Month: August 2015

Aug 15 2015

Cross Dressing With My Email

Here’s a perplexing thing to ponder.

After trying virtually every email configuration on iPhone and Android devices, the best experience that I have had so far is using Microsoft Outlook on my Apple iPhone to access Google Gmail.

I’ve been using Outlook on my iPhone for the past few months. I’ve tried several times to go back to Apple Mail, but it is impossibly bad when compared to Outlook. I’ve also tried using the Google iOS Gmail client, which – while better than Apple Mail – is still very klutzy at certain things.

I know that Microsoft Outlook is really Acompli rebranded at Outlook, but in the eight months since the acquisition the product has continued to get better and better.

Go figure.

Comments
Aug 14 2015

Dr. Evil’s Milk Run

Following is a guest post from my friend Eliot Peper. I met Eliot several years ago when he approached me about his first book. I loved his writing and FG Press went on to publish Eliot’s first two books – Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0 and Uncommon Stock: Power Play.

Eliot’s third book, Uncommon Stock: Exit Strategy came out recently and the topic is particularly timely. Enjoy some deeper thoughts of his on why. Oh – and grab Eliot’s books – they are awesome.

Our institutions are failing to protect us. In fact, they’re not even trying. That wasn’t what I set out to discover when I started drafting my first novel. I just wanted to write a page-turner about tech startups with enough real grit to make readers think (true fans may remember that I noted my original inspiration right here in a previous guest post). To research the book, I interviewed federal special agents, financial service executives, money laundering investigators, cybersecurity experts, investors, and technologists in order to deepen the story’s verisimilitude.

The novel turned into a trilogy and along the way I discovered how fact can be far more disturbing than fiction (a point of frustration for novelists). Every day, our government officials, bankers, and corporate leaders are betraying our trust through shortsightedness and technical ignorance.

The now-infamous breach of The Office of Personnel Management by state-sponsored Chinese hackers shocked the nation. Detailed background files on more than twenty-two million Americans were stolen. The pilfered data included medical history, social security numbers, and sensitive personal information on senior officials within The Department of Defense, The Federal Bureau of Investigation, and even The Central Intelligence Agency. The national security implications are staggering.

The emperor may have no clothes but he doesn’t stand alone. Every year, hundreds of millions of dollars are spirited away from major financial institutions. The United Nations estimates that organized crime brings in $2 trillion a year in profits and the black market makes up 15–20% of global GDP.

How do cartel bosses, arms dealers, and human traffickers stash their cash? By working with corrupt insiders, exploiting legal loopholes, lobbying crooked politicians, and taking advantage of the same kinds of technical weaknesses that made the OPM hack possible. They are only able to get away with it because banks and regulators turn a blind eye or, more often, don’t even know when it’s happening.

Large organizations like government agencies and international financial institutions started incorporating software into their operations decades ago. Ever since, they have consistently chosen to pile new updates on top of old code rather than rebuild systems from the ground up. Why? In the short run, it’s cheaper and easier to address the symptom instead of the cause. Now, that shortsightedness is catching up with them.

All of this is just what we know about already. It takes a median of 229 days for data breaches to even be discovered. That’s a long time for criminals to be inside our systems, building new backdoors for future exploitation. Worse, institutions are loath to report breaches even when they are uncovered for fear that our trust in them will degrade even further.

The software powering the digital infrastructure of our institutions is a mess of half-measures, lost source code, and mind-boggling integrations. It’s like a vault built out of swiss cheese, a house resting on a matchstick foundation, or the plot of a telenovela. You can choose your own metaphor, but every hole is a VIP ticket for society’s antagonists.

And that’s not all. In a study released earlier this month, The Government Accounting Office found that many federal examiners in charge of bank information security audits have little or no IT training. They also discovered that regulators are not even doing comparative analysis on system-wide deficiencies, limiting their scope to individual banks. Worse, the National Credit Union Administration lacks the authority to examine third party service providers to credit unions, leaving large segments of their systems beyond the jurisdiction of examiners. It’s painfully ironic that at a time when the NSA terrifies us with its digital omnipotence, so many government agencies can’t get their act together for legitimate enforcement. Our watchdogs are asleep on their feet.

