Blackberry Provides a Mobile Device Too!

Since the iPhone came out a year and a half ago, mobile app development has gone into an iPhone-only mode of development. Mostly. The web interface has made it much more conducive to providing a real rich environment for web applications and now that the iPhone 3G has arrived, apps are being produced left and right.

It’s all great, except Apple still has a minority market share in mobile devices. By mobile device, I am referring to smart phones: iPhone, Treo, Blackberry, etc.

In DC, we have a running joke about the iPhone. In DC the preference for a smartphone is a Blackberry. When I get on the Metro, I look around and everyone is fiddling on their Blackberries.

It’s a matter of utility and practicality.

In San Francisco, no one goes without an iPhone, but in DC iPhones are far more scarce.

Yet, mobile application development seems to trend toward iPhones. While iPhone rich applications are great for the “bling” factor, they represent a small minority of customers in the global market that actually can utilize these interfaces.

In my opinion, developers can work within the limitations imposed by RIM to provide rich Blackberry equivalents to their apps. The Facebook App for Blackberry is a shining example of great Blackberry app that has been developed within the context of the RIM framework.

It can be done. It should be done.

I was pitched an iPhone app by a PR guy yesterday and when I scolded him for having an iPhone app and not a Blackberry app as well, he corrected me and gave me access to their prior-released Blackberry version. After fiddling around with it for 30 mins, I realized it just doesn’t work. Why are companies putting out half-assed products?

The Blackberry Storm is coming out, by all accounts, in the next 2-3 weeks and I’ll be one getting it as soon as it comes out. Why? Because Blackberry users know our product sucks. But, we need it. It’s utility. It’s functional. It’s the hub of our digital lives. The Storm will theoretically change that and that is great.

In the meantime, mobile app developers have to recognize the market share and not take an elitist perspective that they can somehow push users to the sexier platform. Because in DC, purchasers don’t care about sexiness. They care about utility. I imagine this city is not alone in that regard.

Thummit: Food Reviewing Comes to Your Phone

picture-4Have you ever found yourself sitting in a restaurant and completely turned off by the service you received? Or maybe you experience the best crab cake you have ever had?

Up until recently, the best you could do was go submit your review to sites like Yelp – if you remembered when you got home. Thummit, a Launchbox Digital incubation company based in Washington, D.C. hopes to solve that and similar problems for you using your cell phone.

The idea is simple, and builds on the successes of other mobile companies like Twitter: You send a text message to a designated number with your thumbs up, thumbs down, so-so markup and the service stores that review.

In a demo given to a small group of bloggers in their hip office space in the middle of Chinatown, co-founder Sean Greene outlined use cases where Google local results for pizza in Dupont Circle yields chain blasé such as Pizza Hut and California Pizza Kitchen while Thummit yields much more acceptable results for a foodie in Dupont: Pizza Paradiso, Alberto’s and Anna Maria’s Italian Restaurant.

The service is not open to the public as of yet and there is still a lot of work to be done. The service has been seeded by review content (fair use) from sources like Zagat and other restaurant review sites so new users will not feel like the community is dead.

Socially, the service assumes that as a user, you will get your most use out of it if you have trusted connections of friends and contacts who provide great reviews and might be inline with your own tastes. By cultivating that community and social network aspect, they hope to provide tailor-made results to you based on your preferences and trusted social connections.

Text messaging is the cornerstone, but even that remains to be fleshed out completely.

The usefulness of this service is, of course, the immediacy of mobile and content. I may not be inspired to write something on Yelp when I get home, but I am now and by God, I have a phone! This also takes the web technology aspect of reviews to a new level, further marginalizing the one-way communications of your daily circular’s restaurant reviews.

Damn the Economy — Full Speed Ahead!

damn torpedoes2.jpgRandom-sampling the mix of entrepreneurs who made it to OpenCoffeeDC earlier this week, the wretched economy has deterred um, let’s see — no one. Gotta love that entrepreneurial spirit!

Optimism still reigns — rains, even. Everyone in the group echoed anti-parallels to the dot.com crash (“Back then, ‘Internet’ was a bad word and investors ran from technology; today, it’s the financial markets,” and ““negligible costs of getting started”) — even attending VC Jonathan Aberman waxed enthusiastic: “People will invest in things they understand,” he noted, referring to the backlash from Wall Street’s love affair with exotic but obtuse instruments, “and for many, high tech equates to high growth.” (I took comfort in the notion that there’s something out there more obtuse than technology.)

