Saturday, December 1, 2007

Acting CTO Role in a Start-up

I generally am working as an acting CTO for about 3-4 start-ups or other companies at any one time. I was just talking with someone who asked me to define how that could work and what they meant. Great question.

I also found this interesting graphic of the changing needs around the CTO role in different size/type companies that somewhat echoes my experience. (Roger Smith)

This helps explain where I normally play. Most often I'm being brought in the early stage, Start-up or Expansion (as the company looks at new product lines). During Stabilization, often the focus is transitioning to a full-time CTO. My focus in this post is on the Early and Start-up stages - expansion is more of a consulting, focused project role and it acts different.

So, what is my role as an acting CTO? My role is to work as part of the team to (1) understand related technologies and technical opportunities, (2) understand and help drive alignment around a vision of where the business should go, and (3) mesh those together to help make disciplined, proactive technical decisions.

Basically, the role is to support both the business strategy and technical strategy.

Technical Strategy

I support the technical team to:
  • review short and long-term technology strategies to help direct strategic technical decisions and help to ensure appropriate technology usage,
  • help define needed technical research activities,
  • assess new and emerging technologies to determine application to business needs,
  • help determine resource needs within business constraints,
  • review and influence business and technical processes to help balance competing needs and priorities.

Business Strategy

I support the leadership team to:
  • provide input on short and long-term business vision, strategies and plans to help define business priorities,
  • work closely with operational leadership to review and influence the product road map,
  • review and provide input on some investor presentation materials, business proposals,
  • participate in new business, partnership or investor meetings on a limited basis within time constraints,
  • advise the leadership team on business practices that will help to derive greatest short-term and long-term value from the technical team and other resources.
Most of the time, my engagements start with an introductory meeting where I meet the team, understand the issues, etc. Then, we come to an agreement on terms. Then, I
  • Review existing materials
    • Business Plan
    • Marketing Plan
    • Marketing Materials
    • Product Plan / Roadmap
    • Current and Projected Financials
    • Business Pipeline
    • Team Member Bios / Resumes
    • Current Metrics
    • Roadmap
Normally there are crude documents for each of these areas that can be quickly read / scanned. If there aren't existing documents, then it means more time to extract the information.
  • Conduct meetings to ensure understanding and alignment around market opportunities, business model, sources of revenue, immediate needs, growth, product opportunities, and ultimately to establish business and product priorities.
  • Support operational and technical team to revise product roadmap
  • Review and discuss short-term and longer-term technical strategy, define technical research needs
This gets me going. Normally, its a burst of activity at the start and then things settled down into a pattern with bursts of activity at particular times.

Many people ask how the acting-CTO gig can work out. I actually wonder the opposite. During the Early Stage or Start-up Stage, how can you have someone who can handle technical and business strategy AND have them hands-on? It's not a full-time CTO position, so they need to get work done. Instead, what you most often have is a person who is more hands-on who is doing their best at the strategy and there's a gap. You find that the non-technical CEO visionary has trouble directing the action. And the company is likely missing lots of opportunities and is a bit all over the map. To me, it makes a lot more sense to do part-time CTO (if you have some funding).

Friday, November 2, 2007

OpenSocial - Long Way to Go

I had already written about OpenSocial (OpenSocial and Facebook as Platforms) and frankly I was hoping for a lot more in the announcements and APIs.

I only have a cursory understanding of OpenSocial from reading various posts and from crawling through the API definitions, but it appears that OpenSocial has a long way to go before it's going to be useful for several of the applications we are working on. The problem with OpenSocial right now is that it:
only defines how you plug into platforms and grab the data, but it does not define the form and meaning of the data.
For example, if you want to match the people being returned as friends on one system and look them up on another system, there's no common identifier across systems. Until sites begin to agree on common patterns for objects like People, Groups, Activities then there's going to be a big barrier to doing a lot of the stuff that we want to do.

I'm sure this is obvious to Google and it's partners, but until this happens, don't get too excited about what interoperability means. It will make life better if you are developing applications that you'd like to play in multiple places (write once, integrate/debug everywhere). But it doesn't mean that I can share my social graph between LinkedIn and other sites any time soon.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

OpenSocial and Facebook as Platforms

We finally are starting to hear what Google's anticipated alternative to Facebook as a platform. If you've talked to me in the past few months, you probably know that this is something I've been grappling with across a variety of projects/domains. I've talked about this issue in: Facebook Platform and Facebook as a Learning Platform.

