A Golden Age for Indie Business

“the mainstream startup narrative is owned by VC backed startups who’s success and ambition are often measured by the amount of capital they’ve raise. That’s a fine narrative, but not the only one.” – Bryce Roberts on Indie.vc

I have been focused on furthering the narrative of VC backed startups. From the start of DemoCamp almost 10 years ago, the goal was to find venture fundable companies. It also allowed the use of venture funding has become the default proxy for determining the success of companies and the health of the ecosystem. The more venture capital deployed the healthier the ecosystem with more jobs and greater impact. There are a strong number of Canadian venture funded companies:

Is venture funding the only narrative that matters? There are other companies in Canada that are participants and help define the ecosystem?

“there’s a cultural shift towards taking little to no VC investment, staying independent longer (or indefinitely) without sacrificing the ambition for building large, profitable and impactful businesses”
Bryce Roberts

There are crazy entrepreneurs across Canada that are building big, impactful companies.

There are companies that are building outside of the narrative of venture capital and venture funding. They are defining their own rules leveraging distribution and monetization paths to companies outside of the venture narrative. These are important companies. I really like Bryce’s description of these businesses as “indie” and not “lifestyle”. Just like independent music, I think it better represents the ethos and motivations of these business owners.

“Can we provide the resources and networks founders would traditionally get taking VC money, without all the expectations and baggage that come with it? Would an early focus on cashflow and sustainability v. fundable milestones stunt growth or lay the foundation for a more scalable long-term culture? Is it possible to maintain and independent attitude and ethos with an outside investor on your cap table? And could these types of companies compete, and win, against their traditionally VC funded peers?”
Bryce Roberts

It’s exciting to see a venture fund recognize the importance of these independent business. To look at the tools, milestones, connections and content around cashflow, sustainability, recruiting and culture.  Before the funding announcement in July 2014 it was easy to imagine FreshBooks remaining an independent. Mike McDerment has been a fixture in building and supporting independent companies and events like Mesh Conference for the past 10 years. The assumption is that FreshBooks was able to build strong culture and was able to raise financing at their own terms. This is a really interesting time, and it is amazing to see a group of independent technology businesses grow in to large, impactful companies.

As Bryce says, “we’re entering a golden age for Indie businesses”, and I can’t wait to see the companies that it brings.

Featured photo by Andrew Stephenson 

The Calendaring Land Grab

There is a lot of chatter about calendar being the next native iOS application (much like Mailbox and Taskbox for Mail) that is set to be out replaced by a startup.

Atlas Scheduling Re-Invented - Today Feed  - Events & TasksJust looking at my phone you’ll find:

I’m hopeful for Atlas because it has the potential to replace and improve on Tungle.me, ScheduleOnce, Doodle, Skedge and others (see Adam Popescu’s article on Mashable). I’m hopeful that it is as useful a calendar as Sunrise, but the advanced scheduling features are something I still crave post Zaplet (it’s funny, I remember building those screenshots back in late 1999).  The group scheduling application is feature, not a fully functional calendar.

I seem to struggle with  the business model for calendaring applications. I understand why companies like Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft need to have applications that are engaging and functional for users on their respective platforms. But it feels like a user acquisition land grab. But one that is focused on engagement and not monetization. I guess a queue of >500,000 users can net you an acquisition around $100MM users.

Marketing Technology Landscape

Marketing Technology Landscape by Scott Brinker @chiefmartec http://chiefmartec.com/

Scott Brinker provides a must read summary of the 5 meta-trends that underly most modern marketing.

  1. The great digital migration of marketing (and business).
  2. The convergence of paid, earned, and owned media.
  3. Customer experience as the core of marketing.
  4. Rise of the creative/marketing technologist.
  5. Agile marketing management.

The post lays forth a strong foundation for marketers and investors looking at understanding the competitive landscape of different offerings. Interestingly as a practitioner it also provides a great summary of the tools available to enable potential tactics. There are a few logos and companies I think are missing in the landscape, for example, Calls section is missing Twilio and Voxeo/Tropo. And the diagram is missing the entire SMS marketing enablement which are both part of the breakdown of VoIP and SMS through programmatic APIs. I am also trying to figure out where in the list to put InfluitiveCustora, TotangoSpinnakr, Bloom Reach and a few others. It is an amazing list. There are a few new companies that I need to check out and learn more about.

Thanks Scott!

Mapping the next three decades of health tech

Envisioning the Future of Health

The good folks at Fast Company sourced an interesting visualization from futurist Michell Zappa and the Envisioning Tech crew. Lots of science fiction, but it provides an interesting analysis based on the breaking down of information silos.

“This visualization is an exercise in speculating about which individual technologies are likely to affect the scenario of health in the coming decades. Arranged in six broad areas, the forecast covers a multitude of research and developments that are likely to disrupt the future of healthcare.”