Still, Aberman had a strongly worded caution for the near term: “Don’t look for money now.”

Gakk!

Not that the entrepreneurs were oblivious to the issues and challenges ahead. Nobody disagreed with LaunchBox Digital co-founder Sean Greene’s assessment that “Most angels have watched 40% of their net worth disappear” along with the Market. Money remains the biggest issue.

And many times during the discussions, the word ‘runway‘ came up — a term I guarantee few people uttered outside of airports a month or two ago.

(btw, a runway analysis is a good exercise for every startup. As is acclimating to the idea that whatever your relevant variables were two months ago — demand, market adoption, advertising CPMs, time to raise capital, valuation, etc. — everything’s changed. There may be a few pluses — cheaper rent, cheaper talent — but for the most part, things have gone in the wrong direction.)

Back to happy thoughts.

I was genuinely pleased to see the diverse mix of companies and stages around the table. We even had a non-software start-up (!) — The Dupont Collection bed & breakfasts. (Heck, I didn’t even know there were bed & breakfasts in DC. They look inviting . . . and reasonable!) I couldn’t have mixed it up any better if I planned it. Here’s a sampling of companies and their outlooks:

DubMeNow — (Beta.) As told by Director of Business Development Chris Hopkinson, DubMeNow, which aims to rid the world of business cards through enabling mobile devices, was sitting comfortably with over a million angel dollars raised . . . though it will continue to pursue VC funding to accelerate expansion to additional mobile platforms.

Funds sought: $1M. Runway: 12 months

YourMusicOn.fm — (Pre-launch.) Daniele Calabrese is in the formative stages with a one-stop-shop for digital delivery of music and content.

Funds sought: $500k. Runway: Self-funded, working towards a target of August 2009 beta.

SocialMinder — (Alpha.) John Adler founded and funded this ‘keep-in-touch’ minder (currently works with LinkedIn) that analyzes the ‘health’ of your relationships and flags those that need strengthening.

Funds sought: $1M. Runway: Through the end of ’09.

The great thing about OpenCoffees and similar meetups is the collaborative atmosphere. As an entrepreneur who’s weathered startups through several recessions — (“No, son — I don’t recall the Crash of ’29”), I can say I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Even the dot.com days were far more competitive and snarkier. (I think it’s because it was all about ‘eyeballs,’ and you never wanted the other guy to get any of yours.)

Maybe it’s just human nature to huddle together during tough times. Well, there are lots of ways to do it. Join Amplifier Networks’ DC Tech Corridor social network, for one.

And for Pete’s sake, get out of the house now and then (like going to OpenCoffees). Rounding out our group was Chloe Feinberg, a supporter of Jelly in DC. For those not aware, Jelly is a ‘floating crap game’ workspace for technical/social media types looking to do casual co-working, usually in corners of various wi-fi connected coffee shops and eateries. Anyone interested, the next assemblage is at Busboys & Poets Monday 11/3, from 10am to 4pm.

Sign up — networking with warm bodies can be a nice alternative to Facebook for braving a nuclear winter.

For Your Election Night Fun

Election night is around the corner and with it comes all the fun. You can either watch the talking heads make early predictions (such as calling New York State within a minute after polls close) or you can head to the intarwebs for some fun. Unfortunately, we won’t have the Tim Russert whiteboard to keep us company this time around.

First you’ve got Twitter Vote Report which is seeking to pull together reactions from Twitter users. You can use the “hashtag” #votereport for tracking and project participation, or follow suggestions by the volunteers behind the project:

If you currently use Twitter, send a message after you vote that begins with #votereport (this is critically important for ensuring that your message gets to the right place.) Then write some or all of the following:

  • #[zip code] to indicate where you’re voting; ex., “#12345″
  • #machine for machine problems; ex., “#machine broken, using prov. ballot”
  • #reg for registration troubles; ex., “#reg I wasn’t on the rolls”
  • #wait:minutes for long lines; ex., “#wait:120 and I’m coming back later”
  • #good or #bad to give a quick sense of your overall experience
  • #EP+your state if you have a serious problem and need help from the Election Protection coalition; ex., #EPOH

You can also text messages to 66937 and begin your message with #votereport or use the TTY service by calling (567) 258-VOTE/8683. An iPhone app is supposedly coming as well.

