fresh perspective from people just starting out their careers. And perhaps even better, it forces me to examine my own beliefs and motivations about the startup world as I answer their questions.

She asked what motivated me the most to repeatedly start companies and, in a nut shell, this is what I told her:

  1. I crave the adventure of the startup. There is no greater thrill in life than starting off on a new adventure. Startups are chock full of the unexpected and your ability to think creatively and adapt are constantly challenged.
  2. People who say I can't. When someone tells me I can't do something it really fires up something inside of me that needs to prove them wrong. You can ask my parents to validate that one ;)
  3. I want to give my kids better opportunities out of the gate than I got. Now, I made most of my opportunities so this sometimes seems like it's a crutch to me. But I love them dearly and want to give them the tools through my experiences and available capital to fulfill their potential.
And, speaking of kids, I told Jing that starting up a company is a bit like having a child. If you researched all of the things that could go wrong when you have a child you would never have children, the same is true (at least for me) with startup companies. There are numerous decisions you will need to make each day that impact the well being of your business child and you need to learn and grow from the consequences of each of those decisions. But don't be daunted, this is what life is all about. Now go get your toddler away from that outlet!

Mini HaHa Triathlon

Just competed in Broomfield Colorado's Mini HaHa triathlon last weekend. For those in Colorado who are looking to get into Tri's this is a great starter event. It has a very manageable distance with 300M swim, 11 mile bike, and 2 mile run. And the race is very well organized.

I've been training up for a few months now just trying to get back in shape (literally) from my back injury a couple of years ago. I train in a morning tri group at Lakeshore Athletic Club with a handful of awesome moms and a dedicated coach (Jen Lesea) who also has a startup company in the fitness space called Fitwise Training.

The swim was in the Broomfield Rec pool. I followed Jen's advice and claimed a fast time to my lane mates so I could get that first position. They had about 5 people per lane with varying times, so if you weren't in front and were reasonably fast you would get slowed down by having to pass people at the wall. They let people go at 5 second intervals. I told them I could do the 300 in 5 minutes, thinking this was a good bet since I was in the 5-6 minute heat and it indeed won the pole position. I took a little water in the goggles during the first kick off the wall, so right off the bat I'm thinking oh great this isn't going to go well. I swam the first lap with chlorinated water sloshing in my eyes and when I reached the wall looked up and the next person was about 5 meters away, so I quickly emptied the goggles and kicked off with a bit less gusto this time. I exited the pool in about 5:10, always kept ahead and lapped a couple of people who had admitted b4 hand that they were probably 6-7 minute swimmers.

When I did the transition people were clapping and cheering. I was about the third person out of the pool and headed quickly out of the building jogging barefoot to the bikes. I had practiced the transition one time before and had my helmet and sunglasses ready, my shirt, and my number bib on a tri belt, and last socks and shoes, so I could put on the helmet, wipe my feet, and put on the socks and shoes. I goofed because I put my helmet on and then realized, I'm not going to get my shirt over it (doh!) and had to take the helmet back off. Result: my first transition ended up taking about 2.5 minutes. I pulled the bike off the rack, and jogged to the end of the transition area and mounted the bike. This is probably my strongest leg, so I cranked on the bike passing quite a few people, especially on the one hill in the ride. Admittedly a number of these were on Mountain Bikes but it still feels good to pass people :)

The next transition only went slightly better. I missed the spot on the bike rack where my stuff was and had to back track. I probably spent about 2 minutes on this transition. At this point I'm 44:20 in. My goal was to try and complete the race in under 1 hour. Now I've been doing some running but typically around 10:00 pace, so I thought oh well, I'll just go out at my normal training pace and see how I feel. There was a guy on the bike leg who I traded positions with a couple of times who got through the transition about 20 seconds ahead of me. He didn't look like he was going all that fast so I set out to keep up and see if I could overtake him on the run. I never did. It turns out he was running just under that 8:00 pace. I came in at 59:34 and was pretty spent. It was a great experience and I'm sure I'll be back. Hopefully next year I'll also take on the Boulder 5430 Sprint at the Res.

