Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Game Mechanics Can Drive Business

We have known this for a while we would love more of these types of articles. Please send them on!

Game Mechanics Create Value For Products

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Starting is Doing

Being a founder is hard, you are a key contributor, leader, visionary, babysitter and janitor in a venture that is very risky but potentially very rewarding. You will be expected to find and take on more work than you can possibly do, nobody else will have enough time to tell you what to do. You will be expected to communicate what you are doing with everyone all the time. We believe that mobile cloud technology can help people express themselves better and grow social aspects of our society, and we consistently work towards helping people exploit the power of the mobile cloud to further that goal.
Our perspective on being a starter
  • We should be prepared to pay ourselves by bootstrap.
  • If you see something needs to be done, do it.
  • Nothing good is easy, if it was everyone would have it.
  • Improve and synthesize, exclude revolution from conversations.
  • Rock stars are negative agents. Be ready to humbly work with others closely.
  • We are very technical but not religious. Technological bigotry is blindness.
What are the qualities we are looking for?
  • Doing over Planning
  • Collaboration over Heroics
  • Wisdom over Intelligence
  • Consistency over Intensity
What are key roles and skills we need in our first founders?
  • Product Marketing & Business Development
  • Java and Web Engineering (Spring, Hibernate, JSP, jQuery, Android)
  • Experience Design (Web, Mobile, and Creative)
We are ready to talk to serious candidates about stake and how their founding shares would convert during a funding event. This ensures that all founders are engaged when we are ready for the post funding phase. Non funding based exit scenarios are also possible for founders. If you have read this far you can probably tell we think a little differently than most places you could work. If you have any questions about why we value these things, and how our approach interests you should sign up.

signup to our starter interest mailing list

image attribution:
Saennebueb

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Leveraging Rule Engines

We are now leveraging the power of rule based systems to power the targeting of our offers. This example does not really show what we are planning exactly, heck it is a trade secret! But you can see that rules can grow in complexity in time to add targeting rules. We think this will help our users get better deals.

 <?xml version="1.0"?>  
 <rule-set name="offer01"  
      xmlns="http://drools.org/rules"  
      xmlns:java="http://drools.org/semantics/java"  
      xmlns:xs="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"  
      xs:schemaLocation="http://drools.org/rules rules.xsd  
                http://drools.org/semantics/java java.xsd">  
   <import>com.sightlyinc.ratecred.client.offers.Offer</import>  
       <rule name="filter_No_Code">  
     <parameter identifier="offer">  
       <class>com.sightlyinc.ratecred.client.offers.Offer</class>  
     </parameter>  
     <java:condition>offer.getCouponCode().contains("No") || offer.getCouponCode().contains("NO")</java:condition>  
     <java:consequence>  
       offer.setVisible(false);  
     </java:consequence>  
   </rule>  
   <rule name="filter_Code_NULL">  
     <parameter identifier="offer">  
       <class>com.sightlyinc.ratecred.client.offers.Offer</class>  
     </parameter>  
     <java:condition>offer.getCouponCode() == null</java:condition>  
     <java:consequence>  
       offer.setVisible(false);  
     </java:consequence>  
   </rule>  
  </rule-set>  

Monday, October 18, 2010

Robot Girl and Group Buying

Great analysis on the group buying space, very thorough. I think I could spend hours and hours researching  my business space.

Since Groupon’s success, over 100 similar enterprises have launched. But the idea of subscribing to a hundred different e-mail newsletters is daunting. 

http://trueslant.com/courtneymyers/

OpenLike

Wow this is cool. I am going to have to figure out how to integrate this in to ratecred.com. It looks so easy.  More great stuff from the @cdixon mindshare collective!

An open protocol to allow sharing the things people like in asimple and standard method between web applications.
All code for this project is available at http://code.google.com/p/openlike/.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Seeing yourself

Well I have just gone through an amazing experience and see myself better because of it. I don't think there is any life changing impact but I have learned how I want go about building my company which is valuable. I will now go back to focusing on that and my users who I love. So sorry for the break.

