Initial thoughts on the iPad

My original plan was to wait and buy the 3g iPad which ships at the end of the month.

But yesterday, after our partners meeting yesterday, Todd, Mo and I somehow ended up at the Apple Store down the street. And we each bought one.

After less than a full day of usuage, here are my initial thoughts in no particular order:

1. It’s heavier than I thought. My friend Antonio sums up this point nicely:

This almost doesn’t bear mentioning, but it is nice to see that even Apple can not escape the laws of the physical world. If I had to guess, I’d say 40% of the weight is the battery, and an additional 30% is glass, which gives you an idea of what can come out of it in future versions (and what won’t)

2. Browsing the web on the iPad is a joy

3. Viewing photos is amazing. The screen is stunning.

4. I loaded my iPad up with an exact copy of music I have on my iphone. But today, I listen to music in one of three places – on the go with the iPhone, at home with Sonos, or on the web with my mac. I don’t know where the iPad fits in – especially since it doesn’t support flash and won’t stream from favorite music blogs or services like Hype Machine, We Are Hunted, Daytrotter, etc.

5. “legacy” iphone apps look awful on the ipad except for a few games that my kids enjoy. they don’t seem to mind the scaled up version. apps built for the ipad are the only way to go.

6. Speaking of ipad apps, i’m sure I’m missing some important ones. Right now, I’ve got netflix, mlb, espn, twitteriffic, and instapaper. What else should I get?

7. The ipad comes with a free copy of Winnie the Pooh which I’ll read with the kids. After a few minutes of flipping the “pages” and bookmarking, I know I’ll read a lot on this device. And it’s clear to me the textbook market is going to turn upside down.

8. I bought the Apple case but I don’t know if I’ll keep it. I don’t use a case for my iPhone. It feels like they just get in the way. Maybe there is a better case out there?

9. I like the iPad dock a lot. I have it set up next to my monitor at work. Its nice to be able to easily touch and scan something vs a mouse and keyboard.

10. When I’m not on an open wifi spot, I’ll use the iPad with the MiFi. Curious to see if this combo is good enough or if I’ll end up buying the 3g version.

11. the onscreen keyboard is very good. I can already type pretty fast even in portrait mode on a flat table or in my lap. However, typing standing up with one hand feels awkward.

That’s it for now…

At this point, a mobile experience shouldn’t be an afterthought

It wasn’t long ago that mobile phones had weak browsers and 3g was a network that the carriers built but without the “killer app”.

Smartphones with amazing browsers changed all of that. The web is the killer app. The browser on iPhone and Android are incredible and only getting better.

So if you are building a consumer web service these days, I highly encourage you to think of the mobile experience right away. Don’t think of mobile as something you’ll get around to doing one day. It has to be a high priority.

That doesn’t mean you have to build a native Android or iPhone app. It really depends on the service. I can’t imagine an app like Bump working without a native app while Techmeme mobile web site is amazing. It often comes down to whether your app requires access to local iphone resources (camera, address book, etc) or not.

At the very least your application/service should be optimized for mobile browsing experience and has an open API.

That’s the minimum these days.

A compact camera that rivals the DSLR

For the past 5 years, I’ve been using a DSLR as my “real camera”. It started when I bought the Canon Rebel and then a few years back I bought the 40d. It’s an amazing camera that is fast & flexible. I have three very different lenses for almost every situation. It takes beautiful pictures.

But there is a problem with the 40d. It’s big & heavy and I end up leaving it home a lot. It’s not easy to carry that thing when I’m running around with three kids.

So the iPhone ends up taking a ton of photos which isn’t great. Sure, it’s excellent for the casual snapshot but I love photography, getting the right light and making pictures. 

My brother has been excited about the micro four thirds system for some time now. He’s a doctor by day and as a hobby runs a micro four thirds message board. He’s been pushing me for the past year. 

A week ago I took the plunge and bought my first micro four thirds camera – the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 (honestly, who names these things).

Quick review: easy, fast, small and takes great pictures. 

My 10 year old daughter took a bunch of shots today. It’s so fast that even in auto mode it didn’t require a flash indoors. 

Here’s a few indoor shots that Sophia took besides this funny self portrait. 

Me / Our dog / James jumping (no flash) 

I absolutely love this camera. It’s light and the 20mm lens that comes with the camera is sweet. Autofocus is fast. It takes HD video. 

Right now the only thing I miss about the 40d for everyday shots is the view finder. The view finder comes in handy on sunny days and some old habits die hard I guess. I’ll probably only use the 40d when I need my telephoto lens – otherwise I’m all about the GF1.

I highly recommend this camera if you are looking for an amazing camera but don’t want to lug around a DSLR, You won’t be disappointed. 

My trouble with eBay

I use eBay from time to time. I buy things that I can’t purchase easily from Amazon or locally, like out of stock items. The perfect use case for me these days is buying vinyl records on eBay. It’s worked like a charm for me every time and I’m buying records across the globe.