Whether their endgames are espionage or financial malfeasance, we’re making it too damn easy for bad guys to do their dirty work. I was only trying to make my books feel real but now reality is forcing me to suspend disbelief. It makes for great plot twists, but verisimilitude isn’t worth this level of vulnerability.

These are big problems. Big problems always represent big opportunities for creative founders. Mattermark just released their first report on the hottest cybersecurity startups. But we need fixes that are even more fundamental than security. We must rebuild the technical infrastructure and human governance systems that shape our institutions. That change might come from an extraordinarily dedicated internal leader or it might emerge from a garage in Boulder.

We need hackers, makers, artists, and independent thinkers. We need to play smarter and think long-term. We need to call our leaders to action. We need to educate ourselves and build a future in which we can thrive, not fight to survive.  

Comments
Aug 12 2015

Participate in the Context.IO App Challenge

Dealing with email is something I have become an expert in out of necessity. While it’s out of control, it’s a chore that is wired into my work in a deep way that, regardless of the explosion of real time communication channels, will likely continue to be the least common denominator for communication for the next 100 years.

That is one of the reasons why I’m interested in seeing the projects that come out of the Context.IO App Challenge, a long-format online hackathon that I’ll be judging in a few weeks along with David Cohen, Fred Wilson, Matt Blumberg and Josh Baer.

Context.IO is a product of Return Path, where I’ve been on the board since 2000. It’s an API that developers can use to build applications that integrate their users’ email data (contacts, files, messages, threads, receipts, and rule-based notifications). We’re expecting to see a healthy mix of inbox management tools along with apps that deliver value in other ways outside the inbox. A few of my favorites that have been built in the past using Context.IO are Mailtime, Paribus or Airhelp.

A common question is if projects from a hackathon can become a successful business. Not all ideas will be winners and it depends on the goals of the event and participants. There is certainly a higher chance with an online hackathon like this one where you have months to build something amazing instead of 24-48 hours. One of our portfolio companies, WootMath,  won a similar App Challenge back in 2013.

In some ways, the judging criteria we’ll all be working from are basic questions any founder should ask themselves:

  • Quality of Idea: Is the idea creative and original?
  • Implementation of Idea: Was the idea well executed by the developer?
  • Potential Impact: Does the application solve a specific problem or paint point for its users?
  • Market Readiness: Is the application market ready?

I’m looking forward to seeing what gets built.

Comments
Aug 10 2015

The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning

I was in a conversation last week with a friend who asked “do you think this is the beginning of the end?” We were discussing something totally wacky that had just happened that clearly could be viewed as an indicator that we have crested the peak of this economic cycle. Then, earlier today, I was on the phone with one of my favorite lawyers and he made a joke about a deal I’m doing as harkening back to the late 1990s. He asked if I thought it was an indication of the top of the cycle. We had a good chuckle (probably PTSD gallows humor from 15 years ago) and I suggested that they slow down the hiring of the associates at their law firm so they wouldn’t have to lay off so many in the inevitable downtown.

Somewhere in between these two conversations I told someone that I thought this was actually the “end of the beginning.” And, tonight at a wonderful dinner, I made the statement to the friend that we were having dinner with that I thought the next 30 years were going to be incredible.

I think we are at the end of the beginning of a dramatic shift in how our species deals with existence. Depending on who you believe, we are either 30 years from the singularity (Kurzweil) or only 15 years away (Vinge). The new science fiction coming out is doing a remarkable job of helping us set a context for the different aspects of what we’ll need to deal with. Some of it will be just as off as Philip K. Dick can be while some will be just as accurate as Philip K. Dick can be. If you are a fan of Philip K. Dick, like I am, you know exactly what I mean. And if you aren’t, I suggest you start with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Humans have serious issues with exponential curves as we want to make everything a line. But a lot of the stuff around us is happening exponentially and we don’t realize it. As a result, we’ve dramatically underestimated the impact of technology on – well – everything. And, since so much of it is exponential, it compounds at an incomprehensible pace. When we look outside at concrete, steel, and glass going up slowly, it lulls us into a sense of normalcy.