And if you want to torture yourself, Katie Couric is hosting a webcast immediately after CBS broadcast coverage ends. You’ll be able to pull this up on CNet and CBSNews.com.

CNN, meanwhile, is pulling together all spectrums of the blogosphere at Washington DC café Tryst for live blogging and reactions. The two blogs mentioned by the New York Times are Huffington Post and Red State but undoubtedly, there will be a good representation by DC-area political bloggers producing content for their sites and CNN.com.

Election Map is using Google Maps to currently solicit predictions as to how the states will fall. Presumably, they will rollover to an election results map as well.

Of course, there will be the normal banter on Twitter and FriendFeed and you can probably find a “Results Party” in your city where local webheads will group together to watch the results come in.

My prediction? It will be over by 10pm and Obama will take 42 states.

The Apple Store isn't the Only Place Intelligent People Go to Die

Apple announces an iPhone and people stand in line for it, despite the manufacturer never having entered the phone market before.

A new line of computers is announced with some new feature never seen before in the platform, and people make a rush on the store to get their hands on the new sexiness.

Apple announces a new line of iPods and the rush to get one takes over the market with a hysteria only eclipsed by the rush to buy other Apple products.

I wrote the post, The Apple Store: Where Intelligent People Go to Die last year but since then I’ve noticed that Apple really isn’t the only company that has this effect on its customers. Google does as well, in a slightly different way.

The obsession with Google is less about consumer usage and more about press and media obsession. Whenever Google does something, it is covered ad nauseum.

Google has now released their G1 Android phone, a first for a company who, like Apple, has never been in the phone business. The G1 phone was announced earlier in the year and is built on the Android platform, an open source code base that seeks to challenge the way phones are done in the age of the iPhone.

T-Mobile is the carrier of choice for G1 users. It is available in the United States and will be available on October 30 in the UK with the same carrier.

Fortunately there hasn’t been a consumer obsession with the first generation Google product yet, as there is already a security flaw that could allow malicious keystroke logging software to be installed on the device. What do you expect from a company who is perpetually in beta?

My point is this: Google is a great company that produces highly innovative products that always run a chance of revolutionizing the landscape. But, they are subject to the “Don’t buy Generation 1″ rule. Consumers and media need to be careful not to simply give the Big G a pass because they are the Big G. Approach every product with skepticism looking to falsify their claims. If they pass the test, then use the product. Google, Apple, Microsoft, or any other company with any other product out there. It takes time for a product to fully gain trust, and in the meantime, you don’t really want to have security or stability problems.

Not All Team Players Pulling Their Weight?

pulling their weight.jpgAre all your team members equally pulling their weight? It comes up all the time — I’ve had the issue myself — and it was common enough for a few startup CEOs to throw together an ad hoc session at BarCampDC2 last weekend. Of course, it never starts out that way — but then, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. How to make sure things stay balanced, and equitable?

Things change along the way, some in our control, some not. But the best way to ensure that things won’t go well is to start off unfairly. And it starts at the top –Venture Hacks contributors noted in their Quick and Dirty Guide to Starting Up, ‘Co-founders are the biggest failure mode for startups.’ Presuming you’ve gotten past that, have a good, complementary founding team, what’s the right ‘comp plan’ for the first few people you add?

It depends.

Paying them, as it turns out, is really the only true mode of control. If their only compensation is stock (or stock options), you might as well resign yourself to the fact that whoever is paying them — their day job, or contracting work — is their master. (If they’re married, I’m pretty sure that’s what their spouse would say.)

So how do you get them to do your bidding?

That’s the problem. The startup is your dream, not theirs. (If it were, they’d be founders, too.) Do you find that talk about how rich everyone will become just doesn’t seem to resonate? Uh-huh.

Here are some observations and suggestions:

1. Start off fair. At least then, you’ve got a fighting chance. To me, this means, err on the generous side with stock. (Since it will vest, if things don’t work out exactly as planned, the downside isn’t horrible.) Discussions go on all day long at Hacker News about the topic, but until cash compensation comes into the picture, the first few team members (after founders) are ‘near-founders,’ and need to receive upwards of 10% ownership. (If there are two founders, consider 33% each for the two founders, then 33% for the ‘near-founders’ as a group. For some of you — especially first-time founders — this will be blasphemy. “My idea, my company, my 100% commitment, blah, blah, blah.” Remember these words, wee hopper:

Optimize for success, not ownership.

