The First Real Intersection of Music and Virtual Reality

In 1995 I made a seed investment in a tiny company called Harmonix founded by two guys, Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy. After one meeting with them I knew I wanted to be part of their journey and made one of my early $25,000 angel investments.

The journey they went on as founders and a company was amazing. A big part of it was captured in what I think is one of the best long form magazine articles ever about the history and drama of building a company – Just Play in Inc. Magazine in 2008.

After being acquired by Viacom in 2007, Alex and Eran bought back the company in 2010. Over the past two decades they’ve created two billion dollar game franchises – Guitar Hero and Rock Band – and one multi-hundred million game franchise – Dance Central.

I joined the board and Foundry Group invested in Harmonix in 2012. The last few years have been complex and challenging as the classical video game business continues to go through massive structural changes. However, the Harmonix team has kept a steady beat of innovation going, including a recent release of Disney Fantasia and a reincarnation of one of my favorite early games of theirs, Amplitude.

But the stuff they are doing that I’m really excited about fall into two categories: (1) Rock Band 4 (which needs no explanation) and (2) Music VR.

This morning, Matt Whittaker wrote a really smart article titled Harmonix’s Music VR Might Just Bring on the Apocalypse. In it he talks about the amazingness of what Harmonix is doing and the broader societal challenge around VR and a compelling mainstream app like music.

First, the Harmonix Music VR stuff is unreal. If there is a company on the planet that can figure out the compelling music experience for VR, it’s Harmonix. And, they are working on scalable stuff – not “music specific things” – but algorithms that adopt to any music you are playing. This is technology they’ve had for several years and is part of what sets them apart from everyone else who has followed them by trying to mix video games and music since they came out with the original Guitar Hero software.

Next, while VR video games are cool, they aren’t mainstream. But music is mainstream. So the opportunity for VR in music, and music being a leading use case for VR, is enormous.

Did I say that the Harmonix Music VR stuff is unreal? Oh yeah, I did. And when I say “unreal”, I mean in an amazing way.

If you want or read science fiction, you see music + video as a central background component of everything. Sometimes it’s plot, sometimes it’s context, but it’s always there as part of the VR theme. Today’s technology is still young, but the software will outpace the hardware, as it usually does, which means that amazing software will drive users to adopt hardware early and then will push the vector of innovation on the hardware.

I’m super proud that I know and get to work with Alex, Eran, and team and have been able to over two decades. They never cease to amaze me.

Apple and Women in Information Technology

There was plenty of Apple news yesterday, but the one that lit me up was the announcement that Apple is partnering with the National Center for Women and Information Technology  to help create a broader pipeline of female technology workers.

I’ve been chair of NCWIT since 2006 and have worked closely with Lucy Sanders, the founder and CEO. I’ve learned an amazing amount from her, and NCWIT, about the dynamics around women in information, the challenges we collectively face as an industry, and how to impact it.

While we’ve raised money from lots of different organizations, Apple’s give of about $10 million over four years is the largest corporate gift we’ve received to date. The relationship that Apple and NCWIT have developed over the years is a wonderful example of a large technology organization getting the issue, engaging with it, learning how to impact it, and putting its money where its mouth is.

NCWIT’s goal with this specific funding from Apple is to double the number of four-year-degree recipients supported by NCWIT’s internships, scholarships and other resources, and to reach 10,000 middle school girls over the next few years.

Apple – thank you for your leadership in this area.

Oh – and one more thing. Here’s a photo of this year’s NCWIT Aspirations in Computing award winners. These young women are the future.

NCWIT Aspirations Award

Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors

When I wrote Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors with Mahendra Ramsinghani, our goal was to help entrepreneurs understand how to create an excellent board of directors, manage it effectively, and get optimal value out of it. This was challenging to do, as the topic of boards can be boring. Based on the feedback we’ve gotten, including consistently positive reviews on Amazon, I feel like we accomplished that goal.

Last year the Kauffman Foundation, with which I’ve had a long relationship and am a big supporter of, approached me about doing a Kauffman Founders School video series on Startup Boards. We completed it early this year – the teaser follows.

There are seven modules that are each five to ten minutes long.

Each module also has suggested additional readings, beyond our book Startup Boards.

I’m proud to be part of the Kauffman Founders School, which includes some great courses such as the ones listed below by folks like Dan Pink, Steve Blank, Bill Reichert, and Meg Cadoux Hirshberg.

Kauffman Founders School

Dealing With Email From Oldest to Newest

A few days ago, David Brown at Techstars wrote a great post titled “Staying Organized with Workflow” about how he stays organized. Brown and I work across the hall from each other and interact regularly. Often he’ll send me a note about something and I’ll just wander over and talk to him. He’s always available, super responsive on email, and very good at having a three minute meeting that results in a decision.

There was one thing in his approach that was something I used to do a long time ago, but stopped doing when I started using Gmail.

“Email Order. I process my email from oldest to newest. Yes, I cheat sometimes and answer a new one, but I try not to. It’s harder in Gmail because you can’t sort chronologically, but I just start at the bottom.”

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far far away when I used Outlook, I processed my email in chronological order – oldest at the top. Gmail doesn’t let you reverse the sort order from newest at the top, so I just got out of the habit of this. But when I get behind on email by a few days and end up with 100 or more to grind through, I always go to the bottom and work backwards.

When I saw Brown’s note, I thought “duh.” Often, I have an almost empty inbox (as I do now – there is literally one message in it – read, but not responded to – right now.) So, even when there are 17 brand new emails, just clicking on the bottom one and reading backwards works just fine. In fact, it’s even better in the current world than my previous Outlook galaxy because of conversation mode.

Unlike Brown, I don’t use tasks or filters. I find that when I move things to a task list, I’m literally exiling them to the land of never-get-done. The only exception is longer form writing that is not urgent, which I just star in Gmail, archive, and periodically grind through my starred folder.

Regardless of the process you use, contemplate reverse the order of response from oldest to newest. If you aren’t going to do something with an email, just archive or delete it – don’t let it sit there. And, if you want some additional good tips, go read Brown’s post Staying Organized with Workflow.

The Net Neutrality Napkin

A few weeks before the FCC vote on Net Neutrality, I spent the weekend in Las Vegas with my dad. He recently wrote a beautiful post about his side of the experience.

Right after we got back I wrote a post about explaining Net Neutrality to him and referenced drawing a picture on a napkin as I explained how the Internet actually works and why Net Neutrality is important.

“Over ice cream (#3 for this trip) I drew him a detailed picture on a napkin of how the Internet actually worked. I rarely do this since I just assume everyone understands it. Bad assumption. It was fascinating to answer his questions, explain the parts he had wrong, and help him understand some nuances around data and how it gets from one place to another. At some point I mentioned John Oliver and Cable Company Fuckery to him.”

I assumed the napkin was long gone as I vaguely remember cleaning up the table after we ate our ice cream and throwing everything away. But, lo and behold, my dad sent me an email this morning titled “Net Neutrality Napkin.”

Net neutrality napkin 2 24 2015

Dad, I’m always amazed at what you find in your pockets and the bottom of your desk drawers.