June 27, 2008
John Doerr of venture capital powerhouse Kleiner Perkins gave a speech entitled “Seeking salvation and profit in greentech” at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conference in Monterey California in May of 2007 which turned out to be one of the most talked about moments of the year… and for good reason. I watched it tonight and was incredibly moved. I remember hearing about it and I think I caught some little clips of it on YouTube but I had never taken time to watch the full 18 minutes through. The TED website has this and many other incredible presentations all available in high quality video. It’ll keep you enthralled for hours so beware.
John’s presentation tugs at heartstrings as he mentions a dinner conversation with his 15 year old daughter in which she innocently accuses his generation of causing the current climate crisis and demands that he fix it. As he repeats many times during his presentation, he’s afraid that all we’re doing is not enough. He discusses a number of big advances that companies and politicians and scientists are completing right now and after each passionately contrasts the scale of the advance against the size of the problem, in our country and within the world. I really enjoyed his comment about us only having “one atmosphere” regardless of how much we want to think this is a problem that we can solve in the United States alone.
His passionate closing to the presentation is what caused so much stir and it really was the perfect exclamation point to an issue that seems to continue to be understated.
June 24, 2008
Hillary Clinton, former democratic party presidential nominee shoe-in, and Calvin, a well known downtown Chapel Hill bum, both need your help. While Calvin is seen most frequently along Franklin street sidewalks with a Styrofoam cup asking for “spare change,” Hillary is using email marketing and disguising her pleas as an honest update on her campaign and a special thank you. If Calvin were to try this approach it would probably go something like this… “Hi, I’m Calvin, I’d like to tell you how I’m doing today. Won’t you take a moment to stop and let me thank you?” It would all be very innocent until you stopped to hear more. I think Calvin’s got the right approach already, and that’s why I occasionally bought him lunch at Miami Subs when he would allow me to.
I received the following message via email from the Hillary Clinton campaign today, with the title “Something I want to say.”
You have been such an inspiration to me during this campaign — your commitment and your boundless enthusiasm made everything we accomplished in the last 17 months possible. So as I continue to make sure your voices are heard, I wanted to say a special thank you for all the hard work you did on my behalf.
Click here to watch my video message to you.
Thank you for everything,
So, what did I see beside that special video message… another message with a slightly different intention which read “By helping us pay off our campaign debt, you’re not just helping Hillary elect a Democratic president and grow our majority in Congress.”
Wow, thanks for the thanks Hillary. I guess I should be saying thank you too, and while you’re at it, receiving those thanks from me, did I mention that I’ve got a mortgage payment that you can help with? Spare change?
June 24, 2008
Hopefully you didn’t miss this but topping the list of stupid web 2.0 ideas was Chevy’s create-your-own Tahoe ad series from the Spring of 2006. Basically Chevy provided the video clips and allowed amateur editors to piece them together in whatever way they saw fit and to then upload them to Chevy’s website. As Wired magazine describes it “The wikification of the 30-second spot – what could be more revolutionary than that?” And what could be more web 2.0 than that? Chevy was clearly setting themselves up for a victory from the collective creative mind of the masses.
The volume of the responses was a success as nearly 30,000 renditions were submitted. But, in result, the publicity came not from the videos that most creatively promoted the Chevy Tahoe and not on the Chevy website at all but of course from the ones bashing everything Tahoe stands for quite openly on YouTube. And the best part was, the parody ads nearly look professionally created, because Chevy put the fodder for the whole thing right into the creators’ hands. Wired has a great article about the whole thing but many of their links to the YouTube videos don’t work. I was able to locate two of my favorites though, these really make me laugh: http://youtube.com/watch?v=foR3sfWu5IQ and http://youtube.com/watch?v=4oNedC3j0e4.
June 19, 2008
Replacing the role recently held by snakes, broadband access is slowly slithering its way toward a plane near you. For years I’ve been frustrated when flying, primarily because airplanes are not intended for people anywhere close to 76 inches tall to ride in comfort. On a flight with Northwest Airlines yesterday the woman sitting next to me commented on how my knees were pressing snugly against the seat back in front of me. I guess since it has been proven that height correlates to lifetime income earned and that 90% of CEOs are above average height (“Short Guys Finish Last” The world’s most enduring form of discrimination. The Economist, December 23, 1995) that it’s an evil game to force me into earning enough to afford flying first class everywhere I go. I digress. In recent years I’ve realized that my frustration with flying comes equally from my lack of productivity as it does from physical discomfort, these days maybe even more. With long lists of to-do’s in my email inbox and an entire email folder flagged containing things I need to read (much of it being online), the day of settling down with a good book on a long flight just isn’t getting it done anymore.