2. Strive for transparency. At the CEO [gripe] session at BarCamp, one of the conversations that transpired surrounded the amount of money that some startup CEOs are able to walk away with as part of an acquisition. Resentment for founders being enriched is not uncommon — and often unpreventable. But I’ve found that employees are far less upset if relative ownership is explained early on — the earlier the better. Exact numbers aren’t needed. But the relative stakes of founders, officers, and everyone down to the admins (I believe all employees should be stockholders) should be something that’s talked about (unless you really haven’t been equitable). I have always taken the time to sit down with each new employee and walk through a reasonable scenario, which goes something like: “If we execute, then in three to five years we could be acquired for $100M (hey, dream big!), at which time your 50,000 shares would be worth around $250,000 . . . and that’s just for this first grant; you should expect to get additional grants.” (Now see #3.)

3. Remember what the motivators are. Among the things I found when I moved to the area from the West Coast, equity was often nowhere to be found (except with the founders). Most notable to me was Mario Morino himself, advocate of entrepreneurship, founder of the Potomac Knowledgeway, and great giver-back to the community. Don’t get me wrong, his philanthropy has been exceptional, and he’s been a role model for many in the area. I was just surprised to learn that employees of Legent Corporation, which he created in the late ’80s by merging his firm with another then sold to Computer Associates (now CA) in 1995 for nearly $2B, never received options. I remember hearing from former employees, “It wasn’t unusual for the area. It’s fine. Mario paid really well, and had great benefits.”

M’kay. Again, money talks. Especially these days. Still, I was surprised to learn from the CEO of a local startup that’s able to pay all his employees that he doesn’t give stock either. “They don’t seem interested in it.” (I think they might regret that, if the company were acquired.)

To me, although the main thing is that people feel they’re treated fairly, ownership in the company is still important. If you’re successful, the day will come when they’ll realize the value of their stock . . . and what you did for them. (Still, see #4.)

4. DC ain’t Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, the cultural differences are working against us. Folks here are just more conservative. As Scott Rothrock, CTO at The HealthCentral Network pointed out to me in the course of trying (vainly) to recruit a programmer from a big company: “People here seem desperately afraid of joining a startup that might fail; in SF, they wear their failures as a badge of honor.” And the irony is, THCN is probably the most solidly-backed ‘startup’ in the area.

5. Programmers and Engineers have a particular motivation. Never underestimate the attraction of working on cool things with cool people. I found out a long time ago that no amount of options will get technical people as excited as working on the bleeding edge. The fact is, the kind of people you want in your startup would never work at Initech in a 9-5 job (unless it was to support their off-hours startup dream). Any programmer worth his/her salt knows that you can lose your ‘chops’ — get stale — quickly if you’re not pushing yourself to learn and grow. Location-aware mobile applications? 3D gaming? Where do I sign up? And, they want to work alongside people who are smarter than them. If your venture doesn’t have some kind of sizzle, some real technical challenges, maybe offshore is a better way to get it built.

6. Hold regular meetings and reviews. In any event, never forget that things need to be monitored — regularly. You’ve gotten your team, they’re pretty pumped up, and off and running. Initial progress looks great. But over time, enthusiasm wanes, knotty problems come up, and all you need are a few demotivators — changing features, which means re-work, is a killer — and pretty soon productivity is way down. While you can’t avoid all the pitfalls, regular meetings (as in, every other Monday, if not weekly) can help keep things on track . . . and will also provide insight into who’s still emotionally engaged. That guy who’s missed the last two meetings — not engaged.

7. Hold 1:1s with your team. Distinctly different from group meetings. You need to know each person’s perspective and situation — especially if you’re not paying them. There may be personal issues that they wouldn’t bring up in a group. The point is, if you start holding regular 1:1 meetings, you find out about things before they implode. If you haven’t done it yet, start now. Maybe employee #3 and #5 just can’t work together. Chemistry, or something. You’re the CEO, and you’ll have to do something about it. But first, you need to find out about it, and find out early. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself changing jockeys two weeks before launch.

8. Celebrate — even little successes. Finally, more than one attendee at the BarCamp session made the point: even minor motivators (pizza and beer, a movie premiere, shirts/hats) can make a difference. They work a heck of a lot better than punitive measures (“Your stock option will be decreased by 100 shares for every day past the deadline”).

