The Interview, Censorship, Terrorism, Dr. Evil, and Lots of Other Stuff

I’m gearing up for a long series of posts about the various books I read on my month off on Bora Bora. In the mean time, I read a bunch of stuff online this morning (from Friday through today) and thought I’d give you a taste of some of it in case you feel like digging in.

I started with How Reading Transforms Us. It’s a good frame setting piece about some new research on the impact of reading – both fiction and non-fiction – on humans. There is a pleasant surprise in there about how non-fiction influences us.

As with many of you, I’m deeply intrigued by what’s going on around the movie The Interview. Fred Wilson wrote a post titled The Interview Mess in which he expresses some opinions. I’m not in opinion mode yet as each day reveals more information, including some true stupidity on the part of various participants. Instead, I’m still enjoying The Meta Interview, which is how the real world is reacting to The Interview.

Let’s start with the FBI’s Update on Sony Investigation followed by Obama Vow[ing] a Response to Cyberattack on Sony. 2600 weighs in with a deliciously ironic offer to help Sony get distribution for The Interview. Sony’s lawyers unmuffle their CEO Michael Lynton who fires back at President Obama.

Now it starts getting really interesting. North Korea says huh, what, wait, it wasn’t us and seeks a joint probe with US on Sony hack (yeah – like that is going to happen.) After everyone worrying about not being able to see The Interview (which might now be the most interesting movie of 2014 before we’ve even seen it), Sony says Nope, we didn’t chicken out – you will get to see The Interview.

Apparently, Obama isn’t finished. Instead, he’s just getting started. He’s decided that the North Korea hack on Sony Pictures was not an act of war but is now trying to decide if it’s terrorism so he can put North Korea on the terrorism sponsors list to join Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria. No wait, maybe it’s to replace Cuba which Obama has decided to restore full relations with.

Thankfully, Dr. Evil weighs in on this whole thing and makes sense of it (starting at 0:40).

At the same time we are struggling over North Korean’s cyber attack terrorism censorship thing, we are struggling with our own internal efforts by some very powerful companies to figure out how the Internet should work in the US. Hmmm – irony?

Let’s start with the cable industry’s darkest fears if the Internet becomes a utility. According to the Washington Post, Congress now wants to legislate net neutrality. And Verizon tells the FCC that what they do doesn’t really matter to them.

The FCC situation is so fucked up at this point that I don’t think anyone knows which way is up. Fortunately, we have the Silicon Flatirons Digital Broadband Migration Conference happening in February which I’m speaking at to clear this all up. Well, or at least watch some entertaining, very bifurcated arguments about First Principles for a Twenty First Century Innovation Policy.

If you are a little bummed by now about how humans behave, check out this article where MIT Computer Scientists Demonstrate the Hard Way That Gender Still Matters. For a taste:

The interactions in the AMA itself showed that gender does still matter. Many of the comments and questions illustrated how women are often treated in male-dominated STEM fields. Commenters interacted with us in a way they would not have interacted with men, asking us about our bra sizes, how often we “copy male classmates’ answers,” and even demanding we show our contributions “or GTFO [Get The **** Out]”. One redditor helpfully called out the double standard, saying, “Don’t worry guys – when the male dog groomer did his AMA (where he specifically identified as male), there were also dozens of comments asking why his sex mattered. Oh no, wait, there weren’t.”

But the fun doesn’t end with cyberterrorism, censorship, incumbent control, or gender bias. Our good friends at Google are expanding their presence in our lovely little town of Boulder from 300 employees to over 1,500 employees. I think this is awesome, but not everyone in Boulder agrees that more Googlers are a good thing. I wonder if they still use Lycos or Ask Jeeves as their search engine. And for those in Boulder hoping we municipalize our Internet net, consider FERC’s smackdown of the City of Boulder’s Municipalization position.

Oh, and did you realize the US government actually made a $15 billion profit on TARP?

Happy Holidays From Techstars

I always look forward to the annual Techstars video. I enjoy seeing it, and usually enjoy being part of it.

This year I’m one of your favorite Sesame Street characters. Hang in there for New Years Resolution #9.

Cookie cookie cookie. Give me cookie.

Solve Your Gmail Contacts Problem

I live in Gmail. Gmail Contacts has been lame for a long time. Within an email, it’s even lamer on the right side bar, especially since it could be so amazingly useful.

FullContact has just released their FullContact for Gmail product. It’s a free download in the Chrome Store. I’ve been using it for about six months since and it’s just awesome.

I’ve been obsessed about the contact management problem for many years. In 2012 when we invested in FullContact, I wrote a post titled One Address Book To Rule Them All. FullContact has made great progress in the past two years on this problem while building a substantial enterprise API business. At the same time, we’ve been working extremely hard on a wide range of consumer products which are all just now rolling out into production (many have been in beta for the past year.)