The machines want us to feel this way.

Think about it for a brief moment. Suspend disbelief. Wind the clock forward 100 years. Do you think, as a species, we will still be struggling with the things that vex us today? Will we still be arguing about the same stuff? Will physical instantiation of things have the same meaning? We will still be eating Cocoa Puffs?

We are at the end of the beginning. It’s going to get wild. Buckle up.

Comments
Aug 10 2015

The Startup Therapist

My long time friend Jeff Hyman has started a new business called Startup Therapist. In addition to a different hair style and some great content, he has an interview up with me.

I was a seed investor in Jeff’s first company, Career Central. It was the very first investment I did at Mobius (via Softbank – prior to us raising our first fund) and it was doing great until the Internet bubble collapsed and no one was hiring anyone. We kept in touch over the years and I was an early customer and big supporter of Retrofit, Jeff’s most recent company.

Jeff’s awesome. We’ve learned a lot together over the years. I expect he’ll be helping a lot of founders for the days to come.

Comments
Aug 7 2015

Carpool.VC Interview

Jonathon Triest and Brett deMarrais of Ludlow Ventures are doing a fun video podcast series called Carpool.VC. As Jonathan and Brett drive to work, they do a podcast interview. It’s hilarious, fun, and informative.

I did it early (6am California Time) on Tuesday. In it, you’ll learn my spirit animal, doppelganger, how Jonathon and I met (I’m now an investor in Ludlow Ventures), and a bunch of other random things. I also agreed to sponsor the episode for $1.70.

Comments
Aug 6 2015

A16Z Podcast on Startup Communities

Last week I participated in a podcast hosted by A16Z titled How Innovation Ecosystems Grow Around the Globe.


I got to talk with AnnaLee Saxenian, the Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Innovation. Her book, Regional Advantage, had a huge impact from on my thinking around Startup Communities. From a 2010 blog post of mine about a bunch of books that I had read on a week off the grid.

Regional Advantage: A+: I’ve read bits of Annalee Saxenian’s seminal book about the differences between the evolution of Silicon Valley and Route 128, spent a tiny bit of time with Annalee at a Silicon Flatiron event, and have thought hard about this, but I had actually never read her book. It’s awesome – anyone that cares about how entrepreneurial communities work must read this.

The other guest was Chris Schroeder who recently wrote a book titled Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East. I’m definitely going to spend more time with Chris in the future – he’s been spending a lot of time in the Middle East exploring entrepreneurship and has deep current experience and ideas that I’m interested in.

If you are interested in startup communities, I hope you will listen to this podcast. It’s one of the better ones I’ve done around the topic.

Comments
Aug 5 2015

There Is No Glory In This

As I schlep through the San Jose airport at 5:30am to catch a flight to Los Angeles, I have a moment of nostalgia. I haven’t been here in a while since I’ve dramatically cut back on my travel, but I’ve probably wandered through this airport pre-dawn 50 times.

Thirty minutes ago when I got here, the airport was empty. I just had a morning call with Amy and now I’m watching the gate area fill up with mostly sleepy and occasionally noisy people. The smells are a complicated mix of antiseptic, sweat, deodorant, and perfume with cooking food mixed in. It sort of feels crisp and contemporary here, but in a way that I know will feel dated in a decade, like most airports.

Today is only the third day on the road and I’m already exhausted. Monday was a full day that ended with a flight to San Francisco. I spent the night in Sunnyvale and then had an early morning of video conference calls before going to over to Return Path to have a long board meeting followed by dinner.

As I crawled into bed last night, I knew it would be an early morning since I’m on a 6:30 flight to Los Angeles. I have a meeting in downtown and then head back to the airport for a flight to Seattle where I’ll spend some time at Techstars at the end of the day. Thursday I have a morning meeting at Glowforge followed by a Moz board meeting and dinner. Early Friday morning I fly back home to Denver.

I did something resembling this every week for the better part of 20 years. I suppose I enjoyed it for a while or else I wouldn’t have done it. But whatever it was that I enjoyed eludes me this early morning.

