Saturday, December 01, 2007

What does: The Vizrea/WebFives Shutdown, Techmeme Whoring, Sinefield, and My Early Mistakes at BubbleShare Have in Common

I don't know how some folks do it. Between trying to keep up on my own company, I can hardly find the time to read blogs, much less actually produce something for others to read on a regular basis. Kudos to those who can juggle a startup, staying up on top of things, and being able to produce meaningful content for others to read (mind you, I do this blogging thing mostly for therapy).

So for those of you who don't know what Techmeme Whoring is, here's my hack at a defintion:

Techmeme Whoring: Techmeme is a very popular blog amongst bloggers who want to keep track of what people are talking about in blogosphere. To whore oneself to Techmeme is to basically try systematically game/take advantage of what is a hot topic at the moment so as to hope to get listed in the conversational topics and back-links from Techememe and others that are blogging about the subject.

I'm not really much of a Techmeme whore... "Not that there's anything wrong with that." I wish I was, and probably would be more of one if I could blogged more.

So back to Vizrea/WebFives: I noticed that there was some talk on Vizrea by my blogger friends and others on Techmeme here. I thought I'd throw in my 2 cents as someone who has participated in the media sharing space, and had Vizrea and its competitors on my radar since day one during my BubbleShare days.

Vizrea had a highly experienced team with executives from Microsoft, raised $4M in venture capital, focused on bringing a solution, which at the time when I looked at them, what I call the "personal mobile media syncing problem." In the early days of BubbleShare, we were dealing with a similar problem set and also worked on a desktop application -- a scrolling desktop app that "looped" photos into your field of view in a dockable bar. This was almost identical to the now defunct FlimLoop (ex-Adobe folks which built a desktop product with a beautiful user interface that was far better than ours) -- and the first version of Slide (yeah, that Facebook/Slide - as in -- which has also now rapidly evolved out of building a desktop app - just as we did at BubbleShare -- killer example of how to evolve/iterate rapidly against your biz plan/market-feedback). There is a longer story about this for a different blog posting, but the gist of it is that unbeknown to any of us at BubbleShare (or even FilmLoop and Slide we think), FlimLoop and Slide were both building the exact same desktop app (with almost identical user interfaces and concepts) as we were at BubbleShare. Except we actually decided to put it on the app on the backburner instead of realizing it after realzing how crappy an idea it was in practice and focused on a pure web app -- see item #4 below).

As a sort of a side effect of helping folks share their photos via this desktop bar application, where in theory one could drag and drop photos into this bar, which would then have photos appear on other desktops that also ran the bar -- a user would be able to established a peer to peer connection that enabled them to deliver high resolution photo to the other person with very few steps and hassles (our pitch was that the tool also pseudo-synced photos between machines).

What we quickly discovered...

  1. Desktop applications are a pain to build
  2. Desktop applications are hard to get distribution (think 100x harder than web, just as facebook/socialnet apps are 10x faster to get distribution)
  3. Desktop applications make bad (b2c) startups (for the most part -- unless your company name is Skype)

Keep in mind this was circa ~2004, so these things were not obvious yet, and I was more stupid then I am now)

We shortly after, also came to discover...

  1. The Universal Law of StartUpping #13: Your first idea always suck.
  2. Your only real advantage of being a startup is your ability to be strategically agile and adapt more quickly to your market/enviroment than your (usually much larger) competitors (i.e. admit you were stupid, and move onto Plan-B)

So what the hell does this have to do with Vizrea?

