Archive for Chris Shipley

The Vortex: BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos

On my way to DEMOfall in San Diego this morning and loving/loathing the American Airlines onboard wifi. I can write The Vortex I missed Friday but then again… I can write The Vortex I missed Friday. Also the dude in front of me just reclined his seat. My keyboard is now embedded in my chest.

News from the Social Media Vortex

–Dan Lyons finally snapped and unleashed his fury on Twitter, though as regular readers know, I don’t necessarily disagree with him. As proof of his perceived stupidity of the service, he quotes tweets from Dane Cook. Come on, Dan, try a little harder.

–The much-anticipated rollout of MMS for iPhones supposedly started last week. I’m not sure if/how users will be notified of it though. Can someone make an app for that? (I’m joking. I think.)

–Hey! Somebody finally won the Netflix prize! BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos (that’s the name of my next child) won $1 million for developing a smarter algorithm to power the rental service’s recommendation system. Congrats BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos! God that’s a great name.

Apps on the Radar

–Google Labs has a fun new way to read the news, Fast Flip. Better emulating the experience of reading a printed magazine (pay attention, Kindle), Fast Flip is still an experiment but hopefully signals new attitudes toward digital content.

–And on that subject, I meant to tell you last time about News Dots, an interactive map of news stories from Slate that visually shows connections between people, places, and things in the news. To see the precursor to this technology, check out the Network Maps on Silobreaker, one of my favorite news sites (and a DEMO alum!)

–If all that news is getting you down, try The Onion’s new iPhone app, which includes no news at all, just ironic headlines.

–Two totally unnecessary but completely fun iPhone apps for you: an Army of Darkness app (!) complete with sound clips, and Pirate Tweets, for those times when, well jeez, when do you not need to talk like a pirate?

Tweet of the Week

–It’s a Facebook status rather than a tweet so no link. My college friend Abe has some of the best status updates around, though he does get a bit dark occasionally. He probably wouldn’t friend you if you asked (he’s bitter), so I may compile his truisms into a book one day. I’ll leave you with this to ponder today:

[Don’t] remember exactly, but figure we all liked each other just a little better before it was possible to read an unending stream of each others’ inane bullshit.

Amen brother.

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In the Mirror Dimly; Outside the Valley, We’re Not Nearly as Shiny

I’m catching up on my bookmarks this afternoon and finally got to reading the Schott’s Vocab column in last Monday’s New York Times. Author Ben Schott describes his blog as “a repository of unconsidered lexicographical trifles — some serious, others frivolous, some neologized, others newly newsworthy.”

Last weekend, he asked readers to consider new collective nouns for the “modern phenomena.”  Collective nouns, for those needing a grammar refresher, are those weird and wondrous descriptors for groups of creatures: a murder of crows, a gaggle of geese, a pride of lions.   In his column, Schott tells us that many of these collective nouns were first described in the Book of St. Albans, published in 1486.

Schott’s readers rose to the challenge, and while many of their newly coined collective nouns are humorous, they didn’t paint technophiles in the most flattering light.  Perhaps they are a reminder to those of us who live and breath new technology “phenomenon”  not to take ourselves too seriously.

Herewith, some of the unflattery of Schott’s wordy, if not nerdy, readers:

  • A twitter of twits
  • A bore of bloggers
  • A babble of pundits
  • A cruft of programmers
  • A calumny of bloggers
  • A Googol of Googlers
  • A Tube of You’s
  • A book of faces

Sure, it’s just wordplay.  And maybe also, on this long Memorial Day weekend,  a reminder to lift our heads up from our computers once in a while and enjoy a wider world.  (Says she who writes this blog on a Sunday evening with her back to an ocean sunset.)  Logging off now.

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Silicon Ivy and Main Street: Both Need a Thriving Ecosystem

Last week, my friend Ami Kassar posted a Facebook note coining a phenonomon he called the “Silicon Ivy Bubble.”

He wrote:

In the Silicon Ivy bubble, there is a perception about entrepreneurship. In Silicon Ivy, an entrepreneur tends to look like this:

1. You need a unique proprietary idea that could grow into a billion dollar company;

2. You must raise rounds of capital – b, c, angel, bridge. There is an entire ecosystem built around supporting this bubble.