What I learned from the race:
  • I perform best when I'm chasing people
  • Everyone is extremely friendly at triathlons
  • My transitions suck
  • I need a new bike (I rented one for the race which was about 5 lbs lighter than my 15 year old steel frame wheeler, and I flew)
See you next year, Mini HaHa.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Drum Room


Had dinner last night in downtown Kansas City at the famous Drum Room in the President Hotel with good friends. This place was built in the 1920's and has been fully restored to it's glory years of the 40s and 50s when big bands played and cigars were smoked openly among men. The food was fairly good and a jazz band played while we ate. Pretty cool tribute to a bygone era.

One bizarre note: my friend had booked us reservations there the night b4 and on the day of I was at a local park playing tennis with my wife, daughter, and niece where I saw a taxi cab (rare enough to see in KC) with a "Drum Room" ad placement on the roof.

Cosmic Synergy.

Friday, June 01, 2007

24 - Act Three

There is an excellent review of season 6 and it's place in the 24 mythology on the Critical Myth website. It is well worth reading the review in its entirety but I've pulled a piece out that predicts what the tone may be for the remaining seasons.

"So just as the first three seasons ("The CTU/Kim Years") as an introductory trilogy, the next three seasons ("The Freelance/Audrey Years") could be considered the complication trilogy. In a classic three-act hero's journey, this makes perfect sense. The first act would have the hero struggling yet still largely triumphant, setting the seeds for the events that would bring him down, as seen in the second act. The end of the second act is usually the hero in his darkest hour. The third act is typically when the hero is restored.

24 has been renewed for at least two seasons, at which point the series would likely end with a major motion picture. That time span seems realistic for closing out the third act of the series. While it's unlikely that Jack will ever find the happiness and stability of his life before 24 began, it's quite possible that the producers' realization that things must change will lead to a restoration for the series as a whole."

I'm in. If they can get off the treadmill they've created, explore Jack's psyche with Jack coming to grips with his demons, perhaps in completely new (non-ctu) territory, then this ship can be brought around and deliver a powerful third act that leaves us cheering the hero with full appreciation of the hard journey that brought him here.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Firsts are always the best


I experienced two firsts with my kids today. The first first was running in the Bolder Boulder this morning with my daughter. She is eight years old and it was the first time running it for either of us. It was just an awesome day. The birds were singing, the bands were playing, we were shot with super soakers about every three tenths of a mile. We ran it in 99 minutes and she finished strong going into the stadium with tens of thousands of people cheering. We saw half naked Santas, couples getting married, super heros, princesses, and a fairly representative cross-section of running humanity out on the streets of Boulder today. Tonight, when I tucked her into bed she asked, "Dad, that was great running in the race today. Can we do it again next year?", and quickly fell off to sleep. Yes dear, we can run that race together as long as I have breath left in me. I had a great time and you made it special.

The second first was taking my one year old son to the pool. He immediately took to the water and wasn't scared for an instant, just fascinated, bordering on "irrational exuberance." He laughed and played, for perhaps about 10 minutes too long. I know this because we had to warm him up with a number of towels and hold him until his lips returned to their full rosy color.


I love seeing the world through my kids eyes. It immediately lifts the veil of bullshit and cynicism that makes us adults so myopic to the wonder of the world around us. I think this is what Buddhists refer to as Mindfulness.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

club penguin acquisition


my daughter is a member. we pay club penguin about $60/year. Reportedly they are in acquisition talks with Sony for $500 million. Can u freakin' believe it? There seems to be a bit of a consumer bubble boys and girls. If club penguin is worth half a billion, what is second life worth? $4 billion?

It's pretty good, but not that good. My daughter will go through phases where she'll play it for a few days and then forget about it for a month. The games earn money that can be used to pimp your igloo or purchase pets (puffles), so it creates two significant draws for returning to the site.

