Sunday, July 22, 2007

Don’t die with your music still in you

I don't generally link to a blog entry as a blog post, but this post, in my book, is a must read for anyone, really, but especially entrepreneurs. There's a good chance you've already read it in which case, it's worth revisiting. If not, it's a potential life changer.

It's from Steve Pavlina and you can find it here.

It clarifies why guys like me leave behind the Big Job at the Big Company and forgo the Lofty Titles and Cushy Perks to work our asses off and, if we're lucky, get a 1 in 5 chance of succeeding at creating a company from scratch.

I read it whenever I'm having one of those inevitable down days on the roller coaster ride.

It's especially relevant if you're thinking about taking the plunge and doing your own thing, but haven't figured out how to do it yet.

Medical Patents and Software Patents...Close Relatives?


You may not be aware of it, but you can patent a surgery or other medical method. As noted in this article from law.com:

A surge in patents that protect surgeries and other medical methods has triggered numerous lawsuits in recent years, with inventors fighting more vigorously than ever to protect their intellectual property rights.

Patent lawyers say doctors and scientists are suing to protect everything from laser eye surgery techniques to stent procedures to methods for declawing a cat.

This is no small time trend. It's a big deal. From the same article:

"Many physicians are constantly coming up with new techniques and devices. They have started to see some of their colleagues strike it big with patents, so they have tried to do the same," said Dragseth of the Minneapolis office of Fish & Richardson.

Dragseth cited the recent case of Dr. Gary Michelson, who in 2005 received a $1.35 billion settlement after suing a medical device company over his patented spinal surgical technique that speeds recovery. Medtronic v. Michelson, No. 01cv2373 (W.D. Tenn.).

Most of these patents are 'method patents'. Similar in many way to a process patent in the business world.

Think about this. If a particular doctor, clinic, hospital or HMO decided that, since it held the patent on a particular stent procedure, they wanted to keep it secret, proprietary and specific to only their business dealings (i.e. their patients). In their view, it would create a competitive advantage.

Now let's say that method had a 2 or 3X better chance of saving a persons life or extending it by years, but you lived where they didn't 'practice' the application of this method (and did not allow it to be used anywhere else or by anyone else they considered competitive).

Compared to the person who has access, you're pretty much screwed.

The same thing applies to business process patents and a to a degree, software patents (isn't copyright law already at work here?). Yes yes, I know.. this isn't life and death stuff, but it, structurally and intellectually, is very similar. It's also a very good way, by comparison, of showing how patents, although good, can also be very bad if used in ways that stifle innovation, human knowledge transference and rapid absorption of ideas into a particular community be it the medical profession or software development.

The patent system is being abused in ways that don't improve the day to day environment we live and work in and it's now actively blocking our ability to move quickly, innovate fast, implement, learn and go to the next level.

And now, it seems, it's potentially keeping people from the medical care they need.

The Patent Reform Act of 2007 is in the works. It moves us from a first to invent to a first to file system (like the rest of the world) and it streamlines the process for challenging patents. I'm not sure first to file is good for startups (it's easier for a big company to file boatloads of patents than it is for a cash strapped startup) but the process for challenges is a good thing.

We're still missing the important part though. A change to what can be patented. Software patents, process patents, method patents, etc. are all (usually) damaging to innovation.

And in the end, a patent is like a really big cannon. Powerful and to be feared by those who would infringe on it. But, with our current system, the shells for the cannon cost millions of dollars (lawyer bills) to enforce and that makes it a friend of big business and not as valuable for startups (other than one's who're looking to bought for their patents).

I know it's a bit of a stretch comparing the impact of medical method patents to software and business process patents. The differences in impact are vast. But the application is very similar. Both make it hard for others to build on the knowledge of those that came before them.

When a system hurts innovation and stifles startups, that's bad. But when the system starts literally killing people, it's most definitely time for a major change.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The End of the Wireless Gatekeepers?


The New York Times has a thought provoking article on what Google announcing they'll bid on the 700mhz spectrum and it's proposed rules for use of that spectrum recently submitted to the FCC means.

Effectively, they want to decouple the cellphone (or any similar device that can do a lot more, like, say, an iPhone?) from the network.

