Author Archives: Monty Schmidt

Facebook making it interesting

I saw this letter Paul Graham put together for the Y-Combinator folks yesterday and I thought it was interesting.  When I was down at Tech Stars in April everyone was absolutely giddy about Facebook’s purchase of Instagram. It didn’t matter whether it was an organizer, participant, or investor they were all simply besides themselves with $$$ in their eyes over that acquisition.  I remember thinking “oh geez valuations of start-ups are going to be over the top now.”

It’s still too early to see what effect the Facebook IPO will really have but the one line I agree with 100 percent is this:

 “I often tell startups after raising money that they should act as if it’s the last they’re ever going to get. 

It reminds me of a conversation I had one time at NAMM with an unnamed band member from what you’d call a One Hit Wonder Band of the 80’s.  He told me that when they had their first (and only) hit that they blew all the money from it as they figured they’d just write another hit.  After all, they had it figured out now and it was easy.  Needless to say that didn’t happen.

Unfortunately I’ve heard this same kind of bravado now from a number of young entrepreneurs.  I often say “hey I could be wrong here, but…” and then try to impress on them how hard it can be to raise money.  The problem is when the first round is easy it’s often hard to convince them that the second might be harder.

I really hope they are able to keep their visions going if they need more capital. Even if they can’t I guess they can always go back to working a day job just like the one hit wonder bands ended up touring Brazil for years to come.

Ipad Road Warrior

2 months ago my Macbook Pro finally bit the dust after four years. I guess it’s to be expected but it did it at the worst time, a few days before I left town. I went out to the local Mac store and talked to one of the local “geniuses” who told me it was $400 just to send it in and have it looked at. Needless to say I decided against that and instead took it to Sector 67 and let the peeps there gut it for parts.

I needed something relatively quick so I went out to Best Buy and bought an Asus Zenbook for around $1000. It’s a nice little unit much like the Macbook Air and I was super happy. Well that was until a few days ago when the battery decided to fritz out. It was stuck at 68% charge and it wouldn’t charge any higher. If you unplugged the laptop it would immediately power off meaning it wasn’t holding a charge. I called up Asus and talked to a tech support person and after 20 minutes on the phone he decided I needed to ship it back to them. He said it was going to take 2 to 3 weeks for them to fix the laptop however their RMA system was down so he asked me if I could call back another time.

So now I’m really not a happy camper. I took the laptop back to Best Buy where I bought it and they said they couldn’t take it back but that they could ship it to Asus for me. This was at least more helpful than Asus and their broken RMA system. First they wanted me to take it home and reset it back to its default to make sure this wasn’t an operating system issue. So I took it home for the night and reset the system wiping out days of work I had spent setting it up to do development. This didn’t fix the problem so the following day I took it back to Best Buy and they shipped it off to Asus.

So here I am without a laptop and about to head out of town for weeks at a time over the next 6 weeks. What’s a software guy to do?

Well I have this Ipad, so maybe it’s time to figure out if I can use this thing to be productive. I did a bunch of research on the web and talked to one of the resident super Apple geeks at Sector 67 and here’s what I’ve come up with.

First you can’t write lots of text on an Ipad without a keyboard. So I quickly ordered a Logitech blue tooth keyboard from Amazon. It actually works quite well and I’m typing this entry on it right now.

Next I did some research on apps and what I was going to need to be successful with this ipad productivity endeavor. The app I’m using to write this is called Elements. This is an app that is good at text entry and supports markdown, a pseudo html notation format.

Elements, like the other apps I’m going to get to, all use dropbox as one of the places where they store files. I was already using dropbox since I needed a cloud storage space for files when moving between my computers at home and my computer at Sector 67 as well as my laptop. If you’re not using dropbox you should look into it. It’s free for small amounts of storage and I’m also using it with git for source code control.

In the past I’ve done most of my source code control in Perforce which we used at Sonic Foundry. Perforce also has a free installation of their server for personal use. The problem is that once you go beyond a couple people it gets relatively expensive. It doesn’t work well for people who are working disconnected and I needed a solution where I can connect from a linux box as well as a windows box. Lastly I needed something that would let me interconnect across the interwebs without having to setup and expose a whole server. Thus I chose git as my new scc solution. I know I could use github with a private account but for now using git with dropbox does the trick. Here’s a really good article on how to do it if you’re interested.