Well, having watched Vizrea at a distance, our initial impression of it was (when it was IMHO, positioned much more like a SharpCast/cross-platform content syncing competitor -- judge for yourself in this video here where they demo'd at Demo in 2006 last year): Whoa, this seems like really cool tech, but in a classic MS v1.0 (i.e. initial v1.0 software releases in its earlier days) sorta way, it had issues:

  1. Tons of gee-wizz features ("not that there's anything wrong with that”... unless you have issue number 2)
  2. Too complicated for most. Came across as being “Built for Geeks by Geeks” (“not that there's anything wrong with that unless you've got issue number 3 as well)
  3. The Geeks don't think its a painful enough problem or haven't caught up to your vision of the world yet (i.e. Universal Law of StartUpping #502 [- yes i am making these numbers up - but the laws are real]: don't build way ahead of even the early adopter curve - most of the time, its better to be too late than too early)

I noticed that Vizrea had then later reposition themselves to be more of a combination of Cognima/Shozu and Rockyou/Slide (but without the focus of each?) -- a tech that seems to be more about helping users with mobile devices post content to the web and a much greater focus on the web community side of things (vs. a focus on the desktop app). The Vizrea management team might disagree with the interpretation of its evolution/current stance, but read and interpute it yourself here:

With the WebFives free account, you get:

  • Free sharing of Internet and mobile video, photos, audio, and blogs
  • Your own personal web site at that you can ultimately personalize
  • Your own personal mobile website at that will work on any Internet enabled phone
  • WebFives player and widgets that you can put in your Facebook, MySpace, Hi5, or other WebSite or social networking account
  • Tracking of content views, re-sharing of your content, and more
  • Social networking, messaging, and keeping up to date with WebFives friends
  • A chance to make money and benefit charity if you are contributing to the community and people like the things you share (details soon)
  • 200MB of shared content

(grabbed from Vizrea's website here)

IMHO, the community and web angle was too little, too late (as one can see with their less than stellar Alexa ranking graph that shows them being ranked at around 1.1M at the time of this writing) . I'm sure given how deep the desktop tech looked when I last tried the Vizrea product (which was what they were called before becoming WebFive - and a more web focused company), that they burnt though a ton of cash building out something on the desktop that synced with the web with a mobile client. The company's fate probably did not have a optimal outcome, perhaps more grim than what Rick Segal had alluded to, and less grim than the note from John Cook

The final and perhaps most important lesson that we learned from my BubbleShare experience as it related to Vizrea/WebFive, and watching others in the space around me grapple with the transition from "Desktop 2.0" to "Web 2.0" between 2003-2006 was how much of a siren's song the mobile application space is during the past several years & to Focus on customer problems that they have TODAY that can get viral/cheap distribution (i.e. facebook+web app vs. web only app) or rapid/low-cost adoption (web app vs. desktop app).

This of course, on the mobile front is changing. My predictions previously on "Web 2.5" and "Web 3.0" had been nicely echoed by Google's back to back announcements on OpenSocial (i.e. my so called web 2.5 analogy) and the GPhone/Android platform (i.e. Web 3.0).

Had Vizrea been 2 years later, they probably would have been in a much better position.

Regardless, kudos to fellow entrepreneur Mike Toutonghi's for having the courage to tackle some very hard problem -- and despite some hard challenges, able to find a buyer at his former employer's at Microsoft.

My final disclaimer is that, its always easy to play arm chair startup critic, but its much harder to actually DO a startup -- and to appreciate how much hard work and courage it takes to get something off the ground -- no matter where it ends up.

Mike Toutonghi: if you're reading this, kudos for pushing things forward for all of us in the space, you have a free beer on me the next time we're in the same city together. ;-)

Monday, October 29, 2007

WTF is Web 3.0? 2.5? or Heck, even Web 2.0?

Attached is the recent keynote presentation that I gave at the recent OCE (ontario center of excellence) Mind to Market Series.

Thank you for to all those who actually paid to come hear me rant. I hope at least you found the breakfast/food to be decent. ;-)

I never had so many wireless mics hooked onto me at once... I counted 3 sets, which is pretty nuts (one for OCE, one for CBC Newsworld, and one for WNED - the public radio station for the Buffalo radio -- Go PBS/NPR/Public Radio!)

The day after this presentation was given was the first day that I think I got more than 4 hours of sleep in two weeks. Ah the joys of launching a new startup. Sometimes I do wonder I keep doing it...

Anyways, hope some of you will find this interesting. I have to admit, I'm not a huge fan of the web X.0 term. But I roll with what people can relate with if it helps communicate a message and provides a framework to build from. Please don't hurt me for overusing the meme... we had a mix suit/geek audience, and it provided an easy way to put a framework around things.

