These days there are no shortage of App Stores. iTunes, Android, Blackberry, Palm, OneForty, Boxee and there are many more still and many more coming.
My favorite app store model is the open one like Android and Boxee. You can install an app from their app store or from the open web.
Having said that, the app store model provides important value. For the users, the app store provides aggregation, search and reviews. For developers, the app store provides distribution and economics.
The key requirement for a successful app store is a vibrant developer community.
The best thing about Facebook’s platform for third party apps is that they are great for users and developers can make a real business from the platform. Good for users + economics for developers is great for Facebook.
I was in a cab with Fred and Andrew last week. We were talking about how some apps can generate huge velocity on Facebook. Fred mentioned the three things on Facebook, newsfeed, requests and inbox tied with the social graph, are the keys to that distribution network.
That is absolutely correct and other App Stores can learn a lot from this.
Imagine if you checked into iTunes and saw a your friends or folks you follow in a newsfeed or timeline:
Mo Koyfman just downloaded Tweetie2
Brad Feld just purchased MLB.com
Lauren Sabet likes Word Wrap
And with a single click you could install or buy that app.
It’s a simple example but those viral functions don’t really exist on any other app store that I’ve seen. But I suspect they will shortly.
I’ve been using the new Twitter List functionality over the past month and I’m already addicted. I’ve created a few lists for my benefit including some super close friends which I made private and a bunch of other lists that are public. It’s a simple way to filter my stream.
Now that more users have access to Twitter List, I took some time and created a new one called bijanisfollowing. This is a list of everyone I follow on Twitter.
I guess it’s my very own Suggested User List.
I love getting tweets from the folks on that list. Check it out and if you like what you see you can follow all of those people with a single click.
Yesterday I attended Jeff Pulver’s 140conf in Los Angeles.
(btw that’s me, ron conway and howard lindzon)
I ran into a bunch of friends and familiar faces. It was also plenty of fun meeting a number of new entrepreneurs.
Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect from the conference. But I have to say, I was really impressed. Jeff Pulver has organized a fantastic event and I’m really glad I was able to participate and attend many of the sessions yesterday.
The coolest thing about the sessions was the range of topics and ideas about the real time web, Twitter and where media is going.
To give you an idea of the diversity of topics, the speakers covered everything from venture capital, television, news, music , law enforcement, public diplomacy and mom communities. And that was just Day 1. Day 2 is today.
But the most powerful session yesterday was led by Mark Hovarth. Mark talked about his experience being homeless and his tireless work as an advocate for the homeless. He shared intimate photos and stories about specific individuals that were beyond moving. He uses his blog & Twitter to tell the world what is going on.
Mark brought a woman on stage that he met in Chicago that is homeless. She uses Twitter at public libraries and SMS (publish only) to share her experiences about her life (I missed her twitter username so I’ll have to ask Jeff to send it to me). A number of us in the audience gave Mark a standing ovation after his session. And for good reason.
Thanks Jeff for putting on such a great event. Thanks for inviting me. And thanks for your passion.
Update: I just got a tweet from Mark. The woman’s name is Ann and she tweets at @padschicago.
Thinking about time shifting and live, real time streams
The very first time I used a DVR I was hooked. The DVR was more than just a glorified VCR. It was something completely new and refreshing. Beyond season events or one click recording, I could actually pause live tv. Or I could go back 30 seconds. Or I could record a show and then start watching the show 25 minutes later so I could catch up in real time by skipping all of the ads.
The DVR also came at the same time broadband was being deployed. As users we expected to have an always on connection to the web and everything on the web was unicast and on-demand by design. There was no such thing as an appointment web or Must See TV online. And the DVR brought that on-demand, time shifted experience to our big screen.
But it’s interesting to think that as television copied some of the web’s best behaviors, the web went real time. For some television shows, time shifting is far less interesting because we are now plugged into real time information networks like Twitter & Facebook. For example, I used to DVR football games but that’s harder to do nowadays.
