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While I have nothing against receptionists, I’ve always felt like it was a thankless job that should be able to easily be replaced by the machines. Many of the people I know who are receptionists spend their time doing lots of other things and I’ve always felt like it would dramatically improve their life if they could focus on all the other things, rather than split their attention between those and being a receptionist.
We’ve never had a dedicated receptionist at Foundry Group but our office was oriented so the people “in the line of fire” were constantly interrupted whenever someone came in the office. So, we asked a local startup, TextUs.Biz to solve this problem for us. They came up with an iPad app called “Receptionist” which freed up anyone from having to pay specific attention to the front door. As a result, we redesigned the entrance to our office with “Receptionist” front and center, a new lobby, and a Mezzanine room.
The team at TextUs.Biz hasn’t slowed down. They have taken the idea to market and recently launched TextUs.Biz Receptionist for the public (it’s available in iTunes now.) The functionality and feature set of the app are intuitive. Visitors can ping who they are here to see and can directly interact with the person or their assistant. It also has some fun tricks like taking a picture of the visitor and storing it automatically in the visitor log for future reference.
We like the gang at TextUs.Biz – they did great work for us. The machines have taken over the world anyway, so why not let them help check people in? Check it out the app here and their AngelList profile here.
Put this in the protip category. When you create a calendar event and invite someone to it, make it useful.
For example “Board Meeting” is not helpful. But “BigDoor Board Meeting” is very helpful.
Don’t invite me to a meeting that says “Meeting with Brad Feld.” Make it something like “Smith / Feld – UX for BigDoor” meeting.
For bonus points, use the “Where” field. Put the full address in it. If it says “Foundry Group – 1050 Walnut Street, Suite 210, Boulder, CO 80302″ your iPhone or Android phone can automatically map the directions. If it just says “Foundry” well – that’s not really very helpful. Or put your phone number instead of “Phone”. Or your Skype handle instead of “Skype”.
At some point in the future, our calendars will be really smart. Right now they still generally suck, but a few simple things can make them a lot better.
I had a shitty website day on Friday. But an awesome Flickr day today.
It was my anniversary and I wanted to post an anniversary tribute to Amy. I ended up writing a post titled Happy 20th Anniversary Amy. I dug up a bunch of old pictures (hosted in our very large photo archive on Dropbox), crafted a WordPress blog, uploaded the photos in the media center on WordPress, and published the blog.
I brought it up, admired my work, and send Amy an email with the link.
She responded five minutes later saying “I can’t get to the link – something is wrong with your blog.”
I took a look. My blog was down. This happens every now and then when I post something and I get a burst of traffic. Usually all it takes to fix it is a server reboot. This time we couldn’t even get in to the website to reboot. No ssh for me. No chance to sudo su -; reboot. The server needed a hard reboot. We finally got our hosting provider to do this, it came up for a few seconds, and immediately fell back over.
My partner Ryan (who was helping me remotely) concluded that the issue was that I had uploaded 4MB files and every time the website came up there was a 40MB burst of traffic. When 10 people hit it at the same time my poor little webserver just fell over.
I trimmed down the photos to 600k. I rebooted and sat waiting for the site to come back up. I somehow managed to get into WordPress, turn the post into a draft, and change the photos to the 600k ones. I published and held my breath, while having a meeting with a very indulgent friend.
It worked fine.
But then I was mad at my site. Amused that my webserver couldn’t handle whatever traffic it got. Annoyed with myself for uploading giant pictures. Aggravated that I had interrupted Ryan’s time on vacation at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival because I needed Unix help. And I was busy so I didn’t get to revisit it until this morning.
As sat down to write a new post, I decided to try uploading the photos to Flickr and using embeds. I hadn’t used Flickr in a long time. Sure – I knew it was the new and improved Marissa Mayer endorsed Flickr, but I still hadn’t played around with it.
So I did. I logged in using my Facebook account. My old Flickr photos were there with the pretty note saying I had ONE FREE GIANT TERABYTE OF STORAGE. I easily uploaded my files. I easily embedded them into the post. I published. Happiness.
