June 2009 New Tech Overview

I just attended the Boulder Denver New Tech Meetup (the one in Boulder) and it was fun and enlightening as always.  The presenters were:

First, after the networking over beer and snacks, we all went into the auditorium.  We started off with some crazy Ted video, while everyone chatted.  This was the first event I’ve been at with a twitterstream.  Robert Reich did some administrative stuff, including a plea for money.  Apparently, the new tech meetup requires about 1300 dollars a month to keep going–mostly for food and drink–and sponsorship has dried up.  Then there was an opportunity for job announcements.  There were 4-5; most were for php programmers, though I did hear one for a Django programmer.  We did not do ‘looking for work’ announcements–is that ominous?

Events were announced after the job announcements petered out.  Andrew Hyde announced that Startup Weekend Boulder is this weekend. The Boulder Small Business Development Center (who knew there was one?) is having a workshop June 3rd about ‘access to capital’.  There’s an Ignite Boulder coming up in July.  I’m sure I missed one or two announcements.  Then we were on to the presentations. Apparently, if you launch at the New Tech Meetup, you have the option of going ‘under the microscope’.  I think this means that you crowdsource some of your business ideas to the New Tech Meetup; Robert mentioned that it also included some other services, including 30 minutes with one of the Foundry Group founders.

LocalBunny apparently launched last month and chose to go ‘under the microscope’, and had an open board meeting tonight.  They have a service that allows users to ask questions on facebook, sms (soon) and twitter, and get answers from companies.  They used to have some kind of consumer play, but after a month of market feedback, have decided to focus on providing ‘white label’ social media integration to businesses.  The use case is, I ask a question of the Boulder Theater via my facebook status.  This goes to the Local Bunny servers, which attempt to answer it in an automated fashion, via whatever avenue you asked the question.  If the answer is not available, it is passed on to the company in question, and you are notified of that.  My take is that this could be very useful, but it will be hard for me as a user to know how to contact the appropriate company.  In addition, one of the selling points is that the answer to the question may be broadcast on your facebook status (again, depending on how you ask the question)–I’m not a fan of that.  And the idea of automated answers seems like a hard sell; I did miss the initial launch and perhaps that demoed this crucial piece.

Next up was Ken Zolot, who was a TechStars mentor.  He’s an MIT professor, interested in the ecology of entrepeneurship, and specializes in taking products from ‘tech push to market pull’.  He mentioned that ta key peice of the ecology for startups is mentors, and not famous ones.  Real local mentors who engage with you and help you through your mistakes.  Specialized mentors who have rolodexes, specialties in team dynamics and/or market connection expertise can be especially helpful.  And Ken doesn’t have a blog!

Then there was a presentation from a representative of the Singapore government IT department, aka IDA (I did not catch his name).  He had some difficulties with his presentation, but he called off some great statistics about Singapore.  It has 4.5 million people in an area smaller than the San Francisco Bay.  Singapore has a national infrastructure plan: Intelligent Nation 2015.  They are really good at building infrastructure–they’ve already saturated the entire country with wifi (7500 hotspots) and will have 1GB fiber everywhere by 2012.  (They are also replicating the infrastructure throughout Asia.)  His presentation wasn’t all that focused, but he was evangelizing Singapore as a hub for tech development, especially for companies that need fat pipes (video, etc).  He did tell a funny story about an investigation into a GPS driven bus location system, so that you could know exactly when the next bus will come.  He said the proposal was considered, but not funded when further research showed that the buses ran every three minutes anyway!  (Shades of the NASA pen urban legend and Nextbus!)  He didn’t really address concerns about the government choosing winners (versus the marketplace); I guess with the US financial crisis and China’s rise, the marketplace is out of favor a bit.  He did say that the government doesn’t want to run, say, a fiber optic network, so it hands over operations to private concerns; however, the government still apparently has a say in the pricing.  All in all, it is pretty impressive that the meetup can draw a foreign representative.

Then Matt from Clixo presented.  They are a boutique search engine marketing and conversion firm in Denver.  He condensed a one hour presentation into 5 minutes.  Matt gave a great example of improving the conversion for a software company.  Their focus is on lead generation and basic SEO–they primarily aim at taking companies that have awful websits and making them better by researching and focusing on target audience and measureable outcomes.  I think Matt might have missed his aim a bit–I can’t imagine anyone at the BDNT not taking conversion seriously.  I talked to one of his coworkers afterwards and pointed them to GWO, which I thought might complement their current offerings nicely.

