Archive for the ‘Startups’ Category

Seattle 2.0 Awards – today 5/7/9

May 7, 2009

A few thoughts to keep in mind regarding today’s big awards ceremony…

First,  I want to say thanks to Marcelo and the team for putting on the Seattle 2.0 Awards, Seattle definitely needs this kind of event!

Second, I want to thank the community for nominating Seattle Lunch 2.0in the Best Social Event for Startups category. It’s a real honor to be a nominee in this category and I’m glad to share the nomination spot with so many other great events and organizers.

Third, I want to let all of my readers, twitter followers, facebook friends, etc that the family and I will be attending the awards ceremony tonight. I will be tweeting a lot throughout the day regarding the event and especially during the event (this means twitter and facebook status updates). I will be using the hashtag #seattleawardsfor those of you that want to filter out those due to the amount of traffic to your facebook status (fine – I should have less seattleawards updates tomorrow). Although I would assume you all have either a vested interest in the health and vitality of the young Seattle companies being celebrated tonight as our economy truly does depend in large part to the innovative companies, investors, thinkers, service providers, and event holders that make up this community or you are seriously curious to learn if Seattle Lunch 2.0 wins…

Fourth, It is Quentin’s birthday today (11yrs old ), and we are going to spend his birthday as a family cheering on the Seattle Startup community. If you are a founder, CEO, investor, or entrepreneur – please stop by and encourage both of my young sons (Quentin – 11 and Gabriel – 7). They both look up to people who start stuff and well, I know a lot of you don’t think of yourselves as role models. It will be a great way to get an ego booster and help encourage my sons to pursue their dreams.

Fifth, Did I mention how important this kind of event is for Seattle and the economy as a whole? It is kind of our duty to pass along the details of this event to anyone and everyone we know. The goal is to ensure the live streaming attendance is higher than the in-person attendance and the press coverage at a national level is just as high as it is at local level.

On another note – if you didn’t vote for Seattle Lunch 2.0, it is too late to vote but it’s not too late to donate to the running of these events or to attend the Lunch @ Pelago or the Happy Hour @ Sortuv.

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Experiences Attending and Hosting Seattle Lunch 2.0

April 17, 2009

In response to a discussion about events and what value they have for people, I wanted to post my thoughts on the experience of attending and hosting a Seattle Lunch 2.0 event….

I can’t speak for the “Think Tanks” or WTIA events, but the Seattle Lunch 2.0 events are Mingling events and they contain great startup-relevant information.
 
Over the few years that I have been leading/attending these Mingling events I have participated in numerous group discussions about how companies grew their startups. When I say discussion, I mean an active audience participation in discussions about what is most interesting to the group at large. The CEO/Founder contributions to the conversations have ranged from “started in college”, to “spun out of Microsoft or other BigCo”, to “had a bright idea coding one day”, to… well, you tell me what situation a company might be spawned in and we’ve pretty much had those kind of founders talking about it – if not let’s have one.
 
The great thing is that the intention of these events includes mingling and participating in discussions (a little presentation, demo, or Q&A to get things going) and then discussion and a lot of time to Mingle.
 
What do I mean by Mingle you might ask… well at a recent one of these events the Founder gave a demo and talked a little about the company (10min), followed by another 10-20min discussion/Q&A, then there was the hour of talking to the Developers, Marketers, Founders, and everyone else on the team that is actually required to make a startup function. So I guess it’s a little more then Mingling :)  
 
Come by the next Seattle Lunch 2.0 to see what I’m talking about…
 
These are not – here a couple people reflecting on the different about the tipping point for their company. These are – meet the team, founders, business model and ask any question you want.
 
Admittedly, the events are usually a little less formal. Presentation Zen is not required – Demos are fun, panel discussions are fun, heck just having the whole team around to hang out with for an hour or two is fun!! I will also admit that these are not held in nice conference halls or venues – they are usually in trendy facilities – like the offices where these companies spend their time (yes that means co-working spaces, shared offices, lofts in pioneer square – all w/o AC).
 
