Platforms and health

All Images copyright Gizmodo Live Blog.

LifeScan’s app is for people with diabetes in order to “simply diabetes management.”


In their example, they’re putting themselves into the shoes of Maddie, a 15-year-old girl with diabetes. She tests herself six times a day and injects insulin multiple times a day. First she needs to prick her finger and get her glucose reading. Now the insulin meter can transmit her reading to her iPhone over Bluetooth or over the 30-pin dock connector.



She can then track her readings and mark them appropriately as before a meal or after a meal. Then she can track what kind of food she’s eating and how much of it, plugging it into the iPhone, which will tell her exactly how much insulin she needs after her meal.


Maddie can then re-calculate on the phone if she then needs less insulin because she’s going to exercise later.


With the iPhone app, she can then let her parents know that she’s OK by sending them a message directly through the app that has her glucose level and how she feels.

Apps like LifeScan and Charmr show that there is a real need to understand people and their devices. But that we’re about to see an explosion of personal medical devices targeted at behaviour change and routine monitoring of health. I love this space. What I love more is the emerging platforms like Google Health and HealthVault are trying to solve a BIG difficult problem of electronic health records. There is a huge opportunity to start software and “experiences” companies around this space.

Time to research Ontario government funding in this space. It looks like they have invested the $30M from the Innovation Demonstration Fund. Need to review companies and technologies in the Health Technology Exchange at And learn more about Investment Accelerator Fund. You can get access to software and support from BizSpark. What a great time to start a company! Great people, great ideas and great platforms are all abundant.

I’m inspired about personal healthcare startups.

Where are the RIM alumni?

GigaOM has a great story about "The Growing Ex-Amazon Club and Why It’s a Good Thing”. This is essentially an extension of the Fairchildren model for seeding companies and talent. Jevon has placed MaRS in the deadpool. Austin, Joey and I have wondered about the role of early employees from successful companies at leaving to start, build and grow new startups.

It leaves me to question where are the RIM alumni? Where are the startups being started by ex-RIM employees?

You can find startups with founders from PixStream or Workbrain. You can see startups with DNA from Zero Knowledge Systems. The only RIM alumni founded startup I can find is Metranome.

Founders Wanted

I hadn’t realized how strong the motto at Reactivity was in our recruiting. We were looking for founders. John wrote about Reactivity’s beginnings back in 2004. I was lucky enough to join Reactivity as an early employee. I think I was employee number 12 and the third employee of Reactivity Austin (after Bryan Rollins and Andrew Willis). Reactivity was trying to build

A metastartup (this is a temporary name only–trying to think of a better one) is a company who’s mission is to foster a community of talented engineers and business people, with the goal of spinning off startup companies from that community, as well as to build a loosely coupled network of those companies.

It was a kieritsu, but not of businesses but of the individuals that build businesses. In recruiting new talent, whether on the design, business, marketing or engineering sides of the house, was to find founders. People that you wanted to leave Reactivity to start a new company. It meant that the goal was to develop every hire into a potential founder. You can see the alumni network of Reactivity designers, engineers and entrepreneurs around the valley. John Lilly is the CEO of the Mozilla Corporation. Mike Schroepfer is the director of engineering at Facebook. Graham Miller is the CEO of Marketcetera. Lynn Pausic runs Expero Inc. Ellen Beldner is the UX Designer for YouTube. Lynn Gabbay is the founder at Novod. Andrew Nash is a Senior Director at PayPal. Bryan Rollins was VP of Product Management at MessageOne before the Dell acquisition. The Reactivity alumni can be seen around Silicon Valley, Boston and New York.

A Magical Legacy – How these guys engineered our world

Fourteen years ago, a company called General Magic promised a handheld device that would make calls, send email, play music, and do almost everything else that makes today’s iPhone so drool-worthy. “Bill and Andy’s Excellent Adventure II” (April 1994) was about the two Macintosh vets – Atkinson and Herzfeld – leading the project. Unfortunately, they were far too early. General Magic sank in 2002. But its legacy lives on, in part because the effort was a formative experience for a team of brillant young engineers. Pierre Omidyar went on to start eBay. Tony Fadell heads Apple’s iPod hardware group. Kevin Lynch cooked up Flash. And Andy Rubin created the Sidekick and Google’s Android mobile platform. Not too shabby. As for Bill and Andy, they are still adventuring excellently: Atkinson works with the artificial intelligence startup Numenta, and Hertzfeld codes for Google. – Steven Levy, Wired 16.12 December 2008

Where are all the startups founded by RIM alumni?