The iVolunteer folks did something different with their five minutes.  They talked about 30 seconds about the concept–networked apps on the phone and elsewhere that make it easy for you to volunteer–and then asked for help from the crowd.  Apparently, all the good domain names with anything resembling ‘volunteer’ in them are gone; these folks wanted help with a new name.  They wrote down a bunch.  Interesting use of a lot of intellectual firepower.  And by interesting, I mean I’m not sure if it was wise or not.

Last up was Lijit.  After a quick overview of what Lijit does (combines a bunch of sources of online information into one profile; allows you to search on them via a javascript widget; they also run their own ad network), the presenters (Micah and Grace) gave an overview of Lijit’s new, pre-alpha tool that allows you to measure online influence.  Influence, according to Lijit, consists of three things.  Audience, trust and expertise.  Return visitors and discovery based visitors are proxies for audience.  Relationship number and strength is a proxy for trust, and Lijit searches are a proxy for expertise.  He showed a demo of ‘influence’, which Lijit condenses down into one number.  Currently, it is done at a large granularity, but the plan is to have it get finer and finer.  This seems like a great idea, especially if you are Lijit and want to sell ads, until you realize that influence is a very fluid thing.  I might be an influence on GWT to some folks, (friends that are evaluating it).  I would not be to others.  My parents consider me influential regarding computers; my IT friends don’t.  I guess where Lijit loses me is that they don’t appear to treat ‘audience’ with enough respect–the type of reader is at least as important as my content.  Again, this was all based on a 5 minute presentation of a pre-alpha project, so I’m sure it has room to grow.  Lijit certainly has the data to make it interesting.

And that was all of the June 2009 Boulder Denver New Tech Meetup, Boulder edition.  As always, it was a great networking scene, lots of energy and excitement, and good laughs.  I will say that the twitterstream made things more interesting; there were at least two funny comments that got everyone laughing up on the screen.  I think it would be interesting as a presenter to see the stream (it was behind them) and hae a chance to interact more.

Update June 5, 10:37 am: Via the the CO Startup Tracking Twitter feed, I found that RockyRadar has a nice write up of the June BDNTM.  I’ve written about them before, glad to see they’re still going strong.

Colorado Tech News Roundup Site

Via Kevin Cawley (who also has an interesting post on the changing nature of blogging), I found Rocky Radar, which claims to be “Colorado’s Technology Record”. We’ll see how long the folks behind it keep it up–I certainly hope they do.

The Radar started in Sep of 2008 and covers info tech, clean tech, life science and CU news. They do have a nice calendar of Colorado Tech events, even if there’s no ical format exposed.

Hey Rocky Radar founders, here’s an idea I’ve been toying with. CU has a ton of mailing lists announcing free talks across a number of academic interests. Why not

  1. aggregate them all in one massive list, or
  2. provide some kind of calendar interface to them

IP Crash Course For Entrepreneurs

This past Wednesday, I went to an interesting talk sponsored by Silicon Flatirons (an organization worth knowing about). Jason Haislmaier gave the talk, and the subject was intellectual property (IP); it was titled ‘Intellectual Property “Crash Course” for Entrepreneurs’ and was packed! I got there 10 minutes late (parking on the CU campus is no fun at all) and sat in the back on a heater. Good thing the fire department didn’t come by, as I’m sure we were over capacity. (Incidentally, I heard about this via the Boulder Denver New Tech Meetup mailing list but it was also on the Colorado Startups Events calendar.)

Jason said the presentation and possibly a recording of it would be available, but I was unable to find it by looking around his blog or the Silicon Flatirons site. I took some notes, but his presentation, if and when it becomes available, will be a great introduction to what entrepreneurs need to know about IP. (Note that all mistakes herein are mine, and I am most definitely not a lawyer. Consult your friendly attorney for serious advice. I marked things I thought I remembered with a ‘?’.)