Comments
Aug 4 2015

Joining Conference Calls By Pressing One Button

I participate in multiple conference every day. While I can’t change much about the general tediousness associated with 15 different people all joining a call within a five minute window, I can do something about the misery of pressing 18 different numbers on a phone to join the call.

MobileDay solved this problem for smart phones several years ago when it launched. If you want to join a conference call (or any phone call) on your iOS or Android phone, just use MobileDay. Press one button – join whatever call is next on your calendar – automagically.

But it gets even better. MobileDay just released a feature which lets you push the call from your smartphone to any conference room phone. Until now, while I can do one touch dialing into a conference call from my iPhone, I still have to dial 18 (or 19, or was it 20, or does it need a 9 at the beginning, damnit) numbers on the ubiquitous Polycom phones in conference rooms. And, amazingly, sometimes I give up and just use the speaker on my iPhone, which is truly sad and pretty awful compared to the dormant Polycom it is sitting next to.

The new Push feature available for MobileDay Business subscribers can be pre-programmed to connect with any device: Polycom or desk phone. Meetings can still be initiated with MobileDay’s revolutionary one tap and then pushed to another device. Push is keyword sensitive: once I have pre-programmed a device and named it after the meeting room it lives in, whenever I am in a scheduled meeting in that room, MobileDay gives me the option to connect with that device. As with all MobileDay calls there are no numbers to remember – all you have to do is press the green button that pops up on your smartphone and you are in your call.

My favorite products are ones that just work like magic. MobileDay has created several of them, and Push is one of those things that suddenly makes my life a lot better. If you are nostalgic for the days when you had to get up, walk across the room, and manually change the channel on your TV, you probably won’t be into Push. But if you like things that just work and you make a lot of conference calls, go try it and let me know what you think.

Comments
Aug 2 2015

The Importance of Young People In Your Startup Community

From Chattanooga to Omaha to Las Vegas, many cities in the US – and around the world – are building startup communities. An important part of doing this to attract, retain, and mentor more young people.

Behind every successful startup community is a group of young people with their entire life ahead of them. These youngsters aren’t afraid to take on projects bigger than themselves and won’t take no for an answer. They come from all different walks of life, places around the globe, and with varied experiences and knowledge. And they all come with enthusiasm and a desire to learn. Over time, as they learn who they are as young adults, they grow the communities they are a part of into something unique.

A new book that just came out, 2 Billion Under 20: How Millennials Are Breaking Down Age Barriers and Changing the World, highlights the stories of young kids across the globe who are creating ripples in their own communities.One of the millennials highlighted in the book is Fletcher Richman, now the platform manager at Galvanize Ventures.

As a University of Colorado at Boulder student, Fletcher Richman co founded Spark Boulder, Colorado’s first student coworking space, which Amy and I have financially supported (check out the bathrooms the next time you are there.) In his junior year in college, he largely directed and oversaw the fundraising, construction, and day-to-day operations of Spark. Fletcher could always be found meeting student entrepreneurs and would regularly seek out and offer other promising students internships at growing Boulder startups. He also helped create a set of classes at Spark that help students learn iOS Development, growth hacking, and front end web development.

Fletcher is constantly thinking about new ways to grow our startup community and young people like him that have made an enormous contribution to Boulder’s growing startup scene. But they’ve also made contributions like Fletcher’s all over the world. The book 2 Billion Under 20 has great examples of millennials from Iowa to Israel doing things similar to what Fletcher does to make their startup communities more successful.

Young people have the opportunity to move and build their life anywhere they want. So how do growing communities retain them? When I asked Fletcher why he chose to stay in Boulder, he said “everyone is very supportive and wants to help mentor you, so you learn a lot and have the ability to grow without feeling like you’re in a rat race.” Young people want to constantly be learning, contribute in a meaningful way and have the work they do be personally relevant and important to them.

It’s easy to talk about attracting more talent to your city, growing your community and creating a new spot on the map for startup innovation. It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers of how many companies your community has launched, how many have raised capital, how many jobs they’ve created, and how many have exited. But to do any of this over a long period of time you need to pay attention to those young dreamers who are already in the community and engage and mentor them to reach their full potential.

Comments