Archive for Events

Searching for Answers in Search

There has been an influx of announcements in the search world lately – Wolfram Alpha, Bing, and Siri among the most high profile – so our upcoming panel at SemTech 2009 really couldn’t come at a better time. Set for next Wednesday, June 17 at 8:30am at the San Jose Fairmont, our Executive Roundtable on Semantic Search will pick some of the biggest brains in the business to share their insights on where search is now, where it should be going and what role semantic technology should play in this complex sector.

With both Microsoft and Google represented, we’re sure to discuss Bing and its new place in the search game. Yahoo and Ask.com will share their experiences as legacy sites that must constantly innovate to stay viable. And up-and-comers True Knowledge and Hakia can give perspective on what it’s like to battle the behemoths in a space that is always hungry for more. In short, we’ve got every aspect of the search game covered so you won’t want to miss it.

If you’re not already registered for SemTech, do so now. Friends of Guidewire Group get a $300 discount on a full-conference pass. If you’re only interested in semantic search, the conference is offering a special Semantic Search Day pass for $195. This gets you access to our panel, a one-on-one Wolfram Alpha interview by Nova Spivack, and access to the exhibit hall.

Hope to see you all in San Jose next week!

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Special Guidewire Discount for GamesBeat 2009

Our friends at VentureBeat are hosting GamesBeat 2009, an inaugural conference for the gaming industry’s top players. Scheduled for March 24, 2009 at the Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco, GamesBeat will feature some of the biggest names in gaming, representing the multiple ways gaming will shape our experience with the world.  Tickets to the event are $595 but friends of Guidewire Group can get a 15% discount by using the code ‘Guidewire‘ on the registration site. Register now and don’t miss headliners like:

  • John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment
  • Seamus Blackley, head of games at Creative Artists Agency, and co-creator of the Xbox
  • Curt Schilling, founder & chairman of 38 Studios and World Series-winning pitcher from the Boston Red Sox

Over the course of the day, heavy hitters and rookies will shoot it out over the industry’s next big ideas. Gregg Sauter of Nokia N-Gage and Susan Panico of Sony Playstation Network US will discuss platform wars with MySpace, Facebook, and ngmoco. Media and entertainment players get in the game as Graham Hopper, head of Disney Interactive Studios; Ira Rubenstein, VP of interactive for Marvel; and Dave Williams, senior VP of Nickelodeon Kids and Family Games Group look at mass-market opportunities for video games.

The complete line-up can be found on the speaker list and agenda.

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IVA’s Startup Competition Finalists…And the Winner Is…

The honor of announcing the winners of the Israeli Venture Association’s Startup Competition, a business pitch event co-sponsored by DEMO’s partner in Germany.

Sixty-nine Israeli startups submitted plans and 11 finalists were selected by a panel of judges to present during the conference in DEMO’s tried-and-true six-minute format. A few of the finalists should be familiar to DEMO devotees. DEMO alums Worklight and Delver each made it to the final round.

Here’s a quick rundown of the final pitches:

Techtium is a fables semiconductor company developing an integrated circuit that allows portable electronics and other consumer devices to run on hybrid rechargeable power as well as alkaline batteries. The company’s Energi to Go implementation is an external charger that adds three hours of talk time to a mobile phone.

Worklight (which was Serendipity Technologies when it launched at DEMO 07) allows businesses to easily integrate salespeople and channel partners into the the enterprise data flow using secure RSS or AJAX widgets.

Diagnostic Technologies is medical diagnostics company developing a biomarker that detects the risk of toxemia in pregnant women. As many as 207,000 women die from pre-eclampsia each year, women who can be saved by this company’s $50 blood test.

WeFi is creating a world-wide network of open WiFi hot spots. A small client application identifies available WiFi hot spots, while collecting data about open networks that is added to the company’s comprehensive database.

Redbend Software develops Fota – firmware over the air: The company’s technology enables mobile operators to update mobile firmware over the air, reflashing the device even while it is in use.

ID-U Biometrics uses unique eye-movement patterns to identify people. This very early stage company is developing an application that detects eye movement as users engage with online commerce applications.

Delver, which launched its technology at DEMO 08, crosses social network concepts with search to allow users to find content, media and people within their social networks.

Modu is a tiny, modular mobile phone, that can be slipped into a wide variety of modu jackets – stylishly designed phone enclosures – and modu mates – modu-enabled consumer electronics devices.

Petnovations is developing products to improve the lives of pets and pet owners. The company’s first product is CatGenie, a self-cleaning litter box. To come soon: a dog collar that automatically dispenses anti-flea solution.

Gizmoz is a consumer entertainment site that lets individuals create 3-D avatars from their 2-D photograph. The company is soon to release Be A Star which combines content from branded media, such as feature films, with the company’s avatars.

Nearly 1,500 people voted by SMS for their favorite businesses. Their choices, organizers told me, aligned with the top finishers as determined by the judges. The IVA Startup Competition prize went to an unfunded, incubator-based company: ID-U Biometrics. The company automatically receives a spot at DEMOgermany in October.

