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There’s an amazing amount of bad activity going on in the world of tech right now. It’s predictable – when things start going well the switch flips from fear back to greed and all sorts of craziness ensues. One of the things I see appear is a steady stream of crap aimed at innovators. Patent trolls are an easy one, but heavy handed regulatory activity by incumbents and random lawsuits around acquisitions are also part for the course.
I was going to write about how the FCC’s potential action on net neutrality could seriously jeopardize Internet innovation, but Fred Wilson beat me to it (he’s got an east coast time advantage over me) with a phenomenal post titled The Fast Lane, The Slow Lane, and The No Lane. I love the phrase “permissionless innovation” as well as the way Fred describes the issue:
“But that period of “permissionless innovation” is likely to come to an end soon if we all let it. The FCC has responded to a court ruling by proposing a convoluted set of rules that will allow fast lanes, slow lanes, and what’s even worse, no lanes. The FCC’s proposal will allow the telcos and cable companies that provide the last mile connection to your home or office to prioritize some bits over others. That’s how they create the fast lane and the slow lane. It also allows discrimination in which they can decide not to allow your bits through at all, creating a “no lane”.”
Go read Fred’s post The Fast Lane, The Slow Lane, and The No Lane and then hit the back button to continue here. I’ll wait.
If you wonder who is driving this, it’s the telcos and cable companies who control the last mile. Please don’t pretend that you are surprised.
But that’s just one category of bad activity that falls in the “incumbents trying to use government regulation to control their industry and suppress innovation.” Nothing new here – it’s been going on since the beginning of time.
A different version of this popped up last week. If you recall, a month or so ago Facebook announced that it was buying Oculus Rift for an eye popping $2 billion. Amazing and congrats to everyone involved in Oculus Rift. I’ve long been a John Carmack fanboy since I first played Doom and realized id Software was based in Mesquite, TX, near where I grew up. I’ve always loved his hacker spirit, amazing ability to do things no one else could envision, and willingness to open source a lot of his work to lead the way for others. So I thought it was pretty awesome when he went to be CTO of Oculus Rift to pursue the next generation of virtual reality software.
Now, I don’t know John, I’m not an investor in Oculus Rift, or Facebook, or Zenimax, but I wasn’t particularly surprised when Zenimax decided to assert that it owned part of Carmack’s brain. You can read an enormous amount of chatter about the situation, and form your own conclusion, but mine is that Zenimax is a bad actor here. Given that Zenimax wouldn’t let Carmack pursue any virtual reality work while at Zenimax resulted in the logical conclusion that he’d leave and do something else. Asserting that whatever was in his brain while employed at Zenimax belongs to Zenimax is nonsense. There’s a phrase for that: “intellectual slavery” and it’s not one I support.
If you are interested in this situation, here are some good links to understand what is going on and being asserted.
- Virtual reality nightmare: ZeniMax challenges Facebook, Oculus for Rift intellectual property
- Virtual Legality: Legal Letters Claim Oculus VR Made The Oculus Rift Using ZeniMax IP
- Virtual Legality 2: Oculus VR Responds Comprehensively To Zenimax Legal Letters
- Oculus denies John Carmack stole VR tech from his former employer
- Oculus says ZeniMax canceled Doom 3 VR support over equity demands
Now that I’ve been clear about what I think, I’m curious what you think.
Two big proposals from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick today. First, he’s proposing to ban non-competition agreements. He’s also proposing an incredibly clever and innovative approach to immigration reform applicable only to Massachusetts.
I lived in the Boston-area for twelve years (Cambridge for four years and Boston for eight years. ) Even though I often say that was 11 years and 364 days too many for my “non-big city, non-east coast” personality, Boston still has a sweet spot in my heart. I had an amazing (and often excruciating) experience at MIT which was foundational to my personality, thought process, and character. I started and sold my first company there (first office – 875 Main Street, Cambridge; last office 1 Liberty Square, Boston). Techstars Boston was the first geographic expansion for Techstars. I’m not a sports fan but I always root for the Red Sox. I think I have more close friends in the VC business in Boston than in the Bay Area. Two of my closest friends – Will Herman and Warren Katz – both live there. And I know my way around downtown Boston – even after the Big Dig – better than any other downtown in the world.
The Massachusetts non-competition situation has always been stupid. In 2009, my partners and I at Foundry Group joined a coalition of VCs to try to eliminate non-competition agreements in MA. It’s awesome to see Governor Patrick take action on it since it’s one of the major inhibitors of the MA entrepreneurial scene.
The immigration report proposal is even more fascinating. It’s a great example of creative and innovation public-private policy at the state level to encourage and enhance entrepreneurship. Jeff Bussgang from Flybridge explains it succinctly in his post so I’ll just repeat it here.