In addition to CEOs/Founders we’ve had speakers at these Mingling events that include authors, investors, lawyers, developers, architects, and well… we are open to just about anyone who has something relevant and is interesting to talk about. Keep in mind – the hoster of the event has their whole team there so you are never stuck talking to the CEO, when you really want to talk to the guy/gal that wrote the feature!!
 
These events also have the free food/beer model – if the speaker sucks (at least the food & drink were worth the time). I didn’t say corporate catered – I said YUMM!
 
A good analogy is a written letter in comparison with… Twitter. The letter is great, has it’s place, it’s norms, it’s value. Twitter – well it’s great too, but in a different way, for different reasons, and it has a different value. Both can get your point across, both can be valuable, but sometimes you need to choose between writing a letter or tweeting and sometimes you need to choose between reading a letter or reading twitter. The value in your message when you write and the value in your information acquisition when you read will vary. Plus we all know which one is more fun…
 
Of course if you are interested in hosting, sponsoring, donating or want to chat – don’t hesitate to reach out!!

See you at the next event…

Twitter will be replaced

March 23, 2009

Yeah, yeah, I know everyone is talking about how sexy twitter is getting. It’s the place to be right now. If you aren’t on twitter – then you need to get with the program….

blah, blah, blah

My mom is on twitter, my wife is on twitter, my company is on twitter, mostly everyone I know is on twitter. This is all good for twitter, it makes twitter useful. In fact, it has inspired twitter to go look at selling, make some improvements, and look at making money again. Have a look at Read Write Web’s latest post regarding the proliferation of twitter. This thing is definitely going mainstream (hint: if you are mainstream – go create an account)!!

A couple years ago, we were at the same cross roads with blogs and blogging. We may be a little earlier in the cycle with twitter, but I would also pose that our culture is more accepting of these tools, so it’s still the right time to make the prediction. When we were at this cross roads last time, I wrote a nice little prediction blog post. Dated December 18th, 2006 – My 2007 Prediction: Blogs Will Be Replaced garnered a bunch of people telling me I was wrong, telling me that blogs were growing in proliferation and would be the ultimate supremacy for brand management, community interaction, etc. Yes – blogs didn’t disapear. Yes – blogs are great community interaction tools. Yes – Dave Winer is still blogging (despite his promise). Yes – the concept of blogging is great for news reporting, signaling, and information disimenation….

But Blogs were replaced – they were replaced by twitter and to some degree facebook. As marketing departments took over blogs and corporate employees (such as Microsoft PMs) began getting blog posts added to their annual and quarterly goals, the early adopters, the people who made blogging popular, the crowd that tested, evangelized, and vetted the technology moved on. Sure the bloggers still blog a bit (I still blog at this blog) – but along with everyone else (including Dave Winer), I spend a lot more time on twitter – twitter has replaced my excitement for blogging the same as it has for most bloggers who started earlier in this decade with the new cool thing called blogging.

So the question is – what will replacae twitter? Like my earlier blog post about blogging being replaced, I don’t know the answer. I do know that an opportunity exists for a few entrepreneurs. There is the space of helping people get onto twitter (some entrepreneurial consultants have started this already – but there is room for more). There is also the space of creating the next thing for all of us early adopters of social/community interactive/writing/commenting tools to use.

We need to go somewhere – our current tool has been taken over by the mainstream and thus will be replaced.

The Seattle 2.0 Awards: Recognizing the Best from Seattle

March 10, 2009

I was recently contacted by Seattle 2.0 to be a judge for a new award activity. I was intruiged by the idea and quickly signed up. Of course I was asked to post about the event and help spread the word (the word is below)…

Before I get there, I wanted to comment on the interesting observation about all of these tech awards and demo events that are getting more and more popular in the tech community. It is obvious that they all are introspective and exclusive to the tech community. It is less obvious that this lack of publicity is a contributing factor to a decline in enginuity from US born/raised citizens.