Now with the airlines nickeling you for every little thing the least they could do is offer in-flight broadband access that puts cash in their pocket each time you agree to let them rocket you through the sky. In an article published this morning by eMarketer regarding in-flight broadband they cite a source that is confident that this market is about to explode, with projected annual revenue in the billions within a few years. While flying yesterday I thought that if I could just text message from my cell phone that my productivity would be increased tenfold. I can text-to-email from my Palm Treo and my team in the office knows my email-to-text message address so I would instantly be in touch with home base throughout my travels.
My friend Erik who flies more than just about anyone I know is concerned that full broadband access will enable everyone-and-their-brother to get on their computer-enabled voice-over-IP (VOIP) phone and begin loud obnoxious conversations that you’ll have to listen to. Sort of like what happens now right when the plane’s wheels touch down on each flight and the cell phones come out… “hi honey, yes we just landed, no, the plane landed, yes we took off, I’m at the airport, no I don’t have my bags yet, yeah it’ll probably take them forever, they always lose my bag, no meet me outside, no don’t park, yes I’m still on the plane, etc, etc, etc.”
So, if they do take the full broadband route which will be incredible for many reasons including streaming movies and music as well as normal communication and nearly in-office productivity they had better be smart and figure out a way to filter and prevent VOIP at the network level and create a number of rules that the flight-attendants are ready to enforce regarding distractions to other passengers.
June 18, 2008
I was stopped in my tracks this evening while perusing my daily TechJournal South news update that I receive via email (powered by iContact of course). The headline mentioned something about flying saucers and plasma power so I had to check it out. As it turns out, researchers at the University of Florida have completed a design for a sort of flying craft powered by a new way to create the movement of air which ultimately creates lift. If it wasn’t enough already to win back-to-back national basketball championships (although that never upset me too much because it took some of the honor away from Duke who did it over fifteen years ago when they were good ) and the football and basketball national championship within the same year, now they have to go and invent a flying saucer. I seriously need to pay this place a visit. Share the love Florida!
This has to be one of the most creative things I’ve ever seen. Apparently by sending current or a magnetic field through a conductive fluid the surrounding air is turned into plasma and through this process creates swirling of the nearby air which creates lift. They also claim that this movement of air is stable enough to properly support the weight of the craft even with some regular wind turbulence. The next step will be to build a small prototype of their design (about six inches in diameter) which I guess will help them figure out if their idea is actually possible in practice. The good news, with all of the electromagnetic interference that this thing will be creating there’s absolutely no reason you’ll need to turn your cell phone off during takeoff. Not that there’s any decent reason now.
June 17, 2008
In the summer of 2002 I spent 10 days as an adult leader on a Boy Scout out-island trip in the Florida Keys. Shortly after returning I wrote the following account of a specific experience I had along the way.
At the time this picture was taken I had just spent 5 days on a tropical island about 35 miles from Key West, Florida (Big Munson Island), I had showered only once (right before this picture) in the last week, and had lived in a caustic saltwater environment for several days straight. My eye had been blackened after being smashed and then sown up on a picnic table by lantern light.
Here’s what happened.
It all started with night snorkeling, which as it sounds is scary as can be, in kayaks, no lights for miles except for the island campfires we left minutes before, keep in mind we’re about 6 miles out from the coast of the keys.
At this point I’m scared. We swim in a coral reef about two miles from the island in the pitch black of night with heavy around-the-neck underwater flashlights. As we do this I can only see what’s exactly in front of me in the water… fish, etc are two feet from me when they come into view… we’re all worried about sharks but a few of the guys are really experienced and say we are fine.
I was looking out for sharks the entire time… we saw a few fish that were large enough to be scary by themselves… but they were moving quickly so I’d turn my head and only see a fin… even more scary.
So we get back into the kayaks (they were actually called Polynesian War Canoes, they hold 8 guys in each) and row in unison back into the out-water docks which are about 1/4 mile out from the shore. It’s gets so shallow in the low-water that we have to moor here and wade into the shore. The bottom is just MUCK, and walking more than 10 feet in 30 seconds is really good. Each step gets glued to the ocean floor and you have to pry it up for over 500 steps in a row… a very tiring ordeal each time.