Comments, insults, criticisms, heckles that you were too polite to throw at me in public/in person, and whatever else are welcomed!


[and a BIG thank you for everyone at OCE that was invovled in putting on the event - fyi, they DO not make money on the events - and to all those who dropped me an email - I AM catching up to my mail box... please be patient, thanks!)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Canada is Screwed: Why We Need to Support Canadian Youth in Tech

Canada is sliding down a slippery slope in its ability to compete globally. We are neglecting to provide sufficient support to young people in this country to cultivate new leaders in technology and entrepreneurship.

Its been a long time since I've ranted about the issues that plague the Canadian startup scene, as well as the issues around the country's slipping competitiveness in the global economy (which was the topic and reason why I was on a panel hosted by the CATA Alliance).

There are few thing that concern me about this country.

One of them is that many Canadian youth not given the proper support that they deserve, and are as a result lagging behind the curve in both their preparedness and attitudes towards technology and entrepreneurship (both at the high school level and post secondary level). As is the dearth of B2C internet ventures (and its associated growth capital) in Canada.

As a "relatively recent" product of the Canadian educational system, the major issues of concerns that I've found include:

1) High School Graduates are Not Prepared: Students at the high school level do not have the information that is necessary for them to make informed decisions about post secondary education choices (esp. as it pertains to careers in technology and entrepreneurship)

2) Brain Drain of Top Talent from Universities is Real: top students from universities are being sucked down south of the boarder (and not returning) to join multi-national US companies (think MS, Google, Amazon) or they are being going into mid to late stage US based startups (much less so, but still happening)

3) Lack of Entrepreneurial Support Systems for Students (and recent Grads): students are not given the a) role models & motivation, b) knowledge & encouragement c) support systems & funding, d) education/network, to enable them to succeed.

Many of the most innovative startups/products on the net that you use everyday today were started in dorm rooms of university students -- especially in the B2C space (i.e. Netscape, Napster, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, etc. etc.). Virtually none of them are from Canadian university dorm rooms.

The above points can really be boiled down to two things a) lack of funding, b) lack of entrepreneurial culture/encouragement

Yet we have one of the top, if not THE top Computer Science school in the world (University of Waterloo), and some of the best Electrical and Computer Engineering schools in the world.

How do we solve this?

We need to provide Canadian students with more exposure to "what's possible" and a real support system that includes:

1) Capital: Having sufficient access to truly risk tolerant capital (i.e. Venture Capital) is critial. We need capital that can be deployed into high risk B2C type ventures -- a category of companies that are every bit as rewarding as they are "risky".

2) Culture: There is insufficient recognition of "home grown heros" -- when the top Stanford engineering students are heading into their last year of school, they aren't thinking "Well gee, I can't wait to work for The Man" (replace "the Man" with your big F500 company of choice), but more likely -- "I wonder if I can still get some cheap options if I join my buddy's hot new funded startup" OR perhaps even more likely "well, my old room-mate just got funded started a company last year doing X to build the next XYZ Killer, I think I could probably commercialize some of my reseach doing Y to build the next ABC Killer App -- I think if I crank at this for a few more weeks after school, I should probably go talk to some investors to see if I can get some early funding... I mean, my [insert friend-of-a-friend|distant-cousin|old classmate|last-professor|school-alumni here] did it and built it into a multi-million dollar company in 3 semester, why couldn't I?!"

Now why else are young entrepreneurs so important, and why do they have such a big role in innovation (besides the fact that history shows that the youth have a higher likelihood of adapting and creating breakthrough innovations on the web)?

I'll let Marc Andreesen (you know, the guy who while in University helped cofound Netscape) and Naval Ravikant (of Epinions and a half dozen other associated with his name) further this topic on the relationship between youth + entrepreneurship . As an added bonus, Clay Shirky (a professor at the graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program) also has a great post about The (Bayesian) Advantage of Youth.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Incompetence of Andrejs Property Management at 9 Spadina Ave/Concord CityPlace - OR READ: Don't ignore your customers, or they might blog about you

(warming to the few regular readers of my blog... this has NOTHING to do with tech, biz or anything useful for the average person... but simply a rant I needed to get off my chest... and for the record/up-front: cityplace has been a great place to live for the most part so far up till today)

So its very rare that I would do something like this: Get on my soap box and try to rip someone a new one.

