I’ve been thinking about spam recently as I’ve been making the slow change from Outlook email to Thunderbird forcing me to reset my spam filters. Whether it’s online, on the phone or in the mail, managing spam has a cost. I want back all of the microchunks of time that it takes to decide what to do with spam once I’ve determined it was in fact spam. I want back all of the delete key presses and I want back all of the missed opportunities due to false positives. Since I’ll never see my wasted productivity back, I want to advocate a new idea on behalf of future spam victims. I think that we should consider reclassifying an obvious spam violation as “Attention Theft” and prosecute it the same way we would any other petty theft. I know it’s not much of a deterrent and that enforcement would be extremely difficult, but it might stop otherwise “good” people from engaging in the practice if they knew there were legal consequences. This would also give some protection to the Opt-in people whom I regard as the white-hats in the broadcast messaging business. Just a thought.
June 4, 2007
We’re going for the second round of OpenCoffee Club at a new time & place:
OpenCoffee Club encourages informal networking among entrepreneurs and investors to help grow startup companies in the Houston area.
Friday, June 8, 2007
1151 Uptown Park #12
Houston, Texas 77056
I’m changing the venue to accommodate new and different attendees which I plan on doing each month until we collectively decide on the optimal time and place for most people. Email me or leave a comment to get on the email list.
I’ve already seen a few new faces that have RSVP’ed so I think that it will be another strong event for the Houston area startup community.
Richard Yoo has launched his Web 2.0 profile and information aggregator Natuba. I have a handful of invites left and if you leave a comment I’ll email one to you. The idea is that once you register, your username with various web properties like Twitter, LiveJournal, MySpace etc. and places them on a single page. As someone who writes content in a lot of places on the web - mostly in blog comments - I really like the idea of funneling all of the disparate data into one page.
Conceptually, I like this as a Web 2.0 play since it grabs info from different data silos and visualizes it in an intuitive way. I also like it as a way to repurpose content in order to increase linkbacks for Google PageRank, although this is not the primary function. Richard is a particularly bright guy and a great asset to the Houston startup community so I wish him and his team the best of luck.
If you’d like a private invitation to Natuba, I have a handful left - and I’m sure if I asked nicely, I could get a few more from Richard. I have to mention that it might be a little while until we hear from him considering his pending nuptials - Congrats!
I spent a couple of days in Toronto on business last week and I can tell you that it’s a really happening town, full of entrepreneurial energy. I was a little disoriented by the fact that our dollar and theirs have reached virtual parity - gone on the days of taking a 40% American discount on everything they sell. The only other disappointment was the fact that I missed the Mesh Conference due to my schedule, because it looked like it had a killer line up of speakers. One of them was Mark Dowds an Irishman living in Toronto who founded a co-working site called Indoor Playground. At the suggestion of my friend Robert Brackenridge I actually had my client drive me to the building in the hope that it would be open and I could see the setup - but it was a long shot and the door was locked at the time. It gives me a reason to go back however.
Since the fire alarm went off in my building at 4:30am I caught up and wrote a bunch of twitters to pass the time that I couldn’t go back to sleep. I’m really getting into twitter of late since I like knowing what people are doing - even if it’s just eating breakfast. I’m know that Jaiku is “better” technically with more features and less breakdowns, but I really like the community on twitter and I’ve made some good internet friends so far. Add me if you’d like at marc1919.
May 16, 2007
It’s been ten days since our first OpenCoffee Club and I’ve already had several follow up meetings with some of the attendees and one in particular - Tory Gattis (www.houstonstrategies.com) who earlier this month launched www.openteams.com that builds structured wiki’s for corporations. OpenCoffee Club once again proved to me that the Houston technology startup scene is very vibrant. Two other companies that I know, www.berggi.com and www.opmom.com have made their public launches within the last week or so. I’m also eagerly awaiting Richard Yoo’s (www.richardyoo.com/blog/) new company codenamed www.hushlabs.com coming out of stealth mode soon. My belief is that for every startup I know or hear about, there are three that are being worked on in complete isolation. I’m hoping that I can foster a relationship with Kurt Stoll at www.startuphouston.com to help get some of those companies out into the open where they can grow.
May 6, 2007
Thanks to the over 40 people that showed up, the inaugural Houston OpenCoffee Club was a resounding success. We had several Angel Investors, bona fide Venture Capitalists, business consultants and most importantly - entrepreneurs discussing various aspects of the startup life cycle. With no formal agenda, the conversations that I overheard ranged from “we’re looking for $X equity capital” to “We need a lawyer” to “I have this idea” - all met with enthusiastic repsonses and an exchange of business cards with the promise of further follow up. This was precisely the goal of OpenCoffee Club and to that end I think that there is demand for a second edition.