Startups and Agencies Web2Expo was last week. There were a large number of startups kicking around the conference including FreshBooks, Octopz, GetSatisfaction, Aviary, ThoughtFarmer, ZeroFootprint, BrainPark and others. One very interesting story is the business development relations that Brookly-based startup has built with Organic. AdAge has writing a great article, How Start-ups and Ad Agencies Can Collaborate, looking at the shared opportunities for and Organic to meet the needs of customers.

This kind of collaboration between technology start-ups and ad agencies is arguably rare, but considering many media and tech start-ups are counting on advertising to be the bread and butter, they’d do well to make them more common.

I spend a lot of time at Microsoft working with both start-ups and agencies (sometimes even together). The trade rags tend to focus on the size of media buys and revenue per agency. What we forget is that agencies work for clients and brands. They are looking for cost effective tools to build unique engaging brand experiences. While the budgets roll up to very big numbers, it is the individual projects and designs that matter. Looking for opportunities to define new experiences where the agency doesn’t have to build everything from scratch. It is particularly valuable when there is a new technology or skill that doesn’t exist i house at the agency. In the case of this technology and expertise was the iPhone. There are other technologies and expertise that are extremely important like Radian6 or Kontagent’s monitoring and conversation tracking software. is focusing on how it works and the functionality, and what Organic brings to it is a customer perspective. … We often brings thing to brands we think they should be doing and here there’s an opportunity for us to bring this to them and show them how they benefit.

For certain startups, agencies may be a great indirect sales channel to reach potential customers. The goal needs to be understanding how agencies can use your product and service to design, augment their offerings for clients. It’s really easy to see how GetSatisfaction could be used by an agency to help deliver better customer engagements for their brands. These relationships are just a business development tool for startups. The goal is to look for relationships where two organizations (in this case startups and agencies) that can leverage each others products a, services and expertise to help grow their business. The question for every startup is: what partnerships with service providers would provide value to the service provider like an ad agency and allow you to grow your business?


nation Jevon announced our efforts to continue to facilitate the opportunities for entrepreneurs in Canada. The goal was to have a grand gesture. To create a point in time to bring people together to learn, to connect and to inspire each other to build the NEXT BIG THING.


Canada’s conference for startups


Students, entrepreneurs, and funders


November 13 & 14, 2008 in Toronto


The event is a two day event. Day one is focused on practical workshops aimed at helping entrepreneurs get started, figure out the mechanics of starting a company, growing and taking it to the next level. The workshops will include:

  • Assessing your market opportunity
  • Why should I use your product?
  • Strategies for getting users
  • Presentation skills for developers
  • Legal pitfalls for startups
  • Shaking the money tree
  • Pricing Models
  • Product Design
  • First customers and other business development pitfalls

Day two is all about connecting Canada and our startups to the rest of the world. Jevon has the list of confirmed speakers:

This is going to be fun. Jevon has been working his ass off while I’ve been slacking with a move, a baby, and being in NYC for Web2Expo.

Millennium Development Goals

The Mozilla Labs Concept Series seems to have really struck a chord with me. I like the idea of projects that help designers “get involved and share your ideas and expertise” to “collectively explore and design future directions for the web”. It is a different approach to the Imagine Cup which is a student technology competition. I appreciate the difference in focus of both projects, one is to “provoke thought, facilitate discussion and inspire future design directions”, the other “challenges students to explore their own creativity to solve what they consider to be challenging problems facing our global society”. Lofty goals for both projects, and I applaud both efforts.

The 2009 Imagine Cup is based using the UN’s Millennium Development Goals as inspiration for new technology design and creation. The eight goals are:

  1. End Poverty and Hunger
  2. Universal Education
  3. Gender Equality
  4. Child Health
  5. Maternal Health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS
  7. Environmental Sustainability
  8. Global Partnership

The challenge for me is that I don’t immediately see technology solutions to many of these problems. Many of the problems are a result of the economic and geopolitical systems imposed by government agencies and corporations. Change seems routed in politics and not technology design. is an interesting technology solution to the monitoring of acts of violence in Kenya. David Talbot describes Ushahidi is a “Web application that [can] receive citizen incidents reports via text message from any mobile phone in Kenya and display them as a Google Maps application”. The goal is to make it possible for anyone with a cell phone to become a node in the distributed network capable of gathering, distributing and visualizing citizen news feeds. Coupled with audio, video and text the application could quickly become a digital panopticon application enabling citizens and communities to police human rights and other violations. 