  1. igloo envy - you come back to climb the social igloo ladder
  2. taking care of your pet - you have to play with your pet, give it rest and food for it to thrive.
I don't think the games are a good enough draw, although with Sony behind them this would be a natural place to contribute. Build those gamers early.

sciatica got you down?

I've had sciatica for the last two years after herniating a disc in my low back during a snowboarding accident. At times it has been bad enough that I could hardly move without excruciating pain all the way down my leg. I contemplated surgery but have held out in favor of alternative healing methods. I've had a number of friends who've undergone back surgery and almost all of them eventually regretted it.

If you are in the sciatica boat then this post is for you. A friend recently pinged me with a request to give some advice to one of their friends who was diagnosed with sciatica. Since I seem to meet people almost weekly who have had this painful condition I thought I'd post my response in the hope that it helps a few people out there.

I've got four things which have helped.

  1. walk a lot. If I take at least one 45 minute walk each day I feel a lot better. It gets blood moving in the lower back area which will loosen it up and will help deliver nutrients to the injured area to enable the body to heal itself.
  2. traction. Get an inversion table. Start out by hanging 3/4 upside down for a few minutes and gradually build up to 10 minutes twice per day upside down. Again, helps blood flow to the area, and also creates space between the lumbar discs. My sciatica is due to herniation at L5, so this helps greatly.
  3. yoga. Your friend could do pilates instead, but some kind of movement based yoga through a series of postures helps to create flexibility and stability in areas where it's been lost. The lack of flexibility in those areas contributed to my injury.
  4. IMS. This doesn't work for everyone but worked for me. It involves deep needle therapy along the back and legs. This resets the muscle-nerve interaction. Sometimes sciatica gets into a nasty feedback loop where the nerve fires due to trauma and becomes hypersensitive. It then continues to fire from the slightest irritation. I'm currently getting IMS treatments at the Centeno Schulz Pain Clinic in Westminister, Colorado.

Net is that I was practically unable to walk last May and this year I'm training for triathlons. The non-surgical route does take some time though and will go through lots of ups and downs, so he has to be patient with it. Good Luck!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

What are you doing?

That's right. I've become Twittified. I'm sure some of my friends would tell you that happened long ago, but this time it's for real. In this odd age of making ourselves more transparent, I've joined the Twitter revolution and have started posting semi-intimate details of my daily comings and goings for the amusement of someone out there. I believe we do this as a head nod to the digital age, acknowledging that privacy has been left behind, steamrolled by the progressive march of digitization. Who among us remains anonymous? Even my mom leaves behind a click stream that can be analyzed and categorized.

Anyway, I've added the Twitter Badge up on the blog, so it's easy to monitor my day 140 characters at a time.

Entourage the program, not as fun as Entourage the HBO series

No, I wouldn't thank you. No really. No, I'm not freakin' kidding. Go away entourage. [Force Quit].

I accidentally clicked on the Entourage icon at which point the application (that I haven't been using for about a year now) fired up and wouldn't go away. I kept clicking on "cancel" but it would just repeatedly pull up the same dialog box. I had to "force quit" to get out. It's like a virus...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Al Gore running for president?

I attended a meeting of the National Organization of Investment Professionals (NOIP) yesterday in Washington DC. My CEO, Don Springer, sat on a panel discussing the future of alternative research and did a great job. There is a sea change going on regarding the dissemination of research information. Dollars spent on traditional research are declining while alternative research is increasing. This is on the same scale as advertising spend decline in traditional news while increasing on-line. So this was a very timely event for us with lots of good discussion around the impact of Web 2.0 technologies on new forms of research and research delivery.

The other discussions were focused on legislation and the 2008 election and how it could impact Wall Street. It seemed that the consensus was the republicans were on the run and in a bit of disarray. One Washington insider still believed that McCain has the best chance of winning the GOP nomination. On the democratic side, he felt that Obama would eventually fade because the Clinton campaign was just too experienced and tough and would "eat Obama for lunch." One of the funniest quotes though was about Al Gore running. He said that Gore is the dark horse and certainly has the popular capital to make a serious run for the nomination and the presidency (didn't he already win the presidency once?) but that Washington folks were keeping an eye on Gore's wasteline, "If he loses 20lbs in the next few months, no later than August or September, he's probably going to make a run for it."