One thing that I was particularly pleased about the attendees were the handful of people there that I did not know who learned about the event second or third hand from the original emails I sent out two weeks prior. The fact that the idea became viral so quickly demonstrates that there is a pent up need for this kind of organization. I am very happy that I could help facilitate the event, although I can not take the credit for making it as big a hit as it was.
Special Thanks go to Saul Klein in London for coming up and executing the original idea, Jason Mendelson in Boulder for walking me through what to expect (he was remarkably accurate after his first two in Colorado), Robert Brackenridge of the Houston Technology Center for promoting it to the people he thought would get the most out of it and of course to business leaders and my personal friends and associates: Paul Campbell, Andrew Clark, Richard Scruggs, Jeff Williams, Leo Womack.
About mid-way through the event, roughly 30 people still going strong
Another shot of the crowd
Tony Huang, founder of www.techxans.com Speaking with Robert Brackenridge
Reid Pennebaker of RPVentures
Billy Buchsbaum of 1790 Capital
Russell Holliman, Founder of www.podcastready.com and Robert Brackenridge
Jeff Willams of Mainspring Capital Partners speaking with Co-Founders of MindOH.com
May 2, 2007
I’ve come to realize that I haven’t posted in months, but leave it to the always brilliant Paul Graham to pull me out of semi-retirement. Not that I always agree with him. His latest post is about how angel investors are the seeds that create startup hubs is absolutely spot on. The fact that entrepreneurs are the likeliest sources of angel funding for new ventures, proves the old addage, “Success breeds Success”. The real issue that most budding start up companies have in terms of funding is where to find these sources.
I’ve spent a significant amount of my time getting involved with various organizations around Houston that helped foster the local start up community. In my recent internet travels (e.g. blog reading), I discovered an idea that I think has the best chance of putting entrepreneurs with early stage investors in a casual setting called OpenCoffeeClub. In a word, it’s a meetup - an informal time and location for like-minded people to get together. It was founded in London by Saul Klein and recently brought to our shores by Jason Mendelson and Brad Feld in Boulder who run an outstanding blog called AsktheVC among other things like running an early stage VC firm. These guys clearly “get it”. They have realized that social aspects of finding and funding companies (especially Web 2.0 companies) are an important factor in the new landscape of internet companies.
Based on their good example, I’m initiating OpenCoffee Club Houston at 8am on Friday May 4 2007 at CoCo’s Crepes and Coffee near the Houston Technology Center. I think that we’ll have a decent turnout and I’m very curious about the crowd that it attracts. I hope to make this a recurring event as I think that it will increase both investor education for startups and dealflow for investors over time. This will be sort of a standing mini-unconference in that the agenda will be set by the attendees at that time.
Wish us luck and pictures and a debrief to follow.
December 6, 2006
Yesterday I received a personal email for another company that put it up for sale on EBay. Mojungle is a picture and video sharing service for mobile phones. The site’s GUI is top notch and it seems that there aren’t any holes in the service itself. I spoke with the CEO, Ophir Tanz last night and he tells me that there have already been a number of serious bids (and a few tire-kickers). $60K seems like a great value for fully-functioning site with these features. His reason for selling seemed reasonable - he wants to focus on his other company - Cavern, a custom handprinted wallpaper design firm.
Another site for sale also popped up in my feeds yesterday. vBDiscusion is a fully coded discussion board with populated categories and users for the popular discussion board software vBulletin. I think that this counts as a company sale and not simply a domain name sale because it has been run like a business and it’s being sold like one. It doesn’t have the same value as a www.kiko.com, www.huckabuck.com, or www.dropsend.com, but this is a growing trend.
There has been some talk on Dharmensh Shah’s OnStartups.com about creating an EBay for this type of sale and he is even willing to donate the name www.startupauction.com for the cause. I think that it’s a great idea whose time has come.
December 4, 2006
I did a tiny bit of research on the hardware this afternoon, and just as I suspected – this is the least sticky issue. Here is a link to the entire category of mp3/video players on www.alibaba.com: http://www.alibaba.com/trade/search?IndexArea=offer_en&SearchText=mp3. This is the first one that I thought was the most feature laden and extensible – I like the idea of a built in USB port: http://bitland.en.alibaba.com/product/50139966/51203583/MP3_Players/Flash_MP3_Player.html
I think that a case and package (green, no plastic) design contest in partnership with www.core77.com and custom skins from the guys at www.ifrogz.com or www.macskinz.com (who also do laser etching) would be yet another way to get the community involved.