So we’ve just seen all kinds of underwater life… yet the surface of the water is silent. As we pull into the floating docks, a few guys are on the docks nearby… they have just caught a shark. They’re intentionally fishing for sharks by gutting the fish they just caught and tossing them in bloody pieces into the water beside the docks… IE: the docks we have to tie up to, GET OUT NEXT TO, and walk into the shore from.
The second we arrive they have a shark on the line… and this shark is battling and eventually bites through the STEEL leader line and gets away. So right as we get in, we have 1 angry shark with a hook and line in its mouth, and a whole ocean’s worth of sharks that smell the blood already floating around the docks.
I say ‘already’ in the water because at this exact moment I begin to add more. We begin practically running in the goo to get back to shore, the entire wade from the docks is about waist-deep in the water. I jump out of the boat into the water with the rest of the frightened crew.
By a horrible stroke of luck, on my way out of the boat I drop straight down into the water… this part was planned. Although, my flashlight, weighing about 10 pounds, drops instead… into the boat.
By chance, the flashlight happens to be held by a short lanyard around my neck, thus as I continue to fall the flashlight comes whipping back up with my entire weight pulling it as I fall from above the water. At the exact time the flashlight exits the boat going up, my face is falling past the same location heading down. That’s where they meet.
I was pretty stunned at first, and I fell to the bottom, a bit over my head at this point. As I come back to the top I see the guys quickly swimming away from me and no one looking back.
I initially move as fast as I can in their direction. The first guy I catch I stop and ask him to check my face, I thought it might be bleeding from the collision. At this point my light was not working and I was in too much of a daze to take my hand way to examine what happened.
By the look on his face I immediately realized what had happened. He practically jumped out of his skin trying to swim away from me, and by the light of my two brothers’ flashlights – who were nice enough to stay and help me – I realized that I was not only bleeding, blood was literally running down the side of my head and chest and pouring into the water.
Basically it was the longest 15 minute walk of my life. We made it to shore safely although I was expecting the entire time to lose the back of my leg because there was no way I could protect it being that it was behind me and under water.
A small flap of skin below my right eye could be lifted to expose the bone beneath. One of the other adult leaders was a doctor and he said I needed stitches pronto or I was going to have a nasty scar and due to the proximity might get an infected eye. We spoke to the emergency communications contact on the island and decided that it was serious enough to warrant a boat or helicopter rescue if we didn’t feel comfortable dealing with it there. So under lantern light my friend Doctor Savell put in three stitches to close the wound as I layed on the picnic table in our dining tent… less than 15 feet from waves breaking on the shore.
June 16, 2008
Widget maker RockYou who claims a reach of nearly 90 million users per month has raised another round of funding at a handsome valuation estimated at around $400 million. With a similar widget solution used primarily as way to creatively display and share images, audio, and video within a social network, Slide, a company founded by startup second-timer and Pay-Pal co-founder Max Levchin recently raised a round at $500 million. It makes sense that platforms with this type of reach should be worth a lot of money but from a traditional financial standpoint these valuations are way out there. RockYou is rumored to be on track for about $10 million dollars in 2008 revenue which sets the revenue-to-value multiple at 40x in comparison to other Software as a Service (Saas) companies being valued at closer to 10x fiscal 2008 revenue.
In search of companies with compelling technological solutions and a wide social network footprint it appears that investors are driving the price of social widget companies through the roof. In this case, unless there’s a potential acquisition negotiation in process that I don’t know about, it seems that a 30x additional revenue multiple premium is being created from future expectations on the potential of 90 million monthly uses. Although I don’t know the current estimations, I would assume that 90 million monthly users is still pretty insignificant in comparison to the total number of monthly worldwide social network users. If by chance it’s less than 1% of the market then I guess there is some pretty significant opportunity for growth here from top market contenders.
Going back to dot-com-era valuations which were in many cases based on exposure and activity, not revenue or profit, RockYou is currently supporting an enterprise value of $4.60/monthly-user (and Slide an EV of $7.80/monthly-user). Who would have thought that each time I load a MySpace profile and interact with a RockYou supported widget (by hitting play or clicking to answer a question) that I’m putting five bucks into the pockets of the RockYou team. Pretty sweet deal. Keep it up guys, other SaaS companies I know of need more of these great funding model comparables. I wonder what a company doing twice the annual revenue with 600 million monthly users is worth under this model? By revenue alone $800 million, or by exposure $3.7 billion.