At GSMA Mobile World Congress (aka 3GSM) in Barcelona in 2007, a group of leading mobile phone companies and the US government announced the Phones for Health partnership to help fight HIV/AIDS in Africa. The program will allow health care workers in Africa to use a standard Motorola handset to enter health data. The Phones-for-Health system will then use either GPRS or SMS to upload the data into a centralized database which can be analyzed and made available to health officials for distribution of medicine and education programs. The SMS system can also be used to alert health workers, order medicine, download treatment guides, etc.

The UN Millennium Development Goals used in the Imagine Cup are idealistic and can present challenges as abstract design goals. But it’s possible to build interesting prototypes to solve real world problems.

Provoke thought and provide inspiration


The Aurora project has always intrigued me, a successor to the famed SR-71 Blackbird (though I thought it was designated SR-75 and not SR-91). In a vain of building a next generation experience, the team at Adaptive Path and  Mozilla Labs have partnered to build the Aurora Concept, “a video presenting one possible future user experience for the web”. It’s the second time in recent history where I have been thoroughly impressed with the design process used by the Adaptive Path folks, check out my commentary on the book, Subject to Change, and the Charmr project. The work on the Aurora Concept is a fantastic way to design, prototype and explore future design directions for Firefox and Mozilla and how the web should be built for the next generation of uses.

Part 1 – Exploring shared experiences

Aurora (Part 1) from Adaptive Path on Vimeo.

Part 2 – Exploring mobility

Aurora (Part 2) from Adaptive Path on Vimeo.

Part 3 – Interacting with the physical world

Aurora (Part 3) from Adaptive Path on Vimeo.

Video as a prototyping is not new. Video has been explored by the HCI and design researchers for a long time. In 1992 at Sun, Bruce Tognazzni created the Starfire design prototype. The team at Apple created the Knowledge Navigator in 1987 and Future Shock in 1988. Video is a compelling storytelling medium allowing designers to explore concepts and ideas without having to create functional environments. They are engaging spots that are designed to present a dream to a community in a digestible format.

My favourite part of the Concept Series is the call for participation. It is an open call to designers, developers and others from industry and higher education to get involved and design a vision for the future. The goal is to “bring even more people to the table and provoke thought, facilitate discussion, and inspire future design directions for Firefox, the Mozilla project, and the Web as a whole”.

Concepts may take the form of Ideas, Mockups or Prototypes.

  • Ideas
    It all begins with an idea. A sentence, paragraph, or even bullet-points kick-start the process. Ideas can be simple and non-technical. It should be easy for anyone and everyone to help shape the future of the Web. So throw your notions, inspirations, dreams and visions out to the community.
  • Mockups
    Turn your idea (or someone else’s) into an image, sketch or video. Words are great, but you know what they say about pictures. Mockups offer up a visual and communicate ideas in terms that are just a bit more polished and real. They draw the next person in, tempting them to pick up the concept and run with it.
  • Prototypes
    A prototype is interactive. Feel, touch and play with developing concepts. Prototypes get ideas across by showing off the moving parts. They aren’t always fully functional or pretty, but they’re more than a static image or two. They’re a dress rehearsal of sorts, with minimal programming. Make a prototype in HTML, Flash, or whatever puts things into action.

If I was a student designer looking for a design project to consider for my final year project I would think seriously about participating in the Concept Series or the Imagine Cup.

Hacking LanSchool

From Greg Wilson. Hopefully, someone like Rob or Michael (or one of Michael’s students) will step in and provide these kids some pro bono legal advice for dealing with a company looking to manage their online profile. LanSchool has requested that the Tony Targonski and Dan Servos remove the details of an exploit to an old version of their software be removed from the wiki.