3. You must follow these steps.

Ami’s conclusion, though, is that these Silicon Ivy startups are far outpaced by businesses that “start on Main Street” where there is “typically no ‘secret sauce’ at the core of the business.”

Main Street businesses are traditional companies where an entrepreneur’s recognition of the need to provide for family and a need in the community coincide.  They are businesses funded by savings or maybe, if the entrepreneur is both lucky and good, a bank loan.

Ami sees plenty of Main Street businesses at his ideablob site, where entrepreneurs post business ideas and receive business advice in return.  The site is the kind of ecosystem that Ami laments is missing from the Main Street business arena, a vibrant ecosystem of support akin to that which supports those Silicon Ivy businesses.

As I thought about Ami’s post, my first inclination was as you might expect: the dynamics and metrics of a venture-fundable business are vastly different from those of the sort of lifestyle businesses that pop up on on Main Streets everywhere. Silicon Valley – or Silicon Ivy – is home to a high-stakes ecosystem exactly because the stakes are so big. It takes a lot of heavy lifting to build a $100M company, then grow it some more.

It’s different on Main Street.  A sole proprietor, a banker, maybe a real estate agent.  Set up shop. Hang out the shingle. Get to work. Bring home the bacon, fry it up the pan.  Feed the family. Pay the mortgage.

As if there is something wrong with that.

Yes, venture-backed businesses require a certain scale and ambition. They are bigger businesses, potentially, than Main Street businesses.  But not necessarily better businesses.  Main Street businesses, or what some folks describe (often with derision) as “lifestyle businesses,”  are good businesses. Some are even great businesses.  They simply don’t scale the way a venture capitalist requires in order to make an investment.

Main Street businesses, writes Ami, “need a place to feel the energy that exists in Silicon Valley coffee shops. They need access to financing for their businesses. They need mentors and cliques like the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. They need hip, cool resources that keep them inspired.”

I’d argue that they also need our respect.  These businesses deserve a vibrant ecosystem of support because they are, in fact, the life blood of the global economy.  They create jobs and drive productivity.  They are arguably the lever in economic recovery.

And, oddly enough, many – and I might argue, most — of Silicon Valley startups are Main Street-scale businesses masquerading as venture-investable enterprises simply because they are based on that spit of land between San Francisco and San Jose.  These are business that won’t find success with the venture community, but wouldn’t dare to identify themselves as Main Street businesses.

Maybe in all of this discussion, though, is the realization that a large part of Silicon Valley is Main Street. . . and a block or two of Main Street in most every global business center is, in fact, Silicon Valley.

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A Message to the Guidewire Community

It’s been an exciting morning around here, with the news of Chris passing the DEMO Executive Producer baton to Matt Marshall and DEMO’s new partnership with Venture Beat. Chris has detailed her personal feelings on leaving DEMO after 13 years, but we also wanted to take a moment to share a bit more about where Chris and Guidewire Group are going.

Over the next six months, we’ll continue to work on vetting and selecting startups for Chris’ final DEMO in September. At the same time, we’ll be starting a new chapter at four-year-old Guidewire Group, energized by the thought of having Chris’ undivided attention in the not too distant future! Most of you know Guidewire Group as a partner to DEMO. We are also the world’s leading analyst firm focused exclusively on startups and emerging markets. In that role, we work with young companies at key transition points, when every idea looks good on paper and every decision counts, to deliver unparalleled counsel on a variety of topics – from business and monetization strategies to market validation and competitive analysis delivered through custom and retained projects, events such as Innovate!Europe and our intensive in-residence program for young companies, Guidewire Studio.

And the best part is there’s a growing movement in the entrepreneurial ecosystem that believes “thinking is cool again” – that building companies that deliver long-term value through technology and business innovation trumps the “be here now – be gone tomorrow” mentality of pop culture startups anytime. As this movement gathers steam, we’re finding that Guidewire Group is in demand for our insight into emerging market trends, best practices, and common mistakes and for our ability to bring clarity, focus, and decades of emerging technology experience to the art of transforming ideas into successful enterprises.

Our wonderful experiences with DEMO allowed for short, intense opportunities to engage with startups.  We now look forward to extending those engagements, working more closely with companies to help them validate and strengthen their critical opportunities.  We’re passionate about startups and we know we can help them be more successful.