And for God’s sake, throw a party at launch!

Editorial Update: Specifics regarding a conversation at BarCamp DC were removed as potentially inaccurate and detrimental.

How Much Are People Talking About You? Part Deux

Last year I wrote a post titled, “How Much do People Talk About You?“. I could very well simply republish that post and be done with it, but I wanted to come back to the topic a year later and discuss it more because it’s important.

It’s important from a marketing perspective, and of course it’s important from a branding perspective. More importantly, though, it’s important because the answer to the question will either make or break you in a down economy.

If people know who you are, and you have a good reputation as a subject matter expert, as a brand leader or otherwise, you will never lack for work!

This is not a money grab. This is not a formula. You can’t simply do x, y and z and be talked about in closed circles. It takes time, perseverance and consistency. It takes presence marketing.

At two separate conferences, recently, my name was dropped by a panel member for different reasons. Twice, in fact, at Blog World Expo – and I was not even there to hear it happen! I heard from someone else.

The key here is that the consistent message I have put forward here has infiltrated the minds of other influencers. Without me writing yet another post, or speaking on yet another panel or directly influencing anyone face to face, my message reached to whole new audiences.

How much are people talking about you?

When you are cited, quoted or your name is passed to someone as a referral, you will never lack for work. People will come knocking on your door looking for your help and expertise.

If you don’t make a difference, however, you’re expendable. When management looks at the roster, your name will likely be checked off as someone who is eligible for a pink slip.

By being a known and significant entity in your organization or sphere of influence, and letting other people market you, you will never lack for work.

10 Power Tips to Help PC Users Switch to Mac

Seems like more and more people I know are making the switch from Windows to Mac. Apparently, no one cares that the economy sucks and pundits are telling them that people just like them, Joe the Plumber as it were, are saving their money and not buying bling products like Apple. Perhaps people are realizing that the total cost of ownership for a Mac is generally cheaper than a Windows computer, and that, for the headache that Windows often is, Macs are generally just simpler.

Now I’m not going to be a fanboi. I made the switch two years ago and I remember the awkward, out of body experience that happened for a few days (and it usually takes a few weeks for most people) afterwards. I do want to recommend powertips for Windows switchers who are just uncomfortable with their new Macs still. Learning the power efficiency tools will make your experience that much smoother and once you learn them, you’ll wonder how you ever did without them. Many of these tips are old hat to longtime Mac users, but if you’re an old time Mac user you should add your own tips in comments.

Spotlight

Spotlight indexes your hard drive looking for mail, applications, documents, dictionary definitions, etc. Anything that is on your Mac gets indexed by Spotlight. You can click on the magnifying glass in the upper right corner of your screen, or simply Tap Command (⌘) + Space. Start typing “Firefox” and it will find the browser for you. Start typing “Projected” and it will find that email that was titled “Projected forecast FY2009″ in your Apple Mail. And so on.
Picture 1.png

Dock Management

I’m of the mindset that, because of Spotlight above, I don’t need the Dock infringing on my workspace. So I keep the Dock tiny (as small as you can make it in System Preferences > Dock) and keep only the quick-find apps I absolutely need in there. Anything else I can access via Spotlight.

Right Context Click

In Windows, power users rely on the right-click. You can still use a Two or three button mouse (as long as it is of the USB variety) on a Mac and keep that familiarity. In fact, it may be a good idea to start off that way before switching to the one button (or the new buttonless) mice or trackpad.

Context click can be accessed two (or maybe three) different ways, depending on your setup. The ubiquitous solution is to Ctrl-click. The legacy configuration method is to access System Preferences > Trackpad and configure the Two finger + Click method. This allows you to place two fingers on the trackpad and click the button.

The third, new method that is only usable with the brand new aluminum Macbooks and Macbook Pros is to configure the trackpad to accept a click in one of the bottom corners. Note that the new Macbooks don’t have a traditional button anymore. The trackpad is the button.

Personally, I use the lower right corner of the trackpad to activate the context click but I’m on a new Macbook.

Exposé

Exposé is the tool that will artfully show you either all open windows from a single application or all open windows. Fantastic for quick switching or to find one of many many many open windows quickly.

Hand Gestures!

As a new Mac user, you really have to understand a few hand gestures on your trackpad. They will make your life super-easy if you get them.