So starting last night, the fire alarm sounded (this thing is friggin' loud, i.e. its a ear piercing high pitch beep)

I figured, okay, one beep. No big deal, one beep. Must be a faulty thing.

Nope. 30 mins later. It went off again.

And again.

And again.

Its now past midnight. I can't sleep, and gave them 2 hours to fix it. I tried to hunt down property management. Nobody's home. I call the conceirage, they said the security/monitoring guys did a remote check and everything checked out alright and should be fine... but 3-4 hours after the initial beep, they finally decided to dispatch someone to take a look.

The beeps continued.


Needless to say, it was nearly impossible to get any real rest.

The next day I get home from some meetings, same thing.

I had to start preping for some meetings, and so I didn't get a chance to speak to anyone downstairs. I had been working pretty much non stop since I got up (LATE, because I couldn't get any real rest).

Its now 4:45AM. The beeping is STILL GOING OFF.

So get this, 2 nights and over 24 hours since the initial false alarm went off -- NO ONE has bothered to leave me a note to update me about what had happened, why it happened, and what to expect tonight.

How incompetent could managment be to allow this to happen?

We have an entire floor (and from what I've heard from some sources, multiple floors) where the alarm has been going off in ~30 min intervals. I don't have any correspondence from management. I have no apologies. I have no alternative sleeping options offered. I have no ETA as to when the insane beeping is going to stop.

BTW: I have checked under my door, in my mail box, in the elevator notice board. NOTHING. I have received NOTHING in terms of information or updates of whats going on.

How is that for transparency and communications?

For the record: concierge and security has always been very apologetic about the situation -- I've yet to talk to a property management person -- as they only work during business hours (all of which I'm usually tied up in meetings and other tasks). CityPlace staff (in gym, concierge, and janitorial) has always been pleasant. I've only had one interaction with property management, and that was pleasant. This has been a pretty decent place to live (the gym is awesome here, bandwidth from telus at 100mb/s is the reason why I love this place being the geek that I am).

But this is insanely incompetent. Anyone running the management of this property should NOT BE SLEEPING until the right person is on the job (as it turns out from my conversation with security, the one source tells me that they didn't have the right person dispatched, but I'm also getting conflicting information from other sources/security folk).

Hell, if an entire floor of people isn't sleeping nither should the people that are responsible for getting this fixed. If nothing else, as tenants, we should have been personally informed as to WTF is going on.

To be clear, this is a GREAT building... but this level of incompetence is incomprehensible. This is almost as sad as watching FEMA deliver water to New Orleans.

Someone PLEASE FIRE Andrejs Property Management, or who ever the hell is responsible for our building -- the management for 9 Spadina Ave. at Concord CityPlace.

(finally, I challenge anyone else that doesn't get sleep for 2 nights in a row in their own condo due to similar circumstances above to write a kinder blog posting ;)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Strange Couple of Days

So yesterday I ended up working till 4:30AM after being on a redeye flying from a panel with a number of really neat people along with Terry Matthew's (someone who sold last company for $7 billion more than me) the CATA Alliance Dinner.

Then I found myself invited to the board of CATA.

Then this morning a couple of people tell me I'm on the front page of Canadian Business Magazine with a really goofy photo and an article that I haven't even read yet.

Gotta run off the meeting now. Something tells me its going to be an interesting couple of days.

Oh yeah, I left Kaboose.

I never got around to posting that. Well, I guess everyone knows now since its in Canadian Business Magazine now so, yeah. More on that later, but its all good! =)

.. more to come.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Digital Nudity: Discarding Privacy for Discoverablity

I've been thinking about the slow, but steady mind-shift that I've been going though as an inhabitant of the digital world. There is a growing generation of people, typically around my age or younger (sub 35) that is unwittingly trading off (or "trading in") privacy for the potential rewards of "discoverablity."

