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Every year my partners at Foundry Group and I go to CES. We aren’t boondoggle guys – our expeditions together are limited to a quarterly offsite, often at Jason’s house (10 minutes from our office), and one trip a year with spouses and significant others somewhere. So CES has been a nice tradition for us where we get to travel together for a few days, hang out in nerd and gadget heaven, and spend time with a bunch of entrepreneurs we work with who are here.
There were two memes going around that I heard about CES earlier this week. The first came out of a set of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley who said something like “CES is irrelevant – no one important is there and nothing interesting gets launched.” The second come out of a set of VCs in Silicon Valley who said something like “we go to CES to look for new companies to invest in that are outside the mainstream.”
I found both of these comments bizarre since we don’t view CES through either of those lenses. First, I think CES is incredibly relevant as it is a forward view of what the broad consumer electronics industry will be releasing and shipping over the next 12 months. Many of the CE companies and products operate on an annual product cycle and this helps me understand what is going to this year, at which point I don’t have to think hard about it for another year (yeah – I pay attention – but I have a really useful context). In addition, every technology buyer and supplier in the world is here wandering around so if you interact with any of them, it’s an extremely efficient way to spend time with them.
Next, we don’t actually search for new investments at CES although we tend to have some interesting meetings with folks who happen to be here. There are definitely cases where we got face time with entrepreneurs who we hadn’t yet spent a lot of time with previously – Pogoplug and MakerBot come to mind from years past. But we were already talking to them – CES was just an efficient way for all four of us to spent time with them.
If you want the multimedia version of what I just said, watch Jason’s interview on Bloomberg from yesterday.
We had three companies with large presences here this year – MakerBot, Orbotix, and Fitbit. They are each having an awesome show and I’m super psyched about their new products. It’s extremely fun – as an investor – to just hang out in a booth and watch the traffic and listen to the interactions.
We always have two dinners – one with just entrepreneurs we work with and one that is a broader audience. Each dinner was a highlight for me and if I do nothing else at CES, I’ll always come for these dinners.
I ended up with a series of meetings on Tuesday – three of them were with entrepreneurs who I’ve been talking to about various things. All three were really relevant and interesting and not surprising each was in our human computer interaction theme which I discussed on an NPR interview yesterday with Steve Henn titled Humans and Machines: Beyond Touch.
Finally, I had plenty that is the weirdness of Las Vegas. I had a total meltdown Wednesday morning and ended up spending the day in my room. I had a death defying run on the Las Vegas strip. And I’m just came back through a smoke filled casino from a breakfast with some of the leaders of the Las Vegas startup community (see more on the Startup Communities site soon.) This afternoon I board a plane to Boston and bid CES 2012 farewell. But I’ll be back again next year.
When I arrived at my house in Homer, I hadn’t been here for two years. It took me one phone call to get Internet (DSL) working again (ACS had to reset my password) and within about 15 minutes everything was working just fine. Except I couldn’t print. I have an old HP 3330 with a JetDirect USB to Internet print server. The printer doesn’t have many miles on it – I’ve only used it for a total of about three cumulative months. It took me about thirty minutes to fight through all the nonsense of the Internet to figure out how to set it up as a print server for my new Mac (which I’ve never used with it before) and for Amy’s Windows 7 computer. It turns out that nothing really works except hard wiring its IP address into our printer setup. Um – yeah – that’s obvious – especially for someone who doesn’t know what an IP address is.
We had a Pogoplug board meeting at our office two weeks ago. For each company we invest in, we try to have a board meeting with all four Foundry Group partners attending at least once a year. This was our “group Pogoplug board meeting” (although I missed the best part – which is the dinner the night before – because I participated in Governors VC Roundtable at the Governors Mansion.)
At the board meeting, Daniel, Jeb, Brad, and Smitty (actually, mostly Jeb) showed off the new Pogoplug “print anywhere” function. They printed a document from an iPad to an Epson printer. Boom – paper came out of the printer. The Pogoplug had two things connected to it – the Epson printer (via a USB port) and our network (via a 10BaseT connection). The iPad was connected to the AT&T 3G network. Did I mention that they printed a document via the iPad? When was the last time you saw someone do that? Yeah, it could have been a web page via an iPhone also.
My immediate thought was how cool it would be to start printing porn on my partner Ryan’s printer connected via Pogoplug since he’d shared his Pogoplug-connected hard drive with me and would probably share his printer also. But then I undermined my evil plot by mentioning the idea. Oops.
