Monthly Archives: April 2012

Startup Weekend Day 2.. Not Quite The Final Countdown

Today is the 2nd day of Startup Weekend.  I slept lightly last night as I was still jazzed from the happenings of the opening night. That’s probably why I snapped awake to the whistling of  Europe’s “The Final Countdown” outside my window.  Yep that’s right, someone was walking down Butler Street at 7 a.m. whistling the opening to this timeless ditty.  I love living downtown, and that’s not even sarcastic.

Last night started off with great food provided by Pedro’s.  I have to give them an extra hat tip as in this age of  mild, milder, and basically ketchup with onions, their verde sauce had a bit of a kick. By the way, no one is going be lacking for food at this event. Following that there was an intro by the organizers, and some fun and inspirational speeches from the local entrepreneurati.  Then came the pitches…
The way this worked was anyone there was allowed to get up and make a one minute pitch for an idea.  Once all the pitches were made anyone who wanted a second chance was given another minute.  So about an hour or so later we’d listened to some 50 different ideas.  Everyone got 3 post it notes and people wandered around the room talking to the idea-bringers and then sticking their note on the 3 ideas they liked best.  The votes were tallied and 15 ideas were picked to move forward.  Unfortunately 2 of the ideas I thought had serious potential, didn’t make it out of the first round.
After all this came the team formation.  People moved from group to group discussing the merits of the ideas and trying to find a group they wanted to work with.  Two teams refused to be put down by the voting process and went rogue.  They hadn’t been assigned a “space” in the room so they hung a sign around their necks and worked the room looking for team members. That’s entrepreneurial spirit. I finally got out of there around 12:30 after a 30 minute programming discussion in the parking lot.
Today teams are finalized and then the work begins with the judging tomorrow.
One thing I want to mention was an announcement by the City of Madison.  They’re launching an open data initiative and this weekend they’ve opened up an API to query data on every property in Madison.  I got to talk with Alder Scott Resnick who was super helpful, and after the usual smartphone/email misspelling hijinx helped me get the info to access the servers.  I ended up poking at it for an hour last night and now know the assessed value of my apartment building, the houses I lived in in college, and various commercial properties on East Washington.  It’s not so much that you couldn’t get this data before, but now you can get at it programatically, and that’s going to lead to cool apps.  How about a graphical map of the isthmus with a view of properties currently for rent, and data drawn right from the city showing, rooms, bathrooms, property owner. You get the picture.
We’re planning on banging on it more at Startup Weekend.  I have to give a hand to Madison’s IT group and Mayor Soglin.  A lot of work went into getting this ready for this weekend.  It’s still in an alpha/beta form but they’ve really done a great job.  Hopefully we don’t cause any server crashes.
casualty
First casualty of the weekend.. my shirt… caught it on a hook and ripped it to shreds, but they gave out T-shirts so I’m even. Oh, and I registered entrepreneurati.com halfway through writing this post  .. don’t even try.

Sector67, My New Home

Capital Entrepeneurs Week continues this weekend with Startup Weekend.  I’ll be there mentoring starting tonight.  It should be interesting as my understanding is more than 100 people have signed up to participate.
sector67_logoI got involved through my new group of friends over at Sector67.  Remember how I went to San Antonio and ran across the collaborative workspace Geekdom?  Well when I returned I knew I needed to find something like this in Madison.  Turns out that there is one only it’s smaller, runs on a hell of a lot less money, and is just as cool.

So what is this place?  It’s many things, but mostly it’s a place where people hang out, exchange ideas, and help each other to make stuff.  It’s also a classroom, lab, woodworking space, foundry, glassblowing, metalworking, sewing, pottery, programming, and just about anything else space. From the moment I wandered in I knew I had found a place to spend some serious time.

Sector67 is a non-profit started by Chris Meyer.  I’m not sure if Chris started it to make a space for creative people in Madison to build stuff or if he just wanted to hang out in the best geek clubhouse ever made.  It’s probably a little bit of both and he’s certainly achieved both goals.  Chris, like many of the people you’ll find there, knows a little about everything, and a lot about most things.  He’s a great resource and he’s always helping someone build something, acquiring new stuff for the space, or teaching a class on anything from welding to microcontroller programming.

Since I left Sonic Foundry I have been accumulating computer and electronics stuff to play with for various projects.  Unfortunately this has slowly turned the living room into a computer lab.  I’m now renting a space down at Sector67 and have moved it all (well most of it) down there.  It’s sometimes not the best place for writing software, particularly when Chris is teaching engine repair to a group of 7 high school students.  Even headphones have a hard time blocking out the BANG BANG BANG of a  15 year old taking a hammer to an old lawn mower engine.  But the vibe in Sector67 is worth it.  You can’t help but want to create stuff while you’re there.

There is a live web cam on the Sector67 site which will show you what’s going on in the main room at any given time.  A buddy of mine texted me a pic the other day saying “hahahah just saw you on the Sector67 cam”.  I’m talking to Chris who’s eating his lunch.  I was telling him that it’s hard to figure out if he’s cooking his lunch in the toaster oven or if insulation is burning off something.  The two smells are really similar.

sector67 cam 500
So I plan on being a part of this place and so should you.  Don’t be intimidated.  Sector67 is kind of like doing yoga for the first time.  You walk into a room with a bunch of people doing stuff that you can’t imagine you’ll ever be able to do. All you need to do is start.  Next thing you know you’re doing it along with everyone else.  And if you’ve got kids you should check out this list of classes.  If I had kids I’d buy them a membership just so they had a place to hang out and do cool stuff.