In order to create some context with this article, I should disclose a few things...

I was born in the late 70s. I am a geek, that grew up Toronto, Canada. I had a PC relatively early in my life - got a 2400 baud modem in my early teens, and actively participated in local BBSes, posted and chatted on many fidonet and usenet gateways, discovered the "real" internet and Linux in my mid-teens (mid 90s), was the first in my jr high school to drop some hard earned coin for the Newton and one of the earliest to get a cell phone in school, when they were still relatively rare.

The point is, I am a regular early adopter in most cases. Young enough to be foolish, yet old enough to be on the outside. This is the stance I am taking for the following...

I have always found it difficult to comprehend or participate in the highly distributed and (what I've found to be) exhibitionist like activity to blog one's thoughts. However, I found it valuable to post personal information to Friendster, when it was all the rage (circa 2003). It provided me with a sense of discoverability, such that my friends and former classmates could find and reconnect with me. Likewise, disclosing my work life on LinkedIn in a structured format made sense to me as it furthered my ability to be more discoverable/referencable to people that I might be able to do business with. As I was pushed into the Blogging world for the purposes of establishing a presence for myself and on the behalf of BubbleShare, I found the process to take much more effort, but it provided me with a way to again, become more discoverable. In this case, the discoverability related more to my thoughts than to my identity.

Part of the hope is that the thoughts are archived, indexed, and made searchable (forever) -- in the hopes that it will connect with others in some way that might add value to their lives and mine. Perhaps even spark a conversation, or something that might lead to a connection or business opportunity.

So in the end, all this desire of discoverability has always been consciously or unconsciously weighted and tamed against my deep desire to have a sense of privacy (and inertia/laziness of not wanting to "produce" and just lay in consumption mode).

In contrast, the generation that grew up in a world that has always had a cell phone as the de-facto communication device, broadband internet being a standard fixture in the home, IM being the default way of communicating and email being a secondary communication application, socializing on friendster/myspace/facebook being a part of everyday life growing up in their teens -- with their twitter and facebook status pages being updated every 30 minutes, 12 hours a day. It is easy to see how this generation that is currently 8 to 21 years old would choose discoverability over privacy, or even care about what public information they post to the world to be granted the ability to further their personal life-casting life-style.

The goal, it seems is no longer the protection of privacy but the amplification of one's discoverability and creation of one's digital status. No longer is it about keeping strangers away and at bay, but rather how quickly one can amass MySpace friends, or how much activity one has on their facebook profile. Cool factor is just as much represented by what one wears or does, places they frequent, people they hang with, in real life, as much as it is how one is represented in their social time line that is broadcasted from their status updates, or their twitter/facebook-status messages.

The common theme however, amongst all of these tools that have gained and maintained traction amongst these digital tools is their simplicity and low barriers to digital self-expression. Friendster and MySpace gave easy and structured ways to fill in the blanks for one's favorite TV shows, music, and friends. They made it easy to add photos and music tracks. Twitter and Facebook gave its users an easy alternative to blogging with micro-rapid content creation around status updates. IM and SMS is used in favor of email for its instant real time feedback and instant gratification of getting a response in (practically) real-time.

Relinquishing privacy for this generation is no longer a trade-off to enable and amplify one's discoverabilty. For many of them, privacy is a mostly irrelevant inadvertent casualty in everyday digital play and communications.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The "Always-On" Unconference & Ad-Hoc Virtual Communities

My follow on post was originally going to talk about my first week at Kaboose, which I will likely get back to doing/finishing one day. (Update: It has been GREAT!)

But after being dragged into a the TorCamp Skype chat room (think IRC chat room), it got me thinking about the nature of real-time, ad-hoc, social-networking (birds of a feather two point oh). The feeling I get from the TorCamp chat room, which reminds me of the old school IRC chat rooms, is that of a sort of a "virtual unconferences." Perhaps its because I happen to know and have met most of the people in the room (all DemoCamp and TorCamp mailing list regulars). Or perhaps its just because of that fact that I know everyone in the room is available to chat via voice at a click of a button. (or maybe its just that I know everyone has a blog, and could be easily googled, and thus, having an assumed social profile online)

Either way, its pretty neat how a virtual chat room was spawned using an IM client, and had grown to something like 30-50+ people purely off invites from within the social network/skype-buddylist that started it. So far, its been up for around 24 hours and the chats are still going strong.