I suspect that someone from LanSchool’s marketing and public relations team is tired of seeing the YouTube post showing up so high for a product that they no longer sell, and for an issue that has been fixed in the next version of their product. The YouTube video showing how to disable the monitoring program, is number 3 in my search for LanSchool. And the forums and wiki are in the top 5 when searching for “lanschool hacks”. (Funny how the don’t even show up in search).


It is amazing how close the LanSchool software is to the classroom monitoring tools described in Little Brother. It should come as no surprise that I’m for the publication of these exploits, just read my call to action against Bill C-61 as a result of reading Little Brother. Dan has used his programming skills and his brain to learn about how not to program networked computers. By publishing his understanding and knowledge he has shared a bad software design with the intent that others can learn and not make the same mistake. Good work Dan!

I’m sure from a traditional PR perspective this is a challenging situation. You have a product that has been updated to fix this bug among others while adding new features. The “community”, and this is a really funny term, has published a negative review and an exploit that shows vulnerabilities in your software platform. Perhaps the LanSchool marketing folks think that their software is unlike the rest of the world and has no bugs. Perhaps, they think it might be harder for kids to subvert their system if the exploit isn’t in the wild. It is an interesting PR case study, and unlike the Dell Hell experience and changes including IdeaStorm, I think this will just be another example of a large company doing bad PR.

Hopefully our courts will find similar to Dutch courts:

“But the court ruled that the university’s right to publish was part of freedom of speech and that the publication of scientific research on the chip’s faults could help to take appropriate countermeasures.” – InformationWeek July 18, 2008

The publishing of software exploits is a question of freedom of speech.

"Damage to NXP is not the result of the publication of the article but of the production and sale of a chip that appears to have shortcomings" – InformationWeek July 18, 2008

Hopefully we can keep kids like Dan and Tony doing intellectually stimulating things with technology. 

A Microsoft venture fund

Kevin Merritt has a great suggestion for creating a Microsoft venture fund. This is not new, I wrote about my displeasure with the proposed Yahoo! deal back. Kevin has thought about a YCombinator-esque microfunding model.
  • A three person team comprised of Ray Ozzie, Don Dodge and Dare Obasanjo would be the investment committee.
  • Anyone can submit a 10-slide business plan. No NDA protection, which is the norm in the VC industry.
  • Plans are reviewed once a quarter. Those that make it through the screening are invited to a 90-minute in person demo and pitch.
  • At the end of the 90-minute demo & pitch, the three-person Ozzie/Dodge/Obasanjo investment committee makes an immediate decision. It’s pass/fail. You’re in or you’re out. American Idol style. You’re going to Hollywood or you aren’t.
  • If you pass, here’s what you get: an investment of $100,000 cash plus $25,000 per founder, but never more than $175,000;  all the Microsoft software you need; unlimited, free use of Microsoft’s cloud computing infrastructure for 3 years; mandatory office space for up to 5 people for the first year in either the Redmond or Silicon Valley Campus; all the non-sense administrative support services that typically saps a startup, a collegial environment working with other Microsoft funded startups.
  • In exchange, Microsoft gets: 10% of the company in common stock with no special preferences or rights; your commitment to exclusively use Microsoft development software and operating systems for 3 years, other than with written exception by Microsoft; your commitment to deploy your software to Microsoft platforms first (i.e. if you build a mobile app, it has to run on Windows Mobile before iPhone).

That’s it. Quid pro quo. Startups need cash, tools, infrastructure and elimination of noise and distraction. Microsoft needs access to innovation and a future generation of folks building software with Microsoft development tools and to be run on Microsoft platforms. My bet is that Microsoft will flat out buy some of the companies during their year of incubation. And if you assume each startup will have 3 to 5 people, even the ones that fail will produce a good stream of folks who could easily become employees. Microsoft probably already spends $50,000 per hire anyway, so it’s not really costing them much if anything at all.

Oh, there’s one more important twist to help stem the tide of people leaving Microsoft to found companies or join startups. Microsoft employees in good standing having spent at least 2 years at Microsoft can quit their job and can be admitted into the incubator program with only a single approval from the investment committee. No business plan, pitch or demo are required. You’re in. Your prior contributions are your ticket. How many young entrepreneurs-to-be are willing to put in two good years at Microsoft just to get into the incubator program? I think more than a few. It’s a VC spin to the army college fund. It’s the Microsoft future entrepreneurs fund.