There are 4 kinds of IP: patents, which are ideas or inventions, trademarks, which are about branding, copyright, which deals with creative expression, and trade secrets, which is know how. The overall emphasis on his talk was that you may not need protection from one or any of these forms of property, but that you, as an entrepreneur should be aware of all of them and make a conscious choice to pursue or not to pursue them. Which makes a lot of sense to me! (Incidentally, he repeatedly mentioned that the US was different in IP than the rest of the world, in a lot of ways, so if you plan to do business internationally, you should definitely think about that sooner rather than later.)

Trade secrets are pretty much anything–data, methods, software, etc. The protection is dependent on keeping them secret. Jason was working with a $10-20 million company that had only one patent; its valuation was almost entirely based on trade secrets. NDAs and employment contracts are the front line of trade secrets. He emphasized that you need to read NDAs and think about how they affect you and your relationship with the NDA signer. In particular, you can’t expect a signer to forget everything they’ve learned after a relationship ends, but you can expect them to return all the tangible forms of information. NDAs should have remedies (injunctions). If the other side won’t sign an NDA, that’s fine, just don’t tell them anything that you wouldn’t want to see posted on the Internet.

Copyright is protection for an original work or authorship in a tangible form from which the work can be perceived, not an idea. Apparently, there was a famous case (Feist) which basically outlined the limits of copyright–anything more creative than the White Pages qualifies for copyright protection. There are five rights, which I didn’t note because I thought the presentation would be up. Copyright can be unregistered (just about anything–these notes and this blog post are unregistered copyright) or registered. Registering costs something, but means you can sue folks. Under the DMCA, the copyright owner no longer has to show infringement–the possibility of infringement is enough (?). There are safe harbors though, one of which is the service provider harbor(?). You have to register with the Library of Congress and take things down if notified, but if you are providing any service with user generated content, you should pursue this safe harbor.

Trademarks (or service marks) are about branding. They’re easier to file for than patents. Use in commerce generates rights. He had a great slide showing the protection levels of trademarks from the fantastic (Kodak, Exxon) to the arbitrary (Apple) to the suggestive to the descriptive (World Poker Tour) to the generic (aspirin, escalator). The more the trademark describes what it represents, the less protectable it is, and trademarks can be lost (as escalator was).

Patents–the big one! Patents are the right to excludes others from making, using and selling a new, useful and non-obvious invention. There are a number of reasons to patent–defensive, offensive, ego, source of revenue (a secondary market is developing for patents. Offensive patents are getting riskier recently (courts are narrowing down patent infringement). But, investors are starting to ask why patents weren’t filed, and “we didn’t think to do so” is a poor answer. The answer to the question “Is it patentable?” for almost any value of “it” is yes, but you need to think about why–the better question is “How relevant and valuable will a patent be for the business?”. Lack of knowledge or independent development is not a defense against patent infringement.

All in all, it was a lot of ground to cover. Jason did a good job making things very applicable to the audience he was talking to. It kinda sucks that you have to think about such things, when all you want to do is develop killer software. (Brian made an offhand comment about patents and long running servlets almost 4 years ago, incidentally.) As Jason said in closing, if you don’t have an intellectual property strategy, your competitors will give you one (and, I inferred, you probably won’t like that one very much).

GWT Talk at the Boulder Denver New Tech Meetup tonight

I presented on the Google Web Toolkit at the Boulder Denver New Tech Meetup tonight (presentation and useful links). It was a rush, as presentations always are. However, the adrenaline was compounded by two factors: the length of the presentation and the composition of the audience.

To present something as large in scope as GWT in 5 minutes was difficult. Though I’d been to 3 previous meetups, I didn’t have a good feel for the technical knowledge of the audience, so I aimed to keep the presentation high level. (The audience, on this particular night, was about 50/50 split between coders and non coders, as determined by a show of hands. However, almost everyone knew the acronym AJAX and what it meant.) This lack of knowledge compounded the difficulty, but I still feel I got across some of the benefits of GWT.

I’ll be writing more about what I learned about GWT in preparing for this, but I wanted to answer 3 questions posed to me that I didn’t have off the cuff answers for tonight.

1. Who is using GWT?

I looked and couldn’t find a good list. This list is the best I could do, along with this GWT Groups post. I find it rather astonishing that there’s not a better list out there, as the above list was missing some big ones (Timepedia’s Chronoscope, the Lombardi Blueprint system) as well as my own client: Colorado HomeFinder.