The chat room also reminds me of a lot of the unconference IRC back-channels that I was introduced to when I had the opportunity to attend the first Bloggercon (or might have been the first O'Reilly P2P conference [aka: Emerging Technology Conference] -- I can't remember).

Whats great about the skype conference rooms is that as soon as you log back in from being off line, all of the history gets forward to you -- so the room is truly persistent (unlike IRC). I feel like the only thing missing (and this is an idea I've been messing with/wanting to have for 4+ years now), is a way of providing a structured and open profile of each of the IM contacts.

In the same way that DemoCamp was a lightweight extension to TorCamp, the TorCamp "SkypeCamp" is a sort of a lightweight real time extension/bridge for the community to gather and connect. Regardless of how you look at it, it was great to reconnect with the local tech community. Esp. as we are now looking for NEW PEOPLE for BubbleShare (read: Ruby Developers, Flash Gurus, IAs/UX peeps, please email me). =)

On a slightly different note, DemoCamp12 will mark DemoCamp's 1st Birthday since David Crow and I and many others got together at the BubbleLabs. As David mentioned here, BubbleShare will be doing a demoing a "v2.0" of BubbleShare.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Bubble Shared!

Today marks a great new beginning for BubbleShare as it becomes a part of the Kaboose family.

From day one, BubbleShare's mission was to deliver the simplest way for anyone to share photos on the internet.

The marriage of BubbleShare and Kaboose is, to us, a perfect match. Kaboose is the leading independent online company for families and parents, and BubbleShare is, we think, the best place for regular (read: non geeks) people to share their photos and stories on the internet today.

Of course, it helps that Kaboose is walking distance from the BubbleLab. That and the fact that Kaboose has been one of the best companies we have ever had the pleasure of dealing with.

I would like to thank everyone that has supported us along the way, including all of our great users that have provided us with fantastic feedback and encouragement. While there is simply too many people that I would like to extend my thanks to, there are a few that come to mind that are truly unsung heroes in the building of BubbleShare, and that I have benefited and learned a great deal from.

There have been many behind the scenes people that I would like to thank (in no particular order) that have contributed to the success of BubbleShare:

Aidan Tracey, a founding adviser of the BubbleShare team, has invested enormous amounts of his time and resources in bringing BubbleShare to life and to where it is today. His efforts have greatly contributed in the creation of our success to date.

Joe Hurd, the uber-connector, always ready to help to connect BubbleShare with anyone he could (and that’s one hell of a list).

Michael O’Connor Clark, for always being there as one of the greatest advisors and cheerleaders one could ask for.

Cindy Gordon and Alex deBold, our always-on business advisers and supporters.

Robert Scoble and Michael Arrington, who are genuinely true champions of “the little guy” and have continually provided great support and encouragement from their blogs and actions.

Glenn Rumbell and Joyce Kim, our tireless attorneys, that worked around the clock to help us when we needed them most.

Our external communications and design team, Jeneane, Steve and Justin.

The entire TorCamp/DemoCamp community, all of our passionate users and supporters that have sent us continuous feedback emails (I'm sorry I wasn't able to reply to ALL of them personally, I do try), and also countless bloggers in the blogosphere that have supported us along the way.

As cheesy as it sounds, yes, all my friends and family that have supported me along the way (you know who you are).

And of course, last but not least, our past and present core team that brought BubbleShare to life: Chris, the only guy that I’ve met that can translate my crazy ideas into actionable plans as well as he does. Terry and Maz, two of the best and most passionate software artists that I have ever had the privilege of working with. And Stephen, the most passionate and patient designer one could ever hope for.

I wish I could have spent more time on this posting, and I will likely provide an update to it – as you can imagine it has been a very crazy first few days of a great new year.

More to come (I hope) very soon.