I have also discovered that I may not want to seek funding traditionally. Unless it comes from people I know or who want to get to know me for its own sake, I am probably not going to look for money. This is because I think I am not a fit for the culture common in this process. This may mean that this will take a lot longer, or that it may continue like this. Norms have been established by the community that I don't agree with. I understand where they come from and why they are there, but they aren't aligned with my vision or values.

So I don't have any hard feelings, how could I? We don't truly learn without some experiences to back them up. I now have more experiences to back them up. I will now try to spend more time on building great products for my users, listening more to my inner voice, and only listening to criticism from those who have a vested interest in my success.

Sometimes you just have to be true to yourself, chalk it up and move on.

attribution for image

Monday, June 28, 2010

I want an android laptop.

I want an android laptop with a linux kernel.

EOM.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Clay's Story (So Far)

Childhood
The drastic surgery to transform one of my fingers into a thumb was a success and all grafting was done by my second year. Really never felt different or that I had any limitations, that is something that others tried to make me believe though. I guess I knew I was different, just not how they thought. My mom always instilled in me a deep sense that I was capable of anything that I really wanted. Not that anything worth much would be easy but that I had some gifts others did not process that gave me a clear advantage. Raw willpower to succeed, as long as I really wanted something has always been one of those gifts.

When I entered kindergarten the principal told my mom "we don't think we can accommodate his needs, it will impact the other students", in Nashville TN in the 70s there wasn't alot of knowledge on mainstreaming students who may not look the same. There really never was any difference though it was their issue, I never needed any special arrangements, and there were tons of kids that were worse off than me in a ton a ways. From that day on, the day that I started dealing with others in social settings, I made sure that remained consistent.

Schooling
As a pre teen I had a pretty normal school life lots of friends, great girlfriends. When I entered high school at Hillsboro High School things really started changing. In my freshman and sophomore year I mostly listened to Black Flag, Iggy Pop, skateboarded and built electronics. I guess I was a cyberpunk nerd, before anyone knew what that was, even me. I started working at the local computer store and really got into building computers from the ground up, that's when I learned about UARTs and 6502 assembly compilers. When I eventually got the work scholarship in Dallas TX with United Press International (UPI) designing satellite communications systems, I lied about my age at 16 to get an apartment and make it happen, and a college scholarship. I don't know exactly why my mom let me get away with it maybe she knew that I was determined.

Floundering in Electrical Engineering (EE), even with a full scholarship, I was without passion or direction. I was completely unmotivated to succeed, my grades were horrible and I just could not relate or identify with my peers, teachers and the completely outdated curriculum. No creativity, no vision, no place for me. I think its because I knew in my heart that this was not my future and on a subconscious level that I wanted to fail. When my father died of cancer, and I received a small cash insurance payment I took the opportunity to reboot. I knew he too would want me do what I was passionate about, something that balanced creativity with creation.

I soul searched. During this period to redefine myself I read a book called "Burning Chrome" by William Gibson and my life was changed. I was convinced that we would all be using three dimensional interfaces and virtual reality to interact with computer systems by the year 2000. That raw vision no matter how naive and flawed would fundamentally be a sea-change in my life. I enrolled immediately in the School of Architecture at The University of Tennessee to understand the use of space and place as a user interface metaphor.

My thesis was called "CyberSchema", a place where creators, designers, scientists and mathematicians would come together to solve really big problems in the virtual environment. They would collaborate remotely in the co sensual design space and the architectural project was the virtual archetypes that would allow them to share ideas and work on solutions together. "THIS IS NOT ARCHITECTURE!" my teacher screamed at me, and he protested my thesis to the Dean formally. The dean later told me that said "He should NOT be here!" If the thesis competition had not had external judges from Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, Zaha Hadid's office and Frank Ghery's office I probably would not have graduated. It was impossible to not allow me to graduate when I had a 4.0 average and took second place in the competition. The next year the school was investigated for not fostering innovation. I had already moved on.

Professional Career
When I started my job at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill my primary role was to innovate the CAD systems to provide visual feedback to the designer when engineering was impractical. As a first out of school job it was pretty amazing, working in Downtown Chicago at one of the largest architectural firms in the world designing visual software. 3D had been core to all my work in architecture, and although I loved my architectural life I still hungered to create experiences for people in the virtual world. Computer gaming had started going immersive, so I took on a new moniker with the hope of living my dream of being an architect for the virtual world. I moved to Silicon Valley and called myself a "Virtual Architect".