With Google's entry, there's a nice alternative to Facebook and the key word is "open." With Facebook you are somewhat forced to make a hard choice about rewiring your application to live seamlessly within the Facebook environment or pushing Facebook users across to your site which is a bit ugly. Further, you face the prospect of having Facebook rework aspects that you are leveraging.

As I'm looking at the design of several applications that are either new or extensions of existing sites/applications, I find myself wanting to leverage the knowledge of social connections that exist across the network of different applications (e.g.,, flickr, MyBlogLog, Facebook, LinkedIn, your email, discussion groups, etc.). As a user, I find it incredibly frustrating that I have to introduce relationships over and over again to these sites. Why doesn't my MyBlogLog community follow me over to Facebook?

Google appears to be headed down the direction that will allow applications to take advantage of that knowledge across applications.

But I'm still back staring my same questions as I look at various needs:
  • Do you leverage Facebook because of installed based and easier, known viral adoption model even though you are locked in?
  • Can you justify building out your own social graph (friends, groups, etc.)?
  • Do you head towards Google's OpenSocial even though you may be ahead of your users?
Answers seem to be fuzzy and turning out different in different cases. I'm hoping to hear more from other folks about what they seem happening.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Startup LA and More Blogs

I was on a panel yesterday at StartupLA. The event was a good event and I ran into a few folks that I hadn't seen in a while and meet a few new people.

One thing that was interesting is that I'm finally starting to run into folks in Los Angeles who run in technology circles and who have blogs. This is something that I've been having a hard time finding.

So some of the newly found blogs:

Joel Ordesky
Cliff Allen
Marty Poulin

and some others I've found recently:

Fabian Schonholz
Shuki Lehavi

However, if I'm missing others that are technology and Los Angeles related, please let me know.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Entity Extraction Firefox Plugin

After hearing at a recent CTO Forum meeting from Siderean about their relational navigation technology and various discussions with other folks on search, it's seeming like entity extraction is coming up everywhere. Today I saw John Udell's post Entity extraction everywhere.

Through this post, I found Gnosis a Firefox plugin that will do entity extraction and highlight the resulting terms on the page. In and of itself, I don't believe that I'm going to get much use out of it. However, the fact is that entity extraction is a key component to making sense of large bodies of text in a form other than keyword search.

Finding Gnosis makes me believe that we may be closer to some of the solutions I envision than I had thought.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Amazon Web Services (AWS)

I went to an event by Amazon on their Amazon Web Services in Santa Monica today. The focus was S3 - storage service, EC2 - their compute cloud, their queuing system, and their flexible payment system. The S3 system is not a transactional object system, it's for larger objects, larger updates. The EC2 is very similar to having a Linux box in a colocation facility. However, there are some interesting differences in terms of not being able to control proximity of multiple boxes, having a fixed IP address and probably most interesting is the ephemeral nature of the persistent storage on the boxes. Basically, your box can go away (and its storage) at any point. You need to push out anything truly persistent to another machine and/or storage, e.g., S3.

It wasn't until a couple of the customers who used it explained what's really required. There appears to be a problem with having a single point of failure around distributing the load over machines and how DNS is handled in the patterns explained. However, the persistence issue seems to have some patterns defined that work pretty well. You definitely have to architect to work effectively for this environment.

There seems to be a very clear case if you are doing batch computing over objects, or if you have widely varying computing needs or want cheap storage of blobs. I'm assuming that Amazon will get the DNS/load distribution issue figured out and then this would seem to be a pretty compelling offering.

As it stands, there are a few cases where it would have applied on projects I've worked on:

  • LivePlanet - could have used it to bulk up for each contest, store videos and scripts on S3, and possibly do format conversions. A lot of the examples that Amazon used were media related.
What's interesting about storing media is that it's not a CDN like Akamai. Rather it's cheap, reliable storage that may or may not have good retrieval characteristics.

