As I write, the VentureBeat offices sit enveloped by a cloud. In all directions, the fog wraps our office building in a soft, gray fuzz, obscuring the views of downtown San Francisco, the bay, and the ocean.
It’s not unlike the cloud of marketing and hype surrounding “cloud” technologies. A fog of jargony words and needlessly ugly acronyms obscure understanding and make everything look like the same, soft grayish fog.
IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, cloudware, private clouds, cloudsourcing, utility computing … even the word “platform” gets overused and abused, rendering it nearly meaningless. What do all these terms mean? It’s easy to get lost in them if you’re not already deeply wrapped up in the cloud.
So I’ll be honest: Even though VentureBeat has a cloud channel and we’re planning a cloud conference that’s happening later this week (you should go!), I started out as a serious skeptic of all things “cloud.”
In my latest column for VentureBeat, I wrote about my experiences as an entrepreneur during the dot-com boom, and why it’s so important not to delay if you think you’ve got a startup in you. The only way to learn how to start a company is by going out and actually doing it. There are no books, no websites, and no schools that can tell you everything you’re going to need to know.
Things you wouldn’t ordinarily think twice about, like incorporating and taking care of our nearly nonexistent finances took up a huge amount of time, as we realized that we were out of our depth. We then spent too long talking with lawyers and accountants who cost way too much. Eventually, we realized we didn’t really need such heavy-duty firepower helping us, but by then we had spent thousands on them.
We were convinced we needed to raise a lot of money, and quickly, so we could “get big fast” and then figure out our revenue model. In reality, that was exactly backwards: For our kind of business, we should have stayed small, kept the company simple, built a product that we understood and could sell, and then grown the business once we had some idea what we were doing.
Eventually, we ran into one too many roadblocks including the dot-com bust and wound the company down. We didn’t make ourselves or our investors rich, but we did return more than half of what they’d invested to them — which is more than you can say about Pets.com or Boo.com.
This @ericries piece from last weekend is one of the smartest things I’ve read on race & meritocracy. He discusses how the gender makeup of major symphony orchestras changed radically after implementing a simple change: Making people do their auditions behind black screens, so the auditors can’t see gender or race, but can only hear the music they’re playing.
I previously described on my blog one simple change I made to the hiring process at my last company. I asked all of our recruiters to give me all resumes of prospective employees with their name, gender, place of origin, and age blacked out. This simple change shocked me, because I found myself interviewing different-looking candidates – even though I was 100% convinced that I was not being biased in my resume selection process. If you’re screening resumes, or evaluating applicants to a startup school, I challenge you to adopt this procedure immediately, and report on the results.
Related anecdote: When I set up a blind submissions system for tinywords, the result was an almost immediate diversification in the number of authors. Instead of reading bylines first, we had to concentrate on the poetry itself. It turns out that even people with respected names can write bad poems — and people with no name could write poems that would blow you away.
Now, many hires are made through recommendations and social networks, so the implicit bias problem won’t go away overnight.
But I think I am going to implement something like this the next time I make a public call for job candidates or interns.
Glam Media founder Samir Arora thinks he knows the future of media.
The secret, he is betting, is brand advertising displayed against high-quality, premium content.
That stands in stark contrast to the advertising model that’s worked best for the past decade online, in which increasingly specific text advertising is targeted at potential customers’ immediate desires, largely via search engines.
Glam Media aggregates content from a large network of vertical publishers. And Arora paints an alluring picture that might appeal to many print publishers, that are wondering where their profits have gone in the move to the web.
I was a judge at a startup competition recently. It was great fun and all of the 8 contestants were brave enough to make a 2-minute presentation in front of a room full of people — not to mention four cranky judges. One presentation in particular really stood out though.
When Halvor Gregusson got off the stage, an audience full of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors was cheering and the moderator was giving him a high-five.
Pretty good for a two-minute pitch about a time-tracking tool from a Norwegian startup.
Gregusson’s company, Yast, took the top prize in the Fast Pitch competition today at Under the Radar, a conference held in Microsoft’s Silicon Valley headquarters. The competition, co-sponsored by VentureBeat, gave eight startups (selected from a field of more than 100 applicants) just two minutes to make their case before a panel of four judges, one of which was me. The judges then had two minutes to give their feedback. We showed our votes by holding up one of three pictures of David Hasselhoff, ranging from “Oy vey!” to “Awesome!”
Gregusson’s pitch won the near-unanimous approval of the panel. How did he do it? Impeccable timing, a sense of humor and a continuous soundtrack (taken from the movie The Rock, he told me) that was perfectly integrated into the points of his slides, which auto-advanced as he spoke.
Minted, a marketplace for community-sourced paper products like custom stationery and wedding invitations, has raised a big pile of the green kind of paper — the kind you can spend.
For anyone whose parents told them to stop doodling Celtic knots or obsessively repetitive graphic designs and focus on doing schoolwork so they could get a decent job, that must come as encouraging news.
“I love the creativity of the community,” cofounder Mariam Naficy told me today.
But nearly every other gadget manufacturer is missing the point: It’s not about the specs any more. It’s about the ability of devices to deliver a seamless, integrated, easy-to-use experience that combines plenty of desirable content and useful services, with a minimum of hassle.
Call it “vertical integration” or whatever you want, it’s the strategy employed by successful companies like Apple, Amazon, Nike and Microsoft to make some of their products nearly unbeatable in the market.
Apple’s iPad is not the world’s most successful tablet because of its hardware engineering (though that helps). It’s successful because it’s locked into the iTunes marketplace, giving it a vast, built-in library of music, movies, TV shows, audiobooks and apps. That connection is often restrictive, but it also offers many people more than enough content to choose from, and it’s easy to use.