Jason Calacanis Goes Techcrunch50-wild on uStream

Jason Calacanis, CEO of Mahalo and cofounder of the Techcrunch50 (formerly Techcrunch40) event where startup companies are given an opportunity to pitch their ideas and potentially get funded, lashed out at rival DEMO that offers a similar venue but at the cost of $18,000 for companies accepted into the program.

I regret not catching all of the rant, and he didn’t record it, but I think it’s notable to share his message with the DEMO folks (and you). The DEMO model is a travesty for any company that is not already well connected and can afford $18k. It is the ultimate in class warfare and does not give legitimate opportunity for great ideas to rise to the top and be funded.

Mokonji

mokonji-transp.pngI began working on a project recently that I’m not ready to talk about in great detail. Let’s just say that it is somewhat the anti-social network, though it will take elements of social networks and tie into social networks and behave in many ways like social networks. However, it is not about social networks or social networking. It is about you!

The name of the venture is Mokonji and you can sign up to get in on the ground floor later this month. My philosophy on this is to release early and often so select invitees will have the opportunity to get in at a very early stage, kick the tires, and offer their feedback. I’ll be prototyping quite a bit on Twitter so follow me or the Mokonji user on Twitter to follow this hot piece of action. Or, check out blog where I’ll also be posting.

Ebb and Flow; Blogging During a Conference; Bits and Pieces

During conferences, I think it makes the most sense to blog in a format that Jason Calacanis made “special”. Stream of consciousness blogging. In other words, during conferences, I don’t have the time to fully develop thoughts like I would normally do to post usual content here. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot going through my head. In fact, it’s at times like this that my mind is on overdrive thinking about everything and fully baking none of it. Introducing stream of consciousness blogging where one entry might have three or four varying topics. I probably only do this once a day if that much. Here goes.

Writing Well

It’s been alarming to me recently how many blogs I’ve been visiting, in the DC area and elsewhere, which seem to be completely disjointed in terms of thought process. They are written with poor grammar, horrendous typos, etc. Though I’m known for bad typos when “ad hoccing” my writing – and known for equally bad grammar at some times – I really do like to see well thought out writing. If it only took you two minutes to write a post, it’s probably noticeable. Copy and paste? Clean up your formatting. Close your HTML tags. Do what you have to to dress the article up. It’s your professional image on the line. For more copywriting tips, visit my colleague and friend, Brian Clark for more information overload on writing good copy than you could ever dream of.

Austin, SXSW

This is my second year. Word to the virgins (erm, SXSW virgins), bring a second pair of comfortable shoes and a few extra changes of clothes. Last year we had monsoon like conditions and it soaked my only pair of shoes. Be prepared. There’s lots of walking. In a similar vein, don’t frustrate yourself by thinking you can even attempt to go to every cool party. Go to what you can. RSVP for everything (/me ducks from the party organizers) and then only go to what you can. Don’t kill yourself, you’ll regret it at the end of the week and feel like a failure. Just have fun. As JCal says, the best networking happens somewhere after 11pm over the most expensive Scotch around – or something.

If Simon uses an Adjective Beginning with G, you should Listen

Someone mentioned jokingly that there should be a drinking game where you take a shot every time American Idol judge Simon Cowell uses an adjective beginning with G – Ghastly, Grotesque, etc. Yes, yes, I’m making an Idol reference. Sue me. When someone criticizes your company, your business model, your methods – take what you can and leave the rest. Take the criticism and learn from it. If they are just looking to deep six your company, they are probably finding another way to do it. No need to be the super hero and pretend you’ve got it all figured out. Nobody does. Take the criticism and improve with it.

I’m out. Plane’s about to board.

Transparency is a Good Trait to Have for a Startup

Something happened last night that was very, very funny. A number of people showed up at the unofficial PRE MashMeet party. Among those were myself and Ann Bernard of WhyGoSolo who was having a blast taking me to task for yesterday’s post as well as informing me that I didn’t have room to talk about such things, because I wasn’t an entrepreneur and had never started a company (the nerve! ;-)).

Fortunately for her (what with my diplomacy and whatnot), such statements don’t piss me off, they just annoy me and it’s certainly nothing to ruin a relationship over.

Anyway, Ann missed a handshake yesterday. What’s a handshake? a Handshake is WhyGoSolo’s terminology describing a first meeting. She was “handshaking” Ken, who I had never met but in my brief interaction with him last night seemed to be a nice enough guy. We thought it was comical that Ann, the CEO of WhyGoSolo would miss a handshake, but let’s be honest – worse things have happened and they may have happened to you. I know worse things have happened to me.

Bad things happen to people and companies all the time. Sometimes everyday. The trick is, you can’t avoid goofs. You can’t avoid mistakes. It’s part of life. What you do with them is what matters. Ann showed fantastic transparency today by fessing up to the goof publicly. Though all of us thought “OMG, I need to Twitter this”, it was ultimately Ann’s choice whether to “out” herself or not.

This is why, though the DC startup community is not a mature investment pool yet, Ann and WhyGoSolo are poised to be the cornerstone for the growth that will happen at some point.

But what do I know? I’m not an entrepreneur. ;-)

Thoughts on Investment and Incubation

On this week’s District of Corruption show, Geoff and I discussed entrepreneurship, incubation, investment and the role that a company like Launchbox Digital plays in a regional community. It all stemmed from Jimmy Gardner’s post titled Are DC Startups Developing a Complex?

Launchbox provides a critical piece for a burgeoning startup community – namely, the resources to get going. Companies like this are known as incubators, and they are great catalysts for entrepreneur with great ideas to get started with a little seed money, assistance with all the legal hurdles and potentially the opportunity to pitch an idea to an angel investor or VC.

Passionate people with great ideas. Turning those great ideas into valuable entities worthy of investment. These are things that companies that may not have a ton of experience need.

Something that disturbs me about Jimmy’s piece is the expectation that a DC firm should invest in DC companies and nowhere else. An investment in Lookery, a Silicon Valley based startup does seem to be a questionable first move for a company looking to tie its roots to the DC community, it does not mean that regional investment won’t come. It certainly doesn’t mean that local tech deserves the investment.

I’m not a VC, but my opinion is that a company looking for an investment should be able to demonstrate an idea for revenue. Launchbox probably could help develop some of this sense. Certainly, a company looking for angel or VC money needs to have at minimum a business and revenue model and at best, track record of revenue production.

No one gets money for their good looks.

For the DC community, I still think it’s a little early for significant investment. Before all my colleagues stone me, I’d ask you tot take a step back and look objectively at what we have here. We do have a community that is coalescing quickly, but 8 months ago was really non-existant. We do have some great ideas developing from local entrepreneurs. We do have lots of networking.

However, we don’t have any demonstrable boot-strapping. We don’t have the business savviness that places like Toronto, Seattle and yes, the Valley have. We do have large enterprises dominating the landscape and while AOL is all but gone from Northern Virginia and Sprint is leaving for Kansas City, the business landscape is still dominated by Telecoms and government contracting companies.

Though this will take time to change, an incubation company like Launchbox may be just what the Doctor ordered. In an ideal world, entrepreneurs should start thinking about their ideas and writing down their notes. When asked what they do or why they do it, they should practice their confident deliveries. Never be shy about what you do or why you do; it’s good practice for when you need to pitch your ideas to potential investors). Think proactively about what you want to do and ways that you can make it fiscally sound.

If you’ve already started a company and it just doesn’t seem to be taking off, don’t hesitate to temporarily cease what you’re doing while you figure out a different approach. Think like a business, act like a business and maybe you’ll have the opportunity to be funded like a growing business.

Age of Exploration 500 Years Later

In 1519, an explorer by the name of Ferdinand Magellan began a journey that would be the first of it’s kind. He would lead an expedition that would circle the globe for the first time. It would cost him his Portuguese citizenship, 219 crew members, 4 ships and even his own life. In the process, his expedition would sail through the southern tip of South America, Guam, the Philippines and throughout the Far East. It would be the first trip of its kind.

In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark embarked on horseback from the small port town of St. Louis and headed west to explore the great unknown chunk of land gained from Napoleonic France in the controversial “Louisiana Purchase”. The Louisiana Purchase forgave millions of dollars in French debt as well as provided the critical port city of New Orleans to the United States. However, the territory came with millions of acres of unexplored land.

Notably, after two years of exploration along the Missouri River basin and eventually finding the Pacific Ocean, they returned bringing information and intelligence about the Natives they met and territory they explored. Further exploration would happen in subsequent years cementing the western territories as part of U.S. culture and history.

One hundred-fifty years later, in 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced to Congress that he wanted the U.S. to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, an ambitious goal that was itself controversial. As history tells us, Neil Armstrong became the first man to lay foot on the moon on July 16, 1969 stating that, “This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

Amazingly, we continue to explore in our innovation. Obviously, I’m one of these geeks that gets into all the new tools and gadgets that some new entrepreneur comes up with but not everybody is. The other night, I spoke at Social Media Club DC and I compared today’s internet with the internet of 10 years ago. Ten years ago, realtime online communication carried a connotation of creepy stalker-like chats on AOL. Today, we have real time communication instantly in so many forms and on so many platforms that the lines blur.

And we don’t really think twice about it.

When I think about the explorers who have gone before us, I see that they explored and discovered and brought something back for the rest of us. Magellan told us about peoples and nations and geography that we did not know existed before. Lewis & Clark showed us just how big the United States really is. Armstrong brought space, the final frontier, to us. Everyone of these explorers added something back to society through their discoveries.

Then they all came back (Well, except Magellan who died en route to coming back). Consolidation took place.

Today we are in another innovative age. I’m proud of my friend (disclaimer: he’s also done contract work for b5media) Keith Casey. When I met him several years ago, he was a die hard developer. He mocked me for using Twitter and now uses it religiously. Today, he is the CTO for WhyGoSolo an upstart company that suddenly has the eyes of the world on them. I feel like I watched somebody grow up in front of me (Keith, no offense, man. You were grown up already)

At this point, I’m thinking some consolidation takes place. Sure there’s the economic consolidation (recession) that people like to talk to. But I think I see consolidation being more of a maturation of what we have. “Now the Moon has been walked on, let’s build a Shuttle and put satellites up there.”

At least that’s me.

Leveraging Yesterdays Technologies for Tomorrows Innovations

Perhaps I’m getting old fartish, but I’m mildly disturbed by some of the “innovations” that are coming out these days. It once was cool, but now it’s just getting obnoxious. Take Cumul.us for instance, a service I just discovered today thanks to my friend Frank Gruber over at Somewhat Frank. This service tries to take the Twitter meets Facebook approach by asking what the weather is like now, and pulling in friends to figure out what everyone is wearing. I’m sorry, but I don’t see value in this iteration of social media.

Since when does anyone ask other people what to wear? I check out the temp and figure out for myself if that hoodie is going to get use or if the tee-shirt from Lijit is going to see the light of day. This is not rocket science, and it certainly does NOT need a social network built around it – at least not funded (and to be fair, I have no idea if they are).

I pick on Cumul.us because they are fresh in my mind, but they are not the only company doing stupid things. But let’s not focus on the negative. I’m certainly a fan of services and technologies that bring real life usefulness to real life people in very real senses.

The trick, in my mind, to a valuable company, is in using yesterday’s technologies to bridge the gap to tomorrow’s innovative new services. These are the valuable services. These are the ones I want to latch on to and evangelize. These are the ones that, if I were an investor, I’d be tossing money at. The bridge to Web 2.0 was on the back of billions of dollars of investment in fiber optics during Web 1.0, which allowed us the bandwidth to have the rich applications we enjoy today.

So let’s look at some successful companies that have real life application, that were built on the back of yesterday’s technology.

Utterz

Utterz is a viable player because it is based on the cell phone. You know, the thing that came out in the mid 90s that is attached to everyones hip today? Utterz allows you to call a phone number, leave a message similar to what you would do on any voicemail system, and then publish the message to the web, in various places. That’s a useful way for an everyday kind of person to experience today’s web.

Twitter

Twitter is a great crossover from another mid-90s technology, Instant Message, as well as text messaging into the great wild of the microweb. Again, Twitter is a valuable tool that builds community on the back of technologies that we have all enjoyed, and in some cases come to rely on, in an everyday world. Twitter is sticky among common users (and trust me, it’s more than just us early adopters using Twitter) because the obstacle for mom and dad is non-existant. Since everyone has a cell phone, everyone can use Twitter – regardless of if they even have internet access.

It’s even possible to have engagement in the Congo, where few people have internet access, but the wireless telecom industry is booming. That’s actually useful.

Tripit

Tripit is a valuable company with real world application because, let’s face it, just about everyone rents a car, takes a flight somewhere or stays in a hotel and it’s really damn hard to keep track of all those confirmation emails. Then you have to print them all and trifold them so you have a thick stack to take with you just to keep you on track with what you’re supposed to be doing and when.

Tripit offers absolutely ZERO obstacle to use. Not even an account. One will be created for you automatically if you don’t already have one. Simply forward your confirmation email from U.S. Airways (or any airline itinerary, hotel reservation, car rental, etc) to plans@tripit.com and looky, you now can login with your email address and print your itinerary. Travel alot and have lots of confirmations emails? Forward them all. Tripit is smart enough to organize them.

Tripit was built on old world technologies – email and confirmation sheets. Everyone understands these, but Tripit makes sense of it and helps everyday users save hassle, headache, time… and for the green among you, paper!

The challenge for all innovators is coming up with the idea no one has thought about and doing it in such a way that anyone, and I don’t mean early adopters, can use and immediately benefit from. Lots of cool gizmos out there, but if there’s no real world value it’s just noise. We need less noise.

Update: After re-reading this several days later, I realized that it sounded like Tripit was only for US Airways. I was using that as an example. Any airline confirmation email, hotel reservation or car rental can be forwarded. I’ve updated the entry too to reflect that.

Startup Truths: There is no Time or Money

I was reading Matt Mullenweg’s post about an interview that Robert Scoble recently had with Jonathon Schwarz of Sun in which it seemed Sun continued to be disconnected with reality. With respect, Schwarz responded and apologized for the perception that Sun presented. (As a sidenote, the comments on Schwarz’ entry are quite good).

Matt makes a statement that struck me as so profound that it leapt off the page at me:

At one point in the Scoble interview Jonathan Schwartz says something to the effect of their startup program targets folks with more time than money, where their enterprise customers usually value time over money. I think this might represent a fundamental misunderstanding. While I think this argument could be made for the motivation of some segment of Open Source communities, the situation in startups is even worse “” time and money are both scarce.

Anyone who has worked in a startup recognizes that Schwarz’ comment on startup is completely false. When I was working at Northrop Grumman and volunteering for b5media, I had no time and, let’s be honest – that’s really how most startups begin. Unless the folks at the helm of the startup already had capital and traction in the startup world, they need someway to pay the bills. Most folks in this situation work a “day job” ansd then slave away at the startup at night or on weekends trying to make it work.

Even once a startup is funded, this doesn’t really change. The pot of gold gets bigger and the strategies get more aggressive. Sure, you’re not working a day job and trying to make the startup work at night, but you face other challenges. Please don’t take this as complaining because I love what I do, but I still find it strangely ironic that folks sometime think us startup guys don’t really do anything but sit at home and surf the net.

My wife will tell you that I spend a large amount of time working late, spending time in front of the computer instead of going to bed with her. It’s not a cakewalk like some people might think it is.

I laugh at my dad who has no clue what I do. I tell him but he still doesn’t “get it”. He says, “People always ask me what you do and where you’re at and I just tell them, ‘I have no idea what he does but he does it well’.”

I’ve never been happier in my life. But anyone who thinks that startup guys have lots of time on their hands is fooling themselves. In some ways, there is more pressure to perform than in the big corporate environment. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.