The truth in that observation is absolutely hilarious.

the importance of cafes

Statistical evidence suggests a correlation between caffeine and startup company success. I was sitting at a local coffee shop in Boulder this morning, going over some thorny research issues and wild ass product ideas with one of my lead engineers when it occurred to me. All of the companies that I've been in that have been successful have had close proximity to good coffee. The thesis would be that the further your company is from good coffee the less chance you have of success. We would need to further constrain this thesis to high tech companies, since this is the only industry in which I have a reasonable amount of history.

This is somewhat akin to the correlation between ice cream sales and warm weather. Where good coffee shops exist with free internet, good techies exist. It is the natural habitat of the tech savvy, high energy, startup type.

Within two blocks of my office there are 4 really good coffee shops. Success is just around the corner :)

My favorite is The Cup at 15th and Pearl.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Key Man Insurance

In the midst of negotiating a series B round of financing for our company, one of the term sheet requirements was to get key man insurance on the founders. The reason for getting the insurance is that theoretically the business would suffer a significant and potentially life threatening loss if one/all of the founders snuffed it. Wikipedia has a fairly concise definition here. The amount is fixed, so it will be interesting going through the exercise of determining how much coverage is needed (how much am I worth vs. other founders). I'm kidding of course, but do want to know how the amount is determined.

On a side note, this insurance policy in no way covers the buy out of my shares from my estate in the event of my death. I'm told by my attorneys that this is not often done because if the company is still a good bet than the estate would be better off with the shares. I'm not sure this makes complete sense, since the investors want the company to take out Key Man insurance on the assumption that the company may not be as good of bet in the event of a founders death, but I'll mull that one over for a bit.

One thing that has become more popular is the creation of a vesting trigger in the event of death. I've heard this mentioned recently after a company co-founder nearly perished. The next company they started, they put this trigger in place. Certainly makes sense to me.

24 on the rocks?

Has season 6 of the series 24 lost it's way? I think so. This season started out very strong, IMHO. About mid-way through though it wavered, bordering on soap opera drama. Jack's dad and brother are evil, although the dad seems too conflicted (guilt?) to kill Jack as cold bloodedly as he has his other son. The presidency is in constant turmoil now, with trysts and insider plots to kill the sitting president, while that president has now fallen back into a coma. ridiculous! Even Jack seems to have had a fling (or near fling) with his sister-in-law. Yuck! The crowning piece of dullness is bringing Audrey back from the dead as filler for the rest of the season. The writers have been very good in the past, but I'm not sure they're going to be able to dig themselves out of this hole.

My script for season 6 begins with Jack still in the chinese prison, but with no outside help over about 4-6 episodes figures out how to escape his captors (ala Prison Break). The next 17 or so episodes follow Jack's chaotic flight from China with increasing help from a subcast of previous season characters. The season ends with Jack back on American soil among friends and at peace. There are no nukes, no terrorists, just Jack mano y china. This would be a set up for a climactic series ending 7 where Jack dies a hero's death in a 2 hour finale thus properly ending his conflicted, tortured, heroic life.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

wallstrip interview



If you haven't checked it out, I did an interview on Wallstrip that aired last Friday (4/27). I had a blast doing it. Lindsay and the crew were great. This show brings a great dose of entertainment to the button down world of hedge fund managers and bond traders. I met with founder, Howard Lindzon as well. Howard writes a lot of the material. He focuses on trends and his take on the market is smart, funny, and informed. Lindsay brings that girl-next-door thing, smart, beautiful, and charming; the girl you wished you would've gotten up the courage to ask out when you were in school, but you were friends and didn't want to mess that up. Anyway, check it out. Also, if you liked Justin Timberlake's "Dick in a Box", be sure to check out their goof on that with the analysis of company, Jack-in-a-box. Good stuff.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

search engine meeting

I attended the 12th annual Search Engine Meeting in Boston this week. Finally, nice weather in Boston! It was a beautful spring 70 degrees yesterday, while rainy and colder in my hometown of Boulder Colorado. Eventually travel karma comes around to reward the faithful.