Everywhere we look these days we see studies of US engineering capabilities declining, US business enginuity declining, modern innovation from the US declining, and all of the people with extra money dumping some of that money into the school system to prevent these declines. In fact a story today about the gates foundation putting in another $7.2M into the Seattle School system. Amazing that we can continue to dump money into our school systems as well as start trying things like standardized testing and charter schools etc – yet we still turn around and spend the real money the billions per year congratulating actors, singers, etc on their acheivements for capturing the largest audience with their art. This with no thought in mind that the amount of money spent and the audience captured for these ceremonies is what inspires teenagers to drop out of school to join a band, throw up a YouTube video and strike it rich. The message is that we value entertainers and artists far more than ethical business people and truly innovative creations (no wonder when we grow up and try business after a failed garage band we resort to creative accounting & lending – creativity makes money).

I am not saying that art and entertainment is not valuable. I certainly appreciate art, listen to music, and watch movies!! I am saying that national and global awards seem to be missing the attention to things like the Nobel Prize – um where is the red carpet, prime time show for those awards – the Pulitzer Prize – do your kids even know what this prize is for – or even more local events that pay tribute to the amazing startup technologists or product designer. Ok, maybe the Seattle 2.0 awards aren’t a replacement for the Nobel Prize or the Emmy’s – but it’s recognition like this – recognition of true acheivement that our younger generation is lacking. There is no reason to pursue great acheivement from a young age, no public role models, no cultural norm of appreciation for acheivers. Yet our schools continue to try and give our kids the tools for great acheivement. These kids aren’t in acting classes, they aren’t in batting practice, they aren’t in singing class – they are in classes to learn math, science, etc – so why don’t we at least give them a few roads to use these tools.

Yes, it is hard to force someone down a road with those tools, but showing them where the roads are is THE biggest step in the right direction. So why don’t you show your kids the roads they could travel with the tools they are learning in school, why don’t you let them make heros out of smart people with ambition, why not take the time to bring your kids to an award ceremony where hard work is recognized. Show them that acheivement at innovation and passionate pursuit is valuable….

Why not take them to the Seattle 2.0 award ceremony this year?

Re-posted from the Seattle 2.0 blog:

Startup life is hard. Startup life during a down economy is harder.  Entrepreneurs don’t found, join, invest in, or work with a startup to make their lives easier. They do it to make meaning. They do it to change the world. They do it to fulfill an inexplicable desire to make things better, faster, smarter and easier.

    Today, I am proud to announce the first annual Seattle 2.0 Awards – a series of awards to recognize the people and companies who make the Seattle startup community happen.
 
    We have a great website to the awards, and you can start nominating your favorite individuals and companies as of today for the next 2 weeks. After that, a panel of 30 of the most influential CEOs, founders, investors, service providers, journalists and bloggers in Seattle will select the top 3 on each category. Then we’ll open for public voting until late April.
 
    Join us as Seattle 2.0 hosts the awards ceremony at Pacific Science Center on the evening of May 7 with food, drinks, and a chance to spend time with the people you care about in the startup community.  There will be a startup showcase and master of ceremonies, Renay San Miguel (King 5/NWCN), will be announcing the winners in each category.
 
    As always, we are very open to ideas and feedback on how to make this award prestigious, the event pleasurable and the overall idea a success so that we can keep honoring the best of the best every year.  Registration for the event will open shortly.
 
    A special thanks to our early sponsors: Kismet Communications, Fenwick & West and Sampa, and our media partner Mashable.

Startups, small businesses, and definitions – oh my

December 1, 2008

I was recently commenting on a nPost’s blog about What Defines a Startup and ran out of room for an effective comment so wanted to expand on it here.

 
First let me re-cap the basics of nPost’s blog entry…

 
Nathan poses the question, what defines a startup and offers a few thoughts about what might define a startup. Things like:

  1. Having been around for less than 5 years?
  2. The number of employees it has?  If so, how many would that be?
  3. Whether they are bootstrapped, a sidestartup or funded?
  4. Their growth rate?  If so, how quickly do they need to be growing? 10% a year? 500% a year?
  5. A scalable business?  Can a lifestyle company be defined as a startup?
  6. A product company?  How about a professional services firm, are they a startup?
  7. Simply “I know one when I see one!”

A good discussion follows in the comments about these seven suggestions and a number of additional suggestions that are along the same line. Eric Koester has a similar post on his blog, My High Tech Startup. More opinions about how much money a company has, how long the company has been around, or how it is funded as effective measures of startups.