  • eHarmony and MyShape seem they could use it to distribute load around matching especially during media events. There are periodic intensive compute cycles and the need to ramp up quickly based on particular needs. This would seem to be a good case for us to separate off matching and making that a more scalable operation on EC2.
This will definitely be something for us to look at going forward. I'm hoping we can have one or two of the users come into our CTO Forum to talk about their experience.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Startup Opportunities in SoCal

On Ben Kuo's blog, he posted about Entrepreneurs in Southern California
and pointed to a post by Will Johnson, a Southern California entrepreneur and blogger. Will's post talks about lack of interest in working for startups here in Southern California, saying:
..we probably’d don’t have the: a) same support infrastructure (meet-ups, networking events, etc.); b) history of success; and c) abundance of start-up companies (so if one fails there is another to jump on).

Ben responded with:
I’d argue that it’s all a perception, rather than a reality. There are more than enough meet-ups and networking events; we’ve got plenty of examples of successes in the area; and there are plenty of startups to jump to in case of a startup failure.

Ben actually didn't address the issue raised by Will that there is definitely a shortage of really good developers, engineers, etc. willing to go work for startup companies. Will associates this with the fact that people who have great (or even bad) jobs with companies that are farther along don't want to leave. I'm not sure that's the only or primary reason. There are a lot of risk adverse people who won't work for a start-up. Being right next to lots of aerospace companies here in El Segundo, I can find them by the truckload at lunch time. But they won't leave there job. Still, there is definitely a pool of folks who will take more risk.

The problem is that right now it's very competitive to find good architects and developers period. It doesn't matter the size, shape, risk of the company. Maybe in this kind of good market it's harder for start-ups, but if anything I think the wave of innovation going on right now makes it easier to find people willing to take a risk.

That said, I agree with Ben that you have to know where to look and how to look. There are definitely lots of events going on. And there are tons of ways to use social networks. And if you are looking for engineers you have to be willing to go where the geeks go and look for the geeks.

This is something we've discussed before in: Entreprenuer Network and Events and Networking in Los Angeles.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The $100K Startup? Changes in VC Land?

I've been reading or hearing quite a bit about how startups these days don't take nearly as much capital to create as they used to. What used to cost $1M now takes $100K. If that's actually true, then it creates New Rules Of Technology VC. In this post RWW talks about some of the new kind of approaches to funding:
  • Y Combinator is creating tech companies with a tiny (10-20K) seed investment;
  • Charles River Ventures started a Quick start program;
  • Jeff Clavier launched a 12M fund for tech startups.
Each of these is aimed at effectively providing earlier, smaller financing rounds.

I don't really agree that $100K is the new $1M. Sure, there are some fun things you can create quickly on platforms like Facebook that may get viral uptake. And there will be examples of start-ups that didn't cost much (although $100K is pretty extreme and certainly doesn't count human effort costs). However, my belief is that while certain aspects of technology development have come down in cost and it's easy to build small applications quickly, as the scope of the effort increases, costs do. Just as they always have. Further, while some viral pick-up or online marketing is possible in certain startups, if anything, marketing and sales has become harder because of fragmented attention.

At the same time, I tend to agree that there's a need for smaller financing rounds for very early stage companies that lines up with what RWW is talking about. Angel networks act like low-end VCs and expect a company with a product and a somewhat proven market opportunity. Where does a start-up go for $150K - $300K to prove that out. Hopefully, they know some Angels personally. These alternate sources of funding may address this very common need.

My guess is that a new round of incubators (The Hive) may result or new angel networks (that act more like Angels) or possibly the VC acting like Angel model. However, since this gap has existed for a while, do we really expect this to change that much?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Great Podcast - Failed Startup

Found this through Ben Kuo's blog: Media Matchmaker: autopsy of a failed startup from the Frank Peters show. Good stuff!

It's worth hearing Betsy and then hearing the investors take on execution (roughly 45 minute mark). Quite a contrast.

We had talked to them when they were getting started. Sounds like its good we didn't end up working with them. Still I think the concept is fantastic if the model can be figured out to make it work.

It's funny to hear Betsy describe it as dating for product placement. Because of our work on eHarmony, we often find matching as a core component of systems. Interesting to hear Betsy say that the technology was not differentiated. Yet while the rest of the people on the podcast talk about some of the things that customers were asking for, there was lots of opportunity to make it differentiated. Maybe we should have talked more. :)

I asked this of them two years ago, but I still don't understand is why they weren't able to manually make matches while they were looking to get larger sales and scale both sides of the business. Scaling a match making business can be challenging since you need critical mass on both sides. But a manual match would be found money/opportunity for both sides. There's not much downside for the customers on each side and would lower resistance. Further you could make payments be a percentage of the deal.