  1. Two finger scroll – In a browser or any other window with scrolling, placing two fingers on the trackpad and moving them up or down will scroll the window.
  2. Four Finger Exposé – With the new laptops, you can now use the four finger trackpad gesture. Four fingers down moving up activates Exposé. Four fingers down returns things to normal
  3. Four Finger Application switcher – Four finger sweep to the left or right exposes all the applications open. This is in the form of Alt+Tab which is accessible still in OS X and also on Windows.

Spaces

Spaces is my bugaboo. It’s so powerful and allows me to spread out my many, many, many windows across different desktop setups but it comes with the awkwardness of certain applications never wanting to stick on the proper space or having the application menu in one space and an application window in another one. Apple is doing a lot with Spaces to fix bugginess. Regarldess, if you have a lot of windows and apps, I suggest using Spaces.

Optimal layout is:

  1. Browser, Email and Calendar on Space 1
  2. Development and other productivity apps in Space 2
  3. 2 Spaces for porn (kidding!)

Use Apple productivity apps

Unless there is something specific about Microsoft Office that keeps you there (everyone else in the office uses it is generally not acceptable enough, in my opinion, but Jason Thomas does make good points about collaboration) then you have everything you need in iWork ’08, Mail.app, iCal and Address Book.

The mental roadblock for many Windows users is that Outlook provides access to everything in one place but, while that is true, Apple makes a pretty significant transparent effort at app integration. If you get an email in Mail.app that suggests a conference call on Friday at 3pm, you can click on the date and create an iCal meeting appointment. You Can right click on an email address and add it to Address Book. Pages opens and saves to Word. Numbers opens and saves to Excel. Keynote opens and saves to Powerpoint.

You lose superb Exchange collaboration (right now) functionality, but for most people, the drop-off is not too bad and the stability and integration between apps is exceptional.

Installing Applications

This is dirt easy. Literally. If you’re coming from the Windows world, you are used to “installing” applications. You have to go through a wizard that installs all kind of cruft throughout the Windows registry. With Macs, every application is self-contained. Literally, that means that in almost every case, installing an app means drag the app from a ZIP file into the Applications folder in your Finder (Windows Explorer in the Windows world).

Likewise, uninstalling an app is as simple as dragging it into the trash can. There is nothing else. No uninstaller. No half-done uninstalls because the process crashed halfway through. Simple drag and drop.

Shortcut Keys

Shortcut keys can be a bugaboo for most switchers, and they will continue to be after you make the adjustment if you have to go back to Windows ever. All your main shortcut keys in Windows are Ctrl something. Ctrl+C is Copy, Control+A is Select All, Control+V is Paste.

Most of these are identical on a Mac, with an exception. You use the Command (⌘) key instead of Control on OS X. Power users will tell you that it’s actually a more natural keystroke because of the proximity of Command to most of your other keys. Control is farther away and makes your fingers stretch more. Learn to use that thumb for easy access!

Quick Look

My final tip for the day is Quick Look. With most common file types including images, PDFs and documents, you can actually highlight a file in the Finder and hit the Quick Look button (The eye icon on the top of the Finder window) to get a quick preview of what the document is before opening. This has proven to be a huge boon when looking through large numbers of documents for one item specifically.

I know I’m not mentioning everything and there are certainly more advanced tips (like getting to know Automator, calibrating your battery, screenshots, Applescripting and anything Unixy), so feel free to add your own “Switcher” tips in comments. Would love to hear more from you.

Monetize . . . or Die?

What we say to dogs.jpgA few months ago, my pitch to Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) for their GAP funding program was turned down. I actually thought I had a fighting chance, having worked with the good folks there before and produced a plan that set the stage for their first $100k GAP disbursement. But my app-in-progress CHALLENJ was turned down, for, among other things, “We are unsure about your ability to monetize the site.” Gee, I thought — I had scoped out several alternatives . . . one of them should surely yield.

What I said was, “The revenue is, of course, dependent on my ability to acquire millions of users.” And what they heard was “I don’t really care about revenue.” Like the classic cartoon, listening, understanding — and in the case of investors, believing — are often completely different things.

I had built a financial model — I love building models — that suggested revenue somewhere between $10M and $20M was achievable in Year 3. (Maybe I should have given them an interactive model or web toolkit, that would let them dial in their own scenario.)