2. How much time does the compilation process add?

I guessed on this tonight but guessed too high. I said it was on the order of 30 seconds to a minute. On my laptop (2 cpu/2 ghz/2 gb of ram box) GWT compilation takes ~7 seconds to build incrementally (from ant, which appears to add ~2 seconds to all of these numbers) and ~21 seconds to build after all classes and artifacts have been deleted. This is for 7400 lines of code.

3. How does GWT compare to other frameworks like Dojo and YUI?

I punted on this one when perhaps I should not have. From what I can tell, GWT attacks adding dynamic behavior to web pages in a fundamentally different way. Dojo and YUI (from what I know of them) are about adding behavior to existing widgets on a page. GWT is about adding objects to a page, which may or may not be attached to existing widgets. I’ll not say more, as I don’t have the experience with other toolkits to speak authoritatively.

Also, here’s an AJAX toolkit comparison that I found.
[tags]gwt presentations, unanswered questions[/tags]

July Boulder Denver New Tech Meetup Notes

I went to the Boulder Denver New Tech Meetup last night, and it was a blast, as always. Due to the format, 5 minutes of demo, 5 minutes of questions, it’s hard to get much technical depth in any one presentation, but it is always interesting to see the wealth of different businesses that are utilizing the Web. The New Tech Meetups are now being videotaped, but I’m not sure where the video is being posted. Additionally, the CU Entrepreneurial Law Clinic is looking for 6-12 clients–they provide free legal advice to startups.

I’m going to do a separate post about each speaker, and link to them here.

At the end of the night, several folks announced they were looking for people to fill positions: 1 flash, 1 java, 1 flex, 1 ruby on rails. I thought that breakdown was interesting. In addition, someone from the Altera group stood up and announced they were looking to do deals of $3-5M, investing in energy sector startups (and no, just using electricity doesn’t make you an energy sector startup–someone asked).

July New Tech Meetup Notes: Printfection

Printfection was the last company to present–they do on demand printing of t shirts, etc. They started up in a DU dorm room. They are essentially a cafepress clone that focuses on inkjet printing to cloth, rather than screen printing. They compete on quality and automation. Printfection is also are more of a white label printer, where you can set up a very customizable storefront. Eventually, they’re going to have an API (after the Christmas rush) that other sites will be able to use. Their average order size is 1.8 shirts, which I thought was quite interesting–most of their business is micro orders. Just another example of how the internet is shaking up typical business models by making mass customization cheap.

I like to support local companies, so I’ll give them a try next time when I do a custom shirt. I have a couple of cafepress shirts, so I’ll be interested top see how they compare.

[tags]cafepress, micro orders[/tags]

July New Tech Meetup Notes: Villij

Villij was the next presenter. They are a techstars startup; their mission is to introduce folks based on common interest. How are these common interests determined? By what you write on the internet. So far, they have the basics of a platform built, but are not trawling the internet just yet, so introductions are based on data you’ve entered into their system (like match.com, but without the romance). They are looking for interested folks to get on their waiting list to get a beta login.

The issue I have with this, and almost every other social network, is something I have often thought about–the binary nature of connection. I am either all your friend or I have no connection to you–no shades of gray. There’s no concept of grouping of visibility. I presume because this is a hard problem for folks to solve in the real world (“let’s see, who should I invite to the party”), let alone represent in a digital format. I have at least two online personas, work and personal, and there may be folks that I’m interested in meeting because of one that I wouldn’t care to meet based on the other. But maybe they’ll solve that problem….

[tags]yet another social network, techstars[/tags]

July New Tech Meetup Notes: LocalGuides

LocalGuides presented next. This is such a fantastic idea, I’m envious. You know the little slips of paper that someone puts in every wedding invitation, with information about local hotels, hotspots and wedding location information? Well, LocalGuides lets you do this on the web and share it. You can be as detailed as you’d like (adding images, etc), and you can share it with other folks or not. They monetize it by providing links to businesses in your area.

I created my own localguide to Boulder easy classic rock climbs. The interface is very web 2.0–there’s no save buttons–when you move off input fields, they are saved. The signup was a bit unclear–you have to activate your account via a link sent in an email. That’s standard practice, but I saw no notice of that.

If I were a listing real estate agent, I think that a localguide would be a tremendous complement to a virtual tour.

[tags]cool tech,localism[/tags]

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