The web now also has many more real time activies beyond Twitter & Facebook. Online games aren’t merely turn based but they are social and real time. CNN and others stream live online. MLB streams live. The other other day YouTube streamed the U2 concert live. The Presidential inauguration was steamed live. The list goes on and on.
But the real time web vs the real time broadcast television model in reality couldn’t be any different. The real time web is a two way network. It’s social. It’s a la carte. It’s comes with a permalink. It can be indexed, saved, copied, and blogged. It can be retweeted. It has super distribution built into it’s guts.
Why does cable television cost more than broadband?
Our family pays about $50/month for FIOS broadband service. We get 20/5 Mbps. It’s a beautiful thing and is only going to get faster.
We pay about $140/month for television which includes 3 HD DVRs.
What’s wrong with that picture?
Yes, CableTV is almost 3x the price
But there are other big differences.
-Hardware. cabletv has a closed set top box. The internet allows me to plug in any hardware I want.
-Software. cabletv comes with a UI that is broken and old. The internet allows me to use any software and UI I want.
-Content. cabletv has a few channels that we love (live sports and a few network shows and aren’t available online (yet). The web has a ton of content sources that I use all the time. CableTV has 1080p video. The web doesn’t stream 1080p. I’m not sure I care about that anymore.
At the end of the day, if we could only afford one of these things, cabletv or broadband, we would choose broadband all day long. That would be true if they jacked up our broadband price or if they dropped the cabletv price. I have a hunch many consumers would pick the web over cabletv as well.
For now, many of us can afford to pay for both services a month and we do just that. But this quick comparison shows the value proposition isn’t right.
“We did a thing where we had two weeks to build something and demo. Build it, try it out over the weekend. If it sticks we may keep working on it. I was ripping out carpeting during a heat wave and then my phone vibrated in my pocket, and it was Ev. And it said he was sipping pinot noir. I realized I was totally engaged in this product. So we decided we should keep working on it. At the beginning it was “okay this seems compelling”. Early on someone said “twitter is fun but it isn’t useful”. Ev said “Neither is ice cream”. So what if it’s just fun? SXSW 2007 was a huge watershed moment for us, first time we saw real potential in the tool. Saw people tweeting about a good session to go to.”—Biz Stone talking about the early days of Twitter - Startup School
Much has been said about the issues facing publishers and advertisers particularly when it comes to branded advertising.
My head always hurts when I hear people say that at least with television, brands can safely advertise their brands.
Yes, television has been a success story when it comes to branded advertising. The dollars are big. Forget big, they are enormous.
But I’m convinced that it’s a fragile business. First, it’s not growing. And our attention is shifting. Even if Nielsen says we are all watching 25 hours of TV per day we know it’s not true in our hearts and our brains. The second the TV commercial comes on we whip out our mobile phone or we turn our eyes to our laptops. Or we just click thru the ads on our DVRs.
Yet online branded advertising has real challenges. The current search business doesn’t deliver branded advertising. The classic banner ad if targeted works well for many things — except branding.
To make display advertising ads friendlier to brands, new formats are being introduced like this super sized banner ad I saw on Alley Insider today.
To give you an idea how big that Mercedes ad, that photo is my 15” MacBook Pro which has a 1440x900 display!
I’m not sure this format is the best for publishers, advertisers and consumers. I have a feeling it’s not.
But I am optimistic that there will be more compelling solutions for branded advertising. I’ve seen a number of creative ideas & technologies over the past few months and I’m sure we’ll see others too.
It’s only Thursday but I’ve already heard the expression “the winner takes it all” at least five times this week.
The concept is where the winner of a market dominates the entire market. Think ebay for auctions, amazon for online shopping, google for search, facebook for social networks etc.
Often advocates of the “winner takes it all” theory also tend to believe that the best way to compete with the incumbant is too build a better/bigger mousetrap or create the “blah blah on steroids”
I don’t think about markets like that.