There’s much to share with you in the months ahead so we hope you’ll check The Guidewire blog regularly, follow us on Twitter, and visit our Facebook page.  New paths are always the most interesting to travel and we hope you’ll be right alongside us.

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Changes at DEMO: Chris Passing the Torch

Who could ask for a better job? For the past 13 years, I’ve spent my days talking with some of the smartest people on the planet. People passionate about technology and the art and science of molding that technology into products and services that address real challenges and bring new capabilities to people’s lives.

I’d be hard pressed to make an accurate count, but I’d guess that since taking the reins of DEMO in the spring of 1996, I’ve met no fewer than 15,000 entrepreneurs, inventors, and innovators, and helped about 1,500 of them launch their products to market on the DEMO stage.

DEMO has given me the opportunity to travel the world; meet with government officials and business leaders; interview certified geniuses and a few certifiable nut cases, and through newsletters (back in the day), blog posts, speaking gigs, interviews, and the DEMO conference itself share back a bit of what I’ve learned and the realizations that learning sparked.

DEMO, with its emphasis on product innovation, is an amazing lens and filter through which to gauge the future of the information technology industry and the markets as they open, undulate, and fold over time. The conference is a tremendous reviewing platform for new ideas and a lookout post for emerging and impactful trends.

It may not be surprising, then, to learn that after all these years, the lookout perch that is DEMO gave me the opportunity to see a new future for myself and for my company, Guidewire Group.

So early last year, I began the process of transitioning from DEMO so that I could start my next career in earnest. The first step, of course, was making sure that this was the right new path for myself, my family, and my Guidewire Group colleagues. DEMO has been a big part of all our lives for a long, long time. We all did a lot of soul searching and determined that, yes, we were ready to put our full energies behind the Guidewire Group business: working with technology companies during the critical transition points in their businesses to identify opportunity, define strategy, and accelerate the path to success.

The next step was more difficult: working with our partners at IDG and Network World to identify a successor. DEMO is a great job and a challenging one, and it’s not an easy post to fill. We found the most perfect fit in an accomplished journalist, entrepreneur, and kindred spirit, Matt Marshall. Over the last year, I’ve had the opportunity to work with and get to know Matt and his team at Venture Beat. He is a talented, smart, deeply ethical journalist and he and his writers have created a remarkable, respected brand and business. And he is the perfect person to pick up the reins of DEMO as I lay them down after the DEMOfall event in September.

Matt and I share many of the same values, foremost of which are the respect for entrepreneurs and the process of innovation and the commitment to act with integrity and fairness as we serve our customers and communities. But Matt and Venture Beat are more than a pin-for-pin replacement for me and Guidewire Group. They bring new perspective to DEMO. While much about DEMO will remain the same, surely Matt will make a wonderful impression on the brand and the business. The new partnership between DEMO and Venture Beat promises a broader platform for the DEMO community and a richer conversation that will span the events. Together, Venture Beat and DEMO have an exciting future, and I’m eager to see it unfold.

I’m equally eager to unfold the future of Guidewire Group, a company I co-founded in 200 with Mike Sigal. In the past four years, Guidewire Group has evolved into an analyst firm laser-focused on startups. We work with young companies in the U.S. and Europe at key transition points, to develop and deliver business strategy and monetization and market validation. Through custom projects, events such as Innovate!Europe, and Guidewire Studio, our exclusive in-residence program, we’re doing the work I love most – helping startups thrive.

We have an exciting future planned for Guidewire Group and I look forward to sharing our vision with you in the months ahead. We have been privileged and honored to work with this great brand and the amazing people who have been associated with DEMO across the last 13 years.

And we’re looking forward to the next six months as we work just as diligently as we always have on DEMOfall 09, while transitioning the Executive Producer mantle to Matt and his team.

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Tech Policy in the Next Administration

Sometimes, maybe too often, I don’t realize what I think about an issue, topic, or trend until I’m asked about it.  That was certainly the case this week when Tech Policy Central’s founder Natalie Fonseca asked for my views on technology policy in the new administration.     Tech Policy Central is an outgrowth of the Tech Policy Summit, an annual event entering its third year that “brings together prominent leaders from the private and public sectors to examine critical policy issues impacting technology innovation and adoption in the United States and beyond.”   The event’s speakers are a Who’s Who of policy makers, technology executives, and elected officials.