If you already have a Pogoplug, this will be a simple free software update coming later this summer. If you don’t have a Pogoplug, seriously, why not? The thing is magic.
It is so nice to be back in Boulder after my 10 hours trip home from New York yesterday that included a lot of time on tarmacs, a diverted landing in Colorado Springs, and an I-25 road trip. I really want a personal portable teleportation machine.
I’m about to head out for a run but thought I’d toss up a few fun posts and videos that I saw when scanning through my email and news this morning.
First up is a story from my dad about why He Loves His Pogoplug. It turns out that he is Pogoplug customer #1 and he tells the story of it. He was also in my office last week when Dan and Jed Putterman (the Pogoplug co-founders) were there for a board meeting and they all had fun hanging out together. I love when technology and family cross over.
Next up is a great interview by Steve Bell with Vikas Reddy of Occipital. Late last week eBay announced that they had acquired the RedLaser product from Occipital. I subsequently crowned Occipital the Bootstrappers of TechStars Boulder class of 2008. And, if you watch the video carefully, you’ll see a Pogoplug to the left of Vikas in parts of the video.
Finally, here’s episode #5 of the TechStars Founders 2010 video series titled Risk Takers.
My long time friend Alan Shimel has been blogging up a storm on Network World (if you want to hear any amusing story, ask him about the first time he met me.) When Alan started writing his column for Network World he asked me for introductions to a bunch of our portfolio companies that were using open source. Alan is a tough critic and calls it like he sees it so while I knew there was no guarantee that he’d go easy on the companies, I knew that Alan would do an even handed job of highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. I also know that everyone I invest in values any kind of feedback – both good and bad – and they work especially hard to delight their customers so any kind of feedback will make them better.
Earlier today, Alan wrote an article on Standing Cloud titled Seeding the Cloud with Open Source, Standing Cloud Makes It Easy. On Monday, Standing Cloud released their first version of their product (called the Trial Edition) which is a free version that lets you install and work with around 30 open source products on five different cloud service providers. It’s the first step in a series of releases over the next two quarters that Standing Cloud has planned as they work create an environment where it is trivial to deploy and manage open source applications in the cloud. Alan played around with Standing Cloud’s Trial Edition, totally understood what they are doing, and explained why the Trial Edition is interesting and where Standing Cloud is heading when they release their Community Edition at the end of April.
Alan’s also written several other articles about companies in our portfolio recently, including the open source work Gist has been doing with Twitter and a great review of the Pogoplug and how it uses open source.
I believe I’m one of the people that inspired Alan to start blogging a number of years ago. Through his personal blog Ashimmy, the blog he writes for Network World titled Open Source Face and Fiction, and the blogging he does on security.exe (his company CISO Group’s blog), Alan is one of my must read technology bloggers. And he’s often funny as hell, especially when he gets riled up. Keep it up Alan!
Not long after I posted about Dave Jilk’s experience with the Pogoplug, he started using the phrase “Pogoplug Simple” to describe one of the goals of Standing Cloud. The idea is that technology products should be so easy to set up and use that the experience is vaguely unsatisfying – you feel like you didn’t do anything. Standing Cloud – a company we provided seed funding for last year - is launching publicly this week with its Trial Edition and I think they’ve managed to make cloud application management “Pogoplug Simple.”
The Trial Edition makes it easy to test drive any of about thirty different open source applications on any of several cloud server providers. Register with your email address, log in, pick an application, click Install, and in about 30 seconds you’ll be up and running with a fully-functioning application accessible on the web. You don’t need an Amazon EC2 or Rackspace account, as with “appliance” providers. You don’t need to learn about “instances” and “images” and security groups. You don’t need to know how to install and configure a web server or MySQL, or download, install and configure software code. You don’t even need to configure the application itself – Standing Cloud plugs in default values for you. And it’s free.
Like the Pogoplug, the Standing Cloud Trial Edition doesn’t do anything that a motivated IT professional couldn’t do another way. It’s just a lot faster and easier. But for someone who is *not* an IT professional, it removes some rather high barriers to both open source applications and cloud computing.
The Trial Edition is just the beginning for Standing Cloud. Soon you will be able to host, manage, and scale applications with the same emphasis on simplicity. Give it a try and give me feedback.