I'm surprise this wasn't part of the model of how they'd get to scale. It's hard work, but very common. I know we discussed this back at the start.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Networking to a Job - Practical Advice

For some reason over the past week, I've been asked by three different people I know about job opportunities that might fit them. Since, I've given them the same advice, I thought it was worth putting in my blog.

I personally believe that the best way to hire, find partners, and find a job is through a network. So the key question is:
How can I leverage my network?
One Page Networking Tool
One of the best things I've seen done by a person doing a search was to provide folks he knew with a one pager that roughly contained:
  • Background - two sentences
  • Job Sought - two sentences
  • Company Characteristics - geography, size, industry, etc.
  • Companies - a list of 25 companies that fit the bill.
The experience was interesting for me. It was an in-person meeting. I read the first three pieces of information and was trying to think of how I could help him.

When I got to the list of companies, the dynamic was completely different. I had 3 contacts I could immediately point him to that would give him the lay of the land at that company and in one case might have an opportunity. I also could then think of a few more people he should talk to and companies he should consider.

I went from being frustrated that I wasn't helping to pretty helpful based on this list.

How do you create the list? Consider using Hoovers if you are targeting larger, established companies. Or look at funding activity if you are considering start-ups.

Likely you'll have a few different types of positions/companies you are targeting. Make a different one pager for each.

Also, likely you'll have a lot more than 25 companies. Don't make the list too long. Make it your top 25 where you think there will be opportunity.

Work Your Network
Once you have your one pager ready, I'd definitely use LinkedIn to see who I can already find. Based on your description, and target companies, chances are you'll be able to reach quite a few people already in those organizations. Most of them will be pretty receptive to someone who is looking to network to "get help on next steps in my career." It's probably better to ask for help that way than to say "help on a job search."

If you are successful reaching into some of your Top 25, take them off the list. And then circulate a request to everyone you know asking if they could help you. Again, LinkedIn has been good for me to remember who I should contact with these kinds of things. Send the one pager once people offer to help or get together to go through the one pager together. Note: it's often best if people dedicate the time to think through the list with you, but you probably want them in front of a computer so they can look up names real-time.

I'm sure other folks have ideas on this topic. If you have thoughts that might be helpful, please leave a comment.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lunch 2.0 in Santa Monica - And Other Events

I've been remiss in posting to this blog. Very busy on a couple interesting start-ups. More on them in a couple months. In any case, I went by Lunch 2.0 in Santa Monica last Friday. It was way too crowded (250 people in a tiny space). But saw a few folks I hadn't seen in a while and connected with a couple of new people.

I saw that Ben Kuo wrote about it: More networking events

His comment that the turn-out suggested that there likely would be more of these is probably true. But, what's interesting is that the old SoCal events hosted by folks like the Technology Council seem to be struggling for attendees, while you get 250 to a networking only event during the middle of the day. Or maybe it was free lunch?

Other posts on the Lunch 2.0 event:

Lunch 2.0 in Santa Monica - They’re hiring!
Los Angeles had its first Lunch 2.0
Lunch 2.0 Hits LA: 'Hey, We Like Free Sandwiches, Too!'

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Startup Weekend

Interesting attempt to create a start-up over the course of a weekend. They failed to get it done in time and they make it sound like they are surprised that it might take longer than a day of programming to build something. It's funny how this expectation around start-ups persists that things can magically be built much, much faster. They also ignored that a large group of developers can't necessarily build something much faster than a small group. It's the old adage that 9 women can't make a baby in one month.

Still there's something to be said for the push, drive to even create a unified product vision in that short of a time.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Google Hell

I've worked with several businesses that were essentially based on driving traffic via search engine optimization (SEO). There are a wide variety of techniques that can be used, but getting high rankings is not easy and highly volatile. I just saw a Forbes article talking about Google Hell - getting placed in the secondary index.

Bottom line - if you are basing your business on high rankings via organic search, there's pretty incredible risk. And the risk is compounded if you are using techniques that are somewhat gray. The best approaches rely on accumulating quality content and quality links and doing minor optimization on top of that solid foundation. It doesn't prevent Google Hell, but it certainly reduces the chances.

Friday, April 20, 2007

My HBS Presentation - Web 2.0 Implications on Learning

I've somewhat fallen off the map on this blog. Been traveling and consulting with a bunch of early-stage and growth companies. Really fun stuff these days.