Techstars Cloud

Earlier this month I headed down to San Antonio to watch eleven start-up companies present the results of their 3 months spent at the start-up accelerator, Techstars Cloud.

Techstars is one of a variety of programs set up to accelerate start-ups using investment and mentoring.  In return they take a small portion of the company.  Techstars Cloud happened to be focused on a group of companies all who were trying to do “cloud” solutions, with San Antonio being the perfect location as that’s where Rackspace is.

I’ve been working with a number of small start-ups here in town, one a Y Combinator graduate, TrustEgg, was started in part by one of my former engineers at Sonic Foundry, Gabe Krambs. Gabe is one of those super talented guys who I always knew I was lucky to have around.  Then last winter I had the opportunity to meet one of the founders of VidMaker,  Dale Emmons, a former Sony employee had been working with his buddies Ryan and Yuri to build video editing for the cloud. At that time they were waiting to hear from Techstars.  It wasn’t but a couple weeks later and they were off to San Antonio.  So 6 weeks ago when they asked me if I’d like to come down and watch them present on their demo day I jumped at the chance.

First let me get snarky for a second…After a pleasant evening in San Antonio, including drinks with the VidMaker guys, I headed to the presentation in the morning.  Now I’ve practiced yoga for some time and one thing that’s always struck me is how unaware of personal space sweaty yogis tend to be.  But I’ll tell you they have absolutely nothing on tech geeks. Just try to navigate yourself through a crowded group of tech boys half of which are wearing backpacks bigger than a guy headed up Mt. Everest.  I mean seriously what is in those packs? I thought this was Techstars “Cloud” not Techstars “I’ve got a rack of servers and my tennis shoes strapped to my back”.

The presentations by the 11 companies were limited to about 5 minutes each and were extremely polished.  The VidMaker presentation was particularly well received, partly due to the recent Instagram  acquisition, and also because they were the one business model that the layperson could wrap their head around.  The other 10 were definitely more technical and aimed at people who are looking for SaaS solutions.

techstars002

Here’s the program with info on each company and here are some comments on a few of them

appsembler – A pretty cool concept for developers who are looking for easy hosting, billing, support and deployment of software as a service products.  I had a chance to talk with Nate Aune at the After Party.  He’s a sharp guy and he hooked me up with the early beta.  This is a product that could save a lot of time for small SaaS developers who don’t want to be bogged down with all the backend maintenance costs.

cloudability – monitors and manages spending by companies on their cloud services.  These guys had a killer presentation wrapped up by announcing that every Rackspace customer got a free cloudability account.  They are solving a serious pain point for many companies and are going to do well.

cloudsnap – provides middlewear that allows you to connect web apps together without having to know about underlying api’s.  They provide a web interface that basically says whenever new data is added to this web application, take it, massage it, and send it over to this other web application.  I had a chance to talk with their CEO about how they were adding to their supported application list. In order to maintain quality they’re doing all the coding which is understandable. Eventually as they expand they may be able to have a 3rd party api that would let companies define their data input and outputs.  This would’ve been nice back when I was working on Mediasite. If we’d been able to provide an adapter to cloudsnap it would’ve been trivial for us to move data in and out of Salesforce whenever someone engaged with a Mediasite presentation.

Tempo – provides the ability to save tons of time log data in the cloud.  Think things like temperature sensors and other devices that log tens, hundreds, or even thousands of data points a minute.  I spent a lot of time talking with Andrew their CEO at the After Party.  They were all heading back to Chicago right after that to keep working on their company.  He had a lot of good insight on the companies there and I hope to spend some time at their space in Chicago in the next few months.

VidMaker – The Madison guys who are going to take the world by storm with collaborative video editing.  I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about them from me over the coming months.  They’re back in town and probably hiring.

Lastly while I was out there I met the head of the collaborative workspace Geekdom.  This is a pretty cool idea.  People coming together in a communal space to help each other build cool things.  I found myself thinking I need to find a place like that where I can hang my hat…. (foreshadowing)

Oh and I almost forgot.. these enterprising engineers decided to start some kind of new booze.. met them at the party as well.. it was a little sweet but they said they’re working on it…drinkupsmart

 

Evernote & Trello – two tools that make my life better

In the last year since I left my job as CTO at Sonic Foundry I’ve found myself having to survive on my own without an IT staff.  This means I’ve had to deal with the everyday tasks of setting up network storage, maintaining a network, dealing with software, contacts, email and all the other stuff you take for granted when you work in a company. On that note I just wanted to quickly make a post on 2 tools that really do make my life better on a daily basis. 

The first one is Evernote.  By now most of you probably know about this piece of software but if you don’t go to the link right now and install it.  You can come back and read the rest of this later.  Go..now..I’m serious…..
Evernote is your notepad for everything.  I use it all the time when I travel.  Recently I was in Las Vegas playing poker and I ran into a guy who I had met in Reno.  Because of Evernote I was able to completely freak him out. When he sat down at the table I called him by name and then asked him how his trip to Cancun ended up. I use it for flight/hotel reservations.. taking pictures of wine labels I like, web pages with programming info, and just about anything else I can possibly take a note on.  The program is free but you can pay $5 a month if you find it useful.  Pay them the $5 you will get more than that in use.

The other free program I stumbled on recently is trello If you’re constantly making lists of things you need to do, or even worse, you don’t, then this is your tool.  Trello allows you to create tasks and keep track of them in a really simple and intuitive manner.  It uses boards to tell you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process. Live Evernote it’s one of those tools that you won’t know how great it is until you start using it.  Go to trello, make a free account and then just start making lists of stuff to do.  You’ll thank me later.