Twin Dolphin Games was creating a Virtual Reality game on the PC for EA Games. There was only one Oracle Tower down the street, and as a startup things were very different than the large glass covered offices of SOM. We were scrappy, and as the company's "Virtual Architect" I was responsible for building all the spaces and experiences for their 3D Dungeon Adventure. "Forgotten Castle" was very innovative visually, but the company made a bad choice in their game engine and it failed completely.

As an active advocate in the Valley for 3D technologies I was pretty well known in the very small (at that time) 3D community. 3D was mostly rendered, and real time 3D was a new field. I was asked to help a graphics company called Silicon Graphics (SGI) build some real time visualizations of a new innovative building they were presenting to the Mountain View City Counsel. That building later became Google building 1.

As Silicon Graphics' VRML Evangelist it was my role to create revolutionary examples of visualization on the internet. Now complex visual representations of information could be created "on the fly" and transmitted on the newly created "World Wide Web". I created complex 3D visualizations driven from databases, created some of the very first Java web applications that ever existed, I spoke all over the world, and my visualizations were on the cover of SIGGRAPH 1995. I was a 3D star. These were the glory days. Jim Clark had just left to start Netscape. Howard Look was my boss, (VP at Pixar and TIVO) John McCrea (VP Plaxo) was our "creative", and Rikk Carey invented VRML based on the OpenInventor platform. I am honored to say I worked directly with a bunch of the people who went on to create the Valley culture we know now.

Getting involved in startups is where my career transformed from being a core 3D contributor to more of a leader and mentor to others focused on very tough technical problems and products. BigBook Technical Director 3D Products, Director Engineering, Intervista supporting the vision of CEO Tony Parisi, we created the most widely used VRML platform in the world. UBUBU VP of Engineering an Accel Company took on a 5M B round under a technology gate I successfully delivered. 10 years later, a couple of payouts and I was ready for another re-evaluation. When the two towers fell I took a break again to redefine myself.

3D had become commodified, the dream was gone. I had lost my belief that 3D would be a transformative technology for the masses. We were still using 2D metaphors for %99 of what happened in computing. If I was going to make real changes I needed to know how to create again. I decided that understanding and managing technology, not people would allow me create new ideas with my own hands. For the last 9 years as an Software Architect I have been focused on Java as a platform for very large systems, and I have helped companies scale their systems and transform what they are capable of. I also know exactly how to apply these technologies to solve real problems leveraging map reduce clusters and elasticity using both public and private clouds. That's why I have started becoming interested in the problems themselves.

Entrepreneurship
This is the beginning of a new journey, I have worked closely with many CEOs but wearing the big hat is new to me. It is a place I knew I would be and now I am here. I have much to do, and I look forward with curiosity of what is in store. See you in the future.

Monday, June 7, 2010

What are we doing?

What does your company do and what need does it serve?
Currently small businesses are blind to who there customers are and what they are thinking. We bring small businesses together with their best customers using customer relationship management, rewards, location based services and mobile computing.

What is the market size for your offering?
Our starter market consists of self provisioned "mom and pop" restaurants, pubs and clubs, 750,000 businesses.

What makes you unique as compared to your competition?
It is difficult to Yelps meaningful, structured reviews on a phone, they cost too much ($3000/yr) and small businesses hate them. There are review sites, rewards programs, there are CRMs there are LBS based games, but nobody has tied it all together. Some people are trying, buzzlabs.com is successfully mining social media, but they don't have a way for the business to directly connect with the customer.

How much money are you raising and how will the money be used?
It is unclear that funding is our goal in this process. If we take funding it will most likely be for marketing and user acquisition.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Doing is Essential to Success


Doing.