Isn't Google's CEO on Apple's board of directors? hmmmm...

Their point is a simple one. You don't have to choose a cable or sat. provider when you buy a TV, or an ISP when you buy a computer. Why require your phone/device be tied to a specific cellular carrier?

I recently signed up for Google's GrandCentral. It assigns you a phone number and gives you excellent control of who can reach you and how they reach you; for detail see my post here. What it does is put Google between the customer and the phone companies knocking them out as gatekeepers. Of course, it has the effect of making Google the gatekeeper instead (they supply and operate the systems supporting your phone number). However, you can bet several other companies will pop up with GrandCentral like services to compete with Google. Getting a phone number will become like buying software or a SAAS (Software As A Service) application.

If they succeed in buying much of this spectrum (or get the new FCC rules they want in place), combined with GrandCentral or similar type services, man, they've done what no one else has ever done before.

They'll level the playing field for the voice and wireless data industries in the U.S.

No more 2 year contracts. No more limits on devices you can use with a specific cellular network. You can use any device, made by anyone, to use any service. Real competition based on service, price, quality and (dare I say it) support. And maybe, just maybe, I can even get all my existing services like Gmail, Googledocs, Gtalk, etc. integrated in there as part of the bargain.

The thought of an open competitive robust series of service providers with open platforms and unlimited application choices that run on my device competing for my business here in the U.S. today? Inconceivable.

Tomorrow? If they pull it off, very conceivable indeed.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How Do You Monitize Facebook?


I had dinner with my friend David Henderson, VP of bizdev at SocialMedia this week and I asked him the question: how the hell do you make money doing apps on Facebook???

He actually has an answer. Several actually. I found myself nodding and going.. huh.. yea. Why didn't I think of that.

Would being able to target the MySpace or Facebook demographic with a specific set of questions in a survey, and getting, say, 50,000 people to answer your survey in a few hours be useful? Yea... I think so. Valuable? You bet. Could they charge for that? Yep, big bucks.

They know how. And.. it's really simple. I'd suggest you check out their site or that you get with David directly if you want to know more. (and no, I'm not spelling it out and no, he didn't pimp me to do this. He has no idea I'm even writing this up).

He and Seth Goldstein had a grand slam with DoubleClick back in the late 90's and I think they might be moving along the same track again. Here's their quick take:

The Evolution of Social Media

1995 Netscape opened the Web

1996 DoubleClick Networked Advertising on it

1999 Yahoo! organized it

2003 Google searched it

2007 Facebook made it social

2007 SocialMedia Networked Engagement

They launched SocialMedia this week and he writes about it in his blog. Both are definitely worth checking out.

Simplifying Life Through Your Relationship With Socks


Katherine McIntyre, whom I have never met but who's blog I subscribe to and enjoy reading has a great post on socks.

Yes, socks. It's not really about socks of course, but it's a great metaphor. It seems her husband Ryan (disclosure: Ryan is an investor in my company ClickCaster) is really into cool and funky socks, has a big collection and loves em.

Katherine, however, doesn't do overly well at matching them up. So, he went with black socks. Nothing else. Throw the rest away. And this brings me to a theme I'm noticing in my own life. Actually a couple of them.

Simplicity & Dematerialization.

I want a simpler life. I just do. I'm down to one low maintenance high milage car.. a Toyota (fill it up less! simpler.. smaller carbon footprint and all that hippie stuff).

I've been doing the black socks only for years now. I even do just one brand (Wilson).. so they ALWAYs match. Same with cloths. I have winter (all black, just pick a top/bottom and go) and summer (khaki pants, short sleeve cotton shirts, all go will with khaki.. just pick a top/bottom.. go).

Simple is good.

Dematerializing is part of this. I've had the garage full of cars; multiple houses, etc. etc. It's fun for awhile, but man.. you don't own that stuff.. it owns you. So I'm really doing the dematerialization thing.

As noted: I'm down to one car. I put my house on the market last week and I'm looking for a simple studio apt/condo with a bed/computer and shower and nothing else.