The conference was very informative. It might be cast as more of what was absent than what was present. This is the premier conference for search engine technology, and was presented at by Larry Page and Sergei Brin back in the early days of Google. Now they send a product manager to talk about OneBox, Google's conquest of Enterprise data discovery, and as Stephen Arnold put it, an amazingly content free presentation. The absence was in the realm of the new, the ground breaking. Google leaves such a large wake, that instead of tackling the next generation of search, the competition has nearly seeded this to the domain of Google, while determining how to work within that hierarchy.

Two areas on my mind recently have been relevancy and intent. Relevancy is much too generalized in current search engines and too easily manipulated by search engine optimization efforts. Two primary examples come to mind. The first is blog search rankings. If you go to Technorati and look for the top blogs number 21 on the list is perezhilton.com, a celebrity gossip site. This should actually be number 1 for some people, but for most wouldn't even appear on the list. Generalized relevance sucks. It doesn't address the real issue of what is relevant to me. In order to get this the search engine needs to understand a lot more about me. This brings me to intent. Intent is also a personal thing that cannot be captured with three key words entered into a search field. A number of vendors at the conference brought this up in the form of figuring out what single page or object to send a person to based on their search. For instance, one vendor brought up the scenario of someone in the enterprise entiring "quarterly west coast sales" which, instead of bringing up documents that include the words in the search string, would bring up a graph showing the last few quarters of west coast sales for the company. In this case you can infer some additional context because they are searching internal to the enterprise. You should also be able to pick up their role in the company, past results from similar queries that were selected, and selected results from similar queries by other people similar to the searcher (by role, demographic, recency). Google even talked about a few of these things.

Noticably absent from the presentation stage were Microsoft, Yahoo, and Ask.com, or even that new "google killer" search company currently in stealth mode, Powerset.com. I did see a business development manager from Microsoft approach one of the analyst luminaries in the field, Sue Feldman from IDC Research, and ask her what they could do to beat Google. I was standing right next to her in a discussion with Sue about Collective Intellect's technology. I kid you not, this is what she asked.

Bottom line is that vertical and social search are heating significantly. Natural language processing is neat, but nobody has figured out how to scale it to Google proportions, or even if they should, and the majority of startups are trying to figure out how to work within the Google world. I overheard a Goldman Sachs person once use the metaphor, "Dancing between the raindrops". I think it applies here as well.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

to boston (again)

The engines whir, drowning my thoughts of world conquest (or perhaps more accurately Google's thoughts of world conquest) while reading John Battelles's book The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture. As we pull away from the ground, the mountains, snow capped from recent storms, beautiful in their spring glory, ride with me on my left. The plane's shadow, strong, dims and now ducks under the plane as we turn north eastward towards Boston. Good bye mountains, home, and family for the sixth week in a row, for another few days of "making it work." I'm reaching for the stars but as with the plane, it requires a lot of hard work, engineering, guidance, and good weather to keep gravity at bay.


This week I'm attending the search engine meeting in Boston and tonight have had the pleasure of spending the evening with Stephen Arnold and Dawn Yankeelov. Mr. Arnold is a veteran and visionary of the search engine space and truly someone who understands both the world changing semantic impact of search engine technology and where this industry (and it's defacto leader - Google) is going.

I'm also meeting with a potential channel partner and VC and with any luck will visit the green monster on Tuesday :)

Friday, April 06, 2007

wealthy people read blogs

A report published recently by the Luxury Institute on Web 2.0 adoption by wealthy consumers found that 76 percent of people whose income exceeds $150,000 per year read blogs.