Selling on eBay is awful in my experience. I have a lot of gadgets. So recently I decided to list some of them on eBay.

The process to list an item is painful in my opinion but that’s not the bad part.

The bad part is what comes next. Endless requests from people asking if you will end the auction early, or go around ebay, or people bidding & winning an auction and then flaking out. I’m now 0 for 3. I think I’m done.

There has to be a better way. What do you think? Is my experience likes yours or is it much better for everyone else?

Scale first, monetize second

With every (venture backed) consumer web startup there is always the question of when to start thinking about monetization.

If the monthly burn is modest, I usually suggest that startups focus on reaching scale first.

It’s not because I don’t care about revenue or because I embrace “hope as a strategy” (which never works).

Rather it’s because:

1 – when your user base is small it really doesn’t matter if you can get advertising, digital goods, subscription revenue going. The base is so small the conversion will be even smaller.

2 – startups need to focus, especially in the the early stage. With limited resources, the company needs to focus on the product and the users. If you start tinkering revenue too early then you suddenly find yourself having to borrow precious team resources to deal with various revenue projects. They always look small and innocent at first but they can snowball and can distract the team.

3. the ultimate revenue model may surprise you. as the product develops and evolves and your community grows, the revenue model is likely to reveal itself in an entirely new way. I’ve seen this happen several times and it’s a powerful reminder each time.

So when I meet a founder and he/she tells me that they are confident that they can monetize their future service with ads or subscription or whatever, I blow by that slide. I want to know about the product and how they are planning on growing the service to reach scale. That’s a leap of faith we both need to take at some level but that’s what I want to talk about vs a 2015 revenue forecast.

p.s.: Congrats to our portfolio company Tumblr for focusing on growth. Last year I remember David Karp, the founder of Tumblr, came to a board mtg. and said he was going to delay his monetization experiments and focus on growth. He had a game plan and told us about it. I’m so glad he did just that.

Sonos S5

We’ve been using Sonos for years. In my opinion it’s the best whole house audio system that I’ve ever used and I’ve tried a number of them. (And it’s designed by a startup)

Last year, our Sonos experience became even better when they came out with a new touch remote and an iPhone app. With a touch of a button I have last.fm, rhapsody and our local music library streaming in multiple rooms of our house. We had been using Sonos in three rooms of our house plus the patio.

The pre-requisite with Sonos is that you need speakers in every room where you want audio. Any type of speakers will do. But sometimes setting up speakers is a hassle. Putting two speakers in ideal locations isn’t always convenient so that’s why some of our rooms aren’t available to our Sonos.

That was until I bought the Sonos S5 last week. The S5 is a single amp/speaker system. Plug it in, press a button and it automatically joins your Sonos music network. It just works. I think the audio quality is excellent for an average size room.

I’m so happy with the S5 that I’m absolutely going to get a few more.

A little color behind my ‘crazy mode’ comment

Last week, Scott Kirsner organized a dinner over at Microsoft in Cambridge.

It was a nice get together with a number of old and new friends. Everyone at the table is focused on improving the local tech scene in their own passionate way. We all shared our respective efforts. It was wonderful to hear what everyone was working on.

Bill Warner is an inspiration. He is doing more than his part by being a successful entrepreneur, tireless leader, angel investor, conference organizer, industry ninja and the heart of TechStars Boston. I feel like a lazy slog every time I see Bill.

Jeff Bussgang is driving a number of things including Stay in MA. David Beisel started and runs WebInno. Kate Imbach runs MobileMonday. Nabeel and I got OpenCoffee Cambridge going. I’m trying to get rid of non-compete agreements in this state. Shawn Broderick, Tim Rowe & everyone else at the dinner is pushing their own efforts in a super positive direction. And the collective impact is tremendous. Things are happening in this town.

On Friday, Scott wrote up his thoughts from the dinner in Boston Globe. I made a comment over the dinner that Scott shared in his article:

“Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital said that one way to invigorate the start-up ecosystem here, and perhaps even create big companies in emerging industries, is to go into "crazy mode,” funding all kinds of ideas – some of which may seem nutty or insignificant. Some may just need $10,000 to get going, not $10 million.“

I’d like to explain that one a bit.

Over dinner someone made a comment in response to seed incubator programs like YC and TechStars and stated we were funding "feature companies” and we need provide “tough love” instead of being a cheerleader for these startups.

And that’s when I blurted out my “crazy mode” line. Because I couldn’t disagree more with that sentiment actually.

I want to see local VCs and angels fund more YC and TechStars startups – not less.

Many early/seed stage web startups begin life focused on solving one simple thing and in a capital efficient manner. In reality they have no choice. Yet, if they can nail it, they can start building tremendous value. And their capital efficiency is a gift to everyone. We should do more of this not less.

Pefect example: Dropbox was a YC seed funded company. I think most missed Dropbox because in the early early days of the company it probably was considered a feature or something Google/Microsoft/Apple/xyz big company could do overnight. Plus there were a number of competitors in the market.