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Sequoia’s Mike Moritz’ Advice for Building Enduring Companies

It was refreshing to hear Michael Moritz talk about building “incredibly enduring companies” at the IVA meeting on Monday afternoon.

Drawing on the Dow Jones 30 companies that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Moritz pointed out that only four of the 30 companies on the index today – DuPont, GE, General Motors, and Proctor & Gamble – were a part of the index in 1960.

With no sense of irony – given Sequoia’s track record of spectacular exit through M&A, Moritz bemoaned the “ incredible shortage of the great enduring companies.”

How do you build one? These are his guidelines:

  • Pursue billion dollar opportunities
  • The founder’s spirit should rule
  • Expand with Care – Walmart and Ames Department stores started from similar humble beginnings and at about the same time. Ames quickly expanded across the U.S., putting up stores ahead of the company’s ability to manage the growth.
  • Examine your company as an outsider – Great companies, and here Moritz pointed to Rupert Murdock, must keep reinventing themselves to stay fresh.
  • Skeptics are also wrong – Fed Ex was dinged as a business school plan because it would never work.
  • Never bow to setbacks
  • Lack of money breeds ingenuity – Amazon in the early years was capital constrained. Without much money, the company developed ideas and technologies to help save money.
  • Invest during downturns
  • Spirit of the founders must be captured by next CEO –The successors to founders Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce, Andy Grove and now Paul Otellini, “make the spirit of the founders live,” Moritz believes. “They instinctively know how to react.”     Apple Computer’s board fired Steve Jobs fired in 1985 “because they believed in ‘adult supervision,’” Moritz asserts. “Youthful chaos is preferable to adult supervision.”
  • Market growth often hides tremendous weakness.
  • Don’t build useless products
  • When lightening strikes – strike!
  • Design what you want to use

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Geekery Fiefdoms at SemTech

For all my stewing about presenting an effective panel here at SemTech, I think we did it in spades this morning. I’m biased of course but if the amount of active, engaged audience members and lively conversation following the panel was any indication, Taking Semantic Technology to the Masses was a success. Thomas Tague, Josh Dilworth, Mark Johnson and I had an excellent discussion about the mess the semantics space is currently in, marketing-wise, and how to dig it out and shine it up for mass consumers. We spent the first 25 minutes parsing the problem – an indication of just how deeply semantics geeks can gaze at their navels – and about 20 more minutes discussing possible solutions.

Thomas coined a term I’m stealing that sums up the semantics space perfectly: geekery fiefdom. It’s a great description of a sector that is striving to achieve traction in the consumer space, but continues to pepper its messaging with semantic buzzwords and discussions of the plumbing behind it all. As Thomas quoted one of his customers in the financial sector, “If you have to explain it, I don’t want it.”

We came to a couple of good conclusions worth mentioning:

1) Companies in the semantic space need to take a portion of their impressive brainpower and turn it toward marketing. With literal rocket scientists on the benches, finding innovative, well-packaged messages around a product and company philosophy should be a piece of cake.

2)UI, UI, UI. Mark mentioned this several times and he should know; Powerset has one of the best out there right now. Once you’ve parsed out the complex algorithms of your semantics company, spend some time on a great design. An easy-to-use, intuitive interface can vault a product to the head of the pack.

3) Play nice and share. (I’m reminded of that annoying book/poster from the early 90s – Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.) It’s simple but true. If semantics companies were more open to partnering with each other, the resulting applications would without a doubt take this industry to the next level. The close-to-the-vest attitude is understandable in semantics, as some very sophisticated and complex platforms and algorithms are at stake, but I think we’ve reached the point where it’s time to open up a little.

Everyone seemed to agree, including members of the audience, that semantics is poised to graduate; that it’s time to dust off this fiefdom and take it out into the countryside among real users. When and how that will happen is still undecided but I’d bet on later this year or early next.

That’s it for the moment from SemTech. I’m huddling with Hakia in a bit and can’t wait to hear their news, then it’s time to concentrate on the French Tech Tour for the next 12 hours. More tomorrow…

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Tim Draper, Riskmaster, Crones to the IVA

Introduced to the stage at the Israeli Venture Capital Association meeting as a “mad genius,” Tim Draper may have demonstrated today that he is just mad. Insane mad.

The founder of what is perhaps the most active venture network (Draper Fisher Jurvetson), Draper started his talk by quoting Marilyn Monroe — “ ‘What the hell’ is usually the best decision.” — a quote he said he’d just discovered on the plane to Israel.

If “What the hell” isn’t DFJ’s approach to diligence, exactly, it might well be Draper’s compass for identifying new market opportunities. During his meandering talk, Draper identified many of his firm’s investments as the solution to insurmountable global problems. “Politicians see global problems and they create policies to solve them,” he said. “Entrepreneurs finally solve the problem.”

Skype, Hotmail, and Reva, for example, will bring world peace. “Communications companies have gone after [solving the problem of] war better than we imagine,” he said. “Think of it: the idea of having a war with someone is a little bit ludicrous when we’re all so interconnected, and businesses span the globe.”

Skype as olive branch may be a bit tough to embrace, but Draper did proffer the provocative notion that the world is shifting from “land-based governance” to “competitive governance.”