Often times the winner doesn’t take it all. And the best way to compete with the winner (or current market leader) is by either doing less (not more) and focusing on one thing and doing it very well. It’s actually the opposite of the “blah blah on steroids” approach.
Few examples come to mind:
The market leader for some time was Monster. This is a huge market but it’s certainly not a winner takes all market. Instead we now have powerful companies building tremendous value by focusing on different opportunities in the job market with different business models and different experiences (ie Craigslist, LinkedIn, The Ladders and Indeed).
Apple built the amazing iPhone, iTunes & App Store. Those things work together in a smooth & beautiful way. They are killing it right now. The alternative: Not an iPhone on steroids. Instead, Andy Rubin and Rich Miner created Android. A free, open source alternative. Absolutely brilliant. Google understood that vision and bought the company very quickly. I’m extremely bullish on Android’s opportunity with mobile devices.
3. Social networking
Facebook is the market leader for sure. But its not winner takes all because its just too big of a category for innovation & creativity. Right now my social network for music isn’t on facebook (instead it’s on hypemachine and tumblr). My photo social net is on tumblr and flickr. My social net for television is Boxee. My information social net is Twitter. FourSquare and Twitter are my social net for places & events. The list goes on.
There are many more examples (gaming, ecommerce, payments, browsers, etc) but this post is already getting too long for it’s own good. So let me try and bring this puppy home with one last thought.
At the end of the day, I believe that entrepreneurs are just too creative, too ambitious and too optimistic to allow for a winner takes all world.
At one point in the discussion the CNBC guys ask how can users handle this constant flow of data. They were wondering if all of this real time data was beyond what users can handle or manage.
Steven and John gave great answers but I thought it was funny question because at the same time the CNBC screen was filled with all sorts of streaming data that doesn’t have any filter on it whatsoever. Just look at that screen: tickers, news, “breaking news” etc coming in all over the video.
Twitter offers a flow that is quite different. In fact it’s the opposite of the CNBC broadcast. It starts with following people you think are interesting and it takes off from there.
Btw, here’s the actual video, it showed up on my Twitter feed :)
In startup and venturespeak sometimes we use the word “forklift” which means a startup that builds a product that requires customers to rip out their current solution completely to use a new product.
It’s commonly referenced in networking, telecom and enterprise software. Want a new billing system? Well, that means you need to forklift the old one out of there.
For the most part, forklifts are tough to say the least. And it’s one of the reasons why enterprise software can be challenging. It’s also why the best forklift solutions make it easy to ramp (e.g. software as a service).
Capital efficient startups and VCs have tried to avoid direct forklifts when possible. That was one lesson we learned from Bubble 1.0.
But sometimes existing technical problems can become so big that merely fixing/improving the current model isn’t interesting. We need something brand spanking new.
For example, right now our wirelesss system isn’t scaling. We are still in the top half of the first inning when it comes to wireless data services. What happens when everyone has a smartphone (e.g. Android, iPhone, Palm Pre etc). The current cellular system won’t scale as we all make data services requests. They were built with a different design goal and use case in mind.
The same thing is true with the current sytems that deliver video on demand to cable and telco subscribers. Those systems were designed for a different use case than a world where everything single piece of content is on demand.
It doesn’t make sense in every case but I do hope we see more entpreneurs and VCs take on forklifts. But this time with the benefits of cloud computing, open source and with new models of efficiency.
“What’s the old movie line from ‘Annie Hall’? Relationships are like sharks; they move forward, or they die,” says Steven A. Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive. “Well, technology companies either move forward, too, or they die. They become less relevant.”—
I was thinking the other day about user interfaces on non-PC devices.
For the most part they are all stuck in some frozen point in time. Or worse, they became more complicated with time.
Consider this list which serves as a tiny sample:
-consumer landline telephone
-home audio/video equipment (TVs, set top box, remote control)
(I could go on and on).
There is an obvious tendancy to give us more features in each update with these products. Yet it doesn’t seem like the companies that make those products have user interface obsession.