The idea might be conceptually simple but they nailed the user experience which is everything and definitely not simple. The technology just works. Dropbox may have started life with a small seed but they have become an amazing company and have built a killer product with a solid business model.

Many successful consumer web startups began as capital efficient startups focused on nailing one thing. Consider Facebook, Twitter, digg, linkedin, craigslist, flickr….I could go on. Imagine what they looked like on day 1. In the early days they might look like features or even toys.

With all of that in my  head, I instinctively threw out my “crazy mode” comment.

If I could take it back, I would.

Because I dont’ believe funding these companies is crazy.

It’s the future.

Can a startup build the next great CE device?

Much has been written about capital efficient startups. Needless to say, I’m a big fan.

Typically, capital efficient startups come in two different flavors:

1 – One type are those that burn little/modest capital in the first stage (generally 0-2 years) while at the same time learning a lot and creating signficant value. At that point, they can raise follow on rounds (for growth, ad sales, staffing, scale, whatever) at a higher price which is good for all inside shareholders and also reduces the risk for the new investors.

2 – The other type are capital efficient companies that reach profitablity with little invested capital and then can grow from profits.

I’ve seen startups come in both configurations and it’s a beautiful thing. We have a number of them in our portfolio and I am confident we will continue to invest in capital efficient startups.

But over the break, i’ve been thinking about companies that require signficant capital upfront – before they prove anything or reach any meaningful milestone.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about consumer electronics. In our world of capital efficiency, is it possible for a startup to build our next generation phone, television, tablet, ereader or game console? Or do we all have to wait for Google, Microsoft and Apple to make these things? Are big co’s the only ones that can innovate and bring these products to market?

I believe that startups can build these things. Just look at Tesla for inspiration.

It’s going to take a special combination of entrepreneurs, operating excellence, capital and audacity. But it can happen.

And I hope we can invest in some of them – in addition to our capital efficient tech startups.

My Apple netbook

As I look back on 2009, my calendar (and my body) serve as a reminder that I traveled a ton. And I don’t see that changing in 2010.

So I bought a new MacBook Air this weekend. It has a 128gig solid state drive. It’s super light, quiet and smooth. I’m going to use this strictly as my travel computer not as my main computer at the office. (I wouldn’t recommend using this as your primary computer).

In a way it’s my netbook. This is how wikipedia describes a netbook:

Netbooks (sometimes also called mini notebooks or ultraportable) are a branch of subnotebooks, a rapidly evolving category of small, light and inexpensive laptop computers suited for general computing and accessing web-based applications; they are often marketed as “companion devices,” that is, to augment a user’s other computer access

The MacBook Air fits that description except for the inexpensive part. But Moore’s law will win that fight.

Since the local storage is relatively small, I decided to use this machine very differently than my other computers.

-the vast majority of my data stored in the cloud (email, documents, photos, music, etc)

-primarily using only two desktop apps: Chrome and Dropbox

-gmail for personal email and msft outlook web access to for my work stuff

-the web gives me my music fix so I don’t need local storage or apps for that

-photos all goto flickr for archive & backup. my favorite pix goto tumblr

-if i need to do anything creative with my digital work, I’ll take it to Aviary

-any thing that i happen to download goes to dropbox which automagically ends up on my heavy duty Macs. those items get backed up and/or syncd to the iphone.

-I’m not going to install MSFT Office on this computer. I think I’ll be more than fine with Google Docs and Apple iWork as a backup. This will be my first business machine without Office.

Let’s see how this experiment goes. I’m optimistic.

The more you give, the more you get (part II)

I left out a number of important things in my “the more you give, the more you get” post about the web.

The thing is, the “give” has to be easy and the “get” has to be great.

Web applications that force the user to spend loads of time before the eventual (hopeful) payoff don’t work for me. That’s why I mentioned last.fm first in my post. It’s easy to give them my data. And they give back something great.

I’ve also become a big fan of gdgt and i check in a few times a week these days. It’s perfect for lovers of gadgets (like me). gdgt fits this give/get model very nicely. You can go to gdgt and have a compelling user experience without registering. But it becomes even more powerful when you signup, create and *update* your profile. And it’s so easy to give them my data. Find products and then add them to your own, had or want list. That’s it. (here’s mine).

That being said, there are a number of other services that get a lot of data from me in a smooth and easy way but haven’t returned the favor like last.fm & GDGT.

For example, Amazon gets a lot of transactional data from me but it hasn’t been able to connect me with good product recommendations or other users. Netflix gets a bunch of data from me but I think there recommendation service isn’t as good as it could be. My credit card gets a lot of data from me but hasn’t given me new services or a better experience yet. The company that brings me pay television services to our set top box has great data from me but the user experience hasn’t changed in years.

I encourage folks to make the give part really easy and if possible even fun. Then hopefully the service can return the favor.