July New Tech Meetup Notes: Shareyourlook

Someone from Share Your Look spoke next. Basically, a YouTube for the fashion industry. You can upload photos of your style and folks can comment. They also aggregate fashion blogs. Development is done in Romania, and images are checked for obscene content in Thailand, so it’s a real distributed company.

When asked about the business model, the speaker replied (I paraphrase): we have a long and complicated business model, and I’d be glad to talk to you afterwards about this. That smelled a bit of The Underpants Gnomes but they already have designers using the site as a lead generation tool, so I am guessing there are a number of possible ways to monetize the site.

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July New Tech Meetup Notes: Feed

Dean Rizzuto spoke about Feed, which is a mobile payment technology. Officially 3 months old, they already have 200 merchants signed up. Any phone that can send text messages can use the technology, so the potential market is huge. Basically, you sign up on the Feed website, and give them some money. Then, when you are at a merchant that accepts feed, you SMS your pin to the Feed number. You recieve an authorization code good for 15 minutes. The merchant can then enter that code into either their POS system or a standalone, Feed provided and maintained terminal. The Feed system then makes sure you have enough money in your account, and tells the merchange yes or no, and, if yes, withdraws the sum and gives it to the merchant.

What does the merchant gain? Feed charges a flat fee of $0.19 a transaction, which is much cheaper than typical credit card transaction fees. Feed doesn’t provide the consumer the same protections as credit card companies, as the transaction is treated as if you had paid cash. Additionally, once someone has bought something with Feed, the merchant can send them special offers (in the future, possibly focused to the SKU level). I wasn’t clear about how a user could opt out from those offers.

What does the consumer gain? Dean was honest that they are targeting the youth market (the millenials) who use their cell phones all the time, and are interested in quick transactions. For someone with a credit card already, it might not be such a win.

I wonder how secure SMSes are, especially if you’re sending a pin that can be used to retrieve money. A quick search of the internet seemed to imply that SMSes are relatively secure, but that is a definite issue to me.

But, if you want to try Feed, text ‘pickle’ or ‘noodles’ to 39598 and you’ll get a one time credit to buy lunch, at the Spicy Pickle or Noodles, respectively. I think this might just be in Boulder, but I’m planning to give it a try. (I have worked with Dean in the past.)

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July New Tech Meetup Notes: Startup Weekend

Andrew Hyde talked next, about Startup Weekend. This was an event in Boulder on July 6-8, where folks came together to build an entire startup. 68 folks attended. They created a full on S-corp, revised ideas from 50 to 10 to 3, and decided upon some kind of survey tool. The product did not quite launch. They had no business plan, but did write an executive summary. Andrew plans to expand this to other cities (London, etc). There will be another one in Boulder in 6 months.

Several folks asked what the benefit was in signing up for this, especially as the product did not launch. Andrew stated that the main goal of Startup Weekend was to meet other folks “that can kick ass” and to grow your network.

I don’t doubt it was a pressure cooker environment that smoked out some quality people, but I’m not quite convinced that a weekend with no firm monetary goals at the end is the best way to find folks who can succeed. I don’t know, I’ll have to keep my eye on it, and perhaps give it a go in December.

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July New Tech Meetup Notes: Don Dodge

Don Dodge spoke first, and gave a short history of his career; he’d been through a number of ‘name’ startups, including Altavista, where they invented multimedia search (searching images, video, etc), Napster, and Groove. He is now in the Emerging Business division at Microsoft, and has two roles. First, he communicates with VCs and lets them know where Microsoft is investing, and, more importantly, not investing. This lets the VCs make wiser choices about their portfolios. Second, he assists startups in dealing with Microsoft, including introductions to technical, marketing and sales resources, depending on where the startup is in the business cycle. He only deals with companies that are $10-15M in revenue, after that they get passed along to account managers. Don also mentioned the Empower program, which lets startups get boatloads of Microsoft software for $375 (Joel has talked about this program too). On a final note, Don mentioned that Microsoft had acquired 35 companies in the last 24 months, and that they preferred to acquire companies in the $30-50M revenue range, doing interesting innovative things.

