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I just accepted an invitation to be a mentor at Matter, a startup accelerator in San Francisco. Matter is focused squarely on media entrepreneurs. If you're an entrepreneur looking to create the next breakout media company, I recommend checking it out. Also worthwhile is Turner & Warner Bros' Media Camp program. (Here's Socialize's demo day preso from Media Camp, class of 2012. We've since sold Socialize to ShareThis.)
I'll also be holding "asynchronous office hours" on this blog, in the Community section. If you're an entrepreneur and want to post with any thoughts, advice, or challenges you're facing, I and other entrepreneurs will be happy to have a conversation with you that other founders can participate in. It's a way for us to share knowledge.
The picture above is a screenshot from the Matter promo video, showing Brendan Baker talking about an analysis he did around AppMakr's $1MM fundraising round. We also recently decided to sell AppMakr as a matter of "focusing on focus," which I talk about here.
I'm looking forward to the opportunity to connect with great media entrepreneurs!
Back in January of 2010, my co-founders Sean, Isaac and I created one of the first mobile app creation platforms, AppMakr.
At the time, we had a thriving mobile app consulting business called PointAbout, and we were building high-end (and expensive) apps for large brands. Our team made the iPhone app for The Washington Post and Cars.com. We built the Newsweek iPad app and an iPad app for Disney, along with apps for clients like General Motors, US Army, the Entertainment Software Rating Board and others.
Making custom apps was really expensive -- especially in those early days. We had a dream of democratizing app creation so it was accessible to anyone. From that idea, AppMakr was born.
The day before we launched AppMakr, our team took bets on how many apps would be made in AppMakr's first month. Some people guessed 10, others 100. We had no idea what were about to unleash: In AppMakr's first 3 months, users made many thousands of apps. We had to scramble to support the growth. We even got angry calls from Apple's app review team who were overwhelmed by the number of apps being submitted; that's how our App Quality Index came to be, as a way to turn their frown upside down.
In our previous startups, my co-founders and I have always had a desire to have a strong "always on" remote connection between offices. Back when we had DC & SF offices a few years ago, we tried setting up what we called "Project Stargate" using Skype. However, the connection would keep dropping, so after a few months we abandoned the effort.
The main lesson we learned from that experience was that reliability matters above all else. The best remote connection setup in the world will fail if it isn't rock solid.
With that in mind, when we sold Socialize to ShareThis, we were suddenly in a situation where our SF office was joined by offices in Palo Alto, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Texas, Boston, and others, so this remote connection issue became even more important to solve.
Luckily, there's a great startup called Sqwiggle that's working to solve this problem. They've taken an innovative approach: Instead of solving the vexing issue of having a reliable "always on" video connection, by default, users are shown in boxes together but as black & white thumbnails that update every 15 seconds or so, meaning the only thing that has to stay "always on" is an old-school web page. This always lets people be "together" while still having privacy, as there's no audio or video unless two or more parties enter into a conversation.
Achieving strong product/market fit as a startup is arguably the most important thing a startup needs to get right, as early on as possible. One big barrier to doing that successfully is often finding customers that care enough about what the startup is doing to spend time helping the startup optimize its products for the customer's needs.
This gets especially hard with the Fortune 1000. Startups and behemoth companies couldn't be more different -- like oil and water. A startup lives in dog years, a large corporation in glacial years. Not only that, but corporations have to protect their existing revenue streams, which usually happens with a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. But therein lies a dilemma: A profitable business today may become irrelevant tomorrow. History is littered with mega companies that failed to adapt: Kodak, Blackberry and Nokia, to name a few. Even the obscenely profitable Microsoft just axed its CEO for missing innovation in mobile.
So how does a big company spur innovation while not jeopardizing its existing business? Time Warner came up with an innovative program called Media Camp. Big props to Balaji Gopinath, the VP of Emerging Technology for Turner, for originally championing this concept at Turner Broadcasting.
My startup, Socialize, went through Media Camp at Turner last year, and we also participated in a Warner Bros TV program called the Brand Innovation (a big thank-you to our investor Chris Redlitz for turning us on to that one). These experiences allowed us to get an investment from Time Warner as well as sign a commercial agreement with them. That was invaluable to us as a startup, but it's also given Time Warner the ability to become very forward-thinking around social & mobile. It's truly been a symbiotic relationship.
I attended a great event run by MediaPost recently called the Mobile Insider Summit.
Here's the panel title & summary:
Here's the video:
Founders: Soon, you'll be able to publicly raise money from accredited investors. But the SEC's proposed rules assume you'll be raising money the way institutions did 20 years ago. This means that you will be required to:
Imagine having to notify the SEC in advance and file documents every time you have a new communication with investors, and include boilerplate with every communication. And if you break these rules? Your startup will be sent to "fundraising prison" -- a one year bar from raising any funds.
It doesn't have to be this way. Tell the SEC why these rules are backwards and kill innovation.
I've been thinking about the tech buzzword "table stakes" lately. It's meant to signify that a company needs to have feature parity with a competitor to be considered competitive. Here's the Wikipedia definition:
There's always been something about that term that didn't sit quite right with me, but I could never quite put my finger on why.
But I just figured it out: Table stakes is a reactionary philosophy. It's the equivalent of Blackberry's incremental phone improvements that were blown out of the water by the iPhone. When a company focuses on table stakes, it'll always be one step behind its competitors. That's why you don't hear startups ever using that phrase, but you do hear it at bigger companies.
I'm really jazzed about a term that was coined over 10 years ago but is just now really starting to become a reality: The Internet of Things, which is often abbreviated as "IoT."
Here's a video by the CEO of ioBridge talking about it:
As devices around us become smarter, we are going to transition from living in a mostly analog world where digital is an interloper, to a world where digital and analog seamlessly co-exist. It's kind of like moving from fire & candles to electricity. When Edison first successfully tested a light bulb in 1879 (it stayed lit for 13.5 hours), electricity was the thing. Now, electricity is so integrated into every facet of our lives that we never think about it. As things around us become smarter, we won't think about the "internet" or the "internet of things" so much as it'll be all around us and we'll leverage these smart objects in ways we haven't even though about yet.
GE calls the Internet of Things the 3rd wave:
Back in February, I tweeted this out:
About a month later, Google notified me that I'd been accepted into their Glass Explorers program. Late last week, I picked Glass up. In this post I'll tell you what my first 48 hours with Glass have been like, what's been great about it, and why I don't believe Glass is yet ready for general public use.
Here's a video of me showing up at Google HQ to get Glass:
After writing recently about what Elon Musk has been able to achieve, I've been thinking a lot about blockers that cause people and companies to fall short of their goals.
This assumes that those goals have been clearly defined. That's often the first problem. Getting everyone in a company on the same page to achieve the same macro objective is the first step in the process. A great litmus test for this is to randomly stop an employee in the hallway and ask them what business they think the company is in. The more varied the answers, the less this first crucial step has been achieved.
And personally, many of us are not working towards a macro goal, but rather, we're just trudging along, one day at a time. I often see people working towards secondary, more immediate objectives without having a clearly defined macro goal. So although it sounds obvious: To achieve success, one first has to define what success means. Have you set macro goals for your life? Mine, in prioritized order, are: