Obama Names Googler and Launchbox Digital Cofounder to Transition Team

In a move that demonstrates a commitment to web technology, President-elect Barack Obama has named a Google executive and a Launchbox Digital cofounder to his transition team.

julius-genachowskiJulius Genachowski, from Launchbox Digital a DC-based web incubator investment company in the order of YCombinator and Techstars, IAC and Rock Creek Ventures comes to the team with a tremendous amount of value and knowledge. And he’s one of our own.

Sonal Shah comes from the Google.org Philanthropy branch of the internet search giant and is also a former executive for Goldman Sachs.

sonal-shahI guess the takeaway here is that grassroots is power (Launchbox Digital) and that an Obama administration believes in “Don’t be Evil.”

One of our key cornerstones for an Obama endorsement was his commitment to advancing the technology and science sectors here in the United States. This is a great start in the right direction.

[Source: CNET]

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.