“The idea is a simple one: create a private-public partnership to allow international entrepreneurs to come to Boston and be exempt from the restrictive H-1B visa cap. How is it possible to do this? The US Citizenship and Immigration Services Department (USCIS) has a provision that allows universities to have an exemption to the H-1B visa cap. Governor Deval Patrick announced today that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will work in partnership with UMass to sponsor international entrepreneurs to be exempt from that cap, funding the program with state money to kick start what we anticipate will be a wave of private sector support.”
Brilliant. As our federal government continues to struggle to make any real progress on immigration reform, I love to see it happening at the state level. In addition to being good for innovation, it’s the kind of thing that dramatically differentiates states from one another on a policy, business, and innovation dimension that actually matters and likely has significant long term positive economic impacts on the region.
Governor Patrick – kudos to you. Governor Hickenlooper – I encourage you to roll out exactly the same thing in the State of Colorado. I know exactly the people at CU who would be happy to lead this, as would I. And since one of our Senators (Michael Bennet) is leading the immigration reform effort in the US Senate and our other Senator (Udall) has been a strong supporter of the Startup Visa and immigration report from the first discussion about it in 2009, I expect you already know your broad constituents support it.
Oh – and to my friends in NY who have been helping on the immigration reform front, let’s crank this up in NY also! Why should MA have all the fun?
When I saw this graph I was hooked. If you are a Twitter user and you don’t use Followerwonk, go try it now – I’ll be here when you return.
Yesterday, SEOmoz announced that it had acquired Followerwonk. The acquisition closed about six weeks ago and the Followerwonk product has been fully integrated into SEOmoz. And the Followerwonk team is now fully part of the SEOmoz team. And it’s awesome.
Rand Fishkin (SEOmoz’s CEO) blogs openly about how the deal happened. It’s instructive for anyone in a startup – either one that is acquiring someone else or being acquired.
If you know me, or have worked with me, you’ll recognize this as a common part of my startup playbook. I think it’s incredibly powerful to accelerate the growth of a company via targeted acquisitions. Fred Wilson once referred to this as a “venture rollup” which, while many are allergic to the word “rollup”, is probably as good a label as any for this. Another recent example from my world just to see what I mean is Rally Software’s acquisition of Agile Advantage.
Doing this well is hard. I’ve been fortunate to work with several amazing CEOs who I’ve learned a lot about how to do this with, including Matt Blumberg (Return Path), Tim Miller (Rally), Mark Pincus (Zynga), and JB Holston (NewsGator). And I learned the basis of everything I know about acquisitions from Len Fassler and Jerry Poch, who acquired my first company. Each has used the strategy skillfully and effectively.
I think Rand, who is using this strategy as part of continuing to build out SEOmoz, is going to be a master at it. If you read his post carefully, you’ll see that he has immense respect for the people behind Followerwork. His behavior pre-deal is consistent with his values and signals his behavior post deal. The entire company embraced Followerwonk and made them part of the SEOmoz gang immediately. He, and the entire team extended trust up front, unambiguously, and without hesitation or reservation.
Peter, Marc, and Galen – welcome to the team!
On Monday, StillSecure announced that it has acquired ProtectPoint. ProtectPoint is a managed security service provider (MSSP) and immediately adds a portfolio of managed security products to StillSecure’s award-winning product arsenal. Alan Shimel, the Chief Strategy Officer of StillSecure, does an excellent job of explaining the reasons for the acquisition in his post titled StillSecure acquires ProtectPoint, entering the MSSP market – Why?
This is the second time in less than a month that a company I’m on the board of has made an acquisition. At the end of January, in my post titled Rally Software is a Buyer I wrote:
“[With regard to an acquisition strategy] I’m seeing this pattern with a number of the established companies I’m an investor in. Having gone through this cycle several times and had success and failure with acquisition driven strategies, I’ve got a clear view on when and how it can work successfully. I’m not interested in garbage truck mergers (two crappy companies that get jammed together to hope something good comes out of it) – all of my energy is focused on having a market leader pick up a complementary technology or market “asset” that helps accelerate the product or market roadmap.”
As with Rally’s acquisition of 6th Sense Analytics, StillSecure has been working on building out a set of managed security offerings around their product set. The demand for managed security services (or security as a service, or whatever you want to call it) has been steadily increasing and StillSecure decided to explore a buy vs. build approach to accelerate their entry into the market. StillSecure went searching for a company to acquire and found a great fit (functionally and culturally) with ProtectPoint and now has a fully built out and well regarded MSSP offering as part of its product mix.
Having spent some time with Steve Harris, the CEO of ProtectPoint, I’m really excited about what he and his team bring to StillSecure. I also have another person to hang out besides Alan when I head to Florida for a break from winter. Steve and team – welcome aboard!