From a marketing perspective, once a website is up, I would make an affiliate marketing widget for a 10% discount to pre-pay for a device and get every podcaster out there to put it on their sidebar. Not to confuse the RSS issue, but direct subscribe badge that looked something like this: would add a lot of credibility immediately. I’d also put up a store in SecondLife and sell signed and numbered digital copies of the player so copybot wouldn’t be an issue. I’d even consider in-game kiosks to manage feeds – which would really be nothing more than a hosted OPML list.
I really like Michael Gartenberg’s suggestion that you don’t sell cheap add-on accessories like headphones. I’d sell add-on packs or a deluxe version if people really wanted them, but they’d have to be worth putting into another package and getting another SKU. One more way to save money is that I wouldn’t print a manual (it should be intuitively easy to operate) or bundle a driver CD that becomes outdated the minute it’s shipped. Instead I would create a wiki or user forum on the site and print that on the box.
December 2, 2006
Some technology luminaries have been throwing an idea around that hits very close to home for me. Jason Calacanis, Peter Rojas, Dave Winer and Michael Gartenberg have talking about creating a podcast-centric MP3 player. I think that this is an idea whose time is right for the market. Between the four of them, there is enough marketing power to get their target audience buzzing immediately. They also have the wherewithal to make it a device/service that will serve a real need.
I really think that the blogosphere (Make, boingboing, Metafilter – and obviously AOL/Weblogs, Inc.) and “podcastosphere” could drive pre-sales on day one. Retail sales are not out of the question down the road and it would certainly establish a brand that could be built into a real “mini-major” in the industry. The fact that there are so many well known names involved creates the unfair advantage that VC’s and professional angels love.
As far as the device itself, there has already been a small amount of discussion about power, and I agree that rechargeable is the only way to go. Compatibility with existing alkaline batteries is a must. I think that www.usbcell.com would fit the bill nicely. For screens, any current standard cell phone screen would work for the form factor, and if the costs can be kept low – I’d look into OLED’s. The trick is to have an always on/connected RSS-based podcatcher - exactly what my friend Russell Holliman (http://www.mobilepodcast.org/) who Dave obviously knows http://scripting.wordpress.com/2006/11/29/scripting-news-for-11292006/#comment-20579 has been working on at www.podcastready.com
This is my somewhat flippant response I made on Jason Calacanis’ blog post:
This is a lay down easy idea for you to execute and sell. I love the functionality coming from users, instead of the sellers telling us what we’re going to have to trade off. If this is more than a passing idea, I’d be happy to talk to you further about how to make it happen. I should get a pretty good report from Peter if you want to check me out. In the meantime, take a look at these sites that may be able to help shape your ideas:
1) The hardware itself is trivial - This is one of the most well known http://web.media.mit.edu/~ladyada/make/minty/index.html and MAKE is even selling a DIY kit on their site: http://store.makezine.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=MKMP3KIT. For bigger production runs you can check out the 100’s of OEM’s in the Asian pavilions at CES in January. You may know a few people who will be covering the show, so they can ask around about this.
2) Audio is inexpensive and universal, but even if the user experience isn’t there yet, video is clearly the new kid on the block. What about a HD-player for downloading HD content from kiosks in movie theaters. I think you may personally know someone who’s talked about this on his blog before. Hint: He probably likes watching basketball in high def in his own theater. Here’s a brand new site with content designed specifically for the mobile/office audience - www.alamoheightssa.com.
3) I have the Podcast preloader and automatic downloader solution ready to go: www.podcastready.com (full disclosure: I’m an investor)
4) Removable media is a must and I happen to like SD because is has relatively ubiquitous, has a small form factor and it’s cheap (my local Microcenter is selling a 2gig card for $14.99 after rebate)
5) Don’t forget Bluetooth - you’ll be slightly ahead of the technology curve that Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and Toshiba haven’t gotten to yet, but also it can be used for receiving data automatically when WiFi isn’t present.
6) I like the celebrity angle, it’s certainly worked for the cell phone industry, especially the Sidekick. Between yourself, Peter, Dave, and Michael I believe that you can generate enough buzz to get your pre-sales to pay for your first production run just like you mentioned in your post. The real money comes in when you think about who wouldn’t want to get their bands music or their own podcast pre-loaded on your initial signature devices? That means sponsorship opportunities abound. I’m pretty sure you know a thing or two about advertising and corporate sponsorship so I know you’ve already thought of this as well.
7) www.crowdspirit.org - they just launched an idea crowdsourcing site to create consumer products exactly as you describe.
Google’s CEO has recently stated publicly (http://money.cnn.com/2006/11/11/technology/bc.tech.google2.reut/index.htm?postversion=2006111122) that cell phones should be free by subsidizing them with advertising. You know all about their localization initiatives, but you may have overlooked the just over $100 million they spent on an audio ad insertion company called dMarc (http://www.dmarc.net/) last year.