One of my recent fun experiences was doing a presentation at Harvard Business School (HBS) on the implications of Web 2.0 type tools (Blogs, Wikis, Social Bookmarking, RSS, RSS Readers) on corporate learning and someone like HBS.

In the corporate space, these tools have quite an implication in that most training organizations get displaced for knowledge transfer as content gets created by end-users/learners instead of by the training organization. My expectation is that the classic corporate training organization is going to be a slow downward path retaining compliance training and developmental activities - but these will become smaller and smaller part of how employees learn (as compared to informal learning).

For HBS, the issues really are quite different as they want to continue to be a "transformative experience" ... a truly developmental kind of experience. At the same time, graduates from HBS need to be armed with how to operate in a virtual work-team world who use the tools as a means of sharing knowledge and collaborating. Further, as HBS looks towards providing on-going value to students, these kinds of tools become significantly more important. It's not that we'll see radical changes from HBS, but certainly adoption within the core and as part of add-on services is highly likely.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Discussion Creation Among Bloggers - LinkedIn, Blogging and Discussion Groups

I've been participating in a Yahoo Group that are users of LinkedIn and who are Bloggers:

It's an interesting group of folks from diverse backgrounds. It's also been interesting to see the interaction of tools involved - Social Networking, Blogging and a Discussion Group.

It seems that four different models of "discussion creation" have occurred:

  • Organice Discussion - someone posts something interesting, lots of bloggers post on the topic, distributed discussion ensues.
  • Tag Memes - Someone posts a question and "Tags" five people to give their response. See Five Things Meme as an example.
  • Blog Hub - A central blog provides a place where the topic is raised and comments are collected and bloggers post. See Supporting New Managers and What Would You Do to Support New Managers? as an example.
  • Discussion Group Hub - questions/topics are raised via the discussion group and can go out into the blog world to get a more diverse audience - which is now happening with this group.

I'm not sure which of these make sense in what case. Certainly it suggests that there's need for something more than MyBlogLog, Explode, CoComment, etc. to help bloggers and blog readers with comments.

But this still leaves me with lots of questions about the interplay between these tools, so I'd ask people who author a blog, use LinkedIn (or other social networking), and participate in discussion groups, how do you use these tools.

How do you use LinkedIn?

How do you use Discussion Groups?

What's the interaction between them?

I'll be curious to see the response from the group. Actually, what I'd love to see are some responses via blog posts from different folks in the group:

Bill Austin -Famous Quotes 2007 Weblog Awards
Alister Cameron -
Dennis McDonald -
Jason Alba -
Ben Yoskovitz -
Ben -

My answers...

Where I use LinkedIn:

* I definitely use LinkedIn for Specific Requests - Ex. Open Source Business Models, speakers for Web 2.0 event I did last fall.

* LinkedIn has been great to keep track of people I know and their current contact information. I regularly do wine tastings here in Los Angeles with some interesting folks I know. LinkedIn has been my primary tool for keeping track of who to invite.

* I definitely check people out using LinkedIn. It's a great way to get a background on folks.

* I've not found that much use for LinkedIn to help my blogging, but I'm starting to think about this. Maybe this meme will help.

Where I use the Discussion Group:

* I've not been very active in the discussion group on particular topics. However, it definitely has served as a hub. This suggests that something more than MyBlogLog is needed to create hubs from groups of bloggers. That's probably the value of this group.


* Not much right now between LinkedIn and my blog. Certainly my LinkedIn profile provides a better public profile for me. Otherwise, I've not seen much.

* I'm constantly frustrated by conversations that take place in discussion groups that can't cross the border into the blog world. And, I don't like to copy and paste.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Kevin Federline Search Engine

Just saw a post - Sleep with a pop star, get your own branded search engine. - talking about Prodege's Search with Kevin Site - I actually think this is a pretty innovative model. Take a look at other sites:

But the overall idea is to provide branded search in order to get merchandise from your artist, star, etc. It also works well for non-profit groups:

It's a relatively new concept, but it likely has legs.

(Disclosure: we helped build the system that is behind these.)