As a starter, the willingness to do, learn how to do, or to shepard what needs to be done is essential. If a CEO takes the attitude that any job in the enterprise is beneath them or that they are incapable of learning it they are doomed for two big reasons; First, knowing specifically what it takes to run the business at every level means that there is understanding essential to proper management and planning, wearing different hats and making real contributions by doing provides that knowledge. Second, if a CEO isn't willing to do a specific function of the company, how can he or she really say they are on the team? If picking up a broom and playing janitor is required a CEO should be happy to sweep. That isn't saying that I think I would be as good as a trained 10 year veteran in customer support, QA, or Product Marketing but I can say that if its a key business function and we don't have coverage, I better be willing to learn quickly, and that means anything essential to the company's success. When you see something needs to be done there are only a few options:

  1. Tell someone to do it who you trust and know that can
  2. Show someone how to do it and then shepard their progress
  3. Just do it yourself

Saying something should be done just isn't going to cut it, unless you follow up, verify and contribute to the process you might as well not even make it a goal.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Accepted Into Founder Institute

Well here we go. I am very happy and excited that we were accepted into the Founder Institute for the Summer Semester 2010. This is important because we really are interested in getting the knowledge and background that we need for success. Looking forward to working with their strong group of mentors.

Clay,

The Founder Institute is proud to announce that you have been accepted from the Waiting List into the Summer 2010 Bay Area semester. Congratulations!

We invite you to spread the good news of your acceptance through social media. Thank you, and congratulations, again.

- The Founder Institute

They commonly post great information for startups on their twitter feed @founding, follow them because they are a wealth of people.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Application to The Founder Institute

So why am I motivated to do this crazy thing?

I mostly want to be a "Starter", because I feel like I have a knack for making great ideas work, and then giving them a life of their own. I really enjoy the idea of creating businesses by making a good idea real, finding and then helping teams of great people to make those ideas grow into something bigger than what I could have done by myself. The process of this "Starting" is to me a very creative process, even if it relies on some pretty basic rules.

Ultimately I want to prove to myself that I can build a business from the ground up, from nothing to something that makes a genuine impact on people's life. Something big that clearly would not have existed if I hadn't taken a role in its survival. I made a conscious decision not to have kids, this is my way to make "something that lives beyond me".

On the money front, I don't think that a business should put the money first. I know that sounds unnatural, but my opinion is that money comes from building a great business that others cant compete with, do that first and all else will come naturally. Once a business creates a place in the ecosystem, that is sustainable, it can stay at the plate and keep swinging until it hits a home run. I know something I do is going to be wildly successful, so to me its a matter of being available when the opportunity arises.

Not making a ton of money (at least at first) does NOT mean to me that I don't want to be profitable, my first financial goal before funding, is to be profitable. From that launchpad self determination is possible.

My experiences have been a reflection of my passions and have shaped them

I am trained as an architect, literally. I went to architecture school because I thought in the future we would all be in cyberspace, and the best software paradigm for helping people. At school I read a very inspiring book called “A Pattern Language” by Christoper Alexander, that actually served as the foundation for software architecture throughout the last 20 years. I worked at the largest architecture in the world at the time Skidmore Owings and Merrill. So architecture, built and virtual are clearly a passion for me.

Once I came to Silicon Valley I was hired by SGI, and greatly influenced by mentors such as Howard Look who was my boss, and John McCrea, Rikk Carey, Tony Parisi as well as many other superstars that went on to build much of the Valley culture we know now. So 3d and advanced technology is also a passion.

My professional training for the last 12 years has been in highly scalable Java based server architecture, and I am an expert at using utility computing such as the EC2 Cloud to build inexpensive technical infrastructures, I know how to do that very well, but what can be done with those infrastructures from a business point of view is actually more interesting. How can we gage sentiment over thousands of metrics for millions of people in real time? Now that's providing business value I can be passionate about.



http://www.founderinstitute.com/

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dancing With The Client

I was a consultant for 5 years, and I had a really wide mix of clients. Some of them were really good, and had managed projects before, some were horrible managers and had a "Just get it done" mentality, when in fact they actually had no idea of what *it* was. As I gained some experience I found that most of the problems came from poor communication on either or both sides.