I realize that I’m an Apple fanboy when it comes to design and user experience. And sometimes they absolutely miss the target (I happen to think iMovie 09 was a big step backwards). But for the most part they nail the user experience. Yes, I think they have great taste but it’s more than that. Its taste combined with obsession. Taste makes it sound too easy and like something you are born with or without.
Taste (alone) doesn’t give enough credit to companies that hyperfocus about their products.
I think a lot of companies don’t obsess on their user interfaces. That’s the only explanation I have for why my remote control looks like the way it does. And why there are a billion buttons on my car’s dashboard. Or why I still dont’ know how to sync the address book on our home telephone system.
They just don’t care enough.
That’s why I love startups. The best ones obsess about the user experience. They care about their products and the user interface like nobody else does and they don’t settle.
While I am proud of my work, our firm and many of the outstanding VCs we co-invest with, I realize there is plenty of anti-VC opinions out there. We owe it to ourselves, our customers (entrepreneurs) and shareholders (LPs) to pay attention to the discussion.
And there is always room for improvement. Nobody is perfect :)
I thought I would expand on this topic with a few examples & suggestions:
I think we VCs need to stop the double standard when it comes to non-competes. We can’t insist on locking up employees under a non-compete agreement in states that enforce them (ie MA) and then somehow fund entrepreneurs without any reservation in other states that don’t enforce them (CA). Let’s get rid of employee non-competes everywhere.
Pay to Pitch
In recent months I learned something that I didn’t know was going on. Some angel groups are charging entrepreneurs to pitch. Brad Feld said it best in his post, An Angel Group Move That Makes Me Vomit. Since then Charlie O’Donnell, Jason Calacanis and Fred Wilson have all weighed in against this practice. I completely agree. That isn’t cool and I won’t participate in any events that charge entrepreneurs to pitch investors.
Fred wrote a post yesterday about the VC speak - "we need to own". It’s an excellent write up and it’s another area where VCs can do better. Instead of a “we need” it argument, it should be more about “we want” to see in this investment or not. This is what I wrote in the comments.
The other thing that came up in the comments on that same post was the expression “our companies” by venture capitalists. It drives entrepreneurs crazy and I can see why. It’s much more accurate and respectful to say “our portfolio companies”. Credit where credit is due.
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Clarification: I can already see the faces of some of my VC colleagues that read this post. It may sound like I’m coming off as holier than thou which is clearly not the intention. Like I said before, we all can improve and I realize I’ve still got plenty to learn. Fortunately I’m surrounding myself with people that I like, admire, respect and teach me along the way!
And while I have been very good about responding to emails from my family, my partners, our portfolio company founders, our LPs and close friends, I just haven’t been great about everything else. And that doesn’t feel very good at all. In fact it completely bums me out.
So now I have a plan. It starts with bankruptcy and a clean slate.
“My research revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.”—Be lucky - it’s an easy skill to learn - Telegraph
I’m a fan of Foursquare. I’ve been using the service since July and I’m completely hooked.
As a user, I’ve been thinking about a few features I’d love to see in the product at some point. So I thought I would jot them down here.
1 - History.
A few months ago, I stumbled upon the Flour Bakery in the South End. I checked in at the time on Foursquare. Yesterday, Mo and I were in the South End meeting with a startup. After the meeting, I said, “I gotta take you to this place but I don’t exactly remember the name but they have the best macaroon cookies”. The problem was, I completely forgot what street it was located on as well.
It would be super cool if Foursquare could show me on the iphone my check-in history from my current location/neighborhood. And I’d love to see my friends history as well based on my current location at the time.
2 - Twitter Oauth
The sign up process for Foursquare couldn’t be easier. Phone number and password and you are off. They also give the option to login with Facebook Connect.
It would be great if they also offered Twitter Oauth as an option. Disqus has that option built into the commenting service so you can leave a comment on this blog using your Twitter credentials. Then, all of my Twitter profile data would exists and a bunch of interesting things could flow from there (DM in the app, recent tweets, follow/invite etc).