The article provided interesting links to 2 other visualizations:

Kindle SF

It has been 2 years since my Kindle arrived (September 2, 2010 to be exact). Sure not exactly an early adopter, it was more than 3 years after the initial launch of the device and part of the product and marketing blitz that allowed Kindle books to outsell print books in Q4 2010. And for the most part I have switched my consumption to digital books. Not including technical books (thank you O’Reilly), I have purchased and read 85 science fiction books on the Kindle (almost 1 book per week).

I started reading digital editions of Hugo and Nebula award winners. I started with John Scalzi’s
award winning Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, and Zoe’s Tale. These books are amazing, they are a great romp through crazy military and technology. I continued with The Evolutionary Void continuation of the Void Trilogy (which was part of Peter F Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga including Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained possibly 2 of my favorite books in the past 10 years). I was waiting for new new releases from Charles Stross, Alastair Reynolds, Richard Morgan, Cory Doctorow and Orson Scott Card. While waiting I decided to switch strategies, I would try to find books that were $0.99-$2.99 in price. My reasoning, my engagement per book was just greater than 7 days, I figured like renting a movie (approximately $5.99 for 2 hours on iTunes HD) that would be my threshold. Unless a book was part of a series I had read previously, or an author I was following my limit was $2.99/book.

There are a lot of interesting books but here are my favorite series and authors. What are you reading?

Wool by Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey Wool Omnibus

This might be the best SF I have read in a long time. The Wool series is one of the most engaging dystopian futures I have read. I starting reading based on a tweet by John Lilly. It’s just an amazing series.

Spinward Fringe by Randolph Lalonde

Another Canadian. This one living in Sudbury. Like many others I’m waiting Broadcasts 7 & 8. This incorporated a lot of future tech I have seen elsewhere but it is the characters and the story lines that make it worth the read.

Spinward Fringe - Broadcast 3: Triton

Prides of Sol by Rod Rogers

Vaughn Heppner

Invasion AlaskaVaughn Heppner is a Canadian living in California. Hoping this counts as Can-Con. The Doom Star series is a little out there – genetic engineering, cyborgs, space battles, subterranean cities. But it’s a fun read, the characters are relatable

Evan Currie


Another Canadian. Hmmm, I wonder if there is a trend. The Warrior’s Wings series is one of my recent favourites. It’s great romp of military science fiction.

BV Larson Follow @bvlarson

This is a strange series. I disliked BV Larson’s Mech series, I disliked the books so much that for the first time I did not finish the series. But I have enjoyed the expanding Star Force Series. The simplicity of programmed circuits and logic for a species is very interesting, particularly when matched against the less than binary humans.

The problem with Microsoft…

Some rights reserved by Nick, Programmerman
Attribution Some rights reserved by Nick, Programmerman

Gary Rivlin at Fortune Magazine has some recent articles about Steve Ballmer and Microsoft senior management (The problem with Microsoft… & Why insiders think top management has lost its way). The articles make great fodder given the rise of Apple to be larger than Microsoft in both market capitalization and revenues. What is strange is that I love both of these companies. I’m an ex-Microsoft employee. It was a great place to work. And I have been an Apple fanboy for a long time  (spending my entire signing bonus in 1997 on Apple stock). Let’s be clear Microsoft is still a large powerful company, they have just lost their way in defining the next generation of technology, business models, and customers.

Still, Ballmer needs to do something to shake Microsoft from what, at best, seems to be a textbook case of corporate ennui: MIT’s Michael Cusumano, who has featured Microsoft in several books, including the new work Staying Power, sees a company hopelessly stuck in neutral, in no small part because Microsoft has a weak board and no one expects Bill Gates, the company’s top shareholder, with about 5% of shares outstanding, to oust the CEO, who was the best man at his wedding. “Ballmer has been a good steward of Windows, and that’s about it,” Cusumano says.

Gary Rivlin nailed my feelings and analysis on Microsoft in The problem with Microsoft…. Microsoft is a juggernaut. But the markets and choices are evolving. There are a few successes like Silverlight, Kinect, XNA and Office. But generally the article highlights deeper structural and cultural issues.