But truth be told, my focus was primarily on getting users. I was willing to bet on our ability to do so, and that’s fine for founders . . . but for CIT (and others), the risk was too high — certainly to place a $100,000 bet.

(Incidentally, I still recommend applying for GAP funding — it’s a relatively easy application, and structured as a convertible note, avoids issues surrounding valuation, which can be very touchy these days.)

The conclusion I soon reached — months before the economy flip-flopped — was to build and launch before resuming the quest for investment. (Now pretty much a fait accompli for any web start-up.)

Launchbox Digital co-founder (and most recently, Thummit co-founder) Sean Greene suggested an alternative at BarCampDC2 last week: sustainability with small numbers: “VCs need things to be big — you don’t. You might be perfectly happy with 10,000 paying customers. And if so, you don’t need a VC.”

Point well taken. For that matter, maybe you don’t even need angel financing.

In a recent BusinessWeek story, New York Angels chairman David Rose — and several others — remarked they’d like to see self-sufficiency on the initial investment. Jeez Louise, how many businesses can get to self-sufficiency on a couple hundred thousand bucks?

Maybe it’s my upbringing. My first venture-funded company was in the computer-chip business. Talk about a leap-of-faith investment — money comes in, and a year or two later, you hope to have a working product, a receptive customer base, and good market conditions. In that world, there are only two qualifications for investment: 1) the pedigree of the team; and 2) the gut of the VC.

Google was a gut investment; the founders were super-smart, but still in school. Twitter had a mix of both — the founders had proven their smarts and ability to execute with Blogger, which was acquired by Google in 2003; but well before the meme had proven itself with the masses (some say it has yet a ways to go) a few VCs — notably Union Square Ventures‘ Fred Wilson and Spark Capital‘s Bijan Sabet, were also trusting their instincts that Twitter was not destined to be another PointCast. They believed instead they were on the very brink of a phenomenon . . . even without a revenue model.

Recently, a bit of tempest in a teapot brewed around a comment USV’s Wilson made about Twitter, as reported in a Wired blog:

“œIt’s like the stupidest question in the world: How’s Twitter going to make money?,” said Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson, another investor. “It’s like ‘How was Google going to make money?’

Wilson subsequently apologized for being snippy, but I knew what he meant. Throughout my startup career, I rarely worried about revenue models — the hardware companies of course made products to be sold, so the only concern there was could we sell thingies for more than it cost us to build them. But even in the software and Internet companies, there was a general belief in the notion that if we produce something people use, we’ll figure out a way to make money.

It may all be moot, because most of you are probably thinking more about sustainable revenue models than ever before.

Call me crazy . . . but I’m still a fan of go big, or go home.

In any case, we believe in our ideas, exuberant (if not irrational) as ever. And we remind ourselves that, as David Hornik, of August Capital has said: “One VC’s next Google is another’s wasted hour.”

Which is why I continue talking to VCs. And in fulfilling my personal mission to improve the VC-entrepreneur dialog, I’ve organized my first OpenCoffee, where we’ll have two local VCs in attendance. Join us, if you can, for some stimulating discussion!

Facebook Spam Pitches

There’s a new form of social media spamming happening in the name of PR social media relevance. It is the art of the Facebook “tag”.

If you’re fortunate enough, you’ve been hit with this spam a dozen times in the last week. It is shadiness at it’s best and I will not hesitate to out PR individuals or firms, regardless of how much “clout” they have in the social space, if they do this to me again. It will not be automatic, although it might be. You’ve been warned.

The spam is a nifty little trick where you publish an event, group or picture of a product, service or event. Pretty typical Facebook activity, really.

Spamming PR people then use Facebook’s “tag” feature, something that is more in context for photos where you can tag someone that is in the photo and they receive a notification that they’ve been tagged. People like me are tagged in Facebook content where we have no context with the expectation that we will be notified of the content (event, whatever) and will click through and maybe cover their product.

So. Not. Cool.

Facebook, can you please put some granular privacy controls including “Friend groups” and “Group privacy” to allow us to control who can tag us, or rather who can NOT tag us?

Also, it would be fantastic if we could flag inappropriate conten t with cause. I would flag such spam content (which isn’t necessarily spammy, to be clear, just how it is delivered to us is) with the explanation that the content was delivered as a spam PR pitch.

PR firms, shape up. You are not relevant just because you connect with us on Facebook. Give us some credit.