I pose that none of these general properties of a business define a startup. Properties like amount of cash, where the cash came from, how many employees, what the growth rate is, what the potential total market share is, etc are all properties that any kind of business can have. Whether it is a services business, a retail business, or a manufacturing business, a multi-national conglomerate, a national chain, or… a startup, any company can have any combination of these properties.

If we look past the generic properties of the business and into the core we can easily recognize a startup. If we look at the core of a business we see two basic things:

  1. What a company has to offer (product, service, etc)
  2. How a company will make money with that offering

When we look at traditional businesses – consulting firms, web design firms, data center hosting firms, coffee shops, etc, etc. What comes to mind is a well known offering and a well known way the company plans to make money with those offerings. These types of companies can meet nearly all of the generic properties listed above, it just depends on how it’s being run, what the goals of management are, etc.
Any type of business owner can build these traditional companies; they can be built as business lines for well-established companies, as new ventures (locally or worldwide), as lifestyle businesses, or be as any other kind of new business scenario. The fact that they are a traditional company does not necessarily make them less fun, less interesting, or in some way less cool, or as Eric puts it – less sexy. That is all up to management.

 
If we look at a startup though, we see something different. We see a company that has something different from the traditional companies above. These different companies, these startups have been around for a long time; however, they only seem to be abundant during large societal advances (such as the industrial revolution, the internet revolution, etc). The properties of the startups that we relate to (high risk, high reward, generally VC funded, generally small teams, generally dynamic in nature) are all a byproduct of the fact that the business the startup is in, is bringing something new to the world. Bringing a new product to the world and offering it in a way that will make them money in a new way. This is hard to do with a business that has properties different than those we generally associate with a startups (most banks won’t give loans to unproven ideas, large teams make the flexibility hard, etc).

It doesn’t matter if that new product is new to the world, new to a segment, so long as it is new. If it is a net new product on the market (not a new shoe design, but a new product) AND is being produced to make the creating company money in a new way, then the company definitively falls into the category of startup.
For tech companies, the examples are easy to dig up…

 
Web 1.0 companies like; homegrocer.com, pets.com, and eToys all fall into this category – new product (offering groceries, pets, and toys for sale online) – new business model (no store front, just a web front w/inventories managed in various ways). Yes I know pets.com didn’t sell pets, but maybe they should have.

 

Of course, these companies failed, they didn’t quite get the right mix of product and business model (which is another property we associate with startups – high failure rate). There are others that did get the mix right – amazon.com for one, was able to stay flexible and fluid until it could find a way to make this online sales thing work with a business model that made money. Others like paypal and ebay all found the right mix of product offering and business model that worked. These were all startups and are now in established markets with products and business models that aren’t new, so they are no longer a startup.

 
Fast forward to 2008, companies like Amazon are continuing to build startups within their existing companies; Amazon Web Services is definitely a startup – new product offering, new business model. Facebook is definitely a startup – new product offering, new business model – time will tell if it will truly be successful, but it’s definitely a startup. There are lots of other startups around with new products, new business models. More are cropping up in clean tech, bio tech, and continuing to pop up in other areas as well. Look at the iPod and the online music store – incremental innovation over the walkman (new product) and a new way to buy music (new business model)… voila – another startup within an existing company.

 
On the other hand there are lots of companies that are high tech companies that are not startups. There are lots of young companies that have products or business models that are well known and at least moderately understood. They are simply trying to execute better or with different goals than other companies who have done it before. Some of these companies are even in funky spaces, have long working hours, and the look and feel of a startup (VC funded or bootstrapped, under 20 employees, work out of a loft in pioneer square, etc); however, they are building a business that has been built before – which means – not a startup. A small business, a high growth company, call them something else (something other than a startup).

 
If you are looking for a good measure to evaluate your status of startup against, take a look at the case studies at the major B-Schools, take a look at the existing companies that are out there, take a look at your competitors, and take a look at what business models and products are the hot topic these days. If you fall into one of these categories – if your product and business fall into an existing group – you are not a startup. On the other hand, if you are innovating with your products and your business model, well – welcome to the club!!

 
I’m sure there are lots of other opinions about this, Wikipedia has some random definitions that I think need updating as I’m sure all of you do.