June 16, 2008
I’m attending the Fortune Brainstorm Technology conference in California in July again this year. Last year’s event was incredible and the quality of the speakers and panelists is unrivaled by any event I’ve ever attended. This year they sent me a survey in advance to ask for answers to three questions, likely for use in selecting break-out session topics based on the collective interests of attendees. I’ve included the questions and my responses below:
1. What is the most exciting technology innovation you’ve seen in the past 12 months?
Technology that extracts complex concepts from video streams, IE: determines context for ads alongside streaming video by understanding what the viewing of the video is seeing. Also, wireless electricity. Current prototypes out of MIT are using resonant energy transfer to dial-in an induction signal from up to 15 feet. The potential among business and personal uses of this technology in practice is incredible.
2. What is your biggest hope or fear for the future, and how does tech relate to it?
My biggest hope for the future is that we can actually build enough clean and renewable energy generation infrastructure to support our demand at a reasonable cost. I think this is an area where the United States could become a worldwide technology leader if we cared enough to make the right investments at the right time.
3. What should be the top priority for the next US president?
Repairing our international reputation to restore the world’s faith that the United States cares deeply about innovating and investing to make the world a better and more peaceful place not just for us but for everyone.
June 16, 2008
Damon and Bryon had the excellent idea today to rebuild the apple mash barrel on the Houghton family cider press as a Fathers Day present for Dad. The last few times we have used the cider press the barrel has been rattling apart under the pressure of the press cranking down. The vertical boards are getting old and the screws that come through the iron bands are beginning to pull out. Damon has a good picture of the cider press in use in his Flickr account. We’ve been using it once or twice a year for many years now.
It took us about three hours to prepare the table saw and rip all eight four-foot long boards and then cut them into even length sections at about one foot long. We needed 27 total so the raw materials provided an extra five in case we messed any of them up. We then disassembled the old mash barrel screw-by-screw with an electric drill and after measuring and pre-drilling each vertical board we screwed them back into the iron bands. Photos of every step along the way including delivering the finished product are in my Flickr account and they can also be watched as a slide show. Videos of the initial ripping, the first edge ripping run, the second edge ripping, and the chopping of each board are on YouTube.
The materials and tools we used included: eight four-foot 2×1 oak boards, 54 stainless steel 3/4 inch Phillips-head screws, table saw, electric drill with Phillips-head bit and drill bit to match screw shaft, two pre-drilled iron bands (re-used from the original mash barrel).
June 13, 2008
Ryan and I were extremely humbled to be selected as Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneurs of the Year in the Emerging category in the Carolinas region as announced last night at a black tie ceremony that we attended at the Westin in Charlotte, North Carolina. A full list of winners was posted on the E&Y website today. Nearly 500 people were in attendance including a number of entrepreneurs, sponsors, and the folks from Ernst & Young. It was quite an event including two pre-dinner receptions, formal photo portraits, video interviews, a marching band, comedy segment, and a number of creative table accessories that kept everyone entertained.
We are extremely thankful for the nomination from our friend Laney Dale of Vaco and for the support of David Hood of Ernst & Young who visited us months back to compile the details of our profile and who was able to join us for the celebration. By way of our selection Ryan and I will now attend the national event competition in Palm Springs in November.
As I’ve mentioned in post-event media interviews I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished at iContact together. We have a world-class team that is delivering the future of web-based marketing solutions and truly empowering small businesses and entrepreneurs everywhere with a low-cost product that outperforms the competitive solutions. This comes from a team that outperforms as well.
The Emerging category finalists were all companies that call RTP home like us which was great to see. This region clearly has the people and resources required to grow many more companies like these. Finalists from some categories were much more experienced and well-known to say the least… including folks such as Matthew Szulik of RedHat and Thomas Millner of Remington Arms Company. It was flattering to just stand on the same stage as them. One was even kind enough to point out our juniority with an offer to “trade ages with us” as the group dissipated after the closing photographs.
Thanks to LocalTechWire for covering a question and answer session with Ryan and I immediately following the event.