I thought it was very interesting that Microsoft now makes it clear to VCs where it plans to invest–that helps to lessen the fear that a startup is merely doing market research for Microsoft. Robert Reich, the guy from Me.dium that helps run the Meetup, put in a plug for Microsoft and said that they had been a pleasure to work with.

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February Boulder Denver New Tech Meetup Notes

I went to the Boulder Denver New Tech meetup tonight and, boy was it a good time. I’ve been to a few Boulder Java Users Groups, and some more academic talks at CU, but this was different than both. At the BJUGs, it’s typically a bunch of geeks and a very technical topic. At the CU colloquia, it’s an academic crowd, with a lot of focus on academic questions, and an even more technical topic.This meetup, on the other hand, had, I felt, a nice mixture of technical folks and business folks. This was the sixth one held in Boulder–for more information check out their website. I believe the format is 5 minutes of presentation followed by questions eliminates a lot of fluff. The presenters tonight were:

* David Cohen: www.techstars.org

David talked about his new organization, which recently was in the local press. Techstars.org will select 10 teams with technology ideas and fund them for a summer (to the tune of $15k). During that time, they’ll be mentored by a wide variety of successful local entrepreneurs and, at the end, have a chance to pitch their idea to angel investors. The strength of the team will be a large factor in determining the winners, and applications are due on March 31 (they’ve already had over 100 teams apply).

* Russ Bryant: GoUrban.net

Russ talked about the website his company is building, which focuses on the urban lifestyle demographic (he mentioned blacks and latinos in particular). It’s particularly aimed a segment of the population that has bad or no credit, and a large part of the business plan depends on selling prepaid debit cards to that population. Such a debit card will allow users to participate in internet purchasing, as well as gain the other benefits of debit cards (users can charge up the cards at stores around the country). GoUrban.net will also be a drop ship ecommerce site, and has a long list of partnerships.

* Elliot Turner: Orchestr8.net

Elliot focused on mashups for the ordinary user. His application, Alchemy Point, is a Firefox toolbar that aims to provide some of the functionality of GreaseMonkey, but for normal users. He mentioned that mashups are a great way to create a user centric web, by allowing users to grab only what is interesting to them (as opposed to most websites, which have a distinctly larger audience). The toolbar comes with a number of preconfigured mashups (‘make this text bold’, ‘put a map next to this address’) that have been written by his company. Users also have the capability, with a simple XML syntax (with a graphical UI yet to come), to create their own, and to share them.

* Dennis Yu: www.thesocialcorp.com

Dennis talked about search engine marketing, which is the business of building campaigns on the major search engine sites. He said a campaign consists of keyword + ad copy + bid for the keyword. He showed an example of a campaign his company built for a New Year’s Eve ticket seller and said for every 9 cents the company spent on SEM, they got one dollar in sales. He also mentioned that there are a ton of MFA (made for AdSense) sites out there, and as an advertiser, you need to be aware of sites sending you worthless referrals and block them as soon as possible, as the click fraud happening is tremendous. Oh yeah, they’re also looking to help nonprofits use SEM.

* Fernando Cardenas: appventure.com

Fernando discussed the application his company is building to combat software failure. First, the cost of software failure is $60 billion a year, and 25% of all software projects are just plain abandoned. The reason for that is the disconnect between the developers and business folks. His solution is to put better tools in the hands of business folks, and have the tools create a set of business rules and a UI that the business people are happy with. Then, with the app 60-80% done, the business users can hand it off to the developers for fine tuning. I’m a bit skeptical, because I think there’s no silver bullet and the hard parts of any development conversation are the grinding out of requirements. Plus, I’ve seen one too many scary Access applications (and built a scary Paradox application myself)–not sure how the maintainability of the code generated by the tool will be. But I hope that his application succeeds as there’s a ton of places where simple applications could save a lot of scutwork. Thingamy is in the same space, I think.

All in all it was quite a nice night, and well worth attending. A lot of exciting energy in the air–it reminded me a bit of 1999 (I even saw a fellow with a Netscape fleece on!).

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