3 - Photos.
The Foursquare iPhone app is also a Twitter client in some ways. You can tweet your Foursquare checkins. I’d love a way to add photos to the check in as well just like other iPhone Twitter apps. Integration with twitpic, tumblr and flickr would be sweet.
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The interesting thing about all of the above ideas is that in reality FourSquare doesn’t have to do any of these themselves. The Foursquare API looks really nice. So it’s quite likely that many of these things, and much more, will come from 3rd party developers which is the most powerful way to build a platform.
we saw Nick at City Winery last night. the highlight was an outstanding acoustic version of Peace Love and Understanding. He played this song (Raging Eyes) early in his set and it took me back to the time when I first fell for Nick and his music
My wife and I have recently become quite interested in putting together our family tree. It’s such a diverse family with various backgrounds and cultures. And a large family at that.
We signed up with Geni and with a bit of nudging and effort from various family members we now have a tree that spans over 380 people and growing.
We are getting a ton of details that we wouldn’t have known otherwise. It’s really quite excellent.
As we reviewed all the information and watch the tree develop, we started thinking about health matters and family medical history.
For example, my wife’s dad died at 50 years old. Her father’s father also died at a very young age as well. Her’s father’s grandfather also died at a young age. All of them died because of heart failure. It’s clear how important it is to understand your family medical history.
But aside from that striking data, we really don’t know much about other medical history we inherit from our family tree. Who in our family has diabetes? Or cancer? Or Alzheimer’s?
I realize that I’m walking into a hornets nest and patient records are highly confidential. But if I had a medical issue that might pass down to my kids and so on, I would very much want them to know about it. I assume my grandparents, parents, uncles & aunts feel the same way.
At some point, we are going to have better tools that give us data and access. Of course, we will need assurances & security to make sure that the right people have access to the right information.
Electronic medical records are a start. Stitching our medical records with our family tree is the next step after that. And we will all be better for it.
When there’s no pretending, then the truth is safe to say, Start with the ending, get it out of the way - David Wilcox
When I was in undergrad people would often ask me what I wanted to be when I grow up.
Then after college people would ask what was my 5 year plan or my 10 year plan.
I had no idea. I was really living in the moment.
And nowadays, in my personal life and in my work life, I still tend to focus on the here and now.
But with young startups, I often suggest early stage companies to think about the ending at times. At least quarterly.
What is the ending?
The day you run out of cash.
It’s not uncommon for an early stage company to raise seed or Series A capital that does not take them to profitability. That’s true for a number of our portfolio companies. Consider, Boxee, Twitter and Tumblr. Those companies clearly did not generate revenue but all of them were able to successfully raise follow on rounds. That’s because they made signficant product progress with the first invested capital.
Founders should think about what you want your company to look like when it raises the next round of capital. And then work backwards from there. How do you make that happen? Who do you need to hire. What do you have to learn. What do you have to create. What should you focus on ?
Don’t get me wrong. Focusing on the here & now and executing is the name of the game. But it’s worthwhile to start with the ending from time to time.
-First of all, who came up with the name of this product? I mean, really, the Discovery 975. I found out the the previous model was the Disovery 925. Not kidding. If I was an engineer at Plantronics I would be pretty bummed with the marketing peeps. They work hard at building a product and that’s the best the marketing folks can do?
-okay, now on to the product itself. It’s pairs up easily with the iPhone. No sweat.
-i like that the device can rest in your ear without any of those ear loop things. I wear sunglasses quite a bit and those ear loops never worked for me. I’ve used the device for a few long conference calls and it stays in just fine. Lightweight and comfy.
-audio quality is great in the car. I haven’t used it walking around the city because that’s not the use case for me.
-battery life is a bazillion times longer than the iPhone. I also like that it uses a standard micro-usb charger. Also comes with a portable charger too.
I’m going to recommend this headset if you need a handsfree in your car.
But you probably won’t see me walking down the street with this thing on….