Along the way I developed strategies for dealing with the very wide range in customers, not really rocket science, but you might be surprised how when I didn't do those things things would inevitably go south.
  • Always Communicate Expectations of the Relationship to The Client - If you can't communicate with a client immediately when they request, that's ok, but tell them when and how you will be communicating. "Look I am really slammed right now but write up an email on what you want to talk about and I will get back to you with an answer by tomorrow afternoon" is completely acceptable. How often you expect to communicate with the client is important too. If you expect that you will primarily be emailing them daily and wont be available for more than one call a week, say that, make it clear to both parties so expectations are understood. What ever you think make sure there is agreement by both parties so there isn't confusion. Confusion kills productivity for everybody.
  • When You Make a Commitment Keep It - Its the foundation on what you will be judged. Be careful about what you say you will do and when, if a client proposes a date that cannot be met communicate that the exact second you see it. Clients aren't going to want you to commit to things you are not going to do, so tell them you cant commit to the date they propose, but then propose an alternative that you are sure you can accomplish. Dates sometimes are missed, when they are owning up to it taking responsibility for it and then communicating more with the client about how you are going to make up for it is important in maintaining trust.
  • Dont Do Work Out of Scope - The client doesn't own how you do something, but they do own what you do. Make sure the scope of work is clear for the engagement, if it isnt clear then your first task is to clarify it before doing work.  It is a waste of your clients money to be doing work they cant use, or is a lower priority in the lifecycle of the project so make sure your client knows and understands exactly what you are working on currently. Usually a journal helps with this with something like an entry with the start time and end time as well as a one sentence description of the activity. Make that journal available to the client.
  • Don't Take on Too Many Clients - This one is tough, everybody has to pay the bills and only you can know how many is too many, but when you take on too many clients all the other stuff starts to fall apart, you communicate less, you miss your commitments, and the right work doesn't get done. If you do take on more work than you can handle negotiate a refund as a way to end the relationship early with one of your clients to open up some bandwidth.
  • Remember that your Client is a Human Being Too - If you have an issue your client most likely wants it to work out. Probably they have alot of responsibilities too, a mortgage, and people who depend on them. If there is a disagreement just remember that they are not the enemy. In other words be nice. Always.
Now as I try to make this things bigger around here I am forced to wear the other shoe. Really I think most of these things work the other direction too, and in my life as whole with any relationship. Because when you think about it a business relationship is still just another relationship. It needs a mutual understanding and agreement to even exist.  

Its kindof like a square dance, it has to have some structure and expectation, and both people dancing have to continually try to move to the music in a synchronized way to make it all come together.

Swing your partner!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Rework.

Very rarely has a biz book come along that I didnt think was a vehicle for some puffed up fool from the valley to launch his speaking career wondering what to do with themselves after they successfully negotiated themselves out of a job.

Usually these books are hogwash, full of "secrets" about hacking the investment community or how to launch the next meme in consumer social viral marketing or whatever topic that has nothing to do actually building a business. Rarely do I read these and find there any good ideas, and worse I dont really relate to the people who write them. Fail fast! Fail big! These books remind me of that book "The Secret". The secret is that you just wasted thirty bucks on a worthless book.

I guess I always saw myself an outsider because I wanted any company I started to be about building a great business that I could believe in, and that I would go to work every day thinking that I could make business impact, help other people succeed at what they loved, and discover what its like to work with a group dedicated and passionate about what they do. It always seemed to me that people were building businesses for the wrong reasons, or they actually weren't building a business at all. They were building something else that I really dont know what to call because it wasn't about making real money, just making funny monopoly money and creating opportunities to name drop, schmooze and posture like a poser.

People have recommended to me for about two weeks that I read Rework, but I thought it was just another CEO talking about how to hack the startup. Boring, and I dont have time for it, but people kept telling me that things I was saying were similar.

@pairwolff you should check out his new book, Rework. an easy and fun read.


@claytantor Yeah, I know about three people who have said that. Trying to figure out how to work a day job, do fight club, AND read.

That's why when the fourth respected person recommended that I read Rework by books on Audible I gave it a listen. And then it something happened three paragraphs in. I finally felt like I wasn't alone anymore.