I use all of them. FullContact for Gmail. FullContact for iOS. FullContact for MacOS. FullContact Web. All integrate with each Address Books on all my devices and computers. Everything syncs bidirectionally. Everything integrates with my contacts in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, AngelList, and Foursquare. FullContact deduplicates everything so I only have one integrated contact record for each person. It enriches each contact record automatically with new public data that is finding on a continual basis.

This is a really hard problem. We invested in a company called Gist in 2009 – it was acquired early in its life by RIM in a deal that was financially successful for everyone involved, but before Gist rolled out in a big way. At the time, Gist was competing with several other companies, including Rapportive, all which were ultimately acquired and then more or less abandoned.

While we hoped to blanket the world with FullContact in 2014, we knew that waiting until we got the underlying massively large data infrastructure right, at scale, in a way that wouldn’t fuck up any contacts, was price of admission for going big on the consumer side. So we focused on building out our enterprise API business which started the year at a substantial level and tripled in 2014. At the same time, we acquired a company called CoBook and went extremely heads down on getting to a place where we thought we were ready to fix everyone’s address books on Planet Earth.

We are there. FullContact for Gmail is the first product to be released. If you are a Gmail user, quit fooling around, download it, and make your life a lot better right now. And get ready for several more releases in the next few months.

The FullContact team works as hard as any team I know. I’m proud of you guys and glad to be on this ride with you to finally solve a problem that has vexed me my entire adult life.

Two New Techstars Programs – Mobility/Detroit and Techstars++/Mayo Clinic

I’m fascinated with Detroit. When I was there in October 2012 with my partners Ryan and Jason to run the Detroit Marathon we talked about the idea of getting more involved there in some way. Jason grew up in Detroit and has lots of stories there. He goes back regularly to visit his parents and Ann Arbor where he went to school.

Since we were there, I’ve read a few books on Detroit and many articles that popped up about it’s downfall along with some of the entrepreneurial activities trying to revive the city. My partners and I believe that Detroit hit rock bottom around 2012 and in a decade has the potential to be an amazing city once again.

So, Jason and I started talking more about things we could do to positively impact the Detroit startup community and looped the Techstars gang into the conversation.

David Cohen, David Brown, and the team at Techstars grabbed it and ran with it. Last week Techstars announced the new Techstars Mobility program, Driven by Detroit. The local Detroit startup community engaged very powerfully in the idea. From the post about it:

“Throughout the development of the Techstars Mobility program, Techstars worked with Detroit based venture capital firms Fontinalis Partners, Detroit Venture Partners and Renaissance Venture Capital to recruit mentors and ensure capital was ready to deploy in the region. Many other venture firms have also contacted Techstars communicating their interest in bringing capital to Detroit.

Techstars will be bringing their proven accelerator model and extensive network of mentors, founders and corporations to Detroit to support this program. Techstars will also coordinate efforts across the Detroit entrepreneurial ecosystem as a member of the Detroit Technology Exchange (DTX), ensuring that Techstars can have a positive impact across the entire community. Techstars Mobility, driven by Detroit will run for three years with a new class of 10 startups each year.

Several years ago I met Ted Serbinski. Three years ago he moved from San Francisco to Detroit to help rebuild the city. In his words:

“Ten years from now, San Francisco will be just as good as it is today. But in ten years, Detroit will be a roaring city once again, defining a new technology hub at the intersection of muscle and brains. Where do you want to be in ten years? Status quo? Or one of the heroes that rebuilt a city?”

I think Ted is awesome and it’s super exciting to have him join Techstars as the Managing Director of Techstars Mobility. He’s written a great story about how it came together and why it is so powerful at Joining Techstars in Detroit.

My partners and I at Foundry Group – especially Jason – will be playing a role in this new program. Also, expect something really fun from us in the next six months. Hint – it’s something we’ve done before that I’m not sure any other VC firm has ever done – at least not that I’m aware of.

And – if you missed it, Techstars also launched a new program with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota called Techstars++ with the Mayo Clinic. Look for a bunch of new Techstars++ programs coming, along with lots of interesting new startup communities in our future.

Jerry Colonna and Rand Fishkin Discuss Depression and Entrepreneurship

Jerry Colonna spent a few hours with me and Amy on Saturday at our house. Jerry is one of our closest friends on this planet so any time we get time with him is a treasure for us. It was a cold-ish, snowy, gloomy Colorado early winter day. Amy and I were pretty off-balance due to my blood clot so it was especially nice to be with him as he always helps rebalance us.

We talked some about his new company Reboot. I’m a huge supporter of Jerry’s work – recommending many of the CEOs we work with to him, or his associates, for coaching. I attended a recent CEO Bootcamp as a special guest and it was amazing – I recommend it to every CEO.

Jerry mentioned that the recent Reboot podcasts were doing great and really fun. I noticed this morning that the podcast he did with Rand Fishkin, another close friend, titled #7 Depression and Entrepreneurship – With Jerry Colonna and Rand Fishkin, came out today. So I read the transcript (I can read a lot faster than I can list) and thought it was dynamite.

As usual, Jerry goes deep and intimate – very quickly. So does Rand – total, extreme, full transparency. Enjoy!