  • Windows Platform dominance – Licking the cookie
  • Politicized management culture with “Made men” and “political assassins”
  • Lack of urgency – Massive existing businesses SharePoint is the last $1B revenue business
  • Killing products too early or too late – see Courier (too early) and Kin (too late it should never have made it to market)
  • Stock stagnation – this has a lot of impact on hiring new talent, retaining talent that should retire (under water ESOP buys)

There is lots to love about Microsoft. But I think there are even more concerns for the future. Just look at what the latest generation of big web companies are building on: Yahoo! (PHP, MySQL, Hadoop), Google (Java, Python, BigTable), Facebook (PHP, memcache, Cassandra, Linux), LinkedIn (Solaris, Tomcat, Oracle), Groupon (Java, Salesforce, EC2, Zynga (PHP, MySql, AMF), Quora (MySQL. memcache, PHP). Sure there are shining examples of companies building on SharePoint and SQL Server and Azure, but do they have the size and scale of those previously mentioned? And look at the fight for mobile developers. Appcelerator’s quarterly developer survey shows percentage of developers “very interested” in developing for different platforms: iOS (91%); Android (85%); Windows Phone (29%); sure it’s a head of Blackberry (27%). But this just reinforces my concerns and disappointment. Microsoft is a huge company. And I hope they can continue to build world class products, markets and inspire future developers.

Building a mystery aka my Hackintosh project

My television watching and content acquisition saga continues. Since cancelling my Rogers Cable TV subscription, I’ve found myself consuming content using:

I haven’t had to worry about TUF, Formula 1 and I’ve taken multiple strategies for shows like TopGear (think TV Shows, BBC iPlayer, and other mechanisms). I have bought more DVDs (Shrek4Ever, Toy Story 3, Megamind, Penguins of Madagascar: Operation DVD, I was a Penguin Zombie, and others) for the kids. And I have watched 5 movies on iTunes (Cargo, Predators, The Kids are Alright, How to Train Your Dragon, Top Gear Season 15). And I watched the Superbowl in HD on CTV using an antenna. It has been a really good experience. Though Kristin describes our TV as “the most complicated TV ever, but it works”. I think the Harmony 880 remote makes the experience tolerable, without it I don’t think I could have done this.

One of my thoughts has been about reducing the number of devices (Boxee Box + AppleTV + XBox 360 + Wii). Currently the Boxee Box, the AppleTV and the XBox are all connected to the main TV. I was thinking about getting a Mac Mini and running Boxee, iTunes and Front Row and eliminating the XBox, Boxee Box and Wii (well I’d move the AppleTV upstairs to use in place of the Wii). But why would I buy a Mac Mini for Cdn$1145.82($749 Base Configuration +$165  Core 2 Duo upgrade to 2.66GHz + $100 4Gb of RAM = $1014 + tax). Sure, it’s small, it’s sexy, it would fit right near my Airport Base Station Extreme. But approximately $1100, I should be able to do this for less.

I run a HP MediaSmart EX490 for our internal home network backup device. I figured I’d either upgrade the processor & RAM, buy an inexpensive barebones PC to run Windows with Media Centre or Linux with Plex. But we are an almost all Apple house and I really wanted a machine running Mac OS X. Then Adam (@AdamMeghji) told me about his Hackintosh. And I figured I could build my own.

Lian-Li V351

My Hackintosh Build

I decided to budget the price of the Mac Mini. And see what I could accomplish. Here are details and specs.

Silverstone Fortress FT03I followed Adam’s advice and used the tonymacx86 CustomMac. The builds looked great. It allowed me to customize the case, power supply, CD/DVD drive to my specifications. My fight was mostly with the case (this had implications for the motherboard, the CPU cooler, the video card, the power supply). I was really hoping to build a Home Theatre PC (HTPC) or something that was as small and eloquent as the Mac Mini, but the desire to build a more powerful machine drove me to a bigger case. I looked at HTPC cases but I had a few concerns including heat dissipation, size to fit video card (to fit the proposed video card I needed minimum of 228.6 mm) and cost. I did not want to sink $700+ as some HTPC cases apparently cost. My three leading contenders were:

  • Silverstone Fortress FT03
  • Lian-Li V351 or Lian-Li V352 (Mini ATX vs Micro ITX)
  • Antec P183 V3

I really liked the Silverstone Fortress FT03 and the reviews almost convinced me to purchase it, but as my price was creeping upwards I decided on the slightly less expensive V351 based on the reviews of custom builders. The Antec got great reviews about being silent, but it’s huge. It wasn’t going to fit in the spot in my media cabinent (aka the shelf). The Silverstone Fortress FT03 got great reviews about flexibility, configuration and use. Again it was a space constraint coupled with the price ($70 more).

What doesn’t work, yet

Infrared
I bought a USB IR dongle knowing full well that this wouldn’t work. I have ordered a Twisted Melon Manta TR-1 USB IR solution. This includes the IR receiver and logic board. Coupled with Mira I’m hoping this will let me configure Boxee and/or Plex to work with my Harmony 880.
HDMI + HDMI Sound
I followed the instructions in tonymacx86 iBoot and Multi-Beast installation guide using the Kabyl Chameleon2.0 r748 build. I have DVI video working but I’m still trying to get HDMI and HDMI sound up and running. This is a very frustrating experience.
Bluetooth
This one is totally my fault. I did not buy a Bluetooth dongle.