Now, I'm a single guy not in a relationship (also by choice, and that's another whole layer of simplification I won't go into here) and you can't do this kind of thing if you're married, and especially if your married with kids at home. I know that. And I know it seems weird.

But it's really not. Interestingly, This has zero to do with things like money, religion or political beliefs. There is no deep metaphysical motivation here. I've got money, I don't need to sell this stuff. I just really want to.

I don't want to worry about it. I don't want to insure it and count it and keep an eye on it and make sure someone else doesn't get it from me when I'm not looking and.... and.. and... you get the idea.

Don't get me wrong, I still like money... It's an extremely useful tool, but for me it's more of an abstract construct that you apply to things or situations to get things done. Money=good. It's the owning of the stuff part of our consumer culture just doesn't do it for me anymore. Stuff=not so good.

So, I know I'm extreme this way, but I want to say to Katherine and Ryan regarding the embracing of 'only black socks'... Most cool. It's your first step to a simpler life.

Monday, July 16, 2007

GrandCentral from Google quickreview


A freind of mine asked me for my thoughts on Google's latest acquisition: GrandCentral, so, here's my take on GrandCentral. Kind of a quick brain dump.

Bottom line: I really like it. It's not quite ready for primetime, but it's damn close. It's a game changer for the voice business.

A bit-o-detail:

It works as advertised. I won't go through the full feature list (you can see it here). Amazingly, it's all actually there. No coming soon teasers. And, it's all pretty well thought out from a usability perspective. Without much work at all I was able to use (and easily remember how to use) pretty much all the features across the entire system.

It's a small step toward my friend Brad's cognitive web where things computers should be able to do for you, actually get done for you.

Some things I liked: The Webcall button; put it on your blog.. user puts in their phone. GC calls you, asks if you want to talk, if yes, calls them/connects. Smooth.

Excellent for people with multiple phones and/or locations. Ring em all, or just a few. Set the hours that it rings certain phones.

And it remembers (alot). Once somone's in the system, it remembers details about them so things only have to be done once then it uses that over and over (like the first time someone calls you.. it asks for their name.. so it can ask you if you want to 1) talk 2) send it to voicemail 3) send it to voicemail and listen in (and break in if you want) or 4) take the call, and record it. Next time that person calls, it reuses their previously recorded name associated with that callerID. Slick.

It saves everything as a MP3, and you can forward them like emails. Being an avid Gmail user, I can see how this will very easily integrate into existing Gmail accounts.

You can quickly set up a 'different' phone for it to call you at. So set it to call your parents house when you're visiting or a friends cell number when you're having dinner. Your friends phone starts to ring and someone says "is -your name- there?". Sneaky fun.

A pretty good (considering the rich feature set) cellphone interface as well. Not truly great, but this is almost impossible to do on anything other than, maybe, an iPhone. It works though and if you need cellphone access to your Grandcentral webpage, you can get it.

It's fun too. When the 'operator' answers the phone when someone calls you... after it records the callers name it uses a 'ring tone' you can choose while it contacts that caller. It can be US, Japanese, European, some NY guy saying in a thick NY accent 'ring ring.. I'm ringing here'.. (seriously.. that's one of the rings) and others. Goodness.

There's a bunch of 'Have some fun" suggestions which are basically suggested ways to frak with people which are pretty funny. They have attitude.

I could go on for awhile, but I'll stop there.

It's about 98% done. There are several little things they could improve on, and if they're any good at taking feedback(I gave them a bunch over the weekend), I'm sure they will. Mostly interface stuff that would make it slightly easier/more intuitive to do something. No deal killers for me though.

A potential downside: This IS your number now. They say for life. How comfortable are you with Google having access to everything that flows through your telephony world forever? 18 mo. ago I'd have said.. cool. Today.. not so sure. I'm not saying I wouldn't, I'm just sayin...it's Google. They're generally good.. but I've gotta think about it a bit.

Another downer: it's a pain to change your 'main' number with everyone. Everything starts with the number they assign you (which you can choose from by area code or by town.. like Lyons or Arvada, but oddly, not Boulder). You choose it through a GoogleMap mashup (surprise!).

They do hint that some of these features will be 'premium' and don't tell you exactly which ones. Personally, I'd like to not get dependent on something and then find out it costs more than I think it's worth down the road (no pricing hints either).