Things that I had always said that are considered heresy were suddenly being affirmed, I finally was hearing from a successful CEO who didnt think I was crazy because I didnt want a bored of directors lined with VCs who have already an exit strategy for the company they have are just investing in. Who agreed with me when I said workaholics are negative agents, and that finding financing is a distraction from building a business.

Oh glorious day! Oh spectacle of comrade. I am not alone!

I will be listening to this book over and over, not because there are some hidden nuggets nestled in there just waiting for me to uncover them. There are no secrets here, just hard facts. Its just these facts remind of the truth on why I am doing this. Running a business is not easy, and you arent going to just going to wake up one day and its sitting there working for you, you have to work for it and build it with you own heart and soul and sheer tenacity.

The reason you build it isnt because you want the easy way, its because you want to build something meaningful for your life and the life of those who participate and contribute. My theory is if you love what you do, and you get really good at it you wont need to worry about the money part of it, they will bring the money in on wheelbarrows. Dont put the shit wagon before the horse.

This is the most important message of this book in my opinion, choose something you would be happy doing all the time, put your heart and soul in it, try to find people who share your passion, and you will be a success. No matter what names they call you.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

What happens when you need to fan in?


The sentiment engine should allow a fan in flow of multiple streams, location streams, where consumers create a human routed peer to peer network via forward (aka RT), annotate and add another layer each forward. Fan in subscriptions to experts.

As people who respect each other pass along an idea like the telephone game, each annotation is a layer, but unlike the traditional game where an idea is mutated, each layer stands unchanged much to the ideal of copy-left, that copy that venture leftward instead of being altered remains intact, perfect unchanged by any other contributor, just added to.

We are looking to integrate the idea of data providers, with peer to peer forward. How do you create machines that use things like semantic probability that will allow many different systems of the in the cloud to feed into one domain model? These streams when mapped into a sentiment engine will allow for real time updates into the sentiment store.

UPDATE: Ok so I know this post isnt exactly lucid, but it is based on real technology we use to match multiple location sources into our data model. So just think of it as a recording in time of a mental jazz riff ok?

attributions: 26 Peacock Fan From the new fan book Abanico by Julie S Roces slightly bigger than A4 size

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fast Cheap and Easy Web Sharing

 
I use this. Want a way to quickly do desktop sharing on the web? @Yuuguu is great for micro cloud based startups like mine. http://www.yuuguu.com/pricing/yuuguu-pricing

Friday, March 12, 2010

Hacker Dojo



This week was my first encounter with the hacker dojo, and I was very impressed. As I entered, curious as to what I might expect I asked a simple question to the first person I saw sitting at a large desk with 5 other 20 something laptop people.

Since I am a newbie I ask the basic, what is hacker dojo?

Without another word, he answers.

"well its a community of people, its also sponsored by some larger companies, and probably in this room 6 different small companies are being run, and tonight it is hosting the android meetup and tomorrow night it will be hosting a co-founders meetup" all said without a blink, or snide arrogance, in fact the tone was welcoming and curious. As he talked to me he looked at a google calendar, events overlapping each other over 30 days straight.

That's really what I loved most about the hacker dojo. I am sure that some of these people are ninjas, in fact I met about four of them that night, humble, interested and interesting in their tone and approach. I drop 10 dollars into the "daily subscription" box.

"Oh you paid!, have a piece of pizza!" That was a welcome gift, I was very hungry and needed some nourishment. "We also bake bread every night, I think there is a fresh loaf back there we made less than an hour ago!" I sliced myself off a piece and poured myself a cup of some of coffee that made would make a Peet's pour seem like tea. After talking I bit more I found out that not only is the hacker dojo a nexus of geekery, they also do a bunch of classes "We are doing a machine learning class, a iPhone development class, a Hadoop class". I am sure that the machine learning class will probably be as much philosophy as programming.

I make my way to the android meetup, the organizer starts the meetup, a developer herself has created an application for android called GeoGad. "If you are going to Android Hackathon make sure to sign up, we want to know who is coming so we have enough projects". I am curious, how do you engage a group like this, a mix of developers or people who are just interested in Android development? "Its easy just go up to the table and talk to them."

So I did.