This says a lot about the adoption of blogs as a mainstream source of information. I'm left wondering where they have taken their time from in pursuit of blog wisdom. Is the time spent taken from other information sources such as newspaper or television? Or is it coming out of work productivity or leisure activities? In any case this data point shows a continuing shift in information gathering activity by consumers. It also may be a further indication of the existence of a technical divide between rich and poor.

more travel woes

Have you ever gone out of Washington Dulles concourse A? If you have, then you know what a chaotic mess it is. I was traveling to New York again this week, but this time flew out of Kansas City. There are very few direct flights out of KC, except to hubs, so I took a connecting flight out through Chicago. I drove through a thunderstorm to get to the airport. The storm was moving towards Chicago, so guess what, O'Hare called a ground stop at the airport which basically shut down all incoming and outgoing flights. I had a 7:45am flight, connecting through O'Hare and arriving at LaGuardia at 1pm. Instead, I arrived around 5pm and missed all of my afternoon meetings.

This brings me to my flight back. Coming back I flew through Dulles. My first flight is 12:20 out of LaGuardia and makes it out on time. I have about a 2 hour layover in Washington so went and got a bite to eat. I'm scheduled out of concourse A but decide to go over to concourse B (the international concourse next door to A) to chill out and have some lunch. Concourse B is the polar opposite in terms of atmosphere. It's fairly quiet in the concourse. The gates are very orderly. Nice restaurants, Ben and Jerry's, The Tap Room, and even an area where you can get a massage, called the Massage Bar. My flight's already been delayed by an hour, so with about 45 minutes to go, I mosey back down to concourse A and wait for the flight at my gate.

Now concourse A is where they put all of the puddle jumper jets. They don't pull the planes up to the gate here, so all planes are boarded outside, climbing up the stairs into the plane. They board several planes out of each gate, sometimes in parallel. There are four gates down at the end of the terminal, so there's constant chatter over the intercom over flights boarding, flights delayed, calling stand-bys, and various other announcements. The chatter is at most times simultaneous, so it's nearly impossible to clearly get the entire message. To make matters even more stressful, motion alarms were going off every 10 minutes or so. Someone explained that it was when someone opened the doors from the outside to come back inside. I can't imagine a worse system. There were so many false positives that absolutely no one paid any attention to them. The flight had gotten delayed twice, so as I sat there I had struck up a conversation with a woman next to me. I heard them call my flight and something about "5pm" at the same time someone was shouting, "This is the Toronto flight, if you are not on the Toronto flight please step back from the gate!" I figured my flight had delayed yet again. Now, I should've gotten up to check, although the lines at the gate were about 30-40 feet long, but you guessed it, my flight had left without me. They had given up my seat without even calling my name. I was sitting 20 feet from the gate. Fortunately they had another flight leaving about an hour and a half after mine left and I was able to get on that one after talking to three different people, but it was an insanely frustrating experience. One of the people I talked to about getting on that next flight told me this happens all the time out of concourse A because no one can hear their flights announced.

Live and learn. Stay away from concourse A at Dulles. And, United Airlines, I expect better from you.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Open Data Anyone?

I presented at the OpenData conference last week in New York. The event was sponsored by Reuters and organized by Seth Goldstein. This was one of the better events I have ever attended in terms of two way communication and idea generation. In attendance where a veritable who's who in the attention economy space including the seminal author, Michael Goldhaber.

The immense amount of exhaust information generated by the creation and consumption of social media offers big opportunities for companies capable of mining that information for commercial purposes.

The mining of clickstream data provided for some fairly contentious conversations. The data is mostly gathered clandestinely through browser widgets or purchasing clickstream data from ISP's. I say clandestinely because even though disclosure is probably provided in the EULAs from the service or widget vendors, these are rarely read through (For instance, I sample, reading through probably 1/100). This data is then mined for a variety of purposes, some innocuous, others could be considered invasive. There is actually an organization set up that describes sort of a bill of rights for the end user called Attention Trust. I particularly liked the quote in Wandering Stan's blog from the conference:

Chris Law (Aggregate Knowledge): I wish AttentionTrust compliance was widespread...we don't want to surprise people.
Steve Gilmore: This is bullshit. Have you signed/endorsed the AttentionTrust principles?
Chris Law: No, we're looking into it.
There were a few companies mining media (social or otherwise) as well as closed data (proprietary data sets) and delivering this information to the financial service sector. This was labeled "Information Arbitrage". Other companies in this space (besides Collective Intellect) at the conference included Majestic Research, Gerson Lehrman Group, and Monitor110

A lot of innovation is going on in this area, bringing together the fields of text analytics, data mining, social psychology, and finance. The sleeping giants of media are beginning to awake. It should be an interesting few years.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Economics of Attention

I just finished reading The Economics of Attention by Richard Lanham. The book is so-so but makes some good points in the first couple of chapters. In the first chapter Lanham describes how the world has refocused value from objects to information about objects. He calls this stuff vs fluff. Marketing wins out in this world where brand recognition is more important than product value. One example he brings up is the importance of designers in web applications.

The most obvious new group of attention economists may be the computer-human interface designers. This branch of information design subsumes all the efforts at Web site design, amateur and professional, which we encounter on our daily voyages through cyberspace. The Internet constitutes the pure case of an attention economy, "Eyeballs" constitute the coin of the realm. If as one sometimes reads, Internet companies spend 75 percent of their money on marketing, this only makes sense in a world where stuff has given way to fluff. It should not surprise us that the dominant discipline, the economics that matters in this new theater, is design.
I mostly agree with this statement, but only on the surface ;) I think design is something that initially captures attention, but the attention will quickly dissipate if there is no "stuff" to back it up. Design is extremely important in an information rich world to refocus our attention. Value is what will keep us there for the medium term. And back to design, "ease of use" will keep us around for the long term.

He also talks about the notion of centripetal attention structures

Modern mass communications have created centripetal attention structures that bottle celebrity, and celebrities, for sale. Centripetal attention structures like these emerge so spontaneously from our behavior that they must be an inherited primate behavior pattern, part of our attention capital. So onward to our adoration of princesses, movie stars, and basketball players. These structures focus attention efficiently but on a very few people. They create machine-made fame.
I think this is very true and is an interesting human trait. I hadn't thought about this before and wonder if it's due to our natural tendency to organize information hierarchically. Or is it a Wisdom of Crowds behavior where we will predominantly pay attention to stuff other people are paying attention to? I think Surowiecki talks about an experiment in his WoC book where when one person was pointing up to the sky hardly any passers by stopped to look, but when a bunch of people were pointing then most passers by would stop to look. This causes the focus of our attention to land mostly on a few spots. Blog reading behavior is an interesting example of this. Even though there are millions of bloggers out there a small minority receive a majority of the traffic. We make celebrities of our top bloggers: TechCrunch, DailyKos, Engadget, etc.

In chapter two Lanham talks about economists of attention and holds out Andy Warhol as a prime example. Andy was all about maintaining attention on himself and capitalizing on that attention. Here are the rules of attention economy art as Andy Warhol practiced them:

  • Build attention traps. Create value by manipulating the ruling attention structures. Judo, not brute force, gets the best results.
  • Understand the logic of the centripetal gaze and how to profit from it
  • Draw your inspiration from your audience and not your muse. And keep in touch with that audience. The customer is always right.
  • Turn the masterpiece psychology of conventional art upside down:
    • mass production not skilled handwork
    • mass audience not connoisseurship
    • trendiness, not timelessness
    • repitition not rarity
  • Objects do matter ... Create stuff you can sell
  • Live in the present. That's where the value is added.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado


When Brad Feld first approached my co-founder and I with the idea of Collective Intellect giving shares to EFCO, I thought it was great. I mean, finding a way to give back to the community where we grow our company, and setting up all the details beforehand – It just makes so much sense, similar to estate planning, to pre-meditate a giving strategy, and EFCO provides an outlet to some very meaningful local organizations supporting the arts, education, and the environment.

The last time around, when we sold our company, Dante Software, there was just this onslaught of people wanting to either manage my money or trying to get me to donate to their organizations. I'm certain most, if not all of these non-profits do good things, but its hard to come up with your giving philosophy and make those kind of decisions when your company is getting sold. Who should I give to? How much should I give to each group? When can I possibly sit down and think about this right now?