This is a great, well thought out plan for putting $25M to work. The biggest questions for me are: how does the model scale around the world? What are the implications with respect to existing anti-trust agreements and funding companies?  What are the areas, much like the Y Combinator 30 ideas, that are part of the initial investment thesis? It feels like without a clearly defined investment thesis that this is really a public relations campaign with entrepreneurial leaning technologists.

Dissident, Citizen

littlebrother-corydoctorow Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Thank you Cory for Little Brother. I can’t wait for my children to be old enough to read it. It has been a few years since I couldn’t put a book down and decided it was worth giving up sleep to finish. Cory has captured the feelings behind my mistrust of government and corporations. And the power they can exert over citizens, and the challenges when this power is abused.

You’ve inspired me to take action to protect my rights. The anti-circumvention provisions of the C-61 copyright amendment does more harm than good. It prevents crucial rights for citizens in a digital age. It prevents citizens from having the right to “use digital works without permission for research, private study, criticism or news reporting”. Michael Geist has posted 30  Things You Can Do to help reflect a consumer view of this amendment.

“The Industry Minister has time to meet with the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, time to meet all the major telcos on the spectrum auction issue, yet hasn’t made time to meet with user community on copyright.”

Bill C-61 scares me. It represents a shift in public policy back towards corporations. It reminds of the acceptance of monopolies and oligopolies that Canadians accept as tradeoff for our geography. The bill makes it an infringement to circumvent digital locks to prevent copying and distribution. To make it worse this bill prevents the distribution of the tools that can be used to circumvent digital locks. This means that watching a European purchased Region 2 encoded disc, like the legal copy of The Future is Unwritten I purchased from, in Canada is illegal under Bill C-61.

This kind of thinking is important no matter what side of security you’re on. If you’ve been hired to build a shoplift-proof store, you’d better know how to shoplift. If you’re designing a camera system that detects individual gaits, you’d better plan for people putting rocks in their shoes. Because if you don’t, you’re not going to design anything good.

Trading privacy for security is stupid enough; not getting any actual security in the bargain is even stupider. – Bruce Schneier

Help keep Canada free! Free as in freedom! We need to ensure we have the freedoms so that we can continue to think, explore, innovate, question and challenge authority and government in Canada.

Thank you Cory!

Little Brother
by Cory Doctorow
Read more about this book…


Today is my 1 year anniversary at Microsoft Canada. I’m guessing there are a lot of unhappy gamblers in the pool. It’s been a fun year. May and June are always full of surprises and changes, fortunately this year the changes were much less scary and exciting. Less scary.  Anybody remember DemoCampToronto6? Unfortunately I don’t, it has been 2 years since the infamous BarCampER where I had the misfortune of having a heart attack. So I look forward to making it through May without any surprises.

And it’s been 1 year since I joined Microsoft. Can you believe it? Hopefully you didn’t loose too much money on the pool.

The Year in Review

SxSW 2008 - 148

I attended a lot of conferences and events this past year. It felt like I was on the road a lot.I had a great time meeting people, hearing about what you were building and your mixed reactions to Microsoft. Some very positive. Others much more negative. I shouldn’t be surprised at the distribution of reactions and responses, but I think I was most surprised by the positive. I hadn’t really expected to become the public face of Microsoft Canada at many of the events. And I’m pretty sure that providing real-time bourbon-fueled support wasn’t in my employment contract, but apparently if you buy me bourbon I’ll provide substandard support. I haven’t spent a lot of time in the Microsoft ecosystem but I’ve been introduced to great people like John Bristowe, Mack Male, Derek Hatchard, Colin Bowern, Mark Arteaga and others across Canada. I continued to meet folks in the *Camp sphere including Vincent & Phillipe, Patrick Lor, Cam Linke and others. And best of all, I keep getting to see my friends and acquaintances around the country (you know who you are).

Places to Go, People to See

Community Participation

Jon Udell asked that we hold off evaluating his joining Microsoft:

Wait until the evidence is in, then decide for yourself. I’ve been in this game for a long time. I think my record of pragmatism and agnosticism speaks for itself…

Well it’s now been a year. And I want to know what you think? Good? Bad? Otherwise?

What can I do to make the next year awesome for you? the community?