At first Michael Kolb is a little distant, but if you engage him he is one of the coolest people you will meet and is more than willing to talk. "Why would I write a thread pool? The AsyncTask is fully threaded and has a pool under the covers". Actually Michael's Steel Browser was just aquired by Skyfire, he is also running a company called kolbysoft, a micro business owner like a lot of people here. Michael Winter then chimes in, "I want to build a an Andoid Robot (no pun intended)". Michael Kolb responds confidently "well you can just use the USB if you dont mind rooting, but its sounds like you are a bit of a tinkerer in fact there is an instructable for truckbot". Yeah, I think he is.

Think of this night, one night of many and so much of what represents the valley that I love, the spirit of curious innovators who want to learn from each other which is so represented by this humble dojo.

I know kung fu.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Chinese Finger Trap



For a very long time I have said that software patents were bad for our community, they stifle new businesses from being able to confidently take existing concepts and build new and unique applications of those concepts into business plans.

There is a philosophical reason to resist software patents, the ethical reason is because software is the encoding of human understanding. What if all of science, the understanding of quantum theory, the standard model of particle physics, the human genome, was patented? What would the effect on human understanding be? I would argue that these discoveries would not even be possible because we could not build upon what understanding we have already achieved. But let us ignore the philosophy momentarily and focus on making money.

Why do businesses want software patents? Some want to protect themselves (at first), but I wonder how much one is really protected by creating a patent? You see, I think patents are a distraction, and trap of one's own making even, for not building a business that has natural defenses from competitive predators.

Software patents are a chinese finger trap, you get in but nobody can get out from under their control once they are created, and to extract the value from them you use the thermonuclear warfare of legal action which can take over your company's life and distract you from actually creating great products that compete based on their merits.

Remember SCOX? SCOX came out with a 1B lawsuit against IBM based on software patents related to the LINUX operating system. For 3 years they spent over 10M dollars trying to litigate a patent claim instead of creating great software and building their customer base. Once they made the claim they had to follow through, all the way to the bitter end. They got themselves into a trap, and every time they pulled the trap held on tighter. SCOX's ultimate fate was bankrupcy.

In the past Venture has supported the creation of software patents to protect intellectual property and to act as a hedge against the failure of the businesses they have invested in but thankfully that is changing, many are coming out against software patents.

Plaintiffs try to use "theft" to inject a moral element into patent suits, but there is no substantive moral element in patent law. The point of a patent is to grant a monopoly in exchange for public disclosure, and patentees want people to use the ideas (in exchange for license fees), otherwise the public disclosure aspect is pointless. 

Brad Feld, Feld Thoughts Blog

Brad is a progressive VC (that we really like), but he isnt alone. What is happening is that companies are squatting on software patents like domain names, commonly without any relevant claim to related market segment. It looks like this this a theme that is starting to form consistently in the community, here is another perspective on patents from Union Square Ventures.

Almost a third of our portfolio is under attack by patent trolls. Is it possible that one third of the engineering teams in our portfolio unethically misappropriated technology from someone else and then made that the basis of their web services? No! That's not what is happening. Our companies are driven by imaginative and innovative engineering teams that are focused on creating social value by bringing innovative new services to market.

Brad Burnham, Union Square Ventures Blog

Software founders: If you cant touch it dont patent it. Secondly, we need a way to thwart the predatory actions of patent trolls who retard the foundation of new businesses and extort monies. I don't have a solution to this problem, just a longing for a way to stop the trolls from destroying businesses before they have a chance to succeed.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

F4F Dinner - Bootstrap PR

Had a great time at the Finance For Founders (search #f4f on twitter) dinner. Great speakers and very smart people in the room. Some of the people at my table were on their 2nd or 3rd company, so the fact that they were so respectful to a rookie like me made me feel appreciated. I guess they were first time founders once too. Thanks to the hardest working people in the founder circuit @davemcclure and @danmartell  for hosting this smarty pants event.

The topic was important, as the founder of servicetattler.com we are always looking for ways to get our names out there without spending money. Social computing has been a great boon for that and let me promise you I work it any way I can to grow awareness about what we are trying to do.