Deciding to be a part of EFCO helps make these decisions in advance of any liquidity event, so that everything is thought through and figured out – the only thing that happens later is the transfer of funds. It makes me feel good about what we are doing, because we have this great way to contribute back to Boulder. It links our company’s success to the community, where we and our staff live and work.

Over Age


Kelly and I went to see the band My Chemical Romance last week while Kelly's mom was out watching the kids. It was an awesome show, part rock opera, part Green Day, pyrotechnics, the works. On the way there we talked about how long we could continue going to shows like this, given I'm 43 and Kelly is 39. The funny thing was a friend of mine, was also bringing her 12 year old son, and when we got to the show there were people from ages 5-60. So, question answered. By the way, I was carded at the show while getting a beer. :)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Term Sheet Terms: Dividends

I'm not certain if this is a fairly recent term added to the term sheets post-bubble or was there all along, but remember some people being surprised when they saw there was a dividend attached to the term sheet we received in 2002. It was for 10%. When included, I've seen them range from 5% to 10%. I was doing a bit of research and came across BF's post from a couple of years ago and he puts the range at 5-15%.

Some example language from a recent term sheet states:

Non-cumulative dividends will be paid on the Series B Preferred at the rate of 8% of the Original Purchase Price per annum, payable when, if and as declared by the Board of Directors, and prior and in preference to any declaration or payment of dividends to holders of the Series A or Common Stock. For any other dividends or similar distributions, the Series B Preferred will participate with the Series A Preferred and Common Stock on an as-converted basis.


So what does all this mean?

Non-cumulative dividends, as Mr. Feld says are benign, since they only kick in when declared, as opposed to their stick-it-to-you cumulative dividend brother which assumes a yearly dividend. Reportedly, the non-cumulative rarely get declared by the board. So, if the VC is foisting cumulative dividends, you should push back if possible.

Original Purchase Price is just the price per share that was paid in the investment round.

When and if as declared by the Board of Directors - This is an important point, since it only takes effect if the Board votes to issue a dividend, and makes the most sense for the company

Bottom line - A dividend normally gets included in today's term sheets and are innocuous if non-cumulative and only when declared by the Board.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Due Diligence

I've been through more VC meetings than I care to count. Many self select out fairly early in the process (see Me and VC). But the ones that keep going have a responsibility to the fund to check out all nooks and crannies of your business. This is typically called "Due Diligence". It starts out high level and becomes increasingly invasive until satisfactorily completed. The spin on this is that these events lift you up out of the day to day and force you to pause and put together some very good documentation, which in turn makes causes you to think more critically about your business.

I thought I'd pass along a recent DD checklist from one of the many VCs we've been engaged with. This is a fairly thorough list, but gives you an idea what to prepare for ... and it is good to be prepared as BF writes in his blog on Don't be Casual.

This one is skewed more to the tech/ops area. Others would drill more into sales pipeline and financials.

1. A review of the technology model.
2. Architecture and Infrastructure. Please supply detailed architecture diagrams. Include, software, security, database, network, ISP connection, etc.
3. Scalability and Availability. Related architecture and processes. What testing has been done? Monitoring? Failover, etc.
4. Customer Installation and Set Up. Review process, etc
5. Management and Administrative Systems. Describe the support systems you have to run the business (e.g. billing)
6. Security and Privacy. Processes and system review.
7. Information Delivery. Review processes and procedures around email and other types of delivery to customers.
8. Backup and Disaster Recovery.
9. Application Development Processes
10. Third Party relationships.
11. Title / Ownership of assets such as software.
12. Management and Organization. Please supply technology and operation groups org charts. I will will probably want to briefly sit down with a couple key people.
13. IP. Supply complete patent applications.
14. Technology costs. Technology related expenses last year and expected for this year.
15. Technology road map review.
16. Manual Operations walk thru. A day in the life of operations.
17. Operations procedures. Anything documented?

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