As a lead up to the Summit in March 23-25, 2009 in the San Francisco Bay Area, Natalie has been polling her Advisory Board members (click here for her Q&A with Craig Newmark), and yesterday was my turn to respond to her questions.  I’d not put much though to tech policy in the context of the current economy, so Natalie’s questions sparked some thinking.

Here’s the Q&A:

Tech Policy Central: When it comes to promoting technology innovation, what do you think the top priorities should be for the next Administration and Congress?

Chris Shipley: Programs that promote and support entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs are the driver of the technology economy, particularly in difficult times. They build the companies, hire the workers and create new value.

I’d like to see the National Science Foundation’s business development grants program expanded for technology innovation and tech transfer. The funding, relative to viable ideas/need, is remarkably little. I’d like to see investment in regional Innovation Centers. I’d like to see tax credits for entreprenerus who take personal risk to start their companies.

TPC: You meet with hundreds of entrepreneurs from around the world every year. Based on your conversations with those innovators and your own travels abroad, do you believe that Silicon Valley is in danger of losing its competitive edge in the global economy?

CS: I think Silicon Valley is learning that the global market is spawning innovation in every corner; that Silicon Valley doesn’t have a lock on great technology invention and innovation.  Still, the Valley remains the epicenter of innovation.  Foreign technology companies believe that they must come to the U.S., generally, and Silicon Valley, specifically, in order to grow their company and capture significant market share worldwide. Silicon Valley’s wealth of expertise, capital and experience is a magnetic pull for non-U.S. companies, and I believe it will continue to be in the foreseeable future.

TPC: If you were to name one tech policy area where you’d like to see greater federal government involvement, what would it be?

CS: Broadband digital infrastructure is critical to the economic competitiveness of the United States. And, as importantly, it bridges the divide in the U.S. between those who have and those who have not. Access to information is and will continue to be a tremendously valuable currency.  Investment in universal access to broadband infrastructure is an investment in a wide array of health and human services, including education, anti-poverty programs, public safety, crime prevention and the like.

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Address for the Job You Want Done

The iconic business book, given to me as I started my career those many years ago, was Women’s Dress for Success. In it, the author prescribed a wardrobe of “power suits” augmented by silky bows, pumps, and pearls.  As I looked around the newsroom at men and women dressed in denim, loafers, and baggy sweaters, I knew I’d chosen the right profession. I am, decidedly, not the silky bow type.

Still, I was admonished to “dress for the job you want.”  I did.  Jeans, a black turtleneck. (And yet I’m not the CEO of Apple.)  I realized pretty quickly, though, that while I was completely comfortable at work, I wasn’t dressing for the job my parents wanted me to have. Still, I’ve done a pretty good job emulating the wardrobe of a tech analyst and, well, nearly 25 years later, here I am.

I was reminded of all this early this week when I sat down to catch up with Soujanya Bhumkar, CEO of Cooliris.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I am an adviser to this incredible company.  More often than not, though, I come away from my visits with Soujanya energized by his thoughtful and insightful leadership of his company.   This visit was no exception.

After reviewing the status of the company (it’s on a roll) and getting a peek at the product roadmap (heading in exciting directions), Soujanya talked about the new hires he’s planning:  a VP of User Growth and a VP of Partner Distribution. Huh?  Not the normal titles you’d see on an org chart, to be sure.

“I call them what they are responsible for,” Soujanya says. “I’m not hiring a VP of Marketing, because you can be sure that person will come up with a plan to spend money on tradeshows. I want my guy or gal focused on growing the user base.”

It’s not a new idea, perhaps:  Reward the behavior you want.  But with a twist: Name the job for the performance you must have.

It’s easy for  a new company to throw up a traditional org chart and label boxes VP of Engineering, VP of Marketing, VP of Business Development.  Oddly enough, it’s harder to talk about what you want those people to do, what you want them do day to day, for what you want them to be responsible.

“I won’t hire a Biz Dev guy,” Soujanya told me.  “What does that person do?  I’m hiring a VP of Partner Distribution because those partnerships are critical to our success.  We need partners to distribute our product. The VP of Partner Distribution is responsible for that.”

Especially now, with daily admonitions to startups to tighten their belts, control costs, and stay focused,  young companies need to hold every employee responsible for the success of the company, and ensure that every day, every employee knows exactly what he or she should be doing.  Forget fancy titles; address for the job you want done.

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