I looked at my old Flickr photos and realized I really missed Flickr. I guess I’ll be using it again!
I’ve decided not to travel for the rest of 2013. There are a lot of inputs into this decision, including the fact that I’ve been travelling 50% – 75% of the time for the last 20 years and I’m just tired of it. I also have realized that my endless travel introduces a lot of friction into my world that I believe is both unnecessary, is shortening my life, and starting to have a material impact on my creativity.
It’s amazing to me that in 2013 – with all the choices we have – real video conferencing is still chaotic, messy, and underused across many organizations. Getting it set up within a single organization generally works ok, but across organizations continues to be painful.
There are lots of different cases to consider. The simple one, like a one to one video conference, works fine with Skype, Hangouts, or Facetime.. It’s trivial to initiate and I find video to be much more effective and powerful than a phone call. Eye contact matters.
As it gets more complicated, such as a multi-person video conference that is analogous to a typical audio conference call, there are more options. For example, you have two to ten locations connecting. Most are a single person but one is the center of gravity. There might be a presentation. I’ve found Hangouts to be the best and easiest to deal with for this, although there are lots of other options, such as GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, WebEx, and Fuze.
But then you descend into the typical morass of a weak link somewhere. Someone connects with a low speed connection. Or is calling in without headphones from a crowded coffee shop. Or a group is in a big room with a laptop at the end of the room with an 11″ screen that no one really sees and eventually gets aimed at one particular person, rather than the whole room. Or the audio in the main room is weak, and it’s hard to hear the conversation unless the person is right in front of the speakerphone or computer mic.
I’ve recently done many presentations to large groups – 100 – 500 people – using video conferencing. This works well as long as there is good audio and video on the receiving end. Ironically, these are often easier to do and work better than the smaller video conferences, since someone is actually paying attention to it.
My current goal is to train “my world” to use video conferencing effectively. A small investment in the right hardware and configuration makes all the difference. While I have real preferences on software, I can live with different choices given our hardware setups.
For example, I used Fuze for the first time last week for my Yesware board meeting – it was flawless (easy setup, sharp video, great screen share. solid everything.) I’m on an UP Global board meeting right now using GoToMeeting – it’s working fine, although I’m staring at one person (instead of the room) since the video is on a laptop on the end of the table. But last week, my GoToMeeting experience with Moz was a disaster (in direct contrast to the actual meeting content, which was great), until we separated the audio stream to a separate dialin number.
At the high end, we use Oblong’s Mezzanine. It integrates directly with a Cisco system so you get the Mezzanine experience virtualizing the Cisco high end video conferencing. Plus we then have a very high def H323 system in our office.
Look for more on this from me over the rest of the summer as I work hard to master this stuff.
I’m interested in what you are using – toss it in the comments.
I closed a large transaction yesterday without signing a single piece of physical paper. It was painless. The entire negotiation was done using email and DocuSign.
I’m doing this at least once a week at this point. Either with DocuSign or EchoSign, the two services that seem to be most popular. I generally hate paper and have almost no paper in my world anymore so being able to eliminate the “print out the signature pages”, “sign the signature pages”, “scan the signed document”, and “email the signed document” step is a joy.
There are a few obvious other benefits. The first is workflow. Signing a doc is part of my workflow, no matter where I am. There is virtually no hassle – I just bring up the doc in the web, read whatever I need to, and sign where required. In addition, I see who else has signed, or hasn’t signed, which is helpful in the context of other investors and board members. When the sigs are completed, a PDF is emailed back to me and I can toss it in the company folder in Dropbox where we store all signed docs. Trivial workflow.
I also have an archive of everything I’ve signed. With the electronic signatures, there’s no more hunting down a doc. I just go to the doc stored in my account. I have another version in Dropbox, but I don’t even have to fight through finding the right one.
Now, every time I have to physically sign something I’m mildly annoyed. I’m going to push everyone I work with to go all electronic.
Unfortunately we aren’t investors in any of these companies. I remember being pitched several in the mid-2000s and just never engaged. That was a miss on my part. But at least I can benefit from them!