Realistic Entrprenuer's Guide to Venture Capital

Seth's guide is worth reading - The realistic entrepreneur's guide to venture capital

Time Rich, Time Poor and Apple

Jeremy Liew at Lightspeed Venture Partners has an interesting post: Time Rich or Time Poor? In it he separates web consumers into: Time Rich (more time than money) and Time Poor (more money than time). He tells us:
If you’re starting a new internet company, its important to know who your audience is, and to make sure that you don’t let your own experience and that of other Time Poor people guide you wrong.

This is an interesting concept and not something I've seen articulated this way. What's interesting is that I've been seeing opportunities to use social marketing for businesses that typically target Time Poor audiences. Does this mean that they'll have lower response rates? It's certainly something to keep in mind.

I also read - The Difference Between Apple and Microsoft Marketing that tells us:
Apple's marketing is designed for Time Poor buyers, while Microsoft's is
designed for Time Rich buyers.

I would agree that Apple's product design would suggest that it aims at Time Poor buyers. However, the ubiquity of the iPod including use by many folks who certainly would fall in the Time Rich category (lots of time to play with music) suggests that their product and marketing appeals to both segments. Doesn't this call into question the central concept of Time Rich and Time Poor and the importance of making a choice prior to product design which audience you are going after?

Friday, March 16, 2007

F2F Still Matters

Kathy Sierra has a great post today: Face-to-Face Trumps Twitter, Blogs, Podcasts, Video... and she provides this picture: It shows that while we slowly approach real-time, realistic virtual conversations, it still isn't quite the same thing as being there.

As an aside, I personally question that view. In the long run - 25 years - we will all be walking around with devices that attempt to make in-person as good as doing it via online. Online you will have an incredibly realistic experience (think how good virtual actors are these days - add 3D - presence based audio - first person shooters). And because you are online, you will have access to all sorts of information about the people, what their interests are - it will be easily captured. The challenge will be getting people used to this - hence the 25 years.

But for now, Kathy expresses something quite true:
The point is, face-to-face still matters. And in fact all our globally-connecting-social-networking tools are making face-to-face more, not less desirable. Thanks to the tools y'all are building, we now have more far-flung friends--including people we've never met f2f--than ever before. We now have more people we want to connect with in the human world, often after years of electronic-only contact.
Kathy suggests that we should really be working to:
Get people together in the real world.
I completely agree with her, but I've found it to be really difficult to:
  • Meet People within a given Geography Online who share passion around Technology, Start-ups, etc.
  • Find avenues to network with these folks.

So, what I've ended up doing is planning our own events (wine tasting) and just inviting people who I know are interesting. We've done one so far, and it's great. Kathy's on the money on this one.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

8 Ways the Internet has Changed Software Marketing

Great post - 8 Ways The Internet Changed Software Marketing - is an interesting take on how different it is these days to market software. Good stuff.

Monday, March 12, 2007

MyShape Article - Analyst Misses the Point

The NY Times did a piece today on MyShape, a start-up in Pasadena - Log in Your Measurements, and the Clothes May Fit.

I had to laugh when an analyst with Forrester said in the article -
As impressive as these results may be, myShape’s approach will probably fail to gain a mass audience unless the company can somehow simplify the measuring process, said Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst with Forrester Research. “They’re probably a little ahead of their time,” she said.

Having worked on eHarmony where the intake is 2 hours and was completely counter to the prevailing trend, I think the analyst missed the point. Clothes are very personal and it's really a pain to find stuff that's going to look good on you.

Maybe it's because I'm 6'6", but I think most clothes shopping really stinks and when was the last time that a sales person was actually helpful. I really think MyShape has a great concept.

With the growth of choices, it becomes harder to make decisions. Having help narrowing choices is what it's going to be about going forward.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Map of VC Investments

Found this Map of 2006 VC Investments post. Some very interesting graphics including this heat map:

Very cool visualization tool!

Monday, March 5, 2007

Open Source Business Model

A recent spate of posts on the challenges of running an open source business is interesting (Tosh, Siemens, Downes, Tosh 2) and quite heated as one of the founders of elgg - a social networking platform aimed at the educational space - Dave Tosh laments -

Elgg is the most popular white label social networking platform in the world powering over 2000 networks. However, Elgg could power 100,000 networks and it would make no difference - there is no revenue stream as we give everything away under a GPL license.
I understand his frustration. You create something that has value and gets traction and yet you've created it in a way that the software is considered "free." Thus, you may starve working on your labor of love.