Here is who was there: Ross Mayfield, www.socialtext.com, David Weekly, www.pbworks.com, Rebecca Lynn, www.morgenthaler.com . My favorite by far was Ross, but David had some great simple gorilla approaches too. Not crazy about Rebecca, nice enough but kind of old school PR mentality.

Here are some of the notes that came out of the dinner:

  • Build Repuation - Placement by some heavey hitters such as mashable, tech crunch or eaven old school like WSJ grows your rep. Easier said than done panel. We are microscopic, try to get those guys to care about you for even a millisecond. STILL TRYING!
  • Engage Bloggers with Stories NOT Pitches - This we do in spades. Our bloggers are our friends. Literally.
  • Have Interesting Content - Create content that relates to your space and engages. That means that at servicetattler.com we want to post more about the service industry, funny service related articles and foodie content. 
  • Credibility Takes Time - You dont get street cred overnight. You will build it with a consistent commitment to what you are doing.
  • Launches Are Mental - You dont have to blow your wad on a launch. Having an event that celibrates a major accompishment at a brew pub is enough. Its the celebration that matters not the ice sculpture.
  • Give Bloggers a Stake - Let bloggers invest in the brand and product by being part of testing groups and the product feature set, this investment means they are on your team.
  • Creativity Builds Credibility - By being a creative passionate involved party in the the discussion your credibility will grow.
  • SEO? I don't know - SEO can be a rabit hole. Make sure its organic and by all means don't let a SEO specialist sell you snake oil.
  • Campaign for Votes - Treat your PR effort like a political campaign. Who do you want to win?
  • Love Your Cheerleaders - Give them stuff that shows you care.  

This is isnt all that was said, just the things I liked and of course I added my wacky servicetattler spin on it. Bloggers and blog PR dominatated the discussion entirely, which I think is a little disappointing because there is a lot more a micro CEO like me does to grow credibility.

Mailchimp
First of all I love mailchimp. For a company like ours it is essential for managing our contacts based on their segmentation and communicating directly with them with well crafted communications, it also supports forms and surveys so I can feedback from my users and customers.

Google Wave
We used a wave during our test to aggregate all the feedback related to the test and communicate with our testers as a group. Its a great free way to create a shared conversation.

I hope there are other micro CEOs out there who can benefit from this. If you are interested in this please leave a comment and become part of the conversation.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Is Coding Procrastination?

Just finished reading an interesting blog post, referred by the Y-combinator site, that basically claimed Coding is Procrastination.

For a software developer, software development is the easiest job in the world. You know how to do it, you have experience doing it, and you enjoy doing it. And these people who say they want to start businesses are sitting and programming all the time. What type of business is made up of only code? That's not a business, that's a product. The business is all the other stuff around the product, and that's the stuff that these people have no intention of doing, and without which they have nothing.
--- @maxklein

To be honest a lot of the article rang true, I sometimes feel that there is so much code to be written that I haven't been able to develop some of the business aspects that I really think make this a special play. The issue is I *know* that there are some specific features that are not there that are causing some users to loose loyalty. I also feel that business development may be a waste of time without a strong user base that can make the business proposition reasonable.

You know I am not talking about my base, @quiksand, @edbrophy, @droidguy, @sgraham, and @nomo4me are going to be in the possie no matter what, but for this to work we really need a broader appeal and the site really needs to do some important things:

1. Strong Search Tools - If service tattler is going to help people who care about service it needs to act as a valuable too that helps people find the places they want to go to.
2. Meaningful Real Time Tattling - Making it easy for people to to communicate their sentiment about places they frequent using mobile devices is a core value proposition to the consumer. It has to be rock solid, fast, and meaningful.
3. Business Presence and Relationship Management Tools - Businesses need a way to promote themselves directly to the consumer, and extract value from that relationship using analytics and direct to consumer awards. To become a marketplace for customer sentiment we need to add the other party to the relationship.

This is going to take some code, and time to make sure it is a good product. We are absolutely interested in the business development aspects and we are very excited about the possibilities we see, but until we can say we do those things at least its hard to figure out how we can make this a business.

What do you think about this?

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