There is one really important business implication:

It's going to completely freak out the phone companies (POTS or cell) once they figure out how this puts Google directly between them and their customers. I mean freak out, as in 'death to Google' freak out. Should be interesting to watch.

30-40% of what they could do is in here. Once they get integrated with GoogleLand, I'd expect to see it expand even more into 'damn.. that's amazing' territory.

It's still closed beta, but you can sign up to get an invite on the reserve page. I asked about 2 weeks ago and just got the invite so I expect they'll be accelerating it's opening up soon.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Corporate vs. Startup behaviors


Over dinner this week, I had an interesting conversation that highlighted for me the different types of behaviors required in a big company corporate environment vs. a startup environment.

One really big one is passive/aggressive behavior. Oddly, in a corporate environment, this is a a positive survival trait, especially for executives. You nod and smile at your boss a lot. You may not agree, but you know you damn well better appear to be agreeing. If you don't, you get shut down right there and the opportunity to go ahead and do what you believe is the right thing anyway, and then sell it later (without getting shot in the head first) goes away.

To start something up inside of a BigCo, you need to have the trust of your immediate bosses, and enough leeway to do things under the radar. After a few successes on your part, the nodding and agreeing is done with a lot of nudge nudge wink wink kind of nonverbal communication from your bosses (you go do it anyway, just don't get caught too soon).... however, the whole passive/aggressive thing remains. You act as if you're a good boy, but you go do what you know needs to be done to create a new business or grow the existing business with new approaches. If it works, everyone's a hero. If not, well, you're boss gets to reprimand you, protecting his or her reputation. If it's bad enough, or the politics get particularly sticky, they may need to fire you to save their own skin. It's part of the game if you want to do anything truly interesting and creative inside a big company.

I know.. this has to seem weird to a pure startup guy who hasn't had to do this at a high level in a fortune 500 company. It's how corporate America works though. They are, by nature, risk adverse. The initial response to everything is: Wait. Let's do more analysis. Who's already doing this? What's the CEO think/know about this. Will it make me look stupid if I take this up the chain? You get the idea...Getting something done is really hard inside a BigCo. You have to break a lot of rules and try to avoid the corporate anti-bodies long enough to be successful enough that the guys running the place (usually the CEO/CFO/COO or CTO) buy into what you're doing.

That's been my job inside of companies like Paramount, MCI, Motorola and Apple over the last 20 years. Most successful BigCo's have people like this in them and tend to nurture them (even as they occasionally kill them off). It's just the nature of the BigCo beast.

So, if you're a startup kinda guy who happens to do your thing inside of large (usually) publicly traded corporations, you learn a bunch of behaviors that are very successful at starting new ventures inside BigCo's... and everyone who does this kind of work inside of big companies learns these behaviors, but I'm learning they don't translate so well to true startup land.

Nodding and saying yes to your board of directors 'because they said so' is not a good idea. At least, not if you don't fully agree. Especially not so for an early stage startup. especially if you're new to startups and think they must know something you don't and you do exactly what they say, even when you know in your heart there is likely a better approach, or what they decide doesn't sit well with you but you agree and do it anyway.

What I've learned the last 6 months is you (mostly) take the passive part out of the behavior (you still need to be pleasant to work with), tone the aggressive part down a bit (but not alot), and stick with that. Be up front, move fast, say what's on your mind. If you disagree, say so, and talk it out until you come to agreement.

Things move too quickly and there are a million other things to worry about in a startup. You don't need to bring old BigCo survival techniques from a long lost land with you to the party island of Startup Land. Nosiree... Leave that shit on the boat.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Four Frakkin Cores = Oh My Quad



Holy Burning CPUs Batman! FOUR CORES for $1100!!!! Not just that, but an entire media center system. I picked up an HP Media Center PC m8120n at Best Buy today. It's standard config was 3GB of RAM (yea.. 3); 620GB 7200 SATA Drive; Built in TV Tuner with controls/remote; wireless keyboard and mouse, nice high end video card, Tons of USB and FireWire connections, removable media bay and four frakkin cores.