However, there are lots of companies that are making money from open source and freemium models. A friend of mine has a company that builds open source applications in spaces that are a bit less innovative than Elgg, but they do very well financially through the packaging and support models. One of his companies - Gluecode - was sold to IBM for a pretty good price. There are quite a few other Software Development Companies in Southern California working on open source and/or freemium business models.

Common revenue streams are consulting, training, support, customization, upgraded versions for corporate applications, etc. The fact that Dave says that there's "no revenue stream" and that he's getting good traction suggests he must be missing something.

The discussions on the posts are quite interesting - and heated. Luckily Harold Jarche pointed us to other discussion on open source models.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Entreprenuer Network

Great post by Ben Kuo - The Importance of the “Network” to Entrepreneurs -

the informal connections between people in the technology industry here who have a vested interest in helping entrepreneurs take their companies to the next level. Whether that’s pointing new entrepreneurs in the right direction–toward an attorney, an angel, or venture capitalist–or whether it’s helping a small company grow bigger–there’s a lot of people “behind the scenes” working to help entrepreneurs succeed.

That's right on the money. What I mentioned in Events and Networking in Los Angeles was that it's somewhat hard in LA to count on networking events to build networks. The articles I cited there around finding co-founders suggests that Ben is on the money.

Ben asks for help finding the people who would be good for entreprenuers to know. No small task Ben. I'm still trying to figure it out.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Google Maps Mobile

I recently downloaded Google Maps Mobile for my Treo. It's works great. And there was a big surprise. It includes traffic! This is something that I've wanted on my wife's GPS for a while. If you haven't checked it out, it's pretty amazing. My only minor complaint is that it doesn't have a menu option to disconnect the phone from the data connection.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Stanford Podcasts - eHarmony - Greg Waldorf

I was just pointed to a set of great podcasts done by Stanford B-School and particularly, I just listed to the podcast by eHarmony's Greg Waldorf.

Having been involved with eHarmony from it's founding days as an acting CTO, it was interesting to hear how far they've come. Some items from the pod cast:
  • 100,000 - babies born as a result of relationships started on eHarmony
  • 15M registered
  • 1% of marriages in US this year resulting from eHarmony

I don't know if these are true, but still, the impact of the vision of the original founders Neil Clark Warren and Greg Forgatch is amazing.

A couple of things I should add - Greg didn't mention the technical challenges they had (scalable complex matching algorithm) and the issues they had with an initial developer. He was asked about how you get a network business going - and it was extremely challenging. One of the things that Greg Forgatch (the original CEO) should be credited with was testing many different marketing approaches until he found the ones that worked.

Still it was gratifying to hear the numbers.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Interesting Model for University President

Saw a post by Paul Kedrosky pointing us to Graeme Thickins on How Stanford Does It. It's interesting to think about how universities might want to have their staff better aligned with moving ideas from the lab to start-ups. In my experience, this has been really hard to do successfully.

Challenge of Predicting Winners

I just read a bit on the payout to YouTube from the Google Acquisition (Internet News, CNN). Part of the discussion around this is the talk about the founder who only got $83M (as compared to $3xxM for the other founders) who bailed out early and choose to go back to school. The poor guy. What a bad $200M decision.

At the same time, when I saw an old colleague at an event at UCLA a few weeks back, we both were discussing how hard we felt it was to predict success in this kind of venture. Why did YouTube win? Why did MySpace win? Certainly MySpace's tie-in with music was a genius move. But even if you came to me with that idea, I'm not sure I would have bought it.

As I look at more and more start-ups predicated on viral growth, and at the use of social marketing, it's becoming simultaneously easier to understand some aspects of viral growth and still a gap in understanding what's going to be that "hook" that will grab people at the end of the day.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Events and Networking in Los Angeles

One of the issues I discussed in Innovation and Geography was that the geography and traffic in Los Angeles generally makes it more difficult for networking. In fact, I would say that over the past few years, it has become harder to produce or find events that will attract a good audience.

First - let me say what I consider to be a good audience - interesting people. For me, these are folks who are actively involved in wide variety of technology-enabled businesses. They are tied to and influence the strategy/direction of the business. They are smart and like to talk about what's going on.

Unfortunately, a lot of networking events attract more service providers and people out of work than interesting people. And, yes, I realize that I'm a service provider, but I also am a CTO for several companies. And there are definitely other service providers who provide things like marketing services who are interesting, so it's not all service providers, it's more like the wealth management types. You know what I mean.