Thoughts on the process

This has been a fun project. I have probably spent about 10 hours researching, purchasing, and building the Hackintosh. If I were monetizing that time, it would be a complete waste. However, this is a hobby decision. I wanted to build a Hackintosh. The worst case outcome is that I install Ubuntu or Windows and I have a solid PC to use in the office. And technically I have a smoking hot Macintosh that doesn’t support HDMI. This thing runs Photoshop and X Code unlike any other machine in my arsenal.

I plan on spending my free time after 9pm for the next 7 days trying to overcome the challenges with this box.

Anyone interested in building a Hackintosh? I was thinking about doing another big build.

SMS and Canadian Phone Numbers

Photo by
Photo by UggBoy♥UggGirl

I’m a huge fan of Google Voice. I’m not alone the team at TechCrunch also seem to be fans. I would really like to use my 416 number with a provider like Google Voice that let’s me keep this as my primary number but forward calls and SMS messages to a device or application I am using. Basically, I’d like to have my 416 follow me to a T-Mobile number of my choice in the US or a Wind Mobile number or a where ever. Basically I’d like something like Google Voice with a Canadian number.

Why?

I have a Rogers Wireless phone that until very recently has been my primary phone, but with the introduction of the Wind Mobile’s outrageous holiday rate of $40/month I decided to get a new phone. However, because I do travel out of the Wind coverage zone I kept my Rogers phone (it has a 1Gb North American data plan that I use when in the US and rural Ontario). I think MG Siegler has captured by desire to take control of my phone number (which is increasingly my SMS contact point). I’d like to port my 416 number and have access using the devices that are important to me: Android, iOS, SIP phone, softphone, and SMS.

As part of this I started looking at business solutions for the Influitive offices. Theand I’d really like to set up a Canadian business solution. But it seems that the SMS piece particularly for inbound Canadian numbers seems to be the bottleneck. This makes me suspect that the issue is either with the CRTC and a whole bunch of stuff that I just don’t understand (or care to understand) or with CLECs and SS7 hardware and a bunch of other stuff I just don’t understand. Anyone know why I can’t get SMS messages on VoIP providers for Canadian numbers?

I’m trying to find an alternative to Google Voice and a Canadian number. I’m thinking that I will try OpenVoice and Anveo as a SIP provider. I’m hoping this should work.

Provider Cdn Number Port a Cdn Number Inbound SMS to Cdn Number iOS Android Blackberry SIP access Comments
Google Voice Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Limited support of Canadian area codes (403 in Alberta)
Toktumi & Line2 Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ No inbound SMS for Canadian #s, No SIP phones
Phonebooth.com Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/
VoxOx Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ No SIP phones
RingCentral.ca Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ No inbound SMS for Canadian #s
Phone.com Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ No inbound SMS for Canadian #s
Skype for Business Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/
OpenVoiceTropo Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/
OpenVBXTwilio Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/
Cloudvox Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/
Teleku & OpenVBX Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Supports Teleku and Google Voice SMS forwarding with Gizmo5
Ribbit
Grasshopper
Asterisk & SIP phone

Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Great services. Managing a asterisk install was too much for me. LES.net rumored to have SMS inbound in Feb 2011.
Anveo Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/ Icon by http://www.famfamfam.com/lab/icons/silk/

What are other startups using for their office phone system? I’m leaning towards RingCentral.ca. I know a few others that are using OneConnect, but it bugs me they don’t list their prices.

But hoping others have thoughts? Opinions?

Recommendation Engines

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/good_day/41798369/
Photo by good_day

I started using Netflix and I’m both impressed with the recommendation engine and curious. Amazon does a great job using a combination of items and behaviour to present thing I might like to purchase. I find the Netflix Canada content recommendations good but not quite as good. This could be the difference that my Amazon history dates back to June 24, 1999 with my @davidcrow.ca email address. I started thinking about how simple these recommendations seem, i.e., basic inputs and outputs but potentially very powerful business implications. You can see recommendations at Amazon, TiVO, Netflix, Pandora, etc. It’s a great tool for discover and can potentially increase sales and business metrics (back in 2006 Amazon was reporting 35% of sales come from recommendations). Recommendations can be incredibly valuable business drivers (see Digg Recommendation Engine to drive traffic) and I was very curious at how others had  approached this problem, specifically if there were methods or techniques that I could leverage. (I’ve been following the creation of a taste graph or interest graphs by companies like Hunch and Quora and Gravity). The other interesting spot where I see a lot of people discovery is on dating sites, however, I think the success metrics of profile matching for certain dating sites is very different (think eHarmony vs Ashley Madison).

There is a lot of really great tools. I built a Hadoop instance and had Mahout up and running on my MacBook Air in about an hour. It’s not as fancy as the backend at Backtype (check out all of their tech). I’m curious at what others like EventBrite are using to power their social discovery of events and Chomp for mobile apps.