Did I mention it has 4 cores? And it was $1100? Yea... that...

Here's the task manager screen shot for proof:















This means that the power behind the tools for things like heavy duty encoding at home are now affordable for almost anyone. The age of the professional amateur for audio and especially video creation of content really is only now as far away as the tools we create to make it easy for them. The brain melting costs of SGI's and quad core Mac G5s are a thing of a the past.

This is the kind of power, and the kind of price that any semi motivated aspiring film maker can lay down. Mix that with some $1000 HD (true 1080p) Camera's (see my post on Cheap Gear) and for about $2000-2500.. you've got what Pixar was spending really big bucks on and filling up rooms with not very many years ago.

The price of the gear that anyone can use to create content.. really good content....just keeps getting lower.

That means the barrier to entry (for the bad and the good) get's lower right along with the price.

It's going to take people some time to figure this out and to learn how to use the tools, but in about 18 months or so, I'll bet you see Sin City quality 'amateur' movies popping up all over the place.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Illegal to read the Patriot Act


ohmygodohmygodohmygod......

I read this and was BELIEVING IT until 1/2 way in I thought.. hmmm.. looked a the url (The Onion!) and knew it was BS.

Revised Patriot Act Will Make It Illegal To Read Patriot Act


WASHINGTON, DC—President Bush spoke out Monday in support of a revised version of the 2001 USA Patriot Act that would make it illegal to read the USA Patriot Act. "Under current federal law, there are unreasonable obstacles to investigating and prosecuting acts of terrorism, including the public's access to information about how the federal police will investigate and prosecute acts of terrorism," Bush said at a press conference Monday. "For the sake of the American people, I call on Congress to pass this important law prohibiting access to itself." Bush also proposed extending the rights of states to impose the death penalty "in the wake of Sept. 11 and stuff."
But I thought it was real for a few seconds! I can't believe I thought that. But... I can, because it's not as bad as some of the things that have really happened the last few years and been reported with similar headlines in the New York Times, Washington Post and my local media.

It was downright surreal. I'm both laughing and, like, ya know... throwing up a little about the whole thing

Monday, July 02, 2007

The New Old Media


And so it begins. Google starts acting like a traditional TV network with it's (sort of) attack on Sicko. from The Inquirer:

Here's the recap. Michael Moore's new film, Sicko, goes on general release this week and has been widely applauded by critics, pundits and bloggers - across party lines, interestingly enough - as a well-made and powerful document of the flaws in the American health care system and the providers of that care.

Consequently, the health care industry is taking something of a beating in the popular press, and many would argue deservedly so. Not, however, Lauren Turner of the Google Advertising team - she suggested in a recent blog post to the Google Health Advertising Blog (yes, such a thing exists) that the movie was deeply flawed, and failed to show the health industry in its best light. The answer, she suggested, was for healthcare monopolies to buy ads on Google against the keywords "Michael Moore" and "Sicko", thus promoting the healthcare industry to those searching for information on Moore's film.

Where have we seen this before?

Let's give away a service, say, entertainment... and instead of charging each user for access, let's shift the payment for that service to people wanting to sell their products by pitching them during use of that service.

That's television.

Google (and Yahoo, and any other internet based service that gives away a service in exchange for the selling of advertising) are heading down the same road. And, human nature being what it is, they'll very likely look and act just like Television Networks (and radio and other advertising supported media) more and more as time goes by.

This Sicko flap happened because Google isn't very sophisticated about this (yet). You can bet they'll get sophisticated quickly enough though. In a few years you'll likely be seeing behavior's very similar to what you've seen the TV folks doing for decades. Google (and all the others) may be technology companies in how they operate, but their business is media and advertising. And that's what'll drive their day to day decisions.

It'll seem a bit slimy and evil (like this Sicko thing), but it's really just a young innocent set of companies getting older, more mature and, in the process, losing some of that naive child-like glow. And yea, it's still a little slimy and evil. It'll happen anyway.

Welcome to the new old media!

We Can't Let Thousands of Local Newspapers Disappear ... Yang

I haven't really followed this guys campaign, but, I love the message he's got here. This is less than 5 minutes and it's deep...