Having produced a variety of events over the years and having been on the boards of both the Technology Council and AITP, I can say that it's really hard to attract a critical mass of interesting people. In fact, after several years of trying, I've instead started relying on my CTO Forum group and private events (like an upcoming wine tasting).

Why does this hurt, well I was just reading a few blog posts yesterday on finding startup co-founders:

You would hope that networking events would be a good way to find suitable folks. Again, in LA, they are a bit few and far between (literally in geographical terms).

The one thing that is making me more hopeful about events is that I'm starting to see more pre-event lists of people who will be attending. This allows me to get a sense of who's coming and also to figure out who I'll try to meet at the event. Certainly a recent event that had lots of service providers in attendence was a whole lot better because I had a few people that I wanted to discuss particular topics at the event.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Innovation and Geography

I ran across a post in Read/Write Web - Does Location Matter in Web Innovation? that talked about a recent NY Times article When It Comes to Innovation, Geography Is Destiny.

Reading the articles and the comments is probably worth it, but I personally think that the NY Times is overstating the advantage of being in Silicon Valley with a couple of exceptions...

I've personally been involved in the start-up world in Los Angeles for about 15 years, and have had the opportunity to work on many early-stage companies (e.g., eHarmongy) as an acting CTO. LA is a vibrant community with a rich network of angels that fund early stage companies, lots of VCs, easy access to big media, lots of innovation in media, mobile content, games, green, health care, and many, many others.

Probably the biggest drawback of Los Angeles is the distance and traffic that makes networking more difficult. Evening events in Orange County require about 2 hours of round trip drive time. It has to be a pretty good event for it to be worth attending. Some events, like a recent Tech Coast Angel event at UCLA are really worth it. But some events you don't get quality attendees and then its a drag to drive that far.

My only other complaint is that right now it's very hard to find good technical people at all levels. Of course, that's probably even more true in Silicon Valley.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Finding Good Developers in Los Angeles?

I'm part of a CTO group that meets once a month to discuss various topics. About 18 months ago, the entire group began to mention that they were having more difficulty finding good developers. Since then it has become much harder to find people and while we are talking about hiring relatively small numbers of people, the typical sources of candidates don't seem to be working.

I personally believe that there are lots and lots of good developers working inside of organizations who would love to work on the interesting projects that we work on all the time, yet they aren't out actively looking, so it's almost impossible to find them. If anyone has ideas on how to reach into to find candidates or other ways to find good people, I would love to hear it.

Where LinkedIn Works for Me

I've been a long time user of LinkedIn, but only recently have started getting the benefits I always expected. I'm sure that many of you have read Guy's article Ten Ways to Use LinkedIn. His suggestions are all good suggestions, but what I've been finding is that I end up using linked in primarily for two kinds of things:
  1. Keeping track of who I know (and keeping their emails updated), and
  2. Finding people to discuss specific topics
I'm sure there are better ways to keep track of folks, but when I was planning to do a get together, my list of LinkedIn contacts was a great place to start. Sometimes, I'll use LinkedIn to contact my network, but mostly I still just go to their profile and email them.

When I was looking for speakers for an event last fall on Web 2.0, LinkedIn was a great way to reach out. When I recently was looking to find people who had experience with using social networks to reach people for what might be considered guerilla marketing efforts, again LinkedIn worked great.

A Different Kind of Incubator - The Hive

I recently met with The Hive a new incubator in Orange County. This company was started by Victoria Duff (who many of us know from back in the late 90s), Phillis Lane (who I have known for quite a few years) and Jon Bukosky.

What I really liked in my conversations with The Hive is that they are willing to work with and fund ventures that would never get VC dollars. They are quite happy with a business that will turn into a profitable $20M company and don't necessarily need an obvious exit strategy.

This is something I've always wondered about. There's many good companys that will never turn into a $100M VC kind of company. What can they do for funding, where can they go for help?

Hopefully this is a sign of a new kind of ecosystem where there will be the possiblity of creating good start-ups that are not a classic VC kind of play.

About this Blog

I've been thinking about doing a blog with my thoughts on technology and what's happening in the Los Angeles area technology scene for a while, but it was Ben Kuo's recent start of a blog that inspired me to actually go ahead and do it. Thanks Ben.