OK so now I’ve got the ability to write blog entries using Elements and have them stored on dropbox. When I bought my Ipad I bought the wireless version as I really didn’t want to have to subscribe to another phone plan. These days you can usually find wireless wherever you are but occasionally that’s not true. It’s especially not true when you are staying in a casino playing poker. Well that’s not 100% accurate. You can find wireless in most casinos. It will just cost you $10-$15 a day for what is usually a pretty crappy connection.

Last time I was in Council Bluffs Pdub and I were both in need of an internet connection and I finally decided to give AT&T; the extra $20 a month to turn my iphone into a personal wireless hotspot. Although I find it ridiculous that they’re charging me extra for something my phone already does, the convenience and cost savings over paying a casino or hotel a daily fee is worth it. It’s come in handy a number of times where the wireless available in airports, hotels and other places has been pay only or just plain non-existent. It also makes for good times when other people see your network available to their phones or laptops when you’re in a restaurant or bar.

So now I should be able to take this content, convert it to html in Elements and paste it into the editor on blogspot. I’ve already uploaded a picture of me writing this on the front porch, from my Iphone to dropbox to see if I can get a picture in here as well.

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Since we’ve covered blog postings on the fly this seems like a good stopping point. The next entry is going to be about working with code and servers from the Ipad.

Update: Getting the picture onto blogger was a bit of a hassle. Getting it on my ipad from my iphone was no big deal. I simply copied it up to dropbox from my iphone and then copied it down from dropbox to my ipad. Both times I just used the dropbox app. The problem was there is no way to upload it from the ipad to blogger using the web interface. I’m planning to switch all my blogging to WordPress so I guess I could’ve just given up for now.

Instead after googling around I found that there is another app out there called BlogPress that interfaces directly with blogger. Once I loaded it up I had no problem getting the picture up. However, I clicked on the photo and saw that it’s being hosted at BlogPressApp.com with some advertising and such. If I had known that was all it was going to do I could have shoved the photo on one of my public sites myself and then linked to it. It also completely munged up the formatting of my previous text for this entry. I won’t be using this app after I get switched over.

Why wuntusk?

A few weeks ago I decided that I needed a new company name.  Although Uncle Gringo Enterprises has served me well for the last year on Linked-In, it lacked a certain “je ne sais quoi”.  I wanted something simple and catchy but somehow linked to my philosophy on life and business.  Pdub and I were driving back from a poker tournament in Council Bluffs, Iowa, along highway 80, giving me plenty of time to think on the problem.

These past couple years I’ve been doing a fair amount of yoga and in turn I ended up doing some reading on the Hindu devas.  If you’ve never read the Ramayana or the Mahabharata you’re really missing out on some awesome stories.  A portion of the Ramayana includes my favorite Hindu deva Hanuman, the monkey god.  Hanuman was incredibly devoted to Rama, and when Rama’s wife Sita was kidnapped, he did all sorts of cool stuff to help out, including turning into a cat, burning down a city with his tail, and bringing back a whole mountain, but I digress.
ganeshaAnother deva more familiar to yogis around the world is Ganesha. He’s the one with the elephant head on a boy’s body. Ganesha is patient, kind, and humble and the deva of intellect and wisdom. He is “the remover of obstacles” and typically invoked before the undertaking of any new project.

The ancient sage Vyasa asked Ganesha to scribe the Mahabharata in a single sitting.   Ganesha knew that no normal pen would work for this, so he broke off one of his own tusks and used it as the pen for the enormous task.  Thus Ganesha is typically depicted with a broken tusk or “one tusk”.

So there you have it the “one tusk” became wuntusk, and it all just kind of popped out of my head on the drive home.  When I got home I tried a few different fonts with the word and I really liked the way it looked in the moderna font.

Props to my friend Kalindi for being the only person I know of who immediately got the name.

 

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.