As borders fall, he said, “Governments must compete for great businesses, capital, and entrepreneurs.”

Competitive governments will be identified by free markets, rule of law, private land ownership, good communications infrastructure, liberal bankruptcy laws, easy repatriation, and no cross-border taxes.

I would have liked Draper to dig into this topic more fully; it’s a compelling notion that governments might compete more as entrepreneurs than as empires. Instead he jumped into a treatise on logarithmic market growth and acceleration curves. By Draper’s estimates, the last 100 years have brought penicillin, water purification, global transportation the Pill, and the moon walk. The next 20 years? Teleportation. He may have been pushing the point, but it’s hard to know for sure, given his discussion on the “terrestrializaton of Mars.” (Among his biz ideas: bat guano to provide nitrogen and a nuclear bomb to warm the red planet.)

Draper provided many seeds for hallway fodder, but nothing will capture the conversation so much as his passionate support for “energetic heroes.”

Draper the “Mad Genius” closed his talk by lip synching his rock homage to the entrepreneur:

He’s is the Riskmaster

Lives fast, drives faster

Skates on the edge of disaster

He is the Riskmaster

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Inside the Judges Chambers at Women 2.0

Last weekend, I served as a judge for the Women 2.0 business plan competition. Dozens of plans, submitted on a dinner napkin and supplemented by other materials, were vetted by a group of distinguished Bay Area investors, business leaders and entrepreneurs to determine five finalists to present at the conference. That’s where my fellow judges and I picked up the ball.

Each company gave a 10 minute pitch, took questions from the judges, and privately shared prototypes and demos with the judges. Our job, then, was to identify the winner, a tough job considering that the five finalists represented a range of ideas and stages of development. At the end of our deliberation, we selected Koollage as the winner. The company has developed a method for collecting and mobilizing diverse Web content.

Of course, any time judging happens behind closed doors, there are questions. How were the finalists chosen? (I don’t know) My plan was a favorite among organizers, so why wasn’t I a finalist? (Again, I don’t know.) Why did you choose Kollage? That I do know, and I promised I’d share some insight into the judges reasoning about each of the finalists. Doing so, I think, not only brings more transparency to the judging process, but also provides some lessons for young entrepreneurs. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Week That Was and Will Be

I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll never be an A-list blogger, primarily because I just can’t keep up a daily flow of posts. I intended a quick piece on the CBS/CNET story yesterday but the day got away from me. In short, I agree with Marshall. (Perhaps that’s my new blogging philosophy: “Ditto.”) I am bound and determined though to dash off a quick post on the week behind and the week ahead.

Chris and I ran through a day packed with meetings in Austin earlier this week, screening potential startups for DEMOfall. While I can’t reveal particulars, I can say that there were multiple “Wow” moments. And the companies were overwhelmingly un-Web 2.0. Energy conservation, computer security, wireless USB – Austin startups are innovating across the technology map. We ended the day with a jam-packed cocktail party and all manner of great conversations. It was an excellent conclusion to a road show that has taken Chris across the US. For anyone in doubt, innovation and thriving tech communities are by no means exclusive to Silicon Valley. Can’t wait to reveal more on these companies in September.

The week ahead has two interesting events I want to plug: SemTech and the French Tech Tour. The Semantic Technology Conference, at the San Jose Fairmont May 18-22, may not immediately send thrills up your spine but I can promise you that semantics is where technology’s future lies. Love it, hate it or completely befuddled by it, semantics aim to transform our Internet into a smarter, simpler, more intuitive world in which to live and work. I’ll be on a panel discussing just how we’re going to draw everyone into this exciting world, Taking Semantic Technology to the Masses. With Chris Morrison of VentureBeat, Mark Johnson of Powerset, Thomas Tague of the Reuters Calais Initiative and Josh Dilworth of Porter Novelli, the conversation is sure to be lively. If you have any issues or questions you’d like us to address, leave them in the comments.

On Wednesday, May 21, I’ll be participating in the French Tech Tour at Microsoft’s Mountain View campus. Hosted by the French Embassy, it will be a day of discussion and networking, introducing French startups in the US. If you’re at all invested in the global tech landscape, don’t miss it. And if you’re looking for the cocktail party to be at on Tuesday night, join us at Mighty in San Francisco.

I’ll do my darndest to blog on all of this, even if they’re just one-paragraph updates. You can also follow my Twitter feed if you’re interested in the minutia. Be warned though, parenting issues and political diatribes sometimes crop up there.

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Business Plans or Prayer Flags

As I approached the tent where the Women 2.0 conference was about to start, I was struck by the string of prayer flags along the back wall.  That, as least, was what it looked like from a distance.   Up close, I realized that the organizers had strung up the entries -dozens of plans sketched out on standard dinner napkins — in the “Business Plan on a Napkin” competition.

Looking at these plans, up close and from a distance, and thinking about the aspirations of the women (and men) in the room and the ambitions of every entrepreneur I meet, I decided that these are prayer flags of a sort after all.

Here are some of the images I captured at yesterday’s event:

By the way, notice Christine Herron in one of the photos… now we know where First Round Capital finds its deals.

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Women 2.0 Event Hightlights Social Entrepreneurs

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